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Post 28 Oct 2013, 3:17 pm

I recently finished reading an absolutely fascinating book called In the Shadow of the Sword by Tom Holland. It's essentially a popular history book covering the late antiquity period and the rise of the great monotheistic faiths, but in particular it talks a great deal about the early history of Islam and how little we actually know about it. It's fascinating because unlike Christianity, which is well known to have been severely manipulated by imperial politics to the extent that what we now know as the New Testament is essentially just the culmination of factional infighting at the Council of Nicaea 325 years after the Birth of Jesus, the fact that a similar process almost certainly went on in Islam as well is something that I never see mentioned.

The story of Islam's early foundation is something that's supposedly well known and extensively documented. Setting aside whether Mohammed really did receive revelations from Allah (which I obviously don't believe personally), it's commenly held that the Prophet lived in Mecca until he fell foul of the ruling faction there and fled to Medina, from whence he eventually forged a mighty new nation based on adherance to the new faith of Islam which defeated the Khoresh and conquered Mecca, banishing the pagan idols from the Ka'ba and then going on to sweep through the rest of Arabia. Islamic sharia law is all derived from the Hadiths, which are direct quotations from the prophet during his lifetime lovingly preserved over the centuries and compiled by Islamic scholars into a complete body of work that gives guidance to the faithful on how to live their lives. The likelihood is that none of these accepted facts are actually true.

The most interesting revelation for me concerns the most basic thing about Islam that everybody knows, which is that their holy city is Mecca, Mohammed's birthplace and home of the most sacred shrine in the entire faith. What's interesting is that there's no real historical basis for believing this to have actually been the case. Mecca is mentioned only once in the Quran, and that only in passing. There are no contemporaneous sources which mention the city at all and certainly nothing which would suggest that Mohammed ever even visited the place, let alone that he was born there. What is mentioned is a place called 'Bakka', which is described as being the most sacred shrine in the faith that every muslim should make pilgrimage to. Nowadays this tends to just be taken as another name for Mecca, but again there are no contemporaneous sources for this assumption, it was just asserted centuries after Mohammed's death by Islamic scholars who were looking for a way to explain away the fact that the holy city doesn't even register in the sacred texts. What do exist however are a number of sources which suggest that in the early centuries of the faith muslims in Iraq would direct their prayers to the west and muslims in Palestine would direct their prayers to the east. This suggests that 'Bekka' actually lay somewhere on the Syrian border, a very long way from Mecca. The story that Mohammed originated in Mecca and the subsequent shifting of orientation for all of those muslim prayers to the south didn't occur until sometime during the Umayyad dynasty a couple of hundred years after the Islamic conquest of the Middle East, and appears to have been done for political reasons. There isn't actually any documentary evidence for it whatsoever.

Likewise with the Hadiths. There are thousands of these and there used to be many thousands more. Over the years Islamic scholars sought to systematically test them all to weed out the genuine sayings of the prophet from the fake until eventually a body of law could be established that authentically derived from Mohammed himself. The thing is though, the first Hadiths didn't start to appear until about 200 years after his death. The authentification process amounted to little more than establishing a long chain of chinese whispers all the way back to the disciple who first heard the words of the Prophet and passed them on exactly as spoken. Needless to say this is enormously improbable. The fact is that there are no contemporaneous sources to support any of them and in fact no real reason to suppose that any of the Hadiths are genuine. Many actually seem to contradict the Quran. In the Quran it says that muslims should pray 3 times a day not 5, and it says that adulterors will receive their punishment in the afterlife but doesn't prescribe that they should be stoned to death, which is what it says in the hadiths. Many also seem to show evidence of contamination by the teachings of the other faiths in the lands that the Arabs conquered, notably Zoroastrian, Jewish and Christian teachings. This is hardly surprising of course, but it does rather cast a new light on the whole concept of Islamic law.

We basically know othing at all about Mohammed. Where he was born, what he did during his life, what his teachings really were or whether in fact he ever existed at all. This is quite remarkable when you stop to think about it, since there are billions of people around the world who live by laws that are supposedly derived from his dictates. I'm surprised this doesn't get more coverage really.
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Post 28 Oct 2013, 11:50 pm

Interesting. There are no contemporaneous sources for Jesus Christ either... Nor for Moses...
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Post 29 Oct 2013, 12:27 pm

Well yes, although there does seem to be a fair bit more circumstantial evidence of Jesus at least. Moses almost certainly didn't exist.

