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Reading the Quran with Richard Bell.

BORN IN SCOTLAND IN 1876 AND educated at Edinburgh, receiving degrees in both Semitic studies and divinity, Richard Bell(1) came to some prominence in the field of the study of the Quran and early Islam with the publication in expanded form of his 1925 Edinburgh University Gunning Lectures, under the title The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment.(2) A little over a decade later he published the work for which he has become most famous (and infamous), The Quran, Translated, with a Critical Re-arrangement of the Surahs.(3) In the preface to that work, Bell mentioned that "owing to the cost of printing, the mass of notes which have been accumulated in the course of the work have had to be suppressed". In the decades surrounding the appearance of his translation, he also published a series of 15 articles on Muhammad and the Quran dedicated to explaining the ideas and principles lying behind his work.(4) Finally, just before his death in 1952, he was able to bring together some class lectures which provided a full explanation of his views on the Quran, something which he felt was desirable because they "have not always been understood"; these lectures appeared as Introduction to the Quran.(5) In a publisher's note to the Introduction, mention was made once again of Bell's notes to his translation, which, it was clarified, were not the same as this text; the notes, it was said, "may be published if circumstances permit". In 1991, circumstances appear to have prevailed and the massive, two-volume A Commentary on the Quran(6) has appeared. Having apparently lingered in microfilm form (the original typescript is reported to have gone missing) in a cupboard of Edmund Bosworth for some twenty years, these are Bell's notes to his translation which he had been revising for publication in the years before his death.

Assessments of Bell's scholarship have varied radically over the years. A recent attempt to rehabilitate the theories of Bell (whose analysis of the Quran, it is stated, "has often been misunderstood or ignored by later writers.... But it must be remembered that Bell was a pioneer in this field ..."(7)) is matched by strident condemnations of the work of this "Scottish crackpot."(8) Indeed, for some people, Bell seems to have become a prime representative of Christian-Orientalist bias; looking at some of his works in the library recently, I discovered that someone had written at the end of the preface to Origin, under the name Richard Bell, "F*** you son-of-an-infidel whore!" and his Introduction was defaced throughout, although in more reasoned language. These sorts of comments do not, of course, reflect an understanding of Richard Bell's principles of scholarship, only a reaction to his most infamous act, reordering the text of the Quran by cutting it up into little bits.

Bell's approach to the Quran developed, according to his own statements, while he was preparing his lectures which were published as Origin.(9) When asking the question, "what was the role of Christianity in the rise of Islam?" he saw a unifying development of that theme at work in the text of the Quran. He came to rely on this insight because of the untrustworthy nature of Muslim tradition, especially as related to the first part of Muhammad's life, and because of the confusion which he sensed in the text of the Quran. Bell saw evidence of Muhammad's own revisions in the Quran and he argued that all of the suras, even the shortest ones, were of a composite nature. Viewing Muhammad's career in relation to his increasing knowledge of and contact with Christianity was Bell's overall insight. "The key to a great deal both in the Quran and in the career of Muhammad lies, as I hope to show, just in his gradual acquisition of knowledge of what the Bible contained and of what Jews and Christians believed" (Origin, 68-69). Much of this reconstruction depended upon a psychological reconstruction of Muhammad. "Muhammad was a visionary, no doubt, but he was not a crack-brained enthusiast. He was a very practical character.... He had the mystic quality of a seeker after truth but that did not destroy his practical bent.... His enterprise was, in my opinion, from the very start quite a rational and practical one ..." (Origin, 71-72). This attempt to reconstruct the inner workings of Muhammad's experiences and aims provided Bell with a principle by which the order of the Quran could be understood. That the Quran could be seen to confirm that reconstruction--that is, that a coherent whole emerged out of a perceived jumble--added validity to the initial reconstruction. Regarding the circularity in such a process, using the Quran especially in the Meccan period to deduce historical progression in order to be able to reformulate the Quran into a historical order, Bell simply urges that this "calls for careful consideration and prolonged discussion" (Quran, 690).

Certain central themes are mentioned by Bell as providing the details that go along with the overall reconstruction; these themes have been isolated by J. E. Merrill and W. M. Watt in earlier studies of Bell's work and there is no need to repeat those details here.(10) Notably however, progressive change in emotion as linked to the style of the Quran was not considered by Bell to be a major basis for analyzing the text, as it had been by Noldeke. Emotion, Bell suggests, may reoccur and style can be varied according to the dictates of the situation. Those factors, therefore, cannot be reliable guides in chronology. Matters such as relations with the Jews and Christians, use of certain elements of vocabulary and details of ritual performance all provided Bell with what he considered more credible criteria.

