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Qurnic Studies and Historical-Critical Philology


The Qurns Staging, Penetrating and Eclipsing of Biblical Tradition
Angelika Neuwirth

Freie Universitt Berlin


angelika.neuwirth@fu-berlin.de

Abstract
Qurnic scholarship in the west today tends to privilege historical queries, focusing on
fragmented texts, their alleged subtexts, and the codexs earliest venues of transmission. It usually abstains from attempts at making sense of the text as a literary artifact,
let alone as an epistemic intervention into the reception of the Bible. Such concerns
are left to philology whichif we follow Sheldon Pollockis a tripartite venture:
a query for textual meaning, an investigation into the texts traditional understanding, i.e. its contextual meaning, and finally a re-thinking of ones own scholarly preconceptions and responsibilities, the philologists meaning. Few topics are better
suited to demonstrate the urgency of complementing historical with philological
research than the Qurns controversial relation to the Bible. A fresh approach
updating the time-honored but somewhat fusty historical critical methodis
required: a diachronic, yet contextual, and moreover holistic, reading of the Qurn.
This paper will discuss texts thatfeaturing Muhammad and Moses respectively
reveal two major shifts in the relationship between the Qurn and Biblical tradition.
Historical research should not be left alone: philologys two assets, the contextual
reading and moreover the researchers self-reflection, need to be admitted to the stage
of Qurnic Studies. Christian interpretation of the Bible that, for historical and political reasons, has until now not taken the Qurn into account, could benefit substantially from the Qurns Biblical criticism, let alone its intrinsic challenge to rethink
prevailing exclusivist positions.

Keywords
Qurn Bible historical-critical approach typology chronology

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I Introduction
1
The Elusive Beginnings of Western Qurnic Studies
The Qurn has not yet been acknowledged as part of the Western canon of
theologically relevant knowledgealthough it is obviously a text that no
less than the Jewish and Christian founding documents firmly stands in the
Biblical tradition. It hence should be received as a valuable piece of Biblical
criticism and a relevant exegetical document. Indeed, it seems to be the very
fact of this close relationship that kindled the present controversy over the
status of the Qurn: either as a religiously genuine attestation of Biblical faith,
a Fortschreibung, a continuation of the Bible, adding to it new dimensions of
meaning; or as a mere imitation, a theologically diffuse rereading of Biblical
tradition. Although new readings advocating a genuine, interactive relationship between the Bible and the Qurn have lately been proposed,1 scholars
are still far from recognizing the status of the Qurn as a new manifestation
of Biblical scripture. This paper presents a further attempt to reclaim an adequate religious historical status for the Qurn.
What would this status imply? Scripture in the European tradition is a
notion highly charged with meaning. Scriptural authority has, even in our time
of secularism, never been entirely eclipsed. Negatively, it lives on as a criterion of exclusion as can be seen from the prevailing scholarly understanding
of the Qurn which posits the text as a writing subsidiary to the Bible rather
than as an original scripture in its own right. This is in keeping with an almost
axiomatic view, often encountered among the Western public in general, that
the Bible holds the status of a charter of truthreserved, however, for its privileged addressees, previously the Christians exclusively, more recently Jews and
Christians. This status, in turn, confers a certain cachet upon the people of the
Bible, thus providing them with a cultural and even civilizational pedigree that
is denied the non-Biblical Muslims.
To confront this unbalanced image, it is of the utmost importance to delineate the relationship between the Bible and the Qurn. This paper is an
attempt to exemplify that complexand by no means unchangingrelation.
It will discuss some key texts that highlight the transition from a primarily
liturgical connection to Biblical scripture to a close typological bond established between Muhammad and Moses, and eventually a partial supersession
of Biblical authority by an emerging theological identity of the Qurnic community. This most dynamic relationship of the Qurn to the Bible qualifies it
1 See the seminal new work of Sidney Griffith, The Bible in Arabic (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2013).

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aptly to put the hitherto cherished implicitness of an exclusive Jewish Christian


edifice of Biblicity, of Biblical belonging, into question. While Jewish readings
of the Bible by now have received a placethough marginalin theology,
the Qurn has remained a domain of philology, excluded from theological
discourses. Western critical scholarship on the Qurnliberated from ecclesiastical prejudicesstarted in the 19th century. Although the Qurn had
been appreciated by the Romanticists and made accessible to European readers in various congenial translations, there was no curiosity concerning the
epistemic achievement induced by the Qurn in its Arabian milieu, let alone
its theological relationship to the other religious traditions. This is perhaps
why the Qurn was not claimed by the more pertinent disciplines, such as the
history of religions or the study of Oriental cultures, but was accommodated
in the least-discursive discipline of philology. Indeed, the birth of Western
Qurnic studies occurred synchronously with the emergence of philology as
an academic discipline.
More precisely, it originated from an epistemic revolution in Biblical studies: the introduction of historical critical scholarship in the 18th and 19th centuries, an approach which turned the Bible from a religious foundational text
into a historical text detached from its liturgical and doctrinal embeddings in
the service of the Church or the Synagogue. Historical critical scholarship was
widely welcomed as a momentous renewal in academic theology which
synchronously with the emergence of the discipline of archaeologyrelocated
the Bible in the historical spaces of the Ancient Orient and Mediterranean
Late Antiquity respectively. This was the academic context in which Qurnic
scholarship emerged. What was an innovation in Biblical studies, however,
was in the case of the Qurn not a renewal but the very start of its academic
investigation. Thus an important methodological step was skipped: whereas
in the case of the Bible the dissection of the text into small units for analysis was a step that complemented rather than superseded the earlier holistic
reading of the text, with the Qurn, which had not yet been made familiar
to the Western reader in its entirety, this was the initial procedure. There is,
then, a momentous gap between the perception of the Bible and the Qurn.
What Northrop Frye has made visible to us, namely the omnipresence of the
Bible in Western tradition and its function as a virtual subtext of innumerable
literary and art works of Western pre-modernity, applies mutatis mutandis no
less to the Qurn for Islamic culture. However, to realize this epistemically
overarching dimension demands one look at the Qurn as a unity. Northrop
Frye, who titled the Bible The Great Code,2 highlights the holistic aspect of
2 Northrop Frye, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (San Diego: Harcourt, 1982).

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its reception: ...what matters is that the Bible has traditionally been read
as a unity, and has influenced Western imagination as a unity.3 This holistic
perception has faded out from Western scholarship.

Historical Qurnic Scholarship: Beginnings and Developments
Western Qurn scholarship eventually ended up with severing the Qurn
from its traditional context. This was not yet practiced by the earliest scholars,
who still clung to the scenario of the Prophets proclamation of the Qurn. Yet,
the seeds for a purely textual reading were sown with the introduction of the
new historical critical approach to Qurnic scholarship. Within this objective, Abraham Geiger4 published in 1833 his famous Was hat Mohammed
aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen?5 It offered a pivotal revalorization of
the Qurn, positioning it notas had been usualin the limited sphere
of the Arabian Peninsula, but in the pluricultural milieu of what we would
call today Late Antique debates. Due to some grave preconceptions, the result
of his study, however, was highly ambivalent. Qurnic studies started with a
surgical operation of the text, which was looked upon as a collection of historical and doctrinal statements rather than a comprehensive message. Historical
critical scholarship is not least a quest for the urtexts of Scripturea quest
that for the Bible had resulted in the unearthing of a large number of Ancient
Oriental and Late Antique traditions. These texts were apt to throw light on
the historical setting of the Bible, but could rarely ever compete seriously
with their far more sophisticated counterparts, shaped by the Biblical authors.
In the Qurnic case, however, the opposite seemed to be true: what was
discovered as the lower layer of the text was not an inferior earlier tradition,
but the most prestigious ancient text imaginable: the Hebrew Bible itself. And
since deviation from such an authoritative urtext was tantamount to a distortion, the Qurn emerged as a rather unsuccessful attempt to rival the Bible
and was to remain stigmatized as an epigonic text until this very day.
Yet there is no doubt that the scholarship of the Wissenschaft des Judentums
with its awareness of the transcultural dimension of the Qurn marks a
momentous beginning. After its violent disruption with the expulsion of Jewish
scholars from German universities in the 1930sno more than 100 years after
3 Frye, The Great Code, 13.
4 See for Abraham Geiger and the Wissenschaft des Judentums, Dirk Hartwig et al., eds., Im
vollen Licht der Geschichte: Die Wissenschaft des Judentums und die Anfnge der Koran
forschung (Wrzburg: Ergon, 2008).
5 Abraham Geiger. Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen? (Bonn: author,
1833; Reprint Berlin: Parerga, 2005).

