Abu-al-Mundhir Hisham ibn-Muhammad ibn-al-Sa'ib ibn-Bishr al-Kalbi, better known as ibn-al-Kalbi (d. A.H. 206/ A.D. 821-822)[1], was a member of a distinguished family of scholars residing in al-Kufah, then one of the two intellectual capitals of the Muslim world. Like his father, abu-al-Nadr Muhammad[2], he addressed himself almost exclusively to historical and philosophical research in an age where the hadith was the science par excellence. Not only Muslim interest in the life and usage of the Prophet, but also the desire of official Islam to stamp out all that belonged to the pagan days of Arabia, discouraged learned men from the pursuit of studies which related to the so-called Jahiliyah days. According to the traditionists who were then in full control of the intellectual life of the community, Muhammad once said, "Islam destroys all that preceded it[3]". The Prophet, undoubtedly, had in mind the pagan religious of his country; but his followers, in their zeal to establish the new faith, set out to eradicate everything which had its roots in the old order. Consequently, the historians (akhbariyun), whose work was to record the past and preserve its glories, were



  without honor in the Muslim community, particularly during the early period of Islam. The great Arab historians flourished during a later period. These, too, placed their emphasis on the Muslim era, and treated the pre-Islamic days in a cursory manner. What is more, the word historian (akhbari) acquired a bad meaning and became an epithet of near-contempt. It was applied to ibn-al-Kalbi[4] as well as to any learned man who dared dwell upon Arab history before the 'Am al-Fil[5].' But no historian was attacked more virulently than ibn-al-Kalbi, probably because he addressed himself to the study of those things which Islam was determined to obliterate, namely the pagan religions and practices of Arabia. Thus al-Baghdadi[6] preserves a saying current among the students of the hadith concerning ibn-al-Kalbi's alleged lack of veracity. To them he was but an amateur genealogist and a story-teller whose word no one would either accept or quote. Al-Isfahani, too, despite his dependence upon ibn-al-Kalbi, attacks him in at least two places[7], and asserts that everything which he had quoted in his authority was false. Al-Sam'ani is still more outspoken. In his Ansab[8] he dismisses ibn-al-Kalbi with the following sentence, "He ... used to relate odd and strange things, and events none of which had any foundation." Another Muslim writer who disparages ibn-al-Kalbi is al-Dhahabi. Besides calling him a rafidi[9], he says,  


  "He was not reliable ... but merely an historian (akhbari)[10]". Ahmad ibn-Hanbal deemed it necessary to say of him, "I do not think anyone would quote him as an authority[11]".

All these attacks were undoubtedly motivated by fanaticism on the part of the traditionists and the Koran readers. For his part, ibn-al-Kalbi had little respect for them and for their studies, and did not commit the Koran to memory except under the pressure of criticism[12].

But ibn-al-Kalbi was not without his stout champions. Foremost among those were al-Mas'udi and Yaqut. The former lists him among the best authorities and acknowledges his indebtedness to him[13]. The latter actually defends him against the vilifications of the traditionists. Discussing a controversial point in which ibn-al-Kalbi was pitted against the other authorities, Yaqut accepts his report and says, "This, therefore, confirms the statement of abu-al-Mundhir Hisham ibn-Muhammad al-Kalbi. Bless his soul! Never have the learned men disagreed on any point without finding his word the final authority. Yet despite all that, he is unjustly treated and greatly maligned[14]."



  But his vindication has come from modern scientific research and archeology, which have confirmed the greater part of his statements and supported him against the fanatical criticism of his co-religionists.

His works. Ibn-al-Kalbi was one of the most prolific scientific writers of early Islam. Al-Nadim[15] lists no fewer than one hundred and forty titles of his, while Yaqut[16] says that they exceeded one hundred and fifty titles. Of these he enumerates one hundred and eighteen on the authority of al-Nadim and adds three on his own, making the list one hundred and twenty-one. Unfortunately, however, nothing has survived except the Jamharat at-Nasab[17], the Nasab Fhul al-Khayl fi al-Jahiliyah w-al-lslam[18], the Kitab al-Mathalib[19], and the present work, namely the Kitab al-Asnam. It is, nevertheless, possible to reconstruct a considerable part of his works from quotations in other sources related on his authority. In fact, this is exactly what Wellhausen did in the case of the Kitab al-Asnam[20]." Lyall did the same in the case of "The First Day of the Kulab[21]."