The Quran, for Bell, was revealed in short passages which may be distinguished through two means: form and content, and linguistic and rhythmic patterns. Abrupt change in rhyme patterns, repetition of rhyme words, rupture in grammatical structure, sudden variation in verse length, and unwarranted shift in personal pronouns all point to revisions undertaken by Muhammad due to a change in purpose sometime during his career. Bell suggests that three periods may be separated in Muhammad's career: the early period in which "signs" and praise of God play the predominant role; next, the Quran period which covers the later Meccan and Medinan era up to the year 2 A.H.; and finally the Book period which is from the year 2 A.H. on.(11) Bell speaks of this in the following terms: "|Muhammad~ began as the advocate of a renewed religion of gratitude to the one supreme God, that faced with unbelief and rejection, he enforced his message by the threat of punishment, first in the form of calamity falling upon special unbelieving peoples, and that then as he acquired more knowledge of Christianity and Judaism, he substituted for, or combined with this, the eschatological ideas of Judgment to come and the punishments and rewards of the future life ..." (Quran, 690).

The demands of these changed situations and plans in Muhammad's life meant that it was necessary to change certain passages of the Quran to fit into the new context. The resulting unevenness was aggravated by the later collection of the text. Disjunctions in the Quran, which cannot be attributed to Muhammad's deliberate attempts to change the import of certain passages, are accounted for by speaking of documents being put together in a mechanical way; material written on the "back" of a "page" was placed following on from what was on the front by compilers who were faced with a stack of material and who did not know where it all belonged. Along with the deliberate reorganization of the material by Muhammad himself, this resulted in frequent duplication and unevenness throughout the text.

Bell's theories do not appear in a scholarly vacuum and some contextualization of his work helps elucidate its underlying principles and its significance. Biblical studies may well be suggested as a likely context, especially since some might wish to argue that Bell's accomplishment was to apply certain methods developed in Biblical studies to the Quran. Notably, Bell's books carry few references to contemporary Biblical scholarship other than occasional mention of editions of the Bible and Apocrypha.(12) But in terms of the general intellectual climate in turn-of-the-century Scotland, there is little doubt that ideas of Tendenzkritik and an increasingly prominent Form Criticism may be seen to be playing a role in every intellectual endeavor in religious studies of the era.

The Wellhausen documentary hypothesis of the Bible was fully entrenched in certain intellectual circles of England and Scotland by the 1890s and was widespread by the 1920s.(13) It is worth remembering what the accomplishment of Wellhausen was:

Wellhausen did not invent critical methods; he merely applied them very skillfully. His own particular contribution was to link together the results of literary criticism with an entirely fresh conception of the history of Israel (and of early Christianity), completely rejecting the church's traditional view of biblical history. His method was to turn directly from the chronological or geographical placing of a written source or a redactor to the outward events of that particular period, for the biblical writers were much influenced by the national or religious political life of their day, and did not consider the old traditions merely as such. They intended their work to have some effect upon contemporary conditions. This direct connection between determining sources and historical events is the main characteristic of Wellhausen's treatment to different historical fields.(14)

The viewing of scripture in relation to historical development (and of scripture having been reformulated in light of that history) is the fundamental argument here and only a few words need to be changed in the preceding quotation in order to make it applicable to the core motives and assumptions of Quranic scholarship at the beginning of the twentieth century. The scholarly position has always been that, with a clear understanding of the development of Muhammad's life, the Quran may be rearranged so that it "makes sense" in terms of history (or, paraphrasing Wellhausen, this is to be done by "constructing history well"). In the case of the Quran, furthermore, it has been observed that the traditional Muslim sources themselves support, if not in fact encourage, the basic principles lying behind work of scholars such as Wellhausen, Noldeke, and Bell. That is, the ideas of form criticism (in the most general understanding of that method) may be put in conjunction with the material of Muslim tradition such that the latter is pushed to the (logical) extreme of its implications. Muslims speak of the Quran as being written prior to its collection on "stones, palm leaves and the hearts of men"; a literary hypothesis for the origins of the text, one which would account for the text's apparent disjointedness, virtually jumps out at the scholar familiar with form criticism when faced with such Muslim testimony. If the distinction between the "J" and the "E" strands of Genesis suggested, to some people, two literary texts being woven together, then, on the evidence of the Muslim tradition itself, the same could be envisioned for the Quran: a weaving together of a text, involving duplications and abrupt breaks, just as in the Bible.

