First Arabic Edition of the Qur’an among the Europeans
Johann Michael Lange
Son of a Nuremberg pastor, Johann Michael Lange was born in 1664 in Etzelwang in the Duchy of Sulzbach. Lange studied philosophy, medicine, and theology at the University of Altdorf beginning in 1682. In 1687, he received the title of poet laureate and also his Master’s degree. In 1688, he began his advanced theological studies at Jena University with Johann Wilhelm Baier (d.1695), a disciple of the well-known Lutheran Johannes Musaus (d.1681), the representative of the middle party in the Syncretistic Controversy. In 1690, he became an adjunct in the Faculty of Philosophy at Jena. In 1692, he served as a pastor in Vohenstrauss in Sulzbach’schen, and studied theology at Halle in 1694. In 1697, Lange received his Doctor of Theology and was Professor of Theology at Altdorf until 1709. He also served as the rector of the university in 1704 and 1705. In 1709, he was involved in a dispute with his colleagues over his adherence to Pietism. Consequently, Lange was accused of open deviation from the confessions of the Orthodox Lutheran Church and he was forced to resign his position. He spent the rest of his career as an ecclesiastical inspector in Prenzlau in the Uckermark, where he died in 1731J
Variant Names: Johannes Michael Lang, Johann Michael Lang, Johann Michael Langius, lohannes Michael Lange, Joh. Mich. Langi, and Joh. Michaelis Langii
Summary and Analysis
Lange’s dissertation considers the first Arabic edition of the Qur’an printed in Europe in the sixteenth century. He is not concerned with the Qur’an’s contents or with Islam per se, but rather with proving the existence of this early edition, about which there was some doubt in Europe at the time. Lange wrote his dissertation, he says, because of false information passed down by philologists about certain editions of the Qur’an. He sets out to recount the history of the first printed edition, destroyed by the Catholic Church, laying out the evidence in the writings of several European scholars who refer to this first edition, known as
Alcorano di Macometto.1 He then evaluates whether the Church was justified in suppressing it.
According to Lange, most European scholars believed that the first complete edition of the Qur’an in Arabic was printed at Hamburg in 1694 by Abraham Hinckelmann. He cites a 1692 publication, which included statements by other European scholars that the correspondence of Theseus Ambrosius, an Italian humanist and student of Semitic languages, mentions the Qur’an being printed in Arabic in Italy. The printer was a certain Paganino of Brescia, also known as Paganino Paganini, who produced the edition in Venice in 1530. Because no trace of this edition remained, many European scholars were unaware of its former existence. Lange names those who had affirmed its existence, citing their testimonies, each of whom asserts that the Qur’an was first printed in Venice and then burned by the Church. He says that he found the testimonies of Theseus Ambrosius and Guillaume Postel, a philosopher and linguist, in a little-known book on Eastern languages and, in his epilogue, presents their collected correspondence, which reveals that Postel, who wanted to use the presses to publish an Arabic grammar had asked Ambrosius to look into purchasing them from the person who had published the Arabic Qur’an. He replied that he would ask Alexander, the son of Paganini, to consider selling the Arabic character plates.
After presenting evidence of a printed edition of the Arabic Qur’an and its circulation in sixteenth-century Italy, Lange moves on to examine accounts by other scholars that the Catholic Church had suppressed that edition of the Qur’an. Through quotations from these scholars, he recounts the Church’s suppression of Islamic writings in the recently conquered kingdom of Granada, which he takes as indicative of the Church’s policy toward Islamic writings generally. Lange raises the question of whether the destruction of all copies of the Qur’an is morally justifiable, giving four arguments for burning the Qur’an and then contesting them: first, a biblical passage from the Book of Acts, which seems to support burning heretical books; second, the idea that careless men might be seduced by the Qur’an; third, that the Turks might be emboldened if their holy book is published in Europe; and finally, that Divine Will prevented the successful publication of the Qur’an for the past 160 years. Regarding the biblical passage (Acts 19:19) used to justify the burning of heretical books, he argues that the Qur’an is no worse than the majority of pagan texts. Therefore, for Lange, there is considerable hypocrisy in burning the Qur’an when pagan texts are printed in fine editions and studied in learned schools.
Lange dismisses the Catholic argument that the Qur’an should be suppressed lest it leads Christians astray as another hypocrisy because a Latin translation of the Qur’an was created at Cluny long before Paganini’s Arabic edition and the Church did not destroy this. In a lengthy excursus, he discusses and discredits the myth that Martin
Luther had published a bilingual Latin-German edition of the Qur’an. He also dismisses the third argument that the Turks will think that Christian Europeans will admire their law or that they might be encouraged by the printing and dissemination of the Qur’an by pointing out that the Turks know that the European editors intend to refute, not to promulgate, Islam and that, in any case, Muslims dislike seeing their holy books in Christian hands. On the fourth argument, he equivocates,
DISSERTATIO HISTORICO-PHILO-LOGICO - THEOLOGICA T)^
PRIMA INTER EVROPÆOS
EDITIONE ARABICA, ante fesqvifeculum & qvod excurrit, in ITALIA per PAGANINVM BRIXIENSEM fa&a, fed juflii Pontificis Romani penitus abolita:
JOH. MICH. LANGII,
Theol. Do£h & Prof. Publ. Ordin.
ut & Ecclefiæ Oppidan. Symmyftæ, in Or dine Circulari
H. L. C. Z xix. Decembr. Anno MDCCIII. publicè def endet
MICHAEL CONRADVS LVDWIG, Vismarienfis.
