Categories
Muhammad Polemical Rebuttals

Will the Real “Demon-Possessed” Prophet Please Stand Up?

The following is our partial response to the tirade authored by the belligerent Christian missionary Sam Shamoun, to be found here. This article will clearly establish Prophet Muhammad(P) as the true Prophet, insha’Allah. In the forthcoming papers, we will provide a detailed critique of the shoddy polemics of the missionary, together with a detailed examination of his false prophet Paul.

Magic Effect On The Prophet

Although we will address this polemic in detail in the subsequent papers, let us make one thing clear: Having magic worked upon a person does not make that person “demon-possessed”. There is no doubt that Christian missionaries like Sam Shamoun can only insult and malign Islam because they do not have a valid argument against it. But it is important for all Muslims reading this article to refrain from “returning fire” and insult the religion of Christianity, or making insulting caricatures of any of the characters in the Bible, despite the fact, that there are several stories in the Bible, which people can make hilarious parodies about. This is very important. And this is exactly what Answering Islam wants Muslims to do, so they can say, “There, look! See I told you, that’s how Muslims are!”.

Of course, there are several atheist websites which completely mocks Jesus(P) and create gross caricatures about him, but we will not link to them. Instead, we will respond with sound irrefutable arguments and dismantle the missionary’s deception, God willing.

The type of attacks the missionary has levelled against the Prophet(P) is not new. Rather, we read in history, that smutty Christians the likes of Shamoun have a long and horrific track record of accusing innocent people of being demon-possessed. One of the most blatant examples was the infamous Salem Witch Trials, in which dozens of innocent people were accused of being witches and demon-possessed and then executed by pious Christians. The Puritans who conducted these inquisitions concocted their own personal criteria on who was a “witch” or “demon-possessed”, and then made it the law.

This neo-puritan Sam Shamoun, does exactly the same thing with Prophet Muhammad(P). Nevertheless, Sam Shamoun is not fooling anyone, as many of his fellow Christians who have left his faith, have made a parody in which they expose this type of ignorant behaviour, in which Shamoun is engaged in.

There is not a single shred of evidence which would indicate that if a person has magic worked on him, he is “demon-possessed”, as Shamoun fantasizes. For the Muslim, the story of magic only increases his faith in Islam, because this shows how the forces of evil tried so desperately to attack the Prophet(P), yet, Prophet Muhammad(P) had unwavering faith, and by the help of God, they were defeated and sent into retreat, humiliated. Shamoun simply took this story and made his own disgusting caricature, based on meaningless unproven criteria such as the Bible. We will at a later time, address each and every one of his arguments point by point.

As you will soon see if we take the missionary?s phoney criteria, and apply it to the Jesus of the Bible, you will see that Jesus Christ was 1000 times more demon-possessed and evil than anyone, and the missionary will be forced to admit that his lord and saviour, was actually a “demon”. So do Jesus a favour, and refrain from such insults, which can easily be turned around against him.

Jesus Was Demon-Possessed

Let us ask a question: if you were walking home one day, and out of nowhere, Satan appeared to you, and said, “Come here and follow me, I want to take you somewhere”, would you go? Any true believer in God will immediately rebuke Satan right then and there, and shout NEVER! GO TO HELL SATAN! STAY AWAY FROM ME! Perhaps, they may even pick up a baseball bat and start swinging till the evil spirit runs away. Or run for their lives in the opposite direction.

But not the Jesus of the Bible. Shockingly, the Bible teaches in Mathew 4:5-8 that the devil appeared to Jesus, and asked him to go (mountain-climbing) with him, and instead of striking out against Satan right then and there, Jesus actually accepted Satan’s invitation, and together, Satan and Jesus went mountain climbing. Here are the verses in question, or better put, Christianity’s Satanic verses, Matthew ch. 4 vs. 8:

4:5

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple,

4:6

and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give his angels charge of you,’ and ‘On their hands, they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”

4:7

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'”

4:8

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them;

The Bible does not say that there was any kind of fight or resistance on the part of Jesus when Satan appeared to him and invited him to follow him, therefore, we will have to assume that Jesus went willingly. Therefore, we see from this outrageous story in the Bible, that Jesus was clearly “demon-possessed”, so much to the point, that he took Satan as a comrade (wali) and a travelling partner. In addition to that, it is clear, that Jesus was NOT sinless. Answering the call of Satan, is a sin. This is simply an irreconcilable contradiction. This story is much worse according to Shamoun’s standards than simply having magic worked on a person, and then later God defeating those agents. Please keep in mind, that Muslims firmly believe in Jesus(P), but we do not believe in the man-made stories about Jesus(P) that we read in the New Testament.

It gets worse as Jesus was allegedly also suicidal. Jesus openly admits that he committed suicide on the cross in John 10:17-18:

10:17

For this reason, the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again.

10:18

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.”

A psychological analysis reveals that Jesus harboured suicidal tendencies. He saw the moral injustice and strife of the world he lived in, and felt that if he killed himself, he would benefit the world. Perhaps, he suffered from depression. Rather than jumping off a cliff, or slashing his wrists, or leaping in front a heard of roman chariots, he devised an elaborate plan of crucifixion, one which would be an appeal to gain the sympathy of others. and finally, in the end, Jesus committed suicide.

Will the Real “Demon-Possessed Prophet” Please Stand Up?

Let us move away from these “Salem Witch trial”-type inquisitions, in which Shamoun creates artificial criteria solely based upon his personal whims and blind Biblical indoctrination. Despite his 50+ pages of irrelevant and incoherent ranting, the missionary has not proved a thing. Instead, his article is a laughably desperate attempt to export his own personal prejudices to his readers. Although, you will find that the matter is quite simple.

We would like to raise the question, why would we indulge in such personal opinions, and baseless, subjective evidence when, OBJECTIVE VERIFIABLE EVIDENCE EXISTS? If such evidence did exist for Christianity, we are sure we would have seen it by now. But, let us assure you, that no such evidence exists for the Christian faith, and Shamoun’s 50+ page sham monster paper is proof of that. And that is a direct challenge.

Yes, we said objectively verifiable evidence. Therefore, the question begs, does such evidence exist for Islam? The answer is YES. And it will be clear, and undeniable.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, lets move on to the objective clear and concise evidence. But first, let’s remove these meaningless and dubious labels like “demon-possessed” and replace it with something more meaningful and less insidious, like “false prophet”. As it has been demonstrated in the following article, Christianity rests upon the truth claim of an alleged “prophet” who came after Jesus, Paul.

Let us now examine the religion of Paul and the religion of Prophet Muhammad(P) and we will see if these religions have the foresight of addressing the problems of today’s society, or do they lead to destruction. Before we begin, we would encourage everyone to read and understand the following article.

Our society is literally being eaten alive by these terrible vices of drugs like cocaine, marijuana, heroin etc. There is no need to go into detail at all of the destructive nature of these drugs, and the terrible toll it has taken on our youth and society. That is a given. We believe both Muslims and Christians, agree that these drugs, are the vices of Satan, and lead to destruction. Therefore, we need to ask: What do these two religions say about using drugs like cocaine, marijuana, heroin, ecstasy. etc?

As we have seen from the article and Ahmed-Slick debate, Paul’s religion (Christianity) allows for drug abuse such as cocaine, marijuana and heroin. There is no condemnation of these drugs at all.

Yet Prophet Muhammad(P)‘s Islam, unlike Paul’s Christianity, has completely forbidden all illicit forms of drug abuse. How can a false religion, or as the missionary puts it, a “demon-possessed” religion, condemn one of the evilest and luring poisons of Satan, his pride and joy, all the while God’s supposedly-true religion, Christianity, allows it?

That is the most asinine, lame-brained and monstrous statement anyone can make!

Therefore, the matter is crystal clear according to the evidence, as to who is the false prophet. That false prophet is none other than Paul. And the true Prophet is Muhammad.

There is no need to go further, but let us bring up a few more points. As we have seen from the debate and the article, Paul’s Christianity allows women and men to wear whatever they want, it is completely based upon the individual’s subjective taste. Prophet Muhammad(P)‘s Islam, of course, has a clear dress code which aids in preventing lewdness.

Paul’s Christianity allows men and woman to engage in all kinds of sexual behaviours except intercourse, Prophet Muhammad(P)‘s Islam forbids all sexual or non-sexual contact till marriage.

Here is thus the lifestyle which is promoted by Paul’s Christianity:

Men and woman walking around in tight fitted, skimpy outfits exposing much of their parts like that of Britney Spears, her style of dancing is also completely allowed, each one engaged in flirting and indiscreetly seducing each other (there is no condemnation in the Bible for any of this), and not only that, but engaging in several if not all sexual acts except for sexual intercourse, engaging in “mashing”, and all the free cocaine, heroin and marijuana that they desire. Please keep in mind, all of this behaviour as mentioned above, completely falls within the guidelines of Biblical moral conduct. No wonder we have a screwed up society.

Islam clearly forbids this destructive lifestyle. The reason why we used the word promotes instead of allows, is because, it is the nature for the average human being seeks the path of least resistance, although not all. If two ways are presented before the average human, he is going to pick the apparently easier path. Therefore, the average Christian would like to live within the guidelines of Biblical morality, and not create any “extra work” for themselves.

Christianity as compared to Islam appears to some much more attractive, due to the moral “freedom” which it offers. In many Muslim-Christian marriages, oftentimes the children chose to become part of Paul’s Christianity because they desperately desire to be on the cheerleading team at school, engage in dating, experiment with different types of sexual contact, drinking, drugs, wearing “Britney Spears”-type of dressing, nude or erotic dancing, all of which is well within the guidelines of Paul’s Christianity. Prophet Muhammad’s(P) Islam, on the other hand, crashes the party and sends everyone home.

It is said that many of these children at that age are not mature enough to see that they are being lured by the false apostle Paul, may Allah save us from this wickedness. This is because the “freedom”, which Paul’s Christianity offers, is a major marketing tool for his religion. You know the saying, “there is always free cheese in the mousetrap”.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we have spared Sam Shamoun’s prophet from derogatory terms such as “demon-possessed”. The truth has no need for such antics.

In addition to that, we want to extend this invitation to leave Paul’s religion and come to the truth of Islam.

Accept the truth of Islam, before it is too late. Come to Islam!

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Will the Real “Demon-Possessed” Prophet Please Stand Up?," in Bismika Allahuma, September 20, 2005, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/muhammad/demon-possessed-prophet/
Categories
Op-Ed

Islam and Co-Existence

Author’s note: The Interfaith Coalition of Nashville organized this year’s interfaith conference in the Vanderbilt University, Nashville, USA. Judaism was represented by Dr. Donna Whitney, Christianity by Dr. Tom Davis, Hinduism by Dr. Howard J. Resnick (HD Goswami), and Buddhism by Professor Win Myint. I represented Islam. The conference was opened by Dr. Jawaid Ahsan. Dr. Charles Hembrick, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Vanderbilt University, moderated the conference.

Introduction

It is not easy to discuss about a religion that is not only the least understood of all major religions but is now considered to be on a collision course with the rest of the world. The offensive cartoon controversy has only heightened the mistrust and seemed to embolden those who have been selling the poisonous pill of “clash of civilizations”. There is no denying that 9/11 has provided bigots, racists, and self-proclaiming “experts” and “think tanks” to define Islam in ways that only unmask their level of hatred and bigotry. The “Islam” they define is simply unknown to my people.

Yet the hard fact is there are Muslims who come in different shades and colors, orientations or mindsets. Not all are saints nor are all mujahids in being able to control their lower instincts of anger, passion and ego. So we have the Zarqawis today as much as we had the Hashishyyin that had terrorized the Muslim world in the 12th and 13th centuries. And then there are those who believe that their suicidal attacks would set others free.

As the specter of violence has become a fact of life today, the temptation is too great to condemn an entire religious tradition for the senseless or desperate actions of a few. But that would be wrong. If we cannot condemn all faiths for the crimes of their adherents, we simply cannot have a different set of standards for Muslims. For example, if we cannot condemn Christianity for colonization and massacre of unarmed civilians across the globe during the last two millennia, including the massacre in Jonestown (Guyana) and Waco (USA), killings in Ireland, Uganda, Haiti and Liberia, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Daghestan, Nagorno Karabach and Mindanao Islands (in the Philippines), and genocides in Congo, Rwanda, and in today?s Afghanistan and Iraq; if we cannot condemn Judaism for the crimes of Baruch Goldstein or Rabbi Meir Kahane?s group, or the war crimes of Israeli leaders ? Sharon, Olmert, Netanyahu and others – in Occupied Palestine and Lebanon; if we cannot condemn Hinduism for the murder of MK Gandhi, and massacre of thousands of Muslims in Kashmir, Mumbai, Assam and Gujarat, and the killings of Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka; if we cannot condemn Buddhism for the killing fields in Cambodia, or the massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Arakan (Myanmar), or the killings of Tamils in Sri Lanka and Muslim minorities in Thailand ? we simply have no right to condemn Islam for 9/11.

