The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Birmingham Qur'an

I am directed to a press release. I'll deal with the people directing me to it in a later post.

The claim is that here we have a parchment Qur'an. Parchment is made from animal hide; the radiocarbon has dated the animal's death between AD 568 and 645 with 95.4% accuracy. Muhammad Isa Waley (holding a PhD, somehow) says The Muslim community was not wealthy enough to stockpile animal skins for decades. Ergo here we have something precious.

Already I see some problems.

First, that the suras follow 18>19>20 smells wrong to me. This is standard for the canonical Qur'an which derives from the al-Hajjaj revision in the 80s AH / 700s AD. It was not a standard before then; there was no standard before then. The "Ibn Mas'ud", "Ubayy", and "Ibn 'Abbas" traditions didn't follow that order; nor did the order of the sira-dependent Qur'ans associated with 'Ali and others. The ancient Qur'ans recently dug out of the Sanaa Mosque go still another way.

Also, look closely at this from teh Beeb, the 19>20 part (remember, right-to-left):

I'm seeing a red wiggly pattern separating the black-inked suras. Pattern-separators are standard for Marwani Qur'ans, as pointed out in Deroche's book. It's not so common before 70 / 690. Islam was simply different then. This pattern is less elaborate than some; so I would posit an early Marwani date, earlier than al-Walid I.

Tom Holland has pointed out (beaten me to it, really) that van Bladel has already dated sura 18 to after the Alexander Nes'hana, 10 / 630. This is already scraping the upper bound of their 568-645 confidence-interval. And then we must get into Stephen Shoemaker's theory, that sura 19 belongs as late as the Marwani era. (I'm too polite to mention mine own work in this context.)

But say we concede the parchment was available to a sura 18 hamala, soon after 10 / 630. By then the Arabs were - at that time - swimming in plunder from Sasanian hoards in Iraq; not long after that they'd be raking it in from Egypt as well. Also the Arabs had likely already acquired a glut in animal-hides; leather may well have been the trade which - literally - put Mecca on the map (House of War suggests that the Sasanian collapse sparked an economic crash in the Hijaz, in large part because of leather). Where leather was cheap, parchment wouldn't have been much more expensive. And during the early teens / 630s Egypt was taken. Now western Arabs had papyrus to compete with parchment, thus freeing up more parchment for the market. (Waley dude, do you even econ?)

So I would say there was parchment to go 'round for some decades after 10 / 630. Once we've conceded 10-25 / 630-45 for the parchment, we're basically done here.

To top it all off, we cannot trust the dating of this parchment itself. In my whole life I have never seen radiocarbon treated as trustworthy beyond the general century. If we're to believe the radiocarbon, van Bladel's editor Reynolds points out that we have Qur'ans from the sixth century. And now we're hearing that global climate has an effect.

UPDATE 9:30 PM: Another skeptic. Thread. 4/23/2016: Guillaume Dye.

posted by Zimri on 18:01 | link | 0 comments

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