A new critical edition of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Jabartī's magnum opus ʿAjāʾib al-Āthār fī ’l-Tarājim wa-’l-Akhbār, which covers the history of Egypt from 1688 to 1821.
ʿAbd al-Raḥman al-Jabartī (1753–1825) is the most important historian of late Ottoman Egypt. His Marvelous Chronicles: Biographies and Events (ʿAjāʾib al-Āthār fī ʼl-Tarājim wa-ʼl-Akhbār) covers the history of Egypt from 1688 to 1821, a period which includes Napoleon’s invasion and the French occupation of the country (1798–1801). The historical narrative is combined with numerous biographies, and throughout the entire work the author demonstrates his wide knowledge of both Islamic learning (al-ʿulūm al-naqliyya) and of the new secular sciences (al-ʿulūm al-ʿaqliyya). Al-Jabartī was well aware of the significance of the French invasion, which marked the beginning of modern European incursions into the Middle East, and was much concerned to preserve the dominance of Islamic values at a time when they were threatened by the decline in the status of the ʿulamāʾ and by the military weakness of the Ottoman Empire.
The Būlāq edition of the ʿAjāʾib (1880), which has been the most widely used so far, is based on manuscripts copied after the author’s death in 1825. The copyists of these manuscripts took liberties with the author’s style and grammar in order to make them compatible with the rules of classical Arabic. They also changed toponyms and official titles in order to bring them in line with the usage introduced after Muḥammad ʿAlī’s invasion in 1801. The later editions published in Cairo and Beirut are merely copies of the Būlāq edition.
The present edition, prepared by Shmuel Moreh of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is the first to offer a critical text. It is based on the autograph manuscript preserved in the Cambridge University Library. Moreh collated the autograph with the MSS of al-Jabartī’s two short histories of the French occupation of Egypt, Muddat al-Faransīs bi-Miṣr and Maẓhar al-taqdīs bi-dhahāb dawlat al-Faransīs. He also collated it with a number of other manuscripts of the ʿAjāʾib, paying particular attention to the MSS which had been copied under al-Jabartī’s own supervision. Al-Jabartī checked these copies himself, writing his corrections on the margins. Especially noteworthy is a manuscript in Maghribī script which was checked by the author and belonged to his friend Ḥasan al-ʿAṭṭar. Al-ʿAṭṭar took this MS with him on his travels, adding a variety of materials, some inspired by al-Jabartī himself. Al-ʿAṭṭar’s material has been used in the present edition. Moreh has restored as far as possible the original grammatical usage and style of al-Jabartī, and his text includes passages omitted from the Būlāq edition. The readings given on the margins of the present edition indicate the revisions that al-Jabartī made to his opus magnum as a result of changing political circumstances in Egypt.