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Personal profile

Research interests

Professor Livnat Holtzman is an expert in Islamic theology. She specializes in traditionalist theology from the inception of Islam until the 15th century, and has published extensively on the thought of Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya. Currently she is Associate Professor in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University.

Livnat Holtzman earned her BA degree with distinction in the Department of Arabic Language and Literature and the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She continued her academic journey by pursuing her MA degree with distinction in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University, where she completed her thesis under the supervision of the late Prof. Michael Winter. Subsequently, she obtained her PhD degree from Bar-Ilan University, with her dissertation supervised by Prof. Binyamin Abrahamov.

Throughout her years of study and professional work, Prof. Holtzman has been acknowledged for her outstanding academic achievements and has received various research grants and prizes. Noteworthy among her accolades are the President’s Scholarship for Outstanding Doctoral Fellows (2000), the Rector’s Award for Teaching Excellence (2011), and the Rector’s Award for Scientific Innovation (2019). Her research endeavors have also received support from prestigious funding bodies. From 2006 to the present day, she has been awarded three research grants from the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) and a research grant from the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF).

Engaged in academic collaboration and exchange, Prof. Holtzman has undertaken research fellowships and visiting researcher positions. In 2016, she served as a research fellow at Freie Universitaet Berlin, and in 2019, she was a visiting researcher at Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIS) in Madrid.

Within the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University, Prof. Holtzman is responsible for teaching introductory courses on the religion of Islam and Quranic exegesis. Additionally, she conducts seminars in her areas of expertise and supervises undergraduate and graduate students conducting research in her fields. In response to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Holtzman adapted her teaching methods, ensuring that students could continue their education remotely. In 2020, she produced comprehensive video lectures for the introductory course on the religion of Islam, recorded in the Multimedia Unit studios at Bar-Ilan University, thus enabling students to engage with the material through professionally produced video content. Currently, she integrates traditional face-to-face lectures with recorded sessions to provide a comprehensive learning experience.

Apart from her teaching responsibilities, Prof. Holtzman serves as the principal investigator of a large-scale research project funded by ISF. This project focuses on the conceptualization and analysis of the gestures and body language of the Prophet Muḥammad, as depicted in the Hadith literature. The project aims to illuminate the dynamics of non-verbal communication conveyed through gestures in the texts. Her lecture, “The Gestures of the Prophet Muḥammad: Personal and Public Space in the Hadith Literature,” offers insight into the project’s objectives and findings.

Prof. Holtzman actively collaborates with researchers worldwide. In 2010, she co-edited the volume titled A Scholar in the Shadow with a colleague from the University of Bologna, Italy. This volume was published by the esteemed Italian journal Oriente Moderno. In 2022, an Arabic translation of this volume, titled عالم في الظل  was published by Dār al-Rawāfid in Beirut.

From 2012 to 2018, Prof. Holtzman served as the Chair of the Department of Arabic. From 2020 to 2022, she held the position of co-editor for Hamizrah Hehadash - The New East, the leading Israeli journal in the fields of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, published by the Israel Oriental Society (MEISAI). Currently, Prof. Holtzman holds several important roles within academic organizations. She is a board member of the Israeli Association for the Study of Religions (IASR) and the Rena Costa Center for Yiddish Studies in the Department of Literature of the Jewish People at Bar-Ilan University. Additionally, she serves on the editorial board of the journal Al-Karmil: Studies in Arabic Language and Literature - الكرمل- أبحاث في اللغة والأدب, published by the Department of Arabic Language and Literature at Haifa University. Furthermore, she is a member of the editorial board for the journal Folia Orientalia, published by the Commission of Oriental Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences (Kraków Branch). As part of her engagement in MEISAI, Prof. Holtzman is a member of the team leading the forum for the Study of the Islamic World in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. Additionally, she is affiliated with various academic societies, including MEISAI, IASR, The Historical Society of Israel, Afik in Academia - Israeli Women University Professors’ Forum, and the Forum of Abrahamic Religions in the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Research:

 

My expertise in Islamic theology has been cultivated through rigorous philological training under esteemed professors at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem's Department of Arabic Language and Literature. Notably, I learned from distinguished scholars, some honored with the Israel Prize in Middle Eastern Studies and Linguistics, including Prof. Yehoshua Blau, Prof. Moshe Piamenta, Prof. Shmuel Moreh, Prof. Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, Prof. Yohanan Friedmann, Prof. Sarah Stroumsa, Prof. Ella Landau-Tasseron, Prof. Haggai Ben-Shammai, Prof. Etan Kohlberg, Prof. Isaac Hasson, Prof. Simon Hopkins, and Prof. Menahem Milson.

