Review of W. Richard Oakes Jr., The Cross of Christ

Review of W. Richard Oakes Jr., The Cross of Christ

In the middle of his translation of several traditions from al-Ṭabarī’s (d. 310/923) interpretation of Q al-Nisāʾ 4:157, Richard Oakes presents a story that would likely intrigue many readers well familiar with the Gospel passion accounts but with only the most general Islamic explanation of how Jesus did not die on the cross (190–191). As recorded by Oakes in his recently published The Cross of Christ: Islamic Perspectives, al-Ṭabarī’s story[1] begins with Allāh telling ʿĪsā that he will leave this world. ʿĪsā becomes “anxious about death” and calls his disciples together.[2] ʿĪsā prepares food for the disciples and tells them, “Come to me tonight, for I have need of you.” ʿĪsā gives them dinner and gets up to serve them. After the meal, ʿĪsā begins washing their hands with his own and then wipes their hands with his garment. In response to the protestations of the disciples ʿĪsā explains that he is leaving them an example: “Sacrifice yourselves for others as I have sacrificed myself for you.” Among other details included in al-Ṭabarī’s story, the disciples are not able to stay awake that night when ʿĪsā asks them to pray; ʿĪsā says that one of his disciples will deny him three times before the rooster crows next morning, and Peter then denies ʿĪsā in two encounters; and another disciple approaches “the Jews” and works out a price of thirty dirhams to point them to ʿĪsā. So, reports al-Ṭabarī, “They seized him and bound him tightly.” They bind him with rope and lead him away, saying, “You revived the dead and scolded Satan and freed the demon-possessed—and you cannot rescue yourself from this rope?” They spit on him and lay thorns on him and bring him to the piece of wood upon which they wanted to crucify him.

Review of Harald Motzki, Reconstruction of a Source of Ibn Isḥāq’s Life of the Prophet and Early Qurʾān Exegesis

Harald Motzki, famous for his isnād-cum-matn method of analysing ḥadīth, provides a thorough examination of the way in which Ibn Isḥāq, the author of one of the more famous of the sīrahs (biographies) of Muḥammad, gathered his sources, particularly his use of one source named Muḥammad b. Abī Muḥammad, about whom little is known. In so doing, Motzki’s Reconstruction of a Source of Ibn Isḥāq’s Life of the Prophet and Early Qurʾān Exegesis takes the reader on a journey through a number of sources, along which the reader can learn much about how Ibn Isḥāq used his sources, about the final product subsequently produced by his student Ibn Hishām, and about this little-known transmitter Muḥammad b. Abī Muḥammad.

Review of Nicolai Sinai, Rain-Giver, Bone-Breaker, Score-Settler

Nicolai Sinai’s small book, or essay, is a very welcome contribution to the study of the deity Allāh and the religious map of Arabia on the eve of Islam based on the jāhiliyyah (pre-Islamic) poetry. The work is available as an open-access e-book. Sinai’s study is rich in methodological considerations and lucid in style. The argumentation is easy to follow. In short, the essay is a joy to read. What I find especially significant is his integrated use of different source sets: in addition to Arabic poetry, he employs the Qurʾān and ancient Arabian epigraphic evidence as comparative materials (while eschewing Arabic prose literature). The picture that he puts forward is credible and well documented.

Review of François Déroche, Qur’ans of the Umayyads

François Déroche’s research on the earliest Qurʾān manuscripts now spans decades. His extensive and direct observation of these material objects, noting and reflecting upon their features and comparing these with what has reached us in secondary history and traditions, have yielded an overall perspective rooted in a depth of familiarity that is virtually unparalleled today and perhaps even (we may imagine) in the early centuries of Islam. One sign of the impact of Déroche’s work is the fact that much of the vocabulary he created to serve his own need for a more precise nomenclature of the Arabic scripts in these objects is now standard in describing and analyzing them. Add to this his attention to their codicology and art historical aspects and the picture, though not complete, is by no means one-dimensional. That Déroche remains a frequent guest speaker and collaborator among various important associations and projects (Islamic Manuscript Association, International Qurʾānic Studies Association, Corpus Coranicum, and others) and a frequent and welcome guest of the public institutions and private collections in which these objects reside (including the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art in Istanbul) is further testament to his personal demeanor, professionalism, and established scholarly reputation, as well as to the integrity and ongoing relevance of his research.

