Survival of the fittest. Religions fight – survive or die.

There were formal and near formal heresies ( heresy = a theological doctrine or system rejected as false by ecclesiastical authority ) such as:  Docetism, Ebionitism,  Nestorians, Apollinarian, Monophysitism  ( several heresies ) and Gnosticism just to name few. Christian Gnostics  believed that someone else was crucified instead of Jesus Christ – e.g. the non canonical Gospel of Thomas.  Others believed just the opposite, that Jesus Christ was just human, that is also the current view of Islam. Interesting enough,  Islam usually claims that the  crucifixion of Jesus Christ was an illusion.  Theis article tnvestigates the relationship of two early heresies, Docetism and Ebionism, with the Islam.

Docetism

In Christianity, a sectarian doctrine  “Docetism” claimed that Jesus Christ had appeared as an illusion, that he had not had a real or natural body, and that his crucifixion had only been an illusion. It emerged in the 2nd century, mingled with gnostic schools and resurfaced in the 7th century in the Islamic view of crucifixion.  The ideology has derived its name from Greek dokeo, “to seem”. Docetism is closely linked to the Gnostic ideas of the Middle East in its time, among them Valentianism. It explains that matter represents evil, spirit the good. Therefore, Jesus physical body was merely an illusion for humans witnessing it. The same applies to his crucifixion, Jesus was incorporeal, a pure spirit and could not physically die. Consequently, Christ’s resurrection and ascension into heaven were denied. The concept of a Jesus without a natural body appears well-known in the first stages of Jesus-Judaism, mentioned in the letters of John (1 John 4:1–3; 2 John 7). Docetism became more fully developed as an important doctrinal position of Gnosticism, a religious dualist system of belief arising in the 2nd century ad which held that matter was evil and the spirit good and claimed that salvation was attained only through esoteric knowledge, or gnosis. The heresy developed from speculations about the imperfection or essential impurity of matter.  Also later Islam, which closeness in time and location offers the theory that it picked up Docetism thoughts, asserted that all the acts and sufferings of Jesu’s life, including the Crucifixion, were mere appearances. It consequently denied Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. Docetism was attacked with the same furor than Gnosticism, especially by Bishop Ignatius of Antioch in the 2nd century.

Ebionism

To be honest, it also overtly contradicts Gnosticism because it lays emphasis on Jesus’ human nature while objecting to the Christian belief in Jesus’ divinity. In order to reject the dogma of a divine Jesus, the Qur’an once claims that Jesus the Messiah is nothing more than a prophet (an a lesser one) and focuses on Jesus’ human nature by disregarding the Christian doctrine of incarnation.  When I try to get an overview of the different so-called heresies I found similarities of those heretical sects and the emphasis on Jesus’ human nature. In the 4th century most heresies were still not soundly defeated  and  Ebionitism found its  rebirth which affirmed Jesus’ physical manhood and believed he was the Messiah ,but denied his divinity. I came to the conclusion this view might be Ebionitism simplified. The doctrines of this sect are said by Irenaeus to be like those of Cerinthus and Carpocrates.  It is very hazardous, therefore, to maintain, as is sometimes done, that the distinction between Nazarenes and Ebionites goes back to the earliest days of Christianity.
Of the history of this sect hardly anything is known.  In St. Epiphanius’s time small communities seem still to have existed in some hamlets of Syria and Palestine, but they were lost in obscurity. Further east, in Babylonia and Persia, their influence is perhaps traceable amongst the Mandeans, and it is suggested by Uhlhorn and others that they may be brought into connection with the origin of Islam.

History clues

That is when I learned about Karl-Heinz Ohlig, who came to the conclusion  that at this very early stage Islam was in fact an Arabic Christian sect (likely Ebionism), based on the recorded Ebionites faith of Khadija, Muhammad’s first wife. The later hadith and biographies have been seen  in large part legends, instrumental in severing Islam from its Christian roots and building a full-blown new religion.  John Wansbrough believed that the Qu’ran is a redaction in part of other sacred scriptures, in particular the Judaeo-Christian scriptures.  As Phillip  Jenkings points out, Islam’s understanding of Jesus has strong  similarities to Ebionism but also to Docetism, and may even have taken its understanding from its theology.  In the Koran 4:156 it is stated that: “…but they did not kill him, and they did not crucify him, but a similitude was made for them…”  The person of Jesus or Isa in Arabic  is of great significance in both Islam and Christianity. One of the apocryphal gospels, the one of Peter fits the basic concepts of Docetism.   Docetism is among the earliest Christian sectarian doctrines.

