THE QURANIC JESUS A NEW INTERPRETATION
  • Book Title:
 The Quranic Jesus A New Interpretation
  • Book Author:
Carlos A. Segovia
  • Total Pages
204
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THE QURANIC JESUS A NEW INTERPRETATION – Book Sample

Preface – THE QURANIC JESUS A NEW INTERPRETATION

While clearly affirming that God has no partner, and moreover that he is child-less,¹ the quranic authors repeatedly encourage their audience to behave like Jesus’s disciples, defend Jesus against the Jews, declare him to be the Messiah and the Word of God as well as a spirit from him (a series of titles they never apply to other prophets), make systematic use of a number of crucial Christian rhetorical moves, and quote more or less verbatim the New Testament Apocrypha and the writings of several late-antique Christian authors.

Furthermore, they seem to be engaged in intra-Christian controversies just as much as they seem to partake in anti-Christian polemics. Conversely, the apparently pro-Jewish pas-sages that one finds in the Qur’ān often prove tricky, as they are usually placed within, or next to, more or less violent anti-Jewish pericopes that bear the marks of Christian rhetoric despite a few occasional anti-Christian interpolations. And to further complicate the matter, the earliest quranic layers seem to develop a high- yet non-incarnationist Christology of which, interestingly enough, Jesus’s name is totally missing.

What, then, can we make out of this puzzle? To what extent may the Qur’ān’s highly complex Christology² help to decipher not only the intent of various quranic authors – which may well be very different from what has been hitherto taken for granted – but also the likewise complex redactional process charac-teristic of the document itself? Is it, moreover, possible to inscribe the often – indeed too-often – oversimplified Christology of the Qur’ān within the periph-eral religious culture of the 6th-to-7th-century Near East?

Is it possible, also, to unearth from it something about the tension carefully – or perhaps not so care-fully – buried in the document between a messianic-oriented- and a prophetic-guided religious thought, and to root therein the earliest “Islamic” schism – if speaking of Islam before ‘Abd al-Malik’s reign in the late 7th century makes any sense, that is?

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By analysing, first, the typology and the plausible date of the Jesus-texts contained in the Qur’ān (which implies moving far beyond any purely thematic division of the passages in question), and by examining, in the second place, the Qur’ān’s earliest Christology vis-à-vis its later (and indeed much better known) Muhamadan kerygma, the present study tries to give response to these crucial questions.

A few acknowledgements are in order here. I should like to thank Ali Amir-Moezzi and Guillaume Dye for encouraging me to work on sūra-s 2 and 3 of the Qur’ān for a collective volume forthcoming at Les Éditions du Cerf, of which I have extracted a few excerpts in Chapter 3; Haggai Mazuz for allowing me to include in it a few paragraphs of a paper of mine upcoming in a volume he is preparing for the Brill Reference Library of  Judaism;³

William Adler, Lorenzo DiTommaso, and Matthias Henze, for permitting me to reproduce there too a few fragments of my recent contribution to Michael Stone’s Festschrift;⁴ Isaac Oliver and Anders Petersen for their helpful feedback on an earlier draft of my analysis of Q 9:30-1, which I have undertaken and reworked in Chapter 4; Manfred Kropp for his val-uable insights on the section on Abrǝha’s Christology included too in it – whose first draft, moreover, he welcomed for publication in Oriens Christianus in 2015;⁵

Matt Sheddy, for authorising me to incorporate to the Afterword some excerpts of a paper of mine on the Dome of the Rock inscriptions;⁶ and Daniel Beck, on whose hermeneutical insights I substantially rely in Chapter 5. I am also grate-ful to Guillaume Dye, with whom I have had the pleasure to thoroughly discuss many of the views put forward in the pages that follow; Basil Lourié, who without knowing it helped me to make of the study of the Qur’ān my field of speciali-sation over the past ten years;⁷

Emilio González Ferrín, who kindly shared with me his i mpressions after reading a first draft of this book; my former chair of division at Saint Louis University in Madrid, John Welch, for thoughtfully making possible for me to teach on the quranic Jesus during three consecutive years – an experience from which this book has, I think, consistently benefited; and my students, with whom I have intensely and fruitfully worked month after month  on the typological classification ventured in Chapter 3 and the evolution of the Qur’ān’s Christology examined in Chapter 5. Above all, however, I should like to express my deepest gratitude to my wife, Sofya, without whose generous inspi-ration and precious love I would be unable to breathe and think; dedicating this book to her is but a humble sign of my devotedness to whom I feel blessed to live with every day.

