What? The Qur’an is like the Bible?

A new book aims to introduce the Qur’an from a historical-critical perspective.  I doubt anyone would argue with the first part—the principle of considering a book within a historical frame—but “critical” can set some folks off.  It might help to get over an initial barrier if we thought not about being critical but more along the lines of employing critique

In the publisher’s catalog listing for the new book I noticed a few chapter titles in particular:

4 Literary coherence and secondary revision:  The very idea of examining literary coherence is potentially bothersome to those who discount the human element in their sacred texts—and the suggestion of revision or even developmental phases in the production of said texts, potentially offensive.

6 Intertextuality:  The intertextuality notion deals with the relationship between/among different texts (potentially including non-sacred and chronologically distant ones), as well as others written for altogether different purposes.  Intertextual relationships include both direct and indirect quotations, references, and less explicit “echoes.”

Part Three:  The idea of a “diachronic survey” indicates that it examines through time, taking development into consideration, as opposed to gauging things based on a “snapshot” at one point in time.  I note sub-references to both the “Meccan surahs” and the “Medinan surahs.”  I would have to look up what a surah is, but I have a passing acquaintance with the idea that Muhummad’s ideologies shifted from his early years in Mecca to his later ones in Medina.  See the last part of this post for one key change.

The quotation below is from Larry Hurtado, whose blog was the source for my information.  This is worth sharing on its own merits—for the sake of Christians who care, or at least say they care, about the biblical text.

“No doubt, the book will receive objections from Muslims who imagine the Qur’an to be a miracle, not a historical phenomenon, just as fundamentalist Christians demur from a critical approach to biblical texts.  But, as Sinai notes, an awareness of the historically-conditioned nature of a sacred text doesn’t mean that it’s no longer sacred or meaningful for faith.”  – Dr. Larry Hurtado, https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/a-historical-critical-introduction-to-the-quran/

Postlude:  I once heard of a book titled Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism.  I paid little attention at the time, thinking it was little more than a curiosity being shared by a skeptical Episcopalian.  Regardless of certain theologically and socially liberal agendas that the book’s author would appear to support, I focus now on the relationship suggested by the title.  I was not a Fundamentalist even then, and I surely am not now, so it’s not as though I feel the title threatens to wrest something away from me.  The idea of freeing the Bible from certain agendas resonates even more these days than it did a couple decades ago.  I wish this or that fundamentalist view of scripture were seen as a particular type of conservative stance, and not the only viable type.

It would be a good thing if Christian and Muslim adherents alike came to consider the human elements in the production of sacred texts.

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10 thoughts on “What? The Qur’an is like the Bible?

  1. dinoconstant 11/01/2017 / 8:41 pm

    Hi Brian

    My Christian faith is not based on the Bible, thank God.

    I’ve read enough to understand that the ‘scriptures’ are unlikely to be reliable copies of the original texts that had to be copied and re-copied to ensure the survival of some of their essence. Also, I’m not convinced that our uncreated God would necessarily use a man-made language to impart knowledge of Himself, our planet and the universe to us humans, one species of mammal that He created.

    Peter Cresswell wrote some interesting books and I’m currently reading The Invention of Jesus.
    The author has written another book and I’ve included a link below:

    http://www.christian-alternative.com/books/lost-narrative-jesus

    I agree with you that the human element is vital when considering the meaning and worth of scripture whether within the Holy Bible or the Qur’an.

    Peace and love to all,

    Dinos

    Like

    • Brian Casey 11/01/2017 / 8:53 pm

      Thanks for your reading and comment. In this, if I’m reading you correctly, it doesn’t seem that we share as much common ground as with the idea of reforming. The limits of human language are what they are, and you are right on there, but the idea that the essence of authentic scripture might have been compromised is something I balk at. Certainly, many minor errors and a few major ones have been Incorporated. The problem with scripture, it seems to me, is mostly in the area of interpretation and not in conception or transmission.

      That said, the Transfiguration narrative is truly odd, but something about the blurb and hype on the site you referenced doesn’t ring just right for me. Narrative in our gospels will always merit lots of exploration and consideration, though.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Brian Casey 11/01/2017 / 9:05 pm

      I should add that I’m not a big believer in a completely fixed and absolute canon. I would suggest that a couple of the books that made it in are probably less authentic than a couple that did not make it in.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. dinoconstant 11/01/2017 / 9:56 pm

    I love your earnest comments, Brian, so your username is very apt.

