First Foray Into Graf: Sabians and Sethians and John the Baptist, Oh My!

A copy of Georg Graf’s Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur arrived via inter-library loan in the past couple of days. Today I had my first chance to dive in and do more than just take a passing glance. For those who may be unfamiliar with it, it is a 5-volume bibliographical work that surveys Christian literature in Arabic from antiquity until modern times.

I have long wanted to have the time (not to mention the necessary linguistic proficiencies) to read Christian literature from a part of the world that is arguably culturally and linguistically closer in certain respects to the world of Jesus than to the world of 21st century Americans. But more recently, I’ve also wanted to do some work tracing the traditions and stories about John the Baptist in Islamic and Christian sources that might either have been drawn on, or themselves have influenced, the Mandaean stories and traditions about John the Baptist.

It was thus rather exciting to find that, in addition to entires for John the Baptist, there are also index entries for other relevant words such as Sabians, Seth and Adam.

I’m looking forward to delving deeper. I’m sure most academics have had the experience of discovering that there is something interesting and/or relevant that we remained unaware of because it is in another language that is not within our range of expertise (Ugaritic, Mandaic, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, Latin, insert language here). I’d be very interested in hearing from other scholars who have decided, at some point well after completing their PhD, to learn one or more new languages and dive into some new literature. It’s fun and exciting, isn’t it?


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