Lecture Abstracts

General Lectures:

SUNDAY April 19, 7:30-8:30 PM:

Nasr Hamid Abu-Zayd: “The Multi-dimensional Quranic Worldview: Tartib al-Tilawa versus Tartib al-Nuzul ” ( Video )

The question, “Does the Quran emerge from the Judeo-Christian tradition or does it reflect a fundamentally different religious movement?” will be discussed within the proposed issue of “the Quran’s Worldview.” Nevertheless, it has to be modified, in fact to make it more specific. Historically speaking, the historical moment of “emergence” from within certain traditions has to be distinguished from the later “religious movement.” In other words, a distinction has to be realized between the Quranic moment and the Islamic post-Quranic development.

The Western approach has been basically concentrating on the moment of the ‘emergence’ of the Quran, thus the topic of ‘structure’ is the focal issue. The classical western approach used to concentrate on the “genesis” of the Quran, i.e. its connection with the Bible and the post-Biblical tradition. This approach has been developing recently opening the context’s lens to include pre-Biblical tradition. Within the triumph of the literary approach over the philological approach, “intertextuality” became an important analytical device.

Compared with the Western concern about the issue of “structure,” Muslim scholars are more concerned about the issue of “meaning.” For such concern, the historical approach aims at situating the Quran’s message within the context of its emergence in the 7th century before deciding its meaning within the modern context. To achieve such an end, the disciplines of the Quran (‘ulum al-Quran) have been revisited and reinterpreted. The tension between the chronological order of the Quran (tartib al-nuzul) and that of the mushaf order (tartib al-tilawa) has been debated and so many suggestions have been brought about to solve this tension. The focal moment, however, is not the”’emergence” moment; it is rather the post-Quranic tradition which fragmented the Quranic unity to fit the issues specific for every discipline. The philosophers took over the ontological “metaphysical” dimension; the theologians took over the “divinity” dimension; the jurist took over the legalistic dimension while the mystics occupied themselves with the “spiritual” and “ethical” dimensions. So fragmented, the Quranic unity, i.e. its “worldview,” was not fully articulated.

Trying to investigate whether the Quran contains a specific worldview, the research has to navigate beyond the existing approaches East and West. It has to take the present order of the mushaf as a given fact without undermining the importance of the chronological order. I mean the question is not either/or; it is the status quo of the Quran which has been realized through the history of the exegesis literature. This history shows that the linear order starting from chapter 1 (al-fatiha) ending with chapter 114 (al-nas) was emphasized, without neglecting the chronological order.

The assumption underlying this proposal is that all the above mentioned dimensions and more are interwoven in every passage regardless of the spoken “theme” of the passage. Another related assumption is that dealing with the Quran as a text has created so many insoluble problems related to the issue of meaning. These problems could be solved if the Quran is dealt with as collection of “discourses,” each of which has certain degree of independence. Together collected, a state of interdependence emerged via which the Quran formulated its worldview. Is it possible to uncover the interwoven dimensions of this interview by re-emphasizing the Quranic unity beyond the existing approaches?

Monday, April 20, 7:30-8:30 PM (Hesburgh Library, Rare Books Room)

Robert Hoyland: “The Earliest Written Evidence of the Arabic Language and Its Importance for the Study of the Quran” ( Video )

This paper will look at the ways in which epigraphy may help us in our study of the Quran. It will focus on two particularly useful contributions that epigraphy makes, namely, in the areas of language and writing. It has often been argued that Syriac is the most useful language through which to make sense of obscure words in the Quran, and yet the various pre-Islamic north Arabian dialects, which are attested by tens of thousands of graffiti, are at least linguistically closer to pre-Islamic Arabic, but they have never been used at all for understanding the Quran. Secondly, since a number of our inscriptions are dated they provide an invaluable comparative tool. For example, recently there have been a number of Quran folios sold in auction houses that are alleged to date to the reign of ‘Uthman. Comparison with early dated Arabic inscriptions and papyri does confirm that, even if not from ’Uthman’s time, they certainly are very early, and in particular they are very close to the script of the three inscriptions of Mu’awiya that were found in the Hijaz. In this paper I will look at the script of some of these early Quran folios and compare them with the script and orthography of the extant early Arabic dated inscriptions and papyri. The aim will be to fill in some of the gaps that currently exist in our understanding of the earliest stages of the development of the Arabic script and the writing of the first Qurans.