It's fascinating to me how few religious people ever seem to pay any attention to the historical origins of their faith. Right this minute there's a debate going on the other thread about the Bible involving a man who's almost certainly a fairly typical Christian believer. DF must surely be aware of the fact that the Bible underwent some fairly savage editing over a period of many centuries and several grand ecumenical councils, all carried out by ambitious flesh and blood men. Somehow this doesn't seem to bother him one little bit, or for that matter any other Christian. We're all comfortable with the notion that history is written by the winners but few seem to follow that thought to the logical conclusion that faith follows a similar trajectory.
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Post 29 Oct 2013, 1:44 pm

Sassenach wrote:It's fascinating to me how few religious people ever seem to pay any attention to the historical origins of their faith.
Well, that is going to be explained by the nature of faith itself, and in how a lot of religions come to be.

Most religions are based on a core premise - that their view of reality is The Truth. As they largely deal in things like how to live one's life and what to believe in order to attain a perfect state and/or avoid chaos/oblivion/damnation, it's quite important if they are The Truth.

The presence of other religions, which also proclaim the same Truth, but prescribe, proscribe, recommend or advise against different things makes the stakes even higher. If Christianity is True, then Muslims are in deep trouble. But if Islam is True then it's the Christians who are damned. Along with the Jews, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Mormons, Scientologists, Jain, Sikhs, etc etc.

Of course, the religious will often seek to pick holes in their rivals - highlighting how risible they are, how patently false and ridiculous they are, how ahistorical, etc. Religious minorities are often persecuted by majorities.

Faith (in the general sense, rather than the specific meaning any particular religion assigns to the concept), means accepting the religion's tenets as the Truth. It often means doing so in the face of alternative claims, or even the evidence within the religion itself. The problem is that one of the key tenets of most religions is to maintain faith.

This means that looking at the history, where things get a bit murky and human could be seen as itself showing a lack of faith. Especially when it comes up with evidence of inconsistency, or time-lags between events and their documentation.

In recent times we have seen new religions emerge. Two examples that are quite well known are Scientology and Mormonism. In both cases we can clearly see that there are significant problems with the face-value claims of the main 'prophets' of these faiths, and there is plenty of evidence for those problems, but very little evidence of the veracity of the religions' claims. That does not stop people following those religions.

Of course, proximity and greater literacy mean that we have a lot of contemporary accounts for how each of those two religions was formed.
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Post 29 Oct 2013, 6:17 pm

Sassenach wrote:DF must surely be aware of the fact that the Bible underwent some fairly savage editing over a period of many centuries and several grand ecumenical councils, all carried out by ambitious flesh and blood men. Somehow this doesn't seem to bother him one little bit, or for that matter any other Christian.

I would never consider speaking for DF but many/most of the people (I hesitate to use the word Christian because of the different meanings) I know acknowledge this but believe the men involved were influenced by the Holy Spirit in their actions.
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Post 29 Oct 2013, 11:50 pm

I guess you'd have to.

What's interesting in the case of Islam is that they don't even have a rationalisation like that to fall back on. Sharia is based entirely on the Hadiths, which are supposed to be direct quotations from Muhammed himself. Muhammed is supposed to be the final prophet so it can hardly be said that the writers of the Hadiths were divinely inspired, they have to be completely accurate recordings of the Prohet's own words or they're nothing. As such muslims have to blindly accept at face value that various Islamic scholars many generations after the death of Muhammed have somehow managed to track down, check and accurately record these sayings, which therefore must have passed through any number of other hands and survived unchanged since the first time Muhammed ever spoke them to one of his illiterate supporters. You need a powerful faith to buy into that concept.

Apparently there was a discovery in the loft of the oldest mosque in Yemen sometime in the last century. What they found was copies of the Quran dating to the first century after the birth of Muhammed, which makes them easily the oldest surviving Qurans ever known. Two German academics were invited to study them and the conclusion they came out with was that the Quran had changed significantly over the years, just like the Bible. Those Qurans were immediately placed under lock and key by the authorities and nobody has seen them since. Clearly there were some influential people in the Islamic world who weren't keen on having near-contemporaneous sources in circulation. You have to wonder why...
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Post 19 Nov 2013, 7:23 am

Wonder why? Its simple. Its evidence that a fundamental belief is false.
The rejoinder for those who believe the same for the Christian Bible has been what Archduke referred to, that those who changed or altered the Bible were inspired to do so by God....
Islam already has that rationale for the Hadith. But has never confronted the changes in the Quaran so directly.

