Fact or Fiction? In Search of the "Learned Council" of Jirmānūs Farḥāt

Anthony Edwards

Abstract


The “learned council” of Jirmānūs Farḥāt (1670-1732) often surfaces as illustrative of ecumenical humanism in the Levant in the century leading up to the Arab Nahḍa (Renaissance). Primary information about the group however is essentially nonexistent, prompting the regurgitation of facts culled from a discrete number of early 20th -century researches on Farḥāt and his colleagues. This essay puts the historical existence of Farḥāt’s “learned council” on trial and argues that it never existed; nonetheless, its historiographical existence is undeniable. Based on a lexicographical study of the Arabic phrase “learned council (majmaʿ ʿilmī)” and a meticulous review of extant scholarship on the group, I claim that the 18th -century group was conjured into existence in the 20th century. I contend that Catholic Maronite scholars invented Farḥāt’s “learned council” in order to insert their confessional community into a crystalizing Protestantdriven narrative of the Nahḍa, which then Western historians reinterpreted as evidence of Arab Christian literary activity more broadly. This essay provides an example of dialectical historiography and calls for the careful reevaluation of some “facts” that have infiltrated Nahḍa Studies.

Keywords: Farḥāt, learned council, majmaʿ, Nahḍa, historiography


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5617/jais.6368

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