Saturday, February 16, 2008

More on James White and Islam


My last thread here on AF was not the first time I have commented on James White’s explorations into Islam. Back in 2003, James wrote an article for the Christian Research Journal (volume 25, number 3) concerning “the Bible and the Qur’an”. I had some difficulties with the article and wrote a letter to CRI; much to my surprise, my letter was published in the next issue. James’ original article is available online:

White’s CRJ article

My letter, and James’ subsequent response, are not online (at least I have not found them). The following is the letter I sent to CRI; my next post (the Lord willing) will include James’ published response, followed by some comments.

April 7, 2003

Dear Editor,

Today I received the Vol. 25, No. 03 issue of the Christian Research Journal. I have been a subscriber for many years, and though I have thought of writing responses to some of the articles that have appeared in the magazine in the past, this is the first time I have actually done so.

I feel compelled to respond to James R. White’s article, “Examining Muslim Apologetics” (pp. 32-41).

On page 35 we read, “Christians encourage textual study and discovery of new manuscripts, while Muslims show little interest in researching the history of their own scriptures, preferring traditional belief that the Qur’an is perfect in its current state.” And on page 36, “Belief in the perfection of the Qur’an precludes, by definition, interest in the study of its earliest manuscripts, as it is considered to entertain even the possibility that its early manuscripts differ in the slightest from the modern version.”

The above statements by Mr. White clearly indicate that he either is uninformed on the subject, or has purposely chosen to keep pertinent data from his readers. The statement that “Muslims show little interest in researching the history of their own scriptures” is patently false. In my own personal library I have books, by orthodox Muslims, which are devoted to the textual history of the Qur’an. They include: Variant Readings of the Qur’an: A Critical Study Of Their Historical and Linguistic Origins (Ahmad ‘Ali al Imam, The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1998); An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an (Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi, The Alden Group, 1999); and Ulūm al-Qur’an – An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’ān (Ahmad Von Denffer, The Islamic Foundation, 1983). Further, Arabic works on the textual history of the Quran are numerous—an important early example is Ibn Abī Dawūd’s The Kitāb Al-Masāhif.

The noted 20th century Islamic scholar Arthur Jeffery’s monumental book Materials For The History Of The Text Of The Quran lists no less that 32 Arabic works which he used as sources for his work. Prior to the said list, Jeffery wrote:

“The material which follows is taken from the writer’s collections made with a view to a critical text of the Qur’an. They will of course appear in their place in the apparatus criticus to that text when it appears, but the assembling of them here under the individual names was essential that scholars might be able to deal critically with the evidence of each Codex as a whole. The main sources from which the variants have been drawn are…” (He then lists the above mentioned 32 works, some as large as 30 volumes!)

Another Islamic scholar had the following to say:

“From an early date Muslim scholars recognized the danger of false testimony and hence false doctrine, and developed an elaborate science for criticizing tradition. ‘Traditional science’, as it was called, differed in many respects from modern historical source criticism, and modern scholarship has always disagreed with evaluations of traditional scientists about the authenticity and accuracy of ancient narratives. But their careful scrutiny of the chains of transmission and their meticulous collection and preservation of variants in the transmitted narratives give to medieval Arabic historiography a professionalism and sophistication without precedent in antiquity and without parallel in the contemporary medieval West. By comparison, the historiography of Latin Christendom seems poor and meagre, and even the more advanced and complex historiography of Greek Christendom still falls short of the historical literature of Islam in volume, variety and analytical depth.” (Bernard Lewis, Islam In History: Ideas, People, & Events In the Middle East, 1993 edition, PP. 104, 105.)

And yet, Mr. White maintains that there is an “indisputable difference between the attitudes of Christian scholars and Islamic scholars” (p. 36). Unfortunately, Mr. White is relying on non-scholarly internet sources for his material, and then attempts to convince his readers that he is accurately representing legitimate Islamic scholarship.

