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Was the Prophet Muhammad a Jew?

0113-miraj
51U-OkDelKL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_ The origins of Islam are fascinating, because the religion is critically important in the modern world, but its genesis within history is surprisingly vague for its first decades. Muslims have their own historiagraphy, and some Western historians, such as Hugh Kennedy transmit this narrative with high fidelity, albeit shorn of sectarian presuppositions and strongly leavened with Western positivist methodologies. His books The Great Arab Conquests and When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam’s Greatest Dynasty are rather good in my opinion.

An alternative view is presented by revisionist scholars, who in the process of revising Islamic history tear apart its basic foundations, at least from a Muslim perspective. Their views can be found in works such as The Hidden Origins of Islam. This school of scholars contends that much of Islam’s early history, basically before 700 A.D., is myth-making that dates from the Abbasid period (>750 AD). An analogy here might be made to Republican Rome. The city emerges prominently in history only in the 3rd century B.C., so much of centuries of Roman history which are referred to by later writers are difficult to corroborate. Presumably many of the figures of these earlier periods, such as Cincinnatus, may have been historical, but more often than not it is likely that details of their life served as moral exemplars for republican political leaders.

Similarly, a basic thrust of the revisionists in relation to Islam is that the idea of Muhammad is far more important than the details of who he really might have been. Even the milieu of Muhammad, a desert merchant, may have been manufactured to give him a particular aura. To reduce one line of scholarship to its essence Islam emerged as a national religion of Christian Arabs who had long been on the margins of the Roman and Persian worlds decades after the time of Muhammad. The construction of the Muhammad myth, and relocating sacred sites to a area far outside Roman control and influence (Mecca & Medina), may have been motivated by considerations of distancing from the Greco-Roman and Persian cultural traditions which they were attempting to absorb and supersede.

One aspect of the mythos of Muhammad is that he grew up as a primal monotheist in a pagan land. The revisionists reject this, and suggest that Muhammad was a Christian, in an Arabia where Christianity and Judaism were the dominant elite religions. No doubt there were other religious sects, and the influence of Zoroastrianism was also likely, but organized paganism as depicted in Mecca may have been a propaganda device. There are precedents for this line of thought, some scholars have argued the same for the late survival of paganism in Sweden (in comparison to Denmark and Norway), suggesting that in fact it was a scurrilous attempt by Western Christians to besmirch Eastern Orthodox believers, who were much more numerous in this region of Scandinavia.

I don’t personally take a strong position here. It seems likely that the revisionists go too far, but I do think that a quasi-state paganism in Arabia in the year 600 A.D. is implausible in light of what we know about other regions of the world on the Roman frontier. The dominant forms of religion in Muhammad’s world probably was Christianity, with roles for Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and various gnostic cults. Pagans still remained, but they were likely a marginal residual, not a threatening elite force as depicted in Islamic tradition.

Screenshot 2016-05-15 00.01.48 So, with all this historical context in place, it has come to my attention that there are some peculiarities in the male paternal lineage of descendants of the clade L859+, the dominant haplotype among the Quraysh, Muhammad’s tribe. This lineage, L859+ is a clade within haplogroup J1, which includes the famous Cohen modal haplogroup. On the L859+ tree above you see that the Qurayshi’s are a brother clade to ZS22012. This is traditionally a Jewish lineage. None of this “proves” anything, but it’s interesting and suggestive. If the revisionist are right, and Muhammad grew up in a world dominated by Jews and Christians, it would not be implausible if he himself was of Jewish background in some fashion. Or, that Arab Jews and Arab Christians had a fluid and permeable cultural relationship, and both interacted with the large Jewish community of the Middle East of the period, where some Arab Christians descended from Jews.

 
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  1. Mohammed can be anything you want him to be because Mohammed- like Moses or Abraham or Jesus or Zeus- is a mythological figure. He is not real. But religious Muslims are like the rest of humanity and love their fairy tales (sigh).

    Nice observation about Arabia’s culture being less pagan than how muslim historians depict it..it should be easy to prove someday when archeologists are allowed to dig around looking for church and temple ruins (which is probably never). Interestingly, they have found some church ruins in some locations in Arabia that the Saudis don’t want you to find out.

    Jewish identity is ridiculously fluid-that is why Israelis keep discovering “lost tribes of jews” to bring to Israel. They even found them in Uganda.

    There is too much christian and jewish strains in Islam to have had it come in to existence in a pagan milieu.

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  2. As I recall, Nicolas Wade said something similar in 2010′s The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures.

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  3. a bit ot–what about the isolated regions on the map (haplogroup J-M267), eg in north germany?

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  4. it would not be implausible if he himself was of Jewish background in some fashion.

    I’m not sure who would find this more upsetting – modern day (religious or Zionist) Jews or modern day (religious) Moslems.

    Which raises a question: I am going to try to parse my language very carefully, and keep in mind that I am generalizing from my own experience as a Jew. Typically, people of predominantly Jewish ancestry identify themselves as Jews whether or not they are at all observant or religious; I believe this is true not only in the U.S. and Israel but everywhere throughout what would have been, once upon a time, called either the first world or the second world (i.e., former communist states). I believe it is also true of most countries in Latin America in which there are enough Jews for there to be some sort of Jewish community. This self-identification is not strictly either an ethnic or shared-cultural identification (e.g., among Ashkenazim) in the US, since we (Ashkenazim) recognize Sephardic, Yemenite and Iraqi/Iranian Jews as equally part of the group (whether or not we are pleased about that is, of course, another matter: member of the tribe and all that).

    To what extent do those of Moslem ancestry identify themselves as Moslems if they also consider themselves non-believers/secularist? And does this last past 1 or 2 generations of secularism? How does it vary around the world in non-Moslem countries? My impression is that non-believers in formerly Christian countries (Europe, Quebec) do not consider themselves Christians.* I’m also curious to know about the same thing, substituting “Hindu” for “Moslem” above.

    *My wife and I argued about that early in our marriage because she, of eastern european Catholic ancestry, considered “Christian” to be a much more offensive ephitet than I ever did, almost as bad as “Jew” was traditionally in Christian Europe.

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    • Replies: @Merema
    In africa, religion is not considered ancestry and shrug it off very easily. Ethnicity or tribe is more important.
    , @biz
    Jews are a people, not a religious group. Jews often practice the religion of Judaism, but many don't. There is no conflict or illogic in recognizing atheists, agnostics, and non-religious Jews as Jews. It is the most logical position.

    Islam is a religion, and when Muslims secularize some renounce their affiliation with the religion and are thought of by other Muslims as having completely left the house of Islam. An example would be Ayyan Hirsi Ali. Other times, however, when Muslims secularize they maintain a cultural identity as a Muslim, such as Maajid Nawaz. In the latter case, they are viewing Islam as partially a cultural identity, but still not viewing Muslims as a people or ethnicity.
  5. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Islam had Jewish roots. As a young person I studied Torah and Talmud with a number local rabbis (both liberal and orthodox). At college I took a class in Islamic philosophy and was surprised by how Islamic theology was very similar to Judaism. Both are based on the importance of religious law (Halacha for Jew, Sharia for Muslims) and the importance of right action. By contrast Christian theology is based on the idea of grace. A person can never over come his sinfulness but must ask God to redeem him. This is very different

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    • Replies: @anowow
    Westerners perceive greater differences between Judaism and Islam because they are used to associating Judaism exclusively with the Ashkenazim, a European, albeit very distinct, group who have been strongly influenced by their Christian neighbors and have been historically excluded from holding direct political power.
  6. Anonymous says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    Dont get how one concludes that organised paganism in pre-islamic past was a propaganda?. What was the need and purpose of such propaganda?. How many were in on creating and propagating this propaganda?.Also trade routes to India existed as well. Organized polytheistic societies are not unheard of you know. They existed, they still do exist. The difference is that relative to monotheistic religions, they are not that organized.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    Dont get how one concludes that organised paganism in pre-islamic past was a propaganda?.

    the weakness of paganism in the near east by 600 AD is pretty clear if you know the history of this period. do you? i doubt it. so don't make judgments whereof you know not. (i do know the history pretty well fwiw)
  7. anon says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    This actually makes sense or is at least plausible. He was at the very least greatly influenced by Jews and Judaism. Note the very many similarities between the two religions. This could only come from copying Judaism as it is a much older religion.

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    • Replies: @LevantineJew
    Jews joking that he learned about Judaism from his Jewish wife and then decided to convert, but the Jews rejected and even made fun of him. This shown as the explanation of Quran's changes in sentiment over Jews / Bani Israil.
  8. A near contemporaneous account by the Armenian, Sebeos, places Muhammad in the outskirts of Palestine, leading a mixed Jewish-Arab revolt, under a pan-Abrahamic claim to the right to conquest of the promised land.

    I am not aware of a specific location being mentioned, but that dark mark on the Haplogroup J1 map North of the Red Sea looks like a good spot for an outside mixed group to form. The area just to the north (perhaps overlapping), Idumaea, was conquered by the Jews in 2 BC and the inhabitants were converted to Judaism, including circumcision, if they wished to stay in their country, which Josephus writes they gladly did. But they almost certainly were at the periphery of Jewish identity, living in a land by Biblical accounts inhabited by a hereditary rival. According to the Christian Gospels, people from Idumaea came to hear Jesus speak, which either they did (and one could see the attraction to a less tribal message), or Idumaea is simply shorthand for people came from far away with Idumauea occupying the edge of the Jewish world.

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  9. I’m glad you are here and not back in the Urheimat, you would have surely been sliced and diced by now.

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  10. Certain Higher Critics of the Quran have been arguing basically this since 1970s, a scholar named Patricia Crone in her early work in particular. She was not alone, but their names escape me.

    They contend that Jews among Arab pagans effectively invented Islam (perhaps with the goal of winding them up with tales of Jewish conquests to encourage them to assault Byzantium), that early Islam was effectively indistinguishable from Judaism, and that Islam’s history of its own origins is a retrohistorical fiction invented to explain its origins, with Mohammed-the-founder himself also likely the fiction of a people much later who were interested in a founding figure who resembled themselves.

    So it wouldn’t be a question of a single figure named Mohammed who himself was Jewish and left his J1 marker among the Quryash, but rather an entire group of Jews working their typical magic among the Arab pagans.

    The theory is all the more compelling to me, as it looks be a repetition of Jews exerting their influence among the Greek and Roman pagans, which ended up producing Christianity, which of course also lies endlessly about its history, which inherits and then claims primacy over its influences and founders, and may also have a fictional founder who was by turns conqueror and pacifist, and ultimately also became fiercely anti-Semitic.

    To put all my cards on the table: both the creation of Christianity and Islam in this way chimes beautifully with the work of Biblical Minimalists scholars Thomspon and Lemeche, illuminating how Judaism itself likely came to be. That is, Judaism effectively began as a colonial religious project of the conquering Persians, who (not only having built what we are told is the second Jewish Temple and dictated the Law to the people who had purpotedly once believed it but had forgotten it) initiated this eternally recurring cycle by encouraging Zoroastiran beliefs upon their Levantine pagan subjects upon mendacious pretexts.

    Jews themselves later, in Alexandria, retrohistorically created origins for themselves replete with fictional founders, all of it a compulsive repetition of the Persian colonial project and its suite of tropes that had been forced upon on them.

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  11. @Larry, San Francisco
    I wouldn't be too surprised if Islam had Jewish roots. As a young person I studied Torah and Talmud with a number local rabbis (both liberal and orthodox). At college I took a class in Islamic philosophy and was surprised by how Islamic theology was very similar to Judaism. Both are based on the importance of religious law (Halacha for Jew, Sharia for Muslims) and the importance of right action. By contrast Christian theology is based on the idea of grace. A person can never over come his sinfulness but must ask God to redeem him. This is very different

    Westerners perceive greater differences between Judaism and Islam because they are used to associating Judaism exclusively with the Ashkenazim, a European, albeit very distinct, group who have been strongly influenced by their Christian neighbors and have been historically excluded from holding direct political power.

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  12. On the L859+ tree above you see that the Qurayshi’s are a brother clade to ZS22012. This is traditionally a Jewish lineage. None of this “proves” anything, but it’s interesting and suggestive. If the revisionist are right, and Muhammad grew up in a world dominated by Jews and Christians, it would not be implausible if he himself was of Jewish background in some fashion. Or, that Arab Jews and Arab Christians had a fluid and permeable cultural relationship, and both interacted with the large Jewish community of the Middle East of the period, where some Arab Christians descended from Jews.

    He could easily have been part Jewish, but it seems likely to me that he was more influenced by Christianity than Judaism, whether or not he had Jewish ancestors.

    It’s important to recognize that “Jews” weren’t really a distinct ethnic group until some time in the late Classical period. At the time of Xerxes I they were probably something like the Mormons are today: a people tightly bound by creed and largely from similar stock, but still not quite yet a race apart from their neighbors. I’d date their “ethnic group” status from when they split with the Samaritans, which was probably in the 4th century BC.

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  13. @marcel proust
    it would not be implausible if he himself was of Jewish background in some fashion.

    I'm not sure who would find this more upsetting - modern day (religious or Zionist) Jews or modern day (religious) Moslems.

    Which raises a question: I am going to try to parse my language very carefully, and keep in mind that I am generalizing from my own experience as a Jew. Typically, people of predominantly Jewish ancestry identify themselves as Jews whether or not they are at all observant or religious; I believe this is true not only in the U.S. and Israel but everywhere throughout what would have been, once upon a time, called either the first world or the second world (i.e., former communist states). I believe it is also true of most countries in Latin America in which there are enough Jews for there to be some sort of Jewish community. This self-identification is not strictly either an ethnic or shared-cultural identification (e.g., among Ashkenazim) in the US, since we (Ashkenazim) recognize Sephardic, Yemenite and Iraqi/Iranian Jews as equally part of the group (whether or not we are pleased about that is, of course, another matter: member of the tribe and all that).

    To what extent do those of Moslem ancestry identify themselves as Moslems if they also consider themselves non-believers/secularist? And does this last past 1 or 2 generations of secularism? How does it vary around the world in non-Moslem countries? My impression is that non-believers in formerly Christian countries (Europe, Quebec) do not consider themselves Christians.* I'm also curious to know about the same thing, substituting "Hindu" for "Moslem" above.

    *My wife and I argued about that early in our marriage because she, of eastern european Catholic ancestry, considered "Christian" to be a much more offensive ephitet than I ever did, almost as bad as "Jew" was traditionally in Christian Europe.

    In africa, religion is not considered ancestry and shrug it off very easily. Ethnicity or tribe is more important.

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  14. Of course, Muslims expect the Prophet’s paternal lineage to be closely related to that of Jews; only the Edomites, descendants of Esau, are more closely related to the Israelites than are the Ishmaelites.

    The TMRCA of L859 and ZS22012 would be 2800-3700 years according to Y-Full: a little young for the usual estimated historical date of Abraham, but within reasonable error bars. Or go a little further up the tree and you can include most of the Adnanite Arabs as well, though ironically you have to leave out the J1 Kohanim. In order to include them with current best estimates of mutation rates you need to put Abraham back into the late 4th millennium BC or thereabouts. Well, he did come from Ur.

    Though you can only go back so far before you have to either throw out genetics or the genealogies.

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    • Agree: Talha
    • Replies: @syonredux

    The TMRCA of L859 and ZS22012 would be 2800-3700 years according to Y-Full: a little young for the usual estimated historical date of Abraham, but within reasonable error bars. Or go a little further up the tree and you can include most of the Adnanite Arabs as well, though ironically you have to leave out the J1 Kohanim. In order to include them with current best estimates of mutation rates you need to put Abraham back into the late 4th millennium BC or thereabouts. Well, he did come from Ur.
     
    Abraham is not a real person. He's pure mythology.
  15. Mohamed was likely influenced by ebionites, a sect who regarded Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah while rejecting his divinity and insisted on the necessity of following Jewish law and rites.

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    • Replies: @Crawfurdmuir
    Hilaire Belloc believed that Islam was an offshoot of Arianism, which also denied the divinity of Jesus, but which (like Islam) had a Christology of its own. It's interesting to note that many of the shaded areas on the haplogroup map are places in which Arianism was present - of course the Middle East, but also Asia Minor, north Africa (St. Augustine, who had been an Arian [i'm pretty sure you are confusing his manichaean stage with arianism -Razib] and then converted to Catholicism, was north African), in Iberia, Italy, and odd spots in Germany and the Caucasus - in many of which I'd guess there were Goths, who largely adhered to Arianism.

    Has anyone done any credible genetic research on the sayyids and other bearers of honorific Muslim titles signifying a supposed genealogy? I have read the genetic studies section in the Wikipedia article on sayyids, which states -


    ...the YDNA has already proven that the decedent of the hashemite should belong to J1 M267. J1 is the haplogroup of the sons of prophet Ibrahim. J1 include both, the son of Ismael and son's of Jacob. Therefore, J2 are can not be Sayeds. There still some studies to confirm the SNP of the descendants of Ali Ibni Abi Talib. It is believed that it should be L-859, however, that is not confirm yet.

    Currently, the genetic marker Haplogroup J1c3d is a strong contender for being the genetic signatures of the Sayyids, due to the haplogroup being predominantly found among people with the Y-chromosomal Aaron (Cohen Modal Haplotype CMH), who are people with patrilineal Jewish priestly caste known as Kohanim, which is passed down paternally from father to son.

