Monday, August 06, 2018

Origin Stories - Part 4: the Dunhuang manuscripts and the Birmingham Qu'ran

MARGINALIA REVIEW OF BOOKS has its third installment of essays in its series Origin Stories: A Forum on the “Discovery” and Interpretation of First-Millennium Manuscripts. The first set of essays in the series was noted here, the second here, and the third here. There are two new essays:

Language Scattered, Treasures Revealed: Tibet’s First Millennium Manuscripts A Most Fortuitous Find at Dunhuang, China (1900 C.E.) (Daniel A. Hirshberg).
Until the 21st century, and thus for most of the history of Tibetan Studies as a discipline, most Western scholars generally accepted that all treasures were apocrypha, with their claims to ancient origins mere fabrications to be skeptically dismissed. Given that virtually no first-millennium manuscripts remained extant and available, comparative analysis of early treasure documents against imperial-era exemplars was simply not possible. Only recently have contemporary scholars begun to forward convincing evidence that at least some of the earliest revealers’ claims were true––that some new treasure collections made use of much old material, and so preserved authentic fragments of the empire. This is due solely to a most fortuitous find in 1900, over a thousand years after the fall of the empire, when a massive cache of manuscripts from that era and its aftermath was discovered near a Chinese city whose cosmopolitan grandeur and long-held economic and political relevance had largely been forgotten.
The manuscript discoveries at Dunhuang and nearby Turfan included material of interest for Syriac Christianity and even ancient Judaism. Notably, fragments of the Book of Giants were first recovered from Turfan in Turkic and Manichean Iranian translations. Fragments of the original Aramaic were only found among the Dead Sea Scrolls decades later.

Past PaleoJudaica posts on the Dunhuang and Turfan manuscripts are here and here and links.

Collective Enthusiasm and the Cautious Scholar: The Birmingham Qur’ān. The Case of the Discovery of the “Birmingham Qur’ān” (Dr. Alba Fedeli).
Indeed, the Birmingham Qur’ānic manuscript is old – one of the oldest to our knowledge – representing a precious detail of a larger corpus of early Qur’ānic manuscripts. Nevertheless, it is incorrect to present any of the known Qur’ānic manuscripts as holding the record as the oldest. If the reader compares the message of the BBC headline with the actual content of the scholarly article itself, the contrast will be evident between the enthusiasm in the former and the cautiousness of the statements about the dating from various scholars mentioned in the latter.
PaleoJudaica has been following the story of the Birmingham Qur'an fragments since the announcement of their (re)discovery three years ago. For the full discussion, start here and follow the links.

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