There is nothing unique about Classical Arabic (CA) as a liturgical language. After all, there was medieval Arabic for Druze and a creolization of Pahlavi (Middle Persian) and “fusha” (formal modern Arabic) for Baha’i. (Such creolization was nothing new. Notably, Sogdian was a synthesis of Pahlavi and Arabic’s precursor: Syriac.) CA was not the only liturgical language to come from Syriac (via its Nabataean incarnation). The liturgical language of Manicheanism was also based on Syriac (via its Palmyrene and Sogdian incarnations; with a confluence of Old Uyghur).
Fetishization of a particular language is not uncommon in cult activity. Conservative Hindus fetishize Sanskrit–especially “Shabd”: the divine speech in which the “revealed” scriptures (“shruti”; i.e. the Vedas) were articulated. Until Vatican II, Roman Catholics routinely fetishized Latin. (Vulgar Latin was the official language of the Empire that inaugurated their religion; even though their scripture was originally composed in Koine Greek, a language their savior did not speak.) How far can this be taken? The (Hindu) Tamils fetishize their language by deifying it as the linguistic incarnation of the goddess, “Tamil Tay” (alt. “Thamizh Thaai”).
The list goes on and on. Some Eastern Orthodox Christians harken back to Koine Greek (others to Old Church Slavonic). The sacred texts of Santeria are composed in “Lucumi” (a Cuban dialect of the Nigerian “Yoruba” language). The sacred texts of Candomblé Ketu are composed in “Nago” (a Brasilian dialect of “Yoruba”). The sacred texts of the Orthodox Tewahedo Church (and of “Beta Israel”) are composed in “Ge’ez”. Even Scientology has its own proprietary (neologism-infused) lingo.
Does it follow that these liturgical languages are the “favorite” languages of the Creator of the Universe? Does it follow that these sanctified tongues are somehow “eternal” (having existed since the beginning of time)?
In each case, the fetishized tongue acts like a secret handshake. That is to say, employment of a unique, liturgical vernacular serves as a validation of membership. In this way, incantations uttered in the designated language affirm one’s fealty. The implicit message is: “I’m speaking in the anointed tongue, so you can see that I’m bona fide.” Such is the nature of a liturgical language.
Thus: We have myriad case-studies of a phenomenon that parallels the events that led to the creation of the book in CA now known as the Koran. CA-fetishism takes this phenomenon to extremes. Indeed, it is the only instance in which it is claimed that DIVINITY ITSELF speaks in a certain tongue. Ergo: “It’s not that the Koran happened to be composed in CA; it’s that the Koran HAS TO BE in CA. Period.”
Consequently, the thinking goes, if it’s not in CA, then it’s not the “real” Koran. That the so-called “recitation” could not possibly have ORIGINALLY been in CA seems not to pose a problem for CA-fetishists. (It’s their story, and they’re sticking to it!) And so it went: Some of the material was sanctified and REMAINED sanctified; some of it was eventually for what it was: MYTH (infused with palpable elements of truth, as myth usually is).
But let’s say that the Sumerian “Enuma-Elish” or the Akkadian “Legend of Etana” or the Canaanite “Epic of Zimri-Lim” had yielded cult followings that persevered to the present day. (This did not happen primarily because such works–like the Iliad and Odyssey–do not include dictates or prescribed agendas. They are therefore not recipes for sacred doctrines…let alone instigations for fanatical cult followings.) Under that hypothetical scenario, we might ask: As historians, anthropologists, and sociologists, would we be prudent in treating these tracts any differently than we treat the Koran / Hadith?
A full assessment of why some works yielded religions while others did not goes beyond the scope of this analysis. Obviously, certain features make one tract more amenable to ensuing cult activity than others. (WHAT WOULD a religion based on “The Epic of Gilgamesh” or “Beowulf” look like in the 20th century, anyway?)
In theory, a cult could be formed around virtually ANY book (even a NON-EXISTENT book, as the Necronomicon demonstrated). But the fact remains that some texts are much more conducive to the enterprise than others (which is why there is no religion based on Homer’s epic poems, while L. Ron Hubbard had no problem constructing Scientology from Dianetics).
