Should Christians confer some degree of authentic “prophethood” upon Muhammad?
Part one, False Prophet Muhammad, identified two distinct Muhammad’s: the traditional and Harley Talman’s revised version. It also established Biblical standards and metrics for identifying true or false prophets. The traditional Muhammad fails completely when compared to the Biblical requirements for prophethood: his message, Islam, contradicts the Gospel message, and his moral conduct was abhorrent. The Islamic source materials, the Quran, hadith, and sira, portray Muhammad as a man with both good and bad characteristics. However, they also accept, if not justify, him as thief, murderer, lustful, and hateful. Based upon his wicked character and his false message the conclusion that Muhammad was a “false prophet” is as certain as apples fall from trees.
Parts 2 and 3 review Harley Talman’s argument for his revisionist Muhammad to be accepted as prophet, to some degree, by the Bride of Christ.
Talman bases his argument upon several points: evidence of tampering in the Islamic source materials, (i.e. the hadith and sira), interpretation “potentials” of non-Islamic writings, loose theological standards, and various historical theories. Because some of these cast doubt upon the integrity of the hadith and sira, he rejects the use of the hadith and sira to detail and define Muhammad‘s life and actions. For example, Talman uses Dan Gibson’s theory that Petra, (in modern day Jordan), not Mecca, was the site of Islam’s holy city and upon that and other similar theories states:
The most widely accepted version of Muhammad, based upon Islamic tradition, is dubious. (p3)
If such a fundamental historical “fact” in Islamic history as the location of “Mecca” could have been created by Muslim revisionist historians, then how much can we trust their accounts of other matters? Therefore, there is good reason to be skeptical about many aspects of Muhammad’s life as well as the emergence and expansion of Islam as set forth in Islamic traditions (their authority with Muslims notwithstanding). Thus, we are compelled to evaluate the historical narrative these traditions present in light of non-Muslim historical documents and archaeological evidence. What one finds is that when this is done, our view of Muhammad and Islam is significantly altered, along with our view of Muhammad in relation to redemptive history.1 (p3)
These theories enable Talman to dismiss the authoritative Islamic source materials and build his personal Muhammad.2
The sub-sections which follow reflect on various Christian views of Islam, a revised history of Muhammad and the movement he founded, and a theological reassessment of the prophet of Islam, all based on a potentially more objective portrayal of his character and actions. (p3)
Talman identifies four facets for review and examination in order to identify Muhammad as a prophet:
This article will focus on a reconsideration of four issues: our understanding of Muhammad and Islam, our theology of revelation, the criteria for prophethood, and possibilities for a positive prophetic role for Muhammad. (p2)
His four facets:
a) our understanding of Muhammad and Islam
b) our theology of revelation
c) the criteria for prophethood
d) possibilities for a positive prophetic role for Muhammad.
We’ll review Talman’s methodology, and his four points, and contrast them with scholarly approaches, non-Islamic historical writings, the Quran, references from the hadith and sira, and with Scripture, to evaluate the soundness of Talman’s arguments.
Talman generally3 discards the hadith and sira and relies on non-Muslim writings and interpretations of the Quran.
However modern scholars, and some of the previous extremely skeptical scholars of the hadith and sira, have shifted their positions due to recent archeological and historical document discoveries. They now approach the Islamic sources with a more reasoned, analytical, and rational approach, just as scholars approach other historical veins. It is no secret that both hadith and sira have been subjected to editing, the earliest Muslim scholars themselves attest to fraud within their faith’s writings. Real scholars however, do not jettison the entire corpus of Islamic source materials, but labor to identify trustable and reliable data. This is true in any data analysis science. Just as the early Muslim scholars sifted through the available hadith to separate true from false, or classify sound from weak, so too today Islamic scholars, both Muslim and non-Muslim, continue to analyze the hadith and sira.
