Al-Ghazālī, Bar Hebraeus, and the “Good Wife”

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Lev Weitz



This article compares the sections on the qualities desirable in a wife in Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī’s Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn and Bar Hebraeus’s Ethicon, which the West Syrian writer modeled on al-Ghazālī’s work. The article first establishes that al-Ghazālī based his profile of the ideal wife on a jurisprudential discussion of the topic by his teacher, Imām al-Ḥaramayn al-Juwaynī, expanding it, however, by adding anecdotes from Sufi literature and reasoned arguments on how “the good wife” will best facilitate her husband’s devotion to God. The article then moves to consider how Bar Hebraeus appropriates, reconfigures, and reframes as Christian teaching al-Ghazālī’s discussion. Finally, the article argues that the similarity between the two texts demonstrates that both carve out a particular notion of male piety intelligible and resonant in their different religious traditions and in the broader monotheistic culture of the premodern Middle East.

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