23 November 2008

a fair and balanced heathen am i & i . . . .

Posted by at 3:05 PM

(a.k.a Open Question for Q'ranic scholars)

The Q'ran talks explicitly about Mary the mother of Jesus of Nazareth, more than the Christians scriptures do. In fact, Mary is a relatively minor character in the N.T. When she appears in the first gospel (by "first" I mean chronologically - i.e. Mark) it is only peripherally, and then it is only to take Jesus away from the crowds, to save him from himself. His family, the story goes, thinks he has lost his mind and wish to take him home. Some time later the authors of Matthew and of Luke gave Mary a more prominent role in the story, each adding his respective introductory birth narrative, complete with angelic blessings. The author of John later added a couple of mentions of her to his gospel, most notably placing her at the scene of his death. Finally, the author of the Acts of the Apostles mentions only that she was present at the Pentecost episode.

And that's pretty much the entirety of Mary's presence in the Christian scriptures.

Folks have always loved a good story. It's what humans do best, one could argue. Weaving meaning into logia. It wasn't long after the gospels were written that stories would emerge to try to fill the dearth of information regarding the childhood of Jesus. Christians of the second and third centuries would come to produce several interdependent versions of a young Jesus (with full powers on) who interacts with the people of his community - not always in agreeable ways. These apocryphal works include Infancy I, Infancy II, an Arabic infancy gospel, the book (not the recently controversial Nag Hammadi one - it can get confusing, I know) of Mary, and the Protevangelion. I recently read through all of these, comparing and contrasting them, and have been considering writing some of my thoughts on them down.

By now, most of us are aware that there are late extra-canonical pseudographical texts that supplement the collection we call the New Testament. One of the most notable of these stories that made it to Mohammed's repertoire involves Jesus turning pigeons of clay into flesh and blood and feather ones. Without going into detail, my point is that the stories are demonstrably late inventions meant to sate the fundamentally human need to aggrandize its hero archetypes, sorta like the huge success of the Superman hero myth sprouted the Superboy, Smallville, and even Superbaby offshoots.

(whistles one chorus of "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby " . . . )

Anyway . . .

The historicity of these tales aside, it ocurred to me that these works, essentially harmonizations of existing gospel themes with fanciful folkloric elaboration, meant to fill in the details of Jesus' otherwise anonymous life, are obviously the source of the stories about J's childhood which made it to the Q'ran a few centuries later. To my eyes, this is a very important detail in a couple of different ways. Two problems, one relatively minor, the other a doozy, raise questions:

  1. Did Mohammed read these tales? It's feasible that he got the information aurally, but the possibility that he was privy to these texts does highlight whether or not Mohammed was as illiterate as his followers would claim. But this is really a minor point; I can entertain the possibility that oral tradition made it to Araby.
  2. If Mohammed is claiming to have had an audience with no less a figure than Gabriel - the same messenger that presumably conferred upon Mary her "blessed among women" status - who basically dictates and inspires the surahs that he is to recite . . . if this archangel is the source of all that Mohammed received as his new heavenly mandate, and yet it can be demonstrated that the information that this archangel brings forth is based on late fanciful folk art, doesn't that in itself betray the non-divine nature of the "miracle" of the Q'ran?

    In other words: What kind of god would purposefully pass on bogus information to a prophet?

As Thomas Paine once said, a second-hand revelation is not a revelation at all.

My question: "What gives?"

Evidence of fraudulence in the religion racket? . . . or the rantings of a darned-to-heck infidel?
You decide!

Any thoughts, anyone?



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