Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on the Text and Translation of the Qur’an during a CIU course. In the second part, Riddell presented the revisionist debate and the issues related to the translation of the Qur’an.


 Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture: Qur’an Text & Translation Pt2


Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re continuing on with our lecture topic, the Quran text and translation. I’d like to turn our attention now towards the revisionist debate. What does the revisionist debate refer to? Well, on the one hand, we have the standard Islamic accounts and standard Islamic views of of the text of the Quran, what the Quran is.


We began by looking at Muslim statements about the Quran. We looked at how, Muslims believe that the Quran was revealed to Mohammed. We looked at, Muslim approaches to, the variant readings of the Quran. But, of course, there are other approaches as well apart from the Muslim standard accounts. And some of those other approaches, some of those alternative approaches are summarized under the title revisionism, alternative ways of viewing the Koranic text, its evolution, and its present form.


Now there’s a whole set of debates this which surround this topic, and, these slides will address those debates, and they will also, connect with, materials that are available on the Moodle site. So I refer you to that for further reading. There’s a lot of material available if you’re interested in this topic, and this topic would provide, good possibilities for for an assignment, if that’s your area of interest. A key name in the whole revisionist project, the whole revisionist school of thought is that of John Wansbrough. And I’m going to spend a little time now, the next few slides, devoted to his statements and his views because they’re foundational to much subsequent scholarship.


Although subsequent scholarship has moved on in certain ways from John Wansburys, pioneering research. It’s important to understand what he had to say in order to understand what subsequent scholars have had to say. John Wadsworth wrote 2 books which were published in 1977. 1 was called, Koranic Studies, and the other was called The Sectarian Milieu. And drawing on his book, Quranic Studies, Wansbrough identifies from exegetical materials about formation of the canonical text of the Quran.


He suggests that there is either an official recognition of a corpus left intact by the Arabian prophet, a so called urtext, or the imposition of a uniform recension produced by an officially constituted variant versions. Now this is classic Wandsborough. It’s very flowery language, and it’s somewhat difficult. But, basically, what he’s saying is that you can have two approaches to understanding the Quran. Either you believe in an original text which has come down unchanged, which is effectively the Islamic view, or you can believe that there has been a process which has forced a standardized text down the years resulting in a text today which resembles the original text.


So it’s either an original text has survived or there has been a process to ensure just one primary text. Now, of course, he goes along with a second line of thinking. Wansbrough continues. He says that the Muslim scripture is not only composite, but also that the period required for its achievement was rather more than a single generation. But this is quite revolutionary.


It’s quite different to the standard Muslim view of of the chronic text. The standard Muslim view is that Mohammed received the Quran, and it has not changed in one dash or one dot since he received it. Whereas Wansbrough was suggesting in 1977 that, actually, the Koranic text is composite. And it’s composite in terms of its authorship, but it’s also composite in terms of the period of time over which it it was developed. He continues, with very few exceptions, Muslim jurisprudence was not derived from the contents of the Quran, that it also is revolutionary, and we’ll consider that in later lectures.


He talks about different types of exegesis, referring to legal or, as he termed it, halachic exegesis, and we’ll consider that in our next lecture topic. And perhaps his most revolutionary claim is this latter point on this slide where he says that there is an absence of or material providing information on an agreed text of the Quran before the 3rd or 9th century. In other words, although Mohammed died in 632 and the Muslim view is that the Quran was fixed in its form during the time of Mohammed and within a generation of his death. Wansbrough is saying that, actually, that the text of the Quran wasn’t finalized until the 9th century. Quite revolutionary.


So the establishment of a standard text such as is implied by the authentic recension of 650 happened around the time of intense literary activity related to the subject in the 9th century, says Wansbrough. And in response to the Muslim view of Uthman producing a standard Quran in 650, Wansbrough says that either suppression of substantial deviations was so instantaneously and universally successful that no trace of serious opposition remained, or that the story was a fiction designed to serve another purpose. He’s questioning the whole story, the whole account of an Uthmanic recension of a production of the Quranic text by the 3rd code of Uthman in 6 50. So you can see why this is termed revisionism, because it’s very much a revisionist approach to the story of the Quran. He also makes reference to formulaic systems.


