Guillaume Dye (ed.) - Early Islam: The Sectarian Milieu of Late Antiquity? https://www.editions-ulb.be/fr/book/?GCOI=74530100870640#h2tabtableContents
In recent, new paradigms have radically altered the historical understanding of the Qur'ān and Early Islam, causing much debate and controversy. This volume gathers select proceedings from the first conference of the Early Islamic Studies Seminar.
These studies explore the history of the Qur'ān and of formative Islam, with the methodological tools set forth in Biblical, New Testament and Apocryphal studies, as well as the approaches used in the study of Second Temple Judaism, Christian and Rabbinic origins. It thereby contributes to the interdisciplinary study of formative Islam as part and parcel of the religious landscape of Late Antiquity.
Introduction | Guillaume Dye
Method and Theory in the Study of Early Islam | Stephen J. Shoemaker
Arabia and the Late Antique East | Greg Fisher and Philip Wood
Fallen Angels and the Afterlives of Enochic Traditions in Early Islam | Annette Yoshiko Reed
Cushions, bottles and roast chickens! More advertising about Paradise | Gilles Courtieu
The Seismic Qur'ān: On Collective Memory and Seismic Eschatology in the Qur’ān | Thomas Hoffmann
Dating early Qur’anic manuscripts: reading the Objects, Their Texts and the results of Their Material Analysis | Alba Fedeli
Eschatology, Responsories and Rubrics in Eastern Christian Liturgies and in the Qur’ān: Some Preliminary Remarks | Paul Neuenkirchen
Conversion from Jewish and Christian Milieus to Islam and its Influence on the Formation of the Qur’ān | Karl-Friedrich Pohlmann
The Qur’anic Mary and the Chronology of the Qur’ān | Guillaume Dye
The Historical-Critical Study of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Scriptures | Isaac W. Oliver
Christianity in the Arabian Peninsula and Possible Contexts for the Qur’ān | Philip Wood
History, Exegesis, Linguistics: A Preliminary, Multi-Discipline Approach to Ibn Hishām (d. c. 215/830) and al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) on the Origins of Islam and the Qur’ān | Ulrika Mårtensson
The following volume presents select proceedings from the first gathering of the Early Islamic Studies Seminar (EISS), which took place at the Villa Cagnola, in Gazzada, near Milan, on 15-19 June 2015.1 A few words about this institution might therefore be relevant.
The Early Islamic Studies Seminar is an emanation of, and is associated to, the Enoch Seminar: International Scholarship on Second Temple Judaism, Christian, Rabbinic, and Islamic Origins. Founded in 2001 by Gabriele Boccaccini (University of Michigan), the Enoch Seminar is an academic group of international specialists in Second Temple Judaism and Christian Origins, who share the results of their research and meet to discuss topics of common interest. The Early Islamic Studies Seminar works on the same basis (with, until the Covid crisis, a meeting every two years), except of course that its field of investigation is different: whereas the Enoch Seminar focuses on the period of Jewish history, culture and literature from the Babylonian Exile (598-537 BCE) to the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 CE), the Early Islamic Studies Seminar adopts a complementary approach and focuses on the period of Near Eastern and Mediterranean history which goes from the sixth century to the early/mid-tenth century. The formula “Early Islam” is thus only a convenient way to refer to the period which goes from Late Antiquity to, roughly, the time of al-Ṭabarī, which marks a decisive step in the shaping of Islamic identity.2
One of the main goals of the Enoch Seminar is to dismantle the misleading walls of separation that still divide its field of research, recovering the unity of the period, whose study offers an important contribution to the understanding of the common roots of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Similarly, the Early Islamic Studies Seminar intends to eradicate arbitrary disciplinary borders, which have done so much damage to the study of Islamic origins, and to develop more innovative instruments and methods. In a word, the Early Islamic Studies Seminar aims to promote a renewed study of Early Islam as part of the complex process of religious identity formation in Late Antiquity, in close dialogue with scholars working on early Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism and other neighbouring fields of research, like Manichean, Iranian, Byzantine or Arabian studies. Qur’anic studies are thus only a part of the topics studied by the Early Islamic Studies Seminar, even if they are a central aspect of the project.
