Segovia on Jewish influence on early Islam.
Abstract for another article that hasn't been uploaded as yet (other links below have been posted here before):Friends, Enemies, or Hoped-for New Rulers? Reassessing the Early Jewish Sources Mentioning the Rise of Islam
By examining several Jewish sources like the *Secrets of Rabbi Šim‘on ben Yoḥay*, the *Jewish Apocalypse on the Umayyads*, *The Story of the Ten Wise Jews*, and *Targum Pseudo-Jonathan* ad Gen 21:9-21, this paper contends that the fact that some Jews of seventh-century Syria-Palestine saw the Arabs as new rulers who would crush the Byzantine empire, bring to an end the Christian dominion of the Holy Land, and thus help to restore Israel, informs us about those Jews’ expectations – no more, no less; and that the possibility that some agreement was reached between such Jews and the Arab conquerors does not imply that Muḥammad’s original movement was Jewish oriented or that the conquerors’ polity was either pro-Jewish or Jewish based.
Also:The Jews and Christians of pre-Islamic Yemen (Ḥimyar) and the Elusive Matrix of the Qur’ān's Christology
But it could also be that Abraha – who obviously was and presented himself as a Christian king – tried to avoid any sharp provocation against the Jews of Ḥimyar, a land that for several centuries had witnessed to an ongoing religious conflict (indirectly promoted by Byzantium and Persia) between Christians and Jews and that he attempted to rule in his own way.42 Had Abraha intended not to offend his Jewish subjects, he could have done so by evoking God alone (instead of God plus his Messiah = Jesus); indeed, Raḥmānān was (also) the south-Arabian Jewish name for God. Anyway, referring to Jesus as the Messiah would be less provoking for them than describing him as God’s divine Son.
In fact, these two hypotheses need not contradict themselves, as in antiquity Dyophysites and Jews did not collide as often as Miaphysites and Jews did. A survey of the anti-Jewish literature of late-antique Christianity further shows that not even a single extant anti-Jewish text can be attributed to the Dyophysites.43
Whatever Abraha’s agenda, his Christological formula evinces that South-Arabian Christians in the sixth century (even mainstream Christians!) were not totally unfamiliar with the representation of Jesus as the Messiah instead of God’s son – a feature that we also find in the Qur’ān from the viewpoint of the Jesus himself, who is repeatedly called there “the Messiah, son of Mary” instead of “son of God”.44 And it is at least curious in this respect to notice the positive references to the religion of the Arab conquerors in several Dyophysite writings of the seventh century, including Išō’yahb III’s letters (48B.97; 14C.251), the Khuzistan Chronicle (34), and John bar Penkāyē’s Book of Main Points (141).45
Thus unless we represent Muḥammad himself as a non-Christian monotheist – but why should we? – it is fair to ask whether his religious views were somehow influenced by Abraha’s, and thereby to what extent emergent Islam must be studied against the background of sixth-century South-Arabian Christianity.46
To put it in more forceful terms: Did Muḥammad, in his ambition to conquer the Arabian peninsula after the disappearance of the Himyarite, Jafnid, Nasrid, and Hujrid Arab kingdoms (Segovia 2016c), try – like Abraha had tried earlier with the Jews – to reach an agreement with either the Jews or a group of (Jewish-influenced?) monotheists (the Q 112 community),47 or with both, or with the Jews first and then with that monotheist group, or with such group first and foremost and then occasionally with some Jews until the Jews themselves were excluded from his- or his followers’ movement? – note that the recurrent Christian- or Christian-influenced anti-Jewish passages of the Qur’ān may either imply this latter possibility or the fact that the Jews were, together with the pagans, Muḥammad’s opponents right from the start.48 Be that as it may, in my view these questions can no longer be avoided.
