From The Christian Science Monitor
Like the Bible, the Quran is filled with fiery passages and gentle ones. Some sentences contradict others. But a new way of reading the Muslim holy book — based on an old way of storytelling — might shed a very different light on its meaning.
By John Yemma, Editor / September 28, 2012
Carl Ernst has read, parsed, and puzzled over the Quran since graduate school in 1975. As in the Bible, some passages are mild, some blistering. Later ones appear to cancel out earlier ones. Which has precedence?
Now a specialist in Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Professor Ernst had an epiphany when he encountered an ancient literary technique known as “ring composition.”
We read books first page to last. But before cover-to-cover reads, there were scrolls, and before scrolls, there was oral storytelling. Many older works, Ernst learned from a scholar of Hindi-language Sufi texts, were not composed in a straight-line manner. Instead, the first line of a passage would be mirrored by the last line, the second by the second to last, and so on. At the center of the passage was where the key statement sat.
Why would anyone compose a story that way? In oral storytelling, Ernst says, people had to memorize huge amounts of material. They used mnemonic devices. A famous one is the “memory palace,” in which a storyteller mentally walks through a palace, each room helping him recall part of the story. That could have influenced where the most important spot would be – perhaps in the palace’s center.