From email@example.com (Bob Kirk) Newsgroups: soc.religion.islam Subject: The Christianity of the Qur'an Date: Wed Dec 11 00:41:27 EST 1996 Message-Id: <firstname.lastname@example.org> The Christianity of the Qur'an Uncovered - Part 1 Syria was the place. It was there that the advancing Greek culture and thought encountered Persian mythology, and the Babylonian astral cults. It was to there also, that a constituent of the primitive Christian community in Palestine, shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem had emigrated, (east of the Jordan), and had come into contact with this heathen thought-world, and its mystical techings. It is there in Syria that one finds the hybrid development concerning their doctrines or beliefs in the methods of revelation which resulted directly from the amalgamation or syctretizing of some of these external ideas with their own. In an early to mid second century CE gospel utilized by some of these Judaeo-Christian sects, 'The Gospel of the Hebrews', we read of the baptism of Jesus, 'As the Lord came up out of the water, there came down the whole fount of the Holy Spirit and rested on him, and said to him, "In all the prophets I awaited thee till thou shouldst come, that I might find my resting place in thee, for thou art my resting place, my first-born Son, who reignest for ever."' Therefore, according to the Gospel of the Hebrews, the fount of the Holy Spirit, the one same divine being had taken form in, or had inspired all of the prophets, until in Christ it had found it's full and definite revelation. This also resembles and is likely derived from the portrayal of the Wisdom of God in the apocryphal book, 'The Book of Wisdom', a stoic-influenced work. "From generation to generation it flows in pious souls, and maketh men God's friends and prophets."(1) These emmigrants from the Holy Land bearing their Christian faiths, tempered by remnants of Judaism, believed in the Holy Spirit, descending upon and in the prophets to who or through whom the Lord wished to speak. After this, their notion encountered (in the eastern parts of their new land), the Persian doctrine of a divine Savior and Guide, the 'Heavenly Man' who once in the beginning, showed helpless mankind the way of truth and life, and who would later reveal Himself once again as the Redeemer and also the Procreator of Truth. Epiphanius explains that Ebion, the alledged founder of these Judaeo-Christian sects, believed that Christ once was Adam, the first man to be created by God, and into whom God breathed his breath. This Heavenely Man, the first Adam, who's home was naturally Heaven, was prone to, on occasion, come down from the supra-mundane life of that place, and assume a visible form appearing to the patriarchs. 'After He had come thus to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the last days He came clothed in the body of the same Adam. He appeared as a man, was crucified, rose again, and went to heaven.'(2) The heavenly Christ was thus incarnated twice on earth, as both Adam, and Christ, but had sometimes assumed a visible form to communicate with the patriarchs of the Old Testament. The two doctrines, one of the method of revelation, and the other of the nature and person of the Heavenly Man, upon whom the fount of the Spirit had descended, were merged, resulting in the later synretized concept evident in the Judaeo-Christian doctrines of revelation of that area; First, the heavenly messenger and helper, Adam-Christ, was conceived of as dwelling in the prophets and assuming human form in them. Then it was said that only twice, at the beginning and end of the world-period did he actually take on his own human form, and further, only showed that form to holy persons whom were found worthy of divine instruction. The first concept resembles the Judaeo-Greek idea of the Spirit of Wisdom and revelation which descend on the prophets and dwelt in them. The second concept belongs to the Oriental doctrine of a Redeemer, who from time to time, comes from on High to reveal himself to the elect, but only actually came twice into this mundane existence in His bodily form. For the former instances, he descended upon and into the prophets to whom he would reveal truth. In the later, he both was and received himself. There is a certain duality to both instances, which is beyond the scope and purpose of this discussion, but will be briefly addressed momentarily. Some advocates of this fused hybrid doctrine were Elxai (Elkhasai), who lived in the country east of the Jordan in the third year of the reign of Emperor Trajan. His name, roughly means 'the hidden power', and Elxai was convinced that he was one of these prophets who by the fount of the Spirit, was able to receive instruction from the heavenly messenger. Elxai, believed that a vision he had had, confirmed his calling. He had seen a twenty-mile high angel, and a female behind him. Epiphanius(3) explains that Elxai had understood the angel to be Christ, and the female figure, to be the Holy Spirit, his mother. 