     

    I am not knowledgeable enough to evaluate these claims - the section (to say the least) is poorly written - and would be curious to know the thoughts of someone who is.

    As one who is more knowledgeable about genealogy - not the same thing as genetics, of course! - it is held by better genealogists than I that the lineage of the prophet Muhammad enters many European royal lines via the marriage of the Princess Isabel (Zaida) of Seville (c. 1071 - 1107), daughter of Muhammad III, king of Seville, to Alfonso VI (1065-1109), king of Castile and Leon. Any descendant of Edward III of England (including Elizabeth II) has this lineage.

  16. Two other important books speak to the issue of the origins of Islam. In Hagarism, Crone and Cook argue that the traditional story can’t be correct because, among other things, Mecca at the time was not a commercial crossroads and that all of southern Arabia was too backward to be the locale of the events described by tradition. In Crossroads to Islam (2003), Nevo and Koren, using epigraphic and documentary evidence, argue that Muhammad was not a real historical figure but was constructed in the Abbasid period to provide the new religion with a founder equal in stature to Moses. Also, that Islam arose in the borderland between the collapsing Byzantine and Iranian empires as a purer monotheism that justified the ascendancy of a new political hegemon, borrowing extensively from both Jewish and Christian ritual and law. The purest and earliest expressions of the new religion are found in the inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock.

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  17. Doesn’t the TMRCA of Muhammad’s L859+ lineage and the Jewish J1 lineages predate Judaism? I remember reading that a couple of years ago, but don’t know if anything has changed recently with more data.

    (Also, does anyone know where the Cohens fall on the current Y-DNA trees? Everything online seems to reference old papers/discussions.)

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  18. @marcel proust
    it would not be implausible if he himself was of Jewish background in some fashion.

    I'm not sure who would find this more upsetting - modern day (religious or Zionist) Jews or modern day (religious) Moslems.

    Which raises a question: I am going to try to parse my language very carefully, and keep in mind that I am generalizing from my own experience as a Jew. Typically, people of predominantly Jewish ancestry identify themselves as Jews whether or not they are at all observant or religious; I believe this is true not only in the U.S. and Israel but everywhere throughout what would have been, once upon a time, called either the first world or the second world (i.e., former communist states). I believe it is also true of most countries in Latin America in which there are enough Jews for there to be some sort of Jewish community. This self-identification is not strictly either an ethnic or shared-cultural identification (e.g., among Ashkenazim) in the US, since we (Ashkenazim) recognize Sephardic, Yemenite and Iraqi/Iranian Jews as equally part of the group (whether or not we are pleased about that is, of course, another matter: member of the tribe and all that).

    To what extent do those of Moslem ancestry identify themselves as Moslems if they also consider themselves non-believers/secularist? And does this last past 1 or 2 generations of secularism? How does it vary around the world in non-Moslem countries? My impression is that non-believers in formerly Christian countries (Europe, Quebec) do not consider themselves Christians.* I'm also curious to know about the same thing, substituting "Hindu" for "Moslem" above.

    *My wife and I argued about that early in our marriage because she, of eastern european Catholic ancestry, considered "Christian" to be a much more offensive ephitet than I ever did, almost as bad as "Jew" was traditionally in Christian Europe.

    Jews are a people, not a religious group. Jews often practice the religion of Judaism, but many don’t. There is no conflict or illogic in recognizing atheists, agnostics, and non-religious Jews as Jews. It is the most logical position.

    Islam is a religion, and when Muslims secularize some renounce their affiliation with the religion and are thought of by other Muslims as having completely left the house of Islam. An example would be Ayyan Hirsi Ali. Other times, however, when Muslims secularize they maintain a cultural identity as a Muslim, such as Maajid Nawaz. In the latter case, they are viewing Islam as partially a cultural identity, but still not viewing Muslims as a people or ethnicity.

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  19. I know little about the early history of Islam, but how certain can we be of the relationship of the Qurayshi of today to the Qurayshi of ca. 1,500 years ago? One would think there’d be some incentive for outsiders to fraudulently claim membership in a particularly “noble” tribe.

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    • Replies: @Marcus
    It's all BS, like the "sayyidis" Muhammad and his companions would have hundreds of millions of descendants by now
  20. @Joe Q.
    I know little about the early history of Islam, but how certain can we be of the relationship of the Qurayshi of today to the Qurayshi of ca. 1,500 years ago? One would think there'd be some incentive for outsiders to fraudulently claim membership in a particularly "noble" tribe.

    It’s all BS, like the “sayyidis” Muhammad and his companions would have hundreds of millions of descendants by now

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  21. I’m sympathetic to the view that the actual location of the Muhammad story was changed to the more central location of Makkah from the original of Petra or somewhere else on the periphery of Arabia, closer to Christian (and Jewish, Zoroastrian, etc. influence). There were pre-Islamic Arab states with writing and architecture, but they were no where near the Hijaz.

    http://religionresearchinstitute.org/mecca/classical.htm

    http://searchformecca.com/Jerusalem.html

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  22. @Pseudonymic Handle
    Mohamed was likely influenced by ebionites, a sect who regarded Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah while rejecting his divinity and insisted on the necessity of following Jewish law and rites.

    Hilaire Belloc believed that Islam was an offshoot of Arianism, which also denied the divinity of Jesus, but which (like Islam) had a Christology of its own. It’s interesting to note that many of the shaded areas on the haplogroup map are places in which Arianism was present – of course the Middle East, but also Asia Minor, north Africa (St. Augustine, who had been an Arian [i'm pretty sure you are confusing his manichaean stage with arianism -Razib] and then converted to Catholicism, was north African), in Iberia, Italy, and odd spots in Germany and the Caucasus – in many of which I’d guess there were Goths, who largely adhered to Arianism.

    Has anyone done any credible genetic research on the sayyids and other bearers of honorific Muslim titles signifying a supposed genealogy? I have read the genetic studies section in the Wikipedia article on sayyids, which states -

    …the YDNA has already proven that the decedent of the hashemite should belong to J1 M267. J1 is the haplogroup of the sons of prophet Ibrahim. J1 include both, the son of Ismael and son’s of Jacob. Therefore, J2 are can not be Sayeds. There still some studies to confirm the SNP of the descendants of Ali Ibni Abi Talib. It is believed that it should be L-859, however, that is not confirm yet.

    Currently, the genetic marker Haplogroup J1c3d is a strong contender for being the genetic signatures of the Sayyids, due to the haplogroup being predominantly found among people with the Y-chromosomal Aaron (Cohen Modal Haplotype CMH), who are people with patrilineal Jewish priestly caste known as Kohanim, which is passed down paternally from father to son.

    I am not knowledgeable enough to evaluate these claims – the section (to say the least) is poorly written – and would be curious to know the thoughts of someone who is.

    As one who is more knowledgeable about genealogy – not the same thing as genetics, of course! – it is held by better genealogists than I that the lineage of the prophet Muhammad enters many European royal lines via the marriage of the Princess Isabel (Zaida) of Seville (c. 1071 – 1107), daughter of Muhammad III, king of Seville, to Alfonso VI (1065-1109), king of Castile and Leon. Any descendant of Edward III of England (including Elizabeth II) has this lineage.

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  23. Why is this even a question? Muslims have always traced the Prophet’s lineage through Prophet Abraham (pbuh) through his first born, our Master Ishmael (pbuh) – who mixed in with the local tribes from Yemen. I would actually be shocked if there was no genetic correlation.

    And as far as the similarities between Islam and Judaism (and Christianity, for that matter), there are two possibilities:
    1) It was copied and modified from the other earlier two.
    2) It is from the same Divine source as a corrective for accretions in the previous two traditions.

    Peace.

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  24. @Megalophias
    Of course, Muslims expect the Prophet's paternal lineage to be closely related to that of Jews; only the Edomites, descendants of Esau, are more closely related to the Israelites than are the Ishmaelites.

    The TMRCA of L859 and ZS22012 would be 2800-3700 years according to Y-Full: a little young for the usual estimated historical date of Abraham, but within reasonable error bars. Or go a little further up the tree and you can include most of the Adnanite Arabs as well, though ironically you have to leave out the J1 Kohanim. In order to include them with current best estimates of mutation rates you need to put Abraham back into the late 4th millennium BC or thereabouts. Well, he did come from Ur.

    Though you can only go back so far before you have to either throw out genetics or the genealogies.

    The TMRCA of L859 and ZS22012 would be 2800-3700 years according to Y-Full: a little young for the usual estimated historical date of Abraham, but within reasonable error bars. Or go a little further up the tree and you can include most of the Adnanite Arabs as well, though ironically you have to leave out the J1 Kohanim. In order to include them with current best estimates of mutation rates you need to put Abraham back into the late 4th millennium BC or thereabouts. Well, he did come from Ur.

    Abraham is not a real person. He’s pure mythology.

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  25. http://jewishdna.net/J1-FGC11-ZS2102.html

    On the point of the Qurayshi lineage (J1-L859) and its proximity to Jewish J1-ZS2102, it’s worth mentioning that J1 is the most diverse macro-lineage in Jew Town, and the lion’s share of Jewish J1 bears no specific relation to L859.

    According to Wim Penninx’s collection of Ashkenazi Y-DNA (a really underutilized resource), ZS2102 is present at a rate of 0.41% among Ashkenazim (9/2195), and has a TMRCA between 1018 and 1498 CE. Its other sister lineage, L615, seems to be Arabian as well. So it might be just as possible that J1-ZS2102 is an Arabian lineage that introgressed into the Ashkenazi gene pool via Sepharad.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    So it might be just as possible that J1-ZS2102 is an Arabian lineage that introgressed into the Ashkenazi gene pool via Sepharad.

    :-)
  26. Anonymous says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    Very, very few serious historians think that Muhammad was not a real person or that the Quran at least was not from him.

    He was not like Moses or Jesus who left very tiny direct historical footprints. The first Caliphs were his immediate family. The first two were his fathers-in-law, the third was his son-in-law twice, the fourth was the famous cousin and also a son-in-law. By the time of the second they had already conquered Persia and the Levant. It’s like doubting the existence of Julius Caesar. More extreme, in fact, because Muhammad was several centuries more recent.

    And if one is going to throw the basics into question (that Muhammad existed, that Mecca was where it is), then one would have to logically reject usage of all Islamic sources of history on everything from early Islamic history to the Mongols, Crusades, and even up until World War 1. There is no logically coherent way of believing any theocratic Muslim historian if one believes they’ve already colluded on history’s biggest lie. One has to accept a gaping black hole in their knowledge of history then. Wherever a believing Muslim goes, so too goes the black hole. Sounding familiar yet? This is the same Islamophobic “taqiyya” nonsense peddled by medieval Christian polemicists and modern day white supremacists. The idea that you can’t trust a Muslim, ever.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    More extreme, in fact, because Muhammad was several centuries more recent.

    many people who were alive when caesar was alive wrote about him or alluded to him (e.g., cicero), and that doesn't account for his own autobiography. there's nothing equivalent for muhammad, as most of the extant traditions of the prophet pop up later. an analogy is better with the gospels and their theories about jesus.

    the revisionists don't doubt arabs conquered persia and much of byzantine asia and africa. they doubt that those arabs were muslim in a way we'd understand it.

    There is no logically coherent way of believing any theocratic Muslim historian

    shut the fuck up about "logic." this is history, about empirics, not "logic."
    , @PD Shaw
    You can't have it both ways: pointing out that there is an historical Muhammad, while refusing to consider that these sources point to Palestine as the center of his religious movement, not Mecca. They also place the break between Arab and Jews at a later date, after the conquest of Jerusalem. This is simply the type of historic analysis long been employed in Biblical criticism.
  27. @Anonymous
    Very, very few serious historians think that Muhammad was not a real person or that the Quran at least was not from him.

    He was not like Moses or Jesus who left very tiny direct historical footprints. The first Caliphs were his immediate family. The first two were his fathers-in-law, the third was his son-in-law twice, the fourth was the famous cousin and also a son-in-law. By the time of the second they had already conquered Persia and the Levant. It's like doubting the existence of Julius Caesar. More extreme, in fact, because Muhammad was several centuries more recent.

    And if one is going to throw the basics into question (that Muhammad existed, that Mecca was where it is), then one would have to logically reject usage of all Islamic sources of history on everything from early Islamic history to the Mongols, Crusades, and even up until World War 1. There is no logically coherent way of believing any theocratic Muslim historian if one believes they've already colluded on history's biggest lie. One has to accept a gaping black hole in their knowledge of history then. Wherever a believing Muslim goes, so too goes the black hole. Sounding familiar yet? This is the same Islamophobic "taqiyya" nonsense peddled by medieval Christian polemicists and modern day white supremacists. The idea that you can't trust a Muslim, ever.

    More extreme, in fact, because Muhammad was several centuries more recent.

    many people who were alive when caesar was alive wrote about him or alluded to him (e.g., cicero), and that doesn’t account for his own autobiography. there’s nothing equivalent for muhammad, as most of the extant traditions of the prophet pop up later. an analogy is better with the gospels and their theories about jesus.

    the revisionists don’t doubt arabs conquered persia and much of byzantine asia and africa. they doubt that those arabs were muslim in a way we’d understand it.

    There is no logically coherent way of believing any theocratic Muslim historian

    shut the fuck up about “logic.” this is history, about empirics, not “logic.”

    Read More
    • Replies: @Talha
    Let's put aside the Quran...Imam Malik (may God raise his rank) (about whom there is zero doubt) holds the golden chain of narration; from him, from Nafi' (ra), from Ibn Umar (ra). His entire school is founded on the premise of the popular practice of the people of Madinah on the precise conclusion that one generation gap would not lead to a huge difference in religious practice. Abu Hanifah (may God raise his rank) is either a Tabi'i (one generation removed) or Taba Tabi'i (two removed) depending on opinion. Go up one generation from them and you get the Companions, about whom Roman and Byzantine and other Christian accounts are written as conquering generals - or are we going to question the capture of major cities like Alexandria or Damascus? Or battles like Qadisiyyah or Yarmouk - ie. Was there someone named Umar in al-Khattab or is he also a figment of imagination? (Somebody please tell Professor David Nicolle he has wasted decades of his life.) The difference between early Christians was that they were a persecuted minority for the first couple of generations. The Muslims had massive state power from nascency and had the wherewithal to immediately pursue a policy of preservation - one that is unfortunately being (and has been) undone by the Saudis in their pursuit to make Makkah into some giant desert Disneyland otherwise many of these questions wouldn't have even arisen.

    You don't have to believe the supernatural aspect of it, but from the aspect of history, that is a massive conspiracy within the first two generations.

    I think carbon dating some of the relics in custody by the Turks would likely put a stop to this. I don't know if it's been done yet.

    Peace.
  28. @Anonymous
    Dont get how one concludes that organised paganism in pre-islamic past was a propaganda?. What was the need and purpose of such propaganda?. How many were in on creating and propagating this propaganda?.Also trade routes to India existed as well. Organized polytheistic societies are not unheard of you know. They existed, they still do exist. The difference is that relative to monotheistic religions, they are not that organized.

    Dont get how one concludes that organised paganism in pre-islamic past was a propaganda?.

    the weakness of paganism in the near east by 600 AD is pretty clear if you know the history of this period. do you? i doubt it. so don’t make judgments whereof you know not. (i do know the history pretty well fwiw)

    Read More
  29. @ben-canaan
    http://jewishdna.net/J1-FGC11-ZS2102.html

    On the point of the Qurayshi lineage (J1-L859) and its proximity to Jewish J1-ZS2102, it's worth mentioning that J1 is the most diverse macro-lineage in Jew Town, and the lion's share of Jewish J1 bears no specific relation to L859.

    According to Wim Penninx's collection of Ashkenazi Y-DNA (a really underutilized resource), ZS2102 is present at a rate of 0.41% among Ashkenazim (9/2195), and has a TMRCA between 1018 and 1498 CE. Its other sister lineage, L615, seems to be Arabian as well. So it might be just as possible that J1-ZS2102 is an Arabian lineage that introgressed into the Ashkenazi gene pool via Sepharad.

    So it might be just as possible that J1-ZS2102 is an Arabian lineage that introgressed into the Ashkenazi gene pool via Sepharad.

    :-)

    Read More
    • Replies: @CupOfCanada
    Seems more likely that the Midianite hypothesis is correct, and that both Judaism and Islam owe a lot of their early development to the same geographic area.
  30. @Razib Khan
    More extreme, in fact, because Muhammad was several centuries more recent.

    many people who were alive when caesar was alive wrote about him or alluded to him (e.g., cicero), and that doesn't account for his own autobiography. there's nothing equivalent for muhammad, as most of the extant traditions of the prophet pop up later. an analogy is better with the gospels and their theories about jesus.

    the revisionists don't doubt arabs conquered persia and much of byzantine asia and africa. they doubt that those arabs were muslim in a way we'd understand it.

    There is no logically coherent way of believing any theocratic Muslim historian

    shut the fuck up about "logic." this is history, about empirics, not "logic."

