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From the very beginning of Islam there have been two opposing views regarding the origin of the Quran. God revealed the Quran to Muhammad peace be upon him through the agency of the Archangel Gabriel in stages over approximately 23 years. Many of the incidents mentioned in the Quran also occur in the Jewish and Christian scriptures.

This is to be expected since Abraham, Moses and Jesus to name but a few were prophets of God just like Muhammad. Peace be upon them all. The Quran was composed by Muhammad pbuh himself who falsely claimed that it had come from God or who may have genuinely but incorrectly believed that it came from God.

The Jewish and Christian themes mentioned in the Quran appear there because Muhammad pbuh was familiar with them from Jews and Christians that he encountered. There was a whole body of stories, known as the Israiliyat in Arabic, known at that time from which Muhammad pbuh took the themes in the Quran.

This non-Muslim view is mentioned many times in the Quran. The response from God, as stated in the Quran, is that if the disbelievers considered that Muhammad pbuh was composing the Quran himself, they were challenged to compose something of equivalent literary merit. Now this Qur'an could not possibly have been devised by anyone save God: nay indeed, it confirms the truth of whatever there still remains [of earlier revelations] and clearly spells out the revelation [which comes] - let there be no doubt about it - from the Sustainer of all the worlds.

And yet, they [who are bent on denying the truth] assert, "[Muhammad] has invented it! The disagreement between Muslims and non-Muslims is not about the basic facts but about whether Muhammad pbuh received the Quran from God or whether he composed it himself.

The non-Muslim view should not be regarded by Muslims as in any way problematical. The Quran itself recognises that many will choose not to believe in Islam while making it clear that they face the risk of punishment in the afterlife. Say, "The truth is from your Lord": Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject it : for the wrong-doers We have prepared a Fire whose smoke and flames , like the walls and roof of a tent, will hem them in: if they implore relief they will be granted water like melted brass, that will scald their faces, how dreadful the drink!

How uncomfortable a couch to recline on! His work has been taken forward in diverse ways by a number of his students and others, and there is no single consistent "radical" view. However, Wansbrough's own view was that the Quran was most probably composed around years later than the standard date, and in Mesopotamia rather than the Hijaz the area of Western Arabia that includes Mecca and Medina. This radical view is much more challenging to a Muslim than the standard non-Muslim view.

If the Quran was composed years later and in Mesopotamia, then God could not possibly have given it to Muhammad pbuh. I do not believe in ignoring an argument just because the person is saying things that contradict what I believe.

Wansbrough was a serious academic and deserves to be engaged with. Rather than looking at secondary sources, I decided to read the original book in which Wansbrough set out his views. In passing, there seems to be only one other review freely available on the internet, a three page review by Carool Kersten in the The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences.

This book was originally published in but the preface by John Wansbrough which is dated July states that the final draft was completed in July and that Wansbrough therefore did not take account of studies published since that date. Hence the ideas are about 40 years old as mentioned above. The current edition was published in and contains a forward, translations and expanded notes by Andrew Rippin , one of Wansbrough's graduate students and now a leading scholar in his own right.

The annotations are on pages — It would have helped to have them as footnotes on each page to avoid having to leaf backwards and forwards but Rippin did not wish to be seen as changing Wansbrough's original text. This book was written by an academic for other academics. Accordingly it is incredibly hard to read unless you are a specialist, since the author moves seamlessly between highly academic English, Arabic written in Arabic script, transliterated Arabic, Latin, Hebrew, Greek and German.

The author assumes total familiarity with the language that biblical scholars use to analyse and discuss the text of the Bible; a reasonable assumption given the audience that Wansbrough was writing for. Accordingly I found the book very tough going.

Despite the challenges I persevered and am glad that I did so. Leaving aside the annotations, indices etc. It is not an easy book to summarise, especially since it comprises essays that were originally written separately. They have been melded into a book but with relatively little fusion.

Accordingly I will not attempt to condense the book. However in this section I would like to give the reader an overview of the book before offering my own concluding comments. Not only are the resources available to scholars of the Quran much more limited than those available to their biblical-scholar counterparts, but the depth of methodological experimentation in dealing with the scriptural text has been severely limited in comparison.

