Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Thomas Jefferson's Qu'ran: Where Glenn Beck is right, and where he is wrong

For a very long time, Beck has been out there saying that "In Jefferson's Koran", there is contained the following warning: (Saying for a long time now)

Thou wilt wonder that such absurdities have infected the best part of the world, and wilt avouch, that the knowledge of what is contained in this book, will render that law contemptible

If you, like I did, try Googling that quote you'll find a lot of things - but nothing that goes directly to Jefferson's Koran. Now some of you may be content with seeing a bit of information that's contained on a .blogspot.whatever site, but not me. With all of the challenges that we face as a country, as a society, as a culture, we cannot afford to get the facts wrong. We have too many people about us who are selling snake oil, we need to nail them down and flush them out. First, - I swear that this is very likely the 10th time I searched for this, but finally, finally, finally! I struck gold.

The first question before we even get past page one is this: What was Jefferson's Koran? Does anybody believe that Thomas Jefferson spoke nor read Arabic so fluently that he himself was capable of directly translating such a large work? And when, exactly would Jefferson have had the time to undertake such an activity, in between founding a country and sticking his finger in King George's eye? Now, all of this could be true that Jefferson did all of these things, but we do not assume.

Never assume. Always verify. According to Monticello it is believed that Jefferson probably did have some Arabic reading ability, but probably not fluently. With that being the case, he probably did not engage in a translation. So did Jefferson then, buy his copy of the Koran from someone else who did have the time and ability for such a venture?

Yes, Jefferson did get(buy?) his copy of the Koran from someone else. Specifically, he got it from Sieur du Ryer. Actually, he got a copy of Alexander Ross's work. Ross translated Sieur du Ryer's 1647 French translation into English, but who's trying to dig up all the facts anyways. Oh, wait! I am. Good, I'm glad I included that. Alexander Ross completed his French-to-English translation in about two years, in 1649.

So, here is the 1649 book, in all of its old-English glory. The actual quote looks a little less legible to the modern eye: "Thou wilt wonder that fuch abfurdities have infected the beft part of the world, and wilt avouch, that the knowledg of what is contained in this book, will render that Law contemptible."

That's the exact quote, you can see it for yourself. The first few pages are numbered at the bottom of the pages with the letter A, except this page with this quote. But it would be page A 5 if we were counting. Right at the beginning of the book. It should be pretty clear that this is the Koran that Jefferson owned, however he came to own it(as a gift, library rent, bought at a bookstore).

The Alcoran of Mahomet: translated out of Arabique into French

As an aside, George Sale wrote an equally unflattering translation of the work of Mohammed in 1734. "The Alcoran of MOHAMMED, Translated into English immediately from the Original Arabic", here and here.

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