Meeting 7, Michaelmas Term 2015

A quest for knowledge: scrutinizing the Qur’an in Western Europe, 1143–1543

Anthony Lappin
National University of Ireland Maynooth
11 November, 2015, at 5.00 pm
The Magrath Room, The Queen’s College, Oxford


A summation of heresies, a depraved and diabolic text, the apocalyptic harbinger of the Antichrist and the very image of the Beast. These were at least some of the rave reviews garnered by the first Latin translation of the Qur’an during the middle ages. Indeed, the impression gained from secondary literature is often that the translation of the Qur’an carried out in Northern Spain and finished by midsummer of 1143 sought only to belittle and dishonour its source. In the first part of my paper, I shall discuss how we might uncover the nature of the circulation of manuscripts that led to the official publication of the text from Cluny, its subsequent perduring popularity, and the circles in which it was copied and consulted. In the second part of my paper, I shall discuss intellectual developments around the text during the fifteenth century, focusing particularly upon the re-elaboration of the Cluniac annotations and the Qur’an’s use in philosophical discussions within learned circles of the late middle ages and early reformation period. I shall end with a consideration of how printing put a stop to the interesting developments that were fostered by a manuscript culture. Key figures discussed will be Peter the Venerable and Bernard of Clairvaux; Nicholas of Cusa; Marsilio Ficino; Iohannes Albrecht Widmanstetter, Theodore Bibliander, Melanchthon and Luther. The city councillors of Basel and Nuremburg will also gain villainous walk-on parts.