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Islam in der Moderne,

Moderne im Islam
Eine Festschrift für Reinhard Schulze
zum 65. Geburtstag

Herausgegeben von

Florian Zemmin
Johannes Stephan
Monica Corrado

leiden | boston

For use by the Author only | © 2018 Koninklijke Brill NV


Inhaltsverzeichnis

Danksagung ix
Liste der Tabellen und Abbildungen x
Bildnachweis xi
Liste der Beitragenden xii
Tabula gratulatoria xxi

Einleitung 1
Florian Zemmin, Johannes Stephan und Monica Corrado

teil 1
Islam(wissenschaft), Religion und der Eigensinn der Moderne

1 Implausibility and Probability in Studies of Paleo-Qurʾanic


Genesis 15
Aziz Al-Azmeh

2 Carl Heinrich Beckers „Lehnswesen“-Aufsatz von 1914 und seine


Wirkung 41
Jürgen Paul

3 Genealogien des Religionsbegriffes und die Grenzen der


Religionsfreiheit in Europa 61
Frank Peter

4 Nur wer β sagt, kann auch α sagen: Zu Reinhard Schulzes Ansatz der
‚retrospektiven Genealogie‘ 85
Volkhard Krech

5 Islam, Buddhismus und die Frage nach dem „Kanon der


Religionswissenschaft“ 111
Karénina Kollmar-Paulenz

6 Islamische Gewalt im Lichte des Thomas-Theorems 131


Hans G. Kippenberg

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vi inhaltsverzeichnis

7 Wider die islamische Exzeptionalität: Zur (Inter-)Disziplinarität der


Islamwissenschaft am Beispiel des Salafismus 159
Florian Zemmin

teil 2
Islamische Wissenskulturen und Normativität

8 Die Ordnung der Gesellschaft: Soziale Kategorisierungen in


osmanischen politischen Texten des frühen 18. Jahrhunderts 189
Felix Konrad

9 Rethinking Authority: Trends in Eighteenth-Century Hadith


Studies 212
Ahmad Dallal

10 The Islamic Eighteenth Century: A View from the Edge 234


Albrecht Hofheinz

11 Lokale Moderne: Ḥasan al-Bannā und die Idee eines „zeitgemäßen


Islam“ 254
Gudrun Krämer

12 Civility and Charisma in the Long-Term Genesis of Political


Modernity within the Islamic Ecumene 267
Armando Salvatore

teil 3
Sprache und Literatur als Medien der Moderne

13 Von der „Bauernsprache“ zur „Ursprache“: Die Entstehung der


türkischen Nationalsprache 287
Hüseyin Ağuiçenoğlu

14 Literarische Salons im Indien des 18. Jahrhunderts: Ein Beitrag zur


Moderne im Islam? 301
Jamal Malik

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inhaltsverzeichnis vii

15 Eine Maqama als romantisches Experiment: Šihāb ad-Dīn al-Ālūsī


(1802–1854) und „Das Gurren der Turteltaube im Viertel der
Qamariyya-Schule“ 328
Stefan Reichmuth

16 Zwei „Königinnen des Mittelmeers“ im Vergleich: Triestliteratur und


die Literatur Alexandrias 359
Susanne Enderwitz

17 Erzählweisen und gesellschaftlicher Wandel: Bemerkungen zu


al-Qunfuḏ von Zakaria Tamer 385
Peter Dové

18 Die Grenzen des adab: Versuch über eine literaturhistorische


Hermeneutik 397
Johannes Stephan

teil 4
Islam(wissenschaft) in der Öffentlichkeit und die Rolle der
Medien

19 Cairo After the Event: Fiction and Everyday Life 425


Mona Abaza

20 Fördert arabische Populärkultur die Individualisierung?


Anschlussdiskurse der Fernsehnutzung bei jungen Ägyptern 451
Anne Grüne und Kai Hafez

21 The Role of Social Media in Democratisation Processes: An Iranian


Case Study 472
Katajun Amirpur

22 A Losing Battle? “Islamwissenschaft” in Times of Neoliberalism, is,


pegida … and Trump 496
Stephan Guth

23 Der Rechtsnationalismus als Spiegelbild des Islamismus: Ein


journalistischer Essay 526
Yves Wegelin

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viii inhaltsverzeichnis

24 „Ich will nicht zu kritisch mit meinem eigenen Fach sein“:


Reinhard Schulze im Gespräch mit Anna Trechsel 542

teil 5
Die Wissenschaftlerpersönlichkeit Reinhard Schulze

25 Forschungsdesigner – Wissenschaftsmanager –
Hochschulpolitiker 559
Anke von Kügelgen

26 Struggling with Schulze 568


Michael Kemper

Schriftenverzeichnis Reinhard Schulzes 581


Personen-, Orts- und Sachindex / Index of persons, places, and
subjects 596

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chapter 1

Implausibility and Probability in Studies of


Paleo-Qurʾanic Genesis*

Aziz Al-Azmeh

Abstract

Der Beitrag fragt nach der historischen Plausibilität der Versuche in der aktuellen
Forschung, den Koran mit jüdischen, christlichen und jüdisch-christlichen heiligen
Schriften und Texten, die mit ihnen verbunden sind, in einen Zusammenhang zu brin-
gen. Es wird angenommen, dass die offensichtlichen Verbindungen zwischen dem
muslimischen heiligen Text und früheren Texten Opfer von Überinterpretationen sind
und dass die Forschung sich oft mittels konzeptionell unökonomischer, historischer
und impressionistischer Annahmen rückversichern will. Der Beitrag argumentiert,
dass die Genese des Koran-Textes am besten durch sein unmittelbares Milieu und im
Hinblick auf seinen konkreten Sitz im Leben untersucht werden sollte und dass nicht-
textliche Faktoren, die oft durch zu ausschließliche Konzentration auf den geschriebe-
nen Text verdeckt wurden, eine wichtige Rolle in der Konstitution des Korans spielen.

Things should not be as they seem, and turn out to be as they cannot
possibly be.
alice


The question of Qurʾanic origins carries a myriad of controversial valences and
huge ideological potencies, and is simultaneously one which constitutes an

* An earlier version of this essay was given as keynote lecture entitled “Implausibility and
Probability in Studies of Qurʾanic Origins” on the occasion of the inaugural conference of
the International Qurʾanic Studies Association, Baltimore, November 2014. https://iqsaweb
.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/baltimore_keynote_aa_t1.pdf. Some of the tonal flavour of the
occasion has been retained.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi: 10.1163/9789004364042_003


