Abstract: This article discusses the translation of ancient Greek, Indian, and Persian texts of philosophy and sciences into Arabic from the eighth through the tenth centuries c.e . In particular, it addresses the issue of how ancient sciences were justified and legitimized in the early ‘Abbāsid period (ca. 750–850). Modern scholars have so far devoted a great deal of attention to the role of the caliphate and its administrative elite in the translation movement, but they have by and large neglected the role of prevailing ideological and intellectual discourses as a major component of the legitimating process in ‘Abbāsid society. Less concerned with documenting practical needs or emphasizing the role of the caliphate to explain the history of the translation movement, this article explores how the narratives of prophetic and antediluvian wisdom as a discursive intervention shaped, within the broader context of scholarly consciousness, the reception history of ancient sciences. It argues that the reference to occult and prophetic knowledge, often attributed to Hermes, as the source of all knowledge, articulated, with the idioms of the developing discourse of ‘ilm, the desire to cast ancient sciences as part of an Islamic monotheistic narrative and the emerging historical consciousness that embraced the past as a theater of prophetic action.
Journal of World History – University of Hawai'I Press
Published: Dec 23, 2009