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Conference presentation. Julian Yolles

Julian Yolles presenting at "Preliminary Considerations on the Corpus Coranicum Christianum: The Qur'an in Translation - A Survey of the State-of-the-Art", 5-7 December 2018 at Freie Universität Berlin, organised by Manolis Ulbricht & Berlin Byzantine Studies

Postdoctoral fellow Julian Yolles will be presenting on "Latinizing the Qur’an: religious and scientific discourse in Robert of Ketton and Mark of Toledo" at this conference taking place in Berlin.


This paper centers on the Latin translations of the Qur’an by Robert of Ketton (1142-3) and Mark of Toledo (1209), as viewed within the context of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century translation movements. Traditionally, the translations of religious and scientific texts in this period have been treated separately, even though Robert of Ketton and Mark of Toledo both translated scientific works as well as the Qur’an. Robert of Ketton translated astronomical texts, including al-Kindi’s Iudicia, while Mark of Toledo translated Galen’s treatises on the pulse.

This paper will seek to reunite these two strands of translation activity by examining the ways in which scientific discourse influenced the Latin translations of the Qur’an. The paper will demonstrate that the translators incorporated their scientific expertise into their translations of the Qur’an by employing terminology specific to the fields of astronomy and medicine. In some instances, the terminology is based on a scientific interpretation of a Qur’anic word, or of a word that closely resembles it. For example, in Surat al-Falaq (113), Robert of Ketton translated not the Arabic falaq (“daybreak”) but falak (“celestial sphere”) with the Latin circulus visibilis. Elsewhere, the translators inserted scientific jargon into Qur’anic passages, as when Mark of Toledo introduced a reference to alcohol-induced hemorrhage in translating a passage on wine (37:47).

As this paper will argue, an analysis of the two earliest Latin translations of the Qur’an is fundamentally limited if it fails to consider the scientific discourse in which the translators engaged. In fact, some passages are incomprehensible without closely examining these authors’ translations of scientific works. The proposed approach will shed light on translation methods, the intellectual environments that enabled scholars to produce both scientific and religious translations, and the ways in which the Qur’an was understood in Latin Christianity.

Editing was completed: 05.12.2018