Review of Todd Lawson, The Crucifixion and the Qur’an

The Qur’an’s statement that the Jews “did not kill [Jesus], nor did they crucify him, but it was made to appear [so] to them” (4:157) has often been interpreted to mean that someone else was crucified in his place, but in his book The Crucifixion and the Qur’an Todd Lawson shows that this interpretation is neither inevitable nor universally accepted by Muslim exegetes. Here is my review of the book:

David R. Vishanoff. Review of Todd Lawson, The Crucifixion and the Qur’an: A Study in the History of Muslim Thought (Oxford: Oneworld, 2009). Review of Middle East Studies 47.1 (2013): 69–71.

Permanent link to the published article (Version of Record): DOI 10.1017/S2151348100056366

Unfortunately, the review is rather critical, so I do not wish to distribute it widely, and will not post the full text here. It is important only for those scholars who are considering making serious use of the book.

Why Do the Nations Rage? A Muslim Rewriting of Psalm 2

This article examines an intriguing Muslim version of Psalm 2, and concludes that although it may have been written in response to the Crusaders’ conquest of Jerusalem, it is not so much anti-Christian polemic as an internal polemic against worldly Muslims. It stems from a paper titled “A Muslim Rewriting of Psalm 2: Interreligious Resistance and Intrareligious Critique,” which I presented at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in San Diego in 2007, as part of a memorable panel on “Muslim Biblical Studies.” Most of the papers from that panel were published in a thematic issue of Comparative Islamic Studies. The published article is:

David R. Vishanoff. “Why Do the Nations Rage? Boundaries of Canon and Community in a Muslim’s Rewriting of Psalm 2.” Comparative Islamic Studies 6 (2010 [2012]): 151–179.

Permanent link to the published article (Version of Record): DOI 10.1558/cis.v6i1-2.151

For those without access to the journal, here is the pre-press Accepted Manuscript as a pdf.

And here is the abstract:

Numerous Arabic manuscripts of the “Psalms of David” contain not the Biblical Psalms but Muslim compositions in the form of exhortations addressed by God to David. One rewritten version of Psalm 2 manipulates the form and content of the Biblical Psalms so as to highlight a conflict between the Christian and Muslim communities, and the incompatibility of their scriptural canons. Yet it also embraces the imagined idea of the Psalms of David, and incorporates elements of the Quran, ḥadīth, Islamic sermons, and Tales of the Prophets so as to highlight a division that cuts through both the Muslim and Christian communities, separating worldly believers from those who, like the shared figure of David, repent and pursue a life of otherworldly piety. This illustrates how sacred texts can serve as symbols of religious communities, especially in situations of conflict, and how apparently interreligious arguments can turn out to be intrareligious disputes. It shows how the content, form, and imagined identity of someone else’s sacred text can be used to manipulate the boundaries of textual canons and religious communities, and it demonstrates the need for both interreligious and intrareligious frames of reference in the comparative enterprise.

The Formation of Islamic Hermeneutics

This monograph started out as my dissertation at Emory University, but doubled in size and was revised several times before it was finally published. It reconstructs the history of the 8th- to 11th-century development of the linguistic and hermeneutical aspects of Sunni legal theory (uṣūl al-fiqh).

The Formation of Islamic Hermeneutics: How Sunni Legal Theorists Imagined a Revealed Law. American Oriental Series, ed. Stephanie W. Jamison, no. 93. New Haven, Connecticut: American Oriental Society, 2011.

It is available here from Eisenbraun’s, which is now an imprint of Penn State University Press (344 pages, cloth, $52.50, ISBN 9780940490314).

I have created a color timeline (pdf) that maps out the individuals and movements studied in the book, on a continuum from those whose hermeneutic emphasizes the clarity of language to those who emphasize its ambiguity.

Reference article on the Islamic ‘Psalms of David’

Drawing on my research for two full-length articles on the Islamic Psalms of David (a collection of divine sayings composed in Qur’anic style by Muslim authors and presented as the Zabur of the Prophet David), I contributed the following reference article to a monumental reference work led by David Thomas:

David R. Vishanoff. “Islamic ‘Psalms of David’.” In Christian-Muslim Relations: A Bibliographical History, Volume 3 (1050-1200), ed. David Thomas and Alex Mallett, 724-730. Leiden: Brill, 2011.

This reference work is available from Brill.

A more more detailed survey of these Islamic psalms may be found in my article “An Imagined Book Gets a New Text: Psalms of the Muslim David.”

An Imagined Book Gets a New Text: Psalms of the Muslim David

This article maps out the relationships between several very different versions of the Islamic Psalms–a set of pious psalms composed by Muslims in the style of the Qur’an and presented as the Zabur revealed to the Prophet David. It is based on papers presented at the Sixth Woodbrooke-Mingana Symposium on Arab Christianity and Islam in 2009 and at the American Oriental Society in 2010. My map of the various recensions and the families of manuscripts that represent them continues to evolve, and I have updated it slightly in oral presentations such as “An Early Recension of the Islamic Psalms of David,” but this article remains, as of 2017, the most complete published discussion of the different versions.

David R. Vishanoff. “An Imagined Book Gets a New Text: Psalms of the Muslim David.” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 22 (2011): 85-99.

The Version of Record (VoR) is published at

For those without access to the journal, here is a pdf of the pre-press Accepted Manuscript.

And here is the abstract:

Numerous Arabic manuscripts of the ‘Psalms of David’ contain not the biblical Psalms but Muslim compositions in the form of exhortations addressed by God to David. A survey of five manuscripts reveals that all such texts studied to date can be traced to two early source collections, whose contents were rewritten and expanded by three medieval authors and numerous copyists to produce four distinct texts in seven different recensions. These texts intersect with several types of literature: rewritten Bible, interreligious polemic, sermons, wisdom literature, divine sayings, law, Tales of the Prophets, and ‘dialogues with God’ (munājāt). They should be regarded not as polemical rewritings of the Bible, but as rewritten Qur’an, in which each author employs the idea of David and his Psalms to lend the authority of revelation to his own message.