Ibn Warraq: The Judeo-Christian Origins of Islam (Part 3)

The Judeo-Christian Origins of Islam
by Ibn Warraq
Part 3
Part 1 here; part 2 here.

Turning to Surah XIX., Maryam, 16-35, we find there the following narrative of the birth of Christ:

And in the Book do thou.mention Mary, when she retired from her family to an Eastern place. Then apart from them she assumed a veil. Then We sent unto her Our Spirit; accordingly he showed himself to her as a well-formed human being. She said, “˜Verily I take refuge in the Merciful One from thee, if thou art God-fearing.” He said, “˜Truly I am a messenger of thy Lord that I should give to thee a pure man-child.” She said, “˜Whence shall I have a man-child, since no human being hath touched me, and I am not rebellious.’ He said, “˜Thus hath thy Lord said, It is easy for Me, and let Us make Him a sign unto men and a mercy from us, and it is a thing decided.” Accordingly she conceived Him: then she retired with him to a distant place. Then labour-pains brought her to the trunk of the palm-tree. She said, “˜O would that I had died ere this and had become forgotten, forgotten!” Thereupon he called aloud to her from beneath her: “˜Grieve thou not; thy lord hath made a brook beneath thee. And do thou shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: it shall let fall upon thee freshly-gathered dates. Eat therefore and drink and brighten thy eye; then, if thou seest any human being, then say, Verily I have vowed unto my Lord a fast, therefore I shall surely not speak to any man today.” Accordingly she brought Him to her people, carrying Him. They said, “˜O Mary, truly thou hast done a vile thing. O sister of Aaron, thy father was not a man of wickedness, and thy mother was not rebellious.” Then she made a sign unto Him. They said, “˜How shall we speak to one who is a child in the cradle?” He said, “˜Verily I am God’s servant: He hath brought Me the Book and hath made Me a Prophet. And He hath made Me blessed wherever I am, and hath prescribed for Me prayer and alms, as long as I live, and to be well-behaved to My mother, and He hath not made Me violent, wretched. And peace upon Me the day I was born, and the day I shall die, and the day I shall be raised up alive.” That is Jesus, Son of Mary; a statement of the truth, concerning which they doubt.”

As Tisdall says, “We can trace every single matter here mentioned to some apocryphal source, as will be evident from the passages which we now proceed to adduce”.

Tisdall then quotes the Protevangelium of James the Less [the Younger] in reference to Mary’s birth, without explaining what this text is: its authorship, date and original language, and so on. In fact, answers to these questions are exactly what is most significant and important. The Protoevangelium was accepted very early into liturgical collective manuscripts, and for that reason has survived in a large number of manuscripts and many versions. Comparatively recent discovery of a papyrus, now known as Papyrus Bodmer 5, dated to the 4th century, has helped scholar E. de Strycker to establish what is now the best edition in Greek, in which language there exist 140 manuscripts. But there are also four manuscripts o the Protoevangelium in Syriac which probably originated in the 5th century. Then there are versions in Georgian, Latin, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Slavonic languages, and in Arabic from the 10th century. The Protoevangelium circulated in the eastern area of the Church. Professor Wilhelm Schneemelcher of Bonn University describes the Protoevangelium“s contents, “Although it reaches the birth of Jesus and recounts it, it is really much more an account of the miraculous birth of Mary, the daughter of wealthy Joachim and his wife Anne, her upbringing in the Temple and her virginity, which is not impaired by the widower Joseph, to whom she is entrusted by lot, and by the birth of Jesus. Chapters 22-24 recount the murder of Zacharias, who is identified with the father of the Baptist”.

It purports to be the testimony of James, the brother of Jesus. In reality the book was probably not written before 150 C.E., though some chapters were possibly added later.

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  1. says

    The sorts of wonder tales you find in the New Testament apocrypha (to borrow an expression of M.R. James) and the Jewish folklore that grew up around Old Testament figures (found in the Genesis Rabbah, etc.–such as Nimrod thtowing young Abram into a fiery furnace for breaking Terah’s idols) tells me that the actual work of the Holy Spirit was as much a restraint on the biblical writers as something opening them up to things otherwise too wonderful. The extra-biblical lore that seems to inform the Qur’an and Muslim tradition at many points is what you expect the Bible to be when you’re perhaps 7 years old–or 57 years old and more impressed with the witticisms of a Samuel Clemens, G.B. Shaw, or H.L. Mencken than you should be.

