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The Four Oldest Latin Quotations of the Qur’an: Eighth/Ninth-Century al-Andalus

Thomas E. Burman

Abstract

The Epistula Leonis imperatoris ad Umar regem Saracenorum directa is a thus far unnoticed work that should be added to the corpus of ninth-century Latin works written in al-Andalus. It is a Latin translation of a (so far unknown) Arabic version of the letter that the Byzantine Emperor, Leo III, purportedly sent to the Caliph Umar II, in an attempt to persuade him to become a Christian (other versions of this letter survive in Armenian and Arabic, and versions of a letter purportedly sent by that caliph to Leo are likewise extant in more than one language). It survives in four manuscripts, the earliest of them (Paris, BnF MS 2826), being a copy in Carolingian minuscule of a work surely translated in al-Andalus. This essay places its three quotations of the Qur’an in Latin alongside the only other known quotation of that holy book in this period, in the Istoria de Mahometh, analyzing in detail how each passage was translated from Arabic into Latin, and arguing that in general, while they are all modestly close to the original Arabic, in most cases the translators have subtly or not-so-subtly distorted the verses to make them more amenable to the Christian argument against Islam.

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