Thursday, July 14, 2011

Textual criticism and Qur'ān manuscripts

Although not entirely relevant to this blog, we should note the publication of Keith E. Small's Textual Criticism and Qur'ān Manuscripts. Small's PhD was a comparison of textual variation in NT and qur'anic mss, and it is the focus on the latter which is published here. However, because of his experience in NT TC there is comparison with the NT, and interaction with familiar scholars (Epp, Metzger, etc.). The study examines 22 mss of Surah 14:35-41: 'nineteen from Islam's first four centuries and three from within the last two centuries' (p. 15). Manuscripts considered include ones from Istanbul, San'a, Samarkand, the British Library (including of course BL Or. 2165), and eleven from the Bibliotheque nationale de France (often miscalled the Bibliotheque Nationale de Français). The analysis is divided as follows: orthographic variants involving long vowels, copyist mistakes, diacritical mark variants and variants affecting grammar, rasm (i.e. consonantal) variants, variant verse divisions, physical corrections to manuscripts.

12 Comments:

Drew Longacre said...

RBL also just had a review of David S. Powers' 2009 "Muhammad Is Not the Father of Any of Your Men: The Making of the Last Prophet." Looks like Quranic criticism is all the rage in biblical studies. Does anyone have any experience with how Islamic scholars and Muslims are dealing with the idea of textual criticism of the Quran?

Tommy Wasserman said...

Drew, I think many regard the traditional, standard text as superior (cf. the TR). From what I understand, the early transmission of the Quran was fluid to some degree (judging from the evidence from some palimpsest MSS), but the text was standardized rather fast.

Drew Longacre said...

Thanks Tommy. Would that apply to textual scholars too, or have there been any significant studies preferring variant readings as original?

Ahmed said...

Strange that no one of the scholars of Islam said that the text of the Koran corrupted it to use textual criticism
"" Muslims know the Koran oral generation after generation ""
But
Textual criticism proved the corrupt of the text of the New Testament and no hope of going back to him, "" original "and" corruption of papyri that the joy of Christians
Which did not support the reading and one in ubs or in the Nestlé Aland critical
Depends on the papyri alone is a greater evidence
The corruption of papyri
"william peterson"
And every effort is to reach "" the initial text ""
"holmes""
And the biggest problem is "the oral transmission ""
"" barbara aland""
Which can not be identified by the written text ""
barbara aland

Whatever you do, "" The words of Christ to the lost forever ""

In Egypt we have an example for what we know he will fail
We say to him "" Go play with the lion ""

Tommy Wasserman said...

Ahmed, it is not easy to understand in detail what you mean because of the language barrier, but I assume you are saying that the text of the Quran is trustworthy, whereas the text of the New Testament is not. The "words of Christ" of course brings in other dimensions.

Speaking in general terms I find the New Testament text on the whole to be remarkably well preserved as compared to any other ancient writing. I don't think any of the scholars you refer to would disagree (Petersen, Holmes, Aland), and definitely not the latter two. Holmes has pointed out that the New Testament text is extremely stable on the macrostructural level, there are very few known major omissions/additions/substitutions which go beyond a verse.

As for the Quran, there has not been as much research on the text. There are some very important witnesses out there which are now being researched, some of which suggest that during the earliest stage of transmission there was considerable fluidity.

Peter Gurry said...

It might be somewhat dated now, but The Atlantic had a fascinating article some years ago about critical scholarship on the Quran.

Thanks for sharing this.

Keith Small said...

Tommy, Thank you for posting this notice of my book. This is the first book-length examination of the kinds of textual variants one can observe in Qur'an manuscripts, and how these variants affect commonly held views on the transmission of the text of the Qur'an. Ahmed, for instance gives a very common view that the Qur'an's original text is preserved better than the NT because of oral tradition supplementing the written tradition. Actually the reverse is true. The NT is better preserved because of the written record that remains, even without an accompanying oral transmission.
My book challenges this normal Islamic views and concludes that the oral tradition actually complicated the textual history rather than simplifying it and preserving the original text.
Also,if the early Caliph Uthman performed the action on the text of the Qur'an that is attributed to him in Islamic tradition of establishing one text and destroying variant texts around 653 AD, then he cut off access to more original forms of the text of the Qur'an. One cannot recover the original text of the Qur'an from Islamic written or oral tradition or a combination of both. What one can achieve is a later revised version of a consonantal text that was officially standardized in the first Islamic century. Also, that particular consonantal text, over three centuries, went through a process of development and improvement so that it could phonetically reproduce just one form of the text. Before that, the text was recited in at least 50 different ways, because the ambiguity of the Arabic script allowed such diversity. Every time the written script was improved it provided a new platform for the development of additional oral traditions and discouraged the use of prior ones.

