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Abstract

This dissertation aims to shed light on the Arabian context of the Qur’ān by using sources that securely predate the Qur’ān from in and immediately around the Arabian Peninsula, aiming to contribute to the traditionsgeschichte of the Qur’ān through a focused examination of lexical and thematic continuities from pre-qur’anic Arabian texts to the Qur’an. The sources that inform this study consist mostly of epigraphic materials written in Old South Arabian, Ancient North Arabian, Nabataean and, to a limited extent, Palmyrene. The image of the Qur’ān this dissertation draws, based on these sources, challenges John Wansbrough’s conclusions and the more recent findings of the Syriacist school about the Qur’ān’s origins. As a response to searching for the Qur’ān’s context in Palestinian and Babylonian centers of Judeo-Christian learning, I argue that the Qur’ān sustains a thematic and lexical continuity from the pre-Islamic Arabian sources that are available to us, and it owes more to the religious culture of Ancient South Arabia and Abyssinia than modern scholarship has evaluated so far. The first chapter of the dissertation compares qur’anic divine nomenclature with the divine landscape of the Arabian Peninsula as attested in epigraphy. The aim here is to show not only that the immediate context of the Qur’an purveys a unique pantheon of gods that find their equivalents in the inscriptions from the Peninsula, but also that the names and attributes of the qur’anic God reflect the regional preferences for divine appellations. The second chapter builds on the first by exploring some central concepts in the Qur’an that have to do with the relationship between humans and the divine, showing how the Qur’an’s religious vocabulary is informed by its Arabian context. I argue in this chapter that, despite the limited range of lexical data one can retrieve from personal and dedicatory inscriptions, we can still observe that the qur’anic religious terminology often had its solitary parallels in epigraphic materials from the Arabian Peninsula. The third chapter addresses the portrayals in the Qur’an of biblical history along with what appears to be nearly contemporaneous events in and around the Peninsula. I argue that there is a visible break of temporal perception in the Qur’an concerning the transition from biblical figures and events to episodes of “Arabian” events that informed the local history and historical geography surrounding the provenance of the Qur’an. I examine these local events in light of available epigraphic and literary sources. The last part of the dissertation (Chapter 4 and Appendix) brings the discussion back to the Judeo-Christian plane that has been familiar to the field of qur’anic studies for two centuries, but this time with an eye toward identifying a trend in the Qur’an’s employment of Biblical figures and its idiosyncratic prophetology. I argue here that the Qur’ān’s prophetology cannot be ultimately reduced to any Jewish or Christian derivative, but it shows striking parallels to the retellings of biblical narratives in the Book of Jubilees and the Enochic literature – two sets of texts from the Second Temple period that were deemed canonical in Ethiopian Christianity. In the Appendix, I discuss the Classical Ethiopic attestations of some key Christian terms in the Qur’ān.

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