Revelation in the Qur'an: from Divine Sending Down (Tanzil) to Divine Communication (Wahy)
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date09/07/2021
Loynes, Simon Peter
Two words have been understood to refer to revelation in the Qur’an, namely tanzīl (sending down) and waḥy (communication) as well as their cognate verbal forms. However, what exactly constitutes ‘revelation’ in the Qur’an can only be understood from a systematic investigation of the text itself. Earlier scholarship, while elucidating important semantic differences between the two terms, has supposed an underlying synonymity between them, as both are understood as indicative of a single process: the transmitting or revealing of the revelatory message. In contrast to this, this thesis will show that the roots n-z-l and w-ḥ-y represent different processes in the Qur’anic concept of revelation and that these are used for different rhetorical means in the text. The concept of divine sending down (tanzīl) refers to a spatial event in the celestial realm when the celestial source book of the revelation and thereby the revelation itself was ‘sent down’ by God. This event made the revelation available, although not necessarily accessible, to prophets and mankind. On the other hand, the concept of divine communication (waḥy) signifies a particular mode of communication that is only decipherable by God’s elect. It is through this mode that the revelatory message is communicated to the Qur’anic Messenger. The concepts also have different rhetorical functions in the text—divine sending down affirms the divine origin of the revelatory message itself whereas divine communication attests that the Messenger is a genuine prophet. Moreover, each concept is concentrated in certain chronological periods. When the status of the Messenger as a prophet is under attack in the Meccan period, the concept of divine communication is predominant, whereas when the revelatory message itself is contested in the late Meccan and Medinan period, it is the concept of divine sending down that is prevalent. This chronological distribution is best explained by the dynamic nature of the Qur’an’s self-referentiality which is responding to the charged environment in which it was proclaimed. The two concepts, therefore, cannot be understood to represent a single process in the Qur’an. Rather, they each have a specific role in the Qur’anic concept of revelation. This finding is not only of import conceptually regarding how the Qur’an conceives of its own genesis, but it also sheds light on the rhetorical features of the text.