To sum up: I am not affirming that sixth-century South-Arabian Christianity is the key to deciphering the origins of Islam. I am simply suggesting that it should be taken into consideration as a relevant, if hitherto often neglected, factor that may help to explain both the emergence of Islam and its South-Arabian component.49 And that, if Abraha’s Christological formula is susceptible of being interpreted as a Konvergenztext attempting to unify the Christians and the Jews of pre-Islamic Yemen under the label of an inclusive, Dyophysite-oriented political theology, and Muḥammad’s mission, in turn, as an adaptation under different circumstances of Abraha’s political agenda, then the interactions between the Jews and the Christians of Ḥimyar may be said to be of especial, if indirect, importance to understand the elusive Christology of the Qur’ān.50
In short, we do not need to fancy a “Jewish-Christian” influence on emergent Islam to explain its plausible Jewish–Christian roots. Yet denying such influence is not the same as to say that Jewish and Christian components were attached to formative Islam merely because Muḥammad and his community, or their followers, lived within a religious milieu full of Jews and Christians to whose cultural influence they were exposed. If, as almost everyone would agree today, some kind of Realpolitik towards the Jews and the Christians was often fostered by the Arab conquerors of al-Šām, albeit due to diverging motivations and with uneven results each time, some kind of Realpolitik involving Christians, Jews, and perhaps other groups as well might have also been at stake in Muhammad's lifetime – and it might have had Himyarite precedents.
On emergent Islam as a peripheral Christian movement:A Messianic Controversy Behind the Making of Muḥammad as the Last Prophet?
Also, when one looks into the biblical material in the Qur’ān – by biblical I mean here relative to the Hebrew Bible alone – one gets the overall impression that this material is generally read through a Christian lens; in fact, its knowledge often seems to be mediated through other, basically Syriac-Christian, parabiblical texts (e.g. the Joseph story in Q 12, as convincingly shown by Joseph Witztum).19
This does not mean that one cannot find Jewish elements in the Qur’ān. Indeed, these are most intriguing.20 But if we were to agree that they may go back to the earliest quranic layers, and hence to the early quranic milieu, it still seems to me this does not prevent from seeing them as theological loans witnessing to the complex religious-political map of pre-Islamic Arabia. For I basically see Muḥammad’s mission (wherever exactly we may need to place the historical Muḥammad) as a political movement with somewhat peripheral but nonetheless strong Christian trimmings that took shape in the aftermath of the Persian invasion of the near East. In my view, there is no intrinsic contradiction between this hypothesis and the very likely probability that the Qur’ān as we now have it (i.e. the Qur’ān’s textus receptus) was written and edited in Syria and/or Iraq after a few texts originally belonging to Muḥammad’s milieu that were thus expanded in some cases, abridged in other cases, and in any event reworked and mixed with other miscellaneous writings a few decades after his death – and that in was in this new scenario (evidently a scribal one) that some additional Jewish and Christian components were incorporated into the quranic corpus.
As I have suggested, the first problem with this argument is that the texts grouped under a are (fully) Christian rather than (just) pro-Christian. In other words, they express identification with Christianity from within instead of expressing a favourable attitude towards Christianity from without. Now, if one accepts that these texts, or most of them, date from Muḥammad’s time and bear witness to his mission – the opponents of which, judging from the frequent anti-Jewish overtones and the number of apparently early anti-pagan passages in the Qur’ān, may well have been the pagans and the Jews of the Ḥiǧāz (i.e. the two social and religious groups that profited from the decay of Abraha’s Christian kingdom in the 560s or the 570s)21 – then one is compelled to ask whether Muḥammad himself may have been raised in a Christian milieu and initially struggled to re-affirm a particular, if peripheral, type of Christianity; peripheral because of its very complex, and not altogether clear, constituting elements – which in my view fall close, nevertheless, to Dyophysite/ Nestorian Christianity.22
The early Islamic sources preserve some oblique memory of this possibility when they recall, for instance, that Jesus’s grave was to be found near Medina,23 that it was a(n Arian in later anti-Muslim Christian apologetics) monk named Baḥīrā (whom Ibn Sa‘d names Naṣtūr) who examined Muḥammad for the sign of prophecy when he was nine years old, and that Muḥammad’s call to prophecy was later acknowledged as authentic by a Christian learned man from Mecca – namely, Ḫadīǧa’s cousin Waraqa b. Nawfal (as reported by Ibn Isḥāq/Ibn Hišām).24 See further the textual evidence collected by Irfan Shahid on the several churches (masāǧid) devoted to Mary and the existence of a Christian cemetery (maqbarat al-naṣārā) in pre- Islamic Mecca; a place on its outskirts (a shrine on the pilgrimage road to Naǧrān?) known as mawqif al-naṣ- rānī, i.e. the “station of the Christians”; and the strong connections between the Ǧurhum, who were said to have introduced Christianity in the Ḥiǧāz, and the (re)building of the Ka‘ba.25 Additionally, all this may explain why some of Muḥammad’s followers supposedly fled to Abyssinia to escape persecution from the pagan oligarchy of Mecca and met the Aksumite king there (as reported by Ibn Isḥāq/Ibn Hišām), as well as why Muḥammad respected the icons of Jesus and Mary found inside the Ka‘ba when he conquered Mecca in 630 and had all the pagan idols of the Meccan shrine destroyed (as reported by al-Azraqī).
