The Study Quran

Religion-beat professionals: Yet another reference work that belongs on your desk

Religion-beat professionals: Yet another reference work that belongs on your desk

Our previous religion-beat Memo puffed “The Study Quran,” a truly path-breaking production.

The Religion Guy now outpoints a  standby that belongs on the desks of journalists who don’t have one of the two earlier editions: “The Catholic Study Bible” (Oxford University Press, available in paperback for US$39.99).

The volume includes the latest (2010) version of the New American Bible, the official English translation used in the U.S. Catholic Church, alongside numerous articles and detailed verse-by-verse commentary from a 20-member team. The new edition adds, for instance, surveys of archaeological finds regarding the Bible, by Ronald Simkins of Creighton University in Omaha (Old Testament) and Dominican Sister Laurie Brink of Chicago’s Catholic Theological Union (New Testament).

In addition to keeping this book handy for future reference, newswriters could use it as a hook to analyze trends in Catholic scholarship on the Bible. The book bears the hierarchy’s  declaration that all material “is free from doctrinal and moral error.” Yet a spot check indicates the latest edition continues and somewhat reinforces the secular and liberal Protestant sort of scholarship that influenced the first two editions.

A fascinating in-depth project could compare the Study Bible’s approach with the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s conservative declarations from 1905 through the 1962 opening of the Second Vatican Council, as indexed right here.   

Among other things, prior commission decrees affirmed Moses as the “substantial” source of the first five Old Testament books; single authorship for Isaiah’s prophecy; the historical veracity of Genesis 1-3, the Book of Acts, and the Gospel of John; and that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written prior to A.D. 70.

Today, those sorts of views are largely confined to conservative Protestant or Orthodox Jewish scholars.

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Attention journalists: A Muslim landmark that belongs on your desk

Attention journalists: A Muslim landmark that belongs on your desk

Media personnel obviously are giving far more attention to Islam than they did years ago -- because they need to.

Therefore “The Study Quran” (HarperOne, 1,988 pages, US$59.99, e-book US$19.99) that was noted in a post by GetReligion’s Julia Duin should be in media company libraries (if they still exist) or in the private collections of all newswriters whose work is in any way linked to religion in the news.

This classy landmark, nine years in preparation, imitates Christians’ many “study Bibles,” a couple of which also belong on newsroom desks. The totally new English translation of Islam’s holy book is accompanied by an extensive verse-by-verse commentary, 16 related essays, an index and other “helps.” The work provides a much-needed option to the useful but somewhat outdated 1934 translation and commentary by A. Yusuf Ali that Saudi Arabia has distributed widely.

To The Religion Guy’s eyes the one big negative is the translators’ ill-advised reversion to fusty King James-ish phrasing, as though it's somehow more reverent: “Dost thou not know?” “God is wroth.” “Thou grant me reprieve till a term nigh.” While the commentary is invaluable, the recent translations by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem or Majid Fakhry may be more useful for journalistic quotations.

With this book, English-speakers can now gain ready access to authoritative scholarship representing the grand tradition of this massive religion. Since much of the relevant literature is in Arabic, the material drawn from 41 standard commentators, and the 43 pages of citations from hadith traditions of Muhammad’s teachings, are especially important for western Muslims and non-Muslims.

The editor-in-chief was the well-respected Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University, working with former students Caner Dagli of the College of the Holy Cross, Maria Massi Dakake of George Mason University (a female scholar’s participation is significant), Joseph Lumbard of American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and Mohammed Ruston of Canada’s Carleton University. Dakake and Lumbard are converts from Christian backgrounds, a plus in this situation, but it’s a thoroughly Muslim reference work, from a team with expertise in the Sunni, Shi’a and Sufi branches.

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A study Quran in English? The Daily Beast details this surprising new book

A study Quran in English? The Daily Beast details this surprising new book

Study Bibles were all the rage when they first became popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Evangelical Protestants popularized this trend, but it wasn’t long before there was an Orthodox Study Bible, a Catholic Study Bible and a Jewish Study Bible.

But a study Quran?

How do you study a work said to have been dictated by the Angel Gabriel to Mohammed between AD 610 and AD 632 and passed along to his followers who, it’s assumed, memorized his words perfectly? Judaism and Christianity have survived critical scholarship about their holy books, but Islam has resisted such questions.

And so I was intrigued by a recent Daily Beast piece about why a new Study Quran is riling the Islamic world. It starts thus:

A new translation of the Quran, with commentary, is causing a stir—and maybe something of a revolution -- in the world of English-speaking Muslims.

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