Monday Daytime Sessions:

8:30-10:00 AM – Section I. The Quran: manuscripts and variants

David S. Powers: “BNF 328a and the Mystery of al-Kalala”

The word kalala occurs twice in the Quran, first in Quran 4:12b and again in 4:176. Although little-known today, even among native speakers of Arabic, this word was of great interest to the first Muslims. ’Umar b. al-Khattab, for example, is reported to have said that he would rather know the meaning of this word than possess a sum of money equal to the poll-tax levied on the fortresses of Byzantium. One might say that the meaning of kalala was a mystery. I will propose a solution to this mystery based upon examination of Bibliothèque Nationale de France 328a, a Quran codex written in the Hijazi script some time in the second half of the 1st century AH. Paleographic and codicological evidence indicates that the consonantal skeleton of Q. 4:12b was revised, with the result that the meaning of the sub-verse underwent a radical transformation. The revision of v. 12b, in turn, made it appear as if the inheritance rules contained in vv. 11-12 of surat al-nisa" are incomplete. This problem was solved by adding supplementary legislation at the end of surat al-nisa" –what is now Q. 4:176, the second verse in which the word kalala occurs.

Gerd-R. Puin: “The Alif in Qur’anic Orthography: Vowel letters and ortho-epic writing variants” (download pdf)

For textual research on the Qur’an it is not wise to take the phonetic face of the Egyptian King Fu’ad edition as the only basis, because there a meticulous system of signs has been strewn over the skeleton text proper which, more often than not, can totally level down the variants of the “Rasm” underneath. Viewed from the accepted Standard Text of 1924 (and later until the Saudi editions from al-Madinah) the variants are mainly ascribed to a lack of precision in script or a lack of orthographical competence on the side of the scribes. Thus, for many Muslims as well as for many Orientalists, deviations from the orthography of Classical Arabic are usually seen to be “defective” writings, which can be “healed”, however, by the application of a swarm of Masoretic “letters”.

The orthography of the Standard Text is full of inconsistencies, as if they became petrified in a time when an orthographic reform had started already, but which had not yet become effective in the whole corpus. It is just this “defect”, however, which enables us to reveal many details of its orthographic history. The more so if we take the early manuscripts of the Qur’an into account, because, for lack of a critical edition, we cannot rightly be sure at all that the Standard Text is really the “Rasm ‘Uthmani”, i.e. the earliest possible shape of the text.

Therefore, the idea of this research is not to look back from the orthography of Classical (or modern) Arabic which has become (mostly) explicit or plene, but on the contrary to follow up the steady enrichment of the Arabic script (as encountered in the earliest manuscripts) by the invention of new signs and devices.

An important instrument for the definition of a vowel’s quality was the introduction of matres lectiones, i.e. (mainly) of the vowel letters Waw and Ya’. Of course, their use was common already for the definition of the long vowels <u + w> = /u:/ and <i + y> = /i:/. But the Qur’anic Standard Text as well as the early manuscripts teach us that a reform was taking place which made use of the matres lectiones on a much larger scale than before. Fortunately, we can still observe the reform process because the texts themselves have frequently preserved both the “old” orthography with an Alif only, as well as the enriched orthography with an additional Waw or Ya’, for the same word, but in different verses. The double orthographies in the Standard Text are the basis for research, but the old (“Hijazi”) manuscripts are taken into account, too.

Even beyond the introduction of the matres lectionis in order to gain more transparency for the understanding or reading, the Qur’anic orthography still contains a few features which can only be explained as the remnants of an early effort to ensure the proper recitation of the text. These variants will be called ortho-epic. Although this category concerns mainly the Alif, analogous observations can be made with the Waw or the Ya’.

Claire Wilde: “Christian Arabic Manuscripts: Evidence for the Circulation of Non-Uthmanic Codices?”

Christians who lived in dar al-islam and came to write in Arabic were able to understand the Quran on its own terms (and through the eyes of the early Muslim community), rather than through the aid of a translator. As such, early Christian Arabic manuscripts exhibit a sophisticated understanding not only of the Quran, but also of theological debates in which contemporary Muslims were engaged. Does the Uthmanic codex contain everything that was revealed to Muhammad? Was it tampered with? Were all the non-Uthmanic codices successfully destroyed? Was the word of God, the Quran – God’s own speech – created in time, or eternal?

