Thoughts and Truth from the Impossible Life

Isaiah 7:20 explained

Isaiah 7:20

In the same day … – The idea in this verse is the same as in the preceding, though presented in a different form. The meaning is, that “God” would bring upon them this punishment, but that he would make use of the Assyrian as an “instrument” by which to do it.

Shave – The act of shaving off the hair denotes punishment or disgrace; compare 2 Samuel 10:4 : ‘Hanun took David’s servants, and shaved off one half of their beards;’ 1 Chronicles 19:4.

With a razor – Using them as an instrument. God here claims the power of directing them, and regards them as employed by him; see Isaiah 10:5-7.

That is hired – This is an allusion to the custom of hiring soldiers, or employing mercenary armies. Thus Great Britain employed mercenary troops, or hired of the Germans bodies of Hessians to carry on the war in America. The meaning here is, that God would employ the Assyrians as his instruments, to effect his purposes, as though they were hired and paid by the plunder and spoil of the nation.

By them beyond the river – The river Euphrates. The Euphrates is usually meant in the Scriptures where ‘the river’ is mentioned without specifying the name; Psalm 72:8; Psalm 80:2. This was the river which Abraham had passed; and this, perhaps, was, for a long time, the eastern boundary of their geographical knowledge; see the note at Isaiah 11:15.

The head – The hair of the head.

The hair of the feet – Or the other parts of the body; of the lower parts of the body.

Shall consume the beard – Shall cut off the beard. This was esteemed particularly disgraceful among the Jews. It is, at this day, among all Eastern nations. The beard is regarded as a distinguished ornament; among the Mahometans, it is sworn by, and no higher insult can be offered than to treat the beard with indignity; compare the note at Isaiah 50:6. The meaning is here, that God would employ the Assyrian as his instrument to lay waste the land.

July 27, 2012 Posted by | Christianity / God, Daily Gospel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Love for Mankind

To answer your questions:  To love one another does not mean to allow another to be cast into everlasting darkness with out doing everything in my power to bring them to the only way to eternal life and salvation, and that is through Jesus, the Son of God. We love everyone and due to this love we must share that there is NO other way to paradise. All roads lead to damnation except through Jesus. Educating others on what is false, which is anything that denies the Son of God Jesus, is my duty to God. Failure to do everything within my ability to do this is failure to honor God. How can I not honor and obey God? You state that I post lies about islam, that I do not know islam because I am not an islamic muslim. I counter propose that I do know islam and that is why I am not an islamic muslim. If nothing else, I know and you will agree because this is 100% true, that islam denies the Son of God Jesus being divine and God in the flesh. This one fact, regardless of anything else islam is or is not makes it not of God. There is no grey areas in this. The allah of islam said not to claim Jesus as the Son of God in the qu’ran. Thus the allah of islam is not the One True God of the Holy Bible, and of Abraham, and all the prophets before the Son of God Jesus came. The islamic allah is not the Christian / Jewish God. And, God has told us all to tell everyone this, – Galatians 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 2 Corinthians 11:15. Since Satan himself is capable of appearing to be an angel of light, it is not to be deemed strange that those who are in his service also should resemble him.

For Satan himself is transformed … – That is, he who is an apostate angel; who is malignant and wicked; who is the prince of evil, assumes the appearance of a holy angel. Paul assumes this as an indisputable and admitted truth, without attempting to prove it, and without referring to any particular instances. Probably he had in his eye cases where Satan put on false and delusive appearances for the purpose of deceiving, or where he assumed the appearance of great sanctity and reverence for the authority of God. Such instances occurred in the temptation of our first parents Genesis 3:1-6, and in the temptation of the Saviour, Matthew 4. The phrase “an angel of light,” means a pure and holy angel, light being the emblem of purity and holiness. Such are all the angels that dwell in heaven; and the idea is, that Satan assumes such a form as to appear to be such an angel. Learn here:

(1) His power. He can assume such an aspect as he pleases. He can dissemble and appear to be eminently pious. He is the prince of duplicity as well as of wickedness; and it is the consummation of bad power for an individual to be able to assume any character which he pleases.

(2) his art. he is long practiced in deceitful arts. For six thousand years he has been practicing the art of delusion. And with him it is perfect.

(3) we are not to sup pose that all that appears to be piety is piety. Some of the most plausible appearances of piety are assumed by Satan and his ministers. None ever professed a profounder regard for the authority of God than Satan did when he tempted the Saviour. And if the prince of wickedness can appear to be an angel of light, we are not to be surprised if those who have the blackest hearts appear to be people of most eminent piety.

(4) we should be on our guard. We should not listen to suggestions merely because they appear to come from a pious man, nor because they seem to be prompted by a regard to the will of God. We may be always sure that, if we are to be tempted, it will be by some one having a great appearance of virtue and religion.

(5) we are not to expect that Satan will appear to man to be as bad as he is. He never shows himself openly to be a spirit of pure wickedness; or black and abominable in his character; or full of evil and hateful. He would thus defeat himself. It is for this reason that wicked people do not believe that there is such a being as Satan. Though continually under his influence and “led captive by him at his will,” yet they neither see him nor the chains which lead them, nor are they willing to believe in the existence of the one or the other.

 

July 24, 2012 Posted by | Christianity / God, Understanding Islam | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Only Begotten Son Phrase Explained

Our Lord Jesus Christ

The Only Begotten Son
(ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός)

by Michael Marlowe

My purpose here is to discuss the meaning of the word μονογενής (monogenes) as used in the New Testament, the Septuagint, and in other ancient writings. I am especially interested in its use by the Apostle John in his Gospel and in his first Epistle, and its use in the Nicene Creed of A.D. 325. I will argue that the rendering “one and only” is semantically reductionistic and theologically inadequate.

The Greek word μονογενής is an adjective compounded of μονος “only” and γενος “species, race, family, offspring, kind.” In usage, with few exceptions it refers to an only son or daughter. When used in reference to a son, it cannot mean “one of a kind,” because the parent is also of the same kind. The meaning is, the son is the only offspring of the parent, not the only existing person of his kind. And so in the Greek translation of the book of Tobit, when Raguel praises God for having mercy on δυο μονογενεις (8:17), he does not mean that his daughter Sara and Tobias were two “unique” persons; he means that they were both only-begotten children of their fathers. In Luke’s Gospel, the word is used in reference to an only child in 7:12, 8:42, and 9:38. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is said that when Abraham was ready to sacrifice Isaac he was offering up τον μονογενή, “his only-begotten” (11:17), because although Abraham had another son, God had said that only in Isaac shall Abraham’s seed (σπερμα) be named. (Πίστει προσενήνοχεν Ἀβραὰμ τὸν Ἰσαὰκ πειραζόμενος, καὶ τὸν μονογενῆ προσέφερεν ὁ τὰς ἐπαγγελίας ἀναδεξάμενος, πρὸς ὃν ἐλαλήθη ὅτι Ἐν Ἰσαὰκ κληθήσεταί σοι σπέρμα). 1 When the word μονογενής is used in reference to a son or daughter, it always means “only-begotten.”

There are a few places where the word has been understood to mean, “one of a kind” or “incomparable.” For instance, in his article “The One and Only Son” Richard Longenecker calls attention to an occurrence in one early Christian source, an epistle written by Clement of Rome:

Writing about the same time as the fourth evangelist (i.e. A.D. 95-96), Clement of Rome (1 Clement 25) spoke of the Phoenix, that mysterious bird of the East, as monogenes—that is, as “unique” or “the only one of its kind”:

Let us consider the marvelous sign which is seen in the regions of the east, that is, in the regions about Arabia. There is a bird, which is named the Phoenix. This, being the only one of its kind (touto monogenes hyparchon), lives for 500 years; and when it reaches the time of its dissolution that it should die, it makes for itself a coffin of frankincense and myrrh and other spices, into which in the fulness of time it enters and then dies. But as the flesh rots, a certain worm is engendered, which is nurtured from the moisture of the dead creature, and puts forth wings. Then when it has grown lusty, it takes up that coffin where are the bones of its parent, and carrying them, it journeys from the country of Arabia even unto Egypt, to the place called the City of the Sun—and in full daylight and in the sight of all, it flies to the altar of the Sun and lays them on it. And this done, it then returns. So the priests examine the registers of the times, and they find that it has come when the five hundredth year is completed. 2

The problem here is that Longenecker does not give us any reason to think that the semantic component “begotten” is absent. In this context, we even see the author dwelling upon the strange manner in which the Phoenix engenders its one offspring. Why should we think that there is no idea of “begetting” in the word monogenes in this context? We also note that in the immediately preceding paragraph (which Longenecker does not quote) the author is comparing the resurrection of the dead to the regeneration of a plant through its seed:

Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead. Let us contemplate, beloved, the resurrection which is at all times taking place. Day and night declare to us a resurrection. The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day [again] departs, and the night comes on. Let us behold the fruits [of the earth], how the sowing of grain takes place. The sower goes forth, and casts it into the ground; and the seed being thus scattered, though dry and naked when it fell upon the earth, is gradually dissolved. Then out of its dissolution the mighty power of the providence of the Lord raises it up again, and from one seed many arise and bring forth fruit. 3

Here we may see a reason why the word monogenes is used in connection with the Phoenix: in contrast with the numerous offspring of the plants (“from one seed many arise”) the Phoenix is the only offspring (monogenes) of its parent. It is probably right to emphasize the mono “only” here, as Longenecker does, but there is no good reason to say that the genes must mean “kind” without any connotation of “begotten.”

Longenecker also argues that the Septuagint’s usage of μονογενής for the Hebrew יָחִיד (yachid, “only”) in some of the Psalms indicates “more general meanings for the term as well, depending on the context.” He maintains that “in Psalms 25:16 and 68:6 (LXX) the idea of ‘the only one’ is nuanced to mean ‘desolate’ or ‘solitary’ or ‘all alone’ …” (p. 121). But his reference to Psalm 68:6 here is a mistake, because the word used in the Septuagint translation of Psalm 68:6 is μονοτροπος (“living alone, solitary”), not μονογενής. 4 Concerning Psalm 25:16 (where the word does occur), we might ask why μονογενής is used by the translator if he wanted to convey the sense “alone,” because in Greek the ordinary word for “alone” is μονος (and that is the word we find in the version of Symmachus at this point). So why does μονογενής appear here instead? It seems unlikely that the Septuagint translator would have reached for this unusual word to convey the meaning “alone” when he could have done that more idiomatically with the word μονος. It may be that he habitually associated the Hebrew adjective yahid with only children (in 7 of the 11 occurrences of this word in the Hebrew Bible, it refers to only children), and so he assumed that the word meant “only begotten.” In any case, the Septuagint translators often used stereotyped renderings, in which Greek words are used mechanically, without attention to the context or the semantic nuances of the Hebrew words. 5 Hence the use of μονογενής here. We cannot always determine the meaning of Greek words in the Septuagint by equating them with the meaning of the original Hebrew words, because the translator may not have understood the Hebrew the way we understand it. Longenecker then goes on to suggest that the word μονογενής means “priceless and irreplaceable” in Psalms 22:20 and 35:17. Here again he is trying to establish the meaning of the Greek word by associating it with the contextual nuances of a Hebrew word. This method is unsound. The meanings of the Hebrew words cannot be poured into the Greek words like this. The Greek words have their own meanings, and they often represent an interpretation which is at variance with the true meaning of the Hebrew. 6

Rhetorically, the strongest point in Longenecker’s argument comes when he quotes a statement found in a philosophical poem written by Parmenides (fifth century B.C.): “The sixth-fifth century B.C. philosopher Parmenides spoke of Being as ‘ungenerated [ageneton], imperishable, whole, unique [monogenes], and without end’ (Frag. 8.3-4), thereby ignoring—particularly in parallel with ageneton—any idea of generation in the word as might be found etymologically in genos.” (p. 121.) Obviously in this context the word μουνογενες (the old Ionic form ofμονογενής) could not have been meant to carry the implication that “Being” is “begotten.” But it is by no means clear how the proposed sense “unique” (used in some recent translations of the poem) makes sense in the context either. In this poem Parmenides teaches that our perception of change and motion is an illusion, and that an unchanging and unitary “Being” is the only reality. What could he mean by saying that this universal stuff of reality is “one of a kind”? Some scholars have suggested that Parmenides is using μουνογενες in the sense “of one kind” or “homogeneous,” i.e., not compounded of different elements. This would make good sense in the context, but there is no other attestation for that sense of the word. Others have decided that the word μουνογενες was not present in the original text. John Burnet argued that the word μουνογενες obtained its place in the text when someone tried to interpret the original wording of the text along the lines of Plato’s statements about the cosmos in his Timaeus. He eliminates it by emending the text to read ως αγενητον εον και ανωλεθρον εστιν, εστι γαρ ουλομελες τε και ατρεμες ηδ’ ατελεστον, which he translates, “what is is uncreated and indestructible; for it is complete, immovable, and without end.” 7 John R. Wilson proposes a different emendation: ως αγενητον εον και ανωλεθρον εστιν ουλον μουνομελες τε και ατρεμες ηδε τελεστον, in which μουνομελες “single-limbed” replaces μουνογενες. 8 Wilson mentions the proposed sense “one of a kind” for μονογενής and μουνογενες, but he rejects it, because classical scholars who have suggested this meaning “rely mostly on two passages from Plato’s Timaeus,” he says, in which the sense “only begotten” seems more suitable to the context if we only recognize that the word is being used pleonastically. We will not take a position on the correct solution to interpretive problems in Parmenides and Plato, but clearly, classical scholars who have specialized in the reconstruction and interpretation of Parmenides’ poem have looked upon the μουνογενες here as a problem. It can hardly be used to demonstrate the meaning of the word—especially for the Koine Greek in which John’s Gospel was written, more than five hundred years later. We conclude that this example has no probative value.

One of the weakest points in Longenecker’s article comes when he argues that the μονογενες τεκνον πατρι in line 898 of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon “must mean something like ‘the favored or chosen child of his father’” because Agamemnon “was not the only child of Atreus.” But if we look at the context we see that when Agamemnon’s treacherous wife uses the phrase μονογενες τεκνον πατρι, she is employing a metaphor. The phrase comes within a series of exuberant comparisons:

But now, having born all this, my heart freed from its anxiety, I would hail my husband here as the watchdog of the fold, the savior forestay of the ship, firm-based pillar of the lofty roof, only-begotten son of a father, or land glimpsed by men at sea beyond their hope, dawn most fair to look upon after storm, the gushing stream to thirsty wayfarer—sweet is it to escape all stress of need. Such truly are the greetings of which I deem him worthy. (trans. Herbert Weir Smyth)

Agamemnon is a watchdog, a forestay, a pillar. His appearance is like the sight of land to sailors who had given up hope, the dawn after a storm, a stream. His return is like that of an “only-begotten son of a father,” upon whom all the family’s happiness depends. These are certainly metaphorical comparisons, and not to be taken literally. And they are deliberately extravagant. In his response, Agamemnon even objects to the words of her “wide-mouthed, extravagant exclaim” as a deification which will bring upon him the jealous anger of the gods. In this ironic way Aeschylus foreshadows and sets in motion the tragic fate of Agamemnon. Longenecker ignores the context and misses the point. He treats the μονογενες τεκνον πατρι literalistically, as if it were some matter-of-fact statement about Agamemnon’s family.

Passing on from Longenecker to others who have argued similarly, we find the same low quality of scholarship, in which the arguments depend entirely upon a few dubious examples, in combination with word-study fallacies. In 1953 Dale Moody wrote an article titled “The Translation of John 3:16 in the Revised Standard Version,” which is often cited by others. At the end of this article he declares that 1 Clement 15:2 (“there is a bird which is called the Phoenix …”) “shows clearly that the above conclusions on monogenes are correct,” because “the Phoenix was neither born nor begotten, but it could be monogenes, the only one of its kind!” Apparently Moody never looked at the passage to which he refers, which explicitly describes how a succession of solitary Phoenixes are begotten and born, by some autogenic process. The passage even decribes how the Phoenix disposes of the bones of its parent. It is “one of its kind” only in the sense that there is just one living at any one time. As we noted above, Clement’s whole interest in this mythological bird lies in its death and rebirth.

Another place where μονογενής is said to mean only “unique” or “incomparable” is in the Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish book written probably in Alexandria about 100 B.C. In it we find a hymn to God’s “Wisdom” in which it is said that “there is in her a spirit quick of understanding, holy, μονογενες, manifold,” and so forth (7:22). But even here it seems that the sense “only-begotten” is not unlikely, because Wisdom in this book is personified. She is called “the artificer of all things” (7:22), “all-powerful, all-surveying” (7:23), “the breath of the power of God,” an “effluence” of His glory (7:25), an “effulgence from everlasting light, an unspotted mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness” (7:26), and so on. She “proclaimeth her noble birth (ευγενεια) in that it is given to her to live with (συμβιωσις) God” (8:3). 9 In the midst of such language, in which the author speaks of the noble birth of a personified Wisdom living with and emanating from God, we can hardly refuse to take μονογενής as a biological metaphor. Clearly this praise of Wisdom is inspired by Proverbs 8:22 ff., in which God brings forth (Septuagintγεννα “begets”) Wisdom “from everlasting, from the beginning.”

In John’s Gospel and First Epistle the same words and concepts are used to describe the special relationship of Jesus to God. The word μονογενὴς is used as an adjective modifying “Son,” and once as a substantive. He uses the word in five places. I give the literal translation from the English Revised Version of 1881, with the corresponding Greek text:

English Revised Version Souter’s Greek Text
John 1:14. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth. Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο, καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν (καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ, δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός), πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας.
John 1:18. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. Θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε· ὁ μονογενὴς υἱός, ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς, ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο. (Some manuscripts read μονογενὴς θεός “the only-begotten God” here instead ofὁ μονογενὴς υἱός.)
John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται, ἀλλ᾽ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.
John 3:18. He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν οὐ κρίνεται· ὁ δὲ μὴ πιστεύων ἤδη κέκριται, ὅτι μὴ πεπίστευκεν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ μονογενοῦς υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ.
1 John 4:9. Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. ἐν τούτῳ ἐφανερώθη ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ἡμῖν, ὅτι τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ ἀπέσταλκεν ὁ θεὸς εἰς τὸν κόσμον, ἵνα ζήσωμεν δι᾽ αὐτοῦ.

