Review of Jefrey Einboden, The Qurʾān and Kerygma

Review of Jefrey Einboden, The Qurʾān and Kerygma

An enduring interest in scholarship on the Qurʾān is the text’s engagement with biblical and post-biblical traditions. How does the Qurʾān develop or contest biblical characters, motifs, imagery, and diction? How should scholars characterize the relationship between the Bible and the Qurʾān, and precisely what texts or traditions does the Qurʾān engage with in particular? Does the Qurʾān exhibit an awareness of the text of the Bible itself, or does it reflect engagement with oral traditions? These are important questions in our endeavor to understand the genesis of the Qurʾān, but in his recent book Jeffrey Einboden reminds us that these questions address only part of the Qurʾān’s relationship with post-biblical traditions. Yes, the Qurʾān is shaped by earlier lore, but the text has also, in turn, shaped the inheritance of biblical literature.

Review of Martin Whittingham, A History of Muslim Views of the Bible

In this compact book, Martin Whittingham presents the historical beginnings of Muslim attitudes to the Bible. Billed as the first of two volumes, this installment takes us from the Qurʾān and its position on the scriptures of the “People of the Book” to the turn of the fifth century AH / eleventh century CE, i.e., up to and including the writings of Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456/1064) and some of his contemporaries, whom Whittingham sees as marking a watershed in the way Muslims have viewed and approached the Bible. The planned second volume will continue the story to the present day (1). While previous studies have focused on key Muslim thinkers or specific aspects of Muslim scholarly use and/or critique of the Bible,[1] the present work ranges far broader in its scope, seeking to present a chronology of evolving attitudes toward the Bible across a wide variety of literary genres. These attitudes are gauged both through explicit statements about the Bible from Muslim scholars, and through what may be implicitly gleaned about such attitudes from the way the Bible is utilized or discussed. The scope of the book is thus both impressive and unique, and Whittingham has produced a work that will surely be required reading for anyone interested in this field.

Review of Karim Samji, The Qur’an: A Form-Critical History

The urge to provide an inventory of the types of speech included in the Qurʾān is an old one. As Karim Samji points out, in one passage of his famous Qurʾān commentary Jāmiʿ al-bayān ʿan taʾwīl āy al-Qurʾān, Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/923) interprets the seven “letters” (aḥruf) in which the Qurʾān was revealed as seven types of speech contained in the sacred text: command (amr), rebuke (zajr), exhortation (targhīb), admonition (tarhīb), debate (jadal), narrative (qaṣaṣ), and parable (mathal) (270). However, this urge has not been met with sustained interest and methodical investigation on the part of modern scholars in Qurʾānic Studies. Karim Samji’s The Qurʾān: A Form-Critical Historyis therefore an important contribution to Qurʾānic Studies, the first attempt to apply biblical form criticism to the Qurʾān in a sustained manner to provide an overview of the main genres contained in Islam’s sacred text. It is a useful and stimulating addition to qurʾānic scholarship, both because it explains to a Qurʾānic Studies audience a great deal about form criticism of which they may not be aware and because it sheds light, especially from a comparative Biblical Studies perspective, on facets of the Qurʾān. The work evinces deep familiarity with the history of scholarship on form criticism in Biblical Studies, as well as awareness of most of the relevant work in Qurʾānic Studies, including several studies which may not be known to investigators in Qurʾānic Studies, even those who have been paying attention to scholarship related to form criticism in this field.

Review of Robert Gregg, Shared Stories, Rival Tellings

In this rather hefty tome, Robert Gregg sets out to share with us the myriad ways the Bible and biblical lore has been read over the centuries across multiple cultural, linguistic, and religious contexts. This book’s comparative yet innovative nature opens up new avenues for looking at this vast interpretive corpus. In particular, Gregg engages equally, openly, and with the same level of academic curiosity with all the material he presents here, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish. Despite its heft, this is more a “popular” book than monograph, but that does not make it any less of a good read (it is very readable) or academically useful. While aimed at the educated generalist audience, this volume proves indispensable to anyone interested in comparative biblical exegesis and wants to familiarize oneself with trends in corpora outside of one’s normal fields. Even for those of us who were Gregg’s students, and familiar with this material, but especially for those of us who were inspired by Gregg and have made careers writing about this same material, this book still has much to teach us. The many ways through which Gregg approaches and interrogates his material in this book remains as important as the data collected in its pages. Thus, I read through this book oscillating between two reactions: “Oh yeah, I remember that one!” and “Wow, I’ve never looked at that material in this way.” Both were equally satisfying and exciting reactions.

