Author: M Amin Mahdavi


The paper explores evolution as a metaphor to explain that scribal changes in the content of a manuscript during the copying process are analogous to the process of mutation in living organisms. It suggests that the long string of letters in the content of the text resemble the long string of a DNA sequence. With the help of methodologies from the field of genetics and computational linguistics applied to Islamic Studies and manuscript transmission, an approach has been developed to highlight some of the historical processes that have affected manuscript transmission and copying.

Using Firdawsi’s Shahnama as a case study, this presentation flags issues that the content of the text has “evolved” over time. It also stresses that in an attempt to recapture and revitalise the text as the poem was composed, scholars tended to eliminate suspect lines of poetry that have over time been inserted, deleted or changed. Applying such discretions results in a final product which is carefully engineered; hence, modifying the genetic makeup of the poem in a compromise to create the perfect copy.

Finally, this paper suggests that the audience of a text should have a picture of the historical process that have affected a text’s content. By providing a critical edition, some of these historical processes and layers have been forgotten. The genome of the text, on the other hand, maintains the original characteristics of the manuscripts while offering researchers a comprehensive view of the text.

What is presented here is a methodology that helps compare manuscripts and allows the testing of hypotheses as to the context, provenance and circumstances of a particular manuscript.