WHEN CHRISTIANS FIRST MET MUSLIMS
The title of this book is very funny to me and when I first checked it out from the library I posted a picture of it on instagram, saying that I hoped it was a lot of cute and hilarious personal anecdotes. Unfortunately it's mostly not cute or hilarious. It's a collection of 7th and 8th century primary sources of Christians writing about Muslims,
originally written in Syriac, and it will probably not be interesting to anyone who isn't the exact same kind of nerd as me. Did you know that there are very brief Christian accounts of the first and second fitnahs? There are!! Did you know that 8th century Miaphysites were slightly confused about the timeline of the Rashidun caliphate? They were!! Did you know that Christians and Muslims have been writing insane and terrifying apocalypses about each other for centuries? They have!! My favorite parts were the disputations - imagined conversations in which Christians and Muslims debate theology with each other, revealing more about the person who wrote them than any actual points of Christian or Muslim doctrine. My least favorite part was when some bishop named Jacob of Edessa wrote a letter with the blantantly unchristian suggestion that if a Muslim eats at a Christian's table, then the Christian should probably smash the table and then bury it somewhere. Feel free to come break and bury literally every piece of furniture in my home, you asshole.
(A lot of this book is based on documents from what is now Turkey, and it made me wish I had made more of an effort to go to Christian religious sites while I was there. I especially wish I'd spent more time in the eastern part of the country, and if I go back I'd definitely like to visit Mardin, Antakya, and Diyarbakir.)
I heard about this on a podcast hosted by someone I know, so I suggested that the public library buy it and they did. A winemaker and a comix artist teach each other about their respective crafts. It's calm and informative and affectionate, and it made me wish I knew more about wine. If anyone wants to go up to Hermann or some other Missouri wine place for a weekend, let me know.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ISLAM
In his introduction to this book, Ahmad Shafaat explains that he intends it to be "a new Gospel, a Muslim equivalent of, and alternative to, the existing Gospels," one that is "derived mostly from the New Testament and sometimes transformed according to the Qur'anic revelation." To do this, he has synthesized the four canonical gospels, removing parts that he believes conflict with Islamic doctrine, and adding a few scenes and phrases from Isaiah, the psalms, the Qu'ran, and hadith. Interestingly, some of his additions do not seem to be from any of these sources. Shafaat's telling of the Transfiguration - an event which is not in the Qur'an, and which I have never encountered any mention of in my research into Muslim perspectives on Jesus - is strikingly different from the one in Matthew, Mark, and Luke:
And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into a high mountain apart by themselves.
And there appeared before them the figure of a Man who looked like Moses. His face was full of graciousness, like one of the holy angels.
And behind him they saw a great multitude of people from all nations of the world.
And Jesus was on his right side, walking in front of him.
And next to Jesus they saw walking very closely a very dark man, and his one eye was blind.
And a great multitude of people was also behind Jesus and the one-eyed man was trying to hide Jesus from the eyes of the multitude.
And right in front of Jesus they saw walking a priest who looked like Elias.
And there was a cloud that overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, There are three that I have chosen, and there is one that I have condemned.
And suddenly, when they looked round about, they saw no man anymore, save Jesus only with themselves.
A few verses later, Jesus explains that the one-eyed man was the Antichrist, and the man who looked like Moses was "that prophet who will come after me as light and mercy for all the nations," presumably Mohammad. In his endnotes Shafaat gives no source for this story - is it an obscure hadith? An adaptation of another scholar's commentary on Jesus? Did he just make it up? This scene was the most intriguing in the book for me; most of the rest felt familiar and unsurprising. Shafaat's "new gospel" is an odd and interesting idea for a book, but I'm not sure who it's intended for. Christians who are unfamiliar with Islam seem unlikely to be appreciative of or interested in an Islamic gospel, while both Christians who do know something about Islam, and Muslims themselves, are not going to find anything new here, except perhaps Shafaat's creative tafsir.
other books I read this month: