The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Friday, April 07, 2017


On 15 November, 23 And Me renamed their paternal assignments. I was R1b1 something, sometimes L21 or S145. The R1b1xxx never quite worked, as sometimes L21 / S145 was prefixed R1b1a- and sometimes R1b1b2-. Now they are going with "R-M529".

I don't see where this changes anything. Maybe more work can be done on my particular part of the family tree, shared with ... pretty much everyone else in Aquitaine, France, and southern England.

posted by Zimri on 17:49 | link | 0 comments

Thursday, April 06, 2017

The lesser hijra

The axial moment in Islam is the hijra, when - they say - the Prophet foresook his home Mecca for friendlier territory in Yathrib. But they also tell of another hijra, in which some Meccan Muslims skipped across the Red Sea into the Habashi lands. That is, to Axsum likely under king Armah.

We find similar duplications in the Trojan War cycle. Some Greeks related how their ancestors had attacked Egypt as well as Troy. Some such stories even got compiled into epics. Those epics were desultory affairs, clearly derivative of the Iliad and nowhere near as good. So they survive mainly in scholia, although I understand that the Alexandrian School appreciated the precedent.

By contrast for Islam, the minor-hijra to Ethiopia is canonical. Still, this was not the hijra; the Prophet himself, for one, did not go.

As you may watch in The Message: the Muslims recited sura 19 at the Habashi king, upon which the king embraced the Muslims as spiritual brethren. This story has always stunk to me (beyond the movie's juvenile stagecraft here). Armah's coinage has crosses on it. That means he was a Monothelete - if not a full Miaphysite. No Monothelete was going to accept sura 19. Plus, for an event purporting to precede 70 / 690, I don't think sura 19 was even composed yet.

But we don't know much more about Armah's kingdom than we know about pre-Hijri Islam. Philostorgios teaches us that the first official Christians in Ethiopia were Arians. Maybe there remained an anti-cross underground; maybe the Muslims went to a rebel province we don't anymore remember. Or, to the contrary: maybe the Arabs who went to Axsum were closer to Christian orthodoxy, part of the more-oecumenical Community Of Believers (albeit before the Constitution of Madina).

UPDATE 5/5: there's an invalid argument afoot, that Axum's prominence as of the Hijra somehow confirms the Lesser Hijra as an historical event. Please note that I never denied that Axum was important to the early 7th century Near East. What I've argued here is that the Monothelete elite of Axum could not have tolerated an antiChristian sect like the Islam of the Sira. We can solve this only by casting the Sira into doubt. This would, sadly, render all those events collected under it disconnected, independent anecdotes adrift like so much Red Sea flotsam.

posted by Zimri on 17:51 | link | 0 comments

The conversion of Ethiopia (and Yemen)

Rufinus the Nicaean had already composed his own continuation of Eusebius, so Philostorgios did his continuation, in part, as a response.

Rufinus claimed the conversion of Axsum as the result of an accident, that a Frumentius shipwrecked there and converted the locals himself, as an apostle should. Philostorgios contradicts this, not mentioning Frumentius at all. Instead the Emperor himself had sent a mission, via Theophilus the Indian. And this mission went to the Yemen too, which Rufinus omitted. Which to believe?

It happens that the Roman emperor at the time, Constantius, was an Arian; so had a political motive to get Axsum (and Yemen, and the Goths) into the same religion. Non-Arian Greek Christians had no such motive to send counter-missions. Also, Gregory of Nyssa concedes that Theophilus existed (if only to insult him); I do not know that anybody else knew Frumentius. As for why Rufinus noted only Axsum but not Yemen: Axsum was Nicaean (leaning Ephesian) already by Rufinus’s time, like Armenia, so could be counted an “orthodox” victory; whilst the Yemen remained a haven of Rahmanites, Jews, and “heretics”, so was a mixed success at best.

