The Modern Arabic Bible and the Story of Arabic Language Standardization

Friday seminar with Dr. Rana Hisham Issa, University of Oslo, at The Centre for Islamic and Middle East Studies and in cooperation with The New Middle East: Emerging Political and Ideological Trends​.

What is the relationship of the Arabic Bible to the modernization of the Arabic language? Could the Christians who have been described by historical linguistics to have been weak in the classical rules of the language become the beacons of its modernity in the nineteenth century? This lecture will examine this question and other issues related to the translation of the Bible in the nineteenth century as the prism through which to understand sectarian and cultural relations in the age of Arab modernity, or what is also known as the Arab nahḍah.

Through tracing a trajectory of Arabic Bibles from 1671, to start with one of the earliest continuous Bible texts to have been printed in Arabic, this lecture will show how the language of modern Arabic Bibles evolved under pressure from print technology since early modernity. Through select linguistic and historical examples, this lecture will show how the evolutions of language mediated the relationship of Oriental Christians to one another and to Muslims in the Levant. By turning to the language of the Bible for historical clues, this lecture will showcase philology as a means to understand the position and circulation of foundational texts based on the kind of language ideologies that are displayed in the text.

Dr. Rana Hisham Issa has been a PhD student at IKOS and defended her thesis The Bible as Commodity: Modern patterns of Arabic Language Standardization and Bible Commoditization in the Levant  the 24th of March 2015.

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