    Let’s put aside the Quran…Imam Malik (may God raise his rank) (about whom there is zero doubt) holds the golden chain of narration; from him, from Nafi’ (ra), from Ibn Umar (ra). His entire school is founded on the premise of the popular practice of the people of Madinah on the precise conclusion that one generation gap would not lead to a huge difference in religious practice. Abu Hanifah (may God raise his rank) is either a Tabi’i (one generation removed) or Taba Tabi’i (two removed) depending on opinion. Go up one generation from them and you get the Companions, about whom Roman and Byzantine and other Christian accounts are written as conquering generals – or are we going to question the capture of major cities like Alexandria or Damascus? Or battles like Qadisiyyah or Yarmouk – ie. Was there someone named Umar in al-Khattab or is he also a figment of imagination? (Somebody please tell Professor David Nicolle he has wasted decades of his life.) The difference between early Christians was that they were a persecuted minority for the first couple of generations. The Muslims had massive state power from nascency and had the wherewithal to immediately pursue a policy of preservation – one that is unfortunately being (and has been) undone by the Saudis in their pursuit to make Makkah into some giant desert Disneyland otherwise many of these questions wouldn’t have even arisen.

    You don’t have to believe the supernatural aspect of it, but from the aspect of history, that is a massive conspiracy within the first two generations.

    I think carbon dating some of the relics in custody by the Turks would likely put a stop to this. I don’t know if it’s been done yet.

    Peace.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    1) you presume that i hold beliefs about facts that i don't. do you even know much about the ideas of the revisionists? (it's fine if you don't, but you shouldn't engage if you are ignorant)

    2) many of premises you proffer are ones i reject. things you say are precise i don't think are precise, etc.

    in short, you're not actually engaging the critique, but your caricature of it (just like jackshepherd). that is, the religion you assert existed in the 7th century may not have existed, even if most of the principals who are characters within its narratives did!

    one that is unfortunately being (and has been) undone by the Saudis in their pursuit to make Makkah into some giant desert Disneyland otherwise many of these questions wouldn’t have even arisen.

    that the saudis are shit is something that most everyone but they can agree on.

    , @PD Shaw
    Non-Muslim sources support the idea that there was a Mohammad, that he was a merchant, that he preached an Abrahamic message, and that he was involved in conquest. They differ in the two respects I just mentioned (the centrality of Palestine and the longer association of Jews).

    According to the Hadith and traditional biographies, the Prophet changed the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca in mid-observance based upon divine instruction. Those of us who are not believers are not inclined to accept this explanation, but from a critical view the switch is quite interesting. Since it shows a lack of continence in religious practice, it has a certain level of credibility. It would be easier to tell the story as if prayer was always the same, but the change suggests something commonly known and to be addressed and contextualized. The change could be both in actual practice, but just as likely signaling a change in viewpoint where Jerusalem was no longer the center of this religious community's identity. The importance non-Islamic sources place on Palestine is hinted at in Islamic tradition.

    Similarly, the early Muslims acted in a coalition with Jews, but there was a falling out before the conquests began. It does not take much of a conspiracy to extend their alliance until Jerusalem is taken, which would offer its own motivation for division. It simply takes a pride and deeper interest in those of the faith over others.
  31. @Talha
    Let's put aside the Quran...Imam Malik (may God raise his rank) (about whom there is zero doubt) holds the golden chain of narration; from him, from Nafi' (ra), from Ibn Umar (ra). His entire school is founded on the premise of the popular practice of the people of Madinah on the precise conclusion that one generation gap would not lead to a huge difference in religious practice. Abu Hanifah (may God raise his rank) is either a Tabi'i (one generation removed) or Taba Tabi'i (two removed) depending on opinion. Go up one generation from them and you get the Companions, about whom Roman and Byzantine and other Christian accounts are written as conquering generals - or are we going to question the capture of major cities like Alexandria or Damascus? Or battles like Qadisiyyah or Yarmouk - ie. Was there someone named Umar in al-Khattab or is he also a figment of imagination? (Somebody please tell Professor David Nicolle he has wasted decades of his life.) The difference between early Christians was that they were a persecuted minority for the first couple of generations. The Muslims had massive state power from nascency and had the wherewithal to immediately pursue a policy of preservation - one that is unfortunately being (and has been) undone by the Saudis in their pursuit to make Makkah into some giant desert Disneyland otherwise many of these questions wouldn't have even arisen.

    You don't have to believe the supernatural aspect of it, but from the aspect of history, that is a massive conspiracy within the first two generations.

    I think carbon dating some of the relics in custody by the Turks would likely put a stop to this. I don't know if it's been done yet.

    Peace.

    1) you presume that i hold beliefs about facts that i don’t. do you even know much about the ideas of the revisionists? (it’s fine if you don’t, but you shouldn’t engage if you are ignorant)

    2) many of premises you proffer are ones i reject. things you say are precise i don’t think are precise, etc.

    in short, you’re not actually engaging the critique, but your caricature of it (just like jackshepherd). that is, the religion you assert existed in the 7th century may not have existed, even if most of the principals who are characters within its narratives did!

    one that is unfortunately being (and has been) undone by the Saudis in their pursuit to make Makkah into some giant desert Disneyland otherwise many of these questions wouldn’t have even arisen.

    that the saudis are shit is something that most everyone but they can agree on.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Talha
    Hey Razib,

    Sorry if I gave you the impression that I felt you were backing the revisionists to the hilt - you obviously weren't, based on your statements in the original post. I was employing a rhetorical device against the revisionist claims directly. And yes, admittedly, I have not read these particular works, but I've been a student of Orientalism (revisionists go way back) and also counter arguments to their claims. Their dogmatic approach continues to this day:
    http://www.drjonathanbrown.com/2015/how-should-rationalists-deal-with-dogmatism-the-case-of-the-birmingham-quran-pages

    And I will agree that, from a logical point of view, there is a possibility of a conspiracy from the first two generations. My contention is that the widely accepted narrative requires far less leaps of faith on the human origins of Islam - whether you believe in the supernatural aspect or not.

    Peace.

  32. @Razib Khan
    1) you presume that i hold beliefs about facts that i don't. do you even know much about the ideas of the revisionists? (it's fine if you don't, but you shouldn't engage if you are ignorant)

    2) many of premises you proffer are ones i reject. things you say are precise i don't think are precise, etc.

    in short, you're not actually engaging the critique, but your caricature of it (just like jackshepherd). that is, the religion you assert existed in the 7th century may not have existed, even if most of the principals who are characters within its narratives did!

    one that is unfortunately being (and has been) undone by the Saudis in their pursuit to make Makkah into some giant desert Disneyland otherwise many of these questions wouldn’t have even arisen.

    that the saudis are shit is something that most everyone but they can agree on.

    Hey Razib,

    Sorry if I gave you the impression that I felt you were backing the revisionists to the hilt – you obviously weren’t, based on your statements in the original post. I was employing a rhetorical device against the revisionist claims directly. And yes, admittedly, I have not read these particular works, but I’ve been a student of Orientalism (revisionists go way back) and also counter arguments to their claims. Their dogmatic approach continues to this day:

    http://www.drjonathanbrown.com/2015/how-should-rationalists-deal-with-dogmatism-the-case-of-the-birmingham-quran-pages

    And I will agree that, from a logical point of view, there is a possibility of a conspiracy from the first two generations. My contention is that the widely accepted narrative requires far less leaps of faith on the human origins of Islam – whether you believe in the supernatural aspect or not.

    Peace.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    here is a possibility of a conspiracy from the first two generations.

    i don't think it was a conspiracy. if the revisionists are closer to the mark it's easily explained by the way cultural cognition works and evolves. look to the history of the mormon religion, whose evolution is rather plain in the historical record as an example of what i'm talking about.

    your argument seems to be rather like christians who engage in the 'lord, liar, or lunatic,' trichotomy. it doesn't have to be any of these three.

    i don't think we have enough evidence to know with great confidence what happened in the 7th century personally in all its details. my own position is probably closest to being neutral since i'm uncertain. but the revisionist views are not implausible ipso facto. most of the extant textual documentation on early, middle, and late western antiquity that we have is funneled through the sieve of the abbasids, carlognians, and byzantines between 800 and 1000 AD. as such, our literary knowledge of periods before that does not increase in a monotonic fashion.

  33. anon says:     Show CommentNext New Comment
    @Marcus
    I'm sympathetic to the view that the actual location of the Muhammad story was changed to the more central location of Makkah from the original of Petra or somewhere else on the periphery of Arabia, closer to Christian (and Jewish, Zoroastrian, etc. influence). There were pre-Islamic Arab states with writing and architecture, but they were no where near the Hijaz.
    http://religionresearchinstitute.org/mecca/classical.htm
    http://searchformecca.com/Jerusalem.html
    Read More
  34. @Talha
    Hey Razib,

    Sorry if I gave you the impression that I felt you were backing the revisionists to the hilt - you obviously weren't, based on your statements in the original post. I was employing a rhetorical device against the revisionist claims directly. And yes, admittedly, I have not read these particular works, but I've been a student of Orientalism (revisionists go way back) and also counter arguments to their claims. Their dogmatic approach continues to this day:
    http://www.drjonathanbrown.com/2015/how-should-rationalists-deal-with-dogmatism-the-case-of-the-birmingham-quran-pages

    And I will agree that, from a logical point of view, there is a possibility of a conspiracy from the first two generations. My contention is that the widely accepted narrative requires far less leaps of faith on the human origins of Islam - whether you believe in the supernatural aspect or not.

    Peace.

    here is a possibility of a conspiracy from the first two generations.

    i don’t think it was a conspiracy. if the revisionists are closer to the mark it’s easily explained by the way cultural cognition works and evolves. look to the history of the mormon religion, whose evolution is rather plain in the historical record as an example of what i’m talking about.

    your argument seems to be rather like christians who engage in the ‘lord, liar, or lunatic,’ trichotomy. it doesn’t have to be any of these three.

    i don’t think we have enough evidence to know with great confidence what happened in the 7th century personally in all its details. my own position is probably closest to being neutral since i’m uncertain. but the revisionist views are not implausible ipso facto. most of the extant textual documentation on early, middle, and late western antiquity that we have is funneled through the sieve of the abbasids, carlognians, and byzantines between 800 and 1000 AD. as such, our literary knowledge of periods before that does not increase in a monotonic fashion.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Talha
    Hey Razib,

    the way cultural cognition works and evolves
     
    I actually agree with this to a certain extent. There is no doubt about the influence of the Persians and their scholarly approach to things within the first few generations of Islamic scholarship. You can see this in the tension between the schools of the Malikis - whose juristic approach is through the understanding and practices of the earliest community of Madinah and Mecca (basically the school of Ibn Umar [ra]) - and the Hanafis - who come from the angle of a very rational and calculated approach (the school of Ibn Masood [ra]). They come to very different conclusions on things and their environmental influence just cannot be discounted. Likewise, the very earliest creedal formulas (Athari) like Fiqh al-Akbar and Tahawiyyah are very simple and concise. The subsequent Maturidi and Ash'ari formulas (again, massive internal Persian debates) have the hallmarks of debates with Hellenistic thought written all over them - much of what they say may have been either frowned at by the earliest community (from their vantage point) or possibly be unrecognizable with a lot of fat around the edges. However, the more rational voices (from within the tradition - extremist Salafi/Wahabbi voices notwithstanding) understand that a certain level of adoption with the times is warranted and at times necessary.

    i don’t think we have enough evidence to know with great confidence what happened in the 7th century personally in all its details.
     
    Again, I agree to a certain extent. The sirah and maghazi literature has always been the weakest point of the Islamic sciences - all of the Muslim scholarship admits this. No serious juristic tradition looks to it to derive rules since it is tenuous in its sourcing and attribution. It provides great fodder for people looking for juicy stories based on weak and forged anecdotes. But even if these historical works fell off the earth, much of the day to day practice and beliefs of Muslims would stay the same since they simply don't rely on it. Even hadith is part of contentious debate; masters like Imam Daraqutni (ra) were making criticism well into the 10th century on both chains of transmission and actual content. Not to mention the two late Moroccan Ghimari brothers (may God grant them a high station) who were analyzing well into the nineties:
    http://www.drjonathanbrown.com/2011/the-canonization-of-ibn-majah-authenticity-vs-utility-in-the-formation-of-the-sunni-%E1%B8%A5adith-cano

    our literary knowledge of periods before that does not increase in a monotonic fashion
     
    Agreed again. The earliest transmission of anything of value within the Islamic tradition is all oral - bar none. This applies to Qur'an - the seven canonical readings of which are still passed down orally (they have to be, since correct pronunciation of them is imperative and even affects juristic conclusions). The science of tajweed exists only in this tradition and no other; we may see what Shakespeare has written, but we have little confidence that we actually pronounce it like he did. There are still students in places like Mauritania who memorize the entire Qur'an without ever seeing a mus-haf (7th century style - their desert lifestyle is admittedly not much different - as the Fremen proverb goes, "God created Arrakis to train the faithful."); their teachers recites the lesson, they write it on a wooden tablet and memorize and recite it back, then move on to the next. Mostly the recitation in the reading of Imam Warsh (ra), but - I believe - Imam Hafs (ra) also makes a showing. Early hadith was likewise, you could not transmit unless you actually heard it from the person directly - this was the case until the canonical books (like the 6 sahih, plus items like the Musnad and Muwatta) came into play and were written down. One of my teachers just came back from overseas studies and he met people who have memorized the entirety of some of these canonical hadith works (along with chains of transmission). This is not given much credence by Western scholarship because nothing in their experience runs parallel to it, but hey, that's cool with us:
    http://www.drjonathanbrown.com/2011/new-data-on-the-delateralization-of-%E1%B8%8Dad-and-its-merger-with-7826a%E2%80%99-in-classical-arabic-contributions-from-old-south-arabian-and-the-earliest-islamic-texts-on-%E1%B8%8D%E1%BA%93-m

    The question I have is, who do they think is buried under there? I mean, unlike other faiths, the Muslim faithful come to do ziyara (visitation) of his grave in Madinah. I think he is the only one of the great founders of religions who actually has an agreed upon location for his physical body.

    By the way, great work on the genetic stuff - honestly bro, most of it is way above my head since it's not my science, but I glean some interesting info nonetheless since you are able to distill a good amount of it into something a generally-educated person can decipher. This headline caught my eye - for obvious reasons. :)

    Peace.

    , @Marcus
    There could very well have been a conspiracy by the Baghdad authorities to "re-write" history (wouldn't have been hard, remember they were relying on oral traditions) as some people have accused the Roman-era theological councils of doing.
  35. @Razib Khan
    here is a possibility of a conspiracy from the first two generations.

    i don't think it was a conspiracy. if the revisionists are closer to the mark it's easily explained by the way cultural cognition works and evolves. look to the history of the mormon religion, whose evolution is rather plain in the historical record as an example of what i'm talking about.

    your argument seems to be rather like christians who engage in the 'lord, liar, or lunatic,' trichotomy. it doesn't have to be any of these three.

    i don't think we have enough evidence to know with great confidence what happened in the 7th century personally in all its details. my own position is probably closest to being neutral since i'm uncertain. but the revisionist views are not implausible ipso facto. most of the extant textual documentation on early, middle, and late western antiquity that we have is funneled through the sieve of the abbasids, carlognians, and byzantines between 800 and 1000 AD. as such, our literary knowledge of periods before that does not increase in a monotonic fashion.

    Hey Razib,

    the way cultural cognition works and evolves

    I actually agree with this to a certain extent. There is no doubt about the influence of the Persians and their scholarly approach to things within the first few generations of Islamic scholarship. You can see this in the tension between the schools of the Malikis – whose juristic approach is through the understanding and practices of the earliest community of Madinah and Mecca (basically the school of Ibn Umar [ra]) – and the Hanafis – who come from the angle of a very rational and calculated approach (the school of Ibn Masood [ra]). They come to very different conclusions on things and their environmental influence just cannot be discounted. Likewise, the very earliest creedal formulas (Athari) like Fiqh al-Akbar and Tahawiyyah are very simple and concise. The subsequent Maturidi and Ash’ari formulas (again, massive internal Persian debates) have the hallmarks of debates with Hellenistic thought written all over them – much of what they say may have been either frowned at by the earliest community (from their vantage point) or possibly be unrecognizable with a lot of fat around the edges. However, the more rational voices (from within the tradition – extremist Salafi/Wahabbi voices notwithstanding) understand that a certain level of adoption with the times is warranted and at times necessary.

    i don’t think we have enough evidence to know with great confidence what happened in the 7th century personally in all its details.