Literis Henrici Meyeri, VniverfitatisTypography
Figure 3.1 Johann Michael Lange, Dissertatio historico-philologico-theologica de Alcorani prima inter Europaeos editione Arabica, 1703 (Courtesy of the Bavarian State Library, Munich).
acknowledging that a lot of scholars have tried and failed to publish an Arabic Qur’an in the intervening 150 years and that many factors had hindered its publication. It was no wonder, he says, so many scholars failed in light of so many obstacles. Lange thus tries to prove not only that a sixteenth-century Arabic edition of the Qur’an existed, but also that its destruction by the Catholic Church could not be justified on religious or any other grounds.
Historical, Philological, and Theological Dissertation on the First Arabic Edition of the Qur’an among the Europeans (Altdorf, 1703)
As a Christian theologian, I have spent many years in diligent and earnest study, during which I have gathered literary documents that outline the history of the publication and editions of the Qur’an. I stumbled upon this subject almost by accident when I studied the Muslim religion. I applied myself to understanding the Qur’an, and during this exercise, I discovered a tremendous number of things concerning certain publications and editions of the Qur’an that were passed down incorrectly by the best philologists and accepted as truth. Fortune favored my plan when I decided to take up this small part of literary history in order to illustrate it. Indeed, in a short time, various scholars helped me so much with their kind assistance, giving me important tools to produce my desired outcome. As an example of my efforts, I will begin with the fate of the first edition of the Arabic Qur’an among the Europeans. This edition was quite a lot older than all known editions of the Qur’an that have been printed. Until recently, only a few men knew firsthand of this first edition; and very few today know its complete history. The Roman Curia was so diligent in destroying all copies of this Arabic edition that hardly a trace of it can be found in the literary texts of those times. Some information can be found in Theseus Ambrosius’ Introduction to Various Eastern Languages, as well as in a certain Italian letter to Theseus Ambrosius’ that was discovered by Guillaume Postel and included in the aforementioned Introduction. Also, there is a reference in Thomas Erpenius’ Catalogue of Books published in Arabic, which was added to the Rudiments of the Arabic Language, published in the form that we call an octavo at Leiden in 1620. However, you would seek this Catalogue in vain in another edition of the same Rudiments, which was published in 1628. In this work, I will name recent authors who have referenced this edition. After giving the history of this edition, we shall explore how well or poorly the Roman Curia acted toward this edition of the Qur’an.
It is certain that a small number of scholars had a dim awareness of the first edition of the Arabic Qur’an, but their awareness was so weak that when documents were discovered only a few believed in its existence.
The majority agreed that the Qur’an was never published before Abraham Hinckelmann printed the entire Qur’an in Arabic at Hamburg in 1694. A few others who referenced the first edition, produced in the sixteenth century, spoke about it almost as though it were a myth. Therefore, those who are skeptical immediately doubted these tales and embraced the former idea firmly [that the first Qur’an was printed by Hinckelmann].
Let us examine famous scholars who believe that the Arabic Qur’an has never been printed before Hinckelmann’s edition. Augustus Pfeiffer, an important philologist who previously ennobled Wittenberg and Leipzig, studied this matter. In his Dissertation on the Qur’an, he says:
One would hope that an accurate version would be produced at some point, as promised for a long time by some well-known men, for the Qur’an has never been printed, but is written down by Turkish scribes, who scorn printing presses. Thus, copies of it do not go for sale except at great cost.
The same theologian and famous philologist repeated almost the same things in Critique (in the second edition, chapter 4): “The Qur’an has never been printed, but only a manuscript exists, which was produced by Turkish and Persian scribes.” Scholars and others who have stumbled upon this topic seem to take Pfeiffer at his word. Our [Theodor] Hackspan says nothing about this Arabic edition of the Qur’an in his scholarly treatise, On the Faith and Laws of Muhammad. He speaks about the Arabic text of the Qur’an after he had complained about the rarity of the Latin version (which is the faulty version): “The Arabic manuscripts of the Qur’an are both rare and expensive, and I would bet that a very few scholars have seen the Arabic Qur’an with their own eyes.” If other scholars disagreed with Pfeiffer’s argument; Georg Calixt in his Dissertation on the Truth of the Christian Religion, and Johannes Hoornbeek in the Summary of Religious Controversies, they would have mentioned it.
Master Tenzelius [Wilhelm Ernst Tentzel], the most famous author of the Dialogues in the German Language, published in November 1692 under the title Monthly Conversations between some Good Friends, believes he must thoroughly prove his declaration, “that the entire Qur’an was already published in Arabic in the sixteenth century.” He says, “I must prove this all the more clearly, since they are scholars who affirm both in words and in writing, that the Qur’an has never been printed in Arabic.” He brings forward four witnesses, including Johann Heinrich Haner, who wrote in his Philological-Critical Observations:
It is the consensus of scholars that the Qur’an has never been printed in Arabic. But this opinion is false; for a certain Italian gentleman shows us in his correspondence that the Qur’an was already printed 150 years ago in Italy. Theseus Ambrosius’ Introduction to Various Eastern Languages makes this clear by stating that the Arabic characters were used to print the Qur’an in Italy. If the Qur’an was printed in Italy, why has nobody seen a single copy of it? I answer: the Roman Pontifex eliminated all the printed copies but one, as trustworthy men relayed to the great Bosio [Giacomo Bosio], according to Haner.
Then, Master Tenzelius says on the same topic that the famous Bosio, the Jenensian polymath, stated in his Dissertation III on the State of Europe that the Qur’an exists only in manuscript form. However, it was printed at least 120 years ago by a certain Paganino of Brescia in Punic characters (that is, Arabic letters), on the authority of Theseus Ambrosius, in the Appendix to his Introduction to Various Eastern Languages, printed at Pavia in 1539, who also provides certain parts of folio 84 of the Introduction from the fourth quarto of his work.
