Codices of the Qur'an

We should be very grateful for the research of scholars who have gone the distance with difficult and very specialized questions related to the development of the Qur'an. In the previous blog I described some of the research of Frederik Leemhuis into the variant readings of the Qur'an. Leemhuis goes over some of the same ground--but also extends his analysis--in his EQ article on "codices," or early copies of the complete text of the Qur'an.

Muslims tell a story of how the text of the Qur'an was definitively established during the reign of the third caliph, 'Uthman. No such "'Uthmanic codex" is known to exist, though some Muslims have made this claim (as François Déroche has noted). But in any case, writes Leemhuis, the oldest extant codices only show the consonantal skeleton (rasm), without diacritics to distinguish consonants of the same shape, and without vowel signs.

During the second Islamic century there are indications that Muslims were beginning to develop a textus receptus, but at the same time a "non-'Uthmanic rasm" was also considered by Muslim scholars to be a matter of fact. Leemhuis helpfully details some of the differences which can be found among the ancient codices, related to both different rasms and different readings from the same rasm. (CQ, 348-350)

Dating the earliest codices remains a problem, according to Leemhuis. Some scholars have suggested an Umayyad origin for some leaves from ancient codices. However, "the paleographical study of ancient codices has produced no clear, unambiguous and generally accepted results with respect to the dating of extant codices." (CQ, 351)

Leemhuis' conclusion about Muslim tradition? "Although the concept of the 'Uthmanic rasm suggests a uniform and invariable text, such uniformity is not presented by most of the oldest extant codices." (CQ, 350)

What does Leemhuis mean? He means that the development of the text of the Qur'an seems to be more complicated than the Muslim story of the fixing of the text during the reign of 'Uthman. Ancient documents share many of the same challenges, whether they be manuscripts of Hebrew Bible, New Testament or Qur'an. Is this perhaps a clue to how people of the monotheistic faiths should be talking together about the authenticity of each other's scripture?