History of al-Tabari Vol. 1, The: General Introduction and From the Creation to the Flood, Volume 1

SUNY Press
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Volume I of the thirty-eight volume translation of Tabari's great History begins with the creation of the world and ends with the time of Noah and the Flood. It not only brings a vast amount of speculation about the early history of mankind into sharp Muslim focus, but it also synchronizes ancient Iranian ideas about the prehistory of mankind with those inspired by the Qur'an and the Bible. The volume is thus an excellent guide to the cosmological views of many of Tabari's contemporaries. The translator, Franz Rosenthal, one of the world's foremost scholars of Arabic, has also written an extensive introduction to the volume that presents all the facts known about Tabari's personal and professional life. Professor Rosenthal's meticulous and original scholarship has yielded a valuable bibliography and chronology of Tabari's writings, both those preserved in manuscript and those alluded to by other authors. The introduction and first volume of the translation of the History form a ground-breaking contribution to Islamic historiography in English and will prove to be an invaluable source of information for those who are interested in Middle Eastern history but are unable to read the basic works in Arabic.
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Publisher
SUNY Press
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Published on
Jun 10, 2015
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Pages
434
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ISBN
9781438417837
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Middle East / General
History / World
Religion / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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This volume records the lives and efforts of some of the prophets preceeding the birth of Mohammad. It devotes most of its message to two towering figures--Abraham, the Friend of God, and his great-grandson, Joseph. The story is not, however simply a repetition of Biblical tales in a slightly altered form, for Tabari sees the ancient pre-Islamic Near East as an area in which the histories of three different peoples are acted out, occasionally meeting and intertwining. Thus ancient Iran, Israel, and Arabia serve as the stages on which actors such as Biwarasb, the semi-legendary Iranian king, Noah and his progeny, and the otherwise unknown Arabian prophets Hud and Salih appear and act.

In the pages of this volume we read of the miraculous birth and early life of Abraham, and of his struggle against his father's idolatry. God grants him sons--Ishmael from Hagar and Isaac from Sarah--and the conflicts between the two mothers, the subsequent expulsion of Hagar, and her settling in the vicinity of Mecca, all lead to the story of Abraham's being commanded to build God's sanctuary there. Abraham is tested by God, both by being commanded to sacrifice his son (and here Tabari shows his fairness be presenting the arguments of Muslim scholars as to whether that son was Ishmael or Isaac) and by being given commandments to follow both in personal behavior and in ritual practice. The account of Abraham is interlaced with tales of the cruel tyrant Nimrod, who tried in vain both to burn Abraham in fire and to reach the heavens to fight with God. The story of Abraham's nephew Lot and the wicked people of Sodom also appears here, with the scholars once again arguing--this time over what the exact crimes were for which the Sodomites were destroyed.

Before proceeding to the story of Joseph, which is recounted in great detail, we linger over the accounts of two figures associated with ancient Arabia in Muslim tradition: the Biblical Job, who despite his trials and sufferings does not rail against God, and Shu'ayb, usually associated with the Biblical Jethro, the priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses. Finally we meet Joseph, whose handsome appearance, paternal preference, and subsequent boasting to his brothers lead to his being cast into a pit and ending up as a slave in Egypt. His career is traced in some detail: the attempted seduction by Potiphar's wife, his imprisonment and eventual release after becoming able to interpret dreams, and his rise to power as ruler of Egypt. The volume ends with the moving story of Joseph's reunion with his brothers, the tragi-comic story of how he reveals himself to them, and the final reunion with his aged father who is brought to Egypt to see his son's power and glory.

This is proto-history told in fascinating detail, of us in different contexts, as well as of others completely unknown to Western readers.
Many of the events treated in this volume have become part of the historical consciousness of Muslims. The first civil war of Islam, the Fitnah, is widely seen as of decisive importance in dividing the Muslims into three major traditions, Sunnis, Shi'is, and Kharijis, which have persisted until today. Although this division may be an over-simplification of a much more complex process of community formation, the events narrated here are certainly of great importance in the early history of Islam.

The volume is focused on the struggle between the caliph 'Ali and his rival and eventual successor as caliph, Mu'awiyah, the first caliph of the Umayyad dynasty. About half of the material is concerned with the confrontation between the two at the battle of Siffin in 657, the fighting, the ending of the battle when the Syrian supporters of Mu'awiyah are described as having attached Qu'ranic texts to their lances, and the subsequent negotiations between the two rivals which resulted in the dispute's being put to arbitration. Much detail is also provided about 'Ali's struggle against the Kharijis, his former supporters who had turned against him as a result of his agreement with Mu'awiyah to accept arbitration; the revolt against 'Ali in regions of Iraq and Persia around the northern edges of the Persian Gulf, which involved Christians, as well as Muslims, Arabs, and such non-Arab groups as Kurds; the events in Egypt that led to the burning of 'Ali's representative there in the skin of a donkey; and the murder of 'Ali by Ibn Muljam, the account of which sometimes reads as if it were a popular story.

Al-Tabari's text makes available a wealth of detail in narratives collected from the now lost compilations of scholars of earlier generations. The bulk of the material is cited from the famous Abu Mikhnaf, who died in A.D. 774, but there are also many reports from other traditionists and narrators whose materials would be largely unknown to us if it were not for the work of al-Tabari. The volume contains a number of speeches and letters attributed to the Prophet's son-in-law and cousin 'Ali, including his deathbed speech to his sons, and there is also a version of the document drawn up by 'Ali and Mu'awiyah in which they agreed to appoint arbitrators.

The Arabic text of the Leiden edition of al-Tabari has been compared with the more recent Cairo edition and with the substantial parallel passages in such other works as the Waq'at Siffin of al-Mingari and the Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah of Ibn Abi' l-Hadid, as well as other sources, in an attempt to provide a secure text for translation. Individuals and places are identified in the footnotes, further references to sources and secondary literature are provided, and textual problems and historical matters are discussed. The volume contains a bibliography and index.
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