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A Glance at Historiography in Shi'ite Culture

By: Rasul Ja 'fariyan
Translated by Dr. Delaram Furadi

Beginning of Historiography among the Shi’ites
The Shi‘ites began their work in the field of Islamic sciences concurrent with other Muslims. One of these branches of knowledge was history. Alongside the historiography movement in Iraq, the Shi‘ites also began their activities and cooperated in the writing and compilation of books on history. Apart from the Iraq? Shi‘ites [ This particular group of Shi‘ites preferred Imam ‘Al? (‘a) to caliph ‘Uthm?n and held the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) as sanctified, but they did not believe in the principle of nass (divine-designation) concerning the Imamate. Though they narrated the merits of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), they accepted the first and second caliphs. They were neither Im?m?s nor Zaydis. The historian ‘Al? ibn al-Husayn al-Mas‘ud? and the scholar Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahan? belonged to this group] such as Abu Mikhnaf, Hish?m Kalb?, or persons like Ibn Ish?q who were influenced by the Shi‘ite current of Iraq, others belonging to the Im?m? Shi‘ite group also cooperated in the task of Islamic historiography.
Different issues related to the biography of Prophet Muhammad (S) and the history of the developments that had taken place in Iraq, were among the issues in which the Shi‘ites were truly interested, and by no means did they consider themselves separate from these developments. It was natural that in such a situation, Shi‘ite movements and movements inclined toward Tashayyu‘ or even those movements opposed to the Umayyuds were sometimes even more important for these historians than the biography of the Prophet (S), for they were witness to the fact that the account of the life of the Prophet (S) was at any rate being recorded by scholars of various other persuasions. What was more important for them were the news related to the Alawis and the Shi‘ite movements which could be distorted or lost if not recorded. Other developments, such as discussions concerning the history of the caliphs did not attract the attention of the Shi‘ites, since they did not see any link between their own history and the history of the caliphs, except of course, from a negative angle.
During the first centuries after the advent of Islam, historiography among both the Shi‘ites and Sunnis was confined to a specific event. But the important point is that, from among the Sunnis, Abu Ja‘far Muhammad bin Jar?r al-Tabar? took an innovative step by collecting in his encyclopaedic history most of the treatises whether big or small, which were available to him as the cultural heritage (of his sect). Such a project was not carried out by the Shi‘ites, and with the loss of the treatises dealing with specific aspects of the Islamic civilisation, an important part of the Shi‘ite historical heritage disappeared. Only a few samples survive, such as Waq‘at al-Siff?n by Nasr bin Muz?ham and Ibr?h?m bin Muhammad al-Thaqaf?’s al-Gh?r?t, both written in the 3rd century. This extant material is indicative of the great importance for recording of historical developments.
After this initial period, Shi‘ite historiography became limited to a brief discussion on the biography and conduct of the Infallible Imams (‘a) as well as issues related to the Imamate. This situation continued until the re-establishment of a Shi‘ite government and the start of a new phase in the historiography of that government.

Shi’ite Works on the Prophet’s Biography during the First Centuries
As far as the biography of Prophet Muhammad (S) is concerned, it should be said that accounts of the magh?z? (campaigns in which the Prophet took part) were also taught by the Imams. The main testimony in this regard is a narration by Imam ‘Al? ibn al-Husayn Zayn al-Abid?n (‘a), who said: “Kunn? na‘lam magh?z? Rasulull?h kam? na‘lam al-surah min al-Qur’?n” (we teach the campaigns of the Messenger of Allah as we teach the surah of the Holy Qur’?n).[2]
In the ah?d?th related on the authority of Imam Muhammad al-B?qir and Imam Ja‘far al-S?diq (‘a), several narrations could be found on the Prophet’s s?rah, many of which have been recorded. For example, Ibn Ish?q and later Ibn Sa‘d in their biographies of the Prophet, have quoted some narrations on the authority of Imam B?qir (‘a). Among the Shi‘ite works, about one fourth of ‘Al? Ibn Ibr?h?m Qumm?’s exegesis of the Holy Qur’?n deals with the accounts and history of the Prophets. This book which was completed by referring to several other works, has made use of several written accounts that were available during the third and fourth centuries AH.
