Christmas in The Koran

Christmas in the Koran:
Luxenberg, Syriac, and the Near Eastern and Judeo-Christian Background of Islam

Edited by Ibn Warraq
Prometheus Books, August 2014
805 pp., $49.95

This is the first week of Advent in the Christian Liturgical Calendar. As Christians the world over begin the month-long preparation for Christmas it seems a propitious time to bring up yet again the inevitable increase in academia’s “historical criticism” of Islamic scripture, particularly the Koran.

Whether Islam likes it or not, its impingement on the West follows a predictable path of reaction, which may be one reason Islamic scholars have attempted so strenuously to avoid contamination by other creeds and cultures — e.g., by censuring non-Islamic scholars’ commentary on its primary work. Islam’s repeated pronouncement — that the Koran is somehow immutable, unchangeable, and an act of God — may scare some away, but it carries little weight amongst the scholars devoted to the history of religions.

This robust process of critical review of both form and content is one to which all Holy Books in our Western tradition have been subjected. Like it or nor, the Koran faces the same stringent formal critiques that all religions undergo at the hands of philosophers of religion, philologists who take apart old texts, and forensically minded cultural anthropologists, etc.

Curiosity killed the cat and will defile a sacred text? That was Bishop Berkeley’s old fear but it’s not true. For those whose faith is robust, the process engages and energizes the believer in looking at his belief and the books which underpin his faith. Unfortunately for the fearful, any close analysis may engender suspicion and reactive anger. That’s one path to follow. Another possibility is to accept the historical analysis as “proving” the books to be ‘false’ for those determined to do so. But such assessments are separate from the felt experience of faith and its concomitant personal meaning and value.

If Islam were wise, it would understand this necessary process as part of a developmental maturing. Somehow I don’t think Islamic scholars are courageous enough to allow this.

The New English Review has posted a review of Ibn Warraq’s summation of the work being done on Islam’s body of work in the Koran. Allowing for differences in content and form the scalpels are the same instruments used on Judaeo-Christian source documents.

The Western milieu which produced the paradigm of science-based knowledge is based on curiosity. While the scientism (a perversion of the real thing) of the ignorant often led to the wasteland, the underlying curiosity —> satisfaction —> curiosity spectrum innate in every human being who hasn’t had it beaten out of them still holds.

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Christmas in the Koran, Or, What is Left of Islam?

by Rebecca Bynum

With this volume, Ibn Warraq has succeeded in proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Koran is a human document, with a human history. These studies will go a long way toward breaking through the fantastic fairy-tale claims Muslims make about the Koran: as perfect and “uncreated,” revealed by an angel to an illiterate Arab in the Hijaz, memorized and passed down by an unbroken oral tradition, and never edited or altered by human hands.

Anyone having read the Koran’s “turgid, verbose and shapeless”[1] prose can instantly imagine it to be full of transcription and/or translation errors. For decades, a few brave philological scholars have toiled diligently to unravel the knotty strands of the language of the Koran and what they have found will astound the world if the world will take a moment away from its chronic, superficial obsessions to actually listen and to let it sink in.

The entire Islamic edifice rests on the story of its origins and that story has utterly collapsed under scientific scrutiny.

Christmas in the Koran contains a complete, compelling and methodical argument, showcasing the work of sixteen prominent scholars in the field of Koranic philology, which demolishes the standard Islamic narrative. I will attempt to summarize a few key questions their work has illuminated.

Claim: The Koran originated in the area around Mecca in the Hijaz.

False. Not only the Koran, but Classical Arabic itself arose in Syrio-Palestine or Arabia Petraea. The Arabs of south-central Arabia or Arabia Deserta at that time used the south Arabian script which does not require the diacritical marks to differentiate the sounds of the Arabic language. Around the time of the Koran’s origin, this script had been in use for over twelve hundred years. On the other hand, the northern Arabian areas evolved a writing tradition using Aramaic script and then added diacritical marks in order to produce the correct Arabic phonemes or sounds, which is how the Koran is written. Furthermore, the Koran exhibits numerous Syrian Aramaic, or Syriac, words. Couple that with the fact that there is no archaeological evidence for an Arab conquest of Syria (as there is none for an Arab conquest of Persia or for the grand Islamic cities that were supposed to have existed in southern Spain for that matter), and one cannot escape the conclusion that the line between history and stories has been blurred in the Arab mind for a long time. The Koran simply could not have originated in the Hijaz or it would have been written in the script used in that area, a script much better suited to the language. In the present volume, Robert Kerr makes this compelling case.

Claim: The Koran came from a largely pagan area and its clear-cut monotheism was a great advance over paganism.

False. The area, especially the north, was heavily Christianized by the seventh century with grand churches found as far south as the Yemen. The preponderance of the evidence also suggests that the Koranic understanding of the Old Testament comes not from Jewish sources, as has been supposed in the past, but from Christian Monophysite, Ebionite and Nestorian sources. John Bowman argues that the Koran was also greatly influenced by an innovation from that period called the Diatessaron which combined all the Gospels into one.

Middle East Christians also exhibited a marked tendency to favor an increasing literal interpretation of the bible along with a gradual abandonment of the Trinity concept. There were also groups who revered Jesus as a prophet, but not as divine, and kept to the laws of Moses — the so-called Judeo-Christians. There were also many austere groups of monks who chanted and prayed head to floor several times a day. Furthermore there were two prior claimants to the status of “Paraclete in human form” who lived before the time of Muhammad. “Paraclete” is the Greek word denoting the Spirit of Truth or The Comforter — the spiritual presence of Jesus he promised to send after his ascension. The Comforter was interpreted by these same literal-minded Christians to denote a person, not a spirit. “Muhammad” is the Syriac word for Paraclete, also meaning “The Praised One.”

Claim: The Koran has not been altered by human hands.

False. Not only is there abundant evidence for numerous layers of editing, but also transcription errors, additions and mistranslations. The Koran did not spring forth fully formed, but is more likely the result of a centuries-long process, built up layer upon layer.

Through the painstaking work of these scholars, at the bottom of these layers is glimpsed what seems to be Christian liturgical literature written in Syrio-Aramaic (Syriac). In other words, a Christian book has been shown to form the foundation of the Koran. The same conclusion has been reached by numerous scholars using different methods going back decades.

To make matters even more complicated, though this original book had been translated from Syriac into Arabic, there was great resistance to using the diacritical marking system as a phonetic guide (possibly because the original “sacred book” was in written in Syrio-Aramaic and required no marks), so the Koran was transcribed without these marks for a long period. This is the equivalent to writing in English without vowels. When the diacritical marks were finally reintroduced, many words were ambiguous and subject to interpretation. Again, this militates against the notion of a long oral tradition which would have preserved the meaning where the script was unclear.

As demonstrated by Munther Younes, the traditional Koranic passage, “By the runners (assumed to be horses) snorting / And lighting a spark (with their hooves) / And raiding in the morning (a possible addition) / And they stirred up dust in it / And they went with it into the middle of a gathering,” is revealed instead to be “(And) those (maidens) going out early in the morning / And kindling a flame / By which they chose to do a good deed / Which they extended to the multitudes.” This was found simply by changing the diacritical marks. In this way the passage makes better syntactical as well as meaningful sense. As it stand now, as much as one fifth of the Koran makes no sense at all and Muslim Koranic exegetes disagree on the meaning of many passages.

The main thrust of this collection, however, centers on the important work of Christoph Luxenberg. The method Luxenberg uses is to translate problematic parts of the Koran back into Syriac and then to look for words (and syntax, etc.) which are likely to have been mistranslated (most words have more than one meaning) and then to translate it back using the translation which better fits the context.

Here is the traditional Sura 108 with the problem words underlined: “Verily, we have given you abundance / so pray to thy Lord and sacrifice. / Verily, it is he who hateth thee who is the docked one (referring to the devil’s tail).”

