Friday, December 2, 2011

Early Christian-Muslim dialogue


In my library, I possess what seems to be a fairly rare book on Christian-Muslim dialogue, with the full title, The Early Christian-Muslim Dialogue: A Collection of Documents from the First Three Islamic Centuries (632 - 900 A.D.): Translations with Commentary.

The book was published back in 1993 by the Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute (Hatfield, Pennsylvania), and was edited by N. A. Newman. (Google Books link.)

The following are the translated works included in the book (links to free online editions of the 3 largest works are included):


The Dialogue of Patriarch John I [the Jacobite (i.e. monophysite) Patriarch of Antioch] with 'Amr al-As [the Amir of the Hagarenes] (639 A.D.)

Leo III's [Byzantine Emperor] Reply to Umar II [Umayyad Caliph] (719 A.D.)

John of Damascus' "Islam" in On Heresies [chapters 100, 101] (died circa 752 A.D.)

Note: Google Books online preview of Daniel J. Sahas definitive work, John of Damascus On Islam, available here.

The Dialogue of Patriarch [Nestorian] Timothy I with Caliph [Abbassid] Mahdi (781 A.D.)

Online access: Woodbrooke Studies - volume 2; The Apology of Timothy the Patriarch before the Caliph Mahdi - Mingana

The Religious Dialogue of Jerusalem

Al-Kindi's Apology (circa 820 A.D.)

Online access: The Apology of Al Kindy - Muir

Al-Tabari's Book of Religion and Empire (circa 855 A.D.)

Online access: The Book of Religion and Empire - Mingana

Al-Jahiz's A Reply To The Christians (died 869 A.D.)


In addition to the obvious assessment that the above works provide us with a fairly good glimpse into the kind/type of dialogue that was transpiring between Christians and Muslims in the first three centuries after the rise of Islam, I would like to add the following observations: first, the majority of Christians entering into dialogue with the Muslims in this early period were deemed heretics by the 'Catholic' (Greek and Latin) branch of Christianity; second, the Muslims writers were all Sunnis; third, the level and scope of the dialogues seem somewhat 'unsophisticated' and uninformed by more modern 'standards'; and fourth, certain lines of apologetic method and argumentation on how the ongoing dialogues/debates would proceed along were established—lines, with few exceptions, that have continued down to our own day among the more popular and polemical disputants.

I would now like to expand a bit on my fourth observation. Those who are familiar with this blog are aware of importance that the development of doctrine played in the formation of Christian dogmas. They are also cognizant of the incredible diversity that existed (and continues to exist) among 'catholic/orthodox' Christians, let alone among those who came to be deemed as heretics via conciliar and imperial decrees. With this in mind, I find it quite interesting that much of the apologetic method and argumentation between Christians and Muslims has been carried on with the view that Christian dogma has virtually no diversity, and was 'fixed' long before the debates between the Christians and Muslims began. (I would also argue that the same holds true concerning the development of Muslim doctrines.)

It is my belief that this lack of acknowledgement, and discernment, concerning the development and diversity of dogma, has severely hindered constructive and fruitful dialogue between Christians and Muslims. I also believe that much of the poor apologetic method and argumentation that began in those early dialogues has continued into the 21st century—allowing, of course, that both sides have become much more 'polished' in their presentations of those methods and arguments.

Sincerely hope that this opening post will stimulate some robust and thoughtful interaction.


Grace and peace,

David

14 comments:

Lvka said...

What a wonderful resource Mar Timothy's "Apology" turned out to be! Thanks, Dave.

Ken said...

Although the Nestorians and Monophysites / Miaphysites (Coptic Church, Jacobite-Syrian Church, Armenian Church) were deemed heretics by the counsels of Ephesus (431 AD) and Chalcedon (451 AD), they still both believed in the Trinity; and they both agreed with Nicea (325 AD) and Constantinople (381 AD).

Nestorius himself was judged too harshly, and Cyril of Alexandria seems like a really bad person;

Nestorius was not a heretic as the discovery of the Bazaar of Hericleidus has demonstrated. He agreed with Leo I's tome on the 2 natures of Christ.

The Mia-physites claim they are misunderstood and called "mono-physites" and Eutychians, but they claim they are not.

They seem to believe that Jesus' human nature was absorbed into the divine nature after the resurrection, right?

But, they believed in the full human nature while he was on earth, right?

That seems to me like an acceptable position, (If I understand it properly; I confess I don't know much) as what difference does it have with Jesus' glorified state now? Surely He knows the time of His second coming now? But while on earth in His human body before glorified, He did not know. (Matthew 24:36)

The truth of Christianity does not depend on the actions of Christians in subsequent history after the Scriptures were written (48 - 96 AD) ; although that they grew under persecution until 312 AD demonstrates the godliness and holiness and truth of Christianity.