The genesis of this endeavor began in June 2013 in Brussels, during a meeting between Guillaume Dye and Carlos A. Segovia, who were soon joined by Emilio González Ferrín, Manfred Kropp, and Tommaso Tesei as board of directors to create the Early Islamic Studies Seminar (EISS). With the support of the Enoch Seminar, the EISS has since then organized three Nangeroni Meetings devoted to the Qur’ān and early Islam. In the inclusive spirit promoted by the Enoch Seminar, the EISS has accordingly invited to its meetings specialists in Qur’anic and Islamic studies as well as those who specialize in the Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, the New Testament, and other related fields.
Such an interdisciplinary gathering of scholars opens new paths and strengthens the dialogue between scholars of Early Islam and scholars from neighbouring disciplines, especially Jewish and Christian studies. This dialogue goes both ways. On one side, studies of Late Antique Jewish and Christian traditions (and other religious traditions, like Manichaeism, as well), which constitute the background of so many Qur’anic pericopes, are obviously essential for the study of Islamic origins: indeed, the Qur’ān is a literary, religious, historical and linguistic Near Eastern document of the seventh- early eighth century, whose main contents belong, or are related, to the “Biblical culture” of Late Antiquity. Therefore, it seems natural and relevant to study it using, with the relevant adaptations when necessary, the methods, tools, and concepts which have already been fruitfully applied to the study of similar religious movements.3 And since Jewish studies, Early Christian studies, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha studies, etc., have developed finer instruments than those generally used by traditional Islamicists in their study of the Qur’ān, we can hope that the expertise and experience of colleagues working in such fields will be a major asset for the Early Islamic Studies Seminar.
But on another side, the study of Early Islam is also a gold mine for Christian and Jewish studies, and more generally for the study of Late Antique and Medieval non- Muslim religious traditions. The sixth and seventh centuries were a crucial epoch in the history of Judaism and Christianity – a time of deep and fast changes, a period of transition from the religious landscape of Late Antiquity to a new one which, in the following centuries, entailed for Jews and Christians cohabitation with a new religion, Islam, which was in constant interaction, and even cross-pollination, with them. It means, in other words, that the relations between, on the one hand, pre- Islamic Christianity and Judaism, and on the other hand, Early and formative Islam, should be addressed from both sides. The title of the book – Early Islam: The Sectarian Milieu of Late Antiquity? – is therefore not only an homage to John Wansbrough;4 it also nicely encapsulates the idea that the genesis of Islam, as a historical and social phenomenon, is simply unintelligible when it is not addressed in its context, which is characterized by a mix of crosspollination, symbiosis, contest and polemics with the various religious traditions of Late Antiquity.
As said earlier, one of the goals of the Early Islamic Studies Seminar is to develop more effective tools for the study of the Qur’ān and Islamic origins. Such an agenda supposes some dissatisfaction with the way such studies have often been practiced, and the present volume seeks to renew the study of Early Islam in a way which is more consonant with the approaches, methods and tools of Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity studies. This methodological agenda is sketched in Stephen J. Shoemaker’s contribution, “Method and Theory in the Study of Early Islam,” which shows why and how formative Islam should be fruitfully investigated using the well-established historical-critical approaches deployed in the study of Judaism and especially early Christianity. At the end of his paper, Shoemaker refers to post- colonial studies, and their focus on the way identity and difference are constructed and managed in an imperial context. This makes a nice transition to the next paper, by Greg Fisher and Philip Wood, entitled “Arabia and the Late Antique East.” Fisher and Wood afford a very useful synthesis of the history of Pre-Islamic Arabia, especially regarding its relations to its imperial neighbors, thus enlightening the historical context of the emergence of Islam.
Since the Early Islamic Studies Seminars and the Enoch Seminar are, in some way, siblings, it was relevant to invite Annette Reed to give the inaugural paper of our first Nangeroni meeting. Her article examines the afterlives, in Early Islam, of the Enochic traditions on the fallen angels, a topic whose study combines many methodological concerns we are sensitive to, like the importance of the longue durée, the relevance of the pseudepigrapha, the significance of angelology and demonology, or the attention to phenomena of crosspollination and symbiosis. The next paper, by Gilles Courtieu (“Cushions, Bottles and Roast Chickens! More Advertising about Paradise”) addresses a different topic – the Qur’anic description of Paradise. It shows how several of its aspects can be explained as a kind of transfert of elements which belong to the Sasanian empire’s high culture. Courtieu relies on a kind of source (sadly) seldom used by scholars in Qur’anic studies, namely material sources, including Sasanian silverware representing banquets. In his own paper (“The Seismic Qur’ān: On Collective Memory and Seismic Eschatology in the Qur’ān”), Thomas Hoffmann uses another original approach, and suggests, interestingly, that the Qur’anic discourse does not only refer to earthquakes when it describes seismic activity, but also to volcanic eruptions – a phenomenon well attested in Western Arabia.
