Participant Titles and Abstracts


[alphabetically by author]

•Ahmad Al-Jallad (Universiteit Leiden)

"Revisiting the question of a pre-Islamic Hocharabisch from the vista of the pre-Islamic inscriptions"

Abstract: There is a virtual consensus among Western Arabists that the vernacular dialects of pre-Islamic Arabic contrasted with a pan-Arabian 'poetic koine', the language of the poems attributed to the pre-Islamic period and in which the Qur'an was pointed and read. In recent times, it has even been suggested that the Arabic of the Qur'an was an entirely artificial register restricted to rituals and religious activities. In this talk, we will examine this hypothesis in light of the pre-Islamic epigraphic record.  We hope to show that the features typical of the Qur'anic dialect occur in the greatest concentrations in the epigraphy of the Higaz, suggesting that it was indeed composed in a local dialect.  Moreover, the extant epigraphic record, covering a wide variety of genres, attests to a great deal of dialectal diversity in Arabia and gives no support to the idea of a pan-Arabian register of Arabic in pre-Islamic times.

•François Déroche (Collège de France)

“The invention of the sacred book”

Abstract: In the aftermath of the death of Muhammad, the young Muslim community faced the challenge of keeping a record of his teachings. The decision was made in favor of the writing and of the codex, the dominant type of book at that time in the Mediterranean basin. These two decisions that had many implications were successfully implemented, but it soon turned out that various changes had to be brought to the original design. The copies of the Qur’an produced during the first century show how various options were explored, accepted or rejected.

•Fred M. Donner (University of Chicago)

“Scripts and Scripture in Late Antique Arabia: an Overview of the problems”

Abstract: Arabic emerges as a robust literary language, including the appearance of the Qur’an, in the seventh century CE.  Its prehistory, however, is murky.  For many centuries, robust traditions of writing formal inscriptions and informal graffiti were found in many parts of western Arabia, from Yemen to central Syria. These inscriptions were in several languages (mainly Nabataean Aramaic, Ancient North Arabian, and Ancient South Arabian, but only rarely in Arabic) and in several different scripts; but these inscriptional traditions seem to falter in the 4th and 5th centuries and mostly died out by the sixth century.  There thus appears to be a gap of over a century, and perhaps longer, before the resurgence of inscriptional activity—now appearing confidently in the Arabic language and Arabic script—with the rise of Islam in the early-mid seventh century.  How is such a gap possible, and was it real or only apparent? The paper proposes some ways to consider this question, hypothesizing a tradition of writing Arabic on perishable materials now lost in the century or more before Islam, and suggesting a possible link between the Arabic inscriptional evidence and the new Qur’anic scripture.

•Suleyman Dost (University of Chicago)

"Language of Ritual Purity in the Qur'ān and the Arabian Epigraphy”

Abstract:  Although the ritual and legal content of the Qur’ān is very limited compared to that of the Hebrew Bible, there are a few initial steps in the Qur’ān toward the regulation of ritual and sumptuary codes that only later reached full bloom in the following centuries through the development of Islamic law. Stipulations about ritual purity are an element of these codes that was greatly elaborated long after the Qur’ān’s composition, possibly under the influence of Jewish law. However, some of the most important terms that later became ubiquitous concepts in Muslim legal treatises are derived from the Qur’ān’s language about ritual purity. It is noteworthy that the Qur’ānic vocabulary of ritual purity in matters such as ablution, cleanliness in and of sacred space, and the conditions leading to ritual impurity bears striking parallels with similar stipulations in Old South Arabian epigraphy. My paper will examine some Qur’anic passages about ritual purity in their South Arabian context by focusing on key terms such as ġsl, njs, ḥyḍ and their usage, particularly in Haramic inscriptions.

•Adam Flowers (University of Chicago)                  

“Writing and the Terminological Evolution of the Qur'anic ‘Sūra’"

Abstract: This paper will employ literary, historiographical, and paleographic analyses to argue that the Qur’anic term sūra, which has come to denote one of the 114 chapters of the Qur’ān, originally described smaller, independent units of oral revelation that were subsequently combined to form longer chapters. Once brought together to create the longer literary compositions that we today identify as sūras, the divisions between the originally independent pieces of revelation were lost. As the Qur’ān began to be written down, codified, and, finally, disseminated, the term sūra came to be associated with the secondary literary form of the chapter, as opposed to its original meaning of small unit of oral revelation.

