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Peters, F.E. 1927-

Peters, F.E. 1927-
(Francis Edward Peters)


PERSONAL:

Born June 23, 1927, in New York, NY; son of Frank L. and Marguerite Peters; married Mary Battistessa (an executive secretary), 1966; children: Peter Paul. Education: St. Louis University, A.B., 1950, M.A., 1952; Princeton University, Ph.D., 1961.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, 50 Washington Sq. S., New York University, New York, NY 10012. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

New York University, New York, NY, assistant professor, 1961-64, associate professor of classics, 1964-69, professor of history and Middle Eastern studies and religion, 1969—.

MEMBER:

American Oriental Society, Middle East Studies Association, Phi Beta Kappa.

WRITINGS:


Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1968.

Aristotle's Arabus, E.J. Brill (Boston, MA), 1968.

Aristotle and the Arabs: The Aristotelian Tradition in Islam, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1969.

The Harvest of Hellenism, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1971.

Allah's Commonwealth, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1974.

Ours: The Making and Unmaking of a Jesuit, Richard Marek (New York, NY), 1981.

The Children of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1983, revised edition, 2004.

Jerusalem: Holy City/Holy Places, Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies (New York, NY), 1983.

Jerusalem: the Holy City in the Eyes of Chroniclers, Visitors, Pilgrims, and Prophets from the Days of Abraham to the Beginnings of Modern Times, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1985.

Jerusalem and Mecca: the Typology of the Holy City in the Near East, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1986.

The Two Hundred Dollar Look: A Novel, Lyle Stuart (New York, NY), 1987.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: the Classical Texts and Their Interpretation, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1990.

The Distant Shrine: the Islamic Centuries in Jerusalem, AMS Press (Brooklyn, NY), 1993.

Mecca: A Literary History of the Muslim Holy Land, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1994.

Muhammad and the Origins of Islam, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 1994.

(Editor) A Reader on Classical Islam, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1994.

The Hajj: the Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1994.

(Editor) The Arabs and Arabia on the Eve of Islam, Ashgate (Burlington, VT), 1998.

Islam: A Guide for Jews and Christians, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2003.

The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, Volume 1: The Peoples of God, Volume 2: The Words and Will of God, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2003.

SIDELIGHTS:

F.E. Peters is a scholar of Near East history and religion whose writings explore the common roots of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity from a nontheological perspective. Many of his books, especially the two-volume The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, focus on the origins of these world religions, particularly the cultural conditions in which they arose. Among Peters's other frequent topics are Greek philosophy, Hellenism, and the study of ancient cities, including Damascus, Mecca, and Jerusalem. Having spent most of his academic career at New York University as a professor of Middle Eastern studies, Peters began his career in the Society of Jesus, an experience he wrote about in his 1981 memoir, Ours: The Making and Unmaking of a Jesuit.

As with all of his books, Peters's approach in The Monotheists is that of a historian. Rather than analyzing or interpreting doctrine and scripture, he accepts each religion's view of itself. He traces how each religion evolved, what its followers believe in, how the faith grew and cultivated members, how the members dealt with conflict within their ranks and with others outside their religion, and how their theology evolved to the present day. Zealots, in the form of jihadis and other fanatics, are also explored, as are each religion's tradition of mystics and monasticism. Daniel J. Harrington, writing in America, praised Peters's "extraordinary clarity and evenhandedness" and how "he manages to keep the three narratives—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—going at once, and allows readers both to appreciate the distinctive character of each and to see how their stories have very frequently intertwined."

The religions were intertwined from the start. All three name Abraham as a founding father, and all believe in one god. Jews and Muslims both believe that the word of God was delivered by human prophets and made manifest in their respective sacred texts—the Hebrew Bible and the Koran. All three religions also have in common what Peters calls an "exclusionary clause," the stipulation that no god but God may be worshipped, which antagonized the pagans at the outset because they objected to not being free to worship all their gods. This belief in the one, true god is the common link between the monotheists that will also forever keep them apart. Peters goes on to explore how the monotheistic religions accumulated a dizzying degree of complexity, which further ensures that no real détente between world religions will become a reality.

Critics recognized The Monotheists as the magnum opus Peters intended. Edward T. Oakes, writing in First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, called it "encyclopedic" and "magisterial." "Like Jane Austen looking at Regency society," Oakes continued, "Peters cannot help but be amused at human affairs while still being able to appreciate the underlying seriousness of the moral/religious quest." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called The Monotheists "magnificent" and "first-rate." "These two volumes bring together a remarkably productive scholarly career of research, reflection and teaching," wrote Harrington in America. "There is no more informative, accessible and comprehensive guide to the beliefs and practices of the three great monotheistic religions than these two volumes," he concluded.

