The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Sasanian theory of Islamic origins

Emmet Scott in September 2013 floated: The earliest Islam, as revealed by archaeology, is in fact profoundly Persian. It's on New English Review Press's site. The next January, NERP would publish a version of that essay as the appendix to Scott's Impact of Islam. Emmet Scott has posted similar notions at Gates of Vienna last August.

NERP is dangerously close to a vanity press and its site struggles with bursts of traffic. Vox Day last night linked Scott's 2013 essay, for discussion, thus causing some overflows over at NERP this morning (so I've saved the article locally). If that NERP site is breaking for you, here is VD's excerpt.

There isn't much early-Islamic archaeology, but some has survived. The Dome of the Rock over the Jewish Temple ruin is dated "72", by consensus agreed to be 691 AD. This structure is in the octagonal, domed form of a Byzantine-Christian martyrion. Also in Egypt the Arabs took over the old Greek pagarchal administration wholesale, only later phasing it out with Arabic. So when we read of Sasanian-type coinage, keep in mind that this is Eastern only. In the West, Damascus struck a coinage involving Syrian themes of palm-trees and Saint John Forerunner's head. And there are plenty of Byzantine-type coins as well, mirroring Constantine's coinage with his two brothers, or the cross-on-steps. Even Scott, earlier on, notices that the first Arab coins to mention Muhammad, from the time of the Ummayad Caliph (sic) Mu'awiya (d. 680), display the figure of a man holding a cross - a garble of the evidence Robert Spencer had brought.

The garble is all over Scott's essay, such that the reader wonders where to erect the boundary between mistakes and revisionism. Did Yazdegird's death in 651ish AD occur in Mu'awiya's "Caliphate", as the essay writes? But the essay also has 'Umar ruling until 664 AD. Whuu...?

Also, the Qur'an existed as well. As an aside, Scott won't allow it before the 80s / 700s. The Dome (72 / 691 as noted) already quotes sizable extracts from the text, including sura 4. Sura 4 had, itself, quoted from several suras before it, mainly suras 3, 6, and 17. This means that these suras, at least, were already in the canon, generations before the Dome. Also there's hearsay evidence that Ibn al-Zubayr relied upon suras 14 and 22 in the 60s / 680s; I'm willing to credit it, as some of the hearsay is embedded in poetry (I've argued for this in mine own book, House of War).

As far as the Sasanian theory applies to the study of Islam-as-body-of-text: all are agreed that the Qur'an is a Samaritan / Jewish based document, with heaviest reliance on Moses. Further, the remnants of Christianity, mainly Syriac, litter the suras, with a grudging acceptance of Jesus always explained (away) as a prophet. This implies that the Arab religion over the first / seventh century was accommodating itself to Near Eastern Christianity. Even modern Muslims are coming around to this, cf. Mustafa Akyol, The Islamic Jesus.

Scott instead posits that the first Muslims lived in the tottering Sasanian court, seeking to bring basal Mosaists into harmony with the Aryan Dên. We now know what this Quranisation process looks like for Christianity; so in that light - if Scott is right - I would expect to see some religious Arabic or Middle Persian texts trying to rehabilitate Zoroaster and maybe Mazdak into the Ishmaelite schema. Exactly such texts were composed in shu'ubi and heretical contexts... in the third Islamic century. But we don't have such texts in the first decades, and I don't even see in what we do have the intertextual strain showing where Iranian-themed texts even used to exist.

To sum up, Scott's model fails to explain Western seventh-century AD archaeology and also fails to explain the Qur'an we have. For that, the Crone / Hoyland / Holland model works better: a Palestinian and Syrian movement led by Arabic-speakers that beat its alternatives, especially once it was able to draw resources from Egypt. By the time of Islam's re-orientation, so to speak, Islamic dogma was already deeply entrenched in pan-Semitic populations (former Aramaeans mainly), and pan-Semitic dogma (i.e. the Bible and midrash) was deeply entrenched in Islamicate culture.

Add to this that Emmet Scott believes that we're living in 1717 AD on account of three centuries mistakenly added to the historical record, as he has doubled-down in A Guide to the Phantom Dark Age (also 2014). Scott is an overly-excitable fellow with a penchant for conspiracy-theory. His theories on Islamic history should be addressed on their own merits, of course. But it remains a bad idea to cite them in a paper.

posted by Zimri on 08:30 | link | 0 comments

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