Bert Jacobs (KUL), 'Resisting the Islamic Appropriation of Biblical History: The Use of Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyāʾ in Dionysius bar Ṣalībī’s Disputation against the Muslims

Online lecture for the Text and Transmission Joint Research Seminar - TeTra (UGent - KU Leuven)

Undoubtedly the best-known feature of Dionysius bar Ṣalībī’s (d. 1171) Disputation against the Muslims is its third discourse (chapters 25-30), which contains in two synoptic columns a rich collection of qurʾānic excerpts in a Syriac translation with an apologetic/polemic commentary. Although scholarly opinions vary widely on the source(s) that were used in composing this section, it is commonly assumed that Bar Ṣalībī himself had no share in the translation work from Arabic to Syriac and hence, by necessity, depended on some kind of Syriac document. I argue that the latter assumption is false and that a re-assessment of the text shows that Bar Ṣalībī in chapters 25-28 most likely used as his principal source an Arabo-Islamic collection of ‘Stories of the Prophets’ (Qiṣaṣ al-Anbiyāʾ). The use of a work of this popular Muslim genre in Bar Ṣalībī’s day provides the most satisfactory explanation not only for the qurʾānic narratives that are cited in these chapters, but also for the interspersed extra-qurʾānic and exegetical traditions which to date have confused so many scholars. As such, a new perspective emerges for reading Bar Ṣalībī’s entreprise as essentially one of resistance against the Islamicizing tendencies of qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ discourse.

This talk is a part of the Text and Transmission Joint Research Seminar, hosted by Andy Hilkens (UGent) and Dan Batovici (KU Leuven) in an effort to put together in the same room on-going projects—in Belgium and beyond—on various traditions and historical contexts. For the time being we have switched to online Zoom one-paper meetings, normally at 10am CET on the planned dates. If you’d like to attend, get in touch with the convenors Andy Hilkens or Dan Batovici.

You can find the full TeTra programme here.