Christoph Luxenberg

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Christoph Luxenberg is the pseudonym of the author of The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Qur'an (German edition 2000, English translation 2007)[1] and several articles in anthologies about early Islam.

Luxenberg came into the public eye in the years after 2000, following the publication of his first book (or at least the first one under this pseudonym), The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran, which asserted that the language of the early compositions of the Qur'an was not exclusively Arabic, as assumed by the classical commentators, but rather is rooted in the Syro-Aramaic dialect of the 7th century Meccan Quraysh tribe, which is associated in the early histories with the founding of the religion of Islam. Luxenberg's premise is that the Aramaic language, which was prevalent throughout the Middle East during the early period of Islam, and was the language of culture and Christian liturgy, had a profound influence on the scriptural composition and meaning of the contents of the Koran.[2]

Summary of research[edit]

"According to Islamic tradition, the Koran dates back to the 7th century, while the first examples of Arabic literature in the full sense of the phrase are found only two centuries later, at the time of the 'Biography of the Prophet'; that is, of the life of Mohammed as written by Ibn Hisham, who died in 828. We may thus establish that post-Koranic Arabic literature developed by degrees, in the period following the work of al-Khalil bin Ahmad, who died in 786, the founder of Arabic lexicography (kitab al-ayn), and of Sibawayh, who died in 796, to whom the grammar of classical Arabic is due. Now, if we assume that the composition of the Koran was brought to an end in the year of the Prophet Mohammed's death, in 632, we find before us an interval of 150 years, during which there is no trace of Arabic literature worthy of note."[3]

"At that time, there were no Arab schools—except, perhaps, for the Christian centers of al-Anbar and al-Hira, in southern Mesopotamia, or what is now Iraq. The Arabs of that region had been Christianized and instructed by Syrian Christians. Their liturgical language was Syro-Aramaic. And this was the vehicle of their culture, and more generally the language of written communication."[3]
"Beginning in the third century, the Syrian Christians did not limit themselves to bringing their evangelical mission to nearby countries, like Armenia or Persia. They pressed on toward distant territories, all the way to the borders of China and the western coast of India, in addition to the entire Arabian peninsula all the way to Yemen and Ethiopia. It is thus rather probable that, in order to proclaim the Christian message to the Arabic peoples, they would have used (among others) the language of the Bedouins, or Arabic. In order to spread the Gospel, they necessarily made use of a mishmash of languages. But in an era in which Arabic was just an assembly of dialects and had no written form, the missionaries had no choice but to resort to their own literary language and their own culture; that is, to Syro-Aramaic. The result was that the language of the Koran was born as a written Arabic language, but one of Arab-Aramaic derivation."[3]

Use of pseudonym[edit]

Christoph Luxenberg is pseudonymic name which may be a play upon the name of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, the "destroyer of myths,"[4] since Lux (Latin) translates as Licht (German).[4] Luxenberg himself claims to have chosen a pseudonym "upon the counsel of Arab friends, after these became familiar with my work theses,"[4] to protect himself against possible violent repercussions.[5]

The real identity of the person behind the pseudonym remains unknown. The most widely circulated version[4][6][7] claims that he is a German scholar of Semitic languages. Hans Jansen, professor at Leyden University, has conjectured that Luxenberg is a Lebanese Christian,[8] whereas François de Blois, writing in the Journal of Quranic Studies, has questioned Luxenberg's knowledge of Arabic.[8][9]

Responses[edit]

Richard Kroes[who?] describes Luxenberg's book in a review article as "almost unreadable, certainly for the layman. One needs knowledge of eight languages (German, English, French, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and Syriac) and of five different alphabets (Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Estrangelo) to comprehend the book fully. A good working knowledge of German, Arabic and Syriac is indispensable to be able to assess the book. [...] (It must be noted that one cannot seriously blame the author here: in this sense the work is no more demanding than any other similar German publication in the tradition of robust, erudite German scholarship.) Luxenberg's main problem however is that his line of reasoning doesn't follow the simple and strict method that he set out at the beginning of his book."[10] Conclusive remarks about the book are expressed as "certainly not everything Luxenberg writes is nonsense or too far-fetched, but quite a few of his theories are doubtful and motivated too much by a Christian apologetic agenda. Even his greatest critics admit he touches on a field of research that was touched on by others before and that deserves more attention. However, this needs to be done with a strictly scientific approach. In fact, his investigations should be done again, taking into account all the scholarly work that Luxenberg doesn't seem to know." [10]