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16 al-azmeh

area of almost exponential growth in current scholarship. In recent discussions,


undertaken under the signature of a world-wide conservative surge, it seems
that certain lines of interpretation in the study of Islam generally speaking
have come to pass under a neo-conservative signature, and these have acquired
a degree of general acceptance and of credibility consonant with the moods
that have come to predominate in public conceptions in Europe and North
America.1 The present article seeks to describe and comment upon central
trends in current study of the Qurʾanic genesis. While the relationship of the
Muslim scripture to the Torah and the Gospels is in many ways evident, it will
be argued that this evidence is often overinterpreted according to a template of
historical reconstruction and interpretation that lacks historical verisimilitude.
Studies of Qurʾanic genesis have neither escaped this mood, nor its ideolog-
ical inflections, or its conceptual preferences. These discussions form part of
historical scholarship, and it is not the purpose of this essay to regard them
as anything else or to subject them to a political or ideological analysis. The
thematic parameters of the present essay are implausibility and probability
in the study of Qurʾanic origins, and in consequence the contribution that
the present state of these studies might or might not make to the cumula-
tive growth of explanatory models for the genesis of the Paleo-Qurʾan – that
is, the pre-exegetical Qurʾan during the Paleo-Muslim, Muhammadan period
and its immediate aftermath. The term Paleo-Islam, and its related terms Paleo-
Qurʾan and the Paleo-Muslim canon, are historiographic categories that are
designed to describe a period of historical formation without making retrojec-
tive and anachronistic analytical assumptions in light of outcomes or of what
was to become known as classical Islam.2 These categories are making their
way slowly into recent scholarship, and especially the second is already being
given institutional shape.
At the core of interest in the following paragraphs is the issue of whether a
certain type of approach that might, for all the charm of its erudition, inhibit
an historically verisimilar understanding of Qurʾanic textual genesis (hence:
implausibility), or offer an historically verisimilar understanding (hence: prob-

1 The reader might wish to refer to an extended discussion of these trends in a multitude
of their topical and conceptual inflections in Aziz Al-Azmeh, “God’s Caravan. Topoi and
Schemata in the History of Muslim Political Thought,” in Mirror for the Muslim Prince. Islam
and the Theory of Statecraft, ed. Mehrzad Boroujerdi (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University
Press, 2013).
2 Idem., The Emergence of Islam in Late Antiquity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014),
ch. 6 and 7.

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paleo-qurʾanic genesis 17

ability).3 Two contrasting lines of research are considered. One draws ardently
on established interpretative traditions, at once scholarly and religious. The
other, the emergent and more promising one, unencumbered by the weight of
such traditions, will be highlighted. The former is popular, at the confluence of
postmodern scepticism on the one hand, and much older European polemical
motifs entwined with scholarly habits on the other.
The divergence between these two lines of research became apparent with
the Methodenstreit involving the reclamation,4 after a long period of abeyance,
of the views of Ignaz Goldziher and Josef Schacht concerning the reliability
of Arabic literary sources for Paleo-Islam. In the case of Goldziher, this was
overlaid by the concerns of the Wissenschaft des Judentums of which this great
scholar’s Der Mythos bei den Hebraeern (1876) and his polemical pamphlet
against Ernest Renan5 are excellent examples. The Wissenschaft des Judentums
sought, among other things and in terms of conditions prevailing in the nine-
teenth century, both apologetically to aryanise the ancient Hebrews by constru-
ing their religion in a rationalising and moralising, incipiently disenchanting
way, as an ethical template of universal salience, very much in the spirit of
Protestantism with Kantian inflections, and at the same time to establish a fit
with Islam by construing its origins as an outgrowth of a perennial wisdom
best encapsulated by Judaism. The Qurʾan and the Muslim religion in general
are presented as an outgrowth, ultimately epigonic, of the Jewish religion as
expressed in the Bible and rabbinical literature. Abraham Geiger is emblematic
in this respect.6 Other scholars sought origin in the New Testament, apocryphal

3 For accounts of the state of this admittedly rapidly evolving field, see Harald Motzky, “The
Collection of the Qurʾān. A reconsideration of Western Views in Light of Recent Methodolo-
gical Developments,” Der Islam 78 (2001); and Fred McGraw Donner, “The Qurʾān in Recent
Scholarship. Challenges and Desiderata,” in The Qurʾan in its Historical Context, ed. Gabriel
Said Reynolds (London: Routledge, 2008).
4 On this: Aziz Al-Azmeh, The Arabs and Islam in Late Antiquity. A Critique of Approaches to
Arabic Sources (Berlin: Gerlach Press, 2014), ch. 1.
5 Ignaz Goldziher, Renan als Orientalist [orig. in Hungarian: 1894] (Zürich: Spur Verlag, 2000).
6 Cf. Reinhard Schulze, “Islam und Judentum im Angesicht der Protestantisierung der Religio-
nen im 19. Jahrhundert,” in Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the Course of History: Exchange
and Conflicts, ed. Lothar Gall and Dietmar Willoweit (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2011); Suzanne
Marchand, German Orientalism in the Age of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2010), 133ff.; Suzanna Heschel, “Abraham Geiger and the Emergence of Jewish Philoislamism,”
in “Im vollen Licht der Geschichte.” Die Wissenschaft des Judentums und die Anfänge der Kriti-
schen Koranforschung, ed. D. Hartwig, W. Homolka and A. Neuwirth (Würzburg: Ergon Verlag,

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18 al-azmeh

Christian texts, and related writings, since St. John of Damascus’ (d. 749) con-
tention that Islam be the hundredth Christian heresy.7 Judaeo-Christianity was
brought in as an escape clause to which was and still is attributed an origin not
identifiable in Jewish or Christian texts.8
The Methodenstreit itself arose following the works of the hypersceptical
school identified with the names of Cook, Crone and Wansbrough, the impor-
tance of whose output lies therein, that for all the questionable quality of its
results, it helped generate awareness that there need to be real consequences
drawn from the realisation that Islam could not have come out of nothing,
and that it was best seen against specific backgrounds and settings. What
these scholars and others since manifested was the conjugation of much older
polemical and heresiographic motifs with the adoption of the more elemen-
tary forms and techniques of source criticism prevalent in the nineteenth cen-
tury, with emphasis in the unrealisable dream of the perfect document. This
involved a search for origins understood according to the botanical metaphor
of roots and branches: the filiations of texts and the stemmae of manuscripts,
words understood in terms of etymology and morphology rather than the prag-
matics of usage. This is at once a classification and a genetic model in which
the earlier elements are seen unmediatedly to generate the later, constituting
their primary mode of explanation.9 The conjunction of genetic and diffusion-
ist explanations with tradition criticism was inflected towards an apparently
unbounded hyperscepticism regarding probative value that might be admitted
to Arabic literary sources.

2008); Amin al-Khuli, Silat al-Islam bi-Islah al-Masihiyya [1935], in idem., al-Aʿmal al-Kamila
(Cairo: al-Hayʾa al-Misriyya al-ʿAmma li-l-Kitab, 1993), vol. 9, argues for a major Muslim influ-
ence on the growth of Protestant reform: repudiation of church authority, the principles
of ad fontes and of sola scriptura, and the liberation of reason from tradition, critique of
transubstantiation, and iconoclasm. He sees Ibn Ḥazm, Meister Eckhart, William of Ock-
ham, Frederick ii Hohenstaufen, Alfonso the Wise, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, the
Waldensians, Franciscans and Dominicans as important pathways of transmission, direct and
indirect. See Aziz al-Azmeh, “Al-Islahiyyun al-Nahdawiyyun wa-Fikrat al-Islah fi al-Majal al-
Dini,” Al-Mustaqbal al-ʿArabi 455 (2017).
7 Adel-Théodore Khoury, Les théologiens byzantins et l’Islam (Louvain: Éditions Nauwelaerts
and Paris: Béatrice-Nauwelaerts, 1969).
8 This, in a positive rather than the older and still persistent polemical sense, starts with Edward
Pococke and the Deist John Toland and is first scientifically elaborated in terms of modern
scholarship by Adolf von Harnack. See Al-Azmeh, The Emergence, 272–276.
9 See most recently James Turner’s comprehensive Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Mod-
ern Humanities (Princeton, Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2015).