If a Muslim youth today appears to be frustrated and angry it is not because of the theology of Islam but due to his apparent inability as a human being to comprehend and/or tolerate monumental hypocrisy and double standards that he sees, plus the mistreatment of his fellow brethren as third-class citizens of this planet. From one continent to another, he sees how his fellow human beings are massacred, maimed and mutilated; how colossal abuses of human rights are routinely carried out against them. And yet there are none, not even their own leaders in the post-colonial nation-states, who speak and take action for them. It is a sad and humiliating experience for them.

Background information on Islam

The entire history of mankind has been a class struggle between the forces of light and darkness, good and bad, truth and falsehood. The forces of goodness have struggled to bring about an ideal society that is just and balanced both inwardly and outwardly. Unfortunately, more often than not humanity has failed to find that equilibrium, balance and harmony between the outward and the inward, the external and the internal. The ideal that Islam has been seeking for the past fourteen centuries is also a universal one – the establishment of a just society. Truly, in this pursuit, the mission of Muhammad (S), the Prophet of Islam, was very similar to those of all the prophets and sages that came before him.

Islam came as a guiding light into a dark world ? a world that needed a lightning bolt to wake up from its deep slumber. It came in an age of truth-defying Ignorance when the worship of one True God from China and Japan in the East to Morocco and Iceland in the West was replaced by worship of myriads of demigods. There were false notions of superiority and egotism on the basis of race, color, tribe and ethnicity. Islam came to a nation that boasted of its depth of corruption and debauchery in social and moral issues. Historically, Islam came after the fall of the Roman Empire and the collapse of the ?dark ages.? In the nearby Persian Empire, there was a lot of political bickering for power and in far-away Roman Empire, there were signs of decadence everywhere, and in Arabia, the land that was supposed to reshape the destiny of mankind, its people were devoid of compassion and moral values.

But it was in Arabia, at the confluence of the three great continents of Asia, Africa and Europe, that Muhammad (S) – the Prophet of Islam, a Meccan from the illustrious family of the Quraysh, a descendant of the Babylonian Abraham, and the Egyptian Hagar – was born in 570 CE (or 53 BH of the Muslim calendar). And here it was that the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad (S) in Arabic when he was 40 years old (in 13 BH). Coming into a world that was stained by corruption and disintegration, Islam provided a unique pattern that was unknown in the entire history of man?kind. Islam provided three basic elements — faith in one God (Allah), reform of self and reform of the society at large. Islam remained as a religious commitment, a socio-economic-political program, but above all a vehicle for the “continuous reform” of the society.

The subject I want to discuss here is: what does Islam say about peaceful co-existence with peoples of other faiths? Does Islam believe in diversity, multi-culture and pluralism? The answer to all these questions is an emphatic yes.

In what follows, I shall quote from the Qur’an to support my claim.

Islam rejects racism and preaches alternative criteria for God’s people:

Islam rejects the notion that God is biased or partial to a particular race or tribe, and that His Mercy is locked up to a certain group. Allah says, “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes so that you may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.”1

With such profound statements in the Qur?an, Islam was able to wipe out age-old ethnocentric notions of superficial superiority and exclusive nobleness of mankind. Challenging the claims of the egocentric people who claimed that none shall enter paradise unless he belongs to their race and ethnicity, the Qur?an says, “Bring your proof if you are truthful.”2 As to the true criteria for such a qualification, the Qur?an proclaims, “Nay, but whosoever submits himself to Allah and he is a doer of good, for him there shall be his reward with his Lord, on such shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.”3

Islam preaches unity of mankind:

The Qur’an repeatedly emphasizes the unity of mankind, i.e., they come from the same parents: “Mankind were but one community; then they differed?”4

Prophet Muhammad (S) in his farewell Hajj sermon delivered on the 9th day of Dhul-Hijjah, 10 A.H. in the ‘Uranah valley of Mount Arafat in Makkah, said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”

No monopoly in God’s message:

The Qur’an says, “And there is not a nation but a warner has passed among them.”5) That is, Allah, in His infinite wisdom, has sent prophets and messengers to all the nations for their guidance.6

The call of the Qur’an is a call to unity of belief: “He has laid down for you the religion which He enjoined upon Noah, and which We revealed to you, and which We enjoined upon Abraham, Moses and Jesus: Establish the religion, and be not divided therein.”7

Further: “Lo! This, your religion, is one religion, and I am your Lord, so worship Me. And they have broken their religion among them, (yet) all are returning unto Us.”8

Islam presents itself as a way to reconcile the differences between Jews and Christians. The compromise offered by Islam affirms common elements between Judaism and Christianity, and accepts Moses and Jesus Christ (AS) as two of the greatest prophets of all time, sent for guidance of humanity. Islam accepts the virgin birth of Jesus and considers both Mary and Jesus (AS) as chaste and pious, but rejects Trinity. To accept only some of the prophets to the exclusion of others is to fail to heed the divine call: “Verily those who deny God and His apostles and desire that they differentiate between God and His apostles and say ‘We believe in some and we deny, some,’ and intend to take a course between this (and that), these are the infidels, truly, and We have prepared for the infidels a disgraceful torment.”9

To have faith and to be a faithful is to believe and put one’s beliefs into action. The Qur?an says: “It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, righteousness is rather one who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book, the apostles, and gives his wealth out of love for Him to the kindred and the orphans and the poor and tire wayfarer and the needy and for those in bondage, and established prayer and pays zakat and those who fulfill their promise when they make a promise and the patient ones in distress and affliction and in the time of war. These are they who are the Truthful and these are they who are the pious.”10

The Qur’an epitomizes the concept of plurality when it proclaims: “Verily We sent down the Torah in which there is guidance and light…”11

“And We caused Jesus son of Mary to follow in their footsteps confirming the Torah which was before him and We gave him the Evangel in which was guidance and light…”12

“Verily, those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabeans, whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there shall be no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.”13

Islam abhors coercion and intolerance

Islam does not believe in coercion and intolerance, as is clear from the Qur’anic verse 2:256 ?la ikraha fid-din? (meaning: there is no compulsion in religion). Belief or faith is a thing that people must choose for themselves. That is why Allah has not forced anyone to be a true believer and has given him the free will to choose between various options. The Qur?an says: “Say: ‘The truth is from your Lord’: Let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject (it).?14 Religious aggressors are threatened with a “humiliation” in this world and a “mighty chastisement”15 in the Hereafter. Churches, monasteries, synagogues and mosques, according to the Qur’an, are all places of worship.16 The Qur’an categorically says, “To you be your religion, to me my religion.”17

The Prophet Muhammad(P) was repeatedly told not to feel bad when he was rejected by some people: “And if they deny you, those before them also denied. Their messengers came unto them with clear proofs, and with Psalms and the Scripture giving light.”18 Muhammad?s (S) duty was only to convey the message: “If then they turn away, We have not sent you (Muhammad) as a guard over them. Your duty is only to convey (the message)?”19 In another place, likewise, the Qur?an says, “And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord, so whosoever wants let him believe and whosoever wants let him deny.'”20

All these verses make it clear that there is no room for coercion or compulsion in matters of faith.

Islam welcomes diversity in matters of faith

Islam teaches that human diversity is a sign of God’s mercy and a portent for men of knowledge: “And of His (God’s) signs are the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors.”21

The Qur’an accepts the reality of difference and diversity within humanity. It gives the impression that diversity is part of the divine plan: “If the Lord had willed, He would have made mankind into a single nation?”22

The Qur’an recognizes the legitimate multiplicity of religious convictions and laws, as can be seen from the verse: “To each of you God has prescribed a Law and a Way. If God would have willed, He would have made you a single people. But God?s purpose is to test you in what He has given each of you, so strive in the pursuit of virtue, and know that you will all return to God, and He will resolve all the matters in which you disagree.”23

Muslims are therefore told to proclaim: “Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the Prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered (as Muslims).”24

It is because of such lofty notions of diversity and tolerance that the Islamic civilization was pluralistic and unusually tolerant of various social and religious denominations, something that was simply unthinkable elsewhere in the middle ages. Jewish historians testify to the fact that, had it not been for the protection and tutelage provided by Muslim rulers, Jews could not have survived in the Middle Ages. It was all too natural for European Jewry to find refuge among Muslims in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire when Christian Europe was resorting to inquisition, pogroms and holocaust to exterminate them. Muslim rulers never interfered with the religion of their subjects either. There was never anything like the inquisition or the fires of Smithfield. Thus a number of small Christian sects, regarded as heretical by the larger sects, which would inevitably have been exterminated if left to the mercies of the larger sects whose power prevailed in Christendom, were protected and preserved by the power of Islam. Even to this very day, there are groups like the Mountain Jews, Yazidis and Sabaeans (Sabians) that are surviving with their culture and religion intact.

Today we stand on the carcass of religion. Many religious leaders have become the vultures who devour our corpse. They breed hatred and intolerance. And then there are the secular fundamentalists who would only have it their way.

Naturally, there is a debate today what is worse: a secular fundamentalist or a religious fanatic? In my opinion, both are bad. As much as the former needs to respect religious sensibility of others, the latter needs to inculcate God-consciousness that helps him to tolerate other human beings for “if your Lord willed, all on the earth would have believed, in total; will you then compel them to believe?”25 It was that easy for Him.

Concluding remarks

While ignorance is bliss, little knowledge is dangerous. Nearly 70 years ago, Marmaduke Pickthall, the English poet and translator of the Qur’an said:

“If Europe had known as much of Islam, as Muslims knew of Christendom in those days [of the Crusades] those mad, adventurous, occasionally chivalrous and heroic, but utterly fanatical outbreak known as the Crusades could not have taken place, for they were based on a complete misapprehension.”26

I wish I could say that situation has improved in this age of information super-highways. Alas, it has not! My hope is that inter-faith programs like this would help peace-loving people of this planet to come together to fight and oppose bigotry and intolerance in whatever shade they come.

Dr. Habib Siddiqui delivered this speech at the Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN on March 11, 2006. Apparently it had attracted the attention of a rabid Christian missionary who offered a response to it. The rebuttal to that Christian response is here.
Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Islam and Co-Existence," in Bismika Allahuma, March 17, 2006, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/op-ed/islam-and-co-existence/
  1. Qur’an 49:13 []
  2. Qur?an, 2:111 []
  3. Qur?an, 2:112 []
  4. Qur’an 10:19 []
  5. Qur?an 35:24 []
  6. See also Qur’an 2:213 and 10:37 []
  7. Qur’an, 42:13 []
  8. Qur’an 21:92-93 []
  9. Qur’an, 4:150-151 []
  10. Qur?an, 2:177 []
  11. Qur’an, 5:44 []
  12. Qur’an 5:46 []
  13. Qur’an, 2: 62 []
  14. Qur’an 18:29 []
  15. Qur’an 2:114 []
  16. Qur’an 22: 40 []
  17. 109:6 []
  18. Qur?an 35:25 []
  19. Qur’an 42:48 []
  20. Qur’an 18:29 []
  21. Qur’an 30:22 []
  22. Qur’an 11:118 []
  23. Qur’an 5:49 []
  24. Qur’an 2:136 []
  25. Qur’an 10:99 []
  26. Marmaduke Pickthall, Madras Lectures on Islam (1927) []
Categories
Christianity History Islam

Hans Kung’s Theological Rubicon

Taken from Leonard Swidler, ed., Toward a Universal Theology of Religion (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987), pp. 224-230.

Editor’s Note: This is a useful paper unlike any that we have published before, in the sense that it analyzes Kung’s earlier statement on the Prophet Muhammad(P)more objectively and in an unbiased manner (unlike a certain group of Christian missionaries who have expressed disdain on Prof. Kung’s statement!) and gives several reasons for the Christian dilemma in their hesitation to recognise the Prophet Muhammad(P) as being “more than merely a prophet”, as Kung bravely demands. We do not necessarily agree with everything that has been said here, nor will we issue a statement defending what has been said, should the rabid missionaries decide to make an issue out of it.

In Hans Kung’s address to this conference he has once again proven himself a pioneer of inter-religious dialogue. What he has been doing throughout most of his theological career, he was doing again-exploring new territory, raising new questions in the encounter of Christianity with other religions. Although Kung made his greatest contribution in the inner-Christian, ecclesial arena, he has always realized-and increasingly so in more recent years-that Christian theology must be done in view of, and in dialogue with, other religions. As he has said, Christians must show an increasingly “greater broad-mindedness and openness” to other faiths and learn to “reread their own history of theological thought and faith” in view of other traditions. As a long-time reader of Kung’s writings, and as a participant with him in a Buddhist-Christian conference in Hawaii, January 1984, I have witnessed how much his own broad-mindedness and openness to other religions has grown. He has been changed in the dialogue.

