||"dawnbreak in the west"|
Saturday, December 07, 2013
How undergrads are learning about the Islamic conquests
I found something interesting on academia.edu. This is an undergraduate essay, Christine Vandor's "Some factors that may help explain Islam's dramatic early expansion". The original essay-question:
I have some interest in this. When I was a senior in college, I earned some extra scratch grading undergraduate math papers (linear-algebra specifically). As for Vandor, her research interests - and willingness to float her output on academia.edu - identify her as serious. But above all, this gives us outsiders to academia some insight into what the kids are being taught these days.
So: on with the critique. I will try to keep this constructive.
Structurally, the essay is of one piece, followed by a (short) bibliography. The first paragraph reads like an abstract of the whole essay. Now, I like abstracts, and I am glad that the essay has one. But I prefer to mark them out under their own header as not part of the essay proper.
This essay lacks a true introduction, which would set out the question and would promise how it is to be answered. The essay will develop as of the "pushmi-pullyu" type: it attempts why, in the context of the first Islamic decades in the Near East, the Arabs were strong and their foes were weak. A meta-essay explaining that (it doesn't need to justify it, for this is how the posed question should be answered) is what the essay needs as introduction.
The next two paragraphs and much of the rest dealing with the Arab side assume facts not in evidence. I would not have used Muhammad's personality nor the Koran to explain the conquests up to AH 30 / 650 CE - there is no contemporary evidence for either. We do have material about "the Prophet" and certain of his teachings, scil. about the qitâl and the Garden. We might also have "the Constitution of Madina", but there we are approaching Dragons.
(True, we can invoke the memory of "Mahmet" (with some specie of "t") as we move toward the mid-40s / 660s (in order: Chron. 640, Khuz. Chron., Ps.-Seb., Maronite Chron.); and we certainly have our recognisable Islâm once we get into 'Abd al-Malik's raids into the Romania mid-70s / 690s. But I think that, here, we are supposed to be restricting ourselves to the first Arab expansion.)
Eventually the essay gets to the non-Arab side - and here it is at its best. Here is also where we have our contemporary and near-contemporary information: I mentioned several sources already, and we can add maybe John of Nikiu.
A few comments on the Bibliography: For "Espirato", read "Esposito" as noted in the footnotes. But honestly Vandor were better off if she had not read Esposito at all - or Rodinson. Their two books have led her to place the auxiliary facts from Berkey (on the Constitution of Madina), Lasser / Bonner (on the spoils of war) and Montefiore (on the unification of Arabia) into the classical Islamic frame and - worse - the western pro-Islamic apologetic frame. The initial question demands the contemporary frame, as best the essayist can seek it out. Once the author pulls free of Esposito's grasp and cites a real scholar - Hugh Kennedy - she does fine.
I recommend, before her next foray into Near Antique military history - and I do hope she makes one - that she burn Esposito's book in the quad and replace it with others. This must start with Robert Hoyland, Seeing Islam. For more by Kennedy: The Armies of the Caliphs. I can also recommend Patricia Crone, Slaves on Horses. And if she feels daring: Donner, Muhammad and the Believers. (But if she had been assigned Esposito by her prof, the prof might consider Holland, In the Shadow of the Sword as a white glove to the face.)
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
A Byzantine translation of the Qur'an
It amazes me, the stuff we can learn if we branch out to German-language scholarship . . . or, for that matter, to English-language scholarship that happens to be by Scandinavians. Just now I've blundered into a Byzantine-era translation of the Qur'an - rather, fragments thereof, preserved within an "Anatropē".
I had no idea that "the Greek Koran" was even a thing. We should start with Erich Trapp, "Gab es eine byzantinische Koranübersetzung?", Diptycha hetaireias byzantinon kai metabyzantinon meleton 2 (1981). A decade later: Kees Versteegh, "Greek Translations of the Qur'ân in Christian Polemics (9th Century A.D.)", Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 141 (1991), 52–68. Almost two decades later: Karl Förstel, ed. and trans., Schriften zum Islam von Arethas und Euthymios Zigabenos und Fragmente der griechischen Koranübersetzung, Corpus Islamo-Christianum, Series Graeca, 7 (Wiesbaden: 2009). At least I am in good company, in not having read this material: Förstel had not read Versteegh; Versteegh had not read Trapp.
