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Lüling – an orientalist against the mainstream

Introduction into the writings of the theologian and philologist Günter Lüling, Erlangen

Uwe Topper

dr. Günter Lüling, one of the most erudite orientalists in Germany (see his biography) terms his own work as ‚liberal-theologian dogma-critical intention‘ starting off at the point theologians left the discussion when World War I was at its hight which somehow strangled all dispute. At least as far as the discussion between Christiandom and Islam at our universities is concerned – that has ceased since then and could not be revived after World War II, as Lüling himself had to suffer in his own career. The basic theological antagonies were silenced since decades for reasons of ‚political correctness‘.

In the centre of the discussion remains the dogma of the Trinity supported by Christians and utterly objected to by Muslims. So far Europaen theologians at the end of the 19th century agreed because especially protestants honestly and selfcritically tried to overcome their senseless and untrue religious traditions. Best examples of a long chain of predecessors are Albert Schweitzer and Martin Werner who had acknowledged that the dogma of Trinity is a late invention of hellenistic time and has nothing in common with semitic Christianism as Jesus teached it. Therefore it is nowhere mentioned in the New Testament. As at the time among three European Islamists at least two were protestants or liberal Jews, this attitude had become preponderant.

Furthermore Lüling indicates that the „Germanic tribes cultured a non-trinitarian Christian belief“ while he is appropriately avoiding the misused term Arianism which the Church had usurped for a group of sectarians. (The same way Ignacio Olagüe acted in this respect which is well accepted in our chronological criticism). The most important task for theologians and for himself is, according to Lüling, to point out to the fundamental differences that cause the wars in the Near East, and to mediate by dismantling the theological barriers in order to attain a durable peace. With this the basic beliefs of the Jews have to be respected, too, a point Lüling did not stress in his older books but concentrates on in his forthcoming work.

Let us have a look at the most important of his books, the „Urqoran“, recently translated into English and published in India under the title A Challenge to Islam for Reformation (Motilal Banarsidas Publ., Delhi).

Its main object ist to restore the original meaning of the Koran as it might have been used before Islam. At first Lüling explains that at the moment of proclamation of Islam by the prophet Muhammad the region of Central Arabia had long since been intensively christianized, a fact known and worked out by many orientalists since several generations – as for Spain I only mention Miguel Asín Palacios. The main temple in Mekka originally was a church of Lady Maria, the frescos which Muhammad after his conquest ordered to be destroyed showed this clearly, and the architectural form as well (see Lüling 1992). The dogma of angeology in the Koran has been found of very similar structure in the New Testament by the forementioned theologians Schweitzer and Werner. It says that the two protagonists Jesus and Muhammad were understood as pre- and postexisting angels of power. And the third Christian element in the original Koran was the purity movement of young Islam which intended a return to the initial beliefs of the Abrahamic religion. The cult of the hights as followed by the people of protometal culture is not blamed as pagan reminiscence but praised as aim in the renewal of the faith (corresponding to the Sermon of the Mountain).

Lüling discovers in the Koran important changes of reading and interpretation similar to those pointed out by Christian researchers in the Bible, and he strongly advocates a return to the original text. In its present form the Koran turns the basic intention of the prophet into its opposite, and this can only be reversed by a thorough reconstruction.

The means Lüling uses in this task are the same scientific tools the best European erudites had applied in the 19th century : philological knowledge of Aramaic, Syriac and Aethiopian texts where he finds surprisingly many parallels to chapters of the Koran so that he can conclude : Many a verse of the Koran goes directly back to Christian liturgy.

To attain this aim it is necessary to analyse the basic structure of the koranic terms which on account of the missing vowels and punctuation of the consonnants can be read in very differing ways and even sometimes with just the opposite meaning. Only for this reason was a fundamental change of the koranic text in postmuhammedan time possible. The result is a new koranic text which emerged after 150 to 200 dark years of early Islam of which we have no certain knowledge. That means, the handing down of the Koran must have happened in a different way then tought at present. Opposite to the official version an unbroken oral succession of the wordings of Koran did not take place, instead the Koran must have been passed on by literal means only because by that way the words could have been altered graphically. New problems arise by this revolutionary view which might eventually be solved by our new chronological thesis.

