Saturday, June 10, 2006

A word to the wise

I’m not the only one who’s responded to Dagood:

At 10:49 AM, June 05, 2006, Anonymous said...

RE: Paul's Road Trip

Being the apparently intelligent man that you appear to be, I'm sure you have done all the research necessary to come to the conclusions you did regarding Paul's journey to Damascus.

You've obviously read the relevant portions of Josephus' Antiquitates judaicae xiv, xiii, 3, dealing with the history of Rome and the elevation of John Hyrcanus, the high priest, to "ethnarch", which made him "head of an ethnic community" (cf. F. W. Danker, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd. ed. (2000), p. 276. You probably have read in I Maccabees 15:15ff, (esp. v. 21) that precedence for the high priest to extradite "pestilent men" was given to the high priest by the Romans. It is not unreasonable to assume that the title of 'ethnarch', and its jurisdictional rights were passed on to each succeeding high priest down to and including Caiaphas. He would therefore, have the right to pursue renegades into any Hebrew enclave in the Roman Empire.

You most likely have read the chapters on "Tiberius" and "Gaius and Claudius", from The Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. X, (1971) to get some background regarding the political situation. And too, J. B. Lightfoot's article, "The Chronology of St Paul's Life and Epistles," published posthumously, from his lecture notes in Biblical Essays (1893). Further, I'm sure you have at least casually looked at Sir William Mitchell Ramsay's, St. Paul the Traveler and Roman Citizen (1909). You must certainly have seen Kirsopp Lake's, "The Chronology of Acts," in Beginnings of Christianity. The Acts of the Apostles, Volume V, pp. 445-474, (F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, eds. - 1933). These must have given you some context to piece together the time frame regarding Paul's going to Damascus, time in Arabia, and going to Jerusalem. You must have at least thumbed through Charles H. Talbert's, "Again: Paul's Visits to Jerusalem," published in the journal Novum Testamentum, 9 (1967) 26-40, or Robert Jewett's, A Chronology of Paul's Life, 1979, which was published separately as part of his doctrinal thesis.

Then too, you must have at least read one or two of the bibliographic references in Anthony J. Saldarini's article, "Pharisees," Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 5, 289-303. (1992) and similarly from Gary G. Porton's, "Sadducees", 892-895, from the same volume. And you certainly have studied Arland J. Hultgren's, "Paul's Pre-Christian
Persecutions of the Church: Their Purpose, Locale, and Nature," Journal of Biblical Literature 95 (1976) 97-111, not to mention Philip E. Hughes, "The Mention of Aretas in 11:32 and Pauline Chronology," Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, pp. 424-428. (1962), where he discusses that Damascus was in the hands of the Romans until Gaius (Caligula) who most likely gave it to (Aeneas) Aretas IV in A.D. 40, or perhaps earlier in 37, since Vetellius failed to march against Aretas once Tiberius was dead. But if you didn't happen to see this, you would also have found mention of Rome's control of Damascus in John McRay's article "Damascus," Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2, 5-9. Additionally, you would have found information on Damascus and a discussion of the term "ethnarch" in Margaret E. Thrall's, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Volume II, pp. 763-771. (2000). The change in leadership in Damascus from the Romans to Aretas IV, between the time of Paul's conversion (c. 33-35) and his return from Arabia to this city, some three years later, makes his hostile reception understandable given the relations between Antipas and Aretas.

And of course, if you are to discuss the New Testament critically, you read Koine Greek. You, therefore, understand that both citations from Phil. 3:5, "in regard to the law, a Pharisee" and as you put it, again, "Paul simply claims to be a son of a Hebrew" are idioms correctly used in context. The first emphasizing his interpretation of the law, and does not negate the passage in Acts 23:6, where he says he was "a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee." In the latter phrase, Paul is not simply saying he was "a son of a Hebrew", but literally "a Hebrew of Hebrews" underscoring that he was not a proselyte, but a natural born Jew. One passage is dealing with his ethnicity, the other his religious affiliation. Neither of these are in conflict. But you would understand that being a reader of the Greek New Testament. It just seems like a contradiction based on your semantic shenanigans.

I'm sure that none of the above will convince you differently. As Gene Hackman said in the movie Class Action, "Lawyers never lie, we just tell the truth judiciously to guarantee utter confusion." But that aside, your arguments are more pretentious than substantive, as you are more interested an agenda than finding the truth. This is why most scholars will not respond to your insignificant stultiloquy.


At 10:58 AM, June 07, 2006, Anonymous said...

My reason for posting so late, is that I was only told about your blog about a week ago. The only reason I responded in the first place was that I was practically coerced by a co-worker, who knowing my background, was interested in what I would have to say on the subject. It is not my intention to get drawn into a long, protracted discussion. I’ve been in that situation before, to no avail.

If you “want to have fun” with this, I’d love to have you on a witness stand about now.

Q. “Sir is it your testimony that you do not read Koine Greek?”

A. “Yes, it’s true, I do not read Greek.”

Q. “Did you further stay in your last blog reply that, quote, “I had read Danke’s claim about 1 Maccabees.”

A. “Yes.”

Q. It is therefore your testimony that although you do not read Greek, you have read Danker with reference to 1 Maccabees. You do realize sir, that Danker is the editor of the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, and says nothing regarding John Hyrcanus, and the reference to him in BillH’s reply was only in regard to the word definition of the word “ethnarch”! One can only wonder what you have actually read.

Kidding aside, I must tell you up front, that I am neither a minister, nor a college professor. I guess you would categorize me as an “informed layman”. Yes, I have read the books, and articles I referred to, and, in fact, I not only have read them, with the exception of The Cambridge Ancient History, which I borrowed from our local public library, not being worth the “return on cost” for my purposes, and Jewett’s book, which I have purchased, but has not yet been received, I own the rest, including the journals. (Sorry for the run-on sentence.)

In between the time I first posted, and today, another journal article has come to my attention that brings even some of my previous ideas into question. Douglas A. Campbell, “An Anchor for Pauline Chronology: Paul’s Flight from ‘the Ethnarch of King Aretas’ (2 Corinthians 11:32-33),” Journal of Biblical Literature 121 (2002) 279-302. This should be on the top of your reading list, as it appears to answer many of the questions you brought up.

My purpose in responding to your blog, is not so much to convince you of anything, though that would be a plus, as to inform you of what material is out there that will perhaps answer your questions.

As to Luke’s being a historian, you could always take the approach of Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul a Critical Life, where he says, “On methodological grounds alone, Paul’s first-hand account is certainly to be preferred to Luke’s second-hand version, which moreover is a tissue of implausibilities.” (p. 6). A view I do not subscribe to. Obviously, when it comes to history, some things may never be resolved simply because we don’t have enough information, or, data simply has not survived (e.g. Tacitus’ books on Gaius).

Seriously, you need to read Campbell on this subject. I think you will find it enlightening.

I also would recommend: The Pre-Christian Paul, by Martin Hengel in collaboration with Roland Deines, 1991. This received a strongly positive review by Scott McKnight in Journal of Biblical Literature 112 (1993), 160-162.


At 12:03 PM, June 07, 2006, Anonymous said...

P.S. Regarding Pompey’s slaying Simon, nobody said Pompey was a nice guy. There were a lot of despicable acts back then, by some very nasty characters. Incidentally, here 1 Maccabees 16, and Josephus Antiquitates judaicae XIII, vii, 4, disagree as to whether or not Simon was actually killed. But this is a digression, and has nothing to do with the subject of Paul.

At 10:24 AM, June 09, 2006, Anonymous said...

Your interest does sound genuine, but in a way you also seem to want the answers all handed to you. You don’t want to have to “re-trace your (my) steps”, but that is exactly what all Ph.D. candidates do—not that either of us are. I don’t mean to sound abrasive, but I don’t want to compose a dissertation.

Nevertheless, my initial thoughts are that Damascus was not under the control of Aretas on Paul’s first visit to Damascus, (which is what I tried to infer in my previous posts) since it happened probably somewhere between A.D. 33-35. At this point Damascus was still under Roman control. If after a period of “many days” he leaves (escapes?) from Damascus as Luke says because of Jewish persecution. He then goes to Arabia for approximately three years. Paul says he returned to Damascus, which was probably around A.D. 37-38 (cf. Campbell). By this time Aretas had either “received” or “captured” Damascus, and Paul’s reference to the hostility under Aretas in II Corinthians would therefore be accurate. This is when he escaped in a basket. [When it comes to Luke’s account in Acts about Paul being let down in a basket. Who’s to say it wasn’t done twice? If it worked once, it apparently worked again. I say this tongue-in-cheek, as it is more likely that Luke has conflated the two events, but I will have to leave that for further discussion.]

As to the Pharisees and the Sadducees working together, I think a previous post was pretty much right when he/she said they were using each other. (Don’t the two parties in the current congress sometimes work together, even though their ideology is in opposition to one another?) The Sadducees were well connected to the Roman government, but the Pharisees had the ear of the people, and the Sadducees well knew it. On the strength of the Pharisees, see Hugo Mantel, Studies in the History of the Sanhedrin, p. 265 passim. While Mantel is discussing a different subject, he says, “The Pharisees knew their strength, and with the people on their side. . .”

If you reside in a large metropolitan area, or near a university or seminary library, they would have copies of JBL with Campbell’s article. Your local public library might also have access to JSTOR, which is an on-line service (available only by subscription) that would also have the full article.

For the past two years I have been corresponding with a friend of mine regarding the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes (Qohelet). Presently we are only up to chapter five. This, in addition to holding down a full time job, and trying to complete an indexing project that I have been working on for the past 35 years, you can see why I am reluctant to get into another lengthy discussion.

I agree that anyone who has studied a subject should be able to “re-explain” them. The problem here is that we are dealing with, not only a considerable amount of data, even if meager by historical standards, and attempting to piece together some detailed biblical / textual minutia. Better men/ women than I have grappled with the problems, and I rely on their judgment as well, which is why I read. My responses regarding Acts 9, will take a considerable amount of time, if I am to be at all thorough, though not necessarily convincing. Please be patient, if I don’t post for a couple of weeks, should I find the required time to do this.


At 5:20 PM, June 09, 2006, Anonymous said...

Your mixing Apples and Oranges! Aretas IV did not die until at least A.D. 40. Coins were still being struck with his image Aretas IV and Queen Shuqailat dated 39/40. Seriously if you keep changing the facts, we may as well quit now. Additionally, you keep broadening the scope of this discussion (your laundry list of “Paul ‘doesn’ts’” we’ll never end this. All of which brings me back to one of my original statements:

It is not my intention to get drawn into a long, protracted discussion. I’ve been in that situation before, to no avail.


Rambling Rambo

Rambo has launched into another reply:

“As usual, many of my arguments have either been entirely ignored or discussed briefly.”

I understand that Rambo natural thinks his every word is of utmost importance. I, however, do not share his self-estimate.

I reserve the right to comment on what I deem to be worthwhile, and ignore the rest. And I give flimsy arguments short shrift.

Rambo is a very redundant prose style. And he’s welcome to be as plodding as he pleases.

But I have my own priorities. Spare me the birth-pangs and show me the baby.

“He resorts to semantics instead of acknowledging his mistake. As I said before, even though the topic of discussion was the text of the New Testament, I was not, in that particular instance, making any comments pertaining to the Biblical text and the state of variations therein. Instead, I was only making a very general statement without referring to the Bible as was very clear.”

What is very clear is that Rambo imagines that he can play a Christian for a chump with this innocent sounding disclaimer.

But Rambo has an agenda. Nothing wrong with that except when he chooses to pretend otherwise. He is targeting the Bible. His softening-up exercises have that in mind.

“Of course, when it comes to the Bible only inerranists such as Mr. Hays bring in ‘objectivity’ and a ‘critical distance’ whereas anyone who disagrees with them is just darn bias, non-objective and carries a huge baggage of ‘presuppositions.’ Nonetheless, I was not implying that all outsiders were non-objective, but only that you are using terms which are not employed in this area of study – Quranic studies specifically. That we are to view every field in its context using the terminology commonly applied therein and not impose someone else’s terms upon it. This has nothing to do with all outsiders being non-objective, an argument I never made.”

As we shall soon see, Rambo doesn’t stick to his semantic precisionism.

“Recall that initially Mr. Hays gave the misleading impression that there was an “alternative” version of the compilation and transmission of the Quran being espoused by the so-called “liberal Muslim” scholars. This is what I rightly objected to.”

Rambo is engaging in a game of truth by definition. He wants to say that, by definition, no Muslims denies the textual integrity of the Koran, hence, anyone who denies the textual integrity of the Koran is not a Muslim.

Now, I don’t particularly care where he chooses to draw the line.

My point is that he doesn’t allow Christian to draw the same line within their confessional community.

“This is a good example of how he totally ignores what I am saying and, instead, brings in entirely irrelevant issues which in no way relate and engage with my initial arguments. When exactly did I deny the existence of modern “liberal” movements within Islam? No where. This was never the issue of discussion between us. Instead, Mr. Hays appears to have a very difficult time following straightforward arguments: I merely asserted that we do not have a “conservative” or “liberal” view among Muslim scholars when it comes to the textual integrity, compilation and transmission of the Quran.”

Another recurring habit of Rambo is to introduce a flurry of face-saving distinctions after his hand has been called, and then claim that he was misrepresented because I failed to take into consideration certain nonexistent caveats which he only introduces after the fact.

Rambo is welcome to perform as much damage control as he likes. But my practice is to respond to what people actually say at the time they say it, and not respond to what they would have said if they had anticipated my reply.

“That is to say that despite disagreements over certain points of detail, virtually all Muslim scholars endorse the textual authenticity of the Quran and acknowledge that it goes back to Muhammed (P) in an unbroken chain of transmission.”

“Virtually” all Muslims scholars. Watch him begin to back down from his original claim.

Very well, then, by his own admission, which Muslim scholars deny the textual authenticity of the Koran?

“Thus, it made no sense at all when, in response to my reference to Prof. Azami, Mr. Hays hit back by accusing me of using a ‘conservative Muslim’ scholar, thereby implying that there was supposed to be in existence an alternative ‘liberal Muslim’ version of the Quran’s transmission and compilation as well. I don’t see how Mr. Hays ‘engages’ with this argument of mine by merely pointing out the presence of some modern liberal movements among Muslims.”

It makes perfect sense when I respond to what Rambo said at the time, rather than his efforts to qualify and backdate his original usage.

“The second link he presents is also quite irrelevant. It is simply an introduction to some of the modern fringe liberal movements within Muslims, such as secular movements, feminist movements, revisionist movements and so on; none of whom represent mainstream Muslims. Again, this is entirely irrelevant to what I was initially saying. These types of groups merely differ from mainstream Muslims over matters of interpretations.”

So, instead of using the words “liberal” and “conservative,” I should use more technical terms “fringe” and “mainstream.”

“This is nothing more than a vastly exaggerated and ignorant comment that deserves no reply. Nonetheless, many of these so-called “liberal” movements have emerged among Muslims in the Western world and, as I noted above, none, as far as I know, deny the authenticity of the Quranic text and none of them have a “different” version of events relating to the compilation and formation of the Quran. Moreover, most of the Muslim lands are not, in fact, governed according to the sharia law. But despite this, we do not find among Muslims “liberal” and “conservative” scholars having contrary versions of Quranic compilation and transmission.”

That all depends on whether Rambo is going to play a semantic game over who counts as a Muslim or not—especially when he refuses to extend the same courtesy to Christian usage.