The third witness Tenzelius names is Erpenius. I have already mentioned him above, but I will elaborate below on a few things related to this matter. Finally, the last is our Johann Saubert, who says the following in his Theologico-Philological School: “Theodore Bibliander produced an apology for his edition of the Qur’an, which, after being published in Arabic, was burned at Venice in 1530.” These are the four witnesses by whom the laureate Polyhistor Tenzelius supports his assertion concerning the Arabic edition of the Qur’an, which was previously printed in Italy.
Tenzelius’ observations are reinforced by those of Master Andreas Acoluthus, a most outstanding man in Arabic literature, a theologian and Professor of Eastern Language at Wroclaw, and a celebrated orator.3 In the Example of the Qur’an in Four Languages, published in Berlin in 1701, he says on page 40:
From the lap of Italy an Arabic Qur’an was produced a century and a half ago. I would like to determine whether or not Hinckelmann had knowledge of its publication. Certainly, few philologists knew about this Arabic Qur’an, which has perhaps been consigned to obscurity or destroyed by some wicked fate. Indeed, I first learned about it at Wroclaw, but how? I no longer remember. As I write these things while being out of the country and away from my library (a fate perhaps uncommon for writers), I cannot check the private resources of my mind. Maybe my friend from Berlin, whom I consulted, the Reverend and esteemed Master Andreas Rittner, the most faithful co-priest in the Temple of Mary, in his extraordinary kindness and readiness in giving thanks, will correct that mistake. He shared with me two dissertations, published at Rostock in 1696,
in which the famous author, Zachary Grapius, produced a scholarly literary history of the Babylonian Talmud, the first of which, in Epi-metron 4, is as follows: ‘Most scholars make a mistake in thinking that the Qur’an was not published before Hinckelmann’s edition, but it was printed a century and a half before that’.
I have this on the authority of Acoluthus, who is very knowledgeable in these matters, and whom I frequently cite out of esteem and love.
In addition to the famous Acoluthus, we include the author Master Zachary Grapius whom Acoluthus praised for his Epimetron. At that time, Grapius was the Doctor of Holy Theology, Professor of Physics and Metaphysics by public ordination, as well as Archdeacon at the Cathedral of Lord Jacob at Rostock. In September 1701, the same year that the wonderful speech of Master Acoluthus was produced, Grapius brought his Literary History of the Qur’an to public light in the form of an academic dissertation. In it, he reaffirmed what he had said briefly in the aforementioned Epimetron, making it clear that he owed his opinion to the previously celebrated Master Tenzelius. According to the famous Grapius:
If it is true that the Arabic edition of the Qur’an, by God’s will, existed already in the previous century, I do not see why it would be controversial today. But it was overlooked, as was the evidence of those who knew that an Arabic Qur’an was printed before Hinckelmann’s edition. But that evidence has now been confirmed most decisively by the famed Tenzelius, with the testimony of four exceedingly learned men: Haner, Bosio, Erpenius, and Saubert.
Grapius refers us to the authority of Haner, Bosio, Erpenius, and Saubert, well-regarded by Tenzelius. I have something to say about each of these authors.
Although the testimony of Master Haner is relevant, it is absolutely certain that all of his assertions depend on the authority of Master Bosio. Indeed, Bosio had a scholarly guild worthy of a polymath; his Schediasma de comparanda notitia scriptorum ecclesiasticorum was printed at Jena in 1673. Among the other discussions held at Bosio’s scholarly guild, there is a speech about Knowledge of Religions (Notitia Religionum), which was written down by members of the audience. I possess a copy of this, thanks to a certain friend who suggested that I write about this Bosian scholarly guild almost twenty years ago.
In Bosio’s account, two things should be noted: first, the history of the printing of the Qur’an; and second, an account of the destruction of all copies by fire. The first is known from the testimony of Guillaume Postel Barentonio-Norman (who is, no doubt, that “Italian” whom Haner speaks of in his Bosian speech) and from Theseus Ambrosius. Postel had given the Italian Epistle to Theseus Ambrosius concerning this matter, which Ambrosius then included in his own introduction. It is not clear from where Bosio learned the destruction of this Qur’an by fire. His words, as written, strongly suggest they are sourced from an oral account. But those who informed Bosio no doubt relayed the words of that outstanding gentleman, Thomas Erpenius. Erpenius told the scholarly community about the destruction and the year of printing of the Arabic Qur’an in a public speech—he alone is among the older witnesses who are yet known to me. But if someone brings my attention to any other witnesses, I will thank them.
Erpenius’ testimony is extremely valuable although I make no pretense that nothing could undermine it. For the vast span of time which passed between Erpenius and that publication of the Qur’an requires proof, which Erpenius has not provided. But this great man laid out the entire affair so confidently in this text, using these words: “The Qur’an was printed around 1530, in Arabic script, at Venice; but all copies have been burnt.” Hence, I do not want to doubt the truth of the matter and the secure foundation which Erpenius, the studious investigator of this literature, built. Perhaps, one may object that the aforementioned Catalogue which mentions the Arabic Qur’an is not in the second edition of the Rudiments. It is not clear why the Arabic Qur’an was not mentioned in this edition; it could be argued that Coddaeus tinkered with it. But this objection is not so important that it undermines Erpenius’ account. At the least, it does not follow that one should not accept Erpenius’ account of the destruction of the Qur’an by fire.
There remains the testimony of B. D. Saubert, who clearly owes a debt to Erpenius for his claims about the destruction of the Qur’an by fire. But let the reader beware lest he think that Theodore Bibliander published his defense for the Arabic edition of the Qur’an, as Saubert claims. Rather, it is certain that Theodore Bibliander wrote a defense for his publication of a Vulgar Latin translation of the Qur’an, which he had first published through a printing house in 1543, and then again in 1550, just as Peter, the Abbot of Cluny, once did. We will talk further about this matter in its proper place.
