The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Glory to God

F. Kootstra has drawn attention to f‘l ḥmd, a Taymani military formula with the same meaning as “performed with distinction” (TA 09302 > 09303 argued pp. 78-9, 92-3; also cf. 71, 100, 108). For ḥmd alone, Kootstra cites the Sabaic language in south Arabia, that it meant glory. His overall essay is an argument that Taymanitic is no more an “Arabic” language than Sabaic is. Here, he marks significant that two radically different Semitic languages in Arabia have placed this root into the same semantic field, viz. manly honour. He notes that similar has happened to ḥmd in classical Arabic which intends more generally “praise” - although this essay doesn’t touch the Qur’an. Kootstra implies (p. 93, “common root”) that ḥmd=honour is proto-Semitic, at least proto-west-Semitic.

I’d counter that ḥmd as glory may be areal. I don’t see this sense of ḥmd in Ethiopic, Hebrew, nor Aramaic; I don’t even find it in Safaitic or Palmyrene or Nabataean, by which proto-Arabs recorded their raids and battles. I keep harping on Hebrew lô taḥmôd here, but bear with me once more: the base west-Semitic ḥmd more likely signified desire. Scholars of Islam who happen to be Jews, like Yehuda Nevo, have been harping on this too, applying that to "Muḥammad" ("chosen one"?).

With Kootstra's proposal "glory", I look back upon suras 3, 47, 48, and (canon-)61 where the Qur’an names Muḥammad / Aḥmad. I find they are all warrior suras, or parts of sura. Sura 33 might be an exception but it is derivative (of 4, mostly). If these suras meant by the Prophet's name, "glory"; then this connotation of "Muḥammad" arrived with Fred Donner’s Arabophone warriors from the Arabian desert. Although, probably from deeper in it than the coastal Tihama, where Donner himself places the Qur’an.

Donner’s full theme was “militant piety”. To that end the other early suras might consciously resist Muḥammad as a title for men – even for military men. Those suras promote the formula al-ḥamdu li-llâhi which reserves al-ḥamd for God implicitly alone, like sura 6’s lâ ḥukm illâ li’llâh (with more force) reserves judgement for God alone. For sura 8, particularly, human armies don’t win and even the nameless Prophet doesn’t win without help; God wins.

Certainly such piety must question canonical sura 61’s Aḥmad. And such thought would have preserved Muḥammad’s birth-name in the Tradition.

And back to Kootstra, that ḥmd is glory in Taymanitic argues against classing that tongue as North West Semitic ("NWS"). To preserve Taymanitic as NWS we must allow an areal shift in ḥmd’s connotation, pulling the NWS languages apart.

posted by Zimri on 16:42 | link | 0 comments

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