The Yemeni Koran – Jamie Glazov

Moorthy MuthuswamyJamie Glazov’s Frontpage interview guests are Robert Spencer and Moorthy Muthuswamy.

Moorthy Muthuswamy is an expert on terrorism in India. He grew up in India, where he had firsthand experience with political Islam and jihad. He moved to America in 1984 to pursue graduate studies. In 1992, he received a doctorate in nuclear physics from Stony Brook University, New York. Since 1999 he has extensively published ideas on neutralizing political Islam’s terror war as Robert Spencerit is imposed on unbelievers. He is the author of the new book, Defeating Political Islam: The New Cold War.

Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch, a program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is the author of nine books on Islam and Jihad, a weekly columnist for Human Events and, and has led numerous seminars for the U.S. military and intelligence communities. He is the author of the new book, The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran.

FP: Moorthy Muthuswamy and Robert Spencer, welcome to the Frontpage interview. I’d like to talk to both of you today about the Yemeni Koran. Moorthy Muthuswamy, let’s begin with you. Tell us about this Yemeni Koran and what it signifies.

• Muthuswamy: Thank you for the opportunity, Jamie. First, some background.

In 1972, during the restoration of the Great Mosque of Sana’a, in Yemen, a gravesite containing a mash of old parchment pages was discovered. It became clear that this parchment hoard is an example of what is sometimes referred to as a “paper grave.” In this case, the site was the resting place for tens of thousands of fragments from close to a thousand different parchment codices of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

Using a technique called “carbon dating,” some of the parchment pages in the Yemeni hoard were dated back to the seventh and eighth centuries, or Islam’s first two centuries. Until now, three ancient copies of the Koran were said to exist. One copy in the Library of Tashkent in Uzbekistan, and another in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, date from the eighth century. A copy kept in the British Library in London dates from the late seventh century. But the Sana’a parchment pages are even older. Moreover, these pages are written in a script that originates from the Hijaz—the region of Arabia where the prophet Muhammad purportedly lived. This makes the Yemeni Korans not only the oldest to have survived, but one of the earliest copies of the Koran ever.

In 1981, the first scientific undertaking to study the Yemeni Koran was initiated by a group headed by Gerd R. Puin, a specialist in Arabic calligraphy and Koranic paleography based at Saarland University, in Saarbrücken, Germany. Puin and his group recognized the antiquity of some of the parchment fragments. Their preliminary inspection revealed unconventional verse orderings, minor textual variations, and rare styles of orthography and artistic embellishment. Interestingly, some of the sheets were also palimpsests—versions very clearly written over even earlier, washed-off or erased versions.

To quote Puin: “So many Muslims have this belief that everything between the two covers of the Koran is just God’s unaltered word…. They like to quote the textual work that shows that the Bible has a history and did not fall straight out of the sky, but until now the Koran has been out of this discussion. The only way to break through this wall is to prove that the Koran has a history too. The Sana’a fragments will help us to do this.”

The idea that the Koran is the literal Word of God, perfect, timeless, and permanent, is crucial to Islam, in particular, to the Islamists at the forefront of spreading sharia and jihad. However, some of the Sana’a fragments revealed small but intriguing aberrations from the standard Koranic text. Indeed, this evidence compels one to conclude that the Muslim holy book has undergone a textual evolution rather than simply the Word of God as revealed in its entirety to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century.

This explosive ramification has made the State of Yemen reluctant to give further access to the Sana’a fragments. Fortunately, before the door was shut to Western scholars, another German academic, Graf von Bothmer, made 35,000 microfilm pictures of the fragments, which remain at the University of the Saarland.

FP: Robert Spencer, so the Yemeni Koran points to the fact that the Muslim holy book has undergone a textual evolution. Give us your view of the meaning and significance here.

• Spencer: Moorthy is quite right: the idea that the Koran is perfect and uncreated, with no textual variants, is central to Islamic proselytizing. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says the Koran “was memorized by Muhammad and then dictated to his companions. The text of the Qur’an was cross-checked during the life of the Prophet. The 114 chapters of the Qur’an have remained unchanged through the centuries.” This idea is also central to the worldview of jihadist groups. Osama bin Laden bragged in his 2002 letter to the American people that the Koran “will remain preserved and unchanged, after the other Divine books and messages have been changed. The Qur’an is the miracle until the Day of Judgment.”

The textual variants in the Yemeni Koran, simply by showing that the text is not always and everywhere the same, explode the mainstream Islamic belief that the Koran was delivered in perfect form to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel, and has always been miraculously preserved from variant readings.

Yet oddly enough, early Islamic traditions recorded in the Hadith assume the existence of variant readings of the Koran. The impetus for collecting Muhammad’s revelations into a single volume came after Muhammad and other important early Muslims started dying off. Late in the year Muhammad died, 632, a group of Arab tribes that Muhammad had conquered and brought into the Muslim fold revolted. The first caliph, Abu Bakr, led the Muslims into battle to subdue them.

The two sides met in the Battle of Yamama, in which some of the Muslims who had memorized segments of the Koran were killed. One Islamic tradition notes that “many (of the passages) of the Qur’an that were sent down were known by those who died on the day of Yamama … but they were not known (by those who) survived them, nor were they written down, nor had [the first three caliphs] Abu Bakr, Umar or Uthman (by that time) collected the Qur’an, nor were they found with even one (person) after them.” (Ibn Abi Dawud, Kitab al-Masahif )

The official compiler of the Koran, Zaid ibn Thabit, explained that he “started locating Quranic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leaf-stalks of date palms and from the memories of men (who knew it by heart). I found with Khuzaima two Verses of Surat-at-Tauba which I had not found with anybody else.” Zaid’s recollection testifies to the ad hoc nature of his work. For example, it was Khuzaima himself, Zaid’s sole source for the last two verses of sura 9, who approached Zaid and informed him of the omission: “I see you have overlooked (two) verses and have not written them.” When he had recited them, an influential companion of Muhammad and the future third caliph, Utman, declared, “I bear witness that these verses are from Allah.” And so they were included in the Koran (9:128-129).

Other sections of the Koran, some mandating stringent punishments for unbelievers and other violators of Islamic law, were lost altogether. One early Muslim declared, “Let none of you say, ‘I have acquired the whole of the Qur’an.’ How does he know what all of it is when much of the Qur’an has disappeared? Rather let him say ‘I have acquired what has survived’” (As-Suyuti, Al-Itqan fii Ulum al-Qur’an ). Other Koranic verses dropped out of the text without replacement. One of these stated, “The religion with Allah is al-Hanifiyyah (the Upright Way) rather than that of the Jews or the Christians, and those who do good will not go unrewarded.” Al-Tirmidhi, the compiler of one of the six collections of Hadith, or Islamic traditions, that Muslims consider to be the most reliable, said that this verse was at one time part of sura 98. It is not found there, however, in Zaid’s canonical version.

FP: Moorthy Muthuswamy?

• Muthuswamy: The importance of the Yemeni Koran is that it was an independent discovery; it physically exists and is distinct from the Islamic doctrines presently in use.

Political Islam faces ideological difficulties with the likes of the Sana’a fragments pointing to the textual evolution of the Koran. Furthermore, as Robert insightfully observes, other inconsistencies in the contemporary Koran and the Hadith accentuate these difficulties.

The challenge ahead lies in utilizing this breach to decisively break the back of Islamic radicalism.

Whether it is the latest, in the form of the Fort Hood massacre or the previous 9/11 attacks, there is one common theme: the armed jihads were carried out by mosque-going pious Muslim men who claimed to be driven by Islamic doctrines.

Recently, much progress has been achieved by applying statistical analysis to the Islamic doctrines themselves in order to understand why pious Muslims are waging jihad on unbelievers. Specifically, we now understand that about sixty-one percent of the contents of the Koran are found to speak ill of unbelievers or call for their violent conquest; at best only 2.6 percent of the verses of the Koran are noted to show goodwill toward humanity. Get this: about seventy-five percent of Muhammad’s biography (Sira) consists of jihad waged on unbelievers.

While there might be some subjectivity to the above analysis, the overwhelming thrust of the inferences should be noted. Moreover, this overall thrust exposes the sheer absurdity of excusing the Koran-inspired terror on the so-called “selective interpretation” of the Muslim holy book or its “verses being taken out of context.”

Additionally, there is the sharia—the so-called Islamic Law, legitimized by the Koran. The medieval sharia has stifled development and integration of Muslim communities, and has indirectly helped channel Muslim energies toward the outlet of jihad.

Let us discuss the evolution of Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood jihadist. Consider a hypothetical scenario: the majority of the worshippers in the mosques Hasan attended believed that the Koran couldn’t be taken literally; that there are many mainstream Islamic sites that emphasized the textual evolution of the Muslim holy book. What would have happened? It is very unlikely that Hasan would have given the pro-jihad seminar (the precursor to the Fort Hood massacre) in Walter Reed Medical Center.

Unfortunately, reality is just the opposite. Saudi-funded Wahhabi ideologies that emphasize the literal interpretation of the Koran have played a longstanding role at grievously influencing most American mosque goers.

An April 2001 survey by CAIR found 69 percent of Muslims in America saying it is “absolutely fundamental” or “very important” to have Salafi (similar to radical Wahhabi Islamic ideology) teachings at their mosques (67 percent of respondents also expressed agreement with the statement “America is an immoral, corrupt society”). The Internet-based mainstream Islamic portals too, almost without exception, preach radical ideologies, backed by the Muslim holy book.

Based on the above analysis we can unequivocally state that the Koran, through its contents and their literal interpretations, acts as an albatross around the neck of Muslim communities. Yet, our national security policy in its various incarnations builds on the fundamentally flawed assumption that the Koran is a constructive element in the lives of Muslims.

The challenge of mitigating the radical Islamic threat indeed comes down to questioning the very basis that the Koran is the Word of God.

The Yemeni Koran, backed by Koranic inconsistencies might provide a fresh impetus in this direction.

FP: Robert Spencer, final thoughts?

• Spencer: Moorthy is right. PowerPoint slides on which Hasan proposed to show “what the Koran inculcates in the minds of Muslims and the potential implications this may have for the U.S. military” have come to light. The implications are many, and important.

Hasan makes the case that Muslims must not fight against other Muslims (as is mandated by Koran 4:92), and that the Koran also mandates both defensive and offensive jihad against unbelievers, in order to impose upon those unbelievers the hegemony of Islamic law. He quotes the Koranic verse calling for war against the “People of the Book” (that is, mainly Jews and Christians) until they “pay the tax in acknowledgment of [Islamic] superiority and they are in a state of subjection” (9:29).

Hasan seems then to have been telling the assembled (and no doubt stunned) physicians that Muslims had a religious obligation to make war against and subjugate non-Muslims as inferiors under their rule. But surely that is “extremist” Islam, no? No. Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, Assistant Professor on the Faculty of Shari’ah and Law of the International Islamic University in Islamabad, in a book on Islamic law explains that “Muslim jurists agreed that the purpose of fighting with the People of the Book … is one of two things: it is either their conversion to Islam or the payment of jizyah.” (Jizyah is the tax referred to in Koran 9:29.)

Nyazee concludes: “This leaves no doubt that the primary goal of the Muslim community, in the eyes of its jurists, is to spread the word of Allah through jihad, and the option of poll-tax [jizya] is to be exercised only after subjugation” of non-Muslims.”

Likewise Majid Khadduri, an internationally renowned Iraqi scholar of Islamic law, explained in his 1955 book War and Peace in the Law of Islam that “the Islamic state, whose principal function was to put God’s law into practice, sought to establish Islam as the dominant reigning ideology over the entire world…. The jihad was therefore employed as an instrument for both the universalization of religion and the establishment of an imperial world state.”

And Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini put it this way: “Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled or incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of [other] countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world…. But those who study Islamic Holy War will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world…. There are hundreds of other [Qur’anic] psalms and hadiths [sayings of the Prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.”

Hasan’s Islam also coincides with that of the jihad terror group Hamas, which has announced its intention, once fully and firmly ensconced in power, to collect that Koranic tax—jizyah—from the non-Muslims luckless enough to live within its domains. Hasan would also no doubt find heads nodding in agreement with his explanation of Islam among the Muslim Brotherhood, the international Islamic organization (which operates under a variety of names in the United States) that is dedicated in its own words to a “grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.”

No one in government or law enforcement has ever made any attempt to determine how prevalent such understandings of Islam are among Muslims in the United States. But if they are not Nidal Hasan’s eccentricities, but indeed mainstream views of Islam, it would be of cardinal importance for those sworn to protect us to begin making such an attempt now. The lives of innocent people depend on it. As Moorthy explained, the Yemeni Koran could help provide a way.

