Nicholas of Cusa on Errors in the Qur’an

Nicholas of Cusa writes:

the Koran says that the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the sister of Aaron and the daughter of Amram. Now, it is most certain that the one who reported these [details] to Muhammad erred and was ignorant of the Gospel’s true narrative. For Mary the daughter of Amram and sister of Moses and Aaron was dead and buried in the desert more than a thousand years before [the time of] the Virgin Mary, the glorious mother-of-Jesus-Christ, who lived (as is read in this same Koran) at the time of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist.

He is referring to passages such as Surah 66.12:

…Mary, daughter of Imran. She guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her from Our spirit. She accepted the truth of her Lord’s words and Scriptures: she was truly devout.

And Surah 3.35-36

Imran’s wife said, ‘Lord, I have dedicated what is growing in my womb entirely to You; so accept this from me. You are the One who hears and knows all,’ but when she gave birth, she said, ‘My Lord! I have given birth to a girl’– God knew best what she had given birth to: the male is not like the female–‘I name her Mary and I commend her and her offspring to Your protection from the rejected Satan.’

Imran is another way of saying Amram, who was the father of Miriam, Moses and Aaron:

And Kohath was the father of Amram. The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt. And she bore to Amram Aaron and Moses and Miriam their sister. (Numbers 26.58-59)

The author of these Qur’anic passages is clearly mistaken about just who Mary and Miriam are. As Nicholas writes: “And since the Koran makes these statements not once but repeatedly, this one example suffices [to show] that error is contained in [that] book and [to show] that therefore the authorship is not God’s.”

Islamic Response: Exegete Ismail ibn Kathir writes:

(O sister of Harun!) referring to the brother of Musa, because she was of his descendants. This is similar to the saying, `O brother of Tamim,’ to one who is from the Tamimi tribe, and `O brother of Mudar,’ to one who is from the Mudari tribe. It has also been said that she was related to a righteous man among them whose name was Harun and she was comparable to him in her abstinence and worship.

This response does not make sense in light of the Qur’an saying that Amram’s wife gave birth to Mary, not in some ancestral way, but directly.

The Location of the Qur’anic Revelation

Patricia Crone notes:

In addition, the Qur’an twice describes its opponents as living in the site of a vanished nation, that is to say a town destroyed by God for its sins. There were many such ruined sites in northwest Arabia. The prophet frequently tells his opponents to consider their significance and on one occasion remarks, with reference to the remains of Lot’s people, that “you pass by them in the morning and in the evening”. This takes us to somewhere in the Dead Sea region. Respect for the traditional account has prevailed to such an extent among modern historians that the first two points have passed unnoticed until quite recently, while the third has been ignored. The exegetes said that the Quraysh passed by Lot’s remains on their annual journeys to Syria, but the only way in which one can pass by a place in the morning and the evening is evidently by living somewhere in the vicinity.

This is fascinating. How could these revelations have occurred in Mecca or Medina if the people hearing them passed by Sodom in the morning and evening?

Riccoldo da Monte di Croce: Islam Strikes the Church

I bought Riccoldo’s Refutation of the Qur’an. In it, he says that Mohammad “has not struck the church in only one way, but in three most universal ways.”

Now by means of a savage tyrant, in another way through deceitfulness in its laws, and again, by corrupting those who are more simple minded through his pretense of sanctity. This has had the result that they have subjected a large part of the world to his deception, by God’s permission, who is frightening in his purposes for the sons of men.

Hagarism Sources II

Patricia Crone’s book Hagarism refers to the History of Bishop Sebeos, translated here. Crone says, “For this we have to turn to the earliest connected account of the career of the Prophet, that given in an Armenian chronicle written in the 660s and ascribed to Bishop Sebeos. The story begins with the exodus of Jewish refugees from Edessa following its recovery by Heraclius from the Persians towards 628:” She then quotes part of the following section about the rise of Islam:

I shall discuss the [line of the] son of Abraham: not the one [born] of a free [woman], but the one born of a serving maid, about whom the quotation from Scripture was fully and truthfully fulfilled, “His hands will be at everyone, and everyone will have their hands at him [Genesis 16. 11,12].”

