Like digging through archaeological layers, documenting the development of language and writing provides important clues about historical events. Recent discoveries in the deserts of Syria and Jordan are yielding clues not only about the origins of the Arabic writing system, but also about the rich history of the Arabs in the periods just before and after the rise of Islam. A new archaeological find seems to provide the first contemporary evidence of a major figure in the early history of Islam–and even more fascinating, it appears to have been written by a loyal Christian Arab subject.
Ahmad al-Jallad, the incoming Sofia Chair of Arabic Studies at the Ohio State University, discusses his work in the desert of Jordan, and describes recent finds that paint a picture of a vibrant Christian Arab community in Syria, decades after the Islamic conquest.
In most world history survey courses, Arabia is introduced for the first time only as backstory to the rise of Islam. We’re told that there was a tradition of oral poetry in Arabic, a language native to central Arabia, and that the Qur’an was the zenith of this oral tradition. New evidence, however, suggests that Arabia was linguistically diverse, that the language we’ve come to know as Arabic originated in modern day Jordan, and that the looping cursive writing system that’s become the language’s hallmark wasn’t the original system used to write it. What to make of all this?
Guest Ahmad al-Jallad co-directs archaeological/epigraphic projects in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, uncovering new inscriptions thousands of years old, and shares his research that’s shedding new light on the writings of a complex civilization that lived in the Arabian peninsula for centuries before Islam arose.