FP: Moorthy Muthuswamy and Robert Spencer, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.FrontPageMag, 13 December 2009

This folio, from a Quran manuscript written in Madina in the middle of the 1st century Hijra, was discovered in Sana'a's Great Mosque in 1972. It was auctioned by Christie’s for a record £2,484,500, 20 times its estimated price.

Great Mosque of Sanaa, Yemen

What is the Koran? – Toby Lester

Toby Lester“Increasingly diverse interpretations of the Koran and Islamic history will inevitably be proposed in the coming decades, as traditional cultural distinctions between East, West, North, and South continue to dissolve, as the population of the Muslim world continues to grow, as early historical sources continue to be scrutinized, and as feminism meets the Koran. With the diversity of interpretations will surely come increased fractiousness, perhaps intensified by the fact that Islam now exists in such a great variety of social and intellectual settings. … More than ever before, anybody wishing to understand global affairs will need to understand Islamic civilization, in all its permutations.” – Toby Lester

Minarets of the Great Mosque of Sana'aIn 1972, during the restoration of the Great Mosque of Sana’a, in Yemen, laborers working in a loft between the structure’s inner and outer roofs stumbled across a remarkable gravesite, although they did not realize it at the time. Their ignorance was excusable: mosques do not normally house graves, and this site contained no tombstones, no human remains, no funereal jewelry. It contained nothing more, in fact, than an unappealing mash of old parchment and paper documents—damaged books and individual pages of Arabic text, fused together by centuries of rain and dampness, gnawed into over the years by rats and insects. Intent on completing the task at hand, the laborers gathered up the manuscripts, pressed them into some twenty potato sacks, and set them aside on the staircase of one of the mosque’s minarets, where they were locked away—and where they would probably have been forgotten once again, were it not for Qadhi Isma’il al-Akwa’, then the president of the Yemeni Antiquities Authority, who realized the potential importance of the find.

Al-Akwa’ sought international assistance in examining and preserving the fragments, and in 1979 managed to interest a visiting German scholar, who in turn persuaded the German government to organize and fund a restoration project. Soon after the project began, it became clear that the hoard was a fabulous example of what is sometimes referred to as a “paper grave”—in this case the resting place for, among other things, tens of thousands of fragments from close to a thousand different parchment codices of the Koran, the Muslim holy scripture. In some pious Muslim circles it is held that worn-out or damaged copies of the Koran must be removed from circulation; hence the idea of a grave, which both preserves the sanctity of the texts being laid to rest and ensures that only complete and unblemished editions of the scripture will be read.

Some of the parchment pages in the Yemeni hoard seemed to date back to the seventh and eighth centuries A.D., or Islam’s first two centuries—they were fragments, in other words, of perhaps the oldest Korans in existence. What’s more, some of these fragments revealed small but intriguing aberrations from the standard Koranic text. Such aberrations, though not surprising to textual historians, are troublingly at odds with the orthodox Muslim belief that the Koran as it has reached us today is quite simply the perfect, timeless, and unchanging Word of God.

The mainly secular effort to reinterpret the Koran—in part based on textual evidence such as that provided by the Yemeni fragments—is disturbing and offensive to many Muslims, just as attempts to reinterpret the Bible and the life of Jesus are disturbing and offensive to many conservative Christians. Nevertheless, there are scholars, Muslims among them, who feel that such an effort, which amounts essentially to placing the Koran in history, will provide fuel for an Islamic revival of sorts—a reappropriation of tradition, a going forward by looking back. Thus far confined to scholarly argument, this sort of thinking can be nonetheless very powerful and—as the histories of the Renaissance and the Reformation demonstrate—can lead to major social change. The Koran, after all, is currently the world’s most ideologically influential text.

Sana'a ManuscriptLooking at the Fragments

The first person to spend a significant amount of time examining the Yemeni fragments, in 1981, was Gerd R. Puin, a specialist in Arabic calligraphy and Koranic paleography based at Saarland University, in Saarbrücken, Germany. Puin, who had been sent by the German government to organize and oversee the restoration project, recognized the antiquity of some of the parchment fragments, and his preliminary inspection also revealed unconventional verse orderings, minor textual variations, and rare styles of orthography and artistic embellishment. Enticing, too, were the sheets of the scripture written in the rare and early Hijazi Arabic script: pieces of the earliest Korans known to exist, they were also palimpsests—versions very clearly written over even earlier, washed-off versions. What the Yemeni Korans seemed to suggest, Puin began to feel, was an evolving text rather than simply the Word of God as revealed in its entirety to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century A.D.

Since the early 1980s more than 15,000 sheets of the Yemeni Korans have painstakingly been flattened, cleaned, treated, sorted, and assembled; they now sit (“preserved for another thousand years,” Puin says) in Yemen’s House of Manuscripts, awaiting detailed examination. That is something the Yemeni authorities have seemed reluctant to allow, however. “They want to keep this thing low-profile, as we do too, although for different reasons,” Puin explains. “They don’t want attention drawn to the fact that there are Germans and others working on the Korans. They don’t want it made public that there is work being done at all, since the Muslim position is that everything that needs to be said about the Koran’s history was said a thousand years ago.”

To date just two scholars have been granted extensive access to the Yemeni fragments: Puin and his colleague H.-C. Graf von Bothmer, an Islamic-art historian also based at Saarland University. Puin and Von Bothmer have published only a few tantalizingly brief articles in scholarly publications on what they have discovered in the Yemeni fragments. They have been reluctant to publish partly because until recently they were more concerned with sorting and classifying the fragments than with systematically examining them, and partly because they felt that the Yemeni authorities, if they realized the possible implications of the discovery, might refuse them further access. Von Bothmer, however, in 1997 finished taking more than 35,000 microfilm pictures of the fragments, and has recently brought the pictures back to Germany. This means that soon Von Bothmer, Puin, and other scholars will finally have a chance to scrutinize the texts and to publish their findings freely—a prospect that thrills Puin. “So many Muslims have this belief that everything between the two covers of the Koran is just God’s unaltered word,” he says. “They like to quote the textual work that shows that the Bible has a history and did not fall straight out of the sky, but until now the Koran has been out of this discussion. The only way to break through this wall is to prove that the Koran has a history too. The Sana’a fragments will help us to do this.”

Puin is not alone in his enthusiasm. “The impact of the Yemeni manuscripts is still to be felt,” says Andrew Rippin, a professor of religious studies at the University of Calgary, who is at the forefront of Koranic studies today. “Their variant readings and verse orders are all very significant. Everybody agrees on that. These manuscripts say that the early history of the Koranic text is much more of an open question than many have suspected: the text was less stable, and therefore had less authority, than has always been claimed.”

Koran by AliCopyediting God

By the standards of contemporary biblical scholarship, most of the questions being posed by scholars like Puin and Rippin are rather modest; outside an Islamic context, proposing that the Koran has a history and suggesting that it can be interpreted metaphorically are not radical steps. But the Islamic context—and Muslim sensibilities—cannot be ignored. “To historicize the Koran would in effect delegitimize the whole historical experience of the Muslim community,” says R. Stephen Humphreys, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “The Koran is the charter for the community, the document that called it into existence. And ideally—though obviously not always in reality—Islamic history has been the effort to pursue and work out the commandments of the Koran in human life. If the Koran is a historical document, then the whole Islamic struggle of fourteen centuries is effectively meaningless.”

The orthodox Muslim view of the Koran as self-evidently the Word of God, perfect and inimitable in message, language, style, and form, is strikingly similar to the fundamentalist Christian notion of the Bible’s “inerrancy” and “verbal inspiration” that is still common in many places today. The notion was given classic expression only a little more than a century ago by the biblical scholar John William Burgon.

The Bible is none other than the voice of Him that sitteth upon the Throne! Every Book of it, every Chapter of it, every Verse of it, every word of it, every syllable of it … every letter of it, is the direct utterance of the Most High!

Not all the Christians think this way about the Bible, however, and in fact, as the Encyclopaedia of Islam (1981) points out, “the closest analogue in Christian belief to the role of the Kur’an in Muslim belief is not the Bible, but Christ.” If Christ is the Word of God made flesh, the Koran is the Word of God made text, and questioning its sanctity or authority is thus considered an outright attack on Islam—as Salman Rushdie knows all too well.

The prospect of a Muslim backlash has not deterred the critical-historical study of the Koran, as the existence of the essays in The Origins of the Koran (1998) demonstrate. Even in the aftermath of the Rushdie affair the work continues: In 1996 the Koranic scholar Günter Lüling wrote in The Journal of Higher Criticism about “the wide extent to which both the text of the Koran and the learned Islamic account of Islamic origins have been distorted, a deformation unsuspectingly accepted by Western Islamicists until now.” In 1994 the journal Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam published a posthumous study by Yehuda D. Nevo, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, detailing seventh- and eighth-century religious inscriptions on stones in the Negev Desert which, Nevo suggested, pose “considerable problems for the traditional Muslim account of the history of Islam.” That same year, and in the same journal, Patricia Crone, a historian of early Islam currently based at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, New Jersey, published an article in which she argued that elucidating problematic passages in the Koranic text is likely to be made possible only by “abandoning the conventional account of how the Qur’an was born.” And since 1991 James Bellamy, of the University of Michigan, has proposed in the Journal of the American Oriental Society a series of “emendations to the text of the Koran”—changes that from the orthodox Muslim perspective amount to copyediting God.

Crone is one of the most iconoclastic of these scholars. During the 1970s and 1980s she wrote and collaborated on several books—most notoriously, with Michael Cook, Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (1977)—that made radical arguments about the origins of Islam and the writing of Islamic history. Among Hagarism’s controversial claims were suggestions that the text of the Koran came into being later than is now believed (“There is no hard evidence for the existence of the Koran in any form before the last decade of the seventh century”); that Mecca was not the initial Islamic sanctuary (“[the evidence] points unambiguously to a sanctuary in north-west Arabia … Mecca was secondary”); that the Arab conquests preceded the institutionalization of Islam (“the Jewish messianic fantasy was enacted in the form of an Arab conquest of the Holy Land”); that the idea of the hijra, or the migration of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca to Medina in 622, may have evolved long after Muhammad died (“No seventh-century source identifies the Arab era as that of the hijra“); and that the term “Muslim” was not commonly used in early Islam (“There is no good reason to suppose that the bearers of this primitive identity called themselves ‘Muslims’ [but] sources do … reveal an earlier designation of the community [which] appears in Greek as ‘Magaritai’ in a papyrus of 642, and in Syriac as ‘Mahgre’ or ‘Mahgraye’ from as early as the 640s”).

Hagarism came under immediate attack, from Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike, for its heavy reliance on hostile sources. (“This is a book,” the authors wrote, “based on what from any Muslim perspective must appear an inordinate regard for the testimony of infidel sources.”) Crone and Cook have since backed away from some of its most radical propositions—such as, for example, that the Prophet Muhammad lived two years longer than the Muslim tradition claims he did, and that the historicity of his migration to Medina is questionable. But Crone has continued to challenge both Muslim and Western orthodox views of Islamic history. In Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam (1987) she made a detailed argument challenging the prevailing view among Western (and some Muslim) scholars that Islam arose in response to the Arabian spice trade.

Gerd R. Puin’s current thinking about the Koran’s history partakes of this contemporary revisionism. “My idea is that the Koran is a kind of cocktail of texts that were not all understood even at the time of Muhammad,” he says. “Many of them may even be a hundred years older than Islam itself. Even within the Islamic traditions there is a huge body of contradictory information, including a significant Christian substrate; one can derive a whole Islamic anti-history from them if one wants.”

Patricia Crone defends the goals of this sort of thinking. “The Koran is a scripture with a history like any other—except that we don’t know this history and tend to provoke howls of protest when we study it. Nobody would mind the howls if they came from Westerners, but Westerners feel deferential when the howls come from other people: who are you to tamper with their legacy? But we Islamicists are not trying to destroy anyone’s faith.”