Christian Arabic texts that cite the Quran often do so elliptically, or allusively. For, the process of linguistic, if not cultural, “Arabization” during Islamic times – for Muslim and non-Muslim alike – often included increased familiarity with the Quran (in its clear/clarifying Arabic, as revealed to Muhammad through the agency of the angel Gabriel). But, even when polemical intentions and the corrections (or mistakes) of later copyists are taken into account, the Quran citations found in Christian Arabic manuscripts are occasionally at variance with the text of the Uthmanic codex and the accepted variant readings thereof known to us today. Here, the possible significance of such “mis”-quotations shall be explored through comparison of Quranic and Biblical citations on the part of two Christian Arabic authors from the first Abbasid centuries (Theodore Abu Qurra and an anonymous monk in Jerusalem).

10:15-11:45 AM – Section II. The Quran: historical evidence

Fred Donner: “The Historian, the Believer, and the Quran”

The paper will review a number of theories proposed in recent scholarship that attempt to reconstruct the historical context in which the Qur’an allegedly first appeared. After a brief consideration of the strengths and limitations of these reconstructions, the paper offers some more general thoughts on the relationship between historical analysis and the faith-claims of revealed religions, using as a starting point the ideas proposed by the historian of religion Van Harvey in his book The Historian and the Believer. It closes with a reconsideration of the implications of these reflections for work on the Qur’an and its context.

Hani Hayajneh: “Ancient South and North Arabian Epigraphic Marginalia on Some Quranic Vocabularies and Expressions”

The lexicon of the Holy Quran and Hadith tradition has been a focal point for exegetes since the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Treating ambiguous words, based on the existing linguistic traditions, was for Arab philologists in the following periods the motive for a new compilation trend called by Arab philologists al-Gharib, i.e. a study of linguistic traditions on certain Quranic words that needed clarification and explanation. Most of these works, even in later periods, appealed in exegetical attempts to Classical Arabic only.

During the last century and earlier, western scholars have endeavored to awaken the scholarly community in the field of Quranic studies to the importance of the Ancient South Arabian (afterwards ASA) epigraphy, including Himyarite and other Semitic languages, for a better understanding of a specific category of vocabulary (foreign or loan words) in the Holy Quran, e.g. R. Dvořák (1885) “Über die Fremdwörter im Korân”, H. Grimme (1912) “Über einige Klassen südarabischer Lehnwörter im Koran”, A. Jeffrey (1938) The Foreign Vocabulary of the Quran and continued by contemporary scholars as A. Rippin (1990) “Epigraphical South Arabian and Quranic exegesis” and Ch. Rabin (1984) “On the probability of South-Arabian influence on the Arabic vocabulary”, in addition to the late Mahmud Ghul, who dealt in his dissertation Early Southern Arabian Languages and Classical Arabic Sources (1959) with certain Arabic words designated in the Arabic sources as Yemeni, Himyari, etc. Such studies suggest that further research is needed to investigate a wide category of Quranic words in the Ancient Semitic context, especially those that have not been labeled by Arab philologists as “foreign” or “loan words” because they either fit an Arabic morphology or were adapted to one.

In the last two decades the documentation activities of Ancient South Arabian inscriptions has significantly increased. Research on these inscriptions, which roughly cover a period between ca. the tenth century BC to the sixth century AD, has developed in different directions. Various aspects of the cultural and social history of Arabia, i.e. religious and economic institutions, as well as linguistic history are possible to glean from these inscriptions. In addition, a new genre of ASA texts that first appeared in the 1980s has changed classical views on ancient Yemen. A collection of this epigraphical type, which is written on wood in cursive script (zabur), provided us for the first time in ASA studies with unprecedented information on the daily life of Ancient Yemen, in addition to new lexemes and morphological forms. In the northern parts of the Arabian Peninsula, we encounter a slightly different type that used to be designated as Ancient North Arabian (ANA). This type covers a wide geographical area and dates between ca. the seventh century BC to the fourth century AD. This epigraphical heritage sheds light on some social and cultural matters and offers considerable information on the linguistic history of North Arabia.

Taking the preceding points into consideration, the intended paper will (1) review and discuss the scholarly efforts during the last century on using Ancient South Arabian and possibly other Ancient Near Eastern languages for clarifying certain Quranic words; (2) contain a critical study of some views on Quranic words, which, according to some modern scholars, need emendations (!). By consulting ASA and other Semitic languages, it is possible to judge that such emendations are not right and that these words represent a firmly established original morphological and lexical identity. (3) Moreover, published ASA and ANA epigraphical material will be consulted for etymologically investigating some Quranic words and expressions that have been interpreted by philologists in an unconvincing manner. (4) An excursus will be dedicated to some concepts related to the ASA and ANA religious and social life, which The Holy Quran has touched in different occasions, e.g. resurrection, infanticide, offerings, pilgrimage, expiations etc.