Of course, Wellhausen's work emerges in a context of intellectual activity also and may be seen to have become so influential in its time because of its author's ability to synthesize the tendencies of German Biblical scholarship up to that point.(15) The same may be said for Bell in terms of Quranic studies. It is in fact difficult to argue that Bell's work is a matter of taking methods developed in Biblical studies and applying them freshly to the Quran.(16) Rather, he worked within a line of Western scholarship on Muhammad and the Quran and responded to various issues within that context, reflecting upon the sources with which he was familiar. Studies of the Quran and early Islam, especially those appearing from the pens of German scholars in the decades on either side of the turn of the century (many of whom were deeply involved in Biblical studies also, Wellhausen himself being the obvious example), provided the impetus and inspiration for the work of Bell. In fact, the presuppositions of such studies may well be said to have informed virtually all of Quranic scholarship, up to the time of Wansbrough and Arkoun, who have presented the only real challenges to the dominant paradigm of discussion.(17) A quick survey of scholarship on the Quran reveals Bell's place. Abraham Geiger's 1833 study, which really must stand as the foundational work in the critical study of the Quran, wished to contextualize Muhammad but Geiger does not emphasize the movement of history in the development of Quranic themes.(18) The fact of Jewish parallels was sufficient as an explanatory device for Geiger. Gustav Weil, in 1844, provided the first attempt(19) at a systematic chronological ordering of the suras of the Quran by tying an understanding of the history of Muhammad to the text and arriving at what is now the scholarly standard of three Meccan periods and one Medinan. Most of his insights were based on stylistic considerations and, as Welch has pointed out,(20) a general acceptance of the Muslim lists of sura ordering. Significant refinements were added to this approach by Theodor Noldeke in 1860(21) and Hartwig Hirschfeld in 1886 and 1902.(22) Bell worked within this trend but he saw the interlocking of text and history as far more complex than previous scholarship had suggested. Bell was quite extensively influenced in this direction, as he himself acknowledges (Commentary, 1:xx, and references throughout), by Jacob Barth's posthumous article, "Studien zur Kritik und Exegese des Qorans."(23) Barth was the first to suggest that the Quran had suffered extensively from disruptive editing. In his article he speaks of the need to rearrange sections of the text such that they "make sense." This he puts in opposition to Noldeke's assumption of the fundamental structural coherence of major units of the text as it is now organized, such that, with a limited number of exceptions, entire suras may be taken as blocks and dated as such.(24) Barth did not develop a theory as to how or why these reformulations took place except to speak of the vagaries of the collection process; it was Bell's contribution to provide a more extensive explanation and to apply the principles throughout the Quranic text. Whether the final result of Bell's study has been the virtual dissolution of chronological pursuits in the study of the Quran in the West, as Parvez Manzoor claims, seems unlikely.(25) On the other hand, the editors' referring in the preface to the Commentary, to the works of Neuwirth and Wansbrough as being impossible without the insights of Bell seems equally excessive.(26)

With this background in mind, it is possible to look more closely at Bell's Commentary. This requires that his Quran be close at hand, although it is notable that, on many occasions, the two do not coincide exactly in the suggested meanings for given words (see, for example, references to Q. 4:76 and 78). One thing which struck me while reading these two works together is the extent to which Bell's Quran translation is a distillation of this man's insights and can only justify its existence as a scholarly tool for displaying the implications of his theories. The text of the translation is extremely difficult just to "read," for Bell makes little effort to convey directly the sense of the text. English-language readers should be glad that they have the literary efforts of A. J. Arberry(27) especially, for it would be difficult to convince students or the public at large to read the Quran if they had to contend with Bell's approach to the translation as their prime source. Compare, for example, a mundane case, the rendering of Q. 2:2 by Bell,(28) "Who believe in the Unseen, observe the Prayer, and of what We have provided them with give freely," and Arberry, "who believe in the Unseen, and perform the prayer, and expend of that We have provided them." Or Q. 3:145 in Bell: "Allah made good His promise to you when ye were sweeping them away by His permission, until when ye flinched and vied in withdrawing from the affair, and disobeyed after He had shown you what ye love." Arberry: "God has been true in His promise towards you when you blasted them by His leave; until you lost heart, and quarrelled about the matter, and were rebellious, after He had shown you that you longed for." The difficult syntax which abounds in the Quran is aggravated by Bell's stilted approach to translation; the final result of his work is only further obscured by his attempt to restructure the text through typographical means.

Given Bell's interests and concerns regarding the Quran and history as outlined above, it should come as no surprise that the main focus of attention in his Commentary lies in explaining the meaning of the text. This is crucial to Bell's enterprise of trying to make sense of the text in historical terms. That is, a "clear understanding" of what is being said enables him to situate the passage within the life of Muhammad, which then confirms the interpretation of the text, provides some sense of chronology and furnishes evidence of disjunction in Quranic passages. The Commentary, therefore, is primarily the elucidation of Bell's perception of the meaning of sections of the text, with a special emphasis on how they fit into Muhammad's life. Bell's principle of splitting the text into fragments is prominent in the Commentary but what is significant is the emphasis that falls upon meaning in determining the extent of a given fragment. Certainly other formal characteristics come into play--rhyme, change of pronoun, length of verse--but Bell's analysis of the structure of the Quran is based far more upon a careful (and frequently imaginative) reading of the text than other attempts, such as those of Neuwirth and de Caprona who privilege structure over those factors.(29) An illustration will help clarify this point. When Bell finds two verses in close proximity which may be thought to have meanings that are related, then frequently he takes one verse to be a "substitution" for the other; this substitution works to reformulate the overall intent of a given passage in order to make it fit a different historical situation. Arguing the evidence for such a reformulation, then, depends on being able to fit the verse into one of the major themes which Bell sees as having been affected by Muhammad's change of strategy during his life. A typical example may be found in the treatment of Q. 4:27-32 where we see Bell segment the text on the basis of meaning.(30) This passage, on prohibited degrees of marriage, has been revised as "is evident from vv. 31-32." Verse 31 "applies to" verse 27 because "it implies" (i.e., in its meaning) that the law is the same as that of the Jews and Christians, which Bell judges to be what verse 27 is speaking about. This then belongs to the beginning of the Medinan period when "the religion was being assimilated to that of previous monotheists" (one of Bell's major themes which he traces in the Quran). Verse 32a ("Allah desireth to relent towards you, but those who follow lusts desire that ye should fall mightily away") suggests relaxation and this fits with the statements of verses 29-30. Finally, "|t~he considerable relaxation of v. 28 would correspond to the conclusion, v. 32b, which is a separate verse."(31) The comments which follow these observations in the Commentary then explain the precise dimensions of this progressive "relaxation." Bell does not appeal to length of written documents or rhyme in order to argue his case; in this and most other instances, the observations are based upon his perception of the meaning of the text.

The Commentary is structured to follow the text of the Quran in its so-called Uthmanic recension,(32) providing comments on overall thematic units and single verses. Its closest model in scholarship is Rudi Paret's Der Koran: Kommentar und Konkordanz,(33) a work with which comparison is inevitable, and unflattering to Bell. Contrasting the principles and aims underlying both works is worthwhile. Paret manifests an overriding concern with linguistic phraseology, Bell with semantic theme. Paret is interested in Biblical parallels, Bell less so, perhaps reflecting different assumptions on the part of the two authors regarding the depth of Biblical knowledge available in seventh-century Arabia. Both are concerned with etymology, Paret to a somewhat greater extent. Paret wishes to distill the overarching scholarly vision, Bell to concentrate on his own construct. An interesting example of overall difference in approach is found in the treatment of parallel phrasing in disparate passages. For Paret, parallels are cited for what they accomplish in elucidating meaning and providing further grammatical illustration. For Bell, a parallel passage can provide an indication of where a revision has taken place or where editing has combined originally separate passages; sometimes he attempts to establish which of two parallels is the "original" version. An example may be seen in Bell's treatment of Q. 2:60-61a, which he argues must be seen to follow on from Q. 2:50 because of the way in which the parallel passage Q. 7:170 is structured narratively.(34) Among Bell's positive traits is his willingness to admit that things are "unclear" (a word used very infrequently in Paret's work) but this also argues that a reading which highlights the historical background in its approach to the text may not be as self-confirming or as natural as it sometimes appears.

There can be little doubt that in terms of information provided--Bell's efforts at determining meaning in the Quranic text--the Commentary is a valuable piece of work and it is a happy event that it has seen the light of day. In terms of providing a reading strategy for the Quran, however, the work reveals its age. The idea that history provides an explanation of textual phenomena still holds great sway in intellectual circles (it may be said to provide the basis for the above attempt to contextualize Bell, for example) but severe difficulties are involved in the case of Muhammad and the Quran within that process. Some of these are the result of problems experienced in devising a psychology of Muhammad which may be projected onto a sequence of historical events.(35) In a rather condescending review of Origin, D. B. Macdonald(36) provides an excellent elucidation of such principles and a nice example of their problematic status: "... before we can hope with any success to read order into the chaos of the Koran and to re-arrange its fragments historically--as far as that is at all possible--we must from the Koran, read broadly, have acquired some idea of the psychology of Mohammed, of what inspiration and prophecy meant for him and for the Meccans to whom he preached." "What kind of memory and mind did Mohammed have?" Macdonald asks. "A very rag-bag of a mind he had, and to think of him as making orderly investigations is to misunderstand his whole psychological makeup." Bell needs to read the Quran itself more closely, rather than Sale or Rodwell, if he is to discover "what kind of man is behind it," says Macdonald. There is no debate with Bell here over the required task--an understanding of Muhammad--only on how that person is to be perceived psychologically.

