An Evaporating Edifice: The stunning truth about Islam’s origins

A superb review by Bruce Bawer of the new revised and expanded version of Did Muhammad Exist?, which you can order here. “An Evaporating Edifice,” by Bruce Bawer, FrontPage, July 26, 2021:

Unlike other religions, declared the nineteenth-century French scholar Ernest Renan, Islam “was born in the full light of history.” Renan’s point, of course, was that whereas, for example, Jesus was unknown during his lifetime to the great world beyond Galilee and Judea, and the story of his life was set down, in various versions, only decades after his crucifixion, Muhammed was in his own lifetime a public figure of unparalleled eminence – the prophet of a new religion, the commander of an army that conquered much of the Arabian peninsula in the name of that religion, and the founder of an Islamic empire that, over the century or so after his death, would spread his religion from the western end of the Mediterranean to what is now India, and eventually threaten on more than one occasion to engulf the whole of Europe.

But Renan was wrong. Over the past century, while archeologists, textual scholars, and others have examined the life of Jesus from every conceivable angle – and established beyond any reasonable doubt that the man whose ministry is recounted in the gospels really existed – the relatively few experts on Islam who’ve ventured to scrutinize with open minds the established narrative about Muhammed have discovered major problems with almost every aspect of it, so that questions have arisen, over time, as to whether this historical figure of the first consequence – a man whose rich and adventurous life story had long been recounted in colorful detail (and whom Time magazine, in 1992, named the most influential person in human history) – had ever actually existed at all.

It’s a breathtaking thought, and at first glance it seems outlandish, audacious, impossible. For the overwhelming majority of Muslims, even to entertain the notion that Muhammed might be a fictional character is verboten. Most scholars of Islam don’t want to go near it either, for fear or their lives, or (at the very least) their careers. But the few who’ve dared to do so have emerged with some extremely sensational findings. In 2012, Robert Spencer summed up what had been discovered so far in his remarkable book Did Muhammed Exist? An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins. Since the scholarly work in this area has continued without pause – and has produced even more extraordinary evidence that the historical account of Muhammed needs, at the very least, to be radically revised – Spencer has now issued a revised and expanded, and even more devastating, version of his book.

And what a book it is! So you don’t care about Islam? Well, as always, the first answer to that has to be: Islam cares about you. And the second answer is that you don’t have to be interested in Islam to find this book absolutely compelling. If you enjoy mysteries, this book tells the supremely thrilling story of a diverse band of canny sleuths – archeologists, linguists, historians, theological experts – who’ve spent much of their careers trying to solve what may be the biggest mystery ever. To make your way through this book, chapter by chapter, is to feel that you’re seeing the cover being pulled back, layer by layer, on one of the most massive deceptions in the annals of humankind….

There is more. Read the rest here.

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