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The Story of Joseph

A Fourteenth-CenturyTurkish Morality Play

by Sheyyad Hamza

Publication Year: 2014

At the heart of this volume is the translation of a fourteenth-century Turkish version of the Joseph story, better known to Western readers from the version in Genesis, first book of the Hebrew Bible. Hickman provides us with a new lens: we see the drama of the Old Testament prophet Joseph, son of Jacob, through Muslim eyes. The poem’s author, Sheyyad Hamza, lived in Anatolia during the early days of the Ottoman Empire. Hamza’s composition is rooted in the recondite and little-studied tradition of oral performance—a unique corner of Turkish verbal arts, situated between minstrelsy and the “divan” tradition—combining the roles of preacher and storyteller. A cultural document as well as a literary text that reflects the prevailing values of the time, Hamza’s play reveals a picture of Ottoman sensibility, both aesthetic and religious, at the level of popular culture in premodern Turkey. To supplement and contextualize the story, Hickman includes an introduction, a historical-literary afterword, and notes to the translation, all ably assisting an unfamiliar reader’s entry into this world.

Published by: Syracuse University Press

Series: Middle Eastern Literature in Translation

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication, About the Author

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pp. ix-xii

I first explored the Old Anatolian Turkish text of Sheyyad Hamza’s “Story of Joseph,” through a poor photo reproduction of an old manuscript, as a graduate student preparing for comprehensive examinations at Harvard. Twenty years later, teaching...

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Note on Dating, Spelling,and Reference Works

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pp. xiii-xiv

Unless explicitly noted to the contrary, all dates should be considered “Common Era” (CE) years. I have anglicized the spelling of a handful of Turkish words, mostly names used repeatedly: so, for example, Sheyyad for Turkish Şeyyad. But where I cite, parenthetically, a Turkish...

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pp. xv-xviii

The Joseph story is one of the most frequently retold tales in world literature. Whether in its archetypal form in the Book of Genesis or its privileged position as a unique complete narrative in sura xii of the Muslim Qur’an, the story gained...

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pp. 1-32

It begins as the story of the favorite son, envied—no, detested— by his older brothers, a boy who survives their murderous plot and other obstacles, and who rises to great power and reward. If that were all, perhaps the Joseph story would never have achieved the popularity it did.1 But from the earliest time, an...

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Translation of the Poem

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pp. 33-122

Let us begin by recalling the name of God so that His1 mercy will rain upon us. “In the name of God”—at the beginning and at the end, because the sweetness of speech comes through mention of Him. One of His names is the Merciful. He forgives his slaves. He is also the Pardoner. He is the Compassionate. He shows mercy toward that slave...

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pp. 123-136

Hamza’s “Story of Joseph” was composed in a language called Old Anatolian (or Old Ottoman) Turkish, from which the language of modern Turkey evolved. Turkish belongs to the Turkic language group, which includes languages like Uzbek, Kirghiz...

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pp. 137-142

Any synopsis must be arbitrary and selective, and what follows is no exception. I have singled out what seem to me notable scene markers and motifs. Many extend through more than a single verse of the poem. My identification is by the number...


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pp. 143-148

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780815652700
E-ISBN-10: 0815652704
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815633570
Print-ISBN-10: 0815633572

Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Middle Eastern Literature in Translation