Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A 'Scholarly' Polemic/Apologetic site?

Another Muslim site that I probably would never have come across if David Wood had not debated its author. Wood recently debated Ehteshaam Gulam on the topic of Was Jesus Crucified?

What they do right...

I empathise with the motives of the site. Gulam wishes to propagate his beliefs and he wishes to do so at a convincing academic and scholarly level:
Because here I use the best scholarship possible to respond to various claims about Christianity and Islam. This site is a “academic” site in favor of Islam.[1]
This claim seems to be a hallmark which is often appealed to. Of course, it is a noble idea and he attempts to carry it out with integrity. For example, Gulam reviews the book What Did Jesus Really Say by Misha’al Ibn Abdullah. Gulam takes the initiative to critique the complete disregard for solid scholarship of a fellow Muslims polemicist against Christianity which is something I do not see from most amateur Muslim polemicists.

However, although he can recognise the flaws in other polemics what if we were to turn the light on his use of scholarship? It is one thing to claim to endorse a scholarly approach - and it is also another thing to employ it within your own writings.

Who are the scholars?

As a student of history, specifically Second Temple Judaism, Sectarian writings and Early Christianity, I am well aware of where the mainstream of academic scholarship stands. When illinformed critics present outdated and generally poor arguments about Christainity I can get rather irritated. So at the forefront of my mind when applying this historical method to early Islam, I am always conscious of where my sources stand within the generally accepted scholarly view.

In observing the references of Gulam's site, it seems his claims are far from the scholarly level he wishes to believe in. His main references seem to be those of fringe scholars at best, and often people who are neither scholars nor proficient in the topic they present. Among them:
  • Richard Carrier
  • Robert Funk
  • Gerald Massey
  • Zakir Naik
  • Ahmed Deedat
This is not all, but most of those whom I have seen cited or praised across the website. Within the list, only two would be considered scholars. Ahmed Deedat and Zakir Naik are by no stretch of the imagination scholars - nor can any of their works even almost be passed off as something scholarly. Their respective texts are generally no more than unreferenced fantastical criticisms or affirmations with a sole agenda of propagating Islam, often through deception. With regard to Gerald Massey, he was a 19th century poet and hobby Egyptologist.

Now, with the remaining two - they are indeed educated scholars. The late Robert Funk was one of the few real and reputable scholars of the controversial Jesus Seminar and Dr Carrier is prominent online Greco-Roman historian and naturalistic philosopher. However, these scholars and their works stand in a special place on the scholarly spectrum - that is, to the fringe. Their controversial theses are thoroughly contested by the mainstream of both believing and unbelieving scholarship. Personally, with my background in sectarian literature of the Second Temple periodS I feel very strongly against Dr Carrier's approach but that is another issue.

The Point...

When people claim to utilised scholarly argumentation you must ask yourself who are their scholars. If, like in the above case, the majority are not scholars and the few scholars only represent a fringe of academic thought - is their representation truly honest?

Just some final recommendations to Ehteshaam Gulam. To broaden your spectrum on the issues of the historical Jesus and early Christianity I recommend a few books:
  • Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth by Professor Ben Witherington III. This text covers where the majority of scholars stand on the issue of historical Jesus studies. It emphasises the Jewish context of the historical Jesus, among other things.
  • The Missing Gospels by Professor Darrell L. Bock - on early Christian diversity and 'alternative' texts.
  • A few books by N.T. Wright on the historicity of Jesus and the physical resurrection.

Post Script:

Just to reitarate something I have mentioned earlier while commenting on the abuse of scholarship. I am not setting a caveat against the use of fringe scholars. I myself have used fringe scholars - however, for my readers I do employ caution and point out that to most the thesis is not widely accepted. Why I use controversial scholars sometimes, as do others, is not for the personal affinity to the scholarship for polemic or apologetic reasons. I use them when I find their arguments convincing and sound in some way or another.

See also:

No comments:

Post a Comment