Now this is quite an interesting topic in itself. He says both the very high frequency and the uniform distribution in the Quran of formulae and of formulaic systems could indicate not only a long period of oral transmission, but also composition. By this, he refers to phrases in the Quran that are set phrases that reappear from time to time. He says, and and other scholars claim, that the Quran itself contains lots of set formulaic phrases, the kinds of formulaic phrases that are typical of oral storytelling, of oral story. That’s quite revolutionary.


And in introducing another topic, Wansbrough refers to the formulation of the sunnah. The sunnah is the way of Mohammed, the story of Mohammed’s model as embodiment of prophetic practice and judgment. Now the formulation of Mohammed as the model cannot be dated, he says, before the beginning of 3rd of 9th century and thus may be seen as coincident with recognition of the Quran as the canonical collection of prophetic logia. Canonization of the Quranic revelation could only have been affected within the community once its content could be related to that of the prophetical sunnah. In other words, Wansbrough is suggesting that not only the Quran itself was not finalized until 9th century, a full 200 to 250 years after Mohammed.


But the very story of Mohammed himself wasn’t finalized until that same period. Now Wansbur wrote in 1977, and there have been many other scholars since then who have picked up on his writings and have either carried them further or have challenged them. A contemporary scholar writing in the 21st century is Angelica Neuert. She’s a German scholar, a very widely published and very, very, gifted, scholar, and she has written a lot on the whole question of the text of the Quran and somewhat responded to Wansbur’s claims. Some of her writing can also be found online.


And in one of her interesting very interesting articles in the journal of Quranic studies entitled the Quran and History, a disputed relationship, Newvert’s New Wirtz, points up the controversy surrounding the history of the Quran. She argues that canonization, the process of canonization is crucial for understanding the history of the text. She points out that Koranic studies lags far behind biblical studies. She observes, as we discussed previously, that there is no critical text of the Quran. There’s no critical edition of the Quran as such, and that the whole question of the variant readings has been under studied.


She says that looking at the Quran itself, one is confronted with a uniquely complex scenario that would be extremely difficult to invent. So she’s skeptical about the idea that the Quran itself is an invention. She’s challenged by some of the most extreme of the revisionist claims. She surveys the revisionist writings of people like John Wansbrough, Patricia Kroner, Michael Cook, Joseph Van Ness, Fred Donner. And she asked questions about the revisionist claim.


She writes, the crucial shortcoming, however, in my view, is the total neglect of the Koran itself as a literary text, and thus as a source that has to be decoded and evaluated historically. She surveys quite a number of revisionist writings, writings by people like Guenter Luling and Christoph Luxenberg, for whom a link is available on the Moodle page. And Angelica Newvert issues a call. She says, let us shift the focus from the circumstances of the Quranic event back to the Quran itself as the center of the query, arguing that the Quran is not meant as a book to study but as a text to recite. This is somewhat reminiscent of Adrian Brockett’s comments earlier, reminding us that the Quran was not designed to be primarily a written text but was more an oral account, an oral record.


Nuverts calls for us to turn from Quran history to a history of the Quran. And she writes significantly that the history experience in the Quran is not least representation of significant past evoke to shed light on the lived present and to make it partake in the aura of salvation history. The Quran thus is not only in its later communal use, but from its very genesis, a liturgical text. So she’s calling for an a recognition of the Quran as liturgy, as orality rather than getting bogged down in the written text of the Quran. This is her approach.