Alford Welch: “The Significance of the Fawatih al-Suwar in the History of the Oral and Written Quran during the Lifetime of the Prophet"

The so-called “mysterious letters” are well known but little understood by the vast majority of scholars and students of the Quran. The apparent lack of knowledge of even the basic facts about these letters among Islamicists, especially those who speak and write about the Quran, serves as one indication of the sad fact that we still do not have a critical discipline of Quranic Studies. Contrary to widespread opinion and assumptions, much can be and is known about the Fawatih al-Suwar (the openers of the suras), which by now have lost virtually all their “mystery”.

Careful reading of the their immediate contexts, comparisons with the beginnings of all the other suras, and analysis of the complete Quranic usage of key terms in the formulas that immediately follow these letters yield a wealth of knowledge about them. Most of this information, which has developed and has been published since the early 1880s, was brought together over a quarter of a century ago in the article on the Quran in the Encyclopaedia of Islam.

After reviewing the basic facts about the Fawatih al-Suwar (which should be accepted by all), this paper will discuss some of the implications of these facts. For instance, the evidence will show that the letters are part of the revelation. From this we can conclude that they go back to the time of the Prophet and were most likely recited by him. The formulas immediately following them that say “these are signs of the Writing/Book” appear to refer back to the letters. This and the emphasis in the formulas on the nature of the revelation to Muhammad as an “Arabic Recitation”, along with the fact that these letters represent every Arabic consonantal form, lead to the conclusion that the letters are symbols for the Arabic language itself. This makes feasible the suggestion (for instance, of Alan Jones) that they are mystical symbols.

Finally, drawing on a much broader body of Quranic textual evidence, this paper will place the Fawatih al-Suwar in their historical context: The letters appear to date from the early years after the Hijra when the Prophet was preparing a written scripture for his followers. In most of the twenty-nine suras the letters and the formulas in which they occur appear to be part of the adaptation of the oral Recitation (al-qurʾān) into the written scripture (al-kitāb) for Muhammad’s followers.

Thus the Fawatih al-Suwar, far from being some mysterious curiosity, perform a significant role in the history of the Quran, marking not only the transition from an oral collection of liturgical recitations to a complete written guide for Islamic religious, social and political life, but also the most important dividing point in the contents and teachings of the Quran and in the life of Muhammad and his followers. This interpretation is based partly on the long-established view that most suras are composite, with major portions dating from different times in the life of the Prophet, and its corollary, that any diachronic studies of themes of the Quran must be based on individual periscopes rather than suras as wholes, and that it is impossible to arrange the suras in chronological order or divide them into “Meccan” and “Medinan”.

1:15-3:15 PM – Section III. The Quran: historical linguistics (i.e. Arabic, Semitics, etc.)

Manfred Kropp: “Tripartite, but Anti-trinitarian Formulas in the Quranic Corpus, Possibly Pre-Quranic”

Quran 112 (surat al-ikhlas) is said to be a complete Muslim confession of strictly monotheistic faith, the very essence of the Quranic message on the character of God. But, astonishing enough, for formal reasons certain parts of the Muslim tradition do not consider it part of the Quran, direct divine speech or revelation, exactly as the Al-Fatiha (Quran 1), an opening prayer, and the two last Suras (Quran 113-114), two prayers invoking shelter and protection against evil powers. As such these four pieces are part of liturgy and ritual, and only an introductory formula such as “qul” (“say”) can turn – quite artificially – their character into direct divine speech.

There are more peculiar features in Quran 112. Not only are there tremendous grammatical ambiguities and difficulties but the tradition does not come to a clear explanation of the syntactical structure or the hapax legomenon ṣamad of unclear meaning (verse 2; tradition offers more than a dozen different ones) the attested canonical variants for this short piece are quite numerous and diverge considerably from the canonical text. In fact, one gets the impression of a living oral tradition. This is in stark contrast to the character of variant readings for other parts of the Quranic corpus in general, which have more of the character of philological (guess)work on a highly ambiguous, undotted and unvocalized consonantal text.