We shall move from streams to their sources, the testimonies of contemporary scholars such as Theseus Ambrosius, Guillaume Postel, and Thomas Erpenius. The first two left their own testimonies (which are exceedingly trustworthy) in a book that is known to few and is used today by even fewer, the title of which is: Introduction to the Chaldean Language, Syriac, Armenian, and Ten other Languages. The edition that I used (since I included this title, together with other excerpts, in my papers) is the Bosian edition, kindly shared with me fourteen years ago from the public Academic Library, under the care of my most worthy Teacher, Johann Wilhelm Baier, outstanding Doctor of Theology in Salana in that time. Coddaeus mentions this book in his
First Arabic Edition of the Qur’an 115 expanded version of Erpenius’ Catalogue under the title of An Introduction to Thirteen Languages, together with the alphabets of many Languages. Coddaeus accurately describes the Bosian edition, except that fairly often, in the copy which I have seen, one finds complete gaps, not even filled by handwritten Arabic letters. For instance, in folio 23b, where he deals with Arabic and Phoenician consonants, he includes only twenty-one Arabic characters, from alifto qaf The remainder, from qaf to the end of the Arabic alphabet, are entirely absent. Thus, in Chapter 13, folio 142, fascicle a, only an empty space is found for a certain Arabic text that was to be inserted. Why? Bosio, in the end of his edition, included lengthy handwritten notes of the passages in this work where Arabic letters were entirely absent or were written by hand. It will help to provide his notes here:
Letters are needed in folio 13b, 16b, 17, 18, 25a, 48b, 49, 50, 51, 52, 56a, 59a, 60b, 61b, 62a, 64b, 66b, 68a, 69b, 72a, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 83a, 84b. The letters are written and completed with a pen at folio 11, 12,23b, 34.
We owe these to Bosio’s diligence. Thus, scholars should conclude that Coddaeus’ Catalogue includes this book of Theseus Ambrosius.
Lovers of literary history will not take it badly if I linger for some time on the edition of the work, upon which almost the entire history of the first Arabic printing of the Qur’an depends. The entire work consists of fifteen chapters, of which the first deals with Chaldean letters, those who inhabit Syria, those which are also called Syriac, and what the patriarchal Church of Antioch uses in its rites. The second chapter shows the connections of names from a straight and inverted alphabet; that is, two alphabets providing words that are conflated from letters combined first in one way and then another, which produce a mystical meaning. The third chapter contains names attributed to God based on the order of letters, so that He is called by the first letter, God; from the second letter, Creator; from the third letter, Powerful. The fourth chapter outlines the division of letters into vowels and consonants. He grants six vowels to Hebrew, Samaritan, and Chaldean: Alef He, Vav, Hhet, Jud, and Ayn; seven vowels to Arabic, Phoenician, Turkish, Persian, and Tartar—Eliph, Ha, Cha, Ayn, Wan, He, and Je; not to mention the things that he says in the same chapter on the vowels of Latin, Greek, Jacobite, Coptic, Macedonian, and likewise of Dalmatians, Ethiopic, and Armenians. In the fifth chapter, he treats at length the consonants in Hebrew, Chaldean, Syriac, Samaritan, Arabic, Phoenician, Greek, Ethiopic, Macedonian, and Dalmatian. The sixth chapter is entitled “On letters which take diacritics within, below, and above.” The seventh chapter is on the marks of Hebrew vowels, their names, and certain other points. The same chapter also deals with the names, shapes, andaccents of vowels in Chaldean, Arabic, and likewise with the languages of certain other peoples. The eighth chapter is on the instruments with which letters are produced and what the letters are for each instrument. The ninth chapter deals with double letters in Hebrew, Chaldean, Phoenician, and others. The tenth chapter treats “radical and servile letters” at great length. The eleventh chapter contains many things on the numbers and means of counting, and the letters and names of numbers in Chaldean. The twelfth chapter is entitled “On Servile Syllables”; the thirteenth chapter is on Armenian Letters. The fourteenth chapter is on the division of Armenian letters. Finally, the fifteenth chapter is on the “Servile Syllables” among the Armenians [...]. Following the work’s Conclusion, an Appendix contains correspondence between our Ambrosius and Guillaume Postel, which shows the rivalry these two men had in the field of Oriental literature. As we shall soon see, this correspondence wonderfully illustrates the history of the first edition of the Qur’an.
Yet before we see their words, it will be useful to describe the rivalry between Ambrosius and Postel. Ambrosius started the argument, and then Postel responded. But Postel won, as he was the first to place his Introduction to Twelve Languages, Differing in Characters (published in 1530 in Paris), if I remember correctly. Ambrosius, at last, published his Introduction some time later as we shall soon show. I myself saw the work of Postel twenty years ago. When I first opened the book, published in a larger four-volume set, as I recall, and not terribly difficult to read, I was still fairly unfamiliar with this type of literature—or rather, was fairly uncouth, and thus I neglected to extract those things that would now strongly support my endeavor. Yet I shall offer what I excerpted from Ambrosius [in the work that I have related thus far, in An Introduction to thirteen languages, together with the alphabets of many Languages, Epilogue], where he writes:
My dear Postel heard my prayer; he spends his time kindly with me. He saw my printed characters for Chaldean and Armenian. He saw my engraver with me. He has known me in my old age, even now sixty-eight years old and hardly up for the task. As I understand, he kept my letters to him, as I did his. He heard in Ferrara that I had published many works on literature and languages. The young man, after he set out for France, wrote other letters to me, and he produced a Booklet on Twelve Languages, which I must respond to diligently.