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paleo-qurʾanic genesis 19

There are scholars who hold on to hyperscepticism with varying degrees of


intransigence, and others who hold that the undoubted difficulty of source
material is a common and by no means intractable occurrence in historical
research overall. Ultimately, historical sources need to be judged on a cluster of
criteria of probability and verisimilitude rather than on simplistic recourse to
partisanship, redactional history, an oral/written duality and internal contra-
diction. Rather than a boundless hermeneutic of suspicion, one might rather
work from a reasonable judgement of overall verisimilitude in a number of
well-defined domains, and then pursue the cumulative compulsion of detail
confirmed directly or indirectly.10
Dismissing the utility of Arabic sources by scoffing at them in effect creates a
tabula rasa which is often filled in with historically unlikely scenarios and con-
jectures, with little attention to the crucial matters of evidence and plausibility.
From asserting that Arabic literary sources are not self-evidently veracious, all
manner of material, often arbitrary and on occasion flippant, is brought in to fill
the gap thereby opened. Reconstructions of the Paleo-Qurʾan under such con-
ditions, seeking out filiation with distant origins in effect cause Paleo-Muslim
Arabia, and Arabia in the century prior to Muhammad,11 to recede into the dust
of the desert blown by the winds of reverie at the end of which lies, ʿalā qābi
qawsayni aw adnā, the Holy Grail of intertextual origins that trump the con-
crete Sitz im Leben of the Qurʾanic text.
There is of course some very impressive and patient pursuit of intertex-
tual suggestions. But determined concentration on this matter hardly seems
to address the necessity of identifying one possible causative text over another,
thereby begging the question of the intertexts of intertexts, quite apart from
consideration of the underlying library-based model of Paleo-Qurʾanic compo-
sition. What in fact transpires is that hyperscepticism acts within an in-group
ʿaṣabiyya which marks itself off as a scholarly habitus that has become unques-
tioned parochial wisdom. After all, doubt without end is no longer doubt, but
the robust conviction that undergirds sect phenomena. Prioritising intertex-
tuality analytically and interpretatively in effect de-contextualises Qurʾanic
emergence and extrudes history from the picture. It is thus that we have sce-
narios for the emergence of the Paleo-Qurʾan seeming to lend credence to the
words of Paul Valéry as he wrote of “an Orient of the mind”: “a state between

10 For this and the following paragraphs: Al-Azmeh, The Arabs and Islam, ch. 2–6.
11 On Paleo-Islam and related historiographic categories cf. idem., The Emergence, at Index;
in shorter compass, idem., “Paleo-Islam,” in The Blackwell Companion to Religion in Late
Antiquity, ed. N. Baker-Brian and Josef Lossl, in press.

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20 al-azmeh

waking and dreaming where there is no logic nor chronology to keep the ele-
ments of our memory from attracting each other in their natural combina-
tion.”12
More concretely, the epigonic approach in effect sees in antecedence a pref-
erential and default form of explanation. This is a common academic topos,
going much beyond the confines of Qurʾanic studies or Islamic studies over-
all where such habits seem to persist more determinedly than elsewhere. One
needs to think only of Aramaeism in studies of Ancient North Arabian epig-
raphy: there we find, for instance, that in reading the word for ‘son of’ certain
alphabetical strokes in inscriptions rendering the letter ‘n’, for no intrinsic rea-
son, read as ‘r’. Thus reading br by default instead of reading bn, including the
famous epitaph of Marʾ al-Qays at al-Namara. This is a default reading which
stretches to other famous inscriptions at Harran, Zabad and Jabal Usays13 – this
despite the fact that bin is old, common in Safaitic,14 in a region not far from
al-Namara. Similarly, in the large published collections of Semitic epigraphy,
we often find that old forms of Arabic written in a variety of alphabets appear
alongside Hebrew – rather than Arabic – transliteration. A similar philological
reductivism, at once conceptually genetic and linguistically normativising in a
vestigial way, might be seen in the Encyclopedia of the Qurʾān, where the entry
for the Qurʾanic Arabic word ʿIllīyūn is entitled ‘Elyon’.
This unnecessary transposition of explanatory registers acts, in effect, as
an interpretative template, in the sense that chronological priority is com-
pounded with normative priority operating as an interpretative key. Thus, for
instance, one scholar holds, in the confines of a single article, that early Islam
as expressed in the Qurʾan (and this is a questionable identification) carries a
Nazarean, Judaeo-Christian tradition to which another common ground, one
between Manicheanism and Elkasaism, was relevant, to which might be added
a dash of prophecy identified as a Pseudo-Clementine notion.15 This multipli-

12 Paul Valéry, “Orientem Versus,” in idem., History and Politics, trans. D. Folliot and J. Math-
ews (New York: Bollingen Series, 1962), 381.
13 Repértoire chronologique d’épigraphie arabe, ed. Étienne Combe, Jean Sauvaget and Gas-
ton Wiet, vol. 1 (Cairo: Institut Français d’ Archéologie Orientale, 1931), # 1; Christian Robin,
“La réforme de l’ écriture arabe à l’ époque du califat médinois,”Mélanges de l’Université St.
Joseph 59 (2006): 331–332; Christian Robin and Maria Gorea, “Un réexamen de l’inscrip-
tion arabe préislamique de Ǧabal Usays,” Arabica 49 (2002): 508.
14 G. Lankaster Harding, An Index and Concordance of Pre-Islamic Names and Inscriptions
(Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1971), 118–122.
15 François de Blois, “Elchasai-Manes-Muḥammad. Manichäismus und Islam in religionshis-
torischem Vergleich,” Der Islam 81 (2004): 32, 34 f., 44ff.

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paleo-qurʾanic genesis 21

cation of explanatory templates is not unusual. In conceptual terms, it trans-


poses a tradition or notion found in the Qurʾan to a register of interpretation
belonging to another, remote order and context. Content with chronological
precedence, this approach is content to identify lines of linear filiation that
have not been historically justified and which are often extremely incongru-
ous.
As with broad, almost indeterminate traditions and notions, so also with
single words and phrases. Here, the general approach has been one which
often asserts cognates in other languages, without further consideration, to be
origins – and therefore interpretative keys – for Arabic words. This operates
according to the ‘etymological fallacy’ operating morphologically and leximat-
ically with assumptions of correspondence. This has in large measure long
been cleared away from fields of inquiry methodologically and conceptually in
advance of Arabic philology, including studies of the Old Testament.16 It is one
that Wansbrough described as a ‘seductive pastime,’17 one that seems, when
seeking origins in a morphological argument, to efface the fact that the infini-
tive in language is different to the infinitive in lexicographical metalanguages,
where it is rather conventional than morphological.18 Etymology, whichever
form it takes and however philological rather than historical, is thereby substi-
tuted to history as in fact constituted by usage and the semantic fields of usage.
Thus, with reference to single words, one might refer to the Qurʾanic hapax
legomenon al-ṣamad,19 which has attracted much interest.20 This is an Arabic