The study of the most ancient witnesses of the Qur’anic text has become one of the crucial fields of Early Islamic studies. The issue of dating these Qur’anic fragments has especially attracted most attention these recent years. In “Dating Early Qur’anic Manuscripts: Reading the Objects, their Texts and the Results of their Material Analysis,” Alba Fedeli provides an excellent methodological survey and analysis of the merits and limits of the various methods which can be used for this task – especially C14. She convincingly shows that radiocarbon-based analyses cannot be divorced from the textual, artistic, codicological and paleographical analyses of the artifacts under scrutiny.
The next four papers explore, in different ways, the Christian background and context of the Qur’ān. Paul Neuenkirchen (“Eschatology, Responsories and Rubrics in Eastern Christian Liturgies and in the Qur’ān: Some Preliminary Remarks”) highlights striking parallels between Syriac liturgy and lectionaries and Qur’anic manuscripts. These pertain to similar scribal practices in the manuscripts themselves, as to similitudes in the liturgical lexicon and formulas. In other words, the Qur’ān seems indebted to Eastern Christian scribal techniques and to a certain form of Christian liturgy.
Karl-Friedrich Pohlmann’s chapter (“Conversion from Jewish and Christian Milieus to Islam and its Influence on the Formation of the Qur’ān”) might be considered as an English précis of his seminal book Die Entstehung des Korans: Neue Erkenntnisse aus Sicht der historisch-kritischen Bibelwissenschaft (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 20153, 20121) – a book which, sadly, did not get the attention it deserves in the mainstream scholarship on the Qur’ān. Pohlmann argues persuasively that various Qur’anic passages point to a post-prophetic context, with Christian or Jewish literati putting their pens at the service of the new movement of the Believers in the composition of these texts. This approach is also pursued by Guillaume Dye in “The Qur’anic Mary and the Chronology of the Qur’ān”). Using the tools of redaction and source criticism, Dye, like Pohlmann, sees the Qur’ān as a layered text, and attempts to determine the relative chronology of the passages relative to Mary. He argues for the following chronology – Q 19:1-33 > Q 3:33-63 > Q 19:34-40 – and situates all these text in a post-conquest setting, more precisely in a Palestinian milieu, Q 19 being deeply indebted to the Jerusalem liturgical and popular Marian traditions, especially those of the Kathisma church.
The system of the Nangeroni meetings promotes debates; long papers are assigned a formal respondent, which sets the tone for the ensuing discussion during the meeting. Isaac Oliver, in his “The Historical-Critical Study of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Scriptures,” provides a modified version of the response he gave to Guillaume Dye’s paper, promoting scholarly exchange – on thematic and methodological issues – between specialists working across fields as diverse as Second Temple Judaism, New Testament, early Christianity, early rabbinic literature, and early Islamic studies. Oliver also reflects on the question of historical-criticism by drawing from his own teaching experience in a non-confessional university in the United States. Similarly, Philip Wood (“Christianity in the Arabian Peninsula and possible contexts for the Qur’ān”) discusses the papers of Segovia,5 Pohlmann and Dye, and seeks to provide an answer to the following question: if we seek to situate the emergence of Christian Qur’anic communities, or at least the transmission of ‟Christian lore,” to what extent might this have been possible in sixth-century Arabia? He argues that several factors should increase the plausibility (though not provability) of greater Christian exposure to the Arabian Peninsula, but also notes that the different kinds of intra-Christian Qur’anic material may have developed in different Christian contexts.
The Early Islamic Studies Seminar and the Nangeroni meetings are meant as a place for debate, so that diversity of opinions and approaches should be welcome. We include therefore a dissenting voice, that of Ulrika Mårtensson. In her paper “History, Exegesis, Linguistics: A Preliminary, Multi-Discipline Approach to Ibn Hishām (d. c. 215/830) and al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) on the Origins of Islam and the Qur’ān,” she argues for a more traditional approach, finding in Ibn Hishām and al-Ṭabarī’s works the most valuable clues for understanding the emergence of Islam. It is to be hoped that the presence of such conflicting approaches in the same volume will stimulate a constructive discussion.