Thursday, February 21, 2008

Christian Lectionary the Source of the Koran?

According to Wikipedia research done by an august German philologist Christoph Luxenberg claims that the Koran was originally written in Syriac (Syro-Aramaic) not in Arabic. In addition Christoph Luxenberg states that the Koran is also based on lectionaries used in Syrian Christian churches. Christoph Luxenberg is also a professor of ancient Semitic and Arabic languages and he has done extensive research in the origins of the Koran. He wrote his findings in a book titled 'The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran'. [emphasis mine]
This book takes a philological and text-critical approach to the study of the Koran and is considered a major, but controversial work in the field of Koranic philology. The work advances the thesis that the content of critical sections of the Koran has been broadly misread by succeeding generations of readers through a faulty and exclusive reliance on the assumption that classical Arabic formed the foundation of the Koran whereas linguistic analysis of the text suggests that the prevalent Syro-Aramaic language up to the 7th century formed a stronger etymological basis for its meaning.

Luxenberg, like many scholars before him, remarks that the Koran contains much ambiguous and even inexplicable language. He asserts that even Muslim scholars find some passages difficult to parse and have written reams of Koranic commentary attempting to explain these passages. However, the assumption behind their endeavors has always been that any difficult passage is true, meaningful, and pure Arabic, and that it can be deciphered with the tools of traditional Muslim scholarship. Luxenberg accuses Western academic scholars of the Koran of taking a timid and imitative approach, relying too heavily on the biased work of Muslim scholars. Luxenberg argues that scholars must start afresh, ignore the old Islamic commentaries, and use only the latest in linguistic and historical methods. Hence, if a particular Koranic word or phrase seems meaningless in Arabic, or can be given meaning only by tortured conjectures, it makes sense -- he argues -- to look to the Aramaic and Syriac languages as well as Arabic. Luxenberg also argues that the Koran is based on earlier texts, namely lectionaries used in the Christian churches of Syria, and that it was the work of several generations who adapted these texts into the Koran we know today.

This is fascinating information concerning the origins of the Koran. We Christians have been under secular examination as well, but for Muslims to undergo such scrutiny is rare. Here are some interesting tidbits that Christoph Luxenberg has been able to uncover concerning the Koran: [emphasis mine and comments mine]
The word Koran itself is derived from 'qeryana', a Syriac term from the Christian liturgy that means ‘lectionary’ a book of [Christian] liturgical readings. The book being a Syro-Aramaic lectionary, with hymns and Biblical extracts, created for use in Christian services. This lectionary was translated into Arabic as a missionary effort. It was not meant to start a new religion, but to spread an older one. The word huri, usually interpreted by generations of readers as wide-eyed virgins (who will serve the faithful in Paradise; Koran 44:54, 52:20 ,55:72, 56:22) actually means white grapes. He says that many Christian descriptions of Paradise describe it as abounding in pure white grapes. This sparked much joking in the Western press; suicide bombers would be expecting beautiful women and getting grapes. The Koranic passage in Sura 24 commanding women to cover themselves, one of the texts on which the doctrine of hijab is based, actually commands women to "snap their belts around their waists". The passage in Sura 33 that has usually been translated as "seal of the prophets" actually means "witness". By this reading, Muhammad is not the greatest of the prophets, but only a witness to those prophets who came before him. The Koran was composed in a mixed Arabic-Syriac language, the traders' language of Mecca. The interpretative mistakes that were made by the first commentators suggests that there must have been a gap in the oral transmission of the Koran.
Pretty interesting stuff. I believe that Muslims claim that the Koran was dictated word-for-word from Allah. From this layman's point of view, Mr. Luxenberg states a quite compelling case otherwise.
(Biretta Tip: Wikipedia)


Luxenberg argues that scholars must start afresh, ignore the old Islamic commentaries, and use only the latest in linguistic and historical methods.

I'm highly skeptical. When I hear words like this applied to the Christian scriptures, the results are usually pretty cringe-worthy.

Tito said...


For as much as I want to believe Luxenberg, I have to agree with you. I to am disatisfied when hearing the same done to our HOly Bible.

Ben said...

It's important to keep in mind that philologists interested in the Qur'an have to resort to wild schemes like this because of the complete unintelligibility of approximately 20% of the Qur'an. Over the centuries, interpretive traditions have arisen and this is what the philologist is saying needs to be second guessed.

The Bible is different in that, while it does have a few unintelligible passages, their frequency is far far less than the ~20% of the Qur'an.

To get an idea of how difficult it is to read the original text of the Qur'an, imagine reading poetry in a language with no vowels, and where there the remaining 21 consonants have to share 10 symbols.

(Also add the external pressure of a religion with a currently violent streak, who regards the text of the Qur'an in the same way that we regard the eucharistic body of Christ.)

Gary said...

It is known that the Koran was heavily influenced by what are now considered Christian off shoots in Iraq and Syria. Our Christianity has a very tortuous history and wandered far from original teachings in far-off Rome.

Like many Christians consider the Bible, most Muslims consider the Koran the holy and untouched word of God, beyond corruption. Pointing out the history and influences and mistranslations does not make you popular.

I remember having to learn about Islam in 8th grade, we had to memorize and recite the pillars of Islam, and we learned a very rosy picture of Muslim culture and religion. Our public school text-books and teachers said without pause that the Koran was written by the Prophet Mohameed and Muslims believe that the text was dicated to him by an angel. This is all well and good, but it is interesting that when it comes to teaching about Islam we let Islam define itself but any learning about Christianity in school was very skeptical, smarmy, and full of ad hominem attacks (essentialy the Church was presetented as an inst. of corrupt and decadent Popes and witch-burning fanatics.)

It is healthy to see Islam getting some scrutiny.

Anonymous said...

The Hadith "reports" of how the Koran was compiled from verses written on palm leaves, animal shoulder blades, etc. reveal how haphasard the Koran actually is. The "most authoritative" hadiths record how a number of Mo's scribes had him go along with whatever they wanted to put into the Koran. A number of these stories sound suspicious. A goat ate a box of such records from under Ayesha's bed. Christians contemporaries knew nothing of the Koran 150 years after Mohammed. The Koran suddenly appears long after Mohammed's death when the caliphs have moved into the vacuum left by the Roman Empire. The qibla in mosques points towards the north (Jerusalem), then changes towards Mecca around 700 AD long after it was said to have happened. A lot of things don't add up. The caliphs write, rewrite the Koran and burn early records. Covering their tracks? It gets fishier. Today, the holders of the oldest Korans or fragments in Turkey and Yemen refuse to allow scholars to analyse them. The allegedly perfect word of Allah is perhaps not perfect after all. Another coverup? Islam can't resist facing the facts of Islam's fabricated origins much longer. Western scholars are gradually outing the Koran. When their work is done it will be a cataclysm for Islam.

Anonymous said...

Like Jesus he preformed miracles so that the people will believe, however the miracle of Mohamed (PBBH) is the Koran in its full state. Directly from Angel Gabrielle.
You must not be a Muslim if you believe things such as the koran is written Quote: "lectionaries used in the Christian churches of Syria, and that it was the work of several generations who adapted these texts into the Koran we know today"
As all good Muslims know the korans every word came from God.
You can believe what you will.... But Muslims know best!

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