Shortly after the expansion of Muslim rule in the 7th and 8th centuries CE, Christians, Jews, and Samaritans living in the Muslim world began to translate their sacred texts: the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Samaritan Pentateuch into the new dominant language of the time: Arabic. Many of these translations, from languages such as Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, and Coptic, have survived and have come down to us in a vast corpus of manuscripts and fragments that hail from monasteries, synagogues, and libraries, especially in the Middle East.
Compared to other translation traditions of the Bible throughout its history, the Arabic versions are the most abundant in terms of the number of surviving manuscripts and later on prints Moreover, they reveal an unusually large variety in stylistic and didactic approaches, vocabulary, scripts, and, ideologies. Although originally intended for internal consumption by the different denominations that produced them, the translations were also quoted and adapted by Muslim writers, who were familiar with many biblical episodes and characters through their own sacred scripture, the Qur’an.
But whereas much attention has been paid in modern scholarship to the translation of scientific and philosophical works from Greek into Arabic in the early Abbasid period (first half of the 9th century CE), the parallel endeavour of translating the Bible (in the broadest sense of the term) into Arabic has hardly been studied in any systematic way. The ”Biblia Arabica“ project aims to redress this imbalance by way of an integrative and internationally led study which will uncover and describe the different medieval schools and individuals that took part in this scriptural translation enterprise, their aims and agendas, styles and techniques, as well as the social and cultural implications of their innovative and ambitious endeavor. The nucleus of the project is the study and survey of thousands of early codices and fragments, many of which are lying dormant in monasteries across the Middle East and libraries around the world.
From the study of manuscripts, the project will move on to investigate translation as an act and a process, and the manner in which translators from different faiths influenced each other in an interreligious and intercultural context.
Most of the results of the project will be published in the recently established book series Biblia Arabica: Texts and Studies, published by Brill in Leiden and edited by an international team of six scholars, including Camilla Adang, Meira Polliack, and Sabine Schmidtke. In addition, Volume One of the peer-reviewed journal Intellectual History of the Islamicate World (Brill, Leiden) will be exclusively devoted to the Bible in Arabic.