Linguistic clues.

In 1972 ancient Qur’anic manuscripts wer discovered in Sana’a, Yemen. Dr. Gerd R Puin, a quranic expert leading the scientific analysis dated them at between 705 and 715. It is the oldest datable Quran in the world but was created 70 years after Mohammed’s death. Fragments from nearly 1000 different Quran’s were identified and verses and chapters changed and rearranged.  It is proof, that the Quran was not a single product or a single entity that was fixed by 650 but developed much, much later hence the overlaying of text. Gerd Rüdiger Puin (born 1940) is a German scholar and an authority on Qur’anic historical orthography, the study and scholarly interpretation of ancient manuscripts. He is also specialist in Arabic palaeography and head of a restoration project, commissioned by the Yemeni government, which spent a significant amount of time examining the ancient Qur’anic manuscripts . Gerd Rüdiger Puin is quoted 1999 as saying that:

My idea is that the Koran is a kind of cocktail of texts that were not all understood even at the time of Muhammad. Many of them may even be a hundred years older than Islam itself. Even within the Islamic traditions there is a huge body of contradictory information, including a significant Christian substrate; one can derive a whole Islamic anti-history from them if one wants. The Qur’an claims for itself that it is ‘mubeen,’ or clear, but if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence or so simply doesn’t make sense. Many Muslims will tell you otherwise, of course, but the fact is that a fifth of the Qur’anic text is just incomprehensible. This is what has caused the traditional anxiety regarding translation. If the Qur’an is not comprehensible, if it can’t even be understood in Arabic, then it’s not translatable into any language. That is why Muslims are afraid. Since the Qur’an claims repeatedly to be clear but is not—there is an obvious and serious contradiction. Something else must be going on.

Syrian Aramaic the language of the bible.

Luxenberg picks up on that argument that the Qur’an contains much ambiguous and even inexplicable language and accuses Western academic scholars of the Qur’an of taking a timid and imitative approach, relying too heavily on the biased work of Muslim scholars. The author (Luxenberg  is not his real name) claims  in his book, that parts of philologically not clarified text can only be correctly understood by using Syrian Aramaic language.

Questions asked.

Now this opens questions. Was the Islam original a current or even syncretic combination of the Christianity?  Did the aspect of the establishment of religion only came later for political reasons? Since the nineteenth century the confidence of the European Islam science  in regards of the three sources of the Islam decreased considerably. Ignaz Goldziher recognized that the Hadith does not reflect in various way the early Islamic, but the  struggle which broke out about three decade after Mohammed death. What can be established about the historical Jesus depends therefore almost without exception on Christian (or heretic) traditions, especially on the material used in the composition of the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, which may similar reflect deliberately  myth building  (and motives) of the later church and its faith in Jesus.

Pre-islamic Islam

Surprisingly  Western Church history and Western Islamic studies really miss the lack of evidence for pre-islamic Islam, that is to say its Ebionites Christians, Sabaean pagans, Seekers (hanifi) and Meccan pagans probably also Nestorian and Jewish roots. Why are all the pre-cursors to Islam all pagan or heretical christian? Why are the early sources of Islam not islamic when even the Nag Hammadi library of ‘gnostic Christianity’ survived.   Paul Addae and Tim Bowes (1998) write that the Ebionites were faithful to the original teachings of Jesus and thus shared Islamic views about Jesus’ humanity. In 610 AD, at age 40, Muhammad became a prophet. Mohammed’s wife’s cousin, Waraka, the Ebionite Bishop in Mecca, discipled Mohammed.  The period immediately preceding the time of Muhammad witnessed the bitter fight of theistic sects and the Christological question which formed the background to the controversy: “How are divinity and humanity joined together and related to each other in Jesus Christ?”  John wrote against the Gnostics, Jews wrote against the worship of baal, yet silence against Islam until 632AD or so, why would that be? Could it be, that Islam was just seen as a Christian offspring and alley against Constantinople and Rome.  Therefore its useful to find similarities and differences in terms of beliefs about the nature of  Jesus understanding the many schism before Islam and the Islamic information about Jesus in the Quran.