    Again, I agree to a certain extent. The sirah and maghazi literature has always been the weakest point of the Islamic sciences – all of the Muslim scholarship admits this. No serious juristic tradition looks to it to derive rules since it is tenuous in its sourcing and attribution. It provides great fodder for people looking for juicy stories based on weak and forged anecdotes. But even if these historical works fell off the earth, much of the day to day practice and beliefs of Muslims would stay the same since they simply don’t rely on it. Even hadith is part of contentious debate; masters like Imam Daraqutni (ra) were making criticism well into the 10th century on both chains of transmission and actual content. Not to mention the two late Moroccan Ghimari brothers (may God grant them a high station) who were analyzing well into the nineties:

    http://www.drjonathanbrown.com/2011/the-canonization-of-ibn-majah-authenticity-vs-utility-in-the-formation-of-the-sunni-%E1%B8%A5adith-cano

    our literary knowledge of periods before that does not increase in a monotonic fashion

    Agreed again. The earliest transmission of anything of value within the Islamic tradition is all oral – bar none. This applies to Qur’an – the seven canonical readings of which are still passed down orally (they have to be, since correct pronunciation of them is imperative and even affects juristic conclusions). The science of tajweed exists only in this tradition and no other; we may see what Shakespeare has written, but we have little confidence that we actually pronounce it like he did. There are still students in places like Mauritania who memorize the entire Qur’an without ever seeing a mus-haf (7th century style – their desert lifestyle is admittedly not much different – as the Fremen proverb goes, “God created Arrakis to train the faithful.”); their teachers recites the lesson, they write it on a wooden tablet and memorize and recite it back, then move on to the next. Mostly the recitation in the reading of Imam Warsh (ra), but – I believe – Imam Hafs (ra) also makes a showing. Early hadith was likewise, you could not transmit unless you actually heard it from the person directly – this was the case until the canonical books (like the 6 sahih, plus items like the Musnad and Muwatta) came into play and were written down. One of my teachers just came back from overseas studies and he met people who have memorized the entirety of some of these canonical hadith works (along with chains of transmission). This is not given much credence by Western scholarship because nothing in their experience runs parallel to it, but hey, that’s cool with us:

    http://www.drjonathanbrown.com/2011/new-data-on-the-delateralization-of-%E1%B8%8Dad-and-its-merger-with-7826a%E2%80%99-in-classical-arabic-contributions-from-old-south-arabian-and-the-earliest-islamic-texts-on-%E1%B8%8D%E1%BA%93-m

    The question I have is, who do they think is buried under there? I mean, unlike other faiths, the Muslim faithful come to do ziyara (visitation) of his grave in Madinah. I think he is the only one of the great founders of religions who actually has an agreed upon location for his physical body.

    By the way, great work on the genetic stuff – honestly bro, most of it is way above my head since it’s not my science, but I glean some interesting info nonetheless since you are able to distill a good amount of it into something a generally-educated person can decipher. This headline caught my eye – for obvious reasons. :)

    Peace.

    Read More
  36. @Anonymous
    Very, very few serious historians think that Muhammad was not a real person or that the Quran at least was not from him.

    He was not like Moses or Jesus who left very tiny direct historical footprints. The first Caliphs were his immediate family. The first two were his fathers-in-law, the third was his son-in-law twice, the fourth was the famous cousin and also a son-in-law. By the time of the second they had already conquered Persia and the Levant. It's like doubting the existence of Julius Caesar. More extreme, in fact, because Muhammad was several centuries more recent.

    And if one is going to throw the basics into question (that Muhammad existed, that Mecca was where it is), then one would have to logically reject usage of all Islamic sources of history on everything from early Islamic history to the Mongols, Crusades, and even up until World War 1. There is no logically coherent way of believing any theocratic Muslim historian if one believes they've already colluded on history's biggest lie. One has to accept a gaping black hole in their knowledge of history then. Wherever a believing Muslim goes, so too goes the black hole. Sounding familiar yet? This is the same Islamophobic "taqiyya" nonsense peddled by medieval Christian polemicists and modern day white supremacists. The idea that you can't trust a Muslim, ever.

    You can’t have it both ways: pointing out that there is an historical Muhammad, while refusing to consider that these sources point to Palestine as the center of his religious movement, not Mecca. They also place the break between Arab and Jews at a later date, after the conquest of Jerusalem. This is simply the type of historic analysis long been employed in Biblical criticism.

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  37. @Razib Khan
    here is a possibility of a conspiracy from the first two generations.

    i don't think it was a conspiracy. if the revisionists are closer to the mark it's easily explained by the way cultural cognition works and evolves. look to the history of the mormon religion, whose evolution is rather plain in the historical record as an example of what i'm talking about.

    your argument seems to be rather like christians who engage in the 'lord, liar, or lunatic,' trichotomy. it doesn't have to be any of these three.

    i don't think we have enough evidence to know with great confidence what happened in the 7th century personally in all its details. my own position is probably closest to being neutral since i'm uncertain. but the revisionist views are not implausible ipso facto. most of the extant textual documentation on early, middle, and late western antiquity that we have is funneled through the sieve of the abbasids, carlognians, and byzantines between 800 and 1000 AD. as such, our literary knowledge of periods before that does not increase in a monotonic fashion.

    There could very well have been a conspiracy by the Baghdad authorities to “re-write” history (wouldn’t have been hard, remember they were relying on oral traditions) as some people have accused the Roman-era theological councils of doing.

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    • Replies: @Talha
    Except for those pesky guys in the Maghreb. The Umayyads never bent the knee to the Abassids and the areas of Morocco and Andalus remained doggedly faithful to the earliest tradition of Madinah by remaining Maliki ever since the school was almost single handedly brought there by Imam Yahya Laythi (my God raise his rank) - not to be confused with Imam Layth ibn Sa'd (may God raise his rank), the founder of his school in Egypt - who also brought all of the hadith traditions directly from Imam Malik (may God raise his rank) in his Muwatta. That doesn't even account for the hadith traditions that were in circulation since the initial Umayyad conquest. Those areas never fell under military or political control of the Abbasids (or even the Ottomans) - ever. They would have skewered the Abbasids for any such revisionist attempts. Even the first centers of learning, established very early (late 7th century), like those in Qayrawan remained only nominally in the hands of the Abassids (under their Aghlabid vassals):
    International Dictionary of Library Histories

    The Abassids never had an iron control (which would have been required to carry out such a vast revisionist project) of almost anything out of Iraq. When they tried to force the Sunni scholarship to swallow the Mutazilite creed by imprisonment and torture, Imam Shafi'i (may God raise his rank) only had to skip town to Cairo to be out of their purview.

    Peace.

  38. @Talha
    Let's put aside the Quran...Imam Malik (may God raise his rank) (about whom there is zero doubt) holds the golden chain of narration; from him, from Nafi' (ra), from Ibn Umar (ra). His entire school is founded on the premise of the popular practice of the people of Madinah on the precise conclusion that one generation gap would not lead to a huge difference in religious practice. Abu Hanifah (may God raise his rank) is either a Tabi'i (one generation removed) or Taba Tabi'i (two removed) depending on opinion. Go up one generation from them and you get the Companions, about whom Roman and Byzantine and other Christian accounts are written as conquering generals - or are we going to question the capture of major cities like Alexandria or Damascus? Or battles like Qadisiyyah or Yarmouk - ie. Was there someone named Umar in al-Khattab or is he also a figment of imagination? (Somebody please tell Professor David Nicolle he has wasted decades of his life.) The difference between early Christians was that they were a persecuted minority for the first couple of generations. The Muslims had massive state power from nascency and had the wherewithal to immediately pursue a policy of preservation - one that is unfortunately being (and has been) undone by the Saudis in their pursuit to make Makkah into some giant desert Disneyland otherwise many of these questions wouldn't have even arisen.

    You don't have to believe the supernatural aspect of it, but from the aspect of history, that is a massive conspiracy within the first two generations.

    I think carbon dating some of the relics in custody by the Turks would likely put a stop to this. I don't know if it's been done yet.

    Peace.

    Non-Muslim sources support the idea that there was a Mohammad, that he was a merchant, that he preached an Abrahamic message, and that he was involved in conquest. They differ in the two respects I just mentioned (the centrality of Palestine and the longer association of Jews).

    According to the Hadith and traditional biographies, the Prophet changed the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca in mid-observance based upon divine instruction. Those of us who are not believers are not inclined to accept this explanation, but from a critical view the switch is quite interesting. Since it shows a lack of continence in religious practice, it has a certain level of credibility. It would be easier to tell the story as if prayer was always the same, but the change suggests something commonly known and to be addressed and contextualized. The change could be both in actual practice, but just as likely signaling a change in viewpoint where Jerusalem was no longer the center of this religious community’s identity. The importance non-Islamic sources place on Palestine is hinted at in Islamic tradition.

    Similarly, the early Muslims acted in a coalition with Jews, but there was a falling out before the conquests began. It does not take much of a conspiracy to extend their alliance until Jerusalem is taken, which would offer its own motivation for division. It simply takes a pride and deeper interest in those of the faith over others.

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    • Replies: @Talha
    Dear PD Shaw,

    Oh - I whole heartedly agree with you. If one does not believe in the supernatural narrative which offers the explanation, one is forced to come to terms with the details of the narrative by other means. If I did not believe in it, I may come to similar conclusions - why did these disparate Arab tribes all come together at once in the 6th century and beat down the Sassanid and Byzantine Empires?


    The importance non-Islamic sources place on Palestine is hinted at in Islamic tradition.
     
    Not hinted - it is quite deliberate. Palestine (Jerusalem) and the original prophetic tradition (Bani Israel) was always emphasized, from the beginning. Even the first obligatory fast in Islamic tradition is the 10th of Muharram - tied to the fasting practice of Passover by the Madinite Jews at the time; this was abrogated once Ramadan was sent. Almost all the rites of Hajj are clearly defined as being the ones lost since the original were set down by Master Abraham (pbuh). The Prophet (pbuh) always stated he was sent to return to the way of our Master Abraham (pbuh) - before there was such a thing as a Jew or a Christian - these were part of his credentials.

    As I stated, as far as the similarities between Islam and Judaism (and Christianity, for that matter), there are two possibilities:
    1) It was copied and modified from the other earlier two.
    2) It is from the same Divine source as a corrective for accretions in the previous two traditions.

    Peace.

  39. @PD Shaw
    Non-Muslim sources support the idea that there was a Mohammad, that he was a merchant, that he preached an Abrahamic message, and that he was involved in conquest. They differ in the two respects I just mentioned (the centrality of Palestine and the longer association of Jews).

    According to the Hadith and traditional biographies, the Prophet changed the direction of prayer from Jerusalem to Mecca in mid-observance based upon divine instruction. Those of us who are not believers are not inclined to accept this explanation, but from a critical view the switch is quite interesting. Since it shows a lack of continence in religious practice, it has a certain level of credibility. It would be easier to tell the story as if prayer was always the same, but the change suggests something commonly known and to be addressed and contextualized. The change could be both in actual practice, but just as likely signaling a change in viewpoint where Jerusalem was no longer the center of this religious community's identity. The importance non-Islamic sources place on Palestine is hinted at in Islamic tradition.

    Similarly, the early Muslims acted in a coalition with Jews, but there was a falling out before the conquests began. It does not take much of a conspiracy to extend their alliance until Jerusalem is taken, which would offer its own motivation for division. It simply takes a pride and deeper interest in those of the faith over others.

    Dear PD Shaw,

    Oh – I whole heartedly agree with you. If one does not believe in the supernatural narrative which offers the explanation, one is forced to come to terms with the details of the narrative by other means. If I did not believe in it, I may come to similar conclusions – why did these disparate Arab tribes all come together at once in the 6th century and beat down the Sassanid and Byzantine Empires?

    The importance non-Islamic sources place on Palestine is hinted at in Islamic tradition.

    Not hinted – it is quite deliberate. Palestine (Jerusalem) and the original prophetic tradition (Bani Israel) was always emphasized, from the beginning. Even the first obligatory fast in Islamic tradition is the 10th of Muharram – tied to the fasting practice of Passover by the Madinite Jews at the time; this was abrogated once Ramadan was sent. Almost all the rites of Hajj are clearly defined as being the ones lost since the original were set down by Master Abraham (pbuh). The Prophet (pbuh) always stated he was sent to return to the way of our Master Abraham (pbuh) – before there was such a thing as a Jew or a Christian – these were part of his credentials.

    As I stated, as far as the similarities between Islam and Judaism (and Christianity, for that matter), there are two possibilities:
    1) It was copied and modified from the other earlier two.
    2) It is from the same Divine source as a corrective for accretions in the previous two traditions.

    Peace.

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  40. @Marcus
    There could very well have been a conspiracy by the Baghdad authorities to "re-write" history (wouldn't have been hard, remember they were relying on oral traditions) as some people have accused the Roman-era theological councils of doing.

    Except for those pesky guys in the Maghreb. The Umayyads never bent the knee to the Abassids and the areas of Morocco and Andalus remained doggedly faithful to the earliest tradition of Madinah by remaining Maliki ever since the school was almost single handedly brought there by Imam Yahya Laythi (my God raise his rank) – not to be confused with Imam Layth ibn Sa’d (may God raise his rank), the founder of his school in Egypt – who also brought all of the hadith traditions directly from Imam Malik (may God raise his rank) in his Muwatta. That doesn’t even account for the hadith traditions that were in circulation since the initial Umayyad conquest. Those areas never fell under military or political control of the Abbasids (or even the Ottomans) – ever. They would have skewered the Abbasids for any such revisionist attempts. Even the first centers of learning, established very early (late 7th century), like those in Qayrawan remained only nominally in the hands of the Abassids (under their Aghlabid vassals):
    International Dictionary of Library Histories

    The Abassids never had an iron control (which would have been required to carry out such a vast revisionist project) of almost anything out of Iraq. When they tried to force the Sunni scholarship to swallow the Mutazilite creed by imprisonment and torture, Imam Shafi’i (may God raise his rank) only had to skip town to Cairo to be out of their purview.

    Peace.

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    • Replies: @Marcus
    So what? Prestige and wealth are more important than political boundaries. Look at how Wahhabi influence extends far beyond Saudi borders into almost every Sunni Muslim "community."
  41. @Razib Khan
    So it might be just as possible that J1-ZS2102 is an Arabian lineage that introgressed into the Ashkenazi gene pool via Sepharad.

    :-)

    Seems more likely that the Midianite hypothesis is correct, and that both Judaism and Islam owe a lot of their early development to the same geographic area.

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  42. @Talha
    Except for those pesky guys in the Maghreb. The Umayyads never bent the knee to the Abassids and the areas of Morocco and Andalus remained doggedly faithful to the earliest tradition of Madinah by remaining Maliki ever since the school was almost single handedly brought there by Imam Yahya Laythi (my God raise his rank) - not to be confused with Imam Layth ibn Sa'd (may God raise his rank), the founder of his school in Egypt - who also brought all of the hadith traditions directly from Imam Malik (may God raise his rank) in his Muwatta. That doesn't even account for the hadith traditions that were in circulation since the initial Umayyad conquest. Those areas never fell under military or political control of the Abbasids (or even the Ottomans) - ever. They would have skewered the Abbasids for any such revisionist attempts. Even the first centers of learning, established very early (late 7th century), like those in Qayrawan remained only nominally in the hands of the Abassids (under their Aghlabid vassals):
    International Dictionary of Library Histories

    The Abassids never had an iron control (which would have been required to carry out such a vast revisionist project) of almost anything out of Iraq. When they tried to force the Sunni scholarship to swallow the Mutazilite creed by imprisonment and torture, Imam Shafi'i (may God raise his rank) only had to skip town to Cairo to be out of their purview.

    Peace.

    So what? Prestige and wealth are more important than political boundaries. Look at how Wahhabi influence extends far beyond Saudi borders into almost every Sunni Muslim “community.”

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    • Replies: @Talha
    Sure - I'm open to the possibility that the Abassids had that kind of influence all the way in the Iberian peninsula. Again, you are going against recorded history now (there is even evidence at this point of a potential political alliance between the Abbasids and the Caroligian Franks) - no longer the first two generations. If someone has proof, I'm open to it; there has to be a trace of something beyond just influence for a revision of such magnitude. My contention is that once the Muwatta and Imam Malik's school spread out beyond the Hijaz, the horse is out of the barn. No singular powerful authority exists at that point to exercise a monopoly on the tradition - the Abbasids are checked early on by the Fatimids and even earlier by random dynasties like the Khariji Rustamids (http://www.britannica.com/place/Rustamid-kingdom). For a great breakdown of all these dynasties refer to the short but sweet works of Prof. David Nicolle. That is why I contend the conspiracy needs to occur very early on or it requires a lot of leaps of faith and coaxing.

    Peace.

  43. @Talha
    Dear PD Shaw,

    Oh - I whole heartedly agree with you. If one does not believe in the supernatural narrative which offers the explanation, one is forced to come to terms with the details of the narrative by other means. If I did not believe in it, I may come to similar conclusions - why did these disparate Arab tribes all come together at once in the 6th century and beat down the Sassanid and Byzantine Empires?


    The importance non-Islamic sources place on Palestine is hinted at in Islamic tradition.
     
    Not hinted - it is quite deliberate. Palestine (Jerusalem) and the original prophetic tradition (Bani Israel) was always emphasized, from the beginning. Even the first obligatory fast in Islamic tradition is the 10th of Muharram - tied to the fasting practice of Passover by the Madinite Jews at the time; this was abrogated once Ramadan was sent. Almost all the rites of Hajj are clearly defined as being the ones lost since the original were set down by Master Abraham (pbuh). The Prophet (pbuh) always stated he was sent to return to the way of our Master Abraham (pbuh) - before there was such a thing as a Jew or a Christian - these were part of his credentials.

    As I stated, as far as the similarities between Islam and Judaism (and Christianity, for that matter), there are two possibilities:
    1) It was copied and modified from the other earlier two.
    2) It is from the same Divine source as a corrective for accretions in the previous two traditions.

    Peace.

    Doh – 7th century!

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  44. @Marcus
    So what? Prestige and wealth are more important than political boundaries. Look at how Wahhabi influence extends far beyond Saudi borders into almost every Sunni Muslim "community."