This situation is illustrated by consideration of the sheer quantity of scholarship that has been produced and the number of scholarly landmarks that exist in the field. Modern biblical scholarship fills a library many times the size of that devoted to the Quran. Each subdiscipline of biblical studies has its own set of 'classics. In Rippin's view modern Quran scholarship began with Abraham Geiger's essay originally written in Latin and then published in German as "Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen?

Rippin writes:. No longer was the Quran being approached from the mediaeval perspective of polemic grounded in the notion that Muhammad was a religious imposter. Geiger's work set a new direction for scholarship because its working assumption was that Muhammad was sincere in his religious mission. Geiger's study was motivated by the underlying thrust of post-Enlightenment work generally, which promoted a sense of curiosity to which no particular value was added over and above the desire to know the previously unknown.

Although these exegetical works were known to exist, having faithfully being catalogued by Sezgin , no scholar had actually read them and tried to make coherent sense of the material. This is one of Wansbrough's main accomplishments as reflected in this book, which lists 17 manuscript works. Notably, almost all of these books have now been edited and published.

There is a good deal of uncertainty as to what we do mean here by 'the Quran. I would say that when we speak of the Quran in this context, and if we are going to have a meaningful discussion of the question, three elements must come into play: one, there must be a fixed body of text that is, two, written down, and, three, has some measure of acceptance among a group of people as a source of authority.

As the record of Muslim revelation the book requires no introduction. As a document susceptible of analysis by the instruments and techniques of Biblical criticism it is virtually unknown. The doctrinal obstacles that have traditionally impeded such investigation are, on the other hand, very well-known. Not merely dogmas such as those defining scripture as the uncreated Word of God and acknowledging its formal and substantive inimitability, but also the entire corpus of Islamic historiography, by providing a more or less coherent and plausible report of the circumstances of the Quranic revelation, have discouraged examination of the document as representative of a literary type.

But historiography, like other kind of literature, derives an important share of its momentum from the rhetorical devices upon which it depends for expression, that is, upon techniques designed, developed, or borrowed to enhance and to interpret its communication. Historical reports of the Quranic revelation are no exception, and it seemed to me that a structural analysis, not only of the text of scripture but also of the other evidence associated with its genesis and with its interpretation, might produce some useful comparisons with the traditional historiography.

In other words, by looking at the text of the Quran and the text of existing Muslim historical writings about the Quran, Wansbrough considered that he could come up with an alternative explanation about its origins. This table prepared by Rippin lists the 17 manuscripts upon which Wansbrough relied and gives references in those cases where they have since been published. An illustration is Surat Yusuf, often cited as a single instance of complete and sustained narrative in the Quran.

In fact, without benefit of exegesis the Quranic story of Joseph is anything but clear, a consequence in part of its elliptical presentation and in part of occasional allusion to extra-Biblical tradition, e. It may, indeed, be supposed that the public for whom Muslim scripture was intended could be expected to supply the missing detail.

A distinctly referential, as contrasted with expository, style characterises Quranic treatment of most of what I have alluded to as schemata of revelation…".

Wansbrough is drawing attention to a stylistic aspect of the Quran which often surprises new readers, especially if they are familiar with the straightforward narrative style of the Bible. The Quran is written in a fundamentally different style which is much less narrative and in language that is more elliptical and contains many allusions. However it is worth reading Surat Yusuf oneself to see if it is really as unclear as Wansbrough states. Wansbrough proceeds to illustrate his point with a large number of detailed and minutely analysed references which are not easy to summarise and which should be read in the original book.

Wansbrough sets out his views on variants within the text. By variants he appears to mean multiple versions of the same story within the text of the Quran. In the Muslim exegetical literature the latter were explained, or evaded, by reference to the chronology of revelation, by means of which unmistakable repetition in the Quranic text could be justified. Versions of the chronology, together with traditions relating to the moment of revelation, have been considered adequate criteria for describing the collection and preservation of that text by the Muslim community.

