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ISRAELITE (Ar. Isrā ʾīliyyāt , "Israelite" tales), name of a type of Muslim literature which deals with two different subjects: (1) stories from the Bible, legends, and other tales as they have been handed down in Jewish literature in the name of figures from the biblical world, scholars, and rabbis, and which are found in the Talmud and Midrashim. The objective of this material in the works of Arab historians, Koran exegetes, and the legends of the prophets is to explain Muhammad's words when their meaning is obscure or opposed to the Bible. The Isrāʾīliyyāt thus served as a channel for the absorption of many legends in the treasury of the historical tales of Islam. The traditionists were generally Jews who had converted to Islam or scholars of Jewish origin. The most famous of these were *Kaʿb al-Aḥbār and *Wahb ibn Munabbih. Beginning at an early date, this fact aroused suspicion and the opposition of the orthodox circles of Islam who sought at least to conceal the identity of the traditionists. (2) The second principal subject of Isrāʾīliyyāt is the lives and deeds of the mystics of Islam, the ancient men of piety who flourished during the period known as that of the Banū Isrāʾīl ("the people of Israel").


Goldziher, in: rej. 44 (1902), 65; S.D. Goitein, in: Tarbiz, 6 (1935), 89–101, 510–22.

[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]

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