Applying the method and rules of textual criticism to these variant readings as if they were variants in manuscripts yields a surprising result: a tripartite but strongly anti-trinitarian formula. Verse two with the enigmatic word al-samad reveals a later gloss and explanation for the problematical term ahad (verse1), an explanation of the type obscurum per obscurior. The thus reconstructed version is much more concise, rhetorical and well-constructed according to the rules of Arabic grammar: a nominal subject followed by two coordinated (conjunction wa-) verbal predicates.

Exactly the same kind of formula with the same fasila (Quranic rhyme) –ad and the crucial attribute for God (a)had can be reconstructed in another sura of the Quranic corpus where the canonical version hides the original structure (and obfuscates the [Aramaic!] keyword had) in one long but theoretically and syntactically awkward verse.

The conclusion proposed in the paper is that these short and highly effective and polemical formulas form part of a pre-Quranic heritage. They are religio-political slogans—to be shouted in the streets of Mecca against religious adversaries or opponents—deriving from extra- and possibly pre-Quranic materials. They were received and incorporated — but not without deep changes obfuscating their original structure and meaning — in the later authoritative version of the text.

Shawkat M. Toorawa: “Lone Words and Loan Words: An Inquiry into the Function(s) of Hapaxes, Quadriliterals and Other Such Curiosities in the Quran”

In spite of the attention paid to unusual and foreign words in the Quran by both classical Muslim exegetes and modern scholars (inter alia Jeffery, Mingana, Rippin, Zammit), there has been very little discussion of these within the larger context of Sura structure and Quranic literary structure. By cataloging and analyzing hapax legomena (and also dis, tris and tetrakis legomena) within the Quran and within specific Suras, I test in this paper a hypothesis I advanced earlier, namely that these hapaxes are deployed in circumstances characterized by wonder and awe. By further focusing on rhyme words, in particular hapaxes, quadriliterals and quinquiliterals (and relying especially on the work of Stewart), I will also discuss how meaning inheres in the Quran’s rhyme choices. The focus of the paper will be Quran 19 (surat Maryam), Quran 55 (surat al-rahman), and Quran 76 (surat al-insan).

Andrew Rippin: “Studies in Quranic Vocabulary: The Problem of the Dictionary”

The vocabulary of the Quran poses many problems, starting with how we go about assessing it, contextualizing it, and ultimately (and as the prime focus) creating bilingual dictionaries. Given the context-less nature of the Quranic text, the challenges of defining our approach to the inventory of words therein are significant. By exploring a few examples of potentially problematic words (although ones of minor significance: e.g., baras, “leprosy”; ṭalh, “acacia trees”), this paper will illustrate the approaches used in some recent dictionaries (Ambros, Badawi/Abdel Haleem, Zammit) and other lexicographical tools (especially the conceptual listings of Allard and Ambros). Specifically, it will examine some of the issues which arise related to translation in general, illustrating how history is used in the context of dealing with the source language, and how we go about conceptualizing the historical context of the target language.

Munther Younes: “Angels, Death, the Soul, Stars, Bows—or Women?: The Opening Verses of Quran 79”

Among the parts of the Quran that have challenged Muslim interpreters and modern scholars alike are the introductory verses of Quran 37, 51, 77, 79, and 100. In a previous publication, “Charging Steeds or Maidens Doing Good Deeds?: A Reinterpretation of Q100” (Arabica 55, 3-4), I proposed a reconstruction of the first five verses of one of these suras, following Lüling’s method in his book A Challenge to Islam for Reformation. As a result of redotting four letters, the verses appear to be a hymn about women doing good deeds, rather than a description of horses going to battle or camels running during the pilgrimage, as the standard Muslim interpretation claims.

In this paper, I examine the introductory verses of Quran 79 and suggest a new interpretation using the same method. Evidence for the proposed redotting is culled from the Quran; the tafsir literature; older meanings of Arabic words; and the meanings of cognates in Hebrew and Syriac, the two languages with the most influence on the language of the Quran. As in the reconstructed version of Quran 100, it is shown that the reference of these verses in their reconstructed form is to women involved in religious activity.

3:45-5:15 PM – Section IV. The Quran as Literature

Reuven Firestone: “Is there a notion of “divine election” in the Quran?”

