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Monday, June 06, 2016
The genie comes with books
Devin Stewart has reviewed Carlos A. Segovia, The Quranic Noah and the Making of the Islamic Prophet. I'd investigated an excursus some months back, not favourably. Stewart offers a defence but his defence does not convince me.
The Noah story contains within it a critique of eschatological fantasy. For the follower of Muhammad, the Arab prophet was the seal of prophecy; likewise, it is fair to say that the believer in Biblical Noah must accept the Flood as the seal of apocalypse. - Unless, that is, someone were to rewrite the Noah story outright.
The Qur'an rewrites exactly that story, and more than once. Segovia proposed that since apocalyptic clearly did not die when the Torah was disseminated, some Jew (or Samaritan) must have beat the Qur'an to the punch and delivered a "Noah apocalypse", which would render the Torah false here. Segovia noted that several Jewish pseudepigrapha, including "Enoch", do offer parallels to Noah in which the Flood is a forerunner of apocalypse, its archetype. Such stories tend to "forget" where God promised not to do it again. However if any Jew dared pen a direct "apocalypse of Noah", we do not possess this text. So Segovia is overreaching here. (To be fair he is in good company.)
Stewart to my mind is too lenient on Segovia over the latter's pining for texts that are not known to exist, but would help Segovia's case if only they did. The phantom apocalypse of Noah is one such exercise in "wish casting". The attempt to "re" construct the (supposed) shared source of suras 11 and 71 was, in this light, perhaps inevitable.
(I also dispute Stewart - although this be more minor - that the modern interest in "Biblical subtext to the Qur'an" started with Luxenberg in 2000. Ibn Warraq's Origins of the Koran collection preceded that, delivering several classic essays on this topic to late twentieth-century Anglophones. Also Uri Rubin was teaching on this same topic in the 1990s. Luxenberg was just the most sensational.)
'Tis an all too human urge, to wish that one's heroes had said what you yourself believe in. This urge led to writers concocting both anti-apocalyptic and pro-apocalyptic stories of Noah. I suggest that we are seeing the same urge at work in modern scholars, when, to explain how the Qur'an reached the state at which it has reached us, they concoct "lost suras" and "logia".
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