    My background is science and technology so I have found Peter Cresswell’s presentation of facts quite convincing. The author presents the facts that have been corroborated by other scholarly works I have read. We have accepted that the earth is a planet in our solar system and not the centre of our universe. Modern Christians accept that human beings have been on this earth for probably 100,000 years and not about 6,000. The link below gives you access to some of the contents of the book I’m currently reading if you click on the picture of the book:

    We don’t have to agree on everything but I truly sense the presence of the Persons of the Trinity and I honestly trust this and the effect on my behaviour to other humans more than I do the scriptures which I find contradictory. It’s not mostly about interpretation – I cannot reconcile the laws given in Leviticus 20 for which the punishment was execution (usually by stoning) when this clearly contravenes the sixth commandment, “Thou Shalt not kill,” as one of the Ten Commandments given to Moses by God Himself! This is one example of many that I’ve been unable to reconcile.

    Peace and love to all,

    Dinos

    Like

    • Brian Casey 11/03/2017 / 6:27 am

      Thank you for the engagement here. Let me comfort you by saying I am not among the fundamentalist Christians who tie themselves to a young earth of 6000 or so years, and in one analysis, it is an interpretation problem that has led to such ideas. Perhaps it might help to bridge a perceived divide here if I told you that I take more of a scientific and historical critical approach to scripture.

      Also, I don’t know that the content of the author you cited earlier would be the issue for me, but the blurb or advertisement material about his book I found a bit charged and overstated, with hints of sensationalism. I’m actually glad to know that it is a level-headed scientific perspective he engenders and that you support.

      Taking your statement about Trinity and effect on human behavior at face value, I would say we differ markedly there, but as you say, we don’t have to agree on everything. My little sister would agree with you more, for instance. I pursue the objectivity and, I would say, sound and scientific approach to reading and understanding scripture in all its varied historical and literary contexts, and I have come to peace or grips or something with most of the conflicts.

      I am dictating and editing this comment in a tiny window on a smartphone and I’m probably doing a bad job so may come back later. It would be interesting to go into the particular conflict you mentioned, which for me does not really present a problem, but we shall have to save that for another day. I can’t see my own literary context here in this reply, so it’s difficult to know how to sum up here. one thing I would like to do is share a link from a biblical studies scholar friend of mine , who happens to be even more objective and scientific than I, and who has written a few times on the convergence of Science and the Bible, taking certain young-earth creationists to task for their irresponsible use of scripture. You might find it stimulating and possibly even challenging.

      Liked by 1 person

    • dinoconstant 11/04/2017 / 1:50 am

      Thank you for your response, Brian.

      I freely confess that I do not see how it is possible to claim, “I pursue the objectivity and, I would say, sound and scientific approach to reading and understanding scripture in all its varied historical and literary contexts, and I have come to peace or grips or something with most of the conflicts.”

      Please consider the following questions:

      Have you a portal to God’s truth that the Theological scholars have not got due to their emphasis on historically corroborated evidence and their generally agnostic positions? Do you prefer news sources that confirm your beliefs or ones that challenge them?

      How many pages of Peter Cresswell’s book did you read? Did you know that about 300 animal skins (primarily from sheep, goats and calves) were used to make each serviceable Bible from parchment and that with all the work of preparing the skins, binding and the work of the scribes the cost would be about half a million dollars in equivalent terms in 2013 AD? Or that Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus both contain an addition to Mt 27:49 that parallels John 19:34? —

      But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.

      I could not find the link you wanted to share about the work of your scholarly friend in this post, is it in another post?

      You wrote, “I can’t see my own literary context here in this reply….” The literary context is what I misunderstood about the ‘human element’ in your sentence, “The very idea of examining literary coherence is potentially bothersome to those who discount the human element in their sacred text….” It’s not merely the problem of interpretation by readers in modern times but how does a God-inspired writer who is necessarily educated beyond the dreams of common folk in ancient times impart his inspiration to them in a way that they can understand? Also, although you have dismissed the clear contradiction about breaking the sixth commandment to force the Hebrews to adhere to some the 613 laws that they wrote, the meaning is very clear and is not ‘mostly in the area of interpretation’, as you put it in your post 11/01/2017 / 8:53 pm.

      My humble opinion is that some texts that have been included in the Bible were humanly conceived and not inspired by God and that it is this human element that has compromised the integrity of the Holy Bible just as it has the Qur’an, despite the claim that the latter was dictated to Mohammed by the Archangel Gabriel. It is the consensus of Theological scholars that seven of the thirteen letters whose authorship was assigned to Paul were not written by him as they have been dated after his death. They are the letters to the: Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus and Hebrews. Below is a link that has no connection to Jehovah’s Witnesses despite the letters ‘jwstudies’ in the character string. I hope you can find time to read some of it:

      http://www.jwstudies.com/Did_Paul_write_Timothy_or_Titus.pdf

      I’m not attempting to undermine your Biblically based Christian faith but to enlighten you as to how I reached my current platform. Recently, an ugly rift opened up between my sister, her husband and me. I did not pray for myself but for them to lose their anger directed at me. Her husband who is being medically treated for furring of the aorta experienced chest pains recently and my sister broke her silence to ask my advice. I told her to call an ambulance immediately. Her husband had said to me, “I don’t want you to come to my house ever again,” but relented when I offered to accompany him in ‘Emergency’ at our local hospital in Cambridge, England. Below is a scriptural passage that I believe was God-inspired and I consider relevant to this discussion:

      Proverbs 3:4-5 (KJV):

      4 So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.

      5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

      Peace and love to all,

      Dinos

      Like

    • Brian Casey 11/04/2017 / 9:30 pm

      I perceive that we entered into a discussion assuming we might have been starting from more of a common vantage point. I want you to know that I am limited right now to phone dictation and typing which makes it exceedingly difficult to reply to matters of substance. I also want you to know that you are telling me some things that you seem to assume I don’t already know. Actually, I have a framework for dealing with them. I am quite well aware, for instance, that some of the Pauline literature is authentic while other letters are of dubious origin. As for the conflict you mentioned, I didn’t pursue it because it would have resulted in what I thought was a tangent, but maybe I can get back to that later. I have not shared the link I mentioned yet, and I don’t want us to get into a trap of trying to ask each other to read things that we may or may not be needing to read. More later as I am able. Dealing with a loved one’s illness right now.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. dinoconstant 11/04/2017 / 10:29 pm

    Dear Brian,

    I shall wait until you are in a better position to say more (if you want to) and I pray that the illness of your loved one shall be resolved.

    Every blessing to you and your loved ones,

    Dinos

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brian Casey 11/22/2017 / 1:31 am

    Dinos, my situation continues and is likely to be problematic for some time, but I wanted to get back to this in some measure. And I thank you for your understanding expressed above. it meant a lot then and does now.

    Before I forget: I appreciated the personal note about your family relationships and am glad that you were able to see something of a relational gain there!

    I have now scanned a few of the pages of the Cresswell book; I’ll re-confirm here that the content of that book (at least as evident in the freely available pp. indicate) is neither alarming nor all that significant for me in this discussion. That’s not to say it’s not significant for others, because it is. It’s just that the samples I scanned do not appear to present any new or any particularly shocking information. I’m acquainted with such matters, and, now having a framework for their consideration, they do not present much problem for me.

    I actually find it ironic and somewhat surprising that you depend on a metaphysical existence that is for you a reality (“Trinity”), whereas if you had a scientific basis for reading and interpreting scripture instilled, it would be easier for you to

    I regret that I came across as dismissive of the conflict you mentioned. The thing is this: such matters do not have to amount to “conflict” that keeps one from trusting the texts if one ponders the nuance of language, the ranges of meaning of words such as “kill.” I am no Hebraist, so I probably shouldn’t comment further on specifics, but I vaguely recall that the notion of “premeditation” is one important aspect, i.e., that . Please don’t think I am being dismissive of the concern you raise, but it is just one of many such “conflicts,” as you know, and I continue to feel that it is a fundamentalist framework for scripture texts that is the problem, not the texts themselves. It is the nature of ancient texts that they were hand-copied, of course, and the likelihood of any variation-free copies is scant to none. But the variations are so minor as to be insignificant in the NT texts. (Again, I am no Hebraist and have far less knowledge of the Hebrew textual variants, but I do know there are substantial variations from Hebrew to the Septuagint.) The existence of hundreds, yea thousands, of minor variants does not by any stretch, mean that I would give assent to your feeling that the texts are unreliable. Far from it. They are substantially reliable and incredibly well supported, comparatively speaking.