Twelve peoples [representing] all the tribes of the Jews assembled at the city of Edessa. When they saw that the Iranian troops had departed and left the city in peace, they [122] closed the gates and fortified themselves. They refused entry to troops of the Roman lordship. Thus Heraclius, emperor of the Byzantines, gave the order to besiege it. When [the Jews] realized that they could not militarily resist him, they promised to make peace. Opening the city gates, they went before him, and [Heraclius] ordered that they should go and stay in their own place. So they departed, taking the road through the desert to Tachkastan to the sons of Ishmael. [The Jews] called [the Arabs] to their aid and familiarized them with the relationship they had through the books of the [Old] Testament. Although [the Arabs] were convinced of their close relationship, they were unable to get a consensus from their multitude, for they were divided from each other by religion. In that period a certain one of them, a man of the sons of Ishmael named Muhammad, a merchant, became prominent. A sermon about the Way of Truth, supposedly at God’s command, was revealed to them, and [Muhammad] taught them to recognize the God of Abraham, especially since he was informed and knowledgeable about Mosaic history. Because the command had [g104] come from On High, he ordered them all to assemble together and to unite in faith. Abandoning the reverence of vain things, they turned toward the living God, who had appeared to their father, Abraham. Muhammad legislated that they were not to [123] eat carrion, not to drink wine, not to speak falsehoods, and not to commit adultery. He said: “God promised that country to Abraham and to his son after him, for eternity. And what had been promised was fulfilled during that time when [God] loved Israel. Now, however, you are the sons of Abraham, and God shall fulfill the promise made to Abraham and his son on you. Only love the God of Abraham, and go and take the country which God gave to your father, Abraham. No one can successfully resist you in war, since God is with you.”

Then all of them assembled together, from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt [The text is corrupt here. The citation is from Genesis 25.18], and they set out from the P’arhan desert [being] twelve tribes [moving] in the order [of precedence] of the Houses of the patriarchs of their tribe. They were divided into 12,000 men, of which the sons of Israel were in their own tribes, 1,000 to a tribe, to lead them to the country of Israel. They travelled army by army in the order [of precedence] of each patriarchy: Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah [Genesis 25. 13-16]. These are the peoples of Ishmael. They reached Moabite Rabbath, at the borders of [124] Ruben’s [land]. The Byzantine army was encamped in Arabia. [The Arabs] fell upon them suddenly, struck them with the sword and put to flight emperor Heraclius’ brother, Theodosius. Then they turned and encamped in Arabia.

The author of Sebeos later writes: “We heard this [account] from men [who had returned] from captivity in Xuzhastan Tachkastan, who themselves had been eye-witnesses to the events described and narrated them to us.” Crone notes “The chronicle ends in 661 and was clearly written by a contemporary; the question of its true authorship and title does not concern us. The account of the Arab conquests is stated to be based on testimony of eyewitnesses who had been held prisoner by the Arabs (p. 102).”

The differences of this account of Islamic origins and the version we here from Islam are obvious.

Note:

Post I here.

The Moral Law in Islamic Missions

Horatio Southgate writes:

The boast of Mohammedanism is the morality which it inculcates, and this boast is the weapon which can be most effectually used against it. A Mussulman not only listens with patience to the strongest delineations of moral duty, but they invariably increase his respect for the teacher. Many of the Mohammedan treatises on practical religion may be read with profit, even by a Christian. They inculcate the fear and love of God, humility, patience, resignation, purity, and kindness, very much in the spirit and manner of the Old Testament. The religious state of the Mohammedans corresponds remarkably with that of the Jews at the coming of Christ; and the introduction of Christianity furnishes us with the true model of a Christian mission among the Mohammedans. Each missionary should be a John the Baptist, preaching repentance to a guilty nation, or, like the Saviour, should go about teaching the spiritual character of the Law of God. The Mohammedans, like the Jews in our Saviour’s time, have departed very far even from the original spirit of their own religion. Their moral character has degenerated, and their religious practice has become a round of vain and frivolous superstitions. It stands only in meats and drinks, in divers washings and carnal ordinances. They need first of all a forerunner to prepare the way of the Lord. They need to feel their moral necessity of another Mediator and a better covenant.