Moving on to Mr. White’s treatment of the current version of the Qur’an (the Uthmanic text), once again, he seems to have relied on “popular” literature, rather than scholarly sources. Two prominent Islamic scholars had this to say about the Uthmanic text:

“Whatever may have been the form of the Qur’an previously, it is certain that the book still in our hands is essentially the ‘Uthmāmic Qur’an…If we remember that to preserve every smallest fragment of genuine revelation was an ineluctable requirement, the commission under Zayd must be adjudged to have achieved a wonderful piece of work.” (Watt and Bell, Introduction To The Qur’an, p. 44)

Watt and Bell also note that the Uthmanic text was completed before Uthman’s death (656 A.D.), which means, by any objective standard, that the Uthmanic text is much earlier to the original source, and considerably more pristine, than any Biblical text (let alone NT as a whole).

Now, before ending, I think it is important to note that Mr. White is correct in his portrayal of popular Muslim polemics concerning the Biblical text. I will agree with Mr. White that the vast majority of Muslim treatments on the Bible are deplorable. But, the same must be said of Mr. White’s treatment of the Qur’an.

In ending, Mr. White’s article is another example of misrepresentation by anti-Islamic apologists. Such examples have a long history, and must end. Instead of fostering real, scholarly dialogue between Christians and Muslims, it has, instead, added “fuel to the fire”. If I were an editor of the Christian Research Journal, I would seriously consider a retraction in the upcoming issue.


In Christ,

David Waltz



Grace and peace,

David

4 comments:

Ken Temple said...

Watt and Bell also note that the Uthmanic text was completed before Uthman’s death (656 A.D.), which means, by any objective standard, that the Uthmanic text is much earlier to the original source, and considerably more pristine, than any Biblical text (let alone NT as a whole).

How is that?

How is that, when Mark was written around 48-57 AD, Matthew 50-60, and Luke 55-60, Acts 61-62 AD (assuming the most conservative believing scholarship); John was also probably written before 70 AD, although many scholars put it at 90-96 AD ??

If Jesus died around 30 AD (born 4-6 BC, from a 6th Century mistake in the calendar by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus in 526 AD); so the Synoptic Gospels were written 18-30 years after Jesus died. Muhammad died in 632 AD; Uthman died in 656 AD, 24 years later, not much difference, as far as distance is concerned.

We would also need to know the oldest copies of the Quran and the dates and compare them to the dates of the 5,300 copies of the Greek New Testament.

Furthermore, since the Hadith collections were all made about 200 years or more after Muhammad, there is no way to know how accurate that information is.

Your statement seems to be a big stretch from what Watt and Bell were saying:

James White answered your statement:

“Even if one granted near perfection to the transmission of the Uthmanic text (though recent finds of many non-Muslim scholars in non-Islamic countries dispute that assumption) and one ignored the half-millennium difference in age, the very fact of the revision places the study of the Qur’anic text on a completely different plane than that of the New Testament.” (James White, p. 51, Christian Research Journal, CRI, volume 25, number 4, 2003) (Response to your letter)


Dr. White also responded to your referencing those other Islamic works:

“Christians seek to establish the text of the NT because of their view of its nature and their trust in God’s purposes for the inspiration of Scripture in the first place. Muslims have made one form of the Qur’anic text “fixed” as an article of faith itself. The older works Waltz references were written, not to determine the original text, but to establish and defend the traditional text ( a very different motivation and purpose that than of Christian scholars today).” (ibid, p. 51)


There is much more Dr. White wrote in his response to your letter on the issue of comparing the NT textual history to the Qur’an, but it is too much to type out on the com box.

Do those books you cite question the Uthmanic text; or do they just defend it? Do they cite any earlier textual variants or manuscripts of the Qur'an?

David Waltz said...

Hello again Ken,

You wrote:

KT:>>Watt and Bell also note that the Uthmanic text was completed before Uthman’s death (656 A.D.), which means, by any objective standard, that the Uthmanic text is much earlier to the original source, and considerably more pristine, than any Biblical text (let alone NT as a whole).

How is that?

How is that, when Mark was written around 48-57 AD, Matthew 50-60, and Luke 55-60, Acts 61-62 AD (assuming the most conservative believing scholarship); John was also probably written before 70 AD, although many scholars put it at 90-96 AD ??

