In “Indiana Jones meets the Da Vinci Code” Spengler, on the Asia Times site, does one of his tour de force essays, bringing together important commentary on a particular subject. This time, he explores the evolution of the Koran as a written document:
No one is going to produce proof that Jesus Christ did not rise from the grave three days after the Crucifixion, of course. Humankind will choose to believe or not that God revealed Himself in this fashion. But Islam stands at risk of a Da Vinci Code effect, for in Islam, God’s self-revelation took the form not of the Exodus, nor the revelation at Mount Sinai, nor the Resurrection, but rather a book, namely the Koran. The Encyclopaedia of Islam (1982) observes, “The closest analogue in Christian belief to the role of the Koran in Muslim belief is not the Bible, but Christ.” The Koran alone is the revelatory event in Islam.
What if scholars can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Koran was not dictated by the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammad during the 7th century, but rather was redacted by later writers drawing on a variety of extant Christian and Jewish sources? That would be the precise equivalent of proving that the Jesus Christ of the Gospels really was a composite of several individuals, some of whom lived a century or two apart.
It has long been known that variant copies of the Koran exist, including some found in 1972 in a paper grave at Sa’na in Yemen, the subject of a cover story in the January 1999 Atlantic Monthly. Before the Yemeni authorities shut the door to Western scholars, two German academics, Gerhard R Puin and H C Graf von Bothmer, made 35,000 microfilm copies, which remain at the University of the Saarland. Many scholars believe that the German archive, which includes photocopies of manuscripts as old as 700 AD, will provide more evidence of variation in the Koran.
Islam is a fundamentalist, literal religion, much like some of the variants in Christianity which claim inerrancy for their scripture. Eventually this Koranic scholarship will do to Islam what the “higher criticism” of the Tubingen School in Germany (following Hegel’s ideas) did for the study of Christian scripture: first there will be anger and turmoil, and then after the crucible of attention has died out, Koranic scholars will retrieve what remains and make a sounder theology than mere fundamentalist credulism could ever do:
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Scholars try to understand whether the author is an eyewitness, or whether he is basing his work on primary or even secondary sources. They also try to understand the bias of the writer, which will give us hints to why he focuses on one subject but omits another. Higher criticism is divided up into sub-categories, including primarily source criticism, form criticism, and redaction criticism.
An example of higher (source) criticism at work would be the study of the Synoptic problem. Higher critics noticed that the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, were very similar, indeed, at times identical. The dominant theory to account for the duplication is called the two-source hypothesis. This suggests that Mark was the first gospel to be written, and that it was probably based on a combination of early oral and written material. Matthew and Luke were written at a later time, and relied primarily on two different sources: Mark and a written collection of Jesus’ sayings, which has been given the name Q by scholars . This latter document has now been lost, but at least some of its material can be deduced indirectly, namely through the material that is common in Mathew and Luke but absent in Mark. In addition to Mark and Q, the writers of Mathew and Luke made some use of additional sources, which would account for the material that is unique to each of them.
And that doesn’t even begin to get into the quarrels over the book of John. Johannine scholarship has always been in turmoil, as this wiki entry shows.
Having studied the turmoil created by German biblical/critical scholarship — and if someone can remember the German term for this long war, I’d be grateful — I can more or less plot the drama such historical revelations regarding the Koran will follow. Only it will be bloodier, because the rigidity of Islam’s scripture is much more ingrained than it ever was in Christianity. For example, Saint Augustine, a doctor of the early church, had his questions. On the other hand, Martin Luther (ironically an Augustinian priest) insisted on the inerrancy of Christian Scripture.
Read the whole thing. As Spengler says,
Islam watchers blogged all weekend about news that a secret archive of ancient Islamic texts had surfaced after 60 years of suppression. Andrew Higgins’ Wall Street Journal report that the photographic record of Koranic manuscripts, supposedly destroyed during World War II but occulted by a scholar of alleged Nazi sympathies, reads like a conflation of the Da Vinci Code with Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail.
This conflation alone is enough to start a Holy War.
Hat tip: Gold Book