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Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Interesting new book about the origins of the Quran.

Written pseudonymously, of course. Does the name "Salman Rushdie" ring any bells? "Apostasy" (however broadly defined) is a very, very bad thing in Islam--even in the most "moderate" states. In America, apostasy from Christianity gets you a book deal. See Spong, Bishop John; Sprague, Bishop C. Joseph; Fox, Fr. Matthew.

This book could be regarded as inciting such--perhaps with reason. It makes fascinating arguments regarding the linguistic origins of the Quran, claiming (contrary to Islamic tradition) that it was translated from West Syriac/Aramaic into Arabic many years after being written. Luxenberg (the author) asserts that Syriac/Aramaic was the medium in which the text was composed:

In the Foreword, Luxenberg summarizes the cultural and linguistic importance of written Syriac for the Arabs and for the Qur’ân. At the time of Muhammad, Arabic was not a written language. Syro-Aramaic or Syriac was the language of written communication in the Near East from the second to the seventh centuries A.D. Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, was the language of Edessa, a city-state in upper Mesopotamia. While Edessa ceased to be a political entity, its language became the vehicle of Christianity and culture, spreading throughout Asia as far as Malabar and eastern China. Until the rise of the Qur’ân, Syriac was the medium of wider communication and cultural dissemination for Arameans, Arabs, and to a lesser extent Persians. It produced the richest literary expression in the Near East from the fourth century (Aphrahat and Ephraem) until it was replaced by Arabic in the seventh and eighth centuries. Of importance is that the Syriac – Aramaic literature and the cultural matrix in which that literature existed was almost exclusively Christian. Part of Luxenberg’s study shows that Syriac influence on those who created written Arabic was transmitted through a Christian medium, the influence of which was fundamental.

In fact, Arabic Christianity may have been the medium in which the Quran originated:

Luxenberg then gives an etymology of the word “Syriac,” and notes that the language is mentioned with importance in the earliest hadîth literature which reports that Muhammad instructed his followers to know Syriac (as well as Hebrew). This can only be the case because these were the literary forerunners of written Arabic. Luxenberg conceived his study to test the following hypothesis: since written Syriac was the written language of the Arabs, and since it informed the cultural matrix of the Near East, much the same way that Akkadian did before it and Arabic after it, then it is very likely that Syriac exerted some influence on those who developed written Arabic. Luxenberg further proposes, that these Arabs were Christianized, and were participants in the Syriac Christian liturgy.

The influence may have come down to the title of the book itself:

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

Slow going in spots, but a fascinating review.

[Links via
Clayton Cramer.

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