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Book: The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity

Chapter: 14. The Transmission of Religious Knowledge into the Qur’anic Milieu: Jews and Christians in Mecca and Medina

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.38004


The reconstruction the modes of transmission of knowledge into the Qur’anic milieu has always been a contentious topic. Already the prophet’s opponents themselves are reported to have challenged him as deriving his knowledge from an informer, whereupon the Qur’an rectifies them: “The language of him to whom they refer is non-Arabic (aʿjamiyy), while this [Qur’an] is [in] a clear Arabic language (lisān ʿarabiyy mubīn)” (Q 16:103). Any study of the transmission of knowledge therefore has to unload the burden of millennia of inter-cultural polemics. This study proposes to do so by concentrating on three preliminary issues. First, it will probe the interface of Arabic and non-Arabic traditions that are relevant for the Qur’an—mainly Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac. Secondly, it will present a brief survey of those Jewish and Christian texts that are of specific relevance for the Qur’an. Finally, it will turn the tables on the usual mode of inquiry and ask what the Qur’an, in turn, can teach us about the specific forms of Judaism and Christianity in its milieu. The paper will argue that the question of the transmission of knowledge into the Qur’anic milieu can only be addressed in a meaningful way once a more precise reading of the text in light of and as evidence for Late Antique religious discourse has been established.

Chapter Contributors

  • Holger Zellentin ( - hzellentin) 'University of Cambridge'