In four of the five places the word is used as an adjective modifying “Son,” and in one of these (1:18) the Son is said to be “in the bosom of the Father.” In the one place where it occurs as a substantive (1:14), it is followed by the prepositional phrase “from the Father,” which implies sonship. And so we see that in every occurrence John is using the word as a biological metaphor, in which Christ is the “Only Begotten Son” of the Father.

Is there any doctrinal importance in this? Yes, there is. The biological metaphor, in which the Son (and only the Son) shares the genus of the Father, conveys the idea that Jesus Christ is a truegenetic Son, having the same divine nature or essence as the Father. The meaning of the word μονογενὴς here is not just “only” or “one and only,” as in the RSV, NIV, and ESV translations. John is not saying that the Son is “one of a kind.” He is saying that Christ is the second of a kind, uniquely sharing the genus of the Father because he is the only begotten Son of the Father, as in the KJV, ERV, and NASB. In the early centuries of Christianity, this point of exegesis acquired great importance. During the fourth century a teaching known as the Arian heresy (which maintained that the Son was a created being) threatened the Church, and in response to it the orthodox Fathers emphasized that the Scripture speaks of a begetting of the Son, not a creation. On that Scriptural basis they maintained that the Son must be understood to be of the same essence as the Father (ὁμοούσιος τῷ πατρί). They further explained that when Scripture speaks of this “begetting” it refers to something taking place in eternity, not within time, and so there were never a time when the Father was without the Son. The orthodox teaching on this subject was set forth in the Creed adopted by the Council of Nicæa in A.D. 325:

Πιστευομεν εις ενα θεον πατερα παντοκρατορα, παντων ορατων τε και αορατων ποιητην. Και εις ενα κυριον Ιησουν Χριστον τον υιον του θεου, γεννθεντα εκ του πατρος μονογενη, τουτεστιν εκ της ουσιας του πατρος, θεον εκ θεου, φως εκ φωτος, θεον αληθινον εκ θεου αληθινου, γεννηθεντα, ου ποιηθεντα, ομοουσιον τω πατρι, δι ου τα παντα εγενετο, τα τε εν τω ουρανω και τα επι της γης· τον δι ημας τους ανθρωπους και δια την ημετεραν σωτηριαν κατελθοντα και σαρκωθεντα και ενανθρωπησαντα, παθοντα, και ανασταντα τη τριτη ημερα, ανελθοντα εις τους ουρανους, και ερχομενον κριναι ζωντας και νεκρους. Και εις το αγιον πνευμα. Τους δε λεγοντας, οτι ην ποτε οτε ουκ ην, και πριν γεννηθηναι ουκ ην, και οτι εξ ουκ οντων εγενετο, η εξ ετερας υποστασεως η ουσιας φασκοντας ειναι, [η κτιστον,] τρεπτον η αλλοιωτον τον υιον του θεου, [τουτους] αναθεματιζει η καθολικη [και αποστολικη] εκκλησια. We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father the only begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance (ὁμοούσιον) with the Father; by whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; he suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost. But those who say: ‘There was once when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or, ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church. 10

Athanasius in his Defence of the Nicene Definition (ca. 353), points to the word μονογενής in John 1:14 as one Scriptural proof for the teaching.

It has been shown above, and must be believed as true, that the Word is from the Father, and the only Offspring proper to Him and natural. For whence may one conceive the Son to be, who is the Wisdom and the Word, in whom all things came to be, but from God Himself? However, the Scriptures also teach us this…. John in saying, “The Only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him,” spoke of what He had learned from the Saviour. Besides, what else does “in the bosom” intimate, but the Son’s genuine generation from the Father? 11

The Nicene Creed was revised at the Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381, and in this revised form (known as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed) it continues to be used by the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and by some Protestant churches, as a confession of faith. Most Lutherans recite this Creed during their worship services at least once a month. Even those who do not use this Creed in their liturgies generally acknowledge the correctness of its teaching. Most Protestant confessions and summaries of doctrine have incorporated its language. For instance, the Westminster Confession (used as a doctrinal standard in conservative Presbyterian churches) reflects the Nicene teaching of the eternal generation of the Son in one of its paragraphs concerning the Trinity: “In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.” (chapter 2, paragraph 3.) In this confession, a Scripture reference following the words “eternally begotten of the Father” points to John 1:14 and 1:18, as support for the doctrine.

If the word “begotten” as applied to Christ has had such importance in the history of Christian doctrine, why have some modern versions of the Bible omitted the “begotten” in their renderings of the verses quoted above?

It is because many modern scholars have rejected the interpretation of Scripture embodied in the Nicene Creed. These scholars maintain that the Nicene Creed’s interpretation of Scripture is wrong, and they argue that the traditional rendering “only begotten” represents a dogmatically-motivated misinterpretation of the Greek word μονογενής. As one Baptist scholar puts it,

The phrase “only begotten” derives directly from Jerome (340?-420 A.D.) who replaced unicus (only), the reading of the Old Latin, with unigenitus (only begotten) as he translated the Latin Vulgate. Jerome’s concern was to refute the Arian doctrine that claimed the Son was not begotten but made. This led Jerome to impose the terminology of the Nicene creed (325 A.D.) onto the New Testament. 12

This author gives the translators who have preferred “only begotten” too little credit, as if this phrase in the early English versions were merely an unthinking imitation of the Vulgate’sunigenitus, and retained in some modern versions only by the force of a verbal tradition. But the translators of the King James Version were not just imitating the Vulgate when they translatedμονογενής as “only begotten.” They translated it thus because they understood it thus, in agreement with the interpretation of the word given in the Nicene Creed. And the author’s contention that Jerome imposed the terminology of the Nicene creed onto the Scriptures when he used unigenitus is unjustifiable. It is no imposition on the word to translate it thus. 13 Athanasius and the other Greek Fathers of the early fourth century did not need any Latin version to interpret this word for them, and in their disputes with the Arians they frequently explained it in the sense, “only-begotten,” with exegetical emphasis on the “begotten.” In one place Athanasius says very plainly that Christ is called “Only-begotten, because of his generation from the Father.” 14 In other places his use of the word is so connected with other words for “begetting” that it is impossible to suppose that it did not carry the meaning “only begotten.” 15 If this were not enough, modern scholarly support for this understanding of the word is certainly not lacking either. “Only-begotten” is given as a sense for μονογενής in Lust’s Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint(2nd ed., Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2003). In the 2nd ed. of the BAGD lexicon (1979) it is said that “the meanings only, unique may be quite adequate for all its occurrences” in the Johannine literature (p. 527), but the lexicon also presents the traditional view, in which the word is understood to mean “only-begotten.” See also the article on monogenes by Büchsel in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 4, pp. 737-41. Büchsel concludes that in John’s Gospel the word denotes “more than the uniqueness or incomparability of Jesus,” because it also “denotes the origin of Jesus … as the only-begotten.” For a full discussion of this matter see John V. Dahms, “The Johannine Use of Monogenes Reconsidered,” New Testament Studies 29 (1983), pp. 222-232. Dahms concludes, “the external evidence, especially from Philo, Justin, and Tertullian, and the internal evidence from the context of its occurrences, makes clear that ‘only begotten’ is the most accurate translation after all.” 16 On the popular level, the recently published Reformation Study Bible (Ligonier Ministries, 2005), edited by a panel of respected conservative scholars, includes this note on the phrase “the only Son” in John 1:14 — “This phrase translates a single Greek word and explicitly points to the eternal generation of the Son in the Trinity.” 17

The truth is, those who do not acknowledge this meaning of the word μονογενής in the Johannine writings are themselves dogmatically motivated. Their preferred translation—“only”—is an undertranslation which hides from view a Scriptural datum that supports the Christology of the ancient Creed but which happens to be unpopular with modern theologians.

There is a tendency among modern theologians to “divide the Substance” of the Godhead (cf. the warning against this in the Athanasian Creed) by positing such independence and equality of the Persons of the Trinity that we can no longer conceive of them as being one God. Some modern theologians have little use for the term ὁμοούσιος (“one essence”), and they cannot abide the idea that there is any ontological priority of the Father in the Trinity, because this is too “hierarchical” and “patriarchal” for our egalitarian age. The Son and the Spirit must be made totally equal to the Father in all respects, even if it means making them into three Gods. This trend is largely driven by liberal theologians who favor the new “social Trinity” concept (Moltmann being prominent among them), which imagines the Trinity to be like a voluntary society of persons who are not ontologically connected.

Among the more conservative thinkers there are also some who have criticized the Nicene Creed because they refuse any explanation of the relationship between Father and Son which describes the Son as being secondary to the Father in his “mode of subsistence.” In their view, it “detracts from the glory of the Son,” as Robert Reymond puts it. This appears to be an over-reaction to modern Unitarianism. Reymond claims that John Calvin was also opposed to the “eternally begotten” teaching of the Nicene Creed for this reason, but he has misinterpreted Calvin.18 We see a good motive here, because Reymond wishes to defend the divinity of Christ, but he is still wrong. Tritheism is no less heretical than Unitarianism. 19

One often encounters in liberal writers some statement to the effect that the Nicene doctrine of eternal generation derives from the emanationist metaphysics of ancient pagan philosophy, rather than from the Bible. Not that they care what the Bible says—they only wish to discredit the Nicene Creed in the eyes of those who do care what the Bible teaches. Unfortunately, in recent years this idea has been picked up by some relatively conservative theologians also, such as Paul Helm. In lectures and articles he has repeated this canard, alleging that the Nicene teachings concerning the begetting of the Son and the procession of the Spirit “derive not from the New Testament but from pagan philosophy, from Neoplatonism.” 20 But anyone who is really familiar with Neo-Platonism will readily see how implausible it is to maintain that the Nicene Fathers borrowed any element of their Christology from this pagan philosophy. We give a brief description of it from Neve’s History of Christian Thought:

With Neo-Platonism we enter the third century of the Christian era. The characteristic defender of Neo-Platonism was Plotinus, who lived in the years A.D. 204-269. His system was epitomized by his pupil Porphyry in the six Enneads. “The fundamental conception of this important work,” says Weber (History of Philosophy, p. 167), “is emanatistic pantheism. It looks upon the world as an ‘overflow,’ as a diffusion of the divine life, and upon its ‘reabsorption’ in God as the final goal of existence.” This is the monistic trend in the system of Plotinus, in which the world first emanates from God and then returns to Him.

a. The emanation or overflow. God is a simple, perfect, absolute existence. He is One, and in Him there is no plurality or diversity. Furthermore He transcends all being and knowledge. His transcendence precludes any positive statement we may make concerning Him. If we attempt to say anything about Him by way of definition, we simply limit Him. Hence we can only say what He is not. We cannot even say that He thinks or feels or wills. Therefore we must be content with negative statements. So far as human knowledge, whether theological or philosophical, is concerned, Plotinus insisted very strongly upon God’s unapproachableness and His differentiation from the world.

Although God is the source of all things, He nevertheless did not create the world. For one thing, He does not need the world; and for another thing, He does not will to create the world. The world is only an emanation or “overflow” from God. In this process of emanation or overflow, there are three stages: (1) the Nous, or pure in mind; (2) the Psyche or Soul; and (3) Matter. Through the union of the soul with matter arises the world of phenomena, and the soul thereby becomes bound up with mortality and evil. The entrance of the soul into the human body constitutes a genuine fall, caused by the soul fixing its gaze upon the earth rather than upon God. While the body is fundamentally evil, still the soul may be benefited by its period of tabernacling in the body. It will thus gain cognizance of evil, and learn to utilize its own powers, thus starting on its return to God.

b. The Return or Absorption. The process is now reversed, and the development proceeds from the lower to the higher. It is the task of the soul to return to God by severing its connections with the crass materiality of the body and by rising higher and higher in gradual stages. Failure to do this will send the soul after death into another body, either human or animal or vegetable, according to the nature and depth of its sin. The pure souls are colonized in the stars; only the very ripest may return entirely to God. The means by which this ascending development takes place are the mystical ecstasy and ascetic ethics. In the state of mystical ecstasy the soul transcends itself, rises to the world of ideas where it not only recognizes that it is God, but actually becomes God. 21

Also relevant to our subject is Neve’s description of the earlier Gnostic heresies, in which the concept of divine emanations played an important role.

The Emanation Theory. This theory which was held especially by the Alexandrians [he means the Alexandrian Gnostics –M.D.M.] and was extensively developed by them, served to explain how the world and man came into existence. The system of Valentinus [circa A.D. 150] in particular had a highly fantastic and speculative process of cosmogony [birth of the world] and theogony [birth of the gods]. From the hidden God there emanated a long series of divine essences (aeons) whose inherent divine power diminished inversely with the distance of removal from the original divine source. This process of depotentialization continued until a point was reached where the spiritual element came into contact with matter and was imprisoned in a material body. Thus man and the world were created.

The Creator. The last link in the theogonic chain was the Creator or demiurge. He was thought to occupy a middle position between the world of spirit and the world of matter, and was usually identified with the Jehovah-God of the Old Testament. Although not absolutely hostile and evil, he was an inferior and antagonistic being—a blind intelligence, who was ignorant of the good God and who had unwittingly brought the world and man into existence. Arguing from the characteristics of the Jewish Law as described by Jesus, the Valentinian Ptolomaeus maintained that they could not have originated from the devil. It must have come from the demiurge—the “middle God” or “just God” (Epiphanius Pan., h. 31:3-1 [sic]), who was regarded as an angelic being not free from malice and who governed with a loveless external justice. (p. 54)

Can we really suppose that Athanasius and the other Fathers of the Church borrowed their Christology from such philosophy? At several important points it is antithetical to the teachings of the Bible and obviously repugnant to orthodox Christian theology. Surely Helm is wrong when he asserts that the Christian teaching concerning the eternal generation of the Son derives from this source. The mere fact that an idea of emanation is present in both demonstrates nothing. 22 One might as well claim that the Christian teaching about the immortality of the soul derives from Neo-Platonic teachings about the soul’s adventures after the death of the body. And in fact there are some who do make this claim—liberals and cultists, who make a hobby of attacking the Nicene Creed. Helm’s idea that there is a connection between the Christology of the Nicene Creed and the pantheistic emanations of Neo-Platonism is not only unreasonable, it is irresponsible, because it lends aid to the enemies of orthodox Christianity.

I will quote now from Roger Beckwith’s answer to Helm and Reymond in “The Calvinist doctrine of the Trinity” (The Churchman 115/4 [Winter 2001], pp. 308-315). Beckwith wrongly associates their views with the Calvinistic tradition in his article, because he has taken Reymond’s claims about Calvin’s teaching at face value (hence the title “The Calvinist doctrine of the Trinity”), and he fails to notice the modernistic origins of Helm’s critique of the Nicene Creed. But he gives a concise and convincing reply to their contention that the doctrine is unscriptural.

Though Calvinist theologians have in general followed the Nicene teaching, with or without the support of their master, some, without going as far as Professor Helm, have ventured to deny the begetting of the Son by the Father in eternity. A good example of this can be found in a recent book where the author, Robert Reymond, lists the main biblical passages usually quoted in support of this doctrine, and claims that they either do not, or do not certainly, teach it. They fall into four classes. First are the many passages which use the expressions ‘Father’ and ‘Son’. He says that these should be viewed as simply denoting ‘sameness of nature, and in Jesus’ case, equality with the Father with respect to his deity (see John 10:30-36)’. It is difficult to regard this as an adequate account, for though it is certainly true that there is a sameness of nature between the two Persons and that both are God, the names ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ imply a reason for this sameness, namely, the begetting of the Son by the Father. The sameness of nature, which enables the Son to reveal the Father (John 1:18; 12:45; 14:9), is a result of this fact. We saw above that the relationship of Father and Son, including the love it involves, already existed in eternity, so it is not just a way of speaking which depends on the incarnation; and if this is so, the begetting of the Son by the Father in eternity is necessarily implied. 23

The second class of passage comprises those in which the term monogenes is used, traditionally translated ‘only-begotten’. These are all, with the exception of one, in the writings of John — John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9, together with Hebrews 11:17. All the Johannine passages refer to Jesus, but the passage in Hebrews refers to Isaac. It is widely held today that the term should simply be translated ‘only’, not ‘only-begotten’, and when (outside the New Testament) it is used without reference to children this is certainly so; but because of the extreme frequency of the language of begetting and being born (the same term in Greek) in the Johannine literature, it is held by some that ‘only-begotten’ is, in this case, a better translation. It certainly seems to make better sense in John 1:14, where the word is used without a noun, and also in John 1:18, if ‘God’ and not ‘Son’ is the noun in question (as some maintain, following a variant reading). In the former verse, ‘glory as of the only-begotten from the Father’ is more meaningful than ‘glory as of the only one from the Father’, and in the latter verse ‘the only-begotten God’ can more meaningfully be said to make the Father known than ‘the only God’ can. Furthermore, if 1 John 5:18 refers to Jesus as ‘he that was begotten of God’, which is what most commentators believe, it is hard not to see this as relevant to the interpretation of the five passages containing monogenes, especially the three in which (as in this verse) the Father is called ‘God’.

The third and fourth classes of passage contain only one passage each, John 5:26 and 1 John 5:18. Of John 5:26, Reymond claims that it refers to the Son’s incarnate role, as Messiah. It is noteworthy, however, that the passage uses the eternal names of the two Persons, ‘the Father’ and ‘the Son’. If, then, it does mean that the Father has given the incarnate Son to have life in himself, this might well be because he had already given him, as the eternal Son, to have life in himself. And this would conform with John 1:4, which says of the Word or Son of God, not just from the time of the incarnation but from the time of the creation — ‘In him was life’.

