Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Trinity in the Qur'an

A recent mail to Kevin
I do admire your staunch defence...
You say the plagiarism theory raises more problems than it solves since we must ask why Muhammad should have accepted some ideas and rejected others.
How should I know? There is no evident logic, despite your assertion of “internal consistency”, to what the author of the Qur’an chose from the Judeo-Christian mythology and what he rejected. Indeed, most of his decisions show a startling and (if I were a Christian or Jew) frankly insultingly simplistic understanding of his source material.
How, for example, do you explain Muhammad’s apparent belief that the Trinity means Christians worship three Gods: Jesus, Mary and God? (They are unbelievers who say, 'God is the Third of Three (thalithu thalathatin). No god is there but One God. 5:72 ..his mother was a just woman; they both ate food (er...I don't think anyone believes Mary didn't eat food! Not unless you mistakenly think that Mary was a god for some people...). 5:75 ...and when God said, ‘O Jesus son of Mary, didst thou say unto men, "Take me and my mother as gods, apart from God"?’ 5:116) If for no other reason, you surely must begin to wonder when the author of the Qur’an shows such a crass misunderstanding of the beliefs of the people of the book. This is not simply a matter of rejecting an idea but of ignorance. And how can God be ignorant?
(In fact, according to the earliest Muslim biographer ,Ibn Ishaq , the Quran was specifically correcting this supposedly erroneous belief in God, Mary and Jesus as three separate divinities. In his work, Sirat Rasulullah, Ishaq states that a Christian deputation from Najran came to debate Muhammad on the person of Jesus. Accordingly, these Christians allegedly believed that Jesus, "is God; and He is the son of God; and He is the third Person of the Trinity, which is the doctrine of Christianity...They argue that he is the third of three in that God says: We have done, We have commanded, We have created and We have decreed, and they say, If He were one He would have said I have done, I have created, and so on, but He is He and Jesus and Mary. Concerning all these assertions the Quran came down." ." (The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, [Oxford University Press, Karachi, tenth impression 1995], p. 271))
Perhaps you will argue that God was simply correcting a heresy common at the time. It seems strange, then, to make the correction of a minor and long since forgotten heresy such a pillar of faith and such a proud boast in the final revelation to mankind.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A further thought on Muhammad copying the Infancy Gospels

Muslims are quite right, of course. There is no proof that the author of the Qur'an was inspired by the stories found in the Infancy Gospels.
If there were, then presumably all intellectually curious and well educated Muslims would have abandoned their faith. (Instead of just some of them...)
I am suggesting, however, that the balance of probabilities tips ever further towards the very strong likelihood that Muhammad (and /or others) was the author.
I find it pretty much inconceivable that stories relating to the childhood of Jesus, unknown until the 2nd or 3rd centuries, written at just the time when Christian teachers were in need of fantastical tales to keep the faithful happy and found in a collection of otherwise preposterous pagan fantasies, regarded by scholars as having no connection to the historical Jesus and circulating in Arabic in the area and at the time of Mohammad... should happen be true.
Call me an old cynic if you like and let your God burn me in Hell for an eternity for being so... but where is the argument to convince me otherwise?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Jesus in the Qur'an - copied myths

The Qur'an is pretty "big on Jesus" (as the yoof would have it). He's mentioned 25 times, I believe. Among other things, the Qur'an relates
 i. the virgin birth
ii. miracles such as healing the blind and bringing people back from the dead
iii. the ascension to Heaven but not the crucifixion
iv. Jesus talking in the cradle and bringing clay birds to life
Jesus bringing the clay birds to life - as mentioned in the Qur'an

Muslims talk of the "importation of paganism" by the Christians who have "gone astray". I, and quite a few modern theologians, would suggest that the Christ myth is paganism tacked onto monotheism. The Qur'an contains many references to what I would consider to be the pagan (or simplisticly naive) beliefs of Christianity, and therefore any religion (like Islam) that asks its followers to believe in the literal truth of these (to me) obviously copied stories must also be false. (As a matter of interest, is it simply the trinity and attendant beliefs in the Eucharist that Muslims consider to be the pagan imports?)