The challenge of textual criticism as applied to the Qur'an is to account for the plethora of factors, both intentional and unintentional, oral and written, that have made the text what it is today. It was produced over four centuries to read a certain way to bring political and religious unity in the midst of competing Islamic groups. There has consistently been more of an attitude of standardizing the text to a desired ideal, then preserving the most original forms of the text. Bart Ehrman's approach and conclusions actually fit the history of the Qur'an more than they do the New Testament, in my opinion.

Permit me to quote my own conclusion (p. 179):

'Though Muslims may take pride in the fidelity of the preservation of this text, it does not reproduce precisely what was originally considered to be the Qur'an in the early seventh century. Because of the standardizations of the text in 653-705/33-86 AH and 936/324 AH, together with the constant pressure throughout Islamic history to have one text match their dogma, many texts which had equally good claims to containing authentic readings were suppressed and destroyed. And, because of the emphasis on oral transmission and the vagaries of Arabic as it developed, the written text was constantly vocalized in new ways which did not preserve the original vocalization. The original vocalization must have been lost very early on if it did indeed exist. While bearing testimony to the careful preservation of one particular consonantal text, the history of the transmission of the text of the Qur'an is at least as much a testament to the destruction of Qur'an material as it is to its preservation. It is also testimony to the fact that there never was one original text of the Qur'an.'

Keith E. Small

Anonymous said...

Dear Keith Small,

Is it really the case the most (and only specific) interesting/informative/relevant textual variant you could think of in your essay,

"Textual Variants in the New Testament and Qur'anic Manuscript Traditions"

was the insertion of the word "land" in Acts 7:4 in manuscript 69? (p. 583)

Acts is an interesting book with an interesting history. Parker/Pickering recent publication of P127 adds to this history. Does the insertion of a single word accurately describe or reflect the kinds of variants one could expect to see in Acts, or its transmission in general?

I also find your use of the "NT" less than precise. For example, how about this sentence, “The NT is better preserved [than the Qur’an]”. Which NT are you talking about? In order to perform textual criticism on a text, surely it is important to know what the text comprises? Perhaps it is not too surprising no such qualifier is present. It was only in the 4th century the canon was explicitly delineated as you have accepted it. Do we resort to theology/tradition to delineate the canon and/or textual criticism/some other critical method?

May I ask a question? Drawing from the general tone and information provided in your comment, is the purpose of your book to prove the “The NT is better preserved”? Is it the purpose of your study of the early Qur’anic text to prove “The NT is better preserved”? Is that the purpose of your calling? If that is your aim, why not state it openly?

As an aside, you said the use of figures 5-9 in your book was with the permission of "GRP". It was indeed kind of Gerd-R Puin to grant you use of these images, you would appear to be one of the select few ;-) As far as I am aware, the copyright of all the Sana'a images belong to the Yemeni's. Could you clarify if their permission was sought?

Kind regards,

Abdullah David.

Keith Small said...

Dear Mr. David,

I will reply to your questions by repeating them and interspersing my answers. I will also split my answers over two posts.

Part 1


YOU ASKED:Is it really the case the most (and only specific) interesting/informative/relevant textual variant you could think of in your essay,

"Textual Variants in the New Testament and Qur'anic Manuscript Traditions"

was the insertion of the word "land" in Acts 7:4 in manuscript 69? (p. 583)

MY ANSWER:
First, the essay you mention is a summary article of my 2008 PhD thesis. The full citation of that essay is: Small, Keith E. ‘Textual Variants in the New Testament and Qur’anic Manuscript Traditions’, in Groß, Markus and Ohlig, Karl-Heinz, eds. Slaglichter, Berlin: Hans Schiler, 2008, 572-593.

Second, with the essay you refer to in mind, you are taking this reference out of its context and expecting it to provide something that is not claimed for it. It is very relevant for the section it is found in- a section on corrections, and the style of insertion of this word is one normative way of correcting NT mss- a correction by an individual scribe according to his personal judgment in an isolated situation, not one to regulate or conform the reading to a specific form of the text. Also, if you read my thesis and the book advertised in this blog, you will see I do not shy away from the textual differences among NT mss in the book of Acts. Even in the article you cite, on page 575, I give a list of the various kinds of variants encountered in the chosen section of Acts.

YOU ASKED: Acts is an interesting book with an interesting history. Parker/Pickering recent publication of P127 adds to this history. Does the insertion of a single word accurately describe or reflect the kinds of variants one could expect to see in Acts, or its transmission in general?

