In Memoriam, Keith Small (1959-2018)

By Daniel A. Brubaker, Ph.D.

smallKeith Edward Small, scholar of Qurʾan manuscripts who made significant contributions to the field of Qurʾan textual criticism, passed away early morning Thursday, December 6, 2018 in Oxford, UK, having been admitted to hospital earlier in the week.

Keith was diagnosed in 2016 with AL Amyloidosis, a rare blood disorder without known cure that causes protein deposits on vital organs. As the disease progressed, mobility and regular activity became more difficult. Dialysis became a regular routine and Keith had been in and out of hospital. He kept up writing activities and correspondence throughout as much as he was able, and his characteristic kind and gentle demeanor remained evident to those around him.

Keith was a friend of IQSA from its beginning, having served as the inaugural unit chair of the Manuscripts and Textual Criticism unit. He felt deeply, along with the other organizers, the need for a public space to foster the critical study of the Qurʾan.

Keith was born July 24, 1959 in Battle Creek, Michigan. He took his BA from Western Michigan University, a Masters of Theology (ThM) at Dallas Theological Seminary, and then his PhD at the Guthrie Centre for Islamic Studies at London School of Theology. On August 10, 1985, Keith and Celeste were married.

Discussions with Muslim friends and a realization that many questions remained unanswered about the Qur’an’s transmission as a physical object formed the impetus for Keith’s advanced scholarly inquiry.

Prior to achieving his doctorate, Keith traveled to meet with scholars who studied the early Sana’a, Topkapı, and Samarkand Qur’an manuscripts. After the reintroduction of the Bergstrasser archives, said to have been destroyed by Spitaler after WWII, Keith was invited by Michael Marx and Angelika Neuwirth to the first Corpus Coranicum conference at the Free University of Berlin in 2005. At this conference, Keith’s paper comparing early variants in textual critical issues, reminiscent of the critical edition of the Qur’an projects initiated Jeffery and Bergstrasser, was appreciated by those present, including Neuwirth and Marx, Gerd-R Puin, Noja Noseda, Andrew Rippin, and Efim Rezvan. Hope was in the room for various reinitiated projects since Bergstrasser’s death in 1938 and Arthur Jeffery’s subsequent lament in 1959 that a truly critical edition of the Qur’an was perhaps now beyond reach of scholars.

Keith authored several books. His Textual Criticism and Qurʾan Manuscripts (Lexington, 2011) was the first of its kind and has become the standard introduction to the subject. Keith’s work was always circumspect; he wished to treat his subject with integrity and honesty. A committed Christian, he strove to be meticulous in his analysis and critical in assessments without overreaching the evidence. This approach earned him not only the admiration and trust of colleagues, but also a position as a Manuscript Consultant to Oxford’s Bodleian Library for their Qurʾan manuscript collection, where he has had an office since 2014. As part of this work, Keith was asked to produce Qur’ans: Books of Divine Encounter (Bodleian Press) to accompany the first exhibition at the newly renovated Weston Library (the Special Collections library of the Bodleian) to showcase the collection. Keith was a visiting lecturer and associate research fellow at the London School of Theology and a guest lecturer at Oxford University, as well as having presented papers at conferences in Britain, the United States, Germany, and France.

Keith was a friend to me. I met him in 2005 and was quickly drawn to interest in Qur’an manuscripts after seeing his work. From the start, he was helpful to me and provided direction, contacts, and resources. He provided my first opportunity to present a conference paper on the topic, at MESA in San Diego on a panel that also included David Powers and was chaired by Emran El-Badawi. It is true to say that I owe my current work in Qur’an manuscripts in significant part to the kind mentoring guidance of this wonderful man, Keith Small.

Throughout this past year, Keith has been working toward completion of a final book project, a book that uses Christianity and Islam to explore the popular assertion that all religions believe the same thing. It is our understanding as of a month or so ago that Keith was on the final chapter of this book; we hope it will be forthcoming soon.