But it is worth asking why there is this emphasis on the psychology of Muhammad to begin with. It is not sufficient to suggest in response simply that Orientalists have assumed that the Quran is Muhammad's book and thus the text of scripture must be explained in terms of his life.(37) Rather, it needs to be recognized that what is involved here is an entire theory of history and of the interpretation of texts in which motivation is to be sought in order to explain events. The reader's task, this assumption suggests, is to make sense of a text. "Making sense" here means that a text becomes intelligible to its reader as some sort of representation of reality (in the sense that the text "coheres" with a pattern of life as we understand ourselves to have experienced it). The aim in reading the Quran from this viewpoint then is to make it into a coherent whole. The means by which this is done are by positing sequences of events understood to have taken place externally to the text. By fitting the text into this sequence of events, coherence and intelligibility are produced. Psychology provides the overall patterning and the justifying bridge between the external events in which the author is involved and the text itself.(38)

The contemporary scholarly world, which lives in the light of James Joyce and deconstruction, has raised doubts about this construction of the reading experience, although it must be admitted that, sadly, the repercussions of this in Quranic studies have barely been felt as yet. Those who attempt to see with the aid of this light urge the need to re-problematize all texts, including, in this case, the Quran. The experience of disruptions within the text of scripture, it may be argued, is a significant factor in the reading (and listening and looking) event, and the desire to eliminate such surface ripples through the agency of historical reconstruction impoverishes the significance of reading itself. The challenge of the Quranic text to scholarship, therefore, is not to reduce it to a coherent whole through the vehicle of history, but to celebrate the ways in which the text disturbs the reader's sense of coherence. This is not a matter of opposing an assumed sense of textual coherence,(39) as the goal of the scholarly endeavor, with a notion of incoherency, which seems to be the fear of those who see newer methods of approaching literature as destroying any standards for interpretation. Contemporary literary approaches wish to subvert that oppositional assumption from the very beginning. They wish to privilege the reader's experience and to pose a whole new set of questions and to speak of things such as the poetics, rhetoric and ideology of the Quran(40) and to situate the text within a mythic context of the Near Eastern religious milieu.(41) Only in this way, it is suggested, will (post-) modern reading sensibilities be satisfied. The works of Wansbrough and Arkoun have already been mentioned as forerunners of this tendency. Michael Zwettler's approach, in "A Mantic Manifesto,"(42) illustrates aspects of literary appreciation as a reading strategy. Michael Sells' essay, "Sound, Spirit, and Gender in Surat al-Qadr,"(43) provides a fine example of awareness of the "multi-dimensionality of meaning" available to the reader. Far more ambitious is the work of Michael Fischer and Mahdi Abedi in Debating Muslims.(44) The focus there--explicitly within the terminology of post-modern discourse, much to the disgust of some reviewers--on "Quranic Dialogics" makes the point, "Can the polysemic and nomadic meanings of a text such as the Quran overcome the unbewised efforts to reduce it to a monologic decree?"(45) Scholarship can--indeed, must, Arkoun has argued--do its part in this process and work to subvert those approaches which dictate monological readings.

Certainly the publication of such a mammoth work as Bell's Commentary provides a welcome opportunity for reflection upon Quranic studies and its future in the academic environment. The fact that it was judged worthwhile to undertake the task of publishing a work which had been neglected for over 40 years, however, indicates the extent to which the discipline is still struggling to conceptualize an approach to this central topic within the study of Islam. What merit there is in this work lies in its emphasis on discerning the meaning of the text; we will be able to consider the appearance of the book worthwhile if, as a result of its circulation, it helps move scholarship away from a preoccupation with theories about the Quranic text and turn attention to the actual text itself.

1 Biographical details on Bell are scant; see the editors' introduction to the work under review (1:xiii-xiv). Among additional obituaries is A. S. Tritton, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1952-53: 180, who notes that Bell first worked on Arabic mathematical manuscripts but then gave that up for the Quran; otherwise, Tritton comments, "his life was uneventful." Also see University of Edinburgh Journal 16.ii (1952): 107, which clarifies that Bell received an M.A. in 1897 and a D.D.

2 First published, London: Macmillan, 1926; reprint, London: Frank Cass, 1968. Hereafter cited as Origin.

3 Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1937 (vol. 1); 1939 (vol. 2). Hereafter cited as Quran.