    On 3rd or 4th read, I am still not sure of your meaning in the following sentence:

    “Have you a portal to God’s truth that the Theological scholars have not got due to their emphasis on historically corroborated evidence and their generally agnostic positions? Do you prefer news sources that confirm your beliefs or ones that challenge them?”

    Since I’m not sure where you meant to be leading me there, I’ll comment on the differentiation of Biblical Studies and Theology as academic disciplines. As you would expect at this point, I am a proponent of the former and a sometime critic and cautious, periodic observer of the latter. Theologians tend to overlay the reading and interpretation of ancient texts with systems of thought and historical tyings-together that cast clouds over what’s important (in my eyes). Arguments over some more-or-less Calvinistic doctrine of this or that view of justification, and how it does or doesn’t connect to Augustine or Tom Wright or Pope Whoever — these things are of little interest to me. Instead, give me a socio-historical perspective on one authentically Pauline letter (e.g. Galatians or Philemon), and let me get into academically sound exegesis of just such a text and its literary and historical contexts! As a side note, I think I’ve said this a time or two, but let me reiterate that I have no trouble with the suggestion that not all the canonical scriptures are equally authentic. I don’t care much about canon or what is in “the Bible”; I take both of those as humanly inventions whereas God was at work in the people and communities that produced the authentic texts. If it turns out that Paul wrote some part of 1Timothy but that most of it was written more than a 100 years later by some well-meaning disciple of a disciple of a disciple, that is OK with me. I think a lot about the composition and provenance of the four canonical gospels, and I take what I would term a “differently conservative” view (which most Christians would find “liberal”). By that I mean I suspect that oral tradition and various sources led to editing and re-ordering over a period of decades, but that the texts we have are reliable witnesses to early teachings about Jesus. Those early teachings are, in turn, reliable witnesses to the truth of what actually happened, although Mark presents, e.g., a far different set of emphases than Matthew or John. One intriguing study i s the placement of the “cleansing of the temple” incident. In John alone, this comes early in Jesus’ public ministry, and it is thought my most to be a Johannine flip-flop for unknown reason. One scholar I read found some reason to turn that around, suspecting that John’s tradition (including the only canonical mention of the “first of his signs” in Cana) might be the earliest, and that the other “evangelists” actually did the re-ordering to suit their literary purposes. The sequence in the narrative is a matter of academic interest, and I’m personally intrigued by pondering the implications of whether it happened when Jesus was just starting out or near the time of his crucifixion. Regardless, I believe it happened, and that each gospel writers was painting a picture in and for his particular setting.

    As for your 2nd question in the above-quoted para, I suppose I don’t think in those terms. I am usually willing to be challenged but don’t mind finding evidence that confirms my beliefs, either. For instance, I have a strong bias against human government in general terms and believe Christians should have essentially an arm’s-length, generally submissive, uninvolved stance. When I find something that challenges that, I engage with it, and when I find reason # 42,331 in scripture or history to corroborate it (!), I’m glad.

    Some time ago, I’d made reference to a scholar-friend’s post on the convergence of science and scripture. I intended to find the link later and am just now doing that:

    http://biblestudytips.org/is-genesis-history/

    While I’m at it, here is one more written by the same man:

    http://biblestudytips.org/tyson/

    If you have time to peruse those, you might find some hints of the “scientfiic,” academically sound approach to scripture study that I also advocate.

    Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. dinoconstant 11/22/2017 / 5:29 am

    Hi Brian

    I’m reluctant to engage with you because you’ve indicated that you are still caring for a loved one.

    Let me just say that I’ll continue to pray for you and all your family.

    My problems with Biblical texts are just that; my problems. I go to websites looking for answers because my opinions are not set but fluid. I freely admit that I don’t understand the contradictions that are very real to me. I don’t see how context can solve the contradiction that people were executed for committing adultery:

    Lev 20 KJV

    10 And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

    To my simple mind, this is premeditated, sanctioned murder and it is not practised today, perhaps because of Christ’s sacrifice. But should it have been practised in those days when it breaks the sixth commandment? This is my problem so you have no need to answer it, especially in view of your circumstances.

    Peace and love to you and all humanity,

    Dinos

    Like

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