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A Historical-Critical Introduction to the Qur’an

October 30, 2017

I’ve just been exploring the newly published book by Nicolai Sinai, The Qur’an:  A Historical-Critical Introduction (Edinburgh University Press, 2017; the online listing here).  Of course, the Qur’an and Islam are far too late to be included in a blog site on the origins of Christianity.  But I couldn’t resist mentioning this new book.  Drawing on the growing body of scholarly work on the Qur’an, its formation, textual history, and relationships to the cultural settings in which it was formed, Sinai’s book makes all this available to students and general readers in a clear, balanced, and richly documented discussion.

A historical-critical approach to biblical texts has been in play for a couple of centuries, and students in courses in universities and theological seminaries have been introduced to it for a long, long time.  So it’s good now to have a student-oriented textbook that illustrates such an approach to the Qur’an also.

It’s not my own field, but the book comes with glowing endorsements from scholars who are themselves eminent in the study of the Qur’an and the history of Islam, such as Fred Donner (University of Chicago).

No doubt, the book will receive objections from Muslims who imagine the Qur’an to be a miracle, not a historical phenomenon, just as fundamentalist Christians demur from a critical approach to biblical texts.  But, as Sinai notes, an awareness of the historically-conditioned nature of a sacred text doesn’t mean that it’s no longer sacred or meaningful for faith.

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  1. Dr. Hurtado, as a historical-critical account, I hope that the author considers the merits of the revisionist approach, or attempting to situate the Koran apart from later medieval “occasions of revelation,” and apart from the life of Muhammad. Can you share any information on the approach the author takes? Thank you, Michael

    • Michael, I’m not clear what you refer to, but Sinai does discuss and illustrate by example the evidence that some surahs have been expanded with later interpolations,etc., and how scholars try to identify individual surahs with Medina or Mecca or later.

  2. Donald Jacobs permalink

    Do you know of any similar books for the Book of Mormon?

    • Paul C. Gutjahr’s *Book of Mormon: A Biography* (Princeton UP, 2012) may be what you’re looking for:

      I have read parts of his published dissertation (*An American Bible: A History of the Good Book in the United States, 1777-1880,* Stanford UP, 1999) and, while I haven’t read his work on the Book of Mormon, I suspect it is similarly good.

  3. Some of the pioneers of this approach were amongst my teachers at SOAS in the early 80s: Michael Cook, the late Patricia Crone (both latterly at Princeton)and Gerry Hawting, all the proteges of the presiding godfather of this modern scholarly approach to the Qur’an, John Wansbrough.

  4. I read the Qur’an on a regular basis, from sources (scholars; 4 of them) of the Islamic tradition. This is a welcome blog entry.

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