From (Bob Kirk)
Newsgroups: soc.religion.islam
Subject: The Christianity of the Qur'an
Date: Wed Dec 11 00:41:27 EST 1996
Message-Id: <58lhi7$>

The Christianity of the Qur'an Uncovered - Part 1

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 
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
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. Qur'anic
Christianity makes it apparent that the author knew very little
specifically of the Christian faith. Yet because of these Oriental 
syncretized influences, which echoed the Gnostic and Manichaean doctrine
of revelation (many prophets, many peoples), and absorbed the legitimacy
of many religions, it is not difficult to understand why Muhammed never
considered considered becoming a Christian. 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.

1. Wisdom, vii.
2. Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses., xxx, 3.
3. Ibid, xix, 4.
4. Clement of Alexandria., Hom, ii, 6; iii, 11,13.
5. Andrae, T, Muhammed: The Man and His Faith, p126. 
6. Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses., xxxix, 1.
7. A. Hahn, Bardesanes, Gnosticus, p.85; Burkitt, early Eastern Christianity
   p 160.
8. Al-Biruni, ed. Sachau, p 207.
9. Fihrist, ed. Flugel, p 328.
10. Al-Biruni, p 207.
11. Augustine, Contra Faustum, xix 3.
12. Hymnus, tr. Lidzbarski, Nach. der Gesell. d. Wiss., Gottingen, 1918, p 501.
13. Eusebius, Hist Eccl. vii, 31, 1;cf. "Bibliographie Manicheenne",
    J.A., 1911, p 505, 1913, p 99.
14. Assemani, Bibl. Orient. iii, 2 pp 482, 609, 614.
15. Ibn Rosteh, Kitab al-A'laq an-Nafisa, ed. de Goeje, B.G.A. vii, p 217.
16. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia Vol. 11, Livingstone-Metalwork,
    1983 p 444.
17. Tabari on 4:156.

Part 2
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