Consider two dozen other examples of liturgical languages:
- Vedic Sanskrit for Hinduism
- The “Ardha-Magadhi” Prakrit for Jainism
- The “Elu” Prakrit for (Buddhist) Sinhalese (basis for their lingua franca: Sinhala)
- The “Pali” Prakrit for Theravada Buddhism
- Ali Gali (a.k.a. “Galik”; a way to transcribe Old Tibetan) for Tibetan Buddhism
- Zhang-Zhung (a variant of Tibetan) for Bon
- Classical Chinese for Mahayana Buddhism
- Classical Chinese for Taoism
- Heian-period Japanese (“Chuko Nihon-go”; using the early Kana script known as “Man-yo-gana”) for Japanese Buddhism
- Lehndi (the Lahnda dialect of Punjabi) for Sikhism
- Old Mongolian for Tengri-ism
- Uyghur [script: Syriac, then Manichaean] for Manicheanism
- Classical Mandaic (a derivative of Aramaic, with Persian lexical influences) for Mandaeanism
- The Hawrami dialect of Gorani (a variant of Kurdish from Persian influences) for Yarsanism
- Kurmanji (a variant of Kurdish; script: Sorani) for Yazidism
- Avestan (script: Pahlavi) for Zoroastrianism
- Classical Hebrew, then Masoretic Hebrew (script: sometimes Aramaic, sometimes Mishnaic, and sometimes Hebraic block letters) for Judaism
- Aramit [Samaritan Aramaic] for Samaritanism
- Syriac [Syro-Aramaic] for Chaldean / Nestorian Christianity
- The Sahidic [Thebaic] dialect of Coptic for Coptic Christianity
- Ge’ez for Ethiopian Christianity
- Koine Greek [pace Old Church Slavonic] for Eastern Orthodox Christianity
- Vulgar Latin for Roman Catholicism
- Old Norse (using Elder Futhark runes) for Odin-ism
Minor examples of sanctified tongues are endless: Santeria uses “Lucumi” (a Cuban variation on “Yoruba”) as its liturgical language; while Candomblé Ketu uses “Nago” (a Brasilian variation on “Yoruba”) as its liturgical language. The Palo Faith considers Habla Bantu a sacred language. The Mundhum Faith considers Limbu / Kira[n]ti a sacred language.
These aren’t the respective linguas franca of the regions in which such communities live. Nevertheless, these languages are the media through which ancient traditions are maintained (and curated). They are believed to have preternatural (spec. incantatory) properties; and to be timeless. They are often seen as the native tongue of some divine super-being.
According to Mohammedan lore, Classical Arabic (CA) is the language of god, and so has existed since the beginning of time. Such a supposition requires one to ignore the fact that CA evolved over time from antecedent Semitic languages…and only STARTED to come into existence at the end of the 7th century…finally becoming a full-fledged language (with its own script) at some point in the late 8th or early 9th century. (During the 8th century, its earliest versions used Kufic script.)
Said process began with the earliest Semitic language, Ugaritic (language of the Amorites) at some point in the 2nd millennium B.C. (script: Phoenician). This yielded Old Aramaic (language of the Suteans, Chaldeans, Aramaeans, and various other Canaanite peoples); and then–after melding with Sumerian in Mesopotamia–Eblaite and Akkadian. Later, after incorporating elements of Phoenician from the north, Old Aramaic morphed into Aramaic (along with Edomite, Moabite, Ammonite, Classical Hebrew, and Punic) as well as Ekronite (language of the Philistines, named after the city, Ekron). Meanwhile, on the African horn, it yielded Ethiopic (i.e. Ge’ez; language of the Aksumites / Abyssinians).
Aramaic would THEN morph into Syriac (and, specifically, its Nabataean incarnation). Finally, working from elements of Old South Arabian–it incorporated the Syriac lexicon and the Nabataean alphabet–a process that eventually yielded Classical Arabic (see my essay on “The Syriac Origins Of Koranic Verse”). So we are expected to believe that this final linguistic byproduct had existed ALL ALONG–as it were, written in the stars since the Big Bang.