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Geigers workQurnic studies took a new and far less ambitious course,
following a trend in the vein of the then en vogue Leben-Jesu-Forschung. By
focusing on the person of the prophet rather than the Qurn6thus reducing
the Qurnic event to a local historical episodethe new scholarship forfeited
a major achievement of its predecessor: the contextualization of the Qurn
with the Late Antique knowledge of its milieu. The Qurnic text, which was
read primarily to provide information about the psychological development of
the Prophet, disappeared as an object of philology for several decades.
To valorize the epistemic dimension of this shift in interest, it is worth
remembering a model lately proposed by Sheldon Pollock, who regards philology as a tripartite venture: a query for textual meaning, i.e. an investigation
into the texts traditional understanding; its contextual meaning, and finally
a re-thinking of ones own scholarly preconceptions and responsibilities, the
philologists meaning.7 In the earliest phase of Qurnic study, we are still primarily with the text as such, including its historical layers. It is true that the
earliest scholars did accept the traditionally established context of the Qurn
as a given: the Prophet Muhammads ministry in Mecca and Medina during
the period of 610-632. Yet, this milieu was not dealt with as a challenge that
the Qurn was responding to. Rather, their gaze was turned backward: the
Qurn was regarded as part of a vernacular Biblical tradition, the vast realm
of Aggadah,8 orally transmitted post-Biblical lore, comprising most diverse
exegetical readings of the Bible. Although the early scholars were aware of a
dynamic tradition, a kind of vernacularization, this did not involve the text of
the Qurn itself, whose reflections of the older religious lore was not accepted
as serious re-interpretations but often dismissed as mistaken or distorted readings of it. What was contextualized then was not the Qurn itself but its lower
subtextual layers, which were discussed as documents of earlier scriptural
tradition.
The subsequent Muhammad scholarship, on the contrary, was purely
context-oriented. The new biography-based readings of the Qurn positively contributed to increasing and promulgating knowledge of the hitherto
marginalized event of the Qurn. Its representation, howeverlimited by the
6 
Johann Fck, Die Originalitt des arabischen Propheten, Zeitschrift der Deutschen
Morgenlndischen Gesellschaft 90 (1936): 509-525.
7 Sheldon Pollock, Philology and Freedom, in Philological Encounters 1; and idem., Future
Philology? The Fate of a Soft Science in a Hard World, Critical Inquiry 35 (2009): 931-961.
8 The Aggadah, the undefined corpus of orally transmitted post-Biblical lore has been classified by Bernhard Heller, Ginzbergs Legends of the Jews, Jewish Quarterly Review 24 (1934):
51-66, 165-190, 281-307, 393-418; 25 (1934): 29-52.

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perspective of the traditional reports that tended to downplay the theological challenges exerted by the syncretic, Jewish and Christian opponents of the
Prophet and his communityobscured the relevance of the Qurnic intervention into the Late Antique debates and thus blurred the innovations of the
Qurnic world view. It also did not comply with the scholarly standards of
the time, which had seen important archaeological and epigraphic discoveries.
The attempt to rely on one single approach borrowed from Biblical studies, the
Leben-Jesu-Forschung, while neglecting the progress that was taking place in
the various subdisciplines of the field, proved insufficient.
To fill that gap, and to cope with the methodological lead of Biblical studies, John Wansbrough in 1977 introduced a radically new approach. Underlying
his Qurnic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation9 is Rudolf
Bultmanns approach of the de-mythologization of Scripture.10 The New
Testament scholar Bultmann held that the narratives of the life of Jesus were
offering theology in narrative form, where lessons were taught in the then
familiar language of myth. It was mytha myth closely related to that laid
out by Bultmann for the Gospelswhich Wansbrough claimed to discover
in the narrative of Muhammads life and ministry. Superimposing this model on
the Qurn, Wansbrough carried historical criticism to extremes, eliminating
the person of Muhammad completely and explaining the text as a later, anonymous compilation. A priori rejecting the traditional historical setting of the
Qurn, Wansbrough imagined the text not as the self-expression of the emerging community at Mecca and Medina, but as the manifesto of an already extant
Jewish Christian community, a Jewish-Christian apocryphon so to say, written
to provide that community with an Arabian myth of origin. The Qurnic text
thus appeared as virtually inaccessible to historical investigation.
Wansbrough completely detached the text from its transmitters and its
recipients. Not only were text and context rigorously disconnected, but simultaneously a supersession of the recipients reading was implemented. Their
place has been appropriated by the researcher who presents a counter-model
of his own imagination to the traditionally transmitted milieu of the Qurn.
A solipsistic hypothesis has replaced a widely accepted image of history, blocking the access to the text as the mirror of an event. While earlier historical
critical scholarship never isolated the text from Muhammad, butimagining
him as a kind of author who premeditated the project of the foundation of
Islamgrossly overstated his personal function in the genesis of the Qurn,
9 John E. Wansbrough, Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977).
10 Rudolf Bultmann, Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 1921).

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Wansbrough and his school, who became known as the revisionist scholars,
move in the opposite direction. They regard the Prophet as a non-historical
figure invented by the compilers of the Qurn to provide the later emerging
Islamic community with a mythical founding hero. This thesis, which denies
the Prophet Muhammad and his community any role in the emergence of the
new religion, with a single stroke cancels the entire rationale of the genesis
of Arab Islamic culture. It is unsurprising that Wansbroughs work not only
caused a schism in the western scholarly community, but at the same time precipitated the estrangement of the Muslim scholarly communitya grotesque
situation that still prevails until this day.
2 The Shibboleth of Qurnic Studies: Diachronic vs. Synchronic
Approaches
A new attempt to trace Qurnic development is overdue. Existing introductions to the Qurn11 clearly bespeak the still highly aporetic situation of
Qurnic scholarship. Their authors are aware of the multiple traditions that are
reflected in the Qurnic text, but reluctant to venture a synopsis of these data
that would crystallize into at least a preliminary image of the Qurans genesis.
The powerful shibboleth that lurks behind this deficiency is chronology
not in the simple sense of accepting or rejecting a particular sequence of
chapters such as that established by Theodor Nldeke in the beginning of critical scholarship. What is needed is a deeper understanding of chronology, i.e.
the pursuit of traces of the epistemic development that lead up to the ultimate achievement of a new communal religious identity. What is at stake is
the acceptance of a natural genesis of the Qurn, of its emergence from a
real historical event: the process12 of the Prophet Muhammads addressing
his audience. The Qurn is to be read as a sequence of messages addressed
to real listeners that successively increase in complexity and theological
sophistication and ultimately attest the achievement of a communal identity
which is roughly the position of Islamic tradition as well.

