Introducing Jafr in Ps. Ibn al-ʿArabī’s The Tree of Nuʿmān (al-Shajarah al-nuʿmāniyyah)
W. Sasson Chahanovich
This article addresses a desideratum in Islamic intellectual history concerning apocalyptic eschatology. I propose to focus on the Islamic revelatory genre par excellence known as jafr which as a textual tradition comprises the fusion of eschatology and esotericism. As a case study, I have chosen to examine an Ottoman apocalypse known as The Tree of Nu‘mān Concerning the Ottoman Empire (al-Shajara al-nu‘māniyya fi al-dawla al-‘uthmāniyya). This complex revelatory text was composed at some point in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century and was pseudepigraphically attributed to Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1240), the “Great Doctor” (al-shaykh al-akbar) of Sufism. Importantly, The Tree of Nu‘mān shows us that eschatological predictions were central to bolstering Ottoman imperial claims to universal sovereignty, this being an historical phenomenon that permeated Islamic dynasties following the collapse of the central Abbasid Caliphate in 1258. More specifically, end-of-times tractates like The Tree of Nu‘mān highlight the reliance of revelatory propaganda on the esoteric sciences of lettrism (ʿilm al-ḥurūf) and astrology (ʿilm al-falak). With these two esoteric pillars, I argue that Pseudo-Ibn al-ʿArabī secured the validity and appeal of his pseudepigraphic apocalypse. A further important contribution of this essay is a new, critical definition of jafr that expands on previous scholarly attempts at understanding this immanently Islamic eschatological genre.
Eschatology; lettrism; astrology; Ottoman Empire; Sufism; Ibn al-ʿArabī; pseudepigraphy