Jul 15

Oldest Koran?

Maybe not.

The above link will take you to a very academic and somewhat esoteric analysis of this story about a Birmingham, UK researcher's claims of having found one of the oldest Korans in existence. You may or may not want to wade into that.

It does, however, serve as a jumping on point for an interesting discussion that I think people of faith should be having. Where do our scriptures come from and how do we choose to read what we read as scripture?

The first link talks about the Koran's formation in as much detail as I possibly could, except maybe to add that you should look into the idea of "Satanic verses" when you have the time. It also talks a bit about the morass of manuscripts and oral histories that gave birth to the New Testament. Add into this the hypothetical Council of Jamnia that set the Hebrew Canon, supposedly, the shear antiquity of the Vedas, and commentaries on the I Ching. This is all very complex stuff.

It all boils down to a long process by which people have chosen what has meaning and what does not. Since the New Testament is what I know best let us use that as our example of the problems of choosing what to read.

First we have the sayings and deeds of Jesus as they existed shortly after his death. Mostly oral in nature but we have some evidence, due to basic similarity of wording in the Gospels, that some were written down.

We add to this the writings of Paul beginning with 1st Thessalonians around the year 50 CE and going into the early 60s with books like Philemon. Meanwhile lots of other people were writing, some in Paul's name or in other noteworthy figures' names. 2nd Thessalonians even hints that Paul was even aware of the practice in his life time. After Paul's death his followers attempt to collect his works, sometimes combining fragments to create a single book (the likely origin of 2nd Corinthians) or expanding or rewriting existing works (compare Collossians and Ephesians) and even later writing in his name to address the issues of their day (the Pastorals) - a practice that was not considered wrong in the ancient world.

About this same time someone, likely in Rome, collected the oral fragments of Jesus' life and wrote the Gospel of Mark for a very frightened and persecuted underground church. It ends rather abruptly in 16:8 so later generations added endings to it, of which I am aware of at least four.

Ten years later the church has changed and so someone writes Matthew to the Jewish Christians defending Christ's Jewishness and the inclusion of Gentiles while someone else (maybe actually Luke) writes Luke and Acts to the Gentile Christians. Somewhere along the way some one writes a completely unique gospel called John (or as I like to call it "The Gospel for Weirdos Like Me.") Also about dozen or more are written between the last quarter of the 1st century and the end of the second.

Throw into the mix books with unclear provenance but popular in Jewish churches and the books from John's community you have quite a mix. Not to mention the dozen or so Apocalypses that claim to be written by everyone from Mary to Moses.

Christianity argues about which books are scripture for the next several hundred years, not settling it until around 400 CE when the Latin Vulgate gets written. Marin Luther and the other Reformers reopen the can and debate the books in the Old and New Testament, and reject the books we call the Apocrypha.

Now we can add in the modern world the issue of translations, manuscript differences, and study Bible notes that people think are scripture and it gets worse.

People ask me "Well, what part of the Bible am I supposed to believe?" Excellent question. What parts do you believe? Do you believe the part where it says in 1 Corinthians that women are to preach with their heads covered? Or the part where they are not supposed to speak in public at all? Do you believe the part where in Christ there is no gender identity or the part that condemns men who wear women's clothes?

Even the best intentioned of us have our own private canons (list of accepted works). Some people never read the Old Testament. Some people hate John. Who reads Jude?

The point, now that I have gone on far longer than I intended, is this: People have made choices for you about what you call scripture that you may be totally unknown to you. You, consciously or not, make choices about what you value as scripture.

Maybe, just maybe, if you say you believe all of it you should read all of it and not just keep going back to the same well you have dipped into so many times.

Who knows, you might, just might, learn something.

One Response for "Oldest Koran?"

  1. […] previously mentioned this a precursor to this story here about what is supposed to be the “world’s oldest Quran.” In that post I talked […]

Leave a Reply