The down sides of research schools
In the past few weeks I’ve been reading:
Ohlig, K.H. & M. Gross, 2009. Vom Koran zum Islam. Berlin (Hans Schiller).
It’s already the fourth volume published by the Inarah group. It’s a research school in which a group of scholars have gathered that have what you might call ‘revisionist’ views on the origins of Islam. These views are published regularly in articles that are gathered in volumes like the present one. Inarah are the people that are propagating the theory that Islam originated in present day Iran, as a branch-off from Christianity among Arabs living there. That’s a rough summary.
I am no expert in the field, but I do know something about science in general. A lot of their idea’s simply do not sufficiently fulfill requirements of scholarly rigour. Having reached their fourth volume, they are now getting attention and criticism. In the present volume I found some contributions adressing that critisicm that were quite confrontational. That’s not a good sign.
Let me illustrate my statement on scholarly rigour with an example I found in the fourth volume: Markus Gross’ Fruhislam und Buddismus, neue Indizien (pages 347-396). Gross claims in his contribution that the form of islamic hadith resembles that of Buddhist stories called Itivuttaka and Udana. Hadith are traditional stories that were gathered by muslim scholars for legal and historical reasons. They invariably start with a chain of transmitters, telling the reader who this story is from, who he heard it from and so forth. Ideally these chains go back to the prophet.
Gross has found out that Buddhist traditional stories start out with a comparable chain of transmitters. He supposes Islam has taken over the idea from Buddhism. This would make an origin somewhere in Iran more probable, as Buddism was widespread along the Silk Road. Gross supports his claim by stating that chains of transmission were unknown in Judaism and Christianity.
This however is demonstrably not true. To begin with, the Talmud is full of indications like this. I checked the tractate Sanhedrin, chapter 8 and noted down a few:
Rabbi Abiah b. Rabba b. Nahmani in the name of Rabbi Hisda (according to others in the name of Zeeli) said:
Rabbi Hisda in the name of Uqba (according to others Mar Uqba in the name of Rabbi Sakkai) said:
But did Rabbi Hana b. Mouldha in the name of Rabbi Huna not say that…
And then there are the christian apophthegmata, sayings of the desert fathers, that sometimes also indicate their origin more extensively:
Abba Poemen said that Abba John said…
Abba Poemen said about Abba John the Dwarf…
Abba Doulas, the pupil of Abba Bessarion said…
This is what Abba Daniel, the Pharanite, said: ‘Our Abba Arsenius told us…
I found all these on the internet. As I said: I am no expert, but it was a piece of cake to find evidence to the contrary that Gross should have dealt with.
It shows one disadvantage of research schools, especially if they represent ‘dissident’ views like Inarah. Huddling together with like minded scholars may have its advantages, but in cases like this criticism should be actively sought from outside. Inarah is isolating itself.