The Qur’an and the Syriac Bible (link)

“Islamic tradition paints a picture of Islam’s origins in a pagan environment, and Western scholars have often assumed that Mecca in the time of Muhammad was an outpost of decadent, polytheistic idolaters. Yet for its part the Qurʿan is more interested in the Bible than it is in paganism. The Qur’an refers to Jesus 25 times, to Abraham 69 times, and to Moses no fewer than 136 times. . . .”

IQSA’s co-directors, Professors Gabriel Reynolds and Emran Elbadawi, recently contributed an essay titled “Qur’an and the Syriac Bible” to Oxford Islamic Studies Online and Oxford Biblical Studies Online, the full text of which can be found here. [1] [2] 

(from Oxford Islamic Studies Online)

(from Oxford Islamic Studies Online)

In it, they discuss “two themes of religious exhortation which reflect the extraordinary dialogue between the Qurʿan and the biblical literature of late antiquity”: 1) prophets and messengers and 2) promises and threats.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “The Qur’an and the Syriac Bible (link)

  1. Salamunalaikum,
    Concerning the truth about the so-called “Arabic” language – a truth that humanity is still not aware of, that was discovered by a handful of linguists and scientists in the late 18th Century:

    The term “arabic” عربي (transliteration: 3arabi) is not a proper name of a language. It is derived from “i3rab”, which means “eloquence and clarity”. So when the Quran says “lisan arabi” it means precisely that: “the eloquent tongue”. This means that there were other tongues spoken in Arabia that were NOT eloquent, but were actually perverted dialects. The Quran calls them “Ajami” (transliteration: “a3jami”), which comes from “3jm”, which means: “missing something / improper/lacking/ weak/ something that makes enourmos effort to be eloquent but fails to do so, outlandish”.

    Aramaic, Syriac, Old Yemeni, Greeks, Persian and others are all nothing but “a3jami” dialects derived from the Mother Tongue (which we call “Arabic”). These dialects are missing some letters. For example, Aramaic and Syriac have 22 litters, while the Mother Tongue has 28. But the similarities between all these dialects are staggering. Linguists are begin now to realize that ALL these dialects in fact had one, older origin.

    The eloquent tongue (lissan 3arabi) of the Quran is the most ancient tongue on the planet. It was the tongue spoken by Adam (the first homo-sapiens race). It is made up of three-letter roots whose meanings are derived directly from natural phenomena. For example, If you ask any European or American what the word “Adam” means, he will say: “it’s the name of the first human being”. They see it as a proper noun which doesn’t have a meaning. In “Arabic” the word “adam” is derived from the 3-letter root “adm”, from which comes the word “adeem”. When we say “adeem al- ardh”, it means: the soil or skin of the earth which is good and convenient for cultivation. So ADAM. is: the being that was created from the skin of the earth (the surface clay), and who is ripe and fit to be the vicegerent , and worthy of receiving the divine message.

    There is not a single language on the face of this planet that will give you this meaning. Only “arabic” can.

    Yes, “arabic” is a description (not the proper name) of the primordial and “fitri” tongue of mankind. ALL the inhabitants of Arabia, whether they spoke Syriac, Aramaic, Old Yemeni, or other “a3jami” dialects could understand the Quran, because “arabic” (the eloquent speech) is the Mother and Prototype of all.

    GOD chose this eloquent prototype as the vehicle not only for HIS final Book but HIS first Book, [which comprises of the sections (zubur) – Torah, (except for Injeel)], to humanity. As for Injeel, it was written in a South Yemeni dialect, very close to Sabaic language because the Injeel was sent ONLY to the Israelites.
    That’s some paradox, isn’t it?


