Monday, August 4, 2008

إسناد‎ - Transmitting the truth


As LDS we believe in the Bible as it is came from the pen of the original writers and recognize that scribal errors, whether deliberate or not, exist in the New and Old Testaments, along with thousands of different texts and variations. Most scholars now agree that the Gospels of Luke and Matthew drew upon an earlier text (not currently in existence) that scholars have designated the name "Q" from the German word quelle, which means "source". Along with the Paulian Epistles, among which many are not considered to have been written by him, texts with authoritative language and accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus began to make their way into Christian congregations in the mid-2nd Century. The authenticity and accuracy of such texts was disputed by the transmitter or the narrator (see Tertullian, writing in contradiction of Marcion's corruption of Luke's account of the nativity, as recorded in On Prescription Against Heretics).

The authenticity of texts was based on the way that it was transmitted. For example, Paul wrote a hypothetical espitel and delivered it to Luke, who delivered it to our Bishop who passed it on to his successor, etc. Is this an authentic document? The earliest remnants of the New Testament still do not cover the early Christian period, but we can assume that some texts, with errors, were considered authentic because of their descent. This was a sign of the then-occurring apostasy. Those with the authority to interpret the meaning of scripture were soon gone.

We even have our own problem with this based on the saying of Joseph Smith. For the last four years of his life, almost all the information we have from him is based on second hand accounts of what he said. Oftentimes we will accept one person's interpretation because we agree with that person (Wilford Woodruff) or marginalize it because of bias (William McLellin).

Ancient Arabs in the Hijaz, like their ancient Jewish cousins, preserved their records through oral tradition and did not focus on record keeping (which makes Laban's plates all the more valuable). The sayings of Muhammad, as recorded in the Qur'an, the Sunnah (the sayings of the Prophet, kind of like the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith) and the Hadith (similar to the parables of Jesus) were all transmitted orally. It was not until Muhammad was long gone that the Qur'an was recorded, but one can still see today the focus that Muslims place on memorizing the Qur'an. Muslims are now in agreeance that the Qur'an as we have it today was exactly as Muhammad said it, but we really have no way to prove that. Moreover, there are hundreds of Hadiths that are attributed to Muhammad. They were not organized for centuries after the Prophet and come to us through trusted lines of narrators called إسناد‎(isnad). Usually an isnad has over ten levels of a transmitter with its own amount of trust. Because of this, some Hadiths are given more credence than others. It would be like to us "Joseph Smith told Wilford Woodruff such and such and he told Orson Pratt who told Joseph F. Smith who told George A. Smith who told Spencer Kimball who told Thomas Monson who said that...". We would obviously listen to that because we trust these sources.

Islam is a great example of early Christianity because it shows the same pace at which both degenerated. As soon as the apostles were gone, chaos ensued and authenticity of Gospel truths, as taught by Jesus, is called into question, hence the need for the JST. After Muhammad died, the Islamic community was split and without a religious leader. One need only look to the Haditha for an example of an isnad gone a stray. Many of us are familiar with the term that Muhammad was the "seal" of the prophets. The Sunnah and Haditha (according to accepted isnads)interpret this to mean that he was the greatest prophet and that he would be the last. No new revelation was necessary (sound familiar?). However, there were views in early Islam, long since forgotten, that advocated that this meant that Muhammad's teachings acted as a seal on the previous prophet and ratified their meaning, rather than being the last prophet. The Islam that is taught today, whether Sunni or Shi'a, does not recognize this belief becuase the isnad is a foregone conclusion, much like the prefection of the Bible to some of our Christian brothers. We can see a second example of what happens when he who (supposedly) authority is gone and none with that power are there to interpret the word.

The first photo is from a 16th Century copy of the Qur'an and the other three pictures are examples of isnads, all deriving from Muhammad, usually labled as "The Prophet".

5 comments:

JLJ said...

Interesting historical parallels with the Quran .

If Muhammad is a 'seal,' then was he a Christian? Or what religious basis was he teaching from?

Hans said...