Keith was 59 years old. He is survived by his wife, Celeste, and their three adult children, William, Taylor, and Beverly.

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© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2018. All rights reserved.

From Medina to Oxford, from Codex to the Cloud: Scenes from the Life of the Qur’an

Venue:            Lecture Theatre, Weston Library, Oxford 
Speaker(s):    Nicolai Sinai, University of Oxford; Alasdair Watson & Keith Small, Bodleian Libraries
Date/Time:     30 May 2017, 4:00- 6:00 PM
codex
In a collaborative presentation, three Oxford scholars will present crucial waystations in the life of the Qur’an. Nicolai Sinai will guide the audience through current research seeking to reconstruct the literary genesis of the Qur’anic texts in late antique Arabia; Alasdair Watson will examine how early modern collectors and adventurers first introduced Qur’anic manuscripts to European libraries, including the Bodleian; and Keith Small will show how Qur’anic codices that have been dispersed by the vagaries of early modern manuscript hunting can now be virtually reunited by cutting-edge digital technology.
 
All are welcome but tickets must be reserved in advance.
 
For more details, see:

 

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2017. All rights reserved.

Divine Encounter with the Qur’an

Cover of Qur'ans: Books of Divine Encounter (Bodleian Library Publishing, 2015)

Cover of Qur’ans: Books of Divine Encounter (Bodleian Library Publishing, 2015)

In the latest installment of the Review of Qur’anic Research 2, no. 4, Yasin Dutton reviews Keith E. Small’s Qurʾāns: Books of Divine Encounter (Oxford: Bodleian Library, Oxford University Press, 2015). In this book, Keith Small presents the Qurʾan collection at the Bodleian Library, Ashmolean Museum, and the David Collection in Copenhagen. The book presents a visual display of the manuscripts in a mainly chronological arrangement. It highlights the theme of the Qurʾan being the point of contact with the Divine. The first two chapters present the earliest manuscripts in the collection. The next two chapters presents the art of manuscript illumination. The final three chapters emphasizes the European encounter with the Qurʾan, global dissemination, and talismanic copies of the Qurʾan.

Full access to the Review of Qur’anic Research (RQR) is available in the members-only area of our IQSA website. Not an IQSA member? Join today to enjoy RQR and additional member benefits!

New Book: Qur’ans: Books of Divine Encounter

Cover of Qur'ans: Books of Divine Encounter (Bodleian Library Publishing, 2015)

Cover of Qur’ans: Books of Divine Encounter (Bodleian Library Publishing, 2015) Keith E. Small

Keith E. Small’s Qur’ans: Books of Divine Encounter (Oxford: Bodleian Library Publishing, 2015) is a unique visual history of the Qur’an told through pictures of manuscripts in the Bodleian’s collection, supplemented by Qur’ans in the Ashmolean Museum’s collection, and an image of a page of the Sanaa palimpsest held in the David Collection in Copenhagen. Francesca Leoni, Youssef Jameel Curator of Islamic Art at the Ashmolean, helped with the captions for their items. As much as possible the story is told through the pictures of the manuscripts and their captions, providing a visual guide. The book also highlights the beginnings of the study of the Qur’an in Western scholarship, Qur’ans from around the world, and personal uses of the Qur’an.

The major theme throughout the book is the theological idea of the Qur’an’s text being a point of contact with the Divine. Additionally, comments have been made concerning the development of the Qur’an’s text and methods for denoting the presence of recitation systems (qirā’āt) in manuscripts.