Not everyone agrees with that assessment—especially since Western Koranic scholarship has traditionally taken place in the context of an openly declared hostility between Christianity and Islam. (Indeed, the broad movement in the West over the past two centuries to “explain” the East, often referred to as Orientalism, has in recent years come under fire for exhibiting similar religious and cultural biases.) The Koran has seemed, for Christian and Jewish scholars particularly, to possess an aura of heresy; the nineteenth-century Orientalist William Muir, for example, contended that the Koran was one of “the most stubborn enemies of Civilisation, Liberty, and the Truth which the world has yet known.” Early Soviet scholars, too, undertook an ideologically motivated study of Islam’s origins, with almost missionary zeal: in the 1920s and in 1930 a Soviet publication titled Ateist ran a series of articles explaining the rise of Islam in Marxist-Leninist terms. In Islam and Russia (1956), Ann K. S. Lambton summarized much of this work, and wrote that several Soviet scholars had theorized that “the motive force of the nascent religion was supplied by the mercantile bourgeoisie of Mecca and Medina”; that a certain S. P. Tolstov had held that “Islam was a social-religious movement originating in the slave-owning, not feudal, form of Arab society”; and that N. A. Morozov had argued that “until the Crusades Islam was indistinguishable from Judaism and … only then did it receive its independent character, while Muhammad and the first Caliphs are mythical figures. “Morozov appears to have been a particularly flamboyant theorist: Lambton wrote that he also argued, in his book Christ (1930), that “in the Middle Ages Islam was merely an off-shoot of Arianism evoked by a meteorological event in the Red Sea area near Mecca.”

Not surprisingly, then, given the biases of much non-Islamic critical study of the Koran, Muslims are inclined to dismiss it outright. A particularly eloquent protest came in 1987, in the Muslim World Book Review, in a paper titled “Method Against Truth: Orientalism and Qur’anic Studies,” by the Muslim critic S. Parvez Manzoor. Placing the origins of Western Koranic scholarship in “the polemical marshes of medieval Christianity” and describing its contemporary state as a “cul-de-sac of its own making,” Manzoor orchestrated a complex and layered assault on the entire Western approach to Islam. He opened his essay in a rage.

The Orientalist enterprise of Qur’anic studies, whatever its other merits and services, was a project born of spite, bred in frustration and nourished by vengeance: the spite of the powerful for the powerless, the frustration of the “rational” towards the “superstitious” and the vengeance of the “orthodox” against the “non-conformist.” At the greatest hour of his worldly-triumph, the Western man, coordinating the powers of the State, Church and Academia, launched his most determined assault on the citadel of Muslim faith. All the aberrant streaks of his arrogant personality—its reckless rationalism, its world-domineering phantasy and its sectarian fanaticism—joined in an unholy conspiracy to dislodge the Muslim Scripture from its firmly entrenched position as the epitome of historic authenticity and moral unassailability. The ultimate trophy that the Western man sought by his dare-devil venture was the Muslim mind itself. In order to rid the West forever of the “problem” of Islam, he reasoned, Muslim consciousness must be made to despair of the cognitive certainty of the Divine message revealed to the Prophet. Only a Muslim confounded of the historical authenticity or doctrinal autonomy of the Qur’anic revelation would abdicate his universal mission and hence pose no challenge to the global domination of the West. Such, at least, seems to have been the tacit, if not the explicit, rationale of the Orientalist assault on the Qur’an.

Despite such resistance, Western researchers with a variety of academic and theological interests press on, applying modern techniques of textual and historical criticism to the study of the Koran. That a substantial body of this scholarship now exists is indicated by the recent decision of the European firm Brill Publishers—a long-established publisher of such major works as The Encyclopaedia of Islam and The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition—to commission the first-ever Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an. Jane McAuliffe, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Toronto, and the general editor of the encyclopedia, hopes that it will function as a “rough analogue” to biblical encyclopedias and will be “a turn-of-the-millennium summative work for the state of Koranic scholarship.” Articles for the first part of the encyclopedia are currently being edited and prepared for publication later this year.

The Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an will be a truly collaborative enterprise, carried out by Muslims and non-Muslims, and its articles will present multiple approaches to the interpretation of the Koran, some of which are likely to challenge traditional Islamic views—thus disturbing many in the Islamic world, where the time is decidedly less ripe for a revisionist study of the Koran. The plight of Nasr Abu Zaid, an unassuming Egyptian professor of Arabic who sits on the encyclopedia’s advisory board, illustrates the difficulties facing Muslim scholars trying to reinterpret their tradition.

The Koran is a text, a literary text, and the only way to understand, explain, and analyze it is through a literary approach,” Abu Zaid says. “This is an essential theological issue.” For expressing views like this in print—in essence, for challenging the idea that the Koran must be read literally as the absolute and unchanging Word of God—Abu Zaid was in 1995 officially branded an apostate, a ruling that in 1996 was upheld by Egypt’s highest court. The court then proceeded, on the grounds of an Islamic law forbidding the marriage of an apostate to a Muslim, to order Abu Zaid to divorce his wife, Ibtihal Yunis (a ruling that the shocked and happily married Yunis described at the time as coming “like a blow to the head with a brick”).

Abu Zaid steadfastly maintains that he is a pious Muslim, but contends that the Koran’s manifest content—for example, the often archaic laws about the treatment of women for which Islam is infamous—is much less important than its complex, regenerative, and spiritually nourishing latent content. The orthodox Islamic view, Abu Zaid claims, is stultifying; it reduces a divine, eternal, and dynamic text to a fixed human interpretation with no more life and meaning than “a trinket … a talisman … or an ornament.”

For a while Abu Zaid remained in Egypt and sought to refute the charges of apostasy, but in the face of death threats and relentless public harassment he fled with his wife from Cairo to Holland, calling the whole affair “a macabre farce.” Sheikh Youssef al-Badri, the cleric whose preachings inspired much of the opposition to Abu Zaid, was exultant. “We are not terrorists; we have not used bullets or machine guns, but we have stopped an enemy of Islam from poking fun at our religion…. No one will even dare to think about harming Islam again.”

Abu Zaid seems to have been justified in fearing for his life and fleeing: in 1992 the Egyptian journalist Farag Foda was assassinated by Islamists for his critical writings about Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and in 1994 the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed for writing, among other works, the allegorical Children of Gebelawi (1959)—a novel, structured like the Koran, that presents “heretical” conceptions of God and the Prophet Muhammad.

Deviating from the orthodox interpretation of the Koran, says the Algerian Mohammed Arkoun, a professor emeritus of Islamic thought at the University of Paris, is “a very sensitive business” with major implications. “Millions and millions of people refer to the Koran daily to explain their actions and to justify their aspirations,” Arkoun says. “This scale of reference is much larger than it has ever been before.”

MuhammadMuhammad in the Cave

Mecca sits in a barren hollow between two ranges of steep hills in the west of present-day Saudi Arabia. To its immediate west lies the flat and sweltering Red Sea coast; to the east stretches the great Rub’ al-Khali, or Empty Quarter—the largest continuous body of sand on the planet. The town’s setting is uninviting: the earth is dry and dusty, and smolders under a relentless sun; the whole region is scoured by hot, throbbing desert winds. Although sometimes rain does not fall for years, when it does come it can be heavy, creating torrents of water that rush out of the hills and flood the basin in which the city lies. As a backdrop for divine revelation, the area is every bit as fitting as the mountains of Sinai or the wilderness of Judea.

The only real source of historical information about pre-Islamic Mecca and the circumstances of the Koran’s revelation is the classical Islamic story about the religion’s founding, a distillation of which follows.

In the centuries leading up to the arrival of Islam, Mecca was a local pagan sanctuary of considerable antiquity. Religious rituals revolved around the Ka’ba—a shrine, still central in Islam today, that Muslims believe was originally built by Ibrahim (known to Christians and Jews as Abraham) and his son Isma’il (Ishmael). As Mecca became increasingly prosperous in the sixth century A.D., pagan idols of varying sizes and shapes proliferated. The traditional story has it that by the early seventh century a pantheon of some 360 statues and icons surrounded the Ka’ba (inside which were found renderings of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, among other idols).

Such was the background against which the first installments of the Koran are said to have been revealed, in 610, to an affluent but disaffected merchant named Muhammad bin Abdullah. Muhammad had developed the habit of periodically withdrawing from Mecca’s pagan squalor to a nearby mountain cave, where he would reflect in solitude. During one of these retreats he was visited by the Angel Gabriel—the very same angel who had announced the coming of Jesus to the Virgin Mary in Nazareth some 600 years earlier. Opening with the command “Recite!,” Gabriel made it known to Muhammad that he was to serve as the Messenger of God. Subsequently, until his death, the supposedly illiterate Muhammad received through Gabriel divine revelations in Arabic that were known as qur’an (“recitation”) and that announced, initially in a highly poetic and rhetorical style, a new and uncompromising brand of monotheism known as Islam, or “submission” (to God’s will). Muhammad reported these revelations verbatim to sympathetic family members and friends, who either memorized them or wrote them down.

Powerful Meccans soon began to persecute Muhammad and his small band of devoted followers, whose new faith rejected the pagan core of Meccan cultural and economic life, and as a result in 622 the group migrated some 200 miles north, to the town of Yathrib, which subsequently became known as Medina (short for Medinat al-Nabi, or City of the Prophet). (This migration, known in Islam as the hijra, is considered to mark the birth of an independent Islamic community, and 622 is thus the first year of the Islamic calendar.) In Medina, Muhammad continued to receive divine revelations, of an increasingly pragmatic and prosaic nature, and by 630 he had developed enough support in the Medinan community to attack and conquer Mecca. He spent the last two years of his life proselytizing, consolidating political power, and continuing to receive revelations.

The Islamic tradition has it that when Muhammad died, in 632, the Koranic revelations had not been gathered into a single book; they were recorded only “on palm leaves and flat stones and in the hearts of men.” (This is not surprising: the oral tradition was strong and well established, and the Arabic script, which was written without the vowel markings and consonantal dots used today, served mainly as an aid to memorization.) Nor was the establishment of such a text of primary concern: the Medinan Arabs—an unlikely coalition of ex-merchants, desert nomads, and agriculturalists united in a potent new faith and inspired by the life and sayings of Prophet Muhammad—were at the time pursuing a fantastically successful series of international conquests in the name of Islam. By the 640s the Arabs possessed most of Syria, Iraq, Persia, and Egypt, and thirty years later they were busy taking over parts of Europe, North Africa, and Central Asia.

In the early decades of the Arab conquests many members of Muhammad’s coterie were killed, and with them died valuable knowledge of the Koranic revelations. Muslims at the edges of the empire began arguing over what was Koranic scripture and what was not. An army general returning from Azerbaijan expressed his fears about sectarian controversy to the Caliph ‘Uthman (644-656)—the third Islamic ruler to succeed Muhammad—and is said to have entreated him to “overtake this people before they differ over the Koran the way the Jews and Christians differ over their Scripture.” ‘Uthman convened an editorial committee of sorts that carefully gathered the various pieces of scripture that had been memorized or written down by Muhammad’s companions. The result was a standard written version of the Koran. ‘Uthman ordered all incomplete and “imperfect” collections of the Koranic scripture destroyed, and the new version was quickly distributed to the major centers of the rapidly burgeoning empire.

During the next few centuries, while Islam solidified as a religious and political entity, a vast body of exegetical and historical literature evolved to explain the Koran and the rise of Islam, the most important elements of which are hadith, or the collected sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad; sunna, or the body of Islamic social and legal custom; sira, or biographies of the Prophet; and tafsir, or Koranic commentary and explication. It is from these traditional sources—compiled in written form mostly from the mid eighth to the mid tenth century—that all accounts of the revelation of the Koran and the early years of Islam are ultimately derived.

Ishmael & Abraham build  Ka'aba“For People Who Understand”

Roughly equivalent in length to the New Testament, the Koran is divided into 114 sections, known as suras, that vary dramatically in length and form. The book’s organizing principle is neither chronological nor thematic—for the most part the suras are arranged from beginning to end in descending order of length. Despite the unusual structure, however, what generally surprises newcomers to the Koran is the degree to which it draws on the same beliefs and stories that appear in the Bible. God (Allah in Arabic) rules supreme: he is the all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-merciful Being who has created the world and its creatures; he sends messages and laws through prophets to help guide human existence; and, at a time in the future known only to him, he will bring about the end of the world and the Day of Judgment. Adam, the first man, is expelled from Paradise for eating from the forbidden tree. Noah builds an ark to save a select few from a flood brought on by the wrath of God. Abraham prepares himself to sacrifice his son at God’s bidding. Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and receives a revelation on Mount Sinai. Jesus—born of the Virgin Mary and referred to as the Messiah—works miracles, has disciples, and rises to heaven.

The Koran takes great care to stress this common monotheistic heritage, but it works equally hard to distinguish Islam from Judaism and Christianity. For example, it mentions prophets—Hud, Salih, Shu’ayb, Luqman, and others—whose origins seem exclusively Arabian, and it reminds readers that it is “A Koran in Arabic, / For people who understand.” Despite its repeated assertions to the contrary, however, the Koran is often extremely difficult for contemporary readers—even highly educated speakers of Arabic—to understand. It sometimes makes dramatic shifts in style, voice, and subject matter from verse to verse, and it assumes a familiarity with language, stories, and events that seem to have been lost even to the earliest of Muslim exegetes (typical of a text that initially evolved in an oral tradition). Its apparent inconsistencies are easy to find: God may be referred to in the first and third person in the same sentence; divergent versions of the same story are repeated at different points in the text; divine rulings occasionally contradict one another. In this last case the Koran anticipates criticism and defends itself by asserting the right to abrogate its own message (“God doth blot out / Or confirm what He pleaseth”).