Thus, the elder [Theseus Ambrosius] supported the youth; he gave Postel his worldly goods, without which perhaps Postel would have accomplished less, though he was an outstanding youth. But enough about Ambrosius and Postel, the leading authors in the history of this discussion; now for the history itself.
Let’s speak about Postel first. Here, he will speak in Italian as he did when he exhorted our Ambrosius to look diligently into “whether or not the person who had published the Arabic Qur’an wanted to sell off his presses, so that Postel, who was going to publish an Arabic Grammar, might use them to create his work.” Coddaeus, in the cited Catalogue to the Rudiments of Arabic Grammar by Erpenius, is a witness to the fact that Postel produced this Grammar. For among the Arabic books with which he had expanded The Catalogue of Erpenius, published in 1620, Coddaeus included Postel’s Introduction to Twelve languages in different characters, and also Postel’s Arabic Grammar and Other Works, published in Paris in 1538. Theodore Bibliander also references Postel’ Arabic Grammar in his exceptional book, On the Common Rationale behind all the Languages and Literature of Zurich, published in four volumes, 1548. On page 4, he writes as follows: “I would not mention Guillaume Postel without honor—of course, he was the one who gave us our lessons in the Arabic language.” Therefore, Postel’s Arabic Grammar was published; but, as the Italian words of Postel plainly said, he wanted to produce it with those plates with which Paganino Paganini had published his Arabic Qur’an. This reference can be found in the Appendix to the Operis Theseani:
I earnestly entreat you to ask whether or not the person who published the Arabic Qur’an wanted to sell his plates, or even a matrix. When you let me know the price, I will send you the money, since I have quite a need for them to print out an Arabic grammar and other books useful for doctors to read. If you do this, you will be praised in all languages.
After reading this, who can doubt that the Qur’an was in print in Arabic at that time?
Ambrosius will shed more light on the story, adding his own Latin words to the Italian words of Postel:
In the meantime, with all passion, care, and diligence, I did not cease from asking Alexander, the son of Paganini, with all earnestness and the assistance of my friends, to consider selling at a fair price the plates and forms of the Eastern characters with which his father had previously printed his Qur’an. He was prepared to do it, but before I could inform Postel about the matter, I saw that he had already published a Booklet on Twelve Languages and Their Different Letters.
Ambrosius’ splendid testimony tells us that the Qur’an was once printed in Arabic, and the man who printed that edition was Paganino Paganini.
After explaining these matters in detail, I can now prove with ease the consensus that exists between Erpenius, Bosio, and the other authors mentioned above, who claim that all the copies of this Qur’an were burnt and suppressed. Indeed, this is obvious, because no copies of that first edition exist today, nor has anyone seen them. Moreover, the historical context and the attitude of the Roman Curia support this assertion. Due to the upheaval of the Reformation, everything was in turmoil at that time, and those who were dedicated to the Roman Church were afraid for their well-being. They feared certain people would abuse their freedom, perhaps by spreading or preaching the religion of Muhammad. Was their fear justified? That is another question. Therefore, they would have considered it a most effective cure to oppose with fire anyone’s attempt to publish the Qur’an in such tumultuous times. This is nothing new for the Roman Church according to my step-father Master D. Wagenseil. In the preface of his praiseworthy work, Fiery Weapons of Satan, he references Book 2 of Alvarus Gomesius, which describes the actions that the Cardinal from Toledo, Franciscus Ximenius, took toward Saracen books. He says,
Because the Cardinal was intent on stamping out Muslim perfidy in the kingdom of Granada, he also zealously ordered the books in which the superstitious believed to be destroyed. Therefore, the fuqahd’ (as the Moors name their jurist), brought out the Qur’an, the most important book for that superstition, and all the other volumes of Muslim wickedness, whoever their authors and of whatever sort, without command or compulsion as they were eager to show obedience at that time. Five thousand volumes were piled in a heap, which—because they were decorated with various designs, Punic skill and effort, and gold and silver—seized not only the eyes but also the minds of those who beheld them. Many asked Ximenius to give them the volumes, but nothing was given to anyone; every last copy was burnt in a public fire, except some pertaining to medicine, in which the Arabs were very skilled. These were saved from that conflagration because of their value in that most salutary art and are now kept in the Complutense Library.
This will easily persuade anyone that the reason that no copy of the first edition of the Qur’an exists today is the fiery strictness of the Roman Curia. Their savagery was often brought against books of this sort— although we do not forget that the Roman Curia did not always have this mentality; a time existed when they acted differently. Anyone who is familiar with the history of Arabic literature has heard the most famed name of Master Louis [Ludovico] Marracci. He was the confessor to the Roman Pontiff Innocent XI, by whose diligence we have been able to publish not only the Arabic text, but also a Latin translation of the Qur’an. God willing, we shall say more about this edition at the appropriate time.
Paganini had already published the Arabic text of the Qur’an in Italy in the sixteenth century, around the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation, and specifically, as Erpenius says, at Venice in 1530. But all copies of it were destroyed by the authority of the Pontiff and the Roman Curia.
Not undeservedly, in this theological forum a question is raised about the theological morality of that Pontiff, whose passion burned the copies of that edition. Should we approve or disapprove of the Pontiff condemning those works to destruction? Let those who defend this fiery zeal bring forward Acts 19:19, where we read that “many of those who had practiced magic arts gathered and burnt their books in front of everyone, and when their prices were reckoned, they were valued at fifty thousand coins.” Let those same people also realize that the souls of the faithful are more readily saved from the danger of seduction by annihilating those enticements, which can poison the careless. This is especially important in times when people hold sentiment against the received dogmas of the Church. Certain of Pontiff’s men declare that those times undoubtedly contained anti-Church sentiments, and at times they hatefully compare the Augsburg (Augustan) Confession with the Qur’an. Others say that the Turks must not be encouraged by the publication of their books among the Christians, which might lead the Turks to sink even deeper into error. Finally, there is a noteworthy argument for Divine Will: for the past 160 years, all attempts by those men to print copies of the Arabic Qur’an had been thwarted. Apart from Paganini, all men have toiled in vain in this field: Thomas Erpenius, Louis de Dieu, Jacob Golius, Johann Zechendorf, Christian Ravis, August Pfeiffer, and others, about whose attempts and outcomes it will be possible to offer a full account at the appropriate time. But these arguments can readily be refuted.
