Interpreting al-Tha'labi's Tales of the Prophets
Temptation, Responsibility and Loss
Routledge – 2009 – 264 pages
Series: Routledge Studies in the Qur'an
Al-Tha’labi was a renowned Qur’anic scholar of the fifth/eleventh century, and his ‘Ara’is al-majalis is arguably the finest and most widely consulted example of the Islamic qisas al-anbiya’ genre.
Drawing on primary Arabic sources, Klar applies modern critical methods in order to explore the nature of al-Tha’labi’s ‘Ara'is al-majalis within its historical and literary context, and thereby produces a compelling examination of the stories of Noah, Job, Saul and David as portrayed in the key historiographical and folkloric texts of the medieval Islamic period. Via a close analysis of the relevant narratives, the book considers a number of universal aspects of the human condition as they are displayed in these tales, from first a religious, then a familial, and finally a social perspective. Touching upon the benefits and limitations of the application of biblical studies and literary motifs to Islamic materials, the book investigates the possibilities of interpretation raised by a primarily psychoanalytical reading of the tales of the four individuals in question. As such, this text will be of great interest to scholars of the biblical prophets, Qur’anic studies, Islamic historiography, folklore and literary criticism.
"Klar’s new monograph is a masterful study of a sprawling work, elucidating at last why this work has such a hold on its myriad readers… Klar brings to the medieval text a distinctly refreshing analytical approach, in which the stories are taken as literary productions, full and complete, independent and meaningful, insisting in the process on the ‘modernity’ of the texts… Klar’s work is insightful, learned and gripping… a timely and excellent addition to the field of Islamic studies which will also open the genre of ‘tales of the prophets’ to scholars from other disciplines." - Walid Saleh; Journal of Qur’anic Studies
"This much anticipated essay by Marianna Klar is an important work which will contribute to a better understanding of the personality and activity of Abu Ishaq al-Tha‘labi (d. 1036) in whom much interest has been aroused… The approach adopted by Klar is novel indeed: it is a literary approach that attempts to identify new ways to evaluate the peculiarities of the work both in itself and in relation to other works, not in terms of the substantive materials themselves but by the way they introduce various topics and organize the material and its inner meaning. The result is significant, and in cases where no solution is proposed this is due to the peculiarity of the text and not to the limits of the author’s analysis." - Roberto Tottoli, University of Naples, Italy; Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations, 21:3, July 2010
1. Introduction 2. Sources and Figures 3. Patterns and Methodology 4. Job the Afflicted 5. King Saul 6. David 7. Noah 8. Conclusions
Marianna Klar is currently Research Associate at the Centre of Islamic Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Qur’anic Studies, and has authored a number of articles and book chapters.