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Theory of Pre-Islamic Influences and Communication

Reader comment on item: The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature

Submitted by GWK (United States), Jan 12, 2005 at 20:38

A theory that may never be fully explored is worth introducing here. In the time before Mohammed's revelations, the lands he travelled were very influenced by Christianity and, to an uncertain extent, by many heresies that criss-crossed his trade routes. In addition, beside his native Meccan paganism there were other beliefs that may have made an impression on Khadija's deeply reflective young caravan escort. These included the religions of the Jews who sought in Arabia, Syria Egypt and Mespopotamia, the Pharsees or Zoroastrians, and the Hindus, who may have had some presense in Yemen and elsewhere around the Arabian peninsula. In any event, this conjecture needs to be explored.

But it is very credible that the "Gospel of Islam" was influenced by the Gnostic Gospels of St. Thomas and Barnabas, and perhaps by other Christian heresies. Here is a list of some of the heresies that were in the sphere of theological dispute up until the time of Mohammed's travels and before his revelations from the angel Gabriel:



GNOSTICS: Gnostics believed in the transmigration of souls; maintained that the world was created by angels; denied the divinity of Christ, and advocated the practice of immorality as a means of union with God.

VALENTINIANS: The religious system of Valentine was extremely comprehensive and the most widely diffused of all the forms of Gnosticism. His school was divided into two branches, the Oriental and the Italian. The former was spread through Egypt, Syria and Asia Minor; the latter in Rome, Italy and Southern Gaul.

EBIONITES: The Ebionites denied the divinity of Christ; rejected all the New Testament except the Gospel of St. Matthew, which they mutilated; taught that some men were created by good angels, others by bad ones; considered St. Paul a heretic, and practiced free-love.

MONTANISTS: So-called after Montanus, a Phrygian who appears to have been a priest of Cybele. He was converted about the year 150 and soon after began to fall into fits of ecstacy and to utter "prophecies". Montanus claimed to have received a new revelation from God, the Mosaic and Christian dispensations having failed. He prescribed at first two, and afterwards three, annual fasts of a week instead of one such fast; forbade all second marriages; refused restoration to all such as had been guilty of murder, adultery or idolatry; required the veiling of virgins in the assemblies of the Church. The novelty of Montanus' teaching was not so much in the things themselves as his prescribing them under obedience to a new express revelation.

MONARCHIANS: In modern times it has been extended to include an earlier group of heretic known as Theodotians. Thus there are two branches of what are now known as Monarchians, the Theodotians and the group comprised of the Patripassionists and the Sabellians. These two branches are also sometimes classified as Dynamistic and Modalist Monarchians respectibely, and at other times are united under the single name of Antitrinitarians. Their founder was Praxeas, a native of Phrygia and an early anti-Montanist. He is known to us only through Tertullian's book "Adversus Praxeam", where he is described as being inflated with pride as a Confessor of the Faith because he had spent a short time in prison. He was probably the first of the Monarchians to visit Rome, where he was well received by the Pope about 190-198, with whom he used his influence against the Montanists.

ADOPTIONIST: The Adoptionists denied the divinity of Christ and apparently made a distinction between Jesus and Christ.

ANTIDICOMARIANITES:An eastern sect which has been so designated because they were opponents of Mary. It is difficult to trace their origin to any particular individual. They denied that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Christ.



TERTULLIANISTS: A sect that flourished in Carthage for 200 years after the death of Tertullian, whom they claimed as their founder. This man was the most eminent Latin ecclesiastical writer of the early Church. He was born at Carthage about 160, was converted to Christianity and later ordained to the priesthood. His over-severe views and austerity caused him to break with the regular Church authorities and he fell into the errors of Montanism. He is famous for many works, apologetical, doctrinal and ethicopractical, and is considered the most fecund, original and powerful genius in all the history of Christian Latin literature. He was a priest for 40 years and died at a very advanced age.

The errors of Tertullian were a belief that the Church could not absolve adulterers; that those who married a second time were adulterers, and that it was not lawful to fly from persecution.

ORIGENISTS: Named after Origen, one of the most learned and spirited men of his time, born at Alexandria in 185. His father was St. Leonidas, the martyr, who had him educated in every branch of sacred and profane literature. So great was the zeal of Origen for Christianity that he besought his mother to allow him to join his father when he was in prison during the persecution that he too might shed his blood for Christ. His earlier years were devoted to intensive study and successful teaching, and as time went on his fame for learning and wisdom grew so that all the priests and doctors consulted him in any difficult matter. He was one of the most voluminous writers the world has ever seen. He was ordained to the priesthood at Caesarea, but the Bishop of Alexandria, provoke for some reason or other, refused to recognize him. In spite of his deposed and excommunicated by an Alexandria council. He success. During the persecution under Maximinus he fled to Cappadocia where he lived for two years. Under Gordianus he returned and continued his activities, but the suffering and torture he endured under the Decian persecution broke his strength, and he died at Tyre in 254.

