The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Birmingham Suras come from Egypt

When we boil away all the blather, the BBC tells us two things, from the scholars Francois Deroche and Alba Fedeli (each utterly blameless in what the Beeb is doing here). First, the Birmingham folios (Q. 18-20) have fellow folios in Paris. Second, the Parisian fragments are known to come from the Mosque of Ibn al-'Âs in Fustat (now Cairo).

[It's known that many Qur'ans were housed over there in Old Town Cairo. For some reason everyone wants to finger Abu Bakr's family; the Beeb's doing it too. I don't buy it. Anyway as to the two UAE nazgûl whom the Beeb quoted, that's for tomorrow.]

Christian Post [h.t. Robert Spencer, wisely not linking to the Beeb directly] instead found someone with a mind of his own, Keith Small: This gives more ground to what have been peripheral views of the Quran's genesis, like that Muhammad and his early followers used a text that was already in existence and shaped it to fit their own political and theological agenda, rather than Muhammad receiving a revelation from Heaven. Small goes beyond even seeing Abu Bakr's hand here; he's channelling John Burton and suggesting that Muhammad's own personal secretary did this thing.

But all this doesn't ring true to everyone. Back to the Beeb:

Mustafa Shah, from the Islamic studies department at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, says the "graphical evidence", such as how the verses are separated and the grammatical marks, show this is from a later date.

In this early form of Arabic, writing styles developed and grammatical rules changed, and Dr Shah says the Birmingham manuscript is simply inconsistent with such an early date.

Prof Deroche also says he has "reservations" about radiocarbon dating and there have been cases where manuscripts with known dates have been tested and the results have been incorrect.

Shah is saying part of what I'd said in July. As to the rest I shall simply repeat: the sequence 18-19-20 corresponds with what we know of 'Uthman's collection - which is our collection. And Ibn al-'Âs was himself a cousin of 'Uthmân, and both were cousins of Marwân: all Umayyads.

As for this being the Muhammadan Qur'an, er... let's just say, the assumption that the Banu Umayya were the best tradents of the Prophet's Message might please the Banu Umayya's poets, but a modern scholar would require extraordinary evidence to sign on to that programme.

At base we're not reading any useful textual variants here. I say that that's because we're not reading a Hijazi Qur'an. We are reading a Qur'an dug out of an old Umayyad mosque; which mosque the Umayyads retook in the 60s / 680s and kept in continuous use. And hey look, it looks just like the Furqan of 'Abd al-Malik bin Marwân bin Hakam bin Abi'l-'As bin Umayya.

(IMO Spencer in his own post should have stepped back a bit. But yes, he's in the company of Keith Small. Who also should have stepped back a bit.)

UPDATE 12/30: Over the past few days I've split off my take on the Abu Bakr family's Qur'an(s).

posted by Zimri on 19:23 | link | 0 comments

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