MY ANSWER: That is not the purpose of using this variant at this point in the article. See above. To my knowledge, the Qur’an manuscripts that have a degree of variation similar to what one finds, say, in Codex Bezae or P127 for Acts, are the inferior texts of the few Qur’anic palimpsests that have been studied. In these mss, Quranic and NT, one finds variation in regard to spelling, words, phrases, and even verses. But the overall story of the text remains largely unchanged. Larry Hurtado observed of P127 what could be also said of these other manuscripts:

'We don’t, however, have any variants that reflect any serious theological tendencies, nor indications of an effort to re-fashion Acts to some particular point of view. Instead, P127 essentially reflects a noteworthy readiness by some ancient readers (and/or copyists) to make numerous small expansions or abbreviations and stylistic changes.'
http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/rethinking-the-text-of-acts/

Keith Small

Keith Small said...

Response to Anonymous Part 2

YOU ASKED: I also find your use of the "NT" less than precise. For example, how about this sentence, “The NT is better preserved [than the Qur’an]”. Which NT are you talking about? In order to perform textual criticism on a text, surely it is important to know what the text comprises? Perhaps it is not too surprising no such qualifier is present. It was only in the 4th century the canon was explicitly delineated as you have accepted it. Do we resort to theology/tradition to delineate the canon and/or textual criticism/some other critical method?

MY ANSWER: Yes, there is some anachronism in how I am using NT, but I am using it in a conventional way that is in line with current scholarship. Also, in using the label ‘NT’ I am taking into account the cumulative work that has been done on the earlier versions of the individual texts that make up this corpus.

As for resorting to theology/tradition to delineate a canon instead of textual criticism or some other critical method, the same question should be put concerning the Qur’an. Why is Islamic scholarship so focused on the ‘Uthmanic’ version of the Qur’an, when the palimpsests and Islamic tradition present other forms of the text that were in use before the time of Uthman? Why should there be almost universal reference to just ‘one’ Qur’an, when the evidence of the Companions collections points toward many versions or Qur’ans in use during and after the time of Muhammad? I have encountered attitudes among Muslims toward the Qur’an that remind me of some King James Only adherents for the Bible- that theological convictions are driving their decisions as to the basis of the text rather than text-critical ones. B.F. Westcott warned against this kind of thinking when he made a rare diversion into Qur’anic studies:

'When the Caliph Othman fixed a text of the Koran and destroyed all the old copies which differed from his standard, he provided for the uniformity of subsequent manuscripts at the cost of their historical foundation. A classical text which rests finally on a single archetype is that which is open to the most serious suspicions.'

(Brooke Foss Westcott, Some Lessons of the Revised Version of the New Testament. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1897, 8-9.)

YOU ASKED: May I ask a question? Drawing from the general tone and information provided in your comment, is the purpose of your book to prove the “The NT is better preserved”? Is it the purpose of your study of the early Qur’anic text to prove “The NT is better preserved”? Is that the purpose of your calling? If that is your aim, why not state it openly?

MY ANSWER: In my PhD thesis I tested both traditions directly. This book presents mainly the Qur’an side of things since that was the more original research. There are still some comparative references to the NT tradition and also the OT tradition and the Greek and Latin Classics. Overall, a main purpose of my research has been to fairly test claims made by both Christians and Muslims concerning their Scriptures. I have believed for a long time and have often said publicly that it is not a case that one text has been preserved perfectly and the other has been corrupted to the point of unreliability. Rather, both texts have been preserved remarkably well and that the most important differences between the NT and the Qur’an relate to their content and message, not their textual histories. My research has confirmed this to me but with the added finding that it is an early edited form of the consonantal text of the Qur’an that has been preserved remarkably well, not the original forms of the text.

YOU ASKED: As far as I am aware, the copyright of all the Sana'a images belong to the Yemeni's. Could you clarify if their permission was sought?

MY ANSWER: I obtained all of the appropriate permissions for the use of these images.

Mr. David, I recommend you read my book. You will find more extensive thinking on the issues you have mentioned above as well as many other related ones.

Keith Small

Molka Molkan said...

Dear Dr. small, can you speak Arabic ?

I'm from Egypt, and I'm studied TC for both Qur'an and the holy bible. I can send for you very important researches that's prove the corruption of qur'nic text too.

Molka Molkan

Keith Small said...

Dear Molka,

Please write me at the email address below (without the spaces). I'd like to interact with you on this in longer ways than we can do on the blog. Thanks!

Keith

k e s 2 0 1 1 . 2 0 1 1 [at]hotmail.com