'Spirit' the word, is feminine in Aramaic, and naturally (as the Gospel of the Hebrews instructed) the Spirit spoke to Jesus as its (her) son, therefore she was His mother, spiritually. This is an important point worthy of note, and I will address it in the course of the article. Further, him whom the Heavenly messenger in spiritual form rests upon (in) was believed to not posess this spirit only at certain times, but always, and is endowed with it for their whole life.(4) What followed from that idea is also intimately important to the understanding of Christinity as represented in the Qur'an: Since Adam was this messenger in his own physical form, to assert that Adam sinned is contrary to his nature, and an insult to God and the Messenger, in whose image he is. To those prophets then that the Messenger lived in and through, such as Abraham, Moses etc., the natural extension was that since they as well were indwelt by that same heavenly man, they were also without sin. Epiphanius mentions(5) the prophets included as such by the Ebionites, (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and Joshua), but excludes those such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. In other words, the writing prophets are neglected. Familar? The doctrine which has been here described was likely formulated more or less clearly by the Sethians(6), among whom was the Gnostic Justinus. It is useful here to perhaps comment indirectly on the legitimacy of this fused doctrine, as some might suggest that this syncretizing process resulted in the truth about Christ, the Holy Spirit, and eventually, Muhammed. In other words, was it right? Justinus counted as one of the prophets in/upon whom the heavenly messenger rested, Hercules, a pagan hero/deity. This says a fair bit about the doctrine itself, and about those who were forming it. They were interested in bending faith to fit their world view, and not alterring their world view to agree with the truth of the faith. From the earliest days of Christianity (as the gospels and Paul's letters to the Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Thessalonians etc., attest to), it was known from Christ's own words that He and the Spirit were separate, yet unified with the Father in the Godhead, and that Adam, the prophets, and the human person of Christ were all separate individuals, and (except for Christ), were in sin, and not permanently indwelt by the Holy Sirit. Another among this group of adherants, was the Syrian Bar Daisan, who taught that Christ had appeared to Moses and other prophets, until He finally took on form through the virgin Mary.(7) According to Arabic sources, Bar Daisan held that 'Allah's light had descended into his heart.'(8) Thus he considered himself to be the prophet of the Christ-being, or perhaps His very own incarnation. Now that the basis of the doctrine's formulation has been layed, we will examine what came from it, and the purpose of this article, an explanation for the particulars of the Christianity of the Qur'an. The above mentioned doctrine and ideas received notable exposition at the hands of a man named Mani, the preacher and martyr, who was crucified in 276CE by the Persian king Bahram I at the city gate of Gundeshapur. Mani was profound at theosophic speculation. His poetical talents, which were well suited to the already fantastic Oriental myths, took natural hold of these ideas as a medium or vehicle to forward his religio-philosophical system. He had already originated a speculative religious movement, by his grave ascetic piety and his good faculty for organization. This movement as we shall see in a moment, had far reaching importance. According to the Arabic writer Ibn an-Nadim, Mani in his twelfth year had received a revelation from the 'King of the Paradise of Light'. When he was 24, the angel at-Tawwam (companion) came to him and said: "Greetings to thee, Mani, from me and from the Lord who has sent me to thee, (note he did not say from God, my comment) and has chosen thee to be His messenger."