With this strictly philological approach Lüling finds that many Christian hymns must have underlied the koranic verses. For example, the first five verses of chapter 97 (see note 1) go back to a Christmas carol. The figure of an angel and a spirit descending from heaven and bringing peace until dawn (an apocalyptic term) remind one of the Evangile. The koranic form by evoking the end of time has surpassed the supposed pattern and created something different, or Christian texts have eradicated those currents that pointed to the Last Judgement. The „Night of Majesty“ (Leilat al Qadr) as this Sura is called, can only refer to Christmas while modern interpretation applies it to the predication of Koran.

Transformations of this type are not rare, I have experienced several similar among Berber traditions in the High Atlas (Morocco). French poet and photographer René Euloge records a popular song that has the refrain: „He stood up, went forth, and they found his shroud.“ This can only refer to the resurrection of Jesus, as a learned man of the tribe explained to me. Yet Euloge had not recognised this obvious meaning because the people from whom he transcribed the wording did not know the background and thought this to be a romantic poem of a shattered love affair (see Topper 1998-2, S. 198 ff).

Unwillingly – it seems – Lüling is proposing the best arguments to our chronological thesis, especially in the epilogue of his book when he talks about the victory of Christiandom (recalling H. J. Schoeps) which usually is connected to the Council of Nicea (AD 325 which can be stretched to AD 375) saying that the acceptance of pagan antiquity into the Church „essentially has supported the Islamic revolution, or even has provoked this revolution being the decisive factor.“ This corresponds to our juxtapposition of the Council of Nicea (325) and the event of Hijra (622) thinking that on some other time scale they are contemporaneous. The similarity of Lülings findings to some of Olagüe’s proposals is striking, even terms like ‚Islamic revolution‘ are the same.

Lüling resumes his results this way: Compared to the original Koran the modern version of the holy book of Islam is the product of total rearrangement by changing the value of the consonnants ending up in a text void of essence. The underlyeing Christian hymns have been emptied of their sense. Additional there is the damage done to Islam by the Persian culture in the time of the Abbassides. And finally, by avoiding the discussion about the Christian sources the Islamic theology has darkened itself : „The simplicity to alter the text by changing consonnants and vowels graphically ... and the artificial language (Arabic) that defines its own rules ... as well as the inflexible religious domination have made Islam a monstre that lives its proper life beyond all religions ever thought of by mankind.“

In the end Lüling avowes what has moved him to deliver this enormous effort which can stand side by side to all achievements of German philology: The discovery of the Christian bases shall be a memento to both religions, Christians and Muslims alike, to stop their fights and reach a peaceful mutual understanding of the prophetical texts. This is a praiseworthy undertaking although it may be doubtful wether the two dominions will exept it.

References:

Lüling, Günter (1974): Über den Ur-qur’an (2. Aufl. 1993, Erlangen)
(1992): Der christliche Kult an der vorislamischen Kaaba (Erlangen)
(2003) A Challenge to Islam for Reformation (Motilal Banarsidas Publishers, New Delhi, India)
Olagüe, Ignacio (1974) La revolución islámica en occidente (Barcelona) – (reedited 2004 Córdoba)
Topper, Uwe (1998-2): »Acerca de algunas tradiciones orales de los Imazighen del Alto Atlas marroqui« in: al-Andalus-Magreb (Annuary of the University of Cádiz, Spain )

Note 1)

The text of chapter 97, 'Night of Majesty' (Lailat al-Qadr):
1. Surely, We sent it down in the Night of Majesty.
2. And what will make you understand what the Night of Majesty is?
3. The Night of Majesty is better than a thousand months.
4. The angels and the spirit descend in it, and they have the attention of their Lord for every thing.
5. Peace will reign till the rising of the day.

The translation of verse 4 seems obscure; instead of ‚thing‘ (amr) some translate ‚Logos‘ (the word).

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