  2. Salamumalaikum,
    When we look at Late Antique Syro-Palestine and Arabia in the early seventh century, the introduction of Islam, an interesting yet complex mosaic of cultures and languages can be observed. Linguistically, various languages were spoken and written. Here we confront common long-persisting misconception, namely that the Arabs / Semitic people were largely illiterate before Islam. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Roughly speaking, Arabia in Antiquity was divided into three geographical regions:
    Arabia Felix, Deserta and Petraea
    In the South-Arabia (approximately modern Yemen / Oman), Arabia Felix or “Happy Arabia,” various South Arabian Semitic languages were spoken, the most important of which is Sabaean, written in a Semitic script which split off from the Syro Palestinian alphabetic tradition during the Bronze Age. Ancient Yemen was heavily involved in the spice and incense (later also the silk) trade from which it garnered considerable wealth.
    To the North, in what is now more or less Saudi Arabia, was the Arabia Deserta or “Abandoned Arabia,” home to Mecca and Medina, a region sparsely inhabited by nomadic tribes and various oasis settlements, often caravanserais for the long-distance trade. The contemporary local languages are nowadays designated as Ancient North Arabian: they are interrelated Semitic (oasis) dialects that, however, are not direct ancestors of Classical Arabic. Inscriptions in these languages or dialects are attested roughly from the sixth century BC to the sixth century AD throughout the region into the modern Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The writing culture of Arabia Deserta was borrowed from the South– i.e., they used variants of the Ancient (epigraphic) South Arabian script.
    Further to the North, in the geographical area of Syro-Palestine (which includes the Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and South-eastern Turkey, North-western Iraq and part of Persia) was Arabia Petra or the Provincia Arabia, the Roman border province whose capital was Petra. This region had been exposed to Greco-Roman culture for close to a millennium. The major written languages here were Greek (which was lingua franca of Arabia Petraea after the Persian Empire) and various Arabic-Aramaic dialects, the most important of which was Syriac. Furthermore, a fraction of the population of this region (unlike in Arabia Felix) had converted to one form or another of Christianity (which was anything but a homogenous, monolithic entity). The important point that must be noted is that although in Arabia Petraea, Aramaic and Greek texts are often attributed to the Nabateans, Palmyrinians and others (who were actually Ishmaelite), their names and occasional stray words in inscriptions show that they were ethnically sematic people. We are dealing with a situation similar to that of medieval Western Europe in which Latin was the written language, while the spoken languages (vernaculars) were the precursors of the languages spoken today.
    Briefly summarized, Aramaic / Syriac script of Arabia Petraea are the precursors of the classical Quranic script and language. Before Islam, texts in the Aramaic script are hardly attested south of the modern state of Jordan and then only in the extreme North-west corner of modern Saudi Arabia. The Greeks / Romans, who are the ancestors of Ishmael, were the ones who plagiarized the Aramaic / Syriac language. For almost 800 to 1000 years before the advent of Islam, the official language of Arabia Petraea was Greek. If not for The Holy Quran script, which was a form of Aramaic/Syriac, the whole of Middle East by now would have spoken Greek.
    In Arabia Felix and Deserta other scripts and languages were current. It is in Arabia Petraea that we find occasional “Arabic” texts in an Aramaic script and even “Arabic” written in Greek characters. A sixth / seventh century fragment of Psalm 78 found in the Umayyad “Mosque” at Damascus shows just how close this “Arabic” is to what would later morph into “Classical Arabic” (e.g.,imala). The precursor to Classical Arabic was thus spoken in Syria / Palestine, not in the Hijaz.
    We now have two independent sources of prima facie contemporary evidence–aerial linguistics and script distribution–to show that the language of the Holy Quran must be based on a Syro-Palestinian Semitic dialect and that the script employed was not that used in Mecca and Medina of the period, but the one used in Arabia Petraea. If the Quran is actually a product of the Hijaz, then we would expect it to be in a different (Ancient North Arabian) Semitic language and written in a different script. That is not the case. The traditional account of the Quran’s origins is not supported by the evidence.
    The peculiar thing about the “Arabic” script we are familiar with today is its polyvalence–i.e., it needs diacritical dots (i`jam) to distinguish between otherwise identical consonantal characters (rasm).For example, the Arabic glyph can be read as ba, ta, th, nun and medially as ya.Thus the Arabic script distinguishes eighteen glyphs that are made distinct by diacritics to render twenty-eight phonemes. A part this polyvalence is not phonetically conditioned; it is due to the cursive erosion of distinct forms (e.g., b, n, medial y). In other cases, it is due to the fact that twenty-two letter Aramaic alphabet was later supplemented with six letter to render additional “Arabic” phonemes (i.e., sounds that Aramaic had lost, but which survived in Arabic) by adding a diacritical dot to the nearest phonetic approximant. This, along with Aramaic orthographic customs (such as the tāʾmarbūṭah to mark the feminine ending, the alif otiosum, etc) shows unmistakably that the Quranic writing was introduced from a long tradition of writing Aramaic and can, therefore, only have occurred in a region where the Aramaic speaking people had a long exposure to Aramaic writing culture. The only place where this could have happened is in Arabia Petraea. If the Quran were actually introduced in Mecca or Medina, then (besides it being written in a different Semitic language) it would have had been composed in the South Arabian script which unambiguously differentiates each of the twenty-eight phonemes of Arabic and which, by this time, had a twelve hundred year tradition in the Hijaz..That this ideally suited script was not used means that the Quran is not the product of Arabia Deserta.
    The fact that both the script and language of the Quran point to the Classical Arabia Petraea of Syro-Palestine, and not Arabia Deserta, is further supported by the fact that the Quran’s vocabulary is largely borrowed from Aramaic, especially Syriac. Needless to say, the semantics of the technical religious vocabulary of the Quran, the spelling of the names of biblical figures, and the often subtle biblical allusions presuppose an intimate knowledge of biblical literature in its Syro-Aramiac tradition. Syro-Palestine was Christianized to a certain extend by the seventh century and there were also heavy evidence of idol worshipper. In “happy” Arabia during this period were in fact, a centre of Judaism and a minority Christianity population. Thus, the entire contemporary epigraphically, literary and linguistic evidence points to Islam are in Syro-Palestine.
    This claim stands in stark contrast to the traditional narrative of a blitzkrieg from the Hijaz into Syro-Palestine. This event has vexed modern archaeologists. There is simply no archaeological support for a quick, violent and destructive invasion of Syro-Palestine as reported by traditional Islamic sources. Instead, excavations reveal a continuity of occupation and culture: the period in question is, archaeologically speaking, quite uneventful and conservative. The major cultural changes in ceramics and the like (such as the introduction of glazed wares) only occur in the eighth century. There is an uninterrupted settlement continuum through the Umayyad period (in which the mosaic as an art-form reached its peak) into Abbasid times. Even then the change is gradual rather than sudden. Where there was change, it consisted of a tendency towards smaller settlements in the countryside, which became favored over towns. Archaeologically speaking, then, an Arab or Muslim conquest of Syro-Palestine is invisible. And the reason for this was that the Aramaic / Syriac speaking people were already living in the region as evidenced by their language.
    Therefore, archaeology, epigraphy and linguistics mitigate against a Hijazi origin of the Holy Quran.

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