New Publication on the transmission of Ibn Tulun manuscripts

The Journal of Islamic Manuscripts has just published its newest iteration, a special issue on manuscript notes. The editor Boris Liebrenz is well-known as an authority on this “marginal” topic.

My contribution looks in particular at four manuscripts today held at the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, and traces their historical trajectories from Ibn Ṭūlūn’s original book endowment until their acquisition by Chester Beatty. As has been mentioned before on this blog, Ibn Ṭūlūn’s multiple-text manuscripts share a particular feature, which is their title page which includes a moderately elaborate contents statement. This takes the form of a text block beneath the title and author statements and can be interpreted as a precursor to tables of contents, which would be added more frequently—at least as it pertains to Syria and Egypt—by the 17th and 18th centuries. However, it is certain that Ibn Ṭūlūn penned his himself. In them, he lists all titles to be found in the respective volume.

The article proposes a typology to account for possible alterations of the manuscripts, using notions of extraction, recompilation, and reconstruction. Extraction means the extraction of individual texts from their intended—in this case intended by the author—codicological context. They could then be passed on as individual manuscripts or be recompiled into a different manuscript (as is the case of the manuscript discussed here).

Recompilation is a common feature of the Arabic manuscript tradition. For instance, Ibn Ṭūlūn’s shaykh Yūsuf Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādī owned a host of manuscripts that were compiled, extended, and recompiled several times over (see Hirschler’s working paper). Many of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s manuscripts underwent several instances of recompilation during their history.

Reconstruction is connected to recompilation as it follows the same basic premises. However, it differs from it in that it attempts to recreate “the original”. The article presents one such example which tells an intriguing story of mobility, moving from the ʿUmariyya Madrasa to the household of the important al-Ghazzī family, and thence to another family library in Nābulus. In the 1920s it was photographed in Cairo before it was finally bought by Chester Beatty.

During these movements, additional texts were inserted, bringing the manuscript to such a size that, at one point, it was bound in two volumes. Still, today it appears as Ibn Ṭūlūn compiled it begging the questions when, why and by whom it has been turned into this state once again.

Finally, the article draws from the observations on the Chester Beatty manuscripts conclusions about the wider corpus and about manuscript trade in the 19th and 20th centuries more generally.

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