Some years ago, Dan Browne’s Da Vinci Code captured the imagination of the world in its print and cinematic versions, opening a whole new range of thought in popular minds to the teachings handed down about Jesus Christ.
Now the Sana’a Code, under study since discovery from Yemen’s National Museum over five decades ago, holds out similar promise of possibly revealing the earliest versions of the teachings of the Prophet himself.
Recent hardening of stands in Islam has suspended earlier dialogues between the various schools of thought. Hence the excitement over the unveiling of the Sana’a Quran to serve as a reminder that open, yet respectful conversation is possible. Some experts opine that if written from a firsthand account within 15 years from his death, this may become doubly precious as THE words of God, for 3 Judiac religions; despite the over writing on this palimpsest, common practice for ancient recycling of expensive parchment.
Radiocarbon dating after painstaking salvage from age losses and onslaughts of insects, mice and mold, revealed an age close to the Prophet, around 578 to 668 CE.
Defying death several times, the sacks full of manuscripts were finally sorted and studied with state-of-art digital tools for reconstruction by the Corpus Coranicum, a project of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Humanities and Sciences at Potsdam – each character retraced by hand, sometimes using ultraviolet imaging to render the washed-away lower text visible.
The hope is that this Code will reveal not only the words of God, but also the world in which those words were born and first gained meaning; from the study of ancient Islamic manuscripts, the varying ways they are read, and their relationship with religious texts in Syriac, Hebrew and Greek traditions, possibly familiar to the peoples of those times.
“The Quran did not arise in a vacuum,” says Michael Marx, research director at the Corpus Coranicum, “it has a history. Part of that history lies in Christian and Rabbinic traditions” – perhaps even testimony that the Arabia of Muhammad’s times saw lively debates over Christian, Judaic, pre-Islamic monotheistic and pagan traditions, as borne out by word usages familiar to Hebrew, Christian and Islamic readers.
Scholars point out that unlike the neat schisms in religions in our times, in earlier times, “boundaries between beliefs were not so neat” – witness the merging of so many festivals in India.
In Mecca itself, the heartland of Islam, claims David Kiltz, a Corpus Coranicum scholar, both traders and pilgrims would have dealt with a Babel, including pagans, Jews, Nestorian Christians, even Zoroastrians, converging from different parts of the then known world.
This is borne out by French scholar Christopher Robin’s revelation that around 380 CE, the Himyar kingdom, south Yemen to Riyadh, converted to a hybrid Judaism to ward off Ethiopian / Byzantine Christians and Persian Zoroastrians!
Anything suggesting a rapprochement would auger well for Mankind, would it not?