Carbon Dating the Oldest Koran

Biblical scholars worry sometimes that we don't have very early Christian documents -- you are probably all familiar with the debate over dismantling mummy masks in the hope that the writing on the inside will prove to be of historic interest. Nobody thinks, however, that any Christian document predates Jesus.

Scientists now think the Koran predates Muhammad, though, which will be very interesting if it proves true. Muhammad is supposed to have recited the Koran, bringing it into the world directly from the Archangel Gabriel.


Texan99 said...

Tom Holland's "In the Shadow of the Sword" is a lengthy treatment of the surprisingly sparse information available about Mohammed himself, and about the considerable evidence for Koranic sources in the bubbling brew of theology in that period and time, including Jewish and early Christian (Chalcedonian, Monophysite, stylites, Ebionites, Samaritans, Arians, Nazoreans, Manichaeans), and Zoroastrian elements. Unfortunately, scanning through it just now, I can't find any of the money quotes about persuasive sources for things like the prohibition of alcohol. Maybe that was one of the Zoro. things. The fierce position on monotheism rings a bell, of course.

jaed said...

I know this is a modern commonplace, but I can't help fretting about whether these scientists have beefed up their personal security so zealots don't kill them.

(I also note that within living memory, we wouldn't have worried about that, even though it's Islam. Before the 80s I don't think it would even have occurred to me. Before 2005 or so I wouldn't have thought of it as a serious worry, at least not for anyone working in a Western country.)

Texan99 said...

Death threats were made against Salman Rushdie in 1989. That was the beginning of the slide. Back then we were less inclined to apologize for their behavior, and we were just beginning to take the danger seriously.

douglas said...

Has carbon dating technology suddenly advanced so much that they can be accurate within twenty years? Seems like it's an awfully precise time differetial to be arguing about based only on carbon dating.

Not that I wouldn't like to find some irrefutable evidence that it was all a sham.

Texan99 said...

I've been looking around for an answer to your question, but no luck so far. I think the error rate is smaller the younger the sample is, but the results remain fuzzy. They're always stated in terms of a probability curve at best. Also, as some people are pointing out, the results seem to refer to the animal-skin parchment, which might have been older than the writing.

Anonymous said...

"Also, as some people are pointing out, the results seem to refer to the animal-skin parchment, which might have been older than the writing."

That makes a lot of sense; parchment apparently got re-used quite a bit in those days, on account of it being expensive to produce in the first place. Wouldn't surprise me if an early text for a fledgling religion was written on recycled parchment as the best they could afford.

I could also see some sort of cross-calendar date conversion mix-up in the dates involved, and Mohammed actually lived a few decades earlier than we thought.