He is risen !
N° 232 – May 2022
Director : Frère Bruno Bonnet-Eymard
Congress of Islamology Held in Trier
FROM May 4 to 7, 2022, Inārah (“illumination, clarification, ‘Enlightenment’,” in Arabic), an institute engaged in the scientific and critical study of the Qurʾān and the origins of Islam, held its 7th Colloquium in Trier, Germany. Its secretary, Mr. Robert Kerr, who had been made aware of Brother Bruno’s work and esteemed its importance, invited him to come present a sample of his method and the results it allows him to obtain, to the approximately forty academics and scholars present.
So we left Maison Saint-Joseph on Wednesday morning, encouraged greatly by the prayers of the brothers and sisters, but also of our friends who had been widely informed of our trip. Our destination: Robert-Schuman-Haus, the former diocesan seminary built on a magnificent site overlooking the city, which the diocese has transformed into a centre for seminars and other receptions. Professor Kerr was waiting for the participants at the main entrance, but it was the Immaculate Conception Who welcomed us first. Her statue, known there as Mariensäule, ‘Mary’s Column,’ is erected on the summit of Markusberg (the eminence on which the seminary is located), and towers over the Moselle valley and the city. We saw Her from afar and it was no small consolation to know that we were thus under Her protection.
Professor Kerr also gave us a very warm welcome, as well as his two assistants whose discreet dedication during the Congress would make our lives easier; simultaneous translations, sale of Brother Bruno’s books, etc.
This is the first time that Brother Bruno participated in such a congress on the Qurʾān and it was not without a certain apprehension that was soon allayed after the first contacts were made, for we noted with joy that Brother Bruno’s publications are honourably known in the assembly. Moreover, many Germans and Anglophones spoke or understood enough French for good and interesting discussions.
We also knew that we could attend Mass; Professor Kerr had arranged for it to be said in the former seminary’s chapel, which is still in service, by one of the participants, Father Gaby Abu Samra, a Lebanese Maronite religious. It was attended by a dozen people, including the two co-directors of the event: Mr. Markus Groß and Professor Kerr.
A ‘FAREWELL’ TO SALVATION HISTORY?
The title given to the symposium was surprising: ‘A farewell to salvation history.’ Had we fallen into an aggressively positivist and critical colloquium? In fact, the organisers wanted to manifest the fundamental method, essential for scientific research on the Qurʾān and on the true origins of Islam: it is necessary to disregard the whole ‘theological’ construction and the entire historical legend elaborated subsequently by Muslims, and to put the Qurʾān and the original events back into their true historical and religious context.
The Congress opened with a word of welcome by Ibn Warraq, who had made himself known when he published a book with the resounding title ‘Why I am not a Muslim’. Then Mr. Schwab made a vibrant plea on behalf of scientific work on the Qurʾān and the origins of Islam, in order to exhort the participants in the search for the truth that he summed up by quoting the word of Our Lord: “The Truth shall set you free.” “But ‘What is Truth?’ Brother Bruno whispered to me with a subtle smile. In fact, it does not suffice to reject the Muslim ‘discourse’ on the Qurʾān and its origins, we must first come to an understanding about what the Truth is, leaving the Qurʾān and Islam aside.
Mr. Ralph Ghadban, a Lebanese from Beirut, now living in Berlin, gave the first talk. He lectured in French on the importance that scientific work applied to the Qurʾān and the history of the emergence of Islam has for the Arab-Muslim world. Brother Bruno listened to the presentation with interest; the speaker highlighted the movement emerging today within Islam itself, albeit outside religious institutions, that critiques Muslim fundamentalism. He noted with interest that this critique of ‘fundamentalist’ Islam also draws on the science of the “West”, thus realising this much desired link between East and West.
Interiorly, we regretted the fact that contemporary Western science is above all democratic in politics and Modernist in religion! Since Mr. Ghadban had shown the limited success of the efforts made by some thinkers to ‘update’ the Muslim religion according to Western values, Brother Bruno asked him what possibility there is for Muslims to come to an understanding about their religious faith, compared, for example, to the unity offered to the Catholic Church by her dogmatic discipline and hierarchy. “There is no possibility of this!” he was told, “since Muslims can find neither of them in Islam.”
To begin this congress, there could be no better way to illustrate how the Catholic Church remains necessary to the world; it is therefore a question, for Muslims too, of rediscovering true salvation history.
About twenty papers were read during these three days: in German, which we did not understand, in English, which we had difficulty understanding despite the efforts made by our translators, and fortunately, also in French. Their diversity illustrated the vast field of study offered to scholars in the Qurʾānic domain or in the history of nascent Islam.