For example, the book al-Mab‘ath wa al-Magh?z? by Ab?n bin ‘Uthm?n has been used by ‘Al? bin Ibr?h?m Qumm? in his tafs?r (exegesis). Qumm?’s tafs?r is among the works whose section on the Prophet’s biography almost exclusively quotes narrations from Imam B?qir and Imam S?diq (‘a). One of the reasons for this is the inclusion in it of Tafs?r Ab? al-J?rud, which is entirely based on the narrations of Imam B?qir (‘a) and gives an account of the Prophet according to the revelation of the ayahs. The narrations of Ab? al-J?rud are distinct from the other sections, and ‘All?mah Majlis? has mentioned all the narrations of this book in the volumes of Bih?r al-Anw?r under the title T?r?kh Nabiyyin? (History of Our Prophet).
Another book is Mab‘ath al-Nab? wa Akhb?ruh, by ‘Abdull?h bin Maymun al-Qadd?h, who was a narrator of had?th from Imam B?qir and Imam S?diq (‘a).[3] At any rate, these are firm proofs of the attention paid by the Infallible Imams (‘a) and the Shi‘ites to accounts of the Prophet’s s?rah.
The history of Islam in general was also a matter of interest for the Shi‘ites. Asbagh bin Nub?tah is among the earliest Shi‘ite authors who has a book on martyrdom (maqtal) of Imam Husayn (‘a).[4] Ahmad bin ‘Ubaydull?h Thaqaf? is another one and the titles of two of his books are: Kit?b al-Mubayyazah f? Akhb?r Maq?til Al-i Ab? T?lib, and Kit?b f? Tafz?l Ban? H?shim wa Zamm Ban? Umayyah wa Atb?‘ihim.[5] Muhammad Bin Zakariyy? bin D?n?r is also among the early Shi‘ite authors and according to al-Naj?sh? some of his books are: al-Jamal al-Kab?r, al- Jamal al-Mukhtasar, Siff?n al-Kab?r, Maqtal al-Husayn,[6] Kit?b al-Nahr(aw?n), Maqtal Am?r al-Mu‘min?n, Akhb?r Zayd and Akhb?r F?timah.[7]
Another example is Ibr?h?m bin Muhammad al-Thaqaf?, who was at first a Zayd? and then became an Im?m?. He has written historical works such as: Kit?b al-Mubtada’ wa al-Magh?z? wa al-Riddah, Akhb?r ‘Umar, Akhb?r ‘Uthm?n, Kit?b al-D?r, al-Gh?r?t (a work that has survived), Akhb?r Zayd, Akhb?r Muhammad (Nafs Zakiyyah) wa (his brother) Ibr?h?m.[8]
The books which J?bir bin Yaz?d al-Ju‘f? wrote also deal with similar topics and are titled: Kit?b al-Jamal, Kit?b al- Siff?n, Kit?b al-Nahraw?n, Kit?b Maqtal Am?r al-Mu’min?n and Kit?b Maqtal al-Husayn.[9]
‘Al? bin Hasan bin ‘Al? bin Fazz?l was also a prominent Shi‘ite author, and among his works mention could be made of: al-Dal?’il, al-Anbi?’, al- Bash?r?t and al-Kufah. [10]
Among the renowned Shi‘ite scholars of Basrah was ‘Abd al-‘Az?z Jallud? bin Yahy? al-‘Azd? who was a prolific writer. Some of the historical books which he wrote are: Kit?b al-Jamal, Kit?b al-Siff?n,[11] Kit?b al-Hakamayn, Kit?b al-Gh?r?t, Kit?b al-Khaw?rij, Kit?b Zikr ‘Al? f? Hurub al-Nab?, Kit?b Ma’?l al-Sh?‘ah ba‘d ‘Al? (‘a), Akhb?r al-Taww?b?n wa ‘Ayn al-Wardah, Akhb?r man ‘Ashqa min al-Shu‘ar?’, Akhb?r Quraysh wa al-Asn?m, Kit?b Tabaq?t al-‘Arab wa al-Shu‘ar?’, Kit?b Khutab al-Nab?, Kit?b Khutab ‘Uthm?n, Kit?b Ras?’il ‘Umar, Kit?b R?y?t al-Azd, and Kit?b Mun?zar?t ‘Al? ibn Mus? al-Riz? (‘a).[12]
The Shi‘ites of Qum also contributed to the early historiographical works. Ahmad bin Ism?‘?l bin ‘Abdull?h Bajall? was one of them, and among his most important works is: Kit?b al-‘Abb?s?, about which al-Naj?sh? writes: “wa huwa kit?b ‘az?m nahw min ‘ashrah ?l?f waraqah min akhb?r al-khulaf?’ wa al-dawlah al-‘Abb?siyyah. Ra’aytu minhu akhb?r al-Am?n” (It is a voluminous book of 10,000 pages dealing with the accounts of the caliphs and the Abbasid State. I have seen from it the account of al-Am?n).[13] Muhammad bin Hasan al-Qumm? had access to this book and he has quoted four instances from it in his History of Qum (refer to Bibliography of Works Related to Qum, p. 19. In History of Qum, the events on pp. 145, 200, 236 & 237 have been quoted from T?r?kh ‘Abb?s?).
