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Quellenuntersuchungen zu den "Maqatil at-Talibiyyin" des Abu l-Farag al-Isfahani (gest. 356/967): Ein Beitrag zur Problematik der mundlichen und schriftlichen Uberlieferung in der mittelalterlichen arabischen Literatur.

The case deserves to be defended against its advocate. Although it may not be obvious, the study of classical Arabic literature cannot dispense with research into the sources used by the authors of the works preserved. This is not just an obligatory exercise in response to the constitutional principles of literary history, but it is vital to our understanding of the text and the culture in which it was born. However, the task demands extensive reading--difficult to achieve in this field--because one of the main tools is the study of the corresponding and variant texts, and asks for some methodological care which meets with the particularities of this literature. The study to be discussed here, a doctoral thesis submitted to the University of Halle/Saale (former GDR) in the summer of 1989, has not met the first of these requirements at all, but does go far in presenting a sophisticated terminology which is entirely built on formal grounds. The intention of this is fine, and it may be of some use, but the reader would be misled if he took the results for more than a rather schematic isnad analysis.

Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani, the author of the famous "Book of Songs" (Kitab al-Aghani), is a prolific author known to every student of Arabic literature. He lived and wrote in Baghdad during a period when a multitude of early source material, oral and written, was at his disposal; most, if not all of it, is preserved only in compilations such as those of Abu l-Faraj. This author provides us generously with chains of transmitters (isnads), and thus offers much data concerning the origin, transmission and literary history of the texts he gathered. After Manfred Fleischhammer's very useful, but unpublished, examination of the isnads in the Kitab al-Aghani ("Quellenuntersuchungen zum Kitab al-Agani" |Habilitationsschrift, Halle, 1965~) the complementary contribution of S. Gunther is most welcome. Like the study of his teacher, it aims at establishing a list of--as I would rather put it: possible--sources.

The "Maqatil al-Talibiyyin" is an important book, as it contains more than 200 biographical articles on descendants of Abu Talib who did not die a natural death but were murdered or slain and died in prison or exile. Events of this sort commonly attracted authors (see the indices of Ibn al-Nadim's Kitab al-Fihrist, ed. R. Tajaddud |Teheran, 1971~, under maqtal and maqatil), but with Abu l-Faraj's collection survived one of the few early works that reflect some of the views of (moderate) partisans of the Shi at Ali. S. Gunther's study does not intend to reveal any of the more particular aspects of this work, and it comes as no surprise that after a short introductory remark (counted as chapter 1), he presents, in a sound and well arranged manner, some general features of Abu l-Faraj's life and his work. The reader is left quite unsatisfied though, when attention is drawn to the author's preface as being of great interest for his style and intentions, but no further details and no translation are given.

Unfortunately, S. Gunther's tendency to content himself with the presentation of general features is quite persistent. In chapter 3, which is meant to represent a study of oral and written forms of transmission (as announced in the introduction, p. 3), he discusses some of the methods of lecturing and writing practiced during the eighth and ninth centuries A.D. To make a long story short, there are no new insights conveyed. Instead, a summary of older and recent studies is given without great concern for the evaluation of different results and approaches. While we may pass over the sections on the history of literature, which suffer from a lack of information, it may be worth mentioning that S. Gunther makes use of modern research when he rightly points out that transmission in the form of lectures based or not based on written texts must not be confused with "oral" transmission. He also emphasizes the interaction of oral and written forms of transmission, and thus approaches the most peculiar characteristics of a literature which included lecture-notes, re-edited collections, and the like. In his analysis, however, he does not draw the necessary conclusions.

An original contribution is the list of terms, meant to classify the names given in isnads. There are six main categories proposed; these overlap in many aspects and, at first glance, rather seem to complicate the case. However, one may recognize in this system--and perhaps reduce it to--the useful distinction between the position of a person within the sequence of transmission, his importance as a source of the compilation, and his function as author, "editor," or transmitter.

The core of the book is the examination of the isnads, which results in a list of about eighty persons arranged in alphabetical order. The names are classified according to the principles put forward earlier, and the titles of works, which Abu l-Faraj may have used directly or indirectly, are suggested--and sometimes just inferred from the contents of the quotations. Along with this, the authorities are listed to whom the "sources" under discussion refer. In many cases, very helpful tables are provided, which show the distribution of the quotations in relation to the biographical articles as well as indicating the terms used by Abu l-Faraj in his quotations. Since the alphabetical order does not include the names mentioned in the isnads which lead to persons presented on this scale, an index at the end of the book would have been useful. In any case, the list as it is presented here conveys valuable information and has the merit of including unknown and lesser-known authors.

In spite of this appreciation, some insufficiencies and misconceptions have to be mentioned. The very selective character of the biographical references which treat the persons discussed here may be explained by the fact that S. Gunther simply did not have access to much of the literature which has to be considered for this kind of study. To give but one example, in the Siyar alam an-nubala --the edition of which lists many other biographical sources for each article--al-Dhahabi mentions that he himself has seen a part of the Manaqib by Abbad ibn Yaqub. Abbad is mentioned by S. Gunther as the author of an important source used by Abu l-Faraj: the Kitab al-Marifa fi s-sahaba. The title is mentioned by at-Tusi in his Fihrist, repeated by F. Sezgin and repeated by S. Gunther. However, this indication is not consistent with al-Dhahabi's statement that the Shiite Abbad was widely known for despising the sahaba.

As with this example, the identification of titles that might have served Abu l-Faraj as a source, either directly or indirectly via later sources, is generally rather arbitrary. They are chosen from the titles named in the bio- and bibliographical literature according to a vague thematic correspondence. The proposed title Ahbar ash-shuara by Ibn Abi Haitama, for instance, corresponds to only one of the quotations referred to, and other examples of doubtful correspondence between the passages quoted and the titles proposed can easily be found. Moreover, even in the case where suggested titles convincingly agree with the quotations, Abu l-Faraj's sources are not properly identified. As S. Gunther timidly admits himself, works other than that of Abu l-Faraj have to be looked through for corresponding quotations before any decision of this kind can be made. This is only too true and due to at least two reasons. First, this may reveal sources which were passed over silently in the Maqatil; second, differences between quotations from apparently the same sources may be noted, and as a consequence of this, the character of these sources would hardly fit into any of S. Gunther's categories. Research of this kind would reduce some of the absolute value given here to the title lists of Ibn an-Nadim and at-Tusi and enable the author to discuss some of the more particular features of the early literary tradition which was not yet confined to the form of the finally edited book.

Apart from this, the distinction between the compilation and the work that was edited or re-edited by a pupil of the "author" remains unclear. In order to establish the link with earlier sources, S. Gunther tends to interpret any of Abu l-Faraj's compilation-sources, which, themselves, made use of earlier sources, as a Rezension (redaction) of an earlier work. On another occasion, his reference to a general redaction of a number of unspecified works by Umar ibn Sabba is rather obscure. The classification of sources is sometimes given in different terms which however seem to indicate the same category. The redaction by Ali ibn Abbas al-Maqanii of Abbad's work is not mentioned among other redactions of this work, and al-Fadl ibn al-Hasan, whose redaction is referred to on p. 189, has no entry.

In summary, the book has its merits as an examination of the isnads in the Maqatil al-Talibiyyin, but it is, unfortunately, inadequate as a study of its sources.
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Author:Leder, Stefan
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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