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FORM CRITICISM OR A ROLLING CORPUS: THE METHODOLOGY OF JOHN WANSBROUGH THROUGH THE LENS OF BIBLICAL STUDIES

Michael Graves

Abstract


John Wansbrough’s scholarship on the Qurʾān has had a significant impact

on Qurʾānic Studies over the last forty years. His ideas continue to stimulate

research into historical and literary dimensions of the Qurʾān, even though

assessments vary greatly regarding the plausibility of some of his major ideas,

and his subtle arguments can be difficult to follow. This essay clarifies and

evaluates Wansbrough’s thinking about the composition of the Qurʾān by

elucidating the models from Biblical Studies that he appropriated. Detailed

treatment is given to biblical form criticism and Wansbrough’s application of

this method to the qurʾānic accounts of the prophet Shuʿayb. It is suggested

that Wansbrough’s form-critical research yielded positive insights into the

Qurʾān, but also left certain questions unanswered. It is then proposed that

another model taken from Biblical Studies, the idea of a “rolling corpus”

as developed in research on the book of Jeremiah, can sharpen and refine

Wansbrough’s conclusions.


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