The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Joseph Witztum on Sura 7 / Sura 20

When I was dealing with the synoptic-problem in various suras, in The Arabs and Their Qur'an, I looked at the sura 7 Prophets generally and I looked at Moses specifically, in one (very dry) essay each. I didn't touch the Iblis story. That's because it is a can o' worms.

Angelika Neuwirth argued that the sequence here went 20 > 7. Edmund Beck failed to dislodge Neuwirth. Moreover, I'd found the same 20 > 7 sequence in the Moses story. So I merrily adopted Neuwirth's article and dropped that in as the last word on the topic: 20 > 7, done, never mind Beck. Well... now Joseph Witztum wants to reopen the case.

Here follows the basis. I adapt Pooya Yazdi's translation, swapping out some words for Witztum's where I can.

Q. 7:20 - Then the Satan whispered to them ... your Lord only forbade you from this tree lest ye become MLKYN or immortals.

Q. 20:120 - But the Satan whispered to him, saying: o Adam! shall I lead thee to the tree of immortality, and to a dominion that shall not perish (MLK ya yabla)?

Witztum notes that sura 7 is ambiguous about MLKYN: it can be voiced for "two angels" or it can be voiced for "king-and-queen" - and has been voiced in variant ways. Sura 20, though, is clear. MLK cannot mean angelhood, and here must be voiced mulk for kingdom. Witztum then finds mal'akin, angels, in the Syriac subtext. Sura 7 is, then, no challenge to the original; where sura 20 is a riff, accidental or deliberate. Witztum concludes from this that sura 7 sits in between the Aramaic Targum and sura 20.

Witztum fails to convince me, for the same reason Beck failed to convince Witztum. As against Beck, we cannot rule out that the Aramaic base may be floating around the sectarian milieu, able to affect both. Whichever composer did the later of suras 7 and 20, we agree, composed a new sura based on the earlier one. That means he (less likely she) read the earlier one and had new comments to make. What is stopping sura 7 from reading sura 20 and correcting sura 20's wrong Aramaic? Note that even here, that composer left himself some wiggle room to read this root either way.

What's stopping sura 7 is an assumption by Witztum. It's the assumption that the suras' audience hasn't noticed the similarity between MLK as king and ML'K as angel, and that the audience of the worse qur'ân, in this case sura 20, wouldn't request a better one. (Many suras elsewhere, I should point out, counter exactly those critics in their audience, at several places.)

Witztum has a better case with the ba-'gal / 'egla pun in Syriac, 7:150 v. 20:83-5. Here it is more arguable that the audience hasn't read so deeply into the Syriac Bible. Note however that here the same words are used in the Arabic. Is Witztum certain that we are not going to find a parallel Arabic poem on the topic, like Umayya bin Abi'l-Salt's Sch.-XXXII.1-23?

The good news for my two narrative-focused books: House of War cares only that sura 7 precedes suras 13, 14, and 25; Throne of Glass, that suras 7 and 20 precede sura 27. (And both care about sura 26 mainly as a rebuke to sura 25.) So the relative positions of suras 7 and 20 don't matter so much.

I cannot see Neuwirth recanting her work on Iblis. My project, I'll admit, is in more trouble... for now. But in general, when doing redaction criticism, we are all better off where there be word-for-word correspondence, or other thematic correspondence in tropes that CANNOT be located in The Sectarian Milieu.


posted by Zimri on 17:43 | link | 0 comments

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