The InterSaME Project
InterSaME – The intertwined world of the oral and written transmission of sacred traditions in the Middle East – is a DFG-AHRC joint project. Principal investigators are Alba Fedeli (Universität Hamburg) and Geoffrey Khan (University of Cambridge).
The purpose of this project is to bring together strands of research related to various aspects of the transmission of sacred texts in order reach a deeper understanding of the intertwined world of the three major religions of the Middle East at their formative periods of development during the early Islamic centuries. The Arabic Qur’an, the Syriac Bible and the Hebrew Bible, the sacred texts of Islam, Eastern Christianity and Judaism respectively, were all transmitted in oral and written form. The modes of transmission of these traditions converged to a remarkable degree in the medieval Middle East, reflecting close contact between the various religious communities. Two particularly striking phenomena of convergence include (i) the development of notation systems consisting mainly of dots added to the consonantal skeleton of the script representing the oral reading traditions in the early Islamic period and (ii) the assimilation of the mode of transmission of the Hebrew Bible in the 10th and 11th centuries to that of the Arabic Qur’an. The embryonic development of such notation systems is attested simultaneously in the early Qur’an manuscripts (8th century) and contemporary Syriac Bible manuscripts. The convergence of the transmission modes of the Hebrew Bible with the Qur’an reached its extreme point in a corpus of Hebrew Bible manuscripts written in Arabic transcription by the Jewish Karaite community in the 10th and 11th centuries. In addition to making important contributions to the comprehension of the individual sacred traditions, the project will provide the opportunity to identify parallels across these traditions. Parallels identified across Arabic and Syriac in the development of their notation system would be likely to reflect direct contemporary contact. Parallels across (ii) and (i) would be largely of a typological nature and would serve as an important heuristic and strengthening of hypotheses of contact within (i).
The German team of Universität Hamburg will work on the Qur’an manuscript material and, the British team of the University of Cambridge will investigate Syriac and Hebrew Bible manuscripts.