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Book Review: The Qur’an and its Biblical Reflexes – investigations into the genesis of a religion

Tuesday, 7 May 2019  | Ian Hore-Lacy

The Qur’an and its Biblical Reflexes – investigations into the genesis of a religion

Mark Durie (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2018)

This is a substantial scholarly work that aims to set a benchmark in Qur’anic studies. For the layperson dipping into the less technical parts it provides a fascinating perspective on Islam and the Qur’an in relation to the Bible. The serious scholar will benefit from the 23 pages of bibliography and some 800 Qur’anic references.

The book sets out to examine how the Qur’an relates to the Bible and whether there is any real substance in the similarities. Durie concludes that in fact ‘the Qur’an is a creative theological innovation, which repurposes Biblical … materials to serve its own theological agenda’. The 600-year gap between the two books is a significant discontinuity, despite the documented Jewish and Christian influences in Arabia about the time of the Qur’an’s genesis. In the course of supporting this argument, the author traverses some ground that, at least for me, is more interesting than that conclusion.

The early chapters establish a chronology of the Qur’an that is not dependent on the biography of Muhammad, the Messenger. (Durie makes the point that the Qu’ran is all about the Messenger, and hardly mentions the word prophet, let alone any biblical idea of one.) Surprisingly, Qur’anic theology has been little studied, and Durie usefully summarises it and outlines the trajectory of its development through the Qur’an. He also notes that the illustrative material in the Qur’an relates to areas closer to the Mediterranean than the Arabian Desert – the Qur’an is more Petra than Mecca. Durie also points out that the results of recent carbon dating of early Qur’anic manuscripts point to the Qur’an being written well before Muhammad’s life.

The style of literature comprising the Qur’an is mixed, and Durie develops a timeline for it based on theological and stylistic criteria, rather than on the traditional Mecca-Medina sequence which is open to serious question. An ‘Eschatological Transition’ from a period when God’s judgment on those who reject the Messenger is only anticipated, to a period when the punishment is realised through violence, provides a criterion for stylistic analysis, which in turn establishes a chronology of the text. After the transition, God’s judgment is to be implemented against unbelievers at the hands of believers, as echoed in current events.

Chapters on monotheism and the nature of messengers in Islam and prophets in the Bible follow, showing divergence from the Bible of basic ideas in relation to these two major theological preoccupations of the Qur’an. This leads to a detailed (94-page) examination of eight Biblical reflexes in the Qur’an, including the themes of messiah, Spirit, covenant, holiness, sin and the fall, showing that the meaning of Qur’anic passages that deal with these topics is profoundly different to the biblical meaning.

Durie concludes that, though the Qur’an was clearly influenced by Judaism and Christianity, it did not look to these sources for its substance as much as to Arab culture and language: the Qur’an embodies a new, distinctive theology. ‘The Qur’an is the outcome of a uniquely creative process. This process was the genesis of a new religion, suffused with features drawn from other faiths, but not inheriting its fundamental character from them.’

Now for the paperback version pitched for the layperson!

Ian Hore-Lacy is a founding Zadok board member (1978-98), author of Responsible Dominion - a Christian approach to sustainable development, and now Senior Advisor for the World Nuclear Association. He is co-author of Down to Earth Discipleship, a pastoral ‘book’ on the web:

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