August 17, 2023

Christoph Luxenberg, The "Destroyer of Myths"


"The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran: A Contribution to the Decoding of the Language of the Koran" By Christoph Luxenberg (2007).


The book received considerable attention from the popular press in North America and Europe at its release, perhaps in large part to its argument that the Quranic term Houri refers not to beautiful virgins in paradise (Jannah), but to grapes there.

The thesis of the book is that the text of the Quran was substantially derived from Syriac Christian liturgy, arguing that many "obscure" portions become clear when they are back-translated and interpreted as Syriacisms.

. . .Luxenberg's premise is that the Syriac language, which was prevalent throughout the Middle East during the early period of Islam, and was the language of culture and Christian liturgy, had a profound influence on the scriptural composition and meaning of the contents of the Quran.

. . .Christoph Luxenberg is the pseudonym of the author of the book, and several articles in anthologies about early Islam.

The pseudonym "Christoph Luxenberg" may be a play upon the name of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, the "destroyer of myths," since Lux (Latin) translates as Licht (German). Luxenberg himself claims to have chosen a pseudonym "upon the counsel of Arab friends, after these became familiar with my work theses," to protect himself against possible violent repercussions.

Excerpts from the book (PDF):

Except for a few pre-Islamic 4th–6th century A.D. inscriptions stemming from northern Hijäz and Syria, the Koran is considered to be the first book ever written in Arabic script. The early form of the Arabic letters and the type of ligatures employed suggest that the Syro-Aramaic cursive script served as a model for the Arabic script. 

Both scripts have the following in common with the earlier Aramaic (and Hebrew) script: the writing runs from right to left; in principle the letters designate the consonants with only two letters serving to reproduce the semi-long and long vowels w/ü  and y/ö  as so-called matres lectionis.  

. . .The real problem in the early Arabic script, however, was in the consonants, only six of which are clearly distinguishable by their form, whereas the remaining 22, due to their formal similarities (usually in pairs), were only distinguishable from each other by the context. This deficiency was only gradually removed by the addition of so-called diacritical dots.

. . .In any case the Islamic tradition is unable to provide any date for the final fixing of the reading of the Koran by means of the introduction of the diacritical points, so that one is dependent on the general assertion that this process stretched out over about three hundred years.

Only the long overdue study and collation of the oldest Koran manuscripts can be expected to give us more insight into the development of the Koranic text up to its present-day form. In this regard Koran scholars will always regret that the historical order issued by Caliph Utmän, conditioned as it was by the political circumstances at the time, has resulted in the irretrievable loss of earlier copies of the Koran.

. . .It should no longer come as a surprise that the Koran frequently combines grammatical forms of Arabic and Syro-Aramaic, since at the time the Koran originated Syro-Aramaic was the most widespread written language of a civilized people in the Orient, and there was still no Arabic grammar. 

. . .the Islamic tradition does indeed characterize the Koran as a miracle that cannot be imitated by mortals, but this may refer in general to the human inability to understand the Koran completely into its last detail. 

Yet when the Koran speaks of the “Arabic language,” one can well ask what language it was talking about at the time of its origin. Faithful to Islamic tradition, which has always encouraged the search for knowledge ( ), and keeping in mind the well-known sayings of the Prophet   “Knowledge is light” and       “Seek knowledge, and be it in China,” ; Tabari takes the view that philologists ( ) are fundamentally authorized to explain the language in which the Koran was sent down (    ) because outside of them nobody else is capable of acquiring a knowledge of it ( ), in so far as they are able to provide irrefutable and philologically verifiable arguments for the explanation and interpretation of this language (       ), and regardless of who the interpreters in question may have been (     ) .

In the sense of Tabari we therefore intend in the following – by taking a philologically prior linguistic phase as a starting-point – to undertake the experiment of reading the text of the Koran differently than the Arabic commentators of the Koran have done it, partially according to an understanding of the Arabic of their time and partially with recourse to Old Arabic poetry. Only on the basis of the results of this linguistic analysis may one judge whether it actually also leads to a better understanding of the Koranic text or not.  

Video Title: Luxenberg finds the original Aramaic Qur'an in 7 steps! Source: PfanderFilms. Date Published: November 22, 2021. Description:

Thomas Alexander does an amazing job of describing and explaining the ground-breaking work of Chistoph Luxenberg's research on the Qur'an's origins, particularly its Syro-Aramaic origins. 

According to Alexander, Luxenberg went to the "dark passages" in the Qur'an to find what they really meant. These are the 25% of the Qur'an which even today Muslim scholars cannot understand, and are simply a mystery. 

So, Luxenberg decided to apply a textual analysis to these passages to find what they may have meant originally in another language, namely, the Syro-Aramaic, used by the Christians in the earlier centuries to write their religious texts.