Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran Hardcover – 15 Mar 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
This book gives evidence for a much stronger influence on the Koran from Aramaic than has been thought before and throws up strong theories suggesting that much of the Koran is actually a development of earlier devotional material used by Syriac Christians outside the control of the Byzantine empire.
The new research by these scholars is still in its infancy but is already throwing up fascinating insights, which if taken on board seriously by devout Muslims will cause them to review their beliefs rather like Christians and Jews have revised their beliefs in the light of the much more extensive research into the Hebrew Testament and Bible, which has shown that most of the material is mythological. In addition the dearly held Muslim belief that the Koran has remained unchanged since it was delivered to Muhammad cannot be sustained.
This book is a vital contribution to the struggle of ideas between a totalitarian concept of Islam advanced by Salafists and Islamists based on the mythology of Islam on the one hand and Liberal Secular Democracy and Humanism on the other hand
I am specially interested in two problems. In the six translations I have of the Koran, in sora 3:07 there is a statement about uncertainty of meaning, and that only the Lord knows the meaning of parts of the Koran. In his introductory book "The Islamic Qur'an: for Humanity?", page 17, John Rightson suggests that Muhammad knew the meaning and the later writers of the Qur'an after he died did not. Christoph Luxenberg clears this up and points out that the writers of the Koran used a different dialect and did not understand the Arabic dialect Muhammad used. This was in any case at a time when Arabic writing was not standardized. Arabic consisted of various spoken dialects. (Luxenberg p. 68,70 107,107). The other problem is with the way young men are taught that various murders will be rewarded by virgins to rape in Paradise. Others have suggested that that is based on a mistranslation. In chapter 15 Luxenberg discusses possible meanings at length. He gives the impression that "white grapes" is probably correct and not "virgins".
I give only four stars because Luxenberg seems only to be interested in the linguistics and to be writing in great detail for philologists. I would prefer a bold statement for the benefit of mankind, "white grapes" are your reward, not "virgins to rape".
In short not for the ordinary reader but perhaps extremely useful for the specialist.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The topic that brought this book to the attention of the news media, that it is white raisins rather than willing virgins that the devout Muslim will encounter in Paradise, is given ample space. Indeed, pages 247-283 are devoted to this topic. The author regards his efforts as helping "the Koran to achieve its original inner coherence" (p.264) so that the notion of Paradise depicted by Ephraem the Syrian is restored to its proper place. The chapter "Virgins in Paradise" is followed by the chapter "The Boys of Paradise" (pp.284-291). Although the author does not suggest that any interpretation of the role of "boys" in such a place might be salacious, devout Muslims might take comfort in the author indicating that the Arabic word "walid" (i.e. boy or child), equivalent to the Aramaic word "yalda", is meant as a reference to "child of the vine"--that is, wine.
The reader of this book must have, at the very least, some knowledge of Arabic for this book to be at all comprehensible. Such knowledge of Arabic should be at an intermediate level, allowing the reader to parse verses of the Koran with the aid of a dictionary and an interlinear translation. The Aramaic phrases are written using the beautiful Estrangelo Syriac alphabet that can easily be found on the web, and which in some ways resembles the Hebrew alphabet.
As to the argument of the author that much of the Koran had originated from Aramaic texts, I must confess that I am not sufficiently expert in my knowledge of Arabic to make an independent assessment. As for my knowledge of Aramaic, it is quite rudimentary. Nevertheless, the book is sufficiently clearly argued for me to at least enjoy the discussion, and to imagine its import and relevance.
An excellent companion book, by the way, is Jenkins' The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia--and How It Died, which came as a complete surprise to me --- the fact that Christianity flourished in the EAST for a thousand years: in Syria, Iraq, Iran, India, China, and Japan. For that thousand years (longer than Protestantism) the church language was Syriac (which could be called "Christian Aramaic.) Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic, and Hebrew are all linguistic kissing cousins from the family of Semitic languages, so it would hardly be a difficult job to "borrow" some Syriac hymns or other items from the Syriac lectionary, and put them into Arabic to make a new holy book. A problem which arose was incomplete understanding of the Syriac, or a clumsy rendition into Arabic, which resulted in what was really an absurd idea --- that the Muslim Paradise was to be given over to orgies with 72 eternally young virgins. It turns out that those "virgins" (never actually mentioned in the Koran) are wrenched out of a terribly opaque Arabic phrase, apparently meaning "white eyes" but actually referring to "crystal-clear white grapes." A similar fate awaits the "eternally young boys," who turn out to be "chilled grapes as lovely as pearls."
There is now good evidence that this book was just the tip of the iceberg in revealing what German scholars have been discovering about Islam. You might want to take a look at The Hidden Origins of Islam: New Research into Its Early History for a taste of the future of Islam. Virtually no one (aside from the completely incompetent mullahs) believes that the Angel Gabriel swooped down from Heaven to dictate the Koran word-by-sacred-word, to a Muhamad who may not have existed.
Given the highly controversial ideas expressed by Luxenberg, a credible review can perhaps only be offered by scholars equally skilled in Aramaic and Arabic.
Fellow dilettantes may get a more complete and contextualized introduction to the broader thesis in play, from a more recent publication, 'Hidden Orgins of Islam." This is a collection of 10 essays, including one by Luxenberg, all bearing on different facets of the same broad revisionism directed at Islamic origins that Luxenberg explores here, limited to the Quran. By all means, read both, but I think one will relish 'The Syro-Aramic Reading' more, and will appreciate what Luxenberg has acccomplished, by digging into 'Hidden Origins' right away. Also, many of the understandably sensitive and incredulous reactions against' Luxenberg's views, which came out some years ago, can be finessed by seeing how well supported his thesis is, against this broader background of historical data and corroboration.
You'll want to know a little Arabic and Aramaic to get the full value,
but even without that knowledge, you will learn some incredible new perspectives on the"Decoding" of the language of the Koran.