But the variant traditions are present in such quantity as to deserve some attention in a description of the process by which revelation became canon. Unlike the minutiae to be gained from variae lectiones ,[variant readings] analysis of variant traditions will not support the theory of an Urtext [original text] nor even that of a composite edition produced by deliberations in committee, both of which may, not surprisingly, be traced to Rabbinic Vorlagen [prior texts]. Such analysis indicates, rather, the existence of independent, possibly regional, traditions incorporated more or less intact into the canonical compilation, itself a product of expansion and strife within the Muslim community.

Wansbrough appears to consider that the repetition in the Quran rules out there being a single author, or even an editorial committee. Instead he appears to contend that segments of text, already regarded as sacred, were stuck together to make the Quran.

However apart from what he says about the repetitions themselves, I could not see any additional support being offered for his assertions. Wansbrough goes on to criticise other scholars who have sought to understand the Quran relying upon the traditional chronology of its revelation.

Demonstration of the 'historical development of Abraham in the Quran' , for Moubarac the evolution of a composite figure out an originally dual image, required not only a verifiable chronology of revelation but also the structural unity of the Canon. Both were asserted; neither was proved. Wansbrough sets the scene by explaining how he sees the Quran as fitting within the wider tradition of revelation and the preceding Jewish and Christian scriptures.

He is aware that Muslims consider that the Quran fulfills and completes the prior revelations. From the foregoing analysis of rhetorical schemata and of variant tradition, exegetical gloss, and conceptual assimilation, it may be supposed that the Quranic revelation is no exception to the general rule.

But the mimetic process is a complex one. Isolation of such monotheist imagery as is characteristic of themes like divine retribution and sign, covenant and exile, indicates the perpetuation in Muslim scripture of established literary types. And yet, the merely allusive style of that document would appear to preclude positing the relationship of figural interpretation typology admitted to exist between the Old and New Testaments. The pattern of fulfilment figuram implere ['to fill the figure' per Google Translate] cannot, or at least hardly, be elicited from a comparison of Muslim with Hebrew scripture.

That this is not merely a negative inference from the absence of an explicit connection of the sort established between the Christian and Hebrew scriptures ought to be clear from an examination of the Quranic forms themselves, which reflect, but do not develop, most of the themes traditionally associated with literature of prophetical expression.

If the claim to place the Quran within that clearly defined literary tradition is conceded, it would none the less be inaccurate to describe that document as exhibiting essentially a calque of earlier fixed forms. The relationship is rather more complicated, due at least in part to the origins of Muslim scripture in polemic. Wansbrough appears to have preconceived views regarding how the Quran should be written and what it should say if it is going to "develop, most of the themes traditionally associated with literature of prophetical expression".

He also repeats his earlier assertion that the Quran originated in intra-Muslim polemics, but I was unable to see any clear explanation of why he holds that view. Wansbrough rejects the traditional view that the Quran was revealed in stages and that a chronology of the revelation is known. He spends a number of pages analysing the appearance of Jafar ibn Abi Talib before the ruler of Ethiopia when the Quraysh sent a mission to secure the return of the emigrants to Mecca.

He discusses a number of different accounts of this story in the manuscripts and concludes that what is said about the chronology of the revelation of Surat Maryam cannot be relied upon.

Wansbrough mentions the view of earlier scholars regarding the Muslim traditions and then dismisses it.


John Wansbrough

Wansbrough is credited with founded the so-called "revisionist" school of Islamic Studies through his fundamental criticism of the historical credibility of the classical Islamic narratives concerning Islam's beginnings and his attempt to develop an alternative, historically more credible version of Islam's beginnings. Wansbrough was born in Peoria, Illinois. He died at Montaigu-de-Quercy , France. Hawting , Patricia Crone and Michael Cook. Wansbrough work stresses two points -- that Muslim literature is late, dating more than a century and a half after the death of Muhammad, and that Islam is a complex phenomenon which must have taken many generations to fully develop. When Wansbrough began studying early Islamic manuscripts and the Quran, he realized that the early Islamic texts addressed an audience which was familiar with Jewish and Christian texts, and that Jewish and Christian theological problems were discussed.





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