The Christianity of the Qur'an Uncovered - Part 1 - Bob Kirk

Syria was the place. It was there that the advancing Greek culture and thought encountered Persian mythology, and the Babylonian astral cults. It was to there also, that a constituent of the primitive Christian community in Palestine, shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem had emigrated, (east of the Jordan), and had come into contact with this heathen thought-world, and its mystical techings. It is there in Syria that one finds the hybrid development concerning their doctrines or beliefs in the methods of revelation which resulted directly from the amalgamation or syctretizing of some of these external ideas with their own.

In an early to mid second century CE gospel utilized by some of these Judaeo-Christian sects, 'The Gospel of the Hebrews', we read of the baptism of Jesus, 'As the Lord came up out of the water, there came down the whole fount of the Holy Spirit and rested on him, and said to him, "In all the prophets I awaited thee till thou shouldst come, that I might find my resting place in thee, for thou art my resting place, my first-born Son, who reignest for ever."' Therefore, according to the Gospel of the Hebrews, the fount of the Holy Spirit, the one same divine being had taken form in, or had inspired all of the prophets, until in Christ it had found it's full and definite revelation. This also resembles and is likely derived from the portrayal  of the Wisdom of God in the apocryphal book, 'The Book of Wisdom', a stoic-influenced work. "From generation to generation it flows in pious souls, and maketh men God's friends and prophets."(1) These emmigrants from the Holy Land bearing their Christian faiths, tempered by remnants of Judaism, believed in the Holy Spirit, descending upon and in the prophets to who or through whom the Lord wished to speak.

After this, their notion encountered (in the eastern parts of their new land), the Persian doctrine of a divine Savior and Guide, the 'Heavenly Man' who once in the beginning, showed helpless mankind the way of truth
and life, and who would later reveal Himself once again as the Redeemer and also the Procreator of Truth.

Epiphanius explains that Ebion, the alledged founder of these Judaeo-Christian sects, believed that Christ once was Adam, the first man to be created by God, and into whom God breathed his breath. This Heavenely Man, the first Adam, who's home was naturally Heaven, was prone to, on occasion, come down from the supra-mundane life of that place, and assume a visible form appearing to the patriarchs. 'After He had come thus to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the last days He came clothed in the body of the same Adam. He appeared as a man, was crucified, rose again, and went to heaven.'(2) The heavenly Christ was thus incarnated twice on earth, as both Adam, and Christ, but had sometimes assumed a visible form to communicate with the patriarchs of the Old Testament.

The two doctrines, one of the method of revelation, and the other of the nature and person of the Heavenly Man, upon whom the fount of the Spirit had descended, were merged, resulting in the later synretized concept
evident in the Judaeo-Christian doctrines of revelation of that area;  First, the heavenly messenger and helper, Adam-Christ, was conceived of as dwelling in the prophets and assuming human form in them. Then it was said
that only twice, at the beginning and end of the world-period did he actually take on his own human form, and further, only showed that form to holy persons whom were found worthy of divine instruction.  The first
concept resembles the Judaeo-Greek idea of the Spirit of Wisdom and revelation which descend on the prophets and dwelt in them.

The second concept belongs to the Oriental doctrine of a Redeemer, who from time to time, comes from on High to reveal himself to the elect, but only actually came twice into this mundane existence in His bodily form. For
the former instances, he descended upon and into the prophets to whom he would reveal truth. In the later, he both was and received himself. There is a certain duality to both instances, which is beyond the scope and purpose of this discussion, but will be briefly addressed momentarily.

Some advocates of this fused hybrid doctrine were Elxai (Elkhasai), who lived in the country east of the Jordan in  the third year of the reign of Emperor Trajan. His name, roughly means 'the hidden power', and Elxai was convinced that he was one of these prophets who by the fount of the Spirit, was able to receive instruction from the heavenly messenger. Elxai, believed that a vision he had had, confirmed his calling. He had seen a twenty-mile high angel, and a female behind him. Epiphanius(3) explains that Elxai had understood the angel to be Christ, and the female figure, to be the Holy Spirit, his mother. 'Spirit' the word, is feminine in Aramaic, and naturally (as the Gospel of the Hebrews instructed) the Spirit spoke to Jesus as its (her) son, therefore she was His mother, spiritually. This is an important point worthy of note, and I will address it in the course of the article. Further, him whom the Heavenly messenger in spiritual form rests upon (in) was believed to not posess this spirit only at certain times, but always, and is endowed with it for their whole life.(4)  What followed from that idea is also intimately important to the understanding of Christinity as represented in the Qur'an: Since Adam was this messenger in his own physical form, to assert that Adam sinned is contrary to his nature, and an insult to God and the Messenger, in whose image he is. To those prophets then that the Messenger lived in and through, such as Abraham, Moses etc., the natural extension was that since they as well were indwelt by that same heavenly man, they were also without sin.

