Quran Manuscripts from the Library of Abraham Hinckelmann

This winter a small manuscript exhibition with the title Faszination Handschrift: 2000 Jahre Manuskriptkulturen in Asien, Afrika und Europa (18 Nov. 2011 – 8 Jan. 2012), in the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek (SUB) Hamburg featured five Arabic and three Persian manuscripts. The exhibition was organized by the Sonderforschungsbereich (SFB) 950: Manuskriptkulturen in Asien, Afrika und Europa, Asien-Afrika-Institut (AAI) of the Universität Hamburg, and the SFB has published the German-English exhibition catalog Manuskriptkulturen (ed. Jörg B. Quenzer, Newsletter Manuscript Cultures 4, Hamburg: AAI, 2011). The Arabist Tilman Seidensticker was in charge of the Arabic manuscripts (pp. 78-92), while the Persian manuscripts were the responsibility of the Islamic art historian Claus-Peter Haase (pp. 93-100). Their respective chapters in the exhibition catalog offer new commentaries on an Islamic manuscript collection which was last cataloged in its entirety by Carl Brockelmann (1868-1956) in Die arabischen, persischen, türkischen, malaiischen, koptischen, syrischen und äthiopischen Handschriften (Hamburg: Meissner, 1908; repr., Hamburg: Hauswedell, 1968; to my knowledge, a digitized version of the 1908 edition is not available on the internet).

Among the eight manuscripts there were two Qurans from the library of Abraham Hinckelmann (1652-1695; cf. Carl Bertheau, “Hinkelmann, Abraham,“ in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie 12, 1880, pp. 460-462; Georg Behrmann, Hamburgs Orientalisten: Dem XIII. Internationalen Orientalistenkongress überreicht von der Averhoff- Stiftung, Hamburg: Persiehl, 1902, pp. 51-55).

MS collection of Abraham Hinckelmann

SUB Hamburg MS arab. Orient. 28.
35 x 24 cm.
The colophon is dated 30 Rajab 1058/20 Aug. 1648, during the reign of Jashan (?) Khān.
The place of copying ديكلورا is not identified, and the reading of the scribe’s nisbah
االمكتابالبورى (sic in Brockelmann) is not established.
Published: Brockelmann, p. 3 s.v. no. 2; Seidensticker, pp. 90-91 s.v. Arab. 5.

MSS collection of Abraham Hinckelmann








SUB Hamburg MS arab. Orient. 36 = Cod. in scrin. 45a.
22.5 x 12 cm.
Undated and unplaced.
Published: Brockelmann, p. 5 s.v. no. 10; Seidensticker, pp. 86-87 s.v. Arab. 3.

Hinckelmann was a Protestant theologian and Orientalist, and in 1694 his critical Quran edition was published in Hamburg (for bibliographical descriptions and sample pages of his Al-Coranus, see the Verzeichnies der im deutschen Sprachraum erschienen Drucke des 17. Jahrhunderts (VD 17) s.v. 39:139712T, 3:314172A, 32:680463E, and 7:707063Q). Hinckelmann’s version was the second edition of the complete text to be typeset in Christian Europe, after the Venetian Quran of 1537/1538 (for the reproduction of a page from this very rare book, see Sprachen des Nahen Ostens und die Druckrevolution, eds. Eva Hanebutt-Benz et al., Westhofen: WVA Verlag Skulimus, 2002, p. 153 fig. 2), and it was immediately followed by Luigi Marracci’s superior Alcorani textus universus (2 vols., Padua, 1698) which dominated European Quran scholarship until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Seidensticker’s discussion of the two Quran manuscripts from Hinckelmann’s library reflects the traditional focus of Arabic Studies on the Arabic language and the central Arab lands. Seidensticker mentions of course that these manuscripts were listed as sources in the preface of Hinckelmann’s Quran edition, but it is left to the art historian Hans-Walter Stork, who is not an Arabist, to situate Hinckelmann’s Islamic manuscript collection (pp. 9-11) within the history of the Oriental manuscript holdings in the SUB Hamburg (pp. 8-15). Seidensticker notes that both Quran manuscripts, though written in Arabic, were probably produced outside the central Arab lands (pp. 86, 90). Yet he does not specify the geographical meaning of “ostarabisch” (p. 86: tr. as “east Arabian”) and “arabischer Osten (p. 86: tr. as “eastern Arabia”). I suspect that the awkward English translations escaped the attention of proof readers and copy editors because the eastern lands of the Islamic world were seen through an Arabic Studies lens. Since the extraordinary geographical range of Arabic manuscript culture (p. 81) followed the eastern expansion of Muslim rule from the Arab Peninsula across the Iranian Plateau into Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent after 650 CE, Arabic is one of the dominant languages of the Islamic civilization and Arabic manuscripts were produced east of the central Arab lands.

