Every now and then, I read a really interesting story and I think to myself, "You know, the minute someone covers that story in the New York Times or it shows up on National Public Radio, then all heckfire is going to break loose." That's what I thought when people started sending me links to the following Asia Times essay by the famous reporter known simply as Spengler. The headline provides only a hint of the content: "Indiana Jones meets the Da Vinci Code."
Thanks to a reader, here is the link to the Wall Street Journal article that sparked the Spengler piece. And here is some of Spengler's take on this mysterious stash of Koran manuscripts that may actually exist in Europe:
The Da Vinci Code offered a silly fantasy in which Opus Dei, homicidal monks and twisted billionaires chased after proof that Christianity is a hoax. But the story of the photographic archive of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, now ensconced in a Berlin vault, is a case of life imitating truly dreadful art. It even has Nazis. "I hate those guys!" as Indiana Jones said.
No one is going to produce proof that Jesus Christ did not rise from the grave three days after the Crucifixion, of course. Humankind will choose to believe or not that God revealed Himself in this fashion. But Islam stands at risk of a Da Vinci Code effect, for in Islam, God's self-revelation took the form not of the Exodus, nor the revelation at Mount Sinai, nor the Resurrection, but rather a book, namely the Koran. The Encyclopaedia of Islam (1982) observes, "The closest analogue in Christian belief to the role of the Koran in Muslim belief is not the Bible, but Christ." The Koran alone is the revelatory event in Islam.
What if scholars can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Koran was not dictated by the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammad during the 7th century, but rather was redacted by later writers drawing on a variety of extant Christian and Jewish sources? That would be the precise equivalent of proving that the Jesus Christ of the Gospels really was a composite of several individuals. ...
There are, in fact, "variant copies" of the text of the Koran, evidence that the text evolved over time. If this story is accurate then what the press is sitting on is a bombshell, a giant chance that modern methods of "textual criticism" may be applied to the holy book of Islam (echoing several generations of similiar work on the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament).
The Spengler story passes along all kinds of juicy details about the mysterious archives. That's interesting, but that's almost beside the point. The real story is how Muslim authorities would respond to a wave of critical scholarship about the Koran. And the other story is the flip side of the same topic: Will Western governments decide that this kind of scholarship is -- in the case of Islam -- a kind of hate crime? Might the contents of the archives just, well, kind of vanish into the secret vaults and stay there?
The movie hook (photo) is obvious:
The story thus far recalls the ending of another Indiana Jones film (Raiders of the Lost Ark), in which the Ark of the Covenant is filed away in an enormous warehouse, presumably never to be touched again. The Muslim world will continue to treat Koranic criticism as an existential risk, and apply whatever pressure is required to discourage it -- albino monks presumably included.
I am reminded of something a scholar told me more than a year ago in Oxford. Try, he said, to find a course at a major, secular British university focusing on textual criticism of the Koran. Then compare this number with the same university's course offerings applying these methods to the Bible. Then do the math.