I did track down Versteegh; but I have the two Germans only via Christian Høgel, "An early anonymous Greek translation of the Qur’ān" now @ academia.edu. You really must read Høgel, by the way; I wish I'd had his work two years ago, ten years ago.
I don't suppose that it should surprise that there once existed a full Byzantine translation of this text. The further West produced several Latin translations and, if I recall correctly, a late 15th-century Spanish effort. But closer to the Islamic heartland, up to now, we Anglophone readers of Ibn Warraq and of related websites have been more concerned with the Syriac translations. Maybe this is because of the popularity of Luxenberg in the so-called "counter-jihad"; we have all chuckled at the raisins of Paradise. (Forgive us, Mar Ephrem!) Nicetas would himself, I think, have got along famously with such "neo-Orientalists" (per Versteegh, 54-7, 66-7).
But back to this Greek translation. If I read Versteegh p. 64-5 right, this work was done by an outsider both to Greek and to the Semitic tongues; but Høgel controverts this in The Greek Qur’an: Scholarship and evaluations. The translation (whoever did it) was then transcribed, or copied, into 9th-century Greek miniscule: Trapp, 10-11. In this form it was made available to Nicetas (fl. 860s?).
Also, read here. And maybe Förstel provides more material; but we have quite enough to tide us over until then.
Monday, December 02, 2013
Upload #86: slither
Over the past month I was looking (intermittently, in spare moments) into another Arabic poet: `Adî bin Zayd. On that topic, I'd noticed Isabel Toral-Niehoff's "Eine arabische poetische Gestaltung des Sündenfalls". So, figuring I was done(-ish) with Umayya - last Saturday morning I ended up, again, translating a long essay from German to English.
I treated this essay more like Schulthess's book than like Afinogenov's or Noeldeke's essays. Specifically, I did only enough to get by. You (probably) won't be seeing the results at Academia.EDU. This is mainly because I have no right to the source. With Afinogenov, I had his publisher's permission - all the essays by that publisher were free to translate, so they told me - and I also made sure to notify the author himself as a courtesy. (And I am very grateful that he didn't complain! Not to mention flattered, given that I was never great at French . . .)
As for Noeldeke and Frank-Kamenetzky, well, I couldn't ask them for permission. (I wish I could. We all wish we could.) Copyright law allows me to do what I will, with their work. I only hope I did justice to their memory.
So, enough blathering. I have a new essay out: "Return to the Garden". This is another buttress to "House of War"; rather, to the essay "Keys to the Garden" therein. It goes into why the Qur'an speaks of Eden and the Devil. I think that this is because the Prophet had, earlier, made a point of preaching about a Paradise to his muqatila. The Qur'an, as a sectarian document, had to explain this; and for that it had to reach into Monophysite literature. Which is ironic given that Islam's theology should more naturally lead the Faith toward the Jews and Nestorians - as I have just learnt from Toral-Niehoff.
Toral-Niehoff had further implications for my ongoing Schulthess / (pseudo)Umayya reading, in this case for his "Nr. XXVIII". I figured that my work here would be best placed in "Borderlands of Damdam". Meanwhile I've also added some tweaks to "Islamic Ethics", on sura 35.
UPDATE 12/7: carried the snakeless, devil-haunted "Garden" through to Muqatil's tafsir.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
I caught Frozen last night. It is corrupt and you shouldn't bring your children to it.
The movie is really about the relationship between two female siblings. There are two men here also, but -
- Screw it; I don't like this movie enough to keep spoilers from my audience.
Let us begin with this: the movie is based on a Danish fairy-tale, which here comes down from a North Germanic myth far older than Christianity. It might even date to the Pleistocene.
Human myth is inseparable from the human physical experience. The mythic point of a Snow Queen is that she is woman, made of water. When she is without love, she does not flow. When she is with love, she moistens. (I apologise for being so blunt. Would this make it all better?)