Rufinus was lying; Philostorgios corrected the record. Later “orthodox” historians, deep down, knew it; and that is one reason compelling them to copy Philostorgios.

posted by Zimri on 17:10 | link | 0 comments

Copying Philostorgios

Philostorgios was a continuator of Eusebius of Caesarea as a historian, and a follower of Eusebius of Nicomedia as a Christian. That is, he was an Arian; or, as he’d call himself, a Eunomian. Arabists appreciate Philostorgios as a witness to Christianity in Arabia and “India”, mainly Yemen. Obviously its full text couldn’t survive the Trinitarian decision of the Church, but we have good excerpts – much better than those we have of, say, Uranius.

(Geographers back then couldn’t figure out dark-skinned people who lived in cities and didn’t look like subSaharans; they called such people “Indians”, probably intending the hither side of the Indian Ocean.)

Anna Lankina in 2011 wrote a fine Master’s thesis about Philostorgios where he focuses on Arabia (and on, er, Gothica). And we may even read it!

Lankina builds on Alanna M. Nobbs: “Philostorgius’ Ecclesiastical History: An ‘Alternative Ideology,’” Tyndale Bulletin 42.2 (1991), 271-81 [pdf]; “Philostorgius’ View of the Past” (Rushcutter’s Bay, 1990), 251-64 – but not “Philostorgius’ Place in the Tradition of Ecclesiastical Historiography” (St Patrick’s College, Manly, 12-15 July 1990, published 1994), 198-206.

Philostorgios was writing under Theodosius II in the fifth century AD, after the council of Nicaea and around the time of Ephesus (AD 431). This empire was Miaphysite. So our church-historian tells us little of, say, Armenian Christianity. Armenia has been famously Miaphysite; I understand that it still is. A hero of Philostorgios, one Eudoxius, was the son of a Christian martyr from an Armenian town; but to our historian, Eudoxius mattered only once he’d moved west.

Philostorgios was well-informed enough and his book well-written enough that other scholars took him seriously. Photius, writing very much later, had access to sufficient text (Nobbs 1991; backed up by Baldini, endorsed by Bryn Mawr Classical Review) that he included a thorough epitome, albeit in the form of a refutation. In the meantime Socrates, Sozumen, and Theodoret each drew from Philostorgios in their own way and for their own purposes.

Lankina declares (a little superlatively) that Philostorgios’ survival constitutes a “miracle”. Maybe.

I point out here Pseudo-Sebeos’s report: that in the 30s / 650s, Arab warriors came to Constantinople and demanded that the Empire submit, promoting the Arian reading of Jesus’ death. I propose that educated Greeks, at this point, would have wanted to know, basically, WTF. Where did these guys come from, and how did they acquire their ideas? To that end, the Greeks could have consulted the Periplus and the Arabika. The Arabika wasn’t around anymore – the Byzantines just had the Ethnika. Philostorgios, now… they did have that, and therein was an Arian account of Arabia. Plus, Philostorgios was more current than the Periplus and the Arabika both. So the 30s / 650s makes for an ideal time when the Byzantine court would have copied Philostorgios. The scholars were stuck behind those walls; there wasn’t much else they could do.

The AD 650 copy was a hate-copy, to be sure; the Byzantine court at the time was Monothelete, crypto-Miaphysites. Still, the Empire was on a knife’s edge, so their copy was surely an honest one. They’d have kept this copy safely locked away. But that just meant that when the Arabs were done attacking the city, after 720ish, the book didn’t get smudged.

posted by Zimri on 17:09 | link | 0 comments

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Shards of the Arabika

As of the late fourth-century AD, many west Syrians were conversant in Arabic and Greek as well as in Syriac. Enough locals grew curious about the Arabian wilderness that Uranius / Ouranios of Apamea wrote an ethnologue, Arabika. This survives in fragments, which Stephen the grammarian of Byzantium collected and published in his Ethnika. I have not, however, found any other Byzantine quotes from the Arabika; by contrast the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, which preceded it, got copied and may be read in full today. It has puzzled me that a book on Arabs already of note in fifth- and sixth-century Constantinople was not directly available when Arabs were encamped outside its very wall in the middle seventh. Uranius can't have been more heretical than Philostorgius.

