Syro-Aramaic reading of the Koran

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Re: Syro-Aramaic reading of the Koran

Post by lpetrich » Sun Jul 06, 2014 7:52 pm

I'd like to see titles for all these links, and also short descriptions of them.

Christoph Luxenberg (a pseudonym) has written The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran (Book Review: Die Syro-Aramaische Lesart des Koran by Christopher Luxenberg). He has proposed that much of the Koran was originally Middle-Eastern Christian liturgical texts written in Aramaic, and that these texts were later translated into Arabic. The translations were imperfect, and some parts of the Koran are almost unintelligible. So CL decided to see if they made more sense as Aramaic. He followed this procedure:

He checked Al Tabari's detailed commentary for anything that others may have overlooked, and he then checked Ibn Mandhur's detailed Arabic dictionary Lisan al Arab.

If that failed, he considered whether an Aramaic homophone would make more sense.

If that failed, he tried a different set of pointings on the Arabic letters. These make different letters, and he checked if they made sensible Arabic words.

If that failed, he repeated that procedure, but with Aramaic instead of Arabic.

If that failed, he retranslated the text back into Aramaic as best he could.

His best-known result is Virgins? What virgins? | Books | The Guardian The houris, those lovely ladies in the Koranic Paradise are a mistranslation of white raisins, one of the goodies celebrated by Ephrem the Syrian (306 - 373 CE) in his Hymns of Paradise, originally in Aramaic. Their being compared to pearls also fits. Likewise, the servant boys in the Koranic Paradise were originally chilled drinks, what one would get in Heaven, as opposed to boiling water, what one would drink in Hell. Or possibly also raisins, "children of the vine".

The Koran does not specify 72 houris; it's some of the Hadiths that do that. These are a huge volume of tidbits about Mohammed that are often used to justify various positions and practices. Many of them are rather obviously bogus. For instance, there are both pro-Sunni and pro-Shiite ones.

Luxemburg also found that Aramaic interpretations also clarified less-difficult parts, and also various grammatical oddities. Many of them make more sense in Aramaic.

"Koran" itself, or more properly Qur'ân, he derives from Aramaic qeryânâ, "lectionary" (liturgical readings).

Arabic originally only had 6 letters, making its writing a sort of shorthand. Pointings were later added to distinguish them, and they only settled down to a fixed form after about 300 years. Different pointings resulted in different "variant readings".

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Re: Syro-Aramaic reading of the Koran

Post by lpetrich » Sun Jul 06, 2014 8:12 pm

Back to the origins of the Koran, there are others who have proposed an Aramaic connection. What the Koran Really Says, Ibn Warraq, ed. has a lot of discussion of various linguistic features of the Koran and speculations as to its sources. It contains:

Section 3.1, "Syriac Influence on the Style of the Koran", by Alphonse Mingana.

There are several Biblical names in the Koran, and they are closest to their Aramaic forms, with a few being closest to their Greek forms. None are closest to their Hebrew forms. Likewise, much of the Koran's religious vocabulary has Aramaic origins, as do several more commonplace words. Even spelling and sentence structure have Aramaic influences.

The Koran's account of Alexander the Great is derived from a certain "Romance of Alexander", a fictional work that is first found in Greek around 200 CE, and then in a variety of other languages in different places, notably in Aramaic around 520 CE. The Koran's version is closest to that Aramaic version. Which is joined by a few other oddities that suggest Aramaic transmission.

Some details:

Mingana claims that nearly all the Koran's religious vocabulary is Aramaic. Here are some examples:

Words for "god":
The big one: Allâh < Aramaic 'lh' , Allâha
An ordinary one: ilâh (the native Arabic word)

janna < Aram. gnt' - The Garden, a.k.a. Paradise a.k.a. Heaven"

kafara < Aram. kpr - "he denied (the faith)" (leads to "kafir" - "infidel", plural "kufâr")

Biblical names were filtered through Aramaic:

Sulayman < Aram. šlymwn , šlmn < Hebrew šlômôh

Fir`awn < Aram. pr`wn < Heb. pr`h

Isḥaq < Aram. 'ysḥq < Heb. yṣḥq , ys'ḥq

Isma`îl < Aram. 'šm`yl < Heb. yšm`'l (yišmâ`ê'l)

A few of them passed through Greek:

Yûnus < Greek Iônas < Heb. yônah

Note that the English versions are usually filtered through Greek, Latin, and Old French, with some of them being corrected a bit.

Continuing to the Romance of Alexander and its presence in the Koran, we find that some people implored Alexander to build a wall between them and some wicked people called Yâjûj and Mâjûj.

