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".