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East Syria and Iraq, or Christianity beyond the Limes of the Byzantine Empire

Evidently, the more we look to the east the more chances we have to find a type of Christianity susceptible of being described as peripheral. In particular, East Syria and Iraq were beyond Byzantine control and home to a type of Christianity that was not just non-Chalcedonian, but also radically alien (in fact opposed) to the dogma established in Ephesus twenty years before the Council of Chalcedon: namely, that to Jesus’s human and divine “natures” (Syr. ܟܝܢܐ kyanē, sing. ܟܝܢܐ kyanā) corresponds a single “individual manifestation” (Syr. ܡܐ􀀁ܩܢܘ qnōmā, pl. ܡܐ􀀁ܩܢܘ qnōmē). The struggle of the Church of the East to defend the view that the human and the divine cannot be assimilated does not merely imply that Jesus’s human nature must be fully taken into consideration against all claims to dissolve Christ into his divine nature, for otherwise salvation would be intrin-sically inaccessible to humankind⁴⁹: it echoes too the core belief of pre-Nicene Christianity that the man in which God’s Word chose to dwell and God’s Word as such cannot be assimilated.⁵⁰

Thus the accusation raised by the opponents of the Church of the East that its Christology entailed a dual sonship: one divine, the other one human – in the like of Valentinus’s gnosticism and that of the Ebi-onites and the Elkasaites (the Jewish-Christians that many scholars have in vain tried to connect Muḥammad to!).⁵¹

 Now, in the 2nd and 3rd centuries (at the time in which Christianity was persecuted in the Roman empire, that is) East Syria, Iraq, and South-Western Iran were the regions where Marcion and Bardaiṣān (the similarities of whose views with those of Valentinian gnosticism have often been evoked) as well as Mānī (who had began his career as an Elkasaite) preached their own interpretation(s) of Christianity.⁵² Formed institutionally in the second half of the 3rd century, the Church of the East remained permeable to their shaping influence despite its attempts at ecumenism.

Thus the canons of Nicaea (which had become effective in the West around 362) were officially accepted by the East- Syrian Church only in 410 and through the adaptation/rewording of the Nicene Creed according to local views; and yet in 424 the Church of the East would become fully independent from the other (Western) churches. Moreover, as late as the mid-6th century the debate around Nicaea’s profession of faith was still well alive, if we are to judge by the issues discussed at the synod of 554.

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And even though modern scholars – in an attempt to rescue it from its isola-tion – tend to emphasise its non-Nestorianism and hence its “orthodoxy,”⁵³ the fact remains that throughout the 5th century Nestorius’s Christology received considerable support within the East-Syrian Church – Nestorius’s views being inherently favourable to the development of an Angelomorphic Christology of the type one often finds in pre-Nicene Christianity, Manichaeism (whose prox-imity to “Messalianism” cannot be ignored) included.⁵⁴

And the fact is that one finds a number of extremely significant Manichaean and Messalian markers – as well as an inequivocal if encrypted reference to Ctesiphon-Seleucia, the Sasa-nian capital in Iraq – in the earliest quranic layers.⁵⁵ Lastly, the elaboration, around 612, of a  conceptually precise and institutionally authoritative Christol-ogy by Babai the Great did not entirely rule out within the East-Syrian Church the coexistence of Diphysites, peripheral-, and pre-Nicene Christians.⁵⁶ It is

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