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FORUM: Conflict and Convergence in Late Antiquity (Part 1)

Judaism and Christianity at the Origins of Islam

The idea of a primordial enmity between Jews and Muslims looms large in the collective memory of both Sunnīs and Shīʿa. This miniature illustrates a significant episode from early Islamic history: the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law ʿAlī attacks a fortress in the oasis of Khaybar, where a Jewish tribe opposed to the Prophet made their last stand during the Prophet’s campaign to unify Arabia. Rivalry and conflict between religious communities at the time of Islam’s origins often obscures the basic similarities and many points of connection between them.

Detail, manuscript illumination, ʿAli Fighting to Take the Fortress of Qamūṣ, from Athār al-Muẓaffar (The Exploits of the Victorious), Iran, 16th c. (Chester Beatty Library Per 235, f. 132a; courtesy Chester Beatty Library).

Michael Pregill


It is something of an understatement to say that the study of the Qur’an and Islamic origins is currently in a state of extreme ferment. Over the last decade, we have seen a significant resurgence of interest in exploring Islamic origins and the background to the Qur’an by examining the history, politics, culture, and religion of the wider world of Late Antiquity in which the Qur’an was revealed and the Muslim umma emerged.

In many ways, the relationship of the Qur’an and the early Islamic community to late antique Judaism and Christianity is absolutely central to the problems that lie at the heart of this research. It is increasingly clear that the relationships between the Qur’an and formative Islam on the one hand and the other religious traditions of the pre-Islamic and early Islamic era on the other must be framed as a tripartite conversation between Jews, Christians, and the community of believers (muʾminūn) who eventually came to call themselves Muslims. Scholars now widely recognize the numerous continuities between the religion, culture, politics, and society of Late Antiquity and that of early Islam.

Islam’s emergence in Late Antiquity was a distinct result of both imperial conflict and intercommunal rivalry; in this arena of conflict and convergence, early Muslims were often quite close to, and implicated in, the debates, disputes, and struggles of their age. The ideas, idioms, ideals, and aspirations of the first Muslims were similar to those of their Jewish and Christian neighbors, although ironically, each religious community used comparable – or identical – language, concepts, and symbols to assert its uniqueness and difference as sole claimant to the status of God’s chosen people.

The short essays in this forum are dedicated to reflection upon the contemporary challenges and prospects for discovery and innovation in the study of the Qur’an and early Islam, particularly as they stand at a nexus of convergence with Judaism, Christianity, and other traditions. The twelve scholars who have contributed essays to the forum will examine what they see to be the most significant aspects of current research into the continuities between Late Antiquity and formative Islam from a variety of perspectives and locate their own work in the context of the larger scholarly landscape. Some of our contributors speak in broad terms about the nature of interdisciplinary inquiry and collaboration between scholars in different fields. Others focus in very concrete ways on the particular results of comparative investigations and methodological creativity.

The first six posts in this collaborative forum, as well as an introductory essay, are presented below. The second half of this forum may be found here.


aliMichael Pregill

Introduction: Conflict and Convergence in Late Antiquity

Michael Pregill’s full Introduction to this forum is available here. Read more

 

 

 

 

 


codexMushegh Asatryan & Dylan M. Burns

Collaboration is the Key: The Case of Islamic Gnosticism

Once regarded as marginal, Ghulāt and Sethian sources presently enjoy scholarly reappraisal in ways that not only substantially impact their respective Islamic and early Christian contexts, but the greater, late ancient interface of Gnostic, Manichaean, and Islamic traditions… Read more

 

 


eveCatherine Bronson

“Those Who Came Before You”: Exegetical Encounters in Late Antiquity

The Qur’an itself, from the outset, emphatically affirms its relationship with a plurality of predecessors. As perhaps the world’s first “self-aware” scripture, it continually situates itself within the sacred trajectory of human history… Read more

 

 


ellisonEmran El-Badawi

When Jews and Christians Believed in the Qur’an

The Qur’an’s address to a single audience of Jewish and Christian origin begins with the very name of Sūrah 3, the “House of ʿImrān,” in which the biblical patriarchs Amram and Joachim are deliberately merged into a new patriarch… Read more

 

 


rusafaGreg Fisher

The Secular Arab Holy Man in Late Antiquity

If holy men resembled tribal leaders, it was in part because they held a form of political leadership that blended easily with their religious authority. But what if tribal leaders could look like holy men? Read more

 

 

 


demeterZohar Hadromi-Allouche

“Perhaps We Are Asking the Wrong Questions”: Islamic Studies Meets The Matrix

Reading the Islamic sources as part of the world of Late Antiquity allows us to regard the emergence of Islam in a broader context. In order to expand our view beyond the traditional sources, as well as avoid restricting our comparative gaze to biblical, Jewish and Christian tradition, it is necessary to ask different questions… Read more

 


zafarChristine Luckritz Marquis

The Arrival of Christianity in Ḥimyar and its Later Reimaginings

Violence functions in each of these versions of a common story to delineate religious (and often political) boundaries. What are we to make of a pre-Islamic story that is refashioned for Muslim historical purposes? These alternate tellings point to a dynamic, shared history and to common approaches to identity construction. Read more

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FORUM: Conflict and Convergence in Late Antiquity (Part 1)

Judaism and Christianity at the Origins of Islam


Michael Pregill


It is something of an understatement to say that the study of the Qur’an and Islamic origins is currently in a state of extreme ferment. Over the last decade, we have seen a significant resurgence of interest in exploring Islamic origins and the background to the Qur’an by examining the history, politics, culture, and religion of the wider world of Late Antiquity in which the Qur’an was revealed and the Muslim umma emerged.