But just to call his bluff, what about the following:


From: The Origins of the Koran,
Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book. Ed. Ibn Warraq. Prometheus Books

I. Introduction

For us in studying the Koran it is necessary to distinguish the historical from the theological attitude. Here we are only concerned with those truths that are yielded by a process of rational enquiry, by scientific examination. "Critical investigation of the text of the Qu’ran is a study which is still in its infancy," wrote the Islamic scholar Arthur Jeffery in 1937. In 1977 John Wansbrough noted that "as a document susceptible of analysis by the instruments and techniques of Biblical criticism [the Koran] is virtually unknown." By 1990, more than fifty years after Jeffery’s lament, we still have the scandalous situation described by Andrew Rippin:

I have often encountered individuals who come to the study of Islam with a background in the historical study of the Hebrew Bible or early Christianity, and who express surprise at the lack of critical thought that appears in introductory textbooks on Islam. The notion that "Islam was born in the clear light of history" still seems to be assumed by a great many writers of such texts. While the need to reconcile varying historical traditions is generally recognized, usually this seems to pose no greater problem to the authors than having to determine "what makes sense" in a given situation. To students acquainted with approaches such as source criticism, oral formulaic compositions, literary analysis and structuralism, all quite commonly employed in the study of Judaism and Christianity, such naive historical study seems to suggest that Islam is being approached with less than academic candor.
The questions any critical investigation of the Koran hopes to answer are:

1. How did the Koran come to us? —That is the compilation and the transmission of the Koran.

2. When was it written, and who wrote it?

3. What are the sources of the Koran? Where were the stories, legends, and principles that abound in the Koran acquired?

4. What is the Koran? Since there never was a textus receptus ne varietur of the Koran, we need to decide its authenticity.

I shall begin with the traditional account that is more or less accepted by most Western scholars, and then move on to the views of a small but very formidable, influential, and growing group of scholars inspired by the work of John Wansbrough.

According to the traditional account the Koran was revealed to Muhammad, usually by an angel, gradually over a period of years until his death in 632 C.E. It is not clear how much of the Koran had been written down by the time of Muhammad’s death, but it seems probable that there was no single manuscript in which the Prophet himself had collected all the revelations. Nonetheless, there are traditions which describe how the Prophet dictated this or that portion of the Koran to his secretaries.

The Collection Under Abu Bakr

Henceforth the traditional account becomes more and more confused; in fact there is no one tradition but several incompatible ones. According to one tradition, during Abu Bakr’s brief caliphate (632-634), ‘Umar, who himself was to succeed to the caliphate in 634, became worried at the fact that so many Muslims who had known the Koran by heart were killed during the Battle of Yamama, in Central Arabia. There was a real danger that parts of the Koran would be irretrievably lost unless a collection of the Koran was made before more of those who knew this or that part of the Koran by heart were killed. Abu Bakr eventually gave his consent to such a project, and asked Zayd ibn Thabit, the former secretary of the Prophet, to undertake this daunting task. So Zayd proceeded to collect the Koran "from pieces of papyrus, flat stones, palm leaves, shoulder blades and ribs of animals, pieces of leather and wooden boards, as well as from the hearts of men." Zayd then copied out what he had collected on sheets or leaves (Arabic, suhuf). Once complete, the Koran was handed over to Abu Bakr, and on his death passed to ‘Umar, and upon his death passed to ‘Umar’s daughter, Hafsa.

There are however different versions of this tradition; in some it is suggested that it was Abu Bakr who first had the idea to make the collection; in other versions the credit is given to Ali, the fourth caliph and the founder of the Shias; other versions still completely exclude Abu Bakr. Then, it is argued that such a difficult task could not have been accomplished in just two years. Again, it is unlikely that those who died in the Battle of Yamama, being new converts, knew any of the Koran by heart. But what is considered the most telling point against this tradition of the first collection of the Koran under Abu Bakr is that once the collection was made it was not treated as an official codex, but almost as the private property of Hafsa. In other words, we find that no authority is attributed to Abu Bakr’s Koran. It has been suggested that the entire story was invented to take the credit of having made the first official collection of the Koran away from ‘Uthman, the third caliph, who was greatly disliked. Others have suggested that it was invented "to take the collection of the Quran back as near as possible to Muhammad’s death."

The Collection Under ‘Uthman

According to tradition, the next step was taken under ‘Uthman (644-656). One of ‘Uthman’s generals asked the caliph to make such a collection because serious disputes had broken out among his troops from different provinces in regard to the correct readings of the Koran. ‘Uthman chose Zayd ibn Thabit to prepare the official text. Zayd, with the help of three members of noble Meccan families, carefully revised the Koran comparing his version with the "leaves" in the possession of Hafsa, ‘Umar’s daughter; and as instructed, in case of difficulty as to the reading, Zayd followed the dialect of the Quraysh, the Prophet’s tribe. The copies of the new version, which must have been completed between 650 and ‘Uthman’s death in 656, were sent to Kufa, Basra, Damascus, and perhaps Mecca, and one was, of course, kept in Medina. All other versions were ordered to be destroyed.

This version of events is also open to criticism. The Arabic found in the Koran is not a dialect. In some versions the number of people working on the commission with Zayd varies, and in some are included the names of persons who were enemies of ‘Uthman, and the name of someone known to have died before these events! This phase two of the story does not mention Zayd’s part in the original collection of the Koran discussed in phase one.

Apart from Wansbrough and his disciples, whose work we shall look at in a moment, most modern scholars seem to accept that the establishment of the text of the Koran took place under ‘Uthman between 650 and 656, despite all the criticisms mentioned above. They accept more or less the traditional account of the ‘Uthmanic collection, it seems to me, without giving a single coherent reason for accepting this second tradition as opposed to the first tradition of the collection under Abu Bakr. There is a massive gap in their arguments, or rather they offer no arguments at all. For instance, Charles Adams after enumerating the difficulties with the ‘Uthmanic story, concludes with breathtaking abruptness and break in logic, "Despite the difficulties with the traditional accounts there can be no question of the importance of the codex prepared under ‘Uthman." But nowhere has it yet been established that it was indeed under ‘Uthman that the Koran as we know it was prepared. It is simply assumed all along that it was under ‘Uthman that the Koran was established in its final form, and all we have to do is to explain away some of the difficulties. Indeed, we can apply the same arguments to dismiss the ‘Uthmanic story as were used to dismiss the Abu Bakr story. That is, we can argue that the ‘Uthmanic story was invented by the enemies of Abu Bakr and the friends of ‘Uthman; political polemics can equally be said to have played their part in the fabrication of this later story. It also leaves unanswered so many awkward questions. What were these "leaves" in the possession of Hafsa? And if the Abu Bakr version is pure forgery where did Hafsa get hold of them? Then what are those versions that seemed to be floating around in the provinces? When were these alternative texts compiled, and by whom? Can we really pick and choose, at our own will, from amongst the variants, from the contradictory traditions? There are no compelling reasons for accepting the ‘Uthmanic story and not the Abu Bakr one; after all they are all gleaned from the same sources, which are all exceedingly late, tendentious in the extreme, and all later fabrications, as we shall see later.

But I have even more fundamental problems in accepting any of these traditional accounts at their face value. When listening to these accounts, some very common-sensical objections arise which no one seems to have dared to ask. First, all these stories place an enormous burden on the memories of the early Muslims. Indeed, scholars are compelled to exaggerate the putatively prodigious memories of the Arabs. Muhammad could not read or write according to some traditions, and therefore everything depends on him having perfectly memorized what God revealed to him through His Angels. Some of the stories in the Koran are enormously long; for instance, the story of Joseph takes up a whole chapter of 111 verses. Are we really to believe that Muhammad remembered it exactly as it was revealed?

Similarly the Companions of the Prophet are said to have memorized many of his utterances. Could their memories never have failed? Oral traditions have a tendency to change over time, and they cannot be relied upon to construct a reliable, scientific history. Second, we seem to assume that the Companions of the Prophet heard and understood him perfectly.

Variant Versions, Verses Missing, Verses Added

Almost without exceptions Muslims consider that the Quran we now possess goes back in its text and in the number and order of the chapters to the work of the commission that ‘Uthman appointed. Muslim orthodoxy holds further that ‘Uthman’s Quran contains all of the revelation delivered to the community faithfully preserved without change or variation of any kind and that the acceptance of the ‘Uthmanic Quran was all but universal from the day of its distribution.
The orthodox position is motivated by dogmatic factors; it cannot be supported by the historical evidence....

Charles Adams

While modern Muslims may be committed to an impossibly conservative position, Muslim scholars of the early years of Islam were far more flexible, realizing that parts of the Koran were lost, perverted, and that there were many thousand variants which made it impossible to talk of the Koran. For example, As-Suyuti (died 1505), one of the most famous and revered of the commentators of the Koran, quotes Ibn ‘Umar al Khattab as saying: "Let no one of you say that he has acquired the entire Quran, for how does he know that it is all? Much of the Quran has been lost, thus let him say, ‘I have acquired of it what is available’" (As-Suyuti, Itqan, part 3, page 72). A’isha, the favorite wife of the Prophet, says, also according to a tradition recounted by as-Suynti, "During the time of the Prophet, the chapter of the Parties used to be two hundred verses when read. When ‘Uthman edited the copies of the Quran, only the current (verses) were recorded" (73).

As-Suyuti also tells this story about Uba ibn Ka’b, one of the great companions of Muhammad:

This famous companion asked one of the Muslims, "How many verses in the chapter of the Parties?" He said, "Seventy-three verses." He (Uba) told him, "It used to be almost equal to the chapter of the Cow (about 286 verses) and included the verse of the stoning". The man asked, "What is the verse of the stoning?" He (Uba) said, "If an old man or woman committed adultery, stone them to death."
As noted earlier, since there was no single document collecting all the revelations, after Muhammad’s death in 632 C.E., many of his followers tried to gather all the known revelations and write them down in codex form. Soon we had the codices of several scholars such as Ibn Masud, Uba ibn Ka’b, ‘Ali, Abu Bakr, al-Aswad, and others (Jeffery, chapter 6, has listed fifteen primary codices, and a large number of secondary ones). As Islam spread, we eventually had what became known as the metropolitan codices in the centers of Mecca, Medina, Damascus, Kufa, and Basra. As we saw earlier, ‘Uthman tried to bring order to this chaotic situation by canonizing the Medinan Codex, copies of which were sent to all the metropolitan centers, with orders to destroy all the other codices.

‘Uthman’s codex was supposed to standardize the consonantal text, yet we find that many of the variant traditions of this consonantal text survived well into the fourth Islamic century. The problem was aggravated by the fact that the consonantal text was unpointed, that is to say, the dots that distinguish, for example, a "b" from a "t” or a "th" were missing. Several other letters (f and q; j, h, and kh; s and d; r and z; s and sh; d and dh, t and z) were indistinguishable. In other words, the Koran was written in a scripta defectiva. As a result, a great many variant readings were possible according to the way the text was pointed (had the dots added).

Vowels presented an even worse problem. Originally, the Arabs had no signs for the short vowels: the Arab script is consonantal. Although the short vowels are sometimes omitted, they can be represented by orthographical signs placed above or below the letters—three signs in all, taking the form of a slightly slanting dash or a comma. After having settled the consonants, Muslims still had to decide what vowels to employ: using different vowels, of course, rendered different readings. The scripta plena, which allowed a fully voweled and pointed text, was not perfected until the late ninth century.

The problems posed by the scripta defectiva inevitably led to the growth of different centers with their own variant traditions of how the texts should be pointed or vowelized. Despite ‘Uthman’s order to destroy all texts other than his own, it is evident that the older codices survived. As Charles Adams says, "It must be emphasized that far from there being a single text passed down inviolate from the time of ‘Uthman’s commission, literally thousands of variant readings of particular verses were known in the first three (Muslim) centuries. These variants affected even the ‘Uthmanic codex, making it difficult to know what its true form may have been."

Some Muslims preferred codices other than the ‘Uthmanic, for example, those of Ibn Mas’ud, Uba ibn Ka’b, and Abu Musa. Eventually, under the influence of the great Koranic scholar Ibn Mujahid (died 935), there was a definite canonization of one system of consonants and a limit placed on the variations of vowels used in the text that resulted in acceptance of seven systems. But other scholars accepted ten readings, and still others accepted fourteen readings. Even Ibn Mujahid’s seven provided fourteen possibilities since each of the seven was traced through two different transmitters, viz,

1. Nafi of Medina according to Warsh and Qalun

2. Ibn Kathir of Mecca according to al-Bazzi and Qunbul

3. Ibn Amir of Damascus according to Hisham and Ibn Dakwan

4. Abu Amr of Basra according to al-Duri and al-Susi

5. Asim of Kufa according to Hafs and Abu Bakr

6. Hamza of Kuga according to Khalaf and Khallad

7. Al-Kisai of Kufa according to al Duri and Abul Harith

In the end three systems prevailed, those of Warsh (d. 812) from Nafi of Medina, Hafs (d. 805) from Asim of Kufa, and al-Duri (d. 860) from Abu Amr of Basra. At present in modern Islam, two versions seem to be in use: that of Asim of Kufa through Hafs, which was given a kind of official seal of approval by being adopted in the Egyptian edition of the Koran in 1924; and that of Nafi through Warsh, which is used in parts of Africa other than Egypt.

As Charles Adams reminds us:

It is of some importance to call attention to a possible source of misunderstanding with regard to the variant readings of the Quran. The seven (versions) refer to actual written and oral text, to distinct versions of Quranic verses, whose differences, though they may not be great, are nonetheless substantial. Since the very existence of variant readings and versions of the Quran goes against the doctrinal position toward the Holy Book held by many modern Muslims, it is not uncommon in an apologetic context to hear the seven (versions) explained as modes of recitation; in fact the manner and technique of recitation are an entirely different matter.
Guillaume also refers to the variants as "not always trifling in significance." For example, the last two verses of sura LXXXV, Al Buraj, read: (21) hawa qur’anun majidun; (22) fi lawhin mahfuzun/in. The last syllable is in doubt. If it is in the genitive -in, it gives the meaning "It is a glorious Koran on a preserved tablet"—a reference to the Muslim doctrine of the Preserved Tablet. If it is the nominative ending -un, we get "It is a glorious Koran preserved on a tablet." There are other passages with similar difficulties dealing with social legislation.

If we allow that there were omissions, then why not additions? The authenticity of many verses in the Koran has been called into question by Muslims themselves. Many Kharijites, who were followers of ‘Ali in the early history of Islam, found the sura recounting the story of Joseph offensive, an erotic tale that did not belong in the Koran. Hirschfeld questioned the authenticity of verses in which the name Muhammad occurs, there being something rather suspicious in such a name, meaning ‘Praised’, being borne by the Prophet. The name was certainly not very common. However the Prophet’s name does occur in documents that have been accepted as genuine, such as the Constitution of Medina.

Most scholars believe that there are interpolations in the Koran; these interpolations can be seen as interpretative glosses on certain rare words in need of explanation. More serious are the interpolations of a dogmatic or political character, which seem to have been added to justify the elevation of ‘Uthman as caliph to the detriment of ‘Ali. Then there are other verses that have been added in the interest of rhyme, or to join together two short passages that on their own lack any connection.

Bell and Watt carefully go through many of the amendments and revisions and point to the unevenness of the Koranic style as evidence for a great many alterations in the Koran:

There are indeed many roughness of this kind, and these, it is here claimed, are fundamental evidence for revision. Besides the points already noticed—hidden rhymes, and rhyme phrases not woven into the texture of the passage—there are the following abrupt changes of rhyme; repetition of the same rhyme word or rhyme phrase in adjoining verses; the intrusion of an extraneous subject into a passage otherwise homogeneous; a differing treatment of the same subject in neighbouring verses, often with repetition of words and phrases; breaks in grammatical construction which raise difficulties in exegesis; abrupt changes in length of verse; sudden changes of the dramatic situation, with changes of pronoun from singular to plural, from second to third person, and so on; the juxtaposition of apparently contrary statements; the juxtaposition of passages of different date, with intrusion of fare phrases into early verses.
In many cases a passage has alternative continuations which follow one another in the present text. The second of the alternatives is marked by a break in sense and by a break in grammatical construction, since the connection is not with what immediately precedes, but with what stands some distance back.
The Christian al-Kindi (not to be confused with the Arab, Muslim philosopher) writing around 830 C.E., criticized the Koran in similar terms:

The result of all this (process by which the Quran came into being) is patent to you who have read the scriptures and see how, in your book, histories are jumbled together and intermingled; an evidence that many different hands have been at work therein, and caused discrepancies, adding or cutting out whatever they liked or disliked. Are such, now, the conditions of a revelation sent down from heaven?

Skepticism of the Sources

The traditional accounts of the life of Muhammad and the story of the origin and rise of Islam, including the compilation of the Koran, are based exclusively on Muslim sources, particularly the Muslim biographies of Muhammad, and the Hadith, that is the Muslim traditions.

