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A Traditional Mu'tazilite Qur'an Commentary: The Kashshaf of Jar Allah al-Zamakhshari (d. 538/1144).

A Traditional Mu'tazilite Qur'an Commentary: The Kashshaf of Jar Allah al-Zamakhshari (d. 538/1144). By ANDREW LANE. Texts and Studies in the Qur'an, vol. 2. Leiden: BRILL, 2006. Pp. xxiv + 418. $183.

One of the problems facing scholars of tafsir and theology is that al-Zamakhshari's acknowledged Mu'tazilism does not seem to have diminished the popularity of his Qur'anic commentary among non-Mu'tazilite scholars. The demand for al-Kashshaf remained high, despite vehement attacks on it by influential Sunnites such as Ibn Taymiya and Ibn Hajar, and today libraries around the world contain hundreds of manuscripts and many printed editions of the work. Andrew Lane's thorough study aims to explain this mystery, among other aspects of al-Zamakhshari's life and work.

Appropriately, Lane begins with al-Zamakhshari's biography and scholarly ouevre, for which he has gone through numerous biographical and bibliographical collections. The biography is engaging and thorough. He places al-Zamakhshari in Mecca twice, with the latter visit being used to teach and to finish the final version of the Kashshaf (in 526-28/1124-25). As a prelude to what is to come, he points out that theology is only a small part of al-Zamakhshari's output, and that he was not primarily known as a theologian. This sets the stage for his later assertion that Mu'tazilite doctrine played only a minor role in al-Zamakhshari's Kashshaf.

Lane has done extensive work on manuscripts of the Kashshaf, which is clear in every part of the book. In an analysis of approximately 250 manuscripts, mostly housed in Istanbul, he shows that about half of the manuscripts have a postscript, but almost all of the manuscripts have an epilogue. As Lane says, "[t]he postscript first and foremost authenticates a single copy of the Kashshaf, what al-Zamakhshari refers to as the autograph copy, the first, the original, the umm al-Kashshaf' (p. 68). From this, he infers that two copies of the work were circulating during al-Zamakhshari's lifetime (p. 74). Lane speculates that one of these copies was probably the draft version of the final manuscript, which--either in al-Zamakhshari's lifetime or after--ended up in Abu Hanifa's tomb-shrine in Baghdad. As he says, "The existence of two originals, both of which had the epilogue but only one of which had the postscript, would go a long way to explain why 92.7% of the relevant manuscripts had the epilogue (i.e., 102 MSS.) while only 7.3% did not (i.e., 8 MSS); and why, of the 102 manuscripts that did have the epilogue, only 57.8% of them had the postscript (i.e., 59 MSS) while 42.2% did not (i.e., 43 MSS)." Lane does not stop with the manuscripts; he also compares twenty printed editions, many of which contain commentaries on Zamakhshari's text in the margins. He notes the limited value of these twenty editions: they do not indicate their manuscript sources, and they only vocalize the Cairo reading of the Quran, though this is not the reading that al-Zamakhshari used. As he says, "It happens, therefore, that identical terms are presented as 'different' readings and it is left up to the reader to guess where the differences might lie" (p. 100).

Al-Zamakhshari's use of prophetic hadiths and tradition in his commentary on suras 44 and 54 is meticulously documented in chapter four. The main purpose of this chapter is to compare the versions of hadiths that al-Zamakhshari uses with the versions supplied by his critics, al-Zayla'i (d. 762/1360) and Ibn Hajar (d. 852/1449), who evaluate al-Zamakhshari's hadiths and provide authenticated versions where necessary. In fact, according to Lane's statistics, only thirty percent of al-Zamakhshari's hadiths in the commentary on these two suras were considered sound in the form in which he gave them. Here there is a paradox: al-Zamakhshari has five books pertaining to tradition, and presumably he was not ignorant of proper methods--so why did he use unsound hadiths? Lane discusses several possible reasons, including the weakness of hadith scholarship in al-Zamakhshari's hometown of Khwarazm, the possibility that the traditions themselves are superfluous for purposes of understanding the verses, and that he borrowed from the Kashf wa'l-bayan of al-Tha'labi. But Lane does not consider that al-Zamakhshari was following a well-established exegetical style which, on the whole, did not bother much about the exactness of prophetic hadiths. Since he acknowledges that al-Tha'labi is a source for al-Zamakhshari's hadiths, it is odd that he did not compare al-Zamakhshari's hadiths with al-Tha'labi's.

Lane's remarks on al-Zamakhshari's hadiths can be read as a contribution to the scholarly debate over whether Qur'anic tafsir should be categorized as a genre of its own, though he does not touch on this debate himself. By showing that al-Zamakhshari's non-tafsir work barely influences his tafsir, Lane lends support to the view that tafsir should be classified as a genre with its own rules. But it is difficult to say much of substance about al-Zamakhshari's particular use of tradition without comparing it with that of other exegetes.

Chapter five is an analysis of al-Zamakhshari's source pool. Lane first identifies al-Zamakhshari's named sources and then compares their wording with that given in the Kashshaf. He finds that there are differences between the two--for instance, al-Zamakhshari's quotes al-Zajjaj in wording different from that of al-Zajjaj in his Ma'ani al-Qur'an. But as Lane admits, this method is "insufficient" because most of al-Zamakhshari's sources are unnamed (p. 197).

