Monday, May 29, 2006

Christoph Luxenberg - The philology of the Koran

In a post earlier this month about a speech by Cardinal George Pell, I quoted a passage concerning Christoph Luxenberg's philological studies of the Koran. Pell, in referring to Luxenburg's book, says that Arabic did not assume written form until 150 years after [Mohamad's] death. He then outlines the book's thesis that the Koran was first written down in a dialect of Syriac, and that many both questionable and indecipherable passages of the Koran were simply mistranslations of the original Syriac. The one that achieved some notoriety was the promise of 72 maidens in Heaven, 'maidens' that in the original had been 'grapes'.

I wanted to check this out a little further, and (thanks to ParaPundit) came across a review from Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies. It is a dense philological summary of a dense philological work. I have excerpted some passages concerning the thesis of the earlier Syriac version of the Koran, a claim seemingly confirmed by the word 'koran' itself.

Section nine discusses the proposition, which the Qur’ān itself asserts and which is a basic element of Islam, that the Qur’ān was revealed in Arabic. In particular, the proposition that the origin of the Qur’ān, the umm kitāb (lit. “mother of [the] book”), is in heaven or with God and is the direct and immediate pre-image of the Arabic text presents the strongest dogmatic challenge to Luxenberg’s assertion that the Arabic of the Qur’ān is in large measure not Arabic at all, at least not in the sense the Arabian commentators understood it. The language of the Qur’ān is the Arabic dialect of the tribe of Muhammad, the Quraysh, who were located in Mecca. This does not rule out the possibility that this dialect was heavily influenced by Aramaic, and Syriac in particular. Luxenberg maintains that the Islamic tradition alludes to such an influence...

Luxenberg proceeds in section ten to the heart of the matter: an analysis of the word “Qur’ān.” He sets out the argument that qur’ān derives from the Syriac qeryānā, a technical term from the Christian liturgy that means "lectionary," the fixed biblical readings used at the Divine Liturgy throughout the year...

The section concludes by demonstrating that the technical meaning of "lectionary" is preserved in the word qur’ān...

If quryān means “lectionary,” and if the text itself claims to be a clarification of an earlier text, then that earlier text must be written in another language. The only candidate is the Old and New Testament in Syriac, the Peshitta.
The reviewers speak of "the sober revolution this book will no doubt create", and I can't make out if they are using the word "sober" ironically or not. In any case, there seems to be no sign as yet of the English translation. I wonder whether this is the result of a "sober" consideration of the consequences of publication.

There's an interview with Christoph Luxenberg here. For a survey of other revisionist theories about the origins of Islam, see this article.

(via ParaPundit)

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