Review of Joachim Jakob, Syrisches Christentum und früher Islam

Review of Joachim Jakob, Syrisches Christentum und früher Islam

Joachim Jakob’s book Syrisches Christentum und früher Islam: Theologische Reaktionen in syrisch-sprachigen Texten vom 7. bis 9. Jahrhundert (in English: Syriac Christianity and Early Islam: Theological Reactions in Syriac Written Texts from the Seventh to the Ninth Century) analyzes a wide range of Syriac sources in exploring Christian theological responses to early Islam. Jakob focuses on the developments of the theological positions of East and West Syrian writers as well as on the connections of the relevant Syriac texts with contemporary Islamic theology. This comprehensive book is essential reading not only for scholars of Syriac Christianity, but also for those interested in interreligious encounters and Christian-Muslim relations more broadly.

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 Sarah R. Bin Tyeer, The Qur’an and the Aesthetics of Premodern Arabic Prose

I have attended several presentations by Islamic art historians in which they purported to present an Islamic theory of aesthetics that drew on the Qurʾān. These talks were characterized by sweeping generalizations about the qurʾānic text, an appalling absence of concrete examples, and great leaps from the text to rather vague aesthetic principles.

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 Zishan Ghaffar, Der Koran in seinem religions

The Arab Muslim conquest of Palestine and Jerusalem from 636 to 640 CE marked the rise of the Islamic empires at the expense of Byzantium. Yet Byzantine Palestine was captured once before. As part of the war between the Byzantine and the Sasanian Empires, the troops of Khosrow II conquered various Palestinian cities, allegedly with the help of local Jewish groups, and took Jerusalem in 614, leading to a brief period of Jewish rule in the city. These events sent shock waves throughout the Christian Roman Empire and, though more difficult to reconstruct, also through the Byzantine and Sasanian Jewish communities. While Christians responded to the events by increasing their hopes for a military victory and by ever more urgently preparing for Christ’s return, many Jews hoped for the imminent rebuilding of the Temple and the end of the exile.

Review of Gabriel Said Reynolds, Allah: God in the Qur’an

Gabriel Said Reynolds’ most recent book, Allah: God in the Qur’an, explores Allah’s characterization in the Qurʾān through His relationship with creation. Reynolds frames his discussion around the dichotomy of divine mercy and justice (or vengeance) in the Qurʾān; but the book is more than an analysis of the Qur’ān’s presentation of these characteristics. Rather, the book offers a wide-ranging introduction to theological debates framed by the Qurʾān, with a methodological intervention by Reynolds as to how to reconcile these dichotomous elements and the contentious debates they engender.

Review of Michael Pregill, The Golden Calf between Bible and Qur’an

Michael Pregill’s The Golden Calf between Bible and Qur’an sets out, via a thick reading of a single pivotal and representative narrative in the story of the Calf (or “Golden Calf” in common Jewish and Christian discourse), to situate the Qur’an within the larger religious and literary context of the Late Antique world. That it takes him nearly 450 pages to present and develop his argument attests to the complexity of the intertextual relationships he examines and the sticky methodological issues that have plagued and continue to beset those trying to make sense of traditions known from the Bible as they occur in the Qurʾān. It also attests to the extent of due diligence he undertook through his exhaustive reference to earlier research on the episode in its many literary settings. The core passage in question is found in Q Ṭā Hā 20:83–98, a qurʾānic chapter ripe with renderings of stories known also in the Jewish and Christian Bibles as well as other pre-Islamic extra-biblical works; a second and shorter telling is found also in Q al-Aʿrāf 7:148–153 and a brief reference in Q al-Baqarah 2:51–54.

Review of Carlos Segovia, The Quranic Jesus

The Quranic Noah (2015), this book is Carlos A. Segovia’s most recent contribution to the literature on the Qurʾān and its relationship to late antique Judaism and Christianity. The book also belongs to the same series, which aims to bring Judaism, Christianity, and Islam into interdisciplinary conversations about the reception and mediation of ideas within these religions. Segovia’s main purpose in this book is to “reread the Jesus passages in light of the Christological developments contemporary with the composition of the quranic corpus” (23). The author’s main concern is that in the modern study of the qurʾānic Jesus, scholars have basically moved in a single direction which is thematic and descriptive and focuses primarily on biographical episodes of Jesus and select verses which create a qurʾānic counter-Christology. This approach overlooks the multi-layered, polyvalent, and “highly complex Christology” (1) contained in the Qurʾān.

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 Asma Hilali, The Sanaa Palimpsest

The Sanaa Palimpsest: The Transmission of the Qurʾan in the First Centuries AH by Asma Hilali aims to contribute to the ongoing discussion of the transmission of the Qurʾān in the early Islamic centuries, presenting a new interpretation of one of the most discussed documentary witnesses in recent years: the palimpsest of Ṣanʿāʾ. This monograph is the culmination of a long investigation, that started with the digitization project De l’Antiquité tardive à l’Islam (2005–2008) funded by the French ANR (Agence Nationale de la Recherche). One of the aims of this project, directed by Christian J. Robin, was the digitization of three Qurʾān manuscripts found in the Ṣanʿāʾ mosque in 1972 or 1973[1] and kept in one of the mosque’s libraries, Dār al-Makhṭūṭāt. Of the three digitized manuscripts, one—inventoried as DAM 01-27.1—is of particular interest because it is a palimpsest, parchment leaves from which a previous text has been erased in order to write a new text above. The most intriguing feature is that its lower and upper texts are both qurʾānic. Then, what are the motivations behind this recycling operation?

Review of Johanna Pink, Muslim Qurʼānic Interpretation Today

Have you ever wondered why Ibn Kathīr’s tafsīr is so ubiquitous online, in multiple languages, and in translations of different lengths? Or, what percentage of Muslims read the Qurʾān in previous centuries, and what “reading” meant? About the proliferation of pious lectures or advice-giving programs on YouTube and the details of the people behind them? Have you wondered about the role of nation-states in the politics of Qurʾān interpretation?

Review of Khaleel Mohammed, David in the Muslim Tradition

The biblical story of the Israelite king David son of Jesse contains multi-dimensional elements regarding his achievements as a leader, a military strategist, a conqueror, a pious man of considerable intensity, a lover, and a monarchist. Coming from a modest background at a time when King Saul of Israel was in decline, David earned admiration and fame in the biblical narrative hardly known among other biblical heroes (1 Samuel 18:6–7). Consequently, David secured for himself a place in the pious imagination of the Abrahamic religions, and in their rich literature, which portrays him as a complex personality with unique leadership potential that sets him apart from other biblical leaders in the drama of the covenantal struggle between God and His people. Occurring at the apex of David’s religio-political leadership, the Bathsheba storyline is perhaps the most controversial narrative element in David’s story. It stands out as an oddity in the overall narrative of David’s excellence, of his otherwise outstanding achievements in securing his people among other, rather hostile, neighbouring tribes or nations. The Qurʾān (Ṣād 38:20–26) makes strong reference to the biblical account of the episode with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 12. More so, the qurʾānic commentaries through the centuries that followed the advent of Islam enriched the Islamic tradition with a variety of interpretations of David’s story. The mention of David in the Qurʾān and in the Islamic tradition had the prophetic purpose of setting the Muslim prophet Muḥammad in the same line as the biblical prophets. It is within the genre of tafsīr (qurʾānic commentary) that Khaleel Mohammed’s David in the Muslim Tradition: The Bathsheba Affair makes its mark in the important study of the Bathsheba narrative detail of David’s story. With the introduction and the conclusion chapters, the monograph is segmented into a total of seven chapters.