Puin, and his colleague Graf von Bothmer, have published only short essays on the Ṣana'a find. In a 1999 interview with Toby Lester, the executive editor of The Atlantic Monthly website, Puin described the preserved fragments by the following:

"Some of the parchment pages in the Yemeni hoard seemed to date back to the seventh and eighth centuries A.D., or Islam's first two centuries—they were fragments, in other words, of perhaps the oldest Korans in existence. What's more, some of these fragments revealed small but intriguing aberrations from the standard Koranic text. Such aberrations, though not surprising to textual historians, are troublingly at odds with the orthodox Muslim belief that the Koran as it has reached us today is quite simply the perfect, timeless, and unchanging Word of God


http://www.ask.com/wiki/Sana'a_manuscript
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Post 19 Nov 2013, 2:35 pm

Apparently, Costco might agree you Sass with regard to the sketchy origins of one major religion...
http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/11/ ... p=trending
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Post 19 Nov 2013, 3:58 pm

Sassenach wrote:Apparently there was a discovery in the loft of the oldest mosque in Yemen sometime in the last century. What they found was copies of the Quran dating to the first century after the birth of Muhammed, which makes them easily the oldest surviving Qurans ever known. Two German academics were invited to study them and the conclusion they came out with was that the Quran had changed significantly over the years, just like the Bible. Those Qurans were immediately placed under lock and key by the authorities and nobody has seen them since. Clearly there were some influential people in the Islamic world who weren't keen on having near-contemporaneous sources in circulation. You have to wonder why...
These are the Sana'a manuscripts.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sana%27a_manuscript

Your summary doesn't quite match the story I've seen - seems that the changes identified are not necessarily major, and that some are already noted from other early Qurans. Also, the folios have not been locked away, but have been available since then, to Italian academics and also

The Islamic response is pretty much this:

    There was the proper version of the Quran, which could only be completed after Muhammed's death (as he received the suras right up until he died), which was set in canon under the Third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, after a process of collecting all the various memorised and written chunks from people.

    But contemporaneously, there would be 'personal' versions of the Quran which were not canon, inaccurate mainly due to things being out of order, or with minor errors. Because many people (including, at first at least, Muhammed) were illiterate, the Suras were memorised, with lots of people memorising different parts. In battle, quite a few of the memorisers died, so a process of writing things down started, either shortly before or some time after Muhammed's death. Not all of the written versions were accurate, as people would not remember things exactly the same, or in the right sura order, leading to variations. Those not matching the were destroyed after the canonical version under Uthman was established.

The Sana'a manuscript is a palimpsest. That is, it is on parchment which was written on, cleaned and written on again, but with the old text becoming visible as chemicals from the ink seep back to the surface. The newer text is of the canonical Quran, but the older text is not. It varies by more that other known non-canonical Qurans, but the German researchers have not shown how any of these variations are actually significant.

That is compatible with two different narratives:

1) The older version was a 'personal' Quran that was destroyed by cleaning off the ink, and replaced by the 'correct' version

2) The newer version was a revision of the old 'original' Quran

Frankly, it's not something we'll really know (any more than who actually wrote various books of the Christian or Jewish testaments or when), but there are some compelling theories. And there are religious rationalisations that will cover the same evidence.

So all in all, it's pretty 'meh'
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Post 21 Nov 2013, 8:57 pm

I wonder which god the Denisovans worshiped? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/1 ... D408905ped?
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Post 27 Nov 2013, 10:56 pm

Archduke Russell John wrote:
Sassenach wrote:DF must surely be aware of the fact that the Bible underwent some fairly savage editing over a period of many centuries and several grand ecumenical councils, all carried out by ambitious flesh and blood men. Somehow this doesn't seem to bother him one little bit, or for that matter any other Christian.

I would never consider speaking for DF but many/most of the people (I hesitate to use the word Christian because of the different meanings) I know acknowledge this but believe the men involved were influenced by the Holy Spirit in their actions.


(2 Pet. 1:20-21 ESV) knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.
21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.


So, good call, Archduke.

"Savage editing," "Nicea," "Moses almost certainly didn't exist."

If I could prove each of these incorrect, it would not change anything. Nicea would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

However, I don't argue about the origin of Scripture with those who don't believe it. What would be the point?

I would note that many believed David "almost certainly didn't exist" until they found something called the Tel Dan Stele.

Anyway, you non-Christians have fun debating about what you believe least, or whatever it is you're trying to establish.
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Post 28 Nov 2013, 3:01 am

If you want to ignore the thread, perhaps you could do it a bit more quietly?

Interesting that the quote DF uses comes from the Second Epistle of Peter - one of the several Antilegoma as described by Origen and Eusebius - books that are disputed in terms of authorship and/or value.