    There’s always some “point” to the miracles of the canonical Scriptures, such as the manna showing Israel that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD; or Jesus’ resurrection showing his power over ALL of our enemies, including death itself. The talking infant or clay pigeons made alive in the apocryphal Gospels, though, seem to be there only to make us gape–and they apparently made Muhammad gape.

    But perhaps one very intriguing thing is how Muslims speak of Isa al-Masih–Jesus the Messiah–but have absolutely no clue as to all the things that that title means. This alone is enough to make me think that the best Muhammad could do was to absorb the Gospel only half-way or less.

  2. says

    Members of Generation Y and Generation Z will understand what I mean when I say that Islam’s scriptures – primarily the Quran but also various things in the Hadith – considered in relation to the Bible, are best understood as ‘foe-fic’.

  3. says

    ”Foe-fic”. .that’s new one to me dumbledores. .and very precise. Thanks for sharing that translation , and agree with all of the all of the above and Ibn Warraq’s 3 fascinating articles, though I can’t begin to compete on such a scholary thread.

  4. says

    Certainly Islam is syncretistic and supercessionist. However, I think that the tribal traditions of the Arabs have had as large a role as the word-of-mouth borrowings from Jews and Christians in making Islam.

    I’ve seen a bit of comment here at JW and elsewhere that speaks of Islam “breaking off” from Judaism. My own take on that is that Islam was more a case of Muhammad looking at Judaism [and Christianity] from outside, thinking they had something to offer, and borrowed a few elements. But the whole incident of the “Satanic Verses”, in which Muhammad was ready to incorporate certain Meccan goddesses into the Islamic pantheon, suggests that the possibility of a politic compromise with potentially useful people was always a large part of Muhammad’s make-up, as it is with any successful warlord. Indeed, I suspect that Muhammad may have grown interested in Christianity chiefly because it was associated with the prestige of the Eastern Roman Empire, while Judaism held political sway in Yemen for a brief period. Perhaps politics more than Satan informed Muhammad’s flirtation with incorporating some of the Meccan goddesses.

    As for what Ibn Warraq wrote, I’ve also noted similarities between some of the “Mary and Jesus” portions of the Qur’an and the Protevangelium of James. It’s intriguing to note how much apocryphal material made it into the Qur’an where the true parallels to either Old or New Testaments is more in the nature of short summary.

  5. says

    What’s uniquely new is its command to conquer by sword or subdue the non believers. I think it’s also unique to Islam that the only guaranteed passage to “paradise” with through Islamic version martyrdom, i.e. being killed in the process of killing infidels (who can be children, women, old and invalid people. Do you know of any other religion that sanctions and institutionalize slavery? Come to think of it, Islam is really, really unique.

  6. says


    can you read French? If you can, there is a booklet entitled “Jacques Ellul: Islam et Judeo-Christianisme’ which contains an extended essay by Jacques Ellul which was not published at the time of his death. He wrote it in 1991, around the time of the first Gulf War. It is entitled “Les trois piliers du conformisme’ and it is a critique of the three main arguments by which Muslims in the modern West, and their apologists or dupes, attempt to pretend that Islam is just a sister religion to the Biblical faiths, Judaism and Christianity.

    Ellul disposes of those three ‘arguments’ – the ‘Abrahamic faith’ argument, the ‘monotheism’ argument, and the ‘religions of the book’ argument – masterfully and in short order.

    And he also discusses, briefly and trenchantly, the differences between what Islam says about Jesus and what the Gospels say, and the *meaning* of those differences. He puts his finger on exactly the same point that you do.

    He notes that such ‘miracles’ as the Koran attributes to Jesus are represented as ostentatious shows of power; whereas the gospel miracles are acts of love; and that Jesus in the Gospels adamantly *refuses* to put on a show on demand, whereas the Koranic ‘Isa’ does exactly that (in ‘The Laid Table’ surah).

