Thursday, July 30, 2015

Another early Qur'an fragment?

PRESS RELEASE: Koran manuscript from early period of Islam. Tübingen University fragment written 20-40 years after the death of the Prophet, analysis shows.
A Koran fragment from the University of Tübingen Library has been dated to the 7th century - the earliest phase of Islam - making it at least a century older than previously thought. Expert analysis of three samples of the manuscript parchment concluded that it was more than 95 percent likely to have originated in the period 649-675 AD - 20 to 40 years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed. Such scientific dating of early Koran manuscripts is rare.

The Tübingen fragment was tested by the Coranica project, a collaboration between the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres Paris and the Berlin-Brandenburgischen Academy of the Sciences and Humanities, sponsored by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and France’s Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR). The project investigates the Koran in the context of its historical background using documents such as manuscripts and information derived from archaeological excavations.

The project carries out palaeographic analyses to determine the age of a text via its special characteristics. The carbon-14 analysis of the Tübingen fragment was carried out by the Ion Beam Physics Laboratory at ETH Zürich.

(HT the Corpus Hellenisticum page on Facebook.) Like the recently announced results of the radiocarbon dating of the Birmingham Qur'an fragments (Mingana 1572a), discussed at length here and links, this is potentially a very exciting discovery. But there does seem to be some concern about whether the paleographical and codicological features in the Birmingham manuscript line up well with the early C-14 date. The Progressive Scottish Muslims Blog quotes (but gives no source or link for) skeptical comments by Professor Qasim al-Samarrai of Leiden, an expert in this area. His view is that the Birmingham fragments "belong to the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd century Higra if not later" (i.e., close to two centuries after the death of Muhammud), based on the script and other features of the manuscript. He refers also to the fragments of Tübingen (evidently the ones in this press release) and of Berlin. (I found this link somewhere on Facebook too, but I forget where. Sorry.)

If it turns out that there is a consistent conflict between the radiocarbon dates and the dates suggested by the script and layout of these Qur'an manuscripts, then there is more work to do.

Interesting times. Watch this space.