The Hebrew Bible contains dozens of texts that establish a notion of a unique and inimitable relationship between the People of Israel (benei Israel) and God known as “divine election.” This exclusive connection is frequently defined in terms of the covenant, a formal contractual bond. A similar notion is found in the New Testament, in which divine election is often articulated also through the symbolism of covenant. The New Testament representation expands the pool of the elected far beyond the People of Israel, but nevertheless restricts the chosen relationship to only those who belong to the new dispensation that it brings. The Quran takes up the issue as well, and like the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, appears to do so in a polemical manner. However, the range of Quranic expression seems to differ from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament in a number of ways. This study will explore the range of meaning associated with “chosenness” or divine election in the Quran and in relation to previous scriptures, and will consider to whom that notion applies.

Fr. Sidney Griffith: “Al-Nasara in the Quran: Some Hermeneutical Reflections"

The name, ‘Christians’ never appears in the Arabic Quran, but Christians are clearly referred to in the text of the Islamic scripture under a number of names and titles: ‘Scripture People’ (ahl al-kitab), ‘Gospel People’ (ahl al-injil), and the enigmatic term an-nasara (1x in the sing., an-nasrani), which, with its fourteen occurrences, is the most community specific of the names and titles used to refer to the historical followers of ‘Īsā, the Messiah, Mary’s son, to use the Quran’s own preferred characterization of the Messenger God sent to the ‘Scripture People’ just prior in time to the mission of Muhammad. The name nasara is inevitably translated ‘Christians’ in non-Arabic interpretations of the Quran, albeit that the translation is not exact and it may even camouflage what the Arabic scripture actually means to say in the passages in which the term is used. The purpose of the present essay is to explore the sense of the term an-nasara from a number of perspectives. These include philological and lexical considerations, a study of the historical and cultural circumstances of the texts and the contexts in which the term is used in the Quranic passages in which it occurs, and an inquiry into the likely historical identity of the ‘Christians’ to whose beliefs and practices the Quran alludes in the passages in which the Christians concerned are called an-nasara.

Much has been written on the subject of the Christians in the Quran, most often by scholars in search of the presumed sources of what they take to be the Quran’s references to, or reflections of certain pre-Islamic Christian teachings, usages, or behaviors. Most often the choice of Christian referents depends on a scholar’s prior assumptions about a given Quranic narrative, or his reading of a particular passage in the light of his ideas about its relationship to some previous Jewish, Christian, or other, earlier religious narratives. The commentator’s own underlying, hermeneutic presuppositions about the nature of the Quran’s text and its origins in the form in which we actually have it often remain unacknowledged and unexpressed. Sometimes the approach is deeply indebted to the advancement of a new hypothesis or theory about the Quran’s origins in circumstances very different from the Islamic context of the traditional studies of the Quran by Muslims or by other scholars following the lead of the traditional Islamic sources.

In the present essay, the focus is on the textus receptus of the Quran as we actually have it, bracketing for the sake of the inquiry, the question of when the text came into the form in which we presently have it, whether it be in the first third of the seventh century in the Hijaz, or in the first third of the eighth century in Syria and Iraq. On either scenario, it will be the burden of the essay credibly to substantiate the hypothesis that the main-line, Syriac-speaking Christian communities of Syria/Palestine and Mesopotamia, i.e., the so-called ‘Melkites’, ‘Jacobites’ and ‘Nestorians’, as the later Muslims regularly called them, were in fact the principal communities from whom the Arabic-speaking Christians in the Quran’s milieu learned their faith and with whom they were in continuous communication from the mid to the late sixth century onward. The hypothesis further proposes that the Quran’s critique of the beliefs and practices of the Arabic-speaking Christians in its audience is best and most coherently understood as a critique rhetorically devised to highlight, from the point of view of the Quran’s own principles, the falsity and inadequacy of the customary creedal formulae and religious practices of the Arabic-speaking Christians among the ‘Scripture People’ in its audience, whose patristic and liturgical heritage was in continuous colloquy with the Syriac-speaking, ‘mainline’ communities, whose presence in the Arabic-speaking domain is demonstrable from the sixth century onward.

The crucial hermeneutic stance adopted in this inquiry involves the assumption of the literary, or scriptural, integrity of the Quran, however it came about. It further assumes that the Quran, in accordance with a number of its own asseverations, conceives itself to be a scripture in dialogue with preceding scriptures and traditions, and the lore of mainly Jewish and Christian communities in its midst, to which it alludes and on which it offers an often exegetical commentary. The Quran presumes that its audience is aware of the narratives of the earlier prophetic figures and other aspects of the religious lore of Jews and Christians to which and to whom it often alludes by name. The Quran then often critiques the beliefs and practices of the communities whose creedal formulae it evokes, often with a seemingly ironic or even a satirically polemical intent, conveyed in the very wording of its allusions and echoes, which might be slightly askew when compared with the actual diction of the community whose formulae the text is critiquing. The Quran offers a corrective here and there, or by the very cast of the language it uses to recall them, it rhetorically suggests the absurdity of certain beliefs and practices espoused by the communities it accuses of going to excess in their religion..

