Munzinger Pascha: Roman (German Edition)
They preach exactly like him, they have to bring the very same charges against their opponents, who on their part behave exactly as the unbelieving inhabitants of Mecca. In an address which is put in the mouth of Abraham xxvi. Other narratives are intended rather for amusement, although they are always well seasoned with edifying phrases. But the Prophet was so exasperated by this rivalry that when Nadr fell into his power after the battle of Badr, he caused him to be executed; although in all other cases he readily pardoned his fellow-countrymen. These histories are chiefly about Scripture characters, especially those of the Old Testament.
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But the deviations from the Biblical narratives are very marked. In addition to such misconceptions there are sundry capricious alterations, some of them very grotesque, due to Mohammed himself. For instance, in his ignorance of everything out of Arabia, he makes the fertility of Egypt—where rain is almost never seen and never missed—depend on rain instead of the inundations of the Nile xii.
Alexander the Great, xviii. Besides Jewish and Christian histories, there are a few about old Arabian prophets. In these he seems to have handled his materials even more freely than in the others. The opinion has already been expressed that Mohammed did not make use of written sources. Coincidences and divergences alike can always be accounted for by oral communications from Jews who knew a little and Christians who knew next to nothing.
Even in the rare passages where we can trace direct resemblances to the text of the Old Testament comp. In Medina, where he had the opportunity of becoming acquainted with Jews of some culture, he learned some things out of the Mishna, e. That these are only cases of oral communication will be admitted by any one with the slightest knowledge of the circumstances.
Otherwise we might even conclude that Mohammed had studied the Talmud; e. Of Christianity he can have been able to learn very little even in Medina; as may be seen from the absurd travesty of the institution of the Eucharist in v. For the rest, it is highly improbable that before the Koran any real literary production—anything that could be strictly called a book—existed in the Arabic language. In point of style and artistic effect, the different parts of the Koran are of very unequal value. But he will often be struck, especially in the older pieces, by a wild force of passion, and a vigorous, if not rich, imagination.
In other places also the style is sometimes lively and impressive; though it is rarely indeed that we come across such strains of touching simplicity as in the middle of xciii. The greater part of the Koran is decidedly prosaic; much of it indeed is stiff in style.
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Of course, with such a variety of material, we cannot expect every part to be equally vivacious, or imaginative, or poetic. A decree about the right of inheritance, or a point of ritual, must necessarily be expressed in prose, if it is to be intelligible. No one complains of the civil laws in Exodus or the sacrificial ritual in Leviticus, because they want the fire of Isaiah or the tenderness of Deuteronomy. For instance, he employs rhyme in dealing with the most prosaic subjects, and thus produces the disagreeable effect of incongruity between style and matter.
It has to be considered, however, that many of those sermonising pieces which are so tedious to us, especially when we read two or three in succession perhaps in a very inadequate translation , must have had a quite different effect when recited under the burning sky and on the barren soil of Mecca. When Mohammed spoke of the goodness of the Lord in creating the clouds, and bringing them across the cheerless desert, and pouring them out on the earth to restore its rich vegetation, that must have been a picture of thrilling interest to the Arabs, who are accustomed to see from three to five years elapse before a copious shower comes to clothe the wilderness once more with luxuriant pastures.
It requires an effort for us, under our clouded skies, to realise in some degree the intensity of that impression. Like many other predominantly religious characters, he had no appreciation of poetic beauty; and if we may believe one anecdote related of him, at a time when every one made verses, he affected ignorance of the most elementary rules of prosody.
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Hence the style of the Koran is not poetical but rhetorical; and the powerful effect which some portions produce on us is gained by rhetorical means. Accordingly the sacred book has not even the artistic form of poetry; which, among the Arabs, includes a stringent metre, as well as rhyme. The Koran is never metrical, and only a few exceptionally eloquent portions fall into a sort of spontaneous rhythm.
On the other hand, the rhyme is regularly maintained; although, especially in the later pieces, after a very slovenly fashion.
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Rhymed prose was a favourite form of composition among the Arabs of that day, and Mohammed adopted it; but if it imparts a certain sprightliness to some passages, it proves on the whole a burdensome yoke. The Moslems themselves have observed that the tyranny of the rhyme often makes itself apparent in derangement of the order of words, and in the choice of verbal forms which would not otherwise have been employed; e. The substance even is modified to suit exigencies of rhyme.
