Early Islam as a late antique religion - Robert Hoyland
Reply #1 - September 12, 2014, 08:20 PM
It is indeed a very good article.
In my book, Hoyland does suffer somewhat from a problem in that he accepts that the Qur'an is the product of Late Antiquity, as he essentially must, but he also generally accepts that Islam emerged in the Hijaz (because he wants to see it as Arabic). The problem is that there is almost no evidence that the Hijaz was permeated with a culture of late antiquity; in every respect, the Qur'an appears to be consistent with the culture and language of Arabs well to the North, not Arabs in the middle of the Arabian peninsula. So on pages 1072-3, he argues that the 'solution' to the dichotomy is that Late Antiquity had penetrated Arabia. But what evidence does he cite? Evidence that NORTH Arabia, and in particular the Nabatean realm, was heavily exposed to Late Antiquity. Correct! And in particular, North Arabia also is known for having written early Arabic languages in Aramaic script, suffused with Aramaisms, and in caseless Arabic dialect -- just as the base Qur'anic rasm seems to have been written.
If you look at Hoyland's articles, he keeps undercutting himself. He has written a recent article on Jewish inscriptions in the Hijaz, but only shows there were barely any (despite the Qur'an being clearly written in an environment chock full of Jews). He has also written an article on early Arabic inscriptions, but all of those inscriptions were located in Syria, Jordan, and Palestine -- not the Hijaz. Here's the conclusion of that article:
"In conclusion, I would like to challenge the widely held view that Arabic was scarcely used before Islam except for orally transmitted poetry. The hackneyed image of the iceberg that is 90 percent hidden beneath water is worth adducing in this content, for the small number of currently known pre-Islamic Arabic texts are indeed but the visible tips of a now invisible, though nonetheless substantial tradition of writing and speaking Arabic. And this tradition needs to be more fully taken into account if we are to make better sense of the historical and linguistic context in which the Qur’an was revealed."
He is entirely correct in saying this, but he fails to squarely address the fact that the pre-Islamic history of written Arabic is entirely one of Northern Arabic dialects written in Jordan/Syria/Palestine, and the mixture of Arabic and Aramaic culture/language/theology that pervaded that region, not anywhere near the Hijaz.
So I think his false dichotomy is falser still -- it's not a choice between Late Antiquity or Hijazi Arabia, it's a choice between the Northern Arabia of Late Antiquity, or of the remote Hijazi Arabia, which all evidence suggests was largely devoid of the kind of culture and language represented by the Qur'an.