Put another way: We are asked to suppose that–ALL THE WHILE, over the course of three millennia–this meandering etymology was somehow–slowly, steadily, miraculously–honing in on a destination that had been determined since the beginning of time. In other words: Since the Amorites in the 3rd millennium B.C., the long series of historical accidents–spanning across the Middle East–which defined the genealogy of the spoken word, the Semitic languages were DESTINED to converge upon a predetermined tongue…at some point during the Dark Ages…on the Arabian peninsula.
Thus ALL antecedent Semitic languages were just a prologue to an inevitable “Arabic”.
In reality, this would require us to believe that this fore-ordained language was only fully realized–at long last–due to the compilation of Islam’s holy book. To believe this, we would have to presume that all that time, the Creator of the Universe was guiding the development of his native language from a long line of Canaanite precursors, beginning at Ugarit…as if he were biding his time until the moment was ripe.
This is, of course, preposterous. It strains credulity, then, to suppose that CA is an eternal language. Yet might there STILL be something preternatural about it that indicates Providence was at work? Let’s look into this possibility.
Though there were some sporadic antecedents (e.g. the Namarah inscription from the 4th century, in Syriac using a neo-Nabataean script that served as a precursor to “Kufic”, which was itself the precursor to CA), evidence points to the fact that CA was largely developed–and subsequently refined–IN ORDER TO compose the Koran…during the 8th century (well over a century after MoM’s death). Therefore, to point to the fact that no other major work was composed in CA during the period preceding the Koran is to indulge in a catch-22. For more on this point, see Appendix 2.
There are other snafus in this “just-so” narrative account of CA. If, as the Mohammedan argument goes, the ancient Hebrews had things right TO BEGIN WITH (and only botched things later on), then ALL the proper nouns in god’s final message would have remained what they had been when Job was wandering the desert: IN ANCIENT HEBREW. In other words: What things were called in the first place were, well, what things would have been called in the first place…and so would have retained THAT SPECIFIC LEXICOGRAPHY.
In that case, no etymology in the Koran would be based on SYRIAC derivatives (or on Koine Greek)…any more than they would be based on, say, Vulgar Latin or Middle Persian (Pahlavi) or Middle Chinese or the Pali Prakrit. For the contention is that the Koran is simply making mankind aware of what they’d been told in the first place (during the Iron Age)…but had subsequently forgotten or rejected or somehow contaminated (either deliberately or unwittingly). As a result, they had ended up with a corrupted Abrahamic theology (i.e. the errant doctrines that comprise what came to be Judeo-Christianity) by the time MoM was born. To go back to the original message, then, would entail reviving the ORIGINAL TERMS.
Yet we find that quite the contrary is the case. As we’ve seen, even a cursory philological analysis reveals that the language of the Koran is predicated OVERTLY on linguistic exigencies that were unique to the time and place that the Koran was composed (from the late 7th to the late 9th centuries in the Hijaz). To wit: The book is as timeless as any other artifact (i.e. not at all). It is an accident of history like anything else that is man-made.
What of its grandiloquent verse–surpassing, as it did, all other material from the region at the time in–well–grandiloquence? During the relevant period, the Koran was the only game in town. Why? Because the powers that be (starting with the Umayyad caliphate, followed by the Abbasid caliphate) were diligent in ENSURING that it was the only game in town. After all, WHAT ELSE was there for anyone to read in a region that was ruled by the caliphs? (I explore this matter in part 1 of “The History Of Literature”.)
By the time the Koran started to be compiled, burning anything that undermined the sanctity of the anointed text (or that was not in keeping with the official propaganda promulgated by the rulers) was standard operating procedure. So even if someone existed at the time with literary inclinations–and requisite abilities–who deigned to compose alternate works in the new “Classical Arabic”, the endeavor would have been promptly curtailed by the authorities.
And so it went: At the time it was being cobbled together, insofar as the audience were limited to the Middle East (as it was), the challenge to “produce a verse” that had parity with what was found in the Koran actually made perfect sense; at least, insofar as propagandistic purposes went. It is easy to claim the gold medal when one’s horse is the only one in the race.