Let's take each of the above points and see if there is evidence that might lead a dispassionate, objective, intelligent person to at least suspect that there is something fishy going on...
1. the virgin birth
Not a new one this. Just about any man-god who wanted to be taken seriously has claimed a virgin birth for himself: Mars fathering Romulus with the vestal virgin; Augustus (miraculous conception after Apollo and his mum Atia got together); Alexander the Great, Buddha...Virgin birth seems pretty pagan to me, and yet there it is in the Qur'an!
2. healing, curing blindness, raising the dead
Again, there is an embarrassing super-abundance of such stories. Let's take just a couple of examples. One we know is a con because we have a first-hand testimony by a witness called Lucian of Samosata. In around AD 100-50 a chap called Alexander invented a religion in which a new God called Glycon came to Earth (miraculously) as a fulfilment of divine prophesy (aren't they always?), healed the sick and raised the dead. Or how about Apollonius of Tyana who had a miraculous birth (again...) cast out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead, gathered disciples... It was going on ALL THE TIME. So such stories seem pretty pagan to me, and yet there it is in the Qur'an!
3.The ascension to Heaven
Ascension myths are present in lots of ancient religions. I won't bore you again with the gnostic heresy that was prevalent in the area that Mohammad was teaching in at the time. Suffice to say there are some very interesting parallels.
4. Jesus talking in cradle and bringing clay birds to life
The Gospel of Pseudo Matthew and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas were, it seems to me, the sources for the stories in the Qur'an relating to the infancy of Jesus. They contain much more detail of the same stories and were written, scholars believe, to flesh out the details of Jesus' early life for naive Christians. No Christian theologian, as far as I am aware, would believe they have any worth other than as historic curiosities and yet the stories appear in the Qur'an.
In addition the Injilu 't Tufuliyyah or the Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ contains an Arabic translation of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas which contains a story of the infant Jesus talking: Jesus spoke when he was in the cradle, and called out to his mother Mary:— "Verily I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Word, whom thou hast given birth to according to the good tidings given thee by the Angel Gabriel, and my Father hath sent me for the Salvation of the World."
(The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a pseudepigraphical gospel about the childhood of Jesus that dates to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. It was part of a popular genre of biblical work, written to satisfy a hunger among early Christians for more miraculous and anecdotal stories of the childhood of Jesus than the Gospel of Luke provided.)
Here is what the wikipedia entry has to say about the Infancy Gospel of Thomas:
The text describes the life of the child Jesus, with fanciful, and sometimes malevolent, supernatural events, comparable to the trickster nature of the god-child in many a Greek myth. One of the episodes involves Jesus making clay birds, which he then proceeds to bring to life...

And yet Muslims accuse Christians of importing pagan myths!

How do Muslims explain the similarities of the Qur'anic stories of Jesus with these texts?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

# 3 -The Seven Heavens -Top 5 reasons to believe the Qu'ran is man-made

If the Qur'an really is Allah's/God's final revelation, one has to wonder why He couldn't have been more original and felt the need to apparently plagiarise theories about the cosmos from other religions.

Take, for example, the description of the Seven Heavens in the Qur'an.

 "Say: Who is the Lord of the seven heavens and the Lord of the might dominions?" 23:86

 "Do you not see how Allah has created the seven heavens, one above the other?
And made the moon A light in their midst, and made the sun As a (Glorious) Lamp?"
 7:15 -16

"So He ordained them seven heavens in two periods, and revealed in every heaven its affair; and We adorned the lower heaven with brilliant stars…"  41: 12

The seven heavens were common belief of many ancient religions, so it is surely not surprising that many have concluded that Mohammad copied this idea.