The Kitab al-Asnam. This work has come down to us in a unique manuscript in the Khizanah al-Zakiyah, the private



  library of the late Ahmad Zaki Pasha of Cairo, Egypt. This manuscript, which was published by its learned owner first in 1914 and again in 1924[22], has one of the most interesting and excellent pedigrees of any known manuscript. It was transcribed from a copy made by the well-known scholar abu-Mansur Mawhub ibn-Ahmad ibn-Muhammad ibn-al-Khidr al-Jawiliqi[23], in A.H. 529/A.D. 1135, from another which he himself had copied in A.H. 494/A.D. 1100 from a manuscript in the handwriting of abu-al-Hasan Muhammad ibn-al-'Abbas ibn-Ali ibn-Muhammad ibn-al-Furit[24], whose excellent penmanship won him the unanimous applause of the scholars of his time. Of him it was said, "His writing is the final word in correctness and accuracy[25]." Of the first copy which al-Jawaliqi made in A.H. 494 nothing is known beyond the fact that Yaqut had access to it and used it freely in preparing his geographical dictionary, the Mu'jam al-Buldan[26]." He even reproduced, with the omission of one link, the same chain of authorities which prefaces the present recension[27]. Furthermore, most of the text of the Kitab al-Asnam has been quoted by Yaqut, although it was broken up in order to conform to die alphabetical arrangement of his Mu'jam. These quotations gave Wellhausen the material for his great Reste Arabischen Heidentums[28].

The contents of the Kitab al-Asnam must have been known,



  not only to the great Arab historians and geographers who followed in the wake of ibn-al-Kalbi and who drew freely on his works, but also to more recent writers, two of whom have preserved for us abridgments of the material contained there in. The first writer was Jamal-al-Din abu-al-Faraj 'Abd-al-Rahmin ibn-abi-al-Hasan.....ibn-al-Jawzi[29] (d. A.H. 597 / A.D. 1200), who abridged the work in his Naqd al-'Ilm w-al-Ulama[30]. The second was 'Abd-al-Qadir ibn-Umar al-Baghdidi[31] (d. A.11. 1093 / A.D. i68:), who reproduced its main contents in his Khizanat al-Adab wa-Lubb Lubab Lesan al-'Arab[32].

Except for the text contained in the Mu'jam al-Buldan and the abridgments preserved in these two works, the learned world saw the Kitab al-Asnam for the first time in the edition of Ahmad Zaki Pasha discussed above[33]. The present translation is based on that edition as well as on the material preserved in the Mu'jam al-Buldan, reference to which has been made in every case. An attempt has been made to identify every name whether of person or place. A few, however, resisted all such attempts, in which case the fact has been indicated in the footnotes. Historical, geographical, and linguistic notes have been added in order to elucidate the text, which in several instances has also been emended, as an examination of the notes will show. Subheadings to indicate the organization have been supplied by the translator but, for the sake of typographic appearance, have not been enclosed in brackets.




  1. Al-Nadim, Kitab at-Fihrist, ed. G. Flugel, Leipzig, 1871-1872, pp. 95-98; ibn-Sa'd, Kitab at-Tabaqat at-Kabra, ed. Eduard Sachau and others, Leyden, 1905-1921, vol. vi, p. 250; ibn-Qutaybah, Kitab al-Ma'arif, ed. F. Wustenfeld, Gottingen, 1850, pp. 266-267; al-Baghdadi, Ta'rikh Baghdad, Cairo, 1931, vol. xiv, pp. 45-46, ibn-Khallikan, Wafayat al-A'yan wa-Anba' Anba' al-Zaman, Cairo, 1299, vol. iii, pp.134-136; al-Anbari, Nu'zhat al-Alibba Tabaqat al-Udaba', Lithog. Cairo, 1294, pp. 116-118; al-Sam ani, Kitab al-Adib, ed. D. S. Margoliouth, Leyden, 1912, folios 485b-486a; Yaqut, Irshad at-Arib ila-Ma'rifat al-Adib ed. D.S. Margoliouth, Leyden, 1907-1926, vol. VII, pp.250-254; al-Dhahabi, Tadhkirat at-Huffaz, Hyderabad, 1333-1334, vol. i, p.313. See also Ignaz Goldziher, Muhammedanische Studien, Halle, 1889-1890, vol.1, pp. 185-187; C. Brockelmann, Geschichte der Arabischen Literatur, vol. I, Weimar, 1898, pp. 138-140; Supplement, vol. I, Leyden, 1937, pp.211-212.

2. Fihrist, p.94; ibn-Sa'd, vol. vi, pp.249-250, ibn-Khallikan, vol.II, pp. 301-302.

3. Muslim Sahih Iman: 53.

4. Tadhkirat at-Huffaz, vol.I, p.313.

5. cf. Irshad, vol. vii, pp.261 seq. The 'Am al-Fil (the year of the elephant) is identified with A.D. 570 or 571, and is supposed to be the year in which Muhammad was born. It is so called after the elephant which is said to have accompanied Abrahah, the Aksumite viceroy of Yemen from A.D. 525-571, who marched against Mecca in that year, but was, according to Muslim tradition, miraculously turned back.

6. Ta'rikh Baghdad, vol. xiv, p.46.

7. Kitab al-Aghani, Bulaq, 1285, vols. ix, p.19, XVIII, p. 161.

8. folio 486a.