Yet I suspect — and this is the point I want to pursue in this response — that in his exploration of other faiths Kung’s pioneer has recently broken into unsuspected territory and stands before new paths. He has been led where he did not intend to go. I think Kung in his dialogue with other religions, now finds himself before a theological Rubicon he has not crossed, one that he perhaps does not feel he can cross. I am not sure. That is what I want to ask him.

In Kung’s previous efforts at a Christian theology of religions, he inveighs against the Christian exclusivism that denies any value to other religions; he rejects an ecclesiocentrism that confines all contact with the Divine to the church’s backyard. Yet despite this call to greater openness, it seems to some that Kungs on to a subtle, camouflaged narrowness Even though he proposes that we replace ecclesiocentrism with theocentrism, he still adheres to a Christocentrism that insists on Jesus Christ as “normative” (massgebend) — that is, as “ultimately decisive, definitive, archetypal for humanity’s relations with God.”1 Because Christ is normative for all other religions, Kung ends up by replacing Christian exclusivism with a Christian inclusivism that recognizes the value of other religions but insists that this value must be fulfilled, “critically catalyzed”, and find “full realization in Christianity”. “That God may not remain for them [non-Christians] the unknown God, there is needed the Christian proclamation and mission announcing Jesus.”2 Jesus and Christianity remain for all other religions the final norm, the only real fulfillment.

This is what Kung oposed in On Being a Christian. From recent conversations and from his conference paper, I think that he is now not so sure about these earlier christocentric, inclusivist claims that insist on Jesus as the final norm for all. I suspect that, like many Christians today, he stands before a theological Rubicon. To cross it means to recognize clearly, unambiguously, the possibility that other religions exercise a role in salvation history that is not only valuable and salvific but perhaps equal to that of Christianity; it is to affirm that there may be other saviors and revealers besides Jesus Christ and equal to Jesus Christ. It is to admit that if other religions must be fulfilled in Christianity, Christianity must, just as well, find fulfillment in them.

From my reading of his paper, I see Kung standing at this Rubicon, at river’s edge, but hesitating to cross. Let me try to explain.

Muhammad, More Than a Prophet?

In his efforts to urge Christians to recognize Muhammad as an authentic prophet, Kung can only be applauded. Most Christian theologians in dialogue with Muslims hesitate to dare such an admission.3 But in recognizing Muhammad as a prophet, Kung seems to me, is implicitly affirming Muhammad as “more than a prophet” — that is, as a religious figure who carries out a role analogous to that of Jesus Christ.

Kung admits that as a prophet Muhammad is “more to those who follow him…than a prophet is to us.” He is a “model”, an archetype, for all Muslims — he through whom God “has spoken to humankind.” Such an understanding of Muhammad, however, is essentially the same as that of the early Jewish christology that was lost and that Kung seeks to retrieve. This early christology, this picture of Jesus — as viewed by his first disciples — which, as much as we can tell, most likely reflects Jesus’ own view of himself — saw Jesus as a prophet, as the eschatological prophet, as he who was so close to God that he could speak for God, represent God, mediate God. But this is basically the same description of Muhammad’s role. Therefore, in its origins, the Christian view of Jesus was essentially the same as the Muslim view of Muhammad: they were both unique revealers, spokespersons for God, prophets.

Kung’s own christology enables Christians to go even further in affirming analogous roles for Muhammad and Jesus. Kung recognizes the truth and validity of the Chalcedon Hellenistic christology, with its stress on two natures, one person, pre-existence. Yet in his own christology as presented in On Being a Christian, in his own efforts to interpret what it means to call Jesus Son of God and savior, Kung relies what is much more of an early Jewish-Christian, rather than a Hellenistic, model.

To proclaim Jesus as divine, as the incarnate Son of God, means, Kung tells us, that for Christians Jesus is God’s “representative”, “the real revelation of the one true God,” God’s “advocate…deputy…delegate…plenipotentiary.”4 But, again, this is basically the same role that Muhammad fulfills for his followers. Therefore, from a Christian perspective, Muslims in speaking about Muhammad as “the seal of the prophets” and Christians in speaking about Jesus as “son of God” are trying to make essentially the same claim about both figures. I think, therefore, that Kung should agree with Kenneth Cragg’s argument that the Islamic notion of prophethood and the Christian notion of incarnation, from very different perspectives and with very different images, are saying the same thing: that their founders were closely “associated” with God and were “sent” by God, and are utterly reliable revelations of God.5

So I think that Kung might go a further, logical step in what he can say about Muhammad. He points out that if Jesus is understood according to the model of early Jewish Christianity as God’s messenger and revelation, Muslims would be more able to grasp and accept this Jesus. I am suggesting that if Jesus is so understood, then Christians would be more able to accept Muhammad and recognize that in God’s plan of salvation, he carries out a role analogous to that of Jesus. If, following Kung’s keen insights and suggestions, Muslims might be able to recognize Jesus as a genuine prophet. Christians might be able to recognize Muhammad as truly a “son of God”. (And if the title “son of God” is understood, as Kung commends, not so much as God’s “ontological” son but as God’s reliable representative and revelation, perhaps Muslims would be more comfortable in using this title for Muhammad.)

But for Christians, for Prof. Kung to make this move, to recognize the parity of Jesus and Muhammad’s missions, would be to step across a theological Rubicon (as it would be for Muslims as well!). I’m not sure if Kung feels willing or able to make this step. I think I can put my finger on the chief reason for his hesitation.

How Is Jesus Unique?

The chief stumbling block in Christian dialogue with Islam is not, as Kung suggests, “the person of Jesus and his relationship with God.” In his paper Kung has convinced me that Jesus’ person and relationship with God can be so understood as to allow for the person of Muhammad to share in this same relationship — in Muslim terminology, both are prophets; in Christian terms, both are sons of God. The problem comes not from the way Kung understands Jesus’ relationship to God, but from the exclusivist adjectives he feels must qualify that relationship: Jesus is not only a prophet but the final, normative prophet; he is not only son of God but the only, the unsurpassable son of God. (Muslims, with their insistence that Muhammad is the seal of the prophets, reflect this same problem. Here I am addressing my fellow Christians.)

This, I suggest, is the pivotal, the most difficult, question in the Christian-Muslim (as well as the Christian Buddhist/Hindu dialogue): Is Jesus the one and only savior? (For Muslims: Is Muhammad the final prophet?) Is Jesus God’s final, normative unsurpassable revelation, which must be the norm and fulfillment for all other revelations, religions, and religious figures?

As I suggested before, Kung in his earlier publications, would answer all these questions with a firm yes. Although all religious figures can be said to be unique, for Kung Jesus’ uniqueness is in a different category; Jesus is God’s normative, ultimate criterion for judging the validity and value of all other revelations. Kung expressly warns against placing Jesus among the “archetypal persons” that Karl Jaspers has identified throughout history; Jesus is ultimately archetypal.6 It is this insistence on Jesus’ absolute, normative uniqueness that keeps Kung from going further in his recognition of the value of other religions. Muhammad may be a prophet; but he cannot be “more than a prophet”, as was Jesus. If other religions are valid, Christianity possesses “absolute validity.”7 If other religions are ways of salvation, they are so “only in a relative sense, not simply as a whole and every sense.”8

If one presses Kung’s most Christian theologians for the central, the foundational, reason why they maintain this absolute, normative uniqueness for Jesus, I think the only real reason they can give is an appeal, perhaps indirect and uncritical, to the authority of tradition or the Bible. This is what scripture affirms of Jesus; this is what tradition has always taught-there is “no other name” by which persons can be saved (Acts 4:12). There is “one Mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Jesus is the “only-begotten Son of God” (John 1:4). True, Kung’s On Being a Christian, attempts to give some empirical verification of this traditional assertion of the superiority of Christ’s revelation. As I have attempted to show elsewhere, however, serious objections can be raised to his claims that without Christ the other religions cannot really adapt their spiritualities to “modernity”, to the demands of our world-affirming technological age. I am not at all certain, as Kung suggests, that without the gospel the other religions are caught in “unhistoricity, circular thinking, fatalism, unworldliness, pessimism, passivity, caste spirit, social disinterestedness.”9 So the chief reason, it seems, for claiming the finality and normativity of Christ over all other religious figures remains the inner-Christian, traditional one: this is what the Bible and tradition have always maintained.

I believe that Kung along with many other Christians, however, is feeling the inadequacy of these traditional claims. I think he is on the brink of suggesting that such claims for the universal finality and normativity of Christ may not be an essential element in the Christian witness to all peoples. Yet, from his conference paper, I am not sure. For instance, when he tells us that “For Christians, Jesus Christ and the Good news he proclaimed are the decisive criteria for faith and conduct, life and death: the definitive Word of God (Heb. 1:1ff.)” and that Christ is “the definitive regulating factor for Christians, for the sake of God and humanity”, is he using the phrase “for Christians” as a restrictive qualifier? Only for Christians? Would he be ready to recognize that for Muslims, Muhammad is “the definitive Word of God”? For Buddhists, Buddha is “the definitive regulating factor”. In such a view, Christians and Muslims and Buddhists would still have to witness to each other. Jesus, Muhammad, and Buddha would all have universal relevance for all peoples. But there would be no one, final, normative revelation for all other revelations. If King is saying this, he is saying something different from what he has said in earlier publications. He has crossed a theological Rubicon. But has he?

Crossing the Rubicon from Inclusivism to Pluralism

I am asking Kung as well as other theologians (e.g., John B. Cobb) — for greater clarity on this “Rubicon question” concerning the uniqueness and finality of Christ. Such clarity is needed by both fellow Christians and non-Christian partners in dialogue. Although Kung echoing Arnold Toynbee, does well to excoriate “the scourge of exclusivism”, is he perhaps unconsciously advocating a more dangerous, because more subtle, scourge of inclusivism? As Leonard Swidler has pointed out, authentic, real “dialogue can take place only between equals…par cum pari.”10 But no matter how much truth and good one recognizes in another religion, if one enters the dialogue convinced that by God’s will the final, normative, unsurpassable truth for all religions resides in one’s own religion, that is not a dialogue between equals. It is, as Henri Maurier attests from years of experience in African interreligious dialogue, a conversation between “the cat and the mouse.”11

It seems to me that an inclusive christology, which views Christ and Christianity as having to include, fulfill, perfect other religions, is really only a shade away from the theory of “anonymous Christianity” so stoutly criticized by Kung the theory of “inclusive Christianity” may not assert that other believers are already Christians without knowing it; but it does affirm that these believers must become Christians in order to share in the fullness of revelation and salvation. Kung has called persons of other religions “Christians in spe” (in hope) who must be made “Christians in re” (in fact).12 It seems to me that Kung’s evaluation of Radhakrishnan’s Hindu tolerance might apply to his own understanding of Christian tolerance: It is “conquest as it were by embrace in so far as it seeks not to exclude but to include all other religions.”13

Does Kung will hold to such an inclusive christology and theology of religions? Does he realize its possible harmful effects on dialogue in the way it implicitly but assuredly subordinates all other religions to Christianity?

My question takes on a sharper focus in Kung concluding that we stop thinking “in terms of alternatives — Jesus or Muhammad” — and start thinking “in terms of synthesis — Jesus and Muhammad, in the sense that Muhammad himself acts as a witness to Jesus.” I am not sure just how Kung does or can understand that “and”. Is it the “and” of equality (like “Son and Spirit”) or the “and” of subordination (like “law and gospel”)? Previously, Kung would have had to come down, I believe, on the side of final subordination insofar as he has insisted that Christ is God’s final norm for all persons of all times. But I am not sure what he would say today.

My final question is more of a personal request. In asking for more clarity, I am really asking Hans Kung to step across the Rubicon. I believe that his own christology, as well as his own doctrine of God, implicitly allows him to do that. I suspect that the press of interreligious dialogue has also made the possibility of crossing more urgent.

Might I also point out that in making the crossing, he would be in good company. Other Christian thinkers have moved from an earlier inclusivist position of viewing Christianity as the necessary fulfillment and norm for all religions, to a more pluralist model that affirms the possibility that other religions may be just as valid and relevant as Christianity. They have admitted that other religious figures, such as Muhammad, may be carrying out, in very different ways, revelatory, salvific roles analogous to that of Jesus Christ. Among such thinkers are not only Ernst Troeltsch and Arnold Toynbee, but also a number of Christian theologians who have more recently shifted from an inclusivist Christocentrism (Christ at the center) to a pluralist theocentrism (God/the Ultimate in the center): Raimundo Panikkar, Stanley Samartha, John Hick, Rosemary Ruether, Tom Driver, Aloysius Pieris.14

Granted Prof. Kung’s respectability and his influence, and given the caution and thoroughness with which he makes all his theological moves, I feel that if he were to cross the Rubicon to a more pluralist theology of religions that does not need to insist on Christ or Christianity as the norm and fulfillment of other religions, he would be, once again, a pioneer leading other Christians to a more open, authentic, and liberative understanding and practice of their faith.

