The Mingana Folios in their Historical Context
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Dr Prof Efim Rezvan (St. Petersburg Kunstkamera Museum), leading Russian specialist in Qur’anic studies: The oldest manuscripts of the Qur’ān, like Mingana folios, are present in several historical contexts. In my short lecture I would like to speak about only four among them, which seem to me most important both from scholarly and broad public point of view, and as such caused sharp discussions sometimes.
The first and probably most important historical context I would like to call “The Prophet and His Qur’ān”. This was the time of the earliest Qur’ānic copies creation.
The study of the extant Qur’ānic MSS shows that the 10th century AD was marked by fundamental changes in the history of the Qur’ānic text, so the second historical context I would like to set the Mingana folios against is called “The Milestone: 10th century”. The earliest comparatively “full” MSS of the Qur’ān which reach us are dated to the end of the 8th century. By the 10th century the new text standard appeared. This was evidently the important period when older copies that contained by then an unacceptable number of variant readings were being actively removed from circulation. By one way or another the Mingana folios were lucky enough to survive.
The third historical context, which I call “In European collections: first descriptions and studies”, is connected with another important turn of destiny. To it we can trace the preservation of nearly all presently existing early Qur’ānic fragments. They survived a second time as they found their way into European collections.
I believe that every early Qur’ānic text fragment will have its “Moment of fame”. The incredible public response to the news about the new Birmingham folios dating came about because of the coincidence of a number of factors associated with the increasing role of Islam in world. This moment of fame is the historical context in which the Mingana folios exist today.
The four historical contexts I have identified provide a proper historical framework from which to understand these Mingana folios in this current controversial setting because they take us back to a time before the final construction of the current text of the Qur’ān.