4 See the bibliography in W. M. Watt, Bell's Introduction to the Quran, Islamic Surveys 8 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1970), 179-80, for the list of the articles, all of which were published between 1928 and 1948; three of them were reprinted in Der Koran, ed. Rudi Paret, Wege der Forschung CCCXXVI (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1975): "Muhammed's Call," pp. 86-92; "Muhammad's Visions," pp. 93-102; "Muhammad and Divorce in the Quran," pp. 103-10. Assembling all of the articles in one volume would be a worthwhile task. Six other articles are listed in Index Islamicus as written by Bell: "Critical Observations on the mistakes of Philologers, by Ali ibn Hamza al-Basri, part V: Observations on the Mistakes in the Book Called Ikhtiyar Fasih al-Kalam, composed by Abu l-Abbas Ahmad ibn Yahya Tha lab, translated from a MS in the British Museum," JRAS 1904: 95-118; "List of the Arabic Manuscripts in the Baillie Collection in the Library of Edinburgh University," JRAS 1905: 513-20; "John of Damascus and the controversy with Islam," Transactions of the Glasgow University Oriental Society 4 (1913-22): 37-38; "Notes on Moslem traditions," TGUOS 4 (1913-22): 78-79; "Some early literary contacts between Moslem Spain and the East," TGUOS 13 (1947-49): 48-51; "A Moslem thinker on the teaching of religion: Al-Ghazzali A.D. 1058-1111," Hibbert Journal 42 (1943): 31-36. Some of these articles appear to be no more than summaries of oral presentations. Another note written by Bell is "Survey of Oriental Studies, Der Islam, 1920-1926," TGUOS 5 (1923-28): 42-43. A quick survey of some likely specialist journals has not uncovered any book reviews written by Bell. I am grateful to Dr. B. T. Lawson of the University of Toronto for helping me locate copies of some of Bell's publications.

5 Edinburgh University Publications, Language & Literature, no. 6 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1953); hereafter cited as Introduction. W. M. Watt's Bell's Introduction is a revised edition of this book.

6 Hereafter cited as Commentary.

7 A. T. Welch, |EI.sup.2~ 5: 418a, s.v. "Kuran."

8 S. Parvez Manzoor, "Method against Truth: Orientalism and Quranic Studies," Muslim World Book Review 7.iv (1987): 35.

9 How Bell came to be invited to give these lectures I have not been able to determine.

10 John E. Merrill, "Dr. Bell's Critical Analysis of the Quran," The Muslim World 37 (1947): 134-48, reprinted in Der Koran, ed. Paret, 11-24; W. M. Watt, "The Dating of the Quran: A Review of Richard Bell's Theories," JRAS 1957: 46-56, reprinted in William Montgomery Watt, Early Islam: Collected Articles (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1990), 24-33. Bell's Introduction gave several people pause to ponder his approach: most significant is S. Vahiduddin, "Richard Bell's Study of the Quran: (A Critical Analysis)," Islamic Culture 30 (1956): 263-72. Also see the reviews by Arthur Jeffery in The Muslim World 44 (1954): 254-58; Rudi Paret in Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 105 (1954): 497-501; Joseph Schacht in Oriens 7 (1954): 359-62; A. J. Arberry in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 17 (1955): 380-81.

11 For a reconsideration of Bell's ideas on this point, see Tilman Nagel, "Vom 'Quran zur 'Schrift': Bells Hypothese aus religionsgeschichtlicher Sicht," Der Islam 60 (1983): 143-65.

12 In Commentary works by F. C. Burkitt, R. H. Charles, E. Hennecke, W. R. Smith, and F. Weber are cited; none of these is significant in methodological terms. Origin refers to a number of books on the history of the Christian church.

13 See Brevard S. Childs, "Wellhausen in English," Semeia 25 (1983): 85; also see John Rogerson, Old Testament Criticism in the Nineteenth Century: England and Germany (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 266, and passim for the influence of Wellhausen in general. Wellhausen's most significant work, Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels, was published in 1878.

14 Klaus Koch, The Growth of the Biblical Tradition: The Form-Critical Method (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969), 70, emphasis in the original. A useful summary of Wellhausen's work is Douglas A. Knight, "Wellhausen and the Interpretation of Israel's Literature," Semeia 25 (1983): 21-36.

