Mohammed was a Christian

In a recent blog entry I mentioned that Islam appears to have begun life
as a mildly schismatic Christian sect. In the comments on that entry someone
called for sources. Here is what I know about this:

(First, a note on my general background: I am neither a Christian
nor a Moslem, and in fact consider those two religions #3 and #4 in
the Most Toxic Ideologies Of All Time sweepstakes, after Communism and
Naziism. I have therefore studied the history of Christianity and
Islam fairly closely, basically on the know-your-enemies principle.)

There is a scholar somewhere in Germany using the alias Christoph
Luxenberg. He has published a book called Die syro-aramaeische
Lesart des Koran; Ein Beitrag zur Entschlüsselung der
Quränsprache
. He uses a pseudonym because he thinks many
Moslems will want to kill him when they find out about it. In this
he is undoubtedly correct.

What Luxenberg has done is applied the same methods of philology
and linguistics to the Qur’an that were applied to the Christian Bible
beginning in the mid-19th century. I have not read the book itself as
I have no German, but when I read several summaries of its conclusions
I was struck by the sense they made of some odd facts I had picked up
over the years. Such as the datum that there is a Christian monastery
in the Sinai which received a special immunity, apparently from
Mohammed himself, under terms its abbots have kept mum about for 1400
years. And the curious resemblance (you have to have read both the
Qur’an and some odd Christian sources to notice, but I have) between
the rhetoric of the Qur’an and that of a now-forgotten group of
Christian ‘heretics’ called Monophysites who were particularly strong
in the Syria and Arabia of Mohammed’s time. And the fact that early
Muslims knelt to pray towards Jerusalem, not Mecca.

You can read this
scholarly review
for more. Another discussion, which was written
before Luxenberg but is particularly telling on the evidence that Islam
did not emerge as a separate faith until well after Mohammed’s death,
is at this
atheist site
. I’ll give you a summary of the high points, some of
which the reviewers (though not the atheists) tiptoe around.

Islam, the Qur’an, and classical Arabic all formed in a
cosmopolitan culture of Syrio-Aramaic-speaking Arabs. The religious
tradition that went with that language was Christian; in fact, the
very word “Qur’an” probably derived from “queryana”, a Syrio-Aramaic
term for a kind of Christian liturgical text. The variant spelling
“qur’an” for that word is attested.

Mohammed was probably a Christian of a Nestorian or Monophysite
stripe, and the Qur’an originally intended as a commentary or gloss on
the Syriac recension of the Christian Bible. The surah or section of
the Qur’an that Moslems believe is the oldest contains an exhortation
to take the Christian Eucharist.

In fact, it is almost certain that the concept of an Islamic
identity separate from Syriac Christianity did not develop in
Mohammed’s lifetime; there are hints that it was a political creation
of the Caliphate, constructed soon after Mohammed’s death by the
Caliph ‘Othman. Notably, he had burned all recensions of the sayings
of Mohammed other than the one prepared under his control.

Many textual difficulties in the Qur’an vanish once it is realized
that a lot of the words in it are fossilized Aramaic. Luxenberg
wanders deep into technical philology here and you have to know a lot
of details about early Semitic writing systems, including the fact
that they didn’t record vowels. (I know enough to smell that
Luxenberg has a hell of a strong case.) But the upshot is that you
can go to Syrio-Aramaic vocabularies and extract clear readings from
many passages that are maddeningly obscure if you’re running under the
assumption that they are written in the vocabulary of later
Arabic.

Remember the brief rash of news stories about “72 virgins” actually
meaning “72 white grapes”? That was Luxenberg reading the Qur’an in
its original Syrio-Aramaic-derived vocabulary.

Islamic scholars of the Qur’an lost the knowledge of the Qur’an’s
Aramaic origins shortly after ‘Othman’s book-burning. There are hints
of it in the oldest hadith (traditional saying of Mohammed) but the
hints don’t make any sense until you do the philology, at which point
they snap into focus and startle the crap out of you. The traditional
Islamic accounts of the Qur’an’s origins are are best confused, and at
worst pure inventions of the Umaiyyad propaganda machine that was
busily turning Mohammed’s reform of Syriac Christianity into a new
religion as the basis for empire

One entertaining detail I didn’t discover until I did my
fact-checking for this essay is that Catholic theologians have been
claiming Mohammed was a renegade Nestorian, or something like, for
about a thousand years. It also turns out that there are
scholar-priests in odd corners of the Christian world (notably among
Maronites in Lebanon) who had pieces of Luxenberg’s exegesis all
along, but lacked the philological training to put them together.
Now it turns out they were right. Who knew?

Blogspot comments

13 thoughts on “Mohammed was a Christian

  1. Eric

    WARNING: These ideas are politically incorrect.

    The other day in the doctor’s office I read a fascinating article that suggests that sexual dimorphism exists but may be more complex than we had recognized. The article used as an example some ( natually ) color coded male lizards. The alpha males display red spots and command large territories. T will call them Thorian in honor of the Norse god Thor. The betas display yellow spots and are lesser alphas. The blue spotted lizards I will call Lokean’s because they display some of the traits of the Norse trickster. They take on female appearance and sneak into the egg chamber disguised as nurses ( as lizards define nurses ) and do not own territory. Its a new area of research but apparently carries through to other species so it may be a law of life. The Lokean strategy apparently survives because they forego territory travel light. I do not mean to extrapolate this directly to humans or attribute sneakinesss to less macho men. But it may be translate to meaning that some men will prefer emulate Schwarzenegger and less macho men will offer qualities like shared interest in the arts or more nurturing of children and be the nurturing men the feminists are clamoring for.