As for the first argument from Acts 19:19, there is the greatest disparity between books of magic and the Qur’an. For magical processes were described in them, and deeds were taught that are not only in opposition to divine law, but also worthy of capital punishment (Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:27). The Qur’an is unlike these for although it teaches falsehoods, it contains trifles which contradict themselves, nor is the Qur’an worse than the majority of pagan texts, especially the Poets, which contain things likewise false, fictional, indecent, and even wicked. Therefore, if the Qur’an had been banished entirely according to Acts 19:19, the majority of other authors born outside the Church would also have to be condemned to the flames. Yet one could be easily persuaded that this was not the opinion of the Apostle Paul, based on the verses of Aratus, Menander, and Epimenides, which were also a part of the canonical scriptures. Hence, the Roman Church should not savage these books so terribly. It also seems good to cite here some parts from the Apology of Theodore Bibliander on behalf of Publishing the Qur’an, which says:
Certain serious men did not hesitate to call licentious poets the ‘flautists of the Demon’, as if he were trying to insinuate deathly lies among men through those people whom he inspired. Tertullian as well, a theologian of the first order, calls philosophers the ‘patriarchs of heretics.’ Yet their books are published with engravings and read through and are set before the youth in schools in such a typical manner that if anyone rebukes them, he straight away hears the braying of the ass.
Certain men, burning with Catholic zeal (particularly Jacob Gretzer, the most renowned Jesuit) did not hesitate to publicly defend the idea that the Books of the Pagans, Jews, Turks, and others, should be allowed, or at least tolerated. But still, those same men felt that the books of Protestants should be destroyed and burnt up, as though they were threatening such damage to the Catholic Church and carrying such hidden poison within them that they would trouble the sacred flock more than the books of infidels. Disturbed at the unworthiness of this accusation, Jacob Laurentius, the minister of the holy word in Hoog-karspel, long ago published a Theological Dissertation to Maximiliam Sandaeus, the Jesuit, to challenge Jacob Gretzer (published in Amsterdam in 1619). Therefore, let the Pontiffs cease to defend the burning of the Qur’an, unless they want either to burn it with all the works of the Pagans which they still deal with and disseminate, or to challenge other Catholics who saved the books of Muslims from being burnt out of their hatred for Protestants.
There is a second less important argument. It was pointless to burn the Arabic Qur’an to prevent the souls of the faithful from being tainted by the teachings of Muhammad. How many Europeans existed at that time who had sufficient knowledge of even the Arabic alphabet? Thus, a fear of widespread reading—much less a fear of widespread conversion to Islam—could hardly accompany the printing of an Arabic book. But long ago there existed a Qur’an translated into Latin in the time of St. Bernhard, made by his dear friend Master Peter, the Abbot of Cluny. Afterwards, Theodore Bibliander issued his Latin edition, which was printed at a press. If the Roman Curia had for this reason wanted to protect its own Church, this copy should have been destroyed, not the Arabic book. Anyone who looks into the literary history of those times is rightly amazed that the 1530 edition of the Arabic Qur’an was entirely suppressed; but that nevertheless, shortly thereafter, in the year 1547, “with grace and privilege,” an Italian translation of the Qur’an was duly printed in Venice. Not only did the editor Andrea Arrivabene boast that it was translated from Arabic to the vernacular Italian, a
First Arabic Edition of the Qur'an 121 commune utilita di molti, that is, “for the use of the many,” but it was also inscribed and dedicated by Gabriel de Luetz [Gabriel d’Aramon], Advisor to the Christian King and Ambassador to the Ottoman Throne. Therefore, that fear must have vanished in a short time that the Qur’an would obstruct the affairs of Christians. Unless you prefer to say that Luther, in the noteworthy Preface to the Transylvanian monk’s book On the Religion and Customs of the Turks, made it so that the Pontiffs of the Roman Church, steeped with shame, ceased to suppress the religious writings of the Muslims, so that Luther would no longer have an opportunity to repeat what he had said in the aforementioned preface:
Now I see what the rationale was for hiding the religion of the Turks from the Papists. It is because they sensed the truth of the matter— if it comes to arguing about religion, the entire Papacy would fall, nor would they be able to defend their faith and repress the faith of Muhammad.
None, however, can make themselves fouler than those who poisonously compare the Augsburg Confession with Islam and the Qur’an. They thought that the Qur’an printed in Arabic needed to be suppressed, lest it create an environment unacceptable to the Roman Church. The Church was threatened in the same way by the Augsburg Confession. The poisonous man who published documents in 1630 under the title Scrupel uber das Lutherische Jubel-Jahr (Scruple about the Lutheran Jubilee-Year) dared to compare the Augsburg Confession with the Qur’an. In order to make the comparison between the Augsburg Confession and the Qur’an bitter, he fabricated the character of a certain Lutheran layperson, who was offended by the assemblies of the sycophants of the Augsburg Confession, which were held all through 1630. He made this third comparison:
Our Jubilee Sermons rejoice that such a Confession has been brought to many kingdoms and Lords’ countries. Thus, I want to know what we can send them for Jubilee? The books of the followers of Zwingli, the Calvinists, the Arians, and even the Turks have been carried to every country and kingdom. Our Holy Father Luther himself allowed the Turkish Qur’an to be produced in Latin and the German language with a fine preface, and sent throughout the world. [...].