Human myth also has a political dimension. A ruler leads by example. For males, we have the myth of the Wounded King; expressed in the Arthurian legends by the Waste. If the king is infirm, the land is infirm. For females, if the queen does not or - worse - will not bear issue, the land is frozen. Either way, it will die. Everyone will die.
In the movie: when the new queen runs off to the mountain to become The Snow Queen, she sings a musical number and creates an ice palace. This part makes sense; someone in this position, finding out that she is Jadis, will find some way to make peace with her station. It also turns out that her personal frigidity is destroying the kingdom. This part is also in tune with the myth. So far, so good...
But in this movie, her heart can only be melted by her - sister. The mythic core of the film is, by this - and I use this word deliberately - perverted.
And that's just for the girls watching this. As for the boys, there is nothing for us here. No-one male will ever get close to this queen; through the imposition of the queen's sister, the narrative blocks us away.
By the way: one of the villains was, earlier in the movie, the love-interest of the younger sister. If you are bringing a boy to watch this thing, he is going to be confused as to whether to identify with this guy or with the the other guy.
I cannot stress this enough. The movie is unholy. It should not be watched. It deserves to be burned.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
I spent most of last night trying to get the academia / scribd engine to convert my PDF for view-mode. I embedded the fonts and I deleted the (one) pasted image... still I got the error. I gave up around 8:30 PM and apologised here for the mess.
Fortunately it seems that scribd was just freaking out over (I'm guessing) the Hebrew font; which the site has since turned into, I think, inline graphics. Anyway it's all up there now (except for the pasted image, which doesn't matter much anyway).
I would have noted these translations at the Koranic Allusions Amazon site itself... but I can no longer find where on the page the "discussion of the book" link is at. I'm certainly not going to flog my own work in someone else's Amazon review and besides, as you know, I didn't buy it at Amazon. I have instead contacted Ibn Warraq's publisher Prometheus.
UPDATE 11/28: I restored the pasted image! Woot, hooray and huzzah! Also some other fixes have gone in; including in my own footnotes, where I refer to Seidensticker. I added a footnote, too: a defence of Schulthess's text of Nr. XLVI against the critique of Power, ed. Ibn Warraq in 171 n. 29. That poem itself may or may not be defensible from the critiques of Frank-Kamenetzky (nor of Noeldeke) - but that much is not in scope of a translation. (Although, I'll confess, I had earlier touched on that too, with XLVI.7.)
Monday, November 25, 2013
Untersuchungen über das Verhältnis
I have finished the first draught of those translations of Israel Frank-Kamenetzky's "Untersuchungen über das Verhältnis" and of Theodor Noeldeke's review of Schulthess's "Umayya". They are posted with my other translations - formerly, singular-translation - at academia.edu: Studies upon the Relationship of the Poems ascribed to Umayya b. Abî’l-Ṣalt with the Qur’ân.
I have included a two-page "Translator's Foreword". Please forgive the indulgence; I saw no alternative. The original essays were written in 1911, which was I'm sure you'll agree a whole world ago. In particular they each wanted the further comments of Edmond Power's "Additions" - essay #1.6 in Ibn Warraq's Koranic Allusions. I could not avoid appending my own footnotes. And once I'd done that, I got paranoid, on account that I had tromped through their pastures. At least I kept the foreword brief.
I should offer some further thoughts, here, for those who might wonder why I did this at all. These comments won't be fit for inclusion in the work itself; they're for this blog's readers (if any).
I came across the issue as of the end of last September. A book had emerged for English-speaking Islamic scholars - Koranic Allusions - with the intent to bring us to currency in the scholarship of pre-Islamic poetry (especially Umayya's oeuvre), up to now a German concern. This book is wunderbar but, in its present form, suffers from gaps. Nämlich: the second essay of Power and the essay by Seidensticker assumed that we had read Schulthess's edition (especially), and also that we had absorbed the followup-study by Frank-Kamenetzky and the correctives by Noeldeke. Unless the reader was fluent in German and knew exactly where in the Internet to get all this stuff, s/he had no hope of keeping up with this book, let alone with the current state of the question.
