Khomeini on Imperialism

In light of our current situation with Iran I decided to break out a book I have but have not read called Islam and Revolution, Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini. In the initial chapter—“Islamic Government”—Khomeini says that imperialists are not truly Christians, “…for the imperialists really have no religious belief, Christian or Islamic.” I can agree with him there. He then goes on to make an assertion that I think is highly suspect, and for which I doubt there is much evidence:

…throughout this long historical period, and going back to the Crusades, they [the imperialists] felt that the major obstacle in the path of their materialistic ambitions and the chief threat to their political power was nothing but Islam. They therefore plotted and campaigned against Islam by various means.

I don’t know who “they” are but this is a paranoid view on the face of it.

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 End this Isn’t

Events like last week’s tsunami often spur on premillenial believers who think that things have never been this bad before and that the end is in sight. This is not new. James Moorhead mentions an encounter that Robert Willett had back in World War I:

…he encountered an energetic man who explained that Kaiser Wilhelm was the beast described in the thirteenth chapter of Revelation and that Jesus would appear within months to “rapture” the saints.

As George Marsden points out in Fundamentalism and American Culture, World War I touched off a frenzy of speculation about Germany and “the Huns” being a possible candidate for the Antichrist and his Empire. One can imagine how a world war would lead people to speculate on such matters. And I am sure that this speculation reached another level when Hitler was around. And yet, the end did not come.

This did not stop speculation. The emphasis shifted from shattered Germany to the Red Menace and the Soviet Union which would surely invade Israel and fulfill Ezekiel 38. The bad interpretation of premillenialism said that “this generation” applied to 1948 and Israel (we are now 63 years later, when does a generation end?). Chuck Smith said the end was probably going to be in 1981…or maybe 1986.

After the Cold War ended with no Russian invasion in sight, there was a bit of a lull as some looked to China as the new possible beast from the East. Then we had 9/11 and the premillenial world went crazy over Islam. Surely Islam would usher in the end by invading Israel.

In some ways, premillenialism cannot ever be proven wrong. You can show people all of these past wrong predictions and they will blow it off as men’s opinions. Dates change, the Antichrist changes, new events are constantly discovered within the same old passages, and the end still does not come. But people love to think that our generation is the most important one, and that things like this have never occurred before. Well, they have. Many of the Biblical texts point to AD 70 and the destruction of the old world. No more Temple, no more Law, no more Jews (their religion was ended at the Cross and there is no more Temple worship that wouldn’t be an insult to God). Read this book and learn a thing or two. God’s kingdom will continue to spread from the River to the ends of the earth, like a mustard seed that grows into a great tree.

Hagarism: Sources 1

Patricia Crone and Michael Cook wrote a book called Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World. The book posits a very different origin for Islam than the one we usually read about. They question the existence of the historical Muhammad and the origins of the Qur’an.

This book is vociferously hated in Islamic circles from what I can tell. I see it denounced and ridiculed, but I have yet to see anything that actually refutes it in terms of dealing with its claims and sources one by one. Crone herself has said that she no longer holds to the central thesis of Part I of the book {she has not refuted the entire thing}. That said, I want to list some of her sources for public consumption.

Her first claim is that the prophet of “Hagarism” came preaching Judaic messianism. Her is her text, interspersed with her endnotes and sources:

If we choose to start again, we begin with the Doctrina Iacobi, a Greek anti Jewish tract spawned by the Heracelan persecution.

N. Bonwetsch (ed.), Doctrina Iacobi nuper baptizati, in Abhandlungen der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften ‘zu Göttingen, Philologisch-historische Klasse, n.s., vol. xii, Berlin 1910.

It is cast in the form of a dialogue between Jews set in Carthage in the year 634; it was in all probability written in Palestine within a few years of that date.

See F. Nau, ‘La Didascalie de Jacob‘, in R. Graffin and F. Nau (eds.), Patrologia Orientalis, Paris 1903-, vol. viii, pp. 715f. The lack of hindsight in respect of the outcome of the Arab invasion would suggest that Nau’s date of 640 is certainly too late.

At one point in the argument reference is made to current events in Palestine in the form of a letter from a certain Abraham, a Palestinian Jew.

Doctrina, pp. 86f

A false prophet has appeared among the Saracens … They say that the prophet has appeared coming with the Saracens, and is proclaiming the advent of the anointed one who is to come[tou erkhomenou Eleimmenou kai Khristou]. I, Abraham, went off to Sykamina and referred the matter to an old man very well versed in the Scriptures. I asked him: ‘What is your view, master and teacher, of the prophet who has appeared among the Saracens?’ He replied, groaning mightily: ‘He is an impostor. Do the prophets come with sword and chariot? Truly these happenings today are works of disorder … But you go off, Master Abraham, and find out about the prophet who has appeared.’ So Abraham, made enquiries, and was told by those who had met him: ‘There is no truth to be found in the so-called prophet, only bloodshed; for he says he has the keys of paradise, which is incredible.’

There are several points of interest in this account. One is the doctrine of the keys. It is not of course Islamic, but there are some slight indications that it was a doctrine which the Islamic tradition had been at pains to repress: there is a group of traditions in which the keys of paradise are sublimated into harmless metaphor, and a Byzantine oath of abjuration of Islam mentions the belief that the Prophet was to hold the keys of paradise as part of the ‘secret’ doctrine of the Saracens.

See A. J. Wensinck et al., Concordance et indices de la tradition musulmane, Leyden 1933- 69, s.v. miftah, where the key(s) of paradise are prayer and the shahada.

