John Wansbrough

John Edward Wansbrough (February 19, 1928 – June 10, 2002) was an American historian who taught at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), where he was vice chancellor from 1985 to 1992.[1]

Wansbrough is credited with founded the so-called "revisionist" school of Islamic Studies through his fundamental criticism of the historical credibility of the classical Islamic narratives concerning Islam's beginnings and his attempt to develop an alternative, historically more credible version of Islam's beginnings. He argued the Quran was written and collected in a over a 200 year period, and should be dated not from the 1st-century Hijaz, Western Arabia, but from the 2nd/3rd century AH in Abbasid Iraq.[2]

LifeEdit

Wansbrough was born in Peoria, Illinois. He completed his studies at Harvard University, and spent the rest of his academic career at SOAS. He died at Montaigu-de-Quercy, France. Among his students were Andrew Rippin, Norman Calder, Gerald R. Hawting, Patricia Crone and Michael Cook.

Research and thesisEdit

Wansbrough work stresses two points -- that Muslim literature is late, dating more than a century and a half after the death of Muhammad, and that Islam is a complex phenomenon which must have taken many generations to fully develop.[3]

When Wansbrough began studying early Islamic manuscripts and the Quran, he realized that the early Islamic texts addressed an audience which was familiar with Jewish and Christian texts, and that Jewish and Christian theological problems were discussed. Criticism of "infidels" in this literature he reasoned was addressed not to idolaters and pagans, but to monotheists who did not live monotheism "purely".[4] Those observations did not fit to the Islamic narratives on Islam's beginnings, which depicted Islam as coming into being within a polytheistic society.

Wansbrough also found that early Muslim legal arguments did not refer to the Quran, along with other indication that there was not "a stable scriptural text" in Rashidun and Umayyad eras, suggesting the Quran as a source of law had been backdated.[5]

Wansbrough analyzed the classical Islamic narratives which had been written 150 to 200 years after the Islamic prophet Muhammad died with the historical-critical method, especially literary criticism. Thus, he claimed countless proofs that the texts are not historical accounts but later literary constructions in the sense of the concept of a "salvation history" (Heilsgeschichte) of the Old Testament, whose actual historical core is meager and cannot be detected.[6]

On that basis, Wansbrough developed the theory parts of which he qualified as "conjectural[7][8] "provisional"[9] and "tentative and emphatically provisional",[10] as it implied (in the words of historian Herbert Berg) that "neither the Quran nor Islam is a product of Muhammad or even Arabia", nor were the original Arab conquerors of the Umayyad empire actual Muslims.[11] he postulated that Islam did not come into being as a new religion on its own but derived from conflicts of various Jewish-Christian sects[12] and from the need for a (fixed) sacred scripture upon which to base the Abbasid code of law: "The employment of scriptural Shawahid in halakhic controversy required a fixed and unambiguous text of revelation ... the result was the Quranic canon.[13][14]

The Quran was written and collected in a long process over 200 years and thus cannot be attributed to Muhammad, being more recent than traditional accounts date it. The person of Muhammad would be a later invention, or at least, Muhammad cannot be related to the Quran. In later times, Muhammad had only the function to provide an own identity to the new religious movement according to the role model of a Prophet of the Old Testament.[12]

Thus, Wansbrough argued that the Quran "became a source for biography, exegesis, jurisprudence and grammar".[2][15] around the 2nd/3rd century AH in Abbasid Iraq (not the 1st-century Hijaz, Western Arabia) as traditionally dated and located. Specifically Wansbrough thinks it must have been completed by Ibn Hisham around the time he composed his Sīra of Muhammad because of the "preponderance of Quran-based (historicized) narratives therein".[14] Wansbrough thought evidence for the "seventh-century Hijaz" as the location of the Islam's origins was "[b]ereft of archaeological witness and hardly attested in pre-Islamic Arabic or external sources", but instead owed "its historiographical existence almost entirely to the creative endeavour of Muslim and Orientalist scholarhship".[16]

Wansbrough argued that variants of Quranic text are so minor that they are not "recollections of ancient texts that differed from the Uthmanic text" but the outcome of exegesis.[17][18] "Variants" in the form of multiple versions of the same story within the text of the Quran "are present in such quantity" that they rule out the theory of an "Urtext" (original text) or "even that of a composite edition produced by deliberations in committee".[19][20] And also that classical Arabic was developed later than the colloquial forms, "contemporaneously with the codification of the Quran."[21]

Reception and critiqueEdit

Wansbrough's theories have neither been "widely accepted" nor rejected, according to Gabriel Said Reynolds.[21] By his fundamental criticism of the historical credibility of the classical Islamic narratives concerning Islam's beginnings and his attempt to develop an alternative, historically more credible version of Islam's beginnings, Wansbrough founded the so-called "revisionist" school of Islamic Studies. According to historian Andrew Rippin and religious scholar Herbert Berg[22] lack of interest by non-Muslim scholars in Wansbrough's ideas can be traced to the fact that Wansbrough strays from the path of least effort and resistance in scholarship by questioning the vast corpus of Islamic literature on the history of Islam, the Quran, and Muhammad; "destroying" what had been historical facts without replacing them with new ones; calling for using the techniques of Biblical criticism,[23] requiring competency in other languages than Arabic, familiarity with "religious frameworks" other than Islam, and locations other "than Arabia on the eve of Islam".[24] and treading on very sacred territory in Islam.[22]

Wansbrough's theory about the long process (over 200 years) of writing and collection of the Quran is today considered untenable by many[25] because of the discoveries of Early Quranic manuscripts[26] many of which were tested with radiocarbon analysis (around 2010-2014) and have been dated to the seventh century CE. However more and more scholars of Quranic Studies and Early Islam profess to adhere to his theory of the Quran as a multilayered collection of independent texts over a shorter period of time.[citation needed]

PublicationsEdit

  • Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation (Oxford, 1977)
  • The Sectarian Milieu: Content and Composition Of Islamic Salvation History (Oxford, 1978)
  • Res Ipsa Loquitur: History and Mimesis (1987)
  • Lingua Franca in the Mediterranean (Curzon Press 1996; Reprint by World Scientific Publishing 2012)

This line of research was investigated in Egypt by Nasr Abu Zayd but he left Egypt following death threats generated by his conclusions about the Qur'an.