11 Hartmut Bobzin, Der Koran: Eine Einfhrung (Mnchen: C. H. Beck, 1999); Michael Cook,
The Koran: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Francois
Droche, Le Coran (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2008); Carl W. Ernst, How to
read the Qurn: A new guide, with select translations (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
Press, 2012). The questions still unanswered in scholarship are focused in Nicolai Sinai,
Die heilige Schrift des Islams: Die wichtigsten Fakten zum Koran (Freiburg: Herder, 2012).
12 Nicolai Sinai, The Qurn as Process, in The Qurn in Context: Historical and Literary
Investigations into the Qurnic Milieu, ed. Angelika Neuwirth et al. (Leiden; Boston:
E. J. Brill, 2010).

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What goes beyond the approach of Islamic tradition is, however, our stricter
adherence to diachronicity. Although there is an entire discipline within the
Qurnic sciences, the ulm al-qurn, dedicated to the so-called occasions
of the revelation, asbb al-nuzl, which establishes a rough sequence of text
units, the results are neither complete nor independent of later social and religious contexts. Looking at the discursive contexts implied in the text rather
than at extratextual social contexts that are hard to verify, we consider the
Qurnic communication as a challenge and response process which reflects
the first listeners understanding of the text. Their changing attitudes towards
particular issues such as the relationship with Moses and the Israelites are
closely related to the changing manifestations of the Bible present in the milieu
of the community. The following diachronic reading that considers not only
the final form of the Qurn including its historical intertexts, but pays equal
attention to the Qurns intratexts, its intrinsic history as a chain of gradually
conveyed and received messages, is meant to throw light on this development.
With the early srasone might holdan Arabic poetical manifestation
of the Bible is staged in the shape of psalmodic recitations of Qurnic texts
which actively involve the listeners. With the communitys emerging selfawareness in middle Mecca, however, a turn is perceived. Biblical tradition,
the vernacular Bible, is discovered as a counter-world to the one inhabited in
reality. Its textual world is penetrated to accommodate the new covenantal
group around the Prophet in the Israelites salvation historyagain a move
sustained by the community. Still later, in Medina, in the course of the conversation with the Hebrew Bible, manifest in Jewish liturgy and learned discussions, the exclusive authority of Biblical prophecy, represented by Moses,
is questioned and finally eclipsed by that of the prophet Muhammad. Here,
word to the Israelites fuses with that to the Medinan Jews; the merger of
Biblical directives and Qurnic instructions in the text reflects the communitys consciousness of possessing a new manifestation of Scripture and thus
the attainment of a new identity vis--vis the earlier People of the Scripture.
II

Staging Biblical Tradition

1
The Emergence of Early Sras from Ascetic Exercise
The beginnings of the Qurnic relationship to Biblical tradition have been
studied exhaustively.13 The Qurn itself attests liturgical practices that involved
13 
See Angelika Neuwirth, Der Koran I: Frhmekkanische Suren (Berlin: Verlag der
Weltreligionen, 2011). See for the commentary presented in the Corpus Coranicum
project: http://www.bbaw.de/en/research/Coran. See further Angelika Neuwirth, From

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texts that should have borne a close resemblance to the Psalms. Indeed, these
texts, or more precisely, their recitation, performed in the particular framework
of a vigil, is even credited with a kind of reproductive force, since the staging of
given liturgical texts is claimed to bring about the reception of new texts. One
of the earliest uses of the word qurn (Q 73:1-10),14 points to an already extant
practice of nightly recitals of liturgical texts:15
73: 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9

O thou enwrapped in thy robes,


Keep vigil the night, except a little
A half of it, or diminish a little,
Or add a little, and chant the Koran (qurn) very distinctly.
Behold, We shall cast upon thee a weighty word;
Surely the first part of the night is heavier in tread, more upright in
speech,
Surely in the day thou hast long business.
And remember the Name of thy Lord, and devote thyself unto him
very devoutly
Lord of the East and Westthere is not god but He, so take him for
a Guardian.

The scenario of the sra is that of a vigil, the liturgical frame which elsewhere
would involve Psalm reading.16 What is being readal-qurn (verse 4)in
the sra is not explicitly determined. Though qurn etymologically matches
the equally homonymous designation in Syriac tradition qeryana (lectionary,
reading), yet, what the proclaimer is to stage in his nightly recitalsobviously in Arabic languagecannot be directly related to an existing Syriac
lectionary,17 but should be newly generated texts. Qurn, then, would denote

Recitation through Liturgy to Canon, in Scripture, Poetry and the Making of a Community
(in print).
14 The term qurn is introduced in a still earlier sra in the sense of a reading performed
by the proclaimer from a transcendent template. For an attempt to establish a chronology for the references to qurn, see Angelika Neuwirth, The Discovery of Writing in the
Qurn: Tracing an Epistemic Revolution in Late Antiquity, in Qurn and Adab, ed. Nuha
al-Shaar (Oxford: forthcoming).
15 As the finalMedinanverse of the sra, Q 73:19, demonstrates, this liturgical practice
was still continued in Medina.
16 See for the Christian practice e.g. Hieros Synekdemos kai ta hagia pathe (Greek Orthodox
Prayer Book), 51-62.
17 This is a frequently occurring identification, see Serafim Seppl, Reminiscences of Icons
in the Qurn, The Qurn and Christian-Muslim Relations 22 (2011): 3-21, 6-7.

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the Biblically inspired genre of liturgical texts apt for recitation in Arabic language rather than referring to any specific textual corpus.
It is true that the recitation of the qurn is imposed on the Prophet personally; we can however deduce from other references including the final verse 20,
which depicts the situation of the Medinan community, that vigils (at least
at a later phase) should have been held as communal services. Not only the
time of these services, but even more so the shape of the texts involved, are
reminiscent of ascetic models best known from monastic milieus which, from
the earliest times onward, have constituted the paramount Sitz im Leben for
Psalm recitation. The earliest sras close relationship to the Biblical Psalms
has been demonstrated in various studies.18 They equally constitute poetical
polythematic compositions,19 and often display a peculiar intertextuality that
connects them to particular psalms. Obviously, the earliest sras have been
perceived as manifestations of the transcendent Bible, as Arabic counterparts
of the Psalms. The Qurn from the beginning is not only text but equally
context; the spiritual possession of a proclaimer and subsequently a community who, through their recitation, construct a Biblically informed identity
of their own.
III

Penetrating Biblical Tradition

1
The Middle Meccan Shift of Paradigm
The awareness of participating not only in a shared liturgical practice with
the earlier communities or individual pious persons, but also of sharing their
historically rooted covenantal status, does not emerge immediately. It comes
about with the necessity of self-legitimation of the new community which
arose in its situation of siege, at the time when the opponents started to
prevail, when doubts about the genuineness of the proclaimers status as
the bearer of a supernatural message were being raised. The sras of the
Middle Meccan period in particular attest to the communitys attempt to
dissociate itself from the Meccan cult center and to relocate itself in an imagined space, the Holy Land, the landscape of Biblical salvation history which is
18 Neuwirth, Reading the Psalms in Arabic, in Neuwirth, Sinai, Marx, eds., The Qurn in
Context: Historical and Literary Investigations into the Qurnic Milieu (Leiden: Brill, 2009),
733-78. See also Arie Schippers, Psalms, in Encyclopaedia of the Qurn IV (Leiden: Brill,
2004), 314-17.
19 Neuwirth, Einige Bemerkungen zum besonderen sprachlichen und literarischen Charak
ter des Koran, In Zeitschrift der Morgenlndischen Gesellschaft (Supp.) 3 (1977): 736-739.