Origen held that from their beginning all rational creatures were pure spirits; taught that after the universal restoration, which was to be accomplished by a second crucifixion of Christ, all, even the damned in hell, would be pure spirits; and believed that the blessed in heaven could be expelled from that abode for faults committed there. There errors were condemned by Second Council of Constantinople in 553.

MANICHEANS: Follower of Manes (Mani), a Persian, born in 216 in the village of Mardinu in Babylonia. IN 242 he stood before the people of his native village as a religious teacher, but being unsuccessful there, he lived the life of a wanderer for forty years. He announced himself as the "Messenger of the True God", and amongst Christians as the promised Paraclete. Returning to Persia, he mad a first a favorable impression upon the king, Ormuzd I. Ormuzd's favor, however, as of little avail, as he occupied the Persian throne only a single year, and Bahram I, his successor, caused Manes to be crucified, had the corpse flayed, and the skin stuffed and hung up at the city gate as a terrifying spectacle to his followers, whom he persecuted with relentless severity. Manes' death is fixed at about 276-277.

The Manicheans believed in a plurality of gods; rejected the Old Testament absolutely, and of the New they retained only what had been revised and redacted by Manes; they held that Christ had no real body; denied free-will; recognized no baptism or marriage; believed in the transmigration of souls, and held that each man had two souls.

MILLENARIANS: Advocates of an old heresy that was revived by Nipos (Nepos), Bishop of Egypt during the third century. His energy in defending the doctrines of this third century. His energy in defending the doctrines of this sect nearly brought about a schism in the Church, but unity was preserved by the Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria.

The fundamental idea of millenarianism may be set forth as follows. At the end of time Christ will return in all His splendor to gather together the just, to annihilate hostile powers, and to found a glorious kingdom on earth for the enjoyment of the highest spiritual and material blessings. He Himself will reign as its King, and all the just, including the Saints recalled to life, will participate in it. At the close of this kingdom the Saints will enter heaven with Christ, while the wicked, who have also been resuscitated, will be condemned to eternal damnation. The duration of this glorious reign of Christ with His Saints on earth is frequently given as 1000 years. Hence the name Millenarianism.



DONATISTS: Heretical followers of Donatus the Great, an African Bishop, who played a prominent part in the Donatist schism (named after another Donatus) of the fourth century, which preceded and paved the way for the heresy of the same name. He succeeded Majorinus in 315 as Bishop of Carthage, and being a man of forceful character gave a great impetus to the Donatist movement. They held that the true Church consisted only of the elect, and declared baptism to be invalid unless conferred by a Donatist.

ARIANS: The strongest heretical sect with which the early Church had to contend. Its leader was Arius, an Alexandrian priest, theologian and controversialist. Arius was ordained deacon by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, but was subsequently excommunicated by him for joining in with the Meletian schism. He later repented and was restored, being advanced to the priesthood and given sole charge of a Church. After some time he was excommunicated again for his heretical views. He was a rigorous ascetic, a persuasive speaker and ardent propagandist. Tall, gloomy, fanatical, with down-cast eyes and tangled hair, he went about singing his doctrines, which he had set to the music of the theaters. Before long they were being sung by priests, boatmen, bakers and all sorts of people. The first ecumenical council, that of Nicea, was convened to condemn the heresy. Arius was banished to Illyria but later succeeded in returning in order to replace Athanasius, his chief opponent, as Bishop of Alexandria, but the popular up-roar did not allow him actually to do so. He died in his errors. The Arians denied the divinity of Christ, and taught that God the Son was not eternal, Christ being made the partaker of the divine nature as a reward for the work of the redemption.

MASSALIANS: A sect founded by a native of Mesopotamia named Adelphus. They were a kind of vagrant quietest. Sacraments they held to be useless, though harmless, the only spiritual power being prayer, by which one drove out the evil spirit which baptism had not expelled, received the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, and arrived at union with God, becoming so perfect that the passion ceased to trouble. They disregarded regulations in the matter of fasting; wandered from place to place, and in summer were accustomed to sleep in the streets. They engaged in no occupations.

PRISCILLIANISTS: A sect originally founded by an Egyptian from Memphis by the name of Mark. One of his early disciples was Priscillian, a man of noble birth, great riches, bold, restless, eloquent, learned and ready at debate and discussion, who soon became leader of the sect which now bears his name. He was ordained to the priesthood and appointed Bishop of Avila by his heretical followers, among whom were two bishops. About 383 he was condemned to death. His errors were condemned in the Council of Saragossa by St. Damasus.