Another early historian was ‘Al? bin Ahmad Jaww?n? who wrote Akhb?r S?hib Fakhkh and Akhb?r Yahy? bin ‘Abdull?h bin Hasan.[14] Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Kh?lid al-Barq? who was a renowned traditionist (muhaddith) from Qum, has a book entitled Kit?b al-Magh?z? on the Prophet’s s?rah. He is the author of several other works such as, Kit?b al-Shi‘r wa al-Shu‘ar?’, Kit?b al-Buld?n wa al-Mas?hah, Kit?b al-T?r?kh and Kit?b al-Ans?b.[15]
One of the renowned historians during the era of the Infallible Imams (‘a) was Ab?n bin ‘Uthm?n Ahmar Bajall?. He authored a valuable book on the accounts of the previous Prophets and the biography of Prophet Muhammad (S), of which, unfortunately, only a few parts are extant. Shaykh Tus? says about this book:
“We have no information of his works except the book in which he has collected from the beginning the account of Prophet (Muhammad [S]), the start of his mission (mab‘ath), his military campaigns (magh?z?), his passing away as well as the happenings at Saq?fah (Ban? S?‘idah) and the riddah. There is another copy from which the scholars of Qum have related.”[16]
This book was available to ‘Al? bin Ibr?h?m Qumm? and he has extensively quoted from it in his tafs?r. The bibliographer al-Naj?sh? was also aware of this book, and he writes: “He has an excellent and voluminous book in which he has collected accounts (of Prophet Muhammad [S]) from the beginning till his passing away including the military campaigns.”[17] This work was available to many ‘ulam?’ of the following centuries, but the most detailed quotations from it are found in Shaykh Tabris?’s I‘l?m al-War?. We (the author of this article Rasul Ja‘fariy?n) have published the extant portions of this book under the title Kit?b al-Mab‘ath wa al-Magh?z? and talked about him and his book in detail in the introduction.
Here we will point out a number of works that have been written on Prophet Muhammad (S) by early Shi‘ite scholars. We have mostly arranged the list according the subject:
· Kit?b Sif?t al-Nab? (S): Wahab bin Wahab (Rij?l al-Naj?sh?, p. 430);
· Kit?b Wufud al-‘Arab il? al-Nab? (S): Munzir bin Muhammad bin Munzir. Some of his other works are Kit?b al-Jamal, Kit?b al-Siff?n, Kit?b al-Nahraw?n, Kit?b al-Gh?r?t (al-Naj?sh?, p. 418);
· Mas’alah f? Im?n Ab?’a al-Nab? (S): Ab? Ya‘l? Muhammad bin Hasan bin Hamzah Ja‘far? (al-Naj?sh?, p. 404);
· Kit?b Mas’alah f? Ma‘rifah al-Nab?: Shaykh Muf?d (al-Naj?sh?, p. 402);
· Kit?b Zuhd al-Nab? (S), Kit?b Aws?f al-Nab? (S), Kit?b f? Ma‘rifah Fazl al-Nab? (S) wa Am?r al-Mu’min?n wa al-Hasan wa al-Husayn ‘Alayhim al-Sal?m: Shaykh Saduq (al-Naj?sh?, p. 390). He also wrote Kit?b f? ‘Abd al-Mutallib wa ‘Abdull?h wa Ab? T?lib (al-Naj?sh?, p. 390);
· Kit?b al-Bay?n ‘an Khiyarah al-Rahm?n f? Im?n Ab? T?lib wa Ab?’ al-Nab? (S): ‘Al? bin Bil?l al-Mahllab? al-Azd? (al-Naj?sh?, p. 265);
· Kit?b Mab‘ath al-Nab? (S) wa Akhb?ruh: ‘Abdull?h bin Maymun al-Qadd?h (al-Naj?sh?, p. 213);
· Kit?b Waf?t al-Nab? (S): Salamah bin al-Khatt?b Ber?wast?n? Azdurq?n? (al-Naj?sh?, p.187);