But I ask you, Hans Kung, do you think such a new direction in Christian attitudes toward other religions, such a crossing of the Rubicon, is possible? And would it be productive of greater Christian faith and dialogue?

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "Hans Kung’s Theological Rubicon," in Bismika Allahuma, January 8, 2006, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/christianity/hans-kung-theological-rubicon/
  1. Hans Kung, On Being a Christian (New York: Doubleday, 1976), pp. 123f. []
  2. Ibid., pp. 113, 447 []
  3. See David Kerr, “The Prophet Muhammad in Christian Theological Perspective,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 8 (1984), p. 114 []
  4. Kung, On Being a Christian, pp. 390f., 440, 444, 449 []
  5. Kenneth Cragg, “Islam and Incarnation,” in John Hick, ed., Truth and Dialogue in World Religions: Conflicting Truth-claims (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), pp. 126-139 []
  6. Kung, On Being a Christian, p. 124 []
  7. Ibid., p. 114 []
  8. Ibid., p. 104 []
  9. Ibid., p. 110; see also pp. 106-119; and Paul F. Knitter, “World Religions and the Finality of Christ: A Critique of Hans Kung’s On Being a Christian,” Horizons, 5 (1978), pp. 157, 159 []
  10. Leonard Swidler, ‘The Dialogue Decalogue,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 20/1 (1983), p. 10 []
  11. Henri Maurier, “The Christian Theology of the Non-Christian Religions”, Lumen Vitae, 21 (1976), p 70 []
  12. Hans Kung, “The World Religions in God’s Plan of Salvation,” in Joseph Neuner, ed., Christian Revelation and World Religions (London: Burnes and Oates, 1967), pp. 65f []
  13. Hans Kung, Does God Exist? An Answer for Today (New York: Doubleday, 1980), p. 608 []
  14. Raimundo Panikkar, The Unknown Christ of Hinduism (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, revised edition, 1981); Stanley J. Samartha, Courage for Dialogue: Ecumenical Issues in Inter-religious Relationships (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1982); John Hick, God Has Many Names (London: Macmillan, 1980); Rosemary Ruether, To Change the World – Christology and Cultural Criticism (New York: Crossroad, 1981); Tom Driver, Christ in a Changing World. Toward an Ethical Christology (New York: Crossroad, 1981); Aloysius Pieris, “The Place of Non-Christian Religions and Cultures in the Evolution of Third-World Theology,” in Virginia Fabella and Sergio Torres, eds., Irruption of the Third World. Challenge to Theology (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1983). See also Paul Knitter, No Other Name? (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1984). []
Categories
Islam Op-Ed Polemical Rebuttals

The Myth of “The Myth of Moderate Islam”

Patrick Sookhdeo’s article (July 30, 2005) in London’s The Spectator, “The Myth of a Moderate Islam” reflects a dangerous trend in the war on terror. Under the guise of informing Westerners about Islam, he is in fact spreading the very same disinformation that anti-Islamic polemics have been based upon for over 1,000 years. This plays directly into the hands of Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and others, for it encourages the “clash of civilizations” they so appallingly desire. It is indeed of the utmost importance that we learn more about Islam and fight the scourge of extremism with all the tools possible. But Sookhdeo and those like him corrupt this process, seeking to advance their own agenda by turning the war on terror into an ideological war against Islam.

Muslim Violence

Sookhdeo’s bias is evident from the outset. He argues that terrorists truly represent Islam, writing: “If they say they do it in the name of Islam, we must believe them. Is it not the height of illiberalism and arrogance to deny them the right to define themselves?” The remainder of the essay, however, is an extensive effort to deny other Muslims the right to define themselves by rejecting extremist interpretations of Islam. In fact, less than 5% of Muslims could be classified as fundamentalist in outlook, and of that 5%, less than 0.01% have shown any tendency toward enacting terrorism or “religious violence”. It is thus “the height of illiberalism” to define as terrorists over 1.3 billion Muslims who have nothing to do with “religious violence” because of the misdeeds of a fringe minority of 0.005%. At most, one in every 200,000 Muslims can be accused of terrorism. That is to say there are a maximum of about 65,000 terrorists worldwide — roughly the same figure as the number of murderers on the loose in the U.S. alone, with over 20,000 homicides a year and a population of only 300 million.

Sookhdeo claims that Muslims “must with honesty recognize the violence that has existed in their history.” However, given that the majority of books that record the transgressions of Muslims have been written by Muslims, it is difficult to argue that Muslims have chosen en masse to ignore the atrocities of their past. Of course, there are Muslims who deny many parts of this past, just as there are British people who still deny the atrocities of colonialism; Americans who deny the massacre of the Native Americans; and Germans who deny the Holocaust of 6 million Jews. But the fact remains that Christian civilization has given rise to many more atrocities than has Islamic civilization, even relative to its greater population and longer age.

Christian Violence

Nowhere in Islamic history can one find a doctrine similar to Saint Augustine’s cognite intrare (“lead them in” — i.e. “force them to convert”). In fact the Qur’an says the exact opposite: “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256). Augustine’s frightening idea that all must be compelled to “conform” to the “true Christian faith” has unleashed centuries of unparalleled bloodshed.

Indeed, Christians have suffered more under the rule of Christian civilization than under pre-Christian Roman rule or any other rule in history. Millions were tortured and slaughtered in the name of Christianity during the periods of the Arian, Donatist and Albigensian heresies, to say nothing of the various Inquisitions, or the Crusades, when the European armies were saying, as they slaughtered both Christian and Muslim Arabs: “Kill them all, God will know his own.” Needless to say, these transgressions — and indeed all the transgressions of Christians throughout the ages — have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ and or even the New Testament as such. Indeed, no Muslim by definition would ever or will ever blame this on Jesus Christ (the Word made Flesh, for Christians and Muslims). So how is it that Sookhdeo blames Muslim transgressions (even though far less than “Christian” ones) on the Qur’an (the Word made Book, for Muslims)?

By no means was such indiscriminate violence limited to Europe’s “Dark Ages” or to one period of Christian history. The Reformation and Counter Reformation took inter- Christian slaughter to new extremes; two thirds of the Christian population of Europe being slaughtered during this time. Then there were (among many others wars, pogroms, revolutions and genocides) the Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815); the African slave trade that claimed the lives of 10 million; and the Colonial Conquests. Estimates for the number of Native Americans slaughtered by the Europeans in North, Central and South America run as high as 20 million within three generations. Despite the ravages of Europe’s violent past, in the 20th century, Western Civilization took warfare to new extremes. A conservative estimate puts the total number of brutal deaths in the 20 th century at more than 250 million. Of these, Muslims are responsible for less than 10 million deaths. Christians, or those coming from Christian backgrounds account for more than 200 million of these! The greatest death totals come from World War I (about 20 million, at least 90% of which were inflicted by “Christians”) and World War II (90 million, at least 50% of which were inflicted by “Christians,” the majority of the rest occurring in the Far East). Given this grim history, it appears that we Europeans must all come to grips with the fact that Islamic civilization has actually been incomparably less brutal than Christian civilization. Did the Holocaust of over 6 million Jews occur out of the background of a Muslim Civilization?

In the 20th century alone, Western and/or Christian powers have been responsible for at least twenty times more deaths than have Muslim powers. In this most brutal of centuries, we created incomparably more civilian casualties than have Muslims in the whole of Islamic history. This continues even in our day — witness the slaughter of 900,000 Rwandans in 1994 in a population that was over 90% Christian; or the genocide of over 300,000 Muslims and systematic rape of over 100,000 Muslim women by Christian Serbs in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. The horrible truth is that, numerically and statistically speaking, Christian Civilization is the bloodiest and most violent of all civilizations in all of history, and is responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths. The production and use of nuclear weapons alone should be enough to make the West stand in shame before the rest of the world. America created nuclear weapons. America is the only country ever to have used nuclear weapons, and Western countries strive to maintain a monopoly over them. As the record stands, we have no moral grounds for objecting to the acquisition of such weapons until we prove willing to forfeit them entirely.

It should also be mentioned that although Islam has the concept of legitimate war in self-defense (as does Christianity, and even Buddhism), nowhere in Islamic culture (or in other cultures that survive today) is there latent the idealization, and perhaps idolization, of violence that exists in Western Culture. Westerners think of themselves as peaceful, but in fact the gentleness and sublimity of the New Testament, and the peace-loving nature of the principles of democracy, are scarcely reflected in Western popular culture. Rather, the entire inclination of popular culture — Hollywood movies, Western television, video games, popular music and sports entertainment — is to glorify and inculcate violence. Accordingly, the relative rates of murder (especially random and serial murder) are higher in the Western World (particularly in the U.S., but even in Europe, taken as a whole) than they are in the Islamic world in counties that are not suffering civil wars, and this is true despite the much greater wealth of the West. So has Sookhdeo ever read the following words?:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

The Qur’an and the Use of Force

Like most anti-Islamic polemics, the rest of Sookhdeo’s article is a mix of fact and fiction. For example, he argues that many of the Qur’anic verses that advocate peace were abrogated by later verses. It is true that many Muslim scholars claim later verses abrogate earlier verses, but the extent of abrogation is greatly debated. Some scholars say that only five verses have ever been abrogated. Some say that over 150 have been abrogated. Sookhdeo’s claim that “wherever contradictions are found, the later-dated text abrogates the earlier one” is thus a gross simplification. To claim that all of the peaceful verses are earlier revelations that have been abrogated by later militant verses is simply false. For example, verses revealed in the last two years of Muhammad’s mission enjoin Muslims to not seek vengeance against those who had driven them from their homes:

Let not the hatred of the people — because they hindered you from the Sacred Mosque — incite you to transgress. Help one another in goodness and reverence, and do not help one another in sin and aggression”(Qur’an 5:2).

O ye who believe, be upright for God witnesses injustice; and let not hatred of a people cause you to be unjust. Be just — that is closer to piety” (Qur’an 5:8).

One can hardly imagine a more emphatic message of justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Moreover, many highly qualified Muslim scholars have cited the earlier verses advocating peace to dissuade young Muslims from answering the call of the extremists. Would Sookhdeo prefer that these young Muslims listen to those who explain these verses away by applying his truncated version of abrogation?

Significantly enough, like extremist interpreters of Islam, Sookhdeo misrepresents Qur’anic verses by citing them out of context. He claims that Qu’ranic verses 8:59-60 condone terrorism. Verse 8:60 does indeed condone fighting one’s enemies, but it is followed by verse 8:61: “And if they incline unto peace then incline unto it” — another later revelation. In this context, verse 8:60 is advocating that one not take the course of passivism when threatened by an enemy, but 8:61 then limits the application. This hardly constitutes terrorism. Perhaps if Sookhdeo knew Arabic properly, he would have the capacity to read the Qur’an more clearly. But he does not. This makes it difficult to accept him as an authority on Islamic teachings, whatever may be his post or title.

Sookhdeo goes on to claim that one can pick between Qur’anic verses that support violence and those that support peace. This is true, but one would be hard pressed to demonstrate that the Qur’an condones violence more than the Old Testament (say, for example, the Book of Leviticus or the Book of Joshua). And if we say that the Qur’an condones violence, what are we to think of the passages of the Bible that directly command slaughter and genocide? In Numbers 31:17 Moses says (of the Midianite captives, whose menfolk the Israelites have already slaughtered): “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and every woman who has known a man intimately.” I Samuel 15:1-9 tells the story of the Prophet Samuel commanding King Saul to eradicate the Amalekites as follows: “Slay both men and women, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

Such extremes were forbidden by the Prophet Muhammad who ordered his community: “Fight in the way of God against those who disbelieve in God! Do not act brutally! Do not exceed the proper bounds! Do not mutilate! Do not kill children and hermits! And likewise, “Attack in the Name of God, but do not revert to treachery; do not kill a child; neither kill a woman; do not wish to confront the enemy.”

To claim that the warfare advocated in some Qur’anic verses is a justification for wanton acts of violence fails to acknowledge that classical interpretations have always limited the scope of such verses. For example, a verse that is often misinterpreted in the modern era is 2:191-92:

Slay the polytheists wherever you find them, and capture them and blockade them, and watch for them at every lookout. But if they repent and establish the prayer and give alms, then let them go their way.