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dominated by the towering figure of Moses. This is achieved through diverse


textual strategies. Most strikingly, there is a ubiquitous re-narration of Biblical
stories in the later sras. The central part in the Middle Meccan sras is occupied by a narrative part which recounts episodes of Biblical history. This particular position of Biblical narration in the sra reminds one of the position
of the lectio or the qeriat Torah in Christian and Jewish services respectively.
In addition, Scripture as such, al-kitb, as the ultimate reference to attest the
truth of the proclaimers message, is called upon in the beginnings and the
ends of the sras.
Instead of the emphatic references to the time and place of certain prayer
rites that had prevailed at the beginning of the early sras and at their distinctively formulaic conclusion, we find at the start of the longer Middle Meccan
sras the explicit naming of the scripture as kitb; only rarely is reference made
to the recitation (qurn). As a whole, oaths in these sras start to be replaced
with a solemn deictic expressionsoon to become the normwhich begins
with a demonstrative, That is the Scripture (dhlika l-kitb)... or a nominal
phrase made up of one single word, [It is] a Scripture (kitbun)...; these would
remain the usual introductions until the end of the Qurns proclamation.
2
The Scriptural Mnemotope
Since at this time there was no corpus of written Qurnic texts for the later
Meccan sras to draw upon, the frequent use of the term scripture in those
sras most likely refers to an entity beyond a concrete book. This entity may
be taken to be the heavenly scripture that was made available for recitation
(qurn) and remembrance (dhikr) (Q. 19:2, Q. 19:51), and from which texts were
now being proclaimed intermittently. According to the Qurn, the receipt of
scripture was a distinction that had already been bestowed on earlier messengers from the Jewish and Christian traditions, among whom Moses is
exemplary.20 However, the proclaimer and his community do not have knowledge of these texts from books, but from communications conveyed in oral
transmission. The link between the various participants in scriptural heritage
was not the identity of the various scriptural corpora but the awareness
basic for the receptiveness for the symbol of the scripturethat there exists in
the transcendental realm a finite canonical corpus, a text henceforth unalterable, which only requires that it be proclaimed, arranged into a suitable form
for divine service, and subsequently subjected to exegesis to make it accessible
20 By far the most frequent references of the receipt of scripture are those to Moses:
Meccan: Q 41:45, Q 40:43, Q 32:23, Q 28:43, Q 25:35, Q 23:49, Q 17:2 Q 11:10, Medinan:
Q 6:154, Q 2:87, 53.

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to mankind. The fact that that text in its entirety was not at the disposal of the
proclaimer but was only conveyed to him as fragmentary recollections does
not contradict this. Since the scriptural text was anyhow conveyed in Arabic
language for the first time, its segmentation into pericopes could appear as a
legitimate process supported by the fact that the presentation of Scripture in
the form of pericopes was common in the Jewish and Christian communities.
The resulting pericope from the heavenly scripture, the dhikr (srat Maryam,
Q 19:2, 19:16), naba (srat al-ijr, Q 15:41), or even qia (srat Ysuf, Q 12:3)
made up predominantly of recollections of historyis framed by affirmations
of the revelation as well as by hymnal and polemic passages. This particular
structure thus created for the liturgical performance strongly evokes Jewish or
Christian liturgy, at the heart of which is the recollection of salvation history.
It is remarkable that the later Meccan sras explicitly state that the prophetic
histories and individual Biblical parables stem from a Manifest Scripture (kitb
mubn, e.g. Q 11:6 and elsewhere), which reminds one of the introductory formulas employed in the Christian and Jewish services to announce the scriptural reading.
There are many indications that the scripture mnemotope21 of the Middle
Meccan sras was no literary device alone; we areas usualconfronted
with social processes concomitant with the scriptural developments. The idea
of scriptural remembrance inducedor expressedan expansion of collective consciousness in the later Meccan period that can hardly be overestimated. Firstly, the topography of scriptural history has been extended beyond
Mecca to include the homeland of earlier messengers; thus, the Holy Land, the
site of the Israelites history, emerges as a particularly blessed region. At some
point during this period, the reorientation towards the furthest sanctuary in
Jerusalem was implemented on the ritual level as well,22 with the community
adopting the Jerusalem qibla and thus sealing the expansion of the symbolic
horizon into the world of the Ban Isrl, the people of Moses.23
21 The term has been introduced by Jan Assmann, Das kulturelle Gedchtnis: Schrift,
Erinnerung und politische Identitt in frhen Hochkulturen (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1992). The
work has been translated into English as Cultural Memory and Early Civilization: Writing,
Remembrance, and Political Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
See for an application to the Qurn, Neuwirth, Scripture, Poetry, and the Making of a
Community, chapter nine: From the Sacred Mosque to the Remote Temple (In print).
22 Angelika Neuwirth, From the Sacred Mosque to the Remote Temple, in Scripture, Poetry,
and the Making of a Community (in print).
23 It is in this period that the Mosaic Decalogue is adapted to the exigencies of the Qurnic
community and its syncretist neighbors. See Angelika Neuwirth, A discovery of evil in
the Qurn?, in Scripture, Poetry, and the Making of a Community (in print).

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Secondly, the temporal setting of the message has been extended into faraway times. The communitys counting itself among the receivers of a scripture
telling about the forebears of these receivers which is continuously conveyed
in batches was a momentous step, for it ultimately meant the communitys
adoption of the cultural memory of a different group. Embracing core aspects
of a different tradition, the community relinquished the identity they had garnered from the Meccan rites. The shift of the religious center away from the
Kaaba implies, however, not only a change of orientation in the divine service,
but also indicates the evolution of a new form of the text. The considerably
longer sras of this period are no longer apt to serve as mere verbal complements to the prescribed gestures of ritual (as were the early Meccan sras).
They have outgrown their previous framework, both on a liturgical and stylistic level. Their new structure suggests that they were used in a longer liturgical servicereflecting that of the older monotheistic verbal services of the
Jewish and Christian religionsas also their diction occasionally draws on
Jewish and Christian models. At the same time, the inclusion of narrative passages recounting history resulted in the extension of individual verses with
ever more complex syntactic structures. The result was a Qurnic verse that
was no longer easy to memorize, particularly since its clausula provided little
mnemonic aid. There are multiple indicationssuch as the introduction of
the basmala,24 for examplethat from this time onwards new sra compositions were codified straightaway. In fact, the more complex structure of the
verses, whose endings can no longer be sufficiently marked by rhyme, seems
to demand this step. This does not reflect the actual invention of writing
the technique of writing itself having been long familiar in the areabut the
transition of the community from one based on ritual continuity to textual
continuity. This is primarily manifested in the intensive preoccupation with
the heavenly scripture, which is assigned a status of the highest authority.25 It
is writing that has now become a kind of external storage supporting memorization. Most importantly, however, the new attachment to the Bible as the
document of a covenantal relation between God and man manifests a penetration of the Biblical salvation history which is experienced as the past of ones
spiritual forebears, the Ban Isrl.

24 See Neuwirth, From Recitation through Liturgy to Canon, in Scripture, Poetry, and the
Making of a Community (in print).
25 See Neuwirth, The Discovery of Writing in the Qurn.

