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.


Post I here.

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.


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:

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.