Arabic printing; Catholic missions in Persia; Muslim Bible reception; Safavid Iran; Twelver Shiite refutations of Christianity
900 Geschichte und Geografie 950 Geschichte Asiens 955 Geschichte Irans 956 Geschichte des Nahen Ostens
The present study explores the biblical sources used by Imāmī (Twelver Shīʿī) scholars in Safavid Persia during the seventeenth century and the cross-cultural effects of a medieval Arabic translation of the Gospels made by Middle Eastern Christians. Drawing upon ninety-nine mostly unexplored manuscripts in Arabic and Persian preserved in libraries in Iran, the Middle East, and Europe, as well as archival material in various European languages, I contend that the influence of Arabic Bible translations was not confined to Arabic-speaking lands, but also extended to Persianate societies where they radically transformed the encounter and interchange between religious representatives.
The principal source of Shīʿī scholars, in particular Sayyid Aḥmad ʿAlavī (d. between 1054/1644 and 1060/1650), Ẓahīr al-Dīn Tafrishī (d. before 1114/1702), and Sayyid Mīr Muḥammad Bāqir Khātūnābādī (d. 1127/1715), for studying, translating, and refuting the Gospels is identified in this dissertation as the Arabic Vulgate, also known as the ‘Alexandrian Vulgate’ or the ‘Egyptian Vulgate’. A revision of this Arabic translation of the four Gospels, which is based upon earlier versions of the Gospels circulating in the Coptic and Syriac communities during the Middle Islamic period, was printed in the late sixteenth century by the Medici Oriental Press in Rome with the authorization of the Vatican’s Congregation of the Index of Prohibited Books. What I call the Roman Arabic Vulgate was the first printing of the Gospels in the Arabic language ever made.
More than four centuries after its publication, the Vorlage for the Roman Arabic Vulgate has been ascribed by me after careful study to a manuscript of Coptic provenance from a monastery in Wādī al-Naṭrūn (ancient Scetis), dated to the mid-fourteenth century. This dissertation further examines the history of the Medici edition as reflecting an interplay between an increasing interest in Arabic versions of the sacred Scriptures of the Christians in the post-humanist era, the emergence of a European printing culture in Arabic, and a strong Catholic missionary movement. Friars of the religious orders disseminated printed copies of the Roman Arabic Vulgate throughout the Middle East as well as in the Indo-Persian world and relied on them as a pioneering instrument for the evangelization of Muslims and of non-Catholics living in Islamicate societies.
In contrast to translations of biblical books into ‘Standard (New) Persian’ from pre-Safavid times, the Arabic Vulgate transcended the cultural-religious boundaries of the Middle Eastern Christian communities in the context of a universalistic Catholic mission. I argue that the availability and accessibility of the Gospels printed in the Arabic language gave rise to a large Imāmī reception of the Bible, as evidenced in some of the earliest known anti-Christian polemical works in Persian, as well as a Persian translation of the Gospels made from the Roman Arabic Vulgate that was commissioned by the shāh. As a result, Shīʿī scholars were able to draw upon a broader array of biblical verses than the repertoire commonly invoked by Muslim polemicists against Christianity. The influence of the Medici edition of the Arabic Vulgate on Shīʿī-Catholic disputations and intellectual exchanges in Iran appears unparalleled in the reception history of Arabic Bible translations.
This study attempts to supply a desideratum in the history of the Muslim perception of the sacred Christian Scriptures in the age of Arabic Bible printing. It will therefore be of significant interest to scholars of various disciplines, in particular Islamic studies, Iranian studies, and the history of Christianity and missiology, as well as of singular pertinence to those working in the fields of Renaissance studies, Arabic manuscript studies, book history and the cultural history of the Middle East in a broader and more comprehensive sense.
Introduction: Persian Translations of the Bible in Pre-Safavid Iran -- Chapter 1: From Egypt via Rome to Persia: The Arabic Vulgate at Cultural Crossroads -- 1.1 A Manuscript of Coptic Provenance in Late Sixteenth-Century Rome: The First Publication of the Gospels in Arabic Translation -- 1.2 The Vorlage for the Medici Edition of the Arabic Vulgate -- 1.3 Vatican Censorship and the Production of the Roman Arabic Vulgate -- Chapter 2: Carmelite Missionaries at Work: The Dissemination of Printed Copies of the Roman Arabic Vulgate in Seventeenth-Century Persia -- 2.1 Catholic-Shīʿī Encounters in Isfahan -- 2.2 The Library of the Discalced Carmelites -- Chapter 3: Reading the Gospels in Favor of Imāmī Shīʿism: The Muslim Reception of the Roman Arabic Vulgate -- 3.1 Sayyid Aḥmad ʿAlavī (d. between 1054/1644 and 1060/1650): Philosopher and Polemicist against Christianity in Isfahan -- 3.2 ʿAlavī’s Attitude towards Judaism and Christianity -- 3.3 The Anti-Christian Works Lavāmiʿ-i rabbānī and Miṣqal-i ṣafāʾ -- 3.4 ʿAlavī’s Persian Refutations of Christianity in the Vatican -- Chapter 4: Ẓahīr al-Dīn Tafrishī (d. before 1114/1702): Defender of ‘Truth’ against Melkites and Latin Missionaries -- 4.1 The Arabic and Persian Recensions of Tafrishī’s Nuṣrat al-ḥaqq -- 4.2 Tafrishī’s Reception of Ibn al-Faḍl’s Arabic Version of the Septuagint Psalter -- 4.3 Tafrishī’s Attitude towards the Bible -- Chapter 5: Sayyid Mīr Muḥammad Bāqir Khātūnābādī (d. 1127/1715): Translator of the Gospels from Arabic into Persian -- 5.1 The Roman Arabic Vulgate in Persian -- 5.2 The Arrival of Printed Copies of the Biblia Sacra Arabica in Persia -- Conclusion: An Intellectual Network between Egypt, Rome, and Persia -- Appendices: 1 Inventory of Manuscripts of ʿAlavī’s Lavāmiʿ-i rabbānī -- 2 Inventory of Manuscripts of ʿAlavī’s Miṣqal-i ṣafāʾ -- 3 Inventory of Manuscripts of Tafrishī’s Nuṣrat al-ḥaqq -- 4 Inventory of Manuscripts of Khātūnābādī’s Persian Translation of the Gospels -- 5 ʿAlavī’s Citations from the Roman Arabic Vulgate in an Unidentified Persian Translation -- 6 Tafrishī’s Citations from the Roman Arabic Vulgate in Arabic and in His Own Persian Translation -- 7 Tafrishī’s Citations from the Septuagint Psalms in Arabic and in His Own Persian Translation
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