The Qur'an taught that Muhammad was the seal on all the previous prophets (Abraham, Moses, all those that we would consider Old Testament prophets). Jesus was considered a prophet himself and not the Messiah as we view hime. So ultimately, Muslims view Muhammad as the seal in the sense that he ratifies all that the previous prophets taught as God's truth. I suppose the way that I think about it is like how LDS believe that Joseph Smith re-affirmed the writings of Enoch and other Old Testament prophets and New Testament prophets.

Moreover, Muslims view the Old Testament prophets as their prophets, teaching true Islam, as Jews view Old Testament prophets as teaching true Hebrewism and Christians that believe that the Old Testament prophets testified of Christ. We all tailor it to our own beliefs. I think an even more interesting parallel is that Muslims believe that Muhammad was restoring the truth after the true monotheistic religion had gone into apostasy after Jesus had left the Earth.

***Side note, Muslims generally believe that God never would have allowed his prophet to be crucified so Jesus ascended into heaven before the crucifixion.

Hans said...

An additional point, we do not officially consider Muhammad to be a prophet in the LDS sense, but we do believe that he was enlighted by God to help bring about the Restoration. The First Presidency said in 1978:

"The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals. … We believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation (“Statement of the First Presidency regarding God’s Love for All Mankind,” 15 Feb. 1978)."

I say that Muhammad helped bring about the Restoration because during his life, he lived in what Muslims call Jahiliyya, which is a state of apostasy. They were polytheists and were involved in fratricide. Islam really did improve their condition and has prepared them for the future day when the Gospel will be preached to the Islamic nations.

JLJ said...

What did Muhammad consider himself? What God was he trying to bring the people to? The scriptures he taught from, (the OT prophets) did they mention Allah? or were they still in a recognizable (to a Christian) form? And dId he realize he was creating a new branch? I'm trying to earn the online Middle Eastern Studies degree.

I love that statement "God's Love for All Mankind." I think it epitomizes one of the greatest things we have to offer, that everyone will get a chance. Incidentally I read Alma 26 last night, and verse 37 expresses this point beautifully.

Hans said...

"What did Muhammad consider himself?"

Muhammad considered himself to be a prophet restoring the covenant people to the true monotheistic religion of Abraham and Ishmael.

"What God was he trying to bring the people to? The scriptures he taught from, (the OT prophets) did they mention Allah? or were they still in a recognizable (to a Christian) form?"

The covenant people i.e. the children of Abraham. The God of the Islamic interpretation of the OT. The word for God in Arabic is Allah, similar to the Hebrew word Elloh. Hebrew also adds the plural ending "im", this making God Elohim. Joseph Smith wondered in the King Follet Discourse why God was spelled in the plural, even though Rabbis interpreted it to mean one God. Back to my point, Muslims don't view themselves as creating a new branch of religion, but restoring the true religion where Jews had apostized and later Christians had apostisized. Muslims believe in the OT prophets, but believe the way they are taught is incorrect due to an apostasy (Moses = Musa, Joseph = Yusef, Abraham = Ibrahim, etc.) We are so like them sometimes that our fear of 9/11 makes us forget. They believe that Mecca was where the Garden of Eden was, and the mosque in Mecca is the center of the universe.

"I'm trying to earn the online Middle Eastern Studies degree."

I wish I could have done this. It would have saved me a lot of time. Not that a Middle Eastern Studies degree has helped me out that much.

"What did Muhammad consider himself? What God was he trying to bring the people to? The scriptures he taught from, (the OT prophets) did they mention Allah? or were they still in a recognizable (to a Christian) form? And dId he realize he was creating a new branch? I'm trying to earn the online Middle Eastern Studies degree.

"I love that statement "God's Love for All Mankind." I think it epitomizes one of the greatest things we have to offer, that everyone will get a chance. Incidentally I read Alma 26 last night, and verse 37 expresses this point beautifully."

This is perhaps one of the most vital truths that the Gosepl restored, that all would be judged based on how they lived according to their knowledge. Think about now in the world, that the Gospel is only available to what we would consider the Christian nations. Exclude China (1 bil), India (limited missionary presence for 1 billion people), Arab nations (around 1 bil), most Africa nations (a few more hundred million) and there are not really that many people that have the choice. God would certainly not be a just God if he were to condemn over half the world by virtue of their birth.