Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Quest: The Historian's Search for Jesus and Muhammad

These lectures attempt to access the historical facts about two most well known religious figures in the world. While many religious teachings are known, very little is known of their actual lives.

He speaks extemporaneously, with only a page of notes. (This makes for a much better listening experience than a professor that simply reads his notes.) He sprinkles in interesting tidbits. (Muhammad is a common name in the Islamic world. However, Jesus is only common in Spain - probably in response to the common usage of Muhammad by the Muslim occupiers.)

He also is important to differentiate between Faith and History. Faith supplies answers. History asks questions (though not necessarily the same ones answered by faith.)

The lectures focus entirely on the history. The big miracles are left for faith. (Historians simply can't explain them.) The attempt is made to put these figures in their religious context. It is somewhat easier to study the roots of Christianity because he lived in a more literate society with additional contemporary accounts available. Less is known about Mohammad's society, in part because it was less literate and more nomadic. The Arab academic and political culture is also different, making detailed studies of the Koran more difficult to carry out. Academic study of the works is also often carried out be people with some degree of vested interest (usually as adherents to the faith, but sometimes as opponents.)

We have no surviving texts written by either Jesus or Mohammad. However, we do have sacred records written by their followers, as well as additional accounts. Historians seek to analyze the source and veracity of these. There records were written by men and can be reasonably evaluated from the scholarly perspective. Scholars also attempt to identify original source from which our current sources have been derived. (For instance, both Matthew and Luke appear to derive work from a common set of "sayings of Jesus". Scholars believe this was an original source available at the day that we no longer have.) An attempt is made to find the original and to identify motives for creations of the current text that we have.

In the end, we get a better understanding of the climate in which these two major religions sprouted. However, there are still a number of questions related to the early history and canonization of scripture. Scholarship can make some highly educated guesses. However, the lack of ancient details available still leaves many holes in obtaining a true understanding. Much is still left to faith.

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