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Ibn Warraq: The Kathisma Church, the canonization of the Qur'an and Wansbrough's Sectarian Milieu

Reader comment on item: Study the Koran?

Submitted by dhimmi no more (United States), Oct 5, 2014 at 13:55

Dr. Pipes

Again I would like to remind the readers that would like to check the Syriac script to download it

I urge readers to read this great article about Christmas in the Qur'an and the Kathisma Church (it is located just outside of Jerusalem) by Stephen Shoemaker before reading my post


I also suggest that the readers open a separate screen and open the link for the Cairo Qur'an in Arabic while reading the post


I have a few remarks to make that I believe can help the readers to understand what Shoemaker is saying

1. Yes Syriac and Arabic are two different languages but they have very much in common and any Arabic speaker would be able to undrestand this famous Aramaic formula

לית אלה אלא אחד

Or Let Elah Ella Ahad or Not is there a God but one

And compare this with the Quranic 112:1

قل هو الله احد

Or Qul Huwa Allahu Ahad (sic) or Say: He Allah is one

Or in the islamic formula

لا اله الا الله

Or La Ilaha Ila Allah or there is no God but Allah

And let us take the case of the Lord's prayer and the first two lines

ܐܒܘܢ ܕܒܫܡܝܐ ܝܬܩܕܫ ܫܡܟ ܬܐܬܐ ܡܠܟܘܬܟ

Or Abun d'bishmaya yetqadash ishmak tete malakoutak

Educated Arabs would be able to understand it very well

This does not mean that these two languages are one and the same. There are Syriac words that are not Arabic words the likes of Tur or mountain but we stll can find such word in the Qur'an and there are similar words that would have very different meanings in both languages and take the case of the word bread and in Syriac the word is ܠܚܡܐ or Lahma (Lechem in Hebrew) but in Arabic the word لحمة or Lahma means meat and not bread

The point here is what Luxenberg is really saying that the Qur'an is really this hybrid of Syriac and Arabic and it is not the so called classical Arabic that one would find in the 3rd century of Islam and this indeed explains very well why was al-Tabari struggling with telling his readers about what the Qur'an is really saying

He also believes that the ur Qur'an was written in garshouni (Arabic/Syriac text written by using Syriac alphabet)

2. John Wansbrough believed that the Qur'an was still changing after the death of Muhammad and it was not canonized before the 3rd century of islam after all how can Muslims canonize the Qur'an if they really cannot read it and understand what it is really saying. He believed that this must have happened during the 3rd century of Islam at the time when the great masoretic exegesis of the Qur'an was written by al-Tabari

This means that the Qur'an was still in flux in the 3rd century and here are examples:

Take the case of surat Yusuf 49 or Q12:49 it says

ثُمَّ يَأْتِي مِن بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ عَامٌ فِيهِ يُغَاثُ النَّاسُ وَفِيهِ يَعْصِرُونَ

al-Tabari reads the rasm of the last word Y'SRUN as

1. يَعْصِرُونَ or ya3siruun (the first letter is a Ya or Y

2. تَعْصِرُونَ " بِالتَّاءِ , or Ta3siruun with a Ta or T

3. يُعْصَرُونَ " بِمَعْنَى : يُمْطَرُونَ or Yu3saruun and the meaning is yumataruun or to have rain!

Very different readings indeed this very well means as I explained in an old post the following

1. The Qur'an was a text and was not recitation otherwise this word would not have been a problem

2. It means that al-Tabari was dealing with a written text that was still unstable and even the names of the suras were still in flux and take the case of Q105 and al-Tabari called it Surat A lam tara and now the name is Surat al-Feel (elephant)

3. It means by him telling Muslims how to read the word that he was indeed instrumental in fixing the defective Quranic text

4. And how can Muslims canonize a book that they cannot read or agree on what it says before stabilizing such text and more evidence that the Qur'an could not have been canonized before al-Tabri or the third century of Islam as Wansbrough believed

5. it also means that there must have been a period between the time when the Quranic material was written and the attempts by the Ulama to find what this opaque revelation is saying and it could be one of two things: The Quranic material pre-dates Muhammad or the Qur'an was not canonized until the time of al-Tabari but by then no one had a clue that this book was all about

