Goldziher, Ignácz

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GOLDZIHER, IGNÁCZ (18501921), was a Hungarian Arabist and Islamicist. After elementary schooling and a Jewish religious education in his birthplace, Székesfehérvár, Goldziher moved to Budapest in 1865. By the time he completed the Gymnasium in 1868, he had already begun to study Islamic languages at the university under Arminius Vámbéry. From 1868 until 1870 he pursued his studies first in Berlin with Friedrich Dieterich and Emil Rödiger for Arabic and Hebrew, and with Abraham Geiger and Moritz Steinschneider for the historical relations between Judaism and Islam, and then in Leipzig, where he received his final training as an Arabist under Heinrich Leberecht Fleischer, obtaining his doctorate in 1870. The work of the Austrian scholar Alfred von Kremer opened up for Goldziher the perspective of an intellectual history (Geistesgeschichte ) of Islam. Appointed privatdocent at the University of Budapest in 1871, he undertook several journeys, including a year's stay in Egypt (18731874), where he attended lectures at al-Azhar mosque. Goldziher became secretary of the Liberal Jewish Community in Budapest in 1876 and had to confine his research largely to the evenings; yet during these years he prepared his major publications. He became professor of the philosophy of Judaism at the Jewish Seminary in 1900 and was appointed to the chair of Semitic philology at the University of Budapest in 1905; from there he exerted great influence as the "patriarch" of Islamic studies until his death in 1921.

Goldziher may be said to have laid the foundation of Islamic studies as a scholarly discipline based on the literary and historical study of texts, most of which were at the time available only as manuscripts. It required great erudition and immense knowledge acquired through the reading of the original sources, and a creative use of the categories of the history of religions, to reconstruct the architecture of the history of Islamic religion as he did.

Goldziher's first contribution was to reveal and then study Islam's sources (such as the Qurʾān and the adīth literature) as well as its religious disciplines: the techniques of Qurʾān exegesis (tafsīr ), jurisprudence (fiqh ), and philosophical theology (kalām ). He also successfully undertook the study of texts pertaining to the further development of religious ideas, including those of mystical and "sectarian" developments.

Second, by trying to understand the problems treated in the religious texts within the framework of Muslim thought itself, Goldziher was able to show the inherent logic of the history of ideas in Islam. He could situate texts and ideas not only in the "outward" history of Islamic institutions and in political history but also as part of the inner development of Islam as a religion.

Third, Goldziher carried out a critical quest for historical truth and strived to show the historical situation, character, and limitations of ideas and practices that were of a religious nature and that were consequently held to be of an eternal validity. As a historian, he revealed the historical character of the texts that, with their interpretations, form part of Islamic religion and culture. He also traced external historical influences that have played a role in the development of Islam.

Goldziher revealed Islam as a complete entity in itselfthat is to say, a religious entityand encouraged its study. His insights into Islamic scripture and tradition, law, and theology were certainly enhanced by his familiarity with similar problems in the study of Judaism. The respect he enjoyed among Arabs is noteworthy; his contacts with Muslim scholars were many, and several of his publications have been translated into Arabic. The diary he maintainedan unusual habit in the world of scholarshipwas published in 1978.


The following publications of Goldziher's have become classics in Islamic studies. In Die Zâhiriten: Ihr Lehrsystem und ihre Geschichte; Beitrag zur Geschichte der muhammedanischen Theologie (Leipzig, 1884), which has been translated into English as The Zâhiris: Their Doctrine and Their History; A Contribution to the History of Islamic Theology (Leiden, 1971), Goldziher provides an in-depth treatment of the distinctive jurisprudence and theology of an early medieval Islamic school that later disappeared. Perhaps most important was the publication of his two-volume work Muhammedanische Studien (Halle, 18891890), which has been translated as Muslim Studies, 2 vols. (Chicago, 19661973). The second volume contains a historical study of the development of adīth, or tradition literature (pp. 3274), and traces the writing of particular groups of adīth s to various currents and trends of the first one and one-half centuries of Islam. Goldziher also published a survey of the history of Islam, Vorlesungen über den Islam (Heidelberg, 1910), which originally had been intended as the Haskell Lectures of 1908; it is available in English as Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law (Princeton, N.J., 1981). His last major publication, a study of the different schools of Qurʾān exegesis (tafsīr ), was Die Richtungen der islamischen Koranauslegung (1920; reprint, Leiden, 1970). Among other works by Goldziher available in English is his A Short History of Classical Arabic Literature (Hildesheim, 1966). Goldziher's Gesammelte Schriften, edited by his pupil Joseph de Somogyi, have been published in six volumes (Hildesheim, 19671973). The first volume contains a biographical account by the editor.

A bibliography of Goldziher's publications, Bibliographie des œuvres de Ignace Goldziher, has been compiled by Bernard Heller (Paris, 1927). Supplements have been published in the two Ignace Goldziher Memorial Volumes (Budapest, 1948, and Jerusalem, 1958). Goldziher's diary, or Tagebuch, has also appeared, in an edition edited by Alexander Scheiber (Leiden, 1978).

New Sources

Goldziher, I., M. Hartmann, and L. Hanisch, "Machen Sie doch unseren Islam nicht gar zu schlecht": der Briefwechsel der Islamwissenschaftler Ignaz Goldziher und Martin Hartmann, 18941914. Wiesbaden, 2000.

Goldziher, I., K. Dévényi, and T. Iványi, On the History of Grammar among the Arabs. Philadelphia, 1994.

Smith, W.R., I. Goldziher, and S. A. Cook, Kinship & Marriage in Early Arabia. London, 1990.

Jacques Waardenburg (1987)

Revised Bibliography