Epiphanius mentions(5) the prophets included as such by the Ebionites, (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, and Joshua), but excludes those such as Isaiah and Jeremiah. In other words, the writing prophets are neglected. Familar? The doctrine which has been here described was likely formulated more or less clearly by the Sethians(6), among whom was the Gnostic Justinus.

It is useful here to perhaps comment indirectly on the legitimacy of this fused doctrine, as some might suggest that this syncretizing process resulted in the truth about Christ, the Holy Spirit, and eventually, Muhammed. In other words, was it right? Justinus counted as one of the prophets in/upon whom the heavenly messenger rested, Hercules, a pagan hero/deity. This says a fair bit about the doctrine itself, and about those who were forming it. They were interested in bending faith to fit their world view, and not alterring their world view to agree with the truth of the faith. From the earliest days of Christianity (as the gospels and Paul's letters to the Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Thessalonians etc., attest to), it was known from Christ's own words that He and the Spirit were separate, yet unified with the Father in the Godhead, and that Adam, the prophets, and
the human person of Christ were all separate individuals, and (except for Christ), were in sin, and not permanently indwelt by the Holy Sirit.

Another among this group of adherants, was the Syrian Bar Daisan, who taught that Christ had appeared to Moses and other prophets, until He finally took on form through the virgin Mary.(7)  According to Arabic sources, Bar Daisan held that 'Allah's light had descended into his heart.'(8) Thus he considered himself to be the prophet of the Christ-being, or perhaps His very own incarnation.  Now that the basis of the doctrine's formulation has been layed, we will examine what came from it, and the purpose of this article, an explanation for the particulars of the Christianity of the Qur'an.

The above mentioned doctrine and ideas received notable exposition at the hands of a man named Mani, the preacher and martyr, who was crucified in 276CE by the Persian king Bahram I at the city gate of Gundeshapur. Mani was profound at theosophic speculation. His poetical talents, which were well suited to the already fantastic Oriental myths, took natural hold of these ideas as a medium or vehicle to forward his religio-philosophical system. He had already originated a speculative religious movement, by his grave ascetic piety and his good faculty for organization. This movement as we shall see in a moment, had far reaching importance. According to the Arabic writer Ibn an-Nadim, Mani in his twelfth year had received a revelation from the 'King of the Paradise of Light'. When he was 24, the angel at-Tawwam (companion) came to him and said: "Greetings to thee, Mani, from me and from the Lord who has sent me to thee, (note he did not say from God, my comment) and has chosen thee to be His messenger."(9) Another Arabic writer, al- Biruni presents to us an important citation from the actual writings of Mani; "From time to time messengers from God have come with wisdom and pious works. In one generation they came through an apostle named Buddha to the land of India, in another through Zoroaster to Persia, in a third through Jesus to the West. This prophetic office has now, in this best of generations, come through me, Mani, the apostle of the God of truth, to the land of Babel."(10)

This is where one needs to pause for a moment and seriously understand what and why this man was saying and doing what he was. He was syncretizing those 'apostles' of various faiths (and the faiths themselves), proclaiming an essentially universal doctrine in order to further his religio-philosophical following, neglecting completely that
the doctrines of those different men were _completely_ incompatible. Mani recognized other men as apostles in this 'line' as well. Adam, Seth, Noah, and Abraham are all mentioned by him(11). A heavenly being of light,
who bears the mystic names 'The Third Messenger', 'Jesus', and 'The Virgin of Light,' took form in these prophets, or revealed itself to them. In this regard, Mani betrays the fact that his doctrine is based on those previously mentioned, such as Elxai, as he also includes the same duality of this 'Messenger' at one time being identified with the prophets, and at another, being completely distinguished from them. If you can see the conclusion coming in the distance from this point, congratulations are due you. Verifiable, researchable, undisputable.