Much less doubt attaches to 1 John 5:18. Although its interpretation is not beyond question, the difference of tense between ‘whosoever is begotten of God’ (perfect) and ‘he that was begotten of God’ (aorist) leads most commentators to see the latter phrase as referring to a different person from the former, namely Christ. And the time when Christ was begotten of God would have to be the time when the relationship of Father and Son commenced, namely, in eternity.

The biblical basis of the credal doctrine of the Trinity appears, therefore, to be secure. We can be thankful that the Fathers embodied in Creeds the exegetical conclusions which they had so patiently worked out, since this enables churches that use the Creeds to keep those conclusions constantly before their minds. The positive contribution which Calvin made to the exposition of the doctrine, by emphasising the three Persons and their equality, as each being God, was a valuable one, but the doubt cast by some later Calvinists on the eternal impartation of the divine being and nature by one Person to another has been a regrettable development and, insofar as Calvin was responsible for it, he has had a negative influence also. This negative development has involved an attenuation of trinitarian doctrine and a reductionist approach to the biblical evidence on which it rests, and of these tendencies Professor Helm’s lecture is a rather extreme example.

Finally, it must not be supposed that all translators who have preferred “only” over “only begotten” are deliberately undertranslating the word μονογενής for theological reasons. Many translators simply wish to keep their translations simple and idiomatic, and the word “begotten” does not commend itself to those who are trying to translate the text into a familiar and contemporary style of English. It may also be that some translators prefer to leave out the “begotten” because they fear that laymen will misinterpret this to mean that the Son had a beginning in time. 24 Unfortunately, by failing to convey the “begotten” component of meaning in the word μονογενής they are in effect discarding centuries of careful theological exegesis, and it seems that we can hardly afford this loss in our generation. We need more theological literacy in the churches today, and it is not helpful when translators strip theologically important words from the text of the English Bible. The rendering “only begotten,” or some other equivalent expression, should at least be indicated in the footnotes of English versions, and it is the duty of pastors to explain what this means.

Let what was confessed by the Fathers at Nicæa prevail. —Athanasius, Letters, lxi to Maximus, A.D. 371.

Michael Marlowe
Trinity Sunday, 2006


Notes

1. Notwithstanding D.A. Carson’s contention that in Hebrews 11:17 μονογενής “clearly cannot mean ‘only begotten son’” (Exegetical Fallacies [Baker, 1984], p. 29), commentators on the epistle to the Hebrews have never thought that the use of a term meaning “only begotten” in reference to Isaac is very problematic. Calvin writes in his commentary on Hebrews: “It may, however, be asked, why is Isaac called the only begotten, for Ishmael was born before him and was still living. To this the answer is, that by God’s express command he was driven from the family, so that he was accounted as one dead, at least he held no place among Abraham’s children.” (Calvin Translation Society ed., trans. John Owen [Edinburgh, 1853], p. 287.) Similarly, Marcus Dods explains that Isaac is called “only begotten” because “irrespective of any other children Abraham had had or might have, it had been said to him … in Isaac shall a seed be named to thee (Gen. xxi. 12.); that is to say, it is Isaac and his descendants who shall be known as Abraham’s seed” (Expositor’s Greek Testament vol. 4 [London, 1900], p. 358). These explanations are quite adequate. There is no need to suppose a meaning of “unique” for the word μονογενής here if only we will read the entire sentence, including verse 18.

2. Richard Longenecker, “the One and Only Son,” chapter 11 in The NIV: The Making of a Contemporary Translation (International Bible Society, 1991), p. 122. For his quotation of the passage from 1 Clement, Longenecker has used J.B. Lightfoot’s translation (without attribution), with only a few changes for the sake of modern English.

3. English translation from Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. C. Coxe, eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. Vol. 1. The Apostolic Fathers; Justin Martyr; Irenaeus. (Edinburgh, 1885; reprinted Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1953).

4. Perhaps Longenecker has confused the Septuagint with the version done by Aquila, which does have the word μονογενής here. There are a number of such careless errors of fact in Longenecker’s article. He states that “in Genesis 22:2, 12, 16, and Jubilees 18:2, 11, 15 (possibly also Jos. Antiq. 1:222), monogenes is used of Isaac in the sense of Abraham’s ‘favored,’ ‘chosen,’ or ‘unique’ son, vis-a-vis Ishmael.” (pp. 121-22.) But in fact the Septuagint does not have the word μονογενής in Genesis 22. It has the word αγαπητος, “beloved.” The word μονογενής does not occur at all in the Pentateuch of the Septuagint. It is hard to understand why Longenecker is citing Jubilees here, because there is no extant Greek text for the Book of Jubilees. And the manuscripts of the Ethiopic version of this book (upon which we rely for any indication of the wording in the lost Greek version) do not indicate μονογενής in the places Longenecker cites. They indicate αγαπητος (in line with the Septuagint version of Genesis 22) or πρωτοτοκος “first born.” Probably Longenecker just assumed that the Septuagint used the word in reference to Isaac in Genesis 22 because the Epistle to the Hebrews (which often quotes from the Septuagint) uses the word in reference to Isaac in 11:17. But strangely, later in the same paragraph he writes, “the LXX also renders yahid by agapetos (Gen. 22:2, 12, 16 …”, which seems to indicate that he was aware of the fact that the Septuagint uses αγαπητος instead of μονογενής in Genesis 22. In the same paragraph he also asserts that “in Psalms of Solomon 18:4 and Ezra 6:58, Israel is referred to as both prototokos and God’s monogenes” (p. 122), but there is no “Ezra 6:58.” Evidently in this case he has been confused by a statement in Büchsel’s article in the TDNT, which says that “There is a striking use of μονογενής in Ps.Sol. 18:4 : ‘Thy chastisement comes upon us (in love) as the first born and the only begotten son.’ With this may be compared 4 Esr. 6:58 : ‘But we, thy people, whom thou hast called the first born, the only begotten, the dearest friend, are given up into their hands.’” Here Büchsel is referring to the Latin text of Fourth Esdras (also called Second Esdras), a book for which there is no extant Greek text. Apparently Longenecker mistook it for a reference to the Greek text of the canonical book of Ezra in the Septuagint. Longenecker does not seem to have looked at the texts he refers to; he is instead relying upon secondary sources, which we misunderstands, and so he misleads the reader into thinking that the word μονογενής is present in the cited texts.

5. Septuagint scholar Johan Lust writes, “For some Hebrew words, the translators employed a stereotyped Greek equivalent, disregarding the context and semantic nuances. Thus, שלום was translated as a rule byειρηνη, although the semantic field covered by the Greek word does not coincide with that of the Hebrew. It is well known that this led to Greek sentences which must have been hard to understand for native Greek speakers, e.g. when David speaks of the ειρηνην του πολεμου (the peace of the war) in 2 Sam 11.7.” (Introduction to A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint [Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2003], pp. xviii-xix).

6. Longenecker’s idea that a meaning of “priceless and irreplaceable” can be established for the word on the basis of these two occurrences (Psalms 22:20 and 35:17) in the Septuagint has no merit. Büchsel argues more plausibly that when the Septuagint uses μονογενής in these places “the reference is to the uniqueness of the soul,” with a translation “possible on the basis of the general use of μονογενής for ‘unique,’ ‘unparalleled,’ ‘incomparable.’” (“μονογενής,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, English edition, vol. 4 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967], pp. 738-9). But he would have done better to compare these occurrences with the one in Psalm 25:16, which he calls “an unfortunate translation based on the mistaken belief that here, too, יָחִיד should be rendered μονογενής.” (p. 739, n. 7.) On the word-study fallacy committed by Longenecker here, cf. the complaint of Adolf Deissmann: “People think that the problem is solved by ascertaining what Hebrew word or words are represented by the Septuagint word. They then look up the meaning of the Hebrew and thus obtain what they consider the ‘meaning’ of the Septuagint word. Equivalence of the words—an obvious fact, easily ascertainable—is taken without further ado to denote equivalence in the ideas conveyed. People forget that the Septuagint has often substituted words of its own rather than translated. All translation, in fact, implies some, if only a slight, alteration of the sense of the original. The meaning of a Septuagint word cannot be deduced from the original which it translates or replaces but only from other remains of the Greek language” (The Philology of the Greek Bible, trans. by L. Strachan [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1908], pp. 88-89).

7. John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, 3rd edition. London: A & C Black Ltd., 1920. Burnet explains in a note: “I prefer to read εστι γαρ ουλομελες with Plutarch (Adv. Col. 1114 c). Proklos (in Parm. 1152, 24) also readουλομελες. Simplicius, who has μουνογενες here, calls the One of Parmenides ολομελες elsewhere (Phys. p. 137, 15). The reading of [Plut.] Strom. 5, μουνον μουνογενες, helps to explain the confusion. We have only to suppose that the letters μ, ν, γ were written above the line in the Academy copy of Parmenides by some one who had Tim. 31 b 3 in mind. Parmenides could not call what is ‘only-begotten,’ though the Pythagoreans might call the world so.” Even without this last sentence (in which the meaning “only begotten” is assumed for μουνογενες), Burnet’s argument for the emendation is quite adequate. Scholars generally admit that problems of interpretation in classical literature are often best solved by such text-critical emendations. The text of Parmenides’ poem (written in the fifth century B.C.) is preserved only in quotations of it made in the works of later writers. In this portion of it, the text derives from quotations included in a commentary on Aristotle’s Physics by Simplicius of Cilicia, written in the sixth century A.D.—more than a thousand years after Parmenides. According to the ordinary canons of textual criticism, such a gap in the documentary evidence for the text of the original composition warrants a high degree of uncertainty about its original wording; and the likelihood of corruption is increased by the abstruse nature of the text. Even scholars who specialize in the interpretation of the Pre-Socratic philosophical texts have said that Parmenides is “extremely difficult to understand and seems self-contradictory to many who study him … Michael C. Stokes observes that Parmenides wrote in ‘riddling fashion,’ and Jonathan Barnes contends that ‘Parmenides’s Greek is desperately hard to understand’ and that aspects of it represent an ‘almost impenetrable obscurity’” (http://www.enotes.com/classical-medieval-criticism/parmenides, accessed 27 Dec. 2006). It is very unlikely that his poem has come down to us without any corruption.

8. John R. Wilson, “Parmenides, B 8. 4,” The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 20, No. 1. (May, 1970), pp. 32-34. Wilson explains: “A solution is to eliminate the awkward prefix in Plutarch and the illogical suffix in Simplicius, and so arrive at the compound μουνομελες, ‘single-limbed’ which is an effective and logical amplification of ουλον. Unlike ουλομελες, μουνομελες assertively denies any possibility of subdivision, an idea which is duly worked out at 8. 22 ff. … And far from being unattested, the word is used by Empedocles [B 58], presumably in imitation of Parmenides, to convey exactly that sense of indivisibility which we require here” (p. 34).

9. In quotations from the Wisdom of Solomon I have used the English translation by Samuel Holmes in R.H. Charles, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, with Introductions and Critical and Explanatory Notes, vol. 1 (Oxford, 1913), pp. 518-568. In his introduction to the book, Holmes compares the author’s personification of Wisdom to the personification of the Word (Logos) in Philo, and observes that in Philo “The Logos is not unbegotten as God … On the other hand it is not begotten as man … We shall perhaps not be far wrong if we attribute the same idea to our author with regard to the personality of Wisdom.” (p. 528) And the obvious parallels here with John’s statements about the Son are too close to be ignored.

10. Greek text from Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 2 (6th ed, 1931), p. 60; English translation from vol 1, pp. 28-29. The Nicene Creed normally recited in churches today is more properly called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. It is a revision of the original Creed, associated with the second ecumenical council, convened at Constantinople in A.D. 381. In it the relevant sentences read, Και εις ενα κυριον Ιησουν Χριστον, τον υιον του θεου τον μονογενη, τον εκ του πατρος γεννεθεντα προ παντων των αιωνων, φως εκ φωτος, θεον αληθινον εκ θεου αληθινου, γεννεθεντα, ου ποιεθεντα, ομοουσιον τω πατρι· δι ου τα παντα εγενετο …“And [we believe] in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through whom all things were made …”

11. English Translation by A. Robertson, from vol. 4 of A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. In view of the importance attached to this point of exegesis by the Church Fathers, I find it hard to understand how Longenecker can insist upon the NIV’s rendering “One and Only.” He even maintains that “only begotten” is undesirable “particularly because it leaves open the possibility of an etymological emphasis on genes (the idea of generation).” (op cit., p. 126.) He not only disagrees with the interpretation of the word emphasized by Athanasius, he even objects to the rendering “only begotten” particularly because it “leaves open the possibility” of this interpretation!

12. Christopher Church, “Only Begotten,” in the Holman Bible Dictionary (Broadman & Holman, 1991).

13. Likewise John Calvin was certainly not “imposing the terminology of the Nicene Creed” upon the text of Scripture when he used the word unigenitus as a translation of μονογενής in his Latin commentary on the First Epistle of John. Rather, he simply recognized that unigenitus was the best Latin equivalent for the word, as did Jerome. See Calvin’s Latin text at 1 John 4:9 in the Calvin Translation Society’s edition of hisCommentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Edinburgh, 1855).

14. Μονογενὴς µὲν διὰ τὴν ἐκ Πατρὸς γέννησιν. Second Discourse against the Arians, § 62.

15. For example, at the beginning of his Expositio Fidei we find the words: Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἕνα ἀγέννητον θεόν, Πατέρα παντοκράτορα, πάντων ποιητὴν ὁρατῶν τε καὶ ἀοράτων, τὸν ἔχοντα ἀφ’ ἑαυτοῦ τὸ εἶναι· καὶ εἰς ἕνα μονογενῆ Λόγον, Σοφίαν, Υἱόν, ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς ἀνάρχως καὶ ἀϊδίως γεγεννημένον, “We believe in one Unbegotten God, Father Almighty, maker of all things both visible and invisible, that hath His being from Himself. And in one Only-begotten Word, Wisdom, Son, begotten of the Father without beginning and eternally.” (Greek text according to the Benedictine edition by Montfaucon, as reproduced in Thilo, Sancti Athanasii archiepiscopi Alexandrini Opera dogmatica selecta, Leipzig 1853.) It would be foolish to argue that in such a sentence μονογενῆ Λόγον means “One and Only Word,” especially after ἕνα.

16. D.A. Carson in his Exegetical Fallacies (Baker, 1984) offers a brief response to Dahms, in which he focuses on the Septuagint’s translation of Psalm 25:16, μονογενης … ειμι εγω (I am monogenes). The Hebrew here has the adjective yahid “only” used in a substantive sense, lit. “I am an only one.” Carson assumes that the Septuagint translator would have understood the Hebrew to mean “I am alone” or “lonely.” We grant that this is probably the meaning of the Hebrew, but if the Septuagint translator thought so, why does he not use the common word μονος here? We would expect μονος ειμι εγω if he had wanted to say “I am alone.” Carson further maintains that the translator cannot have meant “I am an only begotten one” here because “David wrote the Psalm, and David had many siblings” (p. 30, n. 13). But we cannot assume that the Greek translator interpreted this verse with David and his brothers in mind. The Psalms of David are poetry, they contain many hyperbolic and metaphorical statements that were not literally true of David (e.g. Psalm 22:14-18), and this would have been just as obvious to the Septuagint translators as it is to us.

17. Unfortunately, the English Standard Version translation used in this edition does not point to it. We hope that this defect is repaired in future editions of the ESV.

18. See Reymond’s New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), pp. 324-330. Reymond misunderstands various remarks in Calvin’s Institutes which are directed against the teachings of a contemporary, Valentine Gentile, as if they were directed against the Nicene Fathers. According to Calvin, “certain rascals” of his own time (Valentine Gentile and his disciples), asserted that the Father “in forming the Son and the Spirit, infused into them his own deity,” and thus in a “dreadful manner of speaking” they say that the Father is the only “essence giver.” In opposition to this teaching, Calvin affirms in the very words of the Nicene Creed, that Christ “is the Son of God because the Word was begotten by the Father before all ages.” (Institutes, 1.13.23). And again, in arguing against the errors of Servetus, who held that “the Word for the first time began to be when God opened his holy mouth in the creation of the universe,” Calvin asserts that “it is necessary to understand the Word as begotten of the Father before time” (1.13.7-8). Reymond completely misunderstands Calvin here if he equates the “dreadful manner of speaking” of Calvin’s “rascals” with the Nicene Creed itself. Reymond also badly misunderstands his words at the end of Book 1, chap. 13: “Certe nihil astute praeterii quod mihi adversum esse putarem: sed dum ecclesiae aedificationi studeo, multa non attingere consultius visum est, quae et parum prodessent, et lectores gravarent supervacua molestia. Quid enim disputare attinet, an semper generet Pater? quando stulte fingitur continuus actus generandi, ex quo liquet ab aeterno tres in Deo personas substitisse. (“Certainly I have not shrewdly omitted anything that I might think to be against me: but while I am zealous for the edification of the church, I felt that I would be better advised not to touch upon many things that would profit but little, and would burden my readers with useless trouble. For what is the point in disputing whether the Father always begets? Indeed, it is foolish to imagine a continuous act of begetting, since it is clear that three persons have subsisted in God from eternity.”) This is notdirected against the “eternally begotten” teaching of the Nicene Creed, as Reymond would have the reader think; rather, it is directed against the kind of scholastic debate found in Lombard’s Sentences, book 1, distinction 9, about the propriety of using the word semper (“always”) in connection with the generation of the Son, which might seem to imply a perpetual begetting within time. There is no indication in any of Calvin’s writings that he disagreed with the doctrine of eternal generation as set forth in the Nicene Creed. On the contrary: he positively affirms it, and uses it against Unitarian heretics of his time. In a withering review of Reymond’s book that appeared in the Westminster Theological Journal 62/2 (Fall 2000), pp. 314-319, Robert Letham takes him to task for his misrepresentation of Calvin: “Reymond cites one short paragraph from Warfield’s fine article ‘Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity’ to argue that Calvin rejected Nicene trinitarianism (334-35). This article is ninety-five pages long and Warfield repeatedly affirms Calvin’s approval of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan doctrine of the trinity. For instance, ‘It will have already become apparent … that in his doctrine of the Trinity Calvin departed in nothing from the doctrine which had been handed down from the orthodox Fathers.’ He also underlines Calvin’s ‘pervasive’ approval of eternal generation and eternal procession (244-45)! From this long article Reymond extracts one small paragraph and uses it to counter all Warfield has carefully stated over scores of pages. This is shoddy” (p. 319).

