With their love of conspiracy theories and their revived antisemitism, I wonder that the Left have not come up with the accusation implied in my heading above. Because there are in fact reasonable grounds for viewing Islam as a reactionary form of Judaism. There is not a lot in the teachings of the Koran that cannot also be found in the Torah: Stoning homosexuals to death, acceptance of slavery, subordination of women, prohibition of “graven images”, killing unbelievers, “I the LORD thy God am a jealous God” etc. And, of course, monotheism. Even the Arab word for God is also Hebrew: “Allah” and “Eloah”.
Israel has always had great prophets and Rabbis, however, and a great Jewish theologian — known to Christians as St. Paul — transformed Judaism into a much more humane faith — a faith we now know as Christianity — and he took that faith to the world.
But there was a backlash. The old faith still had power and Mohammed felt it. And, like St Paul, Mohammed was a proselytizer. The old mainstream Jews could not be proselytizers, of course. You were either of the “chosen people” or you were not. But there was a tremendous power in the idea of the one invisible God and it should not be surprising that TWO great proselytizers took it to the world. And it was Mohammed that stayed closest to the original. He was perfectly aware of Christianity. Powerful Christian fanatics lived not far from him in the form of the Byzantine empire. But Mohammed was a much less powerful thinker than St. Paul so he mostly just took a return to the old faith to the world.
St. Paul and his Rabbi — Jesus Christ — were however the ones who laid the foundation not just for military conquest (which was Mohammed’s achievement) but rather for a major advance in human thinking. And other Jewish theologians have had no difficulty in also taking on board most of his ideas — so that Paul has in fact humanized Judaism too. It is left to Islam to represent the “old” version of Judaism.
St. Paul did of course have to have a foundation for his transformation of the faith and a strong foundation was of course already there in the Torah. There is much in the Torah that is humane. Paul chose the humane side. Mohammed chose (mostly) the dark side. What an amazing body of thought to have had such huge and varied influence!
NOTE: In what I have said above, my thinking has partly been formed by what is, I believe, the universal conclusion of the textual critics: That the Pauline epistles were the earliest Christian documents. The Gospels came later.
An only tangentially related thought: I read with great interest Murray’s exploration of the various reasons for Jewish brilliance. And his final suggestion did have some resonance despite the fact that I am an atheist: That maybe they really are God’s chosen people! But that resonance probably has more than a little to do with the fact that I spent my early years steeped in the Bible — years which I still remember with great joy.
Final note: The “graven images” commandment is perhaps emblematic of the great interaction between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Mohammed of course insisted on a purer form of Judaism — i.e. keeping that commandment with great strictness — which caused much heartburn in nearby Christian Byzantium. Byzantium was in fact for a long time racked by a controversy between the iconoclasts (tearers down of images) and the iconodules (guys who thought that pictures and statues of Christ and the saints (icons) were perfectly OK). Civil wars were fought over it.
And I cannot be too smug about all that, either. My old church (Ann St. Presbyterian — where I still go on rare occasions and where I always feel at home) was built by men sympathetic to the “Wee Free” (Free Church of Scotland — a very puritanical group) persuasion and it features a large circular window (Rose window) of coloured glass. But is not stained glass. It has only abstract patterns in it. No pictures. No “graven images” in fact. Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism are very different — as different as night and day most of the time — but their common Jewish origin does occasionally give them some surprising points of contact.
But the prohibition of alcohol is a quite surprising point of contact. There is no prohibition in the Bible — rather the reverse in fact (John 2: 3-10; 1 Timothy 5:23; Ecclesiastes 8:15). But Muslims are strictly “dry” and so are zealous Presbyterians. I remember once in my early years taking out a very nice girl (Rhoda) from the Ann St. church and suggesting unseriously as we walked past a bar that maybe we could go in and have a drink! As a result of that heinous suggestion, I was banned by her parents from ever taking out Rhoda again! Those were the days!
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