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Christian Impurity versus Economic Necessity: A Fifteenth-Century Fatwa on European Paper

Leor Halevi

It is one of the perverse ironies of history that in the early fifteenth century Muslims were forced to react to the rising dominance of European paper. Pour centuries after the Muslims had learned the craft in Central Asia and long after they had developed new papermaking techniques, the commodity was still largely unknown in Europe beyond the Alps and the Pyrenees. Writing around 1144, shortly after his pilgrimage from France to Santiago de Compostela, Peter the Venerable remarked with dismay on the fact that Jews wrote books on a material made, not from animal skins or marsh plants, but from “scraps of old rags or even viler stuff.”

Leor Halevi is Associate Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37235–1802 (e-mail: leor.halevi@vanderbilt.edu).

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