21 July 2016

Dying To Share Facts In Scholarship



the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way

(in theology) a doctrine believed to have divine authority though not in the scriptures, in particular

Traditions are sometimes difficult to avoid.

Tradition is weaved into our cultures, societies, religions and our daily activities.

Do you not have a 'tradition' of eating perhaps three meals a day and at certain times, or of bathing at a certain time of day or night, or even repeating some maybe mundane or perhaps important 'something' on a daily basis?

Looking at the simple definition of 'tradition', we read that tradition is “customs or beliefs from generation to generation” and “the fact of being passed on in this way”.

In theology (the science and study of believed-to-be inspired works), tradition is “doctrine believed to have divine authority though not in the scriptures.

That final part (though not in the scriptures) is quite distinctive and is what I'd like to highlight.

Traditions are built upon what is understood, via man's interpretation, of readings that are believed-to-be inspired.

For millions upon millions of people living on earth Today, these believed-to-be inspired readings are found in what is collectively called the Bible and the Quran, just to name two.

Traditions have spawned from these two writings for both the Christian and Muslim communities, respectively.

Instead of arguing to highlight what is written beyond both the Bible and the Quran (centuries of exploratory writings of both believed-to-be inspired writings), let us consider a simple summary of one specific detail from both sources: the physical death of Jesus (Isa in Arabic) Christ.

I think it goes without saying what is believed by the mainstream Christian majority; Jesus Christ died a physical death on the cross, and was then resurrected.

There is no need to quote many passages, so one should suffice:

He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again.  He spoke plainly about this... 
- Mark 8: 31-32 (paralleled in Matthew 16: 21; Luke 9: 22 and elsewhere)

This belief, being found in the Gospel, is for the most part understood by the Muslim community at-large as a foundation of Christian faith... but is rejected according to mainstream Muslim tradition and teaching.

Mainstream Muslim tradition has several conclusions regarding the event of the cross.

The mainstream tradition, which has been perpetuated and expounded throughout the centuries, is that Jesus was replaced in some form / fashion by another human being (the “substitutionist” theories).(a)

These substitutionist theories have their origin in the heretical 'Christian' groups of the earliest centuries after Christ ascended.(b)(c)

But what has been realized from a more accurate interpretation of the Quran regarding the death of Jesus?

“The Quran, as we have already argued, does not deny the death of Christ. Rather, it challenges human beings who in their folly have deluded themselves into believing that they would vanquish the divine Word, Jesus Christ the Messenger of God. The death of Jesus is asserted several times and in various contexts.”(d)

Some of the mentions and context are found in Quran 3:55; 5:117; 19:33.

Reading these writings, in several English translations, can garner an awareness as how any single translation from an Arabic text to an English text may cause an interpretive rendition (according to human bias, interpretation and the following of tradition).

These, as Muslim and secular scholarship of Islamic tradition shows, has lead to several conclusions.

The varied conclusions are further mentioned here (where further Muslim reports from earliest times agree, contradict and vary regarding the topic of Christ's death on the cross).

It is quite astonishing, however, to find Muslim scholarship, by devout Muslims still identifying as Muslims, are approaching the conclusion that has been a mainstay of historical fact for Jewish,(e) Christian and secular(f) scholarship for the centuries preceding Islam (or the 6th century)... that Jesus in fact died on the cross.

What Muslim tradition also teaches, which is also very striking, is that Christ was raised up to heaven... although this also has its particular understanding according to what individuals believe or follow according to tradition... and which may be shared at another time.


a. Mahmoud M. Ayoub: (April 1980) Towards An Islamic Christology, II: The Death Of Jesus, Reality Or Delusion (A Study of the Death of Jesus in Tafsir Literature), The Muslim World (journal), Hartford Seminary, volume 70, issue 2, page 116.

b. William Montgomery Watt: (1991) Muslim-Christian Encounters: Perceptions and Misperceptions, Routledge, pages 39-40.

c. Alexander Roberts: (1 May 2007) The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325 Volume I - The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, Cosimo Classics, page 349.

d. Mahmoud M. Ayoub: (April 1980), page 106.

e. Peter Schäfer: (2009) Jesus in the Talmud, Princeton University Press, page 139.

f. John Dominic Crossan: (1995) Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, HarperOne, page 145.

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