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Review taken from Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’aan (Al-Hidaayah Publishing and Distribution, 1999).
The first work is by Theodore Noeldeke, a very famous German Orientalist. He entitled it Geschichte des Qorans, or “History of the Qur’an”. The work was written with the help of three other German Orientalists: Pretzl, Schwally and Bergstraesser. It was published over a period of three decades, in three volumes. The first volume was published over a period of three decades, in three volumes. The first volume was published in 1909, and the last in 1938. It won national awards from the Paris Academy of Inscriptions, and drew great acclaim from Orientalists all over the world.
Von Denfer has a brief, yet superb, review of the work, which is quoted in its entirety:
“The ‘History of the Qur’an’ produced by four German orientalists, deals in three parts with ‘The Origin of the Qur’an’, ‘The Collection of the Qur’an’, and ‘The History of the Qur’anic Text’. The complete book naturally reflects the different approaches and types of scholarship of the various authors. Noeldeke’s bias against Islaam can still be clearly discerned, although he later renounced some of his views regarding the history of the Qur’an.
The main substance of the first volume is its second part “On the Origins of the Various Parts of the Qur’an”. Here, on the basis of Noeldeke’s earlier works, the soorahs have been arranged in four periods, three Makkan and one Madinan, depending heavily on Muslim sources, especially on Suyootee’s Itqaan and Tabari. Due to this, the material presented is, apart from the usual biased comments, a good cross-section of classical Muslim writings on the subject. Incidentally, Pickthall (the well-known Qur’an translator), relied heavily on this for his remarks on chronology in his translation.
There is a final discussion on Revelation not included in the Qur’aan discussed on the basis of the various ahadith and other sources.
The second volume, dealing with the collection, is almost completely based on Muslim sources (again Itqaan dominates) and presents a calm discussion of the ‘ruling tradition’ vis-?is other reports about the collection of the Qur’an. Schwally, after presenting the material and his reflection on it, comes to the conclusion very close to classical Muslim views, namely that “the shape of the Qur’an, as we have it now, was completed two or three years after the death of Muhammad, since the ‘Uthmanic edition is only a copy of Hafsa’s piece, the editorial work of which had been completed under Aboo Bakr, or at the latest under Umar. This editorial work however probably only concerned the compositions of the surat and their arrangement. As far as the various pieces of revelation are concerned, we may be confident that their text has been generally transmitted exactly as it was found in the Prophet’s legacy.”
Volume three is mostly concerned with the written text of the Qur’an and the various readings. It is once more a sober presentation of information derived basically from Muslim sources. Bergstraesser has dealt mainly with the written form of the ‘Uthmanic Qu’ran’, the variant readings, as contained in the masaahif of Ibn Mas’ood and Ubay. He then introduces the historical development of the qira’aat.
Pretzl presents the various readings, emphasising the famous “seven readings”, describes the Muslim literature on the qira’at and finally deals very briefly with palaeography and decorative designs of old Qur’anic manuscripts. As in volume two, the main sources are classical Muslim authors, especially as-Suyootee, al-Mabanee, al-Jazaree and various writers on the qira’at. Until today, Noeldeke/Schwally is the most comprehensive-if not the sole serious attempt by Orientalists to deal with the Qur’an – at least in a descriptive manner. For this is what the later authors – not so much Noeldeke had in view: to collect the available material on the subject and to present it. While some of the authors’ comments and conclusions would not be welcomed by Muslims, the vast area that has been covered and the presentation based on the classical Muslim literature on the topic are of merit that has to be acknowledged. Especially in the latter two volumes, there is surprisingly little that Muslims might find derogatory in style, and indeed the basic presentation is not unlike classical Muslim literature on the subject.”