15 See Knight, "Wellhausen," 21-25.

16 It would certainly be misleading to view Bell's work specifically in light of the ideas of form criticism, for Bell's work reveals a privileging of history over literary form such that the Sitz im Leben of Quranic passages is highlighted but the idea of prophetic forms (which is central to all Biblical form-critical discussion) is downplayed, if not ignored. Bell may be said, therefore, to follow more closely in the line of Wellhausen's Tendenzkritik with its concern for determining the intention behind a given literary passage in light of a historical ordering of concerns. Form criticism per se was certainly making inroads at the time Bell was working on his Quran translation, with Gunkel's work appearing around the turn of the century and becoming more influential in the 1920s. See my general comments on this issue in "Literary Analysis of Quran, tafsir, and sira: The Methodologies of John Wansbrough," in Approaches to Islam in Religious Studies, ed. Richard C. Martin (Tucson: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1985), 158.

17 John Wansbrough, Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977); see my "Literary Analysis of Quran," 151-63. Mohammed Arkoun, Lectures du Coran (Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1982); see my Muslims, their Religious Beliefs and Practices, vol. 2: The Contemporary Period (London: Routledge, forthcoming), part 4, ch. 2.

18 Abraham Geiger, Was hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume aufgenommen? (Baden, 1833); notice the appendix, "Statements in the Quran hostile to Judaism," which, while entertaining a historical transition and a new strategy on the part of Muhammad after the change of the qibla, still speaks of this in quite general terms.

19 Historisch-kritische Einleitung in den Koran (Bielefeld, 1844; 2nd ed., 1878). To suggest that this be recognized as the first attempt at chronology is to argue a significant point. As I have asserted elsewhere, Muslim attempts at ordering the suras of the Quran are in fact based upon principles quite different from European historical concerns and are done with quite different aims in mind: they do not entail "chronology" as that word is used by modern historians. See my "The function of asbab al-nuzul in Quranic exegesis," BSOAS 51 (1988): 1-20.

20 |EI.sup.2~ 5: 417a, s.v. "Kuran."

21 Geschichte des Qorans (Gottingen, 1860).

22 Beitrage zur Erklarung des Koran (Leipzig, 1886); New Researches into the Composition and Exegesis of the Qoran (London, 1902). An excellent presentation of German scholarship of this period on Islam in light of Romanticism and Historicism is to be found in Baber Johansen, "Politics and Scholarship: the Development of Islamic Studies in the Federal Republic of Germany," in Middle East Studies: International Perspectives on the State of the Art, ed. Tareq Y. Ismael (New York: Praeger, 1990), esp. pp. 75-90.

23 Der Islam 6 (1916): 113-48. Barth (1851-1914) was a student of H. L. Fleischer and T. Noldeke; see the obituary by C. H. Becker in Der Islam 6 (1916): 200-202.

24 Noldeke does occasionally see displacement in the text, but clearly prefers not to privilege such a reconstructive method; see, for example, his treatment of Q. 29:18-22 in Geschichte des Qorans, ed. F. Schwally (Leipzig: Dieterich'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1909), 1:157, and other observations in "Zur Sprache des Korans" in his Neue Beitrage zur semitischen Sprachwissenschaft (Strassbourg: Trubner, 1910), 1-30.

25 Manzoor, "Method against Truth," 35.

26 Commentary, 1:xvi.

27 The Koran Interpreted (London: Allen and Unwin, 1955).

28 Verse numbers throughout this review article are from the Flugel edition of the Quran, which is the basis of all of Bell's work as well as Arberry's translation. Textually, it is worthy of note that Bell was generally loath to alter the received text; on several occasions in the Commentary, he argues against Jacob Barth's suggested emendations.

29 See Angelika Neuwirth, Studien zur Komposition der Mekkanischen Suren (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1981); on this book, see my review, BSOAS 45 (1982): 149-50, and Claude Gilliot, "Deux etudes sur le Coran," Arabica 30 (1983): 1-37. Pierre Crapon de Caprona, Le Coran: Aux sources de la parole oraculaire, structures rythmiques des sourates mecquoises (Paris: Publications Orientalistes de France, 1981).

30 Commentary, 1:113-15.

31 As indeed it is in the Egyptian Royal Edition of the Quran, with Flugel's verse 32 appearing as verses 27 and 28.

32 Both Nabih Amin Faris, The Muslim World 28 (1938): 409, and Arthur Jeffery, JRAS, 1938: 623, in reviewing Bell's Quran, vol. 1, regretted that Bell did not attempt to print the text in the order of composition; Jeffery recognized that, from a practical point of view, this was not really possible, however. Given the form of the Commentary, it is safe to say that Bell himself saw no merit in the suggestion. Other interesting reviews of Bell's Quran include A. S. T|ritton~, BSOAS 9 (1937-39): 1084-85 (on vol. 1), 10 (1939-42): 511 (on vol. 2); Arthur Jeffery, JRAS 1941: 81-82 (on vol. 2); Rudi Paret, Orientalistische Literaturzeitung, 1939: 305-9 (on vol. 1), 1941: 238-41 (on vol. 2).