In the original Syrian version, they were Gog and Magog, but someone's commentary turned Gog into Agog -- from which we get the Koranic form.

And while the original author, the Pseudo-Callisthenes (200 CE), had made Alexander a pagan king, the Syrian version turned him into a prophet and messenger of God -- much the way the Koran depicts him.

And more:

majûs < Aram. mgwš - Magians

naṣârâ < Aram. nṣry' , naṣrâya - Christians

Noah's Ark rests on this mountain in the Koran and in the Syrian version of the Bible (the Peshitta):
jûdî < Aram. qrdw

Rûm < Aram. Rûmâya - the Byzantines, who called themselves the New Rome (Rômê nea)

Some of the pointings I did with the Firefox extension abcTajpu.
(vowels are sometimes omitted, as is common practice in the original)

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Re: Syro-Aramaic reading of the Koran

Post by lpetrich » Mon Jul 07, 2014 4:41 pm

The Origins of the Koran
The stereotypic image of the Muslim holy warrior with a sword in one hand and the Koran in the other would only be plausible if he was left handed, since no devout Muslim should or would touch a Koran with his left hand which is reserved for dirty chores. All Muslims revere the Koran with a reverence that borders on bibliolatry and superstition. "It is," as Guillaume remarked, "the holy of holies. It must never rest beneath other books, but always on top of them, one must never drink or smoke when it is being read aloud, and it must be listened to in silence. It is a talisman against disease and disaster."

In some Westerners it engenders other emotions. For Gibbon it was an "incoherent rhapsody of fable," for Carlyle an "insupportable stupidity," while here is what the German scholar Salomon Reinach thought: "From the literary point of view, the Koran has little merit. Declamation, repetition, puerility, a lack of logic and coherence strike the unprepared reader at every turn. It is humiliating to the human intellect to think that this mediocre literature has been the subject of innumerable commentaries, and that millions of men are still wasting time absorbing it."
I recall someone once stating that the Koran seemed to him like "Believe! Believe! Believe! Believe! Believe! Believe!"

As to how the Koran was collected and committed to writing,
There are no compelling reasons for accepting the ‘Uthmanic story and not the Abu Bakr one; after all they are all gleaned from the same sources, which are all exceedingly late, tendentious in the extreme, and all later fabrications, as we shall see later.
Almost without exceptions Muslims consider that the Quran we now possess goes back in its text and in the number and order of the chapters to the work of the commission that ‘Uthman appointed. Muslim orthodoxy holds further that ‘Uthman’s Quran contains all of the revelation delivered to the community faithfully preserved without change or variation of any kind and that the acceptance of the ‘Uthmanic Quran was all but universal from the day of its distribution.
The orthodox position is motivated by dogmatic factors; it cannot be supported by the historical evidence....

Charles Adams

While modern Muslims may be committed to an impossibly conservative position, Muslim scholars of the early years of Islam were far more flexible, realizing that parts of the Koran were lost, perverted, and that there were many thousand variants which made it impossible to talk of the Koran.
Even worse was the extreme ambiguity of the unpointed Arabic alphabet, where one letter often represented more than one consonant, in addition to not indicating vowels. Muslims gradually decided on a standardized pointing for consonants, and then for vowels. But even after the consonants became fixed, variations still survived, especially in the short vowels.
Guillaume also refers to the variants as "not always trifling in significance." For example, the last two verses of sura LXXXV, Al Buraj, read: (21) hawa qur’anun majidun; (22) fi lawhin mahfuzun/in. The last syllable is in doubt. If it is in the genitive -in, it gives the meaning "It is a glorious Koran on a preserved tablet"—a reference to the Muslim doctrine of the Preserved Tablet. If it is the nominative ending -un, we get "It is a glorious Koran preserved on a tablet." There are other passages with similar difficulties dealing with social legislation.
Then there is evidence of numerous revisions, or else as Christoph Luxemberg proposes, poor translation. Bell and Watt:
There are indeed many roughness of this kind, and these, it is here claimed, are fundamental evidence for revision. Besides the points already noticed—hidden rhymes, and rhyme phrases not woven into the texture of the passage—there are the following abrupt changes of rhyme; repetition of the same rhyme word or rhyme phrase in adjoining verses; the intrusion of an extraneous subject into a passage otherwise homogeneous; a differing treatment of the same subject in neighbouring verses, often with repetition of words and phrases; breaks in grammatical construction which raise difficulties in exegesis; abrupt changes in length of verse; sudden changes of the dramatic situation, with changes of pronoun from singular to plural, from second to third person, and so on; the juxtaposition of apparently contrary statements; the juxtaposition of passages of different date, with intrusion of fare phrases into early verses.
In many cases a passage has alternative continuations which follow one another in the present text. The second of the alternatives is marked by a break in sense and by a break in grammatical construction, since the connection is not with what immediately precedes, but with what stands some distance back.
Mohammed's biography? In the late 19th cy., Julius Wellhausen and others got to work on that.
Wellhausen divided the old historical traditions as found in the ninth- and tenth-century compilations in two: first, an authentic primitive tradition, definitively recorded in the late eighth century, and second a parallel version which was deliberately forged to rebut this. The second version was full of tendentious fiction, and was to be found in the work of historians such as Sayf b. ‘Umar (see above).
However, the first sort of biographal details are also likely bogus in much the same way.

