John Wansbrough

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

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).

By his fundamental criticism of the historical credibility of the classical Islamic narratives concerning Islam's beginnings and his attempt to develop an alternative, historically more credible version of Islam's beginnings, Wansbrough founded the so-called "revisionist" school of Islamic Studies.

Life[edit]

Wansbrough was born in Peoria, Illinois. He completed his studies at Harvard University, and spent the rest of his academic career at SOAS. He died at Montaigu-de-Quercy, France. Among his students were Andrew Rippin, Norman Calder, Gerald R. Hawting, Patricia Crone and Michael Cook.

Research and thesis[edit]

Wansbrough began studying early Islamic manuscripts and the Quran. He realized that the early Islamic texts addressed an audience which was familiar with Jewish and Christian texts, and that Jewish and Christian theological problems were discussed. Criticism of "infidels" was addressed obviously to monotheists who did not live monotheism "purely".[1]

These observations did not fit to the Islamic narratives on Islam's beginnings which depicted Islam to come into being within a polytheistic society. Wansbrough analyzed the classical Islamic narratives which had been written 150 to 200 years after Muhammad with the historical-critical method, especially literary criticism. Thus, he claimed countless proofs that these texts are not historical accounts but later literary constructions in the sense of the concept of a "salvation history" (Heilsgeschichte) of the Old Testament. Their historical core is meager and cannot be detected.[2]

On this basis, Wansbrough developed the theory that Islam did not come into being as a new religion on its own but derived from conflicts of various Jewish-Christian sects.[3] But also from the need for a (fixed) sacred scripture upon which to base the Abbasid code of law: "The employment of scriptural Shawahid in halakhic controversy required a fixed and unambiguous text of revelation ... the result was the Quranic canon.[4][5]

The Quran was written and collected in a long process over 200 years and thus cannot be attributed to Muhammad. The person of Muhammad would be a later invention, or at least Muhammad cannot be related to the Quran. For later times, Muhammad had only the function to provide an own identity to the new religious movement according to the role model of a Prophet of the Old Testament.[3]

Thus Wansbrough argued that the Quran is more recent than thought, and should be dated from the 2nd/3rd Islamic century in Abbasid Iraq (not the 1st century Hijaz, Western Arabia) when it "became a source for biography, exegesis, jurisprudence and grammar".[6][7] Specifically Wansbrough thinks it must have been completed by Ibn Hisham composed his Sīra of Muhammad because of the "preponderance of Quran-based (historicized) narratives therein".[5]

Wansbrough argued that variants of Quranic text are so minor they are not "recollections of ancient texts that differed from the Uthmanic text," but the outcome of exegesis.[8][9] And also that classical Arabic was developed later than the colloquial forms, "contemporaneously with the codification of the Quran."[10]

Reception and critique[edit]

Wansbrough's theories have neither been "widely accepted" nor rejected, according to Gabriel Said Reynolds.[10] By his fundamental criticism of the historical credibility of the classical Islamic narratives concerning Islam's beginnings and his attempt to develop an alternative, historically more credible version of Islam's beginnings, Wansbrough founded the so-called "revisionist" school of Islamic Studies.

Wansbrough's theory about the long process (over 200 years) of writing and collection of the Quran is today considered obsolete because of the discoveries of Early Quranic manuscripts. However more and more scholars of Quranic Studies and Early Islam profess to adhere to his theory of the Quran as a multilayered collection of independent texts over a shorter period of time.

Publications[edit]

  • 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; 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:

References[edit]

Citation[edit]

  1. ^ Oliver Leaman (ed.), The Qur'an, an Encyclopedia, 2006; p. 477
  2. ^ Harald Motzki et al., Analysing Muslim Traditions, 2010; p. 285 ff.
  3. ^ a b Andrew Rippin (ed.), The Blackwell Companion to the Qur'an, 2006; pp. 199 f.
  4. ^ Wansbrough, John, Quranic Studies, Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation, Oxford University Press, 1977 (2nd Ed: Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004) 208
  5. ^ a b Reynolds, "Quranic studies and its controversies", 2008: p.14
  6. ^ Wansbrough, John, Quranic Studies, Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation, Oxford University Press, 1977 (2nd Ed: Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004) 202
  7. ^ Reynolds, "Quranic studies and its controversies", 2008: p.11
  8. ^ Wansbrough, John, Quranic Studies, Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation, Oxford University Press, 1977 (2nd Ed: Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004) 44
  9. ^ Reynolds, "Quranic studies and its controversies", 2008: p.12
  10. ^ a b Reynolds, "Quranic studies and its controversies", 2008: p.13

Bibliography[edit]

  • 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.
  • Reynolds, Gabriel Said (2008). "Introduction, Quranic studies and its controversies". In Reynolds, Gabriel Said (ed.). The Quran in its Historical Context. Routledge.

External links[edit]