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A tenth-century Nuṣayrī treatise on the duty to know the mystery of Divinity

  • Meir M. Bar-Asher (a1) and Aryeh Kofsky (a1)

Extract

The treatise published here (with an annotated translation), from the codex Arabe 1450 of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (folios 176b–179a), gives a concise account of some fundamental doctrines of early Nuṣayrī theology. The literary framework of this text is a report of a few sessions held before the Nuṣayrī sage Abū Muḥammad ‘Alī ibn ‘Īsā al-Jisrī. In the treatise the date of these sessions is given as Ramaḍān 340 a.h./February 952 C.E., and the treatise itself is likely to have been written down not long thereafter.

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Copyright

References

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1 See Vajda, G. and Sauvan, Y., Catalogue des manuscrits arabes, deuxième partie, manuscrits musulmans, 111 (no. 1121–464), (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, 1985), 311–14.

2 See on him Ghālib, Muḥammad Amīn, Ta'rīkh al-'Alawiyyin (Beirut, n.d.), 259.

3 MS Paris, Arabe 1450, ff. 48b–51b. Vajda and Sauvan, who entitled the second treatise Masā'il ilā al-Ḥusayn ibn Ḥamdān al-Ḫaṣībī, misplaced its end in folio 54. In fact folios 51b–54b constitute another independent treatise entitled Bāb min kitāb ḥujjat al-ma'ārif by a certain Ḥamza b. ‘Alī b. Shu'ba al-Ḥarrānī. Al-Ṣā'igh is also the author of an ode dedicated to the Nuṣayrī festival 'Īd al-firāsh (‘festival of the bed’), commemorating the event which occurred on the night of the Hijra when ‘Alī, in order to trick Muḥammad's enemies, lay in the Prophet's bed. (See Abū Sa'īd Maymūn b. al-Qāsim al-Ṭabarānī al-Nuṣayrī, Kitāb sabīl rāḥat al-arwāḥ wa-dalīl al-surūr wa'l-afrāḥ ilā fāliq al-aṣbāh al-ma'rūf bi-majmū' al-a'yād, ed. Strothmann, R. in Der Islam, XXVII, 1946 (German title: Festkalender der Nusairier) (= Majmū' al-a'yād), 104–5.

4 On Ibn Ma'īn see, for instance, Majmū' al-a'yād, 117; Kitāb al-Majmū' (hereafter KM), in Dussaud, R., Histoire et religion des Noṣairis (Paris, 1900), 162; Strothmann, R., Esoterische Sonderthemen bei den Nusairi, Abhandlungen der deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, Kl. für Sprache, Literatur und Kunst, Bd. 4 (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1958), 7 (of the Arabic text); Halm, H., ‘Das “Buch der Schatten”, Die Mufaḍḍal-Tradition der Gulāt und die Ursprunge des Nusairiertums’, Der Islam, LV, 1, 1978, 254.

5 Catalogue, 314.

6 The five aytām (‘the Incomparable’) are divine entities emanating from the trinity, or more specifically, from the bāb. The aytām, like the persons of the trinity, are identified with Muslim personalities, five of the companions of the prophet who are also known as ‘Alī's supporters: al-Miqdād b. Aswad al-Kindī, Abū Dharr al-Ghifārī, ‘Abd Allāh b. Rawāḥa al-Anṣārī, ‘Uthmān b. Maz'ūn al-Najāshī and Qanbar b. Kādān al-Dawsī. See: KM, 188, 79 and French translation, 168; Salisbury, E., ‘The Book of Sulaimān's first ripe fruit, disclosing the mysteries of the Nusairian religion by Sulaimān Effendi of ‘Adhanah’, JAOS, 8, 1864, 227308, at p. 248. On the place of the aytām in Nuṣayrī theology see: Dussaud, , 68 ff. and Moosa, M., Extremist Shiites: the Ghulat sects (Syracuse, NY, 1987), ch. xxxi (‘The role of the aytām and spiritual hierarchies’), 357–61.

7 The term ḥijāb (veil) commonly used as an alternative name for the second degree, the ism, is here used as an alternative name for the third degree, the bāb. It seems that in this context it denotes the external aspect of the ism which is at least partly identical with the bāb.

8 No separating entities (faṣl or fāṣila) exist within the ranks of the divine emanation.

9 MS Paris, Arabe 1450, 4, 11. 13–14. There is no pagination of the handwritten preface, the enumeration given here is ours.

10 For examples of these and other grammatical deviations current in this Nuṣayrī codex, see: M. Bar-Asher and A. Kofsky, ‘The Nusayn doctrine of ‘Ali's divinity and the Nuṣayrī trinity according to an unpublished treatise from the 7th/13th century’ (forthcoming; henceforth ‘Nuṣayrī doctrine’). For a detailed discussion of these grammatical phenomena in middle Arabic, see: Blau, J., A grammar of mediaeval Judeo-Arabic [in Hebrew], (2nd ed., Jerusalem, 1980), especially 41–2, and also idem., A grammar of Christian Arabic (Louvain, 19661967).