Comparing (Chalcedonian) Christianity and Islam (1) Similarities ….

Christians believe Jesus was a human and divine being sent by  God.  With the exception of Unitarian Christians and Ebionites Christians , who like Islam today  do not believe in the Trinity, most Christians now believe in the Divinity of Jesus, which is connected to the belief in Trinity. They say he is the second member of the Triune God, the Son of the first part of the Triune God, and at the same time “fully” God in every respect.

Belief in all of the Prophets and Messengers of God is a fundamental article of faith in Islam. Thus, believing in Prophets Adam, Jesus, Moses, and Muhammad is a requirement for anyone who calls him or herself a Muslim. A person claiming to be a Muslim who, for instance, denies  that Jesus was a messenger, is not considered a Muslim.   The Quran says in reference to the status of Jesus as a Messenger:  “The Messiah (Jesus), son of Mary, was no more than a Messenger before whom many Messengers have passed away; and his mother adhered wholly to truthfulness, and they both ate food (as other mortals do). See how We make Our signs clear to them; and see where they are turning away!” (Quran 5:75).

Both believe Jesus was born of a Virgin Mother,  chaste and pious human woman who gave birth to Jesus Christ, the second member of the Trinity, the Son of God, and at the same time “fully” God Almighty in every respect. Christians believe however, that while she was a virgin, she was married to a man named Joseph (Bible: Matthew:1:18). According to Matthew 1:25, Joseph “kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus”

Like Christians, Muslims believe Mary, Maria in Spanish, or Maryam as she is called in Arabic, was a chaste, virgin woman, who miraculously gave birth to Jesus.  “Relate in the Book the story of Mary, when she withdrew from her family, to a place in the East. She screened herself from them; then We sent to her Our spirit (angel Gabriel) and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. She said: I seek refuge from you in God Most Gracious (come not near) if you do fear God. He said: Nay, I am only a Messenger from your Lord, to announce to you the gift of a pure son. She said: How shall I have a son, when no man has ever touched me, and I am not unchaste? He said: So it will be, your Lord says: ‘That is easy for Me; and We wish to appoint him as a sign unto men and a Mercy from Us’: It was a matter so decreed” (Quran 19:16-21).   The Quran says:  “She (Mary) said: ‘O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me.’ He (God) said: ‘So (it will be) for God creates what He wills. When He has decreed something, He says to it only: ‘Be!’- and it is” (3:47).  It should also be noted about his birth that:  “Verily, the likeness of Jesus in God’s Sight is the likeness of Adam. He (God) created him from dust, then (He) said to him: ‘Be!’-and he was” (Quran 3:59).

Muslims, like Christians believe Jesus performed miracles. “And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness, while thou stretches out thy hand to heal, and sign and wonders are performed through the name of thy holy servant Jesus (Bible: Acts 4:30). But im Islam these were performed by the will and permission of God, Who has power and control over all things.  “Then will God say: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! recount My favor to you and to your mother. Behold! I strengthened you with the Holy Spirit (the angel Gabriel) so that you did speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught you the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel. And behold: you make out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and you breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by My leave, and you heal those born blind, and the lepers by My leave. And behold! you bring forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the children of Israel from (violence to you) when you did show them the Clear Signs, and the unbelievers among them said: ‘This is nothing but evident magic’ (5:110).

Comparing (Chalcedonian) Christianity and Islam (2) differences

With the exception of the Unitarian Christians and at that time Ebionites Christians,  Trinity is the central doctrine of the Christian religion. Islam charged Christianity with having distorted the pure monotheism of Jesus through the doctrines of trinity and through the veneration of icons. The belief is that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three Persons or beings are distinct from each another, while being similar in character: uncreated and omnipotent. The word “trinity” is a term used to denote the Christian doctrine that God exists as a unity of three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of the persons is distinct from the other, yet identical in essence. In other words, each is fully divine in nature, but each is not the totality of the other persons of the Trinity. Each has a will, loves, and says “I” and “You” when speaking. The Father is not the same person as the Son, who is not the same person as the Holy Spirit, who is not the same person as the Father. Each is divine, yet there are not three gods, but one God. There are three individual subsistences, or persons. The word “subsistence” means something that has a real existence. The word “person” denotes individuality and self-awareness.  Included in the doctrine of the Trinity is a strict monotheism which is the teaching that there exists in all the universe a single being known as God who is self-existent and unchangeable (Isaiah 43:10; 44:6,8). Therefore, it is important to note that the doctrine of the trinity is not polytheistic but monotheistic by definition:

  • God is three persons
  • Each person is divine
  • There is only one God.

God is a trinity of persons consisting of one substance and one essence. God is numerically one. Yet, within the single divine essence are three individual subsistences that we call persons:

  •  Each of the three persons is completely divine in nature though each is not the totality of the Godhead.
  • Each of the three persons is not the other two persons.
  • Each of the three persons is related to the other two, but are distinct from them.

The word “trinity” is not found in the Bible. But this does not mean that the concept is not taught there.  The First Vatican Council has explained the meaning to be attributed to the term mystery in theology.

Muslims believe in the Absolute Oneness of God, Who is a Supreme Being free of human limitations, needs and wants. He has no partners in His Divinity. He is the Creator of everything and is completely separate from His creation.  God says in the Quran regarding the Trinity:  “People of the Book (Jews and Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion, and attribute to God nothing except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was only a Messenger of God, and His command that He conveyed unto Mary, and a spirit from Him. So believe in God and in His Messengers, and do not say: ‘God is a Trinity.’ Give up this assertion; it would be better for you. God is indeed just One God. Far be it from His glory that He should have a son. To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and in the earth. God is sufficient for a guardian” (Quran 4:171).

Only Christians believe that Jesus was the son of God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (Bible: John 3:16).  However, it is interesting to note that the term “son of God” is used in other parts of the Bible to refer to Adam (Bible: Luke 3:38), Israel (Bible: Exodus 4:22) and David (Bible: Psalms 2:7) as well. The creatures of God are usually referred to in the Bible as children of God.   The notion of Jesus as son of God is something that was established under the influence of Paul of Tarsus (originally named Saul), who had been an disbeliever, but later changed course and joined the disciples after the departure of Jesus. Paul is considered by a number of Christian scholars to be the father of Christianity whereas Islam later opposed trinity  as a misrepresentations of the message of Jesus.  Heretics struggled to reject the notion of the Divinity of Jesus for close to 200 years.   The Gospel of Barnabas was accepted as a Canonical Gospel in the Churches of Alexandria till 325 CE Irenaeus (130-200) wrote in support of pure monotheism and opposed Paul for injecting into Christianity doctrines of the pagan Roman religion and Platonic philosophy.  In 325 (CE), a council of Christian leaders met at Nicaea and made Paul’s beliefs officially part of Christian doctrine (see chart).

Muslims believe that God is one, that there are no gods except the God. They may contend that even though Christians claim to be monotheists, they actually believe in more than one God. Since Christians believe that Jesus is the Son of God, to them they therefore err like other people of ancient or modern times who have believed in a plurality of gods or the sons and daughters of Go. The Quran, of course is simplified in that respect and strictly monotheistic:. “Say: “God is Unique! God, the Source [of everything]. He has not fathered anyone nor was He fathered, and there is nothing comparable to Him!” (Quran 112:1-4).  The Quran also states: “Such was Jesus, the son of Mary; it is a statement of truth, about which they vainly dispute. It is not befitting to the majesty of God, that He should beget a son. Glory be to Him! When He determines a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be’ and it is” (Quran 19:34-35). 

Only Christians believe that Jesus was killed on the cross then resurrected. In that respect Islam is similar to  Docetism belief that Jesus’ physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion; that is, Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die. ““They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but they thought they did.” (Quran 4:156) “God lifted him up to His presence. God is Almighty, All-Wise” (Quran 4:157) .

