German researchers preparing “Qur’an: The Critical Edition”

This is a serious business. A team of researchers at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences is preparing to bring out the first installment of Corpus Coranicum – which purports to be nothing less than the first critically evaluated text of the Qur’an ever to be produced.

What this means is that the research team is in the process of analysing and transcribing some 12,000 slides of Qur’an mansucripts from the first six centuries of the text’s existence. Once that is complete, the way is open to producing a text that annotates and, presumably, provides some sort of exegesis on the differences found in the early manuscripts.

The impact of such a project can hardly be overestimated. As Lucas Wiegelmann writes in a long overview of the project in Die Welt -

Some say that the Qur’an is the word of God which Mohammed has passed on; whoever challenges that should be punished. Others say that Mohammed cribbed the text from Christian and Jewish texts and from that produced this confusing melee. A third opinion gives that Mohammed anyway had nothing to do with the Qur’an, and it was his successors in the community that pulled the text together and merely put the words in Mohammed’s mouth. A few even say that Mohammed never existed.

I see a big fat fatwa coming. :eek:

This should be very interesting. Unlike Christianity, where Christian scholars have engagged critical exegeis for centuries, in Islam, scholars have mainly been involved in interpretative exegesis. Very little time or effort is spent in critically evaluating the text as it is considered to be God’s speech delivered across the lips of Muhammad (may God grant him pardon and peace).

I agree that Muslims will likely reject this process.

Gonna be kind of hard to get in and out of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences with all those sandbags piled up in front of the doors…

I hope their life insurance is paid up.

A couple years ago, the Wall Street Journal (!) ran an interesting look at the history of the project. Apparently the roots go back to before WWII.

The article also notes:

A group of Tunisians has embarked on a parallel mission, but they want to keep it quiet to avoid angering fellow Muslims, says Moncef Ben Abdeljelil, a scholar involved in the venture. “Silence is sometimes best,” he says. Afghan authorities last year arrested an official involved in a vernacular translation of the Quran that was condemned as blasphemous. Its editor went into hiding.

Many Christians, too, dislike secular scholars boring into sacred texts, and dismiss challenges to certain Biblical passages. But most accept that the Bible was written by different people at different times, and that it took centuries of winnowing before the Christian canon was fixed in its current form.

Muslims, by contrast, view the Quran as the literal word of God. Questioning the Quran “is like telling a Christian that Jesus was gay,” says Abdou Filali-Ansary, a Moroccan scholar.

On the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college here housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Quran.

The 450 rolls of film had been assembled before the war for a bold venture: a study of the evolution of the Quran, the text Muslims view as the verbatim transcript of God’s word. The wartime destruction made the project “outright impossible,” Mr. Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.

Mr. Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he was sitting on it all along. The truth is only now dribbling out to scholars – and a Quran research project buried for more than 60 years has risen from the grave.

“He pretended it disappeared. He wanted to be rid of it,” says Angelika Neuwirth, a former pupil and protégée of the late Mr. Spitaler. Academics who worked with Mr. Spitaler, a powerful figure in postwar German scholarship who died in 2003, have been left guessing why he squirreled away the unusual trove for so long.

For Christian text, the role of the Church was very much a part of the process. For Muslims, the basic claim is that the text has been outside of human influence of any kind, a verbatim writing of an angels dictation with not an iota or dot changed from Mohammed’s cave until today.

Islam itself has been demonstrated to come from an amalgam of different sources, including Christian apocryphal writings and Jewish lore. It should comes as a surprise to no one that the Koran itself then reflects this diversity of sources.

It speaks poorly of the Jesuit Spitaler that he let his own biases for the Islamic myth get in the way of his scholarship. Truth ought to have been his only priority, but it was not.

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