The Prophet Muhammad died in 632 C.E. The earliest material on his life that we possess was written by Ibn Ishaq in 750 C.E., in other words, a hundred twenty years after Muhammad’s death. The question of authenticity becomes even more critical, because the original form of Ibn Ishaq’s work is lost and is only available in parts in a later recension by Ibn Hisham who died in 834 C.E., two hundred years after the death of the Prophet.

The Hadith are a collection of sayings and doings attributed to the Prophet and traced back to him through a series of putatively trustworthy witnesses (any particular chain of transmitters is called an isnad). These Hadith include the story of the compilation of the Koran, and the sayings of the companions of the Prophet. There are said to be six correct or authentic collections of traditions accepted by Sunni Muslims, namely, the compilations of Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Maja, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, and al-Nisai. Again it is worth noting that all these sources are very late indeed. Bukhari died 238 years after the death of the Prophet, while al-Nisai died over 280 years after!

The historical and biographical tradition concerning Muhammad and the early years of Islam was submitted to a thorough examination at the end of the nineteenth century. Up to then careful scholars were well aware of the legendary and theological elements in these traditions, and that there were traditions which originated from party motive and which intended "to give an appearance of historical foundation to the particular interests of certain persons or families; but it was thought that after some sifting there yet remained enough to enable us to form a much clearer sketch of Muhammad’s life than that of any other of the founders of a universal religion." This illusion was shattered by Wellhausen, Caetani, and Lammens who called "one after another of the data of Muslim tradition into question."

Wellhausen divided the old historical traditions as found in the ninth- and tenth-century compilations in two: first, an authentic primitive tradition, definitively recorded in the late eighth century, and second a parallel version which was deliberately forged to rebut this. The second version was full of tendentious fiction, and was to be found in the work of historians such as Sayf b. ‘Umar (see above). Prince Caetani and Father Lammens cast doubt even on data hitherto accepted as "objective." The biographers of Muhammad were too far removed from his time to have true data or notions; far from being objective the data rested on tendentious fiction; furthermore it was not their aim to know these things as they really happened, but to construct an ideal vision of the past, as it ought to have been. "Upon the bare canvas of verses of the Koran that need explanation, the traditionists have embroidered with great boldness scenes suitable to the desires or ideals of their particular group; or to use a favorite metaphor of Lammens, they fill the empty spaces by a process of stereotyping which permits the critical observer to recognize the origin of each picture."

As Lewis puts it, "Lammens went so far as to reject the entire biography as no more than a conjectural and tendentious exegesis of a few passages of biographical content in the Quran, devised and elaborated by later generations of believers."

Even scholars who rejected the extreme skepticism of Caetani and Lammens were forced to recognize that "of Muhammad’s life before his appearance as the messenger of God, we know extremely little; compared to the legendary biography as treasured by the faithful, practically nothing."

The ideas of the Positivist Caetani and the Jesuit Lammens were never forgotten, and indeed they were taken up by a group of Soviet Islamologists, and pushed to their extreme but logical conclusions. The ideas of the Soviet scholars were in turn taken up in the 1970s, by Cook, Crone, and other disciples of Wansbrough.

What Caetani and Lammens did for historical biography, Ignaz Goldziher did for the study of Hadith. Goldziher has had an enormous influence in the field of Islamic studies, and it is no exaggeration to say that he is, along with Hurgronje and Noldeke, one of the founding fathers of the modern study of Islam. Practically everything he wrote between roughly 1870 and 1920 is still studied assiduously in universities throughout the world. In his classic paper, "On the Development of Hadith,” Goldziher "demonstrated that a vast number of Hadith accepted even in the most rigorously critical Muslim collections were outright forgeries from the late 8th and 9th centuries—and as a consequence, that the meticulous isnads [chains of transmitters] which supported them were utterly fictitious."

Faced with Goldziher’s impeccably documented arguments, historians began to panic and devise spurious ways of keeping skepticism at bay, such as, for instance, postulating ad hoc distinctions between legal and historical traditions. But as Humphreys says, in their formal structure, the Hadirh and historical traditions were very similar; furthermore many eighth- and ninth-century Muslim scholars had worked on both kinds of texts. "Altogether, if hadith isnads were suspect, so then should be the isnads attached to historical reports."

As Goldziher puts it himself, "close acquaintance with the vast stock of hadiths induces sceptical caution," and he considers by far the greater part of the Hadith "the result of the religious, historical and social development of Islam during the first two centuries." The Hadith is useless as a basis for any scientific history, and can only serve as a "reflection of the tendencies" of the early Muslim community.

Here I need to interpose a historical digression, if we are to have a proper understanding of Goldziher’s arguments. After the death of the Prophet, four of his companions succeeded him as leaders of the Muslim community; the last of the four was ‘Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. ‘Ali was unable to impose his authority in Syria where the governor was Mu’awiya who adopted the war cry of "Vengeance for ‘Uthman" against ‘Ali (Mu’awiya and ‘Uthman were related and both belonged to the Meccan clan of Umayya). The forces of the two met in an indecisive battle at Siffin. After ‘Ali’s murder in 661, Mu’awiya became the first caliph of the dynasty we know as the Umayyad, which endured until 750 C.E. The Umayyads were deposed by the ‘Abbasids, who lasted in Iraq and Baghdad until the thirteenth century.

During the early years of the Umayyad dynasty, many Muslims were totally ignorant in regard to ritual and doctrine. The rulers themselves had little enthusiasm for religion, and generally despised the pious and the ascetic. The result was that there arose a group of pious men who shamelessly fabricated traditions for the good of the community, and traced them back to the authority of the Prophet. They opposed the godless Umayyads but dared not say so openly, so they invented further traditions dedicated to praising the Prophet’s family, hence indirectly giving their allegiance to the party of ‘Ali supporters. As Goldziher puts it, "The ruling power itself was not idle. If it wished an opinion to be generally recognized and the opposition of pious circles silenced; it too had to know how to discover a hadith to suit its purpose. They had to do what their opponents did: invent and have invented, hadiths in their turn. And that is in effect what they did." Goldziher continues:

Official influences on the invention, dissemination and suppression of traditions started early. An instruction given to his obedient governor al Mughira by Muawiya is in the spirit of the Umayyads: "Do not tire of abusing and insulting Ali and calling for God’s mercifulness for ‘Uthman, defaming the companions of Ali, removing them and omitting to listen to them (i.e., to what they tell and propagate as hadiths); praising in contrast, the clan of ‘Uthman, drawing them near to you and listening to them." This is an official encouragement to foster the rise and spread of hadiths directed against Ali and to hold back and suppress hadiths favoring Ali. The Umayyads and their political followers had no scruples in promoting tendentious lies in a sacred religious form, and they were only concerned to find pious authorities who would be prepared to cover such falsifications with their undoubted authority. There was never any lack of these.

Hadiths were liable to be fabricated even for the most trivial ritualistic details. Tendentiousness included the suppression of existing utterances friendly to the rival party or dynasty. Under the ‘Abbasids, the fabrications of hadiths greatly multiplied, with the express purpose of proving the legitimacy of their own clan against the ‘Alids. For example, the Prophet was made to say that Abu Talib, father of ‘Ali, was sitting deep in hell: "Perhaps my intercession will be of use to him on the day of resurrection so that he may be transferred into a pool of fire which reaches only up to the ankles but which is still hot enough to burn the brain." Naturally enough this was countered by the theologians of the ‘Alias by devising numerous traditions concerning the glorification of Abu Talib, all sayings of the prophet. "In fact," as Goldziher shows, amongst the opposing factions, "the mischievous use of tendentious traditions was even more common than the official party."

Eventually storytellers made a good living inventing entertaining Hadiths, which the credulous masses lapped up eagerly. To draw the crowds the storytellers shrank from nothing. "The handling down of hadiths sank to the level of a business very early. Journeys (in search of hadiths) favored the greed of those who succeeded in pretending to be a source of the hadith, and with increasing demand sprang up an even increasing desire to be paid in cash for the hadiths supplied."

Of course many Muslims were aware that forgeries abounded. But even the so-called six authentic collections of hadiths compiled by Bukhari and others were not as rigorous as might have been hoped. The six had varying criteria for including a Hadith as genuine or not—some were rather liberal in their choice, others rather arbitrary. Then there was the problem of the authenticity of the texts of these compilers. For example, at one point there were a dozen different Bukhari texts; and apart from these variants, there were deliberate interpolations. As Goldziher warns us, "It would be wrong to think that the canonical authority of the two [collections of Bukhari and Muslim] is due to the undisputed correctness of their contents and is the result of scholarly investigations." Even a tenth century critic pointed out the weaknesses of two hundred traditions incorporated in the works of Muslim and Bukhari.

Goldziher’s arguments were followed up, nearly sixty years later, by another great Islamicist, Joseph Schacht, whose works on Islamic law are considered classics in the field of Islamic studies. Schacht’s conclusions were even more radical and perturbing, and the full implications of these conclusions have not yet sunk in.

Humphreys sums up Schacht’s theses as: (1) that isnads [the chain of transmitters] going all the way back to the Prophet only began to be widely used around the time of the Abbasid Revolution—i.e., the mid-8th century; (2) that ironically, the more elaborate and formally correct an isnad appeared to be, the more likely it was to be spurious. In general, he concluded, "NO existing hadith could be reliably ascribed to the prophet, though some of them might ultimately be rooted in his teaching. And though [Schacht] devoted only a few pages to historical reports about the early Caliphate, he explicitly asserted that the same strictures should apply to them." Schacht’s arguments were backed up by a formidable list of references, and they could not be dismissed easily. Here is how Schacht himself sums up his own thesis:

It is generally conceded that the criticism of traditions as practiced by the Muhammadan scholars is inadequate and that, however many forgeries may have been eliminated by it, even the classical corpus contains a great many traditions which cannot possibly be authentic. All efforts to extract from this often self-contradictory mass an authentic core by "historic intuition"… have failed. Goldziher, in another of his fundamental works, has not only voiced his "sceptical reserve" with regard to the traditions contained even in the classical collections [i.e., the collections of Bukhari, Muslim, et al.], but shown positively that the great majority of traditions from the Prophet are documents not of the time to which they claim to belong, but of the successive stages of development of doctrines during the first centuries of Islam. This brilliant discovery became the corner-stone of all serious investigation…

This book [i.e., Schacht’s own book] will be found to confirm Goldziher’s results, and go beyond them in the following respects: a great many traditions in the classical and other collections were put into circulation only after Shafi‘i’s time [Shafi‘i was the founder of the very important school of law which bears his name; he died in 820 C.E.]; the first considerable body of legal traditions from the Prophet originated towards the middle of the second [Muslim] century [i.e., eighth century C.E.], in opposition to slightly earlier traditions from the Companions and other authorities, and to the living tradition of the ancient schools of law; traditions from Companions and other authorities underwent the same process of growth, and are to be considered in the same light, as traditions from the Prophet; the study of isnads show a tendency to grow backwards and to claim higher and higher authority until they arrive at the Prophet; the evidence of legal traditions carries back to about the year 100 A.H. [718 C.E.]...
Schacht proves that, for example, a tradition did not exist at a particular time by showing that it was not used as a legal argument in a discussion which would have made reference to it imperative, if it had existed. For Schacht every legal tradition from the Prophet must be taken as inauthentic and the fictitious expression of a legal doctrine formulated at a later date: "We shall not meet any legal tradition from the Prophet which can positively be considered authentic."

Traditions were formulated polemically in order to rebut a contrary doctrine or practice; Schacht calls these traditions "counter traditions." Doctrines, in this polemical atmosphere, were frequently projected back to higher authorities: "traditions from Successors [to the Prophet] become traditions from Companions [of the Prophet], and traditions from Companions become traditions from the Prophet." Details from the life of the Prophet were invented to support legal doctrines.

Schacht then criticizes isnads which "were often put together very carelessly. Any typical representative of the group whose doctrine was to be projected back on to an ancient authority, could be chosen at random and put into the isnad. We find therefore a number of alternative names in otherwise identical isnads."

Shacht "showed that the beginnings of Islamic law cannot be traced further back than to about a century after the Prophet’s death." Islamic law did not directly derive from the Koran but developed out of popular and administrative practice under the Ummayads, and this "practice often diverged from the intentions and even the explicit wording of the Koran." Norms derived from the Koran were introduced into Islamic law at a secondary stage.

A group of scholars was convinced of the essential soundness of Schacht’s analysis, and proceeded to work out in full detail the implications of Schacht’s arguments. The first of these scholars was John Wansbrough, who in two important though formidably difficult books, Quaranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation (1977) and The Sectarian Milieu: Content and Composition of Islamic Salvation History (1978), showed that the Koran and Hadith grew out of sectarian controversies over a long period, perhaps as long as two centuries, and then was projected back onto an invented Arabian point of origin. He further argued that Islam emerged only w hen it came into contact with and under the influence of Rabbinic Judaism—"that Islamic doctrine generally, and even the figure of Muhammad, were molded on Rabbinic Jewish prototypes." "Proceeding from these conclusions, The Sectarian Milieu analyses early Islamic historiography—or rather the interpretive myths underlying this historiography—as a late manifestation of Old Testament ‘salvation history.’"

Wansbrough shows that far from being fixed in the seventh century, the definitive text of the Koran had still not been achieved as late as the ninth century. An Arabian origin for Islam is highly unlikely: the Arabs gradually formulated their creed as they came into contact with Rabbinic Judaism outside the Hijaz (Central Arabia, containing the cities of Mecca and Medina). "Quranic allusion presupposes familiarity with the narrative material of Judaeo-Christian scripture, which was not so much reformulated as merely referred to.... Taken together, the quantity of reference, the mechanically repetitious employment of rhetorical convention, and the stridently polemical style, all suggest a strongly sectarian atmosphere in which a corpus of familiar scripture was being pressed into the service of as yet unfamiliar doctrine." Elsewhere Wansbrough says, "[The] challenge to produce an identical or superior scripture (or portion thereof), expressed five times in the Quranic text can be explained only within a context of Jewish polemic."

Earlier scholars such as Torrey, recognizing the genuine borrowings in the Koran from Rabbinic literature, had jumped to conclusions about the Jewish population in the Hijaz (i.e., Central Arabia). But as Wansbrough puts it, "References in Rabbinic literature to Arabia are of remarkably little worth for purposes of historical reconstruction, and especially for the Hijaz in the sixth and seventh centuries.

Much influenced by the Rabbinic accounts, the early Muslim community took Moses as an exemplum, and then a portrait of Muhammad emerged, but only gradually and in response to the needs of a religious community. This community was anxious to establish Muhammad’s credentials as a prophet on the Mosaic model; this evidently meant there had to be a Holy Scripture, which would be seen as testimony to his prophethood. Another gradual development was the emergence of the idea of the Arabian origins of Islam. To this end, there was elaborated the concept of a sacred language, Arabic. The Koran was said to be handed down by God in pure Arabic. It is significant that the ninth century also saw the first collections of the ancient poetry of the Arabs: "The manner in which this material was manipulated by its collectors to support almost any argument appears never to have been very successfully concealed." Thus Muslim philologists were able to give, for instance, an early date to a poem ascribed to Nabigha Jadi, a pre-Islamic poet, in order to "provide a pre-Islamic proof text for a common Quranic construction." The aim in appealing to the authority of pre-Islamic poetry was twofold: first to give ancient authority to their own Holy Scripture, to push back this sacred text into an earlier period, and thus give their text greater authenticity, a text which in reality had been fabricated in the later ninth century, along with all the supporting traditions. Second, it gave a specifically Arabian flavor, an Arabian setting to their religion, something distinct from Judaism and Christianity. Exegetical traditions were equally fictitious and had but one aim, to demonstrate the Hijazi origins of Islam. Wansbrough gives some negative evidence to show that the Koran had not achieved any definitive form before the ninth century:

Schacht’s studies of the early development of legal doctrine within the community demonstrate that with very few exceptions, Muslim jurisprudence was not derived from the contents of the Quran. It may be added that those few exceptions are themselves hardly evidence for the existence of the canon, and further observed that even where doctrine was alleged to draw upon scripture, such is nor necessarily proof of the earlier existence of the scriptural source. Derivation of law from scripture... was a phenomenon of the ninth century.... A similar kind of negative evidence is absence of any reference to the Quran in the Fiqh Akbar I….
The latter is a document, dated to the middle of the eighth century, which was a kind of statement of the Muslim creed in face of sects. Thus the Fiqh Akbar I represents the views of the orthodoxy on the then prominent dogmatic questions. It seems unthinkable had the Koran existed that no reference would have been made to it.

