Daily Archives: 2013-03-10 12:56:56 UTC

Islam, the Untold Story

In_The_Shadow_Of_The_Sword,_The_Battle_for_Global_Empire_and_the_End_of_the_Ancient_World.jpegUpdated about 4 hours after first posting — especially in the opening paragraphs of “The Arab conquests are FOLLOWED by the rise of Islam“.

Historian and novelist Tom Holland raises some fascinating questions about the evidence pertaining to the origins of the Muslim religion. Is it possible that all three “religions of the book” will go down in history as having their foundations exposed as mythic in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries?

I have not yet read Holland’s book In the Shadow of the Sword [link is to Wikipedia article] but yesterday I listened to an extended radio interview with him (see/hear Tom Holland At Adelaide Writer’s Week) and watched UK’s Channel 4 documentary about Holland’s thesis, Islam, the Untold Story, on vimeo. (The audio interview is by far superior to the video documentary: the interview covers more detail and explanation of the thesis in its first 30 minutes than is broached in the entire doco.)

The traditional account

Muhammad is an illiterate merchant in the city of Mecca.

Mecca is a great pagan cult centre — no Jews or Christians there.

When 40 years old Muhammad hears voice of an angel giving directions from God.

Muhammad is last of the prophets. His teaching of monotheism offends the pagans who exile him to Medina.

Muhammad wins over the Arabs and regains Mecca. All Arabia becomes Muslim.

The teachings are all oral. Nothing written at this stage, but the Arabs converted to the Muslim religion as it is known today.

Arabs are inspired by his teaching to spread the word. That God is with them is evident from the miracle that they are able to overthrow both the Roman and then the Persian empires.

Their empire is proof that the Muhammad was the prophet of God.

Holland’s challenge

Holland, however, says that the evidence informs us of Arab conquests, not Muslim conquests, in the seventh century.

The earliest sources for Muhammad’s life are from around 800 CE. — almost 200 years after he existed. There are no lives of the prophet, no histories, no accounts of the conquests written by the Arabs, no commentaries on the Qur’an — then suddenly around 800 there is a great explosion of all of these.

Another “conspiracy of silence” and other problems

How to explain this silence? read more »

More On Dating New Testament Manuscripts (and the Rylands Fragment P52 again)

In my previous post I addressed the question of the famous P52 manuscript. But the article by Pasquale Orsini and Willy Clarysse is more generally a critique of “theological palaeography” and I highlight here some of their other more points about the principles involved with the dating of manuscripts.

The page references are from Pasquale Orsini & Willy Clarysse, “Early New Testament Manuscripts and Their Dates: A Critique of Theological Palaeography,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 88 (2012): 443-74. (In the extracts I am responsible for all bolding of text and formatting that goes beyond normal paragraphing.)

1. The Problem of Dating Literary Papyri

Only a few literary papyri can be dated thanks to

  • circumstantial evidence — i.e. their archaeological or historical context
  • or when they belong to a dated archive
  • or when they are written on the back or front of documentary text (this can give a terminus post — if written on the back; or an ante quem — if a dated document is written on their verso/back)

Other manuscripts (the majority) are thus dated by comparing their handwriting to datable scripts. This gives a relative, not absolute, date for most.

2. New Testament Texts and their Dates

New Testament manuscripts are more problematic than other literary texts since they are nearly always written as part of a codex. This means that the script is the same on both sides of each page and neither side can be used to establish a terminus ante or post quem.

Gradually, however, an uneasy consensus has been reached among papyrologists, and the result of this is found in the dates put forward by Nestle-Aland.

NESTLE–ALAND, 1994 = K. ALAND, Kurzgefasste Liste der griechischen Hand-schriften des Neuen Testaments. Zweite, neugearbeitete und ergänzte Auflage, bearbeitet von K. ALAND, in Verbindung mit M. WELTE, B. KÖSTER und K. JUNACK (Arbeiten zur Neutestamentlichen Textforschung 1), Berlin – New York, 1994;

see updates in: http://intf.uni-muenster.de/vmr/NTVMR/ListeHandschriften.php

As I cited in my previous post, no NT manuscripts are dated to the first century and “only very few to the second century.”

Recently even these early dates have been called into question by R.S. Bagnall [see R.S. BAGNALL, Early Christian Books in Egypt, Princeton, NJ – Oxford, 2009, pp. 11-18.]

Stepping outside of the Orsini-Clarysse article for a moment, here are three online reviews of Bagnall’s book: read more »