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
Debating the Cross in Early Christian Dialogue with Muslims
Truth claims made by a scripture and/or a scriptural community never remain confined to that community alone. Rather, they have implications for people outside the community as well. Most Muslims have interpreted Q4.157 to mean that Jesus did not die on the cross. When they began to make this claim to Christians, Christians were understandably interested.
Mark Beaumont has written a fascinating article about the ways in which a number of Middle Eastern Christians attempted to make a case for the death of Jesus in the face of the Muslim denial. "Debating the Cross in Early Christian Dialogues with Muslims" describes the arguments of several Christians who are thought to have lived in the 2nd and 3rd centuries of Islam.
These Christians living within the Muslim Empire disputed the traditional Muslim interpretation of Q4.157. But that was not their only way of answering the denial. Because the denial, it seems, has never been about the facts of history alone. Mark notes two other Muslim claims: "the impossibility of God allowing his messenger to be humiliated by such a death, and the threat to the eternal character of God if a divine Jesus died on the cross."
Timothy the Nestorian Patriarch countered Q4.157 with Q19.33, where Jesus says, "Peace be on me, the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I am raised alive." On the other hand, the Jacobite theologian Abu Ra'ita argued that Q4.157 was right to deny the claim of the Jews to have killed the Messiah. They killed the human body of Jesus, wrote Abu Ra'ita, but not his divine nature.
Other Christian leaders, however, tried to make a case for the necessity of Jesus' death apart from the Qur'an. The Chalcedonian bishop Abu Qurra appealed to Muslims that there is no forgiveness of sins "without the shedding of Christ's blood on behalf of the living and the dead." The Nestorian theologian 'Ammar al-Basri sought to answer the Muslim concern that Jesus not be humiliated. Jesus stooped so low as to die for humanity because he loved people, wrote 'Ammar. Therefore God gave Jesus the highest honour.
This material is is not very well known, even by scholars of the Qur'an, yet it seems to me very important. Thanks to Mark for offering this in a readily accessible form. Mark concludes that the Muslim denial of the death of Jesus had at least three challenging dimensions. Christians living under Muslim conquest did their best to answer from history, theology and the unique deity of Jesus.
In Jesus and the Cross: Reflections of Christians from Islamic Contexts (Oxford: Regnum, 2008)