That author boldly mocks and throws foul bile—hardly befitting a man—into the face and fame of Luther. The author speaks boldly when he crudely states “that Luther published the Qur’an in Latin and German.” Luther did not publish the Qur’an. But, there was a certain refutation of the Qur’an, authored by Father Richard. Luther translated it into German and added his own preface, which has thus beenincluded in his works, Wittenberg and the Eight Jenensians (volume 2). Luther also published another book, which was written against Muslims, about which we have provided a few comments toward the end of the previous section. But Luther never published the Qur’an in Latin or German, which the aforementioned storyteller lied about, poorly. I am not ignoring the fact that Theodore Bibliander produced a Latin translation of the Qur’an at a printing press. In his own first edition, which was published in 1543, he offered at the beginning of the Qur’an a sort of preface, giving himself the name “B. Luther.” It must be known that first, Luther himself did not publish that Qur’an, much less one in Latin and German, as the deviser of that lie said, but the publisher was Theodore Bibliander, as I mentioned. Second, the name “Luther” was without a doubt a mistake, since the author of the well-known Premonition to the Qur’an is far more likely to be Philipp Melanchthon than Luther; for which reason this error is corrected in another of Bibliander’s editions of the Qur’an, published in 1550, which is in my hands, where this very same Premonition is clearly stated to have been written by Philipp Melanchthon.
Some light can be shed on the outstanding observations of Master Acoluthus from what he has said so far. This man, in the oft-praised Specimen, has prepared scholarly refutations for our fellows, especially for that assertion concerning Bibliander’s Latin Qur’an. Acoluthus challenges the unjust accusations contained within Florimond de Rae-mond’s The Origin of Heresies, where he lies in a similar manner to the aforementioned anonymous slanderer of Luther. Raymond treats only Melanchthon and Bibliander with terrible hatred, among the extremely studious editors of the Qur’an; but he also argues daringly alongside Anonymous, saying that “Luther did not hesitate to deck out the Qur’an with an illuminating preface.” In either case, Raymond must be mistaken. For he supposes that the edition of the Qur’an that Bibliander published was either the first or the second edition. If the first, Raymond is properly reprimanded by my Master Acoluthus, because he considered Philipp Melanchthon one of the editors of the Qur’an; and yet, the first edition in no way resembles the work of Melanchthon. But if he means the second edition, and considers the preface attached to the beginning of that Qur’an to be the work of Melanchthon, then it must be false when he says that Luther adorned the Qur’an with a preface. However, one could question whether Raymond meant what he said about Luther’s preface for the Qur’an to refer to the Premonition, which was prefixed to the first edition of the Qur’an by Bibliander under the name of Luther, since nothing more foolish can be said than that “the Qur’an was adorned with that preface.” Yet Raymond used those very words. If that preface adorns the Qur’an, let the Pontiffs cease to complain about Luther’s very well-known Hymn, “Receive us, Lord, in your Word,” as though the Roman Pontifex were treated most bitterly in it. Rather, they will need to recognize the statement with which the Pontiff is adorned. As an example, let me present some passages from that Premonition with which I am concerned, to leave to each man’s judgment whether the Qur’an was adorned with the work either of Luther or Melanchthon. So, the abovementioned preface says:
In the first place, the Christian reader should be advised against the ravings of Muhammad; he must maintain this righteous and protective bulwark. The Church of Christ proclaims a doctrine that was handed down by the first fathers, the prophets, the son of God, and the apostles. This is the first church, and the congruent church, and assured by the resurrection of the dead and by other extraordinary events which the Devil’s power cannot replicate. Therefore, we recognize that the teaching of the Church has been handed down by God, the eternal Creator of all things, and that no other religions should be accepted. Muhammad openly declares that he rejects the writings of the prophets and the Epistles and replaces them with his own teachings. Therefore, these recent myths of Muhammad’s can no more affect or disturb Christians than the ancient madness of the Egyptians, who worshipped cows, cats, and snakes as gods, and sought aid from them.
These words are a marvelous warning about the Qur’an and all Islam. Thus, it is obvious that no one who is not malicious can charge this work [the translated Qur’an] of conspiring with Islam. If one wishes to read more on this topic, the esteemed Acoluthus will provide further relevant excerpts.
How about the false equivalency that Anonymous draws between the Augsburg Confession and the Qur’an? Anonymous says that those who praise the Augsburg Confession congratulate themselves and their Confession because it spread so easily and quickly throughout the world and in various languages, and yet the same can be said about the Qur’an. I answer that this argument relies upon sophistry and can easily be refuted. Whenever our co-religionists, among their subordinate arguments, emphasize the swift dispersal of the Augsburg Confession as evidence of divine providence, they have not emphasized as keenly the fact that our confession was also spread among various languages and kingdoms. It has spread around and set before the hands and eyes of all very quickly, which cannot be said about the Qur’an and its translation into various languages. However, we grant that over the course of time the Qur’an has been translated into various Eastern and Western languages as well.
Finally, it is proper for us to set the authority of the more sincere and learned men in the Roman Church before the authority of those miserable men who slander the Augsburg Confession and Protestants. Above, in section 16, we mentioned a man who was great among his peers,
Marracci, to whom we owe the publication of an Arabic-Latin Qur’an in a folio, which was produced at Padua in 1698. But did this man also believe that the criticisms of the Protestant theologians and philologists, and the work that they expended in dealing with the Qur’an, were suspicious and poisonous? Of course not. Rather, that renowned man’s humanity, and the fact that he gladly took the friendly criticisms, is proven by Master Acoluthus, in the cited Specimen-, Acoluthus does not otherwise fawn upon Marracci whenever he made mistakes. The name of Marracci is more respectable in this sort of literature (among the fair-minded) than any thousands of others who know the art of slander better than Arabic literature and Turkish studies.
