The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Problems with Motzki?

Eleven years ago I got into reading Harald Motzki. I have been asked to deliver an update. Over the past eleven years, I have read and/or redigested three Motzki works. (That is, the works I could find in English. My German was never good, and I've not used it for almost a year, so English it has to be.) So - here:

  • "The Collection of the Qur’ân: A Reconsideration of Western Views in Light of Recent Methodological Developments", Der Islam 78 (2001), 1-34;
  • The Origins of Islamic Jurisprudence, Islamic History and Civilization Series (Brill, 2001 tr. from the early 1990s) [no thanks to Brill];
  • "Motzki’s Reliable Transmitter: A Short Answer to P. Gledhill", Islamic Law and Society 19 (2012), 194-9.

Motzki is mainly known in modern Islam by his knightly title, Vindicator Of The Hadith. To that end the first two works above have convinced me ... back to the reign of Hisham, but not further. The third one is where Motzki admits that his own method doesn't work well before Hisham (and more to the point Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri). The question we should have is whether this statement amounts to a retraction. I'm thinking... it doesn't.

In the "Collection" article: The "Sahih" tradition of Uthman's collection of the text does indeed go back to Uthman's relatives - that is, to the late Umayyad court as aided by Ibn Shihab. This in turn cannot be too far off what the earlier Umayyad courts were preaching. The Dome of the Rock alone tells us that the Umayyads took the Koran seriously (at least sura 4 and most of suras 3, 17 etc). Islamic scholars would then ask: do we trust this midUmayyad account for preceding years?

In the The Origins book: Motzki wants us to see a jami' of Ibn Jurayj scattered through Abd al-Razzaq's Musannaf. He also wants us to see Ata's teachings inside Ibn Jurayj's jami'. But here we are again locked outside the world of the earlier Umayyads. When Ata cites "Ibn Abbas" he might really be citing Hashimi sources of the 90s / 710s, the forerunners of the Abbasids.

These works found their critique in PJ Gledhill, "Motzki's Forger", Islamic Law and Society 19.1-2 (2012), 160-93. Motzki quibbled with Gledhill in "Reliable Transmitter" - but it's interesting how Motzki does it. Motzki basically agrees with Gledhill that Ibn Jurayj might not have transcribed from Ata very well, and that Ata himself has problems. Mostly Motzki complains that Gledhill wasn't being fair to Motzki. When I re-read mine own book-report of 2003, I'm thinking that - at base - nothing has changed. Motzki himself hasn't changed and neither have the facts he has brought to light; and for this purpose even I haven't changed much (although I might have got a little excitable here in 2012). The only difference is in how we read Motzki.

We are left, still, not having much to go on up to 100 / 720. Since most of my work covers the decades 50-100 / 670-720, I have not been able to use Motzki much. I could not use Motzki at all for Throne of Glass. But I suspect most laypeople who do cite Motzki are asking too much of him - he doesn't Vindicate The Hadith and he never really claimed to. Where Gledhill went wrong is that he's probably seen one too many "Vindicati Sumus!" comments on the Internet; this put his back up, and led him into constructing an unfortunate StrawMotzki.

posted by Zimri on 15:49 | link | 0 comments

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