The Christian Origins of the Koran
Günter Lülings' surprising theories
Ilya U. Topper
Cádiz · 1994
1. Written by one person?  

As we know, the Bible is not the product of one single person but is made up of a great variety of individual pieces which were thrown together almost accidentally, handed on in an unknown manner, until they were finally included in the canon of the Old and New Testaments.  This view of the origin of Holy Scripture has not, so far, been applied to the Koran which is generally considered to be the creation of one individual, Mohammed ben Abdallah (except of course for those who assume a divine origin for the Koran), in the 7th century of our era.

In Erlangen, the German theologian Günter Lüling presented a very detailed study of the Koran text.  He came to the almost outrageous conclusion that the core of the holy book of Islam is composed of a certain number of early Christian poems that were later modified and enriched by other ideas.

Lüling’s first publications on this subject go back to 1970.  At first, Lüling’s ideas were rejected by the other theologians and Orientalists.  Today, he has a number of followers among well-known German, French, and British Orientalists.

To understand the Christian base of Islam it suffices to remember that in Christianity’s first centuries two currents shared this religion: on one hand, converts of Graeco-Roman origin, on the other, Christians of Jewish origin.  The first group, which included Paul, created the Christian Church, though later it split up into different groups.  The Judaeo-Christians took another path, founding the sect of the Ebionites, also called Nazoraeans or Simachaeans.  They differed from the Graeco-Roman Christians in several important points:  they believed in one single God, not the Trinity, and rejected the dogma of the divinity of Jesus, whom they considered to have been only an angel, chosen and accepted by God and made into a Messiah.  Besides baptism, their customs included circumcision and the observance of the Sabbath as the day of rest.  They condemned animal sacrifice, rejected the Mosaic laws and the Prophets, as well as the Pauline rules, and they preferred poverty and vegetarianism. In their rites they promoted ablutions and prayers directed towards Jerusalem, whereas the Graeco-Christians faced east. At the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), the teachings of the Ebionites were condemned, and the traces of this sect are lost towards the end of the 4th century.

Lüling demonstrates that the ideology of original Islam contains Ebionite influences; many of which have been preserved to this day in Ishmaelite-Shiite religious forms.  It is known, e.g., that the direction at prayer (qibla) which Mohammed first prescribed, initially pointed towards Jerusalem; only later did he change it to Mecca.  On investigating the plan of the Kaaba, the central sanctuary in Mecca, Lüling concluded that it was originally an early Christian church, which was also oriented towards Jerusalem.  Indeed, it would be strange to assume that the entire Arabian Peninsula would have remained without any Christian influence.  It would, rather, make sense that besides the numerous Jewish communities there would also have been large Christian groups living among the people of that region.  Their traces are not entirely lost.  Inner Arabia was the refuge and asylum of many Judaeo-Christian groups after their teachings had been condemned in AD 325.  In this context, the Qureish of Mecca must be seen as Graeco-Christians and enemies of the Ebionites.

2. The Layers of the Koran  

Lüling distinguishes three phases in the compilation of the Koran texts:
First, there was a collection of early Christian Arabic poems.  These were augmented by Mohammed, which gave them a new meaning.  This was the origin of the so-called Early Koran, which was also handed down in writing, even though numerous mistakes crept into the later copies.  In those days the Arabic alphabet was written without the diacritical marks that are necessary to distinguish the consonants.

After Mohammed, there is a gap of some 150 years during which no noticeable changes can be observed in the text.  Then Mohammed’s life was written down and the Koran text was modified to a large extent with the aim of deleting all characteristics of Jewish and Christian origin. Once this change was performed, another 200 or 250 years went by, during which Islamic traditions firmed up and all other currents were eliminated.  Only after this period of time did Islam successfully impose itself in the form we still know today as one single, unchanging teaching.