Criticism did come. As Muslims increasingly came into contact with Christians during the eighth century, the wars of conquest were accompanied by theological polemics, in which Christians and others latched on to the confusing literary state of the Koran as proof of its human origins. Muslim scholars themselves were fastidiously cataloguing the problematic aspects of the Koran—unfamiliar vocabulary, seeming omissions of text, grammatical incongruities, deviant readings, and so on. A major theological debate in fact arose within Islam in the late eighth century, pitting those who believed in the Koran as the “uncreated” and eternal Word of God against those who believed in it as created in time, like anything that isn’t God himself. Under the Caliph al-Ma’mun (813-833) this latter view briefly became orthodox doctrine. It was supported by several schools of thought, including an influential one known as Mu’tazilism, that developed a complex theology based partly on a metaphorical rather than simply literal understanding of the Koran.

By the end of the tenth century the influence of the Mu’tazili school had waned, for complicated political reasons, and the official doctrine had become that of i’jaz, or the “inimitability” of the Koran. (As a result, the Koran has traditionally not been translated by Muslims for non-Arabic-speaking Muslims. Instead it is read and recited in the original by Muslims worldwide, the majority of whom do not speak Arabic. The translations that do exist are considered to be nothing more than scriptural aids and paraphrases.) The adoption of the doctrine of inimitability was a major turning point in Islamic history, and from the tenth century to this day the mainstream Muslim understanding of the Koran as the literal and uncreated Word of God has remained constant.

The School of Oriental and African StudiesPsychopathic Vandalism?

Gerd R. Puin speaks with disdain about the traditional willingness, on the part of Muslim and Western scholars, to accept the conventional understanding of the Koran. “The Koran claims for itself that it is ‘mubeen,’ or ‘clear,'” he says. “But if you look at it, you will notice that every fifth sentence or so simply doesn’t make sense. Many Muslims—and Orientalists—will tell you otherwise, of course, but the fact is that a fifth of the Koranic text is just incomprehensible. This is what has caused the traditional anxiety regarding translation. If the Koran is not comprehensible—if it can’t even be understood in Arabic—then it’s not translatable. People fear that. And since the Koran claims repeatedly to be clear but obviously is not—as even speakers of Arabic will tell you—there is a contradiction. Something else must be going on.”

Trying to figure out that “something else” really began only in this century. “Until quite recently,” Patricia Crone, the historian of early Islam, says, “everyone took it for granted that everything the Muslims claim to remember about the origin and meaning of the Koran is correct. If you drop that assumption, you have to start afresh.” This is no mean feat, of course; the Koran has come down to us tightly swathed in a historical tradition that is extremely resistant to criticism and analysis. As Crone put it in Slaves on Horses,

The Biblical redactors offer us sections of the Israelite tradition at different stages of crystallization, and their testimonies can accordingly be profitably compared and weighed against each other. But the Muslim tradition was the outcome, not of a slow crystallization, but of an explosion; the first compilers were not redactors, but collectors of debris whose works are strikingly devoid of overall unity; and no particular illuminations ensue from their comparison.

Not surprisingly, given the explosive expansion of early Islam and the passage of time between the religion’s birth and the first systematic documenting of its history, Muhammad’s world and the worlds of the historians who subsequently wrote about him were dramatically different. During Islam’s first century alone a provincial band of pagan desert tribesmen became the guardians of a vast international empire of institutional monotheism that teemed with unprecedented literary and scientific activity. Many contemporary historians argue that one cannot expect Islam’s stories about its own origins—particularly given the oral tradition of the early centuries—to have survived this tremendous social transformation intact. Nor can one expect a Muslim historian writing in ninth- or tenth-century Iraq to have discarded his social and intellectual background (and theological convictions) in order accurately to describe a deeply unfamiliar seventh-century Arabian context. R. Stephen Humphreys, writing in Islamic History: A Framework for Inquiry (1988), concisely summed up the issue that historians confront in studying early Islam.

If our goal is to comprehend the way in which Muslims of the late 2nd/8th and 3rd/9th centuries [Islamic calendar / Christian calendar] understood the origins of their society, then we are very well off indeed. But if our aim is to find out “what really happened,” in terms of reliably documented answers to modern questions about the earliest decades of Islamic society, then we are in trouble.

The person who more than anyone else has shaken up Koranic studies in the past few decades is John Wansbrough, formerly of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Puin is “re-reading him now” as he prepares to analyze the Yemeni fragments. Patricia Crone says that she and Michael Cook “did not say much about the Koran in Hagarism that was not based on Wansbrough.” Other scholars are less admiring, referring to Wansbrough’s work as “drastically wrongheaded,” “ferociously opaque,” and a “colossal self-deception.” But like it or not, anybody engaged in the critical study of the Koran today must contend with Wansbrough’s two main works— Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation (1977) and The Sectarian Milieu: Content and Composition of Islamic Salvation History (1978).

Wansbrough applied an entire arsenal of what he called the “instruments and techniques” of biblical criticism—form criticism, source criticism, redaction criticism, and much more—to the Koranic text. He concluded that the Koran evolved only gradually in the seventh and eighth centuries, during a long period of oral transmission when Jewish and Christian sects were arguing volubly with one another well to the north of Mecca and Medina, in what are now parts of Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Iraq. The reason that no Islamic source material from the first century or so of Islam has survived, Wansbrough concluded, is that it never existed.

To Wansbrough, the Islamic tradition is an example of what is known to biblical scholars as a “salvation history”: a theologically and evangelically motivated story of a religion’s origins invented late in the day and projected back in time. In other words, as Wansbrough put it in Quranic Studies, the canonization of the Koran—and the Islamic traditions that arose to explain it—involved the

attribution of several, partially overlapping, collections of logia (exhibiting a distinctly Mosaic imprint) to the image of a Biblical prophet (modified by the material of the Muhammadan evangelium into an Arabian man of God) with a traditional message of salvation (modified by the influence of Rabbinic Judaism into the unmediated and finally immutable word of God).

Wansbrough’s arcane theories have been contagious in certain scholarly circles, but many Muslims understandably have found them deeply offensive. S. Parvez Manzoor, for example, has described the Koranic studies of Wansbrough and others as “a naked discourse of power” and “an outburst of psychopathic vandalism.” But not even Manzoor argues for a retreat from the critical enterprise of Koranic studies; instead he urges Muslims to defeat the Western revisionists on the “epistemological battlefield,” admitting that “sooner or later [we Muslims] will have to approach the Koran from methodological assumptions and parameters that are radically at odds with the ones consecrated by our tradition.”

Dr Nasr Abu ZaydRevisionism Inside the Islamic World

Indeed, for more than a century there have been public figures in the Islamic world who have attempted the revisionist study of the Koran and Islamic history—the exiled Egyptian professor Nasr Abu Zaid is not unique. Perhaps Abu Zaid’s most famous predecessor was the prominent Egyptian government minister, university professor, and writer Taha Hussein. A determined modernist, Hussein in the early 1920s devoted himself to the study of pre-Islamic Arabian poetry and ended up concluding that much of that body of work had been fabricated well after the establishment of Islam in order to lend outside support to Koranic mythology. A more recent example is the Iranian journalist and diplomat Ali Dashti, who in his Twenty Three Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammed (1985) repeatedly took his fellow Muslims to task for not questioning the traditional accounts of Muhammad’s life, much of which he called “myth-making and miracle-mongering.”

Abu Zaid also cites the enormously influential Muhammad ‘Abduh as a precursor. The nineteenth-century father of Egyptian modernism, ‘Abduh saw the potential for a new Islamic theology in the theories of the ninth-century Mu’tazilis. The ideas of the Mu’tazilis gained popularity in some Muslim circles early in this century (leading the important Egyptian writer and intellectual Ahmad Amin to remark in 1936 that “the demise of Mu’tazilism was the greatest misfortune to have afflicted Muslims; they have committed a crime against themselves”). The late Pakistani scholar Fazlur Rahman carried the Mu’tazilite torch well into the present era; he spent the later years of his life, from the 1960s until his death in 1988, living and teaching in the United States, where he trained many students of Islam—both Muslims and non-Muslims—in the Mu’tazilite tradition.

Such work has not come without cost, however: Taha Hussein, like Nasr Abu Zaid, was declared an apostate in Egypt; Ali Dashti died mysteriously just after the 1979 Iranian revolution; and Fazlur Rahman was forced to leave Pakistan in the 1960s. Muslims interested in challenging orthodox doctrine must tread carefully. “I would like to get the Koran out of this prison,” Abu Zaid has said of the prevailing Islamic hostility to reinterpreting the Koran for the modern age, “so that once more it becomes productive for the essence of our culture and the arts, which are being strangled in our society.” Despite his many enemies in Egypt, Abu Zaid may well be making progress toward this goal: there are indications that his work is being widely, if quietly, read with interest in the Arab world. Abu Zaid says, for example, that his The Concept of the Text (1990)—the book largely responsible for his exile from Egypt—has gone through at least eight underground printings in Cairo and Beirut.

Another scholar with a wide readership who is committed to re-examining the Koran is Mohammed Arkoun, the Algerian professor at the University of Paris. Arkoun argued in Lectures du Coran (1982), for example, that “it is time [for Islam] to assume, along with all of the great cultural traditions, the modern risks of scientific knowledge,” and suggested that “the problem of the divine authenticity of the Koran can serve to reactivate Islamic thought and engage it in the major debates of our age.” Arkoun regrets the fact that most Muslims are unaware that a different conception of the Koran exists within their own historical tradition. What a re-examination of Islamic history offers Muslims, Arkoun and others argue, is an opportunity to challenge the Muslim orthodoxy from within, rather than having to rely on “hostile” outside sources. Arkoun, Abu Zaid, and others hope that this challenge might ultimately lead to nothing less than an Islamic renaissance.

The gulf between such academic theories and the daily practice of Islam around the world is huge, of course—the majority of Muslims today are unlikely to question the orthodox understanding of the Koran and Islamic history. Yet Islam became one of the world’s great religions in part because of its openness to social change and new ideas. (Centuries ago, when Europe was mired in its feudal Dark Ages, the sages of a flourishing Islamic civilization opened an era of great scientific and philosophical discovery. The ideas of the ancient Greeks and Romans might never have been introduced to Europe were it not for the Islamic historians and philosophers who rediscovered and revived them.) Islam’s own history shows that the prevailing conception of the Koran is not the only one ever to have existed, and the recent history of biblical scholarship shows that not all critical-historical studies of a holy scripture are antagonistic. They can instead be carried out with the aim of spiritual and cultural regeneration. They can, as Mohammed Arkoun puts it, demystify the text while reaffirming “the relevance of its larger intuitions.”

Increasingly diverse interpretations of the Koran and Islamic history will inevitably be proposed in the coming decades, as traditional cultural distinctions between East, West, North, and South continue to dissolve, as the population of the Muslim world continues to grow, as early historical sources continue to be scrutinized, and as feminism meets the Koran. With the diversity of interpretations will surely come increased fractiousness, perhaps intensified by the fact that Islam now exists in such a great variety of social and intellectual settings—Bosnia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the United States, and so on. More than ever before, anybody wishing to understand global affairs will need to understand Islamic civilization, in all its permutations. Surely the best way to start is with the study of the Koran—which promises in the years ahead to be at least as contentious, fascinating, and important as the study of the Bible has been in this century. – The Atlantic, January 1999

» Toby Lester, the author of Da Vinci’s Ghost (2012) and The Fourth Part of the World (2009), is an American writer and an editor. In addition to writing books, he is a longtime contributor to The Atlantic, for whom he has written extensively. He can be contacted through his website.

Innocence of Muslims: The Hidden Origin of Islam with Gerd R. Puin

Koran Documentary with Antony Thomas

Nine reasons why everything you know about Jesus is a myth – Valerie Tarico

Dr Valerie Tarico“The person of Jesus, if indeed there was such a person, is shrouded in the fog of history leaving us only with a set of hunches and traditions that far too often are treated as knowledge. The “facts” I have listed here are largely trivial; it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was tall or short, or how he cut his hair. But it does matter, tremendously, that “facts” people claim to know about how Jesus saw himself, and God and humanity are equally tenuous.” – Dr Valerie Tarico

Jesus with wife Mary Magdalene and KidsJesus has been described as the best known figure in history, and also the least known. If you mentioned the name “Jesus” and someone asked Jesus who, you might blink. Or laugh. Even people who don’t think Jesus was God mostly believe they know a fair bit about him. You might be surprised that some of your most basic assumptions about Jesus are probably wrong. 