Wansbrough submits the Koran to a highly technical analysis with the aim of showing that it cannot have been deliberately edited by a few men, but "rather the product of an organic development from originally independent traditions during a long period of transmission."

Wansbrough was to throw cold water on the idea that the Koran was the only hope for genuine historical information regarding the Prophet; an idea summed up by Jeffery, "The dominant note in this advanced criticism is ‘back to the Koran.’ As a basis for critical biography the Traditions are practically worthless; in the Koran alone can we be said to have firm ground under our feet." But as Wansbrough was to show: "The role of the Quran in the delineation of an Arabian prophet was peripheral: evidence of a divine communication but not a report of its circumstances.... The very notion of biographical data in the Quran depends on exegetical principles derived from material external to the canon."

A group of scholars influenced by Wansbrough took an even more radical approach; they rejected wholesale the entire Islamic version of early Islamic history. Michael Cook, Patricia Crone, and Martin Hinds writing between 1977 and 1987 regard the whole established version of Islamic history down at least to the time of Abd al-Malik (685-705) as a later fabrication, and reconstruct the Arab Conquests and the formation of the Caliphate as a movement of peninsular Arabs who had been inspired by Jewish messianism to try to reclaim the Promised Land. In this interpretation, Islam emerged as an autonomous religion and culture only within the process of a long struggle for identity among the disparate peoples yoked together by the Conquests: Jacobite Syrians, Nestorian Aramaeans in Iraq, Copts, Jews, and (finally) peninsular Arabs.
The traditional account of the life of Muhammad and the rise of Islam is no longer accepted by Cook, Crone, and Hinds. In the shore but pithy monograph on Muhammad in the Oxford Past Masters series, Cook gives his reasons for rejecting the biographical traditions:

False ascription was rife among the eighth-century scholars, and... in any case Ibn Ishaq and his contemporaries were drawing on oral tradition. Neither of these propositions is as arbitrary as it sounds. We have reason to believe that numerous traditions on questions of dogma and law were provided with spurious chains of authorities by those who put them into circulation; and at the same time we have much evidence of controversy in the eighth century as to whether it was permissible to reduce oral tradition to writing. The implications of this view for the reliability of our sources are clearly rather negative. If we cannot trust the chains of authorities, we can no longer claim to know that we have before us the separately transmitted accounts of independent witnesses; and if knowledge of the life of Muhammad was transmitted orally for a century before it was reduced to writing, then the chances are that the material will have undergone considerable alteration in the process.

Cook then looks at the non-Muslim sources: Greek, Syriac, and Armenian. Here a totally unexpected picture emerges. Though there is no doubt that someone called Muhammad existed, that he was a merchant, that something significant happened in 622, that Abraham was central to his teaching, there is no indication that Muhammad’s career unfolded in inner Arabia, there is no mention of Mecca, and the Koran makes no appearance until the last years of the seventh century. Further, it emerges from this evidence that the Muslims prayed in a direction much further north than Mecca, hence their sanctuary cannot have been in Mecca. "Equally, when the first Koranic quotations appear on coins and inscriptions towards the end of the seventh century, they show divergences from the canonical text. These are trivial from the point of view of content, but the fact that they appear in such formal contexts as these goes badly with the notion that the text had already been frozen."

The earliest Greek source speaks of Muhammad being alive in 634, two years after his death according to Muslim tradition. Where the Muslim accounts talk of Muhammad’s break with the Jews, the Armenian version differs strikingly:

The Armenian chronicler of the 660s describes Muhammad as establishing a community which comprised both Ishmaelites (i.e., Arabs) and Jews, with Abrahamic descent as their common platform; these allies then set off to conquer Palestine. The oldest Greek source makes the sensational statement that the prophet who had appeared among the Saracens (i.e., Arabs) was proclaiming the coming of the (Jewish) messiah, and speaks of the Jews who mix with the Saracens, and of the danger to life and limb of falling into the hands of these Jews and Saracens. We cannot easily dismiss the evidence as the product of Christian prejudice, since it finds confirmation in the Hebrew apocalypse [an eighth-century document, in which is embedded an earlier apocalypse that seems to be contemporary with the conquests]. The break with the Jews is then placed by the Armenian chronicler immediately after the Arab conquest of Jerusalem.

Although Palestine does play some sort of role in Muslim traditions, it is already demoted in favor of Mecca in the second year of the Hegira, when Muhammad changed the direction of prayer for Muslims from Jerusalem to Mecca. Thereafter it is Mecca which holds center stage for his activities. But in the non-Muslim sources, it is Palestine which is the focus of his movement, and provides the religious motive for its conquest.

The Armenian chronicler further gives a rationale for this attachment: Muhammad told the Arabs that, as descendants of Abraham through Ishmael, they too had a claim to the land which God had promised to Abraham and his seed. The religion of Abraham is in fact as central in the Armenian account of Muhammad’s preaching as it is in the Muslim sources; but it is given a quite different geographical twist.

If the external sources are in any significant degree right on such points, it would follow that tradition is seriously misleading on important aspects of the life of Muhammad, and that even the integrity of the Koran as his message is in some doubt. In view of what was said above about the nature of the Muslim sources, such a conclusion would seem to me legitimate; but is fair to add that it is not usually drawn.

Cook points out the similarity of certain Muslim beliefs and practices to those of the Samaritans (discussed below). He also points out that the fundamental idea developed by Muhammad of the religion of Abraham was already present in the Jewish apocryphal work called the Book of Jubilees (dated to c. 140-100 B.C;), and which may well have influenced the formation of Islamic ideas. We also have the evidence of Sozomenus, a Christian writer of the fifth century who "reconstructs a primitive Ishmaelite monotheism identical with that possessed by the Hebrews up to the time of Moses; and he goes on to argue from present conditions that Ishmael’s laws must have been corrupted by the passage of time and the influence of pagan neighbors."

Sozomenus goes on to describe certain Arab tribes who, on learning of their Ishmaelite origins from Jews, adopted Jewish observances. Again there may have been some influence on the Muslim community from this source. Cook also points out the similarity of the story of Moses (exodus, etc.) and the Muslim hijra. In Jewish messianism, "the career of the messiah was seen as a re-enactment of that of Moses; a key event in the drama was an exodus, or flight, from oppression into the desert, whence the messiah was to lead a holy war to reconquer Palestine. Given the early evidence connecting Muhammad with Jews and Jewish messianism at the time when the conquest of Palestine was initiated, it is natural to see in Jewish apocalyptic thought a point of departure for his political ideas."

Cook and Patricia Crone had developed these ideas in their intellectually exhilarating work Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (1977). Unfortunately, they adopted the rather difficult style of their "master" Wansbrough, which may well put off all but the most dedicated readers; as Humphreys says, "their argument is conveyed through a dizzying and unrelenting array of allusions, metaphors, and analogies." The summary already given above of Cook’s conclusions in Muhammad will help non-specialists to have a better grasp of Cook and Crone’s (henceforth CC) arguments in Hagarism.

It would be appropriate to begin with an explanation of CC’s frequent use of the terms "Hagar," "Hagarism," and "Hagarene." Since a part of their thesis is that Islam only emerged later than hitherto thought, after the first contacts with the older civilizations in Palestine, the Near East, and the Middle East, it would have been inappropriate to use the traditional terms "Muslim," "Islamic," and "Islam" for the early Arabs and their creed. It seems probable that the early Arab community, while it was developing its own religious identity, did not call itself "Muslim." On the other hand, Greek and Syriac documents refer to this community as Magaritai, and Mahgre (or Mahgraye) respectively. The Mahgraye are the descendants of Abraham by Hagar, hence the term "Hagarism." But there is another dimension to this term; for the corresponding Arabic term is muhajirun; the muhajirun are those who take part in a hijra, an exodus. "The ‘Mahgraye’ may thus be seen as Hagarene participants in a hijra to the Promised Land; in this pun lies the earliest identity of the faith which was in the fullness of time to become Islam."

Relying on hitherto neglected non-Muslim sources, CC give a new account of the rise of Islam: an account, on their admission, unacceptable to any Muslim. The Muslim sources are too late, and unreliable, and there are no cogent external grounds for accepting the Islamic tradition. CC begin with a Greek text (dated ca. 634-636), in which the core of the Prophet’s message appears as Judaic messianism. There is evidence that the Jews themselves, far from being the enemies of Muslims, as traditionally recounted, welcomed and interpreted the Arab conquest in messianic terms. The evidence "of Judeo-Arab intimacy is complemented by indications of a marked hostility towards Christianity." An Armenian chronicle written in the 660s also contradicts the traditional Muslim insistence that Mecca was the religious metropolis of the Arabs at the time of the conquest; in contrast, it points out the Palestinian orientation of the movement. The same chronicle helps us understand how the Prophet "provided a rationale for Arab involvement in the enactment of Judaic messianism. This rationale consists in a dual invocation of the Abrahamic descent of the Arabs as Ishmaelites: on the one hand to endow them with a birthright to the Holy Land, and on the other to provide them with a monotheist genealogy." Similarly, we can see the Muslim hijra not as an exodus from Mecca to Medina (for no early source attests to the historicity of this event), but as an emigration of the Ishmaelites (Arabs) from Arabia to the Promised Land.

In the rest of their fascinating book, CC go on to show how Islam assimilated all the foreign influences that it came under in consequence of their rapid conquests; how Islam acquired its particular identity on encountering the older civilizations of antiquity, through its contacts with rabbinic Judaism, Christianity (Jacobite and Nestorian), Hellenism and Persian ideas (Rabbinic Law, Greek philosophy, Neoplatonism, Roman Law, and Byzantine art and architecture). But they also point out that all this was achieved at great cultural cost: "The Arab conquests rapidly destroyed one empire, and permanently detached large territories of another. This was, for the states in question, an appalling catastrophe."

In Slaves on Horses: The Evolution of the Islamic Polity (1980), Patricia Crone dismisses the Muslim traditions concerning the early caliphate (down to the 680s) as useless fictions. In Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam (1987), she argues that many so-called historical reports are "fanciful elaborations on difficult Koranic passages." In the latter work, Crone convincingly shows how the Koran "generated masses of spurious information." The numerous historical events which are supposed to have been the causes of certain revelations (for example, the battle of Badr, see above), "are likely to owe at least some of their features, occasionally their very existence, to the Quran." Clearly storytellers were the first to invent historical contexts for particular verses of the Koran. But much of their information is contradictory (for example, we are told that when Muhammad arrived in Medina for the first time it was torn by feuds, and yet at the same time we are asked to believe that the people of Medina were united under their undisputed leader Ibn Ubayyl), and there was a tendency "for apparently independent accounts to collapse into variations on a common theme" (for example, the large number of stories which exist around the theme of "Muhammad’s encounter with the representatives of non-Islamic religions who recognize him as a future prophet"). Finally, there was a tendency for the information to grow the further away one went from the events described; for example, if one storyteller should happen to mention a raid, the next one would tell you the exact date of this raid, and the third one would furnish you even more details. Waqidi (d. 823), who wrote years after Ibn Ishaq (d. 768), will always give precise dates, locations, names, where Ibn Ishaq has none, accounts of what triggered the expedition, miscellaneous information to lend color to the event, as well as reasons why, as was usually the case, no fighting took place. No wonder that scholars are fond of Waqidi: where else does one find such wonderfully precise information about everything one wishes to know? But given that this information was all unknown to Ibn Ishaq, its value is doubtful in the extreme. And if spurious information accumulated at this rate in the two generations between Ibn Ishaq and Waqidi, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that even more must have accumulated in the three generations between the Prophet and Ibn Ishaq.
It is obvious that these early Muslim historians drew on a common pool of material fabricated by the storytellers.

Crone takes to task certain conservative modern historians, such as Watt, for being unjustifiably optimistic about the historical worth of the Muslim sources on the rise of Islam. And we shall end this chapter on the sources with Crone’s conclusions regarding all these Muslim sources:

[Watt’s methodology rests] on a misjudgment of these sources. The problem is the very mode of origin of the tradition, not some minor distortions subsequently introduced. Allowing for distortions arising from various allegiances within Islam such as those to a particular area, tribe, sect or school does nothing to correct the tendentiousness arising from allegiance to Islam itself. The entire tradition is tendentious, its aim being the elaboration of an Arabian Heilgeschichte, and this tendentiousness has shaped the facts as we have them, not merely added some partisan statements we can deduct.


Is Ibn Warraq a Muslim or not? Or does he represent the “fringe” of Koranic studies.

BTW, is “fringe” a technical term in Koranic studies?

We’re very curious to see what nomenclature Rambo uses to classify Ibn Warraq.

“Now, coming to the Quran itself, this is the trick which Mr. Hays plays in order to defend his misleading suggestion that “liberal Muslims” have a different version of events pertaining to the compilation and transmission of the Quran:

Here’s a surprise: both links lead to polemical Christian writings.”

I never said that I was linking to an Islamic website.

But as far as “trickery” is concerned, if Rambo is going to preemptively define anyone who denies the textual integrity of the Koran as a non-Muslims, then, by definition, the only critics of the Koranic text would be non-Muslim.

However, just to humor him, I will be quoting from Arab writers as well as orientalists in my reply.



That is like me using solely polemical Muslim writings as “objective” authorities on the subject of the textual transmission and historical reliability of the Bible! So much for his “double standard” ranting. Moreover, responses to many of these polemics are to be found here:


So he doesn’t respond to the material I referenced. Instead, he merely referred the reader to another Islamic website.

Okay, I can match him URL for URL. Here’s some more material on the Koran:

“So while Mr. Hays expects me to blindly accept each and every claim made against the Quranic text by his fellow Christian polemicists, we are told not to believe what most Christian scholars themselves have to say about the Bible!”

Notice the gimmick. Once again, he’s trying to win the debate by classification rather than argumentation.

It’s enough to label a critic a “Christian polemicist.”


And what does that make Rambo if not a Muslim polemicist?

And observe another fudge factor he introduces into his reply: I expect him to “blindly” accept “each” and “every” claim made against the Koranic text by my fellow “Christian polemicists.”

This is an evasive maneuver covered in straw.

“Of course, I did not deny that Vermes is a Jew; I made that quite clear in my earlier writings. Moreover, I mentioned specifically Dunn and Sanders, as well as Stanton, because they have a generally positive outlook towards the New Testament documents. For instance, they accept the gospels as overall or generally historically reliable documents. Therefore, they are not “enemies” of the Bible or “evil” individuals with a “mission” to “expose” the Bible. Instead, these are believing and practicing Christians who are making a sincere effort to study their own book. They have no reason to say what they say if there weren’t good reasons to say them.”

Two points:

i) Let’s see if Rambo is as charitable in his characterization of Ibn Warraq.

ii) Observe, once more, the double standard. It’s okay to quote a “Christian” as long as he’s critical of the textual integrity of the Bible, but it’s not okay to quote a Christian if he’s critical of the textual integrity of the Koran.

A Christian who questions the textual integrity of the Bible is a sincere truth-seeker, but a Christian who questions the textual integrity of the Koran is a “polemicist.”

“Instead, Mr. Hays only ends up demonstrating his own double standard as I clearly argued above. In short, he uses overly conservative sources representing a fringe spectrum of Christians in defense of the Bible and then immediately uses openly hostile and polemical sources, almost all composed by fellow Christian polemicists and other non-Muslims, to attack the integrity of the Quran. In sharp contrast, I make use of mainstream Quranic and Islamic scholarship in order to put forth my arguments, likewise, I make use of mainstream Biblical scholarship – consisting of contributions by practicing Christians from the liberal, moderate and conservative schools of thought alike, when it comes to the Bible. While Mr. Hays appeals to those openly hostile to my religion as his primary sources, I use scholarship that operates well within the boundaries of Christianity and, in fact, emerges from within the Christian tradition. Thus, in all instances, I make use of mainstream scholarship.”

Notice how he continues his tactic of truth by definition. He labels sources favorable to the textual integrity of the Koran as “mainstream.” He labels sources unfavorable to textual integrity of the Bible as “mainstream.”

By contrast, those who defend the textual integrity of the Bible are “overly conservative.” Indeed, they represent the “fringe” spectrum of Christians.

Conversely, those critical of the textual integrity of the Koran are “hostile” and “polemical.”

So he objects to “liberal” and “conservative” labels. Rather, he substitutes “fringe” and “mainstream.”

He also applies “liberal” to certain “mainstream” Christian Bible scholars, although it’s a no-no to apply that term to Muslim Koranic scholars.

Once again, he substitutes a tendentious classification scheme for actual argumentation.

Rambo also has a very flexible definition of “mainstream.” “Mainstream” covers “liberal, moderate and conservative schools of thought alike”—as long as it’s Christian, and as long as it’s doubts or denies the textual integrity of the Bible.

How “mainstream” opinion is able to canvass the entire theological spectrum is an interesting question. Apparently, Rambo has a rubber ruler for mainstream opinion as long as the yardstick honors Koran and dishonors the Bible.

As soon, however, as scholarly opinion honors the Bible and dishonors the Koran, the yardstick stiffens and takes on a decidedly metallic edge.

Beyond his duplicity, let us add that Rambo is not a Christian. Rambo doesn’t speak for Christendom. Rambo doesn’t get to lecture the Christian community on who is a Christian and who is not.

Rambo also needs to brush up on his history, statistics and demographics. Inerrancy is not a fringe position. Inerrancy is the traditional position of historic Christianity.

Moreover, the religious left is in the minority of global Christian opinion.

Now, why does the distinction between liberal and conservative matter?

There are two ways to make a case for something:

i) An appeal to authority

ii) Direct argument.

Now there’s a place for appeals to authority. For one thing, it’s a time-saver. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time.

In addition, there may be specialized fields of study in which a layman has no choice but to rely on the experts—assuming that the experts see eye-to-eye.

But there are a couple of limitations to the argument from authority:

i) It only works if both sides acknowledge the expertise of the authority figure.

ii) It only works if the authority figure is speaking within the sphere of his competence.

For example, many or most liberal Bible scholars are liberal for reasons outside their field of study. The have philosophical or scientific reasons for rejecting the worldview of Scripture.

They deny divine revelation or inspiration. They deny the miraculous. They deny that God interacts with the world.

Hence, their default position is that Bible writers got all their information from mundane sources rather than extramundane sources.

It is all right for Rambo to quote liberal Bible scholars? Not as an appeal to authority.

To merely cite liberal “opinion” merely begs the question in favor of liberalism.

But if Rambo would like to quote a liberal “argument,” then that’s different. That’s something we can analyze.

“My response to this was that Muslims do have many lines of evidences and arguments in support of their belief and then I proceeded to present a few such examples (evidence of prophecy, literary, historical, miracles etc.). Mr. Hays, as usual, reacts by dismissing them all with one/two liners, to which I will get to in a while. However, the main problem with his approach is that his initial claim still remains false…Just because Mr. Hays would not buy them, does not follow that Muslims have no evidences and arguments to offer. In light of these observations, Mr. Hays’ objections to the evidences in support of the Quran still leave his initial assertion false.”

Two problems:

i) As is his wont, Rambo has embellished the original claim, and then accuses me of falsehood. But all he’s done is to paraphrase the original claim in a way that makes it easier for him to level this charge after the fact.

ii) There’s also the semantic question of whether I should count alleged evidence as evidence even if the evidence is bogus.

But as long as Rambo feels free to amend his statements after the fact, and just to show how ecumenical I can be, allow me to grant that Islam has few lines of bogus evidence in its favor.

If fact, just to be as magnanimous as possible, let’s say that Islam has mountains of bogus evidence in its favor.

Oh, and not merely bogus evidence, but bogus arguments—heaps and heaps of bogus arguments. Bogus arguments by the boatload.

There—see how generous I can be?

“Once we consider Mr. Hays’ objections, I feel it becomes obvious that his mind is already made up and, as a result, he is not at all interested in considering the issues seriously with an open and unbiased mind.”

i) Have you ever noticed that the only people who accuse you of being closed-minded are closed-minded people?

ii) Whether I’m opened-minded or not is irrelevant. There are onlookers watching this debate.

“As for the example of William Shakespeare, then Shakespeare did not claim to have produced something which was so eloquent that no one on earth could equal or surpass its eloquence. In the case of the Quran, we have the original speakers, the Arabs, who recognized the divine nature of its language and they were deeply affected by the language alone. In the case of Shakespeare, we do not find such an impact upon the people. While other writings in the English language may be argued to be equals or, on occasions, even better than Shakespeare, the Quran remains in a class of its own with nothing comparable to it. Thus the two are quite different.”

i) This is a rather confused argument. Is he saying that native Arabs would fail to recognize the divine character of the Koran unless the Koran claims to be divinely revealed?

ii) And why is it that the inimitable style of the Koran fails to have the same impact on Christian Arabs?

Many Jews, past and present, are also fluent in Arabic. Many orientalists who are critical of the Koran are fluent in Arabic.

“I would like all the readers to take a look at the above link as that will immediately make it rather clear that Mr. Hays probably did not even bother to scroll down to see the information within the page. The above link leads to a number of different papers which discuss a variety of statements within the Quran and the Bible pertaining to a number of issues, such as relating to Egyptology, with only one paper therein devoted to the issue of the historicity of Esther. Mr. Hays appears to believe that by wrongly stating that the link merely discusses the historicity of Esther, he would somehow manage to ‘answer’ and ‘dismiss’ all of the other different papers therein. For some strange reason, it seems he is very confident that the readers won’t click on the above link to immediately note his misleading claim.”

I never said his precious link was limited to the book of Esther. I merely chose to discussion the only relevant piece of evidence.

Archeological confirmation of the Koran is irrelevant if this merely confirms those parts of the Koran which Muhammad plagiarized from the OT.

That would not be confirmation of the secondary source (the Koran), but the primary source (the OT).

For Egyptology to confirm the Koran, a Muslim apologist would have to separate the OT underlay from whatever is distinctive to the Koran.

“Coming specifically to the example brought up by Mr. Hays, we learn that the information within the Quran turns out to be correct whereas the historicity of the book of Esther turns out to be quite shaky to say the least.”

We learn nothing of the kind. What we have is a conflict between Esther and the Koran. That only serves to confirm the Koran and disconfirm the OT if you assume in advance that the Koran is always right, in which case any deviation from the Koran is always wrong. This is what passes for Muslim apologetics?

“He appears to seriously believe that by angrily screaming ‘liberals!’ the problems we find within the Bible will just vanish away into thin air.”

How can Rambo tell from the mute medium of the Internet that I am screaming—much less angrily screaming?

In any event, the only angry screaming I witness on a regular basis is televised Muslim mobs. Indeed, I see this on a daily basis.

“His argument appears to be that conservatives are objective and always right whereas liberals are non-objective and always wrong. His allegation of the paper being “one-sided” is false. If we look at the paper, however, something which Mr. Hays probably would not like Christians to do, we learn that mainstream Christian and Jewish scholarship is utilised therein in the discussion pertaining to the historicity of Esther.”

“Mainstream” is his imputation.

Jewish opinion also spans a theological spectrum—from Ultra-orthodox to secular.


What is more, the paper does refer to conservative and apologetic Christian sources. For example, if you check the references, they range from Jews to Christians, which includes even the Catholics. If you see ref. 36 it says:

“A survey of the four most popular encyclopedias of Bible ‘difficulties’ reveal no trace of a discussion on the historicity or the canonicity of Esther. See N. L. Geisler & R. M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, 2001, Baker Books: Grand Rapids (MI); N. L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia Of Christian Apologetics, 2002, Baker Books: Grand Rapids (MI); N. Geisler & T. Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook On Bible Difficulties, 2004 (7th Printing), Baker Books: Grand Rapids (MI); G. L. Archer Jr., New International Encyclopedia Of Bible Difficulties, 1982, Zondervan: Grand Rapids (MI).”

Thus, it is not that the authors have “ignored” apologetic sources; it is just that there is no mention of the many problems associated with the book of Esther in these evangelical sources. But if there are evangelical and apologetical sources which do discuss the historicity of Esther in depth, then perhaps Mr. Hays might be interested in forwarding the exact and precise references, so I may forward them to the authors of this article. Interestingly, the Jewish scholars have long rejected the historicity of this story itself, as is obvious from the references which deal with encyclopaedias within this paper.


This bibliography proves my point, not his.

I don’t see any Catholics in the list. In addition, Catholic theology took a hard left turn with Vatican II.

Geisler is a fundamentalist, not a Catholic. And he’s a popularizer, not an OT scholar.

Archer is a fundamentalist, not a Catholic. Unlike Geisler, Archer was an OT scholar.

No, Geisler doesn’t discuss Esther in his Encyclopedia for the obvious reason that he discusses and defends Esther in his OT introduction.

As for references, cf.

G. Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody 1994).

J. Baldwin, Esther (IVP 1984).

R. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Eerdmans 1969).

E. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Eerdmans 1984).

Oh, and it’s insufficient for the author’s to pay lip service to conservative scholarship by merely listing a few conservative titles in the bibliography. They need to engage the arguments.

“In short, mainstream sources have been used to make a strong case against the book of Esther. Instead of convincing Muslims, it would be more appropriate if Mr. Hays would make attempts to convince his own fellow Christians and Jews regarding the alleged historical reliability of Esther since they are the ones who generally deny it! Christian and Jewish scholars seriously doubt and question the historical reliability of the book of Esther and it is primarily those who presuppose the inerrancy of the Bible who still defend its historicity.”

i) Once more, we have Rambo’s retreat behind the tendentious and talismanic phrase “mainstream” as a substitute for actual argument.

ii) No, Christians and Jews don’t “generally” deny the historicity of Esther.

“Even if we make this questionable adjustment, the historical problems with Esther are so massive as to persuade anyone who is not already obligated by religious dogma to believe in the historicity of the biblical narrative to doubt the veracity of the narrative.”

This is an assertion, not an argument.

Moreover, it’s a disreputable assertion since it tries to preempt an argument by imputing invidious motives to the conservative side.

“For arguments sake, even if we accept the above, the simple fact remains that the canonical status of Esther remained fluid for centuries to come.”

An overstatement. The dissenters were in the distinct minority.

“Moreover, just because Esther was deemed canonical by some at an early period does not follow that it is historically reliable in its entirety.”

Yes, these are separate questions. I’m not the one conflating them.

“I have no desire to start a huge discussion on the canonicity of Esther, but I only wish to point out that Josephus refers to a three-part canon of the Bible consisting of twenty two books, he no where specifies which books he has in mind. While we may assume some of the books, it is simply far-fetched to suppose that it included the precise and exact books of the Jewish Bible. Thus, we do not know if Josephus accepted or rejected Esther.”

This is simplistic. Read the detailed analysis of Beckwith.

“Moreover, Josephus’ division of the twenty two books differs from the later three-fold division, in particular with regard to the contents of the Hagiographa in B. Bat 14b-15a.”

Beckwith goes over all that ground.


A detailed response to a variety of arguments put forth by Beckwith are to be found in:

Lee. M. McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, Revised and Expanded Edition, 1995, Hendrickson Publishers.


i) A few points are worth noting: Since Rambo doesn’t summarize the content of McDonald, this amounts to a bare appeal to authority.

Even if he and I were conversant with McDonald, anyone reading this exchange is left in the dark.

i) McDonald is a NT scholar whereas Beckwith is a specialist in the field of Judaica. As such, Beckwith is better qualified than McDonald to sift the Jewish sources.

Indeed, in a review of Beckwith by John Barton, Barton paid tribute to the Beckwith’s magisterial command of the primary sources.

ii) Bruce, in his The Canon of Scripture, makes extensive use of Beckwith. Bruce was the premier NT scholar of his generation. So that’s a vote of confidence for Beckwith.

In the chapters on the canon penned by McDonald the NT introduction which he coauthored with Stanley Porter—which is more up-to-date than his book on the canon—McDonald agrees with Beckwith some of the time, while taking issue at other times. Cf. Early Christianity and Its Sacred Literature (Hendrickson 2000).

iii) He also references an article by D. N. Freedman (which I’ve read), in which Freeman

“Argues that the OT was essentially complete by the early part of the 4C BC, which he bases on an elaborate symmetry of the Hebrew Bible. He argues that finalization of the Hebrew Scriptures, except for the book of Daniel, took place no later than between 400 and 350 BC, but that the Law and the Former Prophets (Joshua—Kings) were completed in Babylon before the return of the Jews from exile in 538 BC,” ibid. 627-28, n.30.

This is a thousand years before Muhammad came on the scene.

iv) Only a handful of OT books were ever in dispute (ibid. 607), and only a minority of the Jews disputed them.

So you’re not going to get much help from McDonald.

“What Mr. Hays fails to comprehend is that the Quran is not a book ‘about’ Muhammed (P) as the gospels are books about Jesus (P). The purpose of the Quran is not to produce a detailed listing of miracles performed by Prophet Muhammed (P), to produce a list of his statements, or to narrate his life, since it is not a biography type of book devoted to the life of Muhammed (P). It is a message and a call from God to humanity to accept One God and worship Him alone. In order to convey this message, the Quran reminds the readers about incidents of the past and brings forth from them certain moral lessons which we should apply in our daily lives. Nonetheless, the fact that Muhammed (P) did do miracles is clearly mentioned, acknowledged and noted within the Quran and the reactions of the pagan witnesses are likewise presented – their false accusations of sorcery for instance - although the details of the miracles are not discussed since that is not the purpose of the Quran. In order to find the details, we have at our disposal many authentic reports which go back to the eyewitnesses in an uninterrupted chain of transmission. Many of these authentic reports are presented in the above referred paper. Why does Mr. Hays want us to reject the testimony of authentic reports? Afterall, these reports present the testimony of eyewitnesses.”

i) When I said there was no evidence to validate the prophetic pretensions of Muhammad, Rambo was the one who chose to invoke the argument from miracles.

Now, however, you see him trying to minimize the extreme paucity of the record. This is characteristic of Rambo. He makes a sweeping claim. Under closer inspection, the evidence fails to support his claim.

He then stages a retreat from the scope of the original claim, all the while attacking his opponent for taking him at his word.

The problem is that most-all of the putative evidence for Muhammad’s miraculous activity comes from the Hadith, not the Koran. Once you strip away the legendary embellishment and get back to the primary source, there’s next to nothing to work with.

ii) How do we know the Hadith is authentic? We’re talking about oral traditions committed to writing 150-300 years after the fact.

And anyone investing a story or saying would also invent a “chain of transmission” (isnad).

And there’s a lengthy period of merely word-of-mouth transmission before this fluid tradition is committed to writing.

iii) The problem with his appeal to eyewitness testimony is that the Koran is a one-man show. No one is writing about Muhammad. Rather, Muhammad is writing about himself. There’s no independent testimony to his actions. He’s the gatekeeper. He’s the sole source of information or misinformation, as the case may be. Everything is filtered through him.

iv) This is quite different from the gospels, which were written by second parties.


In the case of the Bible, we have no testimony from eyewitnesses. Take Jesus (P) for instance, although as a Muslim I believe that Jesus (P) did perform miracles, we have no testimony at our disposal from any of the eyewitnesses. In the case of Muhammed (P), at the very least we have a number of authentic reports together with the detailed information about the actual transmitters from every stage of transmission. In short, so many people from different localities and in large numbers are reporting the individual reports of the different miracles performed by Muhammed (P) in all the stages of transmission that it becomes rather far-fetched to suppose that all of these people gathered together secretly in order to agree upon a lie. We have no such type of evidence in support of any miracles conducted by Jesus (P). Having said this, even though we have much better evidence in support of miracles performed by Muhammed (P), we cannot, however, conclusively prove without a shadow of a doubt that Muhammed (P) did perform those miracles since there is no way to “prove” the occurrence of alleged miracles that are said to have taken place thousands of years ago.


As I just pointed out, this has things exactly backwards. In the Koran, all we have is Muhammad making self-serving claims and putting words in the mouths of others.

In the gospels, we have four independent accounts written by second parties, based on eyewitness testimony and/or eyewitness observation.


Whether the hadith are inspired or not is entirely irrelevant to the discussion. I am using the authentic ahadith referred to in the above link purely as historical reports which originated from eyewitnesses. That is to say, people witnessed an event, then they reported it to others, and the chain goes on until it reaches us. We can critically scrutinize the chains (isnad) and perform what is known as an “isnad-matn analysis” to determine the authenticity of these reports. Thus, their value and importance as historical sources does not diminish even if we may not regard them to be “inspired.” So his argument fails to make any sense.


