Archive for the ‘Islam’ Category

“With the jawbone of an ass…”   Leave a comment

Many years ago I read F.F. Bruce’s In Retrospect, and among the anecdotes he relates that for some reason or other have remained in my memory is one about W.M. Edward of Leeds University. Bruce says (pp. 106-107),

My new chief, Professor W.M. Edwards of the Chair of Greek in Leeds, was an unusual man. He had been born into a military family and himself embarked on a military career, being an officer in the Royal Garrison Artillery until his later thirties. He then went to Oxford as an undergraduate, taking his B.A. at the age of forty and becoming a Fellow of Merton College the same year. Three years later he was appointed Professor of Greek in Leeds. He was an accomplished linguist, speaking Welsh, Gaelic, Russian and Hebrew as well as the commoner European languages. … On another occasion he came into my room to see me about something or other, and found me reading the Hebrew text of Judges. Immediately he threw back his head and recited in Hebrew, Samson’s song of victory, “With the jawbone of an ass…”

The Samson story is a good one, and well known. Students making their first forays into classical Hebrew prose rightly learn it thoroughly, and these two lines in verse 15:16 (בלחי החמור חמור חמרתים בלחי החמור הכיתי אלף איש), with the word play and the rhythm, make a good inhabitant of the memory’s palace. For fun, here they are in a few more languages, and some vocabulary in case students of any of these languages are reading.

Poster for Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949). Source.

Poster for Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah (1949). Source; cf. this one.

Aramaic (Targum) בלועא דחמרא רמיתנון דגורין בלועא דחמרא קטלית אלף גברא

  • לוּעָא jaw
  • חמָרָא ass
  • דְּגוֹר heap

Greek Ἐν σιαγόνι ὄνου ἐξαλείϕων ἐξήλειψα αὐτούς, ὅτι ἐν σιαγόνι ὄνου ἐπάταξα χιλίους ἄνδρας.

Syriac (Pesh.) ܒܦܟܐ ܕܚܡܪܐ ܟܫܝ̈ܬܐ ܟܫܝܬ ܡܢܗܘܢ. ܒܦܟܐ ܕܚܡܪܐ ܩܛܠܬ ܐܠܦ ܓܒܪ̈ܝܢ܀

  • pakkā jaw, cheek
  • ḥmārā ass
  • kšā to pile up, heap (both verb and pass. ptcp. here)

Armenian ծնօտի́ւ իշոյ ջնջելով ջնջեցի́ զն(ո)ս(ա), զի ծնօտիւ իշոյ կոտորեցի հազա́ր այր։

  • ծնօտ, -ից jaw, cheek
  • իշայր, -ոյ wild ass
  • ջնջեմ, -եցի to destroy, exterminate
  • կոտորեմ, -եցի to shatter, destroy, massacre
  • հազար thousand

Georgian (Gelati; only the first half translated, and no mention of the ass!) ღაწჳთა აღმოჴოცელმან აღვჴოცნე იგინი

  • ღაწუი cheek
  • აღჴოცა to kill off (participle აღმოჴოცელი and finite verb both in the sentence)

Arabic (from the London Polyglot; there are other versions)


  • ṭaraḥa (a) to drive away, repel
  • ʕaẓm bone
  • ḫadd cheek
  • ḥimār ass
  • tulūl is a pl. of tall hill, but here, heap
  • fakk jawbone (cf. Syriac above)

Gǝʕǝz በዐጽመ ፡ መንከሰ ፡ አድግ ፡ ደምስሶ ፡ ደምሰስክዎሙ ፡ እስመ ፡ በዐጽመ ፡ መንከሰ ፡ አድግ ፡ ቀተልኩ ፡ ዐሠርተ ፡ ምእተ ፡ ብእሴ ።

  • መንከስ፡jaw, jawbone (√näkäsä to bite, like näsäkä, with cognates in many Semitic languages)
  • አድግ፡ ass
  • ደምሰሰ፡ to abolish, wipe out, destroy

NB: In Islamic tradition, it is not the jawbone of an ass, but that of a camel (laḥy baʕīr), that Samson employs:

وكان اذا لقيهم لقيهم بلحي بعير

(J. Barth & Th. Nöldeke, Annales quos scripsit Abu Djafar Mohammed Ibn Djarir At-Tabari, 1.II.794.7-8 [1881-1882]; available here) [More broadly, see Andrew Rippin, “The Muslim Samson: Medieval, Modern and Scholarly Interpretations,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 71 (2008): 239-253.]