The history of the development of the Qur’an as a book is told through pictures of manuscripts in the first three chapters. The first chapter “From Preaching to a Divine Book” concentrates on the first three Islamic centuries with the rapid development of grandeur in parchment manuscripts. Chapter two “The Transition from Parchment to Paper” features the development of new scripts and the application of full pointing. Chapter Three “The Majestic Heights of Qur’anic Art” features Qur’ans at the peak of the artistic traditions in their brilliancy of color, spiritual symbolism, and intricacy of execution. Chapter Four “European Renaissance Encounters with the Qur’an” traces the initial encounters from the use of Medieval Latin translations the initial attempts at dispassionate study of the Qur’an on its own terms in 17th century centers of learning as the scholarly interest in ancient and foreign languages was being revived and extended. Chapter Five “Global Dissemination of the Qur’an” presents some of the variety of styles of the Qur’an found internationally. Chapter Six “Personal Manuscripts of the Qur’an” highlights the devotional use of the Qur’an in small books of Qur’an selections with prayers, and also talismanic uses of the Qur’an for protection as seen in miniature Qur’ans, the Qur’an on scroll and a Qur’an Jama (shirt). In all, this is an attempt to present a brief overview the history of the Qur’an as a book through representative pictures of important manuscripts.

The photography is stunning, and the book has been written to be suitable as a gift book, a coffee table book, and also as a text book.

Keith E. Small is an independent manuscript researcher, an Associate Research Fellow of London School of Theology, a Qur’anic Manuscript Consultant at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. He is the author of Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011).

*Book cover from publisher.

Call for Papers Highlight—The Qur’an: Historical Context, Manuscripts, and Material Culture

IQSA invites proposals for papers to be presented at its upcoming conference in San Diego, CA, November 21-24. Of the five program units accepting proposals, listed here, this week we highlight “The Qur’an: Historical Context, Manuscripts, and Material Culture.”

The aim of this unit, chaired by Keith Small and Luke Treadwell, is to provide a cross-disciplinary setting in which to explore questions concerning the Qur’an’s text in the areas of its manuscript history and its textual representation in Islamic material culture. This will provide a broad forum to explore the historical context of the Qur’an from various eras, as well as such diverse but related topics as the palaeographic, codicological and art historical study of the Qur’an’s manuscript history, and the various epigraphic media of Islamic material culture.

This unit will consist of two panels. One will use as its focus the study of these issues as they apply to manuscripts. The second will focus on the study of these issues as they apply to epigraphic materials. See the official call for papers here for further details.

Important Notes about Proposing a Paper for IQSA 2014

* IQSA is an independent learned society, although our meeting overlaps with those of SBL and AAR.  In order to attend IQSA 2014, membership in IQSA and registration for the SBL/AAR conference will be necessary. (The first day of the IQSA conference, however, will be open to the general public).

* All interested students and scholars may submit a proposal through SBL’s website, here. Scroll down to the “Affiliate” section, then click on the chosen IQSA program unit name. [Look in particular for the “(IQSA)” indication at the end of the unit titles]. Instructions for those with and without SBL membership can be found by clicking through to these individual program unit pages.

* Details on low-cost membership in IQSA will be published on the IQSA blog in Spring 2014. Make sure you are subscribed!

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. All rights reserved.

Qur’ans of the Umayyads: Interview with Dr. François Déroche

By Dr. Keith Small

Prof. François Déroche, one of the leading scholars in Arabic manuscript studies, has a new book due out this October: Qur’ans of the Umayyads, A Preliminary Overview, (Leiden, Brill, 2013, 226+46 ill. ISBN 9789004255654). Early Qur’anic manuscript studies is a lively and growing discipline in the academy, and Déroche’s contributions have been essential reading—substantial in providing a framework for understanding the development of the Qur’anic manuscript tradition during the Umayyad and Abbasid eras. This new book promises to bring into focus the current state of knowledge of this very early stage in the Qur’an’s manuscript tradition. I had the privilege of asking him some questions about his new book on behalf of IQSA.

Just for some background information for our readers, what is current your position in Paris?

The direct translation is: “Director of studies at the EPHE, Department of historical and philological sciences”; it involves teaching and research. My chair is titled “History and codicology of the Arabic handwritten book.” I am also co-director of the French-German Coranica project, which aims—among other things—at publishing systematically the earliest MSS of the Qur’an.