Toward solving that, I have today found a summary of a 1973 Harvard dissertation from one James Eric Guttman Zetzel. Zetzel proposed that Stephen might not have had the Arabika directly. I wish someone had published Zetzel's thesis properly, but c’est la vie. Maybe Hoyland could have a whack at it.

Stephen in lieu of the full Arabika used “lexica” or “grammars” (Zetzel cited fragment 4) – which would have been Greek / Arabic. Such textbooks would have dispersed widely around fifth-century administrative circles, decades after the Arabika itself had fallen out of regular use. Since Stephen gives us the volume-numbers for several entries here, the textbooks must have done the same – they behaved like Stephen himself would. (So these were not casual phrasebooks or primers.) The textbooks assuredly would have eased Stephen’s task; the hard work of excerpting and indexing this stuff was already done.

The Arabika-derivative textbooks went the way of their source, but there it’s easier to see why. The conversion of many Arabs to Islam and the recruitment of other Arabophones to the futûh served to alter the Arabic language, sharply. Islam also altered the Arabic historical memory. Which meant that Greeks and Syrians needed updated manuals.

But I suspect that a part of the Arabika survived. Although languages change and peoples change, valleys and mountains endure. So at least the Arabika’s geographical excerpts would have remained evergreen; especially where such built upon and corrected the Periplus. We know of several texts from antiquity copied only in part; Stephen’s own Ethnika would get repeatedly epitomised. Perhaps – to pick one – Ananias of Shirak used such a selective copy, of the Arabika.

The bad news is that we have even more separation from the core Arabika than we thought. Now I must wonder if the Arabika was composed in Greek, or in Syriac…

posted by Zimri on 17:00 | link | 0 comments

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Construct-clauses in spoken Arabic

I found in, Jan Retsö's 2005 "Thoughts about the Diversity of Arabic". This discussed the differences between spoken Arabic and fusha, proper Arabic - by which I mean Modern Standard, classical, Qur'anic, poetic, what have you. I was going to mine it for more isoglosses between Qur'anic Arabic and the spoken Arabic of the first / seventh century. The article doesn't disappoint, but some isoglosses seem post-Qur'anic or para-Qur'anic. Such would belong in their own post.

It's not the easiest article to read if, like me, you are untrained or selftrained in Semitic linguists. One bit that stuck out to me: the relative clause. This is "the house that David inhabits" rather than "the house of David". Retsö says that in most Arabic the clause and the noun-noun construction behave differently from each other: the clause by juxtaposition, the noun-noun by annexation. Except in "Qeltu" and along the Maghreb - there, they behave the same, both "annexation". In the Qur'an and in poetry also, we can sometimes find an annexational idafa-like clause. But apparently this is only done for time, like Q. 5:119 "the day of...". These differ only in how they handle the problem: North Africa has a d particle and uses that, the Jazira and Q. 5:119 go with idafa. (My theory on North African d is that it's proto-Romance de.)

(And I had to look up "Qeltu" dialects. They're the Arabics of the Jazira. They live amongst the Syrian Christians, the northern Kurds, the Caliphate, and Erdogan's police.)

North Africa and the Jazira are separate from one another; Syria and Egypt are in the way, as is Cyprus. Retsö noted that old Semitic languages like the Hebrew of Isaiah and Ugaritic behaved like the Jazira "Qeltu" and the Qur'an. He concluded that these shared traits are archaisms. Maybe the "Arabic" tribes were a gaggle of various Semites, perhaps not meaningfully "Arabic" at all.

This would seem to agree with Rabin, Ancient West-Arabian. Himyaritic really did look like a para-Arabic language, as opposed to - say - Safaitic which is recognisably proto-Arabic. It could also answer, what happened to Ancient North Arabian / Thamudic where it wasn't Safaitic.

posted by Zimri on 17:34 | link | 0 comments

Monday, April 03, 2017

The Tinder plague

I saw that Tinder was having itself some problems. Tinder spreads a lot of clap, you see. And when they're called out on it, they sic the lawyers on you. But that doesn't change the basic fact that you will get an itchy weenie if you use their service. So Tinder had to set up a clinic locator. And then there are those less fortunate.

Today for the first time I went over to Tinder's blog. Maybe they're at least getting more discerning about the people they let on.

Nah: Tinder have doubled down. They are now going all-in (as it were) on sexual dysphoria the sufferers of which disproportionately spread more disease. But everyone is welcome on Tinder!

Well, almost everyone. I have found the one trait they won't tolerate over at Tinder, which is mockery of their pieties. Rosette Pambakian, VP of Communications there, called out the "pig" named Nick for spreading "hate", for "trolling", and maybe for "racist rants" or "sexism". I remain unsure because Pambakian wouldn't relate to us what horrible things Nick said.

(Maybe it was something about Armenians. It has been noticed around here that a -ian suffix on a family-name is highly correlated with the utterance of politically-charged bullshit, and has been for some time. But anyway.)

For the ladies and... others... at Tinder who wanted a piece of Nick, and to give him a gift he'd remember forever - that's one less technology-and-business guy. It is also one less guy with the Alpha (or Sigma?) mindset; one less guy uncompromising in his principles. As for Nick himself, something tells me that he'll be fine.

posted by Zimri on 20:13 | link | 0 comments

Sunday, April 02, 2017


I've mentioned here the Gharqad Hadith (you know, the one about how every rock and bush will betray the fleeing Jew to the Muslim warrior, except for that bush) a couple times. I should have discussed it years ago; better late than never.

Although the hadith-collectors Bukhari and Muslim do include chapters on the end-time Tribulations, called fitan and/or malhamat, Bukhari and Muslim were not, as a whole, sympathetic to the apocalyptic strain in their religion. They were writing encyclopaedias mainly on correct Islamic practice, for use in schools of law. So the duo's sahihayn omit, for instance, the widespread hadith on the Mahdi From Between The Rukn And Maqam; despite that their own teachers 'Abd al-Razzaq, Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, and Ibn Abi Shayba were pleased to teach variants of it. The two had, perhaps, diagnosed that hadith as the Zubayri fake it is.

The critical eyes of Bukhari and Muslim are unfortunate for historians, because we like fake hadiths, as long as we know them. We like seeing a window on a specific time, in the Rukn Mahdi's case on the Zubayrids' time. If they included something, they themselves couldn't quite pin it down. So in matn analysis, we have to use the times to illuminate the hadith, rather than what we prefer, which is the reverse.

So let's look at the times of the boxthorn hadith. The Jewish objects of this hadith didn't leave much record of these years. Sometimes, though, certain Jews got a little hotheaded - and these events were noted by Christians as well as by Muslims. In particular Jewish communities exalted several claimants to secondary Prophecy or even to Messiahhood. But since this Jewish messianism happened until, er, Lubavitch in our own day, it doesn't help us pin down any Muslim reaction.

So it's off to the isnad-bundles. I find a handy (partial) collection in the Musnad al-Sahaba. Muslim's chain is Harmala b. Yahya < Ibn Wahb < Yunus < Ibn Shihab [al-Zuhri] < Salim b. 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar < his father Ibn 'Umar. Tirmidhi: 'Abd b. Humayd < 'Abd al-Razzaq < Ma'mar < al-Zuhri etc. Ahmad and Bukhari both jot down the Copy of Abu'l-Yaman from Shu'ayb, also, from Zuhri. So Zuhri did teach this thing.