Mani saw the person of Jesus as no ordinary man. In this he is not different from Biblical Christianity. It is where he diverges, according to that which proceeds from the above doctrines, that differs significantly. In Jesus, according to Mani, there clearly appears an earthly revelation of the Heavenly Messenger, which follows the course set
out by the duality of the doctrine. What Christians believe about Jesus' birth, circumcision, temptation (in the wilderness), and similar things which disparage His Divinity, are false according to Mani.
_ _The Jesus
whom the Jews crucified was thus not the Heavenly One, who, thanks to His nature, can not suffer. It was therefore another being, who is sometimes called a demon, and sometimes the "son of the widow" whom God put in his
place on the cross
_ _.

Mani at times even applied this duality to himself, claiming to have received a visit from this same Heavenly Messenger, (implying that he is an apostle of Jesus, that is, the Messenger(12). At others, it is affirmed
that Mani gave himself out as the _Holy Spirit, whom Christ had promised, (and was indeed also promised in the Old Testament)_, and further, as even Christ Himself.(13) In the Manichaean texts from Turfan, in numerous prayers and hymns, Jesus, the Virgin of Light, and Mani are brought together as to clearly mean the same person. In Chinese texts, he is called Buddha. As mentioned, this idea of the same message coming at different times to different people was shared by a number or religious sects in the Oriental middle east at this time. Mani took it upon himself to assume the next in the series of prophets to, or rather on and in whom the Holy Spirit was (mis)understood to be singularly presented to.

As far as we know, this doctrine relating messenger and prophet of truth was not called forth anytime after Mani or before Muhammed. However, the idea lived on. In the tenth century CE, Ibn an-Nadim still found Mesopotamian 'Sabians' who appear to have accepted the doctrines described above. The Qur'an does mention these people, for example in Sura 2:62, 'Believers, Jews, Christians and Sabians...' See also 5:69, and 22:17. I will speak of the Sabians again in part two of this article. These verses if nothing else, suggest that Muhammed was exposed to the beliefs mentioned above, at least to a degree. But there is other evidence. Syrian Christian bishops also encountered those with heretical ideas such as Mani's throughout their visitations to the Arabian desert(14). Manichaeism, which was strong in Central Asia, had extended to the borders of China, and to even Europe. It is no stretch to assume that in a city of commerce such as Mecca, there would have been the presence of Manichaeism to some degree. In fact, Arab chroniclers document that Zindiqs, (probably Manichaeans) had indeed come from al-Hira to Mecca(15). This is further supported by the following quotation from the Encyclopaedia Britannica concerning Manchaeism; 'The Arab conquest in the 7th century was not a fatal blow but in fact, stimulated a temporary renewal of Manichaeismin Babylonia and encouraged the return of several groups that had fled to Iraq and the neighbouring regions.'(16)

Under Byzantine religious constrictions, those of the old Gnostic sects, and those Manichaean missionaries were required to proceed in Christian countries with great prudence and reservation. However, in non-Christian
lands, there was no such restriction, and it is this fact that in part may explain the often fanatical attacks and abadonment by these people and missionaries of the Biblical Christian churches. Whether they considered
Jesus as a prophet among the prophets, or identical with the Heavenly Messenger (or both), these missionaries (including Manichaean) _accused the Church of having falsified in various points, the true religion_.
These accusations however, stemmed from their mystically influenced perception of the nature of Christ, the Heavenly Messenger, and the Holy Spirit, most of which was totally ignorant of Biblical history, or indeed
the true path their doctrine had taken to get to them. In particular, they were convicted that all religions (but especially those that were able to name their founder) contained the same eternal truth, and this again, was
syncretism with the heathen peoples that must have boosted their national and religious pride.

The claims of Judaism and Christianity they said, as being the true and only religions, were wrongful to state, and were provocative assumptions. To the ears of a Meccan tradesman, not intimately involved in the debate, the presence of these doctrines may have had the same effect that Mani and the Gnostics had among the peoples of the Orient. ...The wandering Syrian preachers perhaps gave him an impulse into the direction that this deep thinker might have moved. He already knew from what he'd heard about Christianity from Syrian preachers, tempered by the Gnostic or Manichaean locals, that Christendom, was only one religion among other similarly privileged people whom had received guidance and revelation. Where was the prophet for his people?

The Qur'anic conception of revelation bears a relationship to the Ebionitic-Manicaean doctrines which can not be accidental. Yet at the same time, it betrays a lack of true familiarity, in that for the rest, the only definite traces of Manichaean doctrine can be found in the Qur'ans notion of the death of Jesus. Here we return to the single most
significant issue above from above.