The Priscillianists held that angels and the souls of men were severed from the substance of the Deity; that Christ only appeared to be a man and that His death was only apparent; prohibited meat; rejected the narrative of creation in the Old Testament, and denied the Trinity.

JOVINIANS: Followers of Jovinianus, a monk for a while but subsequently an advocate of anti-ascetical tendencies. His views, promulgated mostly by writing, were condemned by Pope Siricius in a Council held at Rome in the year 390, and soon after in another Council held by St. Ambrose in Milan. In the end Jovinianus was exiled by the Emperor Theodosius, and after by Honorius, to Boas, a maritime town of Dalmatia, where he died in misery in the year 412.

He taught that a virgin, as such, is no better in the sight of God than a wife; held abstinence to be no better than the taking of food in the proper disposition; that a person baptized with the Spirit as well as with water cannot sin; that all sins are equal; that there is but one grade of punishment and one of reward in the future state, and denied the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.



PELAGIANS: Followers of the doctrines of Pelagius, about whom little is known. He is spoken of by several of his contemporaries as a Briton. In 409, to avoid Alaric's siege of Rome, he escaped with his convert and pupil, Caelestius, to Northern Africa, and had gone from there to Palestine before the meeting of the Council of Carthage in 411, which condemned Caelestius. Pelagius is not heard of after 418, but there is a tradition that he was 70 years of age when he died in some obscure town in Palestine. He appears to have been a very good man (St. Augustin called him "saintly") , of more than common moral strictness and purity, if not a man of any great spiritual depth or intellectual grasp. He fell into heresy through contact with a Syrian priest named Rufinus; not, however Rufinus of Aquilea who disputed with St. Jerome.

The heretical doctrines of Pelagius, condemned at the Council of Ephesus, 431, were: Adam would have died if he had not sinned; Adam's sin injured himself only, not the race; children are born as pure as Adam was before he fell; men neither die because Adam fell, nor rise again in consequence of Christ's resurrection; unbaptized as well as baptized infants are saved; the Mosaic Law is as good a guide to heaven as the Gospel; even before Christ's advent there were sinless men.

SEMIPELAGIANS: A sect traced to John Cassianus, Abbot of the Monastery of St. Victor, a celebrated and holy man, who, although never formally canonized, was venerated as a Saint, and whose name appears as such on the Greek Calendar. He was the first to introduce the rules of Eastern monasticism into the West. Being the son of wealthy parents, he received a good education. He first entered a monastery in Bethlehem but later withdrew into the Egyptian desert, being attracted by the holiness of the hermits there. During a visit to Rome he was elevated to the priesthood, and subsequently founded two monasteries at Marseilles, one of which he ruled as Abbot.

The errors of the Semipelagians were condemned in the year 432 by Pope Celestine I; in 529 by Pope Felix IV, in the Synod of Orange and the Synod of Valence, both of which Councils were confirmed by Pope Boniface II. These errors were: the beginning faith depends on man's free-will, while faith itself and its increase depend absolutely upon God; nature has a certain claim to grace; final perseverance is not a special gift of grace but depends upon man's own strength; some children die before baptism, and others after on account of the foreknowledge God possesses of the good or evil they would have done if they had lived; some are predestined to heaven, other to hell.

NESTORIANS: Nestorius, the founder of this sect, was born at Germanicia, Syria Euphoratensis. He was living as a priest and monk in the monastery of Euprepius near the walls, when he was chosen by the Emperor Theodosius II to be Patriarch of Constantinople. He enjoyed a great reputation for eloquence, and after his consecration in 428, displayed great zeal and energy in opposing heretics of his time. Towards the close of the same year his own doctrine was protested against, and later condemned by a Council. He refused to abide by this decision and was thrust out of his See by the Emperor. Nestorius retired to his monastery at Antioch, but a few years later was banished to the Oasis. He was at one time carried off by the Nubians in a raid, and was restored to the Thebaid with his hand and one rib broken. He died there about 451.

The heretical doctrines of the Nestorians were condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. They taught that there were two separate persons in Christ, one divine and the other human; and claimed that Mary was the mother of the human person only, not of the divine.

MONOPHYSITES: Sometimes called Eutychians, after Eutyches, their founder, who flourished during the fifth century and gave his name to an opinion to which his teaching and influence contributed little or nothing. He was not a learned man but very much respected and had influence. In 448 Eutyches was 70 years of age, and had been for 30 years archimandrite of a monastery outside the walls of Constantinople, where he ruled over 300 monks. He was a bitter opponent of Nestorianism and the other heresies. At a synod convened by St. Flavian, Bishop of Constantinople about 448, he accused Eusebius, Bishop of Dorylaeum, of teaching false doctrine, and the accused answered by launching a counter-charge of heresy against Eutyches. Not being able to answer satisfactorily he was condemned and exiled in 450.

The doctrines of the Monophysites, that Christ had only one nature, was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451.


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