· Kit?b al-Radd ‘al? Man Za‘ama al-Nab? (S) K?na ‘al? D?n Qawmih Qabl al-Nubuwwah; Ja‘far bin Ahmad bin Ayyub Samarqand? (al-Naj?sh?, p. 21);
· Kit?b al-Radd ‘al? Man Za‘ama al-Nab? (S) K?na ‘al? D?n Qawmih: Husayn bin Ashk?b Khur?s?n? (al-Naj?sh?, p. 44);
· Kit?b Akhb?r al-Nab? (S): Ab? ‘Al? Ahmad bin Muhammad bin ‘Amm?r al-Kuf?. He also wrote the book Kit?b Im?n Ab? T?lib (al-Najsahi, p. 95);
· Kit?b Zikr al-Nab? (S) wa al-Sakhrah wa al-R?hib wa Turuq Dh?lik: Ahmad bin Muhamamd bin Sa‘?d Sab?‘? Hamd?n? (al-Naj?sh?, p. 94);
· Kit?b Fazl al-Nab? (S): Ahmad bin Muhammad bin ‘Is? Ash‘ar? (al-Najsahi page 81).
· Kit?b S?rat al-Nab? (S) wa al-A’immah ‘Aalayhim al-Sal?m f? al- Mushrik?n: Husayn bin ‘Al? bin Sufy?n Bezufar? (al-Naj?sh?, p. 68);
· Kit?b al-Wufud ‘al? al-Nab?: Husayn bin Muhammad bin ‘Al? al-'Azdi (al-Naj?sh?, p. 65);
· Kit?b Nasab al-Nab? (S), Kit?b Kutub al-Nab? (S), Kit?b Akhb?r al-Wufud ‘al? al-Nab? (S), ‘Abd al-‘Az?z bin Yahy? al-Jallud? al-Azd? (al-Naj?sh?, pp. 241-244);
· Kit?b Asm?’ Al?t Rasulull?h wa Asm?’ Sil?hih wa Kit?b Waf?t al-Nab? (S): ‘Al? bin Hasan bin ‘Al? bin Fazl (al-Naj?sh?, p. 258);
· Kit?b al-Magh?z?: Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Kh?lid al-Barq? (al-Naj?sh?, p.76);
· Al-Munbi’ ‘an Zuhd al-Nab? (S): Ab? Muhammad Ja‘far bin Muhammad bin ‘Al? Qumm? ibn al-R?z?. Ibn T?wus has quoted this in several of his works.[18]
· Kit?b Asm?’ Rasulull?h (S): Hasan bin Khorz?d (al-Naj?sh?, p. 44).
On biographical works concerning the Prophet, there is a marked difference between the approach of the Sunnis and Shi‘ites. The Shi‘ite writers regarded Prophet Muhammad (S) more holier than their Sunni counterparts and based their works on his infallibility.
It is important to note that in Sunni historiography, although the feeling of admiration toward the Prophet’s life is clearly visible, his infallibility in all aspects has been ignored. An example in this regard is the writing of the book Zallah al-Anbiy?’ by Abu al-Fazl Mashsh?t[19] in response to Shar?f Murtaz?’s Tanz?h al-Anbiy?’ .[20] Earlier during the 3rd century AH, a Sunni ‘?lim had written a book titled Ma‘?s? al-Anbi?’, which was refuted by the renowned mutakallim of Samarqand, Abu Mansur M?tir?d?.[21]

Books on the History of the Prophets
Accounts of the divine Prophets were carried out as part of Islamic historiography by various scholars in books entitled al-Mubtada’ which means the beginning or the origin. These works deal with the history of mankind since the beginning or the creation of Adam till the time of the last divine messenger, Prophet Muhammad (S). In this field also the Shi‘ites did not lag behind. Part of the book al-Mubtada’ wa al-Mab‘ath wa al-Magh?z? by Ab?n bin ‘Uthm?n Ahmar Bajall?, the extant portions of which we have published as mentioned earlier in this article, indicates that the recording of such traditions also existed among the Shi‘ites, although, as we have said in the introduction to this book, it contains certain narrations from Israelite sources, which are of course not acceptable.
