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The Qur'an's Legal Culture: The Didascalia Apostolorum as a Point of Departure
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Zellentin here takes an old argument, that there existed a Jewish-Christian milieu which influenced the Qur'an, and he updates it thoroughly. Earlier scholars had proposed a specific sect or other of Jewish-Christians; usually the Clementine Homilies were brought up, and Schlomo Pines was cited. *This* book accepts the Homilies, for what they were; but concedes that Pines's most forceful argument to that end is dead: 176f fn. 2. For Zellentin, it suffices that Jewish-Christian ideals survived to the Islamic era. Zellentin brings from the past, the Didascalia; and from the (post-Muhammadan) future, patriarch Athanasius of Balad. Between them, they bridge the gap between the Clementine Homilies and the Qur'an's community.
Zellentin develops his thesis by parallel. For instance, we find that the Didascalia insisted on refraining from impure meat - like that sacrificed to a false god. In this it contradicted Saint Paul, and followed Jewish law and the Clementines. The later Athanasius of Balad agreed with the Didascalia, updating the doctrines such that Christians should not eat halal. The Qur'an for its part takes the opposite tack, that Muslims *must* eat halal (or kosher) and avoid Christian food. Either way, both Athanasius and the Qur'an agree on the same principles, which one might label *meta*-Jewish-Christian; or, in a more Oriental vein, Jewish-Christian usul al-fiqh.
The book is self-consciously impressionistic. It does not take sides as to when this or that sura may have been composed. I do detect that it focuses on the *legal* suras, of which I'm mostly catching suras 5, 6, and 17. The book sports a sura-index at the end, which namechecks many more ayat; but those don't figure in the argument. (I do have to say, I like having sura-indices. Even if the verse isn't central to the book's point, students of a given sura can take inspiration from it.)
The one comment I would make here is that, just because Pines's main hobbyhorse has expired, doesn't mean all the Western literature about specific Jewish-Christian sects in Islamic origins has passed on with it. Still of merit, starting with Sprenger and von Harnack, are the works on how Islam's practical doctrines might be Elkasaite. So Zellentin's book should be read alongside some of these articles.
Also, the publisher / editor needs to understand that the page headings should match the chapter header. Currently the left-side page headings refer to chapters and the right-side headings to subchapters. The normal rules are to put the book title on the left but, I don't really care about that (I mean, come on, I always know what *book* I'm reading). What I *do* care about is that the table of contents doesn't list the subchapters. This makes it hard to find out where in the book I'm at. The TOC needs to be in a smaller font and it needs to include the subchapters. (Perhaps I'm getting too irritable.)
Overall, I see nothing here to knock out that fifth star from the review. I recommend it.
We are also promised a future work by Patricia Crone on the same subject, although it comes in a "tragic postscript" (xxiii) in the strong risk it be her last. I look forward to her book, and pray for her remission. In the meantime, von Harnack's thoughts on the Elkasaites may be had from Ibn Warraq, "Christmas in the Koran" and Roncaglia's sequel from "Koranic Allusions".