Many fine scholars are currently publishing books and articles about Qur'anic Text and Commentary. This Fall and Winter I would like to describe some of the articles I am reading, and to focus particular issues for discussion. I invite you to interact with these articles as well, and to freely post your thoughts below each blog. If you wish to subscribe to these weblogs and access all archived weblobs, select the following RSS feed: http://www.quranandinjil.org/blog/feed
How can so many Christians be wrong?
Qur'anic Commentary on the death of Jesus has generally asserted that Jesus did not die. This judgment is usually related to an understanding of the meaning of Q 4.156-159, especially verse 157. In England in September, I met scholars who have published interesting articles on this subject. This Fall I would like to describe several of these articles, focus one or two of the key issues for discussion, and invite your comments.
In April 2008, Martin Whittingham published an article on the role of "tawatur" in Muslim interpretation of Q 4.157 in the journal Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations. Martin defines "tawatur" as "recurrent transmission of reports," and explains that in Muslim scholarship this is the highest degree of trustworthiness which can be given to a report of a particular event. The concept of "tawatur" actually developed in Muslim writing on the principles of jurisprudence, but Martin brings it into the sphere of the study of Muslim-Christian interaction.
Most Muslim scholars have understood that when a large group of reporters transmits information about the same event, it should be considered seriously for tawatur status. What then of Christian reports about the crucifixion of Jesus? Martin investigates the views of two famous Muslim scholars, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi.
Briefly, al-Ghazali decided that the Christian report that Jesus died was an error of sense perception, because Q 4.157 states "it was made to seem so to them" [a notoriously difficult Arabic expression to comprehend]. Al-Ghazali supported the popular Muslim theory that another person was made to look like Jesus and was crucified instead. Al-Razi, however, wrote that this theory leads to 'sophistry' and would undermine the entire concept of tawatur. He concluded, rather, that the original report of the Christians came from a small number of people, and it is possible that these few people agreed on a lie.
Martin cleverly titled his article, "How Could So Many Christians Be Wrong?" Does this medieval material hold any potential for authentic Christian-Muslim engagement today? Martin offers a wide-ranging, perceptive and interesting analysis, from which I will pull just a couple of questions.
First, can the case be made that the Gospel reports about the death of Jesus fulfill the requirements of "tawatur"? Secondly, is there any point in appealing to the Gospel reports of the death of Jesus if Muslims understand the Qur'an to deny Jesus' death?