Critical edition of the Koran in preparation?

Ghost of a flea pointed me to jeff black, berlin, who writes:

A page from a 7th century Sanaa ms.
A page from a 7th century Sanaa ms.

German researchers preparing “Qur’an: The Critical Edition”

This is a serious business. A team of researchers at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences is preparing to bring out the first installment of Corpus Coranicum – which purports to be nothing less than the first critically evaluated text of the Qur’an ever to be produced.

 What this means is that the research team is in the process of analysing and transcribing some 12,000 slides of Qur’an mansucripts from the first six centuries of the text’s existence. Once that is complete, the way is open to producing a text that annotates and, presumably, provides some sort of exegesis on the differences found in the early manuscripts.

The Potsdam-based team of Corpus Coranicum have so far concentrated on Suras 18 to 20, and are due to produce a first slice of the final product from that in the next few weeks. The whole book is meant to take until around 2025.

UPDATE: The English language site seems to be down but the Google cache contains the following, seemingly from an old update:

Welcome to the Corpus Coranicum

The project “Corpus Coranicum” contains two unworked fields of qur’anic studies: (1) the documentation of the qur’anic text in his handwritten as well as orally transmitted form and (2) a comprehensive commentary which elucidates the text within the framework of its historical process of development.

Because of the ambiguity of the early defective writing system of the Qur’anic manuscripts, a strict separation of the data on the one hand provided by manuscripts and on the other hand transmitted via the tradition of recitation is recommended. The documentation of the Qur’anic text will provide a documentation for both traditions and compare them afterwards.

The planned commentary focuses on a historical perspective, the Qur’an seen as a text which evolved through the period of more than twenty years, thereby getting formal and content-related differences through abrogation and re-definitions within the text. Furthermore, the commentary is based on an inclusion of the judeo-christian intertexts and looks at the Qur’an as a document of the Late Antiquity. “Corpus Coranicum” is in the early stage of its development; the first results are planned to be published online in 2009.

That shows a very sensible approach.  You eat an elephant a little at a time.  Rather than working on a Koran text as such, work on the early witnesses to the text, the physical remains, the unvocalised scripts, and find out what we actually have from that period and what it says.


Syriac words in the Koran

To what extent does the Koran contain Syriac words?  I’ve been reading a review of Christoph Luxenberg’s book about the Koran  by Martin F. J. Baasten in Aramaic Studies 2.2 (2004), pp. 268-272 (here), and finding it rather excellent.  It has been claimed — he cautiously states — that 80% of all loan-words in the Koran are from Syriac. 

Luxenberg has asked whether some passages in the Koran, which are difficult to understand, make more sense if you strip off the vowel-markings, thereby discarding the standard understanding of the text, and imagine that they contain Syriac loan words.

During the first century of the Arabic period, texts were written without all the marks above and below the line which indicate vowels, and indeed distinguish some consonants.  As Baasten rightly remarks, Arabic is a seriously defective script in this respect; worse than Syriac, where only two letters can be so affected.  Only seven Arabic letters — the rasm — are unique without some dotting.

Apparently some passages really do make much more sense if you do this.  Baasten gives a single example.

The implications of this for the transmission of the Koran are considerable.  If this can be proven, then it means that the Koran did not initially circulate orally, but passed through an early stage in written form, without vowel markings.  Only such a stage can account this symptom.

This would not be unreasonable.  There is no real reason to suppose that early followers of Mohammed memorised the new document, which was dribbling out chapter by chapter anyway.  It is likely that writing was used.  Thus we have the situation where early Korans differed, and a recension had to be created by the early Caliph Othman.  This situation also indicates that a good many people did NOT know the Koran orally, and relied on a written form of the text.

It seems that Luxenberg has overstated his thesis, however, and derived far more than this from Syriac sources, and much more tendentiously.  This is unfortunate, as it tends to undermine the credibility of his work.  But thus far, it would seem likely that he has indeed discovered something solid. 


Arabic texts online in Arabic

A notice from BYZANS-L:

On 09/03/2009, Alexander Hourany wrote:

Here are some websites that contain free online versions of old Arabic  sources like the history of al-Tabari and many others. Although some of them contain typing errors, they are very usefull in textual search.
al-Meshkat library site:
Yasoob al-Din library:
al-Mostafa library:

Now all we need is someone who knows Arabic to look at these and tell us what is there!