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.

The Princeton ijāzas

Over the last year, Ibn Ṭūlūn’s documentation of teaching has repeatedly been addressed here. According to my own plan, this will be the last post on this issue for the foreseeable future. Thus, I would like to use this post to talk about some more general characteristics of these documentary texts. Once before, the difference between ijāzas and samāʿāt in this corpus has been discussed. Now it is finally time to give the ijāzas a more structured treatment as the samāʿāt received back then. Continue reading The Princeton ijāzas

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

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

A whole Majmūʿa copied? MS Majāmīʿ 315

In March, I returned to the Dār al-Kutub in Cairo and spent a whole week with their collection. Ibn Ṭūlūn’s name pops up very often in the different collections of the Dār al-Kutub. The earliest acquisitions are certainly found in the Taymūriyya Library, whereas the general collection seems to have made a bulk order of Ibn Ṭūlūn autographs only by the early 1930s.

Aḥmad Taymūr did not only acquire “originals”, however; he also created copies. One modern way of bridging the gap between both was photography, and Taymūr made ample use of it to create facsimiles of autographs. At literally the same time, he also hired copyists to ensure he had personal copies of Ibn Ṭūlūn texts. One of the most intriguing one is MS Majāmīʿ 315 because it is not a copy of one text but rather of an entire multiple-text manuscript. Continue reading A whole Majmūʿa copied? MS Majāmīʿ 315