October 28, 2003

Luxenberg critiqued

One of the problems with comments is that they sometimes come in old posts, and I don't necessarily notice them. Mubin Shaikh points out two negative reviews of the work by Christopher Luxenberg, the pseudonymous author of a fairly radical reinterpretation of the Qur'an, which I noted here. I also noted a positive review of his work here.

Mr. Shaikh points to reviews here and here. As I think I've noted before, I'm in no position of judge Luxenberg's work (he's taken a philological approach to interpreting the Qur'an, and bases much of his argument on the notion that much of the Qur'an was not written in Arabic, but rather borrowed words from another Semitic language -- Aramaic, I believe -- and that down the years these words have been misinterpreted). Earlier, I wrote:

...given the radical nature of Luxenberg's thesis, a fairly large dose of skepticism is in order -- take a tablet about the size of a manhole cover. ... I of course cannot judge Luxenberg's work for myself, but I imagine a number of specialists in classical Arabic and Aramaic are eager to do so for me. It will be interesting to see both his book and what the reaction of his critics will be. (I suspect the latter will be available in English long before the former.)

I still stand by that, and while I think it's also premature to conclude on the basis of two reviews, as Mr. Shaikh does, that it "Looks like this book is already a dud," skepticism seems to have been in order.

Posted by Ideofact at October 28, 2003 11:27 PM

Mubin left the same links on my post about Luxenberg as well.

One of the problems with comments is that they sometimes come in old posts, and I don't necessarily notice them.

That's why I have put a recent comments list on my blog's main page.

Posted by: Zack at October 29, 2003 12:36 AM

I've always been sympathetic to studies of Syriac influence in the Qur'an and other early Islamic literature. My own studies of early Islam started out with that angle. But I quickly found out that I wasn't going to get anywhere.

The reason is simply that I don't know when or where most Islamic literature came from. I personally think that the Dome of the Rock is sufficient witness for a pre-Marwanid date for suras 3 and 4, and that Sebeos provides that service for sura 5, but even this (conservative, grudging, and still hazy) opinion is still disputed by Nevo & Koren, let alone Wansbrough, Cook et al. And then we get to the hadith and the current sparring between Motzki and the Schachtian school.

I suspect the real work is going to be in the hadith for the next few years; if Motzki is right that we now have a non-Islamic means of verifying a hadith's authenticity.

But the study of Syriac loan words are not going to help until much more work is done, to sort out the literature via other means.

Posted by: David Ross at November 7, 2003 11:36 AM