An interesting article was forwarded to me on some recent developments in Quranic scholarship. It charts the history of how Western scholars "wangled" their way into Arab archives and libraries and put together, on photographic film, parts of ancient copies of the Quran - some dating back to the eighth century.
It starts with a well regarded Arabist academic, Anton Spitaler. Spitaler served as a Nazi interpreter during World War II after which he performed research at the Bavarian Academy of Science. The Academy held in its archives 450 rolls of film containing images of pages from ancient copies of the Quran. After the war, Spitaler claimed the archive had been destroyed. It hadn't. He kept them hidden in "...cigar boxes, plastic trays and an old cookie tin..." preferring instead to work on an Arabic dictionary. It was only after he retired and grew frail that the contents were revealed surprising many of his colleagues. They are now aiming to put together the
first "critical edition" of the Quran -- an attempt to divine what the original text looked like and to explore overlaps with the Bible and other Christian and Jewish literature.
Spitaler's appalling conduct did not end there. Guenter Lueling was thrown out of his teaching job by Spitaler for arguing, in a doctoral thesis, that parts of the Quran were lifted out of Christian hymns. The validity of such an assertion is disputable. But that is the point exactly: rather than engaging in scientific debate, contrarian/sceptic voices are silenced. (Sound familiar?)
According to this article, some academics engaged in Quranic studies work under a nome de plume or in secret - "silence is sometimes best". One story that is retold is that of two German scientists that were requested to assist in the restoration of an archive of ancient Qurans. They too took some photos of these copies. On leaving Yemen, they were held in custody and had the photos removed from their possession. It was only after German government demands that the scientists were set free and most photos returned.
This is fascinating stuff. Why are the copies of the Quran held in Muslim archives and libraries subject to such punitive restrictions? Is there something to hide? Is it sacrilegious for the Quran to be photographed? Is there a definitive list of copies of the Quran like there is of the Bible that would facilitate scholarship? If not, why not? Also, why did Spitaler hold back the rolls of film from scholarship?
On a side note, the journalist writing the article states:
Their [European scholars] original focus was the Bible. Priests and rabbis pushed back, but scholars pressed on, challenging traditional views of the Old and New Testaments. Their work undermined faith in the literal truth of scripture and helped birth today's largely secular Europe.
I would also like to point out the following. It was the pantheistic Voltaire who predicted the death of the Bible ("In a hundred years, the Bible will be a forgotten book, found only in museums"). Yet it is Voltaire that is dead; his homes turned into museums; and otherwise he is mostly forgotten. As one Christian apologist has noted, the Bible has outlived all of its pall-bearers.
Update 18/01/08 8:00AM AEST: Even the Pope cannot escape the censorship of academia. Wanting to give a speech on the rapprochement between Greek philosophy and religious belief, he is threatened by dozens of students and academics promising to disrupt his talk. Academia continues its slide into a fascistic closed club. What happened to unity in diversity?