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[BKARTS] Early Printed Korans



Dear all,

As to printing and translating the Koran, there were several difficulties editors, translators and printers had to cope with, especially in the 16th century.

In the Islamic world it has long been forbidden to print books, let alone Holy Books. Printing was considered a dangerous invention and Holy Books should only be copied by hand. Therefore, the first printed Koran appeared outside the Islamic world, in Venice. It was printed by the Paganini Press in 1537/38. This Koran contained many orthographic errors, changing the meaning of some words of the "eternal and unchangeable" text. Given the fatwah on printing books, the errors and the fact that the 56th Surah of the Koran prohibits those who are not "purified" to touch the Koran, it is no surprise that, when Alessandro Paganini tried to sell his Koran in Istanbul, the Ottomans destroyed the whole print run and chopped of the printer's hand. It wasn't until 1987 that an Italian bibliographer discovered a surviving copy (the only one so far) in a monastery in Venice. This copy is reproduced in our collection. 

The first printed translation was about as controversial. It was a Latin translation printed in Basel by Johannes Oporinus in 1543. Although the Pope had prohibited the printing of the "dangerous" Koran, some argued that the only possibilty to refute it was by knowing its contents. Hence, a printed translation was deemed necassary. Although at first the Basel authorities were against the plan, after fierce debate and mediation by Martin Luther Oporinus got their permission. However, the title page was not to mention Basel and the Koran was not to be sold in this city. Oporinus printed a Latin translation that dated from 1143. It was prepared by the British scholar Robert of Ketton at the request of Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny. Oporinus' edition, that also contained a large refutation, would be the source for translations into Italian, German and Dutch. In 1559, it was placed on the Roman Index of forbidden books by Pope Paul IV.

So, a text from 1143 has been the basis for the Western perception of the Koran until well into the 17th century. The first Dutch edition from 1641 for example was a translation of the first German edition from 1616, which was based on the first vernacular translation (in Italian) from 1547, which on its turn was based on the Latin translation from 1143. 

Most of the early editions included refutations of the Koran. The titles of these Western Korans are somewhat biased. A German edition from 1772 is called "The Turkish Bible" and the subtitle of a German edition from 1616 reads (translated here in English): "from which one can learn about the origins of their false prophet Mohammed and to which occasion he has invented his fable work and his ridiculous and foolish teachings".

Apart from the editions mentioned above, our collection features another 60 rare korans and koran translations into seven languages, all printed between 1537 and 1857. They are brought together from seven libraries. More information and a title list can be obtained from our web site: www.idc.nl/catalog/referer.php?c=437. The title list contains some suggestions for furher reading as well.

Hope this sheds some light on the discussion.
Arjan van Dijk



Arjan van Dijk
Project Manager Early Printed Korans 

IDC Publishers
P.O. Box 11205
2301 EE  Leiden
The Netherlands

Phone: +31 (0)71 514 27 00
Fax: +31 (0)71 513 17 21
E-mail:avdijk@xxxxxx
Internet: http://www.idc.nl

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