Review of Seyyed Nasr et. al, The Study Qur’an

Following in the footsteps of the Harper Collins Study Bible and the Jewish Study Bible, The Study Quran is a welcome addition to the field of qurʾānic studies. In response to a proposal from the publisher, the distinguished Islamicist Seyyed Hossein Nasr agreed to serve as the Editor-in-Chief and general supervisor of the project on the condition that the team of scholars who carried out this monumental task would include only Muslim scholars who accept the Qurʾān “as the word of God and an authentic revelation” (xl). To this end, Nasr chose three talented young scholars to serve as General Editors: Caner Dagli, Maria Dakake, and Joseph Lumbard. Another scholar, Mohammed Rustom, served as Assistant Editor. The volume has three parts: the translation, a verse-by-verse commentary printed below the translation, followed by fifteen essays on topics relating to the Qurʾān. Special attention was paid to the dust jacket and page design: In the translation, verse numbers are marked in red, inserted within a red medallion, and placed at the beginning of the corresponding verse—a significant break from the Islamic tradition, which places verse numbers at the end of a verse. A substantial General Introduction to the volume was written by the Editor-in-Chief. The three General Editors were each responsible for a section of the translation, a section of the commentary (to which the Assistant Editor also contributed), and at least one of the essays in the third section (Joseph Lumbard wrote two). The other eleven essays in the third section were written by Ingrid Mattson, Muhammad Mustafa al-Azami, Muhammad Abdel Haleem, Walid Saleh, Toby Mayer, Muzaffar Iqbal, Aḥmad Muḥammad al-Ṭayyib, Muṣṭafā Muḥaqqiq Dāmād, William C. Chittick, Jean-Louis Michon, and Hamza Yusuf. The volume also has three appendices: Appendix A presents information (source references, variants) on ḥadīths cited, paraphrased, or referred to in the commentary, with a link, in red, to the sūrah number and verse number in which a particular ḥadīth is mentioned; and a bibliography of published ḥadīth sources. Appendix B is a timeline of major events relating to the career of the Prophet and the revelation of the Qurʾān. Appendix C includes short biographies of the Qurʾān commentators whose works are cited in the text. The volume also includes a comprehensive index as well as eleven color maps that depict Arabia, the Hijaz, pilgrimage stations in Mecca, the topography of Medina, and important battles: Uḥud, the Trench, Badr, Mecca, Ḥunayn, and Ṭā’if.

Review of Abdullah Saeed, Reading the Qur’an in the Twenty-first Century

Methodological concerns about approaches to qurʾanic exegesis are not new, but while debates about specific elements and tools for interpreting the Qurʾan continue to occur, certain paradigms dictating the traditional approach to the text were established relatively early and have successfully remained dominant for centuries. Chief among these paradigms is a framework of what can be termed the “textualist position,” characterized by a fixation with the literal meaning of the text. In his book Reading the Qurʾan in the Twenty-First Century, Abdullah Saeed (Sultan of Oman Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne) criticizes the textualist exegetical paradigm and highlights certain texts for which the textualist approach falls short of providing satisfactory interpretations in the modern age. Saeed promotes, instead, a contextualist reading of the Qurʾan, which he claims will better serve the exegetical and ethico-legal needs of the modern Muslim community (though he cautiously does not call for a complete rejection of the textualist paradigm). This method of reading is not unique to Saeed, a fact that he is quick to acknowledge: “I do not claim that most of the ideas in the book are new: indeed, many have already been circulating in the literature for a long time” (p. 12).[1] However, his project gathers the many disparate thoughts, exempla, reading strategies, and principles into a single text and, hence, produces a useful and easily-accessible resource.

Review of François Deroche et. al, Les origines du Coran

The present volume, Les origines du Coran, le Coran des origins,is an important publication in the field of Qurʾanic Studies and a worthy purchase for any university library. Not only does Les origines testify to the robust tradition of European qurʾanic scholarship, it also provides the reader with focused contributions touching on several primary subfields in qurʾanic philology, i.e. history of religion, paleography, epigraphy, and codicology. The emphasis falls on European academic partnership and how these manifold philological specializations mutually inform one another, and the project is successful thanks to the editors’ choice of a relevant, unifying, and inspiring theme. Comprised of fourteen articles – nine French, one German, three English –Les origines is the result of a conference held in 2011 in France that honored the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of Theodor Nöldeke’s groundbreaking work Die Geschichte des Qorâns (1860). Contributors were, hence, encouraged to draw inspiration from Nöldeke’s career and provide, “un panorama de la recherche sur la genèse du texte du Coran au cours d’une période qui s’étend des deux siècles qui précèdent l’apostolat de Muhammad à ceux au cours desquels la transmission manuscrite” (p. ii). The following review provides a précis of each chapter in order to demonstrate how well the volume honors Nöldeke, fulfills the goals of the avant-propos, and reflects the vivacity of dialogue among European scholars of Qurʾanic Studies.