There are other examples in the Qur'an including the word MLK in Surat al-Fatiha and that fact that it is read in the Cairo Qur'an as Maaliki or the owner of and in the Tunisian Qur'an as Maliki or the king of and these are indeed two different words

Here is another example from the inscriptions of the Dome of the Rock

والسلم عليه يوم ولد ويوم يموت ويوم يبعث حيا

Or and peace be upon him (Jesus) the day he was born and the day he dies and the day he is resurrected

Now compare this with the Quranic 19:33

والسلم علي يوم ولدت ويوم ابعث حيا

Or and the speaker here is Jesus: And peace be upon ME the day I was born and the day i die and the day I become resurrected

These two versions are really variant traditions but why would Abd al-Malik in 692CE not select the canonized version? We will never know but it really means if Abd al-Malik had a canonized version of the Qur'an he would have selected the second version and by the way the Muslim tradition realizes the significance of this observation and we are told that the inscriptions of the Dome of the Rock are really sermons and not actual quotes from the Qur'an but it also could very well be that the first version was not selected in the final canonized Qur'an and in 692CE when the Dome of the Rock was built the Qur'an was not canonized

3. As for added verses in the Qur'an which must have been introduced in the text after the death of Muhammad take the case of Surat al-Nijm or Q53 I urge readers to open the link to the sura and check the Arabic verses and they are short and very poetic then all of a sudden you will find a long clusmy and very much out of context verse number 32 Ali Dashti believes that it is an interpolation that took place after the death of Muhammad and indeed the tradition struggled with this verse and we are told that it must be a verse revealed in Medina! Very lame excuse indeed

All of this means that the Qur'an was still changing after the death of Muhammad

Now back to the Kathisma Chruch

Shoemaker is really saying the following

1. This church was discovered in 1997 and the resemblance to the Dome of the Rock is striking

2. This church is about the story of the flight of the holy family to Egypt and also about the birth of Jesus. In a Palestinian tradition he was born at the site of the Kathisma or the holy family stopped at the location of the church during their flight to Egypt

This also very well explains why would Abd al-Malik build a similar structure on top of the Temple Mount and it makes you wonder that the site is about the Nativity or the flight of the holy family to Egypt too and not about a flight by the prophet of Islam

3. The mosiac in the chruch is about Mary and the palm tree as source fo food for her and the little stream of water the same story one would find in the Qur'an (19:24) about the Nativity story and what is most striking is that the chruch was converted to a mosque in the 8th century and the mosaic was left untouched whic makes one suspect that the this church had great sifnificance for the emerging Islam

4. Shemmaker believes that the Kathisma church and its related traditions present the only known precedent for the Quranic account of Jesus Nativity"

5. Then he wrote: The probability that the Quranic account of the Nativity developed under the infleunce of specific local Palestinian Christian traditions confirms the recognition of Wansbrough and others that the content of the Quranic text almost certainly continued to develop well after the death of death of Muhammad

I can also argue that such tradition might have made it to the Qur'an during Muhammad 's life time (but this would mean that we have to move the area where Muhammad had lived from al-Hijaz to Palestine or it could predated Muhammad by a long time from Palestinian Christian sources)

6. So where can we find such tradition of Jesus' nativity also the flight of the holy family to Egypt and the palm tree and the stream of water? Shomemaker provides two Christian lirerary sources: Latin Gospel of Ps-Matthew (Shoemaker proves that although this source is European but it was based on the circulating traditions in Palestine in the 3rd to 5th centuries) and The Protevangelium of James

7. This also means that such Quranic account of the Nativity could not have been composed ex-nihilo

So where does Luxenberg fit in the Quranic version of the Nativity?

In Q19:24 the word سريا or Sry' was read by the Ulama as rivulet (small stream of water) and they must have been aware of the Kathisma tradition. Luxneberg believes that the real word is really ܫܪܝܐ or Shrya or made legitimate and the meaning of Q19:24 is: Do not be sad your Lord has made your delivery legitimate instead of The Lord has placed beneath you a streamlet

And indeed Luxenberg is very correct that Mary's concern would have been the fact that having her child was legitimate

And this indeed makes much sense

Again Wansbrough was correct that Islam must be part of the Judeo Christian tradition and it is the product of Judeo Christian sectrarian milieu


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