After Luxenberg’s careful analysis it is revealed to be a verse reminiscent of St. Peter’s First Epistle: “We have given you the virtue of constancy / so pray to your Lord and persevere in prayer / Your adversary (the devil) is (then) the loser.”

In this volume, Luxenberg discusses many aspects of the life of Jesus found in the Koran including the Last Supper (Surah 5: The Table), Mary and the miraculous birth (Surah 19: Mary) and the night of the Nativity (Surah 97: The Night of Destiny or Power). As Luxenberg points out:

This linguistic aspect of the Qur’an being confirmed historically as of Syriac origin leads the author henceforth to conclude that not only the form, but the substance of the Qur’an is of Syrio-Aramaic origin, or at least the latter constitutes the foundation. The latter more so because the word “Qur’an itself is nothing other than a phonetic Arabic distortion of the Syriac term Qeryan, designating a Syriac liturgical book corresponding to the Lectionary (Lectionarium) of the Roman liturgy, from which the Readings, constituting extracts of the Old and New Testament, are read in the Christian liturgical service. It is thus not surprising that Jesus (‘Isa) is cited twenty-five times in the Qur’an and that he is there referred to as the Messiah (al-Masih) eleven times. Thus it is only logical to see other Syro-Christian passages being a part of this foundation which constitutes the origin of the Qur’an…

Luxenberg also shows convincingly that the so called “mysterious letters” in the Koran are notations on the pages of this foundational Lectionary indicating which Psalms to read and which hymns to sing during service. These must have been reverently transcribed by the early Koranic scribes without their understanding the letters’ significance.

Of course the elephant in the room, which is not specifically tackled in this collection, is the fact that if the foundation of the Koran is a Christian Lectionary, then the text came before Muhammad. And since the Koran cannot be understood except with the aid of the Sira (the life of Muhammad), this prompts the question as to whether the life of Muhammad and the Traditions (Hadiths) were all fabricated in order to make sense of the mistranslated Koran. Each would have then reinforced the other so that the “authoritative” Sira we have today by Ibn Ishaq (which appeared in its final form in the ninth century — two hundred years after the events it supposedly records) could well be a combination of legend, myth, the need to explain the Koran and possibly the need to create an Arab national religion, distinct from and opposed to, Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism — all three of which contributed to the development of Islam.

What will eventually loosen the bonds of Islam over the minds of men, and allow them to begin to view it dispassionately, is exactly what loosened the bonds of the Church in the 16th and 17th centuries — intelligent, scholarly criticism of its foundational texts. This is the task Ibn Warraq has set himself — to help create the conditions for an Islamic Enlightenment.

In traditional Islam, the man created the book, but it looks increasingly as though it was the other way around; the book created the “man.” As Ibn Warraq says in his introduction on Luxenberg:

For Luxenberg, philology helps or can help to recover the historical truth, in the same way archeology does. Thus his skepticism is hardly surprising for a scholar who feels he has managed to destroy the conventional historical interpretation of various terms in the Koran: Muhammad is a title, and it does not refer to the Prophet of the Arabs; ‘Abd Allah is not the putative name of the father of the Prophet, but also a title derived from the inscriptions at the Dome of the Rock; Bakka is not the alternative name for the city of Mecca; the so-called Battle of Badr never took place, and the term badr has been misread; the term quraysh in the Koran has nothing to do with a tribe called Quraysh; “the year of the elephant” has nothing to do with the Prophet’s birth, or with elephants; ‘Arafat (Surah 2:198) is not a place name but means “benediction;” and the ka’ba is not the Ka’ba of Islamic tradition. Just what is left of Islam after this scholarly hurricane?

What indeed?