Four presentations followed one another on Thursday morning: the first was a paper on the Syrian origin of the expression ʾallahu ʾakbar and its subsequent ‘appropriation’ by belligerent Islamism, the second paper, read by our chaplain, Father Abu Samra, on the close links between Sūrah 31 and the Aramaic Book of Wisdom of Aḥikar, the third paper presented the Hierosolymitan origins of the present-day stations of the pilgrimage to Mecca. The fourth paper, “The Qurʾān Holy House: Mecca or Jerusalem?” particularly caught Brother Bruno’s attention; Stephen Shoemaker developed what Brother Bruno has demonstrated in Volumes I and II of his translation (1988; 1990); it is unwarranted to want to situate the temple mentioned at the place called Bakka (Sūrah 3, verse 96), in Makka, Mecca! A connection must be made with Psalm 84 which mentions the “Valley of Baka”, the last stage of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, northwest of the city. Similarly, ʾaṣ-ṣṣafaʾ (Sūrah 2:158) must be placed in Jerusalem: it is Mount Scopos, ha-ṣophīm in Hebrew. The lecturer applied the same reasoning to the kaʿba (verse 95), without knowing, however, where it was located in Jerusalem. We were able to inform him about the fruitful hypothesis proposed by Brother Bruno on this subject.●
Since the four papers being presented in the afternoon were all in German, Brother Bruno took the liberty of not attending. The one that concerned the ‘redating’ of two ancient documents, the Doctrina Jacobi (Christian) and the Nistarōt of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai (rabbinic) must have been interesting: these two texts, reputed to be contemporary with the first Arab conquests and used by the proponents of the historicity of the “prophetic mission of Muḥammad” must be ‘relocated’ at the end of the 7th century, in another context!
A VISIT OF TRIER
Brother Bruno had decided that we would go on pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Trier, which he knew contained a relic of the Passion. We recited our rosary in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, before advancing to the Holy Tunic. It is the longer and seamless one that Our Lord must have worn over the other Tunic that is conserved in Argenteuil, France. We could not see it, only venerate it inside its precious wood reliquary. A quick visit then allowed us to admire the cathedral, a gem of Romanesque architecture and Baroque decoration; the oldest church in Germany, but also the oldest building still serving as a cathedral today.
It was a “quick visit”, because we had to return to our seminar so as not miss the departure to the restaurant where all the participants were invited this Thursday evening. We, however, pushed on to the Mariensäule, to greet our Immaculate Mother and contemplate the magnificent panorama. Brother Bruno was delighted that we were in this city and this Catholic region of Germany, so obviously loved by the Blessed Virgin; we felt a bit at home there.
“THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE.”
Brother Bruno read his paper on Friday morning after an American whose paper dealt with a project, a very useful one: the creation of a critical digital edition of the Qurʾān, on the model of the critical editions of our Hebrew and Greek Bibles.
Shortly before going down to the conference room, Brother Bruno had pointed out to me the text of his speech: “It is really an audacious translation, but I’m enthusiastic!” The talk was entitled: ‘The Biblical Sources of Sūrahs 105 and 106.’ Speaking slowly so as to be understood by all, he must have retained their attention because his talk highlighted how his “Christian reading” of the Qurʾān makes historical and critical studies progress considerably. You can judge for yourself.
SŪRAH 105: “BIBLICAL PURITY.”
Here is the usual translation of this surah: “1 1 Have you not seen what your Lord has done to the men of the Elephant? 2 Did he not frustrate their stratagems 3 send against them bands of bird 4 that pelted them with stones of baked clay? 5 leaving them like chewed up straw.”●
Putting aside the explanations of the Muslim tradition, Brother Bruno showed that critical scientists also remain slaves of the traditional translation. If they indeed reject the legend of an attack against Mecca carried out by men mounted on elephants, they nevertheless continue to read “elephant” (fīl) and think that they have scientifically discovered the source of this Sūrah in the third Book of Maccabees (a Jewish apocrypha notably featuring this animal).
Brother Bruno explained that the connection with the book of Genesis, suggested by the word fīl, made it possible to find the true source of the Sūrah: the author does not evoke “the men of the Elephant,” but “the contemporaries of the nephilīm.”●
Hence the following translation: “1 Have you seen what your Master has done to the companions of the Nephilim? 2 Did he not bring about their destruction in a flood? 3 And he communicated to them a biblical purity, 4 imposed on them by the Hagrites, under the seal. And he turns them away from herbs as food.”
Brother Bruno scientifically establishes that in verses 1 and 2, the author is copying Genesis chapters 6 and 7, then chapter 9 in which God renews the Covenant with men by this “biblical purity” that is recorded in the Bible, and “sealed” by the rainbow (again in chapter 9). The very strange mention of “herbs as food” finds its full meaning: because since the earthly Paradise and even after original sin, man had only fed on green herbs,●● he henceforth received for food “all that moves and possesses life.”●
It is indeed a return to the Old Testament, but with a bold novelty: “purity” is imposed on men by the Hagrites, as the Hebrew Bible calls them, Agarènoï in Greek, that is to say the Arabs, sons of Hagar! Thus from one end of the Qurʾān to the other, we find this claim manifested in Sūrah 2, of an election of the sons of Ishmael, here as guarantors of the respect of the Noachic Covenant!
SŪRAH 106: “THE KERYGMA.”