We find it, for example, in Hindu mythology ( In Classical Hindu Mythology - a reader in the Sanskrit puranas by Cornelia Dimmitt, Johannes Adrianus Bernardus Buitenen Temple University Press (p24) we read: "Upwards from the Earth extend seven heavens, layered spheres of space.") and in  Judaism (In Myth and Legend of Ancient Israel, Volume 1 By Angelo S. Rappoport the third chapter is entitled The Seven Heavens or Firmaments... and lists numerous sources where such a myth is repeated: "The doctrine of the seven heavens is also found among the parsees. The Slavonic Enoch and The Testament of the Twelve Patriachs also speak of the seven heavens".

Indeed the ancients, it seems, thought the planets, the moon and the sun made up these seven heavens as follows:
Moon              Mercury             Venus             Sun                Mars              Jupiter            Saturn

We can understand how and why those in the pre-copernican world who were observing the skies before telescopes might have come to believe the above, but it is surely inconceivable that an omniscient God would have done so.

So how do Muslims explain this apparent ignorance on the part of the author of the Qur'an?
Some miracle seekers try to suggest that in fact Allah was referring to the seven layers of the atmosphere.Of course! In Miracles of the Qur'an.com we read the following:
The word "heavens," which appears in many verses in the Qur'an, is used to refer to the sky above the Earth, as well as the entire universe. Given this meaning of the word, it is seen that the Earth's sky, or the atmosphere, is made up of seven layers.
Today, it is known that the world's atmosphere consists of different layers that lie on top of each other.19 Based on the criteria of chemical contents or air temperature, the definitions made have determined the atmosphere of the earth as seven layers.20 According to the "Limited Fine Mesh Model (LFMMII)," a model of atmosphere used to estimate weather conditions for 48 hours, the atmosphere is also 7 layers. According to the modern geological definitions the seven layers of atmosphere are as follows:
1. Troposphere
2. Stratosphere
3. Mesosphere
4. Thermosphere
5. Exosphere
6. Ionosphere
7. Magnetosphere
These charlatans fail to explain why Allah should have placed the moon (as a light) and the sun (as a lamp) in amongst the layers of the atmosphere, nor how the stars happen to be in the lowest of these levels.

Ah well, perhaps there is someone out there who can give us a rational explanation...

Friday, November 4, 2011

al-Harith bin Kalada - a response to Hamza Tzortzis article published on Islamic Papers