We have no record of anything that was written about Jesus by eyewitnesses or other contemporaries during the time he would have lived, or for decades thereafter. Nonetheless, based on archeological digs and artifacts, ancient texts and art, and even forensic science, we know a good deal about the time and culture in which the New Testament is set. This evidence points to some startling conclusions about who Jesus likely was—and wasn’t.

1. Married, not single. When an ancient papyrus scrap was found in 2014 referring to the wife of Jesus, some Catholics and Evangelicals were scandalized. But unlike the Catholic Church, Jews have no tradition of celibacy among religious leaders. Jesus and his disciples would have been practising Jews, and all great rabbis we know of were married. A rabbi being celibate would have been so unusual that some modern writers have argued Jesus must have been gay. But a number of ancient texts, including the canonical New Testament, point to a special relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. The Gospel of Phillip says, “[Jesus] loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often on her mouth.”

2. Cropped hair, not long. Jewish men at the time of Christ did not wear their hair long. A Roman triumphal arch of the time period depicts Jewish slaves with short hair. In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he addresses male hair length. “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him?” (1 Corinthians 11:14 NRSV). During the 1960s, conservative Christians quoted this verse to express their disgust against the hippy movement and to label it anti-Christian.

3. Hung on a pole, not necessarily a cross. For centuries scholars have known that the Greek New Testament word “stauros,” which is translated into English as cross, can refer to a device of several shapes, commonly a single upright pole, “torture stake” or even tree. The Romans did not have a standard way of crucifying prisoners, and Josephus tells us that during the siege of Jerusalem, soldiers nailed or tied their victims in a variety of positions. Early Christians may have centered on the vertical pole with a crossbeam because it echoed the Egyptian ankh, a symbol of life, or the Sumerian symbol for Tammuz, or because it simply was more artistically and symbolically distinctive than the alternatives. Imagine millions of people wearing a golden pole on a chain around their necks.

4. Short, not tall. The typical Jewish man at the time of the Roman Empire would have been just over five feet tall, which makes this a best guess for the height of Jesus. That he is typically depicted taller derives from the mental challenge people have distinguishing physical stature from other kinds of stature. Great men are called “big men” and “larger than life.” In ancient times they often were assigned divine parentage and miraculous births, and the idea that Jesus was uniquely divine has created a strong pull over time to depict him as taller than is likely. A good illustration of this is the Shroud of Turin, which is just one of many such Jesus-shrouds that circulated during medieval times and which bears the image of a man closer to six feet in height.

5. Born in a house, not a stable. The miraculous birth story of Jesus is a late, maybe second-century addition to the Bible, and it contains many fascinating mythic elements and peculiarities. But the idea that Jesus was born in a stable was added to the Christmas story even later. In the original narrative, Joseph and Mary probably would have stayed with relatives, and the phrase “no room for them in the inn (gr: kataluma)” is better translated “no room for them in the upper room.” Later storytellers did not understand that people of the time might bring animals into their ground floor, as in Swiss housebarns, and they assumed that the presence of a manger implied a stable.

6. Named Joshua, not Jesus. The name Joshua (in Hebrew Y’hoshuʿa meaning “deliverance” or “salvation”), was common among Jews in the Ancient Near East as it is today. Joshua and Jesus are the same name, and are translated differently in our modern Bible to distinguish Jesus from the Joshua of the Old Testament, who leads the Hebrew people to the Promised Land. In actuality, the relationship between the two figures is fascinating and important. Some scholars believe that the New Testament gospels are mostly historicised and updated retellings of the more ancient Joshua story, with episodes interwoven from stories of Elisha and Elijah and Moses. A modern parallel can be found in the way Hollywood writers have reworked Shakespearean tropes and plot elements into dozens of modern movies (though for a very different purpose).

7. Number of apostles (12) from astrology, not history. Whether Jesus had 12 disciples who ranked above his other devotees is an open question, as their names vary from list to list. Since the Gospels echo the story of Joshua, the “12” apostles most immediately mirror the 12 tribes of Israel. But the number 12 was considered auspicious by many ancient people, including the Israelites, and the 189 repetitions of the number 12 in the Bible ultimately may derive from the same pre-historical roots as the 12 signs of the zodiac and 12 months of the year. Astrotheology or star worship preceded the Hebrew religion, and shaped both the Bible and world religions more broadly. One might point to the 12 Olympian gods or 12 sons of Odin, or 12 days of Christmas or 12 “legitimate” successors to the prophet Mohammed.

8. Prophecies recalled, not foretold. Even people who aren’t too sure about the divinity of Jesus sometimes think that the way he fulfilled prophecies was a bit spooky, like the writings of Nostradamus. In reality, Scooby Doo could solve this one in a single episode with three pieces of information: First, Old Testament prophecies were well-known to first-century Jews, and a messianic figure who wanted to fulfill some of these prophecies could simply do so. For example, in the book of Matthew, Jesus seeks a donkey to ride into Jerusalem “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 21:4). Second, “gospels” are a genre of devotional literature rather than objective histories, which means that the authors had every reason to shape their stories around earlier predictions. Third, scholars now believe that some Bible texts once thought to be prophecies (for example in the Book of Revelation) actually relate to events that were current or past at the time of writing.

9. Some Jesus quotes not from Jesus; others uncertain. Lists of favorite Jesus sayings abound online. Some of the most popular are the Beatitudes (blessed are the meek, etc.) or the story of the woman caught in adultery (let he who is without sin cast the first stone) or the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you, which, we are told, sums up the Law and the Prophets).

Thomas JeffersonWhich words are actually from Jesus? This question has been debated fiercely by everyone from third-century Catholic Councils to the 20th-century Jesus Seminar. Even Thomas Jefferson weighed in, but much remains unclear. The New Testament Gospels were written long after Jesus would have died, and no technology existed with which to record his teachings in real-time, unless he wrote them down himself, which he didn’t.

We can be confident that at least some of the wise and timeless words and catchy proverbs attributed to Jesus are actually from earlier or later thinkers. For example, the Golden Rule was articulated before the time of Christ by the Rabbi Hillel the Elder, who similarly said it was the “whole Torah.” By contrast, the much-loved story of the woman caught in adultery doesn’t appear in manuscripts until the fourth century. Attributing words (or whole texts) to a famous person was common in the Ancient Near East, because it gave those words extra weight. Small wonder then that so many genuinely valuable insights ended up, in one way or another, paired with the name of Jesus.

JesusThe person of Jesus, if indeed there was such a person, is shrouded in the fog of history leaving us only with a set of hunches and traditions that far too often are treated as knowledge. The “facts” I have listed here are largely trivial; it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was tall or short, or how he cut his hair. But it does matter, tremendously, that “facts” people claim to know about how Jesus saw himself, and God and humanity are equally tenuous.

The teachings attributed to Jesus mix enduring spiritual and moral insights with irrelevancies and Judaica and bits of Iron Age culture, some of which are truly awful. That leaves each of us, from the privileged vantage of the 21st century, with both a right and a responsibility to consider the evidence and make our own best guesses about what is real and how we should then live. A good starting place might be a little more recognition that we don’t know nearly as much as we’d like to think, and a lot of what we know for sure is probably wrong. – Salon, 14 May 2015

» Dr Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. As a writer she tackles the intersection between religious belief, psychology and politics, with a growing focus on women’s issues, and is actively engaged in dialogue that aims to find common ground between theists and freethinkers, in particular by focusing on humanity’s shared moral core. She is a founder of, an interactive site that allows users to find and discuss information about virtues that emerge repeatedly across secular and religious wisdom traditions.

Workers lift the head of a giant idol of Jesus the King onto its body in Swiebodzin, Poland

See also

Indian Pursuit of Scientific Temper: The dumbing down of Hindu civilization – Rajiv Varma

Radha Rajan is the editor of Vigil Online“A word of caution. We [must] all stop thinking and articulating in speech and writing words and phrases like ‘false realm of mythology.’ It is absolutely Romilla Thapar. Mythology like pagan is [a] derogatory description of non-Abrahamic worship, cultures and worldview. As tho Jesus alone or Mohammed alone are historical while Hindu devas and devis are all mythology” – Radha Rajan

Rajiv VarmaIt is good to see resistance is offered to this idea. I will extend this to put this resistance in a certain framework. Indians who find “science” in Vedas or historicize Ramayana or Mahabharata or Puranas, actually end up demeaning our culture and civilization. It is akin to dumbing down a horse to the level of a donkey, so that the horse can fit into a herd of donkeys.

In their classical definitions – “Science” and “History” are disciplines that are contextual to the Western civilization. The evolution of classical “Science” in the West is not an intrinsic development, it is in response to the Abrahamic colonization of the West that began with Emperor Constantine. After 17 centuries, this colonization has been internalized no doubt, and now the then colonized have became the “new” colonizers, but it is colonization nevertheless.

Thus the Science/Philosophy/Knowledge development during Graeco-Roman-Hellenestic pre-Christian era has a certain philosophical disconnect with Renaissance and post-Renaissance “Science”. While the Graeco-Roman knowledge development had a natural rhythm, the post-Renaissance science evolved in the backdrop of earlier Dark Ages that was a direct consequence of Christian colonization of the West.

While it may be true that Renaissance thinkers did rely, inter alia, on (for example) Cicero’s De Natura Deorum for inspiration in their quest for new knowledge, they never did escape the outer orbit of Christianity. Thus, it explains the formation of now discredited “sciences” such as craniometery, which became the basis of racism and genocide later. There is a certain amount of “irrationality” (or I call it unnaturalness) in the Western “scientific rationalism or temper”. That is – “it” is limited to the cartesian plane – and it is not allowed to look beyond it – transcend it, because the Christian God is waiting on the other side, to save the souls.

The efforts like the so-called Noetic Sciences are still disjoint in their conceptualization. Western Science can make giant strides, but it cannot do one thing – it cannot see beyond the “Edge of the Universe” – it does not have the means to – and most importantly it does not have the will to do so. The limitation is provided by the Christian worldview. One can see that the notion of secularism, protects Christianity, God and Jesus business from scrutiny.

On the other hand Vedic Rishis have no such handicap. The material and non-material transcend. Hence the sciences that evolved in Ancient India were in tune with the natural rhythm of human civilizational development. The Vedic epistemology established the scope for a Rishi to explore the worlds beyond the “Edge of the Universe” if his/her inquest pointed in that direction. The system never posed any problem in this regard. A student of civilizations can see that harmful sciences like craniometery would have had no chance of forming in a naturally inquisitive culture like India. Thus, Vedic knowledge system is much more comprehensive than Post-Renaissance “officially secular but Christian-nevertheless sciences.”

Therefore, finding such (Christian-European) “science” in Vedas is demeaning to the Vedic culture.

It is the colonized Indian mind that sees the (Christian-European) “science” as virtuous, and due to its deep-seated inferiority complex, seeks validation from the West

Ditto with “history”. Again, post-Renaissance academic discipline of “History” is also a false benchmark to aspire to for Indians. Western discipline of History also exists in Christian framework, whose evidentiary parameters are limited to a set that disables a researcher and an academician to go prior to the dates of Genesis. It is made to sound rational, but in essence it is highly irrational. If Indians were to re-write their history based on Christian parameters, all they would get is a molehill and never discover the mountain that they have.

Then, there is another problem that is even more severe. The authors of Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Puranas never intended to tell legends for the purpose of “modernist” historical validation. The purpose of this corpus of literature is adhyatmic (spiritual). These are tools for a human to know his larger Self (capital S). Valmiki never intended for the shrota of Ramayana to start digging graves to find cartesian evidence of existence of Rama or Sita. Ramayana serves only one purpose – viz. spiritual empowerment for the purposes of upholding Dharma. Ramayana serves as a living kernel of the Indic/Hindu civilization. Not a cartesian history book.

I am not against finding historical evidences for the Indian past. But that needs to be a separate discipline. I am not for dumbing down Ramayana and Mahabharata to “fall” to a pseudo-benchmark that our colonialist has set for us.

Ultimately, Western Science will self-destruct and will become extinct, just like the Neo-neanderthal man, because of its own limitation. Graeco-Roman-Hellenestic, Chinese and Vedic Knowledge Systems have a better chance of survival and growth, because of their natural rhythm.

Let us not dumb down our horses to the level of donkeys.

When the term “scientific temper” was inserted in the Indian Constitution, good ole Panditji had no clue that the West had hoodwinked him into a herd of donkeys.

