Doubts on Avicenna: A Study and Edition of Sharaf al-Din al-Mas'udi's Commentary on the Isharat.

Author:Janssens, Jules L.
Position:Book review

Doubts on Avicenna: A Study and Edition of Sharaf al-Din al-Mas'udi's Commentary on the Isharat. By AYMAN SHIHADEH. Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science, Texts and Studies, vol. 95. Leiden: BRILL, 2016. Pp. viii + 289. $126, [euro]97.

Because of--not in spite of, as one might imagine--its complex, and even somewhat enigmatic, character, Isharat became in the later Islamic tradition the most commented, and hence most successful, text of Avicenna's rich oeuvre. The oldest extant commentary, unedited until now, is al-Mabahith wa-l-shukuk 'Ala Kitab al-Isharat wa-l-tanbihat by Sharaf al-Din al-Mas'udi (fl. twelfth century). As becomes evident from Ayman Shihadeh's study, its significance surpasses the simple fact of being the "first" of a long series of commentaries. Before dealing with the study, however, I turn to Shihadeh's critical edition of the text.

Sharaf al-Din's commentary is preserved in four manuscripts--three in Istanbul (Hamidiye 1452, Ayasofya 4851, and Pertev Pasa 617) and one in Shiraz (Madrasa-yi Imam-i 'Asr [no number]). Shihadeh offers good evidence for not recording variants specific to the Ayasofya and Pertev Pasa manuscripts: they both appear to be--apparently independently of each other--copies of the much older Hamidiye manuscript. He also justifies why he does not treat one of the two remaining manuscripts as a base text, but simply collates them. Because of the presence of two marginal notes and an insertion, he believes that the copyist of the Ayasofya manuscript collated his copy with a holograph (pp. 170-71). Although I do consider plausible, as Shihadeh argues, that the insertion (fols. 135b-136a) is based on Sharaf al-Din's autograph, in spite of there being no explicit mention of this in the Hamidiye manuscript, his claim that the insertion replaces a long omission and is hence an indication that Sharaf al-Din revised his original work, requires further investigation. According to Shihadeh (p. 255), the insertion does not fit the context. Since it starts in the middle of a sentence, it is reasonable to suppose that it follows the expression fa-ma'nahu al-mulakhkhas anna of the text (p. 254,11), in which case the author's suggestion of a different version is undoubtedly plausible. However, one would still expect the omitted section to end on line 2 of p. 258, since the beginning of line 3 (fa-in... dhatan) is clearly needed to maintain the coherence of the exposition. Moreover, the insertion is presented as a "correction" (indicated by a triple sahha). Finally, central to the insertion is the notion of nonbeing ('Adam), namely, the nonbeing of the need for a cause, whereby it is stressed that pure nonbeing does not possess any cause whatsoever, and this idea has been explicitly expressed before (p. 253,3). A possible alternative to Shihadeh's hypothesis is that before the text of the insertion, a sentence introduced by qawlukum has fallen away, affirming that the notion of necessary being excludes nonbeing (p. 253,1-3: wajib at-wujud... 'adam), which is then followed by the formula fa-ma'nahu al-mulakhkhas anna. The omission of this sentence is best situated immediately after the question of lines 8-9. The actual qawlukum of 1. 10 (which introduces a paraphrase of an affirmation offered p. 252,1-3) would, if my speculation is correct, constitute a further development; although it looks indeed as if it overlaps with the text of the insertion, it in fact no longer focuses on the idea of nonbeing but on the question of the impossibility, or not, of there being a concomitance between the necessary being's existence and its being specific. Finally, I wonder whether the longer omission (related to pp. 254,11-258,3) did not happen by accident in the holograph due, e.g., to the loss of a folio. If so, then only the minor revision of five words (related to p. 253,4-5) is indicative of a real, albeit minor, revision by Sharaf al-Din.

For the quotations of Avicenna in Isharat, Shihadeh indicates all the variants...

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