John Wansbrough

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John Edward Wansbrough (February 19, 1928 – June 10, 2002) was an American historian who taught at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Wansbrough's emphasis was on the critique of traditional accounts of the origins of Islam. Born in Peoria, Illinois, Wansbrough completed his studies at Harvard University, and spent the rest of his academic career at SOAS.

He caused a furor in the 1970s when his research on early Islamic manuscripts, including the analysis of the repeated use of monotheistic Judeo-Christian imagery found in the Qur'an led him to posit that the rise of Islam was a mutation of what was originally a Judeo-Christian sect trying to spread in Arab lands, rather than by simple cultural diffusion. As time evolved the Judeo-Christian scriptures were adapted to an Arab perspective and mutated into what became the Qur'an which was developed over centuries with contributions from various Arab tribal sources. Wansbrough's research suggests that a great deal of the traditional history of Islam appeared to be a fabrication of later generations seeking to forge and justify a unique religious identity. Within this context, the character of Muhammad could be seen as a manufactured myth created to provide the Arab tribes with their own Arab version of the Judeo-Christian prophets.

He died at Montaigu-de-Quercy, France.


  • Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation (Oxford, 1977)
  • The Sectarian Milieu: Content and Composition Of Islamic Salvation History (Oxford, 1978)
  • Res Ipsa Loquitur: History and Mimesis (1987)
  • Lingua Franca in the Mediterranean (Curzon Press 1996)
  • Res Ipsa Loquitur: History and Mimesis (Reprint by World Scientific Publishing 2012)

This line of research was investigated in Egypt by Nasr Abu Zayd but he was expelled from Egypt because of his conclusions about the Qur'an. Students and scholars who doubt the traditional view of the genesis of the Quran as well:


  • Carlos A. Segovia and Basil Lourié, eds. The Coming of the Comforter: When, Where, and to Whom? Studies on the Rise of Islam and Other Various Topics in Memory of John Wansbrough. Orientalia Judaica Christiana 3. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4632-0158-6.

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