Corrections in Early Qurʾān Manuscripts: Twenty Examples – Dan Brubaker
A recent publication by Dan Brubaker has received quite serious praise from a crowd of individuals who do not seem to have read it and those that have read it cannot seem to articulate what about it was meant to be praiseworthy in the first place. Having read it myself roughly a week or two ago, I forgot about its existence as I was thoroughly nonplussed about its contents, I proceeded with my Ramadan (and subsequently my Eid) until today when I thought to myself that perhaps I can do a very brief review of the work in an effort to put to some use the time I invested in having read the very short book.
To begin with, I have had several interactions with missionaries who seem to consider this book to be one of the greatest literary pieces ever published, yet I cannot seem to find anyone who is able to explain to me why this is the case. Most of my conversations about this work have followed generally the same line of reasoning:
This book proves that the Qur’an is corrupt and has not been preserved!
Can anyone reference the page on which this claim is made?
This book is groundbreaking because it shows that the Qur’an has changes to it!
Changes in the sense that someone somewhere inserted a word or verse or chapter into one of these manuscripts which eventually came to be seen as part of the Qur’an today? No.
Changes that show the early Muslims had a different Qur’an!
A different Qur’an in what sense?
That it contained different words that they had to correct!
Do you mean the words which were omitted by the initial scribe, noticed and then corrected by the same scribe (or in some cases, later ones)?
That doesn’t make it a different Qur’an then, all that makes it is someone writing, making an error while writing and then correcting that error.
But it is an intentional change!
Well yes, I would imagine that if someone wrote something and realised they made an error that they would have intentionally chose to correct it.
He says that some of the corrections were later!
Not exactly, he only comes to this conclusion because the nib (writing tip of the writing instrument – think of a lead pencil’s point) was different, the same scribe could have had more than one nib, especially if they were untrained and prone to error, as some of the manuscripts clearly demonstrate some scribes were untrained. It is also possible that there was an initial scribe with one writing instrument (think of a pen, or a pencil), what scholars call the initial scribe or the prima manus and then there was a corrector or secunda manus reviewing the work of the first scribe who used a different nib or the same nib (but due to difference in writing ability their corrections were more noticeable). Therefore a difference in the nib (writing instrument) or in the stroke of the hand of the scribe (or corrector) would appear different but would not necessitate it being centuries later (that conclusion is a matter of interpretation and not one of a factual or immutable nature).
These are how most of my conversations have gone, indeed one specific conversation comes to mind where a missionary could not believe I had read the book so quickly because it took years of research to write. He could not grasp that a man can take 100 years to write a book, but that it does not mean it takes 100 years to read it. I have tried to understand what missionaries find so impressive about the book, it has been difficult to find one that has actually read it. I was able to find one and some of his reasons were as follows:
It is impressive because he shows that corrections were made.
Is he the first person in the world to recognize that authors (scribes) can make mistakes and then correct their mistakes?
Is he the first person in the world to study Qur’anic manuscripts?
Doesn’t he thank Islamic Universities, libraries and institutions for help with his manuscript studies?
Didn’t he claim to have consulted Islamic scholarly works on understanding some corrections?
So what exactly was impressive if he was not the first to notice any of these things and especially that he received help from pre-existing Islamic literature and Arab-Islamic institutions on this topic?
On the other hand however, what I have managed to notice is that from those who have actually read the very brief book, there is a trend they have all noticed. There are four things to note:
- These corrections were allegedly made in different cities.
- At different times.
- By different scribes.
- Towards the accepted Qira’at of the Qur’an.
If the argument was that the Qur’an which is read today was a recent invention (though this is not the argument he himself makes), then how is it possible for all of these different people, in different places, in different times to invent the exact same Qira’at of the Qur’an as we have it today? The only reasonable and sensible conclusion is because they had the same Qur’an, they could not all make the same corrections towards the text of the Qur’an as we have it today, if they did not know what the correct Qira’at of the Qur’an was in the first place. In other words his short book is not a proof of anything negative about the Qur’an, rather it is a proof that scribal errors made by unknown scribes (and in many cases, clearly untrained in Arabic nahw) were seen as such and did not enter into the authentic and well-known transmissions Qira’at of the Qur’an.
The fact that Muslims read these individual copies and went to the effort to ensure they were properly written, demonstrates their careful concern for the accurate transmission of the Qur’an, if they had left the errors without correction then that would have been a cause for concern. In many cases, Dan’s inability to understand Arabic nahw allowed him to choose examples which didn’t make much sense, especially in the cases where:
- The scribe omitted or repeated a word due to confusing it with another verse (homoeoteleuton or homoeoarcton).
- The scribe omitted or repeated a word due to copying the letters as shapes (unable to understand what they are writing, they are able to identify shapes but don’t know words or what the words mean).
- The owner preferring another Qira’ah and requesting it be changed to that reading.
What is perhaps the most intriguing is that these errors before being corrected were exclusively done to singular manuscripts which when compared to manuscripts from the same time period, it can easily be seen that contemporaneous manuscripts do have the correct reading and do not have the same error, thus certifying that these were not legitimate readings that were long forgotten, but that they were genuine errors that were supposed to be corrected.
All in all, nothing about the book is novel, nothing about it is ground-breaking and nothing about it affects any beliefs that Muslims have about the Qur’an, to the contrary it serves as a good evidence for the preservation of the Qur’an that after almost a decade of research for the sake of advancing Christianity, and with a team of volunteers behind him, he could find only 20 examples of corrections stemming from largely untrained scribes. On the other hand, that we have early manuscripts of the New Testament from professional publication houses (scriptoria) with text-clusters (multiple manuscript traditions from the same time period) showing significant and meaningful changes, and additions, demonstrates to us why the missionaries need to inflate meaningless corrections to obfuscate from the faith-crisis they are experiencing.
and Allah knows best.
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