If my argument doesn’t make any sense, then that’s because I’m arguing with Rambo on his own turf, so it must be that he isn’t making any sense. My counterargument is calibrated to peg his argument.

He was the one who set up an invidious contrast between the “revealed” Koran and the merely “inspired” Bible.

But when the turf meets the surf, he must repair to the uninspired Hadith to pad out the Koran.


“Second, Muslims do generally accept the authentic ahadith to be inspired, although not in the same manner as the Quran. What are known as hadith Qudsia are certainly believed to be inspired, but again not exactly in the same way as the Quran is deemed to be inspired.”

Degrees of inspiration. That’s nice. He attacked the Bible for being inspired rather than revealed.

But where the Hadith is concerned, degrees of inspiration are just fine and dandy.

And if the Hadith are inspired, why would you need chain of custody?

“But, as I explained before, the issue of hadith inspiration, or the lack of it, is utterly irrelevant. Mr. Hays needs to explain to us why we should consider the testimony of eyewitnesses as worthless?”

i) He’s shifting ground.

ii) He’s also begging the question. The Hadith doesn’t give us eyewitnesses, but only earwitnesses (oral tradition).

“The passages refer to the opponents of Muhammed (P) who claimed he (P) was performing “sorcery” and “magic” and refers to the signs, or miracles, which were demonstrated in their presence which they dismissed with mockery.”

How is an accusation of sorcery and magic and evidence of miraculous deeds? Why not assume that the accused him of sorcery and magic because he really was a sorcerer—in league with the dark side? Do we have any independent evidence to the contrary?

After all, there is such a thing as witchcraft—pagan witchcraft, which is not at all the same thing as heaven-sent miraculosity.

If the pagans accused Muhammad of sorcery, could it be because it was only too familiar?

“While there are some differences of opinion among scholars over this matter, the majority view is that it was an actual event where Muhammed (P) was miraculous taken to Jerusalem in one night. Nonetheless, for arguments sake, even if we dismiss this report, it still remains that there are many other authentic reports which narrate the miracles performed by Muhammed (P).”

Observe, once more, how as soon as he is challenged, Rambo must back down from his original claim.

Instead of a miracle, we have what may either be a miracle or merely a dream. And then he takes refute in the Hadith because he can’t find what he needs in the Koran.


A detailed refutation to these claims and a proper explanation is to be found here:


Once again, I can match Rambo URL for URL:'raj

“As I said above, according to the majority of scholars and commentators, this was a real event and not just a vision. Nonetheless, even if we regard it to be a vision, it remains that there are many other examples of miracles performed by Muhammed (P), which are listed in the above link.”

Here Rambo is following the Islamic tradition of merging Muhammad’s “ascension” with his night journey.

So, instead of two distinct miracles, we’re down to one miracle, which may not be a miracle, but only a dream.

Remember, too, that we have only Muhammad’s word to go on since the Koran is by and about Muhammad and whatever else he chooses to claim.


Here is the link which Mr. Hays does not wish you to see:

“Mr. Hays is again wrong to assert that this page contains a “few hortatory” predictions about the defeat of enemies. Yes, there are correct predictions about the defeat of enemies, but many other predictions are also presented as examples, such as for instance, the conquest of Constantinople, Syria and other regions which occurred long after the death of Muhammed (P), accurate predictions about the different hardships faced by Muslims soon after the passing away of Muhammed (P), accurate predictions of the manner of deaths of individuals such as Fatima (R), Uthman (R), Umar (R), Ali (R), and others. Moreover, even the predictions of victories in battles, which occurred in the lifetime of Muhammed (P), were made at a time when hardly anyone seriously believed that Muslims would win due to the huge odds against them. Notice again how Mr. Hays misinforms the readers about the contents of the links I am presenting, hoping that his Christian readers would not even bother to make verifications for themselves by reading the paper.”

Many more accurate prophecies are to be found here:


A couple of elementary problems:

i) As far as the Hadith is concerned, you’d have to compare the date of the prophecy with the date of the Hadith since nothing is easier than fulfilling a prophecy after the fact.

ii) As far as the Koranic prophecies are concerned, you’ll notice that the editorial explanations are far more specific and richly detailed than the actual wording of the Koranic text.

So the Koranic prophecies are “fulfilled” in the same way as the prophecies of Nostradamus. What we have here is not an accurate prediction, but a fanciful retrodiction.

“So all you have to do is make this fancy claim about the Bible and expect everyone to blindly take your word for granted? How convenient. I know Mr. Hays would have a tremendously difficult time understanding this, but I don’t quite buy his claim, particularly in light of the fact that he presents no examples whatsoever to demonstrate his assertion pertaining to the alleged Bible prophecies. Moreover, if he does bring forth a few examples, then I can assure you that I can also very, very easily “deal” with them in exactly the same manner and, in fact, even more vigorously, as Mr. Hays ‘dealt’ with what I had to present as evidence for the Quran.”

To paraphrase Rambo in his own words: Once we consider Rambo’s objections, I feel it becomes obvious that his mind is already made up and, as a result, he is not at all interested in considering the issues seriously with an open and unbiased mind.

“I am sure this is not how Christians would like me to treat the Bible, then should you also not treat the Quran fairly and seriously using an open mind?”

Excepting for the fact that there’s no parity between the Bible and the Koran. The Bible was written before the Koran, and Muhammad cites the Bible to prove his own prophetic credentials, not vice versa.

“All the artificial ‘objections’ launched by Mr. Hays can be very easily applied upon the Bible as well. For instance, we can dismiss the alleged ‘prophecies’ within the Bible using a variety of arguments (nothing as petty as Mr. Hays’ objections against the correct Quranic prophecies); easily dismiss whatever alleged archeological evidence one brings up in support of the historicity of any Biblical book, say for instance that of Gospel of Luke and Acts; casually dismiss the arguments of alleged miracles and so on.”

For a number of reasons I’ve already given, these are not symmetrical claims.

Finally, here is another piece of evidence used by Muslims to support the inspiration of the Quran:

“In conclusion, Mr. Hays was shown to be wrong to in his initial claim that Muslims had access to no evidence in order to support the inspiration of the Quran and later he did nothing more than to raise superficial ‘objections’ to some of the pieces of evidence I had brought up.”

I raised superficial objections to superficial evidence. I don’t use a sledgehammer to kill a fly. A flyswatter will do just fine.

“This is not a ‘diversion tactic’ because I am rightfully pointing out serious differences of opinion among conservative Christians themselves.”

Rambo is not the arbiter of who’s a Christian, or who’s a conservative Christian.

“A canon alien to the Christians of the first two centuries of Christianity and which was barely accepted as such in its entirety by Christians of the past!”

St. Jerome and Protestant scholarship rightly deferred to the judgment of the Jews on the OT canon.

And that’s what is relevant to Muhammad’s position in the 7C, when he refers doubters to the Jews and Christians of his day.

The Jews speak for the OT canon, and the Christians speak for the NT canon.

An important exception would be OT books cited as Scripture in the NT, but that exception will do nothing to salvage Rambo’s position.

“Copying a text does not follow that the copier necessarily considers it to be ‘inspired Scripture.’”

Except that as I already explained in a previous post, what we have are not merely copies of individual books, but sets of books in canonical order.

“And quoting its contents as ‘proof-texts’ also does not follow that the text is deemed inviolable and ‘holy.’ Texts which are treated as no more than historical records can be cited as proof-texts and copied.”

That depends on the citational formula or the way in which the prooftext is deployed, on which I’ll have more to say (see below).

“Did the early Christians deem every writing they copied and cited, including writings of Josephus, as “inspired Scripture”? I doubt that.”

A straw man argument. As I said before, it depends on the formula as well as the use to which a prooftext is put.


Moreover, appeal to the lectionary/liturgical system does not work since the date of the introduction of the lectionary system is itself problematic – perhaps the late second century or, more probably some time later than the fourth century. According to the Alands:

It is very difficult to imagine a lectionary system based on a full New Testament canon “in the late second century” (even without Revelation, of course, and a few other minor exceptions). Even in the fourth century it would still be problematic. Only then did most of the Catholic letters become commonly accepted in the Church (with more or less hesitation), 38 and it must have taken several more generations before they could be integrated in a system of liturgical pericopes, accepted on a par with the traditional Scriptures of the Church. This suggests that even a fourth-century date for the origin of a lectionary system is doubtful.

[Kurt Aland, Barbara Aland, The Text of the New Testament: An Introduction to the Critical Editions and to the Theory and Practice of Modern Textual Criticism, 1989, Second Edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 167]


Two problems:

i) We don’t need the complete canon to generate an irreconcilable tension between Koranic claims and Biblical claims.

Core collections like the Pauline epistles and the four gospels will more than suffice.

ii) Muhammad was living in the 7C, as were the Christian and Jewish witnesses to which he appeals.


When I mention the earliest Christians, I am referring to the Christians up to around the mid-second century. They did not generally view the New Testament writings known to them as scripture. I do, however, believe that by the late second century, the New Testament writings began increasingly to be viewed as “Scripture.” But this was not generally the case before this period (Polycarp, probably, being an exception). Mr. Hays is not aware of the fact that many Evangelical and conservative scholars would not agree with his claim either. Let me quote one of the leading modern Evangelical apologist, Craig Blomberg, who has this to say about the apostolic fathers:

The apostolic fathers all quote the Old Testament as authoritative Scripture, often in great detail. They also include frequent references to the teachings of the New Testament, though only rarely with a specific introduction labelling them as Scripture . . . Although the written documents of the New Testament quickly began to assume an authoritative position in the early church, even in the first half of the second century, Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis, could claim that he trusted the oral tradition delivered to him by the successors of Christ’s apostles more than any written texts . . .

[Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels, 1987, Inter-Varsity Press, p. 203]

Notice that when Blomberg says that the New Testament documents “quickly began” to assume an authoritative position, that logically suggests that these documents did not initially start off with this authoritative position. Some time elapsed before they were looked upon as “Scripture” and elevated to a higher level. In other words, only gradually did the status of the New Testament writings elevate to the level of “Scripture.”


Several problems with Rambo’s use of Blomberg:

i) Not to quote something as scripture is hardly equivalent to quoting something as not Scripture.

Rambo is trying to convert an argument from silence into a positive disproof. But it’s nothing of the sort.

The fact that the church fathers don’t always characterize the NT books they cite as Scripture doesn’t mean they regard those books as subscriptural. It doesn’t mean anything at all, since it’s merely an argument from silence.

We wouldn’t expect a church father to preface every use of Scripture with a technical formula. Christians past and present quote the Bible all the time without invariably using a technical formula.

The argument from silence does nothing to subtract from the positive patristic evidence when church fathers do cite NT books as Scripture or appeal to them as a divine authority source.

ii) Rambo is also playing his usual shell game. There was a primitive core of canonical books which formed the foundation of the NT canon. As F. F. Bruce says with reference to the Apostolic Fathers:

“The gospel collection was authoritative because it preserved the words of Jesus, than whom the church knew no higher authority. The Pauline collection was authoritative because it preserved the teaching of one whose authority as the apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles was acknowledged (acep6t by those who refused to recognize his commission) as second only to the Lord’s,” The Canon of Scripture (IVP 1988), 132.

The church at large didn’t have an instant NT canon for the obvious reason that different NT books were addressed to different local churches.

And the early church had no centralized command-and-control. So it naturally took a little while to disseminate and authenticate books originally addressed to a local church at one end of the Roman Empire.

What is striking is the rapidity of the process.

iii) As Trobisch explains:

“The tradition interpretation asserts that these discussions reflect a debate about which writings should be included in the Christian Bible. But with the uniform MS evidence in mind, the critical remarks of the church fathers can be better interpreted as a historical critical reaction to an existing publication…the publication to which they referred was the Canonical Edition of the Christian Bible,” D. Trobisch, The First Edition of the New Testament (Oxford 2000), 35.

On the basis of text-critical evidence, Trobisch dates the standardization of the complete NT canon of the mid-2C.

iv) As other scholars point out:

“Prior to the 2C, they could not even be collected into one volume because the modern books for, the codes, had not been invested yet, and scrolls could hold only so much information. The largest usable scroll, in fact, could hold little more than one of the Gospels,” J. Komoszewski et al. Reinventing Jesus (Kregel 2006), 126.

iv) It’s to the credit of the church father’s that they were concerned with questions of authentication and forgery.

What Rambo doesn’t give the reader is any hard data in terms of who said what where. Who used what citational formula?

For an example of someone who actually marshals some of the raw data, consider Warfield:


IN ORDER to obtain a correct understanding of what is called the formation of the Canon of the New Testament, it is necessary to begin by fixing very firmly in our minds one fact which is obvious enough when attention is once called to it. That is, that the Christian church did not require to form for itself the idea of a "canon," - or, as we should more commonly call it, of a "Bible," -that is, of a collection of books given of God to be the authoritative rule of faith and practice. It inherited this idea from the Jewish church, along with the thing itself, the Jewish Scriptures, or the "Canon of the Old Testament." The church did not grow up by natural law: it was founded. And the authoritative teachers sent forth by Christ to found His church, carried with them, as their most precious possession, a body of divine Scriptures, which they imposed on the church that they founded as its code of law. No reader of the New Testament can need proof of this; on every page of that book is spread the evidence that from the very beginning the Old Testament was as cordially recognized as law by the Christian as by the Jew. The Christian church thus was never without a "Bible" or a "canon."

But the Old Testament books were not the only ones which the apostles (by Christ's own appointment the authoritative founders of the church) imposed upon the infant churches, as their authoritative rule of faith and practice. No more authority dwelt in the prophets of the old covenant than in themselves, the apostles, who had been "made sufficient as ministers of a new covenant "; for (as one of themselves argued) "if that which passeth away was with glory, much more that which remaineth is in glory." Accordingly not only was the gospel they delivered, in their own estimation, itself a divine revelation, but it was also preached "in the Holy Ghost" (I Pet. i. 12) ; not merely the matter of it, but the very words in which it was clothed were "of the Holy Spirit" (I Cor. ii. 13). Their own commands were, therefore, of divine authority (I Thess. iv. 2), and their writings were the depository of these commands (II Thess. ii. 15). "If any man obeyeth not our word by this epistle," says Paul to one church (II Thess. iii. 14), "note that man, that ye have no company with him." To another he makes it the test of a Spirit-led man to recognize that what he was writing to them was "the commandments of the Lord" (I Cor. xiv. 37). Inevitably, such writings ', making so awful a claim on their acceptance, were received by the infant churches as of a quality equal to that of the old "Bible"; placed alongside of its older books as an additional part of the one law of God; and read as such in their meetings for worship -a practice which moreover was required by the apostles (I Thess. v. 27; Col. iv. 16; Rev. i. 3). In the apprehension, therefore, of the earliest churches, the "Scriptures" were not a closed but an increasing "canon." Such they had been from the beginning, as they gradually grew in number from Moses to Malachi; and such they were to continue as long as there should remain among the churches "men of God who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."

We say that this immediate placing of the new books - given the church under the seal of apostolic authority - among the Scriptures already established as such, was inevitable. It is also historically evinced from the very beginning. Thus the apostle Peter, writing in A.D. 68, speaks of Paul's numerous letters not in contrast with the Scriptures, but as among the Scriptures and in contrast with "the other Scriptures" (II Pet. iii.16) -that is, of course, those of the Old Testament. In like manner the apostle Paul combines, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, the book of Deuteronomy and the Gospel of Luke under the common head of "Scripture" (I Tim. v.18): "For the Scripture saith ' 'Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn ' [Deut. xxv. 4]; and, 'The laborer is worthy of his hire'" (Luke x. 7). The line of such quotations is never broken in Christian literature. Polycarp (c. 12) in A.D. 115 unites the Psalms and Ephesians in exactly similar manner: "In the sacred books.... as it is said in these Scriptures, 'Be ye angry and sin not,' and 'Let not the sun go down upon your wrath."' So, a few years later, the so-called second letter of Clement, after quoting Isaiah, adds (ii. 4): "And another Scripture, however, says, 'I came not to call the righteous, but sinners'" -quoting from Matthew -- a book which Barnabas (circa 97-106 A.D.) had already adduced as Scripture. After this such quotations are common.

