Islam — A (Jewish-) Christian Sect? (Part 2)
A short history-of-dogma examination
By Peter Bruns
Translated by Anonymous
Translation edited by Ibn Warraq
Until the middle of the previous century, a certain optimism prevailed about the historical applicability of Koranic as well as extra-Koranic materials. The results of Watt and the older Koranic scholarship by NÃ¶ldeke and Schwally at the time appeared to be completely worthless, when the genuineness of the Koran itself and the historical existence of Mohammed were doubted. What is amazing, in fact, is the monstrous naÃ¯vetÃ© of Western students of Islam relative to the Muslim fairy tale of the redaction of the Koran established under the “rightly guided” Caliph “˜UthmÃ¢n in 653. Those same exegetes who would indignantly reject the reports of bishop and church writer Eusebius on the origin of the Gospels and New Testament literature, follow much more blindly the claims of late Muslim tradition. Thus the modern juxtaposition of Bible and Koran, Jesus and Mohammed suffers from the contemporaneity of what is not contemporaneous, or put otherwise, the asymmetry of the methodological procedures: hypercriticism and basic mistrust of church tradition on one hand, blind trust in the late literary sources of Muslim historians on the other. A preliminary glance into contemporary church historical writing can teach modern historians better. In 1930, Fritsch states: “The knowledge and concomitantly the refutation of the Qoran does not begin for Christian authors until the 8th century because it was not yet literarily fixed.” According to Mingana’s investigations from the early 20th century, Christian writers of the 7th century, like Katholikus Ischojab III, the chronica minora, as well as Johannes bar Penkaje, are not yet acquainted with any Muslim holy book. The same can be said of Coptic author Johannes of Nikiu. A systematic refutation of the Qoran begins only with Johannes of Damascus (died ca. 750) and the Nestorian Katholikos Timotheus I (died 785), as well as the Melkite Theodor abÃ» Qurra (died around 800). Christian criticism aims at both a textual tradition as well as content. It had not escaped the Christians that the Koran did not have an established and generally recognized textual form from the start. The apologist “˜Abd al-MasÃ®h (Christodoulos) al-KindÃ® in the 9th century proves especially well informed about the origin and collection of the Koran. Al-KindÃ® belongs among the sharpest Koran critics. In particular, he distinguishes three forms of the law: the complete law of divine mercy and love which Christ has brought, the law of balance, which is that of Moses (eye for an eye, etc.), and finally the “satanic law of the use of violence” (see “satanic verses”!), as derived from the Koran and the “ridiculous tales” of Mohammed (HadÃ®th). Other refutations of the Koran, like those of AbÃ» NÃ»h an-AnbÃ¢rÃ® (9th century), have not come down to us. Muslim apologists, meanwhile, brought great embarrassment to the convoluted textual history, since they were accustomed to accuse Jews and Christians of a forgery (tahrÃ®f) the Bible, while they themselves were not one bit better off with their holy book.
A change of direction in Koran scholarship appeared under John E. Wansbrough, who made a radical break with the previous schools of thought. In his view, what is presently called the Koran developed during a time period which reached into the ninth century. This would accord approximately with the statements made by al-KindÃ®. Within these two centuries, the different text fragments — differently formed — would have grown in the framework of an anonymous editing process into a sacred text. Therefore, the Koran cannot be valid as the ipsissima vox Mahometi, to say nothing of Dei. The question Tilman Nagel posed to himself — how to explain the abrupt transformation in Mohammed’s biography from patient sufferer to power-seeker (or put another way — how the Mecca phase relates to the Medina phase) reveals pure illusion, since the figure of Mohammed is fictitious and its relation to the literary product, “Koran”, is not given. Preparation for Wansbrough’s hypothesis were LÃ¼ling’s investigations, expanded by Luxenberg to the reconstruction of a non-Arabic, Syriac basic text. The hermeneutic key, or rather general key for this kind of Koran exegesis is the postulation of a pre-Islamic-Christian archetype, a Syriac “original text,” which only became an Arabic text in the course of a long editing process. Utterly surprising is the return of an old apologetic motif in a new costume. From the history of Muslim-Christian polemics, it is sufficiently well-known that Arab Christians turned the tables of written proof by invoking individual Koran citations against the Muslims as proof of the truth of their own religion — thus striking the enemy with his own weapon. For traditional Koran exegesis, of many Western Islam scholars as well, insight into the history of text and tradition of the Koran, at any rate, means a great shock which has not yet been digested.
