Read it all here.
There is only one problem with all this: the BBC article raises more questions than it answers, and reveals more about the wishful thinking of the academic and media establishments than it does about the Qur’an.
The article is riddled with academic and journalistic sloppiness. We’re told that the radiocarbon dating shows, “with a probability of more than 95%, the parchment was from between 568 and 645.” Very well, but does the ink date to that time as well? We are not told. Parchment was often reused in the ancient world, with the earlier text erased and written over, and so if a parchment dates from 645, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the text does.
However, it is impossible to discover any more details from this shoddy BBC presentation. The best photo of this manuscript that the BBC provides shows clear traces of another text underneath the main text. It is not clear from the photo whether that is the text from the other side bleeding through on the photograph, or even if there is any text on the other side; nor does the BBC tell us whether or not the parchment shows signs of having been a palimpsest — that is, a parchment that was used more than once for different texts. There is also some red ink in the top lines of the manuscript in the photo but not in the succeeding lines. Has the red ink faded from the other sections, or is it itself evidence of the ink fading? Or is it a later hand filling in areas that had faded away (and possibly altering the text)? The BBC doesn’t tell us, yet this is an extremely salient point. Another recently discovered and much-touted fragment of the Qur’an, now in Germany and dated from between 649 and 675, shows clear signs of alteration, raising the possibility that the Qur’anic text was altered over time (image available here). If this is a possibility also for the University of Birmingham manuscript, the BBC should tell us so. But it doesn’t.
What’s more, if the text along with the parchment really dates from between 568 and 645, it may not be a fragment of the Qur’an at all. The Qur’an, according to Islamic tradition, was compiled in its definitive form in the year 653 by the caliph Uthman, who ordered all variant texts burned and the canonical version distributed to all the provinces within his domains.
As I show in my book Did Muhammad Exist?, however, there are numerous reasons to doubt this story. The principal one is that if the entire Islamic world had copies of the Qur’an by the mid 650s, why is it that not until the latter part of the seventh and early part of the eighth century do mentions of the Qur’an begin to appear? The Dome of the Rock inscriptions date from 691; they are made up of many Qur’an verses, but out of their Qur’anic order and some with notable changes in wording. Who would have dared to change the words of Allah? And the first clear reference to the Qur’an as such occurred around the year 710—eighty years after the book was supposedly completed and sixty years after it was supposedly collected and distributed. During a debate with an Arab noble, a Christian monk of the monastery of Beth Hale (of which there were two, one in northern Iraq and the other in Arabia; it is not known in which one this monk lived) cited the Qur’an by name. The monk wrote, “I think that for you, too, not all your laws and commandments are in the Qur’an which Muhammad taught you; rather there are some which he taught you from the Qur’an, and some are in surat albaqrah and in gygy and in twrh.”
By this point Arab armies had conquered a huge expanse of territory, stretching from North Africa, across the Levant, Syria, and Iraq, and into Persia, and yet those eight decades of conquest had produced scarcely a mention of the book that supposedly inspired them. And when the Qur’an finally was mentioned, it appears that the book was not even in the form we now know. Surat albaqrah (or al-Baqara) is “the chapter of the Cow,” which is the second, and longest, sura of the Qur’an. The eighth-century monk thus quite clearly knew of a Qur’an that didn’t contain this sura; he considered surat albaqrah to be a stand-alone book, along with gygy (the Injil, or Gospel) and twrh (the Torah). It is unlikely that the monk simply made an error: who ever mistakes a chapter of a book for a separate book? [...]
Posted by Women Against Shariah on Friday, July 24, 2015
From Robert Spencer via FrontPageMag: