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Impressions of “The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran,” by Christoph Luxenberg

Three centuries after Christ, a Syrian named Nestorius was horrified by those who denied that Christ was truly God. When he became the Patriarch of Constantinople, he ordered the burning of a monestary of Arian monks who believed that Christ was merely the Son of God. Soon, he would go farther and emphasize that Christ was so divine that Christ’s Godly person was not Christ’s human person.

Or that is what we recall.

From our perspective, these disagreements are bewildering. It’s hard to understand what caused such confusion between Arian Bishops, such as Ulfilas who wrote

I, Ulfila, bishop and confessor, have always so believed, and in this, the one true faith, I make the journey to my Lord;

I believe in one God
the Father,
the only unbegotten and invisible,
and in his only-begotten son,
our Lord and God,
the designer and maker of all creation,

having none other like him (so that one alone among all beings is God the Father, who is also the God of our God);

and in one Holy Spirit,
the illuminating and sanctifying power,

as Christ said after his resurrection to his apostles: “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) and again “But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8); being neither God (the Father) nor our God (Christ), but the minister of Christ… subject and obedient in all things to the Son; and the Son, subject and obedient in all things to God who is his Father… (whom) he ordained in the Holy Spirit through his Christ.

And Nestorius, who condemned Arius, Ulfilias, and others in this letter to Pope Celestine I:

Blind men! They do not remember the account of the holy fathers who openly contradict them:

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Son of God,
incarnate of the Holy Spirit
and the Virgin Mary.

For this statement is with the title which signifies each nature, Christ… is co-essential with the divinity of the Father. But the humanity born in these latter times is from the holy Virgin; on account of its conjunction with divinity, the humanity is worshipped by angels and humans together.

Whatever the motives behind these words, Nestorius was sent into exile, and the Church of the East was founded. This Church for a while was the largest branch of Christianity — a Bishop celebrated the eucharist in Beijing a millennia before Matteo Ricci reached China’s shores, and apostles to India baptized the “St. Thomas Christians” long before Norman Kings reigned in London.

And, if Christoph Luxenberg is correct, a Nestorian lectionary fell into the hand of an illiterate Arab living in an Aramaic town, and became the Holy Koran. In 2000, he published The Syrio-Aramaic Reading of the Koran.  He is still in hiding.

Luxenberg completely dismisses the hadiths and sunnah (sayings and stories of Muhammad) as either predating or postdating the Koran, and insists on a text only interpretation. Next, he argues the use of Old Poetic Arabic is inappropriate for understanding the vowel-less text of the Koran, and instead the constants shoudl be read as if they are Syrio-Aramaic words.

I am completely unable to judge the validity of this approach. But the results are striking

As Luxenberg translates the word “Koran” itself as Lectionary (a Christian book to guide church services), Surah 41:3, where the Koran describes itself

A Book whose signs have been made distinct as an Arabic Quran

becomes

A scripture that we have translated as an Arabic lectionary

And Surah 41:44

If We had made it a foreign Quran, they would have said: “Why are not its signs made distinct? Foreign and Arabic?”

becomes

If we had composed it as a lectionary in a foreign language, they would have said: “One ought to have translated its scripts!”

and Surah 12:1-2

These are the signs of the Book that is clear. Verily We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran; mayhap ye will understand.

should be

These are the signs of the elucidated Scripture. We have sent them down as an Arabic lectionary so that you may understand.

Numerous other examples are given as well, including re-translatiosn fo portions of the Koran promising “virgins” and “youths” in paradise as descriptions of a heavenly Wedding Feast

Surah 76:19

Round amongst them go boys of perpetual youth, whom when one sees, he thinks them pearls unstrung.

becomes

Iced fruits pass around them; to see them, you would think they were dispersed pearls.

A few of the shorter books of the Koran are retranslated entirely. The ending of of Surah 96, for instance, changes from

May he then call his clique. We shall call the henchmen.
No!
Prostrate yourself
and approach.

becomes

May he call on his idol. He will call on the transitory.
You ought not to heed him at all,
perform your divine service
and take part in the liturgy of the Eucharist.

(while the last time is notably longer in Luxenberg’s translation, the word being translated is “iqtarab”, which is still used to mean “celebrate the Eucharist” in Arabic-speaking churches).

There are may more of these examples, but you get the point. The Koran may not be what it is believed to be. Islam emerged from a world where Christianity in schism against itself, and like other splits (such as the Tai Ping or Lutheranism) may descend from a sincere attempt to get to the core of Christianity occulted by Catholic-Orthodox tradition.

Sadly, the book assumes a familiar with Arabic and Aramaic I do not have.  I cannot judge any of these claims.

If Islam did emerge from a Nestorian lectionary, Nestorius’s program backfired spectacularly.

Nestorius’ attempt to defend the divinity of Christ against the Arians has lead to the censor and destruction of countless Christianity communities. Arius, Nestorius, the Catholics and the Orthodox once said together, “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.”

Such words will lead to your execution, in the world under what the Lectionary has become.

In 1915, the oldest surviving copy of any work by Patriarch Nestorius, The Bazaar of Heracleides — was destroyed by the Turks.