19. I do not see how one can hold that Father, Son and Holy Spirit must each have His own “attribute of self-existence,” as Reymond demands (A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p. 326), without breaking them into three Gods; and I see no Scriptural warrant for insisting upon self-existence as an “attribute” proper to the Son. It is more correct to say that self-existence pertains to the essence of divinity, which the Son shares, but not to the hypostasis of the Son as such. So we must reject Reymond’s idea that “it detracts from the glory of the Son” when an “attribute of self-existence” is not ascribed to the Son. As Charles Hodge says, “self-existence, independence, etc., are attributes of the divine essence, and not of one person in distinction from the others. It is the triune God who is self-existent and independent. Subordination as to the mode of subsistence and operation, is a scriptural fact; and so also is the perfect and equal godhead of the Father and the Son, and therefore these facts must be consistent.” (Systematic Theology, vol 1, p. 474.) Again, the motive for this appears to be good—Reymond imagines that he is defending the “glory of the Son” (p. 328) by rejecting the Nicene formulations—but we must be careful not to deny part of the Truth while defending another part of it. Tertullian once observed (in Against Praxeas, chap. 1), Varie diabolus aemulatus est veritatem. Adfectavit illam aliquando defendendo concutere. (In various ways the devil has vied with the Truth. Sometimes he has tried to shake it by defending it.)

20. See Helm’s article “Of God, and of the Holy Trinity: A Response to Dr. Beckwith,” The Churchman 115/4 (Winter 2001), pp. 350-357.

21. J.L. Neve, A History of Christian Thought, vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1946), pp. 24-25.

22. In his treatise Against Praxeas Tertullian describes how the Word may be understood to be begotten by the Father, as an emanation of His eternal ratio (correctly interpreting the λόγος in John’s prologue as bothsermo “word” and ratio “reason”); and, is if to answer Helm’s charge of pagan philosophical influence in this conception, he writes, “If any man from this shall think that I am introducing some προβολη—that is to say, some prolation (prolatio) of one thing out of another, as Valentinus does when he sets forth æon from æon, one after another—then this is my first reply to you: Truth must not therefore refrain from the use of such a term, and its reality and meaning, because heresy also employs it. The fact is, heresy has rather taken it from Truth, in order to mould (struo) it into its own counterfeit. Was the Word of God put forth (prolatus est sermo dei) or not? Here take your stand with me, and flinch not. If He was put forth, then acknowledge that the true doctrine has a prolation; and never mind heresy, when in any point it mimics the truth. The question now is, in what sense each side uses a given thing and the word which expresses it.” The essential difference between the use of the emanation concept in the Church Fathers and its use in the metaphysics of Valentinus and Plotinus is that the former use it only to explain the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit in the Godhead, whereas the latter use it to explain the creation of the world. The Gnostics and Neo-Platonists taught that the whole universe consisted of a series of emanations from God.

23. Concerning the meaning of the terms “Father” and “Son,” Reymond urges that these words “must not be freighted with the Western ideas of source of being and superiority on the one hand and of subordination and dependency on the other. Rather, they should be viewed in the biblical sense as denoting sameness of nature, and in Jesus’ case, equality with the Father with respect to his Deity” (New Systematic Theology, p. 325). This attempt to characterize the concept of filial subordination as an unbiblical “Western idea” about the father-son relationship is quite unsupportable. If any distinction is to be drawn between the ancient Eastern and modern Western concepts of sonship, surely it is the ancient Eastern culture which emphasizes more strongly the subordination of the son to the father. The idea that an “equality” exists between family members is a distinctly modern and Western idea, and quite foreign to the Bible. But Beckwith’s answer here does not depend upon any cultural considerations like this. His point is that the biblical terms “Father” and “Son” in themselves necessarily include the idea of a begetting. The point is expressed more amply by William G. T. Shedd: “… these trinal names given to God [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] in the baptismal formula and the apostolic benediction, actually force upon the trinitarian theologian, the ideas of paternity, generation, filiation, spiration, and procession. He cannot reflect upon the implication of these names without forming these ideas, and finding himself necessitated to concede their literal validity and objective reality. He cannot say that the first person is the Father, and then deny that he “begets.” He cannot say that the second person is the Son, and then deny that he is “begotten.” He cannot say that the third person is the Spirit, and then deny that he “proceeds” by “spiration” (spiritus quia spiratus) from the Father and Son. When therefore Augustin, like the primitive fathers generally, endeavors to illustrate this eternal, necessary, and constitutional energizing and activity (opera ad intra) in the Divine Essence, whereby the Son issues from the Father and the Spirit from Father and Son, by the emanation of sunbeam from sun, light from light, river from fountain, thought from mind, word from thought … nothing more is done than when by other well-known and commonly adopted analogies the Divine unity, or omniscence, or omnipresence, is sought to be illustrated. There is no analogy taken from the finite that will clear up the mystery of the infinite—whether it be the mystery of the eternity of God, or that of his trinity. But, at the same time, by the use of these analogies the mind is kept close up to the Biblical term or statement, and is not allowed to content itself with only a half-way understanding of it. Such a method brings thoroughness and clearness into the interpretation of the Word of God.” (“Introductory Essay” to Augustine’s On the Holy Trinity, in vol. 3 of Post Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Schaff [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1887]). It is no “pretentious metaphysical speculation,” as Reymond calls it (p. 337), when we merely recognize the plain implications of the biblical terms “Father” and “Son.”

24. One would like to think that translators who have a high view of scripture would not simply cut out an important word for fear that it would be misinterpreted, but it does seem likely that this motive is at work here. And the fears are certainly justified. I notice that in the Moody Handbook of Theology (Moody Bible Institute, 1989), Paul Enns in his explanation of the Trinity rightly explains that “the Son is eternally begotten from the Father (John 1:18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). The term generation suggests the Trinitarian relationship in that the Son is eternally begotten of the Father” (p. 200). But two pages later when he begins to deal with “those who deny the Trinity” on account of “problematic terms” which “seem to imply that Christ is inferior to the Father,” he asserts that “It is with reference to the humanity of Christ that the term begotten is used; it could never be used with reference to his deity. Begotten does not relate to Jesus’ being the Son of God.” (p. 202) He then goes on to explain that monogenes in John 1:14, 18, 3:16 and 1 John 4:9 means “unique” and not “only-begotten” (p. 203). Enns contradicts himself here, evidently because he is not really familiar with the doctrine of the eternal begetting and its Scriptural basis. If this is the case with writers of popular theological handbooks, how can untutored laymen be expected to interpret the “begetting” language of Scripture in an orthodox way? But this is where the teaching ministry of the church must come in.


C.S. Lewis on the Only-Begotten Son

from Mere Christianity

One of the creeds says that Christ is the Son of God “begotten, not created”; and it adds “begotten by his Father before all worlds.” Will you please get it quite clear that this has nothing to do with the fact that when Christ was born on earth as a man, that man was the son of a virgin? We are not now thinking about the Virgin Birth. We are thinking about something that happened before Nature was created at all, before time began. “Before all worlds” Christ is begotten, not created. What does it mean?

We don’t use the words begetting or begotten much in modern English, but everyone still knows what they mean. To beget is to become the father of: to create is to make. And the difference is this. When you beget, you beget something of the same kind as yourself. A man begets human babies, a beaver begets little beavers and a bird begets eggs which turn into little birds. But when you make, you make something of a different kind from yourself. A bird makes a nest, a beaver builds a dam, a man makes a wireless set—or he may make something more like himself than a wireless set: say, a statue. If he is a clever enough carver he may make a statue which is very like a man indeed. But, of course, it is not a real man; it only looks like one. It cannot breathe or think. It is not alive.

Now that is the first thing to get clear. What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God.

*     *     *     *     *     *

I said a few pages back that God is a Being which contains three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube contains six squares while remaining one body. But as soon as I begin trying to explain how these Persons are connected I have to use words which make it sound as if one of them was there before the others. The First Person is called the Father and the Second the Son. We say that the First begets or produces the second; we call it begetting, not making, because what He produces is of the same kind as Himself. In that way the word Father is the only word to use. But unfortunately it suggests that He is there first—just as a human father exists before his son. But that is not so. There is no before and after about it. And that is why I have spent some time trying to make clear how one thing can be the source, or cause, or origin, of another without being there before it. The Son exists because the Father exists: but there never was a tune before the Father produced the Son.

Perhaps the best way to think of it is this. I asked you just now to imagine those two books, and probably most of you did. That is, you made an act of imagination and as a result you had a mental picture. Quite obviously your act of imagining was the cause and the mental picture the result. But that does not mean that you first did the imagining and then got the picture. The moment you did it, the picture was there. Your will was keeping the picture before you all the time. Yet that act of will and the picture began at exactly the same moment and ended at the same moment. If there were a Being who had always existed and had always been imagining one thing, his act would always have been producing a mental picture; but the picture would be just as eternal as the act.

In the same way we must think of the Son always, so to speak, streaming forth from the Father, like light from a lamp, or heat from a fire, or thoughts from a mind. He is the self-expression of the Father—what the Father has to say. And there never was a time when He was not saying it. But have you noticed what is happening? All these pictures of light or heat are making it sound as if the Father and Son were two things instead of two Persons. So that after all, the New Testament picture of a Father and a Son turns out to be much more accurate than anything we try to substitute for it. That is what always happens when you go away from the words of the Bible. It is quite right to go away from them for a moment in order to make some special point clear. But you must always go back. Naturally God knows how to describe Himself much better than we know how to describe Him. He knows that Father and Son is more like the relation between the First and Second Persons than anything else we can think of. Much the most important thing to know is that it is a relation of love. The Father delights in His Son; the Son looks up to His Father.

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April 27, 2012 Posted by | Christianity / God, Daily Gospel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Abraham WAS a Christian

Abraham WAS a Christian in the strictest understanding because he too was awaiting the coming of the Son of God to take away the sins of the world and to open the only door to which one must pass to enter into eternnal life.

IF we use the term muslim to refer to those who submit to the God of Abraham, of Moses, of Jacob, then Christians are the only muslims.

This confusion in terminology is why muslim is defined as a follower of islam rather than a follower of God. Muslim with a capital M is a follower of islam.

This is the same as the use of the generic allah which is arabic for god, any god. The Christian Allah refers the Christian God AND His Son Jesus while the muslim allah refers to the god od islam. These are NOT the same God. The Judaic and Christian God or Allah in Arabic is NOT the same god or allah of islam. I explained this much better in a different blog entry, but few will take the time to truly learn the difference and thus there is no need to post a link to the entry.

 

March 21, 2012 Posted by | Christianity / God, Understanding Islam | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Abraham did not build the Kaaba

Did Abraham Build the Kaaba?

The body of this paper will deal primarily with places and destinations, not theology or personality. I will examine the Biblical accounts of Abraham in the natural and sequential order in which they are preserved in the Bible, while I examine and compare a small sampling of the similarities and differences in the Quran and other Islamic sources. In doing so, I’ll point out the several fatal contradictions in the Islamic perspective and leave the reader to determine whether the Islamic version is truth to be believed or fable created to connect a pagan Arabian shrine to the Biblical patriarch of the Israelites. I will cover the ancient evidence and promptly dismember Islamic dogma as inauthentic and based on inadequate grounds. In the end, it will be hard to ignore that the Biblical account is far more reliable and historically accurate and that the Islamic version is mere conjecture imagined in the mind of a suicidal poet of the seventh century.

Nothing is more important to the foundations and development of Islam than the re-casting of Biblical personalities into newly assigned roles as devout Muslims. Shaping Israelite patriarchs into ancient Muslims who worshiped Muhammad’s god is step one. Turning the Lord Christ into a minor image of Muhammad was step two, and worldwide conquest which wars against the soul is now a real possibility [Peter 2:11; Revelation 11:7, 12:7]. While the claims against the Bible are similar to those put forward in Mormonism, and falsified just as easily, both Muslims and non-Muslims need to be reminded that the books of the Bible are the measuring stick to evaluate the historicity and integrity of Muhammad’s often fictional portrayals of these ancient and important people.

Why did the Kaaba play a central role in Muhammad’s fantasies? While no historical facts support his claims, Muslims are seldom deterred. Islam is built upon the notion that Abraham was not only a Muslim [Q. 2:31] but that he was selected by Allah to build the Kaaba in Mecca [Q. 2:125-127], and that while doing so he established the rituals and beliefs which are the cornerstones of Islamic worship. The pagan origins and practices of the Kaaba will not be discussed here, only the patriarchal journeys and the Islamic corruption of the Bible’s texts. Muslims claim that Mecca and the Kaaba are the centers of worship for the entire world. Christians and Jews know that it is Jerusalem, where lays the chief cornerstone of Yahweh’s kingdom [Psalm 102:16; I Peter 2:6]. The City of David [Zion] is mentioned nearly 50 times in the Bible as the home of God’s people [Isaiah 10:24] and where the hosts will reign [Isaiah 24:23]. Are Muslims going to tell us that these references are corruptions in the texts and that Mecca was the intended city the whole time? Hardly even remotely plausible.

The Kaaba in Mecca is without equal in veneration in Islamic tradition, and had been revered by Arab pagans long before Muhammad’s birth. The Muslim religion holds that the Kaaba was built by Abraham and Ishmael after hearing a direct revelation from Allah. This seems improbable. After all, once Allah guides a people on the right course and provides a mode of conduct for worship through a chosen Prophet, Allah does not then lead them astray into confusion or an inability to see the right course [Q. 9:115]. How is it then that such a man as Abraham would be sent to Mecca to deliver the people from polytheism and build the Kaaba only to later have them fall into apostasy and disbelief, needing yet another prophet in the 7th century A.D.? Abraham being in Mecca is just not consistent with important Islamic doctrines, and a myth. For example, in Q. 2:125 the Kaaba is being purified [Ar. ‘tahara’], yet in Q. 2:127 the foundation are still being raised [Ar. Rafa’a]. Depending on the traditions being reviewed, the Kaaba was built by Allah or maybe Adam or possibly Abraham. But, is it true?

Reconstructing ancient events in search for truth is never an easy task, but within the literature handed down from the earliest days, confirmed by corroborating testimony where it is available, certainty looms dreadful for Islamic claims. For example, American scholars such as Albright have discussed the groupings of people and popular migration patterns into and around cultivated areas of the Fertile Crescent, and it is nigh impossible to think that the barren wasteland of the Hijaz would be such a destination for Mesopotamian travelers. Crossing over from Ethiopian lands may be plausible, but Abraham was never in Ethiopia. General migration patters are important to consider if we are going to place the journeys of Abraham into historical context. It is very likely that many people, Abraham’s troop included, traveled from Ur to Canaan via the established routes such as the Kings Highway or the International Coastal Road. It is far less likely that these same people then had any reason to travel another 700 miles south into the central Hijaz.

Respected biblical scholars have placed the journeys of the patriarchs in the Middle Bronze Age [2000-1550 B.C.] and this would include the relevant chapters in the Book of Genesis [Chapters 12-50] as well as the narrative accounts in both the Quran and Tradition of the Muslims. In this paper, I will present the narrative from the Book of Genesis, chapters twelve thru twenty-five, as those speak specifically of the travels of Abraham from his calling to his death. Let’s introduce a few of the Islamic fables first, take a close look at the Bible, then we’ll touch upon a few more Islamic myths before closing. That will complete the comparison, and the reader can decide which is believable and which is not.

One Islamic tradition holds that Abraham brought both Hagar and Ishmael to Mecca [Source: Bukhari Volume 4, Book 55, Number 584] then returned to Canaan after leaving both Hagar and her infant son in the uninhabited region of Arabia which would later serve as the ground for a building used to quarter the idols of the Kaaba. However,  Sam Shamoun points out in ‘Ishmael is not the Father of Muhammad’ that eminent scholar Alfred Guillaume has written,

‘”… there is no historical evidence for the assertion that Abraham or Ishmael was ever in Mecca, and if there had been such a tradition it would have to be explained how all memory of the Old Semitic name Ishmael (which was not in its true Arabian form in Arabian inscriptions and written correctly with an initial consonant Y) came to be lost. The form in the Quran is taken either from Greek or Syriac sources.” (Alfred Guillaume, Islam [Penguin Books Inc., Baltimore, 1956], pp. 61-62). 

Another tradition holds that Muhammad himself is said to have told his favorite wife Aisha that, “Had not your people been still close to the pre-Islamic period of ignorance I would have dismantled the Kaaba and would have made two doors in it; one for entrance and the other for exit”. [Sahih Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 3, Number 128].

So much for the importance of the Kaaba. Yet, we are to believe that the Meccan prophet held the Kaaba in the highest esteem, and believed it had been built and rebuilt after a revelation from Allah.

Let’s examine the Bible and see what we can gather about Abraham, his journeys as agent of Yahweh among the nations and his role as a channel for God’s blessing to the world.