‘I anathematise the secret doctrine of the Saracens and promise of Muhamed that he would become the gatekeeper (kleidoukhos) of paradise .. .’ (E. Montet, ‘Un rituel d’abjuration des Musulmans dans l’eglise grecque‘, Revue de l’histoire des religions 1906, p. 1 5 I). The oath seems to be a ninth-century compilation of heterogeneous materials.

The point is not of great intrinsic interest, but it does suggest that we have in the Doctrina a stratum of belief older than the Islamic tradition itself. Of greater historical significance is the fact that the Prophet is represented as alive at the time of the conquest of Palestine. This testimony is of course irreconcilable with the Islamic account of the Prophet’s career, but it finds independent confirmation in the historical traditions of the Jacobites, Nestorians and Samaritans;
The earliest confirmation is that of the ‘Continuatio Byzantia Arabica‘, which preserves in Latin translation a Syrian chronicle dating from early in the reign of Hisham (see below, p. 179, n. 9) and presumably of Melchite or Jacobite origin: according to this source, the Saracens invaded the provinces of Syria, Arabia and Mesopotamia while under the rule of Mahmet (T. Mommsen (ed. ), Chronica Minora, vol. ii ( = Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi, vol. xi), Berlin 1894, p. 337). Otherwise the most important testimony on the Jacobite side is the archaic account of the origins of Islam preserved by Michael the Syrian (J.-B. Chabot (ed. and tr.), Chronique de Michelle Syrien, Paris 1899-1910, vol. iv, p. 405 = vol. ii, pp. 403f); to this maybe added an anonymous Syriac chronicle of the later eighth century (I. Guidi et al., Chronica Minora (= Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium. Scriptores Syri. third series, vol. iv), Louvain 1903-7. pp. 348 = 274)· On the Nestorian side the belated witness of the Arabic Chronicle of Si’ird is explicit (A. Scher (ed. and tr.). Histoire nestorienne, part two, in Patrologia Orientalis, vol. xiii, p. 601).while a Syriac chronicle probably written in Khazistan in the 670s suggestively slips in a mention of Muhammad as the ruler of the Arabs in the middle of an account of the conquests. (Chronica Minora, pp. 30 = 26; the dating is that of T. Nöldeke, ‘Die von Guidi herausgegebenesyrische Chronik’, Sitzungsberichte der philologischhistorischen Classe der KaiserlichenAkademie der Wissenschaften, vol. cxxviii, Vienna 1893. pp. 2f). On the Samaritan side we have the testimony of a medieval Arabic recension of the tradition (E. Vilmar (ed.), AbulfathiAnnalesSamaritani. Gotha I 865. p. I 8o). The convergence is impressive.

the doctrinal meaning of the discrepancy will be taken up later.

But the really startling thing about the Doctrina is its report that the Prophet was preaching the advent of ‘the anointed one who is to come’. That is to say the core of the Prophet’s message, in the earliest testimony available to us outside the Islamic tradition, appears as Judaic messianism. The idea is hardly a familiar one, but again it is strikingly confirmed by independent evidence.

It also finds a confused reflection in the prominence in Theophanes’ account of the beginnings of Islam of Jews who take Muhammad to be their expected Christ (Chronographia, A.M. 6122).

[end of quotes from Hagarism]

Misreading the Qur’an

A lot of work is being done on what the Qur’an refers to [it is largely incomprehensible without exegesis]. Gabriel Said Reynolds has helpfully summarized some of these developments in this article. Another helpful source is this Wikipedia entry on the Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran. I came across another example of this dependence on the Bible today in an article about the Corpus Coranicum project:

Gerd-R. Puin, a retired professor of Arabic studies at Germany’s Saarland University, has been working for decades on a trove of Korans from a mosque in Yemen — possibly the oldest ones in existence. Because they were primarily memory aids, early Korans were written in a vowel-less “skeleton” language. Deciphering those clusters of consonants requires a sense of what languages and what cultural and religious traditions Mohammed and his earliest followers were borrowing from and reacting against. Much of the wording and imagery of the Koran are borrowed from Christian and Jewish texts, Puin argues. In fact, he says, much of the Koran is incomprehensible unless read alongside those earlier texts. As an example, he points to the term “sakina,” which Muslim scholars have translated as a spirit of calm — Puin argues that it only makes sense as a descendant of the Hebrew term “shekhinah,” which means the presence of God. The more one studies its historical context, Puin argues, the harder it is to resist the sense that the Koran itself was, at least in part, pieced together from parts of other religions.

I would love to see a version of the Qur’an in the future that fully cross-references these notional Christian sources: liturgies, Creeds and the Bible itself. That should be fascinating.

The Qur’an and the Bible

After weeks of waiting I received my copy of Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation by John Wansbrough. This book is not a light read. It needs to be read with a copy of the Qur’an close at hand and it requires flipping to notes and translations at the back of the book all the time. This does not deter me, because many great works have difficult gateways to get through.

Wansbrough is arguing that the Qur’an does not make sense without the Bible as a backdrop. The Qur’an takes many Biblical narratives and turns them into parables. It expects the reader / hearer to know the Biblical story already, or else much of what it says would not make sense. He sees the Biblical motifs of election (not all Israel is Israel) and the remnant in the Qur’an; for example:

And when his Lord tried Abraham with certain commands he fulfilled them. He said: Surely I will make thee a leader of men. (Abraham) said: And of my offspring? My covenant does not include the wrongdoers, said He. (2:124)

He goes on to list many more examples of borrowing and transfer from the Biblical story.