To What Extent Is Noldeke's Chronology Of The Qur'anic Text Still Defensible?

1717 words - 7 pages

Islam holds a unique claim in comparative religion that its sacred scripture, the Qur'an, is not the fallible work of men writing their personal accounts of a long dead teacher but the infallible dictated word of God. This essay will give an overview of modern scholars thoughts on the origin, collection and development of the text. We shall begin with Noldeke's account of the chronology of the text and move to look at Bell's and Wansbrough's ideas before examining other aspects of Qur'anic coherence.Watts on Bell's TranslationWatts writes that of Western attempts at forming a chronology of the Qur'an the "most important book by far was Theodor Noldeke's Geschichte des Qorans". Noldeke's method was founded in traditional Muslim accounts of Qur'anic revelation and made use of early Muslim sources to construct a historical framework. From this starting point he assumed progressive changes in style from "exalted poetical passages" in the early years to "long prosaic deliverances" later. Noldeke can thus distinguish four separate periods in Qur'anic revelation. The first Meccan period is distinguished by short suras and verses, and rhymic, visual language. The second Meccan period illustrates the key theme of the text in nature and history. The use of ar-Rahman (The Merciful) is used in reference to God. In the third Meccan period the characteristics of the second period intensify, ar-Rahman ceases to be used. For Noldeke the Medinan period was not so much a change in style, rather a change in theme, concentrating on laws and practices of the early Muslim community. In should be pointed out here that Noldeke's order of suras is very similar to that used in the first Qur'an printed in Egypt by and for Muslims in 1925, differing only in the order of four suras. Watts believes Noldeke's chronology places too much emphasis on style and a presumption that stylistic changes are purely linear, e.g. the verse length increases with time. The main difficulty with Noldeke's account is his belief that the suras were indivisible unities. Bell's chronology sought to introduce a new hypothesis that would dismiss the idea of sura unity. In his Translation Bell argued that the unit of revelation was not the sura but the passage, this is not a hugely controversial claim, and indeed it is accepted by many Muslims. During the collection of the Qur'an by ibn-Thabit, passages were collected on various mediums, some of which had passages written on both sides. During the composition of the text it made sense to place these revelations together. This explains the seemingly incoherent nature of the text in some suras. When taken as a mere hypothesis the idea seems a little faciful, however Bell takes great pains to go through the entire text using his method to explain the composition of every sura. Despite this Bell can show no hard evidence for his hypothesis which leads to viewing the Qur'an as more of a quotations book, possibly finding parallels with the gospel of...

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