If the Orthodox were too harsh on the Nestorians and Miaphysites, then they violated NT principles. (as is claimed under Theodosius (380) to Justinian (550) to Hericlius( 614), Byzantine Emperors.

However, Islam seems to depend on the history of the success of the wars and conquering of Muhammad and subsequent history; because the goal is to subjugate all societies to the Sharia, and then convert people to Islam. Top - down spreading.

Christianity spreads the opposite way - the heart has to be changed first, then society improves and more and more hearts are changed. Bottom up spreading.
Grassroots, the people.

Ken said...

http://web.archive.org/web/20060429163403/http://www.christianorigins.com/islamrefs.html#sophronius
Sophronius of Jerusalem(died in 639 AD), the patriarch Orthodox leader who saw Omar enter Jerusalem (637-638 AD), clearly spells out the injustices of the Muslims in their wars; but clearly says that God is judging the Christian world for their sins and negligence. “You have left your first love” ( Revelation 2:4-5; see also Rev. 2:16; 2:22-23; and 3:3 and 3:16)
“I will remove your lampstand” (Rev. 2:5) – God’s judgment on the churches that had left their first love and neglected their relationship with Christ, and hence did not shine the light or evangelize the Arabs and others who later became Muslims.

"a strong and vigorous scepter to break the pride of all the barbarians, and especially of the Saracens who, on account of our sins, have now risen up against us unexpectedly and ravage all with cruel and feral design, with impious and godless audacity. More than ever, therefore, we entreat your Holiness to make urgent petitions to Christ so that he, receiving these favourably from you, may quickly quell their mad insolence and deliver these vile creatures, as before, to be the footstool of our God-given emperors. (Ep. synodica, PG 87, 3197D-3200A [p. 69])

[The following comments are dated to December of 634.]

We, however, because of our innumerable sins and serious misdemeanours, are unable to see these things, and are prevented from entering Bethlehem by way of the road. Unwillingly, indeed, contrary to our wishes, we are required to stay at home, not bound closely by bodily bonds, but bound by fear of the Saracens. (Christmas Sermon, 506 [p. 70]) (634 AD )

. . .

Ken said...

more from Sophronius . . .

. . .
If we were to live as is dear and pleasing to God, we would rejoice over the fall of the Saracen enemy and observe their near ruin and witness their final demise. For their blood-loving blade will enter their hearts, their bow will be broken and their arrows will be fixed in them. (Christmas Sermon, 515 [p. 71])

[This dates to the 6th of December in 636 or 637.]

But the present circumstances are forcing me to think differently about our way of life, for why are [so many] wars being fought among us? Why do barbarian raids abound? Why are the troops of the Saracens attacking us? Why has there been so much destruction and plunder? Why are there incessant outpourings of human blood? Why are the birds of the sky devouring human bodies? Why have churches been pulled down? Why is the cross mocked? Why is Christ, who is the dispenser of all good things and the provider of this joyousness of ours, blasphemed by pagan mouths (ethnikois tois stomasi) so that he justly cries out to us: "Because of you my name is blasphemed among the pagans," [I add: see Romans 2:24; Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:20 ff; 2 Samuel 12:14] and this is the worst of all the terrible things that are happening to us. That is why the vengeful and God-hating Saracens, the abomination of desolation clearly foretold to us by the prophets, overrun the places which are not allowed to them, plunder cities, devastate fields, burn down villages, set on fire the holy churches, overturn the sacred monasteries, oppose the Byzantine armies arrayed against them, and in fighting raise up the trophies [of war] and add victory to victory. Moreover, they are raised up more and more against us and increase their blasphemy of Christ and the church, and utter wicked blasphemies against God. Those God-fighters boast of prevailing over all, assiduously and unrestrainably imitating their leader, who is the devil, and emulating his vanity because of which he has been expelled from heaven and been assigned to the gloomy shades. Yet these vile ones would not have accomplished this nor seized such a degree of power as to do and utter lawlessly all these things, unless we had first insulted the gift [of baptism] and first defiled the purification, and in this way grieved Christ, the giver of gifts, and prompted him to be angry with us, good though he is and though he takes no pleasure in evil, being the fount of kindness and not wishing to behold the ruin and destruction of men. We are ourselves, in truth, responsible for all these things and no word will be found for our defence. What word or place will be given us for our defence when we have taken all these gifts from him, befouled them and defiled everything with our vile actions? (Holy Baptism, 166-167 [pp. 72-73])

Ken said...