As proof of the need of Anglophone scholars for easier access to this material, I cite as evidence Gert Borg's essay in that very book (#1.9). I can only describe said essay as "broken": because Borg had not read Schulthess's book (nor anything else of the early 1910s), nor taken into account recent Arabic publications; and because Borg's editors (including Ibn Warraq) had not drawn the correlations between his poem 104 to Sch.'s Nr. XLVI and its evaluators from the 1911-13 Schultheßzeit.
On to why my translations are in the form they're in:
First, obviously, I posted these essays together as one document. Noeldeke's latter essay assumed and cited F-K's former, and sometimes corrected the former. Also the two were initially published almost one upon the other - actually, within a cluster of four: Schulthess's edition, Frank-Kamenetzky's dissertation, Noeldeke's corrections and - alongside Noeldeke - Power's "Additions". All three post-Sch. essays frankly belong together; perhaps as a "Section 1.6" in Koranic Allusions with Power at #1.6.3.
And since I hate it when a translator whines about how translations are soooo harrrd within his own foreword ... I'll whine about it right here in this blog. I do not actually speak German, and I am not a professional translator (or Orientalist, really). I relied on Google-Translate, and I crossreferenced the results with parallel comments in English-language articles. Also, every paragraph or two, Frank-Kamenetzky and Noeldeke tended to get excited and to blurt out their thoughts in line after line of compound sentences. So I don't expect that my translations are very good. But here's the good news: the core of each respective text is basically marginalia, and those weren't as hard to do (at least, not after I'd got Schulthess's book). Also - they're free!
I certainly won't do any whining if a bilingual expert in this topic offers correctives to my translations.
And despite any quibbles with this or that feature of Ibn Warraq's collection, I owe a mighty debt to that book - for its translation of Schulthess's first article in "Orientali. Studien", without which I never would have made sense of these articles; and for its reprint of Power's "Additions", which I can't find online and which offered in many places valuable guidance.
As for whither to go next: I think that a German / English committee needs to form and then put out a second edition of Schulthess, jointly in each language. I have cobbled a RTF for my own use - again with its backbone from Google Translate - which RTF, I am filling out with whatever English-language quotes I can gather from Ibn Warraq's book and elsewhere. But there is no way I'm going to let anyone else near this mess in its current form.
But the two essays I've translated are better, swearsies.
Friday, November 22, 2013
(addendum - sorry for the trolling. there is another commemoration to make)
This is by Nick Wade - one of our better DNA guys, despite that he writes for the Times. The hat-tip goes to AmRen.
The gist of Wade's piece is that the genomists have found a boy's skeleton at Baikal, died 22000 BC, and traced the late owner's DNA both to proto Native Americans and to one of the several "U" female lineages (a mtDNA signature from the Black Sea). This implies that Ukraine-type females had got that far east before even the Tocharians did (3000 BC, right? so I gather from Horse, Wheel, Language).
I have to interject that I still can't see how this proves that "native American signatures" originated with the U-girls in Europe. Maybe the proto-Americans of that then-Asian population went east, and the others stayed by the lake and had fun with the U-girls afterward, and separately. Along those lines, I also can't see where the proto-Native-Americans brought the Mal'ta boy's mtDNA sisters along with them (was this just a Brøderbund?). We still have no evidence that any U lineage ever strayed further east than Baikal. So Nature's headline is wrong - to be more exact, it does not fit its article.
But it does show that Europeans did travel east a long way, and did so a long way back. This suggests how the X signature - which is found in (north) native American populations - got over there. It was probably along the same road, the road which later became the Tocharian Road, and which we know as the Silk Road.
It's all exciting stuff, and it makes one wonder how proto-Native-Americans got purged from the Old World.
Open letter to my alma mater
(This would be Rice.)
Before you send people to call my cellphone uninvited, please ensure that said callers are people who (1) are informed about what that university is like these days and (2) have retained some small institutional memory of my mindset and attitude when I attended your school.
Please do not instruct freshmen who major in "Policy Studies" to call me.
As it happens, I do hold some opinions about how "policy" should work in this country - especially as pertains to "Policy Studies"-majoring idealists. I'd refer the reader to this guy, except that he clearly didn't go far enough.
Want me to lecture your freshmen about that guy? No? Think it might lead to a conversation nobody wants to have? Then don't fucking call me.