16 James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (London: Oxford University Press, 1961),
100 ff., 158 and ch. 6, passim; Samuel Sandmel, “Parallelomania,” Journal of Biblical Litera-
ture 81 (1962), defines “parallelomania” as “that extravagance among scholars which first
overdoes the supposed similarity in passages and then proceeds to describe source and
derivation as if implying literary connection flowing in an inevitable or predetermined
direction,” in which excerpt takes precedent over context (pp. 1, 6).
17 John Wansbrough, “Gentilics and Appellatives: Notes on Aḥābīsh Quraysh,” bsoas 49
(1986): 203.
18 Emile Benveniste, “The nature of pronouns,” in idem., Problems in General Linguistics
(Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1997), 220.
19 For classical Arabic lexicographical and exegetical accounts cf. Orhan Elmaz, Studien zu
den koranischen Hapaxlegomena unikaler Wurzeln (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2011), §4.14.
20 See Arne Ambros, “Die Analyse von Sure 112. Kritiken, Synthesen, neue Ansätze,”Der Islam
63 (1986); R. Köbert, “Das Gottesepitheton aṣ-ṣamad in Sure 112,2,” Orientalia 30 (1961):
204 f.; Franz Rosenthal, “Some Minor Problems in the Qurʾan,” in What the Koran Really
Says: Language, Text, and Commentary, ed. Ibn Warraq (Amherst, n.y.: Prometheus Books,
2002); Uri Rubin, “Al-Ṣamad and the High God. An interpretation of sura cxii,” Der Islam
61, no. 2 (1983); Claus Schedl, “Probleme der Koranexegese. Nochmals ṣamad in Sure 112,2,”

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22 al-azmeh

word that has no attested cognates in other languages.21 According to Muslim


exegesis, the word’s semantic field conveys solidity and compactness, but also
the sense of heights, or a combination of the preceding. The sense of com-
pactness was so well established from an early date that it is in evidence in
the earliest Greek renderings of the Qurʾan.22 Much the same semantic field
is conveyed by the Hebrew tsur, used in the Old Testament with reference to
God, to Abraham, to a great mountain, possibly also used as a theonym just
as it had earlier been with reference to Enlil and Ashūr.23 Yet, all uncertainties
and imponderabilities notwithstanding, there have been attempts to derive the
Qurʾanic use of this word from the Biblical notion of a rock where worshippers
might obtain succour, based on Hebrew usage in Psalms and in Arabic Targums
whose existence is entirely hypothetical.24 Further still, one interpretation has
it that the Dome of the Rock might well be identified as the specific reference of
this Qurʾanic term, with the consequence that sura 112, where this term occurs,
needs to be seen as having been composed in conjunction with the construc-
tion of this structure.25
This is of course all an unnecessary diversion as there are more proximate
and attestable contexts that allow for a more plausible and economical under-
standing of al-ṣamad. It had been used as a pagan epiclesis and a term of exul-
tation, like Allāhumma, by the B. Asad appealing to their deities.26 It occurs
in Arabic poetry, a matter already noted in the seventeenth century.27 Its use in
the context of heave offerings allotted to polytheistic deities is attested and was
noted in medieval times.28 It was used quite straightforwardly in the Qurʾan as

Der Islam 58 (1981); Josef van Ess, The Youthful God: Anthropomorphism in Early Islam
(Tempe: Arizona State University, 1989), 4; Al-Azmeh, The Emergence, 318.
21 Martin Zammit, A Comparative Lexical Study of Qurʾanic Arabic (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 258.
22 Christos Simelidis, “The Byzantine Understanding of the Qurʾanic Term al-Ṣamad and the
Greek Translation of the Qurʾan,” Speculum 86 (2011).
23 Ithamar Gruenwald, “God the “Stone/Rock”: Myth, Idolatry, and Cultic Fetishism in An-
cient Israel,” Journal of Religion (1996).
24 Schedl, “Probleme,” 2–4; Köbert, “Das Gottesepitheton,” 204.
25 Michel Cuypers, “Une lecture rhétorique et intertextuelle de la sourate al-ikhlāṣ,” mideo
25–26 (2004): 168–169, 171–174.
26 Meir J. Kister, “Labbayka, Allahumma, Labbayka … On a Monotheistic Aspect of a Jahiliyya
Practice,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 2 (1980): text 35.
27 Edward Pococke, Specimen Historiae Arabum sive Gregorii Abul Farajii Malatiensis de
Origine et Moribus Arabum (Oxford: Humphrey Robinson, 1650), 108f.
28 al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur fi al-Tafsir bi-l-Maʾthur, 6 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-
ʿIlmiyya, 1990), vol. 3, 47.

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paleo-qurʾanic genesis 23

a transferred name, ism manqūl, as has long been recognised;29 it also had an
appropriate rhyming function.
Similar remarks can be made regarding the word al-furqān. This is quite
commonly thought to be derived from the Jewish Aramaic purqān or the Syriac
purqānā.30 In this context, it seems an unnecessary contrivance likewise to
mystify and over-interpret the morphologically related term al-Fārūq, applied
to ʿUmar i and others, in light of certain Syriac associations of the term, and to
endow it with a mysterious soteriological association.31 The term is primarily
related to acts of separation and has been associated with the aftermath of
the battle of Badr,32 but recent lexical analysis of the word and its uses in the
Qurʾan reveal more interesting and compelling semantic fields related to the
mode of delivery and organisation of the Qurʾanic text, in which it is used
self-reflexively.33 Commenting on the meaning attributed to al-furqān with
reference to Geiger’s partiality to Aramaic origins, Fleischer had, already in
1841, deemed it unlikely that a language – Arabic, like others – would accept
new morphological forms with odd meanings when a perfectly straightforward
sense was available already.34
In short, like many other Arabic words subject to unnecessary genealogical
conjecture, furqān is no more Syriac than the English word ‘origin’ is Latin.35

29 Mohammad-Nauman Khan, Die exegetischen Teile des Kitāb al-ʿAyn. Zur ältesten philologi-
schen Koranexegese (Berlin: Klaus Schwartz Verlag, 1994), 215; Mujahid b. Jabr al-Qurashi,
Tafsir Mujahid, ed. Abu Muhammad al-Asyuti (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyya, 2005),
§§ 2101, but see also 2012–2013; Khalil Abu Rahma, “Qiraʾa fi Talbiyyat al-ʿArab fi al-ʿAsr
al-Jahili,” Al-Majalla al-ʿArabiyya li-l-ʿUlum al-Insaniyya 27, no. 7 (1987): 119–121.
30 Among others: Josef Horovitz, “Jewish Proper Names and Derivatives in the Koran,” He-
brew Union College Annual 2 (1925): 216 ff.; Arthur Jeffery, The Foreign Vocabulary of the
Qurʾān (Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1938), 255; Fred McGraw Donner, “Qurʾanic Furqān,”
jss 52 (2007): 286 ff.
31 Suliman Bashear, “The Title ‘Fārūq’ and its association with ʿUmar i,” si 72 (1990): 48ff., 57.
See also Alfred de Prémare, Taʾsis al-Islam bayna al-Kitaba wa-l-Tarikh, trans. ʿIsa Muhasibi
(Beirut: Dar al-Saqi, 2009), 180 ff.
32 Richard Bell, The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment [1926] (London: Frank Cass,
1968), 101; William Montgomery Watt, Bell’s Introduction to the Qurʾan (Edinburgh: Edin-
burgh University Press, 1970), 139 ff., 145 ff., noted also by Jeffery, Vocabulary, ad loc.
33 Walid Saleh, “A Piecemeal Qurʾān: Furqān and its Meaning in Classical Islam and Modern
Qurʾanic Studies,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 42 (2015).
34 Heinrich Leberecht Fleischer, “Über das Arabische in Dr. Geigers Preisschrift: Was hat
Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen?” Literaturblatt des Orients 8 (20 Febru-
ary, 1841): 102 f.; 10 (6 March, 1841): 134.
35 Sidney Griffith, “Syriacisms in the Qurʾān,” in A Word Fitly Spoken. Studies in Medieval

