Christoph Luxenberg is the pseudonym of the author of The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Qur'an German edition , English translation [1] and several articles in anthologies about early Islam. His book The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran asserted that the language of the early compositions of the Quran was not exclusively Arabic, as assumed by the classical commentators, but rather is rooted in the Syriac language of the 7th century Meccan tribe of the Quraysh , which is associated in the early histories with the founding of the religion of Islam. Luxenberg's premise is that the Syriac language, which was prevalent throughout the Middle East during the early period of Islam, and was the language of culture and Christian liturgy, had a profound influence on the scriptural composition and meaning of the contents of the Quran. According to Islamic tradition, the Koran dates back to the 7th century, while the first examples of Arabic literature in the full sense of the phrase are found only two centuries later, at the time of the 'Biography of the Prophet'; that is, of the life of Mohammed as written by Ibn Hisham , who died in

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It assumes that the Quran was not written in Arabic but in Syriac-Arabic, which in turn presupposes that there has been a time in which the Quran was not recited, so that the believers could forget the original language.

It was not without Schadenfreude that the press published the story: there was no reason for the plane-crashers of 11 September to count on 72 virgins in paradise.

They would only find grapes there. The reason for this disappointing news? A simple reading mistake in the text of the Quran. If the writer is right, he places a bomb under Islam that is comparable to the effects of Biblical textual criticism to Christianity.

Understandably the author's name "Christoph Luxenberg" is a nom de plume of a professor in Semitic languages at a German university, according to articles in the press. The statement "not virgins but grapes" is only a small side step in a book that argues a theory that reaches much further, this theory has hardly enjoyed any attention in the press. According to Luxenberg, the Quran was not written in classical Arabic but in a mixed Arabic-Syriac language, the traders' language of Mecca and it was based on Christian liturgical texts.

When the final text of the Quran was codified, those working on it did not understand the original sense and meaning of this hybrid trading language any more, and they forcefully and randomly turned it into classical Arabic.

This gave rise to a lot of misinterpretations. Something like this can only have happened if there was a gap in the oral transmission of the Quranic text. That idea is in serious disagreement with the views of both traditional Muslims and western scholars of Islam. According to early Islamic sources, texts of the Quran were already written down during the life of the prophet Muhammad CE. At the battle of Yamama, under the first caliph Abu Bakr CE , so many victims fell among the ones that knew the Quran by heart that Abu Bakr ordered Muhammad's secretary, Zaid ibn Thabit, to codify a complete Quran.

Through inheritance this text ended up with Hafsa, the daughter of Abu Bakr's successor Umar and one of Muhammad's widows. But the Quran was mainly transmitted orally, as recited text, and this was seen as the most important method of "keeping" the Quran. It is mainly the oral transmission that, according to the traditional view, guaranteed the continuity and integrity of the Quranic text.

The nascent islamic empire rapidly expanded during the reign of the third caliph, Uthman CE. In the various regions of this empire various ways of reciting the texts developed as well as variant texts. Uthman started a codification project in which one standard text was decided on. Hafsa's collection now surfaced again and played a decisive role in estabishing this unifying text.

Other early followers of Muhammad had also collected their own Quranic texts. These were often different from Uthman's standard. At first some of them gravely protested against Uthman's standardisation, but eventually it won the day.

Copies of Uthman's version were sent to all corners of the Islamic realm and by his order all other Quranic codices had to be destroyed. In the library of Tashkent in Uzbekistan there is a very old Quran codex which is supposedly one of Uthman's. It is part of the Unesco world heritage. The Topkapi museum in Istanbul also possesses an old, supposedly Uthmanic codex. Muslims see the Quran as insurpassable and inimitable. The language of the Quran is poetic, terse and sometimes extremely difficult to interpret.

During the first centuries of Islam many scholars studied its text, vocabulary, grammar, style and historical and biographical background in order to estabish how the Quran had to be understood. These activities resulted in numerous dictionaries, grammars and extended commentaries, tafsir. Arabic is a "defective" script: only consonants can be written with it, vowels are omitted.

Furthermore, when the Quran was codified a script was used in which several consonants shared the same signs. Only 17 signs were used to write 28 consonants. Just 7 signs in this alphabet, called rasm , are unequivocal. About a century after the first compilation of the Quran the various consonants were distinguished by adding "diacritical dots".

Eventually, three centuries later, after some experimenting with systems for the notation of vowels, the vowels were also added. In the al-Azhar university in Egypt issued a standard text that is now used worldwide. This standardisation too had its reasons because despite Uthman's standardisation, several versions of the text of the Quran developed.

Discussions between traditional Muslims and western scholars of Islam on this topic can run high. On the side of the faithful it is claimed that these only represent the various Arabic dialects or modes of recitation, the qira'at.

All 7 or 10, or 14 are considered canonical. On the side of scholarship however, differences at the level of meaning are recognised.

A good example are the last three words of Q It is used in the whole Islamic world, except in North Africa. Not all Muslims deny the existence of these differences. A very charming example of the way these are dealt with is Q You who believe, when you are about to pray, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbow, wipe your heads, wash your feet up to the ankles.

This means the same, but is in the genitive case, just like the word for "head". In this version the genitive case is used because of the preposition "over" your heads and because "feet" has the same case a silent "over" needs to be understood with " and wipe over your feet". Now the question is: do the feet need to be washed before prayer or is wiping them sufficient? According to some Islamic interpreters both texts are correct, since under normal circumstances people will wash their feet before prayer, but where there is no water, wiping them suffices.

The combination of the two different transmissions thus delivers the full revelation as intended by Allah. Besides these variants early Islamic literature also mentions a lot of alternative readings that do not belong to the canonical texts. According to our sources these are all from Quranic texts that were destroyed in the wake of Uthman's standardisation.