To sum up:  present-day Islam is a creation of the 9th/10th centuries (Christian era).  There is a doctrine that imposed itself towards the end of the 8th century, according to which the Koran is a sacred book that was not created by humans but that is divine and eternal.  It is, however, improbable that Caliph Osman (as per Islamic theology) would have been able to achieve the uniformity of all text versions of the Koran only a few years after Mohammed’s death.  As late as 1007 AD, a version that originated in the period before the unified version was burned.  It is also remarkable that the most famous commentaries on the Koran were written in the 10th, 12th, and 13th centuries.  Moreover, we are not familiar with the thoughts of the early Muslims because the Arabic Empire was destroyed around AD 750 by the Abbasids.  At that point, a new chapter in the history of Islam started which was from then on shaped by the Iranian influence of this dynasty, whose historiography completely wiped out all earlier forms.

Till the beginning of the 5th century of the Hegira (which corresponds to the 12th century of the Christian era), the deliberate shaping and alteration of everything that had been preserved by way of older historical texts had not been finished.  For example, we know the Mecca Chronicle of Al-Azraqi (AD 858) only from a new copy that was produced in AD 960.  Nor is the description of the life of Mohammed, which Al-Waqidi (who died in AD 822) wrote, preserved in an original but only in a summary made in the 10th century.  Al-Ya’kubi (died AD 897) may be considered one of the first Arabic historiographers.  All this shows that the early Islamic centuries are not well documented at all.

So we cannot be surprised at the “Islamic” influences in pre-Islamic poetry that have been pointed out by numerous Arabic authors (such as Tahar Hussin).  Instead of doubting the genuineness of these ballads, we may assume that they were influenced by the same Judaeo-Christian poems as the core of the Koran, the object of the Mohammedan reforms.

3. The Mohammedan Reforms  

Lüling defines the transformations that were made by Mohammed as follows:
The Prophet’s action concentrated on defending the traditions of the Judaeo-Christians, monotheists, and adversaries of idolatry against the Trinitarian and Hellenistic Christianity, as it had become established in Mecca.  To achieve this goal, he united and blended the Ebionite traditions with Arabic customs that were heathen and which also forbid the creation of mages.

As we can see, Mohammed did not reject Arabic paganism in favour of a monotheism that approaches Christianity and Judaism.  But he moved away from those firmly-established religions of his region in order to turn to certain religious and moral principles of paganism.  These found their strongest expression in the mountain cults, very old cults that go back to the Neolithic period and which pay special attention to graves as well as ancestors and heroes.  They include belief in a re-awakening or re-incarnation of the dead.

Of course not only the story of the creation of the Koran, but also that of the spread of Islam has been re-shaped.  It is utterly improbable that the adherents of this religion, who consisted only of a small group of traders and cattle breeders from the interior of the Arabian Peninsula, could have spread over 30 years in such a way as to rule an empire from Tunisia to Persia and in another 50 years from India to the Pyrenees, threatening even Byzantium; and even less so, as the Arabic tribes did not form a unified bloc and their common religion did not stop them from getting entangled in bloody disputes.  The civil conflicts between the Umayyad Mo’awiya and the followers of Ali and Hussein for the succession (in the 7th century) would have prevented any attempt at founding an Arabic empire.

It is more likely, we should assume, that the expansion of Islam happened peacefully as a mission that besides the faith also brought a new standard language.  It became accepted in regions which were partly Christian and Jewish and which had already become unified by the Sassanid Empire in Asia and the Roman Empire in North Africa, as has been shown in detail for the Iberian Peninsula by the Spanish philosopher of history, Ignacio Olagüe.

Lüling confines himself to dating the above-mentioned collection of Judaeo-Christian texts to circa 500, without touching the dates for Mohammed and without questioning the accepted chronology.  However, his view of the origins of Islam will be better understood if it is assumed that the chronology is not trustworthy before AD 1500 and that the period between the appearance of Christianity and the initial founding of Islam will not be measured in centuries but perhaps only in decades.

Translation: Uwe Topper


Lüling, Günter Über den Ur-Qur'an (Erlangen 1974)
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" · ·········· · Die Wiederentdeckung des Propheten Mohammed (1981)

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