Christmas in the Koran is a valuable compendium of the further research undertaken by Christoph Luxenberg and other scholars on the Syriac substratum underlying the Arabic text of the Qur'an, and how that substratum can illuminate not only obscure passages of the text but the murky origins of Islam itself. This method also sheds new and often surprising light on sections of the Qur'an that appear to be perfectly clear in Arabic. When viewed through the Syriac prism, however, they reveal themselves as having a partially or completely different meaning from the accepted one.
Most of the collected essays are by contemporary scholars, but some are quite old (albeit hitherto not easy to find), such as Adolf von Harnack's 1909 "Islam." It was wise of the editor, Ibn Warraq, to include this older material as it illuminates the convoluted scholarly antecedents of today's Qur'an revisionists.
Most extraordinary of the many remarkable hypotheses put forward in this collection is the claim that the Qur'an was originally a Christian text, probably a lectionary (a book that lists scriptural readings assigned to be read on a specific day or occasion), in which reference was once made to Christmas, the Eucharist, and other elements of the Christian tradition—references which in the Arabic Qur'an are unclear or overlaid with Islamic inter-pretations that obliterate their initial Christian character. In one essay, Luxenberg explains that the "mysterious letters" that begin many chapters of the Qur'an and about which Islamic tradition says that "only Allah knows what they mean," are in fact, references to Psalms and other Christian texts for liturgical use. In another essay, Philippe Gignoux locates the origins of the quintessential Islamic credo, the shahada, in Nestorian Christianity.
These monographs reinforce the growing case against the text of the Qur'an coming from Muhammad. In this emerging view, the Muslim holy book was compiled from existing, mostly Christian sources, drastically edited, and reinterpreted in order to provide a scripture and a theology for the new religion of Islam. That new religion, it is clear from Christmas in the Koran, did not spring forth as the utterances of a seventh-century Arabian prophet but was shaped by various editors over a period of decades, drawing from earlier, non-Arabic traditions.
The essays are often quite technical, and some may be inhospitable to the non-specialist. As a whole, however, they are accessible and fascinating. Christmas in the Koran represents a significant advance in the study of how Islam came to be and where it originated.