The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, February 27, 2016

An Armenian geography of Arabia

Today I found a reference to an Armenian Geography, claimed to be by Anania Shirakatsi. As translated by RH Hewsen (Wiesbaden: 1992), an excerpt from page 71:

It is bounded on the south by Fortunate Arabia, on the east by Desert Arabia, and on the north by Syria and Judaea. It has five small districts near Egypt: Tackastan, the Munuchiatis Gulf by the Red Sea [other side of Sinai], and Pharanitis, where the town of Pharan, which I think the Arabs call Mecca. Here begin the mountains called Melana which extend northwards turning slightly to the east; then the Elanites [=Gulf of Aqaba] which is near a plateau. Fortunate Arabia contains the River Tretenon but not a single spring. It is six degrees long and two wide.

Since his borders to the west are Egypt and the Red Sea, and he has not Mesopotamia to the north... this must be the western part of Arabia.

Of interest to Hagarene scholarship, his Pharan is transcribed from the Greek Genesis 21:21 - of Ishmael and Hagar - and for it the Arabs have a new name: "Mecca" (and not "Makoraba"). That might be why Ananias of Shirak who died in 685 AD is suspect of being that pericope's author. House of War would agree - the Zubayrids, whose caliphate stretched to the Armenian border as of 65 AH / 685 AD, were indeed playing up a "Mecca" as the maqam of Ishmael.

But the Armenian does not yet tell us where or what holy Mecca is: a town? a valley?

"The Melana mountains" could be black mountains, from the Greek melania; along the western border of the Arabia Deserta such freestanding rocks will be the harrats. These stretch well into the Syrian deserts. For a northerner observing what is closest, the north-to-east progression will be Jabal al-Arab blending into al-Safa.

As for where the harrats start down south, our Mecca is at least in that general region, although not perfect (the southern most harrat, al-Buqum, lies to its southeast). It would not appear to be Dan Gibson's post-Nabataean Petra; but then, if this account is from the 60s / 680s (or later!), it already comes too late to affect the speculations of Qur'anic Geography, which aim rather earlier. Also the geography gets vague about the Hijaz past Aqaba. Where's Yathrib?

This geographical pericope seems to me to be one more tangential record of Islam that Hoyland's Seeing Islam as Others Saw It could have included. But I'll concede that its authorship is controversial; it looks like something Zubayri-era, but not conclusively. So it belongs with "Dubia" at best.

posted by Zimri on 16:28 | link | 0 comments

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