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More than one Bible? Various Manifestations of the Bible


in Late Antiquity
The observations that the Qurn does not exist in more than one version, that
there are no apocrypha nor pseudepigrapha attached to it, and that it has not
been submitted to diverging authoritative translations nor to starkly contrasting readings that would have crystallized into different religions, easily blinds
us to the fact that the Bible, the scripture that preceded the Qurn, in this
respect is essentially different.
The Bible seems to have been from early times onward in need of translation; the earliest Greek version, the Septuagint, dates back to the 3rd century BCE. The Hebrew text of the Pentateuch, which was read in liturgy in the
Hellenistic era, needed to be flanked by an Aramaic translation, the so-called
targumim, which often entailed interpretative extensions. Translation presupposes philologically informed exegesis; in the case of the Bible it was to lay the
foundation for and later to consolidate the two rival identity groups of the Jews
and the Christians. In Christian hands, Biblical exegesis became the vehicle of
a strongly sectarian reading of the text. It subordinated the Hebrew Bible to
the hermeneutic authority of the New Testament, which was considered to
entail the key to the true understanding of the Bible as a whole. Though these
are well-known developments, it was only more recently, through the work
of Maurice Olender that we have learnt about the full extent of the impact
that the option for an exclusively Christian interpretation of the Bible has
exerted on the construction of the modern European worldview well into the
20th century.26 Although such a hermetic closure cannot be upheld for the
Eastern Mediterranean, where Aramaic speaking Jews and Syriac (a dialect
of Aramaic) speaking Christians entertained a lively exchange in theological
issues, the way of making true sense of the Bible was equally mutually exclusive. The term Bible, then, ison closer lookfrom the very beginning no
unambiguous designation, or more precisely, underneath the allegedly unambiguous designation a hidden dimension of suppressed meaning is lurking.
3

26 Maurice Olender, The Languages of Paradise: Race, Religion, and Philology in the
Nineteenth Century, transl. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1992). Originally published as Les Langues du Paradis: Aryans et Smites, un couple
providentiel (Paris: Seuil, 1989). See also Susannah Heschel, The Aryan Jesus: Christian
Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).
The sustained supersession or even suppression of any Jewish interpretation of the Bible
by the Christian reading is made visible not least in pre-modern Christian art, see Frank E.
Manuel, The Broken Staff: Judaism through Christian Eyes (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1992).

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Speaking of the Bible therefore demands that one keeps the essential heterogeneity of its two modes of existence, the Christian and the Jewish, in mind.
Did the development that culminated in the widespread hegemony of the
Christian Bible affect the Arabian milieu of the Qurns emergence as well?
Scholars of Late Antiquity more recently have devoted particular attention to
the manifestation and the status of the Bible in the period after its codification,
highlighting its diversity. The Jewish Biblical scholar James Kugel (1980) states:
Examined through the lens of wisdom writings, the original meaning and
even the original genres of Israels ancient texts were subtly modified,
reconfigured by a whole new way of reading. It was this way of reading
that Jews and Christians canonized as their Bible...One would not be
wrong to think of this transformation as, in effect, a kind of massive act of
rewriting....(What can be observed) are two different sets of documents,
the biblical texts and their original settings and meanings and what those
texts were later made out to mean by Jewish and Christian authorities.
The words of the two sets of documents are basically the same, but they
nonetheless make up, side by side, two completely different books.27
There is one single ancient Bible and two Late Antique Bibles then. Kugel
could have added that this way of reading of Biblical tradition was also what
the nascent Islamic community adopted and developed. But the Qurn did
not yet figure within his scholarly scope. It was only through the work of the
doyen of the study of the Christian Arabic Bible, Sidney Griffith, that Kugels
observations were expanded. Griffith widens the horizons of the impact of
the transformed bible to include the Qurn among the manifestations of the
interpreted Bible, which developed into a scripture in its own right:
The selective presence of an interpreted Bible in Islamic Scripture is
undeniable...Recollections of biblical patriarchs and prophets, and
references to the earlier scriptures...appear as integral components of
the Qurns advancement of its own prophetic message. And what is
more, the Qurn is corrective of, even polemical toward the earlier readings of the Scripture People...This dimension of the Qurns reprise of
the Bible bespeaks the opening of a new book altogether in the growing
library of books on the interpreted Bible.28
27 James Kugel, How to read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now (New York: Free
Press, 1980, reprint 2008), 670-671.
28 Griffith, The Bible in Arabic, 95-96.

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This valorization of the Qurn as a critical reprise of the interpreted Bible


not only goes far beyond the scholarly scope drawn by Kugel, who does not
take notice of the Qurn at all, but also transcends the scope of those Church
pre-history-oriented scholars who would classify the Qurn as a set of sermons
matching not the Bible but the literary genre of Christian memres, the Syriac
homilies current in Late Antiquity.
Is it, however, one and the same interpreted Bible that the Qurnic community is concerned with throughout their development? Griffith, who reads
the Qurn synchronically and therefore sidelines the changing social embeddings of the Qurnic communication process, does not raise this question.
Our diachronic approach, however, demands that we look closely at the changing Qurnic attitudes vis--vis Biblical models that can be observed under the
changing circumstances of the proclaimers ministry in Mecca and Medina.
Mecca and Medina are not only two different sites of the proclamation of the
Qurn, but are also sites of different hermeneutic approaches to the Bible. How
is this difference, sometimes amounting to a contradiction, made acceptable?
As it will turn out, there is in the Qurnic case a phenomenon closely related
to the Jewish practice of using targumim which makes an adjustment of the
texts to accommodate new understandings: the later extensions. Later extensions should not be regarded as redactional insertions, but as exegetical adjustments that were attached to extant sra texts in the course of their repeated
recitation. They are thus indicative of a new interpretation of the already
communicated text. Individual texts in view of their status as tanzl cannot be
altered or eliminated, but they can however be re-interpreted. Islamic tradition draws attention to this particular growth of the text in the discussion of
the Meccan and the Medinan origin of individual sras, al-makk wa-l-madani.
The practice seems to have been applied early in the Qurnic development, a
number of early Meccan sras appear to have been brought jour already in
Middle Meccan times.29 The theologically most significant extensions, however, are due to the shift in paradigm that occurred in Medinan times; some
examples will be discussed further below.
To contrast the Meccan and the Medinan conversation with the Bible,
the figure of Moses offers itself as a particularly rewarding vantage point. In
the following, Moses will be highlighted as the central figure in the process
of the communitys change from a pious religious reform movement to a selfrelying religious community with a strong political identity of its own. The
29 See the index of later extensions attached to early Meccan sras in Neuwirth, Der Koran I:
Frhmekkanische Suren, 742-745.

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particular text politics involved to bring about this shift in the hermeneutical paradigm are typologies thatalthough current in Judaism as wellin
Late Antiquity enjoyed a particularly high status in the Christian reading of
the Bible.
Adopting the Textual Strategy of Typology: Moses and Muhammad
as typus and antitypus
It may be claimed that it is through the textual politics of typology that the
Prophet gradually assumes the role of earlier prophets, Moses in particular.
The proclaimer historically relives Moses experience. Examples can be
found in srat h, whose Moses story is in many respects characteristic of
the Qurnic revision of Biblical narrative. The divine speaker in the story of
Moses call, which is the foundation narrative of the Israelites emerging identity as the elect people, is stripped of this particular covenantal dimension:
he does not identify himself as the God of an elect group nor as the future
savior who will lead his people out of Egypt, although the Biblical narratives
in which these divine self-identifications are embedded are reported in the
Qurn. Thus the story of Moses call from the burning bush reads as follows:30
4

20: 11
12

13

When he came to it (the fire) a voice cried; Moses,


I am thy Lord, put off thy shoes;
thou art in the holy valley Tuwa.
I myself have chosen thee; therefore give your ear to this
revelation!
14 Verily I am God. There is no god but I!

