Wednesday, April 25, 2018

An early Qur'anic palimpsest

A COPTIC SURPRISE: Passages from the Bible discovered behind Qur'an manuscript. The only recorded palimpsest in which a Christian text has been effaced to make way for the Islamic holy text is to go on sale at Christie’s (Alison Flood, The Guardian).
French scholar Dr ElĂ©onore Cellard was looking for images of a palimpsest page sold a decade earlier by Christie’s when she came across the auction house’s latest catalogue, which included fragments from a manuscript of the Qur’an which Christie’s had dated to the eighth century AD, or the second century of Islam. Scrutinising the image, she noticed that, appearing faintly behind the Arabic script, were Coptic letters. She contacted Christie’s, and they managed to identify the Coptic text as coming from the Old Testament’s Book of Deuteronomy – part of the Torah and the Christian Old Testament.
An eighth century fragment of the Qur'an is pretty early, although we've seen earlier. For new readers, a "palimpsest" is a manuscript whose text has been erased and then overwritten with a new text. Twenty-first century technologies are making it increasingly possible to recover the erased underlying text.

If any PaleoJudaica readers happen to be wealthy philanthropists, I draw your attention to the fact that the fragment is for sale. Its early date makes it important for Qur'anic studies. The underlying Coptic biblical text must have been produced by Christians. So the fragment could also tell specialists some interesting things about Christian-Islamic relations early in the Islamic era. That's a lot of return for your money.

As usual, I hope that whoever buys the fragment donates it to a museum. Or at least that the buyer makes it available to scholars for study. Publications on it would only increase its profile and value.

For past PaleoJudaica posts on early (7th century) Qur'an fragments, start here and follow the links. Cross-file under Coptic Watch. For past posts on other palimpsest manuscripts, start here and follow the links.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.