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  • In Defense of the Bible: A Critical Edition and an Introduction to al-Biqā'ī's Bible Treatise
  • Li Guo (bio)
Walid A. Saleh . In Defense of the Bible: A Critical Edition and an Introduction to al-Biqā'ī's Bible Treatise. Brill. 2008. viii, 224. €101.00, US$138.00

This fascinating book introduces to scholars of Islam an unusual medieval Arabic text by an unusual author. A brilliant (albeit eccentric) mind and a staunch Sunni, Ibrāhīm ibn 'Umar al-Biqā'ī (d. 1480) nevertheless led a life that was ridden by controversies and intrigues. So was his career: nearly everything he wrote was 'different.' His diary-like chronicles contextualized worldly affairs with Qur'anic prophesy. His relentless attacks on the popular Sufi Ibn al-Fārid stirred up such a roar that he was eventually ostracized from the religious elite in Cairo. His Qur'an commentaries, which have drawn increasing attention recently, featured two novel characteristics: the method of using rhetoric and logical causality (tanāsub al-āyāt) to interpret the Qur'an, and the use of biblical materials as supplementary proof texts for Qur'anic exegesis. The subject of the book under review is a representative text of this latter enterprise. In this 'Bible Treatise' (its original title was 'The Just Verdict on the Permissibility of Quoting from Old Scriptures'), al-Biqā'ī argued for the use of the Bible by Muslims for religious purpose. [End Page 270]

Walid Saleh did a super job in presenting this hitherto little-known text, with introduction, edition, illustrations of the manuscripts, and indexes. The introduction is a learned and erudite essay in three chapters. Chapter 1 focuses on al-Biqā'ī's 'hermeneutical horizons' pertaining to his distinct approaches to the Qur'an. Chapter 2 offers an in-depth analysis of the text edited here, which was meant to supplement al-Biqā'ī'smagnum opus, the massive Qur'anic commentary titled 'String of Pearls on Account of Causality of Qur'anic Verses.' The burning question here, naturally, is the reason for his marked divergence from the established norm, given that the 'gate' of Islamicizing biblical lore, a practice in early Islamic discourse, was by then long 'closed.' To this Saleh offers his own view (the eagerness to claim originality, and the impulse to offer something new). The question of motivation is, of course, a speculative query to which no definitive conclusion could possibly be reached. I suspect that the impulse to prove 'I-knew-better-than-you-all' could also be a contributing factor, in light of al-Biqā'ī's salvation historical world view and his sense of alienation in his hostile, and highly competitive, environment. In chapter 3, Saleh describes the manuscripts and his method in editing.

The edition is a model for Arabic manuscript study. Based on a careful collation of all four extant manuscripts, it is meticulously researched, diligently prepared, and truly critical. In case the edition is to be reprinted, I have a few suggestions for improvement in presentation. The software for the Arabic script is less than perfect. The wrongly pointed comma (',') and certain combinations (for example, illā) look very odd, let alone bad spacing between letters here and there. The edited text contains occasional misplaced hamzas and macrons on the alif, as well as random uses of the hamza/yā' (al-khalā'iq, for example, is spelled with each, in the same line [179]). Those are the nuisances facing editing and publishing medieval Arabic texts, which often feature elements of the 'Middle Arabic' that derail 'classical' orthography. The issue here, I suppose, is consistency. Once an editorial policy is selected, it should be followed through.

To facilitate reading, the editor went out his way to painstakingly supply punctuation marks and dots, which were usually missing from medieval Arabic manuscripts. In that he succeeded almost perfectly. I myself might add a quotation mark to separate the awkward 'ungrammatical' phrase bi-yadrusu (125, l. 3), since the verb is in fact not a functional verb but rather a quote. I also believe the tā' marbūta, in numerous dates of 'tenth,' or '-teenth' ('āshir[a], or -'ashar[a]), should be a h (suffix pronounced for 'month...


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