InfluenceEdit

Students and scholars who also doubt the traditional view of the genesis of the Quran include:

Others who are said to have been influenced by his work include G. R. Hawting, Calder, Yehuda D. Nevo, Joseph van Ess, Christopher Buck, and Claude Gilliot.[27]

ReferencesEdit

CitationEdit

  1. ^ Arnold David (ed.),SOAS since the sixties 2006; p.56
  2. ^ a b Wansbrough, John, Quranic Studies, Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation, Oxford University Press, 1977 (2nd Ed: Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004) 202
  3. ^ Hawting, "John Wansbrough, Islam, and Monotheism", 2000: p.516
  4. ^ Oliver Leaman (ed.), The Qur'an, an Encyclopedia, 2006; p. 477
  5. ^ Wansbrough, 'Quranic Studies, 1978: p.2226
  6. ^ Harald Motzki et al., Analysing Muslim Traditions, 2010; p. 285 ff.
  7. ^ Wansbrough, J., Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation, 1977, p.ix
  8. ^ Wansbrough, J., Quranic Studies, 1977, , p.xi
  9. ^ Wansbrough, J., Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation, 1977, p.ix
  10. ^ Wansbrough, J., The Sectarian Milieu, 1978, p.x
  11. ^ Berg , "Methods and Theories of John Wansbrough", 2000: p.495
  12. ^ a b Andrew Rippin (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to the Qur'an, 2006; pp. 199 f.
  13. ^ Wansbrough, John, Quranic Studies, Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation, Oxford University Press, 1977 (2nd Ed: Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004) 208
  14. ^ a b Reynolds, "Quranic studies and its controversies", 2008: p.14
  15. ^ Reynolds, "Quranic studies and its controversies", 2008: p.11
  16. ^ Wansbourgh, John, Res Ipsa Loquitur: History and Mimesis, Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1987, p.9; quoted in "The Implications of and Opposition to, the Methods and Theories of John Wansbrough, by Berg, Herbert in The Quest of the Historical Muhammad, p.491
  17. ^ Wansbrough, John, Quranic Studies, Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation, Oxford University Press, 1977 (2nd Ed: Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004) 44
  18. ^ Reynolds, "Quranic studies and its controversies", 2008: p.12
  19. ^ Wansbrough, John (2004). QURANIC STUDIES Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation (PDF). Foreword, Translations, and Expanded Notes by ANDREW RlPPIN. Amherst, New York: Prometheus. p. 21. ISBN 1-59102-201-0. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
  20. ^ Amin, Mohammed. "Review of "Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation" by John Wansbrough". MohammedAmin.com. Retrieved 29 February 2020.
  21. ^ a b Reynolds, "Quranic studies and its controversies", 2008: p.13
  22. ^ a b Berg , "Methods and Theories of John Wansbrough", 2000: p.501-2
  23. ^ Wansbourgh, John, Res Ipsa Loquitur: History and Mimesis, Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1987, p.15; quoted in "The Implications of and Opposition to, the Methods and Theories of John Wansbrough, by Berg, Herbert in The Quest of the Historical Muhammad, p.491
  24. ^ Rippin, A., "Literary Analysis of Quran, Tafsir, and Sira: The Methodologies of John Wansbrough" In Approaches to Islam in Religious Studies, edited by Richard C. Martin, p.159. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1985; quoted in Berg , "Methods and Theories of John Wansbrough", 2000: p.501-2
  25. ^ Reynolds, Gabriel Said (2008). "Introduction". In Reynolds, Gabriel Said (ed.). The Qur'an in its Historical Context. Routledge. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  26. ^ Sinai, Nicolai (22 May 2014). "When did the consonantal skeleton of the Quran reach closure? Part I1". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  27. ^ Ibn Warraq, "Studies on Muhammad and the Rise of Islam", 2000: p.69

BibliographyEdit

  • Berg, Herbert (2000). "15. The Implications of, and Opposition to, the Methods and Theories of John Wansbrough". The Quest for the Historical Muhammad. New York: Prometheus Books. pp. 489–509.
  • Hawting, G.R. (2000). "16. John Wansbrough, Islam, and Monotheism". The Quest for the Historical Muhammad. New York: Prometheus Books. pp. 489–509.
  • Ibn Warraq, ed. (2000). "1. Studies on Muhammad and the Rise of Islam". The Quest for the Historical Muhammad. Prometheus. pp. 15-88.</ref>
  • Carlos A. Segovia and Basil Lourié, eds. The Coming of the Comforter: When, Where, and to Whom? Studies on the Rise of Islam and Other Various Topics in Memory of John Wansbrough. Orientalia Judaica Christiana 3. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4632-0158-6.
  • Reynolds, Gabriel Said (2008). "Introduction, Quranic studies and its controversies". In Reynolds, Gabriel Said (ed.). The Quran in its Historical Context. Routledge.
  • Wansbrough, J. (1978). Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation (PDF). Oxford. Retrieved 27 February 2020.

External linksEdit