A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, May 6, 2016

Writing in Arabia Before Islam

The history of pre-Islamic Arabia, and of what languages preceded the rise of Classical Arabic, is a fascinating subject and one still emerging. Most may have heard of the Old South Arabian languages, which are quite a separate matter, but the various scripts and languages of Northern Arabia are less well known. The 15-Minute History Podcast at the University of Texas at Austin has a podcast for those interested in Ancient Arabia and Comparative Semitics (and who isn't?), "Episode 82: What Writing Can Tell Us About the Arabs before Islam", which is introduced as follows:
In most world history survey courses, Arabia is introduced for the first time only as backstory to the rise of Islam. We’re told that there was a tradition of oral poetry in Arabic, a language native to central Arabia, and that the Qur’an was the zenith of this oral tradition. New evidence, however, suggests that Arabia was linguistically diverse, that the language we’ve come to know as Arabic originated in modern day Jordan, and that the looping cursive writing system that’s become the language’s hallmark wasn’t the original system used to write it. What to make of all this?
Guest Ahmad al-Jallad co-directs archaeological/epigraphic projects in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, uncovering new inscriptions thousands of years old, and shares his research that’s shedding new light on the writings of a complex civilization that lived in the Arabian peninsula for centuries before Islam arose.
You can listen to the podcast at the link.

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