What does the Bible tell us of Abraham, and is it possible that he had spent time in Mecca? Let’s review the Scriptures now. The answers to all these questions lay within a survey of the Book of Genesis. Most of this is common knowledge to Christians, but by way of review, let’s go over the complete list of places Abraham traveled. A good Bible atlas would be useful to the reader. I suggest the Holman Bible Atlas but any Bible Atlas will help to put the following discussion into geographical perspective. The point of this exercise is to elucidate where Abraham did travel, in order to discover where he did not. Obviously, the Muslims will quickly claim that the Christian Scriptures are corrupted, and that we removed the parts which corroborate the worth and validity of the Islamic claims from the germane chapters of the Book of Genesis. The accusation of corruption is silly and unsupported by fact but it’s the only card Muslims have to play, so I don’t blame them for playing it. As I noted, Abraham went outside of Canaan a couple of times. However, the Bible nowhere mentions that Arabia was part of his journeys. Muslims may claim that this has been “removed” from the text, but for what reason? The text of Genesis was fixed many centuries before Islam. Why would it mention several travels outside of Canaan but remove Arabia/Mecca when neither the author (Moses) nor the Jews for many centuries would have the slightest idea about Islam? We have plenty of manuscripts from centuries before Muhammad, none of which place him in Mecca.

Born in Ur, his father Terah began his migration to Canaan [Genesis 11:21]. After Terah’s death, Abraham was called by Yahweh to continue the journey to Canaan [Genesis 12:1] where God promised to Abraham and his descendants the land inhabited by the Canaanites. Let’s note here that we are given the names of the Tribes which would be displaced to establish Abraham in the land. None of them inhabited the Hijaz. The point is, that the area in which the Ka’aba was allegedly built by Abraham was nowhere near the region where Abraham was to establish his family, so why build a temple or an altar so far from Canaan? [Genesis 12:7-8; cf. First Epistle of Clement 10:3-5 (source for I Clement)]. Soon, Abraham and his family arrived in Canaan, and drove his herds into the region of Bethel, Shechem and Moreh [Genesis 12:4-6]. After an appearance of God in Canaan, Abraham moved his house further south, into the Negev. The Negev is in Canaan, on the West side of the Dead Sea, north of the Wilderness of Zin. It is bordered on the east by Edom, and could not have possibly included the Syro-Arabian desert region further to the east, and certainly excludes the uninhabited lands surrounding Mecca 700 miles to the south.

Next, a famine struck Canaan, and Abraham sought refuge by going ‘down to Egypt’ [Genesis 12:10] and later, his son Ishmael would take an Egyptian for a wife [Genesis 21:21]. To summarize so far, Abraham had yet to travel farther south than the centers of power in Egypt. Still a long way from Mecca.

Abraham later left Egypt a wealthy man and soon separated from his nephew Lot [Genesis 13:14]. Abraham then moved to Hebron, and built an altar to Yahweh. Later, a war breaks out in the region of the Dead Sea [Genesis 14:1-24] and Abraham defeats a tyrannical king in a battle north of Damascus near Mt. Hermon [vv. 13-17] frees Lot and establishes himself as ‘blessed by the God Most High’. God then establishes His covenant with Abraham, and promises to his descendants ‘this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates’ [Genesis 15:18-21]. Notice by using your atlas that the boundaries for the covenant lands are not even close to Mecca or central Arabia. The river in Egypt was most likely the Wadi el-Arish. The Euphrates is in northern Syria. It makes no sense that God would tie a people to a land and the land to the people, only to draw his Prophets from someplace else.

Next we find that Abraham had been living in Canaan for ten years, traveling about Canaan as seasonal weather patterns required [Genesis 16], when he became impatient with God’s plan and took Hagar as a second ‘wife’. The same Hebrew word is used in 16:3 to describe both Sarai and Hagar as wife. However, the status of Hagar is debatable. Follow this link for a fuller discussion on ‘Hagar in Abraham’s Household’. The Egyptian maid conceived, in Canaan, and bore Abraham’s son, in Canaan. Abraham’s anxiousness to have a son caused him and his family great grief. Rather than exercising self-control and forbearance, he took a course that was a threat to his faith. While Abraham’s actions nearly lead him astray, he was not the first nor the last to doubt God’s promises. Hagar soon suffers intense humiliation at the hands of Abraham and Sarah, but at Beer-Lahai-Roi is met by the Angel of the Lord, and delivered from her plight. This event took place West of the Wadi el-Arish, in Egypt and nearly 1,000 miles from Mecca. She was most likely trying to return home to Egypt.

After the establishment of the Covenant of Circumcision, we find Abraham talking to God under the ‘holy tree of Mamre’, which is near Hebron, nearly 1,000 miles from Mecca [Book of Genesis 18:1]. Later, Abraham intercedes for Sodom, which is then destroyed for its depravity and Lot escapes to Zoar [Genesis 18:16-19:30; cf. First Epistle of Clement 11:1-2]. Outside of Zoar, Lot was the victim of a scheme concocted by his eldest daughter. Zoar was in the southern tip of the Dead Sea in the Valley of Siddim, and like every other event from the OT, a long way from Mecca. From Lot’s daughters are born the Moabites and the Ammonites, longstanding enemies of Israel and Judah. Moab and Ammon lay on the east side of the Dead Sea and later form the eastern edge of the Covenant Land. The southeastern extreme of the Covenant Land extends no farther than this and no prophets would ever be called from beyond these borders.

Following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, we encounter Abraham in Gerar, between Kadesh and Shur. In Gerar Isaac was born, wells were dug and treaties were struck. In short, there is no reason imaginable that God would take Abraham from his wells, family and tents in Canaan and command him to raise the foundations of the Kaaba over 1,000 miles away. All of this is a death blow to the Quran’s claims to Abraham, but let’s discuss a few more Biblical passages, ending with the death and burial of Abraham in order to close the lid on Islam once and for all.

Isaac is later weaned and tension again increases between Sarah and Hagar. Sarah pleaded with Abraham to cast Hagar out, and the following morning she was given bread, a water skin and her son. She then wandered into the wasteland of Beer-Sheba, in southern Canaan [Genesis 21:8-21]. In these passages, God addresses Abraham and calls Hagar the ‘maidservant’ [Hb אמה ‘amah’ not ‘wife’ as in 16:3; compare the Latin Vulgate where in 21:8-12 ‘ancilla‘ is ‘maidservant’ or ‘female slave’ ]. Hagar had lost any status she may have earlier enjoyed, so her status as a wife at all can be questioned.

Before we leave Hagar to history, let me remind you of four important differences between the Bible and Quran surrounding this narrative. In the Biblical narrative,  Hagar’s suffering and plight are of paramount importance to understanding the events surrounding the birth of the Promised Son. These events also give us insight into the treatment of women in the ancient Near East, which are still evident in Islam today. Hagar is the only woman in the Scriptures who is given the honor of giving a name to God, and she receives her own distinct covenant as a reward for her suffering and submission. What does the Quran say about this incredible woman who endured so much suffering? Nothing. So much for Islam honoring its pivotal women.

Eventually, Ishmael settled in the Wilderness of Paran, and took an Egyptian wife. Just where is the Wilderness of Paran, and does it, as Muslims claim, include the lands far to the south in the Hijaz? Let’s again look at our atlas. Paran is an ill-defined term in the Old Testament, suggesting that outside of it being a place on the route of the Exodus [Numbers 12:16], the region had very little geographical or theological importance to the Israelites. There is no prophetic scripture suggesting that a prophet would come from the Wilderness of Paran, nor a promise of prophetic license promised to Hagar or her descendants [Gen 16:7-16]. It is also worth noting that God spoke to Hagar, never to Ishmael. Very curious.

Located in the Sinai, Midian and Edom are natural borders to the east. Canaan is due north and central Sinai to the west. Not only are the borders of Paran well within the Sinai Peninsula, but as mentioned earlier, migration across the barren lands of Arabia was far less likely than remaining close to the routes of the Exodus. While migrations of people from Palestine into the Hijaz appear to be rare from the extant evidence, armies from Babylon did venture south. One example is Nabonidus King of Babylon who in the 6th century B.C. established outposts and colonies in the region. A total of six oasis towns are listed in the extant inscriptions, and while Yathrib is mentioned, Mecca, which is 280 miles south of Yathrib is nowhere to be seen on his lists. Mercantile movements were more common, but not until the 10th century and long after the death of Abraham. A notable case in favor of the Quranic view of Abraham’s travels can be found in the Book of I Kings [10:1-13] where the Queen of Sheba did in fact make the journey from S.W. Arabia to Israel. However, the territory of Sheba and also Tema are mentioned in the Book of Job [6:19] and yet while the region was traveled by merchants and known to the Biblical writers, there is still no mention of Mecca. Sheba is again discussed by the Prophet Isaiah [60:6] and nothing is said of Mecca or any dialectal variant of the name offered by Muslims. The Sabeans of Yemen never even mention the city either. The conclusion is evidently that Mecca was not in existence until long after Abraham’s journeys.

Following God’s expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, life continues for Abraham and his only wife Sarah. A disputed well becomes a source of controversy with King Abimelech. This name may translate ‘Slave of Molech’. If this Biblical name were a derivative of the Canaanite name, that would serve as strong evidence that much of the Book of Genesis pre-dates Israel’s Kingdom Period and gives even greater evidence to the non-existence of Mecca during the period of Abraham’s travels, and an oath is sworn in Beersheba, again in Canaan [Genesis 21:22-34]. Later, Abraham is called to Mt. Moriah and the well known ‘binding of Isaac’ is played out. Mt. Moriah is also in Palestine, north of Beersheba. While the exact location is unknown, it only took Abraham three days to travel, so it could not have taken place in Mecca [Genesis 22]. An important observation here is that Isaac is called ‘your only son’ three times in this chapter. How can that be? Because Ishmael had already been sent away. He was to have no part of the covenant promised to Abraham and given to Isaac.

Soon, we find that Sarah had died, and Abraham arranges for the purchase of the Cave of Machpela. Yet again he has not left Canaan [Genesis 23]. Here Muslims need to explain why God would allow Abraham to build a tomb in Canaan for his family, but then a temple 1,000 miles away in a barren region of the Hijaz. In chapter twenty-four, we find that Abraham had become ‘old in years’ [24:1] It was time to find a wife for Isaac. Note that Abraham had nothing to do with finding a wife for Ishmael. Abraham’s chief servant was selected for the task of conducting the search. An oath was sworn that the wife would not be a Canaanite but from Abraham’s people in Mesopotamia. Let’s be reasonable here. If Abraham had built the Kaaba, then why wouldn’t Isaac’s wife be taken from the local tribes in the Hijaz or even farther south? . He returns home with Rebekkah to south Canaan, she weds Isaac and later Abraham dies and is buried with his wife Sarah in Machpelah. Both Ishmael and Isaac attended the funeral. Both must have been very close to Canaan, and in no way can we conclude that any of these men ever travels to Mecca to build a shrine to Allah and the other pagan gods native to Mecca. The Quran 11:49 clearly states that there had been no prophets to the Arabs before, so it can’t be true that Abraham built the Kaaba. Also note that the Islamic traditions point out that before Muhammad’s claim to the prophetic office, none of his people had made the claim before him [Bukhari, Vol 1, Book 1, #6].

This all leads us to a connection with the nation of Israel, the Davidic Kingdom and the Savior who even now offers mercy to his wandering sons [Psalm 100:5,8; Luke 1:50; cf. Apology of al-Kindy, p.121].

March 5, 2012 Posted by | Christianity / God, Constitutional Issues, Politics/Government/Freedom, Societal / Cultural Issues, Understanding Islam, World Affairs | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Proof that Jesus is the Son of God

  • English: child Jesus with the virgin Mary, wit...

    ‎Muslims keep saying that God is not capable of manifesting Himself in the shape of a man. Please tell me how you understand this passage?

    Genesis 18:1-15 ‘Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. 2 So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, 3 and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. 4 Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. 5 And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.”’They said, “Do as you have said.”

    ‘6 So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. 8 So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.

    ‘9 Then they said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?”

    ‘So he said, “Here, in the tent.”

    ’10 And He said, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.”

    ‘(Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.) 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing.[b] 12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”

    ’13 And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Shall I surely bear a child, since I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.”

    ’15 But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid.

    ‘And He said, “No, but you did laugh!”’

    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=gen+18&version=NKJV

  •  When presented with these truths:  The Universal response is denial and deflection.  To these, here is our response:
    One. You really should begin to listen to our rebuttals to your claims so that you can respond adequately instead of just repeating yourself with the same previously defeated arguments. Please consider the following points:
    1. You already know that Jesus said He and the Father are ONE. The Jews understood that this meant He was saying He was EQUAL with God, which is why they picked up stones to stone Him for blasphemy… “33 The Jews answered Him, saying, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, MAKE YOURSELF GOD.”2. Jesus cleverly uses Psalm 82:6 to show that calling Himself the Son of God (or even calling Himself “a god”) is technically not illegal. He says He has more right than anyone, because He was sanctified and SENT INTO THE WORD by the Father, and can PROVE His authority by His works:

    ‘Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’?[cPsalm 82:6] 35 If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36 do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38 but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him.” 39 Therefore they sought again to seize Him, but He escaped out of their hand.”

    3. Jesus accused repeatedly of making Himself equal with God, and the Jews repeatedly want to kill Him because of this: John 5:18 ” Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself EQUAL WITH GOD.”

    Matt 26:63-66 ‘But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” 64 Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! 66 What do you think?” They answered and said, “HE IS DESERVING OF DEATH.”‘

February 11, 2012 Posted by | Christianity / God, Understanding Islam | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Only Two Abrahamic Faiths

An interpretation of the borders (in red) of t...As the correct lineage of God’s chosen people as prophesied to the patriarch Abraham is through his son Isaac, the son that God intended to be His people, only Judaism and Christianity are truly Abrahamic religions.

Called “the father of the faithful” (compare Romans:4:11), Abraham obeyed God’s instruction to leave his native Ur and move to Haran.

Notice his example of unquestioning obedience: “Now the LORD had said to Abraham ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing …’ So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him …” Hebrews:11:8 adds: “And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”

God was working with Abraham to establish him and his descendants in the land of Canaan (later called the Promised Land and often referred to as the Holy Land, this is modern Israel).

At the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe, this area was ideal for God’s chosen people, who were to be an example to the rest of the world (Deuteronomy:4:5-8).
On arriving in the new land, God promised Abraham that He would give the land to his descendants, (Genesis:12:7) His chosen people, Jews and Christians.

“And the LORD said to Abram,… ‘Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever’” (Genesis:13:14-15).

God added: “And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered” (verse 16). Significantly, God later changed Abram’s name to Abraham (Genesis:17:5). His earlier name meant “high (exalted) father.” God renamed him “father of a multitude,” saying, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you” (verse 6).

At the time these prophecies must have seemed ironic to Abraham, for his wife Sarah was barren. Her infertility was to be very significant in the development of the modern Middle East. God promised Abraham in Genesis:15:4 that he would have an heir: “one who will come from your own body.”

Impatient, Sarah told Abraham to take her Egyptian handmaid Hagar and to produce a child by her. This took place “after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan” (Genesis:16:1-3). Thus, Ishmael and his descendants are a product of Abraham’s disobedience.

Abraham’s first son is born

“So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes” (Genesis:16:4). The relationship between Sarah and Hagar quickly deteriorated and Hagar fled. But a divine message was given to Hagar, telling her to return. It also reassured her that her son would have many descendants—but descendants with traits that would be evident throughout their history: “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count … You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael [‘God hears’], for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers” (verses 10-12, New International Version).

Summary: God’s people are the descendants of the promise, of Isaac. The Abrahamic faiths are ONLY Judaism and Christianity. The opposition in all things come through the disobedience of Abraham, his son Ishmael. “his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers“. This is Islam and it is NOT of the promise and thus NOT an Abrahamic faith.

