Islam — A (Jewish-) Christian Sect? (Part 8)
A short history-of-dogma examination
By Peter Bruns
Translated by Anonymous
Translation edited by Ibn Warraq
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7
Mohammed and Jewish Christianity — Indication of a Problem
In the context of the Christian-Islamic dialogue, the Christian interlocutors like to extol the mistakes of the 3rd century as the pioneering Christological models of the 3rd century.
Today, a return to the Jewish Christian Christology long since overcome in the history of dogma is being demanded, without any accounting for its philosophical implications. Terminologically, there is a distinction between Jewish Christianity in the broader sense, to whom all believers in Christ who stem from Judaism belong, and in the narrower sense those Jews of early Christianity who believed in Christ, who — in contrast to the unregulated pagan Christians, adhered to Circumcision, Sabbath and Law. And these are to be distinguished from the Judaization of later generations, which was absorbed by Gnostic-syncretic and other Christological heresies. The diversity of the phenomenon “Jewish Christianity” is shown, inter alia, by the various names by which the church fathers designated these groups. Since Irenaeus, haer. I, 26, 2, the designation “Ebionites” is used, which forced out other terms in the following centuries. In haer. XXIX, 56, 6, Epiphanius refers to the so-called “Nazarenes” and Hieronymus, vir. ill. 3, localizes this group in the area Aleppo/BerÃ¶a. Its pride-and-joy is possession of a Hebrew (Aramaic?) Matthew Gospel. It is not clear whether this is a literary archetype of the canonical Gospel, a variant of the so-called Nazarene Gospels, or simply a Syrian translation of Matthew, perhaps on the basis of the Diatessaron. Another group named itself for tits founder, Elkasai (from Greek Alexius?) and based its propagandistic activities on a book allegedly fallen from heaven. Ps-Klementinines, spread out in the Syrian area, represent another tradition strand of Jewish Christianity, whose basic document — the Kerygmata Petrou — offers an arbitrary collection of prophecies from Adam to Jesus. The geographical focus of all these groups is southeast Palestine with neighboring Roman Arabia down into Yemen, as well as the Syro-Mesopotamian region, that is, that area in which early Islam arose too: Arabia ferax haereseon.
According to Harnack, the majority of Jewish Christian sects are characterized: 1) by a strict monotheism, which excludes most divine hypostases; 2) by putting aside the idea of redemption; 3) by the conception of God’s realm in the literal sense of an earthly theocracy and, with that, a certain ethical indifference, which: 4) proves not to be exactly squeamish in the choice of means of propaganda and use of physical violence. For the liberal Protestant, Islam is “the transformation of Jewish religion, which itself had already been transformed by Gnostic Jewish Christianity on an Arabic base and by a great prophet.” With seven bold theses, Harnack once arched the bridge from Elkesaitism to Islam. If we now add the comments of the Syrian exegete Theodor bar Koni, who — toward the end of the 8th century — did not say one word about Islam, but is witness to the presence of Elkesaites in northwest Arabia,, then a historical-traditional connection cannot be precluded. As Hans Joachim Schoeps summarizes:
“Although the exact demonstration of the connection may not be realized, the indirect dependence of Mohammed on sectarian Jewish Christianity is beyond all doubt. And a paradox of truly universal historical magnitude, is the fact that Jewish Christianity disappeared, to be sure, into the Christian church, but was preserved in Islam and reaches into the present day with some of its driving impulses.”
Peter Bruns is Professor at the Zentrum fÃ¼r Mittelalterstudien, Otto-Friedrich-UniversitÃ¤t, Bamberg, Germany. This article appeared in German in Forum Katholische Theologie, 26 (2010) 1., pp. 1-23.
 BAUSCHKE, Jesus im Koran, 151. Not less symptomatic is the book on Jesus by the Protestant pastor Ulrich von Hasselbach, Der Mensch Jesus. Leitbild fÃ¼r das dritte Jahrtausend (Stuttgart 1987). The basic thesis of this book, on which Bauschke supports his arguments, is that Jesus was “permeated by God, but was not God.”
 BAUSCHKE, Jesus im Koran, 125.
 Still not superseded is Hans Joachim SCHOEPS, Theologie und Geschichte des Judenchristentums (TÃ¼bingen 1949); the source material was edited by Albertus F. J. KLIJN, Patristic Evidence for Jewish-Christian Sects (Leiden 1973).
 Cf. WELLHAUSEN, Reste, 232.
 Cf. HARNACK, Lehrbuch II, 534.
 Cf. HARNACK, Lehrbuch II, 537.
 Cf. HARNACK, Lehrbuch II, 535; Wilhelm BRANDT, Elchasai, Ein Religionsstifter und sein Werk (Leipzig 1912, repr. Amsterdam 1971); L. CIRILLO, Elchasai e gli Elchasaiti (Cosenza 1984); Gerard P. LUTTIKHUIZEN, The Revelation of Elchasai (TÃ¼bingen 1985). The latter does not say one word about the testimony of Theodor bar Kon(a)i.
 Cf. Mimra XI, 46 about the Sabians (Sampsians/Elkasaites) : “Ces SampsÃ©ens sont interprÃ©tÃ©s aussi [Elqasaites]: ils habitent en Arabie Ã cÃ´tÃ© de la Mer Rouge. C”est quelqu”un du nom d”[Elqasai], qui Ã©tait un faux prophÃ¨te, qui les Ã©gara. De la race de celui-lÃ furent deux, Marthous et Marthana, qui Ã©taient honorÃ©es et adorÃ©es par eux comme des dÃ©esses. Ils pensent en toute chose comme les Ã‰bionites.” (CSCO 432, 229).
 SCHOEPS, Theologie, 342. — As for his discussion of Harnack’s views, of the Elkasaites and Ebionites and their connections to rising Islam cf. pp. 325-341.