Reddit Q&A with Michael Pregillhttps://www.reddit.com/r/AcademicQuran/comments/zqwrlc/i_am_a_specialist_in_late_antiquity_and_the/
Speaking very broadly, it is my conclusion that a very wide variety of Jewish and Christian traditions circulated in and around Arabia in Late Antiquity, and that much of this material had been assimilated and adapted in various ways in the time before Muhammad, or whoever the final editor of the Qur'an is. By and large I now see the Qur'an as a collection of older Jewish and Christian tradition that I assume was in circulation in the environment and had likely been Arabized before being incorporated into what became the canonical Qur'an.
In my book, I examine the qur'anic Golden Calf narratives, focusing in particular on the version in Surah 20 (vv. 83-97). The most important takeaway, I think, is my conclusion that the qur'anic understanding of the story is very close to biblical precursors, though it is informed in a subtle way by debates concerning the meaning of the story in late antique Judaism and Christianity. This is not surprising in itself, of course. The reason this argument is important is that historically, Western scholars and translators did not recognize this proximity because they were dependent on Muslim commentary tradition for their interpretation of the story.
I would definitely locate my work in the context of the trend that has dominated some circles of Qur'anic Studies since the mid-2000s, in which we see scholars attempting to read the Qur'an as a document of late antique tradition, informed by the ideas and tendencies current before the rise of Islam, and not through the lens of tafsir and other Muslim exegetical discourses. The tendency to read the Qur'an through such a lens is so deep-rooted that until very recently certain passages were misconstrued, and certain narratives simply aligned with the general understanding promoted in Islamic tradition.
In this specific case, the discrepancy between the two modes of reading is quite jarring. Muslim tradition holds that the Calf was actually brought to life, or made to seem to be alive, at Sinai, and that the main culprit responsible for making it was a character named al-Samiri, the "Samaritan." This is the standard interpretation of the story in the tafsir, in many other exegetical traditions in Islam, and in the vast majority of Western commentaries and translations right up to the time I wrote my dissertation around 2007. The dissertation shows that this interpretation of the story is probably wrong, though it was not until I wrote my book that I was able to advance a coherent alternative interpretation of the qur'anic narrative and explain some of the most puzzling cruxes in the Surah 20 narrative in particular.
There are a number of other takeaway I'd want to highlight as well, though I'll hold off as this reply has gotten quite long! One thing I'd note is that there are complex and interesting reasons for the historical tendency to read the Qur'an through tafsir, as well as for seeing many of the biblical or quasi-biblical traditions therein as ultimately derived from rabbinic tradition (a claim that was/is often made about the qur'anic Calf story). This is the subject of my new book project.
Hello! A very complicated question. I have an article coming out next year on the question of authorship and the Qur'an in which I address the claims of Tesei (and with him Guillaume Dye and Stephen Shoemaker) about the late or "post-Muhammadan" redaction of material into what became the canonical Qur'an. Tesei's work is fascinating - I assume we are both talking about his 2021 article "The Qur'an(s) in Context(s)." Something I think worth underscoring is that he concludes not only that some (actually, much) of the Qur'an is late and Palestinian, but that some of it can be identified as authentically early, and corresponding to a genuinely pagan Arab milieu. That is, there is essentially an Arabian Qur'an that stems from a milieu that is what the Islamic sources described, and then a secondary layer than stems from the period and milieu of the Arab conquests. Dye and Shoemaker say much the same thing.
As much as I respect these scholars - and I have learned a lot from Shoemaker in particular - I take the exact opposite approach. Rather than assume that a late stratum of qur'anic material comes from outside Arabia, I would favor the idea that this material is in fact genuinely Arabian, but that the Arabian milieu was much more monotheistic than we generally can conclude from the traditional sources. It is easier for me to accept that there were circles of learned Jews and Christians in Arabia whose translations and adaptations of biblical and parabiblical material were known in the Hijaz and assimilated into what became the canonical Qur'an than it is for me to accept that the qur'anic corpus emerges during the Arab conquests under the later Rashidun or early Umayyad caliphate. Much more to say about this but this is my position.
>Is singular authorship or composite authorship more probable in the case of the Qur'an?
I tend to favor the idea that the corpus as we have it is mainly or totally the work of a single compiler whom I tend to identify as the qur'anic prophet. I hesitate to call that person 'Muhammad' because that name carries a whole host of associations and presuppositions based on the traditional sources that may or may not apply.
2. I actually don't have a solid opinion on this. I will say that when people associate the Qur'an with Abd al-Malik and al-Hajjaj, the implication is that the canon was fluid before then. If the crux of the question is 'when was the canon finalized/stabilized' I tend to favor an earlier date closer to the beginning of the Arab conquests. My intuition is that it would have been very difficult to assert the authority of a text that only came together around the time of the Second Fitnah. Then again, I do wonder how much of the Qur'an was really in wide circulation at the time of the beginning of the conquests. You can see from this answer that I'm ambivalent and undecided, but again I tend to think the canon stabilized earlier, certainly by 650 as the manuscript people seem to assert these days.