[In a work originally composed by John Moschus (d. 619), but expanded by Sophronius (d. ca. 639), actually found only in an addition of the Georgian translation, the following entry appears, concerning a construction dated by tradition at 638, i.e., soon after the capture of Jerusalem ca. 637. It appears in a portion concerning Sophronius as recounted on the authority of his contemporary, the archdeacon Theodore, and may have been written down ca. 670.]
the godless Saracens entered the holy city of Christ our Lord, Jerusalem, with the permission of God and in punishment for our negligence, which is considerable, and immediately proceeded in haste to the place which is called the Capitol. They took with them men, some by force, others by their own will, in order to clean that place and to build that cursed thing, intended for their prayer and which they call a mosque (midzgitha). (Pratum spirituale, 100-102 [p. 63])

Note: bolding is my emphasis, along with some Scripture passages added in brackets above.

David Waltz said...

Hi Lvka,

Forgive my somewhat tardy response; I was out of town. In your Dec. 3rd post, you wrote:

==What a wonderful resource Mar Timothy's "Apology" turned out to be! Thanks, Dave.==

You are more than welcome. I was surprised to discover that the three largest works included in the book are available online; the internet is certainly an awesome resource !!!


God bless,

David

David Waltz said...

Good morning Ken,

In your first post in this thread you wrote:

==Although the Nestorians and Monophysites / Miaphysites (Coptic Church, Jacobite-Syrian Church, Armenian Church) were deemed heretics by the counsels of Ephesus (431 AD) and Chalcedon (451 AD), they still both believed in the Trinity; and they both agreed with Nicea (325 AD) and Constantinople (381 AD).==

Me: Agreed.

==Nestorius himself was judged too harshly, and Cyril of Alexandria seems like a really bad person;==

Me: I agree that, "Nestorius himself was judged too harshly". As for Cyril of Alexandria, he certainly had his faults, but I am not comfortable with dubbing him as a "bad person".

==Nestorius was not a heretic as the discovery of the Bazaar of Hericleidus has demonstrated. He agreed with Leo I's tome on the 2 natures of Christ.==

Me: This is true, but there were aspects of his theology that seemed 'strange' to many of his contemporaries. One must add that many of Nestorius' followers went a step or two further than Nestorius himself. For an excellent survey and summation of this period see Aloys Grillmeir's, Christ in Christian Tradtion - Volume One - From the Apostolic age to Chalcedon (451). pp. 443-554.

==The Mia-physites claim they are misunderstood and called "mono-physites" and Eutychians, but they claim they are not.==

Me: Yes.

==They seem to believe that Jesus' human nature was absorbed into the divine nature after the resurrection, right?

But, they believed in the full human nature while he was on earth, right?==

Me: Not exactly. For a good online treatment of the distinctions between miaphysitism and monophysitism see this ORTHOWIKI ARTICLE.

==If the Orthodox were too harsh on the Nestorians and Miaphysites, then they violated NT principles. (as is claimed under Theodosius (380) to Justinian (550) to Hericlius( 614), Byzantine Emperors.==

Me: You could add Calvin and the Geneva of his day to your list (wink).

==However, Islam seems to depend on the history of the success of the wars and conquering of Muhammad and subsequent history; because the goal is to subjugate all societies to the Sharia, and then convert people to Islam. Top - down spreading.

Christianity spreads the opposite way - the heart has to be changed first, then society improves and more and more hearts are changed. Bottom up spreading.
Grassroots, the people.==

Me: The above is way too simplistic for my taste. The conversion of entire peoples in Europe when a king converted to Christianity is well established. There is also the phenomenon of our day wherein Islam is the fastest growing religion in a number of countries that are democratic.


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hello again Ken,

Thanks for the link (and quotes), concerning Sophronius of Jerusalem. I own the book that the site/Kirby is referencing from, namely Robert G. Holyand's, Seeing Islam As Others Saw It. The book is a excellent resource; you need to be aware of the following that Hoyland wrote, for it is directly related to Sophronius:

"Part II.A ["Incidental References to Islam" - the section of the book from which the quotes you provided originates] presents those texts that include comments about the Muslims and/or their faith that are tangential to the author's purpose in writing, whether a digression or an offhand remark. The incidental nature of the comments does not guarantee that they will be favorable or objective—one can hardly call Sophronius' characterization of the Arabs as godless barbarians a detached judgement; but they are free of the direct polemical intent found in the sources assembled in the second half [Part II.B] of the survey—Sophronius' utterance is simply abuse, not an attempt to refute Islam, of which he was certainly unaware—and this can make them valuable." (Page 48 - bold emphasis mine.)

