Post-Script: Directions for Future Research

This is the final extract from The Codex of a Companion of the Prophet and the Qurʾān of the Prophet by Behnam Sadeghi and Uwe Bergmann. I have copied two interesting excerpts from the Post-Script: Directions for Future Research. 


As for the study of manuscripts, it may appear to some that what the field needs most is a database of images of all Qurʾān manuscripts. That would undoubtedly be an invaluable resource, but let us be clear about what it could or could not help achieve. Obviously, non-ʿUtm̠ ānic manuscripts would tell us much about the early history of the Qurʾān, but so far there is only one known manuscript in this category, namely Ṣanʿāʾ 1. When one speaks of collecting all manuscripts, one means essentially the innumerable ʿUtm̠ ānic materials. The main aim of this gargantuan task would be to reconstruct their archetype, the original codex of ʿUtm̠ ān. But as explained above (p. 368), the work of Michael Cook and others has shown that we already know the skeletal- morphemic text of the original codices of ʿUtm̠ ān, meaning that the uncertainty of the skeletal text primarily concerns spelling. A list of all the ways in which the words in ʿUtm̠ ānic manuscripts differ from that known text would be nothing more than a list of later accretions, useful at best for tracing the history of manuscript production after AD 656. New information might clarify certain spelling practices, some disputed undotted consonants and disputed verse divisions in the original codices sent out by ʿUtm̠ ān; but while any new tidbit would be exciting for the Qurʾān specialist, rarely will such information make a major difference in our understanding of the history of the Qurʾān.

(pp. 415-416 bold added)

The amount of work yet to be done is great, and the main paths of embarking on the tasks are clear. It is now equally clear that recent works in the genre of historical fiction are of no help. By “historical fiction” I am referring to the work of authors who, contentedly ensconced next to the mountain of material in the premodern Muslim primary and secondary literature bearing on Islamic origins, say that there are no heights to scale, nothing to learn from the literature, and who speak of the paucity of evidence. Liberated from the requirement to analyze the literature critically, they can dream up imaginative historical narratives rooted in meager cherry-picked or irrelevant evidence, or in some cases no evidence at all. They write off the mountain as the illusory product of religious dogma or of empire-wide conspiracies or mass amnesia or deception, not realizing that literary sources need not always be taken at face value to prove a point; or they simply pass over the mass of the evidence in silence. A pioneering early example of such historical fiction was Hagarism, written by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook. While few specialists have accepted its narrative, the book has nevertheless profoundly shaped the outlook of scholars. It has given rise to a class of students and educators who will tell you not only that we do not know anything about Islamic origins, but also that we cannot learn anything about it from the literary sources. All this would be good and well if the mountain of evidence had been studied critically before being dismissed as a mole hill; but the modern critical reevaluation of the literary evidence has barely begun. And, significantly, any number of results have already demonstrated that if only one takes the trouble to do the work, positive results are forthcoming, and that the landscape of the literary evidence, far from being one of randomly-scattered debris, in fact often coheres in remarkable ways. A good example of such findings would be some of Michael Cook’s own fruitful recent studies in the literary sources in two essays of his already discussed here. It is not his confirmation of some elements of the traditional account of the standard Qurʾān that I wish to highlight here, noteworthy as it may be, but rather his demonstration that we can learn from the study of the literary sources.

(pp. 416-417)

Categories: Quran, Recommended Reading

4 replies

  1. Thankyou for posting these summaries. They will be helpful.


  2. With all this talk on the Sana’a manuscripts, I think I’ll write a post on it today 🙂


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