Among Shi‘ite sources, the section dedicated to the history of the Prophets is found scattered and sometimes in detail. ‘All?mah Majlis? has mentioned these narrations in volumes 11 to 14 of Bih?r al-Anw?r. Most of these are found in the works Shaykh Saduq, in Tafs?r ‘Al? bin Ibr?h?m Qumm?, in Tafs?r al-‘Ayy?sh?, Tafs?r Majma‘ al-Bay?n and similar books, and as we said, these narrations have been borrowed from the Sunnis who related from such persons as Ka‘b al-Ahb?r, ‘Abdull?h bin Sal?m, and especially Wahab bin Minbah. Ibn T?wus has quoted an excerpt in Faraj al Mahmum from a book entitled Qasas al- Anbiy?’ which he considers was written by Muhammad bin Kh?lid bin ‘Abd al-Rahm?n al-Barq?.[22] But apparently, no one else among the Im?m? bibliographers have mentioned this book. However, from among the books exclusively written on the history of Prophets, reference can be made to the Qasas al-Anbiy?’ of Qutb al-D?n al-R?wand?, which has been published by the Foundation for Islamic Research by Professor Ghul?m Riz? ‘Irf?niy?n. This work, in addition to being the history of Prophets, has a section that includes their miracles (chapter 19, p. 280 onwards), while chapter 20 deals in brief with the life of Prophet Muhammad (S). The author has not mentioned his sources for the accounts of the Prophets and most of the chain of narrators which he has mentioned do not clearly indicate the source. It is likely that a major part of Chapter 20 is based on Tafs?r ‘Al? bin Ibr?h?m Qumm?.
After al-R?wand?’s work, the book al-Nur al-Mub?n f? Qasas al-Anbiy?’ by Sayyid Ni‘matull?h al-Jaz?’ir? (d. 1112 AH) deals elaborately with the history of Prophets.
Part of the historical books of the Shi‘ites is those which have been written to record the miracles performed by the Infallible Imams (‘a) in proof of their Imamate. Naturally in these works different aspects of the lives of the Imams (‘a) have also been recorded. Among the most ancient books in this regard is the Dal?’il al-A’immah by Muhammad bin Mas‘ud ‘Ayy?sh? the Shi‘ite scholar of the late 3rd and early 4th centuries who lived in Samarqand. His works, including this one, have been mentioned by Ibn Nad?m.[23] This book however has not survived and is presumed to be lost. Another work in this field is al-Dal?’il wa al-Mu‘jiz?t by Ab? al-Q?sim Kuf? who is accused of exaggeration. He has also written a book on this subject titled Tathb?t Nubuwwah al-Anbiy?’.[24]
Here, mention could also be made of Dal?’il al-Nab? (S) written by Ahmad bin Yahy? bin Hak?m ‘Uday Suf? al-Kuf?,[25] and al-Ihtij?j li Nubuwwah al-Nab? (S) by Ism?‘?l bin ‘Al? bin Ish?q bin Ab? Sahl bin Nawbakht.[26] Two books with the same title Kit?b al-Dal?’il, have also been written by Abu al-‘Abb?s ‘Abdull?h bin Ja‘far Himyar? and Abu ‘Abdull?h Muhammad bin Ibr?h?m bin Ja‘far al-Nu‘m?n?.[27]
Abu Muhammad ‘Abd al-B?q? bin Muhammad al-Basr?, a Shi‘ite ‘?lim of the 6th century is the author of the book entitled Dal?’il, and another book entitled al-Hujaj wa al-Bar?h?n f? Im?mah Am?r al-Mu’min?n wa Awl?dih al-Ahad ‘Ashar A’immah al-D?n Salaw?t Allah wa Sal?muhu ‘Alayhim Ajma‘?n.[28] Another book that has been published is Dal?’il al-Im?mah by Muhammad bin Jar?r Tabar?, a contemporary of Shaykh Tus?. Although al-Khar?’ij wa al-Jar?’ih by Qutb al-D?n al-R?wand? elaborates in detail on the miracles of the Prophet and Imams, the author has unfortunately not mentioned his sources. This book has been summarised and translated under the title Kif?yah al-Mu’min?n. The Arabic version of al-Khar?’ij has been published in 3 volumes with the efforts of the Imam al-Mahd? (‘a) Foundation.