POSTSCRIPT - Okay, now I'm thankful that I did get called by an !!Obama!2016!! volunteer. I am reminded that the school hasn't got any better. Saves me some cash, it does.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Upload #85: into the wadi
Last night I tracked down Friedrich Schulthess's Diwân of Umayya bin Abi'l-Salt's poetry. (By the way, I recommend going back here if you own a copy of Ibn Warraq, Koranic Allusions. Over the past five weeks I have made several important updates to that post.)
Schulthess matters most for that translation over which I've been struggling: Frank-Kamenetzky's dissertation upon Umayya's poetry - as Schulthess had edited it. In case you were wondering - how can I possibly translate a commentary upon a book I don't even have? Well... your suspicions would be correct. I can't, and couldn't translate this thing; and that is why I haven't been posting my efforts as yet.
One exception. Last month I posted an essay - "Borderlands of Damdam" - on that "pseudo-Umayya" poem about Mary and Jesus, Sch. 38. The tertiary sources in Ibn Warraq had informed me that I could get this poem from "Pseudo-Balkhi" Maqdisi. As it happened, I did find the poem there. So, Maqdisi is what I used - not Schulthess. (As for what I'd posted about Sch. 24 - Frank-Kamentezky had printed the full Arabic, and it was short, so I had no direct need of Schulthess for that one.)
I may have posted my essay too soon. There was an important footnote in Sch. 38, that explains the mindset of that (pseudonymous) poet. (11/28: Which Power, "Additions" here did not do.) It at least puts the overall work into a context.
Whilst I was at it I've also fixed up "Focus", on sura 24; the allegations that sura 24 was longer than it now is don't just come from al-Kindi the Christian. This affects only a footnote though.
Anyway with Schulthess, I can at least (now) see what Frank-Kamenetzky was writing about. This should be of great help.
UPDATE 11/28: Resubmitted these two fixes.
Thursday, November 07, 2013
The black flag
Ilkka Lindstedt has deemed my slapdash post worthy of a response. In fact more than a response - he has gone so far as to send me a draught of his Essay(s) IV: "Al-Madāʾinī’s Kitāb al-Dawla and the Death of Ibrāhīm al-Imām". For this I can only express my gratitude.
I'd mentioned before - Lindstedt's work is really two works. The titular part is a brief in favour of Kitab al-Dawla's existence, and an implicit plea for someone - perhaps himself? to reconstruct this. (It's from this basis that his overall dissertation argues for the Abbasids as scheming for power all along, as I'd blogged earlier.) The next part, which I will be suggesting for him to expand into a separate essay in its own right, is an attempt to date the history by Ibn A'tham. I deal with the former for this post's purpose.
Lindstedt's thesis is in dialogue with the work of Saleh Said Agha. Agha had accepted, from Julius Wellhausen, that the rebel army of AD 740s Khurasan was mainly Persian. Agha goes on from there to deny that the Abbasids had much to do with this rebellion. Instead - says Agha - the Abbasids were later opportunists who found their opportunity in the revolutionary chaos.
I am not here discussing the merits of Agha's case versus Lindstedt's. I acknowledge entirely my lack of standing to do so. I do however find notable that such a fundamental debate is even being had, in peer-reviewed journals. Neither Agha nor Lindstedt are stray researchers crying in the wilderness!
The fundamental fact of the Dawla is that the Abbasids won and became the sultans of God. As a result the official historians wrote whatever history the Abbasids were pleased to make their own. That meant that objective history only became possible outside Islam. The various Haruri rebels by contrast did not win; and so Muslim and Christian historians alike (once they had done with the confutation of the heretics' theological errors) could treat their careers objectively.
We can assume that the regime's rivals might remember things differently. But they too might not have entirely prostrated themselves at the altar of the Goddess History. This is another important point, and I must credit K~ in MI for this observation: the power of the press belongs to those who own a press. So, as of the late 700s AD; the surviving enemies against the Banu Abbas were Umayyads in Spain, and various Christians in Europe and Anatolia. To the extent anyone here and then cared about history: Umayyads would have to admit that the sons of Abd al-Malik kind of screwed things up over the 740s AD, and the Greeks would sheepishly wonder if they should have expended quite so much energy in destroying the artistic legacy of Byzantium.