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24 al-azmeh

The use of Syriacisms and the existence of what linguists call lexical contam-
ination is of course unsurprising and has been fully recognised by scholars
in the classical period. Fifty-four percent of the Arabic lexicon is shared with
Aramaic.36 Syriac cognates are used by the Qurʾan in an Arabic matrix. One
example of a demonstrable lexical contamination is al-fulk, occurring some
two dozen times in the Qurʾan, meaning a ship. This derives plausibly from the
Greek efōlkion, referring to a small boat towed to a ship in mariners’ jargon of
the Red Sea region, and appearing also in Hijazi (but not in other) poetry. The
implication would be that it was in dialectal use,37 perhaps unsurprising as the
primary constituents of what was to become Quraysh had originated from a
region close to the Red Sea coast.
A few words are called for in relation to one postulate, well-received as a
probability or at least with some affection in some quarters. This is the postula-
tion of a Syriac lectionary rendered into an uncertain and in-between linguistic
register which is the Qurʾan. Much has been said about this which need not be
repeated, but it does not seem superfluous to observe that if this line of research
were to be persuasive, the matter would need to be related to its generic so-
ciolinguistic type. This is the phenomenon called pidginisation. Pidginisation
has a number of common features, that have a technical linguistic description,
and it is to be expected that, in a case like this, relevant research would use the
requisite technical desiderata. One would expect here more than uncontrolled
philological exercises, and that attention be paid to pidginisation as a process
of linguistic accommodation in which a language is simplified for purposes
of communication through a number of standard, well-established linguistic
features: grammatical (a fixed word order, little or no inflection, a simple sys-
tem of negation, no irregular nouns or verbs, no passive forms), and lexical
(a restricted vocabulary in which words become multifunctional by semantic
dilation). In addition, one encounters in this phenomenon the lexical rather
than grammatical expression of tense, the absence of grammatical expression
of gender, number, tense, and mood.
None of the above features, that describe pidginisation, obtains in the
Qurʾan. Reconstitution of meaning in terms of eccentric etymologies is virtu-

Exegesis of the Hebrew Bible and the Quran Presented to Haggai Ben Shammai, ed. Meir
M. Bar-Asher et al. (Jerusalem: Mekhon Ben-Tsevi, 2007).
36 Zammit, Qurʾānic Arabic, 25.
37 Fred McGraw Donner, Narratives of Islamic Origins. The Beginnings of Islamic Historical
Writing (Princeton: The Darwin Press, 1998), 57 ff.

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paleo-qurʾanic genesis 25

ally all that remains. There is here a procedure that compels language to operate
in a way that is at variance with the nature of language as a medium of com-
munication. It is interesting to note that in the use of Syriacisms as a template
for Qurʾanic interpretation, one often encounters the tonalities of initiation
into a higher order of reality, uncovering obscure beginnings. When associated
with the reconstitution of early Paleo-Qurʾanic parchments and uncovering
their secrets, one sometimes senses a cloak-and-dagger operation, complete
with pseudonyms, studied reticences, the intimation of adventures in dusty far-
away places. All of this seems to lend the air of a sectarian milieu to this kind
of scholarship. One comes across an air of compact characterising Qurʾanic
composition, of invisible cabals composing the Qurʾan surreptitiously, fabri-
cating histories while obliterating others, or at least of an ingenuous collective,
which seems to work as a communal reinforcement mechanism for the sec-
tarian milieu where scenarios of sectarian milieux are cultivated. Curiously,
these leave no trace in St. John of Damascus, in the Maronite Chronicle, in the
pseudonymous ʿAbd al-Masih al-Kindi, not to speak of classical Arabic literary
sources.
Be that as it may, it would not be inappropriate to return to sura 112, al-ikhlāṣ,
and the statement in the first verse: qul huwa l-lāhu aḥad preceding allāhu ṣ-
ṣamad, to develop further the argument being made. It has been held that this
is a free translation of Deut. 6:4 (Hear, Israel, the lord our God, the lord
is one)38 with qul – say! – for ‘Hear’ (taken, it is alleged, from indeterminate
Targumic Syrian versions of Ps. 18:32 = 2Sam. 22:32), and Allah in place of the
Tetragrammaton.39 Why this should be the case remains a mystery. It is quite
commonly maintained that the Qurʾan contains deliberate textual allusions to
the Bible and para-Biblical texts for a public allegedly familiar with them,40 a
view that makes unwarranted assumptions about the homogeneity of Muham-
mad’s audiences and seems to misconstrue the sociolinguistic nature of the
Paleo-Muslim Qurʾan in its original setting, highlighting the allegedly informa-
tive and overshadowing the performative.41 On the strength of this assump-

38 Angelika Neuwirth, Der Koran als Text der Spätantike. Ein europäischer Zugang (Berlin:
Verlag der Weltreligionen, 2010), 202. The translation of Robert Alter, The Five Books of
Moses (New York: Norton, 2004) has been used.
39 Schedl, “Probleme”, 2.
40 For instance: Nicolai Sinai, Die Heilige Schrift des Islams (Freiburg: Herder, 2012), 72f.;
Gabriel Said Reynolds, The Qurʾān and its Biblical Subtext (London and New York: Rout-
ledge, 2010), 232 ff.
41 Al-Azmeh, The Emergence, 432 ff.

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26 al-azmeh

tion, it has been maintained that Muhammad must have known this ultimately
Deutoronomic phrase.42 Consideration of the concrete Paleo-Qurʾanic Sitz im
Leben would convey us to other and more verisimilar types of explanation.
Such proclamations of divine uniqueness are the commonest of statements
in all worship, including polytheistic worship. They are well attested in Arabic
talbiyya invocations and elsewhere. Recent research by Reinhard Schulze and
by myself, along pathways that depart from standard scholarship, but with
somewhat different nuances and emphases, are in concord over the preference
to studying such matters at points of concrete occurrence and application over
exclusive attention to alleged textual geneaologies.43 These, far from indicating
an incipient monolatry or even, according to some, monotheism, let alone
the use of Biblical quotations, belong to a generic, intensified, and superlative
affirmation of devotion, used for a variety of deities and for any deity, in a way
that was context-dependent, and one that has analogues in, generic formulae
of invocation common to Ugaritic and Ancient North Arabian inscriptions,44
no less than acclamations of heis theōs and other epithetic names in many
parts of the polytheistic late Roman empire.45 This affirmation of oneness and
uniqueness of one deity among many was a relative superlative in a setting of
social and divine competition, and might be assumed to have carried validity at
particular ritual moments only, and was duly transferable. Addressing a deity
as one in a situation such as this, as heis, wāḥid or aḥad, employs the term in
relation to number at the concrete point of worship, not as a definite article
that might have a theological interpretation. Similarly, the pre-Muhammadan
epiclesis Allāhumma was a generic appellation in the vocative mode, as al-
Khalil b. Ahmad noted.46 It was a cultic invocation applied to a multiplicity of
deities and has no necessary theological presuppositions or implications. The

42 Köbert, “Gottesepitheton,” 205.


43 Al-Azmeh, The Emergence, 228–230, and cf. Schulze, Der Koran und die Genealogie des
Islam (Basel: Schwabe Verlag, 2015), 280, who maintains that these invocations were used
situationally, but assumes still (p. 379) that Allāh and Allāhumma are identical.
44 Ibid., 257–260.
45 Nicole Belayche, “Deus deum … summorum maximus: Ritual Expressions of Distinction
in the Divine World in the Imperial Period,” in One God. Pagan Monotheism in the Roman
Empire, ed. Stephen Mitchell and Peter van Nuffelen (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2010), 147 ff., 160 f.; Angelos Chaniotis, “Megatheism: The Search for the
Almighty God and the Competition of Cults,” in One God, ed. Mitchell and van Nuffelen,
127 f.
46 Sibawayh, Kitab Sibawayh, ed. Muhammad ʿAbd al-Salam Harun (Cairo: Dar al-Qalam,
1966–1977), vol. 2, 196.