11 MS

12 MS

13 Q. 17:1. See n. 22

14 Q. 93:6.

15 MS

16 Vajda and Sauvan erroneously read this date as 346 a.h.; see their Catalogue, 111, 314.

17 A similar but more detailed formulation of this statement is given in the above mentioned other treatise of al-Ṣā'igh (Masā'il, f. 50a, 11. 12–14): Man ‘abada al-ism dūna al-ma'nā fa-qad kafara wa-man ‘abada al-ism wa'l-ma'nā fa-qad ashraka wa-man ‘abada al-ma'nā bi-ḥaqīqat al-ism fa-qad waḥḥada.

18 See on him n. 4.

19 The translation here reflects our emendation of the improbable to See n. 12.

20 Abū Shu'ayb is a common appellation of the famous Muḥammad b. Nuṣayr.

21 This idiom (in Arabic: minhu al-salām) seems peculiar to Nuṣayrī texts as a variant of the regular expression ‘alayhī al-salām (‘peace be on him’), which is also frequent in these texts.

22 This Qur'ānic quotation adheres to the canonical text of the Qur'ān, except for a single deviation: our text substitutes al-'Alīm (All-knowing) for al-Samī' (All-hearing) in the canonical text. The Qur'ānic verses are cited according to Arberry, A. J., The Koran interpreted (Oxford, 1983).

23 This patron is apparently Salman.

24 See n 8.

25 The author apparently alludes here to the symbolic use of letters representing the various degrees of the divine realm. However, the exact details of this symbolism are not sufficiently clear. Further on he applies this symbolism to letters of the name Muhammad. For similar symbolical use of letters applied to the basmala formula, see Bar-Asher, and Kofsky, , ‘Nuṣayrī doctrine’ and cf. Strothmann, R., ‘Die Nuṣairi nach Ms. arab. Berlin 4291’, Documenta Islamica Inedita (Berlin 1952), 177.

26 i.e. this verse of the Qur'ān.

27 wa-far'uhā. The pronominal suffix in this word refers to the letters and their root just mentioned.

28 Al-Miqdād al-ẓāhir, namely, the historical appearance of the person al-Miqdād. On the historical incarnation of the divine personages, see Bar-Asher, and Kofsky, , ‘Nuṣayrī Doctrine’.

29 That is the second mīm and ḥā' of the name Muḥammad.

30 The text here is obscure regarding the identity of disciple and master. It seems to us more plausible that the text continues the previous discussion between Ibn Ma'īn and Abū Shu'ayb. It could, however, also be applied to Abū 'l-Ḥasan and al-Jisrī.

31 Apparently Muḥammad.

32 That is the bābiyya and the ismiyya.

33 Nāṭig here is apparently equivalent to Muḥammad the ism. This use of the term nāṭiq is rare as far as we can judge. In another Nuṣayrī treatise (Munāẓarat al-shaykh al-Nashshābī), this term refers to the historical figure representing the ma'nā (see ‘Nuṣ;ayrī Doctrine’, with n. 115).

34 Mīmiyya here is apparently equivalent to ismiyya deriving from the first mīm of the name Muhammad. A connecting phrase seems to be missing here before the following well-known ḥadīth.

35 On this hadīth see: Ya'qūb al-Kulīnī, Abū Ja'far Muḥammad b., al-uṣūl min al-kāfi, ed. ‘al-Ghifārī, Alī Akbar (Teheran, 13771381 a.h.), 11, 238–9 and Moosa, M., Extremist Shiites 462.

36 Note the inversion of the respective positions of Muḥammad and ‘Alī.

37 This sentence eludes our understanding.

38 This rendering reflects our reading of the problematic

39 This is another allusion to an unspecified letter symbolism.

40 The first of these two well-known eschatological motifs is Qur'ānic. See for instance Q. 69:19 and 84:7.

41 See n. 6.

43 Riḍwān is one of the angels guarding paradise. In the Nuṣayrī system he occupies a place under the five aytām. See Dussaud, , 126 and 173.

44 This al-Ḥasan is apparently ‘Alī's eldest son. The position of the holy family in the divine hierarchy is a well-known feature of the Nuṣayrī system.

45 i.e., about the aspect of the human capacity to attain the lower divine degrees.

46 This is the master's opening statement at the beginning of the treatise.

47 It is not clear whether the author means here the above-mentioned persons of the hierarchy or just any man.

48 Bāb ai-salsalī is here another title for Salmān in his role as bāb. Here it is spoken of when Salmān is ma'nā in relation to the lower two degrees. On the use of Salsal and Salsalī as an appellation of Salmān, see for instance, Kitāb al-Majmū', in Dussaud, , 188.

49 This is another nisba of the yatīm Abū Dharr.

50 The expression al-'ādilūn bi'llāh is not unambiguous. The ba' should perhaps be related to al-'ādilūn and not to the verb kadhdhābū, in which case the translation might be ‘the heretics have lied’.

51 We would like to thank Prof. E. Kohlberg and Prof. S. Hopkins for their critical reading of a draft of this paper and for their instructive suggestions.

A tenth-century Nuṣayrī treatise on the duty to know the mystery of Divinity

  • Meir M. Bar-Asher (a1) and Aryeh Kofsky (a1)

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