Zuhri's endorsement, and its inclusion in Abu'l-Yaman's document, meant the later muhaddithun couldn't ignore it. Also in 'Abbasid Isfahan and - more so - Baghdad itself, warnings like this could keep the Jews from getting too uppity. (Or post-Jews: for instance, the 'Îsâwiya of, you guessed it, Isfahan.) If the End Of Days did come about, the Muslims weren't going down to the Grave alone...

As for Zuhri's own day, although I'm not about to write up a whole essay just yet, I do not rule out that other transmitters were spreading similar accounts. Ibn Abi Shayba readily taught Muslim that, besides Zuhri, other chains had Salim and also the mawla Nafi', each from Ibn 'Umar. I would link the spread of Ibn 'Umar material to the 'Umarid Caliph, that is Salim's cousin 'Umar bin 'Abd al-'Aziz in the late 90s / 710s. Although I do not dare say where exactly any given Ibn 'Umar tradition belongs: to 'Umar bin 'Abd al-'Aziz's ambition as governor of the Madina, to his (short!) caliphate, or to nostalgia after his death.

posted by Zimri on 10:01 | link | 0 comments

The Saudi truce

A lot of apocalyptic ahadith spread around the place under the 'Abbasids. The Sunnis didn't canonise much of it, but [h/t Dar ul Harb] when they did...

You will fight against the Jews and you will kill them until even a stone would say: come here, O Muslim, there is a Jew, so kill him.

This is commonly used in Muslim communities to rile up the crowds against Jews and - lately - against Israel. As a Sunnite hadith it is most common amongst the Sunnis. Since this hadith is associated with an polemic against Jew-ridden Isfahan, the Iranians have never liked it, and the Khomeinist state for its anti-Zionist posturing tends to fall back on the Qur'an's anti-Jewish passages instead. Also, it is apocalyptic, which we seculars can never accept: this one in particular is certainly linked with (post-)Jewish messianic outbursts of the Marwânî-'Abbâsî era. Islam would be better off without it.

Sunni Muslims cannot let go of it; a prophecy is a prophecy. Accordingly back on 28 August 2012 one Abu Amina Elias put out an explanation. He'd done it on the site too, but I can no longer access it there. Google shows he'd posted a lot of material there, at least up to 2014, but the new domain registrar "Francisca" / "Situs Religi Umat" seems to have deleted all his work; replacing it with advertising spam. Elias has since moved most of his work.

The wordpress blog seems to like Dutch as much as English. The old site is now in Bahasa. I'd probably be overreaching to link those; Dutch is no longer a thing in Indonesia.

Abu Amina Elias' blog al-Tahrîr implies the general notion of "liberation"; the state of being free would, I think, be something like Ihrâr. Whether or not Elias belongs to the infamous jihadist antechamber Hizb al-Tahrîr, he is like them a follower of Ibn Taymiyya(ti). The Ibn Taymiyya school is what the Saudis have put the most effort into translating: in fiqh, Bukhari and Muslim (and Malik), not Shaybani; in tafsir, Ibn Taymiyya's student Ibn Kathir, not Tabari. So although this stuff is easiest to find, it's not normative in Sunni Islam. Any educated Muslim knows this; Elias's posts are well versed in Islam, despite being selective. Ibn Kathir's apocalypticism leads directly to the Hizb and thence to sects like ISIS unless the Imams have specifically warned against it. So when you read Elias, you are reading the verdict of Saudi clerics.

Elias has adopted a post-2012 Wahhabist party line. The Zionist Entity is currently not a threat to Muslims in Egypt and Arabia - it never was, of course. To Arab Sunnis, the worse threat is now Iran. Meanwhile apocalyptic is a distraction, a dangerous one that leads to al-Raqqa and hell. As for apocalyptic threats against the Jews, knock it off and trust your imam.

For now.

posted by Zimri on 08:42 | link | 0 comments

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