Let me be clear: I am not directly interested in the information provided by the Muslim tradition, which is usually too late and biased to be uncritically accepted. Put differently: I do not dismiss the Muslim sources as spurious, for I believe that some useful, if oblique, information may be occasionally gathered from them. What I question, in any event, is the acceptance of their master narrative. Therefore, I use this material here as a hint that may be of some relevance and prove especially significant perhaps for those scholars who tend to rely on the “data” collected by the Muslim historiographers.26
Claiming that Muḥammad’s religion might have been peripherally Christian, however, does not amount to say that Islam was a Christian heresy – a view somehow endorsed by John of Damascus in antiquity (for he merely states that Muḥammad was taught by an Arian Christian)36 and echoed in more forceful terms by G. K. Chesterton in modern times. It is the only way one has to interpret the Christian lore in the Qur’ān, on which, ultimately, one out of three interpretative options might be taken: (i) to circumscribe it to Muḥammad’s original Hijazi milieu alone (à la Van Reeth,37 with whom I nonetheless concur in considering that Islam sprung out of a complex Christian milieu); (ii) to circumscribe it to Muḥammad’s milieu without denying its later expansion in a Syrian/Iraqi one (which is the best option in my view); or (iii) to circumscribe it to the latter alone (à la Wansbrough and Shoemaker).38
The explicit statement that Muḥammad’s religion should not be understood as a Christian heresy was already included in the first draft version of this paper. I would like to highlight it again, however, for during the discussion over my paper in Milan Cecilia Palombo astonishingly reproved me for representing Muḥammad’s religion as a Christian heresy (!). To do so would imply to side with Christian orthodoxy, which has never been, and is not, my position, as in my view all early (and later) variant forms of Christianity – and hence all early (and later) Christianities – had (have) their own and ultimately unquestionable right to theological legitimacy. What needs to be asked is why is it that pointing to the Christian roots of formative Islam proves so very controversial and causes so much misunderstanding in our days. I am afraid this is an issue about which the field of early Christian studies has patently moved ahead of ours, since it is now current in it to view Jesus, even Paul, as second-temple Jews, as Gabriele Boccaccini and Isaac Oliver perspicaciously stressed in the discussion (see also Stephen Shoemaker’s paper in this volume); whereas most scholars of early Islam continue to view Muḥammad as a Muslim and the Qur’ān as a book containing his ipssima verba rather than as a composite corpus formed over several decades – more, probably, than we are often willing to assume. So I think Anders Petersen was perfectly right in Milan when he made the point, contra Ulrika Mårtensson, that religious identity formation is a slow process, that the comparative study of late-antique religions leaves little doubt about this, and that depicting formative Islam in a different way makes no sense and would require some counter-evidence that we simply lack. In short, maybe the biggest prejudice does not consist in seeing Islam as a Christian heresy – a view that no serious scholar would support today – but in equating any scholarly claim about the Christian roots of formative Islam (however we may represent them and whatever its other eventual roots) with the out-fashioned views of the Christian heresiologists that, quite surprisingly to say the least, many scholars of early Islam have interiorised and transformed into a dark, obsessive ghost.
On Segovia and Dye's forthcoming book:Re-Imagining Islam in the Late 7th Century
Still in its infancy because of the too conservative views and methods assumed by most scholars working in it since the mid-19th century, the field of early Islamic studies, however, is one in which the very basic questions must nowadays be addressed with decision.
There is, to start with, no evidence that Islam was the main cause behind the Arab take over of the Near East in the 7th century. Nor is there evidence that the latter followed a linear development. Just as it is difficult to speak of a unified Arab state until 692, it is hard to regard Islam as a new religion before that date. How then should we reinterpret the struggle for a new Arab supremacy in the Arabian Peninsula after the abolishment of the Himyarite, Jafnid and Nasrid kingdoms in the late 6th and early 7th centuries? Which was the political and religious background of Muhammad's eschatological visions in the 610s? How should we read his politics in the 620s and the early 630s and the opposition that he matched with amongst other Arab leaders? What can we make of the fact that from the 630s to the early 690s not everyone in the Hijaz, Syria and Iraq claimed to follow him? How must we represent the religion of the Arab groups involved in the afore-described events before the emergence of Islam as a new religion in the time of 'Abd al-Malik and his son al-Walid (692-715)? What can be deduced from the fact that several South-Arabic inscriptions dating to the mid-6th century appear to contain a Christological formula akin to that found in the Qur'an? Why is it that the first documented occurrence of the word Islam speaks of Jesus to the Christians of Palestine and is located in a building that seems to reproduce a Christian church within the remains of a Jewish sanctuary? Were the first Muslims allies of the Jews, as has sometime been said, ecumenical monotheists as has more recently been proposed, or non-trinitarian supersessionist Christians who tried to publicly affirm their own religious beliefs? And which was their political agenda, anyway? Lastly, when is the collection of the Qur'an to be dated and what kind of new document did their editors attempt to produce?
Our purpose in this book is to explore these and other related issues from a critical-historical standpoint and to offer new insights on the gradual formation of the Islamic state and the likewise gradual making of the Islamic faith. For to overlook them would be like explaining the emergence of the earliest Christ-believing groups by exclusively relying on the author of Luke-Acts, who offers a rather monochrome picture of Christian beginnings centred upon what s/he retrospectively imagined as Paul’s mission; or like accepting the Mishnaic and Talmudic legends about Yavneh as the actual birthplace of Rabbinic Judaism.
If some progress is to be made in the future in the field of early Islamic studies, scholars working in it should abandon once and for all the grand narrative of Islam's origins set forth in the early Islamic sources and confront the complex material evidence that we do have about the dawn of Islam with an open, both critical and imaginative, mind.
Some thoughts from Guillaume Dye:Jewish Christianity, the Qur’ān, and Early Islam: some methodological caveats
Even if I warned that fancying Jewish Christian groups behind the rise of Islam was certainly too speculative (and unnecessary), I agree that there is something that might be called a “Jewish Christian sensitivity” in the Qur’ān. It includes, among other things: a low Christology (but higher than the Ebionite Christology), where Jesus is a servant and a prophet but neither a divine being nor the son of God (even if the virginal birth is asserted), an insistence on law, and a certain conception of prophecy, which is, however, not specifically Jewish Christian.43 Yet we also have elements which undeniably point towards Eastern Christianity as the most plausible context of the Qur’ān (I do not imply it is also the context of Muḥammad’s preaching – let us leave also this question open here!): a Qur’anic Mariology deeply related to Christian Palestinian traditions, a typology between Adam and Jesus, a similar anti-Jewish rhetoric, many common points with Syriac cosmology, piety and eschatology,44 and the fact that the closer parallels to the Qur’anic Biblical and para-biblical stories are to be found, most of the time, in Eastern Christianity...