    Sure – I’m open to the possibility that the Abassids had that kind of influence all the way in the Iberian peninsula. Again, you are going against recorded history now (there is even evidence at this point of a potential political alliance between the Abbasids and the Caroligian Franks) – no longer the first two generations. If someone has proof, I’m open to it; there has to be a trace of something beyond just influence for a revision of such magnitude. My contention is that once the Muwatta and Imam Malik’s school spread out beyond the Hijaz, the horse is out of the barn. No singular powerful authority exists at that point to exercise a monopoly on the tradition – the Abbasids are checked early on by the Fatimids and even earlier by random dynasties like the Khariji Rustamids (http://www.britannica.com/place/Rustamid-kingdom). For a great breakdown of all these dynasties refer to the short but sweet works of Prof. David Nicolle. That is why I contend the conspiracy needs to occur very early on or it requires a lot of leaps of faith and coaxing.

    Peace.

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    • Replies: @Marcus
    Why not? Baghdad was the center of the Muslim world, it's prestige could not have been matched. Constantinople and Rome never ruled all of Christendom, yet their influence extended even beyond its bounds. Soft power often trumps hard power. I'd say that the reputation of the Umayyads (think of Waleed II using the Quran as target practice) shows that the Abbasids were successful in controlling the narrative.
  45. @Talha
    Sure - I'm open to the possibility that the Abassids had that kind of influence all the way in the Iberian peninsula. Again, you are going against recorded history now (there is even evidence at this point of a potential political alliance between the Abbasids and the Caroligian Franks) - no longer the first two generations. If someone has proof, I'm open to it; there has to be a trace of something beyond just influence for a revision of such magnitude. My contention is that once the Muwatta and Imam Malik's school spread out beyond the Hijaz, the horse is out of the barn. No singular powerful authority exists at that point to exercise a monopoly on the tradition - the Abbasids are checked early on by the Fatimids and even earlier by random dynasties like the Khariji Rustamids (http://www.britannica.com/place/Rustamid-kingdom). For a great breakdown of all these dynasties refer to the short but sweet works of Prof. David Nicolle. That is why I contend the conspiracy needs to occur very early on or it requires a lot of leaps of faith and coaxing.

    Peace.

    Why not? Baghdad was the center of the Muslim world, it’s prestige could not have been matched. Constantinople and Rome never ruled all of Christendom, yet their influence extended even beyond its bounds. Soft power often trumps hard power. I’d say that the reputation of the Umayyads (think of Waleed II using the Quran as target practice) shows that the Abbasids were successful in controlling the narrative.

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  46. I would think that a Jewish Muhammad would be more likely than a Christian one. Even if Muhammad was neither Jew nor Christian, he was probably more influenced by Jews than Christians. Perhaps a divergent branch of Rabbinc Judaism with aspirations towards pre-Rabbinic Judaism roots and with pagan influences (where Arabia was a logical refuge for pagans long after they were gone in the Roman empire).

    The decentralized organizational structure of Judaism ca. 7th century (i.e. the Rabbinic period) with isolated religious scholars with little hierarchy sometimes making group pronouncements as a source of authority, rather than a supreme leader, was much closer to early Islam than the organizational structure of Christianity, which in the 7th century, in both the East and the West was highly hierarchical and bureaucratic by then under Patriarchs and the Pope. The interpretive methods of Rabbinical Judaism likewise have more in common with Islamic techniques than Christian theological methods.

    Islam abandons far more of the central theological constructs of Christianity than it does of Judaism and has a Christiology quite similar to that of modern Rabbinical Jews, as a perhaps prophet rather than as a God. A former Christian would also not elevate Moses and Abraham to the level that they are in Islamic theology.

    Another nuance of similarity between Judaism and Islam not shared by Christianity is the ascription of sacredness to a physical book (Torah/Quaran) while Christianity didn’t reify its Bible to nearly the same extent. Jews and Islam by tradition claim that their holy books have a unified authorship, while Christianity does not. More generally, Judaism and Islam focus more on outward compliance while Christianity is all about inner belief. The New Testament is highly narrative in a way that is an exception in the Quaran.

    The modern practice of Islam has lots of similarities with the practice of pre-Rabbinic Judaism in both the content of its law and the kinds of daily and communal rituals that were observed than either did with Christianity. For example, Islam retains circumcision as a core ritual, albeit at a more advanced age, and a lunar calendar. Neither calls for even symbolic human sacrifice in their rituals.

    Both religions were predominantly practiced by linguistically Semitic people in their heyday, while Christianity was predominantly practiced by people who were linguistically Indo-European.

    Concepts like jinns fit better into a 7th century Judaism’s metaphysics than a 7th century Christianity’s metaphysics.

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  47. one of the semantic confusions in this date: i think it is defensible to assert that christianity and judaism as we understand it did not exist when islam/proto-islam arose. we can’t go to the extreme with this debate, but rabbinical judaism for example only matured between 500 and 1000; between the talmud and rashi. christianity as we understand it matured arguably a bit earlier perhaps! in this framework xtianity and judaism are sister religions, emergent from a proto-abrahamic family of religious traditions, even if jews and christians had distinct identities by the 2nd century A.D.

    with this in mind even a late emergence of islam as we know it today, between 750 and 800 A.D., isn’t really that much further off than the crystallization of christianity and judaism. there was a lot of religious diversity/heterodoxy for islam to work with and situation itself within. as philip jenkins has observed, it is possible there were more christians of the church of the east in 800 AD than western latin christians (and perhaps european xtians as a whole). but today the church of the east is a trivial player on the scene, even marginal to chaldaean uniates and jacobites.

    in short, one might assert that islam evolved out of the milieu of jewish-christian sects which were congealing into form only in the centuries before the arab conquest of the levant and persia. later, it was strongly shaped by persian and central asian culture, zoroastrianism and buddhism.

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  48. “i think it is defensible to assert that christianity and judaism as we understand it did not exist when islam/proto-islam arose.”

    I don’t think that this is really defensible. We have reliable historical records in continuity with modern religious institutions prior to the appearance of Islam/proto-Islam well before Islam arose. As a history minor, I spent a lot of time reading translations of the original documents from these eras studying under professors who were doing the translations from the best available copies of the originals.

    The only way this could even be close to credible would be to assert that Islam began not at the canonical 622 CE date that marks the start of Muhammed’s public religious journey, but several generations earlier, in the early 500s, not so long after the fall of the Roman Empire, and even then, this simply cannot be true in the case of Christianity, which had already become the official state religion of the Roman Empire with more or less all of the modern features of the Roman Catholic Church three centuries before the canonical birthday of Islam.

    Christianity was pretty much recognizable as the modern religion by sometime in the late 200s and was pretty much in modern form by the mid-300s. By then, the Christian Biblical canon was in place complete with extensive learned analysis of it, the organizational structure was in place, a consensus had developed within the sect that would become the little o “orthodox” sect on most theological issues, the clergy professions were relatively well defined, and the liturgical rites had more or less their present form. Final details were hammered out in 325 CE when Constantine adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire while proclaiming religious tolerance for pagan beliefs, and the Nicene Creed resolved the remaining outstanding major theological differences within orthodox Christianity. By the 7th century, both the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church were well established in more or less modern form and had been for centuries. All of this is well documented because the church was the main caretaker of writing and written works from the fall of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance in Europe and maintained meticulous internal church records. Not all heretical sects of Christianity had been crushed by then (although almost all elite public pagan practice had been), but the modern Christian church existed in recognizable modernish form.

    Rabbinic Judaism, despite involving the most literate people of the entire Iron Age, isn’t as well documented in the early years, but I think it is pretty hard to argue that it didn’t exist in something very much like its modern form by the 600 CE given that the Babylonian Talmud was codified in the 6th century CE, and that Rabbinic Jewish record keeping improves after this point for the most part, with much of the early part of that historical record written by Jews in Muslim controlled territories.

    The existence of the political religious movement that became Islam becomes an undeniable fact by the time that the Rashidun caliphs come along (e.g. from Byzantine and Egyptian records as well as Islamic ones), 632–661 CE (starting with the death of Muhammed – who purportedly unified and conquered Arabia in the previous ten years) and conquer territory from Libya to Afghanistan. And, it is hard to doubt that such an explosive expansion was preceded by at least a number of years during which the expanding forces got their shit together ideologically and militarily in Arabia. Jewish writers under Muslim rule were documenting their experiences as Jews in these circumstances starting in the 7th century.

    There is something to be said for the notion that the proto-Islam of the early Muslim conquests was different in practice and in a lot of material ways from modern Islam and that much of what we think of as distinctively Islamic may not have really gelled until the 800s CE. But, certainly, a lot of the core concepts and practices in Islam were in place already by the late 600s CE – the movement couldn’t have been as dynamic in commanding mass conversions as it was if it hadn’t worked a lot of that out first.

    During the early expansion of Islam in the 600s, it was much earlier in the formative period of the Islamic faith than Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, which had already fallen into more or less their modern forms, were at the time, but even then it wasn’t a tabla rosa.

    I remain agnostic about what was going on in the pre-632 CE era of Islam, about what was going on in Rabbinic Judaism from ca. 70 CE (the canonical birthday of that phase of the faith) to about 600 CE, and about what was going on in Christianity prior to about 200 CE (at the tail end of the period when the New Testament books were being written), and recognize that we don’t have exquisite detail in the early Islamic period. But, the rise of Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism and Islam all start to be documented with reliable historic accounts quite early on, and once that happens, conjecture starts to need to give way to historical fact.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    despite involving the most literate people of the entire Iron Age,

    this isn't true. don't confuse the jews as a marginalized people after 600 AD (aside from the khazar state) to what they were before, which is just one of the nations in many ways. the greeks were at least as literate, if not more so. both the hellenes and jews had their peasantry, which was the majority, as well as their literate elites. an extreme analogy would be comparing parsis to ancient persian zoroastrians. the parsis descend from a small number of priestly families. they are not representative of ancient zoroastrians.

    which had already become the official state religion of the Roman Empire with more or less all of the modern features of the Roman Catholic Church three centuries before the canonical birthday of Islam.

    this is just confused. first, you need to chill out on the "i'm a history minor," because you are being misleading. most people would date that xtianity became what we'd recognize as official as the religion to the late 4th century, so lop off at least a half a century. particularly after the subsidies to the pagan cults ended under gratian we can talk about an official state religion that was christian (often it is dated to the reign of theodosius and the official public ban of pagan sacrifices under him, but the ending of public funds is probably a more plausible point). before that it was the favored cult of the imperial family, which the majority of the elite remaining noncommittal or adhered to different religions. but in the late 3rd century there were periods when sol invictus was highly popular as well, but that passed.

    . All of this is well documented because the church was the main caretaker of writing and written works from the fall of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance in Europe and maintained meticulous internal church records.

    if you exclude byzantium from europe, yes. if so, not necessarily, as a bureaucratic state persisted there, culminating in the massive patronage of scholarship under constantine vii.

    in any case, the origins of the winners is in place by 300 A.D. but in the centuries before the muslim/arab movement there was a lot more diversity and faction within christianity. assuming that the suppression of the arian heresy ended theological debate is just wrong. the arguments between imperial christianity and various other views before islam is well known. several emperors had views which would later be considered 'non-orthodox' (e.g., anastasius was monophysite, justinian promoted monothelitism). the western christian church was less riven by christological debates, but overall it was a less developed, and frankly more pagan, domain (not in the official sense of course). the monophysite and nestorian (these two movements don't like these labels, but for westerners those are the most accessible, so i'm not going to use the politically correct alternatives right now; google them if you are curious) are minor or relatively marginal today, but were enormously influential before islam, and for much of the period after islam. this is known. and results in a landscape alien to us.

    but what is probably less well known because they were "not the victors" are all the various heterodox groups which occupied the interstices. the samaritans for example were at one point a very large group in the near east, to the point where they could foment violent rebellion in the 6th century, and clashed with jews. the mandaeans and sabians were surely rumps of a far larger constellation of unsanctioned groups which existed under the broad category of heresies or pagans (there were still manichaeans too). within the persian empire the diversity in zoroastrianism was much greater than what we see today, strongly influenced by that religions' long existence under islam, and reemergence in the modern era where christian concepts are dominant. this religious diversity persisted somewhat in the centuries after islam. you see them referred to in the shadows by islamic thinkers, and also in the history of the interactions radical shia groups like ismailis recorded with them.

    as for judaism, much of the same applies. it is well known that there were streams of judaism bracketed as 'hellenistic' which existed in parallel with rabbinical judaism during the empire. one thesis for what happened to them is that they were absorbed into christianity. the emergence of judaism as we understand it can not be well modeled without its relationship to christianity and later islam (the theology which maimonides popularized in the medieval period was another major interpolation from the outside that is now normative to some 'orthodox'). in particular, judaism was famously more proselytizing in antiquity because the taboo that arose with christianity and islam wasn't in force (though after the two rebellions judaism did become more socially marginal among the elites).

    And, it is hard to doubt that such an explosive expansion was preceded by at least a number of years during which the expanding forces got their shit together ideologically and militarily in Arabia.

    this is false. explosive movements out of the liminal zone are common without much ideological prior. i can rattle off a dozen if you want me to, but i'd rather not. the arabs were distinct in that they imposed, and spread an, ideology. intriguingly the germans who came into the roman empire were often arians, and some of the lombards remained so down to the 7th century. so there is some analogy here, but the germans were absorbed. whether they islam in toto or developed it in the early centuries of rule is what is under debate.

    a lot of the core concepts and practices in Islam were in place already by the late 600s CE – the movement couldn’t have been as dynamic in commanding mass conversions as it was if it hadn’t worked a lot of that out first.

    this isn't true. mass conversions don't have to do with ideology often, but identity. an inchoate islamic identity could have predated the details of islamic religion as we understand by decades if not centuries. in the indian subcontinent this is well documented; peasants who were nominally muslim often had to be 'islamicized' centuries after their identity switch because they had not internalized either belief or practice. in fact, if 'being muslim' in the early years in aramaic speaking mesopotamia did not entail many differences in belief and practice from various christian or jewish sects, then conversion would have been eased (the muslim prayer positions have been assumed to be derived from oriental christian monastic practice).

    p.s. and you don't need to impress me with your erudition in the church fathers. long long ago and far far away i too read origen. but i don't put much priority in theology.

  49. @ohwilleke
    "i think it is defensible to assert that christianity and judaism as we understand it did not exist when islam/proto-islam arose."

    I don't think that this is really defensible. We have reliable historical records in continuity with modern religious institutions prior to the appearance of Islam/proto-Islam well before Islam arose. As a history minor, I spent a lot of time reading translations of the original documents from these eras studying under professors who were doing the translations from the best available copies of the originals.

    The only way this could even be close to credible would be to assert that Islam began not at the canonical 622 CE date that marks the start of Muhammed's public religious journey, but several generations earlier, in the early 500s, not so long after the fall of the Roman Empire, and even then, this simply cannot be true in the case of Christianity, which had already become the official state religion of the Roman Empire with more or less all of the modern features of the Roman Catholic Church three centuries before the canonical birthday of Islam.

    Christianity was pretty much recognizable as the modern religion by sometime in the late 200s and was pretty much in modern form by the mid-300s. By then, the Christian Biblical canon was in place complete with extensive learned analysis of it, the organizational structure was in place, a consensus had developed within the sect that would become the little o "orthodox" sect on most theological issues, the clergy professions were relatively well defined, and the liturgical rites had more or less their present form. Final details were hammered out in 325 CE when Constantine adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire while proclaiming religious tolerance for pagan beliefs, and the Nicene Creed resolved the remaining outstanding major theological differences within orthodox Christianity. By the 7th century, both the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church were well established in more or less modern form and had been for centuries. All of this is well documented because the church was the main caretaker of writing and written works from the fall of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance in Europe and maintained meticulous internal church records. Not all heretical sects of Christianity had been crushed by then (although almost all elite public pagan practice had been), but the modern Christian church existed in recognizable modernish form.

    Rabbinic Judaism, despite involving the most literate people of the entire Iron Age, isn't as well documented in the early years, but I think it is pretty hard to argue that it didn't exist in something very much like its modern form by the 600 CE given that the Babylonian Talmud was codified in the 6th century CE, and that Rabbinic Jewish record keeping improves after this point for the most part, with much of the early part of that historical record written by Jews in Muslim controlled territories.

    The existence of the political religious movement that became Islam becomes an undeniable fact by the time that the Rashidun caliphs come along (e.g. from Byzantine and Egyptian records as well as Islamic ones), 632–661 CE (starting with the death of Muhammed - who purportedly unified and conquered Arabia in the previous ten years) and conquer territory from Libya to Afghanistan. And, it is hard to doubt that such an explosive expansion was preceded by at least a number of years during which the expanding forces got their shit together ideologically and militarily in Arabia. Jewish writers under Muslim rule were documenting their experiences as Jews in these circumstances starting in the 7th century.

    There is something to be said for the notion that the proto-Islam of the early Muslim conquests was different in practice and in a lot of material ways from modern Islam and that much of what we think of as distinctively Islamic may not have really gelled until the 800s CE. But, certainly, a lot of the core concepts and practices in Islam were in place already by the late 600s CE - the movement couldn't have been as dynamic in commanding mass conversions as it was if it hadn't worked a lot of that out first.

    During the early expansion of Islam in the 600s, it was much earlier in the formative period of the Islamic faith than Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, which had already fallen into more or less their modern forms, were at the time, but even then it wasn't a tabla rosa.