Personally, I find much of the polemic in the book to be "abuse", and "unaware"...

While on this topic, I would like to recommend a book I am currently reading: The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque - Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam, by Sidney H. Griffith.


Grace and peace,

David

Ken said...

David Waltz wrote:
Me: Not exactly. For a good online treatment of the distinctions between miaphysitism and monophysitism see this ORTHOWIKI ARTICLE.

I read the article before, and read it again; YET, it does not really say anything about the difference between the human nature of Jesus while on earth, and His glorified human body/nature after the resurrection.

Do you really know about that?

it just says, basically that He has one nature and that one nature is made up of two natures -- ?? hard to understand that.

It could possibly include a difference between Jesus' humanity on earth vs. after the resurrection yet it is silent on that. I have searched around; and I am amazed at not finding something on that distinction.


Me: You could add Calvin and the Geneva of his day to your list (wink).

Yeah; I don't agree with that part of Calvin - remember, I am not a theonomist. wink

I am a Reformed Baptist - the two main areas of disagreement are over baptism and church-state relations (with Reformed Theonomists). (But also, church government is another difference - elders in a local church vs. a session/council/presbytery over several area churches is another area of difference- so I guess there are three main differences.

But, Calvin in Europe was inheriting the culture/attitude of the results of 1200 years after Theodosius, Justinian, and Hericlius. - I am glad for the separation of church and state of the USA and baptist and free church position.

Ken said...

Me: The above is way too simplistic for my taste. The conversion of entire peoples in Europe when a king converted to Christianity is well established.

But that is after the Theodosius - Justinian - Hericlius era or similtanius with it - Clovis, King of the Franks - but he wife lead him to Christ, supposedly - hard to know if these are real conversions - I don't think that is Biblical for a king to decide "we are now chrisitan, - and the citizens just kind of externally follow - nominalism abounded - Roman Catholicism with the externalizes and believe in infant baptismal regeneration - deadly - lots of unregenerate church goers and partakers of eucharist and kissing statues - without true conversion - not Biblical at all. the first 3 centuries - better. Bottom up.

There is also the phenomenon of our day wherein Islam is the fastest growing religion in a number of countries that are democratic.

How much of that is by immigration and the immigrants having large families? If so, Is that really a valid measuring rule of the growth?

Has there really been a good study of those that actually turned from Christianity to Islam?

And other factors need to be defined as "the fastest growing religion" - compared to what standard or reference point?

Ken said...

Thanks for the link (and quotes), concerning Sophronius of Jerusalem. I own the book that the site/Kirby is referencing from, namely Robert G. Holyand's, Seeing Islam As Others Saw It. The book is a excellent resource;

Glad to know that; good. do you know why it is no longer there on line? i.e., only on the way back machine?

you need to be aware of the following that Hoyland wrote, for it is directly related to Sophronius:

. . . [ for space ]

The incidental nature of the comments does not guarantee that they will be favorable or objective—one can hardly call Sophronius' characterization of the Arabs as godless barbarians a detached judgement;


obviously, if they attacked in unjust, aggressive warfare (Jihad, Harb, Qatal), (which they did) then he would think they are godless barbarians.

but they are free of the direct polemical intent found in the sources assembled in the second half [Part II.B] of the survey—Sophronius' utterance is simply abuse, not an attempt to refute Islam, of which he was certainly unaware—and this can make them valuable." (Page 48 - bold emphasis mine.)

Sophronius was talking about the Muslims' unjust aggressive warfare of taking over the area; he was not trying to refute in apologetics or formal debate, obviously. But it is very interesting that he blames the church for "sins" and "neglect".

Sophronius' comments show that not everyone "welcomed the Arabs as liberators" - (Do you agree with that assessment? do you think the Coptic Church today and other RC and EO and OO churches that have been under the Islamic rule for centuries still see them as liberators, or did they realize a little later that they had been deceived and they actually got something much worse than the Byzantine Chalcedonians. ? )

"welcomed as liberators" is often claimed by Muslims and some history books on that time period and events say that, but others dispute that; that that was Muslim bias and invention, because the conquered could hardly protest - protesting Islamic rule is considered rebellion ( fitnah) - surah 8:39



Personally, I find much of the polemic in the book to be "abuse", and "unaware"...

Sophronius was unaware of Islam?

While on this topic, I would like to recommend a book I am currently reading: The Church in the Shadow of the Mosque - Christians and Muslims in the World of Islam, by Sidney H. Griffith.