33 Stuttgart, Kohlhammer, 1971; 2nd ed. 1977.

34 Commentary, 1:13. There is a discrepancy here between the way Bell has structured his translation and the way the passage is presented in the Commentary. When writing Quran, Bell felt verses 60 through 62 continued verses 44-50 and then verses 51 through 58a should come before 63ff. In Commentary (a later work, it is to be remembered) he entertains the possibility that verses 51 through 58a should come after verse 61a.

35 For some discussion of how to conceive a psychology of Muhammad, see Regis Blachere, Le Probleme de Mahomet: Essai de biographie critique du fondateur de l'Islam (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1952); G. Bousquet, "Observations sociologiques sur les origines de l'Islam," Studia Islamica 2 (1952): 61-87.

36 The Moslem World 16 (1926): 309-10. Also see the review of Origin by R. Strothmann, Der Islam 16 (1927): 285-87.

37 Manzoor, "Method against Truth," 36, certainly perceives this issue and quite rightly points to the general epistemological assumptions of the "Western" approach. He is absolutely correct that the question of the historicity of knowledge is the basis of the dispute, but this of course is not a debate unique to "Muslim versus Western" approaches to the Quran. Few people can discuss the related implications and positions with such lucidity as Stanley Fish; see, for example, "Anti-foundationalism, Theory, Hope, and the Teaching of Composition," in his Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1989), 342-55. Manzoor's own answer to this basic issue wishes to remove the problem from rational discussion by speaking of the time of revelation as a period distinct from all others. In my perception, that remains a position which reflects the certainty of faith and excludes all others from the discussion. See further, S. Parvez Manzoor, "Politics without Truth, Metaphysics, or Epistemology: Postmodernism--De(con)structed for the Muslim Believer," Muslim World Book Review 10.iv (1990): 3-12.

38 Some valuable reflections on the use of coherence in interpretation may be found in F. Gerald Downing, "Criteria," in A Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, ed. R. J. Coggins and J. L. Houlden (London: SCM Press, 1990), 151-53; John B. Henderson, Scripture, Canon and Commentary: A Comparison of Confucian and Western Exegesis (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1991), especially chap. 4. A valuable, lucid, introductory discussion of the basic interpretative issues is found in Catherine Belsey, Critical Practice (London: Routledge, 1980).

39 Mustansir Mir, Coherence in the Quran (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1986), presents arguments with parallels to New Critical ideas about texts but still does not provide a substantially different vision than earlier works; he urges a notion of thematic unity in order to overcome the perception of structural discontinuity. For some interesting reflections on the desire to render the Biblical text historically coherent see John Russiano Miles, "Radical Editing, Redaktionsgeschichte and the Aesthetic of Willed Confusion," in The Creation of Sacred Literature: Composition and Redaction of the Biblical Text, ed. Richard Elliot Friedman (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1981), 85-99.

40 See the way these ideas are used, for example, in Meir Sternberg, The Poetics of Biblical Narrative: Ideological Literature and the Drama of Reading (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1985); also see The Bible as Rhetoric: Studies in Biblical Persuasion and Credibility, ed. Martin Warner (London: Routledge, 1990); "Not in Heaven": Coherence and Complexity in Biblical Narrative, ed. Jason P. Rosenblatt and Joseph C. Sitterson Jr. (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1991).

41 A matter especially emphasized by Arkoun citing the studies of Geo Widengren; see, for example, Mohammed Arkoun, "The Notion of Revelation from Ahl al-Kitab to the Societies of the Book," Die Welt des Islams 28 (1988): 62-89.

42 "A Mantic Manifesto: The Sura of 'The Poets' and the Quranic Foundations of Prophetic Authority," in Poetry and Prophecy: The Beginnings of a Literary Tradition, ed. James L. Kugel (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1990), 75-119.

43 JAOS 111 (1991): 239-59.

44 Debating Muslims: Cultural Dialogues in Tradition and Postmodernity (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1990), chap. 2; the chapter also appears in slightly different form as "Quranic Dialogics: Islamic Poetics and Politics for Muslims and for Us," in The Interpretation of Dialogue, ed. Tullio Maranhao (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990), 120-53.

45 Fischer and Abedi, "Quranic Dialogics," 151; "unbewised" is an allusion to the passage from James Joyce quoted in the beginning of their chapter.
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Title Annotation:Koran
Author:Rippin, A.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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