From Medieval to Early Modern, from Christian to Muslim: Difficult Boundaries in the Arabic Gospels and Paul's Epistles of Biblioteca Nacional de España MS 4971 (Sixteenth-Century Spain)
- Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 18, Number 4, Fall 2018
- pp. 26-50
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This article analyzes the Arabic Gospels and Pauline Epistles of MS 4971 of Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid. One of six Gospel manuscripts related to the tenth-century Arabic translation of the Vulgate by the Cordoban Ishāq b. Balashk, MS 4971 is unique in several regards: it contains some of the latest New Testament material in Arabic in the West (copied between 1542 and 1543); it is the most complete Arabic translation of Paul's letters in the West in the medieval period; and it circulated and was copied within a Morisco environment. The Moriscos were New Christians of Muslim origin who converted in the early sixteenth century. Due to the coercive conditions under which they converted, this minority was suspect of heterodoxy and the secret practice of Islam, especially when in possession of Arabic texts. Modern scholarship tends to confirm this association: Moriscos possessing Arabic texts, including biblical texts, generally used them for strengthening Muslim identity. The present essay complicates this picture by reading MS 4971 as a site of negotiation for Morisco identity on the part of Muslim converts to Christianity. These converts re-inscribe Islam into the biblical narrative and question Old Christian categories of religion, culture, and language.