Franz Rosenthal on Hans Heinrich Schaeder   3 comments

Hinrich Biesterfeldt, ed. “Franz Rosenthal’s Half an Autobiography.” Die Welt des Islams 54 (2014): 34-105.

I’m now reading the hot-off-the-press memoir of Franz Rosenthal, edited by Hinrich Biesterfeldt. I highly recommend it for reasons of interest academic and historical. Here, as only a taste, are some remarks on his teacher Hans Heinrich Schaeder, with whom Rosenthal studied in Berlin.

My principal mentor and shaykh was Hans Heinrich Schaeder, then at the peak of his mental and physical powers, a conscientious and wonderfully inspiring teacher. His official field was Iranian, and I studied Middle Persian and Islamic Persian with him. Initially, he repaired the damage done me by an earlier course in Syriac that was taught by someone incompetent to teach the language. He showed me how to approach Muslim historical texts, how to reconstruct an Oriental religion, Manichaeism, from fragments transmitted in Arabic, and how to use the tools of scholarship properly. Above all, he was the living example of the need for, and the methods of looking at, the large historical picture without ever neglecting the details offered by the sources. He set the subject of my doctoral dissertation for which he prepared my way by his previous instruction in Aramaic. [p. 54]

I’m very happy that this document has appeared, and thanks are due to the editor and the publisher. As far as I’m concerned, one can never have too much personalia to read.

Queen Ketevan   Leave a comment

Today is the commemoration of Queen K’et’evan (1565-1624, დედოფალი ქეთევან), whose martyrdom is related by contemporary and near contemporary sources, Georgian and otherwise. The details of the events of her martyrdom are available in several other places (e.g. here, here, here, and here; see a fine, modern icon here), and I shall not recount them all here.  The story can be found in English, translated from a report of some Augustinian missionaries, at the end of Lang’s Live of the Georgian Saints (171-172), but there is also a poem on the queen by her son T’eimuraz, a play in German by Andreas Gryphius (1614-1664; Catharina von Georgien oder Bewähre Standhaftigkeit, 1657), a narrative in Georgian found in manuscript Tbilisi H-1370 — I don’t know whether there is an edition yet, but there apparently was not one at the time Tarchnishvili’s work was published in 1955 — and there are two shorter versions of the story from synaxarion manuscripts, both published in Abuladze and Gabidzashvili, ძველი ქართული აგიოგრაფიული ლიტერატურის ძეგლები, წიგნი IV სვინაქსარული რედაქციები (XI-XVIII სს.) (Monuments of Old Georgian Hagiographic Literature, vol. 4, Synaxarion Redactions, [11th-18th centuries]), (Tbilisi, 1968), 429-433. While a reading across all of these versions of Ketevan’s martyrdom would, no doubt, be an interesting exercise, here we turn our attention only to one short passage, the end of the shorter synaxarion reading just mentioned (432-433). This text was edited on the basis of four manuscripts (A-425, A-220, A-515, H-970) ranging in date from 1718-1742. (The longer story has a broader base of manuscripts.) Following a look at an icon and a list of a few more relevant resources I give the excerpted text below from Abuladze’s edition, an English translation, and a list of some of the vocabulary in the passage, which is especially replete with verbs, mostly with 3p agents (i.e. the torturers).

One icon of Queen K’et’evan was mentioned above, and there are many others. This one reads in asomtavruli (except the last letter of the first word, which is mxedruli), with the abbreviations resolved, Ⴜ(ႫႨႣ)Ⴀ Ⴃ(Ⴄ)Ⴃ(Ⴍ)Ⴔ(Ⴀ)ႪႨ Ⴕ(Ⴄ)Ⴇ(Ⴄ)Ⴅ(Ⴀ)Ⴌ Ⴜ(Ⴀ)Ⴋ(Ⴄ)Ⴁ(ႭჃ)ႪႨ (in mxedruli, წმიდა დედოფალი ქეთევან წამებული), “Holy Queen K’et’evan, martyr(ed).”

Avalishvili, Z. “Teimuraz I and His Poem ‘The Martyrdom of Queen Ketevan’.” Georgica 3 (1937): 17-42. [non vidi!]

Tamarati, M. L’église géorgienne des origines jusqu’à nos jours. Rome, 1910. Pp. 482-485. [Despite the age of the book, I can find no copy online.]

Tarchnišvili, M. Geschichte der kirchlichen georgischen Literatur. Studi e testi 185. Vatican City, 1955. P. 418.

Georgian text

და დაასხნეს ჴელნი ბილწთა მათ, განაშიშულეს, განურთხნეს ჴელნი, განბასრეს და მოიხუნეს განჴურვებულნი მარწუხნი, დააჴლიჩნეს (v.l. დახლიჩნეს) ძუძუნი და მერმე მკლავნი დაგლიჯნეს და ნაკუერცხალი აღგზნებული დააყარეს სისხლ-მწთოლვარესა ჴორცსა. და მერმე მოიღეს განჴურვებული სიავი და დახურეს თავსა მისსა [და] შეჰვედრა სული თჳსი ღმერთსა. მოვიდა ნათელი ბრწყინვალე და მოეფინა გუამსა ზედა წმიდისასა.

ხოლო იყვნეს მას ქალაქსა შინა მღდელნი ფრანგთანი ფურტუგეზელნი, მიიპარეს გუამი და წარიღეს ფურტუკს. და მერმე მოიღეს მარჯუენა ჴელი და თხემი თავისა და მიართუეს ძესა მისსა მეფესა თეიმურაზს ფრანგთა მათ.

Some vocabulary (in order of occurrence):

დასხმა to throw, lay, set, prepare
ბილწი impure, unclean, vile
განშიშეულბა to expose, bare
განრთხმა to stretch
განბასრება to deride
მოხუმა to take, bring
განჴურვებული burning hot
მარწუხი tongs, pincers
დაჴლეჩნა / დახლეჩა (not in Sarjveladze-Fähnrich, but cf. Rayfield et al., 611) to split, carve
ძუძუი breast
მკლავი arm
დაგლეჯა to break, tear, shred
ნაკუერცხალი ember(s)
[აღგზნება to ignite, light; for the participle Sarjveladze-Fähnrich 45 has only a form without -ნ-]
დაყრა to throw down, away; take away; leave
სისხლ-მწთოლვარეჲ dripping blood
ჴორცი flesh, body
სიავი kettle, bowl, basin
დახურვა to cover, close
შევედრება to commit, commend, entrust
მოფენა to spread out
მღდელი priest
ფრანგი Frank (i.e. Latin Christian)
მიპარვა to steal, take away
გუამი body
წარღება to take with, take away, loot
მარჯუენაჲ right, right hand
თხემი skull, cranium
მირთუმა to present, give


English translation

This translation is merely a preliminary attempt, and corrections and suggestions by readers of Georgian are welcome!

Those vile people held her hands, exposed her, stretched her hands, and laughed at her. They took burning-hot pincers and split her breasts. They then tore at her arms and threw burning embers on her blood-dripping body. Then they brought a burning-hot bowl and covered her head [with it]. She commended her soul to God and a bright light came and spread over the saint’s body.

Now some Latin priests, Portuguese, were present in the city, and they stole her body and took it with them to Portugal. Later the Latins took the right hand and the top of her head [i.e. the cranium] and presented them to her son, King T’eimuraz.

Islamkundliche Untersuchungen online   Leave a comment

Since this blog’s inception there has been in the list of links one to digital editions of ZDMG, etc. In the same collection there are now 196 title of the series Islamkundliche Untersuchungen (h/t Sabine Schmidtke), a series covering a range of studies historical, literary, textual, linguistic, and social in the Middle East, and despite its title, the series is not strictly confined to Islamica. Every reader will have his or her own favorites or titles of interest, but as a sampling of the long list of books from this series freely available, here are a few of my own, with direct links:

Galen: “Über die Anatomie der Nerven” : Originalschrift und alexandrinisches Kompendium in arabischer Überlieferung / Ahmad M. Al-Dubayan

The stories of the Prophets by Ibn Muṭarrif al-Ṭarafī / ed. with an introd. and notes by Roberto Tottoli

Studien zum ältesten alchemistischen Schrifttum : auf der Grundlage zweier erstmals edierter arabischer Hermetica / Ingolf Vereno

Die Kritik der Prosa bei den Arabern : (vom 3./9. Jahrhundert bis zum Ende des 5./11. Jahrhunderts) / Mahmoud Darabseh

