The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Khalidi on Jesus's oral tradition

Tarif Khalidi in his book The Muslim Jesus noted several parallels in Jesus's sayings in Christianity to the same Prophet's sayings in Islam. (My review here: "a COEXIST sticker taped over sura 3".)

That populariser of Oriental culture and of nonWest Christianity Philip Jenkins has got hold a copy, apparently recently. Robert Spencer has run across Jenkins's article; and, amongst other critiques, asks: If such words were treasured by Eastern Christian monks and hermits, and only some but presumably not all Christian monks and clergy accepted Islam, why is there no trace of these sayings in Eastern Christian traditions? I think Spencer's being rhetorical.

There survive MANY traces of these sayings in Eastern Christian traditions as they existed as of Arabic literacy 650-850 AD. This is all that matters for the thesis of Jenkins (and of Khalidi). Per Jenkins's article: Sayings that did not find their way into the canonical text continued to float free as agrapha, “unwritten,” or unrecorded. We know them because they appear frequently in quotations by early Church leaders, or in alternate manuscript readings of the New Testament. Many of those Church leaders were Near Eastern. I'd personally start with Clement of Alexandria and work my way thence.

On topic of agrapha: Alfred Resch, Agrapha: Aussercanonische Evangelienfragmente notes plenty of those instances recorded by the Patristic authors. This was a second-hand preservation of apocrypha, sure; but for Jenkins it is enough to put those sayings into the hands of contemporaries to Islam.

I agree that Jenkins oversteps where he posits that the Muslims had pre-Gospel sources ("Q") directly. But even here he isn't entirely wrong, that Christian agrapha in Islam weren’t all second-hand. Take “The Gospel of Peter”: its best (Egyptian) manuscript dates to the Islamic era (we’re all talking about the written copies, not the original composition). The “Diatesseron” as well is widely considered to be the version of the Injil extant in Arabia at the time (although this one, I’ll grant, had slipped out of orthodox circles by then). A little more googling would certainly uncover more examples.

None of this is to imply that Jenkins is right overall. As for the monks he noted who embraced Islam - that much, is not a credit to those monks but an indictment. Spencer elsewhere flags several other points where Jenkins goes full-kumbaya. You never go full kumbaya.

posted by Zimri on 19:14 | link | 0 comments

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