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Mark Wagner

Mark Wagner

NIAS Individual Fellow

Project title

The Rothschilds of Arabia and Africa: The Rise and Fall of a Jewish Mercantile Empire Under the British Raj

Research question

Who were the Messas and what impact did they have on Middle Eastern and Jewish history?

Project description

I plan to write a history of the Messa family of Aden and its network of satellite communities.  With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Aden sat astride a crucial artery of world commerce and a local Jewish family, the Messas, profited handsomely as the main suppliers of the British army.  The Messa family played a large role in shaping a distinctive Adeni Jewish culture that was keenly attuned to contemporary ideas concerning bourgeois respectability, colonial constructions of race and class, and debates over modernity and gender within the wider Jewish world.  Years of bitter litigation between heirs brought an end to the family business.  The rise of Jewish, Yemeni, and pan-Arab nationalisms sounded these communities’ death-knell.

Selected publications

  • “Muslim-Jewish Sexual Liaisons Remembered and Imagined in Twentieth Century Yemen,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 53.1 (2021): 39-55.
  • “When Jews Attack: Towards a Social Psychology of Inter-Communal Violence in Yemen” in Joseph E. Lowry and Shawkat M. Toorawa, eds., Arabic Humanities, Islamic Thought: A Festschrift in Honor of Everett K. Rowson, Boston/Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2017, pp. 416-424.
  • Jews and Islamic Law in Early 20th-Century Yemen (Indiana University Press, 2015)
  • Halakhah Through the Lens of Shari‘ah: The Case of the Kuhlani Synagogue in San‘a’, 1933-1944,” in Michael Laskier and Yaacov Lev, eds., The Convergence of Judaism and Islam: The Religious, Scientific and Cultural Dimensions, University Press of Florida, 2011, pp. 126-146.
  • “Jewish Mysticism on Trial in a Muslim Court: A Fatwa on The Zohar—Yemen 1914,” in Die Welt des Islams – International Journal for the Study of Modern Islam, 47.2, 2007, pp. 207-231.