The Arabic bias of Arabic Studies is brought into relief by the following chapter on the manuscript culture of Iran (pp. 93-100). Seidensticker locates the emergence of a new and independent Arabic manuscript culture in the flowering Muslim cities in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt during the eighth century CE (p. 78), and so there is no reason to explore the influence of Byzantine and Sasanian manuscript cultures on the design of the first Quran manuscripts copied between the late seventh and the early eighth centuries CE (cf. François Déroche, Le livre manuscrit arabe: Préludes à une historie, Paris: Bibliothèque nationale de France, 2004, pp. 15-18). Since Seidensticker presupposes the emergence of a completely new manuscript culture with the rise of Islam, it is only logical that he chose five Quran manuscripts, copied between the ninth and seventeenth centuries CE (pp. 82-92), to illustrate the wide range of Arabic manuscript culture between North Africa and India, from the Balkans to Central Asia. In contrast, Haase considers the Iranian Plateau the heartland of the Iranian civilization, but he has little interest in a shared language or a shared religion. The manuscripts of Islamic Iran are perceived as a continuation of the manuscript cultures of Zoroastrian, Manichaean, Christian, and Buddhist communities in pre-Islamic Iran (pp. 93-94). Haase selected as representative Iranian examples three manuscripts copied between the early 1700s and 1818 outside the central Arab lands. Two manuscripts contain Arabic works of astronomy (pp. 97-98) and ḥadīth (p. 100) accompanied by a Persian commentary or translation, and only the third manuscript is a monolingual volume of Persian poetry (p. 99).

What would Hinckelmann have thought about this twenty-first century distinction between an Arabic-Islamic and an Iranian-Persian manuscript culture? After Hinckelmann’s unexpected death in 1695, his library was dispersed when his family auctioned off the valuable collection of manuscripts and printed books (pp. 10-11 esp. notes 11-12). Still, some information about the contents of his Oriental manuscript collection has been preserved in sales catalogs and findings aids, supplementing the data gleaned from the manuscripts themselves and the introduction to the 1694 Quran edition. In his 1908 catalog Brockelmann suggested that 121 of Hamburg’s Arabic, Persian, and Turkish manuscripts had once been owned by Hinckelmann (p. IV, cf. pp. 198-199). Even this incomplete inventory documents that Hinckelmann’s manuscript collection was not limited to Quran scholarship and Arabic literature. Born a few years after the end of Thirty Years’ War in 1648, Hinckelmann was raised in a society which only slowly recovered from the long war’s terrible devastation. As a highly educated man he could not only switch between informal and formal linguistic registers but had also mastered Latin, German, and French as the languages of academia, everyday life, and high culture. The linguistic diversity of Muslim societies must have been familiar to Hinckelmann who studied Islam’s written revelation while he and his Protestant colleagues were confronted with the rise of Pietism.

It was a lovely surprise to find two of Hinckelmann’s Qurans in this small exhibition, as Hinckelmann had seemed completely forgotten at the AAI.  He is not mentioned in the AAI’s memorial volume Vom Kolonialinstitut zum Asien-Afrika-Institut: 100 Jahre Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften in Hamburg (ed. Ludwig Paul, Deutsche Ostasienstudien 2, Gossenberg: Ostasien Verlag, 2008). Neither Michael Friedrich’s short Geschichte der Hamburger Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften (available on the AAI homepage, Universität Hamburg: https://www.aai.uni-hamburg.de/Geschichte.html) nor Jörg B. Quenzer’s introduction to the 2011 exhibition catalog (pp. 2-7) includes any reference to Hinckelmann’s work. The lack of interest in this late seventeenth-century pioneer of Quran Studies may reflect concerns with defending our contemporary scholarship in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies against charges of Islamophobia and Orientalism. In early modern Europe, Oriental Studies originated in a political environment in which Islam was primarily understood as a Christian heresy, and not as an independent monotheistic faith in its own right. Still, I find it very curious that, despite the growing interest in Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal history, research on the European history of Oriental Studies in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries seems to be of so little merit, even though an analysis of its epistemological foundations has the potential to initiate critical reflection on our own research practices. Outside the confines of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, research on early modern Europe and the Americas is the prestigious pursuit of illuminating the makings of our modern world within the larger context of a globally conceived Renaissance, which nowadays comprises much more than the varied achievements of the Italian city states between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. It remains to be seen how the recently opened Center for the History of Arabic Studies in Europe (CHASE) at the Warburg Library in London will impact further research in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies.