In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Bible and the Qurʾan

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Methodological Considerations
  • Cosmology, Eschatology, and the Afterlife
  • Linguistic and Philological Arguments
  • Specialized Thematic Studies

Biblical Studies The Bible and the Qurʾan
by
Andrew O'Connor
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0322

Introduction

The Qurʾan frequently alludes to material from the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and post-biblical Christian or Jewish literature, referencing, echoing, and developing many figures, concepts, and themes from biblical tradition in the articulation of its message. These biblical motifs are often allotted slightly different shades of meaning than in their earlier Jewish or Christian contexts. Early scholarship on the Qurʾan’s engagement with biblical material sometimes sought to depict the relationship between the two corpora of texts as fundamentally one of dependence or plagiarism, whereby the Qurʾan is reliant upon or even derivative of earlier scriptures. In some cases, scholars have presented the Qurʾan or Muhammad as misconstruing or corrupting earlier traditions. However, an exploration of this intertextual relationship between the Bible and the Qurʾan need not seek to depict the Qurʾan as a patchwork of Christian and Jewish sources. Exploring the relationship between the Qurʾan and the Bible serves as an attempt to reconstruct the cultural and religious knowledge of the text’s initial audience and to highlight its creative adaptation of Jewish and Christian traditions for its own sectarian purposes, aligning them with the text’s didactic and theological message. A critical study of the Qurʾan therefore benefits from an intertextual reading through the texts, legends, and wider religious discourses circulating in its historical environment. Today academic scholars largely agree that the Qurʾan shares an intimate relationship with biblical traditions, but there is disagreement over the nature of this relationship. For example, they differ on whether scholars ought to give preference to Jewish or Christian sources to understand qurʾanic material, and they likewise debate whether the Qurʾan evinces direct knowledge of the Bible as a text or instead interacts with oral traditions, though most evidence seems to support the latter. Another element of debate is the Qurʾan’s view of the Bible: the text speaks of the divine origin of the Torah (al-tawrah) and the Gospel (al-injil), and in some instances the Qurʾan features challenges to his audience to consult a previous scripture (al-kitab), implied to be the Bible, or the “People of the Scripture” (ahl al-kitab), Christians and Jews, to confirm the veracity of its revelations (e.g., Q 10:94; 16:43; 21:7). In other cases, however, the Qurʾan seems to imply that Christians and Jews have fundamentally misunderstood or misused their scriptures (a concept known in Arabic as tahrif). Scholars also continue to debate to what extent the sophisticated methodologies developed from biblical studies, such as form criticism or redaction criticism, can be adopted wholesale into qurʾanic studies, or whether more analysis and methodological sophistication is needed before adopting these approaches to fit the history of the qurʾanic text.

General Overviews

The classic study of biblical material in the Qurʾan is Speyer 1988 (originally published in 1931, third edition 1988), which is organized more or less chronologically following biblical salvation history according to prominent biblical figures or themes, but the author does harbor some outdated perspectives, such as his tendency to assume that Muhammad was often confused about the Bible. Rudolph 1922, Henninger 1951, and Masson 1958 also present early analyses of biblical and post-biblical material, and Peters 2007 showcases similarities and differences for general audiences. Reynolds 2017 provides a succinct overview of most of the most significant biblical material in the Qurʾan, and Sinai 2017, particularly chapter 6, explores this theme in relation to the larger theme of a historical-critical approach to the Qurʾan. Two major reference works include Corpus Coranicum, an online work that provides biblical refences for individual qurʾanic passages, and McAuliffe 2001–2006, a massive encylopedia that includes articles on most biblical themes and characters featured in the Qurʾan. An interlinear approach to the Qurʾan’s incorporation of biblical material is presented in Reynolds 2018, which provides the complete translation of the Qurʾan by Qarai accompanied by Reynolds’s frequent annotation of the qurʾanic text with biblical references and material, including cross references.

  • Corpus Coranicum.

    German-based website and project which provides a range of possible parallels between the qurʾanic and various biblical or Jewish and Christian texts from antiquity.

  • Henninger, Josef. Spuren christlicher Glaubenswahrheiten im Koran. Schöneck, Germany: Administration der Neuen Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft, 1951.

    Survey of the Qurʾan’s engagement with and critique of Christian doctrines, largely for use by missionaries but also serves as a helpful reference if engaged critically. Organizes qurʾanic material into the following general categories: the Holy Spirit, Christ, angels, demons, and eschatology (paradise, Hell, last judgment, and the resurrection), but lacks, as the title suggests, much reference to Jewish traditions.

  • Masson, Denise. Le Coran et la revelation judéo-chrétienne. Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1958.

    Comparative study of traditions from the Qurʾan and Jewish and Christian traditions, often showcasing this material side-by-side, showcasing both parallels and divergences. Organized by doctrines of God, creation, revelation, legal and cultic matters, doctrine of humanity, and eschatology. Second edition: Monothéisme coranique et monothéisme biblique. Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1976.

  • McAuliffe, Jane Dammen, ed. Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2001–2006.

    Multivolumeencyclopedia—also found online—which covers a wide range of qurʾanic topics, including nearly every biblical character or theme found in the text. The articles also often detail post-qurʾanic developments found in early Islamic literature and bibliographical references. Johanna Pink is overseeing the editing process of supplemental materials.

  • Peters, F. E. The Voice, the Word, the Books: The Sacred Scripture of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1515/9780691190471

    Introduction intended for wider audiences, providing an overview of the origins, development, and interpretations of the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and the Qurʾan.

  • Reynolds, Gabriel Said. “Biblical Background.” In The Wiley Blackwell Companion to the Qurʾān. 2d ed. Edited by Andrew Rippin and Jawid Mojaddedi, 303–319. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118964873.ch19

    Concise overview of biblical material in the Qurʾan, primarily divided by prominent characters. Also provides observations on the Qurʾan’s departures from, and awareness and assessment of, the canonical Bible, along with a summary of scholarly debates over this relationship.

  • Reynolds, Gabriel Said. The Qurʾān and the Bible: Text and Commentary. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2018.

    Complete translation of the Qurʾan by Ali Quli Qara’i interspersed with extensive commentary on the Qurʾan’s relationship to biblical literature. The introduction and the commentary as a whole all argue that knowledge of the Bible is pivotal to understanding the Qurʾan.

  • Rudolph, Wilhelm. Die Abhängigkeit des Qorans von Judentum und Christentum. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1922.

    Study of Jewish and Christian material in the Qurʾan, ultimately arguing that the Qurʾan is primarily indebted to Christian traditions. Uses dated language of the Qurʾan’s “dependency” on external sources but is nonetheless a useful overview of biblical material in the Qurʾan, particularly related to eschatological themes.

  • Sinai, Nicolai. The Qur’ān: A Historical-Critical Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017.

    DOI: 10.1515/9780748695782

    Introduction to the Qurʾan as a historical text, suitable for both specialists and students. Chapter 6, “Intertextuality,” explores the Qurʾan’s knowledge of biblical material and includes a case study on the story of God’s creation of Adam.

  • Speyer, Heinrich. Die biblischen Erzählungen im Qoran. 3d ed. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms Verlag, 1988.

    Originally published in 1931, this work was the first extensive attempt to analyze all the biblical material in the Qurʾan and draw connections to parallels in Jewish and Christian traditions. It’s an invaluable reference work but also marred by outdated orientalist approaches to the Qurʾan.

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