The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Theodor Nöldeke as Allah's literary critic

After the last two updates - three if you count the stuff behind a paywall - I am now prepared to report upon Theodor Nöldeke's section of Neue Beiträge zur Semitischen Sprachwissenschaft (1910) which talks of the Qur'an's (mis)use of Arabic.

I had the German version three years ago. I don't know where to find it now. 6/30: Here it is again on Hathi. Also here's the French translation, which was Ibn Warraq's point of departure; translator de Bousquet offers a "postface" as well.

Our German savant had spent the whole of his text telling us exactly how the Prophet used mistaken Arabic, loanwords into Arabic, nonArabic idiom, repetitive Arabic, abrupt shifts of Arabic grammar and generally poor Arabic throughout the Qur'an. This is doubtless why Ibn Warraq, anti-Islam activist as he is, saw this article as fit to (re-re-)print. At the same time one does wonder, if the Qur'an is such a crappy book, why Theodor Nöldeke found the exercise worth his time. (I sometimes hear that same question about mine own stuff.)

I am of the opinion that the iltifat, the grammar-shifts, are often the children of intertextual strain; in places, they might even be intentional, in that the reader - a hafiz, especially - would immediately know to cross-reference those other verses to fill in the gaps of this one. In which case they're less "bad Arabic" than they look. Likewise a "mistake" in grammar like wa-law kariha al-kafiroona (against proper wa-in...) could have been irony in its first instance - like I could not care less - which, over repeating and requoting, becomes a cliché.

As for the repetitions like adallu sabîl in sura 25, I deny that this is a hamfisted failure of imagination, as Nöldeke implies by just calling them repeated rhyme-words. What such repetition often intends - as AHM Zahniser has noted - is a formulaic frame to a text-capsule; this is surely the case for vv. 34-44 (36-46 in Fluegel's enumeration).

To sum up, Nöldeke's piece is a valuable article to have, especially (for me) in English. But I find it often unfair to the genius of the Arab Scripture.


posted by Zimri on 10:33 | link | 0 comments

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