Your book, Qur’ans of the Umayyads, A Preliminary Overview, is due to come out in October 2013. How did writing this book challenge or develop your views on early Qur’ans? For example, did it overturn any of your previous views of the early transmission of the text of the Qur’an?

Qur’ans of the Umayyads is the result of a series of conferences given at LUCIS in Leiden. It is to some extent an offshoot of my previous study of the Codex Parisino-petropolitanus which I suggested to date to the third quarter of the first century. As the subtitle (A preliminary overviewputs it , it is a first attempt at understanding the evolution of the mushaf during the Umayyad period. The focus is different from my previous monograph, as I wanted to explore the broader Umayyad context and to offer a chronology of the period. The material used is undated and I had first to determine the basis on which I could date the largely unpublished fragments I had collected over three decades. Reviewing them led me to revise and enlarge my previous typology of the scripts. I had, for instance, to take a more cautious stance on the early hijâzî copies than in the 1983 catalogue of the Bibliothèque nationale collection.

What are some major areas of debate in our field that you think the book informs? For example, does it speak into the issues of dating current manuscripts? Or to the degree of variability of the text in its earliest stages, or the development of Qira’at? (Here you can increase our interest by hinting at what controversial things you might have to say!)

As the book offers a chronology of the MSS, it challenges some views about the canonisation process, as it shows that the development of the handwritten transmission of the text was evolving at a rapid pace, especially the orthography of the Qur’an. It shows that the text was still fluid during the first decades of Umayyad rule and tries to understand also the diversity of the material which I suggest to attribute to this period. Although it is impossible to pinpoint every single copy to a place or a milieu, some clusters emerge. As a whole, one begins to see some rough stages in the history of the mushaf during this period. One can now follow more precisely the introduction of the notation of the short vowels, which of course will lead to new researches into the qirâ’ât—providing them more strength than was the case with the previous conclusions, which relied mainly on the division of the verses. It also draws attention to a field which is yet not researched, that of the intellectual conditions under which the written transmission took place.

How do you see it informing the broader fields of Umayyad studies and Islamic art history?

The book will provide new elements for the history of the Arabic script and shows that the palaeographic approach is a decisive tool for the study of the period. Previous papers, for instance by H.C. von Bothmer, enabled the incorporation of new elements into the history of Islamic art during this period. The book will provide a broader view of this question: it will be possible to speak of an Umayyad art of the book.

This first overview of Qur’anic MSS production under Umayyad rule will also provide new insight towards the position of the ruling elite about the Qur’an. As a whole, it will bring a diversity of new direct witnesses to the awareness of those who are researching the early history of the Qur’an.

Is there anything else you would like to say about the importance of this book?

I hope that I have been able to argue convincingly in favour of the attribution of some MSS to the Umayyad period, but the last chapter can only open the question of the transition from the Umayyad to the Abbasids. I hope that this will help to start new research on this moment, which remains largely shrouded in uncertainty as far as the MSS are concerned.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

How do you distinguish fā’ from qāf in early Qur’ān manuscripts?

By Keith Small

IQSA is providing a significant platform for the exploration of paleographic and orthographic features in early Qur’ān manuscripts. Recent blogs by Alba Fedeli and Daniel Brubaker have provided windows into some of the cutting edge research in Qur’ān manuscript studies. At the recent joint SBL/IQSA track at the SBL International meeting in St. Andrews, Scotland we had a fascinating lecture by Prof. Alain George on the Mingana Palimpsest at Cambridge. I’d like to give my own brief contribution with this blog using a recent discovery made while engaged in some routine library work.

Recently, while down in the bowels of the Bodleian, avoiding Oxford’s recent heatwave and working on the catalogue of the Qur’ān manuscripts for Oxford University, curator Alasdair Watson and I observed the following spelling of the word Qur’ān in Surah Tā Hā, 20:2, in Bodleian Ms. Arab.e.179, f. 65r, l. 7:

Used with permission of the Bodleian Library, Oxford University

Used with permission of the Bodleian Library, Oxford University

There is a well known convention that in Maghribi Qur’ān manuscripts and in modern printed Warsh Qur’ans where qāf is designated with one dot above the letter, but where can one find examples of one dot below?

