Uncovered deep in the archives of Birmingham University, researchers have rediscovered a purported fragment of the Koran, thought to have been produced shortly after the time Mohammed is said to have lived.
The artifact, written on either sheep or goatskin, is part of a collection gathered by an Assyrian Christian priest in the 1920s. PhD researcher, Alba Fedeli, sent it to be radiocarbon dated and it was found to be at least 1,370 years old, making it the oldest recorded script.
— Ian D. Morris (@iandavidmorris) July 22, 2015
The tests provides a range of dates, showing that, with a probability of over 95%, the parchment was from between 568 and 645. David Thomas, the university’s professor of Christianity and Islam, said to The Times:
“These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Koran read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed.”
The finding is being seized upon as evidence that Mohammed was a real historical figure and the Koran really was written in his lifetime:
“They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam… According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Koran, the scripture of Islam, between the years 610 and 632, the year of his death,” Thompson told the BBC.
“…The person who actually wrote it could well have known the Prophet Muhammad. He would have seen him probably, he would maybe have heard him preach. He may have known him personally – and that really is quite a thought to conjure with,” he said.
However, historians such as Patria Crone and Tom Holland have argued forcefully that it is unlikely Mohammed was a single historical figure, and that the Koran was in fact written much later that Muslims believe.
The fragment could well be just one of many oral traditions, which pre-date when Mohammed is supposed to have lived, that were gradually written down and eventually complied to form the Koran later.
If the Birmingham Q features Sura 18, then it’s post-630. The Dhul Qarnayn passage clearly derives from the ‘Alexander Legend’, dated 630.
— Tom Holland (@holland_tom) July 22, 2015