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paleo-qurʾanic genesis 27

connection of the imperative assertion associated with qul with the Hebrew
Bible is not attested and is an unnecessary and tendentious interpretative
assumption.
And indeed, many scholars who are partial to this mode of interpretation
aver that the historical scenarios they propose are hypothetical: hypotheses are
without doubt necessary instruments for interpretation, but would need to be
plausible, to have historical verisimilitude and to acquire a cumulative compul-
sion from a number of indices and direct and indirect forms of confirmation.
Before concluding the argument for implausibility here proposed, a reference
might be made to current scholarship relating to the Nativity. There has been
some interesting philological detective work on Mary in the Qurʾan, seeking to
reconstruct the sequence of Qurʾanic statements, that together form what we
identify today as a pericope, and to identify interpolations.47
Discussion of the philology involved in some very interesting recent studies
of the nativities of Mary and Jesus, and of the relation between the Qurʾan and
the Gospel of Mark or of the various Protoevangelia – or indeed of Armenian
and Georgian texts48 – is not strictly relevant to the present argument. What
is interesting are the assumptions made about the process of Qurʾanic com-
position. It has been proposed, with a number of individual variations, that
the veneration of Mary in the Qurʾan is not only the result of the process of
redaction, but that it emerged from scribal or even monastic milieux at some
remove from the original Paleo-Qurʾan, which had undergone changes before
it reached us. One scholar proposed a ‘text of convergence’ between Christians
and Muslims, with the possibility of a prototype or perhaps of liturgical tra-
ditions, ultimately producing a confessio arabica based upon knowledge and
texts employing common procedures of Syriac exegesis.49 Building upon the
idea of a text of convergence, it has been proposed that Marian pericopes in
the Qurʾan emerged from a milieu involved in popular Marian piety associated
with homiletic, liturgical and popular traditions connected with the church of

47 Guillaume Dye, “Lieux saints communs, partagés ou confisqués: aux sources de quelques
péricopes coraniques (q 19: 16–33),” in Partage du sacré: Transferts, dévotions mixtes, riva-
lités interconfessionnelles, ed. Isabelle Dépret and Guillaume Dye (Bruxelles: e.m.e. & Inter-
communications, 2012); Karl-Friedrich Pohlmann, Die Entstehung des Korans. Neue Er-
kenntnisse aus Sicht der historisch-kritischen Bibelwissenschaft (Darmstadt: Wissenschaft-
liche Buchgesellschaft, 2012), §§ 6.3.1 ff.; Frank van der Velden, “Konvergenztexte syrischer
und arabischer Christologie: Stufen der Textentwicklung von Sure 3,33–64,” Oriens Chris-
tianus 91 (2007).
48 Dye, “Lieux saints”, 95 ff.
49 van der Velden, “Konvergenztexte”, 164, 166, 173, 175, 194ff.

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28 al-azmeh

the Kathisma near Bethlehem.50 Further, it is proposed as a hypothesis (con-


signed to a footnote) that relevant Qurʾanic texts were composed after the Arab
conquest of Palestine, with 692 as the terminus ad quem, perhaps by an author
belonging to ‘Muhammad’s secretariat.’51 What is suggested is the use of the
Syriac genre of sogitha, indeed, the composition of a Qurʾanic sogitha,52 or
alternatively the work of literati with specialist knowledge of Biblical and para-
Biblical literature, probably Jewish converts.53
There is an extreme uncertainty pertaining to the relation between original
and derivative texts proposed,54 especially as there is evidence that Greek and
other Marian texts might themselves rather have a Qurʾanic Arabic Vorlage55 –
ultimately, the Qurʾan seems to be a surer guide to religious currents of its time
than other sources are guides to understanding the Qurʾan. That apart, what
needs highlighting is that the material just evoked provides an excellent case
in point of what is being maintained here: the readiness to allow things to fall
into Valéry’s ‘natural combinations’ of clichés and motifs of high ideological
and polemical density. These natural combinations devolve to a firm belief
that the key to understanding and interpreting Qurʾanic composition lies not
so much in the Arabian Sitz im Leben, but in what has been called vaguely
and indistinctly the Near Eastern ‘theological landscape’56 or the ‘larger literary
tradition.’57 Ultimately, we have the question of Biblical, apocryphal, midrashic,

50 See Rina Avner, “The Dome of the Rock in Light of the Development of Concentric
Martyria in Jerusalem: Architecture and Architectural Iconography,” Muqarnas 27 (2010).
51 Dye, “Lieux saints,” 84, 90, 113, 116, 127n132.
52 Ibid., 64.
53 Pohlmann, Entstehungsgeschichte, 141, 143.
54 Neuwirth, Der Koran, 484 ff.
55 Cornelia Horn, “Intersections: The reception history of the Protoevangelium of James in
Sources from the Christian East and in the Qurʾān,” Apocrypha 17 (2006); idem., “Mary
between Bible and Qurʾan: Soundings into the Transmission and Reception History of
the Protoevangelium of James on the Basis of Selected Literary Sources in Coptic and
Copto-Arabic and of Art-Historical Evidence Pertaining to Egypt,” Islam and Christian-
Muslim Relations 18 (2007); idem., “Syriac and Arabic Perspectives on Structural and Motif
Parallels Regarding Jesus’ Childhood in Christian Apocrypha and Early Islamic Literature:
The “Book of Mary,” the Arabic Apocryphal Gospel of John, and the Qurʾān,” Apocrypha 9
(2008).
56 Patricia Crone, “Angels versus Humans as Messengers of God,” in Revelation, Literature and
Community in Late Antiquity, ed. Philippa Townsend and Moulie Vidas (Tübingen: Mohr
Siebeck, 2011), 326 and passim.
57 Reynolds, Biblical Subtext, 24.