What needs emphasis at present about these facts is that they obviously are not evidences of a gradually-heightening estimate of the New Testament books, originally received on a lower level and just beginning to be tentatively accounted Scripture; they are conclusive evidences rather of the estimation of the New Testament books from the very beginning as Scripture, and of their attachment as Scripture to the other Scriptures already in hand. The early Christians did not, then, first form a rival "canon" of "new books" which came only gradually to be accounted as of equal divinity and authority with the "old books"; they received new book after new book from the apostolical circle, as equally "Scripture" with the old books, and added them one by one to the collection of old books as additional Scriptures, until at length the new books thus added were numerous enough to be looked upon as another section of the Scriptures.

The earliest name given to this new section of Scripture was framed on the model of the name by which what we know as the Old Testament was then known. Just as it was called "The Law and the Prophets and the Psalms" (or "the Hagiographa"), or more briefly "The Law and the Prophets," or even more briefly still "The Law"; so the enlarged Bible was called "The Law and the Prophets, with the Gospels and the Apostles" (so Clement of Alexandria, "Strom." vi. 11, 88; Tertullian, "De Prms. Men" 36), or most briefly "The Law and the Gospel" (so Claudius Apolinaris, Irenaeus); while the new books apart were called "The Gospel and the Apostles," or most briefly of all "The Gospel." This earliest name for the new Bible, with all that it involves as to its relation to the old and briefer Bible, is traceable as far back as Ignatius (A.D. 115), who makes use of it repeatedly (e.g., "ad Philad." 5; ("ad Smyrn." 7). In one passage he gives us a hint of the controversies which the enlarged Bible of the Christians aroused among the Judaizers (" ad Philad." 6). "When I heard some saying," he writes, "'Unless I find it in the Old [Books] I will not believe the Gospel' on my saying,' It is written.' they answered, 'That is the question.' To me, however, Jesus Christ is the Old [Books]; his cross and death and resurrection and the faith which is by him, the undefiled Old [Books] - by which I wish, by your prayers, to be justified. The priests indeed are good, but the High Priest better," etc. Here Ignatius appeals to the "Gospel" as Scripture, and the Judaizers object, receiving from him the answer in effect which Augustine afterward formulated in the well known saying that the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is first made clear in the New. What we need now to observe, however, is that to Ignatius the New Testament was not a different book from the Old Testament, but part of the one body of Scripture with it; an accretion, so to speak, which had grown upon it.

This is the testimony of all the early witnesses - even those which speak for the distinctively Jewish-Christian church. For example, that curious Jewish-Christian writing, "The Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs" (Beni. 11), tells us, under the cover of an ex post facto prophecy, that the "work and word" of Paul, i.e., confessedly the book of Acts and Paul's Epistles, "shall be written in the Holy Books," i.e., as is understood by all, made a part of the existent Bible. So even in the Talmud, in a scene intended to ridicule a "bishop" of the first century, he is represented as finding Galatians by "sinking himself deeper" into the same "Book" which contained the Law of Moses ("Babl. Shabbath," 116 a and b). The details cannot be entered into here. Let it suffice to say that, from the evidence of the fragments which alone have been preserved to us of the Christian writings of that very early time, it appears that from the beginning of the second century (and that is from the end of the apostolic age) a collection (Ignatius, II Clement) of "New Books" (Ignatius), called the "Gospel and Apostles" (Ignatius, Marcion), was already a part of the "Oracles" of God (Polycarp, Papias, II Clement), or "Scriptures" (I Tim., II Pet., Barn., Polycarp, II Clement), or the "Holy Books" or "Bible" (Testt. XII. Patt.).

The number of books included-in this added body of New Books, at the opening of the second century, cannot be satisfactorily determined by the evidence of these fragments alone. The section of it called the "Gospel" included Gospels written by "the apostles and their companions" (Justin), which beyond legitimate question were our four Gospels now received. The section called "the Apostles" contained the book of Acts (The Testt. XII. Patt.) and epistles of Paul, John, Peter and James. The evidence from various quarters is indeed enough to show that the collection in general use contained all the books which we at present receive, with the possible exceptions of Jude, II and III John and Philemon. And it is more natural to suppose that failure of very early evidence for these brief booklets is due to their insignificant size rather than to their nonacceptance.

It is to be borne in mind, however, that the extent of the collection may have - and indeed is historically shown actually to have varied in different localities. The Bible was circulated only in handcopies, slowly and painfully made; and an incomplete copy, obtained say at Ephesus in A.D. 68, would be likely to remain for many years the Bible of the church to which it was conveyed; and might indeed become the parent of other copies, incomplete like itself, and thus the means of providing a whole district with incomplete Bibles. Thus, when we inquire after the history of the New Testament Canon we need to distinguish such questions as these: (1) When was the New Testament Canon completed? (2) When did any one church acquire a completed canon? (3) When did the completed canon -the complete Bible - obtain universal circulation and acceptance? (4) On what ground and evidence did the churches with incomplete Bibles accept the remaining books when they were made known to them?

The Canon of the New Testament was completed when the last authoritative book was given to any church by the apostles, and that was when John wrote the Apocalypse, about A.D. 98. Whether the church of Ephesus, however, had a completed Canon when it received the Apocalypse, or not, would depend on whether there was any epistle, say that of Jude, which had not yet reached it with authenticating proof of its apostolicity. There is room for historical investigation here. Certainly the whole Canon was not universally received by the churches till somewhat later. The Latin church of the second and third centuries did not quite know what to do with the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Syrian churches for some centuries may have lacked the lesser of the Catholic Epistles and Revelation. But from the time of Ireanaeus down, the church at large had the whole Canon as we now possess it. And though a section of the church may not yet have been satisfied of the apostolicity of a certain book or of certain books; and though afterwards doubts may have arisen in sections of the church as to the apostolicity of certain books (as e. g. of Revelation): yet in no case was it more than a respectable minority of the church which was slow in receiving, or which came afterward to doubt, the credentials of any of the books that then as now constituted the Canon of the New Testament accepted by the church at large. And in every case the principle on which a book was accepted, or doubts against it laid aside, was the historical tradition of apostolicity.

Let it, however, be clearly understood that it was not exactly apostolic authorship which in the estimation of the earliest churches, constituted a book a portion of the "canon." Apostolic authorship was, indeed, early confounded with canonicity. It was doubt as to the apostolic authorship of Hebrews, in the West, and of James and Jude, apparently, which underlay the slowness of the inclusion of these books in the "canon" of certain churches. But from the beginning it was not so. The principle of canonicity was not apostolic authorship, but imposition by the apostles as "law." Hence Tertullian's name for the "canon" is "instrumentum"; and he speaks of the Old and New Instrument as we would of the Old and New Testament. That the apostles so imposed the Old Testament on the churches which they founded - as their "Instrument," or "Law," or "Canon" - can be denied by none. And in imposing new books on the same churches, by the same apostolical authority, they did not confine themselves to books of their own composition. It is the Gospel according to Luke, a man who was not an apostle, which Paul parallels in I Tim. v. 18 with Deuteronomy as equally "Scripture" with it, in the first extant quotation of a New Testament book as Scripture. The Gospels which constituted the first division of the New Books, - of "The Gospel and the Apostles," - Justin tells us were "written by the apostles and their companions." The authority of the apostles, as by divine appointment founders of the church was embodied in whatever books they imposed on the church as law not merely in those they themselves had written.

The early churches, in short, received, as we receive, into the New Testament all the books historically evinced to them as give by the apostles to the churches as their code of law; and we must not mistake the historical evidences of the slow circulation an authentication of these books over the widely-extended church, evidence of slowness of "canonization" of books by the authority or the taste of the church itself.



“However, Christian and Jewish scholars generally agree that the precise scope of the Jewish Bible in the first century, at least among the Christians for sure, was unclear and unsettled.”

Even if that were true, it’s beside the point inasmuch as Muhammad is a 7C figure.


To quote the late conservative Protestant scholar J. N. D. Kelly:

In the first two centuries at any rate the Church seems to have accepted all, or most of, these additional books as inspired and to have treated them without question as Scripture. Quotations from Wisdom, for example, occur in 1 Clement 1 and Barnabas 2, and from 2 (4) Esdras and Ecclesiasticus in the latter. 3 Polycarp 4 cites Tobit, and the Didache 5 Ecclesiasticus. Irenaeus refers to 6 Wisdom, the History of Susannah, Bel and the Dragon and Baruch. The use made of the Apocrypha by Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cyprian and Clement of Alexandria is too frequent for detailed references to be necessary.

[J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 1978, Revised Edition, Harper & Row Publishers, p. 54]


A summary quotation like this jumbles together far too many issues:

i) There’s a difference between an inclusive canon and an exclusive canon. Evidence of an inclusive canon does nothing to harmonize the Koran with the Bible, for you’re still going to have a high Christology, a crucifixion, and resurrection, &c.

Remember, you will still have a consistent core, such as the four canonical gospels and the Pauline letters.

ii) Quoting books and quoting books as Scripture are two different things. How were they quoted?

iii) Same thing with “using” books.

“As we saw before, both these passages refer only to the status of the Jewish writings – even though we do not know precisely which and how many Jewish writings these authors had in mind. These passages have absolutely nothing to say about the status of any New Testament document. Mr. Hays thinks that by merely repeating his already refuted comment, he would somehow “prove” his assertion.”

Rambo has done nothing to refute the comment since he failed to engage the argument in the first place. Yes, they refer to the OT. But that’s not all they do. They refer to the OT as a special case of a general principle.

Sorry if Rambo is too slow on the uptake to follow the argument.

“So, as I correctly noted before, the author of John does not claim to be writing an ‘inspired’ and ‘inerrant’ ‘Scriptural’ document.”

This is a perfect illustration of what happens when a hostile outsider comes to the Bible. He only reads the Bible, if at all, to disprove the Bible, not to understand the Bible.

In Jn 14 &16, we have a programmatic statement of Johannine pneumatology in which the Holy Spirit will come upon the disciples after Jesus returns to heaven and quicken their memory of events.

John is one of the disciples. On the basis of internal clues, he obliquely identifies himself as the author of the Fourth Gospels.

“Moreover, what does it mean when you say “to inspire the Apostles?” Does that mean to inspire them to literally write something?”

It’s inspired in the same sense that the Holy Spirit inspired the OT.

“And what so-called ‘authoritarian’ claims of Paul suggest that he believed he was writing ‘Scripture’ or an ‘inerrant inspired’ letter?”

i) Inerrancy is a consequence of inspiration.

ii) Read the material I just quoted from Warfield (see above).

“Let me correct his misinformation again, Muhammed (P) no where said that the scriptures in the hands of the Jews and Christians are 100% accurate and textually authentic in their entirety. He (P) repeatedly dismissed and rejected many of the claims of these writings, which logically suggests that he (P) did not deem them to be inerrant or fully accurate.”

I’ve already responded to that line of argument. Rambo is merely repeating himself, even thought his argument was addressed and refuted when he first put it forward.

“Please note that my question has gone by entirely unanswered: why should we presume that the New Testament is ‘inspired’ given the fact that it does not appear to be ‘special’ on a prima fascia level, containing grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and a variety of linguistic confusions and awkwarnesses? Why should we presume that writers who make such mistakes could not make any other conceivable error imaginable and that they were ‘inerrant?’”

I already responded to that contention as well. Once again, Rambo is merely repeating himself. Either he doesn’t remember what he said, or he doesn’t remember what I said.

Notice again how he avoids dealing with my arguments:
“Mr Hays does not explain where the New Testament allegedly takes the Jewish Bible as “its model of inspiration and revelation.” He is merely assuming what he needs to demonstrate.”

“That’s fine, I will attempt to get hold of this book as well, but in such a discussion you are required to make at least some attempts to bring forth your argument and evidence so that we may see how you arrived at some of your conclusions. So far, whenever I question anyone of his assertions, Mr. Hays, does nothing more than to give a meaningless “read Warfield” type of a reply.”

There are several issues here:

i) Rambo appears to be fairly well read in moderate to liberal scholarship.

So he’s quite prepared to read anything critical of the Bible.

ii) Rambo himself indulges in a great deal of name-dropping as a substitute for actual argumentation. If he disapproves of name-dropping, why is he so fond that that practice himself?

iii) Unlike a single-issue blogger like Rambo, I fight on several different fronts.

It’s not my duty to manually transcribe pages and pages of published material.

I’m not going to reproduce whole chapters (e.g. chaps. 8 & 12) from Harris’ book.

I’m all for argument and evidence. But when you get into issues such as which church father said what, that involves detailed documentation.

It isn’t practical to type out all of the supporting evidence for a complex proposition. That’s what books are for.


. . . neither evangelist liked Marks’s redundancies , awkward Greek expressions, uncomplimentary presentation of the disciples and Mary, and embarrassing statements about Jesus. When using Mark, both expanded the Marcan accounts in the light of postresurrectional faith.

[Raymond E. Brown, S.S, An Introduction To The New Testament, 1997, The Anchor Bible Reference Library, Doubleday, p. 115]

The Christian scholar, R. M. Grant, states:

It is obvious that neither Matthew nor Luke regarded the gospel as fully satisfactory, for while they incorporated most of it in their own writings they did not hesitate to improve its style, its arrangement and its theological ideas. Clement of Alexandria himself quoted from Mark in his lost, early Hypotyposes and in his sermon on wealth (of uncertain date), but he made no use of it in his major writings.

[Robert M. Grant, A Historical Introduction to the New Testament]


They wouldn’t be using Mark as a primary source unless the regarded Mark as a solid source of information.

But Matthew and Luke are adapting Mark to a different audience. What is more, Matthew and Luke have their own supplementary sources of information.

The Chronicler does the same thing with Samuel-Kings.

Indeed, throughout the Bible, later writers adapt earlier writers to a new audience, a new situation.

“As Bruce Metzger also acknowledges, both Matthew and Luke alter Mark in a variety of ways and change its presentation and image of Jesus (P).”

This is a truism which no one disputes. And it’s irrelevant to the issue at hand.

If Rambo really sees this as a problem for the inspiration of Scripture, then the wholesale abrogation of earlier surahs by later surahs is a far more serious problem for the inspiration of the Koran.

Here’s an article by an Arab writer:

Here’s an article by another Arab writer:

“Besides this, as we read above, it is almost universally acknowledged that Matthew and Luke improved Mark’s Greek; his awkward sentences; rearranged the order of events within Mark; expanded Marcan accounts at times; worked upon its theological ideas etc. In light of such changes, it is quite clear that Matthew and Luke did not regard Mark to be “sacred inerrant inviolable Scripture”; thus their ease at altering its accounts.”

This is a complete non sequitur. For one thing, it they didn’t make a single change in Mark. It’s not as if they destroyed Mark after they wrote their own gospels. The Gospel of Mark is exactly the same after they used it as before.

“As noted above, Mr. Hays will never respond to this simple question.”

True, and for a couple of reasons:

i) Rambo would like nothing better than to change the subject. And if I were in his position, I’d like to change the subject as well.

He wants to shift the burden of proof from the Koran to the Bible. He wants us to let him off the hook.

But I, for one, will never let him off the hook.

ii) Anyone can pose a simple question. But a simple question does not imply a simple answer.

I’m not going to transcribe entire books on Bible archeology or the argument from prophecy.

“In other words, he is saying that he cannot answer my simple question.”

I’m not going to give a simplistic answer to a simplistic question. And I’m not being paid to transcribe reams of supporting material just because Rambo prefers to read liberal scholars.


Despite access to a “large body of apologetic literature,” Mr. Hays is not able to explain to us why we should begin with the presupposition that the New Testament writings are “inspired” given the fact that there is nothing “special” about them on a prima fascia level, that they appear very ordinary writings which, like most writings, contain grammatical mistakes, spelling mistakes, awkward sentences and so on. Mr. Hays appears to believe that by calling it a “large subject” and claiming that there is a “large body of apologetic literature” devoted to this topic, that he has somehow “answered” by question.


i) As a matter of fact, I’ve answered that question repeated. Rambo demands answers, but he doesn’t know how to listen to the answers he’s given.

Why should he be given even more answers which he won’t listen to either?

ii) I’ve already dealt with the so-called grammatical errors and misspellings.

iii) More to the point, this is not an argument between a Christian and an atheist. This is an argument between a Christian and a Muslims.

