Author’s Note: This is the fourth segment of my review of Robert Spencer’s new revised and expanded edition of Did Muhammad exist?. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.
In chapter nine, Spencer tackles the nagging problem of variants of the Qur’an, largely, but not entirely, due to the ambiguous nature of the Arabic script. With his usual thoroughness, Spencer also discusses the problem of the earliest manuscripts and their unfinished dating.
Chapter ten deals with the question of the original language of the Qur’an and the original sources of the various stories of the Qur’an. For example, “The story of the ‘Companions of the Cave and the Inscription’ (18: 9-26) is an Islamic version of the Christian account of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, which was well known in Eastern Christianity at that time. . that Islam was taking shape. And when the Quran writes about the baby Jesus who made birds out of clay and then gave them life (Quran 3:49), it relates something that is recorded in the Gospel of Thomas from the 2nd century childhood. “. Spencer discusses the important work of Christoph Luxenberg, who was possibly the first scholar to point to the Syriac underlying the Arabic text.
Spencer’s conclusion is worth quoting in its entirety:
It may be, then, that the foreign derivation of the Qur’an is one of the main reasons the book strives to establish itself as an Arabic text. One of the reasons for the Arab protests of the Qur’an, in addition to allegations that Muhammad was listening to a non-native speaker of Arabic, may be that the Qur’an was not originally written in Arabic at all, but was eventually translated into Arabic as the new religion. it was being developed. Because the empire it was designed to underpin was Arabic, it was essential that the new holy book be in Arabic. The political imperative was to provide the new and growing empire with a religious culture distinct from that of the Byzantines and Persians, one that would ensure the loyalty, cohesion, and unity of the newly conquered dominions.
This was not done, and probably could not have been done, in a neat and orderly manner, as evidenced by the surprising number of variations in what is often claimed to be an immutable Qur’anic text.
Chapter eleven gives evidence for Spencer’s surprising claim that the Qur’an was adapted from a Christian text, examining the work of Gunter Lüling and Luxenberg, while chapter twelve tries to establish who compiled the Qur’an and when it was accomplished. Chapter thirteen, “Understanding Everything,” offers a wonderful summary of all the arguments and their conclusions found in this book:
- No record of Muhammad’s death in 632 appears until more than a century after that date.
- A Christian account apparently dating from the mid-630s tells of an Arab prophet “armed with a sword” who appears to be still alive.
- The earliest accounts written by the people conquered by the Arabs never mention Islam, Muhammad, or the Qur’an. They call the conquerors “Ismailis”, “Saracens”, “Muhajirun” and “Hagarians”, but never “Muslims”.
- The Arab conquerors, in their coins and inscriptions, do not mention Islam or the Koran during the first six decades of their conquests. Mentions of “Muhammad” are unspecific and on at least two occasions they are accompanied by a cross. The word “Muhammad” can be used as both a proper and an honorific.
- The Qur’an, even according to the Muslim canonical account, was not distributed in its current form until the 650s. This standard account is contradicted by the fact that neither Arabs nor Christians and Jews in the region mention the Qur’an until the early 8th century.
- The Qur’an contains numerous characters and stories that have been taken from Judaism, Christianity, and other sources.
- The Quran contains a large number of words that have little or no meaning in Arabic, but are clearly derived from Syro-Aramaic, or are clarified when read as Syro-Aramaic. Even the Arabic words for the five pillars of Islam are derived from Syriac and Hebrew.
- During the reign of Caliph Muawiya (661–680), the Arabs built at least one public building whose inscription was headed by a cross.
- We began to hear about Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, and about Islam itself in the 690s, during the reign of Caliph Abd al-Malik. Also at this time, coins and inscriptions that reflect Islamic beliefs begin to appear.