Al-Harith bin KaladahAn analysis of Hamza Tzortzis’ refutation of the suggestion that  al-Harith bin Kalada was the source of the Prophet’s medical knowledge
The similarities between ancient Greek theories concerning the various stages of the developing human embryo and what we read in the Qur’an are very striking. (see here for details) It has led many to suggest that this is further evidence that Mohammad, rather than God/Allah, was the author of the Qur’an and to look for ways in which he might have encountered these theories. It is not surprising, then, that the famous centre of learning at Gundishapur in ancient Persia has been put forward as one of the possible sources, since there is convincing evidence to suggest that the learning of the ancient Hellenes was translated, transmitted and discussed there, where coincidentally one of Mohammad’s most trusted followers also studied.
Hamza starts his refutation of this theory thus: some historians and commentators believe the Prophet Muhammad plagiarised Aristotle’s and Galen’s accounts of the developing human embryo via bin Kalada, and sought medical advice from him.[3] This is unfounded for various reasons. He continues: Claiming the Prophet sought medical advice from bin Kalada neither implies nor stipulates the fact that he copied bin Kalada’s work. The onus of proof is on the one who is making the claim. From a historical perspective there is no direct and explicit evidence that indicates the Prophet manufactured his views on embryology via bin Kalada.
Surely if Mohammad’s close companion is known to have studied at Gundishapur where Greek theories about embryology were discussed, and then those same theories appear in the Qur’an, it does indicate at least a connection and one worth considering as a possible source.
Hamza’s next point is dubious to say the least. Early historical sources on the Prophet’s life illustrate and emphasise the integrity of his character. He was not a liar and to assert as much is indefensible. The presumption that he copied bin Kalada, while maintaining the Qur’an to be the word of God, is therefore inconceivable. He was known even by the enemies to his message as the “Trustworthy”. [..]The Prophet rejected all worldly aspirations […]he rejected riches and power.
Hamza is right in his assertion that there is much evidence to suggest that Mohammad was regarded as honest in his dealings with others and this may indeed make it less likely than otherwise that he should have copied Greek theories, but it certainly does not make it “inconceivable”.  Many apparently honest and trustworthy men have been tempted to behave disgracefully throughout history – why should Mohammad be any different? And to suggest that the Prophet rejected riches and power contradicts huge swathes of evidence from the ahadith and Qur’an itself: “Soon will your Lord give you so much you shall be well pleased.... Did He not find you poor and made you rich?" 93:4...
The next point in Hamza’s refutation seems at first glance more difficult to counter:  the existence of such a school (Gundishapur) has recently been questioned by a number of leading historians. He goes on to quote from David C Lindberg’s book, The Beginnings of Western Science: We have no persuasive evidence for the existence of a medical school or a hospital at Gondeshapur, although, there seems to have been a theological school and perhaps an attached infirmary. No doubt Gondeshapur was the scene of serious intellectual endeavour and a certain amount of medical practice. So the scale and nature of the school at Gundishapur is being questioned, but not its existence. It was, to quote Hamza’s own evidence, “the scene of serious intellectual endeavour”. Hamza then goes on to quote from Roy Porter’s, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity: Jundishapur was certainly a meeting place for Arab, Greek, Syriac and Jewish intellectuals. So the best evidence Hamza can come up with to prove that Gundishapur could not have been the source of Mohammad’s Greek embryology knowledge, admits to the fact that there was a centre of learning there where “where serious intellectual endeavour” took place and where Arabs and Greeks and Jewish intellectuals met. And let us not forget that Hamza was presumably choosing his evidence very carefully to throw the best possible light on his argument.
Hamza’s next point bizarrely asks us to question the very existence of al-Harith bin Kalada, suggesting that he may have been a “legendary” figure or a “fictitious creation”: Historians such as Manfred Ullman and Franz Rosenthal are skeptical about the material referring to bin Kalada. They refer to him as a legendary figure,[10] which has literary allusions to characters of fictitious creation. I find it surprising, to say the least, that Hamza seems to question the existence of a Companion of the Prophet who is actually quoted in the hadith:  “Another doctor, Al-Harith ibn Kalada said: That which has killed mankind is the introduction of food on top of food before it has been digested”
Indeed, it seems that Hamza can’t quite decide whether bin Kalada’s non-existence is worth pursuing or not, since a few lines on we read this: There are historical reports stating that bin Kalada converted to Islam and was considered a companion of the Prophet. Ah – so he did exist, after all… Hamza then quotes someone called Abubakr Asadullah who, confusingly, seems to think bin Kalada was a physician,  and whom he calls a graduate of that non-existent medical school… “According to nearly all traditional sources, the first known Arab physician was al-Harith ibn Kalada, a graduate of Junishapur and a Jewish convert to Islam, a contemporary of Prophet Mohammad.
To confuse matters still further, Hamza then uses the fact that bin Kalada was an “educated physician” and close Companion of the Prophet in his next argument: In light of this, the Prophet copying bin Kalada is highly improbable as it is irrational to assert that an educated physician would convert to Islam […] had he known or suspected the Prophet of copying his work on embryology.
Hamza leaves his best argument ‘til last. He suggests that since Mohammad didn’t come into contact with bin Kalada until after the verses relating to embryology had been revealed, it is impossible that he could have copied from him: Bin Kalada was from al-Ta’if, a town which came into contact with Islam only in the 8th year of the Islamic calendar, and it was during this period that Islamic historical sources first mention the phycisian. Therefore, it would be impossible to suggest the Prophet Muhammad copied Bin Kalada’s views on the developing human because chapter 23 of the Qur’an and its verses referring to embryology had already been revealed by the time Bin Kalada met the Prophet Muhammad. Now this looks convincing until we examine more closely the claim that bin Kalada did not meet the Prophet until after Mohammad had received the ayats relating to embryology. Apart from the fact that the most damning ayat (86:6-7) supposedly comes from the Medinan period (“damning”in that it contains the infamous information about sperm emanating from between the backbone and the ribs – the same mistake the Greeks made)  and therefore after bin Kalada supposedly met Mohammad, the dating of surah is notoriously difficult. For example, Theodor Noldeke dated surah 23 to after the Hijra and therefore also from the Medinan and not the Meccan period, and therefore it is quite possible that all the verses relating to embryology come from when after bin Kalada was the physician to the Prophet.
In conclusion, Hamza Tzortzis has failed to dismiss the possibility that the source of the information in the Qur’an on embryology that is so suspiciously similar to ancient Greek theories was his  companion and physician, al-Harith bin Kalada.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Charlie Hebdo bombed - whither free speech...?