The theories of the Oxford scholar fell on fertile ground in the French scholarly world, in the case of — among others — Dominique and Marie-ThÃ©rÃ¨se Urvoy. Their study, “Psychological action of the Koran”, investigates the rhetorical example of Islamic propaganda and of the didactic purposes in the Koran. Regarding the Koran and its origin, the authors summarize:
“The history of the Koranic text is marked by a series of socio-political choices: progressive establishment and imposition of an official version, eliminating other versions — rallying of intellectuals around the agreed-upon version, even if it constitutes — in the case of the philosophers — a simple concession in numbers; hardening by the theologians of that unanimity by means of an interpretation privileging the cultural criteria of one group (Arabs) within the unity of the Muslim world. In this respect, the Koranic text appeared as the result of a veritable collective shaping.”
Peter Bruns is Professor at the Zentrum fÃ¼r Mittelalterstudien, Otto-Friedrich-UniversitÃ¤t, Bamberg, Germany. This article appeared in German in Forum Katholische Theologie, 26 (2010) 1., pp. 1-23.
 On this, read William Montgomery WATT”s classic, Muhammed at Mecca (Oxford 1953); idem: Muhammad at Medina (Oxford 1956).
 Cf. Theodor NÃ–LDEKE, Geschichte des Qorans, 2nd edition, revised by Friedrich SCHWALLY inter alia, I-III (Leipzig 1909, 1919, 1938, repr. Hildesheim 1961).
 The apologetic character of this claim is easy to discern. A redaction as early as that would have to be placed before the “schism” between Sunnis and Shiites. The fact is that Arabic did not replace Greek as the official administrative language of Egypt, Syria and Palestine until the beginning of the 8th century. Not before this time could the religious tradition of the Muslims consolidate and what is customarily called the Koran be propagated. The arrangement and extent of individual sÃ»ras were still fluctuating at the time of the Fihrist (ed. FlÃ¼gel I, 26-27) and could also not be denied by the Koran exegetes. Cf. the re-arrangement of the sÃ»ras by Richard BELL, The Quran I-II (Edinburgh 1937).
 Cf. FRITSCH, Islam und Christentum, 96-102, quote on p. 97.
 Alphonse MINGANA, The transmission of the Qu’ran according to Christian writers, in Journal of the Manchester Egyptian and Oriental Society 5 (1915-16) 34-42. The enterprising Chaldean, Mingana, possessed not only many Syrian manuscripts. Beyond that, he vigorously collected old Koranic fragments, which are not insignificant for textual history. The fact of a missing critique of the Koran in the 7th century may be discounted as argumentum e silentio. On the other hand, it is so much more eloquent that Christian polemics set in quite fiercely in the middle of the 8th century. Since Muslim historical writing begins relatively late, non-Muslim sources assign that much greater significance to the reconstruction of early Islam. Cf. the excellently researched work of Robert G. HOYLAND–consistently taken from the sources: Seeing Islam as Others Saw it. A survey and evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian writings on early Islam (Princeton 1997).
 Cf. Peter BRUNS, Von Adam und Eva bis Mohammed””Beobachtungen zur syrischen Chronik des Johannes bar Penkaye in Oriens Christianus 87 (2003) 47-64.
 Cf. George GRAF, Geschichte der christlichen arabischen Literatur, Bd. II (Rome 1947). Worth noting is the allusion: cf. GRAF, Geschichte 142, that al-KindÃ® composed his Apologia more than 200 years after the promulgation of the Koran, which was probably first codified in his time.
 Cf. FRITSCH, Islam und Christentum, 54-74.
 Cf. John E. WANSBROUGH, Quranic Studies (Oxford 1977); idem, The Sectarian Milieu. Content and Composition of Islamic Salvation History (Oxford 1978). — The concept of “salvation history” is quite ambiguous in an Islamic context since Islam, strictly speaking, is not a religion of redemption–no original sin, no savior, no salvation. All in all, Wansbrough succeeds brilliantly in tracing the derivation of early Islam from a heterodox Jewish-Christian milieu.
 PARET’s psychologizing view of the “Prophet” too would be untenable according to recent theories (it is still represented today by Bobzin), since the Koran allows no psychological profile of the author, whoever that may have been. Cf. the constantly re-published, fluently written and easily understood standard work by Rudi PARET, Mohammed und der Koran. Geschichte und VerkÃ¼ndigung des arabischen Propheten (Stuttgart 82001).
 Cf. FRITSCH, Islam und Christentum, 20-21.
 Dominique (and) Marie-ThÃ©rÃ¨se URVOY, L”action psychologique du Coran (Paris 2007) 25-26.