Sura 4:156ff, 'The Jews say, "Verily we have killed the Messiah, Jesus the Son of Mary, the Apostle of God," but he was neither killed nor crucified by them; he merely appeared so to them...Really, indeed, they  did not kill him, but God took him up to Himself.' The author of the Qur'an does not believe like usual Gnostic docetism that Jesus himself suffered in a false body, but obviously like Mani, that someone else took his place, and was crucified by the Jews. This is how the Muslim exegetes of the first period understood it(17). They relate that of his own free will, one of Jesus' disciples took it upon himself to suffer for his master, and was made by God to resemble Him, so that the Jews believed they were crucifying Jesus Himself, or that it was Judas who was crucified in punishment for his treachery.

The Christianity of the Qur'an Uncovered - Part 2 - Bob Kirk

There is no lack of proof to support the idea that a real connection existed between early Islam and these Gnostic sects. The followers of Muhammed were frequently (and precisely in the traditions of the prophet's war-like expeditions, or 'razia') called Sabians by his opponents, a word which was the true common name for one of the Gnostic groups here mentioned. This title can not have come from the Qur'an. The only occasions that the Sabians are mentioned in the Qur'an, are as a particular community distinct and different from the Christians, Jews and
'believers', or Muslims. It is highly unlikely then that this name would have been applied by critics/opponents to the earliest Muslims as a nick-name, having no foundation, and being a clearly distinct proper noun from the pages of their (yet uncompiled) Qur'an. It is clear then that the life (and teachings) of Muhammed had a certain relationship with these Sabians.

...'Hanif' thus means for Muhammed, as indicated (in the majority of uses) one who is not of the idol-worshippers, yet is neither a Jew nor Christian, attaching themself to one of these religious communities. The Arabic word
likely comes from the Syriac word 'hanpa' meaning heathen. On first glance this seems to contradict, not confirm the statement on origin. How does this word mean 'monotheist' when it first meant 'heathen'? The Syrian Bible uses the word 'hanpa' for heathen in general, and in ecclesiastical language for Greek heathenism in particular. The Christian Syrians did not use 'hanpa' for heretics in general, but only for those whose standpoint approximated some of the positions in Greek heathenism, that they could be considered apostates from the Syrian church, and
Christian religion.
Thus Mani's teachings, were plainly called 'hanputa', heathanism. The Sabians were first called 'heathen' in works written after the Arabic conquest, but evidence suggests that they were known by this term at a much earlier date. If Manichaeans and Sabians were therefore directly called 'hanpe', heathens, one can see how gradually in Arabic this term could come to mean a monotheist who is neither a Jew nor a Christian. Muhammed however, seems to understand the word 'hanif' to mean a man who seems to have come to the understanding (through God given predisposition) of the existence of only one God, and a faith (monotheistic religion) delivered to all peoples at different times, through different prophets) yet who has not attached themselves to any of the rites or laws of the Jewish or Christian positions. This can hardly be disputed. Even the recognized Arabic scholar, N.J.
Dawood, born in Baghdad, and a master of the Arabic tongue (as evidenced in his translation of the Qur'an, and Tales from the Thousand and One Nights) in his introduction to 'The Koran' writes, 'Impressed by Jewish
and Christian monotheism, a number of theists, or spiritual funda-mentalists, known as hanifs had already rejected idolatry for an ascetic religion of their own (perhaps Manichaeaism, my comment?). Muhammed appears to have been influenced by them.'(1) Thus, the leading thought of the Manichaean movement had detached itself from the sect which carried it, and as so many scientific and philosophic ideas before and since, lost the indications of its origin as it was syncretized into the new Islamic movement.

The Christianity of the Quran Uncovered - Part 3 - Bob Kirk

 ...The fear of judgement, the great reckoning, indeed the entire eschatological motive in general runs parallel
through the book of Islam and Syrian Christianity of that time. Both hold these as the dominant motive for good works...