This hermeneutical stance will go a long way toward removing the textual basis for the postulation of the Quran’s presumed indebtedness to the teachings and practices of particular Christian or Judeo-Christian groups otherwise historically unknown or untraceable to the milieu of the Arabic Quran. In the process, it also opens the way for an appreciation of the Quran’s integrity as an inter-textual scripture, responding to, critiquing, and reprising the scriptural tradition which it claims to present in its final form as willed by the one God.

Since the Quran insists that it is an Arabic Quran, addressing the prophetic messages of the past anew, in good clear Arabic to a new, Arabic-speaking community, one would expect to find in it allusions to previous scriptures and even echoes of the liturgies in which the previous scriptures had come to Arabic-speaking Jews, Christians and others, prior to the rise of Islam. The Quran would be presumed to have addressed the new community in an idiom in which they were already accustomed to hear the message, albeit from the Quran’s point of view in a distorted or skewed way, and in need of correction.

The hermeneutic reflections regarding the use of name an-nasara in the the Quran as they are explored in this paper, along with the several hypotheses it suggests for studying the Christians in the Quran, will hopefully help us to keep our often unexpressed and un-reflected historical critical assumptions about origins, meanings and redactions to the forefront of our thinking in our study of the Quran.

Gerald Hawting: “‘Has God Sent a Mortal as a Messenger?’ (Q17:95). Objections to the Prophet in the Quran”

There are several passages in the Quran in which the claims of the Messenger or Prophet appear to be rejected on the grounds that he is merely a human being. Sometimes it is implied that if he were an angel, or perhaps accompanied by an angel, the opponents would have reacted differently. I shall attempt to explore the meaning of such passages and the possible historical background for them in the light of pre-Islamic and post-Islamic monotheistic ideas about the relationship of angels and prophets. The broader hope is to contribute to the definition of the type of sectarian monotheist groups from which the Quranic materials may have come.

Tuesday Sessions:

8:30-10:00 AM – Section V. The Quran: earlier religious literature and tradition (1)

Emran El-Badawi: “The Language of Condemnation in the Quran and the Syriac Gospel of Matthew”

The Quran is known for its austere and even caustic language in condemning forbidden acts and misguided individuals. Nonetheless, this distinct language of condemnation can be said to echo earlier passages from Syriac Scripture when evaluated alongside the Syriac Gospel of Matthew.

After discussing the overarching Mosaic, Judeo-Christian, and apocalyptic worldview common to both texts, this paper provides a systematic morphological, linguistic and stylistic analysis of phrases and expressions in the Arabic Quran and the Syriac Gospel of Matthew with respect to the language of condemnation. In consultation with the works of Arthur Jeffery, Alphonse Mingana, Tor Andrae, Heinrich Speyer, Sidney Griffith, and others, the paper undertakes its examination under six categories of condemnation:

1. condemnation and Rabbinical/Clerical authority
2. against hypocrisy
3. against scribes
4. against killing prophets
5. against the deaf, blind and hard-hearted
6. condemnation and the final judgment

Finally, based upon the evidence and analysis an attempt is made to recreate the rich, late antique Arabian context in which the Arabic text of the Quran would have absorbed and transmitted passages from the Syriac Gospel of Matthew.

Christoph Luxenberg: “On the Defense of the Prophet from Accusations of Diabolical Possession in Quran 53 (surat al-najm)”

n.b. Paper to be delivered in French.

A philological analysis of Quran 53 (surat al-najm):1–18 (up to the famous “satanic verses”) could attain to a historical concretization concerning the malady of the “rasul ” in question. Neither the Arabic /Arab commentators nor the western translators have in effect understood anything of the meticulous description (partially Syriac) of this text, the author of which describes, by specialized Syriac medical terms, the “sacred illness” of the rasūl. This latter is in effect accused on several occasions by his adversaries of being majnun (or “devil-possessed”).

