The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Never correct the caliph

I just (re-)ran across David S. Margoliouth, Textual Variations of the Koran. In it:

There are occasions when the inaccuracy of those who cite it is astounding. The caliph Mansur, when in his controversy with an 'Alid pretender he wished to prove that an uncle could be called a father, cited xii. 38: I (Joseph) followed the sect of my fathers, Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob;6 the argument depends on the name Ishmael, which is not found in the text! The proof-passage intended by Mansur is ii. 127, where Jacob's sons say to him, We shall worship the God of thy fathers, Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac; where, as Mansur observes, "he began with him (the uncle) in preference to the immediate parent." Neither Mubarrad nor Ibn Khaldun, who produce the letter with the quotation from xii. 38, notices the mistake; Tabari7 omits the wrong quotation, but apparently cannot find the right one.

The footnotes 6 and 7 go to Mubarrad, Kamil ii. 322 (Cairo ed.); and to Tabari respectively. Obviously everyone involved has always agreed upon the base-text of sura 12; the Joseph story simply has no relevance to Ishmael. Even the freakin' Jews (and Christians) knew better than to cite this text with Ishmael and to turn it upon the Muslims for their ignorance. So Margoliouth asks - Why did the caliph, alone, beg to differ? and why didn't the historians call him on it?

Margoliouth thought that our caliph was not Bibelfest - not a scholar; and he implies the same of Tabari (!). I suspect, on the contrary, that our caliph did know what he was doing. (Certainly Tabari did!) I propose that our caliph attempted to interpose "Ishmael" in the hope that no Arab would dare take it out. I agree with Margoliouth that a quasi-Shia sect like the Banu'l-Abbas could use this variant.

I'll further propose that our variant predates our caliph. The variant would have been just as useful in the 120s / 740s, when Abbasid propaganda were competing with Zaydite and Hasanid propaganda.

As for why no later historians corrected the basis of this propagandum: well, the Abbasids were in these historians' time still there, in Baghdad, and nominally were still the defensores fidei if that phrase may be applied to a Muslim sovereign. The readers would understand that this variant wasn't being preached in Samanid Iran, nor in Umayyad Spain nor in Tulunid / Fatimid / whatever Africa. Best just to let it go. As time went on, the Abbasids themselves just let it go.

posted by Zimri on 18:10 | link | 0 comments

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