Monday, July 27, 2015

C-14 Dates for Qur'ans

In contrast to the press hype, scholars of early Islam have not been bowled over by the Birmingham Qur'an fragments carbon-dated to 645 CE or before.  This is partly because, as Juan Cole noted, we have much more complete seventh-century manuscripts in Yemen.  Beyond that, however, C-14 dating provides a date for parchment, not the text on the parchment, and there are reasons to believe the text was regularly later.  To quote Qur'ans of the Umayyads by Francois Deroche:

"The famous “Qurʾan of the Nurse” is one of the best-documented manuscripts at hand.  Its colophon and its deed of waqf allow us to know that the copy was completed in 410/1020.  An analysis performed on a piece of parchment taken from the manuscript helped to evaluate the accuracy of the measurements.  A French laboratory determined the radio carbon age of the parchment as BP 1130±30.  This result was then calibrated and gave a date range comprised between 871 and 986 AD, with a probability of 95%.  The most probable dates, arranged in decreasing order of probability were 937, 895 and 785 AD.  The closest result, that is to say 937 AD, is separated by eighty-three years from the date provided by the colophon.  If we use the upper limit of the date range,that is to say 986 AD, the difference still amounts to fifty-four years, that is to say half a century."

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