1. Winston Churchill comparing Mein Kampf to the Koran.

21 thoughts on “Christmas in The Koran

  1. Is it really any wonder then why so called Islamic Scholars do not wish to have the Qu’ran ‘investigated’ suiting themselves instead to use ‘blasphemy’ as a barrier to curtail those intrepid Muslims and non-Muslims who would like nothing better than to expose the masquerade that Islam has been hiding behind for 1400 years?

  2. Have you shown this to Jay Smith, or purchased a copy for him as a Christmas Present?? He has examined the original sacred text in the Museum in Ankara, Turkey under ultraviolet and found where the original vellum was bleached and a new word was written over the bleached out word. (Can you spell forgery?)
    They will need to declare jihad upon the lot of us to silence and slaughter us lest the falsity of their ‘holy’ book be shown to the whole world as the emperor who was clothed in his new (birthday) suit.

    • There is also the resurrected archive under study in the UK . . .The Lost Koran Archive

      “On the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college here housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Quran.

      The 450 rolls of film had been assembled before the war for a bold venture: a study of the evolution of the Quran, the text Muslims view as the verbatim transcript of God’s word. The wartime destruction made the project “outright impossible,” Mr. Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.

      Mr. Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he was sitting on it all along. The truth is only now dribbling out to scholars — and a Quran research project buried for more than 60 years has risen from the grave.

      “He pretended it disappeared. He wanted to be rid of it,” says Angelika Neuwirth, a former pupil and protégée of the late Mr. Spitaler. Academics who worked with Mr. Spitaler, a powerful figure in postwar German scholarship who died in 2003, have been left guessing why he squirreled away the unusual trove for so long.

      Ms. Neuwirth, a professor of Arabic studies at Berlin’s Free University, now is overseeing a revival of the research. The project renews a grand tradition of German Quranic scholarship that was interrupted by the Third Reich. The Nazis purged Jewish experts on ancient Arabic texts and compelled Aryan colleagues to serve the war effort. Middle East scholars worked as intelligence officers, interrogators and linguists. Mr. Spitaler himself served, apparently as a translator, in the German-Arab Infantry Battalion 845, a unit of Arab volunteers to the Nazi cause, according to wartime records.

  3. “Here was the new Koran of faith and war: turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message.” (Winston Churchill, The Gathering Storm, Mariner Books, p. 50)

    “… I would then have him trace the process of our moral decline, to watch, first, the sinking of the foundations of morality as the old teaching was allowed to lapse, then the rapidly increasing disintegration, then the final collapse of the whole edifice, and the dark dawning of our modern day when we can neither endure our vices nor face the remedies needed to cure them. The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings; fine things to take as models, base things, rotten through and through, to avoid.”

    Livy (2005-05-26). The Early History of Rome: Bks. 1-5 (Penguin Classics) (p. 30). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

  4. With all due respect, these scholars look to me as if they are indulging in the sort of speculation present in the worst form of Biblical criticism. All too often scholars treat a sacred text all too differently from what would be regarded as appropriate for a more secular document. Any part of the text which appears ambiguous is given an interpretation, as far as possible, the direct opposite of what the believers give it. Any part of the text which is at variance with the scholar’s own beliefs is assumed to be an interpolation, and so forth.
    The Koran was certainly of human origins, and it certainly went through stages of transmission, but it was not written by a committee. You can see the style of a very vivid personality behind it, just as the very vivid personality of Jesus appears behind his parables and aphorisms. Meanwhile, although the Sira were written some centuries after the events in question, and contain a certain amount of contradictions, they nevertheless hang together fairly well.
    What I am getting at is that many of these anti-Muslims are protesting too much, just as the anti-Christians protest too much, and they are not doing their cause any favours.

    • As you suggest the Qu’ran may seem to have a ‘personality’ behind its literary thread which if it is the case, then the person who concocted its theme knew of other religions and the effect it had on whole peoples because much of what is written in the earlier parts is a reflection of those other religions.

      But the Qu’ran did not rest with that one individuals personage, it has been added to in parts and abrogated in other parts for 1400 years – in other words, what is the real message of the original authors words?

