Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Muddy sources....   posted by Razib @ 8/30/2005 09:32:00 PM
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Trying not to be a hypocrite1 I am reading the Koran front to back in a couple of translations. I got my first mildly annotated one a few days ago, Majid Fakhry's An Interpretation of the Qur'an. The cover states that it is "endorsed by Al-Azhar," the quasi-Rome of Sunni Islam. But within the first 50 pages I started to get really frustrated, the text is just muddled, and the footnotes that clarify what's going on really seemed stretched and arbitrary to me (basically, there are things like the use of the word "people" twice in a sentence, with the first "people" footnoted as "means Jews" and the second one "means polytheists"). So I picked up What the Koran Really Says, an anthology of scholarly articles edited by Ibn Warraq, and the first chapter dealt with some philological issues, and loe and behold, the footnotes aren't muddled, that's the best you can get out of some of the passages. Warraq notes that in one passage a given word can mean "hide" or "revealed," and it depends on the context, but how you figure out the context is anyone's guess because there isn't much to go on (sometimes they get out of this by appealing to early Islamics scholars or hadiths that assert that X means X2 in passage Z, that is, authority of person and not the text). The first chapter of Warraq's book is readable online, you should check it out.

Anyway, I'll be reading the New Testament soon after I get done with the Koran (I have just reread the Pentateuch), but from where I stand right now my skepticism about the determinative power of texts is getting stronger, not weaker.

1 - That is, I have expressed skepticism about textual roots of particular religious or cultural traditions, but now I am going to attempt a deep and close full reading of the texts under question.