Über die Steine : das 14. Kapitel aus dem “Kitāb al-Muršid” des Muḥammad Ibn Aḥmad at-Tamīmī, nach dem Pariser Manuskript herausgegeben, übersetzt und kommentiert / Jutta Schönfeld

Die Entstehung und Entwicklung der osmanisch-türkischen Paläographie und Diplomatik : mit einer Bibliographie / Valery Stojanow

Ibn ar-Rāhibs Leben und Werk : ein koptisch-arabischer Enzyklopädist des 7./13. Jahrhunderts / Adel Y. Sidarus

Der Orientalist Johann Gottfried Wetzstein als preussischer Konsul in Damaskus (1849 – 1861) : dargestellt nach seinen hinterlassenen Papieren / Ingeborg Huhn

Das Verhältnis von Poesie und Prosa in der arabischen Literaturtheorie des Mittelalters / Ziyad al-Ramadan az-Zuʿbī

Mädchennamen – verrätselt : 100 Rätsel-Epigramme aus d. adab-Werk Alf ǧāriya wa-ǧāriya (7./13. Jh.) / Jürgen W. Weil

Der arabische Dialekt von Mekka : Abriß der Grammatik mit Texten und Glossar / Giselher Schreiber

Das Kitāb ar-rauḍ al-ʿāṭir des Ibn-Aiyūb : Damaszener Biographien des 10./16. Jahrhunderts, Beschreibung und Edition / Ahmet Halil Güneş

Studien zur Grammatik des Osmanisch-Türkischen : unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Vulgärosmanisch-Türkischen / von Erich Prokosch

Arabic literary works as a source of documentation for technical terms of the material culture / Dionisius A. Agius

Kritische Untersuchungen zum Diwan des Kumait b. Zaid / Kathrin Müller

Athanasius von Qūṣ Qilādat at-taḥrīr fī ʿilm at-tafsīr : eine koptische Grammatik in arabischer Sprache aus dem 13./14. Jh. / von Gertrud Bauer

Erziehung und Bildung im Schahname von Firdousi : eine Studie zur Geschichte der Erziehung im alten Iran / von Dariusch Bayat-Sarmadi

Happy reading.

The Vorlage of Harvard Syriac 91   Leave a comment

Alphonse Mingana, at the end of his famous article (see bibliography below) touching on those passages of the Qurʾān that show up in Dionysius bar Ṣalibi‘s (d. 1171) Response to the Arabs, briefly mentions the manuscript that is now known as Harvard Syriac 91 (then 4019; see Goshen-Gottstein, p. 74):

While the above pages were in the press, the authorities of Harvard University — to whom I here take the liberty to tender my sincerest thanks — were so kind as to place at my disposal, through the intermediary of my friend Dr. Rendel Harris, a manuscript described as “Harvard University Semitic Museum No, 4019,” and containing all the controversial works of Barsalibi mentioned by Baumstark in his Geschichte der Syrischen Literatur (p.297). This MS. formerly belonged to Dr. R. Harris in whose collection it was numbered 83. On fol. 47b we are informed that it was transcribed in Mardin, Saturday, 14th March, 1898, by the priest Gabriel, from a MS. dated 1813 of the Greeks (A.D. 1502) and written in the monastery of Mar Abel and Mar Abraham, near Midyad, in Tur ʿAbdin.

I came today in my cataloging work to the manuscript Church of the Forty Martyrs, Mardin (CFMM) 350, a large book in clear Serṭo that has the same polemical treatises of Bar Ṣalibi (Against the Arabs, Against the Jews, Against the Nestorians, Against the Chalcedonians, Against the Armenians), and I was happy to light upon a colophon at the end of memra 2 of the aforementioned treatise (p. 92, image below). The first few lines read as follows:

Let the reader pray for ʿAz(iz) — the miserable, the sinful, the weak monk, “Son of the Cross” [bar ṣlibā], monk of Midyat, from Ṭur ʿAbdin — who has copied [this book] in the Monastery of Mar Abel and Mar Abraham, the teacher of Barṣawmā, that is near the ble(ssed) city of Midyat, in the year 1813 AG, at the beginning of the month of Ēlul [September] on the memorial [lege dukrānēh] of Mar Malke of Clysma.