This accusation manifestly refers to the affliction with “epilepsy” from which the rasul suffered, according to Islamic tradition. The author of these passages (who seems to speak as a witness and in the third person) takes the defense of the rasul against these accusations and turns this “evil” into “virtue” by imputing the cause of these “epileptic attacks” to the fact of the Holy Spirit who descends on the rasul in order to reveal to him, during these brief moments (which seem to be an “epileptic crisis” to the spectators), “that which he reveals to him” (that is to say the object of his preaching). We are in the presence of a fascinating text, the author of which (one could think of Waraqa ibn Nawfal) makes proof not only of a knowledge of medical terms that pertain to the domain of neurology, but also of incontestable Biblical references that he borrows in the first place from Matthew 3:16, John 1:32–34, as well as Isaiah 11:2, 42:1, and Daniel 9:14.

In conformity with these references, it is the Holy Spirit who descends on the rasul and remains just a few moments immobile upon him in order to reveal to him “that which he reveals to him.” For the spectators, these brief instants, during which the rasul remains immobile, seem to them to be the moment when the rasul is subject to an epileptic crisis. The Quranic author firmly contradicts: What seems to you an epileptic crisis is in reality nothing other than the moment, when the rasul receives a revelation of/from the Spririt. Do you dare therefore to contest this fact?

Suleiman Mourad: “Does the Quran Deny or Assert Jesus’s Crucifixion and Death?”

It is the overwhelming belief, both in public and scholarly circles, that the Quran denies the crucifixion and death of Jesus. In my opinion, it was not the language of the Quranic verses that shaped this realization, but rather the polemical implications of these verses. They have been cited countless times by Muslim and Christian apologists, probably as early as the time of the emergence of Islam, to question the veracity of each group’s religious beliefs. In other words, Muslims and Christians have turned the supposed Quranic denial of Jesus’s crucifixion and death into dogma. In this paper, I will reexamine the Quranic verses that address the issue of Jesus’s crucifixion and death in an attempt to demonstrate that the Quran does not deny their reality, but rather their theological implications.

10:15-11:45 AM – Section V. The Quran: earlier religious literature and tradition (2)

Waleed Ahmed: “Lot’s Daughters in the Quran: An Investigation through the Lens of Intertextuality”

In the field of Quranic Studies few scholars have been interested in intertextual analysis of Quranic texts. This study aspires to contribute to these efforts by analysing the Quranic verses related to Lot’s daughters’ episode through the lens of intertextuality. Within the framework of the chronological order of the emergence of these verses, I will examine the interpretation of the episode from the perspective of the Quran’s first audience, and, in unison, I will outline its distinctive representation in surat al-Ḥijr vis-à-vis surat Hud and vice versa. The study will lastly conclude by drawing conclusions for Quranic Scholarship.

Devin Stewart: “The Quran in Light of Greek Oracular Texts”

Western scholarship on the Quran has focused considerable attention on the Jewish and Christian background of the text though still not enough, in my view. In contrast the influence of the pre-islamic Arabian religious traditions have been relatively ignored, despite the many signs of their importance in the text, including the accounts of the prophets Hud, Salih, and Shu’ayb, the adaptation of the pre-Islamic pilgrimage rituals to a Biblical framework, the many passages reminiscent of the speech of soothsayers (kuhhan), and the prevalence of saj’, the preferred medium of the kuhhan, in the text. This relative absence is the result of the deep-seated prejudices in Islamic literature towards the religious culture of the Jahiliyah, which was readily seconded by Western scholars, the expertise Western scholars of Islam had in Biblical studies, the field in which many of them had begun, and the lack of the equivalent of the Biblical texts, a sacred text that would serve as an extant record of the religion or mythology of the pre-Islamic Arabs. Extant Islamic sources provide some relevant information, in such works as al-Kalbi’s Book of Idols and al-Hamdani’s Book of the Crown, and these works have been exploited to some limited extent by modern scholars. However, another possible approach in the attempt to explain a significant portion of the Quranic text is to examine typological parallels from other cultures with strong oracular traditions and religious specialiists who resembled the kuhhan in function. Examination of the oracles of ancient Greece and the literary genres and conventions associated with them may throw light on oracular passages of the Quran and make new interpretations of such passages possible.

Joseph Witztum: “A Re-Examination of Surat Yusuf (Q 12)”

The Biblical Joseph narrative is retold and embellished in many Jewish and Christian pre-Islamic sources. This paper attempts to situate surat Yusuf in relation to antecedent material. It also aims to shed light on other factors that shaped the unique Quranic re-casting.