December 17, 2011 Posted by | Christianity / God, Politics/Government/Freedom, Societal / Cultural Issues, Understanding Islam, World Affairs | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

100 Most Important People of all time

The 100 Most Important People of all time

1. Jesus Christ – Son of God, Savior of Mankind, origin of all moral and behavior codes
2. Socrates – Philosopher. Taught western society to question and think.
3. Johannes Gutenberg – Inventor of the Printing Press.
4. Abraham – Father of Monotheist religions of Christianity and Judaism .
5. Isaac Newton – Physicist. Discovered laws of Motion and Law of Gravity.
6. Alexander Graham Bell – Inventor. Built first telephone.
7. Confucius – Philosopher. Dominant influence on Chinese society.
8. Mother Eve – Mother of Humanity according to genetics, origin of first sin.
9. Muhammad – Founded Islam. Wrote the Qu’ran / Koran. Laid foundation of all modern day religious terrorism.
10. Aristotle – Philosopher and Scientist. Set up guidelines for knowledge.
11. Moses – Religious leader. Receiver of the Ten Commandments and the Torah.
12. Siddhartha Gautama – The Last Buddha. Religious Leader.
13. Martin Luther – Leader of Protestant Reformation.
14. Virgin Mary – Mother of Jesus Christ. Object of worship.
15. Hammurabi – Babylonian ruler. Set up first set of known Codified Law.
16. St. Paul – Religious figure who helped greatly to spread Christianity to the masses.
17. Anton von Leeuwenhoek – Microscopist. First to identify Germs.
18. Nicolas Copernicus – Scientist. Champion of the Solar centered universe theory.
19. Johannes Kepler – Mathematician and Astronomer
20. Hippocrates – Medical Doctor. Father of Medicine and Diagnosis.
21. Charles Darwin – Biologist. Proponent of the Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.
22. Plato – Philosopher. Built on the Socratic foundation to search for knowledge.
23. Democritus – Scientist and Philosopher. Gave name to ‘democracy’
24. Joseph Lister – Medical Doctor. Introduced antiseptics conditions in surgery.
25. Leonardo Da Vinci – Artist, Inventor and Anatomist.
26. Albert Einstein – Physicist. Pioneer in Relativity and Nuclear Physics.
27. William Shakespeare – Playwright. The Greatest in his field.
28. Gregor Mendel – Austrian monk. Father of Genetics
29. Galileo Galilei – Astronomer. Inventor of the Refracting Telescope
30. Henry Ford – Inventor. Developer of the Production Line
31. Edward Jenner – Medical Doctor. Developed immunization technique against Smallpox.
32. Louis Pasteur – Scientists. Discovered cure for rabies. Developed Bacterial sterilization procedures. Defeated age old Theory of Spontaneous Generation.
33. Alexander Fleming – Discoverer of Penicillin
34. James Simpson – Medical Doctor. Developed First Real Anesthetic – Chloroform
35. Gottlieb Daimler – Built first Motor Vehicle
36. Mahatma Gandhi – Political Activist. Won independence for India. Father of non-violent philosophy.
37. Guglielmo Marconi – Sent first Radio transmission. Built first wireless radio.
38. Wright Brothers – Brothers Orville and Wilbur. Built and flew first airplane
39. Adolph Hitler – German dictator whose actions were responsible for World War II and the Holocaust
40. Mao Zedong – Chinese Leader. Communist Revolutionary.
41. John Logie Baird/Vladimir Zworkyin – Joint Inventors of Television.
42. Vladimir Lenin – Russian Revolutionary.
43. Genghis Khan – Mongol Warlord. Conquered most of Asia and parts of Europe.
44. Constantine – Roman Emperor. Conversion to Christianity on his death bed helped spread Christianity across Europe.
45. Elizabeth I – Queen responsible for the future growth of English Power.
46. Julius Caesar – General and Politician who played a significant role in the expansion of Roman Power.
47. George Washington – American Revolutionary War General and First President
48. Otto van Bismarck – Prussian statesman and Unifier of Germany.
49. Napoleon Bonaparte – French Emperor. Conquered vast portions of Europe in the late 18th and early 19th century.
50. Marie Curie – Two time Nobel Prize Winner. Discoverer of Radium.
51. Alexander the Great – Macedonian General. Created vast Empire during 12 year span.
52. Thomas Jefferson – US Statesman. 3rd President. Took prominent role in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.
53. Karl Marx – Philosopher. Author of the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital.
54. Christopher Columbus – Explorer.
55. Kublai Khan – Enlightened Monarch of China
56. Henri Dunant – Founder of the Red Cross
57. Sigmund Freud – Father of Psychoanalysis
58. James Watt – Scottish Engineer . Involved in the development of the Steam Engine.
59. Jonas Salk – Scientist. Developed Polio vaccine
60. Thomas Edison – Inventor. Most noted for the Electric Light Bulb.
61. George Stephenson – Inventor and Railway pioneer. Built the Rocket Steam Engine.
62. Homer – Greek Bard. Author of the Iliad and the Odyssey
63. Carl Jung – Psychologist. Father of Analytical Psychology
64. St. Augustine – Philosopher. Father of Church doctrine,
65. Peter the Great – Russian Tsar. Modernizer of the country.
66. Kublai Khan – Chinese -Mongol Emperor.
67. Pope Urban II – Champion and main driving force behind the First Crusade.
68. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain – Financiers of the Voyage of Columbus and the Spanish Inquisition.
69. Jozef Stalin – Soviet dictator
70. Archimedes – Greek Scientist and Mathematician
71. Michelangelo – Italian Painter and Sculptor
72. Charles Babbage – English Computer pioneer
73. Marco Polo – Middle Ages Italian explorer
74. Lao Tzu – Chinese Philosopher and writer. Founder of Taoism.
75. Nikolai Tesla – Yugoslav Physicist. Father of Alternating Current.
76. St Paul – Leading figure in the spread of Christianity
77. Charlemagne – French King and Religious leader.
78. James Watson and Francis Crick – Co-discovers of DNA Double helix structure.
79. Michael Faraday – English Scientist. Great figure in the field of Electromagnetism.
80. Menes – Egyptian pharaoh. Unifier of Upper and Lower Egypt.
81. Abraham Lincoln – American President. Freed the Slaves of America and saved the Union.
82. Sulamein the Magnificent – Turkish (Ottoman) Empire Builder
83. Robert Oppenheimer – Nuclear Physicist. Father of the Manhattan Project.
84. Hernando Cortes – Spanish Conquistador.
85. Ramses II – Egyptian Pharaoh
86. Samuel Colt – Inventor of the revolver.
87. Euclid – Greek Geometrician. Author of The Elements.
88. Voltaire – French ‘Age of Reason’ Philosopher.
89. Winston Churchill – British Politician and Writer.
90. Werner von Braun – German Rocket Pioneer.
91. Georg Hegel – German Philosopher. Father of Dialectics.
92. Tamerlane – Muslim Conqueror and warlord.
93. Simon Bolivar – South American Liberator
94. Andreas Vesalius – Leading figure in the birth of Modern Anatomy.
95. John Bardeen – Co-inventor of the transistor. Superconductor pioneer.
96. Joan of Arc – French saint, soldier and motivator.
97. Martin Luther King – American Civil Rights Leader.
98. Justinian I – Byzantine Emperor.
99. Chi Huangdi – Chinese Emperor. Builder of the Great Wall of China.
100. King David – King of the Jews.

December 1, 2011 Posted by | Societal / Cultural Issues | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Origins of the Koran, Qu’ran, Qu’raan

The Origins of the Koran
From: The Origins of the Koran,
Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book Ed. Ibn Warraq. Prometheus Books

I. Introduction

The stereotypic image of the Muslim holy warrior with a sword in one hand and the Koran in the other would only be plausible if he was left handed, since no devout Muslim should or would touch a Koran with his left hand which is reserved for dirty chores. All Muslims revere the Koran with a reverence that borders on bibliolatry and superstition. “It is,” as Guillaume remarked, “the holy of holies. It must never rest beneath other books, but always on top of them, one must never drink or smoke when it is being read aloud, and it must be listened to in silence. It is a talisman against disease and disaster.”

In some Westerners it engenders other emotions. For Gibbon it was an “incoherent rhapsody of fable,” for Carlyle an “insupportable stupidity,” while here is what the German scholar Salomon Reinach thought: “From the literary point of view, the Koran has little merit. Declamation, repetition, puerility, a lack of logic and coherence strike the unprepared reader at every turn. It is humiliating to the human intellect to think that this mediocre literature has been the subject of innumerable commentaries, and that millions of men are still wasting time absorbing it.”

For us in studying the Koran it is necessary to distinguish the historical from the theological attitude. Here we are only concerned with those truths that are yielded by a process of rational enquiry, by scientific examination. “Critical investigation of the text of the Qu’ran is a study which is still in its infancy,” wrote the Islamic scholar Arthur Jeffery in 1937. In 1977 John Wansbrough noted that “as a document susceptible of analysis by the instruments and techniques of Biblical criticism [the Koran] is virtually unknown.” By 1990, more than fifty years after Jeffery’s lament, we still have the scandalous situation described by Andrew Rippin:

I have often encountered individuals who come to the study of Islam with a background in the historical study of the Hebrew Bible or early Christianity, and who express surprise at the lack of critical thought that appears in introductory textbooks on Islam. The notion that “Islam was born in the clear light of history” still seems to be assumed by a great many writers of such texts. While the need to reconcile varying historical traditions is generally recognized, usually this seems to pose no greater problem to the authors than having to determine “what makes sense” in a given situation. To students acquainted with approaches such as source criticism, oral formulaic compositions, literary analysis and structuralism, all quite commonly employed in the study of Judaism and Christianity, such naive historical study seems to suggest that Islam is being approached with less than academic candor.

The questions any critical investigation of the Koran hopes to answer are:

1. How did the Koran come to us.?—That is the compilation and the transmission of the Koran.

2. When was it written, and who wrote it?

3. What are the sources of the Koran? Where were the stories, legends, and principles that abound in the Koran acquired?

4. What is the Koran? Since there never was a textus receptus ne varietur of the Koran, we need to decide its authenticity.

I shall begin with the traditional account that is more or less accepted by most Western scholars, and then move on to the views of a small but very formidable, influential, and growing group of scholars inspired by the work of John Wansbrough.

According to the traditional account the Koran was revealed to Muhammad, usually by an angel, gradually over a period of years until his death in 632 C.E. It is not clear how much of the Koran had been written down by the time of Muhammad’s death, but it seems probable that there was no single manuscript in which the Prophet himself had collected all the revelations. Nonetheless, there are traditions which describe how the Prophet dictated this or that portion of the Koran to his secretaries.

The Collection Under Abu Bakr

Henceforth the traditional account becomes more and more confused; in fact there is no one tradition but several incompatible ones. According to one tradition, during Abu Bakr’s brief caliphate (632-634), ‘Umar, who himself was to succeed to the caliphate in 634, became worried at the fact that so many Muslims who had known the Koran by heart were killed during the Battle of Yamama, in Central Arabia. There was a real danger that parts of the Koran would be irretrievably lost unless a collection of the Koran was made before more of those who knew this or that part of the Koran by heart were killed. Abu Bakr eventually gave his consent to such a project, and asked Zayd ibn Thabit, the former secretary of the Prophet, to undertake this daunting task. So Zayd proceeded to collect the Koran “from pieces of papyrus, flat stones, palm leaves, shoulder blades and ribs of animals, pieces of leather and wooden boards, as well as from the hearts of men.” Zayd then copied out what he had collected on sheets or leaves (Arabic, suhuf). Once complete, the Koran was handed over to Abu Bakr, and on his death passed to ‘Umar, and upon his death passed to ‘Umar’s daughter, Hafsa.

There are however different versions of this tradition; in some it is suggested that it was Abu Bakr who first had the idea to make the collection; in other versions the credit is given to Ali, the fourth caliph and the founder of the Shias; other versions still completely exclude Abu Bakr. Then, it is argued that such a difficult task could not have been accomplished in just two years. Again, it is unlikely that those who died in the Battle of Yamama, being new converts, knew any of the Koran by heart. But what is considered the most telling point against this tradition of the first collection of the Koran under Abu Bakr is that once the collection was made it was not treated as an official codex, but almost as the private property of Hafsa. In other words, we find that no authority is attributed to Abu Bakr’s Koran. It has been suggested that the entire story was invented to take the credit of having made the first official collection of the Koran away from ‘Uthman, the third caliph, who was greatly disliked. Others have suggested that it was invented “to take the collection of the Quran back as near as possible to Muhammad’s death.”

The Collection Under ‘Uthman

According to tradition, the next step was taken under ‘Uthman (644-656). One of ‘Uthman’s generals asked the caliph to make such a collection because serious disputes had broken out among his troops from different provinces in regard to the correct readings of the Koran. ‘Uthman chose Zayd ibn Thabit to prepare the official text. Zayd, with the help of three members of noble Meccan families, carefully revised the Koran comparing his version with the “leaves” in the possession of Hafsa, ‘Umar’s daughter; and as instructed, in case of difficulty as to the reading, Zayd followed the dialect of the Quraysh, the Prophet’s tribe. The copies of the new version, which must have been completed between 650 and ‘Uthman’s death in 656, were sent to Kufa, Basra, Damascus, and perhaps Mecca, and one was, of course, kept in Medina. All other versions were ordered to be destroyed.

This version of events is also open to criticism. The Arabic found in the Koran is not a dialect. In some versions the number of people working on the commission with Zayd varies, and in some are included the names of persons who were enemies of ‘Uthman, and the name of someone known to have died before these events! This phase two of the story does not mention Zayd’s part in the original collection of the Koran discussed in phase one.

Apart from Wansbrough and his disciples, whose work we shall look at in a moment, most modern scholars seem to accept that the establishment of the text of the Koran took place under ‘Uthman between 650 and 656, despite all the criticisms mentioned above. They accept more or less the traditional account of the ‘Uthmanic collection, it seems to me, without giving a single coherent reason for accepting this second tradition as opposed to the first tradition of the collection under Abu Bakr. There is a massive gap in their arguments, or rather they offer no arguments at all. For instance, Charles Adams after enumerating the difficulties with the ‘Uthmanic story, concludes with breathtaking abruptness and break in logic, “Despite the difficulties with the traditional accounts there can be no question of the importance of the codex prepared under ‘Uthman.” But nowhere has it yet been established that it was indeed under ‘Uthman that the Koran as we know it was prepared. It is simply assumed all along that it was under ‘Uthman that the Koran was established in its final form, and all we have to do is to explain away some of the difficulties. Indeed, we can apply the same arguments to dismiss the ‘Uthmanic story as were used to dismiss the Abu Bakr story. That is, we can argue that the ‘Uthmanic story was invented by the enemies of Abu Bakr and the friends of ‘Uthman; political polemics can equally be said to have played their part in the fabrication of this later story. It also leaves unanswered so many awkward questions. What were these “leaves” in the possession of Hafsa? And if the Abu Bakr version is pure forgery where did Hafsa get hold of them? Then what are those versions that seemed to be floating around in the provinces? When were these alternative texts compiled, and by whom? Can we really pick and choose, at our own will, from amongst the variants, from the contradictory traditions? There are no compelling reasons for accepting the ‘Uthmanic story and not the Abu Bakr one; after all they are all gleaned from the same sources, which are all exceedingly late, tendentious in the extreme, and all later fabrications, as we shall see later.

But I have even more fundamental problems in accepting any of these traditional accounts at their face value. When listening to these accounts, some very common- sensical objections arise which no one seems to have dared to ask. First, all these stories place an enormous burden on the memories of the early Muslims. Indeed, scholars are compelled to exaggerate the putatively prodigious memories of the Arabs. Muhammad could not read or write according to some traditions, and therefore everything depends on him having perfectly memorized what God revealed to him through His Angels. Some of the stories in the Koran are enormously long; for instance, the story of Joseph takes up a whole chapter of 111 verses. Are we really to believe that Muhammad remembered it exactly as it was revealed?

Similarly the Companions of the Prophet are said to have memorized many of his utterances. Could their memories never have failed? Oral traditions have a tendency to change over time, and they cannot be relied upon to construct a reliable, scientific history. Second, we seem to assume that the Companions of the Prophet heard and understood him perfectly.

Variant Versions, Verses Missing, Verses Added

Almost without exceptions Muslims consider that the Quran we now possess goes back in its text and in the number and order of the chapters to the work of the commission that ‘Uthman appointed. Muslim orthodoxy holds further that ‘Uthman’s Quran contains all of the revelation delivered to the community faithfully preserved without change or variation of any kind and that the acceptance of the ‘Uthmanic Quran was all but universal from the day of its distribution.
The orthodox position is motivated by dogmatic factors; it cannot be supported by the historical evidence….

Charles Adams

While modern Muslims may be committed to an impossibly conservative position, Muslim scholars of the early years of Islam were far more flexible, realizing that parts of the Koran were lost, perverted, and that there were many thousand variants which made it impossible to talk of the Koran. For example, As-Suyuti (died 1505), one of the most famous and revered of the commentators of the Koran, quotes Ibn ‘Umar al Khattab as saying: “Let no one of you say that he has acquired the entire Quran, for how does he know that it is all? Much of the Quran has been lost, thus let him say, ‘I have acquired of it what is available’” (As-Suyuti, Itqan, part 3, page 72). A’isha, the favorite wife of the Prophet, says, also according to a tradition recounted by as-Suynti, “During the time of the Prophet, the chapter of the Parties used to be two hundred verses when read. When ‘Uthman edited the copies of the Quran, only the current (verses) were recorded” (73).

As-Suyuti also tells this story about Uba ibn Ka’b, one of the great companions of Muhammad:

This famous companion asked one of the Muslims, “How many verses in the chapter of the Parties?” He said, “Seventy-three verses.” He (Uba) told him, “It used to be almost equal to the chapter of the Cow (about 286 verses) and included the verse of the stoning”. The man asked, “What is the verse of the stoning?” He (Uba) said, “If an old man or woman committed adultery, stone them to death.”

As noted earlier, since there was no single document collecting all the revelations, after Muhammad’s death in 632 C.E., many of his followers tried to gather all the known revelations and write them down in codex form. Soon we had the codices of several scholars such as Ibn Masud, Uba ibn Ka’b, ‘Ali, Abu Bakr, al-Aswad, and others (Jeffery, chapter 6, has listed fifteen primary codices, and a large number of secondary ones). As Islam spread, we eventually had what became known as the metropolitan codices in the centers of Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Kufa, and Basra. As we saw earlier, ‘Uthman tried to bring order to this chaotic situation by canonizing the Medinan Codex, copies of which were sent to all the metropolitan centers, with orders to destroy all the other codices.

‘Uthman’s codex was supposed to standardize the consonantal text, yet we find that many of the variant traditions of this consonantal text survived well into the fourth Islamic century. The problem was aggravated by the fact that the consonantal text was unpointed, that is to say, the dots that distinguish, for example, a “b” from a “t” or a “th” were missing. Several other letters (f and q; j, h, and kh; s and d; r and z; s and sh; d and dh, t and z) were indistinguishable. In other words, the Koran was written in a scripta defectiva. As a result, a great many variant readings were possible according to the way the text was pointed (had the dots added).

Vowels presented an even worse problem. Originally, the Arabs had no signs for the short vowels: the Arab script is consonantal. Although the short vowels are sometimes omitted, they can be represented by orthographical signs placed above or below the letters—three signs in all, taking the form of a slightly slanting dash or a comma. After having settled the consonants, Muslims still had to decide what vowels to employ: using different vowels, of course, rendered different readings. The scripta plena, which allowed a fully voweled and pointed text, was not perfected until the late ninth century.

The problems posed by the scripta defectiva inevitably led to the growth of different centers with their own variant traditions of how the texts should be pointed or vowelized. Despite ‘Uthman’s order to destroy all texts other than his own, it is evident that the older codices survived. As Charles Adams says, “It must be emphasized that far from there being a single text passed down inviolate from the time of ‘Uthman’s commission, literally thousands of variant readings of particular verses were known in the first three (Muslim) centuries. These variants affected even the ‘Uthmanic codex, making it difficult to know what its true form may have been.”