The Hadiths? Ignaz Goldziher did a lot of work on that.
In his classic paper, "On the Development of Hadith," Goldziher "demonstrated that a vast number of Hadith accepted even in the most rigorously critical Muslim collections were outright forgeries from the late 8th and 9th centuries—and as a consequence, that the meticulous isnads [chains of transmitters] which supported them were utterly fictitious."
These were invented in great numbers, to support one faction or another, and to support even the most trivial ritual details. Muslims themselves recognize the bogosity of many of them, even if they do not go far enough.

Nearly 60 years later, Joseph Schacht extended that work.
Humphreys sums up Schacht’s theses as: (1) that isnads [the chain of transmitters] going all the way back to the Prophet only began to be widely used around the time of the Abbasid Revolution—i.e., the mid-8th century; (2) that ironically, the more elaborate and formally correct an isnad appeared to be, the more likely it was to be spurious. In general, he concluded, "NO existing hadith could be reliably ascribed to the prophet, though some of them might ultimately be rooted in his teaching. And though [Schacht] devoted only a few pages to historical reports about the early Caliphate, he explicitly asserted that the same strictures should apply to them."
Collection of Hadiths on Muhammad’s Pedophilia | EuropeNews lists some Hadiths that describe Mohammed marrying Aisha when she was 6 and consummating it when she was 9. From Goldziher's and Schacht's arguments, these Hadiths were likely invented by later Muslims to justify similar pedophile marriages. So Mohammed may not have been a pedophile after all.

Islamic law?
Shacht "showed that the beginnings of Islamic law cannot be traced further back than to about a century after the Prophet’s death." Islamic law did not directly derive from the Koran but developed out of popular and administrative practice under the Ummayads, and this "practice often diverged from the intentions and even the explicit wording of the Koran." Norms derived from the Koran were introduced into Islamic law at a secondary stage.
John Wansbrough proposes that the Koran's authors had been influenced by Rabbinical Judaism.
Wansbrough shows that far from being fixed in the seventh century, the definitive text of the Koran had still not been achieved as late as the ninth century. An Arabian origin for Islam is highly unlikely: the Arabs gradually formulated their creed as they came into contact with Rabbinic Judaism outside the Hijaz (Central Arabia, containing the cities of Mecca and Medina). "Quranic allusion presupposes familiarity with the narrative material of Judaeo-Christian scripture, which was not so much reformulated as merely referred to.... Taken together, the quantity of reference, the mechanically repetitious employment of rhetorical convention, and the stridently polemical style, all suggest a strongly sectarian atmosphere in which a corpus of familiar scripture was being pressed into the service of as yet unfamiliar doctrine." Elsewhere Wansbrough says, "[The] challenge to produce an identical or superior scripture (or portion thereof), expressed five times in the Quranic text can be explained only within a context of Jewish polemic.
This is further support for an Aramaic origin of the Koran. Those rabbis that those proto-Muslims had gotten mixed up with had likely spoken Aramaic.

But Muslims gradually tried to distinguish their religion from Judaism and Christianity, and they made Mohammed a sort of Arab Moses. They even claimed that some Arabic poetry was pre-Islamic in order to claim authority for the Koran.
Michael Cook, Patricia Crone, and Martin Hinds writing between 1977 and 1987

