S. J. Pearce earned her PhD in Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University in 2011 and is now assistant professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at New York University, where her teaching and research focus on the intellectual history and literature of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in medieval Spain. She was awarded the John K. Walsh Prize from La Corónica/MLA Division of Medieval Hispanic Literature in 2016.
Pearce's new book, The Andalusi Literary and Intellectual Tradition: The Role of Arabic in Judah ibn Tibbon's Ethical Will, was recently published by Indiana University Press.
Beginning in 1172, Judah ibn Tibbon, who was called the father of Hebrew translators, wrote a letter to his son that was full of personal and professional guidance. The detailed letter, described as an ethical will, was revised through the years and offered a vivid picture of intellectual life among Andalusi elites exiled in the south of France after 1148. S. J. Pearce sets this letter into broader context and reads it as a document of literary practice and intellectual values. She reveals how ibn Tibbon, as a translator of philosophical and religious texts, explains how his son should make his way in the family business and how to operate, textually, within Arabic literary models even when writing for a non-Arabic audience. While the letter is also full of personal criticism and admonitions, Pearce shows ibn Tibbon making a powerful argument in favor of the continuation of Arabic as a prestige language for Andalusi Jewish readers and writers, even in exile outside of the Islamic world.