Thanks, as always. I learn a lot from you. I wish I had the money to buy them (and book shelves to put them on) (smile - my wife is a little bothered by my constantly always gaining more and more books and never ending studies) and time to read as much with your depth and insight; and with recall as you have done.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for responding; I am a little pressed for time right now, so I shall be somewhat brief (hopefully tomorrow, I can respond in greater depth). You posted:

==I read the article before, and read it again; YET, it does not really say anything about the difference between the human nature of Jesus while on earth, and His glorified human body/nature after the resurrection.

Do you really know about that?

it just says, basically that He has one nature and that one nature is made up of two natures -- ?? hard to understand that.

It could possibly include a difference between Jesus' humanity on earth vs. after the resurrection yet it is silent on that. I have searched around; and I am amazed at not finding something on that distinction.
==

Me: I find the formula "one nature is made up of two natures" analogous to Van Til's formula that, "God is one person and three persons". I personally do not like either formula, but the distinctions between the miaphysites and monophysites, and the distinctions between Van Tillian Trinitarianism and strict modalism, must not be over-looked.

Further, just as there are many shades of Trinitarianism, so too with monophysitism, with varying degrees of emphasis on what exactly what "one nature" means. (More on this tomorrow, the Lord willing).

== How much of that is by immigration and the immigrants having large families? If so, Is that really a valid measuring rule of the growth?

Has there really been a good study of those that actually turned from Christianity to Islam?

And other factors need to be defined as "the fastest growing religion" - compared to what standard or reference point?


Me: I am certainly no expert on religious statistics, and rely upon others for the figures. As for the numbers of actual converts vs. birth, I don't have a clue as to the percentages. I suspect though, that if one factors out the growth rates of 7th-Day Adventists, JW's, and Mormons (almost always the 3 fastest growing 'Christian' sects in most countries), out of the growth rate of 'Christianity' (they are usually included), that result would be of some surprise.


Grace and peace,

David


P.S. Maybe one of the Orthodox posters that checks in here from time to time (like Lvka) could comment on the miaphysite/monophysite issue.

David Waltz said...

Hello again Ken,

You wrote:

== Glad to know that; good. do you know why it is no longer there on line? i.e., only on the way back machine?==

Me: Probably due to copyright infringement.

==obviously, if they attacked in unjust, aggressive warfare (Jihad, Harb, Qatal), (which they did) then he would think they are godless barbarians.==

Me: Consistency would make the Catholic/Lutheran/Reformed attacks on the Anabaptists "godless barbarians" too.

==Sophronius was talking about the Muslims' unjust aggressive warfare of taking over the area; he was not trying to refute in apologetics or formal debate, obviously. But it is very interesting that he blames the church for "sins" and "neglect".

Sophronius' comments show that not everyone "welcomed the Arabs as liberators" - (Do you agree with that assessment? do you think the Coptic Church today and other RC and EO and OO churches that have been under the Islamic rule for centuries still see them as liberators, or did they realize a little later that they had been deceived and they actually got something much worse than the Byzantine Chalcedonians. ? )
==

Me: I am sure that they do not, but it sure seems to me that you are ignoring the complexity of the issue by attempting to fit the entire phenomenon of "Islam" into one, tidy little box.

=="welcomed as liberators" is often claimed by Muslims and some history books on that time period and events say that, but others dispute that; that that was Muslim bias and invention, because the conquered could hardly protest - protesting Islamic rule is considered rebellion ( fitnah) - surah 8:39==

Me: Those Christians who were being persecuted by imperial decrees for not accepting the ecclesiastical decrees probably saw the Muslims in some real sense as "liberators", while those who were doing the persecuting saw them as unjust invaders.

==Sophronius was unaware of Islam?==

Me: The point that Hoyland was making is that he was unaware of the doctrine/religion of Islam.

==Thanks, as always. I learn a lot from you. I wish I had the money to buy them (and book shelves to put them on) (smile - my wife is a little bothered by my constantly always gaining more and more books and never ending studies) and time to read as much with your depth and insight; and with recall as you have done.==

Me: And thank you; I too learn from our dialogues. As for "time to read", it certainly helps being 'retired' (though my days seem more 'full' now!!!).


Grace and peace,

David

Ken said...

Me: Consistency would make the Catholic/Lutheran/Reformed attacks on the Anabaptists "godless barbarians" too.

I disagree with the analogy, even though I disagree with the violence done to the Anabaptists.

the problem is you are taking something
900 years later
Internal disputes within Christian territory
and
comparing it to a launching of all out war of one empire against another empire

apples and oranges
Big difference, it seems to me.