On the one hand, extremists employ this verse to sanction shedding innocent blood. On the other hand, it is employed by non-Muslim polemicists to portray the Qur’an as a bellicose declaration of perpetual warfare. But according to the classical Islamic tradition, this verse cannot be taken as a carte blanche to fight non-Muslims. It can only be applied to the specific polytheists who opposed the early Muslim community and threatened the very survival of Islam. As one authoritative jurisprudent Qadi Abu Bakr Ibn Al-‘Arabi of the 11th – 12th century CE writes:

This verse is general regarding the polytheists, but is restricted by the Prophet’s prohibition of the killing of women, children, religious adherents, and non-combatants. But understood also are those who do not fight you nor are preparing to fight you or harm you. The verse actually means, “Slay the polytheists who are attempting to slay you.”

Such interpretations could be cited ad infinitum. They clearly demonstrate that Sookhdeo’s equation of “radical Muslims” with “medieval jurists” who claim that “Islam is war” is not only unfounded, but an utter distortion. Either Sookhdeo is not qualified to analyze the classical Islamic tradition and compare it to modern deviations, or he is intentionally distorting Islamic teachings. Either way, he proves himself to be completely unreliable.

Dubious Scholarship

Sookhdeo’s dubious scholarship is on display throughout this article, particularly when he uses the hackneyed distinction between Dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (the abode of war) to argue that Muslims accept nothing but war or triumph. These are important classical terms, but Muslim scholars also wrote of many other abodes between them. Some classifications include three abodes, some five, and some seven. In the modern era, Europe and America have been regarded by the vast majority of Muslim scholars as the Dar al-Sulh, or “the abode of treaty.” This means that a Muslim can engage with this world on many levels and should abide by the laws of the land if he or she chooses to live there or to visit. Using this distinction, Muslim scholars have even declared that Muslims can serve in the U.S. Army, even when combating other Muslim countries. Only those who seek conflict continue to misinform the public by limiting the world to Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb.

Islamic Scholarship

Sookhdeo’s miscomprehension is also revealed when he discusses the recent conference of Islamic scholars in Jordan, which issued a final declaration that opposed the practice of calling other Muslims non-believers and clarified the qualifications for issuing fatwas. He argues that this has “negated a very helpful fatwa which had been issued in March by the Spanish Islamic scholars declaring Osama bin Laden an apostate.” However, a war of words wherein Muslims begin calling other Muslims unbelievers is precisely what Al-Qaida and other extremists desire. This way they can brand as apostate and kill everyone who disagrees with them. Let us not forget how two days before 9/11, Al-Qaida assassinated Ahmed Shah Massoud. This was no mere coincidence; it was a strategic imperative. By removing the most charismatic representative of traditional Islam in Afghanistan, Al-Qaida removed the greatest obstacle to their distortions of Islam, a credible leader who would expose the spurious nature of their claim to represent Islam.

In order to avoid people being killed over even petty faults or sins, classical Islamic law does not allow one to “ex-communicate” another Muslim for sinning nor to declare him or her to be a non-believer. By reaffirming this and removing the possibility of takfir (calling someone an apostate) in our age, King Abdullah’s conference has made the world a safer place. This is true not just for traditional, “moderate” Muslims — the only ones in fact who can effectively isolate the extremists and thus protect non-Muslims — but also for others, such as Jews and Christians whom the Qur’an (and the greatest classical scholars of Islam, such as the famous al-Ghazali) regards as “fellow believers.” Sookhdeo desires to keep this “door” open so that Muslims he does not like can be “ex-communicated.” He wants to keep this “sword” — in effect — unsheathed, completely forgetting that all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword (Matthew 26:52).

Sookhdeo further displays a complete lack of understanding of Islamic law when he asks: “Could not the King reconvene his conference and ask them to issue a fatwa banning violence against non-Muslims also?” In fact this is exactly what did happen by the scholars declaring that the fatwas issued in support of wanton violence are illegitimate. For everyone who commits an act of terrorism in the name of Islam attempts to first justify that act through the issuance — and misuse — of a fatwa, and no one commits terrorist acts without being convinced that terrorism is justified.

The conference reaffirmed that all fatwas must necessarily be bound by a triple system of internal “checks and balances”: all those issuing fatwas must have certain, stringent personal and educational credentials; they must all follow the methodology of the eight Madhahib or tradional schools of Islamic jurisprudence; and no fatwa may go outside the bounds of what the traditional Madhahib allow—precisely what the extremist fatwa s attempt to do. The conference assembled over 180 major scholars from 45 countries, and garnered 17 major fatwas from the greatest Islamic Authorities in the world (including the Sheikh Al-Azhar, Ayatollah Sistani, and Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi) to declare this. The conference thus not only de-legitimized the extremists de jure, but, to quote Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek (July 18,2005), constituted “a frontal attack on Al-Qaida’s theological methods.” This is surely a vital tool in the war against extremism, and so the King and his conference are very much to be commended.

Eradicating Extremism

Isolating and eradicating extremists does not, however, appear to be Sookhdeo’s agenda. Rather he wishes to misrepresent the Qur’an, history, and contemporary Muslims in order to substantiate his own claim that terrorism and extremism are inherent to Islam. Following this approach is exactly how we will lose the war on terrorism. The true war is the war of ideas.

The lynch-pin in the arguments of Bin Laden, Zarqawi and others is that they think they represent Islam. Traditional Muslim scholars from around the world have confirmed that such deviant ideologies and actions violate the very principles of Islam. By working with such scholars we can help them to consolidate the traditional middle ground of Islam and further expose the extremists for being just that. This is the most efficient, most peaceful and most effective weapon in the war against extremist interpretations of Islam. If we do not use it, we will have surrendered the higher ground in the war of ideas. By responding with extremism of another kind, Sookhdeo and those like him allow the extremists to determine the general inter-religious ambiance and thus the course of events. Rather than providing a realistic presentation of the challenges we face and their possible peaceful solutions, they take advantage of the situation to advance their own hidden polemical agenda and prejudices. In doing so they work not only against Muslims and Islam, but against the whole of humanity, Christians included (or perhaps especially). Onward Christian soldiers, Reverend Sookhdeo?

Vincenzo Oliveti is the author of Terror’s Source: The Ideology of Wahabi-Salafism and its Consequences. This article first appeared in ISLAMICA Magazine.
Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "The Myth of “The Myth of Moderate Islam”," in Bismika Allahuma, September 19, 2008, last accessed September 25, 2022, https://bismikaallahuma.org/islam/myth-moderate-islam/
Categories
Jesus

The Qur’anic Etymologies of ”Nazarene” and ”Gospel” and Their Historical Implications

Journal of the Society for Qur’anic Studies, Number 1, Volume 1, 2001

The Qur’an and the New Testament agree on a number of issues regarding Jesus Christ. Both books, for instance, stress that Jesus, who is called ” ‘Isa” in the Qur’an, was conceived miraculously by his mother Mary. He had no father. This is what the Qur’an says about the miraculous birth of ‘Isa:

When the angels said: “O Maryam! Allah gives you good news with a word from Him, whose name is al‑Masih, ‘Isa the son of Maryam, illustrious in this world and the hereafter and of those who are brought near [to Allah]” (3.45)

“And he shall speak to the people when in the cradle and when of old age, and [he shall be] one of the righteous.” (3.46)

“She said: “My Lord! How can I have a child when no man has touched me?” He said: “It is so [because] Allah creates what He pleases; when He has decreed a matter, He only says to it: “Be”, and it is (3.47). And He shall teach him the Book and Wisdom and the Tawrat [Torah] and the Injil.” (3.48)

The New Testament states the following in the Gospel of Matthew1:

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.”

“But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, sayin: “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew, 1:18-21)

Both books also give details about miracles performed by ‘Isa though, again, not without differences. For instance, the New Testament makes no mention of ‘Isa speaking while still an infant in the cradle or his creation of birds out of clay:

“When All?h said: “O ‘Isa, son of Maryam! Remember My favor on you and on your mother, that I have supported you with the Ruh al-Qudus [Spirit of al-Qudus], [and made you] speak to the people in the cradle and when of old age; and that I taught you the Book and Wisdom and the Tawrat and the Injil; and that you create out of clay the figure of a bird by My permission, then you breath into it and it becomes a bird by My permission; and heal he who was born blind and the leprous by My permission; and that you raise the dead by My permission; and that I withheld the Children of Isra’il [Israel] from you when you came to them with clear proofs, but those who disbelieved among them said: ‘This is nothing but clear magic’.” (5.110)

On the other hand, the New Testament refers to miracles that are not mentioned in the Qur’an, such as that of ‘Isa turning water into wine:

“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him: “They have no wine”. Jesus saith unto her: “Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come”. His mother saith unto the servants: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

“And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them: “Fill the waterpots with water”. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them: “Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.”

“When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was (but the servants which drew the water knew), the governor of the feast called the bridegroom. And saith unto him: “Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.” (John, 2:1-10).

Given the fact that all forms of alcohol are proscribed in the Qur’an, the latter rejects implicitly the occurrence of this supposed miracle.

While there are obvious similarities between the picture of ‘Isa in the Qur’an and the Bible, the differences between both accounts are in fact substantial and by far more significant than the details they share. One such fundamental difference is that the Qur’anic ‘Isa who received revelation from All?h was human, whereas Jesus of the New Testament had a divine nature and origin and is referred to as “the son of God”.

Not surprisingly, Western historians and theologians have both shown great interest in Jesus of the New Testament. However, very little time and efforts have been invested in studying the Qur’anic ‘Isa. One obvious reason for this is the widely held belief that the Qur’an is nothing other than a freely edited version of the Bible, a view that implies that the Qur’an has no historical value. So, although historians have had a hard time trying to relate the Biblical Jesus to history proper, they never thought of seeking help from the neglected Qur’an.

The present study is an attempt to remedy this situation. We will examine particular so far unnoticed or ignored differences between the story of ‘Isa in the Qur’an and its equivalent in the New Testament. The first concerns the etymology of the word “Nazarene”. The ultimate aim is to unveil very important historical implications of this difference between the Qur’anic story of ‘Isa and its Biblical counterpart. We will also study the etymology of the word “Gospel” which is less complicated than that of “Nazarene”. Finally, we will mention the historical event which the Gospels misrepresent as the “last supper”.

1. The Etymology of “Nazarene”

In the Greek text of the New Testament,’Isa is called (Nazorios) or (Nazarenos), both of which are translated into English as “Nazarene”. Only the first form of the Greek epithet of ‘Isa is used in the Gospel of John (18:5, 18:7, 19:9) and in Acts (2:22, 3:6, 4:10, 6:14, 22:8, 26:9), and it seems preferred in Matthew (2:23, 24:71) and Luke (18:37) as well. However, Mark consistently uses the second form of ‘Isa’s appellation, (Mark, 1:24, 14:67, 16:6),2 which makes appearances also in Luke (4:34, 24:19). The first epithet is also used once in Acts (24:5) to refer to the Christians when Tertullus the orator accuses Paul of being “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes”.

According to the writer of the Gospel of Matthew, ‘Isa’s epithet, the Nazarene, is derived from the name of the town where he was brought up, or (Nazareth):

“And he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene’.” (Matthew, 2:23)

Indeed, while and are sometimes translated as “Nazarene”, at other times they are rendered “of Nazareth”.

The Matthean etymology of Nazarene has been accepted by some scholars (e.g. Pellett, 1962: 525; Davies & Allison, 1988: 281), but a linguistic difficulty with this etymology has been pointed out. Some researchers have indicated that while deriving from is not problematic, the same is not true of . In its entry for “Nazarene”, Encyclopedia Britannica states that the exact meaning of this latter title is “not known”. However, it has been claimed that, though difficult, it is not impossible for to have come from (e.g. Moore, 1920: 428; Davies & Allison, 1988: 281). Cullmann has also pointed out that the spelling of the name of the home town of ‘Isa varies in the written tradition so it is not really possible to rule out the derivation of from . He does, however, find it still unexplainable how “in Greek the unusual form maintained its position so consistently alongside the simpler form which was, after all, available.” (Cullmann, 1962: 523)

There are other convincing reasons to reject the claim that ‘Isa was known by a title that meant “of Nazareth” which is how Matthew understood the word Nazarene. Nazareth is first mentioned in the New Testament and there is no older independent record that mentions that particular town. It is not mentioned in the Old Testament, the Talmud3, the Midrashim4 or Josephus5. The earliest mention of Nazareth outside the New Testament is from Julius Africanus (170-240 CE) which was cited by the bishop and historian Eusebius of Caesarea (d. ca. 340 CE). It is generally accepted that this absence of Nazareth from ancient historical records is due to the fact that it was a small, insignificant town (e.g. Pellett, 1962: 524; Moore, 1920: 429). The population of Nazareth is estimated from archaeological excavations to have been between 50-2000 at the time of ‘Isa (Theissen & Mertz, 1998: 165). This sounds quite possible. But then the obvious argument here is that if Nazareth was such an insignificant town then what sense would it have made to relate ‘Isa to it? After all, no person is introduced by relating him to a place that is equally unknown!