And she observes that the surahs, the chapters of the Quran, constitute complex genres that set them apart from biblical storytelling, so she’s questioning the an approach which uses the biblical text as the reference point in examining the Quran. So you can see this room here for huge debates. The whole revisionist question is one which is a a work in progress. Much work remains to be done. In some ways, the greatest strength of the whole revisionist approach is not so much in the answers provided, but rather in the questions asked.


And more and more things are being discovered. I have given you a link on the Moodle page to a a YouTube film called the Quran original manuscript and interpretation, which deals with yet another element in the whole revisionist conversation. That is the Yemeni manuscripts, the manuscripts of the Quran that were discovered in Yemen in 1972. I will let the the film speak for itself. But if you’re interested in revisionism, it’s important to understand the significance of the discovery of the Quran manuscripts in Yemen.


The Moodle page also includes a link to an article by Toby Lister in The Atlantic Monthly of 1999, January 1999, in 3 parts, which looks at the Yemeni manuscripts, placing that conversation in a more popular forum. It’s a good read and well worth reading. Now in discussing revisionism, some of the concepts in revisionism are quite difficult, but they are important as another voice about the Quran. And as we finish our lectures on the Quran text and translation, I’d like you to digest the materials. I’d like you to be listening for Muslim voices and Muslim views on the Quran and considering non Muslim approaches as well, because there are some very interesting discussions and debates taking place.


I’d like you to distill from the previous discussion those revisionist claims about the Quran that are at odds with Muslim views. I’d also like you to be considering some of the questions that non Muslims ask. For example, should non Muslims pose such critical questions of the Quran if it causes discomfort for Muslims, and it does cause discomfort for Muslims. Now some Christians feel that we shouldn’t be asking these questions. Others say these are question important questions to ask.


There’s a debate there among Christians. What do you think? And I do encourage you to read as much as you can online about the Yemeni manuscripts and about revisionist approaches to the Quran as well as, of course, reading Muslim approaches to the Quran. Because in order to engage with the issue of the Quran as Christians, we need to be aware of both of what Muslims are saying and believing, but also of what non Muslims are saying and believing. Can the Yemeni manuscripts be compared with the Dead Sea Scrolls?


Why? Why not? There’s much food for thought here, and I do wish you well as you proceed in your studies of the Quran, its text, and its translation. Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re continuing on with our 1st lecture topic, the Quran text and translation.


And, we’re going to finish it off now by looking at the issue of, translation of the Quran. This is a very interesting topic because it intersects quite, significantly with the whole question of Bible translation. As you are no doubt aware, there is a very rich tradition of translation of the Bible in Christian history going right back to the very earliest centuries. In the case of the Quran, the story is somewhat different. Because the Quran in its Arabic original text has been prescribed in a liturgical context by 3 of the 4 Sunni law schools since the earliest period of Islamic history.


Now what that means is that within Sunni Islam, the majority, of Islam, perhaps 85% of Muslims in the world are Sunnis. There are 4 key remaining surviving law schools, and 3 of those four required that the liturgy of worship in the mosques should be conducted in in Arabic, not in local languages. Now when we consider that the majority of Muslims in the world today are non Arabic speaking, that has some quite some considerable significance. It’s like saying that the majority of that all Christians, when they’re conducting their liturgy, should conduct it in Greek or Latin. You can imagine that that would pose a challenge for for many Christians around the world in terms of their understanding of of the actual acts of worship.


But that is the tradition within Islam that the Quran itself is in Arabic, and it has been the Arabic Quran has been central to Islamic liturgical practice for the vast majority of Muslims, whether they were Arabs or non Arabs since the beginning of Islamic history. There’s really only one law school that’s, shown greater flexibility on this score, and that is the law school of the Hanafites. We encountered the Hanafites earlier when we saw that reading, that comment by Abu Hanifa about a view of the Quran. So the Hanafite law school, which is centered on Turkey and associated regions, has been more flexible in terms of using translated texts of the Quran in liturgical context. Now why is this?


