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Kinship and marriage in early Arabia (William Robertson SMITH)

SMITH (William Robertson), Kinship and marriage in early Arabia, Cambridge, University Press, 1885, XIV+322 p.


Elève précoce, William Robertson Smith entra à l’Université de Aberdeen à l’âge de quinze ans, avant de passer au New College à Edinbourg pour se former à la prêtrise en 1866. Après avoir obtenu son diplôme, il pris une chaire en hébreu à l’Église libre Aberdeen College en 1870. En 1875, il a écrit un nombre important d’articles sur des sujets religieux dans la neuvième édition de l’Encyclopaedia Britannica. Il est devenu connu en raison de son procès pour hérésie dans les années 1870, à la suite de la publication d’un article dans l’Encyclopædia Britannica.
En 1881, il est lecteur d’arabe à l’Université de Cambridge. En 1887, Smith est devenu le rédacteur en chef de l’Encyclopædia Britannica. En 1889, il a écrivit ses travaux les plus importants sur la religion des Sémites, ouvrages majeurs dans l’analyse du phénomène religieux.


The object of the present volume is to collect and discuss the available evidence as to the genesis of th e system of male kinship,
with the corresponding laws of marriage and tribal organisation, which prevailed in Arabia at the time of Mohammed ; the general result is that male kinship had been preceded by kinship through women only, and that all that can still be gathered as to the steps of the social evolution in which the change of kinship la^jF is the central feature corresponds in the most striking manner with the general theory propounded, mainly on the basis of a study of modern rude societies, in the late J. F. McLennan’s book on
Primitive Marriage. The correspondence of the Arabian facts with this general theory is indeed so close that all the evidence
might easily have been disposed under heads borrowed from his exposition ; and for those who are engaged in the comparative study of early institutions this would probably have been the most convenient arrangement. But the views of my lamented friend are not so widely known as they deserve to be, and several of the Essays in which they are expressed are not very accessible. Moreover I wished to speak not only to general students of early society but to all who are interested in old Arabia ; for if my results are sound they have a very important bearing on the most fundamental problems of Arabian history and on the genesis of Islam itself. I have therefore thought it best to attempt to build a self-contained argument on the Arabian facts alone, following a retrogressive order from the known to the unknown past, and not calling in the aid of hypotheses derived from the comparative method until, in working backwards on the Arabian evidence, I came to a point where the facts
could not be interpreted without the aid of analogies drawn from other rude societies.
This mode of exposition has its disadvantages, the most serious of these being that the changes in the tribal system which went hand in hand with the change in the rule of kinship do not come into view at all till near the close of the argument. In the
earlier chapters therefore I am forced to argue on the supposition that a local group was also a stock-group, as it was in the time of the prophet ; while in the two last chapters it appears that this cannot always have been the case. But I trust that the reader, if he looks back upon the earlier chapters after reaching the end of the book, will see that this result has been tacitly kept in view throughout, and that the sub- stance of the argument involves nothing in consistent with it.

The first chapters of the book do not, I
think, borrow any principle from the com-
parative method which cannot be completely
verified by Arabian evidence. These chapters
are rewritten and expanded from a course of
public University lectures delivered in the
Easter Term of the current year, and my ori-
ginal idea was to confine the present volume
to the ground which they cover. I found
however that to break off the argument at this point would be very unsatisfac-
tory both to the author and to the reader,
and that, to round off my results even in a
provisional way, it was absolutely necessary
to say something as to the ultimate origin
of the tribal system. And here it is not
possible to erect a complete argument on the
Arabian evidence alone. But it is, I think,
possible to shew that the Arabs once had
the system which McLennan has expounded
under the name of totemism (chap, vii.), and
if, as among other early nations, totemism
and female kinship were combined with a
law of exogamy, it is also possible to con-
struct, on the lines laid down in Primitive
Marriage, a hypothetical picture of the deve-
lopment of the social system, consistent with
all the Arabian facts, and involving only verae
causae, i.e., only the action of such forces
as can be shewn to have operated in other
rude societies in the very way which the
hypothesis requires (chap. viii.). I have
thought it right to limit myself, in this
part of the subject, to the briefest possible
outline. The general principles of the hypo-
thesis, as laid down by J. F. McLennan, are not, I believe, likely to be shaken, but it is
premature to attempt more than the most
provisional sketch of the way in which they
operated under the special historical con-
ditions existing in the Arabian peninsula.

