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Comprehensible Speech – Eternal Word. Philological and Theological Perspectives on the Qur’anic text in Early Islam

Subproject by Nora Schmidt

Already during the proclamation process of the Qur’an, the notion of clarity or comprehensibility/ intelligibility figures as a characteristic of divine speech. The first scientifically established commentaries to the Qur’an build on this premise insofar as they groundthe meaning of scripture in reconstructions of its original communication. Specifically the “philological” commentaries (Majāz al-Qurʾān, Maʿānī al-Qurʾān, Taʾwīl mushkil al-Qurʾān) relyon an understanding of the Qur’an as a text addressed to the Arabs in their own language and therefore corroborate the premise of comprehensibility of scripture in terms of its historical contextualization.

Only later the Islamic theological literature from the 9th century onward lays emphasis on the ontological status of scripture, now arguing for the “eternity” or “inimitability” of the text.

The project examines structures of reasoning and scientific positioning of early Arabic philology and theology. Choices of media, such as the use and authority of writing and the hermeneutical consequences of the cultivation of writing and the creation of books in codex format show that the differentiation of “philological” and “theological” textual criticism is connected with hermeneutical techniques prevalent in other late antique communities.

The subproject focuses on the tension between communicative comprehensibility on the one hand and eternity of the Qur’an on the other, stressing a connectedness of the early Islamic scriptural culture to the late antique heritage of linguistic and interpretative knowledge, in Christian and Rabbinic discourse. Specifically late antique controversies about “allegorical” and “literal” interpretation of scripture serve as a heuristic in order to establish a larger contextualization of early Islamic commentary culture.