To get a better sense of al-Zamakhshari's sources, Lane looks at common ground between the Kashshaf and eight earlier exegeses. His statistical analysis of this common ground indicates "that al-Zamakhshari was using, either knowingly or unknowingly (though probably the former, seeing that he does refer to their names elsewhere) exegetical material associated with, and for the most part, solely associated with each of the four early exegetes: Mujahid, al-Hasan al-Basri, al-Suddi, and Sufyan al-Thawri" (p. 211). A comparison between the Kashshaf and works by al-Tabari, al-Zajjaj, al-Tusi, and al-Tha'labi did not reveal the same degree of correlation. Yet he admits that when early material is preserved in the Kashshaf, it comes in more elaborate versions. He explains these differences by saying that al-Zamakhshari had access to other versions of the earliest material than those that we have today.

The most striking aspect of Lane's analysis of al-Zamakhshari's "source universe" is that he makes no attempt to identify his Mu'tazilite sources, or simply to compare the Kashshaf with exegetical works by earlier Mu'tazilite commentators. Considering his extensive work on manuscripts of the Kashshaf itself, it is a shame that he did not look at the extant manuscripts of the Mu'tazilite al-Jishumi (which may be found in Yemen, Leiden, the Vatican, Paris, and Istanbul, among other places). Other Mu'tazilite exegeses have been published, albeit in fragments: Abu Ali al-Jubba'i (fragments collected by Gimaret), and Abu Muslim al-Isfahani (fragments collected by Kirmani). But Lane's methods of comparing al-Zamakhshari's relationship to the earliest sources are also questionable; almost every exegetical work contains material going back to the earliest exegetes. Lane notes that there are differences between the extant works of these early sources and al-Zamakhshari's work. Yet he does not explore the nature of these differences, which might well be a key to explaining the development of tafsir between earlier and later periods, and to explaining what, for instance, Ibn Taymiya meant when he said that the Mu'tazilites did not rely on early sources, but rather on their own opinions to explain the Qur'an.

The theme of al-Zamakhshari's Mu'tazilism, or lack thereof, runs through the entire book. Lane provides information that al-Zamakhshari was not primarily a theologian, that none of his students studied theology with him, and that marginal commentaries (hashiya) on his work were not always biased against the original text (p. 91), as one might expect from a Sunnite commentary on a Mu'tazilite work. Lane detects only one reference to Mu'tazilite theology in his examination of al-Zamakhshari's comments on suras 44 and 54, and even that is not presented in a dogmatic way, but rather as a passing reference with other interpretations given immediately thereafter (pp. 143-45). He points out that there is relatively little similarity between al-Zamakhshari's theological work and his tafsir and says that there is little in common between his tafsir and the theological work of one of his Mu'tazilite teachers, Ibn al-Malahimi (p. 190).

The Mu'tazilite aspect of al-Zamakhshari's commentary is undoubtedly muted; this is likely to have contributed to the continued popularity of this work. But Lane chose the two suras without reference to the exegetical tradition of the Mu'tazilites, on the basis of his own guesses of where and how Mu'tazilite elements were likely to show; one cannot tell from his work how far al-Zamakhshari's Mu'tazilism is muted in comparison with that of his Mu'tazilite predecessors. He also devotes so much more effort to showing where Mu'tazilism is absent than to where it is present that one barely gets an impression of what and where the Mu'tazilite elements are. Lane notes one Mu'tazilite comment in his examination of the two suras (54:17, pp. 141-45), but such comments can also be found in several other suras too. To name a few: in verse 5:64, al-Zamakhshari rejects anthropomorphism when speaking of God's hand, in verse 43:3 he asserts the createdness of the Qur'an, and in verse 76:3 he asserts free will. A forthcoming study by Suleiman Ali Mourad examines these and other examples of Mu'tazilite content in the Kashshaf. Al-Zamakhshari also uses verse 2:256 as a platform for a statement of free will, in which he follows other Mu'tazilite commentators and goes against the Sunnite tradition, as Patricia Crone documents in a forthcoming study of the different streams of interpretation of this verse. Dhahabi lists many Mu'tazilite elements in al-Zamakhshari's tafsir in his al-Tafsir wa'l-Mufassirin, and Lane must be familiar with all or most of them from Ibn al-Munayyir's comments on the Kashshaf. It would be good to have had an overall estimate of the Mu'tazilite doctrines that al-Zamakhshari retained as against those that he may have dropped.

Lane points out that non-Mu'tazilite commentators incorporate some elements which have long been recognized as Mu'tazilite in nature: al-Tabari, for instance, mentions metaphorical interpretations of God's hand (p. 110). But the fact that Sunnis cite Mu'tazilite interpretations, and that conversely al-Zamakhshari cites Sunnite views, does not of course mean that the Kashshaf was not a Mu'tazilite work. Many Shiite authors (such as al-Tusi, al-Qummi, and al-Tabrisi) incorporate Sunnite exegeses along with Shiite commentary; this does not diminish their Shiite character. Likewise, some Sunnite commentators include Shiite exegeses (for instance, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi). Often, subtle differences between exegeses are important indicators of an exegete's theological or legal affiliation.

In the final analysis, the larger questions of the sources of the Kashshaf and its Mu'tazilite nature remain unanswered. But this is not to deny that Andrew Lane's book is an important work. It contributes much to our understanding of al-Zamakhshari as a person and as a commentator; he makes sound observations about the lack of obvious Mu'tazilism in al-Zamakhshari's work, the use of traditional sources, and the methods. In addition, he has summarized the debate surrounding the distinction, or lack thereof, between tafsir bi'l-ma'thur and tafsir bi'l-ra'y and provided his own contribution. The book is a treasure trove of detailed information, and Lane's findings can be applied to many aspects of tafsir studies. The appendices, which include biographies of al-Zamakhshari's named sources, are a valuable resource. In sum, there is much to be learned from this book.


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Author:Bauer, Karen
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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