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) and several articles in anthologies about early Islam.
His book The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran asserted that the language of the early compositions of the Quran was not exclusively Arabic, as assumed by the classical commentators, but rather is rooted in the Syriac language of the 7th century Meccan tribe of the Quraysh, which is associated in the early histories with the founding of the religion of Islam. Luxenberg's premise is that the Syriac 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 Quran.
Summary of research
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.
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. 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.
With his approach of research, Luxenberg is a representative of the "Saarbrücken School" which is part of the Revisionist school of Islamic studies.
Use of pseudonym
The real identity of the person behind the pseudonym remains unknown. The most widely circulated version claims that he is a German scholar of Semitic languages. Hans Jansen, professor at Leyden University, has conjectured that Luxenberg is a Lebanese Christian, whereas François de Blois, writing in the Journal of Quranic Studies, has questioned Luxenberg's knowledge of Arabic.
Dutch archaeologist Richard Kroes 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, and the Syriac Estrangelo) to comprehend the book fully. A good working knowledge of German, Arabic and Syriac is indispensable to be able to assess the book. [...] 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." 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."
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."
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.
Francois de Blois has stated "Luxenberg" is definitely not German and is a Lebanese Christian without any academic credentials who has plagiarized old debunked revisionist pseudo-history from the 1970s, and presented it as his own "new findings" 20 years ago. He says this is evident from the fact that he has a limited knowledge of Arabic, makes many mistakes which as similar to modern day Lebanese slang, as opposed to classical Arabic, and that German academics have no reason to hide their identity,
It is necessary, in conclusion, to say a little about the authorship, or rather the non authorship, the pseudonymity of this book. An article published in the New York Times on 2nd March 2002 (and subsequently broadly disseminated in the internet) referred to this book as the work of 'Christoph Luxenberg, a scholar of ancient Semitic languages in Germany'. It is, I think, sufficiently clear from this review that the per son in question is not 'a scholar of ancient Semitic languages'. He is someone who evidently speaks some Arabic dialect, has a passable, but not flawless command of classical Arabic, knows enough Syriac so as to be able to consult a dictionary, but is innocent of any real understanding of the methodology of comparative Semitic linguistics. His book is not a work of scholarship but of dilettantism [amateur].
The NYT article goes on to state that 'Christoph Luxenberg ... is a pseudonym', to compare him with Salman Rushdie, Naguib Mahfouz and Suliman Bashear and to talk about 'threatened violence as well as the widespread reluctance on United States college campuses to criticize other cultures'. I am not sure what precisely the author means with 'in Germany'. According to my information, 'Christoph Luxenberg' is not a German, but a Lebanese Christian. It is thus not a question of some intrepid philologist, pouring over dusty books in obscure languages somewhere in the provinces of Germany and then having to publish his results under a pseudonym so as to avoid the death threats of rabid Muslim extremists, in short an ivory-tower Rushdie. Let us not exaggerate the state of academic freedom in what we still like to call our Western democracies. No European or North American scholar of linguistics, even of Arabic linguistics, needs to conceal his (or her) identity, nor does he (or she) really have any right to do so. These matters must be discussed in public. In the Near East things are, of course, very different.
- Criticism of the Quran
- The Bible Came from Arabia
- Günter Lüling
- Michael Cook
- Patricia Crone
- Fred Donner
- Karl-Heinz Ohlig
- Gerd R. Puin
- John Wansbrough
- Markus Groß (de)
- Luxenberg, Christoph (2000) – Die Syro-Aramäische Lesart des Koran: Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Koransprache. Berlin: Verlag Hans Schiler. ISBN 3-89930-028-9.
- English version: The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran – A Contribution to the Decoding of the Koran. Berlin: Verlag Hans Schiler, 2007 ISBN 3-89930-088-2.
- Luxenberg, Christoph (2004) – Weihnachten im Koran. in Streit um den Koran, Die Luxenberg Debatte: Standpunkte und Hintergründe Berlin: Verlag Hans Schiler. 2004. ISBN 3-89930-067-X.
- Luxenberg, Christoph (2004) – “Der Koran zum Islamischen Kopftuch”, imprimatur 2(2004).
- Luxenberg, Christoph (2005) – “Neudeutung der arabischen Inschrift im Felsendom zu Jerusalem”, Die dunklen Anfänge, neue Forschungen zur Entstehung und frühen Geschichte des Islam. Berlin: Verlag Hans Schiler, 2005. ISBN 3-89930-128-5.
- Luxenberg, Christoph (2007) – “Relikte syro-aramäischer Buchstaben in frühen Korankodizes im hejazi- und kufi- Duktus”, Der frühe Islam. Berlin: Verlag Hans Schiler, 2007. ISBN 3-89930-090-4.
- Luxenberg, Christoph (2008) – “Die syrische Liturgie und die geheimnisvollen Buchstaben im Koran”, Schlaglichter: Die beiden ersten islamischen Jahrhunderte, eds. Markus Groß & Karl-Heinz Ohlig. Berlin: Verlag Hans Schiler, 2008. ISBN 978-3-89930-224-0, pp. 411–456
- The Virgins and the Grapes: the Christian Origins of the Koran Archived 2009-04-17 at the Stanford Web Archive
- Giving the Koran a history: Holy Book under scrutiny / Critical readings of the Muslim scripture offer alternative interpretations of well-known passages Archived 2007-05-20 at the Wayback Machine, 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."
- ,The Virgins and the Grapes: the Christian Origins of the Koran Archived 2009-04-17 at the Stanford Web Archive
- "Keine Huris im Paradies" (in German). Die Zeit. 2003-05-15.
- "Low profile for German Koran challenger". Reuters. 2004-11-11. Archived from the original on 2007-01-07.
- "Radical New Views of Islam and the Origins of the Koran". New York Times. 2002-02-02. Archived from the original on December 19, 2013.
- "The Koran As Philological Quarry" (PDF). Goethe Institute.[dead link]
- Richard Kroes. "Missionary, dilettante or visionary?". Livius – Articles on Ancient History. Archived from the original on 2012-08-19.
- 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).
- DE BLOIS, FRANÇOIS; ﺩﻱ ﺑﻠﻮﺍ, ﻑ. (2003). "Review of Die syro-aramäische Lesart des Koran. Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der Koransprache / ﻗﺮﺍﺀﺓ ﺳﺮﻳﺎﻧﻴﺔ ﺁﺭﺍﻣﻴﺔ ﻟﻠﻘﺮﺁﻥ". Journal of Qur'anic Studies. 5 (1): 92–97. ISSN 1465-3591. JSTOR 25728097.
- "Richard Kroes". Livius. Retrieved 26 Mar 2015.
- Kroes, Richard. "Review of Ch. Luxenberg, 'Die Syro-Aramäische Lesart des Qur'an'". www.livius.org. Archived from the original on 2012-08-19.
- Stille, Alexander (2 March 2002). "Scholars Are Quietly Offering New Theories of the Koran". The New York Times.
- Warraq, Ibn (12 January 2002). "Virgins? What virgins?". the Guardian.
- "What Does The Quran Really Say?".
- The Koran As Philological Quarry A Conversation with Christoph Luxenberg (Goethe Institute)
- An interview with "Christoph Luxenberg" by Alfred Hackensberger (originally in Süddeutsche Zeitung, here in English translation)
- Islamic-Awareness, From Alphonse Mingana To Christoph Luxenberg: Arabic Script & The Alleged Syriac Origins Of The Qur'an
- Review by Simon Hopkins (Faculty of Humanities, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)