Gregor Schoeler’s details this shift:
Only three years after publishing his much-quoted article ‘The quest for the historical Muhammad’ in which he expressed his unreserved pessimism about our ability to establish any hard facts about early Islamic history, F. E. Peters (1994) wrote – according to Patricia Crone – a thoroughly ‘traditional’ study about the Prophet. R. Hoyland, a former student of Crone and now the pre-eminent authority on non-Islamic sources about early Islam, re-examined the non-Islamic sources Crone and Cook quoted in Hagarism. He shows that they are hardly suitable to support an alternative account of early Islamic history; on the contrary, they frequently agree with Islamic sources and supplement them. A few years ago, Crone and Cook themselves publicly repudiated the central hypothesis advanced in Hagarism. In their most recent publications, leading historians of early Islam such as F. Donner and C. Robinson strike a decidedly critical note when it comes to the new ‘scepticism’.4
Schoeler then lists a number of recent discoveries that confirm key details found in the Islamic sources and concludes:
So much for the external evidence which confirms at least some details of the Islamic historical tradition about early Islamic history. This book however, deals with the Islamic historical tradition itself. More and more representatives of recent scholarship are prepared to admit that, in addition to ‘bad’ reports Islamic tradition also contains ‘good’ ones. Thus, they distance themselves from the ‘sceptical paradigm’. … The author of the last statement, C. Robinson, qualifies his claim in a footnote by admitting that he considers the so-called isnad-cum-matn analysis ‘promising’.5
Schoeler notes one reason older scholars deviated into the irrational theory of radical skepticism by quoting Bernheim’s comments on these scholar’s earlier modus operandi:
…scholars soon found out that their statements about one and the same event often enough contradicted each other; instead of trying to find out if they could still discover the truth or if there were ways to eliminate the sources of error they had detected, they carried skepticism to extremes by claiming that, due to the unreliability of transmission, there was no way at all to obtain valid information about the past…
Apparently, discarding tradition and freely sketching a radically alternative past on an empty canvas has a special appeal for these scholars.6
In the rest of his book Schoeler provides several technical examples of his “isnad-cum-matn analysis” process.
Similar to Schoeler, Harald Motzki, uses the meticulous isnad-cum-matn analysis method to analyze the hadith and sira events. He describes his methodology and presents the analysis example of Muhammad’s murder of the Jewish man Ibn Abi l-Huqayq. He writes:
The method of isnad-cum-matn analysis which I used in the following investigation consisted of several steps. 1) As many variants as possible equipped with an isnad (or fragments of it) were collected. 2) The lines of transmission were compiled in order to detect their common links in the different generations of transmitters. On the bases of the results first hypotheses on the transmission history were formulated. 3) The texts of the variants were compared in order to establish relationships and differences between them concerning structure and wording. This also allowed the formulation of statements about their transmission history. 4) The results of isnad and matn analyses were compared. At this point conclusions with regard to their transmission history of the tradition in question could be drawn: an approximate date from when the tradition in question must have been in circulation, who were the earliest transmitters, how did the text change in the course of transmission and who was responsible for it, etc.7
Commenting on Motzki’s book, reviewer Wim Raven writes:
What is striking in this volume is the increasing acceptance of the isnaad-analytical method which was invented by J. Schacht (Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, 1950) and refined by G.H.A. Juynboll and, differently, by Schoeler and Motzki. There are far more sources available now than in the days of Watt, and if one is prepared to go through painstaking detail, research can be brought to another level. The researcher has to collect all the versions of a story and analyze their content together with their isnaads. This makes it possible, if one is lucky, to establish a short list of transmitters which are common to all or nearly all isnaads. In many cases, the youngest of these, the so-called “common link,” will be the person who proliferated the story.
Originally the common-link method was the domain of the skeptics. Now it has spread more widely and is applied not only to hadith but also to sira texts.8
Other similar and intelligent approaches to this field are presented by Görke in “Prospects and Limits in the Study of the Historical Muhammad.” Gorke
Görke notes that the traditional Islamic source materials are questionable, but he also states that the non-Islamic references are also just as questionable, (something Talman misses completely), and far more incomplete:
The non-Muslim literary sources do not provide relief either. There are a number of sources referring to the beginnings of Islam that predate the Islamic sources. However, they do not contain substantial material pertaining specifically to the life of Muḥammad. In many cases, these sources are also open to interpretation. Finally, there are no non-Muslim sources that could highlight the social, political or spiritual context of the Ḥijāz at the relevant time and thus provide a background against which information on Muḥammad could be assessed. (p2)
Görke uses the same objections and worse, against the non-Muslims sources that Talman uses for his Muhammad. They are subject to interpretation, some were written with personal bias, some of them have been edited, details are lacking, and material is scant.
