Keith Edward Small, scholar of Qur’an manuscripts who made significant contributions to the field of Qur’aicn textual criticism, passed away early morning Thursday, December 6, 2018 in Oxford, UK, having been admitted to hospital earlier in the week.
Keith was diagnosed in 2016 with AL Amyloidosis, a rare blood disorder without known cure that causes protein deposits on vital organs. As the disease progressed, mobility and regular activity became more difficult. Dialysis became a regular routine and Keith had been in and out of hospital. He kept up writing activities and correspondence throughout as much as he was able, and his characteristic kind and gentle demeanor remained evident to those around him.
Keith was a friend of Qur’an Gateway from its beginning, encouraging and advising the small team of scholars who developed Qur’an Gateway as we first began mapping out what a digital critical tool for studying the Qur’an, its text, and its manuscripts might look like. He felt deeply, along with many other scholars, the need for better tools to facilitate the critical study of the Qur’an.
Keith was born July 24, 1959 in Battle Creek, Michigan. He took his BA from Western Michigan University, a Masters of Theology (ThM) at Dallas Theological Seminary, and then his PhD at the Guthrie Centre for Islamic Studies at London School of Theology. On August 10, 1985, Keith and Celeste were married.
Discussions with Muslim friends and a realization that many questions remained unanswered about the Qur’an’s transmission as a physical object formed the impetus for Keith’s advanced scholarly inquiry.
Prior to achieving his doctorate, Keith traveled to meet with scholars who studied the early Sana’a, Topkapi, and Samarkand Qur’an manuscripts. After the reintroduction of the Bergstrasser archives, said to have been destroyed by Spitaler after WWII, Keith was invited by Michael Marx and Angelika Neuwirth to the first Corpus Coranicum conference at the Free University of Berlin in 2005. At this conference, Keith’s paper comparing early variants in textual critical issues, reminiscent of the critical edition of the Qur’an projects initiated Jeffery and Bergstrasser, was appreciated by those present, including Neuwirth and Marx, Gerd-R Puin, Noja Noseda, Andrew Rippin, and Efim Rezvan. Hope was in the room for various reinitiated projects since Bergstrasser’s death in 1938 and Arthur Jeffery’s subsequent lament in 1959 that a truly critical edition of the Qur?an was perhaps now beyond reach of scholars.
Keith authored several books. His Textual Criticism and Qur?an Manuscripts (Lexington, 2011) was the first of its kind and has become the standard introduction to the subject. Keith’s work was always circumspect; he wished to treat his subject with integrity and honesty. A committed Christian, he strove to be meticulous in his analysis and critical in assessments without overreaching the evidence. This approach earned him not only the admiration and trust of colleagues, but also a position as a Manuscript Consultant to Oxford’s Bodleian Library for their Qur’an manuscript collection, where he has had an office since 2014. As part of this work, Keith was asked to produce Qur’ans: Books of Divine Encounter (Bodleian Press)to accompany the first exhibition at the newly renovated Weston Library (the Special Collections library of the Bodleian) to showcase the collection. Keith was a visiting lecturer and associate research fellow at the London School of Theology and a guest lecturer at Oxford University, as well as having presented papers at conferences in Britain, the United States, Germany, and France.
In the early days of the development of Qur’an Gateway, Keith was a tremendous friend to many of us working on the project. He will be greatly missed by many in the Qur’anic studies community.
Keith was 59 years old. He is survived by his wife, Celeste, and their three adult children, William, Taylor, and Beverly.