Where the new regime's rivals feel themselves in the wrong as well, that means their propaganda efforts will not be aimed at setting the record straight. They will feel safer writing simple satires upon the winners' narrative. Satires are, of course, secondary works.
So Agha is entirely in his rights to wonder, where all political elites are in agreement, if perhaps the scam is on the rest of us. We have certainly had our fill of this in these United States.
But this only excuses Agha; it doesn't defend his work. Sometimes, perhaps most times, a "bipartisan consensus" is correct. Figuring out whether a consensus has merit is exactly why we need works like Lindstedt's.
Sunday, November 03, 2013
The schemes of the Abbasids
While we're reading dissertations on Islam, Ilkka Lindstedt has one. This project goes over the early Abbasid-era ... I guess you could call him a professor: al-Madaini.
The project attracted my eye because one of my projects - that on al-Khirrit, "The Heretic of Rewardashir" - also touched upon al-Madaini. Tabari, my main source (only source actually) had used a summary of al-Madaini's lecture, by Umar bin Shabba. By the time this summary got out of Tabari's hands, it was a very short vignette indeed! At any rate, as far as I am able to fact-check Lindstedt (that the isnad Tabari < Umar < al-Madaini exists) - Lindstedt came out well. Lindstedt, like Fred Donner, does put too much faith in the Hadith's account of Islam prior to the Zubayrid Fitna; but, also like Fred Donner, this isn't the focus of Lindstedt's work, and so those footnotes may be skipped over.
What Lindstedt has posted is not quite a thesis, unless I am misunderstanding the definitions; the dissertation reads more like a directory, to five articles that he is publishing in various journals and books. The article I am interested in, here, is the fourth of these: "Al-Madaini's Kitab al-Dawla and the Death of Ibrahim al-Imam", to be published in (or by) the
It is Lindstedt's contention that Madaini's students have transmitted enough of his material, that we may now reconstruct a Kitab al-Dawla - as Newby reconstructed Ibn Ishaq's Mubtada, or as Sean Anthony is about to reconstruct Mamar's Maghazi - although Lindstedt has not yet published this "Book of the Revolution" as a separate work. The "Dawla", says Lindstedt, is about the earliest attempt to make sense of the upheavals which brought the Banu Abbas into power.
Key to this, is that "Ibrahim the Imam" died soon after wresting Kufa from the Umayyads. At that point, the Abbasids invoked a shura, pleading for "The Family Of The Prophet". At the time there were many contenders for that distinction; even the Umayyads could make such a claim. The Muslims wanted someone closer to Muhammad, though. They generally assumed that an Alid branch would get the job: there had just been a rebellion by Zayd son of Ali Abidin, for instance. Imagine everyone's shock and surprise when the children of the Prophet's uncle took over!
(That same article also boasts an appendix, to restore the early "Orientalist" dating of the Shi' historian Ibn A'tham: namely, to the early 300s / 900s. I don't think I've so much as touched Ibn A'tham yet, but it's nice to know.)
A first impression: Lindstedt might be a bit ingenuous that his subject al-Madaini, himself, had no agenda beyond the study of history. (Hoyland contracted the same disease after compiling Theophilos.) Even Tabari, no booster of the Umayyads himself, thought that some of al-Madaini's reports were too infamous - as when al-Madaini related how the Abbasids slaughtered the Umayyad princes. At least, I assume this was Tabari's motive for leaving that tale out of his book, where others didn't. As a result I would personally take more seriously the charge of al-Madaini's Shi'ite tendency. At the very least we have here someone who didn't like the Umayyads or their eventual successors.
On the plus side, I can support that, yes, what the people of the Hijaz and Iraq wanted was an Alid. I have mentioned Zayd; another dark-horse candidate was Muhammad al-Hasani "nafs al-afaya" (Andreas Goerke wrote a very good article on Hasani propaganda efforts over the 730s). When the Hasani finally got around to his rebellion, in 762 AD - it failed. What revolutionaries want is seldom what they end up with.
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