Review of Michael Penn, When Christians First Met Muslims

It is well known today that Islam was not “born in the full light of history” as the eminent scholar of religion Ernest Renan (1823–1892) once boldly claimed. Rather, it crystallized in the course of a lengthy historical evolution, still poorly understood, that probably had its roots in western Arabia in the early years of the seventh century C.E. but only reached its first culmination a century or more later. Renan’s sanguine confidence in our ability to reconstruct Islam’s origins stemmed from his conviction—shared by most in his day—that both the text of the Qurʾān, and the detailed traditional accounts in Arabic found in the works of Muslim historians, biographers, theologians, and jurists, offered us almost unmediated evidence for “what had actually happened” during the lifetime of Muḥammad and during the process of expansion that followed his death. Critical study of the Arabic narrative sources by several generations of scholars since then, however, has shown this blind confidence in the traditional Islamic origins story to be ill-founded. Grave doubts have also been raised in recent years about the Qurʾān text as a source of historical information, even for the events of the prophet’s life.

Review of Rawand Osman, Female Personalities in the Qur’an and Sunna

Rawand Osman’s Female Personalities in the Qur’an and Sunna is in four chapters, preceded by an introduction and followed by a conclusion. According to the author it is a comprehensive discussion of all the female personalities mentioned in the Qur’ān, as well as three role models from the women of ahl al-bayt (Muhammad’s family), focusing on the theme of jihād al-nafs (struggle of the soul), highlighting the specific features “spiritual motherhood” and earthly/political jihad. Because Osman will treat the texts from a feminist perspective, she first summarizes Islamic feminist approaches, defines and describes them, as well as some of the criticism levelled against them, concluding that the approach of equity feminism is the one most compatible with the Qur’ān. Osman further states in the introduction that her study is an ahistorical one: neither the women nor the primary texts that represent them will be analysed from a historical perspective. This is a problematic move, however, since as the historical context is needed to provide explanations and perspective, as well as account for intellectual shifts based on certain historical developments.

Review of David S. Powers, Zayd

David Powers’ new monograph Zayd is a follow up to his much debated Muḥammad is Not the Father of Any of Your Men (2009) and provides an extensive investigation into the lives of two prominent Companions of Muhammad: his freedman (mawlā) Zayd ibn Harithah and Zayd’s son Usāmah. In the prior monograph, Powers argued that the key to unlocking a litany of historical enigmas from the early Muslim community lies within the narratives of the life of Muhammad’s freedman Zayd ibn Ḥārithah. Powers’ efforts to resolve these enigmas led him to pursue controversial theses regarding the redaction of the Qurʾan and the composition of the earliest tradition on Muhammad’s prophetic career. Powers’ theses were bold, but he also marshalled a bold array of evidence, bringing together codicology, philology, and historico-critical readings of the earliest traditions on the life of Muhammad and his companions. Yet, at the time of writing, Powers’ interpretation of his data has also been contested and disputed far more than it has been accepted.[

Review of Angelika Neuwirth, Scripture, Poetry, and the Making of a Community

The volume under review is the first thorough collection of Angelika Neuwirth’s scholarship in English, and, as such, its publication is nothing short of a momentous event in the field of Qurʾanic Studies. The fact that the book is not a monograph with an integral frame but a collection of fourteen articles that were published in varying contexts over twenty years hardly diminishes its strength—not least because Neuwirth has prefaced it with a skillful introduction that knits the chapters into one seamless whole. The book closes with a comprehensive bibliography, which should be celebrated as an invaluable source for the student of the Qurʾan, and with a detailed index that facilitates the navigation of the text. The eye that sets out to search for typographical errors in the book returns “languid and weary (khāsiʾan wa-huwa ḥasīr)” (Q Mulk 67:4) probably thanks to a superior editing effort. All I was able to catch are the following: p. 267, “Decologue” instead of “Decalogue”; p. 371, “Hebrew nabhī” instead of “Hebrew nabī” unless Neuwirth preferred an archaic Hebrew transliteration that became obsolete after the beginning of the twentieth century.