I am a book collector, however my library isn’t what it used to be because of a series of events and circumstances – but I love books, especially old books, texts, et cetera. Thus, my interest was sparked when I ran across the excellent article by Andrew Higgins in the Wall Street Journal entitled The Lost Archive. A section of my library contains books on theology – world religions and scholarly works on ancient and contemporary religious texts. One of the books in this category is one of my treasured volumes: A 1936 rare copy of the Qu’ran written in Arabic and English complete with footnotes in English. While stationed in Turkey I befriended the local bookstore proprietor and became a regular there, while also making regular stops at the Stars and Stripes bookstore in the American PX building in Izmir, Turkey where I obtained (through special order) a book containing Burl and Ives famous lithograph collection complete with its history from the time they opened their doors to the sad day they closed them. There, the proprietor, of whom I forgot his name (no, it wasn’t Mustafa, that was another Turkish friend), informed me one day that he had the rare 1936 bilingual Qu’ran. After examination, I was hesitant as to what it may cost. After a cup or two of Chi, Turkish tea, we discussed price. I ended up purchasing it for the equivalent US dollars in Turkish lira of $20.00. Actually, I should be ashamed – it was a steal. But I digress ...
Now to the story of The Lost Archive …
On the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college here [Munich, Germany] housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Quran.
The 450 rolls of film had been assembled before the war for a bold venture: a study of the evolution of the Quran, the test Muslims view as the verbatim transcript of God’s word. The wartime destruction made the project “outright impossible,” Mr. Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.
When ancient manuscripts and texts are lost, it is a tragedy. The Library of Alexandria, once the repository of written material from all over the known ancient world, was damaged and vandalized by barbarians and some of those texts that were saved were later destroyed and forbidden to exist by the Roman Catholic Church.
Egyptian rule, Cleopatra was an educated woman who cherished the library, and when the Romans were landing in Alexandria, her first thought was to protect the Great Library.
Oddly, much of the remaining copies of great works by Aristotle, for example, were saved by the Arabic Moslems of Islamic faith. They appreciated many of the works because they contained scholarly works in matters of science, medicine and other topics. Unlike the early and medieval Church, they separated literature of science from their Holy Qu’ran. In fact, while Europe was slipping into an age known as the Dark Age, the Arabs were uplifting their knowledge and entering a golden age of education. While Europe became enveloped into superstition and allowing only selected individuals to be educated, the Moslems were encouraging knowledge, studying and practicing medicine, physics, anatomy and other scientific subjects, developing the mathematical subject of Algebra – Europe was stymied by the narrow-minded leadership of the Church who had grown powerful and influenced kings, nobles and other members of the upper class society. If it wasn’t in their Holy Bible, canonized King James and the Pope – it wasn’t worth noting or studying. by
However, as the Wall Street Journal article details, the Qu’ran was a book transcribed by God through the revered prophet, Mohammed, and therefore unquestionable as to passage, origin of content and any study to see if it had been altered since the days of Mohammed.
The cache of photos that was thought to be lost wasn’t and Mr. Spitaler was found to have lied about being destroyed.
… The truth is only now dribbling out to scholars – and a Quran research project buried for more than 60 years has risen from the grave.
“He pretended it disappeared. He wanted to be rid of it, says Angelika Neuwirth, a former pupil and protégée of the late Mr. Spitaler. Academics who worked with Mr. Spitaler … have been left guessing why he squirreled away the unusual trove for so long.
Ms. Neuwirth, a professor of Arabic studies at Berlin’s Free University, now is overseeing a revival of the research. The project renews a grand tradition of German Quranic scholarship that was interrupted by the Third Reich. The Nazi purged Jewish experts on ancient Arabic texts and compelled Aryan colleagues to serve the war effort. Middle East scholars worked as intelligence officers, interrogators and linguists. Mr. Spitaler himself served, apparently as a translator, in the German-Arab Infantry Battalion 845, a unit of Arab volunteers to the Nazi cause, according to wartime records.
During the 19th century, Germans pioneered modern scholarship of ancient texts. Their work revolutionized understanding of Christian and Jewish scripture. It also infuriated some of the devout, who resented secular scrutiny of texts believed to contain sacred truths.
The revived Quran venture plays into a very modern debate: how to reconcile Islam with the modern world? …
The Quran is viewed by most Muslims as the unchanging word of God as transmitted to the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. The text, they believe, didn’t evolve or get edited. …
Quranic scholarship often focuses on arcane questions of philology and textual analysis. Experts nonetheless tend to tread warily, mindful of fury directed in recent years at people deemed to have blasphemed Islam’s founding document and the Prophet Muhammad.
A scholar in northern Germany writes under the pseudonym of Christopher Luxenberg because, he says, his controversial views on the Quran risk provoking Muslims. He claims that chunks of it were written not in Arabic but in another ancient language, Syriac. The “virgins” promised by the Quran to Islamic martyrs, he asserts, are in fact only “grapes.” …
Ms. Neuwirth says it’s too early to have any idea what her team’s close study of the cache of early texts and other manuscripts will reveal. Their project, launched last year at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science and Humanities, has state funding for 18 years but could take much longer. The earliest manuscripts of the Quran date from around 700 and use a skeletal version of the Arabic script that is difficult to decipher and can be open to divergent readings. …
Europeans started to stuffy the Quran in the Middle Ages, largely in an effort to debunk it. In the 19th century, faith-driven polemical research gave way to more serious scientific study of old tests. Germans led the way.
Their original focus was the Bible. Priests and rabbis pushed back, but scholars pressed on, challenging traditional views of the Old and New Testaments. Their work undermined faith in the literal truth of scripture and helped birth today’s largely secular Europe. Over time, some turned their attention to the Quran, too.
“The whole period after 1945 was poisoned by the Nazi,” says Günter Lüling, a scholar who was drummed out of his university in the 1970s after he put forward heterodox theories about the Quran's origins. His doctoral thesis argued that the Quran was lifted in part from Christian hymns. Blackballed by Mr. Spitaler, Mr. Lüling lost his teaching job and launched a fruitless six-year court battle to be reinstated. Feuding over the Quran, he says, “ruined my life.”
He wrote books and articles at home, funded by his wife, who took a job in a pharmacy. Asked by a French journal to write a paper on German Arabists, Mr. Lüling went to Berlin to examine wartime records. Germany’s prominent postwar Arabic scholars, he says, “were all connected to the Nazi.”
Berthold Spuler, for example, translated Yiddish and Hebrew for the Gestapo, says Mr. Lüling. … Rudi Paret, who in 1962 produced what became the standard German translation of the Quran, was listed as a member of “The Institute for Research on and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life.” Despite their wartime activities, the subsequent work of such scholars is still highly regarded.
One day this research project may find some interesting findings, hopefully without violent repercussions by Moslems. Maybe that is why Mr. Spitaler hid them for so long and allowed other scholars to believe the photo archive was lost. Maybe some day intellectual discussion and research will be more open minded in discovering the original writings and ideas of the holy book, just as has been found when studying the Bible and other ancient scripts and texts.