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.

Let’s talk survival bias

How many manuscript copies were produced of any given texts? How many were circulating at any given time? When were they lost, discarded or destroyed?  How often are the works penned on their pages cited in other texts by the same or different authors? These questions lie at the very heart of our epistemology and are usually subsumed under the term ‘survival bias’. Continue reading Let’s talk survival bias

Thoughts after Workshop: ‘Colophons and Scribal Cultures across the Early Modern World’

On 2 July, I was attending the workshop ‘Colophons and Scribal Cultures across the Early Modern World’ at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. The workshop was organized by Christopher D. Bahl and Stefan Hanß and brought together ten researchers from the UK and Germany discussing manuscripts and manuscript cultures, and its connections to print cultures. Continue reading Thoughts after Workshop: ‘Colophons and Scribal Cultures across the Early Modern World’

An ijāza for Ibn Mufliḥ

Akmal al-Dīn, a scion of the prominent Ḥanbalī Ibn Mufliḥ family, was mentioned here several times before and was probably the most visible of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s students in terms of engagement with his writings. Ibn Mufliḥ copied them, annotated and rubricated them, and also added material to some of them.

Among the evidence of their student-teacher relationship survives an ijāza Ibn Ṭūlūn penned for Ibn Mufliḥ after the latter’s discussion of some chains of transmission he had received from him (for the transcripts, see github). This document survives in the Istanbul manuscript MS Laleli 3747, fols. 192b-193a. Unfortunately, I have no further information about the other contents of this manuscript except that it did not contain any other writings by Ibn Ṭūlūn. Continue reading An ijāza for Ibn Mufliḥ

The history of MS Tarikh Taymur 631: vol. 1 of al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya

Still these Cairene manuscripts. Among others, they have one volume of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s biographical dictionary, al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya fī tarājim mutaʾakhkhirī al-ḥanafiyya. The British Library holds the second volume of the work. I have spoken about this work before here and here. Also, Guy Burak made use of an Istanbuli copy of it in his dissertation, “The Abū Ḥanīfah of his time? Islamic Law, Jurisprudential Authority and Empire in the Ottoman Domains (16th-17th Centuries)”.

As can be seen from the collections where they are held nowadays, the different volumes of the Ghuraf were separated from each other at one point. The Cairo manuscript (MS Tarikh Taymur 631) contains the first part of this three-volume work on 386 pages, covering the introduction as well as biographies in alphabetical order until the letter ẓāʾ. The last biography is dedicated to Ẓuhayr b. Ḥasan al-Qurashī al-Makkī (745-819). Continue reading The history of MS Tarikh Taymur 631: vol. 1 of al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya