The BBC announced enthusiastically Wednesday that "what may be the world's oldest fragments of the Koran have been found by the University of Birmingham." This news is not only of interest to scholars and Muslim intellectuals; it appears to buttress the Islamic claim that the Qur'an's text has remained unchanged for 1,400 years – which is purported to be proof of its divine origin.
There is only one problem with all this: the BBC article raises more questions than it answers, and reveals more about the wishful thinking of the academic and media establishments than it does about the Qur'an.
The article is riddled with academic and journalistic sloppiness. We're told that the radiocarbon dating shows, "with a probability of more than 95%, the parchment was from between 568 and 645." Very well, but does the ink date to that time as well? We are not told. Parchment was often reused in the ancient world, with the earlier text erased and written over, and so if a parchment dates from 645, that doesn't necessarily mean that the text does.