3. Not sure precisely what you're asking here since compilation implies a process of stabilization of something that was quite possibly fluid beforehand? Otherwise what was the point of compilation
I guess I might infer that you're asking if the orally transmitted Qur'an was fluid and if that fluidity was curtailed by compilation of a written text. I am really not sure. My general position tends to be that the textus receptus canonizes a text that was promulgated in oral form by the qur'anic prophet, more or less coinciding with the traditional dates ascribed to the historical Muhammad. Was everything that 'Muhammad' revealed preserved in the Qur'an? Who knows. Was a lot of stuff added after, say in the process of canonization? I guess that's possible but I'm skeptical. I think what was promulgated in the mushaf must have had to seem convincingly authoritative to the Companions, assuming you accept the idea that the qur'anic prophet actually had followers who accepted and promoted his teachings when they went out and conquered much of the Near East.
Maybe this is not your specific interest here but for me the question always comes back to that of whether the material in the Qur'an should authentically be associated with "Muhammad" or whatever we want to call the qur'anic prophet or if it could have arisen later. My tendency again is to see the qur'anic material by and large assembled and revealed by the historical prophet, and if we want to talk about sources, it makes sense to look backwards, to the time predating the historical prophet, and not so much forwards to the time after.
But I could be wrong. I think my answers to a lot of the questions I'm being asked here probably betrays my very strong agnosticism on many issues.
Thanks for clarifying once again, I understand your point better now. I just do not know if we have any standard by which we can definitively judge how much of the canonical Qur'an was actually revealed by the qur'anic prophet - it is certainly feasible that there could have been interpolations and variations. I just think that the models of scholars like Shoemaker, Dye, Tesei etc., where a very large amount of qur'anic material originates in Palestine-Syria during and after the Arab conquests, just seems unrealistic to me for a number of reasons.
It seems like the consensus of the manuscript specialists is that the canonical Qur'an is stabilized by around 650. Assuming that we can trust that the Arab expansion into Palestine-Syria occurred around 632, the conventional death date of Muhammad, and that *some* qur'anic material originated in Arabia, it just seems like a very narrow window (< 20 years) for new qur'anic material to have been generated through the adaptation and Arabization of monotheistic traditions from that new arena. It just seems more likely to me that Palestinian-Syrian traditions percolated into the Hijaz at an earlier phase of development and were adapted and integrated into the Qur'an prior to and during the career of the historical prophet.
Given the consensus on the manuscript tradition stabilizing by the mid-7th century, what do we make of seemingly variant attestations of qur'anic material like the coin you mention? The Dome of the Rock is another obvious example. It seems to me that a more plausible explanation is that the Qur'an could be cited somewhat fluidly in inscriptional contexts? This seems more logical than suggesting that these inscriptions point to a late date of stabilization of the text.
By the way, this also points to a phenomenon that people seldom seem to talk about, which is that even if the qur'anic text itself is being stabilized early, how much access to that text did Muslims have? Meaning, how widely distributed was the official mushaf? Richard Bulliet always emphasizes that hadith was a much more accessible means of religious knowledge for converts, especially converts at the fringes of the Islamic empire, than the Qur'an. How many huffaz were available in any given locality in the 7th century? How many complete masahif? In an environment in which there was no institutional structure that guided conversion and catechism, what does the promulgation of the official text, or basic qur'anic education, even look like?
Yeah, Van Putten's work is what I am mainly thinking about here. It is hard to argue with the evidence as he marshals it, though Shoemaker would contest the reliability of the chronology. Paleographic and manuscript work is so recherche that it's hard even for specialists in other fields to really control the material and evaluate it independently. I am certainly not qualified to argue with the Van Puttens and Deroches of the world. Again, my inclination is to see the canon as emerging early, but with the caveat that this has almost no bearing on the question of the Qur'an's origins except to say that the canon was likely stabilized around 650. But that tells us nothing about what the "pre-Muhammadan" text was or where it came from.
Essentially what I argue here is that the engagement with the Mishnah reflected in this surah seems to be informed by a very high degree of what we might term scriptural literacy (I prefer the term "scriptural virtuosity"), much more than what we could plausibly associate with the Muhammad portrayed by the Islamic tradition. The engagement and appropriation of the mishnaic tradition is nimble, well informed, and strategic.
I am largely agnostic about the implications of this observation in that article, but I have another article coming out next year in which I address the question of qur'anic authorship more broadly. There I argue that the mishnaic citation is part of a larger phenomenon of adapting and rewriting literary sources in the Qur'an, an important but largely overlooked aspect of qur'anic intertextuality.