The Qur'an in Its Historical Context

The Qur'an in Its Historical Context

The Qur'an in Its Historical Context

The Qur'an in Its Historical Context


Providing commentary on the controversial revisionist school of Qur'anic studies, this book explores the origins, scholarship and development of the Qur'an. The collection of articles, each written by a distinguished author, treat very familiar passages of the Qur'an in an original manner, combining thorough philology, historical anthropology, and cultural history.

This book addresses in a critical fashion the hottest issues in recent works on the Quran. Among other things, the contributors analyze the controversial theories of Luxenberg regarding Syriac and the Quran, and in particular his argument that the term Hur refers not to virgins but to grapes.


Three decades ago, when a number of revisionist approaches to the Qur’ān and early Islamic history were proposed within the space of a few years, the questions at issue and the mutually incompatible answers proposed seemed of interest almost exclusively to scholars. Yet the publication of Christoph Luxenberg’s Die syro-aramäische Lesart des Koran excited a great deal of popular and journalistic attention, without for the most part finding a serious hearing among scholars. The present collection and the rich and varied conference from which it sprang, while generally unconvinced by Luxenberg’s work, takes it as a jumping-off point to try and re-focus the complex, even chaotic, field of contemporary Qur’ān scholarship.

There is little doubt that the pseudonymous work has been useful in sparking renewed attention to the relationship between the Qur’ān and the lingua franca of much of the Middle East in the years when Islam was emerging. However, because of the hermeneutical and theological presuppositions underlying Luxenberg’s work, and the lack of a clear understanding of how languages function and develop, one wonders whether his approach is not muddying the waters rather more than clarifying them.

Luxenberg proposes to “unlock” for us the original meaning of the Qur’ān – until now, he claims, held prisoner by the failure of the Islamic tradition (and other scholars who have effectively followed it) to appreciate the role of Syro-Aramaic in the formation of the Qur’ān and its language. Behind that aim lies an assumption that the real meaning of the Qur’ān is to be found in the text itself, or rather behind the text in the mind of the original author. His work shows little appreciation of the notion that the meaning of a text is not simply found in the mens auctoris but rather in the mens lectoris or, better, in the complex relationship between the text and its readers in their contexts. He seems to espouse the reconstructionist hermeneutic of a Schleiermacher or a Dilthey, leaving unexamined the important critique made by Gadamer and the vast amount of reflection on hermeneutical issues that has taken place in the last century.

This same hermeneutical naiveté drives the popular interest in Luxenberg’s reconstructions of what he sees as the original text. It is perhaps instructive to note that the vast majority of journalistic attention was devoted to Luxenberg’s . . .

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