But Görke does not knee-jerk react and throw out the entire lot of either the Muslim or non-Muslim writings:
The fact that accounts on the life of Muḥammad were only recorded in written sources more than 150 years after his purported death does not preclude the possibility that such accounts were transmitted faithfully and accurately in the time between the event and their recording in these sources. Also, a lack of contemporary sources does not entail the impossibility of making statements about the historicity of an event. (p4)
His book presents similar approaches to analyzing the hadith and sira.
These are far more rational, logical, and scholarly approaches for the study of Muhammad’s life than to simply say, “oh well, these earliest writings may be doubtful, so I guess we’ll discard them.”
Even doubting critic like Patricia Crone, who ameliorated her skeptical position, admitted there was core truth in the hadith and sira.
We shall never be able to do without the literary sources, of course, and the chances are that most of what the tradition tells us about the prophet’s life is more or less correct in some sense or other. Crone
Another perspective on the early non-Muslim writings comes from fundamentalist Muslims. They have also examined the historical non-Islamic writings, such as those covered in Hoyland’s work, and have reached the same conclusion as I have: these writings confirm the sira and hadith accounts.9 Talman’s approach of ignoring the details and cherry picking select writings enables him to create a colorful wisp of smoke, a fairy tale Muhammad.
Conclusion on Talman’s methodology
This topic should be approached similar to the way data analysts approach situations where there are many versions of the same event. Perhaps you could call this “forensic data analysis.” They collect the data, correlate it, contrast it, and nail down as many facts as possible. They are aware that people’s memory plays tricks on them, and that key facts can be forgotten, or colored. They ask a “why” series of questions about the event, they identify the bias of witnesses, they correlate names, times, dates, places, etc.
That approach is similar to what Schoeler, Motzki, Görke, and others do and it is the opposite of what Talman has done.
Talman’s methodology is not only flawed, it is irrational. I am not a scholar in their field and that gives me a more objective eye. It is foolish to wholly discard the backbone and flesh of Islam because of some tampering. It implies cosmic conspiracies and generations of moral corruption. I am not trying to be offensive but that approach tells me that these earlier “scholars” were not that good, and their approach reveals unanchored arrogance. I don’t see why I must esteem scholars who invent and champion stupid theories, Christian or not.
Talman’s four issues:
Issue a) our understanding of Muhammad and Islam
Talman presents his Muhammad and Islam as compatible with Christianity.
His two key points:
1) The earliest Christians who encountered Muhammad were more favorable and positive about Muhammad and Islam than later Christians. Muhammad was not understood to be evil or portrayed in a harsh light.
The critical question is: Does our present perception of Islam accurately represent what Islam was in the time of Muhammad and what he intended his movement to be? (p4)
2) Muhammad’s message and mission was in harmony with the local Christian beliefs. His Christology was a variant of existing Christologies of the various Christianitys existing in the Hijaz, and the Quran’s apparent criticisms of Christianity are actually criticizing unorthodox Christian doctrine.
This harmonizes with the view of scholars who contend that Qur’anic verses allegedly critical of Christianity are best understood as challenging or correcting unorthodox Christianities or disputed Christologies. Reliable historical and textual evidence supports this understanding. (p5)
This indicates that they viewed Islam as an alternative Christology, not as a different religion. C. Jonn Block concludes that they even recognized a distinction between the teachings of Muhammad and the behaviors of his followers to the degree that Muhammad himself may have been considered a prophet from a Christian perspective. (p5)
Talman presents his revisionist Muhammad as being in harmony with real Christianity; Muhammad’s anti-Christian teachings were actually directed against unorthodox Christianity and he posited an alternate Christology. Subsequent hostilities between the Christians and Muslims were the results of other problems, issues, and misunderstandings.
