The Impact of Bin Laden

One thing that has always struck me about Osama Bin Laden and the entire crew of 9/11 hijackers is how such a small group could alter world history. We like to tell ourselves that one man can change the world, but almost all the time, that is not true. Even in this case, I suppose we could talk about societal forces, trends, conflicts within modernity, and so on. But at the end of the day, about 20-40 main people managed to attack us and that slaughter led to two wars, massive upheavals in society, billions or trillions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost or maimed.

While most Americans can’t be bothered enough by their religious commitments to get up and go to church on Sunday, Bin Laden took his religion seriously. As Thomas Fleming just wrote, “He sacrificed everything, wealth, social position, reputation, and ultimately his life for the religion in which he believed. Deluded by the evil commandments of a false prophet, he arranged the murder of people he had never met in order to retaliate against a government that oppressed his co-religionists.”

Perhaps it is easier for a small group of people to influence the world for evil, rather than for good. In most cases, it seems like efforts for good occur on a small scale, barely noticeable over time, but producing great long-range results. My hope is that Bin Laden’s attacks on us will in turn open up the entire Muslim world to the spread of the Gospel over time. Certainly, Muslim forces have experienced nothing except defeat, from Chechnya to Iraq.

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.

Nidal Hasan and Secular America

I have written in the past about the coexistence of Islam and Secularism; (here and here for example). According to the Washington Post, Islamic murderer Nidal Hasan gave a presentation to the Army about which the Post says:

Under the “Conclusions” page, Hasan wrote that “Fighting to establish an Islamic State to please God, even by force, is condoned by the Islam,” and that “Muslim Soldiers should not serve in any capacity that renders them at risk to hurting/killing believers unjustly — will vary!”

Yes, will vary.

The Ft. Hood massacre exposes once again the fissures in our society. It is patently obvious that Hasan wanted to inflict death on Americans rather than being forced to go overseas and fight against fellow Muslims. But our corporate, government and educational elites have enforced diversity and tolerance from the top-down for decades now and cannot admit that this level of violence is happening. The reactions to the event are tired and predictable. Expect to see religion blamed in the abstract as a problem, or access to guns, or the wars themselves, not Islam.

A plain reading of the Qur’an reveals that Bin Laden and Hasan are living in closer harmony with the will of Allah revealed in the text than are those Muslims who do not resist the infidels. The response of most in the West is to talk about “Islamism” and “radical Islam” as opposed to the “peaceful” Islam that is the majority view. Clinton, Bush and now Obama engaged in this game. [An aside – where is the ACLU screaming for separation of mosque and state when the President of the USA takes it upon himself to decide which version of Islam is orthodox and which is fringe? In making these pronouncements the leaders of the “free world” are choosing between the different sects of Islam and are acting as official interpreters of which sects are orthodox and which aren’t.]

The official policy of state “neutrality” in religion is a thin veneer of lies that masks the official endorsement of Enlightenment secularism as the de facto philosophy of western nations. There can be peace so long as religion makes no ultimate claims upon the Almighty State and so long as people don’t take religion too seriously. Americans are just fine with religion as long as you don’t get overly serious about God. If you do, at that point you become a fundamentalist, Bible-thumper, nut, or some other pejorative term and you are marginalized.

Any Muslim who gets serious about his religion and reads the Qur’an may resort to violence. God sanctions it and indeed favors it. Christians who take their faith seriously would instead follow the example of Paul who was a model citizen to the point of refusing to flee his Roman captors on two occasions when he could have. BUT, Christians also have absolute truth claims and a body of law that informs how a nation, city or county should run. In this respect we are similar to Muslims or any other religion. Secularism will have none of this. All must be equally powerless and silent in the public sphere, keep your religion to yourself, your church building and your home.

The same folks who bring us Tolerance and Diversity also welcome mass immigration. I believe that their underlying assumption is that such immigration will destroy any chance of Christian hegemony and remake the nation in their weird image. If you think that’s a stretch, you should read this. But what they don’t seem to grasp is that a Muslim America would not have gay marriage and queer courses in college, it would demand submission. Perhaps a miscalculation on their part.

But the way in which they want to change this is to do to the Qur’an what German scholars did to the Bible – that is impose higher criticism on it and deconstruct it. What many people would like to see at the end of this is an Islam that is peaceful, works within the framework of the secularism that upholds America, and has a text that is not trustworthy and does not have to be obeyed.

Time will tell if this approach is successful or not. But Christians should be cautious about cheering these efforts on. The same high-handed approach that wants to neuter Islam also wants to (and has) emasculated Christendom, removing any threat to the State from a modern day Constantine. We have entire schools of thought and churches within Christianity that are FOR the separation of Church and State!

The answer to Muslims who want to kill at the behest of Allah is not more secularism, pornography, drugs and tolerance. The answer for them is to repent and believe on Jesus the Messiah. This is what we should work for and pray for. Hasan’s murders expose the illogical nature of our settled political order and one would hope that people would begin to think seriously about who we are and what we believe as a people. However, we have had plenty of warnings and thus far the elites and their tired ideology show no sign of cracking.

Damascus

An older commentary on Acts that I own points out the following interesting facets of Damascus in Christianity and Islam:

“In the history of religion,” writes Dr. G.A. Smith, “Damascus was the stage of two great crises. She was the scene of the conversion of the first Apostle of Christianity to the Gentiles; she was the first Christian city to be taken by Islam.”