      Your denigration of those who persist in seeking the fundamental and historical aspects to the Qu’ran is misplaced. If the Qu’ran cannot be diced, dissected, sifted and given the light of day, then how will we ever find out what the Qur’an’s original message was and for who was it written?

    • Another problem is, is that Muslims aren’t going to listen to apostates like Warraq, they see their side winning over a bunch of decrepit Western secularists who believe in nothing and fight for nothing. They are the men without chests.

      These rapid and easy successes validate their faith.

      In short the West has no counter offer to this. Atheism/modernism isn’t attractive to most outside of hardened Marxists, post-modernists and intellectuals like Dawkins. And one only has to look at this lot to see most people would be repulsed by them.

      • I would suggest that for the time being you are correct in your assessment. I would wager that within Islam, particularly those Muslims who have made a good life for themselves living in the West, there would be a significant number who would not be surprised to find that Islam is a beat up from a book that has plagiarized other religions while imposing the narcissistic thinking of its original author who inserted his own brand of ‘god’ into the mix.

        I forecast there will come a time when those ‘modernized Muslims’ will be faced with a dilemma – do they stick with what they have come to accept as normal and support the civilization that has given them what they have by renouncing Islam or do they forgo their lifestyle to take up once again a system of living they have come to reject knowing also that the duty of jihad then awaits them?

        There remain aspects of the West that are still very attractive to Muslim barbarians fresh from the desert who have had enough of what Islam preaches and are willing to change their ways.

        It is the Mosques that are the problem within the West that needs to be countered by destroying them all, because it is from the Mosques that the intellectual smothering of Islam blankets the Ummah. Once the Mosques are gone from within the West, so too will be the threat of Islamic takeover.

      • I agree. This scholarship of course should be pursued in interest of our Western love of the truth and curiosity; but not because we might fantasize that it will solve the world’s vertiginously metastasizing problem of mass-murderous (and mass-mendacious) Mohammedans.

    • Malcolm, I agree.

      If the “Jesus” of the Qur’an has precedents other than the imaginings of a 7th century Unitarian named Muhammad, it is a peculiar mix of the Ebionite and the Docetic. It is Ebionite in making Jesus a mere man, and even less, since the Ebionites made Jesus, as Messiah, more than a prophet; but Docetic in insisting that a phantom was crucified in Jesus’ place. As for the so-called “Monophysites”, they were people whose stress was on Jesus’ divinity; but there distance from orthodoxy may be more apparent than real. Further, the Docetists and Ebionites were long gone by Muhammad’s time. Even Arianism was in utter disarray, and possibly no longer coherent by the 7th century.

      As for “the worst kind of biblical criticism”, I’m also of the mind that the time is long past due to free the academic study of the Scriptures from the shade of Georg Hegel and the bullyings of his academic Marxist great-grandchildren.

      I believe firmly that where there’s smoke, there’s fire; and the smoke of Islam comes from a fire lit by a creative charlatan from Mecca by the name of Muhammad.

  5. The key to all this is Egyptian Hieroglyphs that are called hierolytic when written in abstract-cursive form on payrus- used by Egyptian scribal class, from where we obtain “scribble”. I read hieroglyphs and they like many Semitic writing forms do not denote vowels so we archaeologists had to guess what the sounds between the glyphs were. They could be “a”, “aw”, “waa”, “ee” etc. The hieroglyph for Mohammed MHMD would therefore be an Owl for “Mmm”, semi closed eye glyph for “Hhhh”, another owl and a “Derh” made up of a globe, snake, and ship or papyrus river craft.

  6. I think what is even more preposterous than a so-called written copy of God’s Words is the very idea that God takes to whispering into the ears and minds of a particular man, a prophet to give him a name, when the Divine has a message for the world. Unbelievable that believers believe such stuff!

    • Islam is an intellectual desert. Unlike Christian-Judeo thinking, Islam does not promote thinking outside its own collective which is why all the isms of the Left seem to find such a friend in Islam.

