The Bible in Arabic

The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the 'People of the Book' in the Language of Islam

Sidney H. Griffith
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  • Book Info
    The Bible in Arabic
    Book Description:

    From the first centuries of Islam to well into the Middle Ages, Jews and Christians produced hundreds of manuscripts containing portions of the Bible in Arabic. Until recently, however, these translations remained largely neglected by Biblical scholars and historians. In telling the story of the Bible in Arabic, this book casts light on a crucial transition in the cultural and religious life of Jews and Christians in Arabic-speaking lands.

    In pre-Islamic times, Jewish and Christian scriptures circulated orally in the Arabic-speaking milieu. After the rise of Islam--and the Qur'an's appearance as a scripture in its own right--Jews and Christians translated the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament into Arabic for their own use and as a response to the Qur'an's retelling of Biblical narratives. From the ninth century onward, a steady stream of Jewish and Christian translations of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament crossed communal borders to influence the Islamic world.

    The Bible in Arabicoffers a new frame of reference for the pivotal place of Arabic Bible translations in the religious and cultural interactions between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4658-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The study of the Bible in Arabic is in its infancy. There are hundreds of extant manuscripts containing portions of the Bible in Arabic translations produced by Jews and Christians in early Islamic times and well into the Middle Ages. But until now, with some notable exceptions, they have been of little interest to either biblical scholars or even to historians of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. This situation is in contrast to the considerable interest in the largely contemporary Abbasid translation movement centered in medieval Baghdad (c. 750–1050 CE) and its environs, in the course of which principally Greek...

  6. CHAPTER I The Bible in Pre-Islamic Arabia
    (pp. 7-53)

    Even a brief perusal of the Arabic Qur’ān is sufficient to convince the first-time reader that the text presumes a high degree of scriptural literacy on the part of its audience. In it there are frequent references to biblical patriarchs, prophets, and other figures of Late Antique, Jewish, and Christian religious lore. One hears of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Job, and Jonah, among others from the Hebrew Bible. Similarly, one reads of Jesus, Mary, Zecharaiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ disciples from the New Testament, but no mention of Paul and his epistles. What is...

  7. CHAPTER II The Bible in the Arabic Qur’ān
    (pp. 54-96)

    The Qur’ān is very conscious of the Bible and sometimes presents itself as offering once again a revelation previously sent down in the Torah and the Gospel. One verse even seems to put the Qur’ān on a par with these earlier scriptures, when it speaks of the promise of paradise for those who fight in the way of God, as already truthfully recorded in “the Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur’ān” (IXat-Tawbah111). On the one hand, the Qur’ān’s text insistently recalls the earlier biblical stories of the patriarchs and prophets, and even appeals to the books of the Torah,...

  8. CHAPTER III The Earliest Translations of the Bible into Arabic
    (pp. 97-126)

    It was not long after the death of the Arab prophet Muḥammad in 632 CE that the burgeoning Muslim Community of Believers began the task of collecting the Qur’ān into the form in which it would become the written scripture of the Muslims. As most scholars agree, it was destined also to be the first book properly so called to appear in the Arabic language.¹ The processes surrounding the collection of the Qur’ān were such that they summoned the energies of Muslims to draw such skills as the Arabic-speaking populace had already developed to make the quantum leap from note-taking...

  9. CHAPTER IV Christian Translations of the Bible into Arabic
    (pp. 127-154)

    As we have seen, all the evidence points to the late seventh century and, with a greater degree of certainty, to the eighth century for the origin of Bible translations into Arabic done under Christian auspices. It was, however, the ninth century that counts as the heyday of the Christian translation movement more generally. Translations were now produced not only of biblical texts, but of all sorts of ecclesiastical literature, not excluding philosophical and logical works. Moreover, the ecclesiastical translation movement was not confined to the monasteries of the Judean desert where it seems to have begun already in the...

  10. CHAPTER V Jewish Translations of the Bible into Arabic
    (pp. 155-174)

    It was in early Islamic times, perhaps as early as the first decades of the eighth century, that Jewish scribes began producing books in the codex form. The earliest surviving dated Hebrew Bibles written in this format appeared between the early tenth and mid-eleventh centuries.¹ It was a development that in the judgment of David Stern provided “our first evidence for ‘professional’ Jewish readers of the Bible.”² It was also around the eighth century, as Stern goes on to say, that building on earlier exercises “there developed distinct schools of masoretes, in both Babylonia and Palestine,”³ who produced biblical codices...

  11. CHAPTER VI Muslims and the Bible in Arabic
    (pp. 175-203)

    In their quest to articulate and commend a distinctive Islamic religious view of the world and of the Muslim’s place in it, Muslim scholars in the early Islamic period were quick to take their cue from the Qur’ān’s multiple recollections and reminiscences from the Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms, and the Gospel. In addition to articulating principles of polity and government for the new political reality,¹ they constructed a view of sacred history that subtly and perhaps somewhat subconsciously wove traditional scriptural language, with its characteristically Jewish and Christian idiom, into an Arabic expression of a distinctively Islamic narrative. As...

  12. CHAPTER VII Intertwined Scriptures
    (pp. 204-216)

    Interest in the Bible in Arabic outside of the Arabic-speaking world seems first to have arisen in the sixteenth century in Western churches with concerns in the Middle East,¹ and to have culminated in the inclusion of Arabic versions of biblical books in the great polyglot Bibles of the sixteenth century.² The first of these to include an Arabic version of the complete Bible, put together from previously printed sources, was the seventeenth-century Paris Polyglot in 1645, a text taken over with some corrections in the London Polyglot of 1655–1657.³ In the meantime, in Rome in 1651, the Vatican’s...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-246)
  14. Index
    (pp. 247-256)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-258)