The oldest manuscripts of the Qurʾān

Emilio Platti

IDEO, Professor Emeritus of the Catholic University of Leuven

icon-calendar January 24, 2017

Following the discovery of extremely old manuscripts of the Qurʾān, and the Birmingham folios having been dated between 568 and 645 AD (56 before Hiǧra and 25 after) with Carbon 14 techniques, scholars largely refuse today the late dating of the earliest copies of the Qurʾān proposed for example by John Wansbrough in his book entitled Quranic studies (Oxford University Press, 1977). See also Patricia Crone and Michael Cook who suggested that there was no indication of the existence of the Qurʾān before the end of the 1st/7th century (Hagarism, Cambridge University Press, 1977). It now seems that a better dating should be closer to the middle of the 1st/7th century, or even earlier.

The discovery in 1972 of very old Qurʾānic manuscripts in Ṣanʿāʾ elicited new studies, and the ultraviolet techniques that are now available revealed that one of the codices is actually a palimpsest, i.e. it contains an older text that has been washed away and replaced by a later one. A first edition of this older text was published by Behnam Sadeghi and Mohsen Goudarzi in Der Islam 87 (2010) under the title “Ṣanʿāʾ 1 and the origin of the Qurʾān” and an analysis of the manuscript was published between 2008 and 2014 by Elizabeth Puin under the title “Ein früher Koranpalimpsest aus Ṣanʿāʾ”. A new edition of the text is due to be published on February 28, 2017 by Asma Hilali at the Oxford University Press under the title The Sanaa palimpsest. Unfortunately, these two editions only contain the text of the 36 folios from the manuscript of Dār al-Maḫṭūṭāt (Ṣanʿāʾ) and not the 40 other folios of the same codex that were found recently in al-Maktaba al-Šarqiyya (also in Ṣanʿāʾ).

Interestingly, this older version that has been washed away seems to be, until now, the only one among all the copies of the Qurʾān to differ from the ʿUṯmānic canonical version. After the ʿUṯmānic unification of the Qurʾānic text, variant versions have indeed been erased and replaced by the canonical text. The Ṣanʿāʾ palimpsest is a convincing proof that different versions from the time of the Pophet’s companions did actually exist, a fact that was common knowledge in the Islamic medieval tradition represented among others by Ibn Abī Dāwūd’s book Kitāb al-maṣāḥif.

Dal Saladino agli Ottomani

Emilio Platti, « Dal Saladino agli Ottomani : L’Egitto, le sue scuole islamiche e l’ortodossia sunnita », in: dans : Luciano Vaccaro (éd.), Popoli, religioni e Chiese lungo il corso del Nilo, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano, Gazzada Schianno : Fondazione Ambrosiana Paolo VI, 2015, p. 300-321.

Yahyā ibn ʿAdī

Emilio Platti, « Yahyâ ibn ʿAdî, disciples and masters. On questions of religious philosophy », in: The character of Christian-Muslim encounter, Brill, Leiden – Boston, 2015, p. 60‒84.

Criteria for authenticity of prophecy

Emilio Platti, « Criteria for authenticity of prophecy in ʿAbd al-Masīḥ al-Kindī’s Risāla », in: Books and written culture of the Islamic world. Studies presented to Claude Gilliot on the occasion of his 75th birthday, Andrew Rippin & Roberto Tottoli (eds.), Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2015, p. 3‒25.

The Arab Revolutions

Emilio Platti, « The Arab Revolutions and Islamic Civil Society », dans : Erkan Toguslu & Johan Leman (ed.), Modern Islamic Thinking and Activism, (Current Issues in Islam), Leuven University Press, 2014, p. 101–126.

The Christianity of Abraha and the Quran

Emilio Platti

University of Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

icon-calendar February 17, 2016

20160217_Seminaire_Emilio_PlattiEmilio Platti, member of IDEO, presented the works of Christian Robin on the inscriptions that are found in the Arabian Peninsula and date back to the beginning of the 4th century. Through his research, Robin brings archeological evidence to answer a question posed by Islamic scholars: how could the Prophet’s auditors ever understand the very numerous Biblical allusions that the Quran contains? Indeed, the traditional vision tends to present the Arabs as polytheistic pagans without any Biblical culture.