Talman is wrong on both points.
1) Using only the historical non-Muslim writings we find a picture similar to what the sira and hadith paint. For example, Robert Hoyland is the expert in the non-Muslim writings about Muhammad. He wrote a chapter in Motzki’s book and commented that many of the harsh recent and medieval criticisms of Muhammad were rooted in the earliest Christian writings:
The same is true for various other attributes, deeds and doctrines of Muhammad, which recur for centuries in European polemical tracts and all of which have their roots in the very earliest Eastern Christian writings about the Prophet.10
Hoyland quotes some of the earliest writings about Muhammad from various non-Muslim writings and how they identify Muhammad with titles or characteristics of his prophethood. Here are quotes from two of the titles.
The first attribute/title:
Muhammad the Initiator of the Conquests
In the year 945, indiction 7, on Friday 4 February (634) at the ninth hour, there was a battle between the Romans and the Arabs of Muhammad.11 (Thomas the Presbyter, ca. 640)
Then God brought the Ishmaelites against them like sand on the sea shore; their leader was Muhammad and neither walls nor gates, armor or shield, withstood them; they gained control over the entire land of the Persians.12 (Syrian chronicler, ca 660)
(Muhammad exhorting his soldiers to attack and conquer other countries)
You are the sons of Abraham, and God will realize in you the promise made to Abraham and his posterity. Only love the God of Abraham and go and take possession of your country which God gave to your father Abraham, and none will be able to resist you in battle, for God is with you.13 (p278)
When a most numerous multitude of Saracens had gathered together, they invaded the provinces of Syria, Arabia, and Mesopotamia. Above them, holding the leadership, was one Muhammad by name.14 (Mid-eighth-century Spanish writer).
Hoyland summarizes these:
The idea that Muhammad initiated the Arab conquests comes through very clearly in these sources.15
Hoyland then cites Theophilus of Edessa commenting on Muhammad’s actions:
To corroborate his word, he led a band of them who were obedient to him and began to go up to the land of Palestine, plundering, enslaving and pillaging. He returned laden (with booty) and unharmed, and thus he had not fallen short of his promise to them.
Once dispatched, it was not enough for them to frequent Palestine alone, but they ranged far and wide, killing openly, enslaving, ravaging and plundering. Even this was not enough for them, but they would make them pay tribute and enslave them. Thus, gradually, they grew strong and spread abroad. And they grew so powerful that they subjected almost all the land of the Romans and also the kingdom of the Persians under their sway.16
The 2nd attribute/title:
Muhammad the Prophet/False Prophet.
However, just because the Christians knew Muhammad was deemed a prophet by his own people does not mean they themselves accepted him as such. In general, of course, they did not. Christians living in Muslim-ruled lands were at least content to say that “Muhammad walked in the way of the prophets” in that he brought his people to knowledge of the one true God and recognition of virtue, but Byzantine authors designated him rather as “the forerunner of the Antichrist” and “a false prophet.”17
Hoyland then mentions the Christian polemics against Muhammad:
Thus, for example, much of the reason for the presentation by Christian writers of Muhammad as a reviver of an original Abrahamic religion was to emphasize that his religion was nothing new, indeed that it was primitive, not having benefited from any of Jesus’ modernizations.18
Finally, Hoyland comments on another early Christian observation about Muhammad and the Muslims:
For example, Christian authors reveal to us how numerous were the prisoners-of-war taken by the Muslims and how extensively this affected non-Muslim society, both physically and mentally. They illustrate how preoccupied the Muslims were with matters of security and how suspicious they were that Christians might be conspiring with the Byzantines against them.19
All of these quotes from early non-Muslim sources paint the same exact picture the sira and hadith paint. Muhammad and his Muslims, attacked, plundered, killed, and enslaved. There is little difference between what Muhammad and his Muslims did with what ISIS does now. The earliest non-Muslim historical writings tell us that hundreds of thousands of people, Christian and non-Christian, suffered by Muhammad’s hand. They attributed their sufferings to Muhammad’s teachings and actions.
To answer Talman’s question: Does our present perception of Islam accurately represent what Islam was in the time of Muhammad and what he intended his movement to be? The answer is “Yes.” The non-Muslim historical writings depict the same Muhammad the hadith and sira present.
Patricia Crone was also aware of what the earliest Christian writings said about Muhammad:
There is no doubt that Mohammed existed, occasional attempts to deny it notwithstanding. His neighbours in Byzantine Syria got to hear of him within two years of his death at the latest; a Greek text written during the Arab invasion of Syria between 632 and 634 mentions that “a false prophet has appeared among the Saracens” and dismisses him as an impostor on the ground that prophets do not come “with sword and chariot”. It thus conveys the impression that he was actually leading the invasions.
The second part of Talman’s “understanding of Muhammad” is that Muhammad’s teachings and pronouncements against Christianity were directed against non-orthodox Christian teachings. Talman relies heavily on Fred Donner’s book, “Muhammad and the Believers: At the Origins of Islam.”
See part 1 of this article which uses the Quran’s anti-Christian verses, in context, and shows that the Quran contradicts and even condemns all aspects of the Gospel message:
a) Jesus was crucified and died for our sins
b) He was resurrected from the dead
c) We are to put our faith in Him as the Son of God
d) We are to receive and obey Him as Lord.
All of these points above are contradicted by verses in the Quran.
Muhammad does not get a pass because he believed in one God. So do the demons. The Quran’s passages contradict Talman’s argument.
Patricia Crone also rejected Donner’s thesis. Her sharp review of Donner’s book states (bold emphasis mine):
The main problem is that the only direct evidence for Donner’s central thesis is the Quranic verses on the believing People of the Book; all the rest is conjecture. The verses in question tell us nothing about events after the death of the Prophet, and it has to be said that the Medinese suras of which they form a part are not suggestive of ecumenicalism. They are full of bitterly hostile polemics against Jews and Christians, both of whom are charged with polytheism, deification of their own leaders, deification of themselves, and more besides. The Jews are faulted for rejecting Jesus, the Christians for deifying him. If there were believers among the People of the Book in Medina, an obvious explanation would be that they were Jewish Christians, a well-known hypothesis that Donner does not consider. The Jacobite, Nestorian, and Melkite Christians that the Muslims encountered in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq were unquestionably polytheists by Quranic standards, and with all due respect to Donner, the fact that they disagreed about Christology does not help, given that their disputes were premised on Christ’s divinity.
Donner says so many strange things in this book that one wonders what is going on. P. Crone – Donner
Conclusion on Talman’s “Our understanding of Muhammad and Islam”
Talman argues that the early Christians were receptive to Muhammad’s message and that they considered him to have some type of prophetic role. The exact opposite is true. Muhammad was viewed as a false prophet, a war-monger, a slaver. Talman also argues that the Quran’s message is compatible with Christ’s message. Again the opposite is true: Muhammad’s message contradicts Christ’s message at every crucial point save the “one God” belief.
An ex-Muslim scholar once said, “Jesus came to undo the works of Satan, Muhammad came to undo the work of Christ.” That sums up this point accurately.
Issue b) our theology of revelation
Talman’s argument is that God gives revelation to non-Christians and Muhammad was such a recipient. It has a number of facets, and he goes off on a tangent or two, but his primary thrust is that Muhammad encountered God and received revelation. Therefore Christians can confer some degree of legitimacy upon Muhammad as a prophet and his Quran as God’s word.
Talman builds this argument in several steps. First he identifies “special revelation” and “post-canonical and present-day prophecy” and their operation within the church. I agree fully with this specific point. God does speak to the church through modern day Christian prophets whose messages must be sifted. He then argues that there can be prophets outside of the Judeo-Christian faiths.
