Ottoman Eschatological Enthusiasm: Ps.-Ibn al-ʿArabī’s Tree of Nuʿmān as an Early Modern Islamic Esoteric Apocalypse in the Service of Empire
Chahanovich, Walter Sasson
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CitationChahanovich, Walter Sasson. 2021. Ottoman Eschatological Enthusiasm: Ps.-Ibn al-ʿArabī’s Tree of Nuʿmān as an Early Modern Islamic Esoteric Apocalypse in the Service of Empire. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation presents the first extensive study in English of the eschatological and esoteric apocalypse titled The Tree of Nuʿmān Concerning the Ottoman Empire (al-Šağarah al-nu‘māniyya fī al-dawlah al-‘uthmāniyyah). This work is a revelatory vision (ra’aynā fı̄-l-mustaqbal) composed by an unknown man claiming to be Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 638/1240), the thirteenth-century Sufi and – much later – the Ottoman dynasty’s adopted patron saint; henceforth, I designate the composer as “Ps.-Ibn al-ʿArabī.” As a mantic work of anonymous prophecy, one is confronted with the following clear themes: the messianic nature of the Ottoman dynasty, its crucial role in securing the end of times at/or after the turn of the Islamic millennium (1000/1591~92), and the central importance of the Ottoman conquest and control of Egypt as the landscape sine qua non for apocalyptic battles and supernatural phenomena.
My principal argument is that this text was produced within what Noah Gardiner identifies as “intermediate groups” of mystically inclined “esoteric reading communities,” and most particularly Egyptian intermediate esoteric groups. Interestingly, The Tree of Nuʿmān seems to have circulated almost exclusively among such esoteric cliques for a good half century if not more. The earliest reliable dating for commentaries on the Ps.-Ibn al-ʿArabī’s primary apocalypse, such as those of Ps.-Ṣadr al-Dı̄n al-Qūnawı̄, Ps.-Ḫalīl b. Aybak al-Ṣafadī, and (Ps.?) Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Maqqarī, are from the mid-late eleventh/seventeenth century; if al-Maqqarī (d. 1041/1632) did in fact compose a commentary, then we can surmise that The Tree of Nuʿmān began circulating more widely – or at least became more well-known outside its earliest reading communities – within no more than 50 years following the earliest possible dating I propose for Ps.-Ibn al-ʿArabī’s revelatory undertaking (see below).
I endeavor to make several new contributions to scholarship. First, as an esoteric-cum-apocalyptic work that sublimates the Ottoman sultans to messianic figures, I argue that The Tree of Nuʿmān is a key example of the appeal and reach of what I call Ottoman eschatological enthusiasm among groups at a distance, politically and perhaps even geographically speaking, from traditional centers of power. By this I mean that the pseudonymous composer and his target audience existed outside of the imperial palace walls wherein the composition of apocalyptically inclined Ottoman propaganda is more commonly attested (e.g. the Ottoman Tercümes of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Bisṭāmı̄’s Key to the Comprehensive Prognosticon, the anonymous Conditions of Resurrection). Second, I take the issue of the pseudepigraphic composition of the apocalyptic vision seriously. The identity of the real man behind The Tree of Nuʿmān remains unknown. Yet, in an effort to understand the phenomenon of pseudepigraphy and its function as applied to this cryptic and chiliastic oracle, I underscore the cultural caché of Ibn al-ʿArabī’s name among esoteric groups, be they actual Sufis or simply Akbarian-inclined practitioners, as well as among elite political and religious echelons within the dynasty. My approach here is necessarily interdisciplinary for the purpose of galvanizing further scholarly discussion in Islamic intellectual history about the topic of pseudepigrapha. Third, through extensive archival research, I correct many manuscript catalogues that erroneously list numerous copies, primarily of the later pseudepigraphic commentaries, as versions of the primary apocalypse. Specifically, I have determined that there exist only four primary copies of the prophecy: SK Ms. Beyazıd 4609, entire copy; İÜK Ms. A. 4884, fols. 1b-48a; BYEK Ms. Veliyüddin 2292/2 fols. 40a-65a; PYah. Ms. 4497, fols. 20b-49b. Fourth, concerning a possible date of Ps.-Ibn al-ʿArabī’s apocalyptic vision, I argue for a terminus ante quem within several years before circa 986-987/1578-1579. Notwithstanding a couple examples of later scribal interpolations from the mid-eleventh/seventeenth century, I hold that the eschatological apocalypse was written by the singular figure Ps.-Ibn al-ʿArabī, and that it is not a product of collective composition or successive conglomerate segments collated together at some point in the mid-eleventh/seventeenth century. Fifth, I provide an historical overview of the Islamic apocalyptic genre called ǧafr according to which Ps.-Ibn al-ʿArabī classifies The Tree of Nuʿmān. I advance a new and concise definition of this oracular genre and refute earlier scholarship that claims ǧafr to be an exclusively Shiite revelatory science. Finally, I argue that Ps.-Ibn al-ʿArabī may have been an ethnic Egyptian. This hypothesis is based on the curious restaging of Egypt as the foremost site of numerous Islamic End-Times phenomena and characters, all of which lead up to the Resurrection (yawm al-qiyāmah), Judgment (yawm al-dīn), and the total dissolution of cosmic creation.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368258
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