The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the 'People of the Book' in the Language of Islam (Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World)
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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 Arabic offers a new frame of reference for the pivotal place of Arabic Bible translations in the religious and cultural interactions between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
mentions the ends of the first four millennia in his narratives of Yared, Methusaleh, and Reu, and in the time of Ehud in his narrative of “The Prophets and Kings of the Israelites after Moses.” In each instance he says that in a certain year of their lives the respective millennium is complete (tamma/kamala l-alf). See al-Yaʾqūbī, Taʾrīkh, vol. 1, pp. 10, 12, 20 and 47; Houtsma, Historiae, vol. 1, pp. 7, 9, 18 and 49. However, al-Yaʾqūbī’s reckoning coincides with that of the Cave of Treasures
attention not only to the importance of their scholarship for the Arabic-speaking Jews of the Islamic world, particularly in the area of the exegesis of the scriptures, but also to the important interreligious dimensions of their work. The text of the Bible in Arabic became the coin of interreligious exchange in the period under study, and it was often the case that the scriptures were the focus of arguments about religion, evoking both polemical and apologetic discourse from Jews, Christians,
the communities, Jacob of Serug (c. 450–520/1), cherished by the Jacobites, and the long-lived Narsai (399–c. 503), beloved of the Nestorians.80 While these texts, like the Bibles themselves, would have been found only in churches and monasteries, and then only in Syriac, they seem in addition to the Bible, and perhaps the ever popular Cave of Treasures, to have been the main reading of bishops, priests, and monks, and so to have been the channels through which the ‘interpreted Bible’ came to the
See C. E. Bosworth, “The Qurʾānic Prophet Shuʿaib and Ibn Taimiyya’s Epistle concerning Him,” Le Muséon 87 (1974), pp. 425–440; idem, “Madyan Shuʿayb in Pre-Islamic and Early Islamic Lore,” Journal of Semitic Studies 29 (1984), pp. 53–64; R. Tottoli, “Shu’ayb,” in McAuliffe, Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, vol. 4, p. 605. 25 For more on the Qurʾān’s view of the poets, see Irfan Shahid, “A Contribution to Koranic Exegesis,” in G. Makdisi (ed.), Arabic and Islamic Studies in Honor of Hamilton A.R.
Proverbs preserved in the fragment, Blau was able to conclude that “its heterogeneous character makes it quite likely that it based itself on other translations preceding it.”84 This probability allows one reasonably to assume that the first translations of portions of the Hebrew Bible were carried out quite early in the ninth century. In the meantime, other scholars have identified more fragments of early Bible translations into Judaeo-Arabic in the Cairo Genizah archive, and again, as in the