While acknowledging such a possibility for those in the Judeo-Christian heritage, some may question the possible existence of such prophets outside of this stream. However, they should remember that Balaam was the recipient of divine revelation from the true God whom he claimed as “the Lord my God” (Num. 22:18). (p7)
In general, I do agree that God can use non-Christians to speak revelation truth. However, an important semantic distinction must be made. Since there are different definitions for “prophet” we need to be precise in our usage. Within the context of the church a prophet is someone who has a specific ministry and gifting who speaks God’s word to the church. Outside of the church a prophet can mean many more things as I described in Part 1. A Christian teacher should distinguish between a legitimate church prophet, (like those found in the book of Acts, and found today in various Charismatic ministries), and a non-Christian prophet speaking in some type of ministerial mode. I would not tell Christians that a non-Christian is a prophet because he is speaking some truth, without adding clarification. If that non-Christian “prophet” proclaimed things that contradicted the Gospel, and rejected and refused correction, then I would, according to our Scripture, label him a false prophet. Truth mixed with falsehood is like poison mixed with whole food; it is still poisonous. This is the case with Muhammad.
Talman extends his general concept of revelation and prophecy to Muhammad and argues that Muhammad did indeed encounter God. He references the Dutch theologian Johan H. Bavinck who notes one of Muhammad’s experiences:
In the “night of power” of which the ninety-seventh sura of the Koran speaks, the night when “the angels descended” and the Koran descended from Allah’s throne, God dealt with Muhammad and touched him. God wrestled with him in that night, and God’s hand is still noticeable in the answer of the prophet, but it is also the result of human oppression.
Bavinck asserts that it was truly God (not an evil angel) whom Muhammad encountered in his revelatory experiences.
Thus Bavinck can acknowledge that Muhammad (at least at some point and in some way) encountered the true and living God in his revelatory experiences. Contradictory differences from biblical revelation could be attributed to imperfect responses by him, by the community that succeeded him, and by the People of the Book whom they encountered. (p8)
I believe Talman’s summary statement on his view of Muhammad’s prophethood and legitimacy of revelation is:
As Christians, we do not regard the Qur’an to be utterly infallible and authoritative, but need not rule out the possibility of God’s calling and using Muhammad as a prophet (like Saul in the OT or a charismatic prophet in the present era). (p9)
Talman’s argument suffers from at least two flaws: 1) he fails to evaluate Muhammad’s message as a whole, 2) his statement “Contradictory differences from biblical revelation could be attributed to imperfect responses by him, by the community that succeeded him, and by the People of the Book whom they encountered,” runs counter to Muhammad’s message and his asserted edict from God.
1) Talman argues from an “eat the cherries, spit out the pits” position. However, this is not the Biblical approach. Had Saul also called for the worship of a different God, or made calls to abandon Moses, then the Israelites would have rejected him as a false prophet and probably put him to death. A false prophet could say some truthful things but that would not absolve them of gross error. Here is the Old Testament’s position:
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. (Deut 13:1-5)
The Old Testament accepts that false prophets can speak truth and perform miracles. However, the evaluation does not end there. Their message as a whole was evaluated. The Israelites were commanded to NOT take an “eat the cherry, spit out the pits” approach. Instead the opposite was true. They were to kill false prophets, to “purge the evil from among you.”
Note God’s action in this: He was testing the Israelites to see if they loved Him. He allowed those false prophets to challenge His people to see if they loved him truly. If we follow Christ’s command, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, then shouldn’t we rejected false prophets and false messages?
Talman’s own argument works against him because he admits that the Quran contradicts the Word of God. Since it contradicts the Word of God it shows that Bavinck is wrong. Muhammad encountered an evil spirit, not the true God. That also is what Muhammad believed initially:
“So I read it, and he departed from me. And I awoke from my sleep, and it was though these words were written on my heart. (Tabari: Now none of God’s creatures was more hateful to me than an (ecstatic) poet or a man possessed: I could not even look at them. I thought, Woe is me poet or possessed – Never shall Quraysh say this of me! I will go to the top of the mountain and throw myself down that I may kill myself and gain rest. So I went forth to do so and then) when I was midway on the mountain, I heard a voice from heaven saying “O Muhammad! thou are the apostle of God and I am Gabriel.”20 Muhammad Suicide
Muhammad’s initial reaction was correct because he was assaulted by a demonic power. After years of struggling with this spiritual and psychological trauma he broke down mentally and gave himself over to that dark, malevolent power. His conscience became seared. That explains why he could subsequently kill, murder, and torture others without mercy.