In many ways, the relationship of the Qur’an and the early Islamic community to late antique Judaism and Christianity is absolutely central to the problems that lie at the heart of this research. It is increasingly clear that the relationships between the Qur’an and formative Islam on the one hand and the other religious traditions of the pre-Islamic and early Islamic era on the other must be framed as a tripartite conversation between Jews, Christians, and the community of believers (muʾminūn) who eventually came to call themselves Muslims. Scholars now widely recognize the numerous continuities between the religion, culture, politics, and society of Late Antiquity and that of early Islam.

Islam’s emergence in Late Antiquity was a distinct result of both imperial conflict and intercommunal rivalry; in this arena of conflict and convergence, early Muslims were often quite close to, and implicated in, the debates, disputes, and struggles of their age. The ideas, idioms, ideals, and aspirations of the first Muslims were similar to those of their Jewish and Christian neighbors, although ironically, each religious community used comparable – or identical – language, concepts, and symbols to assert its uniqueness and difference as sole claimant to the status of God’s chosen people.

The short essays in this forum are dedicated to reflection upon the contemporary challenges and prospects for discovery and innovation in the study of the Qur’an and early Islam, particularly as they stand at a nexus of convergence with Judaism, Christianity, and other traditions. The twelve scholars who have contributed essays to the forum will examine what they see to be the most significant aspects of current research into the continuities between Late Antiquity and formative Islam from a variety of perspectives and locate their own work in the context of the larger scholarly landscape. Some of our contributors speak in broad terms about the nature of interdisciplinary inquiry and collaboration between scholars in different fields. Others focus in very concrete ways on the particular results of comparative investigations and methodological creativity.

The first six posts in this collaborative forum, as well as an introductory essay, are presented below. The second half of this forum may be found here.


aliMichael Pregill

Introduction: Conflict and Convergence in Late Antiquity

Michael Pregill’s full Introduction to this forum is available here. Read more

 

 

 

 

 


codexMushegh Asatryan & Dylan M. Burns

Collaboration is the Key: The Case of Islamic Gnosticism

Once regarded as marginal, Ghulāt and Sethian sources presently enjoy scholarly reappraisal in ways that not only substantially impact their respective Islamic and early Christian contexts, but the greater, late ancient interface of Gnostic, Manichaean, and Islamic traditions… Read more

 

 


eveCatherine Bronson

“Those Who Came Before You”: Exegetical Encounters in Late Antiquity

The Qur’an itself, from the outset, emphatically affirms its relationship with a plurality of predecessors. As perhaps the world’s first “self-aware” scripture, it continually situates itself within the sacred trajectory of human history… Read more

 

 


ellisonEmran El-Badawi

When Jews and Christians Believed in the Qur’an

The Qur’an’s address to a single audience of Jewish and Christian origin begins with the very name of Sūrah 3, the “House of ʿImrān,” in which the biblical patriarchs Amram and Joachim are deliberately merged into a new patriarch… Read more

 

 


rusafaGreg Fisher

The Secular Arab Holy Man in Late Antiquity

If holy men resembled tribal leaders, it was in part because they held a form of political leadership that blended easily with their religious authority. But what if tribal leaders could look like holy men? Read more

 

 

 


demeterZohar Hadromi-Allouche

“Perhaps We Are Asking the Wrong Questions”: Islamic Studies Meets The Matrix

Reading the Islamic sources as part of the world of Late Antiquity allows us to regard the emergence of Islam in a broader context. In order to expand our view beyond the traditional sources, as well as avoid restricting our comparative gaze to biblical, Jewish and Christian tradition, it is necessary to ask different questions… Read more

 


zafarChristine Luckritz Marquis

The Arrival of Christianity in Ḥimyar and its Later Reimaginings

Violence functions in each of these versions of a common story to delineate religious (and often political) boundaries. What are we to make of a pre-Islamic story that is refashioned for Muslim historical purposes? These alternate tellings point to a dynamic, shared history and to common approaches to identity construction. Read more

FORUM: Conflict and Convergence in Late Antiquity (Part 1)

Judaism and Christianity at the Origins of Islam

FORUM: Conflict and Convergence in Late Antiquity (Part 1)

Judaism and Christianity at the Origins of Islam