Thus the Prophet would scarcely have fixed on the unusual number of eight angels round the throne of God lxix. And when lv. In the later pieces, Mohammed often inserts edifying remarks, entirely out of keeping with the context, merely to complete his rhyme. In Arabic it is such an easy thing to accumulate masses of words with the same termination, that the gross negligence of the rhyme in the Koran is doubly remarkable.
To begin with what we are most competent to criticise, let us look at some of the more extended narratives. It has already been noticed how vehement and abrupt they are where they ought to be characterised by epic repose. Indispensable links, both in expression and in the sequence of events, are often omitted, so that to understand these histories is sometimes far easier for us than for those who heard them first, because we know most of them from better sources.
Along with this, there is a great deal of superfluous verbiage; and nowhere do we find a steady advance in the narration. Similar faults are found in the non-narrative portions of the Koran. The connection of ideas is extremely loose, and even the syntax betrays great awkwardness.
Anacolutha are of frequent occurrence, and cannot be explained as conscious literary devices. Again, there is no great literary skill evinced in the frequent and needless harping on the same words and phrases; in xviii. Mohammed, in short, is not in any sense a master of style. This opinion will be endorsed by any European who reads through the book with an impartial spirit and some knowledge of the language, without taking into account the tiresome effect of its endless iterations.
But in the ears of every pious Moslem such a judgment will sound almost as shocking as downright atheism or polytheism. Among the Moslems, the Koran has always been looked on as the most perfect model of style and language. This feature of it is in their dogmatic the greatest of all miracles, the incontestable proof of its divine origin. Such a view on the part of men who knew Arabic infinitely better than the most accomplished European Arabist will ever do, may well startle us. That, to be sure, on calm reflection, is not so very surprising. Revelations of the kind which Mohammed uttered, no unbeliever could produce without making himself a laughing-stock.
To compose such revelations at will was beyond the power of the most expert literary artist; it would have required either a prophet or a shameless impostor. And if such a character appeared after Mohammed, still he could never be anything but an imitator, like the false prophets who arose about the time of his death and afterwards. That the adversaries should produce any sample whatsoever of poetry or rhetoric equal to the Koran is not at all what the Prophet demands.
In that case he would have been put to shame, even in the eyes of many of his own followers, by the first poem that came to hand. Nevertheless, it is on such a false interpretation of this challenge that the dogma of the incomparable excellence of the style and diction of the Koran is based. The rest has been accomplished by dogmatic prejudice, which is quite capable of working other miracles besides turning a defective literary production into an unrivalled masterpiece in the eyes of believers.
This view once accepted, the next step was to find everywhere evidence of the perfection of the style and language. And if here and there, as one can scarcely doubt, there was among the old Moslems a lover of poetry who had his difficulties about this dogma, he had to beware of uttering an opinion which might have cost him his head.
The truth is, it would have been a miracle indeed if the style of the Koran had been perfect. For although there was at that time a recognised poetical style, already degenerating to mannerism, a prose style did not exist.
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All beginnings are difficult; and it can never be esteemed a serious charge against Mohammed that his book, the first prose work of a high order in the language, testifies to the awkwardness of the beginner. The great aim was persuasion and conversion; and, say what we will, that aim has been realised on the most imposing scale.
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Mohammed repeatedly calls attention to the fact that the Koran is not written, like other sacred books, in a strange language, but in Arabic, and therefore is intelligible to all. At that time, along with foreign ideas, many foreign words had crept into the language, especially Aramaic terms for religious conceptions of Jewish or Christian origin. Some of these had already passed into general use, while others were confined to a more limited circle. Mohammed, who could not fully express his new ideas in the common language of his countrymen, but had frequently to find out new terms for himself, made free use of such Jewish and Christian words, as was done, though perhaps to a smaller extent, by certain thinkers and poets of that age who had more or less risen above the level of heathenism.
Nor is it very surprising to find that his use of these words is sometimes as much at fault as his comprehension of the histories which he learned from the same people—that he applies Aramaic expressions as incorrectly as many uneducated persons now employ words derived from the French. Fraenkel, De vocabulis in antiquis Arabum carminibus et in Corano peregrinis , Leyden , p. Words of Christian origin are less frequent in the Koran. Sprenger has rightly observed that Mohammed makes a certain parade of these foreign terms, as of other peculiarly constructed expressions; in this he followed a favourite practice of contemporary poets.
It is the tendency of the imperfectly educated to delight in out-of-the-way expressions, and on such minds they readily produce a remarkably solemn and mysterious impression. But, of course, the necessity of enabling his hearers to understand ideas which they must have found sufficiently novel in themselves, imposed tolerably narrow limits on such eccentricities.