Misreading the Qur’an

Posted: April 16, 2010 by joelmartin in Islam
Tags: , ,

A lot of work is being done on what the Qur’an refers to [it is largely incomprehensible without exegesis]. Gabriel Said Reynolds has helpfully summarized some of these developments in this article. Another helpful source is this Wikipedia entry on the Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran. I came across another example of this dependence on the Bible today in an article about the Corpus Coranicum project:

Gerd-R. Puin, a retired professor of Arabic studies at Germany’s Saarland University, has been working for decades on a trove of Korans from a mosque in Yemen — possibly the oldest ones in existence. Because they were primarily memory aids, early Korans were written in a vowel-less “skeleton” language. Deciphering those clusters of consonants requires a sense of what languages and what cultural and religious traditions Mohammed and his earliest followers were borrowing from and reacting against. Much of the wording and imagery of the Koran are borrowed from Christian and Jewish texts, Puin argues. In fact, he says, much of the Koran is incomprehensible unless read alongside those earlier texts. As an example, he points to the term “sakina,” which Muslim scholars have translated as a spirit of calm — Puin argues that it only makes sense as a descendant of the Hebrew term “shekhinah,” which means the presence of God. The more one studies its historical context, Puin argues, the harder it is to resist the sense that the Koran itself was, at least in part, pieced together from parts of other religions.

I would love to see a version of the Qur’an in the future that fully cross-references these notional Christian sources: liturgies, Creeds and the Bible itself. That should be fascinating.

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Comments
  1. svend says:

    It is indeed a fascinating subject, and to Muslim eyes (like my own) it is less a sign of the Quran being “derivative” than having shared inspiration with the Bible. Not that I’d expect non-Muslims to make such assumptions, of course.

    In any case, one would hope that such discoveries would at least temper the scorn and superficiality with which so many Western observers approach Islamic tradition in these increasingly polarized times.

    A particularly intriguing case is that of the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, which actually appears in the Quran. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Sleepers

    re: the Syraic thesis
    I am not in a position to evaluate Luxemburg’s claims, but as your wiki link notes his methodology has been shown to be amateurish and highly speculative. To the extent that even one of the deans of revisionist Islamicists (i.e., ones who call into question the historicity of nearly all of the Hadith sources upon which Muslim sacred history is based, in some cases even arguing that Muhammad never existed), Patricia Crone, has said as much. That’s pretty damning.

    It’s no skin off my nose–Luxemburg can think the Quran was written by Martians for all I care. What I find disturbing is how oblivious MSM coverage is of the withering reception his theories have found among serious scholars. He’s been thoroughly debunked, and repeatedly, but that’s barely made a dent in his credibility in the popular media.

  2. svend says:

    You might be interested in this article, which includes a fascinating comparison of the issues and challenges in assessing the historicity of the New Testament’s picture of Jesus to that of Muhammad in the Hadith.
    http://www.jstor.org/pss/164484

  3. svend says:

    Sorry for the additional comment, but I guess I should note the author and title in case the link changes:
    F.E. Peters, “The Quest of the Historical Muhammad”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 23 (1991): 291-315.

  4. svend says:

    It is indeed a fascinating subject, and to Muslim eyes (like my own) it is less a sign of the Quran being “derivative” than having shared inspiration with the Bible. Not that I’d expect non-Muslims to make such assumptions, of course.

    In any case, one would hope that such discoveries would at least temper the scorn and superficiality with which so many Western observers approach Islamic tradition in these increasingly polarized times.

    A particularly intriguing case is that of the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, which actually appears in the Quran. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Sleepers

    re: the Syraic thesis
    I am not in a position to evaluate Luxenburg’s claims, but as your wiki link notes his methodology has been shown to be amateurish and highly speculative. To the extent that even one of the deans of revisionist Islamicists (i.e., ones who call into question the historicity of nearly all of the Hadith sources upon which Muslim sacred history is based, in some cases even arguing that Muhammad never existed), Patricia Crone, has said as much. That’s pretty damning.

    It’s no skin off my nose–Luxenburg can think the Quran was written by Martians for all I care. What I find disturbing is how oblivious MSM coverage is of the withering reception his theories have found among serious scholars. He’s been thoroughly debunked, and repeatedly, but that’s barely made a dent in his credibility in the popular media.

    You might be interested in this article, which includes a fascinating comparison of the issues and challenges in assessing the historicity of the New Testament’s picture of Jesus to that of Muhammad in the Hadith.
    http://www.jstor.org/pss/164484
    F.E. Peters, “The Quest of the Historical Muhammad”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 23 (1991): 291-315.

  5. joelmartin says:

    Luxenburg is one approach, Crone, Wansborough and others have other approaches. The same historical-critical methods that Muslims often rush to embrace to bash the Bible are now being turned on their own faith. The article by Reynolds is a helpful overview of the authors.

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