Arabica sunt, non leguntur… The Bible in Arabic: The Evidence of the Manuscripts

Meeting 2015

Arabica sunt, non leguntur…
The Bible in Arabic: The Evidence of the Manuscripts

Conference in Leuven – 22-24 April 2015

Org. Claire Clivaz (Lausanne), Herman Teule (Nijmegen),
Sara Schulthess (Lausanne) and Joseph Verheyden (Leuven)

University of Leuven, Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies,
St-Michielsstraat 4/3101, Romerozaal (02.10)


Programme (pdf)

Day 1 – 22 April 2015

  • 13h00-13h15 Welcome / Introduction
  • 13h15-14h30 Herman Teule (Radboud University Nijmegen)
    Muslim Terminology in the Arabic Translations of the Bible
  • 14h30-15h45 Ute Pietruschka (Universität Halle)
    Strategies of Transformation of Biblical Material in Muslim Collections of Sayings
  • 15h45-16h00 Break
  • 16h-17h15 David Thomas (University of Birmingham)
    Making Sense of the Bible in Early Muslim Kalam
  • 17h15-18h30 Arik Sadan (University of Tel Aviv / Hebrew University of Jerusalem / Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)
    Differences and Similarities between Christian and Karaite Translations of the Bible into Arabic: the Case of the Book of Job
  • 18h30-18h50 Plenary discussion
  • 19h30 Dinner

Day 2 – 23 avril 2015 

  • 8h45-10h Camilla Adang (University of Tel Aviv)
    The Quotations from the Books of Exodus and Leviticus in the Polemic against the Pentateuch by ‘Ala’ al-Din al-Baji (d. 714/1314)
  • 10h-11h15 Sabine Schmidtke (IAS, Princeton)
    Biblical Materials in Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāwandī’s K. al-Khawārij wa-l-jawāriḥ
  • 11h15-11h30 Break
  • 11h30-12h45 Ronny Vollandt (FU Berlin)
    MS Paris, BNF, Ar. 1 and Its Place in the Study of the Arabic Bible
  • Lunch
  •  14h30-15h45 Juan Pedro Monferrer Sala (Universidad de Córdoba)
    Bible translations in Andalus
  • 15h45-17h Samir Arbache (Université de Lille)
    Lexical Features of a Arabic Version of the Gospels
  • 17h-17h15 Break
  • 17h15-17h45 Plenary discussion
  • 19h15 Dinner

Day 3 – 24 avril 2015

  • 8h30-9h45 Sara Schulthess (Université de Lausanne)
    An Arabic Manuscript of Pauline Letters: Vaticanus Arabicus 13
  • 9h45-11h Elie Dannaoui (Université de Balamand)
    Digital Corpus of Arabic Gospel Lectionary: A Work in Progress
  • 11h-11h15 Break
  • 11h15-12h30 Timothy B. Sailors 
(Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen)
    Tatian’s Diatessaron as ‘The Gospel’: The Manuscripts and Translation of the Arabic Gospel Harmony and the Gospels in Arabic and Their Relation to the Second-Century Text
  • 12h30-13h Plenary discussion / Conclusion
  • Lunch


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From the 8th and 9th centuries CE, the communities living in the Islamic rule began to translate their sacred texts, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Samaritan Pentateuch, into Arabic. Various Christian groups – such as Melkites, Copts and Syriacs –, Jews or Samaritans translated from their respective languages (Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Hebrew, etc.) parts of the Bible, which have survived in a large number of manuscripts, widespread in the Middle East and around the world. These manuscripts are for great importance for the history of these communities and of their texts, as well as of their relations to the Islamic world. But in his last book, Sydney Griffith deplores: “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 is particularly true regarding to the Arabic manuscripts of the New Testament, who were too often considered as useless by New Testament scholars. Since the reference book of Georg Graf Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur in 1944, the publications are very few. This lack of interest also applies to the Hebrew Bible despite the importance of the Arabic translations for the history of the text. For any text from any tradition, we are missing the basic research tools, from critical editions to the necessary inventories of manuscripts.

However, a regain of interest can be noticed since the start of the 21st century, with an increasing number of new publications in recent years. We can mention a large study on the Arabic manuscripts of the Gospels and some editions of manuscripts of the Gospels, a new book of Sydney Griffith on the Arabic Bible, or a study on the versions of the Pentateuch in print. If this is very encouraging, we can still deplore that some subjects are less covered than others. In the case of the New Testament, researchers focus the Gospels and we know very little about the other books in Arabic. Furthermore, there are for example very little interactions between research on the New Testament and research on the Hebrew Bible, when a global approach would also be necessary.
The first objective is the exchange between specialists of the field on the current research and the highlighting the different ongoing projects. We are glad to have representatives of many projects as the international project Biblia Arabica between Tel Aviv University and Freie Universität Berlin. The project has the aim to study and edit manuscripts and also “to investigate translation as an act and a process, and the manner in which translators from different faiths influenced each other in an inter-religious and inter-cultural context.” This global approach will be complete by smaller research project, as the project The Arabic Manuscripts of the Letters of Paul of Tarsus (University of Lausanne, in collaboration with the Institute of Eastern Christian Studies Nijmegen), which focus on the Pauline letters and try to integrate the digital component to the reflection. This is also the case of the Digital Corpus of Arabic Gospel Lectionary of the University of Balamand, which builds an online database for the Gospels in Arabic. The meeting between the actors in the current research will allow to map the need and emergencies for the research: comprehensive bibliographies; critical editions; manuscripts inventories, etc. In the case of the Arabic Bible, very basic tools are missing and cooperation between researchers and projects is necessary to fill the gap.
The meeting has two main lines: the study of particular manuscripts and their texts; the study of the context of the translations. The first focus on particular manuscripts will be an interesting opportunity to discuss notably the question of the standards in the research, notably for the edition, regarding for example Middle Arabic and Judeo-Arabic, but also relating to the new technologies and the new ways to do research. The second focus on the translations as a result of evolutions and interactions of the Christian, Jewish and Muslims milieus will illustrate the necessity of dialog between disciplines for this multifaceted object.
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