Friday, November 18, 2022

In the Shadow of the Sword

The books of Tom Holland had been recommended and I checked the local library and was able to pick up "In The Shadow of the Sword" (2012).  With family and personal connections to Muslims, it was of interest.  The cover indicated a history of the Muslim conquests of new land, but that was a bit misleading.  In reality it has turned out to be more comprehensive and less to the point.

 The author seems to believe that religions are mostly humanly constructed with political ties which for me is easy enough to believe.  The first part of the book discusses the origins of Islam, Jewish, Christianity and surprisingly Zorastrianism.  They are all related and the author relates the human dynamics involved.  An earlier blog was concerned with the growth of Christianity:

 Arabs were thought of as nomads and pagans, lived in tents and were fierce in battle.  They were traders including slaves.  Grew frankincense in Yemen that once had been in demand in the western world. Basically not civilized like the Greeks, Romans or Jews.

Like with the New Testament, the Qur'an was written long after the events it depicts.  Holland points out that after Constantine had converted to Christianity, later Roman leaders felt it was in their interest to convert their subjects and especially new conquests. 

The Middle East was intertwined.  The Jews had been enslaved in Mesopotamia as well as Egypt.  Islam accepted religious customs of others.  From Zorasterianism they adopted the idea of stoning for adultery, prayers 5 times a day,,execution of apostates and that a toothbrush was a sign of piety.   I am reminded that Jesus was credited with saying "let him who is without sin cast the first stone."  From the Jews they adopted circumcision and dietary restrictions.  They accepted Jesus as a religious predecessor, but not the son of God.

Holland points out that Islamic scholars added in unrecorded revelations, first attribute to other scholars, then to companions of the Prophet and then to the Prophet himself.  Jewish scholars who have rules for every aspect of life many of which are not mentioned in the Old Testament.

Interesting facts uncovered:  Chariot racing inspired gang warfare among fans.  Bishops were instituted to oversee money and over time gained more authority.   Arabs were called Saracen and were the only barbarians mentioned in the Old Testament.  During the plagues labourers were able to command higher wages and (similar to today) helped fuel inflation.  Byzantium was ideally located except for a lack of water, but that was remedied by Roman engineers (but I had read that the Etruscans were the ones who taught engineering to the Romans including the famous Roman arch).

The author has written books on Persia, Rome and Christianity and some of that research has made its way into this book.  As is reality they are all connected and we cannot really understand one subject area until we understand the context.

Quote from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegal:  "Once the world of ideas has been transformed, reality cannot hold out for long."

This book is heavy reading with lots of information linking at least the four culures of Jews, Romans, Christians, Zorastrians, and Muslims.

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