    I remain agnostic about what was going on in the pre-632 CE era of Islam, about what was going on in Rabbinic Judaism from ca. 70 CE (the canonical birthday of that phase of the faith) to about 600 CE, and about what was going on in Christianity prior to about 200 CE (at the tail end of the period when the New Testament books were being written), and recognize that we don't have exquisite detail in the early Islamic period. But, the rise of Christianity, Rabbinic Judaism and Islam all start to be documented with reliable historic accounts quite early on, and once that happens, conjecture starts to need to give way to historical fact.

    despite involving the most literate people of the entire Iron Age,

    this isn’t true. don’t confuse the jews as a marginalized people after 600 AD (aside from the khazar state) to what they were before, which is just one of the nations in many ways. the greeks were at least as literate, if not more so. both the hellenes and jews had their peasantry, which was the majority, as well as their literate elites. an extreme analogy would be comparing parsis to ancient persian zoroastrians. the parsis descend from a small number of priestly families. they are not representative of ancient zoroastrians.

    which had already become the official state religion of the Roman Empire with more or less all of the modern features of the Roman Catholic Church three centuries before the canonical birthday of Islam.

    this is just confused. first, you need to chill out on the “i’m a history minor,” because you are being misleading. most people would date that xtianity became what we’d recognize as official as the religion to the late 4th century, so lop off at least a half a century. particularly after the subsidies to the pagan cults ended under gratian we can talk about an official state religion that was christian (often it is dated to the reign of theodosius and the official public ban of pagan sacrifices under him, but the ending of public funds is probably a more plausible point). before that it was the favored cult of the imperial family, which the majority of the elite remaining noncommittal or adhered to different religions. but in the late 3rd century there were periods when sol invictus was highly popular as well, but that passed.

    . All of this is well documented because the church was the main caretaker of writing and written works from the fall of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance in Europe and maintained meticulous internal church records.

    if you exclude byzantium from europe, yes. if so, not necessarily, as a bureaucratic state persisted there, culminating in the massive patronage of scholarship under constantine vii.

    in any case, the origins of the winners is in place by 300 A.D. but in the centuries before the muslim/arab movement there was a lot more diversity and faction within christianity. assuming that the suppression of the arian heresy ended theological debate is just wrong. the arguments between imperial christianity and various other views before islam is well known. several emperors had views which would later be considered ‘non-orthodox’ (e.g., anastasius was monophysite, justinian promoted monothelitism). the western christian church was less riven by christological debates, but overall it was a less developed, and frankly more pagan, domain (not in the official sense of course). the monophysite and nestorian (these two movements don’t like these labels, but for westerners those are the most accessible, so i’m not going to use the politically correct alternatives right now; google them if you are curious) are minor or relatively marginal today, but were enormously influential before islam, and for much of the period after islam. this is known. and results in a landscape alien to us.

    but what is probably less well known because they were “not the victors” are all the various heterodox groups which occupied the interstices. the samaritans for example were at one point a very large group in the near east, to the point where they could foment violent rebellion in the 6th century, and clashed with jews. the mandaeans and sabians were surely rumps of a far larger constellation of unsanctioned groups which existed under the broad category of heresies or pagans (there were still manichaeans too). within the persian empire the diversity in zoroastrianism was much greater than what we see today, strongly influenced by that religions’ long existence under islam, and reemergence in the modern era where christian concepts are dominant. this religious diversity persisted somewhat in the centuries after islam. you see them referred to in the shadows by islamic thinkers, and also in the history of the interactions radical shia groups like ismailis recorded with them.

    as for judaism, much of the same applies. it is well known that there were streams of judaism bracketed as ‘hellenistic’ which existed in parallel with rabbinical judaism during the empire. one thesis for what happened to them is that they were absorbed into christianity. the emergence of judaism as we understand it can not be well modeled without its relationship to christianity and later islam (the theology which maimonides popularized in the medieval period was another major interpolation from the outside that is now normative to some ‘orthodox’). in particular, judaism was famously more proselytizing in antiquity because the taboo that arose with christianity and islam wasn’t in force (though after the two rebellions judaism did become more socially marginal among the elites).

    And, it is hard to doubt that such an explosive expansion was preceded by at least a number of years during which the expanding forces got their shit together ideologically and militarily in Arabia.

    this is false. explosive movements out of the liminal zone are common without much ideological prior. i can rattle off a dozen if you want me to, but i’d rather not. the arabs were distinct in that they imposed, and spread an, ideology. intriguingly the germans who came into the roman empire were often arians, and some of the lombards remained so down to the 7th century. so there is some analogy here, but the germans were absorbed. whether they islam in toto or developed it in the early centuries of rule is what is under debate.

    a lot of the core concepts and practices in Islam were in place already by the late 600s CE – the movement couldn’t have been as dynamic in commanding mass conversions as it was if it hadn’t worked a lot of that out first.

    this isn’t true. mass conversions don’t have to do with ideology often, but identity. an inchoate islamic identity could have predated the details of islamic religion as we understand by decades if not centuries. in the indian subcontinent this is well documented; peasants who were nominally muslim often had to be ‘islamicized’ centuries after their identity switch because they had not internalized either belief or practice. in fact, if ‘being muslim’ in the early years in aramaic speaking mesopotamia did not entail many differences in belief and practice from various christian or jewish sects, then conversion would have been eased (the muslim prayer positions have been assumed to be derived from oriental christian monastic practice).

    p.s. and you don’t need to impress me with your erudition in the church fathers. long long ago and far far away i too read origen. but i don’t put much priority in theology.

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    • Replies: @LevantineJew
    /cc: @ohwilleke

    despite involving the most literate people of the entire Iron Age,


    this isn’t true. don’t confuse the jews as a marginalized people after 600 AD (aside from the khazar state) to what they were before, which is just one of the nations in many ways. the greeks were at least as literate, if not more so. both the hellenes and jews had their peasantry, which was the majority, as well as their literate elites. an extreme analogy would be comparing parsis to ancient persian zoroastrians. the parsis descend from a small number of priestly families. they are not representative of ancient zoroastrians.

     


     
    Several counter arguments:

    Analysis of military records on pottery shows widespread literacy in the ancient Kingdom of Judah 2,500 years ago: Not only elites could read.
    [1]

    Same as your example with Parsis, it's believed that at least in case of Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, only elites (kings, noblemen, priests, scribes, craftsmen, etc.) were exiled [2, 3].
    Later in Assyria/Babylon/Persia they converted some locals, but most likely from the middle class up to the royals (like in case of Hadyab/Adiabene).

    In case of Jewish population of Hellenistic cities, like Alexandria and Antioch, I guess they also were middle class consisting from traders, soldiers, craftsmen, etc. The converts would be again Greeks or Hellenized Egyptians and Syrians.


    [1] http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/archaeology/1.713885
    [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assyrian_captivity
    [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_captivity

  50. “most people would date that xtianity became what we’d recognize as official as the religion to the late 4th century, so lop off at least a half a century. particularly after the subsidies to the pagan cults ended under gratian we can talk about an official state religion that was christian (often it is dated to the reign of theodosius and the official public ban of pagan sacrifices under him, but the ending of public funds is probably a more plausible point). before that it was the favored cult of the imperial family, which the majority of the elite remaining noncommittal or adhered to different religions. but in the late 3rd century there were periods when sol invictus was highly popular as well, but that passed.”

    Theodosius was decisive in shutting down pagan and heretical Christian sects in the empire – only of the few really successful exterminations of a whole religion or two. (Fun fact: one of his favorite tactics was what we would now call civil forfeiture.) But, Christianity itself in the empire didn’t change much in the century from the start of Constantine’s reign to the end of Theodosius. Under Constantine persecution of Christians (which had peaked under Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd century) was ended and proto-Roman Catholicism/Eastern Orthodox Christianity became first among equals tolerated under a decree very like the American 1st Amendment. Theodosius changed policies to persecute anyone who didn’t follow it. Once official persecution of orthodox Christians ended under Constantine the religion really didn’t change much, and really the predecessor of the Roman Catholic church was pretty much in place by the 270s CE. The Arian heresy was pretty much restricted to points north after the Council of Nicea (after basically losing the schismatic battle in Rome itself that sometimes broke out into armed physical melees on the streets of Rome itself and included vascilations between emperors leaning towards Arian and non-Arian Christianity). The Council of Nicea also had the effect of suppressing gnostics in the Eastern Empire. The later Monophysite controversy continued pretty much unabated with Monphysite strongholds in the Levant and Egypt until first the Pathians and then just a few years after it was reclaimed by the Romans, the Muslims conquered the Monophysite strongholds leaving the orthodox wing of the Eastern Church winner by default. But, the Monophysite controversy was more of an internal elite struggle within the Eastern Church than a true heretical schism.

    There is diversity within Christianity now and probably always has been. But, it wasn’t really out of hand in the 4th to 7th centuries or so in the Eastern Roman Empire. They were saying the same prayers from the same books under the same bureaucratic structures often in the same churches as Orthodox Christians in the region did in the 20th century, with reasonably similar moral precepts. The elite clergy had some disagreements that fed into larger regional cultural differences. Schism didn’t follow.

    Also very importantly, when we’re looking at influences on Muhammed, the Roman Empire extended east of the Levant into Mesopotamia only for a couple of years at the end of Trajan’s reign (117 CE, I think) and then again for a few months under Avidius Cassius (164 CE) (a plague, probably small pox repelled Roman troops that time around), and then for a couple of years under Septimius Severus (197-198 CE), only to ultimately lose the entire Levant and Egypt for a while ca. 590 CE to the Sassinid Empire, then win it back briefly, and then lose it to the expanding Muslims.

    Christians were a pretty small minority in the Parthian and later Sassinid Empire – outnumbered by Jews in a predominantly pagan and Zoroastrian religious context, with many of the Christians who were there traceable to exiled Nestorians who were sent packing in fairly short order in the 5th century a few decades after the heresy was proposed only to be condemned in Ephesus in 431 and Chalcedon (also the name of one of my daughter’s friends) in 451.

    And, of course, neither the Pathian nor the Sassinid nor the Roman nor the Egyptian empires ever ruled any substantial part of Arabia – which was too desolate and thinly populated to be worthy of their attention.

    The center of development of Rabbinical Judaism in the time period from ca. 200 CE to 600 CE that we care about in the context of impact on Muhammed, bounced between Mesopotamia and the Levant. IIRC we can date the formation of the Yemeni Jewish community genetically (I don’t recall what that date was), but neither Yemen nor Europe and the Western Roman Empire were centers of the Jewish intelligensia at this point. Hebrew was probably still a living language in this time period and it is also worth noting that one of Arabic’s closest living linguistic relatives is Hebrew. At some point prior to the Muslim conquest, Arabic, a North Semitic language, became predominant over prior South Arabian languages in that region.

    The Jesus movement led by Peter and James in the Levant that evangelized to Jews may fairly be characterized as a Jewish sect, but it has fizzled out by the 2nd century. The Christianity that emerged mostly from Saint Paul’s evangelization to Gentiles was something else entirely and while it took root in the Levant, Egypt and even a Christian community in India, it really thrived among the Gentiles of the Roman Empire and not so much outside the Roman Empire.

    Bottom line, at the fringes of Arabia, Muhammed would have had much more exposure to Jews and Zorostrians in the early 7th century than he did to Christians, and those Christians he did come in contact with would have been basically Eastern Orthodox with a heavy Nestorian (i.e. disjoint dual natured divine and human Christiology) flavor.

    “xplosive movements out of the liminal zone are common without much ideological prior. i can rattle off a dozen if you want me to, but i’d rather not. the arabs were distinct in that they imposed, and spread an, ideology.”

    The canonical account goes from zero to conquering huge territories in a decade. Everyone agrees that they were at least nominally Muslim and insisted on a declaration however shallow that the people they conquered agreed. Assuming some kind of power law expansion of the number of Arabs who were nominally Muslim and the canonical decade, lots of Muslim conquerors would have been Muslim themselves for only a few years. But, the time taken to go from an Arabia of fractured tribes to a united front expanding into the world and at least claiming a Muslim affiliation and proclaiming a few common tenants that they required their subject to affirm, couldn’t have been zero either.

    I don’t think we have as much of a disagreement here as you seem to think. I’m not suggesting that it took many decades or generations for Islam to be a completely worked out culture that was deeply ingrained in every Arab. But, I am suggesting that it took some amount of time on the order of years rather than days or months (but also rather than decades or generations) for Islam to go from the ideas of a single man to a religious identification that could unify and energize most of the Arab population of Arabia. And, of course, a lot of “Islam” at that point probably consisted of long standing conventional Arabian folk wisdom with no actual pronouncements from Muhammed to back it up. At a minimum, Islam probably included the five pillars and some of the core daily prayers by then, as well as some basic rules for how to treat “people of the book.” Needless to say, all of this had to be worked out at a time when the fastest means of communication was on camel, and a lot of the key players were nomadic pastoralists in the great Arabian desert who didn’t rub shoulders with each other on a daily basis.

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    • Replies: @PD Shaw
    You give way too little credit to the Church of the East, which absorbed views of those that were outside the Council of Chalcedon's decree on the nature of Jesus, both dyophysite and monophysite. By the time of its patriarch Timothy I (780–823), it has been said one-quarter of Christians would have recognized him as their temporal spiritual leader.

    When the Byzantine Emporer Zeno closed the School in Edessa (489) to appease the miaphysites, a new school was created in Nisbis outside of the control of Constantinople, translating religious works into Syrian, as well as pre-Christian Greek philosophy to be used to argue the nature of Christ with the Chalcedonians. This was most likely the Christianity that Muhammad would have been exposed to, and the Koran contains Syrian loan words that suggest this influence.

    In any event, I don't know where all of this takes us. If Muhammad didn't receive his message form divine origins, then he made a number of choices in forming his message. The first appears to be to place himself in a line of Hebrew prophets. Why? I've offered a possible answer, it is about Palestine, but there are alternatives, which stem from considering why people as far away as Yemen convert to Judaism? (E.g., Usuf as'ar Yath'ar, a Yemani overlord whose family converted to Judaism in the 5th Century) Jewish identity had some outside attraction.

    OTOH, the Koran weighs in on the dispute over the nature of Jesus in a unique fashion: First, it discusses Mary more than the Gospels, and Mary's status had become elevated by those arguing Christ's divinity by means of a miraculous virgin birth. Second, it answers the question of how God can be killed by man (answer: he wasn't). Third, Jesus is not of divine essence, but "merely" a Prophet. If someone can locate these elements in any Christian sect, then that is its origin, but I am not aware of any. This seems like a unique composition, requiring a degree of learning and melding. If the Chaldean and anti-Chaldean belief systems are elite concerns, then the writers were elite.
    , @Razib Khan
    andrew, with all due respect you don't know as much about these things as you think you do. let's go in turn.

    Theodosius was decisive in shutting down pagan and heretical Christian sects in the empire – only of the few really successful exterminations of a whole religion or two.

    this is a cut-out caricature. even those who adhere to this position agree that he wasn't de facto decisive, but de jure decisive. e.g., pagan officers were expelled and then readmitted into the army by theodosius ii. theodosius i was obviously significant for the coup de grace it gave to the prominent role of public paganism, which was *officially* proscribed, but it may have been withering anyhow because of the lack of subsidies (see alan cameron for the latest work on this).

    Arian heresy was pretty much restricted to points north after the Council of Nicea (after basically losing the schismatic battle in Rome itself that sometimes broke out into armed physical melees on the streets of Rome itself and included vascilations between emperors leaning towards Arian and non-Arian Christianity).

    you're either being disingenuous or don't know what you are talking about. the council of nicea is 325. two roman emperors, constantius and valens, were arians or arian-sympathizers. 337–361 and 364–378. it seems that the arian christology was a minority position, but the fact that valens as late as 378 was supporter suggests it continued vitality 50 years after nicea. we have a major lacunae in regards to arians because their continuous tradition ends with the german successor states' conversion in the 6th century.

    The later Monophysite controversy continued pretty much unabated with Monphysite strongholds in the Levant and Egypt until first the Pathians and then just a few years after it was reclaimed by the Romans, the Muslims conquered the Monophysite strongholds leaving the orthodox wing of the Eastern Church winner by default. But, the Monophysite controversy was more of an internal elite struggle within the Eastern Church than a true heretical schism.

    this just cribs off the first-book-late-antiquity. just asserting doesn't make it true. i don't even know what a heretical schism vs. internal elite struggle means. all these debates were elite affair,s though sometimes they got caught up in identity politics (e.g., blues vs. greens were often aligned with theological factions even if their supporters probably didn't follow the details of the philosophy).

    But, it wasn’t really out of hand in the 4th to 7th centuries or so in the Eastern Roman Empire. They were saying the same prayers from the same books under the same bureaucratic structures often in the same churches as Orthodox Christians in the region did in the 20th century

    this is ridiculously misleading. until the conquest egypt clearly had two different christian movements, the melkite and the anti-melkite. obviously their prayers and bureaucratic structures were different. the themes of africa were of the latin and western orientation. your assertion is false.

    Christians were a pretty small minority in the Parthian and later Sassinid Empire – outnumbered by Jews in a predominantly pagan and Zoroastrian religious context, with many of the Christians who were there traceable to exiled Nestorians who were sent packing in fairly short order in the 5th century a few decades after the heresy was proposed only to be condemned in Ephesus in 431 and Chalcedon (also the name of one of my daughter’s friends) in 451.

    again, this is probably wrong. christians may have been the most numerous population in the sassanid empire, though this is debatable (it seems to have been a preferred religion of aramaic speakers for example). philip jenkins has written extensively about the demographic heft of the church of the east. you seem totally ignorant about the details here. the last sassanid shah was buried by a christian priest.

