EPISTLES OF THE BRETHREN OF PURITY:
ON LIFE, DEATH AND LANGUAGES. AND ARABIC CRITICAL EDITION AND ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF EPISTLES 29–31
Author(s): Eric Ormsby
Reviewed by: Sajjad Rizvi, University of Exeter, UK
Publisher: Oxford: Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2021, xxiii + 231 (English), 128 (Arabic). ISBN: 9780198858140.
The Institute of Ismaili Studies’ project to edit and translate the entirety of the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity seems to be coming to a culmination (around ten are still outstanding as well as the Risalah al-Jami[ah that is important for the Tayyibi Isma[ili tradition). As ever, the volume comprises a technical introduction to the manuscripts used, an English introduction to the themes and contents of the three epistles here, a full translation with headings (that in most cases – even with respect to the titles of the epistles do not necessarily find attestation in the manuscript tradition) and the full Arabic edition and critical apparatus (and a useful index of Qur’anic citations). In a sense, what these epistles address is the nature of the human, life and death, spirit and matter, body and soul, and the critical social nature of humans and their language. On the technical introduction, one finds useful information on the manuscripts used – broadly speaking Epistles 29 and 30 have Atif Efendi 1381 as their base which is the earliest (perhaps a nod to the famous principle al- aqdam asahh), while Epistle 31 uses that manuscript but takes as its base Esad Efendi 3638 which dates from around a century later. What is also useful are Ormsby’s comments on how he set about translating each of this epistles, balancing readability, accuracy, literal rendition, and technical communication.