When the Ethiopian general Abraha seizes power in the south of the Arabian Peninsula between 525 and 530, he defeats the Ethiopian Christian vice-king who had been put to power by the Ethiopian king who came to revenge the massacre of the Christians of Najran in November523, and launches the conquest of the entire Arabian Peninsula, imposing a new form of Christianity. By doing so, Abraha repeats the conquest of the Himyarite Jewish kings at the beginning of the 4th century.

This very reign of Abraha witnesses a change in the Arabic inscriptions in the Peninsula, from the Trinitarian formula (“In the name of Raḥmān, and of his son Christos and of the Holy spirit”) to formulas more compatible with the message of the Quran that will appear later, mentioning “the mercy of Raḥmān, of his Messiah and the Spirit of holiness”.

This probably judaizing Christianism of Abraha could be the missing link between the Palestinian Judeo-Christianism of the first centuries and Islam, in a land that had been deeply influenced by Christianity and Judaism for more than three centuries when the Prophet Muḥammad started his mission in Mecca in 610.

Islam, friend or foe?

platti-friendEmilio Platti, Islam, friend or foe? Peeters, Louvain-Paris-Dudley, MA; W.B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 2008, 267 pages.

In this study, Emilio Platti dares to enquire directly into the compatibility between Islam and Christianity, as well as between Islam and modernity. He insists that the best way to answer such questions is to return to the origins of the Islamic tradition. What precisely does the Qur’an have to say about Christians? How can we explain the resentment towards the ‘West’ that seems to characterize some Muslims? Does the so-called clash of civilizations have its roots in Islamic theology? How did the negative portrait of Muslims that was characteristic of the Latin Middle Ages come about? Is it possible to speak in a ‘monolithic’ fashion about Islam? Is it really the case that Muslims must set about developing a new identity? What is the relationship between Islamic law and modern theories of human rights? What does it mean to be a ‘believer’ and might this not be the real heart of the tensions and controversies that mark so much of the contemporary encounter between Islam and the West? Platti’s study engages both classical and contemporary readings of the Islamic tradition and offers a nuanced and challenging view not only of its past, but of its present and of the directions it might take in the years ahead.

Click here to buy this book online…

Emilio Platti, O.P.

emiliositeEmilio Platti is Italo-Belgian and splits his time between Leuven and Cairo.

After his Dominican training at the Saint Thomas Institute in Leuven, he studied theology and Oriental studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. In 1972, he joined IDEO where he prepared his PhD in literature under the supervision of Fr. Anawati (Cairo) and Pr. Van Roey (Leuven). This PhD was the source to the publication of many works about the Jacobite theologian and philosopher Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī and about the Arab Christian medieval heritage.

From 1980 to 2010, he taught at KULeuven, at UCL (Louvain-la-Neuve), at US Thomas (Manila) and at the Catholic Institute of Paris. His teachings focus on the relationships between Christianism and Islam. He is now Professor Emeritus from KU Leuven. He gives courses and lectures in the field of Christian-Muslim relations.

A member of IDEO, he stays in Cairo every year and takes part in the activities of the Institute. He published several books among which Islam… vreemd? (Averbode, Leuven, 1996), Islam, van nature een vijand? (Averbode, Leuven, 2003), its English translation Islam, friend or foe? (Peeters, Louvain-Paris-Dudley, MA; W.B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2008) and L’islamisme (Fidélité, Paris-Namur, 2016). Between 2008 and 2015, he was the publishing director of MIDÉO.

Emilio Platti is a member of the Union of European Arabists and Islamicists, of the Belgian Society for Oriental Studies, and of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Islam in the contemporary World (UCL). He is still in charge at the KULeuven, as a professor emeritus.