Very cool news coming out of Cambridge University: all of Charles Darwin's papers are now available online. I don't profess to be a Darwin scholar, but am more fascinated with the disintermediation of knowledge. What used to require a visit to Cambridge for examination is now available instantly.
I missed this fascinating article that the WSJ ran back on January 12th, but a very loyal reader was kind enough to email it to me. Most intelligent people realize that religious texts can be debated and interpreted for a lifetime. Recently, photographs of the Quran that were thought to be lost were rediscovered and available for scholarly analysis. We now have some very ancient texts to help us understand the historicity of the Quran.
To me, though, this article also highlights the constant struggle of interpreting texts that are, essentially, derivatives of blind faith:
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.
One literally has to pretend to be someone else so that he can give his honest analysis:
A scholar in northern Germany writes under the pseudonym of Christoph
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."
Nevertheless, it's still fulfilling to see scholars plodding forward:
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.