Therefore serve me and perform the prayer of my remembrance!
15 The Hour is coming. I would conceal it that every soul may be
recompensed for its labours...
25 Go to Pharaoh, he has waxed insolent...

There is no mention of the God of your fathers, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
(Ex. 3,6). Instead, God identifies himself as your Lord, rabbukaho kyrios
being the usual rendering of the tetragrammaton known from the Septuagint
which is used throughout the Meccan sras. God further testifies to his own
oneness with a version of the newly introduced shahda formula here phrased
as la ilha ill an. He justifies his dispatch of Moses with the imminence of
30 Translations of Qurnic text follow Arthur Arberry, The Koran Interpreted (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1964).

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the Last Judgment, which should inspire faith and liturgical piety. Biblical
concepts obviously have been translated into Late Antique perceptions:
God is perceived not as the God of a particular people but as universal, and
the world is approaching its eschatological end. Although the story goes on
with the divine voice preparing Moses for his mission at Pharaohs court, this
mission is not the persuasion to let Moses people go, but the conversion of
Pharaoh. Obviously, it is the proclaimers situation that is projected onto that
of Mosesa kind of typological reading. The call for tawd, the attestation of
Gods unity, and prayer, alh, are two injunctions that are just being imposed
on the contemporary Meccan community, their connection with Moses serving to substantially increase their authority. The long sra about Moses, who is
presented as a typus of Muhammad, obviously serves a new theological tenet.
It is the installment of prophethood as the decisive and authoritative medium
of divine-human communication that is claimed to replace the plural venues pursued in paganism and syncretism, a new paradigm of relating to the
supernatural sphere that eclipses the old one upheld by the opponents which
involved lesser deities and demons.
Equally, Moses experience of having been called in a place where a natural phenomenon appears to have been mysteriously changedin the Bible a
plant having turned into a burning thorn bush (Ex 3.2), in the Qurn a bush
or tree that is covered, Q 20:9-15)is reminiscent of the proclaimers vision
communicated in Q 53.31 In both cases, the encounter with the divine is imagined as surrounded by an inexplicable natural phenomenonby the fire of
the bush which is not consumed in the case of Moses, and the enigmatic covering of the bush or tree in the proclaimers case:
20: 9
10


11
12

13
14

Hast thou received the story of Moses?


When he saw a fire and said to his family, Tarry you here.
I observe a fire perhaps I will bring you a brand from it
or I shall find at the fire guidance.
When he came to it a voice cried; Moses,
I am thy Lord, put off thy shoes;
thou art in the holy valley Tuwa.
I myself have chosen thee; therefore give your ear to this
revelation!
Verily I am God. There is no god but I!
Therefore serve me and perform the prayer of my remembrance!

31 See the commentary of sra Q 53 in Neuwirth, Der Koran I: Frhmekkanische Suren,


642-685.

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Compare Q 53:13-18:
53: 13
14
15
16
17
18

Indeed, he saw Him another time


by the lote-tree of the boundary,
nigh which is the garden of the refuge,
When there covered the lote-tree that which covered;
His eye swerved not, nor swept astray.
Indeed, he saw one of the greatest signs of his lord.

The experience of Moses appears as a prefiguration of a significant experience of Muhammad: his vision. Muhammad becomes the antitypus of Moses.32
These empirical and psychological analogies, in my view, go beyond mere
semantic similarities between the plots of prophetical stories. They attest to
the emergence of a new prophetical identity. This aspect, which has a bearing on the question of the historicity of the event of the Qurn, necessarily
escapes any scholars attention who confines himself to the transmitted text
as a sealed text without admitting a Sitz im Leben for the individual narrative
details as indications of a particular social and psychological condition.
IV

Eclipsing Biblical Tradition: The Conversation with the Jewish


Bible: A New Prophetology

Once we turn to the communitys encounter with the Bible in Medina, however,
this perception of prophetology will change. With the communitys establishment of close contacts with the ahl al-kitb, the People of the Scripture, primarily educated Jews, another manifestation of the Bibledifferent from the
universally known interpreted Bibleenters the scene. It is in the dispute
with the legitimate heirs of the Bible as scripture that prophetology becomes
controversial. Moses, who had been the prophet par excellence during the
Meccan period, will be overshadowed by the figure of the proclaimer whose
rank as a mediator of divine speech and thus divine norms gains new, political
momentum.
The Jews of Medina, far from being immediately opponents of the prophet,33
need to be imagined as significant interlocutors of the community who
32 For an extensive discussion, see Angelika Neuwirth, Der Koran als Text der Sptantike
(Berlin: Verlag der Weltreligionen, 2010), 653-671.
33 Most of the reference works adduced by Uri Rubin in Encyclopaedia of the Qurn
Vol. 3, s.v. Jews and Judaism (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2004), 21-34, deal with the political

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introduced not only a more precise Biblical knowledge but equally new hermeneutical approaches to Biblical texts.34 The impact of their exegetical skills
on the debates that should have taken place between them and the new community, of which we only can trace remnants, must have been paramount.
1
Facing the Hebrew Bible in the Hands of their Original Heirs
The Bible in Mecca, manifest as the heavenly scripture and present in the oral
tradition of the widely promulgated interpreted Bible, had been a v irtual
rather than a materially real corpus. In Medina, the Bible was present in a
much more concrete form, though accessible to us only via deduction. There
are Qurnic references to significant Biblical texts that point to a cache in
Jewish liturgy. These Bible-references figure in Qurnic discussions of theological issues that rank prominently in Judaism and have thus been assigned
a place in liturgical texts.35 Bible references accepted into Jewish liturgy no
longer form part of the transconfessional, oral, interpreted Bible, but seem to
presuppose the written, canonical text which could be reclaimed by the Jewish
clashes between Muhammad and some of the Jewish tribes in Medina. Although the
article itself focuses on doctrinal controversies, it does not succeed to explain how the
Jewish and the proto-Muslim positions in terms of an ongoing debate result in designing
a counter image. Its argumentation is strictly synchronic. The same applies to Rubins
monograph Between Bible and Qurn: The Children of Israel and the Islamic Self-image
(Princeton: Princeton Universit Press, 1999), which is based on exegetical texts. Equally,
A. J. Wensinck, Mohammed en de Juden te Medina (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1908), and Jan Bouman,
Der Koran und die Juden: Die Geschichte einer Tragdie (Darmstadt: Wiss. Buchges, 1990),
rely on Islamic tradition, where the actual doctrinal exchanges do not play a role. No deep
insights into the exchanges between the community and their Jewish neighbors can be
gleaned from any of the hitherto presented studies on Medinan suras: Neal Robinson,
Srat l Imrn and those with the Greatest Claim to Abraham, Journal of Qurnic
Studies 6 (2004): 1-21, A.H. Mathias Zahniser, The Word of God and the Apostleship
of s: A Narrative Analysis of l Imrn (3): 33-62, Journal of Semitic Studies 36 (1991):
77-112, and Michel Cuypers, The Banquet: A Reading of the Fifth Sura of the Qurn (Miami:
Convivium Press, 2009).
34 There is an unexpected keen interest attested in srat l Imrn (Q 3) in the issue of the
openness of scriptural texts which needs to be contextualized with the Jewish exegetical principle of the multiple faces of the Torah, see the discussion of the mukam and
mutashbih antinomy, in Angelika Neuwirth, The house of Abraham and the House of
Amram: Genealogy, Patriarchal Authority, and Exegetical Professionalism, in The Qurn
in Context, ed. Neuwirth et al. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2010), 499-532.
35 The staging of these liturgiesarguably rich in Bible quotationsthat we have to
assume for Medina, in our view presuppose the existence of the Hebrew Bible in written
form, not least because Bible reading was mandatory for the synagogue service.