Some Muslims preferred codices other than the ‘Uthmanic, for example, those of Ibn Mas’ud, Uba ibn Ka’b, and Abu Musa. Eventually, under the influence of the great Koranic scholar Ibn Mujahid (died 935), there was a definite canonization of one system of consonants and a limit placed on the variations of vowels used in the text that resulted in acceptance of seven systems. But other scholars accepted ten readings, and still others accepted fourteen readings. Even Ibn Mujahid’s seven provided fourteen possibilities since each of the seven was traced through two different transmitters, viz,

1. Nafi of Medina according to Warsh and Qalun

2. Ibn Kathir of Mecca according to al-Bazzi and Qunbul

3. Ibn Amir of Damascus according to Hisham and Ibn Dakwan

4. Abu Amr of Basra according to al-Duri and al-Susi

5. Asim of Kufa according to Hafs and Abu Bakr

6. Hamza of Kuga according to Khalaf and Khallad

7. Al-Kisai of Kufa according to al Duri and Abul Harith

In the end three systems prevailed, those of Warsh (d. 812) from Nafi of Medina, Hafs (d. 805) from Asim of Kufa, and al-Duri (d. 860) from Abu Amr of Basra. At present in modern Islam, two versions seem to be in use: that of Asim of Kufa through Hafs, which was given a kind of official seal of approval by being adopted in the Egyptian edition of the Koran in 1924; and that of Nafi through Warsh, which is used in parts of Africa other than Egypt.

As Charles Adams reminds us:

It is of some importance to call attention to a possible source of misunderstanding with regard to the variant readings of the Quran. The seven (versions) refer to actual written and oral text, to distinct versions of Quranic verses, whose differences, though they may not be great, are nonetheless substantial. Since the very existence of variant readings and versions of the Quran goes against the doctrinal position toward the Holy Book held by many modern Muslims, it is not uncommon in an apologetic context to hear the seven (versions) explained as modes of recitation; in fact the manner and technique of recitation are an entirely different matter.

Guillaume also refers to the variants as “not always trifling in significance.” For example, the last two verses of sura LXXXV, Al Buraj, read: (21) hawa qur’anun majidun; (22) fi lawhin mahfuzun/in. The last syllable is in doubt. If it is in the genitive -in, it gives the meaning “It is a glorious Koran on a preserved tablet”—a reference to the Muslim doctrine of the Preserved Tablet. If it is the nominative ending -un, we get “It is a glorious Koran preserved on a tablet.” There are other passages with similar difficulties dealing with social legislation.

If we allow that there were omissions, then why not additions? The authenticity of many verses in the Koran has been called into question by Muslims themselves. Many Kharijites, who were followers of ‘Ali in the early history of Islam, found the sura recounting the story of Joseph offensive, an erotic tale that did not belong in the Koran. Hirschfeld questioned the authenticity of verses in which the name Muhammad occurs, there being something rather suspicious in such a name, meaning ‘Praised’, being borne by the Prophet. The name was certainly not very common. However the Prophet’s name does occur in documents that have been accepted as genuine, such as the Constitution of Medina.

Most scholars believe that there are interpolations in the Koran; these interpolations can be seen as interpretative glosses on certain rare words in need of explanation. More serious are the interpolations of a dogmatic or political character, which seem to have been added to justify the elevation of ‘Uthman as caliph to the detriment of ‘Ali. Then there are other verses that have been added in the interest of rhyme, or to join together two short passages that on their own lack any connection.

Bell and Watt carefully go through many of the amendments and revisions and point to the unevenness of the Koranic style as evidence for a great many alterations in the Koran:

There are indeed many roughness of this kind, and these, it is here claimed, are fundamental evidence for revision. Besides the points already noticed—hidden rhymes, and rhyme phrases not woven into the texture of the passage—there are the following abrupt changes of rhyme; repetition of the same rhyme word or rhyme phrase in adjoining verses; the intrusion of an extraneous subject into a passage otherwise homogeneous; a differing treatment of the same subject in neighbouring verses, often with repetition of words and phrases; breaks in grammatical construction which raise difficulties in exegesis; abrupt changes in length of verse; sudden changes of the dramatic situation, with changes of pronoun from singular to plural, from second to third person, and so on; the juxtaposition of apparently contrary statements; the juxtaposition of passages of different date, with intrusion of fare phrases into early verses.
In many cases a passage has alternative continuations which follow one another in the present text. The second of the alternatives is marked by a break in sense and by a break in grammatical construction, since the connection is not with what immediately precedes, but with what stands some distance back.

The Christian al-Kindi (not to be confused with the Arab, Muslim philosopher) writing around 830 C.E., criticized the Koran in similar terms:

The result of all this (process by which the Quran came into being) is patent to you who have read the scriptures and see how, in your book, histories are jumbled together and intermingled; an evidence that many different hands have been at work therein, and caused discrepancies, adding or cutting out whatever they liked or disliked. Are such, now, the conditions of a revelation sent down from heaven?

Skepticism of the Sources

The traditional accounts of the life of Muhammad and the story of the origin and rise of Islam, including the compilation of the Koran, are based exclusively on Muslim sources, particularly the Muslim biographies of Muhammad, and the Hadith, that is the Muslim traditions.

The Prophet Muhammad died in 632 C.E. The earliest material on his life that we possess was written by Ibn Ishaq in 750 C.E., in other words, a hundred twenty years after Muhammad’s death. The question of authenticity becomes even more critical, because the original form of Ibn Ishaq’s work is lost and is only available in parts in a later recension by Ibn Hisham who died in 834 C.E., two hundred years after the death of the Prophet.

The Hadith are a collection of sayings and doings attributed to the Prophet and traced back to him through a series of putatively trustworthy witnesses (any particular chain of transmitters is called an isnad). These Hadith include the story of the compilation of the Koran, and the sayings of the companions of the Prophet. There are said to be six correct or authentic collections of traditions accepted by Sunni Muslims, namely, the compilations of Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Maja, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, and al-Nisai. Again it is worth noting that all these sources are very late indeed. Bukhari died 238 years after the death of the Prophet, while al-Nisai died over 280 years after!

The historical and biographical tradition concerning Muhammad and the early years of Islam was submitted to a thorough examination at the end of the nineteenth century. Up to then careful scholars were well aware of the legendary and theological elements in these traditions, and that there were traditions which originated from party motive and which intended “to give an appearance of historical foundation to the particular interests of certain persons or families; but it was thought that after some sifting there yet remained enough to enable us to form a much clearer sketch of Muhammad’s life than that of any other of the founders of a universal religion.” This illusion was shattered by Wellhausen, Caetani, and Lammens who called “one after another of the data of Muslim tradition into question.”

Wellhausen divided the old historical traditions as found in the ninth- and tenth-century compilations in two: first, an authentic primitive tradition, definitively recorded in the late eighth century, and second a parallel version which was deliberately forged to rebut this. The second version was full of tendentious fiction, and was to be found in the work of historians such as Sayf b. ‘Umar (see above). Prince Caetani and Father Lammens cast doubt even on data hitherto accepted as “objective.” The biographers of Muhammad were too far removed from his time to have true data or notions; far from being objective the data rested on tendentious fiction; furthermore it was not their aim to know these things as they really happened, but to construct an ideal vision of the past, as it ought to have been. “Upon the bare canvas of verses of the Koran that need explanation, the traditionists have embroidered with great boldness scenes suitable to the desires or ideals of their paricular group; or to use a favorite metaphor of Lammens, they fill the empty spaces by a process of stereotyping which permits the critical observer to recognize the origin of each picture.”

As Lewis puts it, “Lammens went so far as to reject the entire biography as no more than a conjectural and tendentious exegesis of a few passages of biographical content in the Quran, devised and elaborated by later generations of believers.”

Even scholars who rejected the extreme skepticism of Caetani and Lammens were forced to recognize that “of Muhammad’s life before his appearance as the messenger of God, we know extremely little; compared to the legendary biography as treasured by the faithful, practically nothing.”

The ideas of the Positivist Caetani and the Jesuit Lammens were never forgotten, and indeed they were taken up by a group of Soviet Islamologists, and pushed to their extreme but logical conclusions. The ideas of the Soviet scholars were in turn taken up in the 1970s, by Cook, Crone, and other disciples of Wansbrough.

What Caetani and Lammens did for historical biography, Ignaz Goldziher did for the study of Hadith. Goldziher has had an enormous influence in the field of Islamic studies, and it is no exaggeration to say that he is, along with Hurgronje and Noldeke, one of the founding fathers of the modern study of Islam. Practically everything he wrote between roughly 1870 and 1920 is still studied assiduously in universities throughout the world. In his classic paper, “On the Development of Hadith,” Goldziher “demonstrated that a vast number of Hadith accepted even in the most rigorously critical Muslim collections were outright forgeries from the late 8th and 9th centuries—and as a consequence, that the meticulous isnads [chains of transmitters] which supported them were utterly fictitious.”

Faced with Goldziher’s impeccably documented arguments, historians began to panic and devise spurious ways of keeping skepticism at bay, such as, for instance, postulating ad hoc distinctions between legal and historical traditions. But as Humphreys says, in their formal structure, the Hadirh and historical traditions were very similar; furthermore many eighth- and ninth-century Muslim scholars had worked on both kinds of texts. “Altogether, if hadith isnads were suspect, so then should be the isnads attached to historical reports.”

As Goldziher puts it himself, “close acquaintance with the vast stock of hadiths induces sceptical caution,” and he considers by far the greater part of the Hadith “the result of the religious, historical and social development of Islam during the first two centuries.” The Hadith is useless as a basis for any scientific history, and can only serve as a “reflection of the tendencies” of the early Muslim community.

Here I need to interpose a historical digression, if we are to have a proper understanding of Goldziher’s arguments. After the death of the Prophet, four of his companions succeeded him as leaders of the Muslim community; the last of the four was ‘Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. ‘Ali was unable to impose his authority in Syria where the governor was Mu’awiya who adopted the war cry of “Vengeance for ‘Uthman” against ‘Ali (Mu’awiya and ‘Uthman were related and both belonged to the Meccan clan of Umayya). The forces of the two met in an indecisive battle at Siffin. After ‘Ali’s murder in 661, Mu’awiya became the first caliph of the dynasty we know as the Umayyad, which endured until 750 C.E. The Umayyads were deposed by the ‘Abbasids, who lasted in Iraq and Baghdad until the thirteenth century.

During the early years of the Umayyad dynasty, many Muslims were totally ignorant in regard to ritual and doctrine. The rulers themselves had little enthusiasm for religion, and generally despised the pious and the ascetic. The result was that there arose a group of pious men who shamelessly fabricated traditions for the good of the community, and traced them back to the authority of the Prophet. They opposed the godless Umayyads but dared not say so openly, so they invented further traditions dedicated to praising the Prophet’s family, hence indirectly giving their allegiance to the party of ‘Ali supporters. As Goldziher puts it, “The ruling power itself was not idle. If it wished an opinion to be generally recognized and the opposition of pious circles silenced; it too had to know how to discover a hadith to suit its purpose. They had to do what their opponents did: invent and have invented, hadiths in their turn. And that is in effect what they did.” Goldziher continues:

Official influences on the invention, dissemination and suppression of traditions started early. An instruction given to his obedient governor al Mughira by Muawiya is in the spirit of the Umayyads: “Do not tire of abusing and insulting Ali and calling for God’s mercifulness for ‘Uthman, defaming the companions of Ali, removing them and omitting to listen to them (i.e., to what they tell and propagate as hadiths); praising in contrast, the clan of ‘Uthman, drawing them near to you and listening to them.” This is an official encouragement to foster the rise and spread of hadiths directed against Ali and to hold back and suppress hadiths favoring Ali. The Umayyads and their political followers had no scruples in promoting tendentious lies in a sacred religious form, and they were only concerned to find pious authorities who would be prepared to cover such falsifications with their undoubted authority. There was never any lack of these.

Hadiths were liable to be fabricated even for the most trivial ritualistic details. Tendentiousness included the suppression of existing utterances friendly to the rival party or dynasty. Under the ‘Abbasids, the fabrications of hadiths greatly multiplied, with the express purpose of proving the legitimacy of their own clan against the ‘Alids. For example, the Prophet was made to say that Abu Talib, father of ‘Ali, was sitting deep in hell: “Perhaps my intercession will be of use to him on the day of resurrection so that he may be transferred into a pool of fire which reaches only up to the ankles but which is still hot enough to burn the brain.” Naturally enough this was countered by the theologians of the ‘Alias by devising numerous traditions concerning the glorification of Abu Talib, all sayings of the prophet. “In fact,” as Goldziher shows, amongst the opposing factions, “the mischievous use of tendentious traditions was even more common than the official party.”

Eventually storytellers made a good living inventing entertaining Hadiths, which the credulous masses lapped up eagerly. To draw the crowds the storytellers shrank from nothing. “The handling down of hadiths sank to the level of a business very early. Journeys (in search of hadiths) favored the greed of those who succeeded in pretending to be a source of the hadith, and with increasing demand sprang up an even increasing desire to be paid in cash for the hadiths supplied.”

Of course many Muslims were aware that forgeries abounded. But even the so-called six authentic collections of hadiths compiled by Bukhari and others were not as rigorous as might have been hoped. The six had varying criteria for including a Hadith as genuine or not—some were rather liberal in their choice, others rather arbitrary. Then there was the problem of the authenticity of the texts of these compilers. For example, at one point there were a dozen different Bukhari texts; and apart from these variants, there were deliberate interpolations. As Goldziher warns us, “It would be wrong to think that the canonical authority of the two [collections of Bukhari and Muslim] is due to the undisputed correctness of their contents and is the result of scholarly investigations.” Even a tenth century critic pointed out the weaknesses of two hundred traditions incorporated in the works of Muslim and Bukhari.

Goldziher’s arguments were followed up, nearly sixty years later, by another great Islamicist, Joseph Schacht, whose works on Islamic law are considered classics in the field of Islamic studies. Schacht’s conclusions were even more radical and perturbing, and the full implications of these conclusions have not yet sunk in.

Humphreys sums up Schacht’s theses as: (1) that isnads [the chain of transmitters] going all the way back to the Prophet only began to be widely used around the time of the Abbasid Revolution—i.e., the mid-8th century; (2) that ironically, the more elaborate and formally correct an isnad appeared to be, the more likely it was to be spurious. In general, he concluded, “NO existing hadith could be reliably ascribed to the prophet, though some of them might ultimately be rooted in his teaching. And though [Schacht] devoted only a few pages to historical reports about the early Caliphate, he explicitly asserted that the same strictures should apply to them.” Schacht’s arguments were backed up by a formidable list of references, and they could not be dismissed easily. Here is how Schacht himself sums up his own thesis:

It is generally conceded that the criticism of traditions as practiced by the Muhammadan scholars is inadequate and that, however many forgeries may have been eliminated by it, even the classical corpus contains a great many traditions which cannot possibly be authentic. All efforts to extract from this often self-contradictory mass an authentic core by “historic intuition”… have failed. Goldziher, in another of his fundamental works, has not only voiced his “sceptical reserve” with regard to the traditions contained even in the classical collections [i.e., the collections of Bukhari, Muslim, et al.], but shown positively that the great majority of traditions from the Prophet are documents not of the time to which they claim to belong, but of the successive stages of development of doctrines during the first centuries of Islam. This brilliant discovery became the corner-stone of all serious investigation…

This book [i.e., Schacht’s own book] will be found to confirm Goldziher’s results, and go beyond them in the following respects: a great many traditions in the classical and other collections were put into circulation only after Shafi‘i’s time [Shafi‘i was the founder of the very important school of law which bears his name; he died in 820 C.E.]; the first considerable body of legal traditions from the Prophet originated towards the middle of the second [Muslim] century [i.e., eighth century C.E.], in opposition to slightly earlier traditions from the Companions and other authorities, and to the living tradition of the ancient schools of law; traditions from Companions and other authorities underwent the same process of growth, and are to be considered in the same light, as traditions from the Prophet; the study of isnads show a tendency to grow backwards and to claim higher and higher authority until they arrive at the Prophet; the evidence of legal traditions carries back to about the year 100 A.H. [718 C.E.]…

Schacht proves that, for example, a tradition did not exist at a particular time by showing that it was not used as a legal argument in a discussion which would have made reference to it imperative, if it had existed. For Schacht every legal tradition from the Prophet must be taken as inauthentic and the fictitious expression of a legal doctrine formulated at a later date: “We shall not meet any legal tradition from the Prophet which can positively be considered authentic.”

Traditions were formulated polemically in order to rebut a contrary doctrine or practice; Schacht calls these traditions “counter traditions.” Doctrines, in this polemical atmosphere, were frequently projected back to higher authorities: “traditions from Successors [to the Prophet] become traditions from Companions [of the Prophet], and traditions from Companions become traditions from the Prophet.” Details from the life of the Prophet were invented to support legal doctrines.

Schacht then criticizes isnads which “were often put together very carelessly. Any typical representative of the group whose doctrine was to be projected back on to an ancient authority, could be chosen at random and put into the isnad. We find therefore a number of alternative names in otherwise identical isnads.”

Shacht “showed that the beginnings of Islamic law cannot be traced further back than to about a century after the Prophet’s death.” Islamic law did not directly derive from the Koran but developed out of popular and administrative practice under the Ummayads, and this “practice often diverged from the intentions and even the explicit wording of the Koran.” Norms derived from the Koran were introduced into Islamic law at a secondary stage.

A group of scholars was convinced of the essential soundness of Schacht’s analysis, and proceeded to work out in full detail the implications of Schacht’s arguments. The first of these scholars was John Wansbrough, who in two important though formidably difficult books, Quaranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation (1977) and The Sectarian Milieu: Content and Composition of Islamic Salvation History (1978), showed that the Koran and Hadith grew out of sectarian controversies over a long period, perhaps as long as two centuries, and then was projected back onto an invented Arabian point of origin. He further argued that Islam emerged only w hen it came into contact with and under the influence of Rabbinic Judaism—”that Islamic doctrine generally, and even the figure of Muhammad, were molded on Rabbinic Jewish prototypes.” “Proceeding from these conclusions, The Sectarian Milieu analyses early Islamic historiography—or rather the interpretive myths underlying this historiography—as a late manifestation of Old Testament ‘salvation history.’”