From Narrative of a Tour Through Armenia, Kurdistan, Persia and Mesopotamia: With Observations Upon the Condition of Mohammedanism and Christianity in Those Countries, Volume 2.

Blasphemy in the West

The latest vulgar display of Islamic violence illustrates once again the seriousness with which Islam takes blasphemy and the utter incomprehension that secular Westerners have for this seriousness. The YouTube video that provoked the mobs this week is a vile piece of foolishness. It clearly does blaspheme Muhammad, although this is not troubling in and of itself because Muhammad was a false prophet. It is distasteful on many levels and designed to inflame.

From the Muslim point of view, it is obvious blasphemy, which will be punished in the hereafter: “Who, then, doth more wrong than one who utters a lie concerning Allah, and rejects the Truth when it comes to him; is there not in Hell an abode for blasphemers?” (Surah 39:32). In the Hadith, we find:

A Muslim who blasphemes against God or the Prophet or any of God’s messengers is guilty of denying the Prophet. This is apostasy, which entails that repentance be demanded of the offender. If he repents, he shall be released; if not, he shall be killed. Similarly, if anyone from amongst non-Muslims protected under pact becomes hostile by openly blaspheming against God or the Prophet or any of God’s messengers, he is guilty of violating the pact; you shall kill him too. [1]

Finer points of Islamic law aside, Srdja Trifkovic puts the Islamic definition of blasphemy in Islam this way: “Their definition of “blasphemy” is any irreverent behavior toward persons, objects, rites, and beliefs that Muslims revere. To put it succinctly, being non-Sharia compliant is blasphemous. Not accepting the divine origin of the Quran is blasphemous. Applying the standards of natural morality to Muhammad’s illustrious career is blasphemous. Resisting the imposition of Sharia is blasphemous. In the end, being a non-Muslim is blasphemous.”

Westerner liberals, which include most Christians who think that freedom of speech is sacrosanct, cannot understand why people would take blasphemy seriously. You saw this in Russia when the members of Pussy Riot were jailed for sacrilege in an Orthodox cathedral. The West was indignant that anyone should suffer for insulting God.

Christians are expected to take things like The Last Temptation of Christ or whatever other insult to God is offered up and smile. God’s name is publicly profaned constantly. This is the reality of a post-Christian society. Rushdoony puts it this way, “When all the world is in blasphemy, no definition of blasphemy is possible: everything is the same. As the world moves towards total blasphemy, its ability to define and recognize anything diminishes.”

The Church also used violent methods at times in the early destruction of idolatry. MacMullen cites John Chysostom, who “learnt that Phoenicia remained still within the cult of the demons…[and] he assembled ascetics afire with holy zeal, and, arming them with imperial laws on idolatrous shrines, sent them forth.” They proceeded to demolish these idol shrines. While we don’t see such violence today, it may be from a lessening of faith rather than an increase of knowledge.

The Justinian Code punished blasphemy. Novel 77 said:

For because of such crimes there are famines, earthquakes, and pestilences; wherefore we admonish men to abstain from the aforesaid unlawful acts, that they may not loose their souls. But if, after this our admonition any are found persisting in such offenses, first they render themselves unworthy of the mercy of God, and then they are subjugated to the punishment enjoined by law.
For we order that most illustrious prefect of the Capital to arrest those who persist in the aforesaid lawless and impious acts after they have been warned by us, and to inflict on them the extreme punishments, so that the city and the state may not come to harm by reason of such wicked deed. And if, after this our warning, and be found who have concealed their crime, they likewise shall be condemned by the Lord God. And if the most illustrious prefect find any who have committed any such offense. And shall omit to punish them according to out laws, first he will be liable to the judgment of God, and he will also incur our indignation.

This attitude has collapsed in our time. A future society that has been re-evangelized might think of excluding offenders from certain public goods, or issuing a public reprimand. My conclusions are:

  1. It is not possible to blaspheme Muhammad because he was not a prophet.
  2. Nevertheless, this YouTube video is crass, in poor taste and generally vulgar.
  3. The West no longer has any concept of blasphemy.
  4. Christians should consider what blasphemy really is and think about how to deal with it in future Christian nations.

References

[1] Abū ‘Abdullāh Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr ibn Qayyim, Zād al-ma‘ād fī hadyi khayr al-‘ibād, 1st ed., vol. 4 (Beirut: Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 1998), 379. cited here.