If Damascus was not the oldest, it may at all events be called the most enduring city in the world. According to Josephus, Ant. 1.6, 4 it was founded by Uz, the grandson of Shem, whilst a Moslem tradition makes Eliezer its founder, and Abraham its king (see also Jos., Ant., i.7, 2), Here, too, was the traditional scene of the murder of Abel (Shakespeare, I King Henry VI., i,, 3).

The passage referred to in Shakespeare is:

OF WINCHESTER
Nay, stand thou back, I will not budge a foot:
This be Damascus, be thou cursed Cain,
To slay thy brother Abel, if thou wilt.

Eschatology and Sacred Space in LDS and Islam

Eschatology and Sacred Space in Islam and Mormonism

There are some clear similarities at the structural level between how the two faiths view these subjects; but there are very large differences when closer scrutiny is brought to bear on the doctrinal details. The descent of both faiths from a common basis in the Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity provides some common groundwork. When it comes to eschatology both faiths teach the descent of mankind into evil and darkness prior to the return of Jesus to the earth. Both teach a general resurrection of all people who have ever lived on the face of the earth. Both teach that god will judge every person based on what they have done. Both teach a blessed afterlife for believers and a fiery hell for evildoers.

The LDS view of last things encompasses the Biblical teaching on the subject with much of its own material expanding and adding to this teaching. The burning millennialism of the early LDS leaders may have waned but the church itself carries the name “Latter-day” which is a clear testimony to the prevailing belief amongst Mormons that we are near the end of our present age. The LDS standard works, their canon of scripture, have much to say about the time we live in and what is to be expected in the days preceding the return of Jesus Christ to the earth.

It should be recognized that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the establishment of the LDS church are in themselves notable signs that God is again moving and that the present age is drawing to a close. The Mormon view of history since the first advent of Jesus is that the church quickly fell into great apostasy and stayed in darkness until the nineteenth century. This apostasy is the frequent subject of the prophecies of the Book of Mormon as exemplified by Nephi who writes:

Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark. (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 28.9)

This apostasy through which all branches of the Christian church had fallen into error necessitated what Mormons call the Restoration wherein the Book of Mormon was unearthed and given to Joseph Smith to translate. Joseph Smith also reestablished the true church, along with its priesthood authority. It is worth noting that the LDS Scriptures mince no words telling of the downfall of the apostate church system in the last days. Joseph Smith quotes Jesus as telling the Mormons that “the great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall be cast down by devouring fire,” (Doctrine and Covenants 29.21a).

The standard works include commentary on eschatological passages from the Bible and teachings about the last days unique to Mormon thought. The book of Doctrine and Covenants is LDS Scripture on a par with the Bible and the Book of Mormon and it traces the outline of what is to be expected in the last days. Section 45 has Jesus giving a teaching about the consummation of this age in which he teaches a sequence of “wars and rumors of wars” and other upheavals which seem to run parallel with the unearthing of the Book of Mormon. The coming forth of the Book is described in Biblical phraseology: “a light shall break forth among them that sit in darkness, and it shall be the fullness of my gospel;” (Doctrine and Covenants, 45.28b). The Mormon Jesus goes on to teach that the generation which receives this fullness of the gospel and rejects it will be the one in which the Biblical “times of the Gentiles” shall be fulfilled (Doctrine and Covenants 45.30). In the Book of Moses from the Pearl of Great Price (another part of the standard works) the Lord speaking to Enoch describes the last days as “days of wickedness and vengeance,” (Moses 7.60). Cosmic disturbances are consistently described along with moral evil. When I asked an LDS member to tell me the outline of events leading up to the end of the world he said, “Prophetic events include wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and other natural disasters occurring with increasing regularity, men’s hearts will fail them, unrighteousness will abound, etc.” In tandem with this he mentioned that “…Christ will gather his elect His people (the gathering of Israel).”

Another key development prior to the end is the gathering of Israel to its ancient land including Jerusalem. In Mormon thought this also included the conversion of at least some Native Americans. To Mormons the Native Americans (or at least certain tribes) are the descendants of Jews who fled the kingdom of Judah prior to the exile into Babylon. Their history is narrated in the Book of Mormon and it is believed that they possessed the same gospel that the early church in Palestine did. This American church also descended into spiritual darkness. Their apostasy has left them ignorant of the fact that they are indeed of the seed of Abraham. A key teaching of the LDS standard works is that these descendants of Israel will also be gathered along with Jews from the entire world to their ancient home and will embrace the fullness of the gospel.

The final judgment is a frequent subject in the standard works as well. The wicked will be doomed when it comes, “But behold, the residue of the wicked have I kept in chains of darkness until the judgment of the great day, which shall come at the end of the earth;” (Doctrine and Covenants 38.5). The basic premillenial Christian expectation of the end is taught in the standard works. Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead, and then his people will “reign with me on earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 43.29). As for the wicked, they “shall go away into unquenchable fire,” (Doctrine and Covenants 43.33). The thought of this final judgment is said to strike “the wicked with awful dread and fear” (Jacob 6.13).

NY Islamic Bomb Attack

So even the Times is now forced to cover this story – though it still isn’t drawing as much attention as it should. Apparently our friends in the Religion of Peace were mixing chemicals in Denver, traveling to Pakistan and planning on blowing up who knows what. Another story says that the Feds may be looking for up to 18 of these nice fellows who must have missed our past few Presidents’ words about Islam being a religion of peace.

This would have been a massive attack that would have killed, maimed and caused more economic turmoil at an already fragile time. Where is the President in all of this? Where are the papers?