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Theodor Nöldeke

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Theodor Nöldeke
Nöldeke, before 1907
Nöldeke, before 1907
Born2 March 1836
Hamburg, Free City of Hamburg, German Confederation
Died25 December 1930 (aged 94)
Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, Weimar Germany
OccupationGerman Orientalist
Notable worksGeschichte Qorâns, Das Leben Mohammeds
Nöldeke's handwriting on a postcard, 1905

Theodor Nöldeke (German: [ˈteːodoːɐ̯ ˈnœldəkə]; born 2 March 1836 – 25 December 1930) was a German orientalist and scholar, originally a student of Heinrich Ewald. He is one of the founders of the field of Quranic studies. His research interests ranged over Old Testament studies, Semitic languages and Arabic, Persian and Syriac literature. Nöldeke translated several important works of oriental literature and during his lifetime was considered an important orientalist. He wrote numerous studies (including on the Qur’ān) and contributed articles to the Encyclopædia Britannica.[1]

Among the projects Nöldeke collaborated on was Michael Jan de Goeje’s published edition of al-Tabari's Tarikh ("Universal History"), for which he translated the Sassanid-era section. This translation remains of great value, particularly for the extensive supplementary commentary. His numerous students included Charles Cutler Torrey, Louis Ginzberg and Friedrich Zacharias Schwally. He entrusted Schwally with the continuation of his standard work "The History of the Qur’ān".



Nöldeke was born in Harburg, (Hamburg today). In 1853 he graduated from the Gymnasium Georgianum Lingen, Emsland, and went on to study at the University of Göttingen under Heinrich Ewald, and later at the University of Vienna, the University of Leiden and the Humboldt University of Berlin.

In 1864 he became a professor at the University of Kiel and from 1872 at the University of Strasbourg until he retired aged 70.

Nöldeke had ten children, six of whom predeceased him. His son Arnold Nöldeke became a judge and was a Hamburg senator during the Weimar period.

He died in Karlsruhe in 1930.



Geschichte des Qorâns


The Geschichte, a primarily philological work written in German, emerged out of his dissertation he began during his university studies, which was completed in 1856 and titled De origine et compositione surarum qoranicarum ipsiusque Qorani.[2] Compared to earlier works studying the Quran by Western writers, Nöldeke uncoupled the study of the text from inquiries into the life of Muhammad and, unlike predecessors of his such as William Muir, did not have a missionary zeal. Instead, Nöldeke studied the Quran for its own sake. One of the most important aspects of Nöldeke's argument was his periodisation of the Quranic surahs into a tripartite Meccan phase followed by a Medinan phase (an idea already conceived by his predecessor, Gustav Weil). In this, Nöldeke, though he did not follow the traditional chronological division of surahs exactly, did follow it in some detail. At the same time, Nöldeke also considered his division to be malleable and tentative to a degree as opposed to absolute and deciding.[3][4]

Though Nöldeke's work has been followed closely by some and rejected by others,[5] it has been so influential that at least one scholar has referred to his work as "the rock of our church".[6] In 2013, a complete translation of the volume into English was published.[7]



The Nöldeke Chronology is a "canonical ordering" of the 114 surahs of the Qur'an according to the sequence of revelation. Intended to aid theological, literary, and historical scholarship of Qur'anic exegesis by enhancing structural coherence.[8] The Nöldeke Chronology has been adopted for general guidance by some schools of current scholarship.[9] Nöldeke considered the surahs from the perspective of content and stylistic development and linguistic origination to rearrange them in historical sequence of revelation. According to his system Sura 21: “The Prophets,” – 21st of 114 surahs in the Qur'an – is renumbered '65'. His chronology further divided the surahs into two periods: The Meccan (in three phases), and the Medina.

The Nöldeke Chronology of the Qur'an: Four groups of the 114 Surahs:



In 1875, near the very beginning of the academic study of the religion of Mandaeism, Nöldeke published the Mandäische grammatik,[10] a monumental work of Mandaean grammar that was of such philological depth that it remains the standard work on the subject to this day. It was also the basis of the subsequent Mandadic Dictionary by E. S. Drower.[11]

Alexander the Great


In 1890, Nöldeke initiated the study of Alexander legends in the Arabic tradition with the publication of his Beiträge zur geschichte des Alexanderromans.[12]



Selected works


He contributed frequently to the Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, the Göttingische gelehrte Anzeigen and the Expositor.




  1. ^ Arjomand, Said Amir. (2022). Messianism and sociopolitical revolution in medieval Islam. Oakland, California: University of California Press. p. 16. ISBN 9780520387591. Google Books website Retrieved 21 December 2023.
  2. ^ Nöldeke, Theodor (1856). De origine et compositione surarum Qoranicarum ipsiusque Qorani (in Latin). Officina academica Dieterichiana.
  3. ^ Stefanidis, Emmanuelle; ‮ستفانيدس‬, ‮إيمانيويل‬ (2008). "The Qur'an Made Linear: A Study of the Geschichte des Qorâns' Chronological Reordering / ‮دراسة لإعادة الترتيب التاريخي لنزول القرآن في کتاب نولدکة "تاريخ القرآن"". Journal of Qur'anic Studies. 10 (2): 1–22. ISSN 1465-3591. JSTOR 25728286.
  4. ^ Reynolds, Gabriel Said (2011-01-01). "Le problème de la chronologie du Coran1". Arabica. 58 (6): 477–502. doi:10.1163/157005811X587903. ISSN 1570-0585.
  5. ^ Shoemaker, Stephen (2022). "Method and Theory in the Study of Early Islam". In Dye, Guillaume (ed.). Early Islam: the sectarian milieu of late antiquity?. Problèmes d'histoire des religions. Brussels: Éditions de l'Université de Bruxelles. ISBN 978-2-8004-1815-5.
  6. ^ Higgins, Andrew. "The Lost Archive". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2024-03-21.
  7. ^ Nöldeke, Theodor; Schwally, Friedrich; Bergsträsser, Gotthelf; Pretzl, O.; Behn, Wolfgang (2013). The history of the Qur'an. Texts and studies on the Qur'an. Leiden ; Boston: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-21234-3.
  8. ^ Ernst 2011, p. 43.
  9. ^ Böwering 2008, p. 73.
  10. ^ Nöldeke, Theodor; Nöldeke, Theodor (2005). Mandaean grammar / Mandäische Grammatik. Ancient language resources (Repr. ed.). Eugene, Or: Wipf & Stock. ISBN 978-1-59752-238-0.
  11. ^ Meeks, Wayne (2017). The Prophet-King: Moses Traditions and the Johannine Christology. Wipf & Stock Publishers. pp. 258–259.
  12. ^ Doufikar-Aerts 2010, p. 3.
  13. ^ "Th. Nöldeke (1836–1930)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  14. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2024-01-17.


  • Böwering, Gerhard (2008). "Recent research on the construction of the Qur'ān". In Reynolds, Gabriel Said (ed.). The Qur'ān in Its Historical Context. Routledge. pp. 70–87. ISBN 978-0-203-93960-4.
  • Doufikar-Aerts, Faustina Clara Wilhelmina (2010). Alexander Magnus Arabicus: A Survey of the Alexander Tradition Through Seven Centuries : from Pseudo-Callisthenes to Ṣūrī. Mediaevalia Groningana (new series) vol. 13. Peeters. ISBN 978-90-429-2183-2.
  • Ernst, Carl W. (2011). How to Read the Qur'an: A New Guide, with Select Translations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-6907-9.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Nöldeke, Theodor". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.