Religion22 Jul 2007 11:39 am
Devout Muslims believe that the Qur’an is a direct transcription of God’s words, as recited to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century by the Archangel Gabriel. It is regarded by believers as a perfect document, and as God’s final revelation to mankind. All copies of the Qur’an in its original Arabic present exactly the same text. For this reason, the discovery of the oldest Qur’an in the world came as quite a shock.
In 1972, during the restoration of the Great Mosque of Sana’a in Yemen, construction workers found a large collection of parchments in between the building’s inner and outer roofs. Because they didn’t recognize the importance of the find, they simply put the papers into twenty large potato sacks, set them aside and continued with their work. A few years later, though, the parchments were rediscovered, and a team of scholars set to work on them. What they found was the oldest existing copy of the Qur’an. Most shocking to devout Muslims, however, was the fact that the text of these parchments differed in subtle ways from the text of the Qur’an as they had learned and (often) memorized it. This made it harder to maintain the notion that it was a divine text, and raised the troubling possibility that the Qur’an was a human creation after all.
For more, read a 1999 article from The Atlantic about recent scholarship on the Qur’an here.
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