See also

Jesus of the Gospels: A mythological figure – Chris Sosa

Chris Sosa“The arguments Christian scholars offer in favour of Jesus’ existence, from Flavius Josephus to later figures like Tacitus, and Justin Martyr, all disintegrate upon close examination. Dan Barker gives a strong argument against their proposed ‘evidences’ of Jesus’ existence in his excellent book Godless.” – Chris Sosa

Jesus the Imaginary Friend America has a curious fixation on the perspectives of Jesus Christ in the formation of public opinion, especially on prominent issues of social values. In recent days, protesters have taken to defending opposing moral positions by claiming Jesus held their viewpoint. Aside from the obvious problem of using a single historical figure as a moral barometer, there’s another troubling issue at hand: Folks are arguing about the opinions of an ancient person without stopping to verify his existence.

Allow me to explain. I’m not explicitly arguing there couldn’t have existed a man named Jesus who had a handful of followers, although that isn’t outside the realm of possibility. But the Jesus of Christianity presents some challenges in being understood as a literal figure within history.

Let’s begin with the largest problem: There does not exist a singular Jesus of the Bible. Each of the Gospels (and for that matter the writings of Paul) present a portrait of Jesus that disagrees with the others on basic facts, starting with the circumstances of his own birth.

When was he born? That’s a trickier question than it should be. Grab a bible and read along. According to Luke, that would be during the first census of Israel by Quirinius, governor of Syria (Luke 2:2). According to Matthew, that would be during the reign of Herod the GreatHerod the Great (Matthew 2:1). The problem? Quirinius’ census got underway in 6 CE. Herod had been dead for a good decade. Apologists occasionally try to wiggle their way out of this one by manipulating the text. But serious scholars, including believers, acknowledge the discrepancy.

Let’s check out the resurrection of Jesus. The oldest Gospel, Mark, does not say that Jesus resurrected at all in its original form. The resurrection was added at a later date. Most bibles even footnote within the text that the resurrection portion does not appear in the “earliest manuscripts.” My childhood bible, an Evangelical-approved NIV translation, actually drew a line dividing the portion from the rest of the text.

All four Gospels do reference an empty tomb. But not a single one agrees with the others on who actually saw it (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 23-4, John 20). Mary is either alone, with another Mary, also with Salome or maybe with Joanna too? It seems we’re dealing with an unreliable narrator.

We’ve established that no one really has a clue what year Jesus was born or who exactly discovered his supposedly empty tomb after he died, assuming anyone did at all. But surely everyone can agree on his ascent to Heaven, right? It was a rather fantastical public display.

Bible & CrossUnfortunately, the Gospels can’t even agree on this. In Luke, his ascension occurs in Bethany the day he resurrected (Luke 24). In Acts, a canonical book of the New Testament, he ascends from Mount Olives forty days after resurrecting (Acts 1). Oh, well.

While all of these discrepancies are highly problematic, at least Jesus remains a figure of consistent character throughout the Gospels. Or not. The character has an ethical sensibility that could be described as “confused” at best.

None of the contradictions by anonymous Gospel writers negate the existence of Jesus. However, since no coherent vision of his life exists, it doesn’t seem all that important whether he lived or not. But let’s press on for curiosity’s sake.

What about the historical evidence for Jesus? We’ll check in with New Testament scholar and James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Bart Ehrman. I bet he can clear this up.

There are no birth records, no trial transcripts, no death certificates; there are no expressions of interest, no heated slanders, no passing references – nothing. In fact, if we broaden our field of concern to the years after his death – even if we include the entire first century of the Common Era – there is not so much as a solitary reference to Jesus in any non-Christian, non-Jewish source of any kind. I should stress that we do have a large number of documents from the time – the writings of poets, philosophers, historians, scientists, and government officials, for example, not to mention the large collection of surviving inscriptions on stone and private letters and legal documents on papyrus. In none of this vast array of surviving writings is Jesus’ name ever so much as mentioned.” (pp 56-57 of Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium) 

Attis of PhrygiaMany Christian scholars will scoff at the preceding paragraph. But the outside arguments they offer in favor of Jesus’ existence, from Flavius Josephus to later figures like Tacitus, and Justin Martyr, all disintegrate upon close examination. Dan Barker gives a strong argument against their proposed “evidences” of Jesus’ existence in his excellent book Godless.

I could go on for hundreds of pages about the contradictions and historical problems of the Jesus narrative. But it’s quite unnecessary. The Jesus of Christianity is clearly a mythological figure. He’s not even an original. – HuffPost

» Chris Sosa is a managing journalist for He previously served as a national editor for EDGE Publications.

» See New Research: Josephus’s Testimony Examined Linguistically Demonstrates the Passage a Forgery in Toto

Christianity’s fraudulent legacy – Michael Paulkovich


No Meek MessiahThis article is written as an introduction to historical researcher Michael Paulkovich’s investigation into early Christianity called No Meek Messiah: Christianity’s Lies, Laws and Legacy — Editor

Most historians hold the position I had once harbored as true, being a Bible skeptic but not a Christ mythicist. I had maintained that the Jesus person probably existed, having fantastic and impossible stories later foisted upon his earthly life, passed by oral tradition then recorded many decades after Jesus lived.

After exhaustive research for my first book, I began to perceive both the brilliance and darkness from history. I discovered that many early Christian fathers believed with all pious sincerity their savior never came to earth—or when he did, it was Star-Trekian style, beamed down pre-haloed and fully-grown, sans transvaginal egress. Moreover I expose many other startling bombshells in my book No Meek Messiah.

I embarked upon one exercise to revive research into Jesus-era writers who should have recorded Christ tales, but did not. John Remsburg enumerated forty-one “silent” historians in his book The Christ (1909). I dedicated months of research to augment Remsburg’s list, finally tripling his count. In No Meek Messiah I provide a list of 126 writers who should have recorded something of Jesus, with exhaustive references.

Perhaps the most bewildering “silent one” is the mythical super-savior himself, Jesus the Son of God ostensibly sent on a suicide mission to save us from the childish notion of “Adam’s Transgression” as we learn from Romans 5:14. The Jesus character is a phantom of a wisp of a personage who never wrote anything. So, add one more: 127. 

The Jesus character is a phantom 

Jesus is lauded as a wise teacher, savior, and a perfect being. Yet Jesus believed in Noah’s Ark (Mt 24:37, and Lk 17:27), Adam and Eve and their son Abel (Lk 3:38 and Lk 11:51), Jonah living in a fish or whale (Mt 12:40), and Lot’s wife turning into salt (Lk 17:31-32). Jesus believed “devils” caused illness, and even bought into the OT notion (Jn 3:14) that a magical pole proffered by the OT (Num 21:9) could cure snake bites merely by gazing upon it.

Was Jesus smarter than a fifth grader?

Apollonius of TyanaBut perhaps no man is more fascinating than Apollonius Tyaneus, saintly first century adventurer and noble paladin. Apollonius was a magic-man of divine birth who cured the sick and blind, cleansed entire cities of plague, foretold the future and fed the masses. He was worshiped as a god, and son of god. Despite such nonsense claims, Apollonius was a real man recorded by reliable sources.

As Jesus ostensibly performed miracles of global expanse (e.g. Mt 27), his words going “unto the ends of the whole world” (Rom 10), one would expect virtually every literate person on earth to record those events during his time. A Jesus contemporary such as Apollonius should have done so, as well as those who wrote of Apollonius. Such is not the case. In Philostratus‘ third century chronicle, Vita Apollonii, there is no hint of Jesus. Nor in the works of other Apollonius epistolarians and scriveners: Emperor Titus, Cassius Dio, Maximus, Moeragenes, Lucian, Soterichus Oasites, Euphrates, Marcus Aurelius, or Damis of Hierapolis. It seems none of these writers from first to third century ever heard of Jesus, global miracles and alleged worldwide fame be damned.

Another bewildering author is Philo of Alexandria. He spent his first century life in the Levant, even traversing Jesus-land. Philo chronicled Jesus contemporaries—Bassus, Pilate, Tiberius, Sejanus, Caligula—yet knew nothing of the storied prophet and rabble-rouser enveloped in glory and astral marvels. Historian Josephus published Jewish War c. 95. He had lived in Japhia, one mile from Nazareth—yet Josephus seems to have been unaware of both Nazareth and Jesus. (I devoted a chapter to his interpolated works, pp. 191-198.) You may encounter Christian apologists claiming that Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Suetonius, Phlegon, Thallus, Mara bar-Serapion, or Lucian wrote of Jesus contemporary to the time. In No Meek Messiah I thoroughly debunk such notions.

The Bible venerates the artist formerly known as Saul of Tarsus, an “apostle” essentially oblivious to his heavenly savior. Paul is unaware of the virgin mother, and ignorant of Jesus’ nativity, parentage, life events, ministry, miracles, apostles, betrayal, trial and harrowing passion. Paul knows neither where nor when Jesus lived, and considers the crucifixion metaphorical (Gal 2:19-20). Unlike the absurd Gospels, Paul never indicates Jesus had been to earth. And the “five hundred witnesses” claim (1 Cor 15) is a well-known forgery.

Qumran, the stony and chalky hiding place for the Dead Sea Scrolls lies twelve miles from Bethlehem. The scroll writers, coeval and abutting the holiest of hamlets one jaunty jog eastward never heard of Jesus. Dr. Jodi Magness wrote, “Contrary to claims made by a few scholars, no copies of the New Testament (or precursors to it) are represented among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Christianity was still wet behind its primitive and mythical ears in the second century, and Christian father Marcion of Pontus in 144 CE denied any virgin birth or childhood for Christ—Jesus’ infant circumcision (Lk 2:21) was thus a lie, as well as the crucifixion! Marcion claimed Luke was corrupted, and his savior self-spawned in omnipresence, a spirit without a body (see Dungan, 43). Reading the works of second century Christian father Athenagoras, one never encounters the word Jesus (or Ἰησοῦς or Ἰησοῦν, as he would have written)—Athenagoras was thus unacquainted with the name of his savior it would seem. Athenagoras was another pious early Christian, unaware of Jesus (see also Barnard, 56).

Mary at the wellin NazarethThe original booklet given the name “Mark” ended at 16:8, later forgers adding the fanciful resurrection tale (see Ehrman, 48). The booklet “John” in chapter 21 also describes post-death Jesus tales, another well-known and well-documented forgery (see Encyclopedia Biblica, vol. 2, 2543). Millions should have heard of the Jesus “crucifixion” with its astral enchantments: zombie armies and meteorological marvels (Mt 27) recorded not by any historian, but only in the dubitable scriptures scribbled decades later by superstitious yokels. The Jesus saga is further deflated by the reality of Nazareth, having no settlement until after the 70 CE war—suspiciously around the time the Gospels were concocted, as René Salm demonstrates in his book. I also include in my book similarities of Jesus to earlier God-sons, too striking to disregard. The Oxford Classical Dictionary and Catholic Encyclopedia, as well as many others, corroborate. Quite a few son-of-gods myths existed before the Jesus tales, with startling similarities, usually of virgin mothers, magical births and resurrection: Sandan, Mithra, Horus, Attis, Buddha, Dionysus, Krishna, Hercules, Isiris, Orpheus, Adonis, Prometheus, etc. 

The one true religion

If you encounter a Christian defending her faith purely based on its popularity, you would do well to inform her that Christianity was a very minor cult in the fourth century, while “pagan” religions, especially Mithraism, were much more popular in the Empire – and the Jesus cult would have faded into oblivion if not for an imperial decree.

From No Meek Messiah:
It is 391 CE now as Roman Emperor Theodosius elevates Jesus (posthumously) to divinity, declaring Christianity the only “legitimate” religion of the world, under penalty of death. The ancient myth is rendered law. This decision by Theodosius is possibly the worst ever made in human history: what followed were century after century of torture and murder in the name of this false, faked, folkloric “prophesied savior” of fictional virgin mother. Within a year after the decree by Theodosius, crazed Christian monks of Nitria destroy the majestic Alexandrian Library largely because philosophy and science are taught there—not the Bible. In Alexandria these are times of the highest of intellectual pursuits, all quashed by superstitious and ignorant Christians of the most godly and murderous variety: they had the “Holy Bible” on their side.

Emperor Theodosius I could have had no idea how much harm this blunder would cause humanity over the centuries that followed. Christianity was made the only legal cult of the empire, and for the next 1500 years, good Christians would murder all non-Christians they could find by the tens of millions. 

