Monday, April 1, 2013

Jesus in the Qur'an - a pagan myth?

As we know, 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 the doctrine of
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
v. Jesus making clay birds that come to life

Now, it's interesting to note that Muslims talk of the importation of paganism by Christians who have "gone astray". Talk to any educated Muslim, like my convert friend, and they will list the many aspects of Christianity that are merely pagan inventions/additions to the "true" story of the prophet Jesus. 

I, and quite a few modern theologians, would suggest that the Christ myth is paganism tacked onto monotheism. (Pagan I take to mean a naive, unsophisticated belief in stories of the miraculous - which is closer to the original Latin meaning of country-dweller) Thus the Qur'an's re-telling of the the story of Jesus is a rehash of what is essentially a simplistic story that has appeared in many cultures over the centuries. 

To put it as plainly as posible, the Qur'an contains many references to what I would consider to be the pagan (or simplisticly naive) beliefs of Christianity, and therefore like any religion that asks its followers to believe in the literal truth of these (to me) obviously copied stories must be of fallible, human origin.

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, as I'm sure you know. 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 all 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 and 5. Jesus talking in cradle and the clay birds
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 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 mythOne 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!

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

*excerpt from The Infancy Gospel of Thomas: And it came to pass on the third day of their journey, while they were walking, that the blessed Mary was fatigued by the excessive heat of the sun in the desert; and seeing a palm tree, she said to Joseph: Let me rest a little under the shade of this tree. Joseph therefore made haste, and led her to the palm, and made her come down from her beast. And as the blessed Mary was sitting there, she looked up to the foliage of the palm, and saw it full of fruit, and said to Joseph: I wish it were possible to get some of the fruit of this palm. And Joseph said to her: I wonder that thou sayest this, when thou seest how high the palm tree is; and that thou thinkest of eating of its fruit. I am thinking more of the want of water, because the skins are now empty, and we have none wherewith to refresh ourselves and our cattle. Then the child Jesus, with a joyful countenance, reposing in the bosom of His mother, said to the palm: O tree, bend thy branches, and refresh my mother with thy fruit. And immediately at these words the palm bent its top down to the very feet of the blessed Mary; and they gathered from it fruit, with which they were all refreshed. And after they had gathered all its fruit, it remained bent down, waiting the order to rise from Him who bad commanded it to stoop. Then Jesus said to it: Raise thyself, O palm tree, and be strong, and be the companion of my trees, which are in the paradise of my Father; and open from thy roots a vein of water which has been hid in the earth, and let the waters flow, so that we may be satisfied from thee. And it rose up immediately, and at its root there began to come forth a spring of water exceedingly clear and cool and sparkling. And when they saw the spring of water, they rejoiced with great joy, and were satisfied, themselves and all their cattle and their beasts. Wherefore they gave thanks to God


  1. so i take it you're not a christian either, spinoza!

  2. It is so apparently obvious that Mohammed heard so much folklore from those in and around Mecca/Medina and included in his revelations, concepts and tales he felt would convince/attract the masses. Things that can now easily be refuted or ridiculed.


  3. Muslims do not say anything about pagan myths or whatever it is you said in Christianity. The only "problem" we have with Christianity is the Holy Trinity. This is something we find, for lack of a better term, "ridiculous." We cannot understand how there is only one God, and yet there are three: God, Jesus, who is not only the son of God but also God himself, and the Holy Spirit. If someone could explain this logically, then I would kiss you on both cheeks and give you a million dollars.

    1. Don't worry most Christians have no understanding of what the "trinity" is either.