Al-Azami’s criticism of the New Testament
Muhammad Mustafa Al-Azami is one of the world’s leading scholars of Hadith. He is Professor Emeritus at King Saud University. Azami has written a book defending the preservation of the Quran, and at the same time criticizing the Christian Scriptures, The History of the Quranic Text from Revelation to Compilation. The purpose of this post is to see whether his criticisms of Scripture are valid.
In his chapter on “The New Testament: Its Anonymous Authorship and Corruption,”Azami relies heavily on a controversial theory to discredit the reliability of the Christian Scriptures:
Before the advent of the four gospels we know today, the earliest followers of Jesus composed their own book. In this there were no dramatics about the life of Jesus, no narratives concerning spiritual sacrifice and redemption. The focus was strictly on his teachings, on the ideas and etiquette and behaviour which he expounded, and on the social reforms he called for. This work is now designated as the Gospel of Jesus, Q. But Q was no a stable text, just as the earliest Christians did not live in stable times, and so over the course of the first century people living under desperate circumstances appended different layers of text to Q. The original layer is most striking: it is full of simple, eager words, with no calls for a new religion and no hint of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
The second layer brings a shift in tone, portentously promising doom to those who reject the movement. But to my mind the most startling shift takes place in the third and final layer of Q, added by Christians during the trying period of the First Jewish revolt (66-70 C.E.), under the shadow of the Second Temple’s destruction by Romans troops. Here Jesus is upgraded from a wise prophet to the Son of God, heir to the Father’s Kingdom, who successfully battles the temptations in the wilderness (The History of The Qur’anic Text: From Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments [Leicester: UK Islamic Academy, 2003], 279-280).
Azami relies heavily upon Burton L. Mack’s the Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins and tells his readers in a footnote that he is utilizing for his information scholars who are strictly Judeo-Christian so as to reveal Christianity (p.280).
To my knowledge, Burton Mack is not a Christian scholar and probably believes less about Jesus than Muslims (e.g. he does not believe in Jesus’ Virgin Birth; Jesus’ miracles; or Jesus’ ascension into heaven)!
Furthermore, what Azami does not seem to realize, or fails to tell his readers, is that what he presents is Burton Mack’s theory; it is conjectural; it’s a hypothesis; not historical fact. Furthermore, Mack’s hypothesis is not accepted by mainstream Christian scholarship, and to my knowledge it has not been accepted by mainstream non-Christian scholarship.
What would Muhammad Al-Azami or other Muslims think if I were to argue against the reliability of the Quran by appealing to speculative conjecture and leaving my readers to think that what I was presenting was historical fact accepted by Muslim scholars?
It would be misleading and dishonest.