Frauds and forgeries

Along the centuries the Church has sought to gain power and wealth, and No Meek Messiah exposes their many scams and deceits and obfuscations in detail including:

  • Abgar Forgeries (4th century)
  • Apostolic Canons (400 CE)
  • Hypatia the witch (415 CE)
  • Symmachian Forgeries (6th century)
  • St. Peter Forgery (c. 751)
  • False “Donation of Constantine” (8th century)
  • False Decretals (8th century)
  • Extermination of the Cathar “witches” (13th century)
  • Murder of the Stedinger “devils” (1233)
  • The Manifest Destiny decree (1845) and eradication of Native Americans
  • Invention of the “Immaculate Conception” (1854)
  • The Lateran Treaty (1929)

Paul burning books at EphesusThe good that Jesus brought

Early Christians believed all necessary knowledge was in the Bible and thus closed down schools, burned books, forbade teaching philosophy and destroyed libraries. The Jesus person portrayed in the Bible taught that “devils” and “sin” cause illness, and thus for some 1700 years good Christians ignored science and medicine to perform exorcisms on the ill.

The Bible decrees “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Ex 22:18, with support from Dt 18:10-12, Lev 20:27, 2 Chr 33:6, Micah 5:12, and 1 Sam 28:3). In the New Testament, Paul in Galatians 5:19-21 joins the anti-witchcraft credo. But let’s face it: Paul claims to be a devoted Hebrew, full of credulity and misogyny. Paul will “suffer not a woman to teach” and thus along the centuries women have been second-class citizens, especially within the church. These juvenile and immoral Bible edicts are not left in the past.

From No Meek Messiah:
Remember the witch hunts? Long ago and far away, past atrocities forgotten? So perhaps we should forgive and forget. Around the world, the Christian Bible is still used to accuse people, usually children, of “witchcraft” and to punish them. Refer to The Guardian, Sunday 9 December 2007, “Child ‘witches’ in Africa”; Huffington Post, October 18, 2009, “African Children Denounced As ‘Witches’ By Christian Pastors”; and The Guardian, Friday 31 December 2010, “Why are ‘witches’ still being burned alive in Ghana?” The scripture normally cited regarding witches is Exodus 22:18, and there are many more. In Ghana, a study found that “accused witches were physically brutalized, tortured, neglected, and in two cases, murdered.” In Kinshasa, Congo, “80% of the 20,000 street children … are said to have been accused of being witches.” Even to this day the Bible’s proclamations against witches are still considered valid by many Christians. In places like Indonesia, Tanzania, the Congo and Ghana superstitious fundamental Christians actively pursue and execute witches, including murdering child “sorcerers.” In Malawi, accused witches are routinely jailed.

Christians are typically kept ignorant of certain evil and immoral words placed into the mouth of this mythical mystery-man:

If any man come to me, and HATE NOT his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26.

Jesus is actually portrayed as a pitiful man in desperate need of praise:

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” – Matt 10:37.

Not only does Jesus never advise against slavery, but he recommends savage whipping of disobedient slaves:

And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” – Luke 12:47.

Jesus has nothing against stealing, as he instructs his apostles to pinch a horse and a donkey from their rightful owner:

And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.” (Matt 21:1-3). 

Gentle and meek and mythical

I personally know several Christians who accept evolution as scientific fact. Okay, they kind of ignore the Old Testament, but I asked one born again Christian about the genealogy of Jesus and she was only aware of another one in Luke.

From No Meek Messiah,
Christianity absolutely depends on mythical “Adam.” Without Adam, Eve, and a talking snake, Jesus’ mission is moot and pointless and void. Christians are generally oblivious of this because they have been shown a genealogy in Matthew (which only goes back to “Abraham”), and are rarely if ever exposed to Luke’s disparate and childlike version—which if true would negate all of evolution and in fact most known history and science. According to the anonymous author of Luke, a mere seventy-five generations separate “Adam”—and the beginning of the universe—from the birth of Jesus some 2,000 years ago.

Jesus This “meek” messiah boasted he was “greater than Solomon” (Mt 12:42), saying he “came not to send peace, but a sword” (Mt 10:34), and “to send fire on the earth” (Lk 12:49). Jesus desperately needs your praise (Mt 10:37), and advises you to beat your slaves.

This Jesus character speaks highly of father Yahweh‘s genocidal tantrums in Matthew 11:20-24. Jesus is referring to the book of Joshua where his father declares he will wipe out all people of Sidon: “All the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon unto Misrephoth-maim, and all the Sidonians, them will I drive out from before the children of Israel” (13:6).

You may have heard Christians claim that the only “god hates fags” verbiage comes from the Old Testament (Lev 18:22), but both Paul (in Rom 1:26-27) and Jesus speak out against it, as the J-man praises the ruin of Gaytown, Canaan: “But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.” – Luke 17:29. 

Onward Christian soldiers

Christianity has a violent “holy book” as its authority, granting followers supremacy over the entire earth (e.g. Gen 1:28) which they used to justify land grabs, genocide and holy conflicts. The following wars were perpetrated by Christians in the name of their savior:

  1. War against the Donatists, 317
  2. Roman-Persian War of 441
  3. Roman-Persian War of 572-591
  4. Charlemagne’s War against the Saxons, 8th century
  5. Spanish Christian-Muslim War of 912-928
  6. Spanish Christian-Muslim War of 977-997
  7. Spanish Christian-Muslim War of 1001-1031
  8. First Crusade, 1096
  9. Jerusalem Massacre, 1099
  10. Second Crusade, 1145-1149
  11. Spanish Christian-Muslim War, 1172-1212
  12. Third Crusade, 1189
  13. War against the Livonians, 1198-1212
  14. Wars against the Curonians and Semigallians, 1201-90
  15. Fourth Crusade, 1202-04
  16. Wars against Saaremaa, 1206-61
  17. War against the Estonians, 1208-1224
  18. War against the Latgallians and Selonians, 1208-1224
  19. Children’s Crusade, 1212
  20. Fifth Crusade, 1213
  21. Sixth Crusade, 1228 War against the Livonians, 1198-1212
  22. Spanish Christian-Muslim War, 1230-1248
  23. Seventh Crusade, 1248
  24. Eighth Crusade, 1270
  25. Ninth Crusade, 1271-1272
  26. The Inquisitions
  27. War against the Cathars, 1209-1229 and onward
  28. War against the Stedingers of Friesland, 1233
  29. Spanish Christian-Muslim War, 1481-1492
  30. Four Years War of 1521-26
  31. Count’s War of 1534-36
  32. Schmalkaldic War, 1546
  33. Anglo-Scottish War of 1559-1560
  34. First War of Religion,1562
  35. Second War of Religion, 1567-68
  36. Third War of Religion, 1568-70
  37. Fourth War of Religion, 1572-73
  38. Fifth War of Religion, 1574-76
  39. Sixth War of Religion, 1576-77
  40. Seventh War of Religion, 1579-80
  41. Eighth War of Religion, 1585-98
  42. War of the Three Henrys, 1588
  43. Ninth War of Religion, 1589—1598
  44. Ottoman-Habsburg wars, 15th to 16th century
  45. War against the German Farmers (“peasants”), 16th Century
  46. The French Wars of Religion, 16th Century
  47. Shimabara Revolt, 1637
  48. Covenanters’ Rebellion of 1666
  49. Covenanters’ Rebellion of 1679
  50. Covenanters’ Rebellion of 1685
  51. The Thirty Years War, 17th Century
  52. The Irish rebellion of 1641
  53. Spanish Christian extermination of South American natives
  54. Manifest Destiny
  55. War of the Sonderbund, 1847
  56. Crimean War, 1853-1856
  57. Tukulor-French War, 1854-1864
  58. Taiping Rebellion, 1851 and 1864
  59. Serbo-Turkish War, 1876-78
  60. Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878
  61. Russian Revolution killing of the Jews, late 19th century
  62. First Sudanese Civil War, 1955-1972
  63. Nigerian Civil War, 1967
  64. Lebanese Civil War, 1975
  65. Sabra and Shatila massacre, 1982
  66. Second Sudanese Civil War, 1983
  67. Yelwa Massacre, 2004
  68. Bosnian War

A relatively unknown contrivance occurred in the thirteenth century when Pope Innocent III ordered a genocidal attack against the entire region of Languedoc France. The pope depicted the Cathars as witches; of being cannibals; desecrating the cross; and having “sexual orgies.”

Yet malefic sounds of sibilance emanated only from the Vatican, and not from its contrived enemies living peaceably in France with their pure and righteous ways. The Church murdered over a million innocent Cathars over the period of 35 years—men, women, children. Christian forces wiped them from the face of the planet. At the height of the siege, Christian forces were burning hundreds at the stake at a time. The Christian colossus exterminated them, then annexed much of Languedoc—some for the Church, some from northern French nobles. The extravagant Palais de la Berbie (construction began in 1228) and the Catholic fortress-cathedral Sainte Cécile (began 1282) are just two examples that remain to this day.

Joseph McCabeConclusion

When I consider those 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not, and Paul and Marcion and Athenagoras and Matthew with a tetralogy of opposing Christs, the silence from Qumran and Nazareth and Bethlehem, conflicting Bible stories, and so many other mysteries and omissions, I must conclude this “Jesus Christ” is a mythical character. “Jesus of Nazareth” was nothing more than urban (or desert) legend, likely an agglomeration of several evangelic and deluded rabbis who might have existed.

The “Jesus mythicist” position is regarded by Christians as a fringe group. But after my research I tend to side with Remsburg—and Frank Zindler, John M. Allegro, Thomas Paine, Godfrey Higgins, Robert M. Price, Charles Bradlaugh, Gerald Massey, Joseph McCabe, Abner Kneeland, Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Harold Leidner, Peter Jensen, Salomon Reinach, Samuel Lublinski, Charles-François Dupuis, Rudolf Steck, Arthur Drews, Prosper Alfaric, Georges Ory, Tom Harpur, Michael Martin, John Mackinnon Robertson, Alvar Ellegård, David Fitzgerald, Richard Carrier, René Salm, Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy, Barbara Walker, Thomas Brodie, Earl Doherty, Bruno Bauer and others—heretics and iconoclasts and freethinking dunces all, according to “mainstream” Bible scholars.

If all this evidence and non-evidence including 126 silent writers cannot convince, I’ll wager we will uncover much more. Yet this is but a tiny tip of the mythical Jesus iceberg: nothing adds up for the fable of the Christ. In the Conclusion of No Meek Messiah I summarize the madcap cult of Jesus worship that has plagued the world for centuries. It should be clear to even the most devout and inculcated reader that it is all up for Christianity, and in fact has been so for centuries. Its roots and foundation and rituals are borrowed from ancient cults: there is nothing magical or “God-inspired” about them. The “virgin birth prophecy” as well as the immaculate conception claims are fakeries, the former due to an erroneous translation of the Tanakh, the latter a nineteenth century Catholic apologetic contrivance, a desperate retrofitting.

Jesus was no perfect man, no meek or wise messiah: in fact his philosophies were and are largely immoral, often violent, as well as shallow and irrational. There have been many proposed sons of god, and this Jesus person is no more valid or profound than his priestly precursors. In fact, his contemporary Apollonius was unquestionably the superior logician and philosopher.

Thomas JeffersonChristianity was a very minor and inconsequential cult founded late in the first century and then—while still quite minor—forced upon all the people of the Empire, and all rival kingdoms in the fourth century and beyond, as enforceable law with papal sanction. Christianity has caused more terror and torture and murder than any similar phenomenon. With its tyrannical preachments and directives for sightless and mindless obedience, the Bible is a violent and utterly useless volume, full of lies and immoral edicts and invented histories, no matter which of the many “versions” you may choose to read—including Thomas Jefferson’s radical if gallant abridgment.

The time to stop teaching the tall tales and nonsense to children, frightening them with eternal torture administered by God’s minions, has long ago passed. Parents who do so are likely deluded, and most surely are guilty of child abuse of the worst sort ….

The cult of Christianity has an incalculable amount of blood on its hands. And the “Jesus” tale seems to have been nothing more than oral legend, with plenty of hoax and fraud perpetrated along the ages. It is my hope that mankind will someday grow up and relegate the Jesus tales to the same stewing pile that contains Zeus and his son Hercules, roiling away in their justifiable status as mere myth. – JNE, 19 July 2014

Ancient Historians


  1. Catholic Encyclopedia, first edition. The Encyclopedia Press, 1907-1913.
  2. Dungan, David L., Constantine’s Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.
  3. Ehrman, Bart, Jesus, Interrupted. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.
  4. Encyclopedia Biblica: A Critical Dictionary of the Literary, Political and Religious History: The Archeology, Geography and Natural History of the Bible. Edited by Thomas Kelly Cheyne and J. Sutherland Black. 1899.
  5. Magness, Jodi, The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
  6. Oxford Classical Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  7. Salm, René, The Myth of Nazareth. Parsippany: American Atheist Press, 2008.