I don’t have to start from scratch, as if I were arguing with an atheist.

Islam is a bookish religion. And it’s book stands is a literary tradition dependent on the Bible.

“Therefore, as we can see, I never argued for ‘radical’ corruption; my position is clearly explained above.”

He needs the text of Scripture to be so corrupt that its high Christology and teaching with respect to the death and Resurrection of Christ can be attributed to scribal interpolations.

Otherwise, he will be unable to square the claims of Muhammad about the Bible with the Bible itself.


Interestingly, despite distorting my position and stance above, his argument still makes no sense. Even if I do state that the Bible is “radically” corrupted, to the extent that the “original text” and the form of the text represented within the critical editions are absolutely radically and entirely different, what reason is there to still start off with the presupposition and to just suppose that the autographs were “inerrant” and “inspired,” containing no errors whatsoever? Surely, the starting position would still be to regard the autographs, and their authors, to be errant and non-inspired.


Once again, this is been explained to Rambo ad nauseum. The presupposition is supplied by Muhammad.

Now, Rambo will try to explain that away, but that’s the argument.

“Mr. Hays’ argument appears to be that if we do not know what the “original text” looked like, or what the autographs looked like, then we cannot say that they contained errors!”

Rambo suffers from a mental block. This is not the argument. We can recover the autographa to a high degree of accuracy.

We also know what 7C MSS looked like.

The problem is not with the Bible, but the Koran.

“Notice that the verses, in the past tense, specifically talk about the confirmation of “the Law” and not everything within each and every book in the hands of the Jews at the time. The Quran even gives an example of a part of “the Law” in the beginning of verse 45. Muslims do not have any reason to deny “the Law” within the Jewish Bible – the Ten Commandments (and others) for instance. Muslims accept them as well.”

At a bare minimum, the “law” is a synonym for the Torah, unless Muhammad was ignorance of standard nomenclature.

If Rambo would like to excuse Muhammad by an appeal to ignorance, that’s fine with me.

“In short, the verses have absolutely nothing to state with regards to the state of preservation, the corruption, and the alleged reliability of the writings in the hands of the Jews and Christians. In short, they only refer to the original Scriptures, as they were revealed.”

It’s clear that Rambo is intellectually challenged. As I explained before, one must consider the how the surahs function in Muhammad’s argument. Muhammad’s appeal to prior revelation is an apologetic maneuver. If the Bible is authoritative, and the Bible effectively authorizes the message of Muhammad—indeed, some Muslims even claim to find prophecies of Muhammad in the Bible—then that’s a reason to believe that Muhammad was who he claimed to be.

Rambo’s dilemma is that he can only salvage Muhammad’s reputation in one respect by sacrificing his reputation in another respect.

“The Injil, which was revealed to Jesus (P) – not to be confused with the ancient biographical type canonical gospels (or any other gospels) – came with a confirmation of “the Law” which came before it. Period.”

“Period” is not an argument.

Unless Rambo happens to believe that Muhammad was an inept public speaker, unable to express himself, then Muhammad had to use customary terms in their customary sense, as they would have been understood by 7C Jews, Christians, and pagans in the Hijaz.

“Moreover, it should be added that as for the Jewish and Christian writings, Muslims believe that they contain both truth and falsehood; a combination of both.”

That is because Muhammad, by contradicting himself, has committed Muslims to an untenable position.

“Note that the verses refer to the failure of the Jews and Christians to hold fast to the Law and the Gospel in the PAST TENSE. Thus, when the revelations were revealed, the Jews and Christians failed to abide by them.”

Naturally it uses the past tense, since the OT and NT was revealed in the past, relative to Muhammad’s time.

“Naturally, once God revealed His Scriptures, they did not get distorted on day one. The process of distortion took some time and eventually, over a passage of time, parts of the original revelations were forgotten and others were distorted.”

Except that there’s no textual evidence for the degree of corruption which Rambo needs to account for the contradictions between the Quran and the Bible.

To the contrary, the textual evidence points quite strongly to a minimal degree of textual displacement on questions of doctrine.

Appealing to mistranscription is not going to eliminate the NT witness to the death and resurrection of Christ, or a high Christology.

“The verses also refer to “all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord”, which is a reference to revelations besides the Law and the Gospel. These would include, for instance, the parchments that were revealed to Ibrahim (P), which, obviously, no longer survive, together with other long lost revelations.”

Isn’t this an amusing about face? How does Rambo happen to know what the identity of a lost book?


We have already seen that Mr. Hays distorted my position above regarding my stance over the textual integrity of the New Testament writings. I think he should ask Metzger for “evidence” who, agreeing with Ehrman, writes:

While no one would claim that theological controversies caused the majority of our hundreds of thousands of textual variants, they clearly engendered several hundred. Nor are these variant readings, taken as a whole, of little consequence. On the contrary, many prove to be critical for questions relating to the New Testament exegesis and theology.52

[Bruce M. Metzger, Bart D. Ehrman, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2005, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, p. 284]


Several fatal problems loom large:

i) I already did a separate post on Metzger:

ii) If you want to know what Metzger’s bottom line is respecting the NT text and the NT canon as they bear on the historical Jesus, just read the interview he gave:

L. Strobel, The Case for Christ (Zondervan 1998), esp. 58-71.

iii) Ehrman won’t help you either. Ehrman recently debated W. L. Craig.

The subject was the Resurrection. Ehrman denies the Resurrection.

What he doesn’t deny is the NT witness to the Resurrection. He doesn’t treat the variant readings as calling into question the NT witness to the death and resurrection of Christ.

So, if Rambo is really serious about staking his case on the scholarship of Metzger and Ehrman, then he’s fighting for a lost cause.

“Mr. Hays’ tape recorder technique simply does not work. Instead of repeating constantly his answered misunderstandings, he should come up with fresh counter responses.”

There’s no need for me to come up with a new argument as long as Rambo fails to rebut the old argument.

“As I clearly explained before, he quoted out of context 10:94 by conveniently ignoring the verses coming before and after.”

Irrelevant since they don’t affect the sense.

“Now we can see again how he misused the passage. Notice that it has absolutely nothing to say regarding the status of the writings in the hands of the Jews and Christians of the time…After relating these specific incidents of the past [involving Moses and Noah], the Quran then directs a rhetorical or hypothetical statement, or a challenge, towards the ones who may doubt these stories: that if they doubt, then they may even ask about them from the Jews and the Christians since even they would never be able to deny these incidents. That is to say that what has just been related about these aforementioned prophets and their people is so well known that even the Jews and the Christians would never be able to deny it since they also accept this. Immediately thereafter, the Quran informs the doubters authoritatively not to be in doubt since the truth has indeed come from God.”

Notice the illogic of Rambo’s own gloss. Muhammad issues a hypothetical challenge to doubters: if they doubt these claims, recorded in the Bible, consult with the Jews and the Christians.

If they weren’t recorded in the Bible, why refer the doubters to the people of the book?

If they were recorded in the Bible, then the text of the Bible at the time of Muhammad must be reliable—otherwise, Muhammad would be a fool to knowingly send doubts to the Jews and the Christians to confirm his claims if the text of the Bible was so unreliable as to disconfirm his claims.

Was Muhammad’s hypothetical challenge sincere or insincere?

“Therefore, the passage has nothing to say regarding the alleged preservation or even the corruption of the writings in the hands of the Jews and Christians of the time, let alone their alleged reliability.”

Except that on the basis of Rambo’s own reasoning, it does assume the textual integrity of the Bible at the time of Muhammad’s challenge to unbelievers.

“Moreover, even though we do not accept entirely the claims made within the different books of the Bible, including the non-canonical writings, that does not mean that everything within them is entirely false.”

Notice that Rambo is interposing distinctions which Muhammad himself never drew.

“He tries to give the misleading impression as if I deliberately “hid” the verse and merely decided to “paraphrase” it without actually quoting it, even though he shortly thereafter acknowledges that I quoted the verse! I first quoted the passage and then offered my comments.”

I’m sorry that Rambo is so paranoid. Of course, when you’re on the losing side of an argument, paranoia is a natural symptom.

I gave both his Koranic quote and his paraphrase. I was quite explicit about that.

The problem is that we find so much more in the paraphrase than we do in the Koranic quote.



So, there is no command in the passage prohibiting Muslims from arguing, disputing and having discussions and dialogues with the Jews and Christians. The only requirement is that this should be done in a good manner, with politeness and courtesy. That’s all. This is the command which I also try to follow.

So, Mr. Hay’ arguments backfires very badly upon him. Note that he argued, although wrongly, that since Muslims are commanded not to dispute with the people of the book, it follows that their writings are deemed reliable in their entirety by the Quran. Of course, as we have seen, the Quran contains no such command. Instead, the Quran says the precise oppossite, namely, it encourages discussions, dialogues, arguments and disputes, AS LONG AS IT IS DONE IN A GOOD MANNER. Hence, since disputes/discussions/dialogues are permitted, albeit in a good manner, it follows that the writings in the hands of the Jews and Christians cannot be entirely reliable ACCORDING TO THE QURAN. Notice again what Mr. Hays said above (emphasis added):

…if the text of the Bible in Muhammad’s time was, indeed, uninspired or inauthentic or so corrupt that you couldn’t tell which from which, then obviously a Muslim would have good reason to dispute with the Jews and Christians.

Yes, and since we are allowed to dispute your claims and have discussions, your books cannot be entirely right ACCORDING TO THE Quran!

Moreover, this takes us back to my primary argument: the Quran itself time and time again disputes and argues against many of the claims made by the Christians which they have derived from within the books in their possession. By disputing the claims of the Christians, it becomes clear that the writings of the Christians cannot be accurate and fully reliable ACCORDING TO THE QURAN.


One of Rambo’s problems is attention deficit syndrome. He will take one sentence of mine, and isolate it from another sentence (see below). He has a problem following a simple chain of reasoning:


Mr. Hays proceeds:

“Since he presumes that the text of Scripture is corrupt, he can’t say “our God is your God.”


That’s the dilemma. It’s not the mere fact that Rambo chooses to dispute with Christians.

It’s that he cannot say, as Muhammad told him to say, that his God is our God.

And he cannot say that, as I went on to explain, because he is working with a presupposition which is the polar opposite of the one underlying Muhammad’s injunction.

I spelled out that out, step-by-step, in my original reply.


The fact of “our God is your God” is not disproved by the fact of textual corruption of the Bible. The two are entirely unrelated issues. Yes, the Biblical text is corrupt, but the Jews still worship one God and our God is their God. I would say the same, although hesitatingly (in light of the Christian Trinitarian conception of God), about the Christians, that our God is their God since they still worship one God despite the corruption of their writings and for following non-inspired writings. This is an example of one common point between us, the worship of One God, although with differing understandings of this same One God. This is not disproved by the fact that the Bible is corrupt.


A lovely specimen of special pleading.

Christians believe in the God of the Bible. The Bible is our point of reference. We believe that Jesus is divine. Muslims do not.

Hence, Muslims cannot say that we worship the same God as they do, or vice versa.


“The Quran no where states that what the Jews and Christians have in their hands is 100% authentic or reliable. Instead, the Quran directly deals with the theological beliefs propounded by the Christians and dismisses them. For instance, the divine sonship of Jesus (P) is denied by the Quran; the Trinity is denied; Jesus (P) being God is denied; the crucifixion is denied and other examples can be offered where certain Christian beliefs are denied by the Quran. Logically, if a person proclaims and affirms such beliefs, then he is wrong according to the Quran. Likewise, if a writing proclaims or affirms such beliefs, then it, and its author of course, is also wrong according to the Quran.”


Aside from the stale red-herring about 100% authenticity or reliability, he has just underscored by point about the lack of common ground between Christian worship and Muslim worship.

Moving along:

“What conflicting claims?”

Between the Meccan and Medinan surahs.


I believe that the references to the crucifixion and the resurrection are part of the canonical gospels and other Christian documents which mention them. These are not “interpolations.” The authors of the gospels for instance, did say something about the resurrection and the crucifixion. The Muslim argument is that THESE VERY BOOKS ARE WRONG in making these claims.


Two problems:

i) Why bother with textual criticism if he admits that the theological discrepancies between the Bible and the Koran are original to the Bible and the Koran?

ii) By his own admission, he has Muhammad making favorable references to the sacred Scriptures of the Jews and the Christians, both as originally revealed, and extant at the time of Muhammad. This, indeed, is the springboard for Muhammad’s own prophetic pretentious.

“The point is that certain claims made regularly by Christians, which they naturally derived from their books and traditions, are outright denied and directly disputed by the Quran. Therefore, it is only logical to conclude that, according to the Quran, the writings in the very hands of the Christians were not entirely reliable and correct.”

No, the only logical conclusion is that Muhammad, as a false prophet, made contradictory claims about the Bible because he didn’t know any better.

“Yes! I am not denying that the Christian dogmas referred to above were attested in the writings in the hands of the Christians during the time of Muhammed (P). I believe that their writings, whatever writings they possessed, did refer to the crucifixion, the resurrection, Jesus (P) being “the Son of God,” Jesus’ (P) death being an atonement for sins etc. My only argument is that, from the logical and natural perspective, the book or books in the hands of the Christians could not have been entirely accurate and reliable according to the Quran since it disputes and denies many of their claims.”

So, even though Muhammad knew that the Bible, in the possession of the Jews and the Christians of his own time and place, was diametrically opposed to his own message in fundamental respects, he still appealed to the sacred scriptures of the Jews and the Christians, using customary nomenclature to designate large blocks of their canon, and he told those who doubted his message to consult the Jews and Christians.

Yes, Rambo, thanks for clearing that up for us.

“As has become rather obvious by now, Mr. Hays is woefully unfamiliar with the Muslim position and despite the fact that I always attempted to explain myself clearly, he still managed to not fully understand my argument and point of view. I think the reason behind this is obvious: Mr. Hays has already decided that whatever I have to say is “false” and he has decided to oppose virtually everything I say. Such a mindset of intense denial then creates a desire within him to deliberately distort my position and does not permit him to read what I have to say with a clear and open mind.”

As has become rather obvious by now, Mr. Rambo is woefully unfamiliar with the Muhammad’s own position. He suffers from intellectual confusion.

He impugns the text and canon of Scripture, even though, at the end of the day, he thinks this is irrelevant to the discrepancies between the Bible and the Koran.

I think the reason behind this is obvious: Rambo reflects the mental insularity of a closed religious community. He doesn’t have much experience debating with well-informed Christians. So he’s inherited undigested chunks of the Muslim apologetic without perceiving their functional target or underlying assumptions.

Rambo’s starting point is not Muslim theology, but Muslim apologetics. He reasons back from Muslim apologetics to what he needs in Muslim theology. This, in turn, generates a discrepancy between his apologetic perspective and the Koranic perspective.


Which “early surahs” allegedly “affirm” the Bible? None. Mr. Hays does nothing more than to make baseless assertions. For example, there are no “early surahs” within the Quran which supposedly “affirm” the “central Christian dogmas” and “later surahs” which “disaffirm” the previously “affirmed” central “Christian dogmas.” In order to substantiate this assertion, Mr. Hays needs to present “early surahs” where the crucifixion, for instance, is “affirmed” and later surahs where it is “disaffirmed.” Similarly, he needs to present “early surahs” where the resurrection, Jesus’ (P) sonship, the Trinity and Jesus (P) dying as atonement for sins, for example, are “affirmed” and “later surahs” where these are “disaffirmed.” I am sure he would fail to present any such examples because, quite simply, none exist within the Quran. Instead, the Christian dogmas, beliefs and claims, referred to above, have been consistently disputed, denied and rejected throughout the Quran.


Needless to say, we’ve already explained this to him, but Rambo’s mind operates at such a glacial pace that we need to repeat ourselves.

The conflict is not between earlier surahs which affirm Christian doctrine, and later surahs which deny Christian doctrine.

Rather, the conflict is between earlier surahs which affirm Christian (and Jewish) Scriptures, and later surahs which disaffirm Christian doctrine.

This is the discrepancy we generally find between the Meccan and Medinan surahs, although some of Muhammad’s initial confusion carries over into his subsequent career. Indeed, he was less correctible over time.

For the next several pages, Rambo continues to get himself inextricably wound up in his own befuddlement, like a fly stuck in a spider web.