    • Well, I believe firmly that “men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:21).

      And so, if I turn from my mishegos, I should urge my granddaughter, when she comes of age, to ritually prostitute her body to the Great God Urge; then sacrifice her first child to the Ba’al of “Woman’s Right to Choose?” Or, I should turn to the Great Goddess Historical Necessity, proclaimed by Marx? Or the Blond Beast, proclaimed by the syphillis-ridden Nietzsche?

      All too believeable that those in the seat of the scornful (Psalm 1:1) worship such despicable little Ba’alim and the Ahstoroth of “Mother Nature”! We were warned by wise men that the heart of fallen man is a factory of idols.

  7. The girl Mohammad married at age 9, Aiyesha, tells us in the Hadiths that The Koran is imperfect from the very start. Islam is thereby done in by his own final wife.

    How Muslims have overlooked this fatal flaw in the “Recitation”‘s foundational claim to being “perfect’ is something for a Psychologist to puzzle over.

    The child bride recounted that a host of Suras (verses) of the Al Qur’an were lost forever when the men who had memorized them died in battle before the revelations were ever written down.

    Ergo: the Koran is born flawed, thus a fraud.

    No lengthy dissertations are needed to unravel this theological web.

    Aiyesha destroys Islam in a sentence.

    And all of the faith falls with an imperfect Koran.

  8. For me I am not sure that reinterpretation of koran will change any thing.
    If anything it will be ongoing circuitous debate at an elite level and probably easily deflected by such OIC.

    Already the language used by the UN and human rights meanings has been changed and is already having major effects on free speech and thru “hate speech” that activates policing, and even Interpol for Islamic purposes. More is planned to have major effects in Western Countries.

    You may have already covered this, though I do think perhaps worth a visit again
    “The Organization of Islamic Cooperation OIC and its Role in Enforcing Islamic Law” by Steve Coughlin .
    It is worthwhile watching and to soak in all the change of meanings of words that is going into our legislation world wide and your government now. It is about 1 hour 15 minutes long, but you can hit the pause button for a rest, though I did end up doing much more small rewinds to fully understand and appreciate what information sources he was using, as I digested it in one go.

    It is an important area of language change from the OIC that we need to know about, as much as that trinity of books, so that we know what we are fighting against. “Know Your Enemy” as they are already well camouflaged into our systems and we are just wasting time and energy as they so easily deflect us.

    Though I have been aware of Coughlin I have been slow to pick on the idea of seeing his videos. In this video it takes us thru how the real stealth connections are really working and severely sabotaging and training much of our government legislation there way.

    We are aware of much what he says; it is the connecting the dots in one foul swoop that does it for me, plus much more current information.

    • Do not be disheartened by this video with the information it brings, as information then collated brings knowledge, from which wisdom then can bring forth effective action.

      After all it is one of the reasons that I have lurked here for years, and now more actively honing my skills, and to be more effective, improving my computer skills, writing skills, understanding and trying to be more succinct.

      All thanks to Baron and Dymphna for their generosity of spirit, dedication, and loyalty to this new education for me.
      So it is time for me to become a bit more active, with gained knowledge, and to use wisely and effectively, to combat the major changes being foisted onto western civilization.

      • The profound ignorance concerning Islam within West in ALL levels of society is truly astounding, especially given all the media advantages the West enjoys.

        Goes to show how many will always wish to dwell within their own little worlds until reality decides to come knocking at their doors.

  9. As any historian knows, history is a problem-solving discipline that must be articulated in the form of a reasoned argument. Therefore to prove that there is even such a thing as an Islamic scholar requires extremely fancy footwork and BS.

  10. Love the review. Too bad it’s too expensive. Several reviews on Amazon say that it was not advantageous to include older material (older than 100 yrs) but other than Warraq’s books, they are impossible to come by. Even if they have been superceded, we need access, in order to know how we got from A to H.

    I look forward to reading this one, much better than the last one.

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