I have yet to see a list of all the (hypothetical) books from Arabia during the 7th and 8th centuries, written in CA, that can’t seem to measure up to the Koran (again, see part 1 of my essay on “The History Of Literature”). Conveniently enough, once the Arabian world DID start producing alternate works, people were no longer using CA–a language that was, as a matter of policy, reserved for the Koran itself. Ergo a self-fulfilling prophecy was assured.
However, once the target-audience went beyond the initial region (as it eventually would), the challenge would no longer yield the desired verdict. For then, the Koran had to compete with GOOD WRITING. The “catch”, of course, is that once the challenge to “produce writing like it” could easily be met (by an endless supply of great classical writing from other parts of the world), CA had undergone a metamorphosis toward the modern Arabic vernaculars…which, of course, were NOT “like it”. So even those who lived in the Arab world could not TECHNICALLY meet the challenge…EVEN IF they were capable of writing something far superior to the Koran. Invariably, their exposition would have been done in a “less pretty” language (according to the terms set by the challenge). Heads I win, tales you lose.
Unsurprisingly, modern “Fus-ha” (literary Arabic, in contradistinction with the various modern vernaculars of everyday conversation) is not insignificantly different from the language in which the Koran was composed. All this means is that the language used by the Arabic-speaking world TODAY is, well, NOT the same as CA. The explanation for this state of affairs is primarily a matter of sheer pragmatism: Being organic, demotic language does not operate according to stringently formal rules; it uses slang and various (often quirky) idiomatic expressions that sometimes follow their own logic. (Articulating oneself with perfect, formal language would be impractical for the quotidian concerns of everyday social interaction–not to mention exasperatingly pedantic.)
To conclude from this that there is something “miraculous” about the writing in the Koran is, therefore, inane. The fact that there is (for example) not as much assonance in the language’s modern incarnation only means that, well, the phonetics of modern Arabic vernaculars do not exhibit as much assonance as did the “Koranic” Arabic. (A mere tautology.) And it’s no wonder! For the Koran was composed EXPLICITLY to be memorized and recited aloud. That is: It was designed to be as memorable / catchy as possible. Assonance is one way to do this–as anyone knows who memorized nursery rhymes as a child.
There is a long history for this precedent. Attributing a new language to divine intervention goes back to ancient Sumeria, thousands of years before MoM and his followers. The Sumerians attributed the invention of their own writing to the Egyptian god Seshat (they referred to him as “Ea”). WHY did they do this? Well, the new writing MUST have been miraculous, right? After all, it was articulating things in ways that had never before been articulated!
Meanwhile, we may as well say that because…
- No major work was composed in Egyptian [Kemetic hieroglyphs] before the sacred Pyramid Texts (spec. The Book Of The Dead)
- No major work was composed in Akkadian [Old Assyrian cuneiform] before the Epic of Gilgamesh
- No major work was composed in Hittite before the the Proclamation of Anitta / Kussara [alt. the Chronicles of Hattusili / Hattusa]
- No major work was composed in Old Aramaic before the Epic of Zimri-Lim
- No major work was composed in Phoenician before the Ahiram epitaph
- No major work was composed in Ugaritic before the Epic of King Keret [of Hubur]
- No major work was composed in Greek before Homer’s “Iliad”
- No major work was composed in Babylonian Aramaic (proto-Hebrew) before “Deuteronomy”; which was followed by the other four books of the Pentateuch (a.k.a. the “Torah”, originally composed in Babylonian Aramaic, then Mishnaic Hebrew, then in Classical “block letter” Hebrew)
- No major work was composed in Syriac before the “Diatessaron” / “Peshitta” c. 160 A.D. (later, the Rabbula Gospels)
- No major work was composed in Ge’ez before the Gospels of Abba Garima c. 500
- No major work was composed in Etruscan before the “Gold Book”
- No major work was composed in Coptic before the (Nag Hammadi) Gnostic texts
- No major work was composed in Latin before the “Eclogues” and the “Aeneid” of Publius Vergilius Maro (a.k.a. “Virgil”)
