Historical Criticism and Recent Trends in Western Scholarship on the Qur’an: Some Hermeneutic Reflections

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Nicolai Sinai

Abstract

The application of the historical-critical method to the Qur’an is sometimes viewed as an imperialist attempt to undermine Islamic belief. This view, however, fails to sufficiently consider that the same method has also been applied to the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The historical-critical study of the Qur’an cannot, therefore, be accurately described as a targeted assault on Islam in particular. There can, nonetheless, be no doubt that there are significant methodological differences between a historical-critical approach to the Qur’an and premodern Islamic approaches. Additionally, the Western study of the Qur’an has yielded results that are apt to be of interest to scholars based in the Islamic world, even to those who might not be prepared to accept the historical-critical approach in its entirety. These results include a close comparison between Qur’anic narrative, on the one hand, and ancient Jewish and Christian traditions in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew, on the other. Such a comparison permits a deepened understanding of the specificity of Qur’anic doctrine against its contemporary intellectual background. Moreover, the last few decades have witnessed a strong interest among Western scholars in the literary and rhetorical structure of the Qur’an. There is increasing awareness that the literary and rhetorical analysis of the Qur’an, even if practiced from a historical-critical perspective, can significantly benefit from Islamic scholarship.

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Keywords

Historical-critical method
Western Scholarship on the Qur’an
hermeneutics
ancient Jewish and Christian traditions
literary and rhetorical structure of the Qur’an

Section
Articles in English
References
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