Noah’s Boat and Other Missed Opportunities (2019 IQSA Presidential Adress)

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Devin Stewart



This essay addresses the ways in which several of the most popular English translations of the Qurʾān treat cases in which the text draws on key biblical concepts and vocabulary. It suggests that when determining how such passages ought to be translated, one must take into account not only the meaning that fits the passage generally but also the extent to which the text reflects an intention to invoke, modify, alter, or ignore biblical precedent. In a number of cases, it is argued, many English translations adopt an anti-biblicizing translation, often a literal rendition, such as reference to the “ship” of Noah, that obscures the connection of the qurʾānic passage with biblical tradition. The adoption of a biblicizing translation, such as referring to Noah’s “ark” instead, would in many cases render tangible a connection with biblical texts that was originally intended.


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