- No major work was composed in Old Avestan (Ancient Persian) before the Zoroastrian “Gathas”
- No major work was composed in Parthian / Sogdian before the Manichaean Hymn Cycles: “Huyadagman” and “Angad Rosnan”
- No major work was composed in Sanskrit before the “Rig-Veda”
- No major work was composed in Magadhi (Prakrit) before the “Satkhandagama” (a.k.a. the “Pratham Shrut-Skandh”; the first of the Agam[a]s)
- No major work was composed in Pali (Prakrit) before the “T[r]i-pitaka”
- No major work was composed in Gandhari (Prakrit) before the Gandharan Buddhist texts
- No major work was composed in Kannada before the “Kavira-jamarga”
- No major work was composed in Malayalam before the “Rama-charitam”
- No major work was composed in Sinhala before the “Hela Atuwa”
- No major work was composed in Tamil before the (now lost) “Agattiyam” [on which the “Tolkappiyam” is based]
- No major work was composed in Awadhi before the “Padmavat”
- No major work was composed in Ancient Chinese before Confucius’ “Analects”
- No major work was composed in Tibetan before the Old Tibetan Annals
- No major work was composed in Japanese before the “Kojiki”
- No major work was composed in Korean (script: Classical Chinese) before the “Samguk Sagi” (though the first document in Hangul script was the Hunmin-Jeongeum” of the 15th century)
- No major work was composed in Khmer before the “Lpoek Angkor Wat”
- No major work was composed in Old Malay before the “Nitisarasamuccaya” (a.k.a. the “Tanjung Tanah” manuscript)
- No major work was composed in the Old Turkic before the “Irk Bitig” (“Book of Omens / Divination”)
- No major work was composed in Armenian before Mesrop Mashtots’ Bible
- No major work was composed in Albanian before Gjon Buzuku’s “Meshari”
- No major work was composed in medieval Irish Gaelic before the “Lebor Gabala Erenn” (“Book of Invasions / Conquests”) [The Book Of Kells from c. 800 was composed in Latin]
- No major work was composed in medieval Scottish Gaelic before the Celtic Psalter
- No major work was composed in Old Welsh before the “Mabinogion”
- No major work was composed in Old High German before the “Hildebrandslied” [“Lay of Hildebrand”]
- No major work was composed in Old Polish before Biernat of Lublin’s “Hortulus Animae Polonice” [the Polish version of the Germanic prayer book, “Little Garden of the Soul”]
- No major work was composed in Old Yiddish before the “Dukus Horant”
- No major work was composed in Old English (Anglo-Saxon) before “Beowulf”
- No major work was composed in Old French before (Frankish) “The Canticle of Saint Eulalia”
- No major work was composed in Old Spanish (Castilian) before “El Cantar de Mio Cid” [The Song Of My Cid]
- No major work was composed in Catalan before Ramon Llull’s “Blanquerna”
- No major work was composed in Tuscan before Dante’s “Divina Commedia”
- No major work was composed in Florentine before Giovanni Boccaccio’s “Decameron”
- No major work was composed in Romanian before Ureche’s “Chronicles of the Land of Moldavia”
- No major work was composed in Magyar (Hungarian) before Andras Hess’ 15th-century “Chronica Hungarorum” [a.k.a. the “Buda Chronicle”]; though the 12th-century poem, “Lamentations of Mary” predates it.
- No major work was composed in Old East Slavonic (i.e. proto-Russian) before the “Tale of Bygone Years” [a.k.a. “The Primary Chronicle”]
- No major work was composed in Slovene before the “Brizinski Spomeniki” (a.k.a. the Freising manuscripts)
- No major work was composed in Finnish before Mikael Agricola’s so-called “ABC Kirja” [the ABC Book]
- No major work was composed in Old Norse before Eirik[r] Oddsson’s (now lost) “Hryggjarstykki”
- No major work was composed in Mayan [Yucatecan] before the Madrid Codex
- And no major work was composed in Yoruba before “Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale” …
…it follows that ALL FIFTY of these works were of “divine” origin. Obviously, we see this to be the absurd claim that it is once we recognize how written languages (prior to the modern age) often came to be in the first place.
Though landmark achievements, there was nothing “miraculous” about any of these works. In each case, due to circumstances at the time, certain people (usually those with the most influence) ended up being the precedent-setters. In every scenario, a formal language was–as it were–officially established by the creation of a major work. (Both the Vedas and Gathas were sacred recitations, intended to be uttered aloud in a melodic fashion. Sound familiar?)