Death and resurrection is a core Christian belief and it relates to the concept of atonement. According to this belief, Jesus died to save mankind from sin. However, this is not stated explicitly in the four gospels which form the primary source texts of Christianity. It is found, however, in Romans 6:8,9.   Christians believe Jesus was spat on, cut, humiliated, kicked, striped and finally hung up on the cross to endure a slow and painful death.  According, to Christian belief, the original sin of Adam and Eve of eating from the forbidden tree was so great that God could not forgive it by simply willing it, rather it was necessary to erase it with the blood of a sinless, innocent Jesus.   The four Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul are the main sources of Christianity which discuss the Resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion. According to St. Matthew, Jesus appeared to the holy women, and again on a mountain in Galilee. Mark’s Gospel tells a different story: Jesus was seen by Mary Magdalene, by the two disciples at Emmaus, and the Eleven before his Ascension into heaven.  Luke’s Gospel says Jesus walked with the disciples to Emmaus, appeared to Peter and to the assembled disciples in Jerusalem. In John’s Gospel, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, to the ten Apostles on Easter Sunday, to the Eleven a week later, and to seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.  Another account of the resurrection by St. Paul is found in Bible: Corinthians 15: 3-8.  According to Christian belief, Resurrection is a manifestation of God’s justice, Who exalted Christ to a life of glory, as Christ had humbled himself unto death (Phil., 2: 8-9). This event also completes the mystery of Christian salvation and redemption. The death of Jesus frees believers from sin, and with his resurrection, he restores to them the most important privileges lost by sin (Bible: Romans 4:25).  More importantly, the belief in the resurrection of Jesus indicates Christian acknowledgment of Christ as the immortal God, the cause of believers’ own resurrection (Bible: I Corinthians 4: 21; Phil., 3:20-21), as well as the model and the support of a new life of grace (Bible: Romans 4: 4-6; 9-11).

Wrapping it up.

The emergence of the Islam can so be seen as a part of ancient church history.  Islam researcher Friedrich Schwally said 1919: The theologians are not aware that the Islam is a part of our church history. The more one with studies the Quran, the clearer it becomes that its origin comes from a form of the Christianity.  Probably only around the year 800 from Islam became its own religion.

What are the central proofs? As said, the Syrian church always saw Jesus as prophet, as a messenger of God. The Syrian church father Afrahat often calls Jesus „ the large prophet “, not the son of God, but the son Maria’s, and on this Syrian theology the Koran decreases/goes back. They wrote that „ Muhammad is actually “ a name for Jesus. „ Muhammad “ is called „ the praising “, and the first coin minting, on which this title appears, carry excluding Christian symbols, the cross, the baptism Jesu or the like.

The Kalif Abd Al-Malik established the rock cathedral, which is considered as the first Muslim building in Jerusalem, but it was a church. The inscription  the inside, is a purely christian text, against the thesis, Jesus is the son of God.  If one, as Christoph Luxenberg suggests, reads in such a way „ Muhammad “ literally translated and the sentence: Is praised (muhammad), then it is to be referred to thereafter the mentioned Jesus.

Abdallah, the slave of God, is an old Syrian name for Jesus. Later the inscription was read: Mohammed, son of the Abdallah.  The first Muslims did not know thus at all that they were Muslims. They held themselves for Christians, a special form of the Christianity which rejected trinity. This could be the  cause could be for the fast propagation of the Islam: That people did not have to be converted, where the religious was already a rather unitarian tradition, where Jesus was admired as humans and an envoy (messenger) of God, not as God. Can such realizations carry the communication between the religions?  No, but consciousness that one has common roots, can lead perhaps nevertheless to a communication, as it the communication between Christians and Jews.

Sources: Mark. A. Gabriel “Jesus and Muhammad”, Translation Resch Verlag 2006,

Historia Mundi Volume IV, Lehnen Verlag,

Die Kirche zur Zeit der Apostal und Märtyrer

Phillip Jenkins, “Jesus Wars” Harper, 2010

R. M. Grant Gnosticism and Early Christianity

Web resources:

The Gnosis Archive

http://www.nestorian.org/nestorian_theology.html

http://www.islamfacts.info/Islamfacts/Fur_eilige_Leser.html

http://www.miraclesofthequran.com/historical_09.html

http://answering-islam.org.uk/Books/Goldsack/Sources/chap1.htm