Ari Barbalat

Ari Barbalat is a Doctoral Candidate in International Relations at UCLA. He previously studied at the University of Chicago and the University of Toronto. His research specialties include Israeli foreign policy, contemporary grand strategy and geopolitics, international relations theory and Jewish international ethics.

What Does It Mean to "Rule the World"? International Relations in the Judaic Midrashim and Islamic Qisas al-Anbiya

What does it mean to "rule the world"? I will compare an intriguing passage in the Talmud (BT Megillah 11a) that claims that there were "three" who ruled the entire world (Ahasuerus, Nebuchadnezzar and Ahab) to a parallel passage that occurs in several places in the Qisas al-Anbiya (Stories of the Prophets) collections, Islam's equivalent of the Midrashim, which says that there were "four" who ruled the entire world, two believers and two infidels: Solomon and Alexander as the believers and Nimrod and Nebuchadnezzar as the infidels. What is meant by these passages? The Talmudic passage would be self-evident in meaning if only Nebuchadnezzar and Ahasuerus, rulers of massive imperial enterprises, were stated. But Ahab? He was only king of Israel which even in its greatest extent had maximum boundaries, and not even this: he was king of the Northern kingdom which was only portion of that. The passage then goes on to raise the question of other candidates: Sennacherib? Solomon? Cyrus? Darius? Each is somehow deficient, yet how much more so is Ahab. What is puzzling about the passage in the Qisas is that, when analyzed more closely, the behavior manifested by the two pairs of kings is not necessarily all that different. Moreover, unlike the Talmudic passage, this list has no follow up suggesting other candidates of empires just as great. In the presentation I wish to offer an exegesis of each passage first according to the respective canons and corpuses on their own terms, then criss-cross to ask whether the stories told in the other tradition regarding these very same kings would yield a similar conceptual and ethical lesson. How different are Judaic and Islamic conceptions of empire, and what does this teach us for a twenty-first century moment seeing the decline of old empires and the rise of new ones?