Muhammad’s revelation experience contradicts the Biblical model. Search the Scriptures and see that no one ever becomes depressed and suicidal because they encountered the living God. God does not cause His chosen messengers to become depressed and suicidal for years at a time.
2) Talman’s statement, “Contradictory differences from biblical revelation could be attributed to imperfect responses by him, by the community that succeeded him, and by the People of the Book whom they encountered“ is confused or unclear. Muhammad did receive “revelations” that contradict the Bible. Talman attributes them to those three factors. However, none of them played a role in the revelation he received. The single occurrence of Muhammad’s “imperfect response,” i.e. the episode of the Satanic Verses, has his Gabriel reproving him of his error. After being reproved by Gabriel Muhammad states:
I have obeyed Satan and spoken his words, and he has taken part in God’s authority on me.21
Consequently, Muhammad’s error was corrected.
Aside from that episode, the community that succeeded Muhammad, and the People of the Book, played no role in distorting and corrupting Muhammad’s message, the Quran. There are many versions of the Quran that exhibit many variations, but none of these variants distort or corrupt the Quran or its message.
Conclusion on Talman’s “our theology of revelation”
Talman extends his definition of revelation to include Muhammad’s experiences and message. However his initial experience and subsequent content of his entire message disqualifies him from being able to claim that the spirit with whom he interacted was sent by God. The Quranic message contradicts the Gospel and any claim of “revelation from God” must be rejected. Muhammad was a false prophet who spoke some truth. So has every other “false prophet” the world has seen.
Continue with Part 3.
1 Gregor Schoeler’s introduction in “The Biography of Muhammad Nature and authenticity” documents this skeptical approach from the 19th century to now. Recent scholarship is taking a more rational approach in dealing with the Islamic sources.
2 The earlier scholars who rejected the source materials en toto did so because of hesitation of accepting doubtful material as truth, not because they wanted to paint a rehabilitated picture of Muhammad.
3 Talman’s article is seasoned heavily with quotes from many authors. These quotes are used to support assumptions about Muhammad’s statements and actions, or the Quran’s meaning. Often they are built on context provided by the hadith and sira. Yet Talman argues that those texts are unreliable. Talman is inconsistent in his argument. Bear this in mind as you read his work.
4 Gregor Schoeler, “The Biography of Muhammad”, Routledge, New York, New York, 2014, p13
5 ibid. p15
6 ibid. p17
7 Harald Motzki, “The Biography of Muhammad The Issue of the Sources”, Brill, Leiden, 2000 (p174, 175).
8 https://ghurabalbayn.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/ravenreviewmotzki.pdf (page 628 of Journal of Law & Religion)
9 For those of you who would like to read a detailed Muslim refutation of the skeptic’s “non-Muslim sources” argument see http://www.islamic-awareness.org/History/Islam/Inscriptions/earlysaw.html These fundamentalist Muslims use the same books and references that Talman, and I, have used, plus a few more. Their conclusion is the same as mine: the non-Muslim writings corroborate many of the sira’s and hadith’s details.
10 Harald Motzki, “The Biography of Muhammad The Issue of the Sources”, Brill, Leiden, 2000. (p276)
11 ibid. 278 (Hoyland also cites this in his book “Seeing Islam as Others Saw It”, Darwin Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1997. p120)
12 ibid. 278
13 ibid. 278
14 ibid. 279
15 ibid. 279
17 ibid. 286
18 ibid. 286
19 ibid. 292
20 Guillaume, A., “The Life of Muhammad”, a translation of Ibn Ishaq’s “Sirat Rasul Allah”, Oxford University Press, Karachi, Pakistan. (p106)
21 Rubin, Uri, “The Eye of the Beholder”, Darwin Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1995 (p161)