The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Nicolai Sinai has uploaded "The Unknown Known: Some Groundwork for Interpreting the Medinan Qur’an".

I must start with some corrigenda. Sinai reads Q. 5:51 as "the Believers not to take the Jews and Christians as friends", wherein the verse's literal reading for "friends" is awliya'. This looks to me like the wala', the Arabian client / patron relationship. Ulrike Muller proved some decades ago (contra Crone 1987) that the wala' was already formal before the Umayyads. An intimate "friend" as Sinai describes it would in Arabic be khalil, like Abraham in sura 4. Also, more nitpicky, the essay says in p. 62 that it had not yet discussed Q. 110, but I see that sura in p. 57.

My initial problem with this essay was that it didn't establish in advance its definition of "the Medinan Qur'an". I think it's starting with Noeldeke, seeing how Noeldeke's list correlates with other suras, and then bringing in those suras too or at least parts of them. Page 54 calls this set the "Medinan Constellation".

And then the essay finds what I've found: that the "Medinan Constellation" still includes a lot of Mecca, and vice versa.

Its conclusion at page 74 offers two choices to make sense of this mixed picture. One is an evolutionary scenario according to which the Medinan texts are preceded by, and develop out of, the non-Medinan ones. The other is a Qur’anic two-source hypothesis, based on the idea that the Meccan and the Medinan corpus originated separately and were only subsequently combined into the received version of the Qur’an.

Sinai doesn't like the second option. He knows that Medina is conscious of the Qur'an outside Medina and that the Medinan Constellation quotes non-Medinan passages all over the place. Sura 9 addresses Q. 19:47, alongside 14:41 and 26:86 (he doesn't put the latter three in order, but he doesn't have to). And Q. 2:97-8 knows 16:102 and/or 26:193-6.

But this runs into another problem: much non-Medina is also conscious of Medina. If we're starting with sura 19 then that one knew suras 3 and 4 (not to mention the Dome of the Rock!). Sinai would claim suras 6 and 7 for Medina too, which sura 19 also knew. Or we could talk about sura 26 knowing sura 7 as intimately as a khalil. Sinai deals with this like Neuwirth dealt with this, and like how the classical mufassirun dealt with this: assuming interpolations. I've already said my piece on that: once you start claiming interpolations, and you lack internal and external evidence for that, you can no longer talk of a text. You've written your own sura and you've lost the argument.

Can't we have a version of these two choices in which the "Medinans" grew up alongside the non-Medinans?

We can then talk about Qur'anic bottlenecks. All Communities-Of-The-Qur'an accepted sura 3, and then sura 6, early on. Later, all such Mu'mins / Muslims accepted sura 41. I think consensus was reached similarly on sura 25, although not on the exact text of every verse in it. Suras 19 and 21 look like the next Scriptural bottleneck(s). Still later, sura 9.

In between, more-controversial suras popped up - whose doctrines were avoided - like the Camel-ess Of God, in sura 7, recited to John Damascene even; but not in sura 27. Or whose doctrines were denied: the guilty mens' discussions at the Judgement, in sura 37, are denied in suras 23 and 28 (merely avoided in sura 52).

Back to Qur'anic communities, I would reconstruct these according to the boundaries which the Qur'an sets, itself. In which case, we get suras 25 and 41 from the same community; suras 33 and 48 from the same community. And we get suras 28 and 37 from different communities - each which sprang out of sura 25's community.

Once we've laid down the real sequence of suras, then we can talk to which degree a Medinan Constellation even exists. Personally, I'm not seeing it.

posted by Zimri on 16:41 | link | 0 comments

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