Until the advent of the Enlightenment, the general populace was ill-positioned (and ill-equipped) to accomplish such a feat on their own. Typically, the common man was barely literate (if literate at all) and spoke “conversational” vernaculars of the language in their region–which invariably prized practicality over eloquence. Only a few were able, motivated, and allowed to put together a formal WRITTEN WORK.
CA is no exception to the usual scenario. It might even be noted that within just a few years of MoM’s death (i.e. prior to the creation of CA), Sambhota [son of Anu] of the Thonmi invented the Old Tibetan script (roughly based on Brahmi precursors) in Lhasa. This was an achievement for which Tibetan Buddhists are not inclined to give preternatural explanations.
In pre-modern times, the composition of major new works often catalyzed the development / refinement of formal written languages. In addition to the examples listed above, this was demonstrated by Roman playwright Lucius Livius Andronicus’ pioneering use of “Old Latin” in his dramas during the 3rd century B.C.
So one might ask: How could Andronicus have POSSIBLY composed those dramas (since nothing from the preceding epoch matched his literary achievement in this burgeoning new language)? Was he delivering exposition from GOD? Of course not. The explanation for his achievement is quite simple: As far as THAT language went, he was the first producer of any major work. Invariably, it was noticeably more “eloquent” than the quotidian vernacular of the rank and file at the time–which was sheerly pragmatic–even mundane–in nature; geared, as it was, merely to address everyday concerns. In any case, it was HIS writing that set the precedent. No divine intervention required.
What makes the Koran DIFFERENT from many of the above examples is what happened surrounding its authorship…and the events that ensued. Given its content AND the circumstances in which it was created, it almost couldn’t NOT have become the basis / inspiration for cult activity. It is adamantly prescriptive, and virtually SCREAMS for the formation of a religious movement.
The history of the Koran’s formation makes sense in this light–especially vis a vis the presiding caliphates, from the Umayyads to the Abbasids. When the powers-that-be did not want the anointed text to be challenged, all they needed to do was take (draconian) measures to ensure THEIR text was, as it were, the only game in town. Ergo the systematic burning of un-approved copies of the Koran during the third caliphate. (It’s easy to win when on ensures one’s own horse is the only horse in the race.) No works as (allegedly) eloquent as the Koran arose in its early years simply because no other works (that may have rivaled its influence) were ALLOWED.
A tell-tale indication of this underhanded agenda was the contempt shown for “poets” (a.k.a. anyone who had the audacity to be eloquent in unapproved ways) exhibited throughout the Koran. The authors clearly wanted to marginalize anyone who dared be as eloquent as the officially-sanctioned verse. For such people threatened to actually MEET the challenge to “produce something like” Koranic verse. This danger was especially immanent if these highly literate people were proficient in CA (rather than merely conversant in the pedestrian vernaculars of the rank and file). It is no wonder the Koran beseeches its readers, “Don’t listen to them! They will corrupt your mind!” So much for open debate.
Given the situation, this makes perfect sense: When one wants to win a competition via means other than sheer merit, simply eliminate potential competitors. The challenge to match the Koran’s purported eloquence is not the only nutty challenge posed in the Koran. 53:27 challenges non-Muslims to “name all the angels with female names”. No kidding. Can’t name them? Gotcha! You obviously aren’t acquainted with THE TRUTH.
Food for thought: If the Koran were composed in an eternal language, then what were the Sumerians (language from the 34th century B.C.) and the denizens of the Indus Valley (language from the 35th century B.C.) doing? Wouldn’t god have tipped them off? What was he waiting for? Starting with the first Indus Valley language, FOUR THOUSAND years is a very long time to “hold off” until the language of his eternal book was finally revealed. Was he biding his time?