Frederick Leemhuis observes that in the first Islamic century this was a convention used in a few manuscripts from the Hijaz and Yemen and even in the Dome of the Rock Inscriptions.[1] Leemhuis noted four manuscripts in which he had observed this rare system: Saray, Medina 1a, in Istanbul; 01-29.2 in Ṣanʽā’; E-20 in St. Petersburg, and Cod. Mixt. 917 in Vienna. I also observed this system in the manuscript from Ṣanʽā’, 01-29.1.[2] Now, here it is appearing in manuscript in the Bodleian collection, and quite an unexpected place to find it at that.

Bodleian Ms.Arab.e.179 is an early paper Qur’ān, probably early 10th century, written in a large Eastern Kufic hand, or by its technical name, Déroche’s New Style script, most similar to his NS III classification, and similar in appearance to the 10th century parchment page, KFQ 40, pictured in his The Abbasid Tradition.[3] As a paper Qur’ān, it is a significant find in itself predating most early paper Qur’ans by a century and written in a large older Kufic hand that is a transitional script style into the New Style. Leemhuis states that to his knowledge, the rare system for dotting the qāf below the line was isolated to the Arabian Peninsula. Because of its script style, and because of the use of paper, this manuscript was probably produced much farther north and east in a more Persian sphere of influence. The manuscripts Leemhuis refers to are Hijazi and Kufi manuscripts, all written before the late 8th century CE (01-29.1 is also very early Hijazi). So here we have a bit of a mystery. How did an early orthographic convention which had apparently gone out of use reappear at least a century later and 1000 miles away? Then there is the related question, how and when did the two systems in use in Qur’āns today come to be the accepted conventions for their regions? Also, this one issue of distinguishing fā’s and qāfs is only one of many orthographic decisions that were made in Islam’s first few centuries as Arabic orthography was improved to make it a vehicle able to contain and transmit precise vocalization systems of the Qur’ān. How exactly did these larger orthographic and vocalization systems come to be invented, improved, adopted, transmitted, and ‘canonized’? In 1998, Russian Qur’ān scholar Efim Rezvan observed, [4]

Thus, it is today evident that the real history of the fixation of the Qur’ānic text attested in the early manuscripts differs in extremely serious fashion from the history preserved in the Muslim tradition. Only an analysis of manuscripts will allow us to reconstruct the true history of the canon’s establishment.

In one way, this feature Alasdair and I stumbled upon raises more questions than it answers. In another, it points to the validity of the endeavour of these careful studies on the manuscript tradition. These kinds of features show that scribes worked according to careful rules of orthography and notation, rules and conventions that would extend past barriers of time and geography, conventions that can be traced and examined in retrospect. By examining such details from the manuscripts, we can build up a better and more precise narrative of the textual development of the Qur’an.

When we meet in Baltimore in November, Alasdair and I look forward to sharing more treasures with you from the collection at the Bodleian Library.


[1] Frederick Leemhuis, ‘From Palm Leaves to the Internet’ in Jane Dammen McCauliffe, ed., Cambridge Companion to the Qur’ān, Cambridge, CUP, 2006, 147, 148.

[2] Keith Small, Mapping A New Country: Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts. PhD thesis, London: Brunel University, 2008, 139; Textual Criticism and Qur’an Manuscripts. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011, 18-19.

[3] François Déroche, The Abbasid Tradition, London: Nour Foundation, 1992, 136, 137, 140.

[4] Efim A. Rezvan, ‘The Qur’an and Its World: VI, The Emergence of the Canon: the Struggle for Uniformity’, Manuscripta Orientalia 4 (1998), 13-54, here 23.