It is not only that ‘Isa could not have been related to an insignificant town such as Nazareth. The more fundamental problem lies in the very concept that ‘?s? could have been given a title after a city at all, even if it was a big and major city. Davies and Allison (1988: 281) have indicated that it was common custom among Jews to distinguish individuals according to the place of their origin. But then ‘?s? was by no means an ordinary person for this to apply to him. ‘?s? could not have been called after the city in which he was brought up or where he became known, because he acquired from the time of his infancy two unique titles after his unique, miraculous birth. It was inevitable that ‘?s? was called something that reminded people of his unique birth. This is indeed what the Qur’an tells us happened.

Accordingly to the Qur’an, the angels told Mary that her son would be known as “al-Masih” (the Messiah), “‘Isa” and “Ibn Maryam” (the son of Mary):

“When the angels said: “O Maryam! Allah gives you good news with a word from Him, whose name is al-Masih, ‘Isa the son of Maryam, illustrious in this world and the hereafter and of those who are brought near [to Allah].” (3.45)

In most of its occurrences in the Qur’an, “al-Masih” is mentioned in conjunction with ‘Isa’s second title, “the son of Maryam”. We will concentrate here on the title of “the son of Maryam” which occurs in the Qur’an as twice as al-Masih. While the latter is an equally important title, which is why it was used alongside “Ibn Maryam”, it is outside the scope of this study.

While naming him “‘Isa” and titling him “the son of Mary” and “al-Masih”, the Qur’an never refers to this Prophet with a title that corresponds to “Nazarene”, as the New Testament does, or relates him to a particular city.

‘Isa became known as “the son of Mary” from the time of his birth because he was conceived without a father. The nature of ‘?s? ?s birth would have made it inevitable that people used the title of “the son of Mary” when referring to him. The fact that ‘?s? had such very distinguished titles since his early days meant that there was no need at any later stage of his life to coin an epithet for him. Even when the news about his miracles started to spread there would have been no reason to give him a new title as his old titles already referred to the greatest miracle in his life. It would have been even more pointless to replace the unique title of “the son of Mary” with a general appellation that merely related ‘?s? to a certain place. Any person from that city could have been named after it, but only ‘?s? could have been given a title derived from the fact that he was conceived without a father. Furthermore, it just does not make any sense to suggest that ‘?s?’s followers in particular could have replaced the meaningful and distinguished title of “the son of Mary” with an unimpressive, inexpressive, blank and impartial title which merely related ‘?s? to a city, not to mention an insignificant one. The New Testament’s suggestion that ‘?s?’s title was “of Nazareth” is absurd.

But how can one explain the absence of ‘?s?’s historical title, “the son of Mary”, that the Qur’an reveals, from the New Testament? Well, it is not totally absent from the New Testament for it figures in a distorted form. The true title of “the son of Mary” is the origin of the false title of “the son of man” in the New Testament. But why this alteration? Indeed, what sense would it make to call someone “the son of man” when each and every man is a son of man? This title was intended to serve a more sophisticated purpose than simply referring to ‘?s?. Those who coined the term “the son of man” aimed at emphasizing what they perceived as the dual nature of ‘?s? as the son of man and the son of God. With “the son of man”, the inventors of this title implicitly stressed the second appellation that people gave to ‘?s?, “the son of God”. “The son of Mary” is really a unique epithet that referred and refers to ‘?s? only, but the inventors of “the son of man” were after something that refers to “the son of God” rather than to ‘?s?.

The combination of the New Testament?s claim that ‘?s? was known with the title “Nazarene” and the Matthean etymology of this word has yet another insurmountable problem. We have already mentioned that Acts 24:5, as well as later writings, use the plural word “Nazarenes” to refer to the followers of ‘?s?. Now, even if we assume for the sake of argument that there was some sense in calling ‘?s? a Nazarene, having lived in Nazareth, it would certainly not make any sense at all to extend this title to his followers who would have come from various places. Needless to say, the followers of a Nazarene, in the Matthean sense of this word, do not become Nazarenes themselves! Cullmann for one has noted that if Nazarene meant someone from Nazareth, as Matthew has it, then “it would certainly be unusual if [the Christians] were referred to as ‘people from Nazareth'” (Cullmann, 1962: 523). So, accepting the Matthean etymology of the word Nazarene as a title of ‘?s? is not really of much prudence as suggested by Davies and Allison (1988: 281).

In deriving Nazarene from Nazareth, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew cites a prophecy in the Old Testament:

“And he [Joseph] arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither, notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets. He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew, 2:21-23)

The Gospel writer has, in fact, been less than a reliable historian for the very simple reason that the prophecy that he cites occurs nowhere in the Old Testament! This false information undermines the credibility of the given etymology. Even neglecting the above problems with deriving Nazarene from Nazareth, this derivation still stands accused of having no foundation. There is really no reason to accept that Nazarene was derived from Nazareth rather than from a number of other possible origins (see, for instance, the possibilities compiled by Davies and Allison, 1988).

But there is another equally significant conclusion to draw from Matthew?s citation of a non-existent Biblical passage. Randel Helms (1989) has shown that the writers of the Gospels spared no effort in correlating Biblical passages with events in the life of ‘?s? to stress that ‘?s? was the fulfillment of those Biblical prophecies. But this attitude was so uncompromising that the history of ‘?s? was itself written in the Gospels to portray ‘?s? as the manifestation of those ancient Biblical sayings and prophecies. This suggests that in the case under discussion the reverse has happened. That is, as the title “Nazarene” was already in circulation, it was the correspondent Biblical passage that the Gospel writer needed to invent; and he did just that.

It is an acknowledged fact today that there is no evidence whatsoever linking the title “Nazarene” to the name of the town of Nazareth. There is also a very strong argument against such a derivation. Interestingly, the Qur’an has already implied some 14 centuries ago that deriving “Nazarene” from “Nazareth” is wrong as it gave a totally different etymology for “Nazarene”. Additionally, the Qur’an is absolutely clear that “Nazarene” was not a title of ‘?s? himself but of his followers. Even those researchers who thought of relating the word Nazarene to other than Nazareth worked on the wrong assumption that Nazarene was the title of ‘?s?; it never was (see also the discussion in ?10.5 in Fatoohi and Al-Dargazelli (1999)). ‘?s? was also known only as “the son of Mary” and “al-Masih”.

The Qur’anic words that correspond to “Nazarene” and “Nazarenes” are Nasrani and Nasara, respectively. Both singular and plural forms of this word were not coined from or introduced into Arabic by the Qur’an at the time of its revelation. These words were already used to refer to the Christians. They did not mean anything else in Arabic. This fact is also reflected in the unique way in which these singular and plural forms of the same word relate to each other. Therefore, the words Nasrani and Nasara which the Arabs were already using when the Qur’an was revealed would have been, or developed from, older non-Arabic words. Had the name Nasrani/Nasara been used for the Christians in the Qur’an without any clarification, it would have been very difficult to trace back its origin and meaning. Fortunately, there are two sets of ayat6, each set consisting of two ayat, when combined together the meaning of the word Nasrani/Nasara becomes absolutely clear. This is explained below.

The word Nasara is mentioned in several Qur’anic ayat. Two of these ayat refer to the followers of ‘?s? with the phrase “those who have said ‘We are Nasara'”:

“And from those who have said “We are Nasara” We took their covenant, but they forgot a part of what they were reminded of, therefore We caused among them enmity and hatred to the Day of Resurrection; and All?h will inform them of what they were doing.” (5.14)

“Certainly you will find that the most vehement of people in hostility to those who believed [to be] the Jews and the polytheists. And you will certainly find that the nearest of them in affection to those who believed [to be] those who have said: “We are Nasara”, for there are among them priests and monks and for they do not behave arrogantly.” (5.82)

Defining the Christians in terms of their declaration of being Nazarenes stems in fact from a specific event which involved ‘?s? and his disciples and which the Qur’an relates in the following ayat:

“But when ‘?s? sensed disbelief on their part, he said: “Who are my Ansar [supporters] on the way to All?h?” The disciples said: “We are the Ansar of All?h. We believe in All?h and [you] bear witness that we are Muslims.” (3.52)

“O you who believe! Be Ansar [supporters] of All?h, as ‘?s?, the son of Maryam, said to the disciples: “Who are my Ansar on the way to All?h?” The disciples said: “We are the Ansar of All?h”. And a party of the Children of Isra’il believed and another party disbelieved; so We aided those who believed against their enemy, and they became the uppermost.” (61.14)

It is thus obvious that the equivalent of Nasara in the Arabic of the Qur’an7 is Ansar. The verb of “Ansar” is nasara which means “supported, aided, helped, sided with…etc”. So, “Ansar” means “supporters”. The above two ayat reveal the religious context and the specific meaning of the word “Ansar” when used to refer to the Christians. The term Ansar occurs in the context of calling the Christians the Ansar of ‘?s? on the way to All?h which means ultimately the supporters of All?h to Whom ‘?s? was calling people.

Similar use of the verb nasara occurs in several ayat in the Qur’an when referring to the believers in Prophet Muhammad. For instance, in the following two ayat the first states that by emigrating from their cities to follow Prophet Muhammad who himself had fled persecution, the believers “supported All?h and His Messenger”. Here also, the support given to the Prophet is considered support to All?h Himself, meaning support to the cause of All?h. The second aya encourages the believers to “support All?h”, so that All?h may support them:

“[Some part of the alms is due] to the poor who have migrated, who have been driven out of their homes and their belongings, seeking favor from All?h and [His] pleasure, and supporting All?h and His Messenger: these are the truthful.” (59.8)

“O you who believe! If you support All?h He supports you and plant your feet firmly.” (47.7)

It is obvious, therefore, that the term Nasara was developed from an original word, presumably Aramaic, that meant Ansar in Arabic and which would also have been used in conjunction with a name of All?h to mean supporters of All?h. By the time of the Qur’an the Arabic speaking population of the Arabian Peninsula were using the words Nasrani/Nasara as a name for the Christians. But they were totally unaware of what they really meant as neither of these words were from the Arabic of the time and because their historical background was unknown. The Qur’an revealed to the Arabs a secret that neither they nor their ancestors had any knowledge of. However, this was not a secret to only the Arabs, but also to all those Christians and Jews who had lost contact with the Injil, the Book that All?h revealed to ‘?s? and in which He named the Christians “Nazarenes” or “supporters (of All?h)”. This ignorance is attested to by the Gospel of Matthew itself which gives a false etymology of the word Nazarene. The writers of the other Gospels implicitly accept the derivation of Nazarene from Nazareth, as do the Christians in general who also accept the New Testament?s claim that Nazarene was ‘?s?’s title.

In the event described in ayat 3.52 and 61.14, ‘?s? reminded his disciples of the name/description that All?h had already given to his followers in the Injil. Therefore, when asking them who were “[his] Ansar on the way to All?h”, the disciples replied to ‘?s? that they were the “Ansar of All?h”.

It is notable that All?h describes all the followers of ‘?s?, not only those who were contemporary to him, as “those who have said ‘We are Nasara'” (5.14, 5.82). This is in fact a reference to the original event mentioned in ayat 3.52 and 61.14, indicating that any person who declares himself/herself as a Nazarene implies by this claim that he/she has taken the same oath taken by the disciples when they declared themselves before ‘?s? as “Ansar of All?h”.

It should be noted here that some writers have felt it necessary to suggest a religious meaning for the word Nazarene and not (only) relate it to Nazareth. Moore has cited a number of such suggested etymologies. For instance, he cites an old comment on Matthew 2:23 which states that “Jesus was called Nazaraeus not only because his home was in Nazareth, but because he was the Saviour, ‘Servator’, from nasar, ‘servare’, (Moore, 1920: 430). We have already shown, however, that “Nazarene” wasn?t actually ‘?s?’s but his followers’ title.

Now, how does one explain the erroneous etymology of Nazarene suggested in Matthew? It is certainly intertwined with the misconception of Nazarene as a title of ‘?s?. The writer of that particular Gospel, like the writers of the other books of the New Testament, authored his book decades after the time of ‘?s?. By then, the word “Nazarenes” was already a name of the followers of ‘?s?. But by that time many details of the religion of ‘?s? had already been lost due to the fact that the Injil was no longer accessible to most people. The historical background of the name of ‘?s?’s followers, Nazarene, was one piece of information that had become unavailable to most people, including the writer of Matthew. However, Matthew reckoned that the similarity between the term Nazarene and the name of the town of Nazareth was too close to be fortuitous. So, he simply surmised that Nazarene must have originated from Nazareth, the name of the town where ‘?s? is supposed to have lived.