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paleo-qurʾanic genesis 29

exegetical and other origins of the Qurʾan as an interpretative template with


explanatory power and normative priority.
Qurʾanic Biblicism is of course undeniable but is a distinct issue that is
more interesting than what might or might not emerge from dredging up tex-
tual fragments to support literally defined notions of intertextuality. We have
a body of Qurʾanic allusions to the Bible and related literature, but only one
specific echo seems to be attested, at q, 7:40 echoing Mark 10:25, with refer-
ence to a camel passing through the eye of a needle – this might well have
been a commonplace proverb used in both texts. We have motifemic use in
the Qurʾan of textual fragments, culled from what has been described as a free-
wheeling ‘savoir sauvage’ deriving from Judaeo-Christian sources, fragments
received across significant linguistic and chronological gaps, and subordinated
to a consistent Qurʾanic outlook.58 We have broad concordances, not literary
dependence: fragmentary affinities and narrative and motifemic similarities
involving analogy, transference and metonymy, not a subtext. Biblical themes
have little self-sufficiency in the Qurʾan, which deploys both Biblical and poly-
theistic doxological and mythemetic motifs and topoi – narrative, propositional
and figural – as secondary narratives with an importance and incidence that
increased in frequency and extent with the chronological development of the
text to a measure that is still to be determined.59 This rendered, for example,
chastisement narratives or retribution pericopes referring to the annihilation
of peoples and nations as a result of betylic wrath (it is worth recalling that
the destruction of Thamud resulted from the cultic infraction of hamstring-
ing a consecrated camel), with typical Arabian destruction scenarios delivered
by the yet pagan nadhīr, attested in poetry and epigraphy, with time untermi-
nated as specific nations are annihilated. There was a chronological move in
the Qurʾanic text from the annihilation of specific peoples in this world to the
annihilation of time and humanity altogether.60 In the earlier Qurʾan as among
the pagan Arabs, these motifs and topoi of natural cataclysm are dispersed and
fragmented, far removed from the semantic motivations they may have had in
Biblical and para-Biblical material.61 Whatever the case, use of the Bible is not
in itself necessarily Biblical reference, let alone a Biblical base.

58 Nicolai Sinai, “Religious Poetry from the Quranic Milieu: Umayya b. Abī l-Salṭ on the Fate
of the Thamūd,” bsoas 74 (2011): 397, 414.
59 Al-Azmeh, The Emergence, 316–317, 489–497, and passim.
60 Ibid., 309 f., 439 f.
61 Cf. Jacqueline Chabbi, Le seigneur des tribus. L’Islam de Mahomet (Paris: Éditions Noêsis,
1997), 214, 540–541, 541n310.

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30 al-azmeh

Two final remarks on Biblicising intertexts. First, there is a serious prob-


lem of comparability arising which has hardly been addressed, except in a
recent discussion of some systematic compass:62 we have typologies, neolo-
gisms, exempla, obscurities and mystifications associated with vatic language,
and possibly allegories too – although I am not persuaded that q, 100:1–59
(wa-l-ʿādiyāti ḍabḥā/ fa-l-mūriyāti qadḥā/ fa-l-mughīrāti ṣubḥā) recalls the Four
Horsemen of the Apocalypse and seems better suited for comparison with a
pagan Qurashite oath by Qusayy.63 Similarly, imagery of impending retribution
has a physical quality which has been well studied,64 and accords with tradi-
tional Arabian material.65 There is a profuse repertoire of catastrophic images,
including visions of the sky raining blood – blood-red mud in a region with vio-
lent occasional downpours – in an inscription at Qaryat al-Faw,66 no less than
in a poem by Taʾabbata Sharran in which divine reward was mocked: jazā l-lāhu
fityānan ʿalā l-ʿawṣi amṭarat/samāʾuhum taḥta l-ʿajājati bi-d-dammi.67 Instead
of all this proximate material, the undeniable allure of broad erudition seems
ultimately to terminate with the listing of alleged textual concordances,68 and
simplifies the Arabic text unduly by arguments that are, in the final analysis,

62 Neuwirth, Der Koran, 567 ff.


63 Ibid., 581–583. For the pagan Arab text ammā wa-rabbi l-ʿādiyāti ḍ-ḍubbaḥi: Ibn Habib,
Kitab al-Munammaq fi Akhbar Quraysh, ed. K.A. Faruq (Hyderabad: Daʾirat al-Maʿarif
al-ʿUthmaniyya, 1964), 116. For comments on this and similar concordances between
Qurʾanic and pagan texts: Aziz Al-Azmeh, “Modelling the Paleo-Muslim Qurʾān,” in The
Fragment and the Whole. Approaching Religious Texts in a New Perspective from Mesopota-
mia to Arabia, ed. Asma Hilali (Oxford: Oxford University Press and the Institute for
Ismaili Studies: in press); Dmitry Frolov, “Three levels of the composition of the Qurʾān:
Oral Revelations,” in Islam and Globalisation. Historical and Contemporary Perspectives.
Proceedings of the 25th Congress of l’ Union Européenne des Arabisants et des islamisants,
ed. Agostino Cilardo (Leuven, Paris, and Walpole ma: Uiygeverij Peeters en Departement
Oosterse Studies, 2013), 87–91.
64 Heidi Toelle, Le Coran revisité. Le feu, l’ eau et la terre (Damascus: Institut Français de
Damas, 1999), ch. 3.
65 Efim Rezvan, “The Qurān and its World, ii,” Manuscripta Orientalia 3, no. 1 (1997): 27f. and
passim.
66 An interpretation of the epigraphy that has been contested, possibly due to a distaste for
overly dramatic imagery. See Al-Azmeh, The Emergence of Islam, 308 and 308n150.
67 Abu al-Faraj al-Isbahani, Kitab al-Aghani, ed. Ihsan ʿAbbas et al. (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 2004),
vol. 21, 104.
68 Classically, in purest form: Karl Ahrens, “Christliches im Qoran. Eine Nachlese,” zdmg
(1930); with some discursive mitigation, Heinrich Speyer, Die Biblischen Erzählungen im
Qoran [1931] (Hildesheim and New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1971).

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paleo-qurʾanic genesis 31

circular. More broadly to propose that the Meccan suras might best be inter-
preted and therefore be treated as Psalmodic, and the Medinan are midrashic,
does little to get us closer to understanding Qurʾanic composition.
The Qurʾan needs no defence that it did not arise ‘from the desert,’69 for it
did in fact arise ‘from the desert,’ if by desert we mean Arabia unembellished
by the politesse of the twenty-first century. Clearly, scholarly preference for the
more distant over the more proximate, the textual over the ethnographic, the
burrowing library over viva voce, is not particularly helpful. If intertextuality
were to be demonstrated, we shall need a definite impression of texts in circu-
lation, and an idea of the agents and networks of such circulation. Little can
be said about this except to note that available theologies in the relevant time
and place were at best minimal, indeterminate as to their very porous bound-
aries. Recent research on Syria, and one may be able to extrapolate Arabian
conditions as well, show that Christianity was insufficiently catechised, and
underserved by clergy at a time of serious manpower crisis on the part of the
various churches. The faith was in all probability confined to infant baptism
and worship of Jesus and of the Cross, and perhaps a sense of distinctiveness
as well, of being neither Jews nor polytheists. Holy men were miracle makers,
and the distant bishops could do little to enforce Christological preferences.70
That crosses and images of Jesus or of Madonna and Child might be incorpo-
rated into polytheistic temples, including the Kaʿba at Mecca or the federated
Kaʿba of Najran, as they still are in India today, is telling of the nature of this
Christianity; our knowledge of Judaism at the time is especially meagre.71
The second point has two aspects. One is that the approach under considera-
tion is much too bookish, presuming that the authors of the Qurʾan composed a
text from texts but failed to supply footnotes. The image of the solitary scribbler
arising from both romantic and formalist studies of literature has an endur-
ing appeal,72 and is conjugated with a Post-Reformation notion of scripture
as a fixed text for reading and study. The other is the presumption that the
Qurʾan is a work of theology. Although it contains theologemes and taxonomies
of the preternatural, such a view seems to misconstrue the Paleo-Qurʾan as it
was being composed. It was primarily a Beatific Audition and only collaterally

69 Sinai, Heilige Schrift, 37.


70 Jack Tannous, Syria between Byzantium and Islam: Making Incommensurables Speak (PhD
diss., Princeton University, 2010), 389 ff., 402 ff.; Al-Azmeh, The Emergence, 492–494.
71 Ibid., 248 ff.
72 Elizabeth Long, “Textual Interpretation as Collective Action,” in The Ethnography of Read-
ing, ed. Jonathan Boyarin (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993).

