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Coranus Graecus

The Oldest Transmitted Translation of the Qur’ān
within the «Ἀνατροπὴ τοῦ Κορανίου» of Nicetas of Byzantium

Introduction – Text – Translation – Commentary



The dissertation of Manolis Ulbricht (postdoctoral researcher) examines a Greek translation of the Qur’an from the 8th/9th century A.D. and compares it to the original Arabic text to analyze their differences in order to better understand the early relations between Christians and Muslims. This translation by an anonymous author, despite being generally very accurate, contains some textually subtle, albeit theologically important differences when viewed alongside today’s known Arabic text. These differences, taken from the oldest translation of the Qur’an, seem to be the result of a Christian hermeneutical reading of the text.

The translation has been transmitted through a polemical work authored by Nicetas of Byzantium (9thcentury A.D.), where it is included in a fragmented state. Nicetas lived in Constantinople, the imperial capital during a period defined by thriving military and intellectual activities, as well as a climate of intercultural exchange with the Muslim ʿAbbāsid caliphate. In his «Ἀνατροπὴ τοῦ Κορανίου» (“Refutation of the Qur’an”), which is transmitted only as a codex unicus (Vat. gr. 681), Nicetas quotes and paraphrases from the (now lost) Greek translation of the Qur’an in order to systemically prove the heresy of Islam.

In the dissertation, all the Qur’anic fragments are extracted from Nicetas’ polemical text, critically edited, translated and then compared with the Arabic text. This work of extracting the Qur’anic fragments makes it possible to then examine both text versions in a philological-theological commentary and to, according to the concept of Geistesgeschichte, historically arrange the research results.

Based on this analysis, it was not only possible to draw certain conclusions concerning the unknown translator and his understanding of the Qur’an, but also on the very history of the text. Furthermore, seeing as he was one of the most influential Christian polemicists against Islam, the dissertation also carefully and thoroughly works through Nicetas’ selective and manipulative use of the Greek translation in his “Refutation of the Qur’an.” Nicetas’ reception not only endured in the Byzantine sphere until the 13th century; his influence on the Western image of Islam is even comprehensible in Latin Europe up to the Modern Period.

This is an interdisciplinary research project which is related to Byzantine and Qur’anic studies, Christian and Muslim theology, as well as Greek and Arabic philology. For the first time, Nicetas of Byzantine and the translation of the Qur’an (8/9th A.D.), that he transmitted will be comprehensively studied, the material will be systematically edited, and then examined within the context of his time. Here, we are dealing with an early form of inter-religious dialogue; the critical and scientific treatment of this dialogue thus offers a platform for discussing ongoing questions in today’s society.


Parallel to the printed version of the edition (S. 187–558) the entire transcription of the Manuscript Vat. gr. 681 is being displayed following TEI-XML-Standards (p5- guideline) and is being made web-compatible through the use of xslt (xXTML – refer to Project Description for a Digital Edition of the Coranus Graecus). The website, which was created with CSS, is available as a Beta-Version and was first officially presented to the academic community on 14/07/2015.