A Muslim Theologian in the Sectarian Milieu: Abd al-Jabbar and the Critique of Christian Origins (Islamic History and Civilization)

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9789004139619: A Muslim Theologian in the Sectarian Milieu: Abd al-Jabbar and the Critique of Christian Origins (Islamic History and Civilization)

In 385 AH/AD 995 the Qāḍī 'Abd al-Jabbār, well known for his Mu'tazilī theological writings, wrote the Confirmation of the Proofs of Prophecy, a work that includes a creative polemic against Christianity. 'Abd al-Jabbār reinterprets the Bible, Church history (especially the lives of Paul and Constantine) and Christian practice to argue that Christians changed the Islamic religion of Jesus. The present work begins with an examination of the controversial theory that this polemic was borrowed from an unkown Judaeo-Christian group. The author argues that 'Abd al-Jabbār's polemic is better understood as a response to his particular milieu and the on-going inter-religious debates of the medieval Islamic world. By examining the life and thought of 'Abd al-Jabbār, along with the Islamic, Christian and Jewish antecedants to his polemic, the author uncovers the intimate relationship between sectarian controversy and the development of an Islamic doctrine on Christianity.

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About the Author:

Gabriel Said Reynolds, Ph.D. (2003) in Islamic Studies, Yale University, is Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies and Theology at Notre Dame University. He works on Islamic origins and Christianity and has published Jesus, the Qa'im, and the End of the World and Saint Thomas' Islamic Challenges: Reflections on the Antiochene Questions.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

I began to work on this project after learning of a contentious debate between S. Pines and S.M. Stern over the section on Christianity in 'Abd al-Jabbar's (d. 415/1025) Tathbit dala'il al-nubuwwa (Confirmation of the Proofs of Prophecy). This debate demonstrated how different methodologies and ideologies can lead two exceptionally competent scholars to wildly different opinions on the same text. The debate was also a sad affair. It marked the end of a friendship, and, as Stern died not much later, there was no chance of reconciliation between the two scholars.

As I began my research into the Tathbit, I imagined that the goal of my project would be reconciliation, if not of the two scholars, then of their theories. Yet it soon became clear that the section on Christianity in the Tathbit was important in ways that far surpassed the bounds of the Pines-Stern debate. They, and those that have later entered this debate, focus on the question of Judaeo-Christian influence on this work. Yet the section on Christianity in the Tathbit is no less important for what it reveals of the thought of 'Abd al-Jabbar and of the milieu in which he lived.

I begin the present work by analyzing the Pines-Stern debate and then move on to the biography of 'Abd al-Jabbar and the historical and demographical nature of his milieu. I continue with a description of 'Abd al-Jabbar's critique of Christianity in the Tathbit. 'Abd al-Jabbar argues that Christians changed the religion of Jesus (Islam)and created Christianity in its place. He does so by examining Christian scripture, Christian history, and his Christian contemporaries. On the surface, then, 'Abd al-Jabbar's writing is exegetical, historical and sociological. At a deeper level, however, it is marked by the themes of the Quran and the methods of kalam. In the second half of the present work I examine the sources of 'Abd al-Jabbar's work, both Muslim and non-Muslim. In this way I describe 'Abd al-Jabbar's writing on Christianity in the context of the larger Muslim-Christian conversation.

It is this conversation, incidentally, that has remained on my mind throughout my research. While 'Abd al-Jabbar's writing on Christianity is by no means irenic, it is both intellectually sophisticated and candid. The reader of the Tathbit will have no doubt about 'Abd al-Jabbar's religious positions. Muslim-Christian dialogue today, meanwhile, is often intellectually sophisticated but not always candid. The present work, then, may be a service for what it reveals of the sources of Muslim thought on Christianity. In my analysis, I address two questions: What are the reasons behind, and what are the methods of, the Islamic critique of Christianity? These questions are as relevant for the contemporary Muslim-Christian conversation as they are for the conversation of 'Abd al-Jabbar's day.

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