We now know that Nazarene was never derived from Nazareth. We also know that the similarity between Nazarene and Nazareth was not a mere coincidence, something that the writers of the Gospels have also noted. This leaves us with the very appealing conclusion that it is in fact Nazareth the town which acquired its name from the word “Nazarenes” and not the other way around as suggested in the New Testament. If that little town was indeed insignificant, as commonly accepted by scholars, then it could very easily have acquired the name “Nazareth” being the town “of the Nazarenes”. This means that the town could have been mentioned in older sources under its old name. There is no evidence to support the suggestion of some researchers that the silence of ancient writings on Nazareth indicates that this town was only later established.

2. The Etymology of “Gospel”

It might surprise some that the four Gospels of the New Testament should get the etymology of the word Nazarene totally wrong in this way. It should be remembered, however, that there is so much misunderstanding and confusion in the Gospels. Ironically enough, there is widespread ignorance concerning the full meaning of the word “Gospel” itself! The Qur’an , however, does explain to us the meaning of this word also.

The English word “Gospel”, which means “good news”, is known to be a translation of the Greek (Euaggelion: pronounced Euangelion). Yet scholars have struggled to find a convincing etymology for this word in the context of Christian thought. The Qur’an , on the other hand, leads us to the answer to this question by telling us that All?h revealed to ‘?s? a Book called “Injil”:

“And We sent after them in their footsteps ‘?s? , the son of Maryam, verifying what was before him of the Tawrat and We gave him the Injil in which was guidance and light, and verifying what was before it of Tawrat and a guidance and an admonition for the All?h-fearing.” (5.46)

It is clear that “Injil” is the same Greek word, and thus means “good news”. The following aya explains why the Book of ‘Isa was “good news”:

“And when ‘?s?, the son of Maryam, said: “O children of Isra’il! I am the Messenger of All?h to you, confirming that which is before me of the Tawrat and bringing the good news of a Messenger who will come after me, his name being Ahmad”; but when he came to them with clear proofs they said: “This is clear magic.” (61.6)

This aya reveals that the Book of ‘?s? acquired its name from the fact that it brought the “good news” about the forthcoming commission of Prophet Muhammad. The name “Ahmad” in the above aya is one of the names of Prophet Muhammad; both names Ahmad and Muhammad have the same meaning of “the most praised one”.

Bringing the “good news” about Prophet Muhammad and confirming the divine origin of the Tawrat were the main goals of the mission of ‘?s?. The former was so central in ‘?s?’s mission that All?h named the Book that He revealed to ‘?s? after it. A Book whose name effectively meant “the good news about Prophet Muhammad” must have contained lots of details about him. This is indeed mentioned in the Qur’an :

“Those who follow the unlettered Messenger-Prophet whom they find written down in the Tawrat and the Injil, [who] enjoins them good and forbids them evil, makes lawful to them the good things and makes unlawful to them impure things, and removes from them their burden and the shackles which are upon them. So, those who believe in him, honor him and support him, and follow the light which has been sent down with him, are the successful.” (7.157)

“Muhammad is the Messenger of All?h, and those with him are firm against the disbelievers, compassionate among themselves; you see them bowing down, falling prostrate, seeking favor from All?h and [His] pleasure; their marks are in their faces as a result of prostration; this is their similitude in the Tawrat and their similitude in the Injil: like a seed that puts forth its sprout, then strengthens it, so it becomes stout and stands firmly on its stem, delighting the sowers; so that He enrages the disbelievers on account of them. All?h has promised those among them who believe and do righteous deeds forgiveness and a great reward.” (48.29)

It is worth noting that there is nothing in the four Gospels themselves that objects to understanding the word “Gospel” in those books as meaning a “book”. In King James? version of the New Testament, the word “Gospel” occurs five times in the Gospel of Matthew (4:23, 9:35, 11:5, 24:14, 26:13), six times in Mark (1:1, 1:14, 1:15, 13:10, 14:9, 16:15), and four times in Luke (4:18, 7:22, 9:6, 20:1). Odd it may seem, this word doesn?t occur at all in John! What concerns us here, however, is the fact that the fifteen occurrences of this word in the Gospels make it difficult to understand “Gospel” as a “concept” of some sort and suggest instead that the “Gospel” is a “thing”. Moreover, the fact that the “Gospel” is described twelve times as something that is “preached”, by ‘?s? ” himself (e.g. Matthew, 4:23, 9:35) or his disciples (e.g. Mark, 16:15; Luke, 9:6), strongly suggests that the word was seen by the authors of the four Gospels as referring to a “book”. In the remaining three occurrences of the word “Gospel” in the Gospels of the New Testament, Mark describes it as something that should be “believed” (Mark, 1:15) and “published among all nations” (Mark, 13.10), and mentions it in the very first sentence of his book: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark, 1:1).

The eighty occurrences of “Gospel” in the remaining books of the New Testament are more confused. The majority of cases, however, are in line with the use of the word in the three Gospels, with most occurrences describing it as something that can be “preached”. Other occurrences of the word “Gospel” include a reference in the book of Acts to “the word of the gospel” that the gentiles should “hear” and “believe” (Acts, 15:7).

It is obvious, therefore, that the word “Gospel” was at some point conceived as meaning or referring to a “book” and that it was later misused. In fact, the word “Gospels” has been used to refer to the first four “books” of the New Testament. In other words, the uses of the word “Gospel” in the Gospels themselves and the rest of the New Testament are in line with the Qur’an ic revelation that the term Injil, i.e. the “Gospel” in English, was actually the name of a book. That was the Book that All?h revealed to His Prophet ‘?s?.

3. “The Last Supper” or “A Table Spread with Food From Heaven”?

The terms “Nazarene” and “Gospel” are not isolated cases of the authors of the Gospels, like their peers who wrote the Old Testament, mixing true and false historical information. There are many other similar instances. One particularly interesting example of how the authors of the Gospels misrepresented the history of ‘?s? is that of the so-called “last supper”.

The four Gospels differ substantially in their detailed accounts of the event of the “last supper”. Contradiction between the Gospels, however, is not our concern here. We will confine ourselves, therefore, to their descriptions of how that supper was organized:

“Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him: “Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?” And he said: “Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him: “The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with my disciples””. And the disciples did as Jesus had appointed them; and they made ready the passover.” (Matthew, 26:17-19)

“And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him: “Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?” And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them: “Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water, follow him. And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house: ?The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?? And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared; there make ready for us”. And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them; and they made ready the passover.” (Mark, 14:12-16)

“Then came the day of unleavened bread, when the passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John, saying: “Go and prepare us the passover, that we may eat”. And they said unto him: “Where wilt thou that we prepare?”. And he said unto them: “Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house: ?The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples??. And he shall shew you a large upper room furnished: there make ready”. And they went, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover.” (Luke, 22:7-13)

“Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him.” (John, 13:1-2)

This is another instance of the typical contradiction between Gospels. While Mark and Luke provide very similar descriptions of the event, Matthew and John come up with totally different accounts that contain nothing about the miracle mentioned by Mark and Luke.

The truth about this event was revealed by Allah in the Qur’an in the following ayat:

“When the disciples said: “O ‘Isa son of Maryam! Is your Lord able to send down to us a table spread with food from heaven?” He said: “Be fearful of All?h if you are believers.” (5.112)

“They said: “We wish to eat thereof and to satisfy our hearts and to know that you have indeed spoken the truth to us and that we may be of the witnesses to it” (5.113). `Isa the son of Maryam said: “O All?h, our Lord! Send down to us a table spread with food from heaven that should be a feast for the first of us and for the last and a sign from You, and give us sustenance, and You are the best of the Providers of sustenance.” (5.114)

“All?h said: “I will send it down to you, so whoever shall disbelieve afterwards from among you, surely I will punish him with a torment that I will not punish with anyone among the peoples.” (5.115)

Making a feast to descend from heaven, in response to a request from his disciples, is another miracle of ‘?s? that the New Testament never mentions. This is the real event behind the story of the “last supper” in the New Testament.

4. Conclusion

Unlike the Old and New Testaments of the Bible which are full of wrong, inaccurate and contradictory information, the Qur’an shows amazing accuracy and consistency. Two particularly interesting instances that illustrate this fact and which we have studied in this paper are the etymology of each of the words “Nazarene” and “Gospel” and their historical implications. The relevant information in the New Testament lacks accuracy and consistency, let alone being convincing. It is also impossible to reconcile that information with known historical facts. One result of all of this is distorting important aspects of the history of Prophet ‘?s?.

The Qur’an, on the other hand, offers an accurate etymology for each of the words “Nazarene” and “Gospel”. This Qur’anic information sheds the light on historical facts about Prophet ‘?s? that cannot be discovered from another source. This information and its historical implications are consistent with the rest of the Qur’an and well in line with established historical facts. We also saw how the event of the “last supper” in the Gospels is in fact a distorted version of a rather different event.

One significant fact about the different nature of the Bible and the Qur’an is that the more the Bible is studied the more its flaws become apparent, whereas the more the Qur’an is examined the more is seen of its infallibility. No better ending for this article than the following Qur’anic aya that stresses the above fact:

“Do they not ponder on the Qur’an? And if it were from anyone other than All?h they would have found in it much contradiction.” (4.82)

References

Cullmann, O. (1962). Nazarene. In: The Interpreter?s Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, K-Q, New York: Abingdon Press, 523-524.

Davies, W. D. & Allison, D. C. (1988). A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospels According to Saint Matthew, vol. 1: Introduction and Commentary to Matthew, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark Limited.

Fatoohi, L. & Al-Dargazelli, S. (1999). History Testifies to the Infallibility of the Qur’an: Early History of the Children of Israel, Malaysia, A. S. Noordeen

Moore, G. F. (1920). “Nazarene and Nazareth”. In: F. J. Foakes Jackson & K. Lake (eds.), The Beginnings of Christianity, Part I, vol. 1: Prolegomena I; the Acts of the Apostles, London: Macmillan & co., 426-432.

Pellett, D. C. (1962). “Nazareth”. In: The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, K-Q, New York: Abingdon Press, 524-526.

Theissen, G. & Mertz, A. (1998). The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide, translated from German by John Bowden, London: SCM Press.

Helms, R. (1989). Gospel Fictions, New York: Prometheus Books.

  1. We use in this article the King James Version of the New Testament. []
  2. The first form is used in Mark (10:47). []
  3. The Talmud (3rd-6th century CE) is the written record of both the Mishnah, which is the earliest rabbinical codification and record of the oral Bible dating to about 200 CE, and the Gemara which consists of records of discussions on the Mishnah. []
  4. The Midrashim (singular: Midrash) are rabbinical commentaries on the Biblical text dating from about 300 CE. []
  5. The Jewish historian Joseph ben Matthias, better known with his Roman name Flavius Josephus (37-110 CE). []
  6. The Qur’an calls its verses “ayat”. The singular of ayat is “aya”. []
  7. At the time of the revelation of the Qur’an there were a number of different Arabic dialects in the Arabian Peninsula. []
Categories
Christian Doctrines Christianity History

The Apotheosis of Jesus of Nazareth

Preamble

    We believe in…one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man…

These extraordinary words express the faith of the Christian church since it formulated them in a creed in 325AD at the Council of Nicea. Jesus is identified unequivocally as “very God” of “very God”, of the same substance as the Father. In a word, Jesus is God.

However, unknown to the vast majority of Christians who faithfully fill the pews each week, since the nineteen century historians of the Bible have attempted to look afresh at the person of Jesus of Nazareth to see what his life signified to those first century writers who wrote the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

For the purposes of this study I want to focus on one aspect of this ongoing enquiry into Christian origins: the earliest recoverable christology. By which I mean the study of those beliefs held (as far as we can now determine) about Jesus of Nazareth by his immediate followers; those whose lives chronologically overlapped that of Jesus but who never met him (e.g. the apostle Paul); and the beliefs of the evangelists who composed our four gospels.

It is clear that there has been a development in the way Jesus is presented in the pages of the New Testament. Even a cursory reading of the earliest gospel to be written, that of Mark, shows us a very human figure, a man who prays to God (1:35); is unable to work miracles in his own town (6:5); confesses ignorance about the date of the End of the world (13:32); and who apparently despairs of God’s help at the crucifixion (15:34).

If we then read the chronologically last of the four gospels, that of John, we move into a different world. Here Jesus seems to move effortlessly through his ministry, who is clearly portrayed as a divine figure, indeed as “God” himself. The creed quoted above finds a familiar echo in the prologue to John’s gospel. Chapter one, verse 14 ranks as a classic formulation of the Christian belief in Jesus as God incarnate: ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’. So even this brief survey has shown the enormous development which occurred in less than two generations after Jesus was taken up to God.

I believe it is now possible to pinpoint one instance in the synoptic gospels where we can actually witness the writer’s intentional elevation of Jesus from a man into a divine being. We can observe in one small but significant instance the remarkable apotheosis of Jesus.1

I do not claim that this example explains but a small fraction of the theological movement that lead ultimately to the Nicaean creed. In fact a large part of the Trinitarian doctrine was initiated in embryonic form by the apostle Paul in the 40s and 50s of the first century.