regard the whole established version of Islamic history down at least to the time of Abd al-Malik (685-705) as a later fabrication, and reconstruct the Arab Conquests and the formation of the Caliphate as a movement of peninsular Arabs who had been inspired by Jewish messianism to try to reclaim the Promised Land. In this interpretation, Islam emerged as an autonomous religion and culture only within the process of a long struggle for identity among the disparate peoples yoked together by the Conquests: Jacobite Syrians, Nestorian Aramaeans in Iraq, Copts, Jews, and (finally) peninsular Arabs.
Lots of Aramaic speakers there.
Cook then looks at the non-Muslim sources: Greek, Syriac, and Armenian. Here a totally unexpected picture emerges. Though there is no doubt that someone called Muhammad existed, that he was a merchant, that something significant happened in 622, that Abraham was central to his teaching, there is no indication that Muhammad’s career unfolded in inner Arabia, there is no mention of Mecca, and the Koran makes no appearance until the last years of the seventh century. Further, it emerges from this evidence that the Muslims prayed in a direction much further north than Mecca, hence their sanctuary cannot have been in Mecca.
Mohammed's focus was on Palestine and conquering Jerusalem, not the Hijaz (Mecca, Medina, etc.), and he was relocated to the Hijaz by later Muslims who wanted him to be more Arab.

But early Muslims were strongly influenced by the Samaritans, whose religion was an early offshoot of Judaism.
The formula "There is no God but the One" is an ever-recurring refrain in Samaritan liturgies. A constant theme in their literature is the unity of God and His absolute holiness and righteousness. We can immediately notice the similarity of the Muslim proclamation of faith: "There is no God but Allah." And, of course, the unity of God is a fundamental principle in Islam. The Muslim formula "In the name of God" (bismillah) is found in Samaritan scripture as beshem. The opening chapter of the Koran is known as the Fatiha, opening or gate, often considered as a succinct confession of faith. A Samaritan prayer, which can also be considered a confession of faith, begins with the words: Amadti kamekha al fatah rahmeka, "I stand before Thee at the gate of Thy mercy." Fatah is the Fatiha, opening or gate.
The Samaritans had rejected the sanctity of Jerusalem, and had replaced it by the older Israelite sanctuary of Shechem. When the early Muslims disengaged from Jerusalem, Shechem provided an appropriate model for the creation of a sanctuary of their own.
Cook and Crone:
The parallelism is striking. Each presents the same binary structure of a sacred city closely associated with a nearby holy mountain, and in each case the fundamental rite is a pilgrimage from the city to the mountain. In each case the sanctuary is an Abrahamic foundation, the pillar on which Abraham sacrificed in Shechem finding its equivalent in the rukn [the Yamai corner of the Ka'ba] of the Meccan sanctuary. Finally, the urban sanctuary is in each case closely associated with the grave of the appropriate patriarch: Joseph (as opposed to Judah in the Samaritan case, Ishmael (as opposed to Isaac) in the Meccan.
Muslims originally faced Jerusalem or thereabouts when they prayed, and only later faced Mecca, as they gave their religion a more Arab identity.

Like many Christians, many Muslims had little love for their religious progenitors, the Jews.
In the rest of their fascinating book, CC go on to show how Islam assimilated all the foreign influences that it came under in consequence of their rapid conquests; how Islam acquired its particular identity on encountering the older civilizations of antiquity, through its contacts with rabbinic Judaism, Christianity (Jacobite and Nestorian), Hellenism and Persian ideas (Rabbinic Law, Greek philosophy, Neoplatonism, Roman Law, and Byzantine art and architecture). But they also point out that all this was achieved at great cultural cost: "The Arab conquests rapidly destroyed one empire, and permanently detached large territories of another. This was, for the states in question, an appalling catastrophe."
Patricia Crone showed convincingly that a lot of "history" was elaborations of parts of the Koran, especially difficult parts. It was contradictory. When Mohammed arrived at Medina, was it suffering from civil war or did it have a clear leader? Lots of seemingly independent accounts collapsed into variations of a few themes, like "Muhammad’s encounter with the representatives of non-Islamic religions who recognize him as a future prophet" (good way of making converts, I'm sure).
Finally, there was a tendency for the information to grow the further away one went from the events described; for example, if one storyteller should happen to mention a raid, the next one would tell you the exact date of this raid, and the third one would furnish you even more details. Waqidi (d. 823), who wrote years after Ibn Ishaq (d. 768),
Patricia Crone:
will always give precise dates, locations, names, where Ibn Ishaq has none, accounts of what triggered the expedition, miscellaneous information to lend color to the event, as well as reasons why, as was usually the case, no fighting took place. No wonder that scholars are fond of Waqidi: where else does one find such wonderfully precise information about everything one wishes to know? But given that this information was all unknown to Ibn Ishaq, its value is doubtful in the extreme. And if spurious information accumulated at this rate in the two generations between Ibn Ishaq and Waqidi, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that even more must have accumulated in the three generations between the Prophet and Ibn Ishaq.

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