Equally unintelligible in its traditional meaning, Sūrah 106 also becomes clear thanks to Brother Bruno’s method. Here is the ‘accepted’ translation, once again, according to Denise Masson (which we in turn have translated from French into English). “1 Because of the pact of the Quraish 2 of their pact concerning the winter caravan and the summer caravan! 3 Let them worship the Lord of this House: 4 he fed them, he saved them from famine; he delivered them from fear.”
The correct application of the historical-critical method rules out retaining the traditional meaning of Quraish, according to legend, the tribe to which Muḥammad belongs. Then, what is beneath this word? Mystery! Brother Bruno’s proposal is to see in it the root qrʾ “to proclaim,” common to Hebrew and Aramaic, associated with the initial letter “sh” of the word shemaʿ, which designates the Deuteronomic profession of faith●: “Hear, shemaʿ, Israel: Yahweh our God is the only God.” Brother Bruno admits that this translation is bold, but not extraordinary for anyone familiar with the practice (and vast system) of rabbinical abbreviations that he had mentioned at the beginning of his talk.
Here are further riddles for translators: shitâʾ and ṣayf, unanimously and always translated as “winter” and “summer”, but without any foundation; Brother Bruno shows how these words necessarily refer to the Shetiyyah and the Ṣopheh, that is to say the rock flush with the site of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem – évèn shetiyyah in the rabbinic tradition – and again this small hill located north of the city, ha-ṣōphīm.
It is therefore not a simple ‘caravan’ of Bedouins, but a pilgrimage. Applying Brother Bruno’s method, the Sūrah acquires a coherent meaning: “1 To learn the proclamation of the shema, 2 teach them the pilgrimage of the Shetiyyah and the Ṣopheh; 3 let them worship the Master of this Temple, 4 the One who fed them against starvation and sheltered them under a canopy.”
The use of the word “canopy,” a representation of the Glory of God in Isaiah.● is evidence that the Sūrah has thus been regrafted onto its biblical roots. Brother Bruno points out, however, that in the middle of the 7th century, this proclamation of a permanence of the Divine Presence of the One God on the site of the ancient Temple, was directed against the nearby Holy Sepulchre! There also, the rock outcrops at the place of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Running short of time, Brother Bruno had to rush through his conclusion, but the proof of the fruitfulness of his method had been established! A few questions showed that the Francophones, but not only them, had understood well. One of them told our brother how he had bought Rudi Paret’s translation of the Qurʾān at the beginning of his studies in comparative languages and had become discouraged upon reading it; what a difference hearing Brother Bruno’s talk!
Our stay was coming to an end since we had to leave in the early afternoon, and would unfortunately miss a few talks, especially the one on the influence that the writings of the Syriac monasteries established on the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula exerted over the Qurʾānic text.
We, however, were still able to attend the talk of Guillaume Dye, a Frenchman who teaches in Brussels. It concerned the critique of the writing of the “Qurʾānic corpus.” The talk was all the more useful to hear as this academic presented an approach to the Qurʾānic text very different from that of Brother Bruno’s.
After lunch we departed. Brother Bruno was very tired but happy to have been able to make it through to the end of his participation. We had made the acquaintance of many academics who use the critical method and we understand better how each of them apply it. Much of what Brother Bruno discovered during his years of research is now well accepted, but not the theory of the ‘large-tented Himyarite,’ that ‘powerful man of action’ and ‘religious genius.’ For Brother Bruno and our Father, Georges de Nantes, this is the man whom the first five Sūrahs seem to reveal. It is true, though, that this remains to be confirmed. In the meanwhile, Brother Bruno must transform his talk into a scientific article that will be published in the proceedings of this 7th Symposium, and perhaps in the columns of He Is Risen!
Brother Michel-Marie of the Cabeço.
An undoubtedly legendary wise sage in the Neo-Assyrian court of Sennacherib, then Esarhaddon, Ahikar was cupbearer, keeper of the signet, and in charge of administration of the accounts. He is the main character in a Babylonian tale entitled “The Wisdom of Ahikar,” which includes a narration and a collection of maxims that were extraordinarily popular in oriental literature. The Jews of Elephantine (southern Egypt) had recopied it. The oldest extant version of Ahikar’s story and wisdom dating to the 5th century b.c., written in Aramaic, was found in the ruins of the city among documents belonging to Judeans living there.
See Volume III, “The Qurʾān, Translation and Systematic Commentary, ‘Elohîm’, Sūrah 4 and 5, Brother Bruno Bonnet-Eymard, 1997, p. 267; pp. 301-302).
translation by Denise Masson, 1980 (which we in turn have translated from French into English)
The Book of Genesis 6:4
4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.
The Book of Genesis 1:30
And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.
The Book of Genesis 3:18
Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
The Book of Genesis 9:1-3
1 And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.”
The Book of Deuteronomy 6:4
The Book of Isaiah 4:5-6
5 Then Yahweh will create over the whole site of Mount Sion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy and a pavilion. 6 It will be for a shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.