Epistles of Thomas

July 14, 2009

Unsubstantiated statements

Filed under: Textual Criticism — Thomas @ 22:38

What is it about religions and unsubstantiated statements? As a Christian I would hope that we at least try and substantiate our claims but it seems that many do not bother. It’s not just Christians who make claims out of nothing. I was looking at the website of the local mosque and I came across this statement:

The Quran is a record of the exact words revealed by God through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad P.B.U.H. It was memorized by Muhammad and then dictated to his Companions, and written down by scribes, who cross-checked it during his lifetime. Not one word of its 114 chapters, Suras, has been changed over the centuries, so that the Quran is in every detail the unique and miraculous text which was revealed to Muhammad P.B.U.H fourteen centuries ago.

Is it really? Aside from the fact that this statement is completely unfalsifiable it suffers from a disconnect with history and even Muslim tradition. One story has part of the Qur’an being eaten by a goat, another refers to the “Satanic verses” which Muhammad mistakenly received from Satan and which were subsequently removed (but not without leaving beyond the tradition which got a certain author in hot water for novelising).

If a religion is going to make such claims about their holy book(s) at the very least they should provide some sort of reference point from which one can begin to investigate. It wouldn’t be so bad except that Muslims make a big deal of the Christian and Jewish reliance on textual criticism to inform our understanding of the original text of the Bible based on the thousands of manuscripts we have. Of course if Christians had a centralised government which could create a standard text and order all other copies burned, like Usman ibn ‘Affān apparently did for the Qur’an, we wouldn’t have any variants. Unfortunately for Muslims, this argument is also undermined by the fact that variant Qur’an copies have surfaced although, not surprisingly, they deny their validity. It will be interesting to see how Muslims react once it is established that the Qur’an has been changed over the centuries (by Muslims) and that the text they now posses is not “in every detail the unique and miraculous text” they think it is. It will be a tough decision to make because the Qur’an is Muhammad’s only claimed miracle.


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