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Ch. 14 - The Koran 
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Post Ch. 14 - The Koran
Ch. 14 - The Koran



Sun Aug 15, 2010 11:05 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 14 - The Koran
This short chapter is Wright's introduction to the Koran. It has the same quality shown, to my mind, throughout this book, which is that it provides a perspective, or reorients one's existing perspective, provides valuable context, locates the crux of matters. The Koran is so evidently different from the Bible, having taken shape in about twenty years and having a single authorial voice (if not necessarily one author). Wright asks us to imagine a Bible written by Hosea or Jesus. How totally different that book would be from the compendium of different literary forms dating back almost a millennium that is the Bible. It would be a book similar to the Koran. Interestingly, Muhammad, the "receiver" of the book, is similar to Jesus, in that he was a preacher of the apocalyptic strain who was rejected in his home city and sought his audience elsewhere.

Wright says that the Koran has a better claim to authenticity, in regard to reporting the actual sayings of the prophet Muhammad, than the Bible has in regard to the actual sayings of Jesus. The Koran may have been begun before Muhammad's death and was completed not that long after it. Not that that means there weren't some revising, but relatively speaking the composition of the Koran was more "in the moment." As an indicator of the book's historical accuracy, Wright says that although when it was completed, the Islamic state was approaching empire status, the book itself reflects not the needs of a large and powerful state, but reads instead mostly as the story of a down-on-his-luck and only would-be religious leader. Wright says that a smaller part of the Koran seems pegged to the needs of an expanding state, but that, too, was a stage that Muhammad had reached in his lifetime.

The central problem that readers of the Koran have had with it--that is is alternately pacific-sounding and vengeful--is the problem that Wright will try to explain as a result of--you guessed it--the response of the religion to the facts on the ground.

There are many parallels between the Koran and the bible, among them that Muhammad, "like Jesus...was an intensely apocalyptic in a left-wing way; he believed that Judgment Day would bring a radical inversion of fortunes. Jesus had said that no rich man would enter the kingdom of heaven. The Koran says that 'Whoso chooseth the harvest field of this life' will indeed prosper; 'but no portion shall there be for him in the life to come.'" Muhammad, as is today well known, pulled out all the stops in promising what was to come after death for the faithful and the unfaithful.

How Muhammad, about 500 years after the solidification of the second Abrahamic faith and more than a thousand after Judaism, came to adopt the same founding father as those two religions is a main subject in the chapter. It was rather clever the way Muhammad worked this relationship out. In his hands, Islam turned out not to be derived from the earlier faiths but culminated them. The last book can have the last word. For example, Muhammad can claim that Allah is the same god as the God of Christians and Jews. In this case, Wright says, Muhammad is probably right. Allah seems to be the same god that Syrian Christians worshiped, and a close trading relationship with Syria makes it likely that Allah was an import.


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Last edited by DWill on Sun Oct 17, 2010 5:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Sun Oct 17, 2010 5:55 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 14 - The Koran
DWill wrote:
. . . How Muhammad, about 500 years after the solidification of the second Abrahamic faith and more than a thousand after Judaism, came to adopt the same founding father as those two religions is a main subject in the chapter. It was rather clever the way Muhammad worked this relationship out. In his hands, Islam turned out not to be derived from the earlier faiths but culminated them. The last book can have the last word. For example, Muhammad can claim that Allah is the same god as the God of Christians and Jews. In this case, Wright says, Muhammad is probably right. Allah seems to be the same god that Syrian Christians worshiped, and a close trading relationship with Syria makes it likely that Allah was an import.


As usual, great chapter overview, DWill. We went to my son's baseball tournament over the weekend and I read all of the Koran chapters. So it's sort of all jumbled together in my mind at the moment.

Like the Bible, the Koran was not assembled in the same chronological order it was written. Wright comments on Muhammad's tendency to vacillate between promoting peace and being intolerant. From "To you your religion and to me my religion" to "When ye encounter the infidels, strike off their heads . . ."

However, these sporadic shifts in tone begin to make sense when viewed with the facts on the ground. When Muhammad is just an apocalyptic street preacher—his Jesus phase—his message is fairly benign, concerned primarily with pushing monotheism and how the rich treated the poor. Only later when Muhammad gains political power and is at war does his message become more belligerent in tone. As he and his followers are building an empire, the religion is tailored as such.

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So even if Muhammad's god hadn't focused his ire on the wealthy, the Meccan ruling class, probably wouldn't have warmed to Muhammad's message. The essence of the Prophet's mission—monotheism—rendered ongoing resistance all but inevitable.

The Koran's fluctuations between tolerance and belligerence reflect changing strategies for dealing with that resistance.


So my impression of this chapter is that it certainly shows how malleable religious texts can be. That "God" of one religion can suddenly be the same god as the one another culture has been worshiping all along. Of course, I believe Wright argues that Allah was quite possibly the Judeo-Christian god all along. But it's a funny argument when you think about it. Could it be our two gods are the same god? Why, yes they are.


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Mon Oct 18, 2010 2:01 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 14 - The Koran
You must have been conspicuous sitting in the stands reading The Evolution of God--the only fan doing so, I'll bet. I know what you mean by the chapters jumbling together. I'm thinking that it might be best to discuss Wright on Islam in a single thread. The space Wright devotes to Islam is much less that what he gives to the Bible, the Koran is a more compact book, and the history of its composition spans only about 40 years. At this point there doesn't seem to be a great following for the book, either, so a one-shot approach might be what's called for, followed by talking about his "What did it all mean" chapters. Thanks for sticking with this reading, geo.


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No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live as we dream--alone.

Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness


Mon Oct 18, 2010 5:04 pm
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