One of the most innovative thinkers in the field of Islamic Studies was John Wansbrough (1928-2002), Professor of Semitic Studies and Pro-Director of London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Critiquing the traditional accounts of the origins of Islam as historically unreliable and heavily influenced by religious dogma, Wansbrough suggested radically new interpretations very different from the views of both the Muslim orthodoxy and most Western scholars.
Originally published in 1977, Quranic Studies presents an in-depth textual exegesis of the Quran based on form analysis. Noting the persistent use of monotheistic imagery stemming from Judeo-Christian sources, he interpreted the rise of Islam as the development of what was originally a Judeo-Christian sect. As this sect evolved and differentiated itself from its Judeo-Christian roots, the Quran also evolved and was continuously in flux for over a century. Wansbrough concluded that the canonization of the text that we today call the Quran, and even the emergence of the concept of “Islam,” probably did not occur till the end of the eighth century, more than 150 years after the death of Muhammad.