If Jesus died around 30 AD (born 4-6 BC, from a 6th Century mistake in the calendar by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus in 526 AD); so the Synoptic Gospels were written 18-30 years after Jesus died. Muhammad died in 632 AD; Uthman died in 656 AD, 24 years later, not much difference, as far as distance is concerned.>>

Me: As I reread what I had written, I can see that I was not very clear at all as to what I was attempting to convey (I sorely need an editor [grin]). The Uthmanic text, one of the earliest copies, is much earlier than any known copies of the NT to the originals. That is what I meant, and I certainly can see the confusion—my bad.

KT:>>We would also need to know the oldest copies of the Quran and the dates and compare them to the dates of the 5,300 copies of the Greek New Testament.>>

For some online information on the earliest Qur’anic manuscripts see: HERE, HERE, and HERE.


KT:>>Furthermore, since the Hadith collections were all made about 200 years or more after Muhammad, there is no way to know how accurate that information is.>>

Me: Agreed.

KT:>>Your statement seems to be a big stretch from what Watt and Bell were saying:

James White answered your statement:

“Even if one granted near perfection to the transmission of the Uthmanic text (though recent finds of many non-Muslim scholars in non-Islamic countries dispute that assumption) and one ignored the half-millennium difference in age, the very fact of the revision places the study of the Qur’anic text on a completely different plane than that of the New Testament.” (James White, p. 51, Christian Research Journal, CRI, volume 25, number 4, 2003) (Response to your letter)>>

Me: Not quite sure what James means by “ignored the half-millennium difference in age”; what are your thoughts on this?

KT:>>Dr. White also responded to your referencing those other Islamic works:

“Christians seek to establish the text of the NT because of their view of its nature and their trust in God’s purposes for the inspiration of Scripture in the first place. Muslims have made one form of the Qur’anic text “fixed” as an article of faith itself. The older works Waltz references were written, not to determine the original text, but to establish and defend the traditional text ( a very different motivation and purpose that than of Christian scholars today).” (ibid, p. 51)>>

Me: I was specifically responding to these words James’ CRI essay:

“Belief in the perfecton of the Qur’an precludes, by definition, interest in the study of its earliest manuscripts, as it is impious to entertain even the possibility that its early manuscripts differ in the slightest from the modern version.”

The numerous works I cited say otherwise; though, I will grant that few modern Muslims (apart from scholars) are aware of such works.

KT:>>Do those books you cite question the Uthmanic text; or do they just defend it? Do they cite any earlier textual variants or manuscripts of the Qur'an?>>

Me: They defend the Uthmanic text against the variant readings. Arthur Jeffery’s Materials For The History Of The Text Of The Quran cites hundreds of textual variants from Muslim sources.

Hope my comments have been useful. Please feel free to further critique my thoughts—I have “broad shoulders” and can take the “heat”.

Grace and peace,

David

Ken Temple said...

The Uthmanic text, one of the earliest copies, is much earlier than any known copies of the NT to the originals. That is what I meant, and I certainly can see the confusion—my bad.

Do the Muslims have the actual Uthmanic text of 654- 656 (died) AD ?

I think Dr. White meant that Islam came over half a millennium later than Christianity; but I was also unsure exactly what he meant; but that is the only thing I can think of that is half a millennium in gap.

Ken Temple said...

They defend the Uthmanic text against the variant readings. Arthur Jeffery’s Materials For The History Of The Text Of The Quran cites hundreds of textual variants from Muslim sources.

I remember seeing that 24 years ago (1984)when I read Jeffery's book in Seminary in a class on Islam by Dr. Phil Parshall. But no Muslim, in a friendship with them and interacting with them would ever admit any variations. (Until I met Iranians in 1987 and then from 1993 to today who saw the reality of Islam and what the nature of it's force is. force = "Jabr"; Al Jabbar = "the tyrant who forces you"; "the dictator", "proud and powerful" and "enforcer of rules." also "almighty" and "irresistable one", but these hide the real negative association of who Allah really is)

They would do the same thing that "Baghdad Bob" did -- deny and bravado and get louder and sometimes angry -- no, LA ! "Where are the soldiers? They are not here! LA! NO!" (yet the USA military had already taken over the Baghdad airport.)