Well, there are a whole range of reasons, but especially that the wording of the Quran was seen as a miracle, as a divine miracle, which could not be reproduced by mankind. So the actual words of the Quranic text Muslims believed to be divine and miraculous. And, therefore, the idea of rendering those words in another language was problematic. Now this was allow this was somewhat resolved by allowing interlinear renderings, providing the explanatory text, but not superseding the Arabic text. Now an interlinear text, of course, has the original text plus the translated text in between the lines.


And some, Muslims got got around the issue by that. But things changed quite significantly in the early 20th century when there were some pronouncements coming out of Cairo by leading scholars on Maraghri and Shaltout, where they allowed for Muslims who didn’t know Arabic to recite the coranic text in of their prayers in their local languages, saying that meaning was really paramount. Here’s an example of an interlinear text of the Quran, with the Chinese translation provided in between the Arabic text of the Quran. That still allows for the key Arabic text to be present, but it allows for translation on the same page. If you’re interested in this question of translation of the Koranic text, perhaps with a view to a comparative study of biblical translation, I would refer you to this book by Ahmed von Denfa, ulumaal Quran, an introduction to the sciences of the Quran.


Now on the Moodle page, I have provided a link to an online, copy of this text, and it’s a key source for understanding Muslim views of translation of the chronic text. Fontenba writes, without translations of the Quran today, there’s no way of effective dawah, that’s Islamic mission, either to non Muslims or to Muslims themselves since those familiar with the language of a Quran are few in number, And the vast majority of people have no opportunity to become acquainted with the meaning of the Quran unless it be rendered into their mother tongue. So clearly, Ahmed von Denfer, who’s a German convert to Islam, he’s very much in favor of the Quran being translated and the translated text being used because it helps the process of Islamic mission, Islamic outreach, whether it be to Muslims who are less observant or to non Muslims. Interestingly, von Danfel lays down clear criteria for those who translate the Quran. He doesn’t advocate that Any person can translate the Quran.


He says only certain people can translate the Quran. He says, firstly, they must be a Muslim. Secondly, they must have an adequate knowledge of both the source language, which is Koranic Arabic, of course, and the target language. And he says, thirdly, they must be well acquainted with the related sciences with this Islamic subjects. So in other words, it’s not enough simply that a person be a Muslim and that they know Arabic and the target language, but they must have formally studied Islamic, the Islamic subjects, perhaps in a seminary, an Islamic seminary or equivalent, subjects such as hadith, such as tafsir.


That’s exegesis. We’re gonna start talk about that in a later lecture. So in other words, the only people who should translate the Quran in the view of von Denver are people who are Muslim, have a good knowledge of the relevant languages, and have been formally and properly trained in Islamic theology and the study of Islam. I’ve provided a link on the Moodle site to, a very interesting YouTube lecture, by a an Islamic a young Islamic scholar by the name of Abu Ruh Mesa in which he conducts a survey of Quranic translations, the history of Quranic translations, and he conducts a comparison of, the Islamic translations. Now it’s actually, his lecture is in several parts.


I’ve provided a link to part 1, and I suggest you at least listen to part 1, making notes on the issues which he raises. And remember that our purpose in this course is not simply to to study Islam, but it’s to think about the ramifications for Christians to think in a comparative sense, but also to equip ourselves as Christians to engage with Muslims. So as you listen to the lecture by Aburumasa, make notes and consider these issues in the light of bible translation. Do the same issues arise? If not, how will you respond to the Muslim view of translating the Quran this lecturer is presenting?


I’d also like you to, browse the website. Again, a link has been provided on the Moodle page, dot info, where there are multiple translations of the Quran available. Look at any selection of verses in different translations. Just take take 5 verses perhaps from or take surah 1, the first chapter of the Quran, and look at how it’s translated differently in the different versions, different translations. Ask yourself, what are the differences?


How are different approaches being taken? And, again, consider it in the light of bible translation.