•Sidney Griffith (Catholic University of America)  

"Script, Text, and the Bible in Arabic: The Evidence of the Qur'an"

Abstract:  On the basis of a close study of the context, the diction, and the discursive style of the Qur’ān’s evocations of the biblical and para-biblical lore of the Bible’s (OT & NT) Patriarchs and Prophets, the following theses are advanced.  The Qur’ān features a distinctive paradigm of ‘prophetism’ that determines the hermeneutical parameters within which it evokes the memory of those scriptural figures, well known in its milieu, whom it calls God’s Messengers and Prophets.  The want of virtually any extended quotations of biblical or para-biblical texts in the Qur’ān, along with its rich language of memory and story-telling bespeaks the oral medium of the Arabic scripture’s origins in terms that nevertheless foretell its own eventual expression in writing.  The Qur’ān’s distinctive paradigm of ‘prophetism’ and the stylized mode of its expression in a homiletic diction reveal it to be in fact a counter discourse to competing ‘prophetologies’ prevalent in its milieu.  The most notable one would have been the ‘prophetological’ construction put upon the biblical narratives of the Patriarchs and Prophets in Christian homiletic texts in Syriac, which circulated in abundance both orally and in writing in the first half of the seventh century CE, well within the Late Antique, geographical range of the Qur’ān’s origins.

•Robert Hoyland (New York University/ISAW)

“Arabic Writing, Arabic Scripture in Late Roman Arabia”

Abstract: The Qur’an makes clear on a number of occasions that writing is an integral part of the commercial and legal life of its audience. It enjoins them, ‘when you contract a loan for a specified term, write it down’, urges respect for scribes and gives instructions for what to do if you are in the unusual situation of not being able to find a scribe (2:282-83). More and more inscriptions in Arabic from near to the time of the Qur’an are being discovered – one possibly from the lifetime of the Prophet will be presented as an example. However, no documents have as yet turned up. The earliest so far as the papyri from Egypt that start from the year 21 of the Hijra. These already show a developed phraseology and presuppose a previous tradition of drafting documents. But where would this have evolved: in Syria or Najran, where our pre-Islamic inscriptions are from, or from Hira, where Muslim histories place the origins of Arabic writing? This paper will try to make some suggestions and also speculate on the link between the writing of documents and the writing of scripture.

•Ilkka Lindstedt  (University of Helsinki)

asʾalu allāh al-mawt fī sabīlihi -- Religious warfare in the epigraphic record”

Abstract: My paper will look into 7th–8th century CE Arabic graffiti dealing with themes of fighting and martyrdom. I start by offering some theoretical remarks about the use of epigraphy, and graffiti in particular, for the social history of early Islamic Near East. I suggest some ideas who wrote these graffiti and why.

I then present the 20 graffiti used in my study. Their writers wanted to show willingness to fight and fall in God’s path. Six of the graffiti are dated (70s–110s/690s–730s), and I argue that this dating also holds true for the rest. Their formulae and themes will be compared with especially the Qur’an, which forms an important subtext to the graffiti.

The appearance and proliferating of the themes of fighting and martyrdom in the graffiti seem to belong to a specific historical context: that of a renewed interest, after the second fitna, in active conquests in which the Marwanid caliphs from ‘Abd al-Malik to Hisham were instrumental in. I suggest that the engravers engaged in costly signaling, i.e., announced their eagerness to suffer and undergo hardships for the Muslim ingroup in order to show that they are not freeloaders but faithful members of the group.

•M. C. A.  Macdonald (University of Oxford)

"The oral and the written in the religions of ancient North Arabia"

Abstract: Although it is clear from the tens of thousands of pre-Islamic personal inscriptions from North Arabia that large sections of the population could read and write, the subject matter of these texts assumes that the reader has an extensive background knowledge of the authors' society, history and religion. Texts dealing with these matters may have been recorded on perishable materials —which in the climatic conditions of North Arabia have perished — or may have been preserved in memory and communicated orally. Thus, we have no mythology, theology, or liturgy from these religions except the occasional phrase quoted in a graffito or official inscription.

In addition, with the exception of the dialects recorded in the Safaitic, Hismaic, and Dadanitic inscriptions, Arabic, as used for instance by the Nabataeans — at least those in southern Jordan and north-west Arabia — remained a purely spoken language until the fifth century AD, a dialect of Aramaic being used for all written texts.

•Laïla Nehmé (CNRS, Paris)

“Names of deities and theophoric names in the Nabataeo-Arabic inscriptions from the Arabian peninsula”

Abstract: This paper aims at answering a simple question: is the pantheon reflected in the Nabataeo-Arabic inscriptions from the Arabian peninsula the same as the one reflected in the Nabataean inscriptions from the same region? In order to answer this question, the two relevant corpuses of inscriptions will be examined and the divine names they contain, whether they are mentioned separately or in theophoric names, will be listed, mapped and analyzed. The ultimate objective is to determine whether we can trace a change in the religious landscape of the Arabian peninsula – mainly its northwestern part – between the Nabataean and later pre-Islamic period. The Nabataean inscriptions are dated to the interval 1st-4th century AD  while the Nabataeo-Arabic ones are dated to the interval 4th-early 6th century AD. Both groups thus offer an interesting body of documents on pre-Islamic Arabia, some of which, the Nabataeo-Arabic inscriptions, remain partly unpublished.

•Gordon Newby (Emory University)

“Religious Internationalism: A View Through the Eyes of Arabian Jews”

Abstract: Arabia in the period leading up to the time of Muhammad and the beginning of the Qur’an has been described as “ripe for revelation.”  The appearance of the Qur’an, however, has long caused Muslim and Western scholars to ponder the conundrums associated with this Arabian scripture.  Arabia was known to be a remote, forbidding place, unconquerable as Aelius Gallus learned.  But it was also a refuge for those fleeing the Jewish-Roman wars or the charges of heresy from various Christian Church councils.  Arabia was also a center for the conflict between Persia and Rome.  Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and others mixed in Arabia when politics and religion were inextricably intertwined.

In this paper, I will examine this complex scene through the perspectives of Arabian Jews in Yemen and the Hijaz before and during the rise of Islam.  I will investigate Jewish-Abyssinian connections as well as relations between Hijazi Jews and the Babylonian Rabbinic academies. In this context, I will interrogate the apparent fluidity between oral and written scripture as well as the boundaries of what constituted scripture among Arabian Jews.  One of my central propositions is that Arabian Jewish ideas of scripture were joined with those of Arabian Christians to help develop a scriptualist community.

•Julian Christian Robin (CNRS, Paris)

“The Christians of Najrān”

Abstract: The inscriptions of the region of Najrān (South Arabia) have allowed scholars to identify, in the 5th and 6th centuries AD, Christians of South Arabian culture, as well as others of Arab culture, who dissented against Ḥimyar around the mid-fifth century. These inscriptions also have enabled the discovery of a Jewish presence. 

The presentation is an attempt to discover if particular religious currents depended on tribal affiliation (Ḥimyar, oasis tribes, tribes of the steppe and of the desert).

•Jeremy Vecchi (University of Chicago)

“The Qurʾān and the Kaʿbah”

Abstract: As Crone, Hawting, and others have pointed out, the Qurʾān is surprisingly laconic on the topic of its contemporaneous Meccan cult and the central shrine of Islam, the Kaʿbah. This has led some scholars to suggest that the Kaʿbah and its associated ‘Jāhiliyyah paganism’ as depicted in traditional, Muslim, narrative sources should be read largely as an innovation of the High Caliphate period that served to legitimize a relatively late orthodoxy: Islam as a monotheistic miracle revealed among polytheistic Arabs. However, recent evidence suggests that the bulk of the Qurʾān was indeed composed very early, and there we do find a number of verses that have traditionally been understood to refer to the Kaʿbah, though a number of different terms are employed: al-kaʿbah, al-masjid al-ḥarām, al-bayt, etc. Were all of these originally meant to refer to what we call the ‘Kaʿbah’ today? How do these verses compare with other, comparative usages of similar terminology in the late antique Near East? Are there alternative models for the Kaʿbah’s early structure and function that might be illuminated when the Qurʾān’s related verses are seen as more firmly embedded in the late antique linguistic and religious milieu?

•Hamza Zafar (University of Washington)

“The Quran’s ‘Accounts of Cities’ (anbā’ al-qurā) as Paradeigma”

Abstract:  TBA

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