Visions of Paradise

In the connection of study of the stylistic form of various passages from the Qur'an, it is noteworthy to examine perhaps the greatest preacher of the Syrian Church, Afrem (Ephraim the Syrian). Held in the highest esteem
by both Monophysites and Nestorian Christians, Afrem discussed no subjects as partially and personally as those with eschatological themes, such as death, the judgement, and eternal rewards. There are many points of
similarity between his sermons on these subjects, and in the like-minded sections of the Qur'an
From Afrems 'Hymns of Paradise' there can be no doubt about the relativity of these words on Paradise: 'I saw the
dwelling-places of the just, and they themselves, dripping with ointments, giving forth pleasant odours, wreathed in flowers and decked with fruits...When they lie at the table the trees offer their shade in the clean air...soft winds stand before the blessed, ready to do their will. One of them wafts appeasement, another causes drinks to flow...In
Paradise the winds give nourishment in a spiritual fashion to spiritual beings. It is a feast without effort, and the hands do not become tired.' Later, we also see a subtle reference to the virgins of paradise, in a reference to wine and the rewards for abstinance from it on earth: 'Whoever has abstained from wine on earth, for him do the vines of paradise yearn. Each one of them holds out to him a bunch of grapes. And if a man lived in chastity, they (feminine) receive him in a pure bosom and bed of earthly love.'(2) Compare these spiritualizations of sensual images to sura 37:45ff, 'But the true servants of God shall be well provided for, feasting on fruit, and honoured in the gardens of delight. Reclining face to face upon soft couches, they shall be served with a goblet filled at a gushing fountain, white, and delicious to those who drink it. It will neither dull their senses nor befuddle them. They shall sit with bashful, dark-eyed virgins, as chaste as the sheltered eggs of ostriches.' And, sura 76:15 'Trees will spread their shade around them, and fruits will hang in clusters over them.'


The Qur'ans instruction on devotional requirements/exercises is also strongly similar to those performed by Syrian monks and hermits (and to an extent also those of their Christian laymen) as expressions of their piety. For instance, night vigils, consisting of prayer recitation, were foremost among the monks, who would exercise their spirits by reciting the Psalms well into the night. The Qur'an, in sura 73:20 records that believers keep the vigil a third, or a half or two thirds of the night. This is striking to a Syrians (Pachomius) command to his disciples that they watch for half the night.(3) Similarly, another (Macarius) instructs that, 'half the night will be sufficient for your devotions. The other half is for the rest of your body.'(4) This nightly worship was composed of periods of recitation, coupled with bodily prostrations. It was often said that the most pious could be identified by their foreheads, bearing marks of continual prostration.(5) The Qur'an in sura 48:29 reads of  believers, 'Their marks are on their faces, the traces of their prostrations.'

The Soul.

First, let us examine the Qur'ans doctrine of the soul, namely that it sinks into complete unconsciousness after death, so that the day of Judgement 'comes' immediately after death. Though the idea has merit in its own right, at the time of the Qur'ans recitation, the idea only existed in the (Syrian) Nestorian Church in Persia. Previously, the Syrian church father Aphraates believed and tought that the soul existed in a deep state of sleep between death and the judgement.(6) But about 580 CE, that is, about 30 years before Muhammed appeared as a prophet, a man known as Babai the Great, one of the most prominent theologins of the Nestorian Church, had again advanced Aphraates theory that the soul could not function without the body (as the Biblical book of James clearly states some 500 years previous). Babai forwarded strongly the idea that the soul, though existing apart from the body was not a complete entity, and lacked knowledge and memory. In other words, the dead were unable to perceive the passage of time, as they were not possessive of cognizance until the Lord provided life to them again.
Besides quoting scriptural passages to prove this theory (ie Genesis, James etc.) Babai cited the legend of _The Seven Sleepers_.(7) Of course, the story of the Fellows of the Cave (The Sleepers) appears in sura 18 of the Qur'an. This idea on the soul was not what was considered by 'mainstream'  Christianity as a heretical innovation of the Nestorian Church, but was generally regarded as a current issue by them peculiarly and pressed to the forefront at the time. Babai was for a long period of time the actual leader of the Church, and his doctrine dominated the discussions of the Nestorians for centuries, even through the tenth century CE.

Additionally, it is not until one of the latest Meccan suras that Jesus, or Isa (as he is known in the Qur'an) is mentioned. This name is apparently derived from the name Ischo, which was also prevalent in use in the Nestorian church...

...The Qur'ans revelations often follow a fixed rhetorical scheme, with the following outline:
1. A description of the blessings of God as revealed in His providence,
   especially in the wonderful creation of man, and the life giving rain
   which brings about productive growth for the nourishment of man.
2. The duty of man, therefore, to serve God alone in faith and good works.
3. The judgement and retribution which shall come upon all who do not
   fulfill this duty.(8)
Even since the days of the early Christian Church, this has been the prevailing style of Christian missionary preaching. We know that no Oriental church had as active a missionary program as that of the Nestorian Church, who established churches in Central Asia, India, and China...


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