Those who compiled the Koran re-wrote its earliest (Syriac) versions, establishing CA with a MAIDEN WORK…
- Just as ancient Egyptian leaders did with the Pyramid Texts (spec. “Book Of The Dead”)
- Just as Akkadian / Assyrian leaders did with the Epic of Gilgamesh
- Just as Hittite leaders did with Chronicles of Hattusili
- Just as Babylonian leaders did with the Epic of Zimri-Lim
- Just as Phoenician leaders did with the Ahiram epitaph
- Just as Achaemenid leaders did with the Gathas
- Just as Parthian leaders did with the Manichaean Hymn Cycles and the Avestas
- Just as cultural impresarios in Ancient Greece did with Homer’s epic poems
- Just as Jewish leaders did with the Torah
- Just as (Syriac) Christian leaders did with the Peshitta
- Just as Abyssinian (Ethiopic) leaders did with the Gospels of Abba Garima
- Just as the rulers of Ugarit did with the Epic of King Keret
- Just as Etruscan leaders did with the Gold Book
- Just as Florentine leaders did with the Divine Comedy
- Just as Coptic monks did with the Gnostic Gospels
- Just as the Vatican curia did with the Latin Vulgate Bible
- Just as Armenian leaders did with their version of the Bible
- Just as Moldovan leaders did with the Chronicles of the Land of Moldavia
- Just as the leaders of Kievan Rus did with the Primary Chronicles
- Just as Turkic leaders did with the “Irk Bitig”
- Just as Slavic leaders did with the Freising manuscripts
- Just as Baltic leaders did with the “ABC-kirja”
- Just as Nordic leaders did with the “Hryggjarstykki”
- Just as Ashkenazic leaders did with the “Dukus Horant”
- Just as Celtic leaders did with Beowulf
- Just as the Gaelic rulers of Ulster and Eir did with the “Lebor Gabala Erenn”
- Just as Pictish monks (and the leaders of Alba) did with the Celtic Psalter
- Just as the rulers of Dyfed and Gwynedd did with the “Mabinogion”
- Just as Germanic leaders did with the “Hildebrandslied”
- Just as Piast and Jagiellonian leaders did with the “Hortulus Animae Polonice”
- Just as Castilian, Navarrese, and Aragonese leaders did with the “Cantar de Mio Cid”
- Just as Catalonian leaders did with “Blanquerna”
- Just as the Frankish rulers did with the Canticle of St. Eulelia
- Just as the Hindu leaders of Bharat[a] did with the Vedas
- Just as Jain monks did with the Agam(a)s
- Just as Theravada Buddhist monks did with the Pali canon
- Just as the rulers of Takshasila did with the Gandharan Buddhist texts
- Just as the rulers of Mewar did with the “Padmavat”
- Just as the Rashtrakuta rulers did with the “Kavi-raja-marga”
- Just as (Buddhist) Sinhalese leaders did with the “Hela Atuwa”
- Just as (Hindu) Tamil leaders did with the “Agattiyam” / “Tolkappiyam”
- Just as Tibetan monks did with the Annals
- Just as Zhou leaders did with the Analects, I Ching, Art of War, Tao Te Ching, etc.
- Just as Japanese leaders did with the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki
- Just as the Korean rulers of Silla and Goryeo did with the “Samguk Sagi”
- And just as Mayan leaders did with the Madrid Codex.
In each case, those “calling the shots” established a written account in a newly fashioned script (or a refined / formalized version of an extant script). They did so for their own purposes. It was no different with the Umayyad caliphs; or the Abbasid caliphs. There was nothing supernatural about it.
This list pertains to major works, not to mere inscriptions (or fragments of documents). Earlier writings (e.g. parcels of text) can sometimes be found in each of these ancient languages.
For example, in Sumerian there were texts from Abu Salabikh and Shuruppak.
The Epic of Gilgamesh (from the beginning of the 3rd millennium B.C.) may have been predated by the Code of Urukagina as well as Enheduanna’s Hymns. The oldest may well be the Liturgy to Nintud (on the creation of man and woman) found on the Kesh temple at Nippur from the 26th century B.C. Also around this time, the Legend of Etana was composed.
In Akkadian cuneiform, there were the Laws of Eshnunna and the Code of Lipit-Ishtar; as well as the Epic of Atra-Hasis and the Enuma Elis (18th century B.C.) The oldest text in Old Assyrian may well have been the Kültepe texts.