The collection of the evidence on which
my arguments rest has occupied me at
intervals since the autumn of 1879, when I
put together a certain number of facts about
female kinship and totemism in a paper on
" Animal worship and animal tribes among
the Arabs and in the Old Testament," which
was published in the Journal of Philology,
vol. ix. At that time I had access to no
good library of Arabic texts, so that I could
only pick up what lay on the surface of the
unsearched field ; but the results of this pro-
visional exploration appeared so promising
that it seemed desirable to publish them and
to invite the cooperation of scholars better
versed in the early literature of Arabia.
Several orientalists of mark responded to this
invitation ; in particular Prof. Th. Noldeke
sent me some valuable observations, which
have since been incorporated in his review of
Prof. G. A. Wilken’s book, Het Matriarchaat
bij de oude Arabieren (Oester. Monatschrift f.
d. Orient, 1884), and Prof. Ignaz Goldziher
contributed a list of important references to
the hadith and other sources in a letter
to the Academy, July 10, 1880. The hadith
(traditions of the prophet) was not used at all
in my paper, but I had begun to search
through it in the winter of 1879—80, when a
visit to Cairo enabled me also to procure
extracts from Tabari’s Coran commentary, of
which some specimens are given in the notes
to the present volume. The next contribu-
tion to the subject was Prof. Wilken’s book,
already cited, which appeared at Amsterdam
in 1884. Most of the facts on which Prof.
Wilken builds are simply copied from my
paper and Dr Goldziher’s letter, but he adds
a very useful collection of the traditional
evidence about mot’a marriage, for which he
had the assistance of Dr Snouck Hurgronje.
On this topic I had briefly touched in a note
to my Prophets of Israel (1882), p. 408 ; but
Prof. Wilken was the first to bring it into
connection with the rule of female kinship.

Another new point to which Prof. Wilken
devotes considerable attention is the importance attached in ancient and modern Arabia
to the relationship of maternal uncle and
nephew ; and what he has said on this head
plays a chief part in the controversy between
him and Dr Redhouse, which has produced
the two latest publications on the subject of
female kinship in Arabia (J. W. Redhouse,
Notes on Prof. E. B. Tylors " Arabian
Matriarchate" [1885] ; G. A. Wilken, Eenige
Opmerhingen naar anleiding eener critiekvan
mijn " Matriarchaat bij de oude Arabieren"
The Hague 1885). Some points in both these
papers are touched on in the following pages,
but I have not found occasion to go into the
controversy in detail, as my interpretation of
the whole evidence differs fundamentally from
that of the Dutch scholar. It will be seen
from this survey that by much the larger
part of the evidence which I have used had
to be collected without assistance from any
predecessor, and I have not been able to
extend my search over more than a moderate
part of the vast field of early Arabic literature.
On the other hand, while I have tried to give
specimens of all the types of evidence that
have come under my observation, I could easily have multiplied examples of many of
these types.

The notes appended to the volume contain
a variety of illustrative matter, and in some
cases take the shape of excursuses on topics
of interest which could not have been brought
into the text without breaking the flow of
the argument.

In conclusion I desire to express my
thanks to my friend and colleague Prof. W.
Wright for valuable help in all parts of
the book, and to my friend Mr D. McLennan
for many important criticisms and suggestions
on the first six chapters.


Cheist’s College, Cambridge.
Oct. 26, 1885.

Table des matières


The Theory of the Genealogists as to the Origin of Arabic

Tribal Groups 1


The Kindred Group and its Dependents or Allies . . 35


The Homogeneity of the Kindred Group in relation to

the Law of Marriage and Descent .... 59

Paternity 107


Paternity, Polyandry with Male Kinship, and with Kin-
ship through Women 131


Female Kinship and bars to Marriage . . . .162

Totemism 186

Conclusion 217

Notes and Illustrations 246

Index 317

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