In Islam: A Guide for Jews and Christians, Peters takes on the task of explaining one of the world's great religions. To do so, he walks a cultural tightrope that al- lows him "to describe Islam in a way that explains the religion to non-Muslims without offending Muslims by adopting the tone of an Enlightened ‘cultured despiser,’" wrote Oakes in First Things. Peters seeks to create respect for the Koran among nonbelievers and to explain the role of Muhammad as a prophet of God rather than as a representation of God himself. Peters's goal is to create common ground between peoples of different religions by helping them to understand each others' beliefs without attempting to convert them. Though many reviewers praised Peters for his accessible scholarship, Steve Young, reviewing the book in Library Journal, noted that Peters's explanations may not satisfy the intellectual demands of those who are well-versed in the thornier aspects of theology, because they tend to focus on "surface differences."

Peters narrowed his focus with The Hajj: The Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places. Despite the importance of the Hajj, little scholarship on its history has reached the West. Peters sheds light on the secretive rite by reviewing how it has been presented in literary history from its inception up to 1926, including how it was central to the cholera epidemics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The religious aspects of the Hajj are beyond Peters's scope. He is concerned only with its history, including its political and economic aspects. Researching the book entailed sifting through a great amount of inaccurate first-person accounts that were clouded by prejudice and bias and hindered by Muslims' prohibition against archaeological excavation at the site and the prohibition against non-Muslims participating in any of the rituals. However, he relies on several accounts of Westerners who infiltrated Mecca and Medina and lived to tell about it. While David E. Long, writing in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, noted the lack of Muslim sources in Peters's narrative, he concluded that "the book is masterfully constructed and the citations well chosen, and even the neophyte must be moved by the vibrant tapestry of the Hajj that Peters embroiders." Joel L. Kraemer, writing in the History of Religions, was impressed with the author's "survey of Western visitors to Islam's central shrines," who included the Italian Ludovico di Varthema in 1503.

Peters once told CA: "I am a historian of the Near East from 300 B.C. to 1200 A.D., and so also of Hellenistic Judaism, early Christianity, and medieval Islam. I am trained in Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Arabic, with extensive travels in the Islamic world from Morocco to India, but chiefly in Syria.

"My [early work]concentrated upon the transition from the world of Greco-Roman antiquity to the new world of Islam. I have spent much of my career studying the passage of ideas from the Greeks to Islam, but more recently I have turned to institutions, and more particularly to the transition of the city and its life from a Greco-Roman milieu to an Islamic one: how the physical shape, functions and classes of the city of late antiquity changed into the present profile of an Islamic city. Much of my travelling [has been] devoted to an observation of urban geography (quarters, arrangement of street patterns, marketplaces, walls, etc.) as they reflect upon the preindustrial city. Near Eastern cities are rapidly changing and so the historical evidence is equally rapidly being effaced. Dead cities like Petra and Palmyra may remain frozen forever, but the nonindustrialized part of living cities like Damascus [and] Aleppo are being altered faster than the historian can record and study them.

"For some years I worked on the urban development of the cities in the lava lands of southern Syria, but more recently I have attempted to bring the skills of the urban historian to bear on the city of Jerusalem, a far more complex subject than Damascus or Aleppo, for example, since it is above all else a holy city. The holy city in the Near East seems to have its own morphology, which sometimes reinforces and sometimes contradicts the normal patterns of urban development in the Near East. This is the focus of my present work.

"There are now three books complete in manuscript on this subject: Mecca and Jerusalem: The Typology of the Holy City in the Near East; The Distant Shrine: Jerusalem under the Muslims; and A Reader on Jerusalem: The Holy City through the Eyes of Chroniclers, Visitors, Pilgrims and Prophets from David to the Beginning of Modern Times."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:


BOOKS


Peters, F.E., Ours: The Making and Unmaking of a Jesuit, Richard Marek (New York, NY), 1981.

PERIODICALS


America, April 12, 2004, Daniel J. Harrington, review of The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition, p. 23.

First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, August-September, 2003, Edward T. Oakes, review of Islam: A Guide for Jews and Christians, p. 54; February, 2004, Edward T. Oakes, review of The Monotheists, p. 49.

Historian, summer, 1995, Kenneth J. Perkins, review of The Hajj: The Muslim Pilgrimage to Mecca and the Holy Places, p. 784.

History of Religions, November, 2000, Joel L. Kraemer, review of Mecca: A Literary History of the Muslim Holy Land, p. 198.

Journal of Near Eastern Studies, July, 1988, David E. Long, review of The Hajj, p. 217.

Library Journal, May 15, 2003, Steve Young, review of Islam, p. 95; September 1, 2004, William P. Collins, review of The Children of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, p. 157.

National Review, December 19, 1994, J.B. Kelly, review of Mecca, p. 56.

Publishers Weekly, September 29, 2003, review of The Monotheists, p. 60.

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