The House of David

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Wednesday, October 02, 2013

As-Salt on the Quran's origins

I just bought Ibn Warraq's latest anthology Koranic Allusions (formerly "Koranic Sources"). Since it hasn't arrived yet (I'm not even sure they've sent it yet), I won't review it. But I have read the contents page. The first section concerns pre-Islamic poetry - at least, Arabic poetry, which doesn't look Islamic; our editor is here offering articles which attempt to prove that it's all pre-Islamic. Here are some highlights:

2. Sprenger, "On Umayya B. Abi al-Salt" (German)
3. Huart, "A New Source of the Koran" (French)
4. Schulthess, "Umayya b. abi-[s ]Salt" (German; note typo in I.W.'s contents!)
5. Power, "Umayya ibn Abi s-Salt" (also here)
6. Power, "The Poems of Umayya B. Abi-s-Salt: Additions, Suggestions and Rectifications"
8. Seidensticker, "The Authenticity of the Poems Ascribed to Umayya Ibn Abi al-Salt" (also here - the 1996 State Of The Question is summarised at the start)
9. Borg, "The Divine in the Works of Umayya B. Abi al-Salt" (also here)

These amount to almost all of the section. They may well be all of it - I just read the titles and followed a few links. It is clearly Umayya's turn at the open-mic at Prometheus Books.

Not everyone knows about Umayya. This is mainly because of the scholar Tor Andrae's work on the topic (not reproduced here): this work debunked several Umayya poems - successfully, in some cases; it has been assumed that he'd trashed the lot. As a result, twentieth-century scholars have backed slowly away from the car-wreck, including Watt (I've followed Watt). I do agree with Ibn Warraq that we need to reopen that debate about which "Umayya" poems are Qur'anic pastiches; and which might be para-Qur'anic. I also agree with Ibn Warraq - and Clement Huart - that the authenticity-question on Umayya bears strongly upon the related question on the Qur'an.

I commend Ibn Warraq for bringing this stuff to the independent researcher's attention. So, here's your preview of the inevitable Amazon review. . . [UPDATE 10.5 - f0q Amazon.]

I'll interject here that, once again with Ibn Warraq's output, I must complain about him stuffing his cash publication with free stuff - in this case, Power's first article, already in English.

Before you start on these articles, you need Umayya's Diwan - some way to get access to his poetry. The classical Orientalists writing from 1912 on down - especially Germans - have generally assumed Schulthess (a 140-page book, so not published here). Arabs and (for some reason) Borg are using other enumerations, like that of Hadithi. But Schulthess is copyright-free, so go use that.

As ancillary to these articles, you might consider Borg's other essay, "Umayya b Abi al-Salt As A Poet"; and Montgomery, Salvation at Sea?. As followup, more salt can be shaken out of Sinai's article "Religious Poetry from the Quranic milieu" BSOAS (2011), 1-20 [pdf]. Now, Sinai assumes that the Qur'an was written in Muhammad's lifetime; but on this occasion I don't mind too much. First, he informs us of his bias in a footnote. Second, and more to the point, his main theme is sura 91; which sura probably is Muhammadan, or near enough. If he'd picked on sura 26, that's where I'd pick on him.

Sinai as of 2011 also used two then-unpublished articles. First is Seidensticker, “Die Authentizität der Umaiya Ibn Abī ṣ-Ṣalt zugeschriebenen Gedichte II”, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 161 (2011), 39f - the German-language sequel to the "Authenticity" essay printed in Allusions. Second was Cornelia Horn's talk "Apocryphal Traditions, A Meeting Ground between Manichaeans, Pre-Islamic Arabic Poetic Traditions, Orthodox Christians, and Early Muslims in Late Antique Arabia". Both were delivered at the conference “Religious culture in late antique Arabia”, at Berlin in 25–27 June 2009.

UPDATE 11/24: I have a severe critique here: as I am reading Borg's article on "Hadithi 104", it occurs to me that he was talking about Schulthess XLVI - and that he had not noted any of the articles from the 1906-1912 era. Borg did get around to reading some of them as of "As A Poet"; but still, not Power's "Additions". You see, Power had mused, based on some ancient fragments from Thalabi, that the poem 104/XLVI is probably interpolated: Ibn Warraq, 171 n. 29. Power's argument was, it turns out, itself broken; because nobody at that time yet had all of Thalabi's Kashf al-Bayan itself on Q. 7:175. Thalabi's text of Umayya here has proven still to be variant - but not such as to affect its Koranicity. My point here is less that Borg didn't have Thalabi either, but more that he didn't know to look for it - because he hadn't seen the earlier references to it. As a result both his articles effectively have no poem to discuss here: for 104/XLVI, I can barely use even his English translation. It makes me worry also about his treatment of 21/LV (and XXVII, XXXV, LX). (Nicolai Sinai, restraining himself to a translation of vv. 1-3, did not face this problem.)

Back to Ibn Warraq: his book left out Frank-Kamenetzky, Nöldeke, and Hirschberg. If Sinai is right, then Frank-Kamenetzky is another must-read (the others noted, including Andrae, are often reactions to him). I also (still) cannot find where Horn's talk has been posted excepting its title (UPDATE 11/23: a work in progress?). Woulda been nice if either of these essays hadda been translated or first-published here, insteada Power's #5.

UPDATE 10.5: Sequel.

UPDATE 11.28: Frank-Kamenetzky, Nöldeke.

posted by Zimri on 17:13 | link | 0 comments

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