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community as the basis of their identity. Although the Qurnic references to


such text do not quote the Bible verbally, we have to assume that their knowledge relates to the presence of a Biblical text present in the liturgical context.
The Yom Kippur liturgy offers itself as a case in point. The Day of Atonement,
Yom Kippur, Arabic shr, is a Biblically-founded feast; Moses return with
the new tablets on the 10th of Tishri (Deut 10.1-10) signaled Gods forgiving the
peoples grave sin of the idolatry of the Golden Calf. Indeed, this act of idolatry
provides the very etiology for the cultic practices carried out during the period
of repentance that precedes the Day of Atonement.36 One has to keep in mind
that the act of idolatry in Jewish tradition is deemed the most fateful event in
the entire Biblical history and held responsible for any later catastrophe that
was to befall the Jews.37
However, looking at the event of the Golden Calf as related in the Qurn,
in the final part of the already quoted Meccan sras, Q 20, Q 20:83-99, we
read an amazingly different story: an edifying narrative, where no blame, let
alone a lasting guilt, is heaped on the Israelites, since not the people, but a
stranger, al-Smir, is charged with initiating the act of idolatry, thus making
an immediate and complete reconciliation between God and his people possible.38 On closer look, however, we discover a later extension to the sra which
adds theological points to the story that do not smoothly blend with the tone
and tenet of the story itself. The extension Q 20:80-82 is easily identifiable as
such through its address, Y ban Isrl, which is never used to approach the
Biblical Israelites but serves exclusively to address the Jews,39 be they the contemporaries of Jesus ormore oftenthose of Muhammad. The narrative

36 The period of repentance, the yamim noraim, 1st-10th of Tishri in the Jewish calendar, which culminate in the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, are closely related to the
Biblical story of the Golden Calf. Indeed, the idolatry of the Israelites in the desert is
the very etiology for the cultic practices carried out during that period Mishnaic stipulations, Seder Olam, require that the entire month of Elulpreceding Tishriuntil the
10th of Tishriforty daysshould be kept as a month of repentance, see Moritz Zobel,
Das Jahr des Juden in Brauch und Liturgie (Berlin: Schocken, 1936), 55-93. See also for the
texts involved in the liturgy Adin Steinsaltz, A Guide to Jewish Prayer (New York: Schocken,
2000), 195-203.
37 BT Sanhedrin 102a.
38 This alleviated reading of the story reminds one of the rabbinic versions recorded by
Heinrich Speyer, Die biblischen Erzhlungen im Qoran (Grfenhainichen: Schulze, 1931;
Reprint Hildesheim: Olms, 1961, 1988), 327-32. It can be attributed to the interpreted
Bible then.
39 Q 2:40, 44, 122; Q 61:6.

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in the original format of the sra had ended with the exodus and Pharaohs
punishment:
79 So Pharao had led his people astray, and was not guide to them.
80 Children of Israel! We delivered you from your enemy and we made
a covenant with you upon the right sight of the Mount and sent
down on you manna and quails.
81a Eat of the good things wherewith we have provided you but exceed
not therein.
81b or my anger will alight on you
81c and on whomsoever my anger alights that man is hurled to ruin.
82 Yet I am all-forgiving to him who repents and believes and does
righteousness and at last is guided.
83 (follows the story of the golden calf).
The later adduced verse 8040 supplements some facts that had been sidelined
in the Meccan story: the miraculous salvation through the passage of the Red
Sea and conclusion of the covenant with Godboth regarded as climactic
events in the history of the elect people within Jewish tradition. The later
verses then mention the miraculous nourishment of the people with manna
and quails in the desert. It is this mentioning of food which leads over to the
direct address of the contemporary Jews who are admonished to eat from the
good things, i.e. from the pure food given to them by Godbut not to exceed
therein. This Qurnic warning should not be taken as targeting the Biblical
Hebrews whose practices of food consumption are not an important issue in
the Qurn,41 but rather as addressing a contemporary controversial point: the
Jewish dietary laws that should not be kept overanxiously. ayyibt, though,
occasionally also applied to refer to manna and quails,42 is equally a legally
relevant term, denoting ritually pure food.43
40 A parallel case, though more complicated to analyze, is the equally secondarily extended
version of the story in Q 7:143-155, see Angelika Neuwirth, Meccan TextsMedinan
Additions? Politics and the Re-reading of Liturgical Communications, in Words, Texts,
and Concepts Cruising the Mediterranean Sea, ed. Rdiger Arnzen and Jrn Thielmann
(Leuven: Peeters, 2004), 71-93.
41 Although the Biblical text, Num 11, 31-35, as well criticizes the Israelites inappropriate
dealing with the miraculous food, which provokes a divine punishment, the Qurnic
warningin view of its particular address formulaseems to be an allusion not to that
Biblical quarrel, which even in the Bible is a marginal detail.
42 Meccan: 10:93, 17:70; Medinan: Q 2:57, 162, 7:60 (Medinan extension), 45:16.
43 Q 7:32, 157; Q 5:4, 5, 87; Q 4:160.

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The identification of the verses as a later extension is further corroborated


by their new interest in Gods emotional self-manifestation: indeed, the verses
primarily talk about divine angerghadabmy anger will alight on you,
mentioned twice, a topic which had not been raised in a Meccan text before.
Though the idea of divine anger is directly connected to a reprehensible overstated observance of the dietary laws, another reference is equally important:
the mention of divine anger leads over to the immediately following story of
the Golden Calf. Through the topic of divine anger, the contemporary legal
issue of the dietary laws and the momentous Biblical story about the Israelites
disobedience become tied to each other, thus laying the foundation for a new
Qurnic theologumenon, namely the concept of punitive and thus not universally binding laws. Let us, however, first take a look at the peculiar reception of
the Bible which is reflected here.
The contextualization of the iunctim of Israelite guilt, acquired through the
sin of the golden calf and divine anger towards the later Jews that we encountered in the extended Meccan sra 20, can be understood as a Late Antique rereading of the Biblical account, Ex 33. It is no Qurnic innovation, but matches
an already established association. It also figures prominently in a late antique
Jewish tradition, the liturgy of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, where it
is embedded in a number of further scriptural texts. Among these, one particular verseEx 34, 6-7stands out. When Moses, after witnessing the act of
idolatry and destroying the first set of the tablets, returns into Gods presence
to receive the new tablets, he is revealed the so-called 13 attributes (middot)
of God:
Ex. 34:6-7 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The
LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty;
visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the childrens children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
This verse, which is recited more than ten times in the liturgy, is in tune with
the prophetical reading, the haftarah, for Yom Kippur morning (Isaiah 57 14-58)
whose main concern is to inculcate a transformation of religious consciousness and action.44 Here, divine wrath is declared abrogated for the people once
they return to righteousness. These ideas and perhaps even these s criptural
44 Michael Fishbane, Haftarot: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation
(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2002), 393-397.