How should we explain the presence of this “Jewish Christian sensitivity”? Maybe a brief glance at the concrete religious situation of the Late Antique Middle East will bring some insights.45
In fact, confessional loyalties in the Late Antique Middle East were much more in flux than we generally believe. People could move back and forth from different church groups, not only in rural areas, but also close to the centres of theological power,46 or inside the same family, from one generation to another.47 There could be various reasons for this behaviour, even lucrative ones – in other words, “religious identity was being used instrumentally.”48
This is true, not only between different Christian movements, but also between Christian and non-Christian religious groups.49 Of course, it does not entail that relations between groups were necessarily peaceful.
On the other hand, the theological elites were involved in building barriers and frontiers, and also in trying to get the adherence of ordinary Christians, as well as extirpating what they considered to be idolatrous beliefs or practices (beliefs and practices which were certainly very widespread, and even more widespread than the so-called “orthodox” beliefs and practices). Most of the ordinary Christians had certainly other interests than border policy (which was as much boundary maintenance as boundary drawing),50 even if frictions between Christians of opposed ideas were not uncommon either. Many disagreements of this kind are lost to us now, but we should be aware that the content of the tenets involved in such disagreements was very multifarious – without implying a group or community which necessarily followed such and such tenet.
This idea could be made clearer with the following experiment: suppose you make today a street survey and ask Christians about their Christological and more generally religious ideas. You might get many answers, sometimes in line with the official doctrine – but press these people a bit with a few malicious questions and you will realize that most of them are certainly “heretics,” even if, probably, they do not realize it.51 And you might find “Arians,” “Jewish Christians,” “Docetists,” and so on, among them. However, it does not mean that Arian, Jewish Christian, or Docetist communities are alive today and managed to survive, almost hidden, during centuries.
In fact, the 7th century is a time of “confessional kaleidoscope,”52 not only on the level of popular religion (and of course with people Christianized only recently or lightly), but also on the level of many monks and clerics – not all, for sure, and clearly not on the level of the religious entrepreneurs of the theological elite who were involved in border policy. The range of beliefs available to Christians was large: we know, for example, that there were Christians in the mid-7th century who believed that polygamy was compatible with Christianity,53 and they had some good reasons to think so, since the Bible allows polygamy – and highly blessed figures like Abraham, Jacob, or David are said to have been polygamous. So, might they think – if they were polygamous, why not us?
Dye's reference to polygamy is taken from Jack Tannous, page 258:Syria between Byzantium and Islam
Letters can show other religious disputes and discussions of a slightly less doctrinal flavor which were taking place. A thirteenth-century manuscript in Cambridge preserves the only surviving work of a Miaphysite bishop named Yonan who had been a correspondent of the famous Severos Sebokht in the middle of the seventh century. Yonan was responding to a periodeute named Theodore who had written him seeking arguments supporting monogamy. Theodore, it seems, had been put on the defensive by people who thought it acceptable for a man to take more than one wife. ‘Now, when on account of a certain exchange,’ Yonan wrote to Theodore, 'which took place between you and some people, as you stated, the cause arose [and] you were interested in learning which arguments we should require of those who are badgering (that is, demanding), 'On what basis do you prove that it is not right for a man to marry two women at the same time?’'601
Although Yonan goes on to assert that one could make an argument for monogamy even if the Divine Scripture and the Venerable Fathers had never spoken on the issue, Yonan’s use of church fathers such as Gregory Nazianzen and John Chrysostom and his explicitly Christian argumentation suggest that Theodore was dealing with a group of people in the mid-seventh century who believed that polygamy was compatible with Christianity.602 The canons of Jacob of Edessa seem to confirm this, as well. ‘It is not right,’ Jacob wrote, ‘for a Christian man to marry two women at the same time, just as it is not possible for a Christian woman to marry two men at the same time. For Christ does not possess two churches, nor does the Church possess two Christs.’603 In the middle of the eighth century in northern Mesopotamia, the East Syrian Māran‘ameh correctly predicted that God would punish a Christian man with death for having more than one wife.604