(9) Another Arabic writer, al- Biruni presents to us an important citation from the actual writings of Mani; "From time to time messengers from God have come with wisdom and pious works. In one generation they came through an apostle named Buddha to the land of India, in another through Zoroaster to Persia, in a third through Jesus to the West. This prophetic office has now, in this best of generations, come through me, Mani, the apostle of the God of truth, to the land of Babel."(10) This is where one needs to pause for a moment and seriously understand what and why this man was saying and doing what he was. He was syncretizing those 'apostles' of various faiths (and the faiths themselves), proclaiming an essentially universal doctrine in order to further his religio-philosophical following, neglecting completely that the doctrines of those different men were _completely_ incompatible. Mani recognized other men as apostles in this 'line' as well. Adam, Seth, Noah, and Abraham are all mentioned by him(11). A heavenly being of light, who bears the mystic names 'The Third Messenger', 'Jesus', and 'The Virgin of Light,' took form in these prophets, or revealed itself to them. In this regard, Mani betrays the fact that his doctrine is based on those previously mentioned, such as Elxai, as he also includes the same duality of this 'Messenger' at one time being identified with the prophets, and at another, being completely distinguished from them. If you can see the conclusion coming in the distance from this point, congratulations are due you. Verifiable, researchable, undisputable. Mani saw the person of Jesus as no ordinary man. In this he is not different from Biblical Christianity. It is where he diverges, according to that which proceeds from the above doctrines, that differs significantly. In Jesus, according to Mani, there clearly appears an earthly revelation of the Heavenly Messenger, which follows the course set out by the duality of the doctrine. What Christians believe about Jesus' birth, circumcision, temptation (in the wilderness), and similar things which disparage His Divinity, are false according to Mani. _ _The Jesus whom the Jews crucified was thus not the Heavenly One, who, thanks to His nature, can not suffer. It was therefore another being, who is sometimes called a demon, and sometimes the "son of the widow" whom God put in his place on the cross_ _. Mani at times even applied this duality to himself, claiming to have received a visit from this same Heavenly Messenger, (implying that he is an apostle of Jesus, that is, the Messenger(12). At others, it is affirmed that Mani gave himself out as the _Holy Spirit, whom Christ had promised, (and was indeed also promised in the Old Testament)_, and further, as even Christ Himself.(13) In the Manichaean texts from Turfan, in numerous prayers and hymns, Jesus, the Virgin of Light, and Mani are brought together as to clearly mean the same person. In Chinese texts, he is called Buddha. As mentioned, this idea of the same message coming at different times to different people was shared by a number or religious sects in the Oriental middle east at this time. Mani took it upon himself to assume the next in the series of prophets to, or rather on and in whom the Holy Spirit was (mis)understood to be singularly presented to. As far as we know, this doctrine relating messenger and prophet of truth was not called forth anytime after Mani or before Muhammed. However, the idea lived on. In the tenth century CE, Ibn an-Nadim still found Mesopotamian 'Sabians' who appear to have accepted the doctrines described above. The Qur'an does mention these people, for example in Sura 2:62, 'Believers, Jews, Christians and Sabians...' See also 5:69, and 22:17. I will speak of the Sabians again in part two of this article. These verses if nothing else, suggest that Muhammed was exposed to the beliefs mentioned above, at least to a degree. But there is other evidence. Syrian Christian bishops also encountered those with heretical ideas such as Mani's throughout their visitations to the Arabian desert(14). Manichaeism, which was strong in Central Asia, had extended to the borders of China, and to even Europe. It is no stretch to assume that in a city of commerce such as Mecca, there would have been the presence of Manichaeism to some degree. In fact, Arab chroniclers document that Zindiqs, (probably Manichaeans) had indeed come from al-Hira to Mecca(15). This is further supported by the following quotation from the Encyclopaedia Britannica concerning Manchaeism; 'The Arab conquest in the 7th century was not a fatal blow but in fact, stimulated a temporary renewal of Manichaeismin Babylonia and encouraged the return of several groups that had fled to Iraq and the neighbouring regions.'