Mark Durie

Mark Durie

Linguist and theologian Mark Durie has written a brilliant new book: The Qu’ran and its Biblical Reflexes.  (I interviewed him here.)

No, he concludes: the Koran was almost certainly not written when, where and how Muslims traditionally believe. Its Arab dialect, its geographical and historical references and carbon dating of its earliest copies suggest it was created earlier in an area closer the abandonned city of Petra than at Mecca or Medina.

In fact, the Koran does not even mention the creation of Muhammed, long worshipped as the Prophet, or actually the “Messenger”, who dictated it to his followers. Indeed, the Koran names Muhammed just four times, and the reference may just be a title: “Praised One”.

What’s more, the very earliest copies of the Koran do not mention Mohammed at all.

In any case, concludes Durie, the Koran is inconsistent with the biographies given of Muhammed in the sacred Hadith, or sayings of the Prophet, the first of which was not written until 150 years after his death.

Durie also dismantles the popular claim of apologists that Muslims and Christians just worship the same God, given that the Koran, too, mentions God, Moses, Abraham, Noah, Lot, Heaven, Hell, Satan and even Jesus – although this Jesus is not God’s son, and his mother is the sister of Moses.

Durie shows that while some of the characters of the Christian Bible have been borrowed, the Christian theology has not. Even the meanings of some of the most important of the borrowed words has been changed, so that Messiah in the Koran has come to be interpreted by some Muslim theologians as meaning simply that Christ had flat feet. (Durie quotes a former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia on this point.)

The God in the Koran turns out be very much a creation of Arab society at the time – a God who shows compassion rather than love, and who orders rather than makes deals or a “covenant” with his people. Durie notes that Allah considers humans as “slaves”.

Crucially, midway through the Koran, the “Messenger” – with his followers getting impatient with waiting for Allah to punish their enemies – hears Allah change his message. Once Allah had hurged tolerance, but now he tells the Messenger that Muslims may be instruments of his justice on earth. They may kill unbelievers for him – in commands that haunt the modern world. No longer need they leave future punishment of unbelievers to their God.

Durie’s book is meticulously researched and footnoted, and been praised already by scholars in Australia and abroad.

HERE is my all-to-brief Sky News interview with Mark Durie.

And here are some excerpts from Durie’s book:

Even the barest outline of the life of Muḥammad — that is, that someone called Muḥammad was the Messenger figure in the Qur’an, which was sent down to him first in Mecca and then Medina — is difficult to reconcile with contemporary historical sources and the Qur’an’s own internal evidence.

The Qur’an itself has scant information on Muḥammad, only mentioning him by name (written as m-ḥ-m-d) four times (Q3:144; Q33:40; Q47:2; Q48:29), but this word could also be an epithet meaning “praised one.”…

The name Muḥammad is also mentioned surprisingly rarely in contemporary non-Muslim sources until well into the second Islamic century, and when Muḥammad first appears, it is not in reference to a religious leader….

There is no physical evidence that Mecca existed at the time of Muḥammad. It is also striking that recurring place names in the Qur’an, Thamūd, Madyan (Midian), and Ād, all refer to localities well to the north of Mecca and Medina. Another issue is the observation in Q37:137–38 that the Qur’an’s audience can pass by the remains of Lūṭ’s [Lot’s] people in the morning and by night. The Biblical account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is associated with the region around the Dead Sea… The Qur’an again implies its audience was closer to the Dead Sea than to northern Arabia when it says “the people of Lūṭ are not far from you” (Q11:89)…

Another type of evidence which points away from Mecca to the Southern Levant is the dialect in which the consonantal skeleton or rasm of the Qur’an was recorded…. This implies that the Qur’an was originally recited in the Arabic of settled areas in the Southern Levant…

Muḥammad was active as a messenger from 570 to 632 CE, and the text of the Qur’an was reportedly standardized under Uthman between 650 and 655 CE. If the Islamic account of the standardization of the Qurʾa ̄ n were true, we should expect extant manuscripts to date from no earlier than 650 CE…

In the Great Mosque of Ṣanʿa ̄ ʾ in Yemen, a cache of manuscripts was found behind a wall during renovations in 1972… Two leaves dated from 543–643 CE, one from 433–599 CE, one from 603–662 CE, and one from 388–535 CE… All these dates are too early to accord with the traditional account of Muḥammad’s life, who was reported to have commenced receiving Qur’anic revelations in 610 CE… Folios of the manuscript 1. or. fol. 4313, of the Berlin State Library, has been dated to 606–652 CE…

These dates are startling… Multiple instances carbon dating results cannot be reconciled with the dating of the life of Muḥammad, let alone the Uthmanic recension: the outer limit of some dates finish even before Muḥammad’s prophecies commenced.

This is a must-read, and not just for scholars of Islam. Buy it here.


  1. Well of course the Qur’an was written in the sky by allah long before Muhammad was born! Every muslim scholar knows this! So it’s not much of a stretch to find that other prophets before Moe wrote basically the same “eternal, immutable” stuff all on their own! Your silly book proves and disproves nothing, infidels!

    That’s how the muslims will reconcile this among them selves.

    Just sayin!


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