Further Reading

  1. Alfaric, Prosper. Jésus a-t-il existé? 1932.
  2. Allegro, John M., The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1992.
  3. Barnard, Leslie William. Athenagoras: A Study in Second Century Christian Apologetic. Paris: Éditions Beauchesne, 1972.
  4. Bradlaugh, Charles, Who Was Jesus Christ? London : Watts and Co., 1913.
    Brodie, Thomas. Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2012.
  5. Carrier, Richard. Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Amherst: Prometheus, 2012.
  6. Doherty, Earl, Neither God not Man. Ottawa: Age of Reason, 2009.
  7. Drews, Arthur, Hat Jesus gelebt? Mainz: 1924.
  8. Dupuis, Charles-François, L’origine de tous les cultes, ou la religion universelle. Paris: 1795.
  9. Ellegård, Alvar, Jesus One Hundred Years Before Christ. New York: Overlook Press, 2002.
  10. Fitzgerald, David, Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All., 2010.
  11. Freke, Timothy, and Gandy, Peter, The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God? New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999.
  12. Harpur, Tom, The Pagan Christ: Recovering the Lost Light. Toronto: Thomas Allen Publishers, 2005.
  13. Higgins, Godfrey, Anacalypsis. A&B Books, 1992.
  14. Jensen, Peter, Moses, Jesus, Paul: Three Variations on the Babylonian Godman Gilgamesh. 1909.
  15. Kneeland, Abner, A Review of the Evidences of Christianity. Boston: Free Enquirer, 1829.
  16. Kuhn, A. B., Who Is This King of Glory? Kessinger Publishing, LLC; Facsimile Ed edition, 1992.
  17. Leidner, Harold, The Fabrication of the Christ Myth. Survey Press, 2000.
  18. Lublinski, Samuel, Die Entstehung des Christentums; Das werdende Dogma vom Leben Jesu. Köln: Eugen Diederichs, 1910.
  19. Martin, Michael, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.
  20. Massey, Gerald, Ancient Egypt, the Light of the World. Sioux Falls: NuVision, 2009.
  21. McCabe, Joseph, The Myth of the Resurrection and other essays. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1993.
  22. Ory, Georges, Le Christ et Jésus. Paris: Éditions du Pavillon, 1968.
  23. Paine, Thomas, The Age of Reason. Paris: Barrots, 1794.
  24. Price, Robert M., Deconstructing Jesus. Amherst: Prometheus, 2000.
  25. Price, Robert M., The Case Against the Case for Christ. Cranford: American Atheist Press, 2010.
  26. Reinach, Salomon, Orpheus, a History of Religions. New York: Liveright, 1933.
  27. Remsburg, John, The Christ. New York: Truth Seeker, 1909. Reprinted by Prometheus Books, 1994.
  28. Robertson, John M., A Short History of Christianity. London: Watts & Co., 1902.
  29. Steck, Rudolf, Der Galaterbrief nach seiner Echtheit untersucht nebst kritischen Bemerkungen zu den Paulinischen Hauptbriefen. Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1888.
  30. Walker, Barbara, The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. New York: HarperOne, 1983.
  31. Zindler, Frank, The Jesus the Jews Never Knew. Cranford: American Atheist Press, 2003.

» Michael Paulkovich is an aerospace engineer, historical researcher, freelance writer, and a frequent contributor to Free Inquiry and Humanist Perspectives magazines. His book No Meek Messiah was published in 2013 by Spillix.

Thomas Paine

About the St Thomas reference in Shashi Tharoor’s book Pax Indica – Poulasta Chakraborthy

Shashi Tharoor

St Thomas by Georges de la Tour  (1593 – 1652)This sounds like a good story. And that’s what it is: a good story. All those statements on Thomas made by Tharoor, Nehru and Prasad are not based on any solid historical evidence. They are just repetitions of a well established legend. – Poulasta Chakraborthy

Page 280 of former minister and current Member of Parliament, Shashi Tharoor’s book Pax Indica contains an interesting assertion.

Christianity arrived on Indian soil with St. Thomas the Apostle (‘Doubting Thomas’), who came to the Malabar Coast sometime before 52 CE and was welcomed on shore, or so oral legend has it, by a flute playing Jewish girl. He made many converts, so there are Indians today whose ancestors were Christians well before any Europeans discovered Christianity.

Although Tharoor identifies the incident of St. Thomas being welcomed to Malabar by a flute-playing Jewish girl as part of folklore, he states that the arrival of St. Thomas to the Malabar Coast as a historical fact.

The good news is that he’s not the first one to state that myth as a historical truth. The biggest of political leaders in India have obediently accepted this historical myth. In one of his works, the nation’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote:

Few people realise that Christianity came to India as early as the first century after Christ, long before Europe turned to it, and established a firm hold in South India….

This statement was repeated in a different way by Dr. Rajendra Prasad in his St. Thomas Day speech at New Delhi, in 1955:

Remember St. Thomas came to India when many countries in Europe had not yet become Christian and so these Indians who trace their Christianity to him have a longer history and a higher ancestry than that of Christians of many of the European countries. And it is a matter of pride for us that it happened….

This famous legend as well as the assertion that Christianity came to India before it went to Europe is a tactic to make it a sort of indigenous religion, even if it came from the Middle East. The statements made by our great leaders are based on the following incidents:

St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Christ (itself a disputed fact), came to India in 52 CE. He landed at Maliankara (Cranganore) in Kerala, preached the Gospel, produced miracles, and got many converts.

Then he went to Mailepuram (Mylapore), and from there to China, but after some time returned to Maliankara, and from there came again to Mylapore where he spent the rest of his life preaching, converting a large number of the low-caste Hindus.

The aforesaid points make St. Thomas appear as socio-religious reformer who aimed to ameliorate the woes of local residents—specifically those suppressed under the caste system. As every tale of reformers goes St. Thomas was also disliked by the orthodox elements (which in the Indian context are the Brahmins) of the land that were determined to finish him. This risky situation made Thomas take refuge in a cave at a mountain located near the present St. Thomas Mount. Unfortunately the great Saint was murdered by one of those zealous Brahmins at St. Thomas Mount. His body was brought to Mylapore and buried in 73 CE.

This sounds like a good story. And that’s what it is: a good story. All those statements on Thomas made by Tharoor, Nehru and Prasad are not based on any solid historical evidence. They are just repetitions of a well established legend.

Syrian bishop with Pope Benedict

Now let’s see what some historical, and even Christian religious texts have to say about this tale:

  1. D. Burnell, in an article in the Indian Antiquary of May 1875, writes, “The attribution of the origin of South Indian Christianity to the apostle Thomas seems very attractive to those who hold certain theological opinion. But the real question is, on what evidence does it rest? Without real or sufficient evidence so improbable a circumstance is to be at once rejected. Pious fictions have no place in historical research.”
  2. Prof. Jarl Charpentier, in St. Thomas the Apostle and India, writes, “There is absolutely not the shadow of a proof that an Apostle of our Lord be his name Thomas or something else — ever visited South India or Ceylon and founded Christian communities there.”
  3. Rev. J. Hough, in Christianity in India, writes, “It is not probable that any of the Apostles of our Lord embarked on a voyage … to India.”
  4. Cosmas the Alexandrian, a theologian, geographer and merchant who traded with Ethiopia and Ceylon, visited Malabar in 520-525 CE and provided the first acceptable evidence of Christian communities there as noted in his Christian Topography. There is no mention of any Thomas in his works.
  5. Regarding the fabled Apostle of Jesus, Thomas, early Church Fathers like Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Eusebius had stated outright that Apostle Thomas settled in ‘Parthia’, and established a church in Fars (Persia). This is supported by the 4th century priest Rufinus of Aquileia, who translated Greek theological texts into Latin, and the 5th century Byzantine church historian, Socrates of Constantinople, who wrote an Ecclesiastical History, the second edition of which survives and is a valuable source of early church history. None of those sources speak of St. Thomas visiting India.
  6. Bishop Stephen Neill who had spent many years in South India examined the St. Thomas story as late as 1984. “A number of scholars,” wrote Neill, “among whom are to be mentioned with respect Bishop A.E. Medlycott, J.N. Farquhar and Jesuit Dahlman, have built on slender foundations what can only be called Thomas romances, such as reflect vividness of their imagination rather than the prudence of historical critics…. Millions of Christians in India are certain that the founder of their church was none other than the apostle Thomas himself. The historian cannot prove it to them that they are mistaken in their belief. He may feel it right to warn them that historical research cannot pronounce on the matter with a confidence equal to that which they entertain by faith.”

And to top them all, in September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI himself declared that Thomas never came to India. But his declaration was toned down after a complaint from the so-called St. Thomas Christians who still believe Thomas came to India and converted their ancestors. Now the question: where did it all begin?

Bardaisan / BardesanesThe chief source of this tale is a Gnostic Syrian fable, Acts of Thomas, written by a poet named Bardesanes at Edessa around 201 CE. The text says the apostle went from Palestine eastwards to a desert-like country where people are ‘Mazdei’ (a term used for Zoroastrians) and have Persian names. The term “India” in Acts is used as a synonym for Asia.

The Acts identifies St Thomas as Judas, the look-alike twin of Jesus, who sells him into slavery. The slave travels to Andropolis where he makes newly-weds chaste, cheats a king, fights with Satan over a beautiful boy, persuades a talking donkey to confess the name of Jesus, and is finally executed by a Zoroastrian king for crimes against women. His body is buried on a royal mountain and later taken to Edessa, where a popular cult rises around his tomb. Even in this story, it is clear that St. Thomas never visited India.

Thomas of CanaThere is another popular fable among Indian Christians about one Thomas of Cana, a merchant who led a group of 400 Christians from Babylon and Nineveh, out of Persia in the 4th century CE, when Christianization of the Roman Empire motivated the Persians to persecute their Syriac-speaking Christian minority. These Christians apparently landed in Malabar around 345 CE.

Based on this tale, a section of St. Thomas Christians believe Thomas of Cana to be known as St. Thomas.

And so it is clear that nothing much is known about St. Thomas beyond these stories which have been refuted by historical evidence.

Even after reading the refutation of this tale of St. Thomas by strong historical evidence, the likes of Tharoor will claim that these ‘fables’ are historical facts, in no less than a full length book of the genre Pax Indica belongs to. The reason is not far to seek: Tharoor’s parroting of the St. Thomas myth arises from the Indian secularist template for keeping the secular fabric of India intact.

Sita Ram GoelBut there are deeper, more fundamental reasons why the St. Thomas myth must be debated and re-debated.

The reason is given in detail by Sita Ram Goel in his Papacy: Its Doctrine and History.

Firstly, it is one thing for some Christian refugees to come to a country and build some churches, and quite another for an apostle of Jesus Christ to appear in flesh and blood for spreading the Good News. If it can be established that Christianity is as ancient in India as the prevailing forms of Hinduism, no one can nail it down as an imported creed brought in by Western imperialism.

Secondly, the Catholic Church in India stands badly in need of a spectacular martyr of its own. Unfortunately for it, St. Francis Xavier died a natural death and that, too, in a distant place. Hindus, too, have persistently refused to oblige the Church in this respect, in spite of all provocations. The Church has to use its own resources and churn out something. St. Thomas, about whom nobody knows anything, offers a ready-made martyr.

Thirdly, the Catholic Church can malign the Brahmins more confidently. Brahmins have been the main target of its attack from the beginning. Now it can be shown that the Brahmins have always been a vicious brood, so much so that they would not stop from murdering a holy man who was only telling God’s own truth to a tormented people. At the same time, the religion of the Brahmins can be held responsible for their depravity.

Fourthly, the Catholics in India need no more feel uncomfortable when faced with historical evidence about their Church’s close cooperation with the Portuguese pirates, in committing abominable crimes against the Indian people. The commencement of the Church can be disentangled from the advent of the Portuguese by dating the Church to some distant past. The Church was here long before the Portuguese arrived. It was a mere coincidence that the Portuguese also called themselves Catholics. Guilt by association is groundless.

To reword a phrase used by the famed novelist S.L. Bhyrappa ‘Secularism can never be strengthened by projecting historical lies.’ Hence it is imperative for students of history as well as those claiming to be historians to challenge these distortions in our public discourse. – India Facts, 1 August 2014


  1. Ishwar Sharan, The Myth of St. Thomas and the Mylapore Shiva Temple
  2. Sandhya Jain, Merchant Thomas to Saint Thomas
  3. Tejasvi Surya, The Mylapore St. Thomas Myth that just doesn’t seem to die: Part 1 [and 2]
  4. Ishwar Sharan, Wikipedia & Encyclopaedia: Their counterfeit St. Thomas entries exposed

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