Günter Lüling has passed away

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Berlin · 2015  Uwe Topper topper

LülingObituary for Günter Lüling,

born 25. oct. 1928 in Warna [Bulgaria] - died 10. sept. 2014 in Erlangen (near Nuremberg, Germany)

One of the last great German Orientalists is gone: Dr. Günter Lüling
Writing an obituary is painful. Yet an evaluation of this man is a necessity now.
I jump straight to his most important book, "A Challenge to Islam for Reformation. The rediscovery and reliable reconstruction of a comprehensive pre-Islamic Christian hymnal hidden in the Koran under earliest Islamic reinterpretations", which first appeared in German in 1974, 2nd edition 1993. The English version, largely created by Lüling himself, was released in 2003 at Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, India; an expanded 2nd edition dates from 2011. By the title Lüling clarifies that he combines analysis of the earliest versions of the Koran with a reformatory concern.
To Muslims, the Qur'an was always al-Furqan (the "discriminator"), as a lightning that cuts through the clouds, or like a knife that decides between true and false, right and wrong. It was al-Burhan ("proof") and was considered as a set of guidelines to be followed to commit no mistakes. The Koran ("the book that is to be read") was by traditional belief esteemed unchanged since its first pronouncement.
European orientalists and theologians of the 19th and early 20th century freely analyzed the coming in to being of the Koran, its sources and gradual development, and Lüling followed those lines with his immense knowledge of oriental idioms and literature. He explains that we do not know the Koran but have always misunderstood the book and have to re-read it anew. The consonants have been changed and with them the meaning, not only the deeper content but directly the general comprehension of the verses. Paradise, the garden, the goal of human ambition, in fact meant the high places which the Jewish prophets and the early Christians had despised, and to whom the Prophet wanted to return to by his revival of the religion of Abraham and the tribes. This return did not succeed.
What a revolution must have taken place at that time which Lüling has now revealed! Never we shall read the holy book of the prophet as naive as before. While it cannot be determined whether a point or two points decided certain letters, i.e. whether the original letter was an F or a Q, the meaning of whole chapters are doubted, entire contents of faith are in question. This is tremendous, but there is no workaround. The clear guidance into the Koranic text this theologian is giving, no one can disprove. Anyone who masters his craft and uses the philological rules like Lüling with surgical precision, sooner or later must reach similar results. Lüling has shown this method many times on other topics as well, such as the origins of prehistoric metal craft, ancient sacrificial rites, and blood revenge (Nine essays on intellectual and religious history in German, of which the English title would sound like „Archaic language and thinking,“ 1985)
Was Lüling an outsider? He still is regarded as such. He had precursors, on whom he could rely, including Albert Schweitzer. Once he mentions Friedrich Schwally whose habilitation thesis in 1892 was rejected for ideological reasons, and thus he is one of the "martyrs to the cause of science" (2003, p. 206) just as Lüling himself seventy years later.
Today he is followed by a swarm of academics who almost never mention him, pondering the risk. I refer to the highly motivated colleagues of Catholic theologian Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Ohlig like Gerd Rüdiger Puin and others. The basic message of this new government-sponsored research is the same as Lüling‘s has been for at least four decades.
Can we hope that Lüling‘s work will be continued? This remains to be awaited.
And strange as it may sound: Our chronology criticism also builds on some of Lüling’s findings. The knowledge he had gained in his long life supports our work, but the old savant did not endorse our view. He did not rob himself of the solid ground of traditional chronology as he saw it. He flatly refused to accept the new ideas. His belief in written documents was firm. While criticism of texts can bear fruitful results, he deemed impossible criticism of all tradition as a whole because it meant to undermine his basis of operation. When 300 or 600 or 900 years would have to be cut out as chronology critics are demanding for the formation of the monotheist religions, all efforts of this great philologist would be grounded.
So do we use the results of this life's work against their author? That would not be unusual in science. Basic research can always be used in any direction, even against the declared intention of the researcher, as long as it developes by using stable and sound methodology. I might close: Lüling‘s lifelong work is basic research in the purest sense, it is suitable for any kind of further work.
Our thanks to the selfless life Günter Lüling and his wife Hannelore have led in greatest modesty should result in re-using his findings which even today requires courage.

Berlin, March 12th, 2015

For a list of Lüling's works see go here and a short go biography

English articles by Lüling on our site: goThe Passover of Jesus - and: go Islam and History of Israel

An evaluation by Ilya Topper: go Christian Origins of the Koran

A review by Uwe Topper: go Lüling - an orientalist against the mainstream

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