(16) Under Byzantine religious constrictions, those of the old Gnostic sects, and those Manichaean missionaries were required to proceed in Christian countries with great prudence and reservation. However, in non-Christian lands, there was no such restriction, and it is this fact that in part may explain the often fanatical attacks and abadonment by these people and missionaries of the Biblical Christian churches. Whether they considered Jesus as a prophet among the prophets, or identical with the Heavenly Messenger (or both), these missionaries (including Manichaean) _accused the Church of having falsified in various points, the true religion_. These accusations however, stemmed from their mystically influenced perception of the nature of Christ, the Heavenly Messenger, and the Holy Spirit, most of which was totally ignorant of Biblical history, or indeed the true path their doctrine had taken to get to them. In particular, they were convicted that all religions (but especially those that were able to name their founder) contained the same eternal truth, and this again, was syncretism with the heathen peoples that must have boosted their national and religious pride. The claims of Judaism and Christianity they said, as being the true and only religions, were wrongful to state, and were provocative assumptions. To the ears of a Meccan tradesman, not intimately involved in the debate, the presence of these doctrines may have had the same effect that Mani and the Gnostics had among the peoples of the Orient. The wandering Syrian preachers perhaps gave him an impulse into the direction that this deep thinker might have moved. Qur'anic Christianity makes it apparent that the author knew very little specifically of the Christian faith. Yet because of these Oriental syncretized influences, which echoed the Gnostic and Manichaean doctrine of revelation (many prophets, many peoples), and absorbed the legitimacy of many religions, it is not difficult to understand why Muhammed never considered considered becoming a Christian. He already knew from what he'd heard about Christianity from Syrian preachers, tempered by the Gnostic or Manichaean locals, that Christendom, was only one religion among other similarly privileged people whom had received guidance and revelation. Where was the prophet for his people? The Qur'anic conception of revelation bears a relationship to the Ebionitic-Manicaean doctrines which can not be accidental. Yet at the same time, it betrays a lack of true familiarity, in that for the rest, the only definite traces of Manichaean doctrine can be found in the Qur'ans notion of the death of Jesus. Here we return to the single most significant issue above from above. Sura 4:156ff, 'The Jews say, "Verily we have killed the Messiah, Jesus the Son of Mary, the Apostle of God," but he was neither killed nor crucified by them; he merely appeared so to them...Really, indeed, they did not kill him, but God took him up to Himself.' The author of the Qur'an does not believe like usual Gnostic docetism that Jesus himself suffered in a false body, but obviously like Mani, that someone else took his place, and was crucified by the Jews. This is how the Muslim exegetes of the first period understood it(17). They relate that of his own free will, one of Jesus' disciples took it upon himself to suffer for his master, and was made by God to resemble Him, so that the Jews believed they were crucifying Jesus Himself, or that it was Judas who was crucified in punishment for his treachery. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 1. Wisdom, vii. 2. Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses., xxx, 3. 3. Ibid, xix, 4. 4. Clement of Alexandria., Hom, ii, 6; iii, 11,13. 5. Andrae, T, Muhammed: The Man and His Faith, p126. 6. Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses., xxxix, 1. 7. A. Hahn, Bardesanes, Gnosticus, p.85; Burkitt, early Eastern Christianity p 160. 8. Al-Biruni, ed. Sachau, p 207. 9. Fihrist, ed. Flugel, p 328. 10. Al-Biruni, p 207. 11. Augustine, Contra Faustum, xix 3. 12. Hymnus, tr. Lidzbarski, Nach. der Gesell. d. Wiss., Gottingen, 1918, p 501. 13. Eusebius, Hist Eccl. vii, 31, 1;cf. "Bibliographie Manicheenne", J.A., 1911, p 505, 1913, p 99. 14. Assemani, Bibl. Orient. iii, 2 pp 482, 609, 614. 15. Ibn Rosteh, Kitab al-A'laq an-Nafisa, ed. de Goeje, B.G.A. vii, p 217. 16. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia Vol. 11, Livingstone-Metalwork, 1983 p 444. 17. Tabari on 4:156.
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