Another early Shi‘ite work at hand is the book al-Th?qib f? al-Man?qib by Abu Ja‘far Muhammad bin ‘Al?, known as Ibn Hamzah (d. after 552). This book contains narrations on the miracles of several Prophets, including Prophet Muhammad (S), as well as the miracles of Hazrat F?timah and the Imams (‘a). One of the sources of this work is Maf?khir al-Riz? (‘a) by H?kim Naysh?bur?.
Sunni scholars have also written books on this subject such as Dal?’il al-Nubuwwah which is the title used by both Bayhaq? and Abu Na‘?m Isfahan? for their works. The book Tathb?t Dal?’il al-Nubuwwah by Q?z? ‘Abd al-Jabbar Hamd?n? also follows this method, except that it has presented the discussion in kal?m? or theological form.
[2] Al-J?mi‘ li Akhl?q al-R?w?, vol. 2, p. 288; al-Bad?yah wa al-Nih?yah, vol. 3, p. 242; Subul al-Hud? wa al-Rashad, vol. 4, p. 20.
[3] Al-Naj?sh?, al-Rij?l, p. 213.
[4] M?maq?n?,Tanq?h al-Maq?l,vol. 1, p.150.
[5] Ibn Nadim, al-Fihrist, p. 166.
[6] This book, according to Muhammad bin Sulayman Kufi was popular among the Zaydis. Refer to Muqaddamah Man?qib al-Imam Am?r al- Mu’min?n, vol. 1, p. 12. In this book Man?qib (vol. 3, p 177) Kuf? has also mentioned fifty instances of the outstanding merits of Imam ‘Al? (‘a), most of which are historical, on the authority of Muhammad bin Zakariyy? D?n?r.
[7] Al-Naj?sh?, al-Rij?l, p. 347.
[8] Ibid, p. 18. Also refer to Lis?n al-M?z?n, vol. 1, p. 102-103; Mu‘jam al-Udab?, vol. 1, p. 223.
[9] Ibid, p. 129.
[10] Ibid, p. 258 & p. 676.
[11] Ibn T?wus in Muhaj al-Da‘aw?t has quoted from his Kit?b Siff?n two supplications recited by Imam ‘Al? (‘a) before going to battle during the War of Siff?n, refer to Etan Kohlberg’s A Medieval Muslim Scholar at Work - Ibn T?wus & his Library, p. 333.
[12] Al-Naj?sh?, al-Rij?l, pp. 241 & 244.
[13] Ibid, pp. 97 & 242.
[14] Ibid, p. 263.
[15] Ibid, pp. 76 & 182.
[16] Shaykh Tus?, al-Fihrist, pp. 18,19.
[17] Al-Naj?sh?, al-Rij?l, p.13.
[18] Kohlberg, Etan, A Medieval Muslim Scholar at Work - Ibn T?wus & his Library, pp. 283-284).
[19] Kit?b al-Naqz, p. 244.
[20] Ibid, p. 11.
[21] Storey, Persian Literature, p. 725.
[22] Kohlberg, Etan, A Medieval Muslim Scholar at Work - Ibn T?wus & his Library, pp. 308, 309.
[23] Ibn Nadim, al-Fihrist, p. 245.
[24] Al-Naj?sh?, al-Rij?l, p. 266.
[25] Ibid, p. 81.
[26] Ibid, p. 32.
[27] Kohlberg, Etan, A Medieval Muslim Scholar at Work - Ibn T?wus & His Library, pp. 138, 139; Arbil? has also quoted extensively from Himyar?’s Dal?’il, refer to ‘Al? bin ‘Is? Arbil? and Kashf al-Ghummah, p. 109.
[28] Muntajab al-D?n, al-Fihrist, p. 76.

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