My academic journey began with a profound study of traditionalist scholars Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) and his disciple Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (d. 1350) under the guidance of Prof. Michael Winter and Prof. Binyamin Abrahamov at Bar-Ilan University. Expanding my research, I explored the works of other theologians like Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (d. 855), Abū Yaʽlā (d. 1066), and Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 1201). Focusing on traditionalist Islamic theology rooted in Hadith literature, I meticulously analyze these texts and explore the social networks that transmitted them, integrating narratology and gesture studies.

My work has garnered international attention, cited by scholars from diverse Muslim-majority countries. In 2018, my book "Anthropomorphism in Islam: The Challenge of Traditionalism (700–1350)" was published by Edinburgh University Press, delving into theological debates around divine attributes. Furthermore, an Arabic translation of this work, titled "التشبيه في تاريخ الأسلام," was published by Dār al-Rawāfid in 2023, marking a significant achievement.

The Hadith literature, comprising around 5,000 stories with over a million versions, holds immense significance for me. These texts were transmitted orally from generation to generation, starting with the Prophet’s companions (ṣaḥāba). This transmission process spanned over a hundred years and covered a wide geographical area. Following the death of the Prophet in the year 632, the ṣaḥāba joined the Muslim army that ventured beyond the Arabian Peninsula and conquered various territories in the Ancient East, including Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Transjordan, and Palestine. The ṣaḥāba settled in the prominent cities, such as Basra, Kufa, Damascus, and Jerusalem. They also established new cities like Cairo. In these urban centers, they taught the Hadith to the local population, some of whom embraced Islam willingly, while others converted under duress. The teachings encompassed various aspects of religious practice and everyday life, including how to pray, what is allowed and forbidden to eat, rules regarding sexual intercourse, personal hygiene, and even grooming practices like nail clipping and dental hygiene. These teachings were conveyed through stories about the Prophet, whom the ṣaḥāba knew intimately. Thus, the practical religious obligations and customs in Islam are grounded in the Sunna, which refers to the way of the Prophet Muḥammad. Sunni Islam therefore adheres the path set by the Prophet Muḥammad. It is worth noting that a considerable part of the Islamic traditions originates from Jews and Christians who converted to Islam. Traditions of Jewish and Christian origin, some of which are referred to as ‘isrāʼiliyyat’, were assimilated and Islamized in the new religion. The parallels between Judaism, Christianity and Islam are therefore abundant and make a rich source of comparative study. I emphasize these parallels in the introductory courses on Islamic religion and Quranic exegesis.

The Hadith is primarily an oral literature, although there were individuals who recorded the sayings and actions of the Prophet in writing during his lifetime. The introduction of paper from China to Baghdad in the ninth century brought about a more systemized recording process, since paper was a cheaper alternative to materials like processed animal skins or papyrus, which are more expensive. This development led to an “information explosion” in the ninth century, with Islam preceding Europe in some six-hundred years in terms of disseminating knowledge (until the invention of printing press). During this time, the six canonical Hadith collections were compiled, alongside numerous non-canonical collections that emerged until the 14th century. The availability of paper-books also facilitated an entangled scholarly process because the written text allowed for a meticulous examination of the Prophet’s recorded behavior. The Hadith literature served as the foundation for the development of Islamic law and theology by Muslim scholars. It was through this process that Muslim scholars incorporated the wisdom and knowledge of ancient civilizations, such as Greece, Persia, and India, into their writings. In the ninth century, Muslims were at the forefront of fields such as medicine, chemistry, pharmacy, astronomy, engineering, architecture, and more.

I am deeply grateful to my esteemed and beloved teacher, late Dr. Isaiah Goldfeld, for developing the approach to comprehending the Hadith literature. Whenever I immerse myself in these ancient texts, a smile never leaves my face. Each day brings a new discovery, as this literature is an extraordinary reservoir that provides glimpses into the seventh century, when the Prophet Muḥammad first emerged in history, filtered through the perspectives of later periods, particularly the eighth and ninth centuries. Uncovering the historic essence requires peeling away several layers of the texts, a task that is both challenging and enjoyable.

My passion for the Hadith literature is evident in my podcast, "Following the Prophet Muḥammad," where I present the story of early Islam in a compelling yet accessible manner. Released on the "Bar-Daʽat" app, Spotify, and YouTube, the podcast has gained popularity, resonating with both Israeli and Arab audiences. I invite you to explore this engaging series, providing an informal introduction to Islam's foundational concepts.

Education/Academic qualification

Bachelor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Oct 1984Jun 1987

Award Date: 30 Jun 1987

PhD, Predestination (al-Qada' wa'l-Qadar) and free will (al-Ikhtiyar) as reflected in the works of the Neo-Hanbalites of the fourteenth century, Bar-Ilan University

19992003

Master, The Great Arab Revolt in Palestine 1936-1939: Central Issues and Historiographical Debate as Reflected in the Palestinian Soul, Bar-Ilan University

19961998

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