One of Mohammed’s inspirations was the Bible, the sacred Book of both the Jews and the Christians. He considered himself a Prophet in the Biblical tradition. This was a natural transition for according to their oral history the Arabs derived their genetic heritage from Abraham, the father of the Jews. However while the Jews were all children of Isaac, the Arabs emerged from the seed of Ishmael. According to Jewish tradition Isaac was primary son born of Ruth, while Ishmael was the son of Abraham’s slave, Hagar. Because of fighting wives Abraham left Ishmael and Hagar in Arabia near Medina, Mohammed’s spot of Revelation. Abraham dragged his heel across the sand to create an oasis, which was to nourish them. This oasis is the basis of Medina. Sibling rivalry runs deep, even to present times.
With Mohammed the Arab culture had finally found a Biblical voice. The Arab tradition easily embraced the teachings of the Bible because their ancestors were part of it. This was one reason that certain of their tribes were already Christian. Further the Nestorian Christians, many of whom were Arab, already believed that Jesus had a human nature. So it was an easy step to believe that he was ‘just’ one of a long line of Biblical Prophets, as Mohammed taught, rather than ‘the one and only’ son of God, which the Christians believed. This fatal conflict is irresolvable – except through tolerance.
Again it must be stressed that these beliefs have very little to do with behavior and mostly to do with cultural separation and War. Whether Jesus was a Biblical Prophet or whether he was the only Son of God, had no effect on behavior. Neither Christians nor Muslims cared much about the teachings or behavior of Jesus. Indeed it would seem that whether Prophet or Son of God that his teachings would be equally important when in actuality they were equally unimportant.
“Because the infidel Muslims don’t believe in Christ’s divinity we have the right to kill them, take their property, and enslave their families – all in God’s name.”
“Because the infidel Christians mistakenly worship Jesus the human as a god and erect graven images of him, establishing them as idolaters, we have the right to conquer their country in the name of Allah.”
Jesus’ obvious pacifism was and is ignored no matter which Biblical religion holds sway. In fact it’s better to stay away from the beliefs and behavior of Jesus. They will only get you in trouble with the authorities – no matter in which time period you live.
Mohammed’s divine connection came by linking himself to the Biblical tradition, which included Christian and Jew, as one of a long chain of Prophets, who were channeling God’s Will. Indeed in the Muslim world Mohammed is ‘The Prophet’. His affinities with the Biblical Prophets were, in many ways, greater than were those of Jesus. Mohammed’s militarism as well as his admonitions against corruption, which included polytheism and idolatry, as well as greed, was classic Old Testament Prophet. Jesus’ pacifism and tolerance were unique unto himself, not at all in the tradition of the Jewish Bible.
In some ways Mohammed’s Divine mission was to purify the Biblical tradition of its pagan accretions. For instance the Christian Church had acquired many humanistic tendencies introduced through it’s connection with Greek culture via Byzantium – specifically human representation – the dreaded idolatry. In the Old Testament there are many instances of idol bashing Prophets, starting with Moses, after he came down from the mountain. Most of the Prophets regularly railed against idolatry as the main sin against Jehovah God. Because of this emphasis, there is no human representation in the Jewish iconography.
In contrast to the Jewish tradition, Christianity was immediately ‘corrupted’ by idolatry through its connection with the Roman Empire. While everyone in the Empire had to convert to Christianity and no one could ‘worship’ idols anymore, artistic representation of the Biblical characters in human form was encouraged and raised to a high art form. Technically the followers were not worshipping the idol; they were only worshipping what it represented. This was unacceptable to Jews and Muslims alike.
This tendency to human representation without worship is seen very clearly in the Greek culture. While statues of Athena and Zeus were certainly worshipped, historical or cultural representations were more an artistic celebration of life than worshipped as gods. Further the more sophisticated Greeks probably saw the statuary of Apollo as only representing him, just as those who saw the pictures of Jesus didn’t think it was really him. When Constantine moved the Roman Empire to Constantinople it was Greek. This move emphasized the Greek nature of Christianity, which included human representation, which, strictly speaking, is considered idolatry. Thus Mohammed, as the Biblical Prophets of old, was purifying the Biblical tradition of this aberration.
Further the Prophets deemed the worship of many gods, polytheism, as was the tendency of the time, highly unacceptable. Any king, who strayed from the narrow path of monotheism, incurred God’s Divine Wrath – or at least his descendants.
Solomon, one of the best kings that Israel ever had, was a major idolater. However, in contradiction to the Prophets, he lived a long time; the Jewish kingdom held together and actually thrived. This is justified Biblically by the fact that his grandson was cursed. It is easy to justify any theory of heavenly retribution if the punishment is extended to the following generations.
Note that this exclusive monotheism had little to do with what most consider being ‘a good person’. It had only to do with religious beliefs. The Israelites, as God’s Chosen, were not allowed to mix with those who are not.
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