The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Reviewer-shopping at the New York Review of Books

Peter Brown at The New York Review of Books reviews Crucible of Islam. This is less a weighing of evidence and more a Eusebian hagiography. This critique was so a-critical I got suspicious of the critic they'd chosen.

One finds in here prose like Secure that we are in the hands of a master,let us think about the implications of the substantial gains to scholarship that Bowersock has brought us in this compressed masterpiece. Well, that's just your opinion, man. I had opinions too. Opinions with contrasting facts, or so I like to think. Brown makes much of an artistic Gospel being dated to the seventh century AD, as if it were a confirmation of the Lesser Hijra tale somehow; but all it confirms is that Axum was prominent at the (approximate) correct time... as any competent author of historical-fiction could also figure out.

Our critic Dr Brown is the Philip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton; his page is here. Most of us bookstore-trollers know Brown from his contribution to A History of Private Life, reissued and updated 1998. Brown had also delivered one of the first contributions to "late antiquity" in 1971 and 1989 - which I never did get around to reading.

My teacher in these matters thought more of Averil Cameron. As far as pre-Islamic Arabia goes, I don't recall Brown as ever an authority. How about assigning these review tasks to Philip Wood? Brown reviewing Bowersock amounts to one member of an older generation giving a content-free thumbs-up to another.

I was trying to figure out what Brown's point was, and ended up here:

Bowersock’s book shows, with unflinching scholarship, how these incompatibilities—many of them long­standing—had been thrown together in the age of Muhammad and his successors in the crucible of Islam. They are perilous incompatibilities. How each generation handles them is a test of its humanity. In recent times, alas, few generations have passed this test. But we have to keep on trying. To get the beginning of the story right is part of this effort. For this reason, we must be grateful to Bowersock for giving us, at this time, a masterpiece of the historian’s craft.

So, on the assumption that Bowersock got the story right, we are living in a similar time of cultural ferment, which is testing our humanity. COEXIST!

(So that explains NYRoB's choice of dinosaur.)

Although I wonder if Distant-Mirror theory is the message Brown, the NYRoB, and even Bowersock want to send. If they be right that the Muhammadan Sira be accurate, then we're not living in the world of Robert Spencer's Did Muhammad Exist?. What a relief - we're, er, living in the world of Spencer's The Truth About Muhammad. And the hadi we get to lead us out of this wilderness will likely be of a similar character.

UPDATE 9/17: it's worse than that.

posted by Zimri on 09:53 | link | 0 comments

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