Wansbrough shows that far from being fixed in the seventh century, the definitive text of the Koran had still not been achieved as late as the ninth century. An Arabian origin for Islam is highly unlikely: the Arabs gradually formulated their creed as they came into contact with Rabbinic Judaism outside the Hijaz (Central Arabia, containing the cities of Mecca and Medina). “Quranic allusion presupposes familiarity with the narrative material of Judaeo-Christian scripture, which was not so much reformulated as merely referred to…. Taken together, the quantity of reference, the mechanically repetitious employment of rhetorical convention, and the stridently polemical style, all suggest a strongly sectarian atmosphere in which a corpus of familiar scripture was being pressed into the service of as yet unfamiliar doctrine.” Elsewhere Wansbrough says, “[The] challenge to produce an identical or superior scripture (or portion thereof), expressed five times in the Quranic text can be explained only within a context of Jewish polemic.”

Earlier scholars such as Torrey, recognizing the genuine borrowings in the Koran from Rabbinic literature, had jumped to conclusions about the Jewish population in the Hijaz (i.e., Central Arabia). But as Wansbrough puts it, “References in Rabbinic literature to Arabia are of remarkably little worth for purposes of historical reconstruction, and especially for the Hijaz in the sixth and seventh centuries.

Much influenced by the Rabbinic accounts, the early Muslim community took Moses as an exemplum, and then a portrait of Muhammad emerged, but only gradually and in response to the needs of a religious community. This community was anxious to establish Muhammad’s credentials as a prophet on the Mosaic model; this evidently meant there had to be a Holy Scripture, which would be seen as testimony to his prophethood. Another gradual development was the emergence of the idea of the Arabian origins of Islam. To this end, there was elaborated the concept of a sacred language, Arabic. The Koran was said to be handed down by God in pure Arabic. It is significant that the ninth century also saw the first collections of the ancient poetry of the Arabs: “The manner in which this material was manipulated by its collectors to support almost any argument appears never to have been very successfully concealed.” Thus Muslim philologists were able to give, for instance, an early date to a poem ascribed to Nabigha Jadi, a pre-Islamic poet, in order to “provide a pre-Islamic proof text for a common Quranic construction.” The aim in appealing to the authority of pre-Islamic poetry was twofold: first to give ancient authority to their own Holy Scripture, to push back this sacred text into an earlier period, and thus give their text greater authenticity, a text which in reality had been fabricated in the later ninth century, along with all the supporting traditions. Second, it gave a specifically Arabian flavor, an Arabian setting to their religion, something distinct from Judaism and Christianity. Exegetical traditions were equally fictitious and had but one aim, to demonstrate the Hijazi origins of Islam. Wansbrough gives some negative evidence to show that the Koran had not achieved any definitive form before the ninth century:

Schacht’s studies of the early development of legal doctrine within the community demonstrate that with very few exceptions, Muslim jurisprudence was not derived from the contents of the Quran. It may be added that those few exceptions are themselves hardly evidence for the existence of the canon, and further observed that even where doctrine was alleged to draw upon scripture, such is nor necessarily proof of the earlier existence of the scriptural source. Derivation of law from scripture… was a phenomenon of the ninth century….A similar kind of negative evidence is absence of any reference to the Quran in the Fiqh Akbar I….

The latter is a document, dated to the middle of the eighth century, which was a kind of statement of the Muslim creed in face of sects. Thus the Fiqh Akbar I represents the views of the orthodoxy on the then prominent dogmatic questions. It seems unthinkable had the Koran existed that no reference would have been made to it.

Wansbrough submits the Koran to a highly technical analysis with the aim of showing that it cannot have been deliberately edited by a few men, but “rather the product of an organic development from originally independent traditions during a long period of transmission.”

Wansbrough was to throw cold water on the idea that the Koran was the only hope for genuine historical information regarding the Prophet; an idea summed up by Jeffery, “The dominant note in this advanced criticism is ‘back to the Koran.’ As a basis for critical biography the Traditions are practically worthless; in the Koran alone can we be said to have firm ground under our feet.” But as Wansbrough was to show: “The role of the Quran in the delineation of an Arabian prophet was peripheral: evidence of a divine communication but not a report of its circumstances…. The very notion of biographical data in the Quran depends on exegetical principles derived from material external to the canon.”

A group of scholars influenced by Wansbrough took an even more radical approach; they rejected wholesale the entire Islamic version of early Islamic history. Michael Cook, Patricia Crone, and Martin Hinds writing between 1977 and 1987

regard the whole established version of Islamic history down at least to the time of Abd al-Malik (685-705) as a later fabrication, and reconstruct the Arab Conquests and the formation of the Caliphate as a movement of peninsular Arabs who had been inspired by Jewish messianism to try to reclaim the Promised Land. In this interpretation, Islam emerged as an autonomous religion and culture only within the process of a long struggle for identity among the disparate peoples yoked together by the Conquests: Jacobite Syrians, Nestorian Aramaeans in Iraq, Copts, Jews, and (finally) peninsular Arabs.

The traditional account of the life of Muhammad and the rise of Islam is no longer accepted by Cook, Crone, and Hinds. In the shore but pithy monograph on Muhammad in the Oxford Past Masters series, Cook gives his reasons for rejecting the biographical traditions:

False ascription was rife among the eighth-century scholars, and…in any case Ibn Ishaq and his contemporaries were drawing on oral tradition. Neither of these propositions is as arbitrary as it sounds. We have reason to believe that numerous traditions on questions of dogma and law were provided with spuriousus chains of authorities by those who put them into circulation; and at the same time we have much evidence of controversy in the eighth century as to whether it was permissible to reduce oral tradition to writing. The implications of this view for the reliability of our sources are clearly rather negative. If we cannot trust the chains of authorities, we can no longer claim to know that we have before us the separately transmitted accounts of independent witnesses; and if knowledge of the life of Muhammad was transmitted orally for a century before it was reduced to writing, then the chances are that the material will have undergone considerable alteration in the process.

Cook then looks at the non-Muslim sources: Greek, Syriac, and Armenian. Here a totally unexpected picture emerges. Though there is no doubt that someone called Muhammad existed, that he was a merchant, that something significant happened in 622, that Abraham was central to his teaching, there is no indication that Muhammad’s career unfolded in inner Arabia, there is no mention of Mecca, and the Koran makes no appearance until the last years of the seventh century. Further, it emerges from this evidence that the Muslims prayed in a direction much further north than Mecca, hence their sanctuary cannot have been in Mecca. “Equally, when the first Koranic quotations appear on coins and inscriptions towards the end of the seventh century, they show divergences from the canonical text. These are trivial from the point of view of content, but the fact that they appear in such formal contexts as these goes badly with the notion that the text had already been frozen.”

The earliest Greek source speaks of Muhammad being alive in 634, two years after his death according to Muslim tradition. Where the Muslim accounts talk of Muhammad’s break with the Jews, the Armenian version differs strikingly:

The Armenian chronicler of the 660s describes Muhammad as establishing a community which comprised both Ishmaelites (i.e., Arabs) and Jews, with Abrahamic descent as their common platform; these allies then set off to conquer Palestine. The oldest Greek source makes the sensational statement that the prophet who had appeared among the Saracens (i.e., Arabs) was proclaiming the coming of the (Jewish) messiah, and speaks of the Jews who mix with the Saracens, and of the danger to life and limb of falling into the hands of these Jews and Saracens. We cannot easily dismiss the evidence as the product of Christian prejudice, since it finds confirmation in the Hebrew apocalypse [an eighth-century document, in which is embedded an earlier apocalypse that seems to be contemporary with the conquests]. The break with the Jews is then placed by the Armenian chronicler immediately after the Arab conquest of Jerusalem.

Although Palestine does play some sort of role in Muslim traditions, it is already demoted in favor of Mecca in the second year of the Hegira, when Muhammad changed the direction of prayer for Muslims from Jerusalem to Mecca. Thereafter it is Mecca which holds center stage for his activities. But in the non-Muslim sources, it is Palestine which is the focus of his movement, and provides the religious motive for its conquest.

The Armenian chronicler further gives a rationale for this attachment: Muhammad told the Arabs that, as descendants of Abraham through Ishmael, they too had a claim to the land which God had promised to Abraham and his seed. The religion of Abraham is in fact as central in the Armenian account of Muhammad’s preaching as it is in the Muslim sources; but it is given a quite different geographical twist.
If the external sources are in any significant degree right on such points, it would follow that tradition is seriously misleading on important aspects of the life of Muhammad, and that even the integrity of the Koran as his message is in some doubt. In view of what was said above about the nature of the Muslim sources, such a conclusion would seem to me legitimate; but is fair to add that it is not usually drawn.

Cook points out the similarity of certain Muslim beliefs and practices to those of the Samaritans (discussed below). He also points out that the fundamental idea developed by Muhammad of the religion of Abraham was already present in the Jewish apocryphal work called the Book of Jubilees (dated to c. 140-100 B.C;), and which may well have influenced the formation of Islamic ideas. We also have the evidence of Sozomenus, a Christian writer of the fifth century who “reconstructs a primitive Ishmaelite monotheism identical with that possessed by the Hebrews up to the time of Moses; and he goes on to argue from present conditions that Ishmael’s laws must have been corrupted by the passage of time and the influence of pagan neighbors.”

Sozomenus goes on to describe certain Arab tribes who, on learning of their Ishmaelite origins from Jews, adopted Jewish observances. Again there may have been some influence on the Muslim community from this source. Cook also points out the similarity of the story of Moses (exodus, etc.) and the Muslim hijra. In Jewish messianism, “the career of the messiah was seen as a re-enactment of that of Moses; a key event in the drama was an exodus, or flight, from oppression into the desert, whence the messiah was to lead a holy war to reconquer Palestine. Given the early evidence connecting Muhammad with Jews and Jewish messianism at the time when the conquest of Palestine was initiated, it is natural to see in Jewish apocalyptic thought a point of departure for his political ideas.”

Cook and Patricia Crone had developed these ideas in their intellectually exhilarating work Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (1977). Unfortunately, they adopted the rather difficult style of their “master” Wansbrough, which may well put off all but the most dedicated readers; as Humphreys says, “their argument is conveyed through a dizzying and unrelenting array of allusions, metaphors, and analogies.” The summary already given above of Cook’s conclusions in Muhammad will help non-specialists to have a better grasp of Cook and Crone’s (henceforth CC) arguments in Hagarism.

It would be appropriate to begin with an explanation of CC’s frequent use of the terms “Hagar,” “Hagarism,” and “Hagarene.” Since a part of their thesis is that Islam only emerged later than hitherto thought, after the first contacts with the older civilizations in Palestine, the Near East, and the Middle East, it would have been inappropriate to use the traditional terms “Muslim,” “Islamic,” and “Islam” for the early Arabs and their creed. It seems probable that the early Arab community, while it was developing its own religious identity, did not call itself “Muslim.” On the other hand, Greek and Syriac documents refer to this community as Magaritai, and Mahgre (or Mahgraye) respectively. The Mahgraye are the descendants of Abraham by Hagar, hence the term “Hagarism.” But there is another dimension to this term; for the corresponding Arabic term is muhajirun; the muhajirun are those who take part in a hijra, an exodus. “The ‘Mahgraye’ may thus be seen as Hagarene participants in a hijra to the Promised Land; in this pun lies the earliest identity of the faith which was in the fullness of time to become Islam.”

Relying on hitherto neglected non-Muslim sources, CC give a new account of the rise of Islam: an account, on their admission, unacceptable to any Muslim. The Muslim sources are too late, and unreliable, and there are no cogent external grounds for accepting the Islamic tradition. CC begin with a Greek text (dated ca. 634-636), in which the core of the Prophet’s message appears as Judaic messianism. There is evidence that the Jews themselves, far from being the enemies of Muslims, as traditionally recounted, welcomed and interpreted the Arab conquest in messianic terms. The evidence “of Judeo-Arab intimacy is complemented by indications of a marked hostility towards Christianity.” An Armenian chronicle written in the 660s also contradicts the traditional Muslim insistence that Mecca was the religious metropolis of the Arabs at the time of the conquest; in contrast, it points out the Palestinian orientation of the movement. The same chronicle helps us understand how the Prophet “provided a rationale for Arab involvement in the enactment of Judaic messianism. This rationale consists in a dual invocation of the Abrahamic descent of the Arabs as Ishmaelites: on the one hand to endow them with a birthright to the Holy Land, and on the other to provide them with a monotheist genealogy.” Similarly, we can see the Muslim hijra not as an exodus from Mecca to Medina (for no early source attests to the historicity of this event), but as an emigration of the Ishmaelites (Arabs) from Arabia to the Promised Land.

The Arabs soon quarreled with the Jews, and their attitude to Christians softened; the Christians posed less of a political threat. There still remained a need to develop a positive religious identity, which they proceeded to do by elaborating a full-scale religion of Abraham, incorporating many pagan practices but under a new Abrahamic aegis. But they still lacked the basic religious structures to be able to stand on their two feet, as an independent religious community. Here they were enormously influenced by the Samaritans.

The origins of the Samaritans are rather obscure. They are Israelites of central Palestine, generally considered the descendants of those who were planted in Samaria by the Assyrian kings, in about 722 B.C.E. The faith of the Samaritans was Jewish monotheism, but they had shaken off the influence of Judaism by developing their own religious identity, rather in the way the Arabs were to do later on. The Samaritan canon included only the Pentateuch, which was considered the sole source and standard for faith and conduct.

The formula “There is no God but the One” is an ever-recurring refrain in Samaritan liturgies. A constant theme in their literature is the unity of God and His absolute holiness and righteousness. We can immediately notice the similarity of the Muslim proclamation of faith: “There is no God but Allah.” And, of course, the unity of God is a fundamental principle in Islam. The Muslim formula “In the name of God” (bismillah) is found in Samaritan scripture as beshem. The opening chapter of the Koran is known as the Fatiha, opening or gate, often considered as a succinct confession of faith. A Samaritan prayer, which can also be considered a confession of faith, begins with the words: Amadti kamekha al fatah rahmeka, “I stand before Thee at the gate of Thy mercy.” Fatah is the Fatiha, opening or gate.

The sacred book of the Samaritans was the Pentateuch, which embodied the supreme revelation of the divine will, and was accordingly highly venerated. Muhammad also seems to know the Pentateuch and Psalms only, and shows no knowledge of the prophetic or historical writings.

The Samaritans held Moses in high regard, Moses being the prophet through whom the Law was revealed. For the Samaritans, Mt. Gerizim was the rightful center for the worship of Yahweh; and it was further associated with Adam, Seth, and Noah, and Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. The expectation of a coming Messiah was also an article of faith; the name given to their Messiah was the Restorer. Here we can also notice the similarity of the Muslim notion of the Mahdi.

We can tabulate the close parallels between the doctrines of the Samaritans and the Muslims in this way:
MOSES EXODUS PENTATEUCH MT. SINAI/GERIZIM SHECHEM
Muhammad Hijra Koran Mt. Hira Mecca

Under the influence of the Samaritans, the Arabs proceeded to cast Muhammad in the role of Moses as the leader of an exodus (hijra), as the bearer of a new revelation (Koran) received on an appropriate (Arabian) sacred mountain, Mt. Hira. It remained for them to compose a sacred book. CC point to the tradition that the Koran had been many books but of which ‘Uthman (the third caliph after Muhammad) had left only one. We have the further testimony of a Christian monk who distinguishes between the Koran and the Surat al-baqara as sources of law. In other documents, we are told that Hajjaj (661-714), the governor of Iraq, had collected and destroyed all the writings of the early Muslims. Then, following Wansbrough, CC conclude that the Koran, “is strikingly lacking in overall structure, frequently obscure and inconsequential in both language and content, perfunctory in its linking of disparate materials and given to the repetition of whole passages in variant versions. On this basis it can be plausibly argued that the book [Koran] is the product of the belated and imperfect editing of materials from a plurality of traditions.”

The Samaritans had rejected the sanctity of Jerusalem, and had replaced it by the older Israelite sanctuary of Shechem. When the early Muslims disengaged from Jerusalem, Shechem provided an appropriate model for the creation of a sanctuary of their own.

The parallelism is striking. Each presents the same binary structure of a sacred city closely associated with a nearby holy mountain, and in each case the fundamental rite is a pilgrimage from the city to the mountain. In each case the sanctuary is an Abrahamic foundation, the pillar on which Abraham sacrificed in Shechem finding its equivalent in the rukn [the Yamai corner of the Ka’ba] of the Meccan sanctuary. Finally, the urban sanctuary is in each case closely associated with the grave of the appropriate patriarch: Joseph (as opposed to Judah in the Samaritan case, Ishmael (as opposed to Isaac) in the Meccan.

CC go on to argue that the town we now know as Mecca in central Arabia (Hijaz) could not have been the theater of the momentous events so beloved of Muslim tradition. Apart from the lack of any early non-Muslim references to Mecca, we do have the startling fact that the direction in which the early Muslims prayed (the qibla) was northwest Arabia. The evidence comes from the alignment of certain early mosques, and the literary evidence of Christian sources. In other words, Mecca, as the Muslim sanctuary, was only chosen much later by the Muslims, in order to relocate their early history within Arabia, to complete their break with Judaism, and finally establish their separate religious identity.

In the rest of their fascinating book, CC go on to show how Islam assimilated all the foreign influences that it came under in consequence of their rapid conquests; how Islam acquired its particular identity on encountering the older civilizations of antiquity, through its contacts with rabbinic Judaism, Christianity (Jacobite and Nestorian), Hellenism and Persian ideas (Rabbinic Law, Greek philosophy, Neoplatonism, Roman Law, and Byzantine art and architecture). But they also point out that all this was achieved at great cultural cost: “The Arab conquests rapidly destroyed one empire, and permanently detached large territories of another. This was, for the states in question, an appalling catastrophe.”

November 27, 2010 Posted by | Christianity / God, Politics/Government/Freedom, Societal / Cultural Issues, Understanding Islam, World Affairs | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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