James D.G. Dunn perhaps more than any other scholar made truly significant contributions to Jesus research. His book Christology in the Making, a New Testament Inquiry into the Origins the Doctrine of the Incarnation is vital reading for the student of Christology.

In his Forward to the Second Edition of the book (p xii) he asks whether the Christological development to be found in the NT is either an organic development (tree from seed) or an evolutionary development (mutation of species)?

It will be clear to the reader that I believe it is the latter. I will consider this in more detail in my conclusion at the end.

Let us now survey the evidence.

1. Introduction

Edward Schweizer in an article published in 1959 stated: “The idea of the pre-existence of Jesus came to Paul through Wisdom speculation.”2 He further concluded that in the expression “God sent his Son, to…” which is common to Paul and John one finds “a christology which seeks to grasp Jesus in the categories of the pre-existent Wisdom or Logos.”3

Turning to the Synoptic gospels we find that “Jesus appears as bearer or speaker of Wisdom, but much more than that as Wisdom itself. As pre-existent Wisdom Jesus Sophia…”4

In this article I intend to focus exclusively on the synoptic gospels and their formulation and development of Wisdom christology. To my knowledge the most thorough study to date on this subject is to found in the work of Dunn in Christology in the Making, A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation5. I have relied on his exegesis and survey of the Wisdom literature in my analysis of the subject. The conclusions though are mine.

2. Wisdom in Pre-Christian Judaism

To get our inquiry going we must ask who or what was this Wisdom whose functions and descriptions are attributed to Christ in the New Testament? To get an answer we need to inquire into the meaning of this concept in those Second Temple Jewish texts before the rise of Christianity. This will provide us with a historical “context of meaning” with which to evaluate NT texts. The central passages can be found in Job 28, Proverbs 8 22-31, Ecclesiasticus 24, Baruch 3.9-4.4, Wisdom of Solomon 6.12-11.1, 1 Enoch 42 and various references to Wisdom in Philo.

So who or what is Wisdom in this literature? Dunn lists a summary of the current options in what he calls “a still unresolved debate”.6

The main options are as follows:

a) Wisdom is a divine being, as parallels in Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts
b) Wisdom is a hypostasis – i.e. a “quasi-personification of certain attributes proper to God, occupying an intermediate position between personalities and abstract beings”7
c) Wisdom is simply a personification of a divine attribute
d) Wisdom is the personification of cosmic order (for example the Stoic language of Wisdom of Solomon)

So, if we are to answer with any historical precision the question ‘What did it mean that the first Christians identified Christ as Wisdom?’ we must come to a decision from the list of options as to which is the best interpretation of these Old Testament and inter-testamental passages.

When these passages are considered in chronological order we see a development in the concept of Wisdom. Dunn sees this as ‘due in large part to the influence (positive and negative) of religious cults and philosophies prevalent in the ancient near east at that time.’

“Job 28: Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold which they refine…But where shall wisdom be found?”

Clearly there is no personification here or wisdom as a divine attribute. Von Rad describes it as “the order given to the world by God”.8

In Proverbs 8 Wisdom is robustly personified as a woman: ‘Does not wisdom call out? On the heights along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand…she cries out aloud’. Dunn sees talk of Wisdom as a woman as an attempt to counteract the pernicious influences of the Astarte cult by portraying Wisdom as much more attractive than the ‘strange woman’ he warns against in Proverbs 2, 5, 6, and 7.

Wisdom in the Wisdom of Solomon is the personification of cosmic order

She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other,
and she orders all things well (8.1);[Wisdom, who] sits besides God’s throne (9.4).

Stoic thought about cosmic reason is particularly evident in 7.22ff.:

intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile,…
For wisdom is more mobile than any motion;
because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.
For she is a breath of the power of God,
and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty.

Dunn concludes his in-depth survey of the Jewish literature with the view that no worship is ever offered to Wisdom; Wisdom has no priestly cast in Israel. “When set within the context of faith in Yahweh there is no clear indication that the Wisdom language of these writings has gone beyond vivid personification.”9 “The wisdom passages are simply ways of describing Yahweh’s wise creation and purpose”.10

Second Temple Judaism therefore, as far as the textual evidence goes, suggests that there was no thought of Wisdom as a “hypostasis”11 or “intermediary being”. Wisdom, like the name, the glory, the Spirit of Yahweh, was a way of expressing God’s immanence, his nearness to the world, his concern for Israel; while simultaneously conserving his utter otherness, his transcendence. Wisdom was a personification of God’s own activity in creation, revelation and salvation. This is important to bear in mind as we consider the synoptic gospels use of Wisdom language in reference to Jesus.

3. Q and the Contrasting Redactions of Matthew and Luke

What is Q?

The Q document (or just “Q” from the German Quelle, “source”) is a postulated but now lost textual source for the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

The recognition of 19th century NT scholars that Matthew and Luke share much material not found in their generally recognised common source, the gospel of Mark, has suggested a second common source, called Q. It seems most likely to have comprised a collection of Jesus sayings. 12

The contrasting redactions of Matthew and Luke

Having briefly discussed the nature of Jewish Wisdom language I now want to analyse how the synoptic gospels utilise such language in their redaction of the Q logia, and why this is so significant for our understanding of the historical Jesus and how later generations came to portray him.

I want to focus on Matthew chapter 23 and the parallel passages in Luke. In this chapter Mathew seems to identify Jesus as Wisdom. He does this by editing the Q material at his disposal. It is possible, by a comparison with Luke, to demonstrate how this was done. Dunn gives us several examples of this redaction but I want to focus on one, partly for simplicity’s sake but also because my example most clearly demonstrates this fact. (It might prove helpful for the reader to read these quotations in their larger gospel context).

Luke 11.49: Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute’…

Matt. 23.34: (Jesus’ words) ‘Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town…’

Here we have a Q saying. I would argue that Luke’s version is nearer to the original Q form, because it is more probable that Luke’s Wisdom utterance: ‘I will send them…’ is more likely to be the original than that he deliberately altered a precious first person saying of Jesus: ‘I send you…’

So in Q we have Jesus quoting a saying of Wisdom where she promises to send emissaries to Israel, and Jesus is the spokesman of Wisdom. So much is clear.

When we turn to Matthew’s redaction of Q, he has turned the saying of Wisdom into a saying of Jesus himself. For Matthew, Jesus is Wisdom.

How are we to assess the significance of Matthew’s Wisdom christology? The synoptic tradition allows us to see the changing thought of Christians in the first century. We are fortunate to be able to compare and contrast Matthew and Luke with their sources Mark and Q. With close and intelligent attention to the texts we can detect where Matthew and Luke have altered or expanded the traditions about Jesus.

Not all changes to Mark and Q are theologically significant. Sometimes the evangelists abbreviate a longer story in Mark, or retell a story about Jesus to bring out a particular dramatic point.

Here however I want to argue that the evangelist in his redaction of Q (here and else where, see 11.25-30; 23-37-9) has made a move of incalculable theological significance the gravity of which is not sufficiently recognised by Dunn in his otherwise perceptive discussion of the issue.

I refer of course to the apotheosis of Jesus implicit in Matthew’s narrative. I want to provide a snapshot of this metamorphosis. Dunn’s characterisation of this transformation as a “transition” is too weak; we are dealing with something of profound ontological significance.13

4. Christ as Wisdom in Matthew’s Gospel and the Apotheosis of Jesus of Nazareth

Mathew, without any apparent fanfare has made a change in Jesus’ ontological status from Jesus as a messenger of Wisdom to Jesus as Wisdom. Historically one may postulate that this opened up the possibilities for a subtle deification of Jesus, which becomes explicit in the chronologically later parts of the NT (Prologue to John’s gospel comes to mind). This means that we have a fundamental shift away from the historical Jesus of Nazareth towards the Trinitarian speculations of the patristic era.

As Dunn concludes, “when we press back behind Q, insofar as we reach back to the actual words of Jesus himself, the probability is that Jesus’ own understanding of his relation to Wisdom is represented by Q rather than by Matthew.”14

If the gospel was written after 70 CE (the consensus of scholars), the outbreak of hostility between rabbinic Judaism and Jewish Christianity which occurred after the fall of Jerusalem in AD70 (which is implied by Matthew 23) may have been provoked by what to Jewish monotheistic ears trained to value the unity of the Godhead, must have sounded like the rankest blasphemy in attributing deity to a creature.

5. Conclusion

It will be apparent from this analysis that at least one writer known to us many years after Jesus’ ascension, by his deliberate editing of the gospel sayings of Jesus, took a completely new step: he applied Wisdom categories that had previously dramatised Gods saving actions in the world to a man who lived only decades earlier.

The most sophisticated attempt known to me to save orthodox Christian teaching in the face of early Christianity’s changing doctrines about Jesus is to be found in the celebrated Victorian churchman John Henry Newman. He was concerned to defend the truth of Catholic teaching about Jesus against historical evidence suggesting that the dogma of the deity of Christ was not church teaching till centuries after Jesus’ time. He wrote a highly influential work An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

It was composed in 1845, when Newman was halting midway between two forms of Christianity. Its aim was to explain and justify what Protestants regarded as corruptions and additions to the primitive Christian creed, and to show these to be legitimate developments. In a series of eloquent and erudite analogies, he seeks to show that the present highly complex doctrines of the Church lay in germ in the original depositum of faith, which has evolved or developed through progressive unfolding and explication.15

Newman was writing at a time when Victorian England was coming to terms with the notion of development in history and science. The idea of evolutionary change was part of the zeitgeist, and soon Darwin would publish his monumental Origin of Species.

But was Newman right? Did the church’s developing doctrines about Jesus simply make explicit what had been implicit in the truth about Jesus? Could one still credibly believe that Jesus believed himself to be Almighty God as the Nicaean Creed suggests? Would Jesus himself be content with what the church has done with his memory and teaching?

In answer to these questions I would like to leave the last word to the Jewish scholar Geza Vermes, who has spent over 50 years of scholarly activity studying Judaism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament and Jesus.

By the end of the first century Christianity had lost sight of the real Jesus and of the original meaning of his message. Paul, John and their churches replaced him by the otherworldly Christ of faith, and his insistence on personal effort, concentration and trust in God by a reliance on the saving merits of an eternal, divine Redeemer. The swiftness of the obliteration was due to a premature change in cultural perspective. Within decades of his death, the message of the real Jesus was transferred from its Semitic (Aramaic/Hebrew) linguistic context, its Galilean/Palestinian geographical setting, and its Jewish religious framework, to alien surroundings…Jesus, the religious man with an irresistible charismatic charm, was metamorphosed into Jesus the Christ, the transcendent object of the Christian religion.

The distant fiery prophet from Nazareth proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom of God did not mean much to the average new recruit from Alexandria, Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth or Rome. Their gaze was directed towards a universal saviour and even towards the eternal yet incarnate Word of God who was God.16

Further Thoughts

At the end of the day the considerations of this paper do not exist in a vacuum. If I am broadly on target in my analysis then this matters profoundly. In the arena of the world’s religions, claim and counter claim about religious truth calls each of us to respond thoughtfully and with courage.

If orthodox Christianity, the Christianity of the Trinitarian creeds, is now shown to be too radically discontinuous with the historical flesh and blood Jesus who walked the streets of Jerusalem 2000 years ago, then we are obliged to look elsewhere for unalloyed revelation.

Someone once asked the noted English Muslim writer Gai Eaton why there is no historical criticism of the Qur’an as there is of the Bible. He answered:

There is a misunderstanding: the Bible is made up of many different parts, compiled over many centuries and it is possible to cast doubt upon one part without impugning the rest; whereas the Qur’an is a single revelation, received by just one man, either you accept it for what it claims to be, in which case you are a Muslim or you reject this claim, and so place yourself outside the fold of Islam.17

  1. Apotheosis: elevating to the status of a god; deification []
  2. Schweizer, Herkunft, p.109 []
  3. Schweizer, ‘Hintergrund, p. 92 []
  4. F. Christ, Jesus Sophia, pp.80, 99 []
  5. Second Edition, 1989, SCM Press []
  6. Ibid., p.168 []
  7. Ibid., p.168 []
  8. Von Rad, Wisdom, p.148 []
  9. Dunn, Christology in the Making, p. 170 []
  10. Ibid., p.174 []
  11. Hypostasis: having being, substance []
  12. For further information and links go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_document []
  13. Ontology: concerned with the nature of being []
  14. Dunn, Christology in the Making, p. 206 []
  15. Harrold, Charles F., A Newman Treasury, London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1943, pp.83-84 []
  16. Geza Vermes, The Changing Faces of Jesus, Penguin, 2000, p. 263 []
  17. Gai Eaton has written some of the most acclaimed books about Islam in the English language. Particularly recommended is Islam and the Destiny of Man. See reviews here. []