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Sanaa 1 and the Origins of the Qur'An

Sanaa 1 and the Origins of the Qur'An

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Published by: Afzal Sumar on Oct 24, 2012
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Ṣan‘ā’ 1 and the Origins of the Qur’ān
Behnam Sadeghi
and
Mohsen Goudarzi
1
 Stanford University / Harvard University
 Abstract
The lower text of Ṣan‘ā’ 1 is at present the most important document for thehistory of the Qur’ān. As the only known extant copy from a textual traditionbeside the standard ‘Uthmānic one, it has the greatest potential of any knownmanuscript to shed light on the early history of the scripture. Comparing it withparallel textual traditions provides a unique window onto the initial state of thetext from which the different traditions emerged. The comparison settles a peren-nial controversy about the date at which existing passages were joined together toform the
sūra
s (chapters). Some ancient reports and modern scholars assign thisevent to the reign of the third caliph and link it with his standardizing the text of the Qur’ān around AD 650. However, the analysis shows that the
sūra
s wereformed earlier. Furthermore, the manuscript sheds light on the manner in whichthe text was transmitted. The inception of at least some Qur’ānic textual tradi-tions must have involved semi-oral transmission, most likely via hearers whowrote down a text that was recited by the Prophet. This essay argues for these
1
) We are grateful to Christian Robin, the Noja Noseda Foundation, andCNRS (UMR 8167, Orient et Méditerranée) for giving us their photographs andultraviolet images of the DAM 01–27.1 folios. We thank Michael Cook, David Pow-ers, Patricia Crone, and Ursula Dreibholz for reading the essay and providingvaluable written comments. We thank Ursula Dreibholz for graciously agreeing tobe interviewed by telephone, and Ursula Dreibholz, Lily Feidy, Sharif Kanaana,Sari Nusseibeh, Ghassan Abdullah, Lawrence Conrad, and Alexander Stille forpatiently answering our questions by e-mail. We also thank the following personsfor their help with various other aspects of the project: Uwe Bergmann, theanonymous owner of the Stanford 2007 folio, Mette Korsholm of the David Collec-tion, Michael Cooperson, Devin Stewart, Robert Waltz, Scott Lucas, M.S.M. Saiful-lah, Sarah Kistler, Bryce Cronkite-Ratcliff, Robert Gregg, Burçak Keskin-Kozat,the staff at the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies at Stanford University, CeciEvangelista of the Office of Development at Stanford University, and the staff atStanford University Libraries and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Labora-tory. This essay was submitted for publication on August 31, 2011.
Der Islam Bd. 87, S. 1–129 DOI 10.1515/islam-2011-0025© Walter de Gruyter 2012ISSN 0021-1818
 
Behnam Sadeghi and Mohsen Goudarzi
2
conclusions by considering the broad features of the text. The essay also presentsthe edited text of the folios in the Dār al-Makhṭūṭāt, Ṣan‘ā’, Yemen, in addition tofour folios that were auctioned abroad. A systematic analysis of all the variants ispostponed to future publications.
Introduction
The Manuscript and the Field of Qur’ānic Studies
Scholarly approaches to the early history of the standard text of theQur’ān can be enumerated in a broad and rough manner as follows:There is the traditional account that is associated with most pre-modern scholars. They held that the Prophet Muḥammad (d. AD 632)disseminated the Qur’ān gradually. Some of his Companions compiledcopies of the scripture. These codices had differences. Motivated by thedifferences and seeking uniformity among Muslims, the Caliph ‘Uthmān(d. AD 656), himself a Companion, established a standard version. He –or, more precisely, a committee of Companions appointed by him –
 
did soby sending master copies of the Qur’ān to different cities –
 
codices thatthemselves differed slightly in a small number of spots – and people inturn made copies of them. In subsequent decades and centuries, thisstandard text was read differently by different readers. For example,they often vowelled and pointed the consonants differently, but many of these readings – including those of the famous “Seven Readers”– ad-hered to the undotted consonantal skeletal form of the original mastercodices. Here, “skeletal form”requires explanation: one does not knowthe spelling of 
every
word in the original codices of ‘Uthmān. For exam-ple, in most cases it is not known whether the
ā
sound in the middle of aword was represented by the letter
alif 
. However, at the very least weknow the text at the “skeletal-morphemic”level.
2
 
2
) The Islamic scholarly tradition does not purport to have preserved thespelling of every word in the codices sent out by ‘Uthmān. Rather, Muslim tradi-tion preserves the original ‘Uthmānic codices at least at the skeletal-morphemiclevel, that is, with respect to features of the skeletal (unpointed) text that would
necessarily
change a word or part of word (morpheme) into something else if they were different. Some skeletal variations, such as different spellings of aword, are not skeletal-morphemic because they do not necessarily change aword. Moreover, differences in the way consonants are pointed may change aword, but they are not skeletal-morphemic either since they do not change theskeleton. Normally, a reading is said to differ from the standard ‘Uthmānic
rasm
 
 
Ṣan‘ā’ 1 and the Origins of the Qur’ān
3It is convenient to call the adherents of this account “traditionalists.”
 
The narrative continues to be fairly popular among the specialists in theMuslim world, in part because most of them have not come to entertainradical doubt about the broad outlines of early Islamic history. By con-trast, scholars located in Europe and North America generally do not ac-cept this account (which is not to say that they reject it). This is due to aprevailing distrust in the literary sources on which it is founded. Thesesources were compiled long after the events they describe, and the extent towhich they preserve truly early reports has been the subject of an evolvingacademic debate. This Euro-American majority falls into two main groups.The first group, a minority, consists of the “revisionists,that is, thosewho consider the traditional narrative as wrong. They reject the ideathat ‘Uthmān attempted to fix the text, or they hold that there contin-ued to be major changes in the standard text after ‘Uthmān, or, in thecase of 
Wansbrough
, they think it may be anachronistic to speak of the Qur’ān at the time of ‘Uthmān in the first place, since the text coa-lesced long after. Notable revisionists include John
Wansbrough
,Patricia
Crone
, Alfred-Louis de
Prémare
, and David
Powers
.
3
Thedegree of textual stability that according to the traditional account hadbeen reached by
ca.
AD 650 was according to John
Wansbrough
at-tained no earlier than the ninth century AD. Most revisionists are moreconservative in their dating, focusing on the reign of the Umayyad caliph‘Abd al-Malik, that is, AH 65–86/ AD 685–705 as the date of textual final-ity and/or canonization. Revisionists tend to support their views byciting documentary evidence, Christian sources, and Muslim traditions.Their use of the Muslim reports constitutes what they regard as judi-cious reading between the lines, but what their opponents view as mar-shaling cherry-picked, decontextualized, and misinterpreted reports.The second group of scholars, the “skeptics,is by far larger. Itsmembers likewise do not accept the traditional account, considering itunreliable along with nearly every report in the Muslim literary sources
only if it changes
both
the skeleton and the word, that is, if the change is skeletal
and
morphemic. All of this has been well-understood for many centuries and issimply taken for granted in the way most Muslim Qur’ān specialists have writ-ten about the different readings (
qirā’āt
). (We are setting aside a caveat concern-ing cases in which nonetheless the original ‘Uthmānic spelling or pointing isknowable.)
3
) For their contributions, see the Bibliography. P.
Crone’s
approach in her1994 essay is different from the others we list (or from her 1977 work) in thatshe provisionally suggests the late canonization of a largely stable text ratherthan a late date for the attainment of textual stability.

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