The Comprehensive Elucidation of the Interpretation of the Qurʼan


This is the earliest printed edition of Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari’s seminal commentary on the Qurʼan, known as Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī (The exegesis of al-Tabari). The text in 30 volumes is accompanied in the margins by Gara’ib al-Qurʼan wa-ragha’ib al-Furqan (Desired evidence of the Qurʼan’s excellence), a commentary by medieval Persian astronomer and exegete Nizam al-Din al-Nisaburi. Scholars agree that the importance of Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī lies first of all in al-Tabari’s painstaking transmission of early commentaries and methodological approaches to scriptural interpretation that are now lost. As with his famous Tarīkh al-Ṭabarī (The history of al-Tabari), the foundations he laid provide the basis for what is known today about the first 200 years of Islamic history and intellectual debate. The work consists of quotations from earlier scholars that were transmitted orally or in writing. Scholars note that al-Tabari (circa 838−923) used the dictation method in composing this work. This involved the teacher lecturing to his students, who then read their notes back to him to check for accuracy. If he approved, the student was permitted to re-transmit the text orally or in writing. Many copies of Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī must have been made, as the work soon gained widespread acceptance as a major text. al-Tabari’s travels took him throughout the Islamic world, where he collected the exegetical traditions contained in the Tafsīr. He eventually made his home and reputation in Baghdad, the intellectual heart of the Islamic world, where he was an indefatigable scholar, polymath, and teacher. This set of volumes is comprehensively indexed by the printer-publishers, so navigating the volumes is fairly easy. Topics cover the entire range of interests at the time, including linguistics, lexicography, and even pre-Islamic poetry. The present edition stood as the standard text for nearly 70 years until it was superseded by the Cairo edition of 1969. The commentary in the margins by Nisaburi (died 1328 or 1329) accords in arrangement, but not in substance, with the main text by al-Tabari. This later tafsir is not of the same order of importance as al-Tabari’s. Rather, Nisaburi has selected topics from the Qurʼan and bases his discussions on an earlier theologian, Fakhr al-Din Muhammad al-Razi (1149 or 1150–1210).

Date Created

Publication Information

al-Maṭbaʻah al-Kubrá al-Amīrīyah, Būlāq


Title in Original Language

جامع البيان في تفسير القرآن

Type of Item

Physical Description

29 volumes ; 28 centimeters


  1. Sarkis, Yusuf Ilyan. Mu’jam al-matbu’at al-‘Arabiyah wa-al-Mu’arrabah. (Dictionary of Arabic imprints). (Cairo: Sarkis, 1928).
  2. C.E. Bosworth, “al-Ṭabarī,” in Encyclopedia of Islam (Brill: Leiden, 1986−2004).

Last updated: June 9, 2015