The third argument concerns placing stumbling blocks before the Turks regarding the publication of the Qur’an; and this can be taken in various senses. For one either thinks that the Turks will think that we admire their law if they hear that there was a Qur’an printed in Europe; or that they would have access to a new supply of copies of the Qur’an, which will strengthen their superstition; perhaps just as the publication of the Jewish book Nizachon made a target of its publisher [Theodor] Hackspan by twisting the editor’s original intention to vilify him.
Yet in neither sense does this argument solve anything. If the above-mentioned first interpretation is preferred, certainly the Muslims will not rejoice because of the publication of their writings, especially the Qur’an, among Christians. Of course, the Muslims know well enough that these editors intend rather a refutation than the promulgation of their teachings. All such copies would be considered profane, or even be destroyed by fire, a practice not unknown among the Turks themselves. Also see the renowned Hottinger, in Historia Orientalis (published in 1651), as well as Ravius in Spolio Orientis (Spoils of the East), where he also bears witness to how much grief Muslim authors suffer when they leave their books in the hands of Christians. Why? Master Tenzelius explains it well enough, in the cited passage, where says that Muslim kings and princes are eager to pry Arabic books, especially the Qur’an, from the hands of Christians, no matter the means or the cost; they do not like it when their books are in Christian hands. Indeed, Raymond argues that “a certain Muslim man celebrated the gains that Islam made because of the publication of the Qur’an in Latin.” But Master Acoluthus refutes Raymond, saying that “this is an unadulterated, plain lie,” and that “it is clear that the Latin Qur’an contains no arguments in support of Islam—rather, it argues against it.” This can be seen in Bibliander’s edition. Indeed, Raymond persuaded no one of his claim, except for men who did not see the aforementioned book and are therefore simply ignorant of Turkish matters. Yet there are some who are free from this primitivism but still repeat Raymond’s hateful lie (which is completely absurd) that Luther had told terrible lies about Pontifical affairs, and that he persuaded men with his abovementioned hymn, the Schmalkaldic Articles,
and other books, which he uses to strongly criticize the Pontifical hierarchy. But I will pass those things over.
Whoever embraces the second interpretation of this third argument, which says that the copies of the Qur’an, especially the Arabic version, were rightly destroyed, let him beware lest he serve the superstition of the Turks. Apart from the fact that such copies were considered evil to Muslims rather than being a vindication of their religion, as we have said in the previous section, Master [Johann Christoph] Wagenseil answers this charge well enough in his preface to Fiery Weapons. Here, he includes his opinion when the question arises around a similar act by Ximenius, who also burnt copies of the Qur’an. He says,
How much more valuable would it have been if Ximenius and those who followed him in their zeal were eager to purge errors from the minds of men rather than to destroy their book. This should be the task, this should be the work, to slander the foul teachings of the sycophant Muhammad, to lay bare his crafty arts, to mark out his most unclean habits (however much they may be masked by a certain feigned righteousness) and his burning lust, to point out the thefts he committed from the sacred literature of the Jews as well; for that is the only way to liberate a people from a poorly constructed religion.
There remains the fourth and last argument, which might trick the unwary. Indeed, a great many scholars have died in the past 150 years in the attempt to publish the Qur’an in Arabic. Various handwritten copies were for sale; explicit promises to undertake the printing of the Qur’an were made; but no Arabic Qur’an came forth until finally Hinckelmann produced his in 1694. This argument was outlined in the dissertation, On the Copies, Various Attempts, and the Most Recent Successes of Learned Men in Publishing the Arabic Qur’an. I refuse to concede that this is a worthy argument. Indeed, history will provide more examples of these attempts to argue that so many men of such stature were not hindered by pure mischance over such a long course of time. For whatever sort of superstition exists, I do not doubt that whoever looks with some care into the reasons for the failures to publish in the past will agree with me on the fallacy of this argument. Surely, some fellow or another was shackled by the shortness of life, so that he did not publish the Qur’an. It is certain that many other men were hindered by other things. Of course, insufficient preparation undermined the work of some, and for others, the preparation was too difficult; some lacked the necessary funds; while others who were engaged in still other tasks died before they could keep their word; decency could not compel some to undertake what they had promised—they were obviously afraid of excessively harsh criticisms for their efforts. But when there are so many hindrances, it is no wonder that even the attempts of countless great men could be thwarted for such a long time. But I will say more about that matter in its own time. This was the history of the first edition of the Arabic Qur’an.
Glory to God Alone.
- 1 Lange’s biography was compiled from the following sources: Laurentio Reinhard, Imitationes parallelae in Cornelium Nepotem, ex recentiori historia desuntae, in usum scholarum editae (Leipzig, 1732), 117; Hugh James Rose (ed.), “Lang, or Lange, (John Michael),” in A New General Biographical Dictionary, vol. 9 (London, 1857), 183; Julius August Wagenmann, “Lang, Johann Michael,” in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographic, vol. 17 (Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1883), 601-2; John M’Clintock and James Strong (eds.), “Lange, Johann Michael,” in Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, vol. 5 (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1894), 230-1; and John L. Flood, Poets Laureate in the Holy Roman Empire: A Bio-bibliographical Handbook (Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 2006), 1072-5.
- 2 [MK] On Alcorano di Macometto, see Tommasino, The Venetian Qur’an, 185-99.
- 3 [MK] On Andreas Acoluthus, see Alastair Hamilton, “Andreas Acoluthus,” in Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History, eds. David Thomas and John Chesworth, vol. 14 (Leiden: Brill, 2020), 437-44.