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references seem to be reflected in the Qurnic address to the Ban Isrl,


Q 20:81-82, which highlights the gravity of the guilt that would arise from further transgressions of the contemporary Jews but which equally opens the
door for forgiveness. Thus the story that had been told in Q 20:77-99 without a
particular theological point, through the liturgy-inspired connection of lasting
divine anger, retrospectively regains the theological momentum it had been
holding in Judaisman observation that can hardly be explained without
assuming the presence of Jewish interlocutors in the Prophets audience.45
2
A Transfer of Halakhic Authority from Moses to Muhammad
The story of the Golden Calfonce reread with a new theological point in
Medinahas not only attained a deeper meaning as a record of a fatal transgression causing the persistent danger of new bursts of divine anger upon the
Israelites. It also laid the basis for a new understanding of the Mosaic Law as
such, which can be found documented frequently in the shape of brief allusions in various Medinan sras. According to this view, it was the Israelites
idolatry that ultimately brought about the severe legislation imposed on them
in particular.
Indeed, the punitive dimension associated with the story of the Golden Calf
through the Medinan extension of Q 20 is not only a theological but, as Holger
Zellentin has shown, equally a relevant halakhic issue.46 The halakhic relevance
of the Medinan extension has not been given due attention in scholarship,47
yet the verses 20:80-82 need to be related to a particular legal problem. Joseph
Witztum has highlighted the relevance of the controversy over the Jewish
45 There are further indications for such an exchange of ideas through live interactions.
A real historical interaction between the community and the Medinan Jews seems
to lie at the basis of a juridical practice established for the Medinan community, see
Reimund Leicht, Das Schriftlichkeitsgebot bei Darlehensvertrgen im Koran (Sure
2:282): Perspektiven eines Vergleichs mit dem rabbinischen Recht, in Im Vollen Licht
der Geschichte: Die Wissenschaft des Judentums und die Anfnge der kritischen Koran
forschung, ed. Dirk Hartwig et al. (Wrzburg: Ergon, 2008), 202-221.
46 Holger Zellentin, The Qurns Legal Culture (Munich: Mohr Siebeck, 2013).
47 Rubin mentions in EQ Vol. 3, s.v. Jews and Judaism, 21-34, dietary laws without positioning them in a particular controversy, similarly Wael Hallaq, Encyclopaedia of the Qurn
Vol. 4, s. v. Law and the Qurn (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2004), 149-173. Yohanan Friedmans
important study Tolerance and Coercion in Islam: Interfaith Relations in the Muslim
Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), which also discusses the
sectarian conditions in Medina, does not treat halakhic issues. This also applies to
Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined Worlds: Medieval Islam and Bible Criticism (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1992).

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laws as such, whose Qurnic references display particularly striking parallels


with the attitude toward Jewish law in Christian tradition, whichbased on
Matt 11, 28-3048presents Jesus as having alleviated the erstwhile highly
demanding law. The Qurnic polemics against the Jewish laws, however, do
not make use of the ecclesiastic argument of their late appearance, their
imposition only after the age of the patriarchs,49 but insists on their origin as
a retribution of particular transgressions (Q 4:160, 6:146, and Q 16:118). Here an
observation presented by Zellentin is helpful. He shows that early Christian and
Jewish Christian legal texts agree with the Qurnic evidence on the distinction
between laws that were imposed on the people of Moses already before the
transgressions were committed and others that were given as a punishment
for them. It is in view of this distinction that Jesus could alleviate Jewish law,
exempting the believers in his message from the additional, punitive laws. The
gravest transgression is, of course, the idolatry of the Golden Calf, which is the
focus of Zellentins Christian tradition, the Didascalia Apostolorum. Although
an explicit identification of the grave sins ascribed to the Jews (baghy Q 6:146,
ulm Q 4:160) with the idolatry of the Golden Calf is not found in the Qurn, it
appears convincing to relate the Qurnic perception of the Israelites guilt to
that particular sin (Q 4:153), which forms the climaxpresented right in the
beginning of the catalogue of transgressions ascribed to the Jewslabeled ahl
al-kitbin Q 4:153-160. According to the Medinan sras, Christians and those
Jews who accept the message of Jesus (Q 3:50: inn qad jitukum...li-uilla
lakum bada lladh urrima alaikumI have come to you...to make lawful to
you certain things that before were forbidden unto you), as well as the nascent
community (Q 7:157, Q 2:286), are exempt from the laws imposed by Moses
after the incident of the Golden Calf. Seen from this perspective, the eating of
the ayyibt recommended in Q 20:81, would mean to respect the pre-idolatry
laws, whereas the exceeding warned of in the text would point to the nonlegitimate observance of the punitive laws as well.

48 Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke and put it on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in
spirit; and you will find rest. For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on
you is light.
49 Witztum, The Syriac Milieu of the Qurn, 275-276, Following the Christian tradition, the
Quran describes it as a load and as fetters which will be removed by Muhammad (Q 7:157,
cf. Q 2:286), and it is understood to have been imposed as a consequence of sin (Q 4:160,
6:146, and Q 16:118). A major Christian argument against Jewish dietary laws is based on
the conduct of the patriarchs who did not observe these restrictions.

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V

neuwirth

Conclusion: the Philologists Meaning

Our diachronic reading of the Qurn has allowed us to differentiate between


diverse stages in the Qurns relationship to the Bible. After a period of staging psalm-like liturgical texts, the early sras, the community developed an
awareness of walking in the footsteps of the Israelites, whose history therefore had to be retold. The towering figure of their prophet-leader Moses was
looked upon by the community as the model of its own prophet who, during
his Meccan ministry, developed into an antitypus of Moses. This relationship
was questioned in Medina. A close reading of the Qurns most sophisticated
Moses story in Q 20, which contains both Meccan and Medinan verses, reflects
this development. The Meccan core text still presents Moses as a typus of the
proclaimer; in the Medinan extension, however, he is rivaled and eclipsed in his
role as the ultimately authoritative legislator. It is the proclaimer of the Qurn
who steps into the older prophets role by addressing the people of Moses, the
contemporary Jews, and admonishing them to modify their attitude towards
the Mosaic Law, which in part has become obsolete. Moses absolute authority
is thus eclipsed.50 The proclaimers mission gains substantially in significance:
in addition to his being an apostle, a rasl, he has become a legislator, a leader
empowered to endow his community with a new identity. Prophecy, which in
Mecca had advanced to the sole authoritative form of mediation between the
divine and the human realm, has become in Medina a contested authority.
This kind of reading of the Qurn is based on the conviction that the
narrative of the Qurnic origins transmitted in Islamic tradition isat least in
its basic datahistorically trustworthy. To dismiss it would demand falsifying
proofs. To leave the basic question about the historicity of the Prophet and his
addressing a communitythe Qurnic event which took place during a fixed
time periodundecided is tantamount to a suppression of knowledge. It is
also methodologically dubious, since Qurnic scholars must decide on the literary genre of the Qurn: either a written report distributed over 114 chapters
or an oral drama progressing in successive scenes and acts. Revisionist scholars
have opted for the report, but in one stroke replaced the traditional context by
their own construction of a narrative of originsboldly overleaping important steps of literary criticism. The procedure strongly echoes the ancient
50 Jesus legal directives seem to come closer to those of Muhammad who like Jesus is
entitled to de-valuate some of Moses instructions. The halakhic implications of the concept of ayyibt have been discussed in more detail by Witztum, The Syriac Milieu of the
Qurn, 274-279.

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principlewhich persisted into the last centurythat Scripture can only be


properly understood in the light of Christian hermeneutics (which in modern
terms would mean methodologies developed in Western Biblical interpretation). Boththe text and its embedding in a historical eventneed to be
considered. What has happened to the Bible, which until modernity was to be
kept detached completely from its Jewish reception and interpretation, should
not mutatis mutandis repeat itself with the Qurn. On the contrary: Christian
interpretation of the Bible which, for historical and political reasons, has until
now not taken the Qurn into account, and moreover Western Biblical scholarship in general, could benefit substantially from the Qurns Biblical criticism, let alone its intrinsic challenge to rethink prevailing exclusivist positions.
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