Thursday, April 15, 2010


When Jesus appeared in Palestine, all his contemporaries—
those who believed in him as well as those who did
not—could only view him through the perspective of
prophethood available in Jewish circles, that is, as the Messiah,
or the savior of his people from the yoke of the foreign
occupier, and as the sign of the approaching end of the world
and the dawn of a new era in which the lamb would peacefully
graze next to the wolf. As for his paradoxical relationship
with God, the idea of the incarnation in him of the divine,
the connection between that incarnation and the word
(Logos), and the concept of redemption were all created by
the first generation of Christians after the separation of the
church from Judaism—in particular under the influence of
Paul—and after the spread of the new religion among the
“gentiles” in those regions under the sway of Hellenism,
Greek philosophy and various Gnostic doctrines.7
The Arab Peninsula in general, particularly , was by
no means isolated from the religions and cultural currents
that existed in the Middle East, whether in Syria or Palestine,
Egypt or Mesopotamia, or neighboring Persia. The concept
of political borders, separating and isolating regions from
each other, did not exist at that time. Thus there were constant exchanges, of both a trading and a non-trading kind,
between the peoples of these regions, even in times of war
and famines, together with the mutual influences that accompany
such exchanges. The , or pilgrimage to Mecca,
on one hand, and the markets, on the other, provided opportunities
for the mingling and interaction of doctrines and
ideas. Thus we must regard the rise of Islam at the beginning
of the seventh century not only as a natural extension of the
monotheistic religions in the Jewish and Christian regions,
but also as a continuation of the phenomenon of religion in
general throughout human history. In doing so, we must not
neglect the environmental and circumstantial factors related
to Mecca and its surroundings, but neither must we accept
that the features of the new message were solely determined
by reactions against, or the adoption of, elements of the
Arabic pre-Islamic tradition, as it is usually claimed in modern
western studies of the rise of Islam, which are still influenced
by what was purported about it in medieval Europe.8
Therefore, the Mohammedan mission presents itself as a
continuation of past missions, but supported by a firm historical
Monotheism first appeared with Judaism, but was marked
by reification and bore many traces of past doctrines.9 For
example, God was sometimes addressed in the plural form
as “Elohim,” which stood for a national god of a specially
designated people, and not a universal god. Moreover, rituals
and various prohibitions occupied an important place in the
Old Testament, in addition to the fact that early Judaism did
not accept the idea of resurrection or life after death.10 Subsequently,
the Christian belief in the doctrines of the Trinity
and the Incarnation, the unique status of Mary, and the
beneficial powers of saints and their remains led to various
deviations from pure monotheism. It has been established
that the religious achievements of the Jewish and Christian
groups inhabiting and the north and south of the Arab
Peninsula were neither high nor refined. For none of these
groups, with the exception of the Christians of
, is known for any significant contribution to the theoretical and
theological output, for example, of Syria and Egypt. In the
interaction between the culture of the adherents of these two
monotheistic religions and local folk traditions, Bedouin lore
with its oral features prevailed. This resulted in a deviation
from the official doctrine held by the highly intellectual
bishops and theologians, who had direct access to the
sources of the doctrine.

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