    Naturally there is tension between the two types of males. Alphas are needed to protect the society. But it should be remembered that gays and also non-gays who are are the wrong side of the macho continuum have made cultural contributions disproportionate to their numbers.Perhaps because they had more time. Also they may have played a role in limiting the power of dictators. An alpha clan leader could only promise his daughter to the rival thug if she could slip off with the harper from time to time. So I think we need an appreciation and tolerance of human variety.

    Cayte

  2. Okay, it’s been a long time since you posted this, but I just came upon it. You ended this article just when it got interesting! I guess it served its purpose then. Like any good intro to a subject, it makes me want to go and find out more about Aramaic in the Qur’an. Bravo!

  3. I expect Mohammed got many writings from the brother of his wife Kadija. He is recorded doing translations into Arabic of Syriac Christian writings such as the Bible. Did Mohammed look over Waraqa’s shoulder? Did he learn Syriac letters enough to decypher it somewhat? Did he end up understanding it incorrectly and making a hash of it in Arabic? Note: the text was then written without vowels. Mistaken readings would be expected. It looks like more and more that something like this happened. The underlay of Syriac is in the Koran. Why was it necessary to rewrite the Koran a number of times and destroy the previous copies if nothing devious was going on? There is a story that a goat “ate” much of the Koran from under the bed of Mohammed and his child bride Ayesha. Did a goat eat it, or did he or she destroy the incriminating evidence? Islam’s origins have too many fishy stories like this. The Koran itself does not appear until 150 years after Mohammed’s death. The religion appears to have evolved over about 200 years and the Koran and Hadiths were read backwards into it. Too much doesn’t add up for the cover story to be true.

  4. “First, a note on my general background: I am neither a Christian
    nor a Moslem, and in fact consider those two religions #3 and #4 in
    the Most Toxic Ideologies Of All Time sweepstakes”

    I agree with you 100%. But not religions itselfs but the people abuse them for personal gain.

  5. Great article. Dr. Veith talks about this subject on youtube. He shows how Islam appears to have risen from Roman Catholicism. It makes sense when you look at the facts.

  6. A very interesting article, this jut shows that all of us have the same purpose, to serve God, no matter what religion we may be in.

  7. Well,,, If it’s as you say then way Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and why most of Christian and Jews people are converting to Islam while Muslims never do the same!! Strange how you see things! Open your eyes all of you, I’m not trying to convince you with anything here, just adding a hint that’s all, I remember sometimes every like twenty years they bring all over the news a Muslim guy converted to Christianity and it’s all over the news Tv, cyber!! You know because it’s so strange it’s like big deal while people from all different religions are converting daily to Islam yet nobody talks about it due to the regulation of it! Peace out, I wish the best to all of you and to the whole world

  8. Pingback: Johan de Wal blogt » Overzichtswerk presenteert Mohammed als mysticus

  9. In America we have a prophet named Joseph Smith. He could have became an insurance salesman of some sort. If you are interested in Mohamed then extrapolate.

  10. I read your first paragraph, & knew right away, the rest of your words were gonna be “straight from the hip”, with no religious bias creeping into your writing!! You stated right up front you were neither a Christian or Muslim, & you were basing your comments on the “know your enemy” concept..!! We could hang out together, I feel the same way!! I’m an ex-Catholic, & my girlfriend is an ex-Muslim..!! We both consider ourselves Agnostic to ALL the man-made religions on earth, and lean toward the notion that even if there is some supernatural entity that created all the universe, with it’s millions of billions of galaxies, each containing BILLIONS OF BILLIONS of stars like our sun, the chance that a “God” created us humans in “his” image, & is watching over us, & simultaneously answers the prayers of EVERY single individual, is BEYOND ludicrous!! It’s PATHETIC!! But when it comes right down to it, we human’s just can’t accept that when we die, THAT’S IT FOLKS!! There is no heaven or hell, & when our sun burns out in many more billions of years, but turns our planet into a large charcoal briquet before it dies, and gets SUPER HOT, expands, & engulfs all the inner planets, the charred chemical remains of us humans only have to wait another quadrillion, quadrillion more earth years before ALL the stars in the universe burn out, & the Universe collapses back in on itself (if there’s enough matter for it to do so, scientist’s tell us). And perhaps it all gets sucked out an enormous black hole, into “another” Universe, to start the process all over again…!! Religion just cushions the blow of REALITY for weak minded people, and I DIDN’T say “STUPID” people either…just scared, naive, & childlike…!! I only WISH there was something in one of the religions that could make me believe in a God who prepared an after-life for all his followers, and all we had to do was believe in him, & pray for our sins, & we would live for ALL ETERNITY with him in a beautiful, perfect place called “HEAVEN”!!

  11. Good post. This topic only recently swam under my nose; I am considering it for a book project once the ones I’m working on move into editing. I am familiar wih Luxenbourg and rate him a solid researcher. What many people seem unaware of is that Mohammed was illiterate and died that way; his (alleged) SAYINGS were written down decades afterwards–meaning that they were highly unlikely to have been accurately recorded. The Christian origin of the cult is more than plausible, especially given the very large number of borrowings in the Qu’ran from the Bible–the Angel Gabriel being prehaps the best known. It is absolutely certain, because of these, that whomever actually did write the Qu’ran was at least familiar with Christian mythology.

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