Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Textual Criticism at ELF

The European Theologians Network, which forms part of the European Leadership Forum, will be running a session on New Testament textual criticism (see here). You have to apply and be accepted to be allowed to attend, but if you are European or involved in ministry in Europe then it is worthwhile trying to attend. Within the forum there is also a section on the textual criticism of the Qur'an.


  1. Textual Criticism of the quran!

    Who's going to be doing that--the Danish contingent?

  2. PJW,

    I notice you are taking day 4, textual criticism, Ehrman etc...

    Will you also be talking about the textual criticism of the Qur'an? I was not aware you spoke classical arabic.

  3. I can vouch for Pete here, at least in terms of his ability to read it. I can't say I've heard him jabbering away in Classical Arabic.

  4. Give him a month, a thick Grammar and a Bible translated into the language and I'd back Pete on any language (except perhaps Elvish).

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  6. Try again.

    Textual Criticism of the Qur'an, as naively depicted in Tom Clancy's book "The Sum of all Fears," doesn't exist.

    Not only is it forbidden, look what happened to Salmon Rushdie when he tried it.

    Rushdie poetically mistranslates a little classical Arabic himself: a repeated theme in "The Satanic Verses" is 'kan ma kan fi qadeem azzaman,' which he translates (as all good authors should, for the benefit of their monolingual readers): 'it was, it was not in a time long forgot.'

    Actually, there's nothing about forgetting in that old Arabic storytellers' opening formula. Roughly equivalent to "Long ago and far away" or "Once upon a time," it simply means 'there (once) was--or (maybe) wasn't--in ancient times. . ."

  7. Speaking of thick grammars, I've never yet seen this grammatical construction in Arabic:

    Daniel 7:9 The Ancient of Days sat
    v.13 He came to the Ancient of Days

    One of the most common features in Arabic grammar is the genitive construct, which usually follows the following formula:
    1.*indefinite nominative noun-space-definite genitive noun*
    The only exception--and it's not all that common except in vernacular--is:
    2.*indefinte nominative noun-space-indefinite genetive noun.
    1.Quds al-Aqdas (The Holy of The Holiest, the Muslim name for Jerusalem), a biblical term.
    Ibn al-ansan (the son of the mankind), found in Daniel 7:9
    2. finjan qahhwah (a cup of coffe)

    But a third construct is found in the expression 'al-qadim al-ayam' (the ancient of the days). It is:
    *definite nominative noun-space-definite genitive noun*

    I'd love to see an Arabic grammar thick enough to define this singularity.

  8. The TC of the Qur'an will be handled by Jay Smith, Keith Small, and Mark Penner. I only deal occasionally with the TC of Arabic versions of the Bible.

  9. Thanks for all the votes of confidence in my linguistic abilities. They don't feel so good communicating with the locals out here in Croatia at the moment.

  10. I am surprised this is not being led by P. J. Williams.

    None of these speakers are proficient in classical Arabic. That is disappointing.

    Let us hope Jay Smith has more knowledge about textual criticism than his recent foray into the numismatic history of the ancient near east:

  11. Dear anon,
    I think that the question of how an evangelical might undertake textual criticism of the Qur'an is a sufficiently important one that I will post a few thoughts on the subject as a main post.

  12. Dear anon,
    Now back from Croatia, I've had time to look at the article on:

    I'd be inclined to see the use of Adarkonim (1 Chron. 29:7) and Dirhams in Surah 12:20 as contemporising (this does not pass judgement on the types of contemporising involved).

    It appears that the 'Antara reference to Dirham demonstrates that Smith had put the appearance of this term too late. However, the paper tracing the roots of countable money earlier seemed both learned and speculative. I note with interest that this Islamic website seems explicitly to suggest a non-Arabic origin for the term Dirham. I am glad to see that such learned scholars are putting a clear division between themselves and those who do not admit the existence of words of non-Arabic origin within the Qur'an.

    I found the article intelligent and thought-provoking, though I'd love for a real numismatist or two to have a look at it.

  13. Dear P. J. Williams,

    I must say, as a Muslim, that I am quite disapointed to learn that Joseph Smith and his friend Keith Small will be "handling" the TC of the Quran. Have you known these individuals for a long time? I have seen Mr. Smith (and Mr. Small) "preach" in Speakers Corner, Hyde Park, in London, on Sundays. These are people who literally hate Islam and are denouncing it as an "evil" religion at the top of their voices at Speakers Corner. Do you really expect them to provide you with "balanced" introduction to matters relating to the Quran? Mr. Smith has been rehashing polemics which have long been refuted: for example, his use of Crone and Cook's "Hagarism", despite the fact that the authors themselves no longer endorse its thesis.

    You are a committed Christian, how would you feel were I to take lessons on the TC of the Bible by Muslims who denounced Christianity in this manner? Something is definitely not right here.

    Mr. Smith does not even speak proper Arabic (the same holds true for Mr. Small) and, more importantly, they clearly have an agenda.

    Have a look at Mr. Smith's essays on Islam/Quran online...they are shoddy polemics, much of which has been refuted in detail at (here: ). Do you seriously consider this to be "scholarship"?


  14. Regarding non-Arabic words within the Quran, this is an interesting subject regarding which I read a few months ago. The Quran claims to be written in "clear" Arabic, not "pure" Arabic (as is sometimes mistranslated).

    Languages adopt words from other languages and overtime these words become their part. If memory serves me right, alcohol, cofee, and algebra came into the English language from other languages. When we apply these words in English sentences, we are not making use of "non-English" words, since these words are now a part of the English language. The same holds true for Arabic.

    By the time the Quran had come to the scene, a number of words, of non-Arabic origin, had by then assimilated into the Arabic language. They were no longer "non-Arabic" words, although they previously entered Arabic from other languages.

    Regarding Rushdie, he met a harsh reaction from Muslims not because he dared to do "textual criticism" but because his novel - a fictitious story - was deemed to be quite insultive as the central characters were clearly based on Mohammad and other personalities held in esteem by Muslims.

    To say that TC of the Quran "does not exist" is simply not true. Muslim scholars, such as al-Nadim for instance, studied Quranic manuscripts, listing their peculiarities and differences. From an early time Muslims made note of the differences in the different copies in terms of their arrangement and freely commented upon the issue. Sources are filled with comments on multiple and variant readings...

    Again, islamic-awareness has a good essay on this here:

    See also:


  15. Very sorry about that, here are the embedded links:

    1. Who Is Afraid Of Textual Criticism?

    2. On the readings of the Quran.