Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Slanted history

On my library shelf I have a book called The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by Michael Hart. I dive into it once in a while for historical research or even anecdotes for sermons (for example, Alexander the Great, unlike nearly all other generals, led his forces into battles instead of staying in the back. While he did suffer many wounds, he was demonstrating to his troops that he would not ask them to do something he was not willing to do himself—a good principle of leadership).

The reason I’m discussing this book here is because it demonstrates how modern historians tend to whitewash the history of Islam, while giving no quarter to the Bible as a historical record (let alone as being the inspired Word of God).

Many Christians won’t like this book for the mere fact that, in terms of influence on world history, Hart places Muhammad at No. 1 on the list, with Jesus only at No. 3 (Sir Isaac Newton, by the way, was No. 2). Hart argues that Muhammad was influential in both religious and political realms; plus, Hart splits the credit for Christianity’s spread between Jesus and the Apostle Paul (No. 6 on the list).

Hart’s entitled to his (wrong) opinion I guess, and anyway, I always felt deep down that Jesus shouldn’t be on the list in any event—Jesus is the God of the universe with the Father and Holy Spirit, so how could one put our Lord and Creator on a list to compare Him with mere mortals anyway?

Still, Hart’s observations about Jesus and Muhammad (made in 1978, by the way) are instructive, so far as they prove my above point. Hart’s comments on Muhammad’s rise to power and the violent spread of Islam seem like they are in a tone of wonderment: “…in a scant century of fighting, these Bedouin tribesmen, inspired by the Word of the Prophet, had carved out an empire stretching from the borders of India to the Atlantic Ocean—the largest empire the world has yet seen. And everywhere the armies conquered, large-scale conversion to the new faith eventually followed” (p. 35). Nothing here in Hart’s narrative speaks of these being FORCED conversions—you and your family converted, unless you chose death, slavery or permanent, oppressed second-class status.

Hart also makes completely ignorant claims on p. 39 while discussing the Koran: “Most of (Muhammad’s) utterances were copied more or less faithfully during Muhammad’s lifetime and were collected together in authoritative form not long after his death. The Koran, therefore, closely represents Muhammad’s ideas and teachings and to a considerable extent his exact words. No such detailed compilation of the teachings of Christ has survived” (emphasis mine). Has Hart not heard of the Gospel accounts? Well, he has: “Unfortunately, the Gospels contradict each other on various points. For example, Matthew and Luke give completely different versions of Jesus’ last words …” (p. 49). There’s no consideration that the “contradictory” statements could have BOTH been made by Jesus, or that the varying perspectives given be each gospel writing (far from being “contradictory”) actually show the gospel accounts to be VERY historically reliable. No one seems to question eyewitness accounts by Muhammad’s followers, or those of Socrates for that matter. Only the Bible (including the Gospels) is God’s inspired Word, making it a prime target of “downgrading” by “scholars.” Let’s put it this way: don’t expect a “Muhammad Seminar” questioning the authenticity of the Koran anytime soon.

Hart also takes a swipe at Paul for allegedly being oppressive toward women (taking verses in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy out of context) on p. 64, while ignoring Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 (“there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”), and his work with the husband and wife apostolic team of Priscilla and Aquila in the Book of Acts. For that matter, Hart doesn’t DARE touch the Koran’s oppressive view of women: a women’s testimony is half of that of a man (Koran 2:282); is entitled to half an inheritance that a man would receive (4:11); compares women to fields to be tilled by men (2:223); and orders men to beat disobedient wives (4:34). But surely, these verses are not taken seriously in today’s Muslim world, right? “The Pakistani Institute of Medical Science has determined that over 90 percent of Pakistani wives have been struck, beaten or abused sexually—for offenses on the order of cooking an unsatisfactory meal. Others were punished for failing to give birth to a male child” (from Amnesty International, April 17, 2002 news briefing, cited in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) by Robert Spencer, p. 70).

Again, Hart’s book in general is very good for concise history and good anecdotes—but it isn’t hard to see the “scholarly” slant towards Islam and against Christianity in his book—a slant that has sadly permeated much of modern American scholarship and the media.

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