    And, of course, neither the Pathian nor the Sassinid nor the Roman nor the Egyptian empires ever ruled any substantial part of Arabia – which was too desolate and thinly populated to be worthy of their attention.

    this is false. the sassanids dominated the important areas of arabia, yemen and the entropots of the gulf, in the generation before muhammed https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sasanian_Empire#/media/File:Sassanian_Empire_621_A.D.jpg

    The Christianity that emerged mostly from Saint Paul’s evangelization to Gentiles was something else entirely and while it took root in the Levant, Egypt and even a Christian community in India, it really thrived among the Gentiles of the Roman Empire and not so much outside the Roman Empire.

    this is false. armenia, mesopatamia, much of central asia, ethiopia. ireland was never part of rome.

    and those Christians he did come in contact with would have been basically Eastern Orthodox with a heavy Nestorian (i.e. disjoint dual natured divine and human Christiology) flavor.

    again, you don't know what you are talking about. it's like as if you don't know that the jacobite church exists, and that melkite chrisitanity in the levant was only dominant among greeks and in palestine.

    Everyone agrees that they were at least nominally Muslim and insisted on a declaration however shallow that the people they conquered agreed.

    again, you are living in an alternative universe. that's exactly what the revisionists disagree with. they have various views, but they assert that the arabs conquered initially not as muslims, but as arabs (of various religions, perhaps predominantly christian inflected).

    despite your long-winded comments on this topic, your familiarity with the details strikes me as very superficial. this doesn't speak to whether you are right or wrong, but people should weight their opinions accordingly.... if you respond again you'll just convince me on this topic you don't even know what you don't know.

    , @Marcus

    Christians were a pretty small minority in the Parthian and later Sassinid Empire
     
    Aramaic-speaking Christians would've been a large, but oppressed majority in Persian-ruled Mesopotamia (which included the capital Ctesiphon). And the Lakhmid and Ghassanid Arabs who served as buffers for the Persians and Romans against the Arabian interior were Christians.
  51. Everyone agrees that they were at least nominally Muslim and insisted on a declaration however shallow that the people they conquered agreed.

    Agreed – and of course the unification of Arabia was not just simply a convenient alliance of tribes. There was true unification along specific religious lines as well as political very early on (at least from Muslim perspective and sources, don’t know if there are external sources that manage to record this phase of Islamic history). Specifically the Ridda Wars:

    https://www.brown.edu/Departments/Joukowsky_Institute/courses/islamiccivilizations/8026.html

    Other claims to prophethood were not tolerated as well as shirking of duties like payment of zakat (which could be considered from both a religious and political angle).

    much of what we think of as distinctively Islamic may not have really gelled until the 800s CE.

    Agreed – there was a lot of dynamism early on as far as the codification of Islamic law since one of the sources for it is the practice of the first couple of generations and their consensus opinions and many, many legitimate of schools of jurisprudence existed early on before debates and research work the details and formulas out starting from this time period. Eventually, you end up with the few schools that are now left.

    Peace.

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  52. @ohwilleke
    "most people would date that xtianity became what we’d recognize as official as the religion to the late 4th century, so lop off at least a half a century. particularly after the subsidies to the pagan cults ended under gratian we can talk about an official state religion that was christian (often it is dated to the reign of theodosius and the official public ban of pagan sacrifices under him, but the ending of public funds is probably a more plausible point). before that it was the favored cult of the imperial family, which the majority of the elite remaining noncommittal or adhered to different religions. but in the late 3rd century there were periods when sol invictus was highly popular as well, but that passed."

    Theodosius was decisive in shutting down pagan and heretical Christian sects in the empire - only of the few really successful exterminations of a whole religion or two. (Fun fact: one of his favorite tactics was what we would now call civil forfeiture.) But, Christianity itself in the empire didn't change much in the century from the start of Constantine's reign to the end of Theodosius. Under Constantine persecution of Christians (which had peaked under Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd century) was ended and proto-Roman Catholicism/Eastern Orthodox Christianity became first among equals tolerated under a decree very like the American 1st Amendment. Theodosius changed policies to persecute anyone who didn't follow it. Once official persecution of orthodox Christians ended under Constantine the religion really didn't change much, and really the predecessor of the Roman Catholic church was pretty much in place by the 270s CE. The Arian heresy was pretty much restricted to points north after the Council of Nicea (after basically losing the schismatic battle in Rome itself that sometimes broke out into armed physical melees on the streets of Rome itself and included vascilations between emperors leaning towards Arian and non-Arian Christianity). The Council of Nicea also had the effect of suppressing gnostics in the Eastern Empire. The later Monophysite controversy continued pretty much unabated with Monphysite strongholds in the Levant and Egypt until first the Pathians and then just a few years after it was reclaimed by the Romans, the Muslims conquered the Monophysite strongholds leaving the orthodox wing of the Eastern Church winner by default. But, the Monophysite controversy was more of an internal elite struggle within the Eastern Church than a true heretical schism.

    There is diversity within Christianity now and probably always has been. But, it wasn't really out of hand in the 4th to 7th centuries or so in the Eastern Roman Empire. They were saying the same prayers from the same books under the same bureaucratic structures often in the same churches as Orthodox Christians in the region did in the 20th century, with reasonably similar moral precepts. The elite clergy had some disagreements that fed into larger regional cultural differences. Schism didn't follow.

    Also very importantly, when we're looking at influences on Muhammed, the Roman Empire extended east of the Levant into Mesopotamia only for a couple of years at the end of Trajan's reign (117 CE, I think) and then again for a few months under Avidius Cassius (164 CE) (a plague, probably small pox repelled Roman troops that time around), and then for a couple of years under Septimius Severus (197-198 CE), only to ultimately lose the entire Levant and Egypt for a while ca. 590 CE to the Sassinid Empire, then win it back briefly, and then lose it to the expanding Muslims.

    Christians were a pretty small minority in the Parthian and later Sassinid Empire - outnumbered by Jews in a predominantly pagan and Zoroastrian religious context, with many of the Christians who were there traceable to exiled Nestorians who were sent packing in fairly short order in the 5th century a few decades after the heresy was proposed only to be condemned in Ephesus in 431 and Chalcedon (also the name of one of my daughter's friends) in 451.

    And, of course, neither the Pathian nor the Sassinid nor the Roman nor the Egyptian empires ever ruled any substantial part of Arabia - which was too desolate and thinly populated to be worthy of their attention.

    The center of development of Rabbinical Judaism in the time period from ca. 200 CE to 600 CE that we care about in the context of impact on Muhammed, bounced between Mesopotamia and the Levant. IIRC we can date the formation of the Yemeni Jewish community genetically (I don't recall what that date was), but neither Yemen nor Europe and the Western Roman Empire were centers of the Jewish intelligensia at this point. Hebrew was probably still a living language in this time period and it is also worth noting that one of Arabic's closest living linguistic relatives is Hebrew. At some point prior to the Muslim conquest, Arabic, a North Semitic language, became predominant over prior South Arabian languages in that region.

    The Jesus movement led by Peter and James in the Levant that evangelized to Jews may fairly be characterized as a Jewish sect, but it has fizzled out by the 2nd century. The Christianity that emerged mostly from Saint Paul's evangelization to Gentiles was something else entirely and while it took root in the Levant, Egypt and even a Christian community in India, it really thrived among the Gentiles of the Roman Empire and not so much outside the Roman Empire.

    Bottom line, at the fringes of Arabia, Muhammed would have had much more exposure to Jews and Zorostrians in the early 7th century than he did to Christians, and those Christians he did come in contact with would have been basically Eastern Orthodox with a heavy Nestorian (i.e. disjoint dual natured divine and human Christiology) flavor.

    "xplosive movements out of the liminal zone are common without much ideological prior. i can rattle off a dozen if you want me to, but i’d rather not. the arabs were distinct in that they imposed, and spread an, ideology."

    The canonical account goes from zero to conquering huge territories in a decade. Everyone agrees that they were at least nominally Muslim and insisted on a declaration however shallow that the people they conquered agreed. Assuming some kind of power law expansion of the number of Arabs who were nominally Muslim and the canonical decade, lots of Muslim conquerors would have been Muslim themselves for only a few years. But, the time taken to go from an Arabia of fractured tribes to a united front expanding into the world and at least claiming a Muslim affiliation and proclaiming a few common tenants that they required their subject to affirm, couldn't have been zero either.

    I don't think we have as much of a disagreement here as you seem to think. I'm not suggesting that it took many decades or generations for Islam to be a completely worked out culture that was deeply ingrained in every Arab. But, I am suggesting that it took some amount of time on the order of years rather than days or months (but also rather than decades or generations) for Islam to go from the ideas of a single man to a religious identification that could unify and energize most of the Arab population of Arabia. And, of course, a lot of "Islam" at that point probably consisted of long standing conventional Arabian folk wisdom with no actual pronouncements from Muhammed to back it up. At a minimum, Islam probably included the five pillars and some of the core daily prayers by then, as well as some basic rules for how to treat "people of the book." Needless to say, all of this had to be worked out at a time when the fastest means of communication was on camel, and a lot of the key players were nomadic pastoralists in the great Arabian desert who didn't rub shoulders with each other on a daily basis.

    You give way too little credit to the Church of the East, which absorbed views of those that were outside the Council of Chalcedon’s decree on the nature of Jesus, both dyophysite and monophysite. By the time of its patriarch Timothy I (780–823), it has been said one-quarter of Christians would have recognized him as their temporal spiritual leader.

    When the Byzantine Emporer Zeno closed the School in Edessa (489) to appease the miaphysites, a new school was created in Nisbis outside of the control of Constantinople, translating religious works into Syrian, as well as pre-Christian Greek philosophy to be used to argue the nature of Christ with the Chalcedonians. This was most likely the Christianity that Muhammad would have been exposed to, and the Koran contains Syrian loan words that suggest this influence.

    In any event, I don’t know where all of this takes us. If Muhammad didn’t receive his message form divine origins, then he made a number of choices in forming his message. The first appears to be to place himself in a line of Hebrew prophets. Why? I’ve offered a possible answer, it is about Palestine, but there are alternatives, which stem from considering why people as far away as Yemen convert to Judaism? (E.g., Usuf as’ar Yath’ar, a Yemani overlord whose family converted to Judaism in the 5th Century) Jewish identity had some outside attraction.

    OTOH, the Koran weighs in on the dispute over the nature of Jesus in a unique fashion: First, it discusses Mary more than the Gospels, and Mary’s status had become elevated by those arguing Christ’s divinity by means of a miraculous virgin birth. Second, it answers the question of how God can be killed by man (answer: he wasn’t). Third, Jesus is not of divine essence, but “merely” a Prophet. If someone can locate these elements in any Christian sect, then that is its origin, but I am not aware of any. This seems like a unique composition, requiring a degree of learning and melding. If the Chaldean and anti-Chaldean belief systems are elite concerns, then the writers were elite.

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  53. @ohwilleke
    "most people would date that xtianity became what we’d recognize as official as the religion to the late 4th century, so lop off at least a half a century. particularly after the subsidies to the pagan cults ended under gratian we can talk about an official state religion that was christian (often it is dated to the reign of theodosius and the official public ban of pagan sacrifices under him, but the ending of public funds is probably a more plausible point). before that it was the favored cult of the imperial family, which the majority of the elite remaining noncommittal or adhered to different religions. but in the late 3rd century there were periods when sol invictus was highly popular as well, but that passed."

    Theodosius was decisive in shutting down pagan and heretical Christian sects in the empire - only of the few really successful exterminations of a whole religion or two. (Fun fact: one of his favorite tactics was what we would now call civil forfeiture.) But, Christianity itself in the empire didn't change much in the century from the start of Constantine's reign to the end of Theodosius. Under Constantine persecution of Christians (which had peaked under Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd century) was ended and proto-Roman Catholicism/Eastern Orthodox Christianity became first among equals tolerated under a decree very like the American 1st Amendment. Theodosius changed policies to persecute anyone who didn't follow it. Once official persecution of orthodox Christians ended under Constantine the religion really didn't change much, and really the predecessor of the Roman Catholic church was pretty much in place by the 270s CE. The Arian heresy was pretty much restricted to points north after the Council of Nicea (after basically losing the schismatic battle in Rome itself that sometimes broke out into armed physical melees on the streets of Rome itself and included vascilations between emperors leaning towards Arian and non-Arian Christianity). The Council of Nicea also had the effect of suppressing gnostics in the Eastern Empire. The later Monophysite controversy continued pretty much unabated with Monphysite strongholds in the Levant and Egypt until first the Pathians and then just a few years after it was reclaimed by the Romans, the Muslims conquered the Monophysite strongholds leaving the orthodox wing of the Eastern Church winner by default. But, the Monophysite controversy was more of an internal elite struggle within the Eastern Church than a true heretical schism.

    There is diversity within Christianity now and probably always has been. But, it wasn't really out of hand in the 4th to 7th centuries or so in the Eastern Roman Empire. They were saying the same prayers from the same books under the same bureaucratic structures often in the same churches as Orthodox Christians in the region did in the 20th century, with reasonably similar moral precepts. The elite clergy had some disagreements that fed into larger regional cultural differences. Schism didn't follow.

    Also very importantly, when we're looking at influences on Muhammed, the Roman Empire extended east of the Levant into Mesopotamia only for a couple of years at the end of Trajan's reign (117 CE, I think) and then again for a few months under Avidius Cassius (164 CE) (a plague, probably small pox repelled Roman troops that time around), and then for a couple of years under Septimius Severus (197-198 CE), only to ultimately lose the entire Levant and Egypt for a while ca. 590 CE to the Sassinid Empire, then win it back briefly, and then lose it to the expanding Muslims.

    Christians were a pretty small minority in the Parthian and later Sassinid Empire - outnumbered by Jews in a predominantly pagan and Zoroastrian religious context, with many of the Christians who were there traceable to exiled Nestorians who were sent packing in fairly short order in the 5th century a few decades after the heresy was proposed only to be condemned in Ephesus in 431 and Chalcedon (also the name of one of my daughter's friends) in 451.

    And, of course, neither the Pathian nor the Sassinid nor the Roman nor the Egyptian empires ever ruled any substantial part of Arabia - which was too desolate and thinly populated to be worthy of their attention.

    The center of development of Rabbinical Judaism in the time period from ca. 200 CE to 600 CE that we care about in the context of impact on Muhammed, bounced between Mesopotamia and the Levant. IIRC we can date the formation of the Yemeni Jewish community genetically (I don't recall what that date was), but neither Yemen nor Europe and the Western Roman Empire were centers of the Jewish intelligensia at this point. Hebrew was probably still a living language in this time period and it is also worth noting that one of Arabic's closest living linguistic relatives is Hebrew. At some point prior to the Muslim conquest, Arabic, a North Semitic language, became predominant over prior South Arabian languages in that region.

    The Jesus movement led by Peter and James in the Levant that evangelized to Jews may fairly be characterized as a Jewish sect, but it has fizzled out by the 2nd century. The Christianity that emerged mostly from Saint Paul's evangelization to Gentiles was something else entirely and while it took root in the Levant, Egypt and even a Christian community in India, it really thrived among the Gentiles of the Roman Empire and not so much outside the Roman Empire.

    Bottom line, at the fringes of Arabia, Muhammed would have had much more exposure to Jews and Zorostrians in the early 7th century than he did to Christians, and those Christians he did come in contact with would have been basically Eastern Orthodox with a heavy Nestorian (i.e. disjoint dual natured divine and human Christiology) flavor.

    "xplosive movements out of the liminal zone are common without much ideological prior. i can rattle off a dozen if you want me to, but i’d rather not. the arabs were distinct in that they imposed, and spread an, ideology."

    The canonical account goes from zero to conquering huge territories in a decade. Everyone agrees that they were at least nominally Muslim and insisted on a declaration however shallow that the people they conquered agreed. Assuming some kind of power law expansion of the number of Arabs who were nominally Muslim and the canonical decade, lots of Muslim conquerors would have been Muslim themselves for only a few years. But, the time taken to go from an Arabia of fractured tribes to a united front expanding into the world and at least claiming a Muslim affiliation and proclaiming a few common tenants that they required their subject to affirm, couldn't have been zero either.

    I don't think we have as much of a disagreement here as you seem to think. I'm not suggesting that it took many decades or generations for Islam to be a completely worked out culture that was deeply ingrained in every Arab. But, I am suggesting that it took some amount of time on the order of years rather than days or months (but also rather than decades or generations) for Islam to go from the ideas of a single man to a religious identification that could unify and energize most of the Arab population of Arabia. And, of course, a lot of "Islam" at that point probably consisted of long standing conventional Arabian folk wisdom with no actual pronouncements from Muhammed to back it up. At a minimum, Islam probably included the five pillars and some of the core daily prayers by then, as well as some basic rules for how to treat "people of the book." Needless to say, all of this had to be worked out at a time when the fastest means of communication was on camel, and a lot of the key players were nomadic pastoralists in the great Arabian desert who didn't rub shoulders with each other on a daily basis.

    andrew, with all due respect you don’t know as much about these things as you think you do. let’s go in turn.