The earliest Elamite document was a peace treaty that the Awan rulers made with the Sumerian King Naram-sin of Akkad c. 2250.
The aforementioned Hittite chronicles were based on the antecedent writings of King Anitta of Kussara, the first to write in the language (17th century B.C.) The so-called Arzawa letters (from Armana in Egypt) may well be the oldest example of Hittite.
Technically, the oldest major work in Phoenician was the (now-lost) History of Sanchuniathon. In Ugaritic, there was also the “Baal Cycle” and the “Epic of Aqhat” (a.k.a. “Legend of Danel”) in the 15th-14th century B.C. (the latter of which likely served as inspiration for the Judaic legend of Daniel).
As far as Classical Hebrew goes, the Siddur predates the Torah; while the “Gezer Calendar” tablet was written in Old Aramaic (i.e. proto-Hebrew) as far back as c. 900 B.C. And what of the Torah? The oldest codices that have been found were ALL written in Aramaic: the scroll from En-Gedi (part of Leviticus 1:3), the Nash papyrus (part of the decalogue), and the Dead Sea Scrolls from the Kumran cave. The amulets from Ketef Hinnom (dating from c. 600 B.C.) have what seems to be an early version of a prayer that ended up in the Book of Numbers: also written in Aramaic.
The oldest surviving work of Sanskrit grammar / vocabulary was the “Ashtadhyayi” by the Gandharan writer, Panini of Pushkalavati in the 6th century B.C. (around the same time that Ancient Hebrew was being formulated by Hebrew scribes in Babylon during the Exilic Period, when Judaic lore was first codified); however Sanskrit long predates that work. (Note that Panini’s work would be followed in the 2nd century B.C. by Patanjali’s “Mahabhasya”.)
The oldest work in the Magadha Prakrit is possible the anthology of Vajrayana poetry known as the “Charyapada” (which eventually gave rise to versions in Maithili, Bengali, Assamese, and Odia).
In Tamil, the oldest surviving work is the “Tolkappiyam”, which was a more recent version of the now-lost “Agattiyam”. Also significant was Nathamuni’s “Naalayira Divya P[i]rabandham” (9th century A.D.)
In Old [Church] Slavonic (the Slavic script that served as proto-Russian), the “Tale of Igor’s Campaign” may have predated the “Tale of Bygone Years”; yet the first compositions were translations of religious texts done by Byzantine theologians Cyril and Methodius c. 862. The earliest document in Old French was the Oaths of Strasbourg, a contract between East and West Francia written in 842.
In Latin, Quintus Horatius Flaccus (a.k.a. “Horace”) composed his verse around the same time that Virgil was writing (1st century B.C.); though the earliest surviving manuscripts in Vulgar Latin are those of the Roman Catholic “Vulgate” bible.
In Italian, the “Placiti Cassinesi” (juridical documents from the 960’s) predate Dante. The first major work to establish the Italian language was an anthology of verse entitled, “Il Canzoniere” by the Tuscan Renaissance humanist, Francesco Petrarca (a.k.a. “Petrarch”) in the 14th century.
“Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin” [“Black Book of Carmarthen”] may be the oldest book in Welsh (13th century).
Regarding major works in Ancient Chinese, Lao Tzu’s “Tao Te Ching”, Fu Xi’s “I Ching”, the Chronicle of Zuo Zhuan, and/or Sun Tzu’s “The Art Of War” may have been composed earlier than Confucius’ “Analects”. Note that Confucius also compiled the “Shi-ching” (“Book of Songs”) from antecedent material. Mencius’ “Mengzi” / “Meng-tzu” was written shortly thereafter. Regarding major works in Japan, the 8th-century collection of poetry, the “Man’yoshu”, is also one of the oldest.
In any case, in each language there was a major work that set the precedent for a formal written language. None were “miraculous”. All were human-inspired, human-crafted, and conceived according to human concerns. Each of them were created to address the exigencies at the time (assumptions, biases, hopes, and fears). All of them were sanctified in some way for some reason.
Incidentally, every one of these works is more eloquent than the Koran, and oftentimes much more insightful. Moreover, all of them come through perfectly fine when translated into English.