Islamic Origins II

This morning I read Nassim Taleb on Facebook saying, “I just bought Tom Holland’s book on the rise of Islam for the sole reason that he was attacked by Glen Bowesock, the most prominent living scholar of the Roman Levant. Tom Holland is a popularizer and I would not have taken him seriously otherwise.”

He was referring to this review of Holland’s book:

The beginnings of Islam have always been anchored in Mecca in the northwestern part of the Arabian peninsula. Here Muhammad was believed to have received from the angel Gabriel the earliest revelations that became incorporated in the Muslim scripture, the Qur’an. Scholarly debate about the revelations and about Meccan society has gone on for centuries, but no one before has seriously doubted the conjunction of Muhammad and Mecca. Holland wants us to believe that Muhammad did not come from Mecca at all but from southern Transjordan, and that his revelation was a compound of languages and ideas floating around in the Near East.

Holland came to his work on Islam unencumbered by any prior acquaintance with its fundamental texts or the scholarly literature. He modestly compares himself to Edward Gibbon, whom he can call without the slightest fear of contradiction “an infinitely greater historian than myself”. In the Decline and Fall, at the opening of his magisterial chapter 50 on Muhammad, Gibbon had candidly acknowledged his ignorance of “Oriental tongues”, but he also expressed his gratitude “to the learned interpreters who have transfused their science in the Latin, French, and English languages”. Holland seems to have confined himself largely to interpreters, learned or otherwise, writing in English, but his efforts to inform himself, arduous as they may have been, were manifestly insufficient.

He has written his book in a swashbuckling style that aims more to unsettle his readers than to instruct them. I have not seen a book about Arabia that is so irresponsible and unreliable since Kamal Salibi’s The Bible Came from Arabia (1985). Although that work was depressingly misguided in replacing biblical places with their homonyms in the Arabian peninsula, it at least revealed an accomplished scholar who had gone badly astray. Holland has read widely, but carelessly. He starts out with an irrelevant, though arresting, account of a defeated Jewish king in Arabian Himyar (Yemen) killing himself by riding his horse into the Red Sea. It is typical of Holland’s style to lead off with this fanciful story when an inscription from the time of the king’s death records that the Ethiopians killed him.

Holland responded here:

In a dyspeptic final paragraph, he strongly implies that it was cooked up by “author, agent and publisher” as something truly reprehensible: an attempt to exploit Islamophobia for commercial gain.

This is a serious charge – and since it is founded on Bowersock’s claim that my scholarship is shoddy and out on a limb, I hope that he will forgive me defending myself. I am accused of twisting my sources. I could, however, level much the same charge against Bowersock’s criticisms of me.

Holland is also interviewed here:

All three religions, it seems to me, emerged out of the same melting pot – and yet all three have constructed backstories that aim to occlude the fact. In the first three centuries after Christ, Jews and Christians may have had a consciousness of themselves as peoples with distinct identities, but they remained unclear where precisely the border between them lay.

There were Jews who believed that Jesus had been the Messiah and there were Christians who followed the Jewish law – and it took an unacknowledged alliance between bishops and rabbis, in the centuries after the emperor Constantine, to ensure that what had previously been an open frontier became a no-man’s land. Similarly, a lot of Muslim historiography seems to me to have been composed with the aim of spiking the possibility that either the Quran or the sunna [laws] might conceivably have owed anything to infidel precedent.

Islamic Origins

Several articles have appeared lately outlining the growing investigation of Islamic origins. While Hagarism may have gone too far,  scholars from many backgrounds are delving further into the misty genesis of Islam and are asking if Muhammad even existed, or, if he did, what we really know about him. David Goldman takes the subject up today:

In 2008 a Muslim theologian at Germany’s Universityof Münsters candalized his co-religionists by asserting that the Prophet Mohammed was a figment of myth rather than an historical personality. Sven Muhammed Kalisch was a convert to Islam who held one of the most important positions in Islamic studies—the first German university chair for teaching Muslim religious instructors in German public schools. His paper, “Islamic Theology Without the Historical Mohammed,” was the first work by a Muslim academic to dispute the Prophet’s existence. Prof. Kalisch since has apostatized and repudiated the Muslim faith, but the damage was done. As he told a German newspaper, “It might be that the Koran was truly inspired by God, a great narration from God, but it was not dictated word for word from Allah to the Prophet.”