    Theodosius was decisive in shutting down pagan and heretical Christian sects in the empire – only of the few really successful exterminations of a whole religion or two.

    this is a cut-out caricature. even those who adhere to this position agree that he wasn’t de facto decisive, but de jure decisive. e.g., pagan officers were expelled and then readmitted into the army by theodosius ii. theodosius i was obviously significant for the coup de grace it gave to the prominent role of public paganism, which was *officially* proscribed, but it may have been withering anyhow because of the lack of subsidies (see alan cameron for the latest work on this).

    Arian heresy was pretty much restricted to points north after the Council of Nicea (after basically losing the schismatic battle in Rome itself that sometimes broke out into armed physical melees on the streets of Rome itself and included vascilations between emperors leaning towards Arian and non-Arian Christianity).

    you’re either being disingenuous or don’t know what you are talking about. the council of nicea is 325. two roman emperors, constantius and valens, were arians or arian-sympathizers. 337–361 and 364–378. it seems that the arian christology was a minority position, but the fact that valens as late as 378 was supporter suggests it continued vitality 50 years after nicea. we have a major lacunae in regards to arians because their continuous tradition ends with the german successor states’ conversion in the 6th century.

    The later Monophysite controversy continued pretty much unabated with Monphysite strongholds in the Levant and Egypt until first the Pathians and then just a few years after it was reclaimed by the Romans, the Muslims conquered the Monophysite strongholds leaving the orthodox wing of the Eastern Church winner by default. But, the Monophysite controversy was more of an internal elite struggle within the Eastern Church than a true heretical schism.

    this just cribs off the first-book-late-antiquity. just asserting doesn’t make it true. i don’t even know what a heretical schism vs. internal elite struggle means. all these debates were elite affair,s though sometimes they got caught up in identity politics (e.g., blues vs. greens were often aligned with theological factions even if their supporters probably didn’t follow the details of the philosophy).

    But, it wasn’t really out of hand in the 4th to 7th centuries or so in the Eastern Roman Empire. They were saying the same prayers from the same books under the same bureaucratic structures often in the same churches as Orthodox Christians in the region did in the 20th century

    this is ridiculously misleading. until the conquest egypt clearly had two different christian movements, the melkite and the anti-melkite. obviously their prayers and bureaucratic structures were different. the themes of africa were of the latin and western orientation. your assertion is false.

    Christians were a pretty small minority in the Parthian and later Sassinid Empire – outnumbered by Jews in a predominantly pagan and Zoroastrian religious context, with many of the Christians who were there traceable to exiled Nestorians who were sent packing in fairly short order in the 5th century a few decades after the heresy was proposed only to be condemned in Ephesus in 431 and Chalcedon (also the name of one of my daughter’s friends) in 451.

    again, this is probably wrong. christians may have been the most numerous population in the sassanid empire, though this is debatable (it seems to have been a preferred religion of aramaic speakers for example). philip jenkins has written extensively about the demographic heft of the church of the east. you seem totally ignorant about the details here. the last sassanid shah was buried by a christian priest.

    And, of course, neither the Pathian nor the Sassinid nor the Roman nor the Egyptian empires ever ruled any substantial part of Arabia – which was too desolate and thinly populated to be worthy of their attention.

    this is false. the sassanids dominated the important areas of arabia, yemen and the entropots of the gulf, in the generation before muhammed https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sasanian_Empire#/media/File:Sassanian_Empire_621_A.D.jpg

    The Christianity that emerged mostly from Saint Paul’s evangelization to Gentiles was something else entirely and while it took root in the Levant, Egypt and even a Christian community in India, it really thrived among the Gentiles of the Roman Empire and not so much outside the Roman Empire.

    this is false. armenia, mesopatamia, much of central asia, ethiopia. ireland was never part of rome.

    and those Christians he did come in contact with would have been basically Eastern Orthodox with a heavy Nestorian (i.e. disjoint dual natured divine and human Christiology) flavor.

    again, you don’t know what you are talking about. it’s like as if you don’t know that the jacobite church exists, and that melkite chrisitanity in the levant was only dominant among greeks and in palestine.

    Everyone agrees that they were at least nominally Muslim and insisted on a declaration however shallow that the people they conquered agreed.

    again, you are living in an alternative universe. that’s exactly what the revisionists disagree with. they have various views, but they assert that the arabs conquered initially not as muslims, but as arabs (of various religions, perhaps predominantly christian inflected).

    despite your long-winded comments on this topic, your familiarity with the details strikes me as very superficial. this doesn’t speak to whether you are right or wrong, but people should weight their opinions accordingly…. if you respond again you’ll just convince me on this topic you don’t even know what you don’t know.

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  54. @ohwilleke
    "most people would date that xtianity became what we’d recognize as official as the religion to the late 4th century, so lop off at least a half a century. particularly after the subsidies to the pagan cults ended under gratian we can talk about an official state religion that was christian (often it is dated to the reign of theodosius and the official public ban of pagan sacrifices under him, but the ending of public funds is probably a more plausible point). before that it was the favored cult of the imperial family, which the majority of the elite remaining noncommittal or adhered to different religions. but in the late 3rd century there were periods when sol invictus was highly popular as well, but that passed."

    Theodosius was decisive in shutting down pagan and heretical Christian sects in the empire - only of the few really successful exterminations of a whole religion or two. (Fun fact: one of his favorite tactics was what we would now call civil forfeiture.) But, Christianity itself in the empire didn't change much in the century from the start of Constantine's reign to the end of Theodosius. Under Constantine persecution of Christians (which had peaked under Emperor Diocletian in the 3rd century) was ended and proto-Roman Catholicism/Eastern Orthodox Christianity became first among equals tolerated under a decree very like the American 1st Amendment. Theodosius changed policies to persecute anyone who didn't follow it. Once official persecution of orthodox Christians ended under Constantine the religion really didn't change much, and really the predecessor of the Roman Catholic church was pretty much in place by the 270s CE. The Arian heresy was pretty much restricted to points north after the Council of Nicea (after basically losing the schismatic battle in Rome itself that sometimes broke out into armed physical melees on the streets of Rome itself and included vascilations between emperors leaning towards Arian and non-Arian Christianity). The Council of Nicea also had the effect of suppressing gnostics in the Eastern Empire. The later Monophysite controversy continued pretty much unabated with Monphysite strongholds in the Levant and Egypt until first the Pathians and then just a few years after it was reclaimed by the Romans, the Muslims conquered the Monophysite strongholds leaving the orthodox wing of the Eastern Church winner by default. But, the Monophysite controversy was more of an internal elite struggle within the Eastern Church than a true heretical schism.

    There is diversity within Christianity now and probably always has been. But, it wasn't really out of hand in the 4th to 7th centuries or so in the Eastern Roman Empire. They were saying the same prayers from the same books under the same bureaucratic structures often in the same churches as Orthodox Christians in the region did in the 20th century, with reasonably similar moral precepts. The elite clergy had some disagreements that fed into larger regional cultural differences. Schism didn't follow.

    Also very importantly, when we're looking at influences on Muhammed, the Roman Empire extended east of the Levant into Mesopotamia only for a couple of years at the end of Trajan's reign (117 CE, I think) and then again for a few months under Avidius Cassius (164 CE) (a plague, probably small pox repelled Roman troops that time around), and then for a couple of years under Septimius Severus (197-198 CE), only to ultimately lose the entire Levant and Egypt for a while ca. 590 CE to the Sassinid Empire, then win it back briefly, and then lose it to the expanding Muslims.

    Christians were a pretty small minority in the Parthian and later Sassinid Empire - outnumbered by Jews in a predominantly pagan and Zoroastrian religious context, with many of the Christians who were there traceable to exiled Nestorians who were sent packing in fairly short order in the 5th century a few decades after the heresy was proposed only to be condemned in Ephesus in 431 and Chalcedon (also the name of one of my daughter's friends) in 451.

    And, of course, neither the Pathian nor the Sassinid nor the Roman nor the Egyptian empires ever ruled any substantial part of Arabia - which was too desolate and thinly populated to be worthy of their attention.

    The center of development of Rabbinical Judaism in the time period from ca. 200 CE to 600 CE that we care about in the context of impact on Muhammed, bounced between Mesopotamia and the Levant. IIRC we can date the formation of the Yemeni Jewish community genetically (I don't recall what that date was), but neither Yemen nor Europe and the Western Roman Empire were centers of the Jewish intelligensia at this point. Hebrew was probably still a living language in this time period and it is also worth noting that one of Arabic's closest living linguistic relatives is Hebrew. At some point prior to the Muslim conquest, Arabic, a North Semitic language, became predominant over prior South Arabian languages in that region.

    The Jesus movement led by Peter and James in the Levant that evangelized to Jews may fairly be characterized as a Jewish sect, but it has fizzled out by the 2nd century. The Christianity that emerged mostly from Saint Paul's evangelization to Gentiles was something else entirely and while it took root in the Levant, Egypt and even a Christian community in India, it really thrived among the Gentiles of the Roman Empire and not so much outside the Roman Empire.

    Bottom line, at the fringes of Arabia, Muhammed would have had much more exposure to Jews and Zorostrians in the early 7th century than he did to Christians, and those Christians he did come in contact with would have been basically Eastern Orthodox with a heavy Nestorian (i.e. disjoint dual natured divine and human Christiology) flavor.

    "xplosive movements out of the liminal zone are common without much ideological prior. i can rattle off a dozen if you want me to, but i’d rather not. the arabs were distinct in that they imposed, and spread an, ideology."

    The canonical account goes from zero to conquering huge territories in a decade. Everyone agrees that they were at least nominally Muslim and insisted on a declaration however shallow that the people they conquered agreed. Assuming some kind of power law expansion of the number of Arabs who were nominally Muslim and the canonical decade, lots of Muslim conquerors would have been Muslim themselves for only a few years. But, the time taken to go from an Arabia of fractured tribes to a united front expanding into the world and at least claiming a Muslim affiliation and proclaiming a few common tenants that they required their subject to affirm, couldn't have been zero either.

    I don't think we have as much of a disagreement here as you seem to think. I'm not suggesting that it took many decades or generations for Islam to be a completely worked out culture that was deeply ingrained in every Arab. But, I am suggesting that it took some amount of time on the order of years rather than days or months (but also rather than decades or generations) for Islam to go from the ideas of a single man to a religious identification that could unify and energize most of the Arab population of Arabia. And, of course, a lot of "Islam" at that point probably consisted of long standing conventional Arabian folk wisdom with no actual pronouncements from Muhammed to back it up. At a minimum, Islam probably included the five pillars and some of the core daily prayers by then, as well as some basic rules for how to treat "people of the book." Needless to say, all of this had to be worked out at a time when the fastest means of communication was on camel, and a lot of the key players were nomadic pastoralists in the great Arabian desert who didn't rub shoulders with each other on a daily basis.

    Christians were a pretty small minority in the Parthian and later Sassinid Empire

    Aramaic-speaking Christians would’ve been a large, but oppressed majority in Persian-ruled Mesopotamia (which included the capital Ctesiphon). And the Lakhmid and Ghassanid Arabs who served as buffers for the Persians and Romans against the Arabian interior were Christians.

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  55. @anon
    This actually makes sense or is at least plausible. He was at the very least greatly influenced by Jews and Judaism. Note the very many similarities between the two religions. This could only come from copying Judaism as it is a much older religion.

    Jews joking that he learned about Judaism from his Jewish wife and then decided to convert, but the Jews rejected and even made fun of him. This shown as the explanation of Quran’s changes in sentiment over Jews / Bani Israil.

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  56. @Razib Khan
    despite involving the most literate people of the entire Iron Age,

    this isn't true. don't confuse the jews as a marginalized people after 600 AD (aside from the khazar state) to what they were before, which is just one of the nations in many ways. the greeks were at least as literate, if not more so. both the hellenes and jews had their peasantry, which was the majority, as well as their literate elites. an extreme analogy would be comparing parsis to ancient persian zoroastrians. the parsis descend from a small number of priestly families. they are not representative of ancient zoroastrians.

    which had already become the official state religion of the Roman Empire with more or less all of the modern features of the Roman Catholic Church three centuries before the canonical birthday of Islam.

    this is just confused. first, you need to chill out on the "i'm a history minor," because you are being misleading. most people would date that xtianity became what we'd recognize as official as the religion to the late 4th century, so lop off at least a half a century. particularly after the subsidies to the pagan cults ended under gratian we can talk about an official state religion that was christian (often it is dated to the reign of theodosius and the official public ban of pagan sacrifices under him, but the ending of public funds is probably a more plausible point). before that it was the favored cult of the imperial family, which the majority of the elite remaining noncommittal or adhered to different religions. but in the late 3rd century there were periods when sol invictus was highly popular as well, but that passed.

    . All of this is well documented because the church was the main caretaker of writing and written works from the fall of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance in Europe and maintained meticulous internal church records.

    if you exclude byzantium from europe, yes. if so, not necessarily, as a bureaucratic state persisted there, culminating in the massive patronage of scholarship under constantine vii.

    in any case, the origins of the winners is in place by 300 A.D. but in the centuries before the muslim/arab movement there was a lot more diversity and faction within christianity. assuming that the suppression of the arian heresy ended theological debate is just wrong. the arguments between imperial christianity and various other views before islam is well known. several emperors had views which would later be considered 'non-orthodox' (e.g., anastasius was monophysite, justinian promoted monothelitism). the western christian church was less riven by christological debates, but overall it was a less developed, and frankly more pagan, domain (not in the official sense of course). the monophysite and nestorian (these two movements don't like these labels, but for westerners those are the most accessible, so i'm not going to use the politically correct alternatives right now; google them if you are curious) are minor or relatively marginal today, but were enormously influential before islam, and for much of the period after islam. this is known. and results in a landscape alien to us.

    but what is probably less well known because they were "not the victors" are all the various heterodox groups which occupied the interstices. the samaritans for example were at one point a very large group in the near east, to the point where they could foment violent rebellion in the 6th century, and clashed with jews. the mandaeans and sabians were surely rumps of a far larger constellation of unsanctioned groups which existed under the broad category of heresies or pagans (there were still manichaeans too). within the persian empire the diversity in zoroastrianism was much greater than what we see today, strongly influenced by that religions' long existence under islam, and reemergence in the modern era where christian concepts are dominant. this religious diversity persisted somewhat in the centuries after islam. you see them referred to in the shadows by islamic thinkers, and also in the history of the interactions radical shia groups like ismailis recorded with them.

    as for judaism, much of the same applies. it is well known that there were streams of judaism bracketed as 'hellenistic' which existed in parallel with rabbinical judaism during the empire. one thesis for what happened to them is that they were absorbed into christianity. the emergence of judaism as we understand it can not be well modeled without its relationship to christianity and later islam (the theology which maimonides popularized in the medieval period was another major interpolation from the outside that is now normative to some 'orthodox'). in particular, judaism was famously more proselytizing in antiquity because the taboo that arose with christianity and islam wasn't in force (though after the two rebellions judaism did become more socially marginal among the elites).

    And, it is hard to doubt that such an explosive expansion was preceded by at least a number of years during which the expanding forces got their shit together ideologically and militarily in Arabia.

    this is false. explosive movements out of the liminal zone are common without much ideological prior. i can rattle off a dozen if you want me to, but i'd rather not. the arabs were distinct in that they imposed, and spread an, ideology. intriguingly the germans who came into the roman empire were often arians, and some of the lombards remained so down to the 7th century. so there is some analogy here, but the germans were absorbed. whether they islam in toto or developed it in the early centuries of rule is what is under debate.

    a lot of the core concepts and practices in Islam were in place already by the late 600s CE – the movement couldn’t have been as dynamic in commanding mass conversions as it was if it hadn’t worked a lot of that out first.

    this isn't true. mass conversions don't have to do with ideology often, but identity. an inchoate islamic identity could have predated the details of islamic religion as we understand by decades if not centuries. in the indian subcontinent this is well documented; peasants who were nominally muslim often had to be 'islamicized' centuries after their identity switch because they had not internalized either belief or practice. in fact, if 'being muslim' in the early years in aramaic speaking mesopotamia did not entail many differences in belief and practice from various christian or jewish sects, then conversion would have been eased (the muslim prayer positions have been assumed to be derived from oriental christian monastic practice).

    p.s. and you don't need to impress me with your erudition in the church fathers. long long ago and far far away i too read origen. but i don't put much priority in theology.

    /cc:

    despite involving the most literate people of the entire Iron Age,

    this isn’t true. don’t confuse the jews as a marginalized people after 600 AD (aside from the khazar state) to what they were before, which is just one of the nations in many ways. the greeks were at least as literate, if not more so. both the hellenes and jews had their peasantry, which was the majority, as well as their literate elites. an extreme analogy would be comparing parsis to ancient persian zoroastrians. the parsis descend from a small number of priestly families. they are not representative of ancient zoroastrians.

    Several counter arguments:

    Analysis of military records on pottery shows widespread literacy in the ancient Kingdom of Judah 2,500 years ago: Not only elites could read.
    [1]

    Same as your example with Parsis, it’s believed that at least in case of Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, only elites (kings, noblemen, priests, scribes, craftsmen, etc.) were exiled [2, 3].
    Later in Assyria/Babylon/Persia they converted some locals, but most likely from the middle class up to the royals (like in case of Hadyab/Adiabene).

    In case of Jewish population of Hellenistic cities, like Alexandria and Antioch, I guess they also were middle class consisting from traders, soldiers, craftsmen, etc. The converts would be again Greeks or Hellenized Egyptians and Syrians.

    [1] http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/archaeology/1.713885
    [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assyrian_captivity
    [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_captivity

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