An Indian-Ashkenazi-Dutch-Hebrew Qur’an

Yes, you read that right. I just finished a calligraphic present for a friend who’s getting married (I seem to have a few of those these days…) and thought I’d share my inspiration: one of the most unusual and fascinating manuscripts I have ever come across.

This manuscript, LC Ms. 183, is currently in the Library of Congress. Although it had no provenance or title page, it was identified in 1971 by Myron Weinstein, head of the LC Judaica section, in a truly brilliant piece of bibliographic scholarship (representing a dozen years of research). 

Weinstein was able to demonstrate that the translation was made in the late 1750s by Leopold Immanuel Jacob van Dort, a Jewish convert to Christianity who was professor of theology in Colombo, Ceylon (based on the Dutch translation by Jan H. Glasemaker, who in turn translated from the French version by André Du Ryer). It’s really more of a paraphrase than a careful translation.

Weinstein was able to further establish that the scribe was David b. Isaac Cohen, an young Ashkenazi Jew from Berlin, who then residing in Cochin as a junior merchant with the East India Trading Company, and who was proficient in both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi styles of cursive (this particular manuscript is written in a particularly flowing Ashkenazi cursive which I find charming but which Weinstein calls “exuberant and ungainly… [with] a somewhat wild and at the same time crabbed look”).

The manuscript somehow migrated to Iran, where it was owned and used by the Jews of Mashhad, and eventually to Russia, where it was purchased by a dealer in the early 20th century and sold to a collector who donated it to the Library of Congress. What a story! Read the article for yourself, it’s a real trip (and an extraordinary demonstration of Weinstein’s broad-ranging scholarship).

These plates, from Weinstein’s article, show the end of the manuscript — surahs 110-114. I’d be happy to transcribe it if anyone’s interested, I know the script is a little hard to read.

Seriously, I’m surprised this doesn’t have more notes… It’s one of the most fascinating obscure historical stories I’ve ever come across.


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