In Kalisch’s account, the invention of the historical Mohammed transformed the Christian message into a declaration that the Arabs were God’s chosen people. The Koran accomplishes this theological feat, Kalisch argues, by casting Mohammed as an Arab prophet who embodies the characteristics of Moses as well as Jesus.

“We hardly have original Islamic sources from the first two centuries of Islam,” Kalisch observes. “And even when a source appears to come from this period, caution is required. The mere assertion that a source stems from the first or second century of the Islamic calendar means nothing. And even when a source actually was written in the first or second century, the question always remains of later manipulation. We do not tread on firm ground in the sources until the third Islamic century [ninth century A.D.]” This substantial lag between the time Mohammed is supposed to have lived and the first historical evidence of the religion he is purported to have founded is extremely suspicious,” Kalisch observes. “How can a world religion have erupted in a virtual literary vacuum?” As he quotes Patricia Crone and Martin Hinds,

It is a striking fact [writes Kalisch] that such documentary evidence as survives from the Sufnayid period makes no mention of [Mohammed] the messenger of god at all. The papyri do not refer to him. The Arabic inscriptions of the Arab-Sasanian coins only invoke Allah, not his rasul [messenger]; and the Arab-Byzantine bronze coins on which Muhammad appears as rasul Allah, previously dated to the Sufyanid period, have now been placed in that of the Marwanids. Even the two surviving pre-Marwanid tombstones fail to mention the rasul.[ii]

The trouble with the Muslim version of the religion’s early history lies not in the absence of evidence, but rather in an abundance, including a large number of coins and inscriptions on monuments during its first two centuries that fail to refer to the Prophet Mohammed. “Coins and inscriptions are incompatible with the Islamic writing of history,” Kalisch concludes, citing the monograph Crossroads to Islam, by Yehuda Nevo and Judith Koren.[iii] The oldest inscription with the formulation “Mohammed Messenger of Allah” is to found in the sixty-sixth year of Islamic reckoning. But there also exist coins found inPalestine, probably minted inAmman, on which the word “Muhammed” is found in Arabic script on one side and a picture of a man holding a cross on the other. Kalisch cites this and a dozen other examples of evidence that contradicts official Muslim history. Citing Nevo and Koren among other sources, Kalisch also argues that the Islamic conquest as reported in much later Islamic sources never happened—instead, there was a gradual migration into depopulated Byzantine lands by the Arab auxiliaries of the Eastern Empire.

Malise Ruthven discussed the subject earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal:

In a view that Mr. Holland takes forward from Wansbrough and his disciples, Islam was born not in the deserts of Arabia but in the borders of Syria-Palestine, a region that had long been devastated by plagues and wars—the usual precursors of apocalyptic scenarios and millennial hopes. The Qurayshites may not have been Meccans but Arab tribes that had grown rich on Roman-Byzantine patronage. Far from being illiterate (as the biographies claim, with a view to emphasizing the Quran’s miraculous character), Muhammad was a sophisticated man who “laid claim to traditions of divine inspiration that were immeasurably venerable,” knowing full well what he was about.

The religion he founded began as a classic millennial cult comprising Jews, Christians and Arabs driven by an apocalyptic belief in the end of the world, with Jerusalem as its original focus. The early caliphs of Islam, who saw themselves as God’s vice-regents, were both heirs and beneficiaries of the same millennial expectations—long entrenched in the region’s culture—that surface in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation, as well as in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The purely Arabian provenance attributed to Islam and its prophet were later inventions by pious scholars who tried to curb the power of the caliphs by using the memory of Muhammad, with its iconic moral authority. The empires of the caliphs are long gone, but the sunna of the prophet—his custom and example—endures.

Muhammad’s Revelations

Malise Ruthven says of Muhammad receiving revelation:

We are told that he became covered with sweat, was seized with a violent shuddering, and lay unconscious for hours as though in a drunken stupor. At other times, the revelations were accompanied by ocular visions of angles who spoke to him.