    Islam is about Power, nothing more, nothing less. It is in that (as also in its misogyny) very Nietzschean – which is why Hitler, product of years of Nietzschean thought pervading German culture, was so admiring of Islam, and avidly read two books by an Indian Muslim author, and why after WWII so many escaping Nazis, fleeing to dar al Islam where they were welcomed and sheltered, eagerly converted to Islam; and it is also, I think, why many of the French intellectual class, heirs of Foucault and Deleuze, have been converting to Islam or shilling for it.

    Once you get the centrality of the worship of Power in Islam – the master-slave dominance-submission murderer-victim rapist-raped paradigm that governs it at every level – you realize why the creator/s of Islam preferred the simple sensation-for-sensation’s-sake apocryphal extracanonical stuff, to the more restrained and difficult canonical accounts; and why the writer or writers of Islam rewrote certain Biblical stories in the way that they do, and why they chose some stories and rejected others; and above all, why they claim Jesus was not crucified.

    Here is my own – alas very rough – translation of the final three paragraphs of Ellul’s discussion of what Islam does with Jesus and miracles:

    “… let us note a detail that shows, well enough, misunderstanding: the Koran does not mention any of the miracles reported by the Gospels.

    “By contrast, it attributes to Jesus three miracles.

    “The first: while “the child was still in the mother’, he undertook a discourse partly mystical, partly theological;

    “the second is a miracle not reported by the Gospels, concerning the infancy of Jesus, making little birds in clay, and breathing on them, which made them alive;

    “the third, which by the way gives the title to the Surah which relates it, is that of the “laid Table’.

    “Some people come to say to Jesus: we will belong to you if you make a table come down from heaven, full of delicious foods…and Jesus raises his hands and the table comes down from heaven.

    “This shows much more than a difference of stories!

    “** It is a fundamental difference of understanding.** {my emphasis – dda}

    ” Indeed, in the Gospels ALL the miracles of Jesus are the miracles of love.

    “Even those where he shows a “power’. For example, in the “stilling of the storm’, he responds to the fear of his disciples; he does the miracle to give back to them peace and confidence.

    ” But the miracles reported in the Koran are exclusively miracles of power.

    “[They are] miracles that signify nothing except power: and this signifies well the difference of perspective within which the person of Jesus is placed, in the one and the other of these texts (Bible and Koran).

    “One must, moreover, take note of a contradiction that confirms this:

    “at the time of the “set Table’, someone says to Jesus, “we will believe in you, if you do this miracle’. And Jesus does it.

    “But in the gospel, precisely, every time someone proposes a miracle as a kind of proof, he refuses it, and even more so if someone says that they will believe in him, if…

    “This is exactly what Jesus does not want. He is, and he acts, in a person to person relation, not in a magical operation.

    “In the end, that which shows above all the radical opposition of comprehension on the subject of Jesus, in the Koran and in the Gospels, is the crucifixion.

    “We know, in the gospels, that Jesus fills up the limit of his love…after a harsh spiritual battle, by accepting his death on the cross.

    “But in the Koran it is not to be thought of that he who sought nothing but to demonstrate power would be crucified!

    “So Jesus was never crucified (which avoids the question of the resurrection), but it is another who is crucified in his place!

    “We have to pause at that point.

    ” How could one conceive that Jesus, who embodies the love of God, whose whole life was a sacrifice, who fulfils the prophecy of the man of sorrows, in a word this Jesus whose life signifies nothing if it does not constantly express the love of God, could have accepted that another man would be condemned in his place, crucified in his place, since it is precisely he who has come to bear our condemnation and who is burdened with our sufferings.

    “Upon encountering such an anti-sense, one must say that what anyone [wants to say] concerning the presence of Jesus in the Koran, and the respect which people show him, is of no value at all.

    “So, we must conclude this chapter by saying that, contrary to what people have often put forward, ** Islam is not a “Christian heresy” but a religion resolutely not-Christian** [ my emphasis- dda; one might even perhaps paraphrase Ellul’s French ‘une religion resolument non chretienne’ as ‘a religion resolutely anti-Christian’ ], and which has no possible common point, with regard to this contradiction. ”

  7. says

    Dear DDA:

    I’ve been looking for an excuse to bone up on my French, so I will take your advice and look for Ellul’s book ASAP.

    As always, I appreciate your posts.

    Bro. Kepha

  8. says

    I, in fact, completely agree with Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus–as quoted by Pope Benedict–that

    “Show me just what Muhammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”