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32 al-azmeh

and inconsistently a book of instruction. This approach also misconstrues the


impulses of Paleo-Islam which was, above all, a cult for a new deity with doc-
trinal elements supplied here and there in specific settings, and only with the
fullness of time acquiring the exegetical and philosophical character of a the-
ology with many possible interpretative directions. Only later were we to have
the distinction between the Qurʾan as a literary phenomenon and as a scrip-
tural phenomenon, corresponding to the distinction between a study Bible and
a liturgical Bible.73 The Protestant idea of a scripture being a stand-alone object
containing a Leittheologie and a doctrinal Primärbotschaft of radical moralism
and eschatology, is anachronistic. That Qurʾanic Biblicisms exist can easily, but
need not, drift into overcoding the text.
It hardly needs emphasis that the terms of the discussion and the research
agendas need to be reset in a way that might maximise the advantages of attain-
able and verisimilar matters and mitigate the diversion of energies to less pro-
ductive ends. The foregoing paragraphs have offered some examples of how
this might proceed. Probability in the study of the Paleo-Qurʾan and of its tex-
tual genesis refers to the actual composition and redaction of the text, address-
ing in complex ways the multitude of para-Qurʾanic material, written and
oral, which includes homiletic and apotropaic texts and proclamations, dis-
persed wisdom literature, litanies reflecting polytheistic Arab worship, poems
of Umayya b. Abi al-Salt and by others, the Bible and para-Biblical material,
and much else. Much of the Paleo-Qurʾanic text derives from generic mod-
ules of locutions, images, metaphors, sentiments, expressions of subordination
and of awe before the terrible sublime, expressions of devotion, exultation and
praise, contrition and self-abasement, and turns of phrase which found their
way into both Bible and Qurʾan. Their occurrence in the Psalms is one among
many instantiations, and there is no compelling need to refer devotional com-
monplaces to specific texts exclusively.
What needs special emphasis is that the Sitz im Leben of Qurʾanic com-
position cannot be accounted for by vague appeal to ‘communicative set-
tings’. Communicative settings can be accessed more appropriately through
the Qurʾan itself, primarily through physical features of the received text con-
sidered in the context of sociolinguistic plausibility. These would yield indices
of the process of composition, with pointers to process and to concrete actors,
rather than merely the evocation of free-floating textual intangibles. The stress

73 David Stern, “On Canonization in Rabbinic Judaism,” in Homer, The Bible, and Beyond,
ed. Margalit Finkelberg and Guy G. Stroumsa (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 231f., and cf. Sebastian
Brock, The Bible in the Syriac Tradition, 2nd ed. (Piscataway: n.j., Gorgias Press, 2006), 14ff.

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paleo-qurʾanic genesis 33

in this perspective is not primarily on philology, but on history, on the history


of religions and historical ethnography, especially the ethnography of religious
language, written as well as oral.
Codicological and paleographic work on variants on the earliest manu-
scripts and their variations has been a growth area in recent years, and is
most revealing, and the bibliography is growing rapidly.74 To my mind, forensic
inference from small variations, emendations, corrections, para-textual nota-
tions and other changes are most enlightening and suggest elements crucial to
reconstituting textual development and the process of Paleo-Qurʾanic redac-
tion.75 This research is closely correlated to material in the literary sources,76
and to the physical features of the Qurʾanic text as we have it, particularly
the distribution of textual material within it, including pronominal shifts, self-
reference, expansions, comment and abrogation, as well as textual divisions
and vocalic divisions, and sequence and parataxis.77 Closely related to this

74 Suffice it to mention, in alphabetical order: François Déroche, La transmission écrite du


Coran dans les débuts de l’ Islam. Le Vodex Parisino-Petropolitanus (Leiden: Brill, 2009);
Alba Fedeli, “Relevance of the Oldest Qurʾānic Manuscripts for the Readings Mentioned by
Commentators. A Note on Sūra ‘Ṭā-Hā’,” Manuscripta Orientalia 15 (2009); idem., “Variants
and Substantiated Qirāʾāt: A Few Notes Exploring Their Fluidity in the Oldest Qurʾānic
Manuscripts,” in Die Entstehung einer Weltreligion, ii, ed. Markus Gross and Karl-Heinz
Ohlig (Berlin: Verlag Hans Schiler, 2012); idem., “The Qurʾānic Manuscripts of the Min-
gana Collection and their Electronic Edition,” accessed 7. May 2013, iqsaweb.org; Asma
Hilali, “Le palimpseste de Ṣanʿāʾ et la canonisation du Coran: nouveaux éléments,” Cahiers
Glotz 21 (2010); Elizabeth Puin, “Ein früher Koranpalimpsest aus Ṣanʿāʾ (dam 01–27.1),” in
Schlaglichter. Die beiden ersten islamischen Jahrhunderte, ed. Markus Gross and Karl-Heinz
Ohlig (Berlin: Verlag Hans Schiler, 2008); Benham Sadeghi and Mohsen Goudarzi, “Ṣanʿāʾ 1
and the Origins of the Qurʾān,” Der Islam 87 (2010); Benham Sadeghi and Uwe Bergmann,
“The Codex of a Companion of the Prophet and the Qurʾān of the Prophet,” Arabica 57
(2010); Keith Small, Textual Criticism and Qurʾān Manuscripts (Lanham and Plymouth:
Lexington Books, 2011).
75 The reader is referred to Carlo Ginzburg, Clues, Myths and Historical Method (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 96–104.
76 See Viviane Comerro, Les traditions sur la constitution du muṣḥaf de ʿUthmān (Würzburg:
Ergon Verlag and Beirut: Orient-Institut, Beiruter Texte und Studien, 2012).
77 One might cite, among others, Hans Bauer, “Über die Anordnung der Suren und über
die geheimnisvollen Buchstaben im Qoran,” zdmg 75 (1921); Anton Spitaler, Die Verszäh-
lung des Koran nach islamischer Überlieferung (München: Bayerische Akademie der Wis-
senschaften, 1935); Andreas Kellermann, “Die “Mündlichkeit” des Koran. Ein forschungs-
geschichtliches Problem der Arabistik,” Beiträge zur Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft 5
(1995); Pierre Larcher, “Coran et théorie linguistique de l’énonciation,” Arabica 47 (2000);
idem., “Le Coran: l’ écrit, le lu, le récité,” in Le Coran: Nouvelles approches, ed. Mehdi Azaiez

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34 al-azmeh

is the chronology of the text, where we find useful recent refinements to the
scheme of Nöldeke.78 These improvements retain far too much of the great
man’s linear schematism, and do not account concretely for the Sitz im Leben of
the various verses of the Book as had been done, with limitations characteristic
of his own time, by the much underused and underestimated Richard Bell in
his Commentary and his Translation. Ultimately, these new insights do not
account sufficiently for the way in which different styles, motifs, tonalities
and genres, and the feedbacks between them, are interspersed throughout
the history of the Qurʾan by way of what I shall term ‘reiteration,’ in a way
and through an approach bearing analogies with recent independent work by
Schulze –79 to which needs to be added the crucially important sociolinguistic
setting of Paleo-Muslim preaching and worship.

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