Un incendie criminel ravage<br/>le siège de <i>Charlie Hebdo</i> <br/>

Charlie Hebdo's offices in Paris have been destroyed, their website hacked and their journalists threatened, the day after the French satirical magazine announced the "editor" of its next edition would be the Prophet Mohammed.

La couverture du numéro de "Charlie Hebdo" rebaptisé "Charia Hebdo" après la victoire du parti islamiste Ennahda en Tunisie, et la mise en place de la charia en Libye.

The magazine is being punished for being so insensitive as to depict the Prophet (strictly prohibited in Islam).

How dare a satirical magazine in a non-Muslim, Western democracy express its disquiet at the thought of sharia law being enforced throughout the Mahgreb!

Spinoza sympathises with those who would discourage pointlessly offensive depictions of the Prophet designed to whip up anti-Muslim fervour and poke fun at believers, but this was not the case here.

Charlie Hebdo, in the tradition of Rabelais and Moliere, has long held up to ridicule what it sees as the faults and idiocies of those in positions of power and influence.

Long may in continue to do so...even if it does offend the sensibilities of those who take masochistic pleasure in being offended and use it as an excuse to flex their muscles and frighten the non-believers into kowtowing to the dictatorship of religious dogma.

At least the French political establishment has reacted quickly to denounce the outrage. Prime Minister Francois Fillon is quoted in this morning's Le Figaro newspaper as follows:
«La liberté d'expression est une valeur inaliénable de notre démocratie et toute atteinte à la liberté de la presse doit être condamnée avec la plus grande fermeté.»  

One wonders if our own political leaders would have reacted so quickly and so unequivocally if Private Eye had suffered a similar outrage.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

# 4- The preservation of "The Pharaoh" - Top 5 reasons to believe the Qu'ran is man-made

This day shall We save thee in the body, that thou mayest be a sign to those who 
The Body of Pharaohcome after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs! 10:92
This ayat has been used  to "prove" the miraculous nature of the Qur'an.
It refers to the myth* of the Exodus in which Pharaoh is drowned by God as punishment for his treatment of the Israelites - but unlike the Bible, in the Qur'anic version God promises to preserve Pharaoh's body as a sign for mankind.
The miracle-seekers then point to the mummies of either Ramses II or Merneptah (it depends on which dawah video they saw most recently, presumably) as proof that God has kept his word. They further variously claim that the bodies are preserved miraculously, ie not mummified (patent nonsense) and that it would have been impossible for anyone in the 7th century to know that these bodies had been preserved.
It is not my intention here to list the innumerable problems with this particular "miracle". Previous posts have already done that- here, here and here.
I'd simply like to ask my readers to consider this: given the difficulties of the preserved  Pharaoh story and the fact that, despite duplicitous claims to the contrary, the existence of mummies and vast wealth hidden the pyramids was well known in the 7th century, it's not inconceivable, is it, that the author of the Qur'an, once he learned of the Egyptian mummies and the biblical story of the Exodus, chose to put two and two together to make twenty-four to convince his naive followers of his preternatural powers?
It's just a tragedy that millions are still being duped by this nonsense in the 21st century.

* despite decades of research, no archaeological evidence for the Exodus has ever been found. Most academics accept that it never took place. (Except, of course, Muslim academics - who have to cling to the myth, otherwise the whole mendacious tapestry starts to fall apart...)