(See Fiey, Saints syriaques, no. 282, where one of Mar Malke’s commemoration days is given as Sept. 1.) The colophon continues with a notice of some clerical happenings of the place and time not relevant to the present focus, but those interested in early 16th-century ecclesiastical history in Ṭur ʿAbdin will probably find some things of interest and value. There are several more colophons in the manuscript (pp. 287, 307, 591, 665, 781-782), the later ones having the date 1814 AG.

CFMM 350, p. 92

It appears, then, that the manuscript before us is the one on the basis of which Harris’s late 19th-century copy, now Harv. Syr. 91, was made, and indeed a cursory look at the readings of the Harvard copy as reported by Amar confirm the fact. The manuscript was formerly at nearby Dayr Al-Zaʿfarān, as evidenced by the still present bookplate at the beginning of the codex, and Dolabani lists its contents in his catalog (olim no. 98, see pt. I, pp. 376-397). The manuscript itself has hardly been widely accessible in recent years, and Dolabani’s catalog (in Syriac), itself formerly not commonly available (but reprinted by Gorgias Press) and even where available not so usable as might be hoped for due to faults in the printing process and Dolabani’s sometimes unclear handwriting, and although the indefatigable Vööbus, of course, knew the Dayr Al-Zaʿfarān/Church of the Forty Martyrs collection well, he does not (as far as I know) make much (or any?) notice of this important manuscript. It has, however, not been wholly unknown. In the introduction to his edition of the Response to the Arabs, Joseph Amar has the following to say: “A further manuscript, Mardin Syriac 350 (unfoliated), which contains one-sentence summaries of the contents of each chapter of the treatise, has also been consulted in the preparation of this edition” (vi-vii). This statement calls for a few remarks. It must be made clear that the manuscript does have those one-sentence summaries, but this is merely the beginning of the book: the remainder of it consists of the full treatises themselves, along with some related works by other authors. The reference to this copy in his introduction is distinct from the other five manuscripts he used for his edition in that those each have a siglum, while the Mardin manuscript does not, and the latter seems to have been used in the edition much less indeed than the other manuscripts listed. He does not say how he consulted this copy (on-site in Mardin, photographs, microfilm?). The manuscript is indeed unfoliated, as he says, but at least when it was photographed by HMML in 2007, it was paginated with eastern Arabic numerals.

How CFMM 350 is related to the other witnesses to Bar Ṣalibi’s polemical treatises will require closer comparison, but it will at least displace Harv. Syr. 91 in that list, since it is the Vorlage, and its antiquity is nothing to ignore, the only older witness (only of the Response to the Arabs, not the other treatises) being Vat. Syr. 96 (Dec 1664 AG = 1352 [1325 in Amar’s ed. is an error]; Assem. Cat., p. 523), and that copy is incomplete. In terms of its text as well as some apparently contemporaneous marginal notes, CFMM 350 deserves close inspection by anyone interested in Bar Ṣalibi’s polemical treatises.

CFMM 350, p. 97, showing Qurʾān 2:31-32 in Syriac, with commentary (cf. Amar, ed. pp. 114, 116 = tr. pp. 107, 109)


Amar, Joseph P. Dionysius bar Ṣalībī, A Response to the Arabs. CSCO 614615 = SS 238-239. Louvain, 2005.

Assemani, S.E. and Assemani J.S. Bibliothecae Apostolicae Vaticanae Codicum Manuscriptorum Catalogus. I.2. Rome, 1778.

Brock, S.P. “Dionysios bar Ṣalibi.” In GEDSH, 126-127. Piscataway, 2011.

Dolabani, Yuhanna. Catalogue of Syriac Manuscripts in Zaʿfaran Monastery. Dar Mardin Press, 1994; reprint, Piscataway, 2009.

Goshen-Gottstein, Moshe H. Syriac Manuscripts in the Harvard College Library: A Catalogue. Harvard Semitic Studies 23. Missoula, 1979.

Mingana, Alphonse. “An Ancient Syriac Translation of the Kur’ân Exhibiting New Verses and Variants.” Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 9 (1925): 188-235. (available as text, not PDF, here)

ADDENDUM: Barsoum (Scattered Pearls, p. 438, with n. 1) mentions CFMM 350 under the name Zaʿfaran 5 (cf. p. 428, nn. 2, 4, p. 439, n. 2).

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