9. Only al-Dhahabi (d. AH. 748/AD. 1348) accuses ibn-al-Kalbi of being a Rafidite, while ibn-al-'Imad al-Hanbali (d. A.H. 1089 / A.D. 1679), in his Shajarat al-Dhahab fi Akabar Man Dhahab, Cairo, 1350, vol.II, p.13, says that he had Rafidite leanings. But both these are late, and the early sources are completely silent on this point. There is, however, evidence that his grandfather and great-grandfather were active partisans of 'Ali, having fought on his side in both the battles of al-Jamal and Siffin (Ma'arif, p. 266). His father is supposed to have fought with 'Abd-al-Rahmin ibn-al-Ash'ath during the latter's rebellion against al-Hajjaj ibn-Yusuf in A.H. 82/ A.D. 701 at Dayr al-Jamajim (Ma'arif, p.266 ci. al-Tabari, Ta'rihk al-Rasul w-al-Muluk, ed. M. J. de Goeje and others, Leyden, 1879-1901, vol.II, pp. 1074-1076). Beyond that there is nothing to indicate that he was a Rifidite, either in the strict sense of the term or in its loose application to the Shi'ites in general. He might have been an 'Ali admirer, but hardly anything more. For the Rifidites as a distinct sect, see al-Nawbakhti, Firaq al-Shi'ah, ed. H. Ritter, Istanbul, 1933, pp.53-55; al-Baghdadi, Mukhtasar at-Farq bayn al-Firaq, ed. P. K. Hitti, Cairo, 1924, p.22.

10. Tadhkirat al-Huffaz, vol. I, p. 313.

11. Irshad, vol. vii, p.250.

12. Ibid., p.251; Ta'rikh Baghdad, vol. xiv, p.46. The intent of the incident is, of course, to show the prodigious memory of ibn-al-Kalbi. It also shows a tendency towards independence at a very early age.

13. 'Muraj al-Dhahab, ed. C. Barbier de Meynard and Vavet de Courteille, Paris, 1861-1877, vol. I, pp. 10, 216.

14. Mu'jam al-Buldan, ed. F. Wustenfeld, Leipzig, 1866-1870, vol.II, p.158; see also p.652.

15. Fihrist, pp.95-98.

16. Irshad, vol. vii, pp. 250-254.

17. Fragmentary manuscript copies of this work survive in the Escurial Library (no. 1693), the British Museum (no.1202), and in an alleged copy in the Bibliotheque Nationale (no. 2047). The Rev. Paul Sabat announced in al-Muqqattam, April 7, 1925, the discovery of a complete copy of the Jamharah. See JRAS, 1925, pp. 507-508. See also Giorgio Levi Della Vida, "Progetto di un' edizione della 'Gamharat al-Ansab di Ibn al-Kalbi," in Actes du XVIII Congres Interriational des Orientatistes, Leyden, 1932, pp.236-237. The alleged copy in the Bibliotheque Nationale has nothing to do with the Jamharah.

18. Published by Georgio Levi Della Vida, Leyden, 1928.

19. A copy of this work is in the possession of F. Krenkow.

20. See below, p. xi.

21. See C. Lyall, "Ibn al-Kalbi's account of the First Day of al-Kulab," in Festschrift Theodor Noldeke, ed C. Bezold, Gieszen, 1906, pp. 127-154. Lyall reconstructed the narrative from the pages of al-Anbari's commentary on al-Mufaddaliyat.

22. The only difference between the two editions is that the former was done on special paper bearing, in the watermark, the monogram of 'Abbas Hilmi II, the last Khedive of Egypt, to whom it was dedicated, and the date A.H.1329, the year of his accession.

23. d A.H., 539/A.D. 1144; see Irashad, vol. vii, pp.197-199; ibn.Khalliken, vol.III, pp.35-37.

24. Al-Qazzar according to ibn-al-Athir, al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh ed.

25. J. Tornberg, Leyden, 1867-1874, vol. ix, p. 74. He died in A.H. 34/AD. 994. See also Tarikh Baghdad, vol. iii, pp 122-123; Tadhirat al-Haffaz, vol. xii, pp. 205-206.

26. Tarikh Baghdad, vol. iii, p.123, line 5.

27. Ed. F. Wustenfeld, Leipzig, 1866-1870, vols.I, p. 897, iii, pp. 911-912.

28. Buldan, vol. III, p.912; cf. below, p.3.

29. First published in Skizzen send Vorarbeiten, vol. iii, 1887, and again in an independent edition in 1897.

30. Ibn-Khallikan, vol.I, pp. 500-501.

31. Also known as Tablis Iblis; Cairo, 1340, pp.56-63; English translation of this book by D.S. Margoliouth under the title, "The Devil's Delusion," appeared in Islamic Culture, vols. IX, X, XI, XII, 1935-1938; the section in which the Kitab al-Asnam is abridged may be found in vol. x, pp.189-196.

32. Al-Muhibbi, Khuldsat al-Athar fi A'yan al-Qarn al Hudi 'Ashar, Cairo, 1284, vol.11, pp.451-454.

33. Bulaq, 1299, vol. III, pp. 242-246.

34. A partial translation, in French, by Fr. M. S. Marmardji, O.P., appeared a Revue Biblique, vol. xxxv, 1926, pp.397-420. It was based on the first (1914) edition of Ahmad Zaki Pasha. In it Marmardji rearranges the deities into groups according to their importance and rank. A German translation was made by Rosa K. Rosenberger, Leipzig, 1941.