Oldest known Koran text fragments discovered

Oldest known Koran text fragments discovered
Credit: University of Birmingham

Two pages of text written on parchment that are believed to be sections of the Koran (Chapters 18 and 20) have been discovered by a PhD student in a British university library and are believed to be the oldest ever found. The two pages, written in Hijazi, were discovered by Alba Fedeli bound in a newer version of the Koran in the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham in the U.K.

It is believed that the Koran was written by people close to Mohammad after Caliph Abu Bakr ordered collections of Koranic material be put into book form. The words are believed to have come to Mohammad through the angel Gabriel—he passed them on to associates who originally wrote them down on stone tablets, leaves, even the shoulder blades of camels. Mohammad is believed to have lived from 570 to 632 A.D., with his associations with the angel occurring over the last decade of his life.

Fedeli has told the press that she was studying Koranic material in the Mingana Collection when she came across the early Koran and noticed that a couple of pages appeared to have been written by a different person. After reporting what she had found to officials at the University, the parchment was carbon dated and was found to have been made sometime between 568 and 645 A.D., making the discovery the oldest Koran fragment ever found. So old in fact, that it appears the pages were created very nearly around the time when Mohammad was still alive, or very shortly after his death, which means it is possible it was written by someone that actually knew him. The team still has to test the ink however, because it is possible the text was not put onto the parchment until a much later date.

The fragments, and the older Koran text in which they were found are part of a collection amassed in the 1920's by Alphonse Mingana, an Iraqi Chaldean priest—they have been part of the Birmingham library collection (which consists of over 3,000 documents purchased in the Middle East) and housed for nearly a hundred years in Britain, which means the newly found text has been hiding in plain sight for nearly a century.

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Jul 23, 2015
The text is written as if the mythical founder of a religion was a historical person. He isn't at the present time, there are no contemporary descriptions outside the myth.

Instead the age of the text puts the myth in tension with the observations, since the text could coincide or predate the myth period. That is, the finished text could predate the mythical history. And, more to the point, the area was illiterate at the time. Where did the text then originate?

Jul 23, 2015
We know Muhammed to have lived, because his lineage can be traced right to his mother and her brother, his uncle, who's surname was Bakr. His daddy ran when he learned of his mother's pregnancy.

The essential difference between Sunni and Shiite is that in the Shiite sect, the chief Imam of Islam should be a direct descendent of Muhammed. The Sunnis don't care, so long as they are qualified through training and learning.

It has been generally accepted up to now that the words of the Koran weren't put to paper until about two centuries after Muhammed died, and that embellishment and editing continued well into the next millennium, even today, if you count the customized Koran that was preferred by Muammar Gaddafi. Muhammed himself was an illiterate, who never learned to read or write.

It is still possible that the pages in question are much older than the script, because parchment had very high value then and all blank sheets would have been made available for writing.

Jul 23, 2015
I'm also confused - i thought the Arabic world was illiterate until the invention of Kufic script in the 10th century...?

Jul 23, 2015
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Jul 24, 2015
It has been generally accepted up to now that the words of the Koran weren't put to paper until about two centuries after Muhammed died,

@baudrunner - A few years ago I read the book 'Destiny Disrupted' by Tamim Ansari, a detailed history of Islam. I recall that the lifetime of the Caliph who ordered that Mohammed's words be gathered in writing overlapped with Mohammed's lifetime.
So I doubt your claim of "weren't put to paper until about two centuries".

The weeding of accurate from inaccurate, the refining, and the rearranging phases may have continued for decades or longer, I cannot recall that detail.

Jul 24, 2015
As versions of the koran diverged, I am told the then caliph had those versions he did not like burned. So if this survived, we should not expect to learn something new. Any interesting, non-canon versions would have beeen purged. Also, verses written by those who were on the wrong side of the post-Muhammed conflicts wold have been purged. The winners write history.

Jul 24, 2015
"The team still has to test the ink however, because it is possible the text was not put onto the parchment until a much later date."

Wait til they find the ink is older than the parchment, then they'll have some explaining to do...

Jul 25, 2015
There is no doubt that Muhammed was a seriously affected zealot. He was known to have said that people should kneel and pray to Allah 50 times a day, but the imams thought that to be excessive, so they revised his words to read 5 times a day - and so on.

When human beings edit what was supposed to have been the word of god, then the product ceases to be the word of god, doesn't it?

At any given time today, there is an imam in some mosque somewhere in this world preaching anti-western, anti-American, and anti-Jewish sentiment and calling for the destruction of all things western. That is so outside of the domain of religion that it ceases to be that. It is a cult, plain and simple.

Jul 26, 2015
@baudrunner ..i agree, it's slightly disturbing to see a central dogma of the Salafists' theology benefiting from the auspices of scientific credibility; validating the belief that this really IS the unadulterated word of God as related through his final prophet.

It feeds into the wider narative that, by comparison, the Judeochristian scriptures share multiple authors and edits - an uncontroversial historical fact to us - but so confirming the Islamic belief that similarities and differences between the Bible and Qu'ran demonstrate how we have corrupted the word of God, while their, more recent, copy, remains the only faithful rendition.

Accordingly, this bolsters the belief that Islam is the 'natural', 'default' religion into which EVERYONE is born, the one true faith to which those converting, rather, 'revert' to, and legitimising Mohammed's ultimate prophetical dictate that our debased religions and "man's law" must ultimately yield to the sanctity of global Sharia...

Jul 28, 2015
Last I heard, the preferred spelling was Quran. I haven't seen Koran since like the 1990's. It turns out this is an excellent predictor of the quality of the comments. Here is a hint: If you know less than what is written in the lede for the Wikipedia article, you comments are worthless. And of course, you should know that I am God's Last Prophet - any previous claims are abrogated.

You mean most recent prophet (OTHER THAN MYSELF). That is like Kaballa or Quaballa.
Tomato or tomaughto.

Jul 28, 2015
Qurʾan? On the other hand (the left maybe) Arabic Script does not have a 'K' or a 'Q'. They have symbols that sort of represent the same sounds, but the differences cannot be accurately described or even realistically known today. The same is true of Hebrew, Chinese, and to a lesser extent, classical Greek and Latin.

The true original meaning and un-edited sounds of antiquities pre-written languages are inherently unknowable. Any 'grapevine' transmission is fantastically unreliable, even without human intent.

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