Early Islamic linguists, and since the 19 th century also western scholars of Islam, have discovered loanwords in the Quran derived from various languages, mainly from Syriac. In the seventh century this was the lingua franca of the Middle East, besides Greek, that was mainly spoken in the Byzantine empire. Mecca, Muhammad's home city was a trade settlement and Muhammad himself worked in the caravan trade for years.

It is unthinkable that he had no knowledge of Syriac. So it is not surprising that Syriac loanwords are present in the Quran. While in the Islamic world the findings of western scholars of Islam are not universally received with undivided enthousiasm, Luxenberg takes quite a few steps more by systematically looking into the possibilities for Syriac offering a clarification of passages in the Quran that are difficult to interpret.

While doing that he doesn't limit himself to just vocabulary, but also looks for grammatical constructions that might have been copied from Syriac.

For this he uses a relatively simple and strict method. As "difficult" he defines those passages that have been recognised as such by western translators or that have been called so by Tabari CE in his extensive tafsir.

It is important to note that options 1, 2, 4, 7 and 8 leave the Arabic character of the Quran unchallenged. Option 3 simply rephrases the presence of Syriac loanwords.

Only the options 4, 5 and 6 can serve as support for Luxenberg's thesis. That thesis can hardly be summarised in short, but the type of reasoning that Luxenberg uses, can be illustrated with a few examples that the interested layman can follow. In Q fun is being made of the unbelievers: What is the matter with them?

Why do they turn away from the warning, like frightened asses, fleeing from a lion? He suspects it's an Ethiopian loanword, but there is no such word in that language, nor in any other language in the region. The latter is correctly derived from the root qtsr. The former is dialect. If this dialectal form was used, it should have been used as a nomina agentis "causative" according to Luxenberg, with an inserted "u".

The addition of vowels later on resulted in the incomprehensible qaswara. Luxenberg's translation of Q runs like this: What is the matter with them? Why do they turn away from the warning, like frightened asses, fleeing from a lame donkey? That sounds a bit complicated for someone who is already quite obviously "stating" something. Luxenberg has a simple solution. Luxenberg takes the rasm -text, whereas the alif in Qurans on the internet reflect a limitation of the layout.

This is translated in various ways: "ignoble", "violent", "greedy", in Shakir's, Yusufali's and Pickthal's translations respectively, are just some examples. The same Arabic word, or derivations of it, occur elsewhere in the Quran , , and They are translated as "domineering", "arrogance", "high and mighty" and "tyrant".

This was not understood in later times and the dots were added, so it became a "t". In sura the Christian legend of the Seven Sleepers is told. Persecuted Christians sought refuge in a cave and fell asleep. God let them sleep for years until the persecutions were over. The story starts with do you find the Companions in the cave and al-Raqim so wondrous, among all Our other signs?

Whichever is true, neither Decius, nor an "inscription" play any part in the rest of the story. In the oldest script that was used for the Quran, hidjazi , this is a very likely mistake.

This latter exchange we have seen twice before. The preposition bi- "in, at" results in the following translation: The first House of worship to be established for mankind was the one at Bakkah Mecca.

It is a blessed place; a source of guidance for all people. This doesn't seem very likely. Mecca agrees with Macoraba as already indicated by Ptolemy. It is assumed the name is related to Sabeic mukarrib , which means "sanctuary".

This means "which he has demarcated". This would indeed give a translation that seems more logical: The first House of worship to be established for mankind was the one which He has demarcated.


Luxenberg, Christoph

It assumes that the Quran was not written in Arabic but in Syriac-Arabic, which in turn presupposes that there has been a time in which the Quran was not recited, so that the believers could forget the original language. It was not without Schadenfreude that the press published the story: there was no reason for the plane-crashers of 11 September to count on 72 virgins in paradise. They would only find grapes there. The reason for this disappointing news? A simple reading mistake in the text of the Quran.


Luxenberg Thesis

The book received considerable attention from the popular press in North America and Europe at its release, perhaps in large part to its argument that the Quranic term Houri refers not to beautiful virgins in paradise Jannah , but to grapes there. The thesis of the book is that the text of the Quran was substantially derived from Syriac Christian liturgy , arguing that many "obscure" portions become clear when they are back-translated and interpreted as Syriacisms. While there is a scholarly consensus that the language of the Quran is influenced by Syro-Aramaic, Luxenberg's thesis goes beyond mainstream scholarly consensus and was widely received with skepticism in reviews. The work advances the thesis that critical sections of the Quran have been misread by generations of readers and Muslim and Western scholars, who consider Classical Arabic the language of the Quran. Luxenberg's analysis suggests that the prevalent Syro-Aramaic language up to the seventh century formed a stronger etymological basis for its meaning.


The Virgins and the Grapes: the Christian Origins of the Koran

A German scholar of ancient languages takes a new look at the sacred book of Islam. He maintains that it was created by Syro-Aramaic speaking Christians, in order to evangelize the Arabs. But that Syro-Aramaic was also the root of the Koran, and of the Koran of a primitive Christian system, is a more specialized notion, an almost clandestine one. The author of the most important book on the subject - a German professor of ancient Semitic and Arabic languages - preferred, out of prudence, to write under the pseudonym of Christoph Luxenberg. A few years ago, one of his colleagues at the University of Nablus in Palestine, Suliman Bashear, was thrown out of the window by his scandalized Muslim students. In the Europe of the 16th and 17th centuries, mangled by the wars of religion, scholars of the Bible also used to keep a safe distance with pseudonyms. But if, now, the ones doing so are the scholars of the Koran, this is a sign that, for the Muslim holy book as well, the era of historical, linguistic, and philological re-readings has begun.

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