A March 2002 New York Times article describes Luxenberg's research:

"Luxenberg, a scholar of ancient Semitic languages, argues that the Koran has been misread and mistranslated for centuries. His work, based on the earliest copies of the Koran, maintains that parts of Islam's holy book are derived from pre-existing Christian Aramaic texts that were misinterpreted by later Islamic scholars who prepared the editions of the Koran commonly read today. So, for example, the virgins who are supposedly awaiting good Islamic martyrs as their reward in paradise are in reality "white raisins" of crystal clarity rather than fair maidens. . . . The famous passage about the virgins is based on the word hur, which is an adjective in the feminine plural meaning simply "white." Islamic tradition insists the term hur stands for houri, which means "virgin," but Luxenberg insists that this is a forced misreading of the text. In both ancient Aramaic and in at least one respected dictionary of early Arabic hur means "white raisin."[11]

In 2002, The Guardian newspaper published an article which stated:

"Luxenberg tries to show that many obscurities of the Koran disappear if we read certain words as being Syriac and not Arabic. We cannot go into the technical details of his methodology but it allows Luxenberg, to the probable horror of all Muslim males dreaming of sexual bliss in the Muslim hereafter, to conjure away the wide-eyed houris promised to the faithful in suras XLIV.54; LII.20, LV.72, and LVI.22. Luxenberg 's new analysis, leaning on the Hymns of Ephrem the Syrian, yields "white raisins" of "crystal clarity" rather than doe-eyed, and ever willing virgins—the houris. Luxenberg claims that the context makes it clear that it is food and drink that is being offered, and not unsullied maidens or houris."[12]

In 2003, the Pakistani government banned a 2003 issue of Newsweek's international edition discussing Luxenberg's thesis on grounds that it was offensive to Islam.[13]

Muslim sources have accused Luxenberg of participating in an "discursive assault on Islam,"[14] but he has also been called an enabler of interfaith dialogue;[4] a "dilettante";[8] and the writer of "probably the most important book ever written on the Koran" by Ibn Warraq, an also unknown anonymous writer.[15]

See also[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Virgins and the Grapes: the Christian Origins of the Koran
  2. ^ Giving the Koran a history: Holy Book under scrutiny / Critical readings of the Muslim scripture offer alternative interpretations of well-known passages, Lebanon Daily Star (July 12, 2003): "Luxenberg asserts that Koranic Arabic is not Arabic at all, at least not in the sense assumed by the classical commentators. It is written, rather, in the dialect of the Prophet's tribe, the Meccan Quraysh, and heavily influenced by Aramaic. Luxenberg's premise is that the Aramaic language—the lingua franca of the Prophet Mohammed, the language of culture and Christian liturgy—had a profound influence on the Koran. Extensive borrowing was necessary simply because at the time of the Prophet, Arabic was not yet sophisticated enough for scriptural composition."
  3. ^ a b c ,The Virgins and the Grapes: the Christian Origins of the Koran
  4. ^ a b c d e "Keine Huris im Paradies" (in German). Die Zeit. 2003-05-15. 
  5. ^ "Low profile for German Koran challenger". Reuters. 2004-11-11. 
  6. ^ "Radical New Views of Islam and the Origins of the Koran". New York Times (mirrored at rim.org [1]). 2002-02-02. [dead link]
  7. ^ "The Koran As Philological Quarry". Goethe Institute. [dead link]
  8. ^ a b c Richard Kroes. "Missionary, dilettante or visionary?". Livius – Articles on Ancient History. 
  9. ^ François de Blois (2003). "Review of "Die syro-aramäische Lesart..."". Journal of Qur'anic Studies 5 (1): 92–97 (mirrored at Aismika Allahuma – Muslim responses to Anti–Islam–Polemics). 
  10. ^ a b Review of Ch. Luxenberg, 'Die Syro-Aramäische Lesart des Qur'an'
  11. ^ Historians argue Koran has been mistranslated[dead link]
  12. ^ Virgins? What virgins?
  13. ^ CBS News What Does The Quran Really Say?
  14. ^ Abid Ullah Jan (2003-07-01). "Newsweek is spreading hatred". ICSSA. Archived from the original on 2007-10-23. 
  15. ^ Warraq, Ibn (2002-01-12). "Virgins? What virgins?". London: The Guardian. 

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