Islamic Psalms of David – translated selections in The Bloomsbury Reader in Christian-Muslim Relations, 600-1500

Several translated selections from the Islamic Zabur that are of special interest for Christian-Muslim relations are now available in an affordable sourcebook suitable for use in teaching: The Bloomsbury Reader in Christian-Muslim Relations, 600-1500, edited by David Thomas and available from Bloomsbury. My contribution is:

David R. Vishanoff. “Islamic Psalms of David.” In The Bloomsbury Reader in Christian-Muslim Relations, 600-1500, ed. David Thomas, 30–33. London: Bloomsbury, 2022.

It includes the following excerpts:

  • A rewriting of the Biblical Psalm 2 that alludes to a Qur’anic verse and seeks to preempt the Christian view that Psalm 2 asserts Jesus’s divine sonship.
  • A prediction of Muhammad and of the corruption of the Bible.
  • Another psalm that predicts Muhammad, alludes to the Qur’an’s echo of Psalm 37:29, criticizes Christian worship, and tells a story involving a dragon.
  • An assertion that Muslims do better than Christians at fulfilling Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.

Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms (published paper)

A volume of essays resulting from a conference on “The Character of David in Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” held in Warsaw in 2016, has been published by Brill (

Marzena Zawanowska and Mateusz Wilk, eds. The Character of David in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Warrior, Poet, Prophet and King. Leiden: Brill, 2021.

Many thanks to Marzena and Mateusz for bringing this rich and highly interdisciplinary volume to press, and for organizing and hosting the memorable conference at which it originated. My own contribution to the volume is:

David R. Vishanoff. “Images of David in Several Muslim Rewritings of the Psalms.” In The Character of David in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Warrior, Poet, Prophet and King, ed. Marzena Zawanowska and Mateusz Wilk, 273–298. Leiden: Brill, 2021.

Here is a pdf of the PREPRINT version of the paper; note that pagination, layout, and minor details may differ from the version of record published in the book, which is available from Brill at

Abstract: Among the many extant Arabic manuscripts of “the Psalms of David” are some that start out sounding like translations of the Biblical Psalms but that turn out, on further investigation, to contain fresh compositions by Muslim authors. Several different versions of these psalms have come down to us, and each presents a somewhat different image of David, depending on the outlook and objectives of its creator. This paper explores the range of strategies employed to turn David into what each author considered an appropriately Islamic figure. In keeping with the moderately ascetic and anti-establishment tone of these rewritten psalms, most versions downplay David’s kingly function and emphasize instead his role as a prophet and, above all, as an exemplar of otherworldly piety. The Biblical story of David’s sin of adultery and murder poses a special problem, which each editor handles in his own way: some play it up to make him a model of repentance, while others, following mainstream Muslim scholars, ignore or mitigate his sin to make him fit their ideals of piety and prophethood. The paper concludes that the pious Muslim writers who compiled and edited the several versions of these psalms did not see themselves as engaged in an interreligious debate over the true character of David or the true text of his Psalms (the Zabur mentioned in the Qur’an), but instead used the symbols of David and his Psalms quite freely and creatively to argue against their more worldly fellow Muslims and to promote their own particular visions of Islamic piety.

Theologies of Divine Speech and the Human Exigencies of Law

Many thanks to Muna Tatari and Idris Nassery for their warm hospitality and engagement during their conference on “Dynamics of Tradition: Islamic Theology and Law in Relation” at the University of Paderborn, September 17-19, 2021. I presented the following paper:

“Theologies of Divine Speech and the Human Exigencies of Law: A Conundrum for Classical and Contemporary Islamic Legal Hermeneutics.” Dynamics of Tradition: Islamic Theology and Law in Relation, Institute for Islamic Theology, University of Paderborn, Germany, September 19, 2021.

Here is a pdf of the pre-conference draft, without documentation, from which I presented excerpts at the conference.

The paper will appear in the conference volume; publication with Brill is expected in 2023.

Five Facets of the Anthropological Turn in Qur’anic Hermeneutics

Majid Daneshgar and Johanna Pink, of the University of Freiburg, invited me to participate in their online lecture series “Freiburg conversations on tafsir and transregional Islamic networks II,” and Nadja Germann, also of the University of Freiburg, served as host and gave a very helpful and thought-provoking response that will reshape the outline of my long-term project on contemporary Qur’anic hermeneutics. Questions from the audience, starting with Karen Bauer, are also pushing me to rethink my starting point: should I start with the classical and modern sources of hermeneutical ideas, or with the thinkers who appeal to those classical and modern sources, or with the ideas themselves? Should I work chronologically or thematically? Up or down the isnads of intellectual transmission and exchange? The discussion really got me thinking.

“Five Facets of the Anthropological Turn in Qur’anic Hermeneutics: History, Linguistics, Ideology, Phenomenology, and Postmodernism.” Freiburg conversations on tafsir and transregional Islamic networks II, via Zoom, March 3, 2021.

There were no slides, but the full text of the talk is available here as a pdf. Video of both the talk and Nadja’s response (but not the Q&A) is available on YouTube here.

Informative and Performative Theories of Divine Speech in Classical Islamic Legal Theory

This paper, delivered in 2017 at the conference on “Intention and Signification: Philosophy of Language Across Islamic Disciplines, 800-1200” organized by Nadja Germann at the University of Freiburg, has been published in the conference volume:

David R. Vishanoff. “Informative and Performative Theories of Divine Speech in Classical Islamic Legal Theory.” In Philosophy and Language in the Islamic World, ed. Nadja Germann and Mostafa Najafi, 183–208. Philosophy in the Islamic World in Context, ed. Peter Adamson, et al., no. 2. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2021.

The volume is available from De Gruyter.

Abstract: The Qurʾān describes God’s speech as powerful and creative: “When he decrees something he merely says to it ‘Be!’ and it is.” Just as impressively, when he desires to make an action obligatory he merely says “I oblige you to do it,” or even just “do it!” This is an example of what some modern theorists of language call performative speech, which brings about a new state of affairs rather than just conveying information about what is already the case. This essay considers the emergence of the concept of performative speech in classical Islamic legal theory, presenting the debate over whether to regard God’s speech as informative or performative as part of an ongoing argument over the nature of law, the nature of God’s speech, and the relationship between them. After a brief discussion of Muḥammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī (d. 204/820), the essay presents the views of four contrasting thinkers of the late 4th/10th and early 5th/11th centuries: the Shāfiʿī jurist and Muʿtazilī theologian ʿAbd al-Jabbār (d. 415/1025), who treated God’s speech as a purely informative description from which human beings may deduce the details of an ontologically and epistemologically prior moral order; the Ḥanbalī Abū Yaʿlā Ibn al-Farrāʾ (d. 458/1066), who took the opposite tack, treating God’s speech as a performative speech act that brings about obligations with the immediacy of a master’s face–to–face orders to a slave; the Mālikī jurist and Ashʿarī theologian Abū Bakr al-Bāqillānī (d. 403/1013), who sought to have it both ways; and the Ḥanafī Abū Zayd al-Dabūsī (d. ca. 430/1038), who appears to have introduced the term inshāʾ into Sunni legal theory. These last two thinkers sought, in very different ways, to affirm that legal obligations are brought about by God’s speech; yet they treated the language of revelation as a source of information and indicative evidence from which human interpreters could reconstruct the law through a flexible interpretive process.