Islam and the Doctrina Jacobi

Yarmouk – Where the Arabs defeated a Roman Army in 636 AD

Being interested in the origins of Islam, a very unique document comes to light. It is a 7th Century Christian polemic against Judaism called the Doctrina Jacobi. Since this document was written around 634 AD, this gives us some interesting information about Islamic origins. The document has an interesting passage. This passage reads:

When the candidatus was killed by the Saracens, I was at Caesarea and I set off by boat to Sykamina. People were saying “the candidatus has been killed,” and we Jews were overjoyed. And they were saying that the prophet had appeared, coming with the Saracens, and that he was proclaiming the advent of the anointed one, the Christ who was to come. I, having arrived at Sykamina, stopped by a certain old man well-versed in scriptures, and I said to him: “What can you tell me about the prophet who has appeared with the Saracens?” He replied, groaning deeply: “He is false, for the prophets do not come armed with a sword. Truly they are works of anarchy being committed today and I fear that the first Christ to come, whom the Christians worship, was the one sent by God and we instead are preparing to receive the Antichrist. Indeed, Isaiah said that the Jews would retain a perverted and hardened heart until all the earth should be devastated. But you go, master Abraham, and find out about the prophet who has appeared.” So I, Abraham, inquired and heard from those who had met him that there was no truth to be found in the so-called prophet, only the shedding of men’s blood. He says also that he has the keys of paradise, which is incredible.

This is an interesting passage. It seems that the prophet leading the invasions is still alive. According to the orthodox narrative, Muhammad died in 632 AD and never had any military campaigns outside of Arabia. However, this problem is small. If the Muslims got the date of Muhammad’s death wrong by a couple years, it would not invalidate Islam.

It seems to indicate that the author went to investigate whether this Prophet is truly from God. He mentions about how he interacted with people who had talked with this Prophet. These were not followers of the Prophet. It seems that this man who claims to be a Prophet interacted with the some Christians and Jews who lived in Palestine. The author met with some of them and concluded then that this Prophet it false.

Can we retrieve any doctrine from this small passage? Yes. The passage says: “he was proclaiming the advent of the anointed one, the Christ who was to come.” This is not part of Islamic theology. According to Islam, Jesus Christ is the Messiah(Hebrew for anointed one) and he came 600 years earlier. This is completely inconsistent with traditional Islamic origins. It is also interesting that this Prophet is said to posses the “keys of paradise” which is a phrase found nowhere in Islamic literature. The closest would be the keys that were given to Peter in Matthew 16.

This document is a double-edged sword for Islam. It shows evidence of Arab armies, a new Prophet and a new religion. However, this new religion looks very different than what the Quran and Hadith present.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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10 thoughts on “Islam and the Doctrina Jacobi

  1. Hello again Allan,

    Thanks much for this post on the Doctrina Jacobi. I too am quite “interested in the origins of Islam”. Back on Dec. 2, 2011, I published a thread that listed a number of early works (632-900 A.D.) contained in the book: The Early Christian-Muslim Dialogue: A Collection of Documents from the First Three Islamic Centuries (632 – 900 A.D.): Translations with Commentary. [LINK TO THREAD.]

    The Doctrina Jacobi was not included in the book. However, I immediately recognized that I had seen your quote before, and was pretty confident that it was in Robert G. Hoyland’s massive, Seeing Islam As Others Saw It. I pulled the book off of the self, and sure enough, found the quote—word for word—on page 58.

    I was going to provide a Google Books link to the book, but to my surprise, found out that a PDF version is available for free via the following link:

    Seeing Islam As Others Saw It

    Anyway, thanks again for your post.

    Grace and peace,

    David

      • Hi Allan,

        I do not spend much time examining the more ‘popular’ works produced by Muslim apologists, and I am not aware of any scholarly books that directly interact with the material presented by Hoyland in his massive tome.

        With that said, I just now did a Google search on a Muslim apologetic website—a site which IMO produces the most challenging defenses of Islam—using “Hoyland” as the ‘keyword’; see the following link for the results:

        https://www.google.com/search?q=Hoyland&btnG=Search&domains=www.islamic-awareness.org&sitesearch=www.islamic-awareness.org

        I have not finished reading through all the results yet, but from what I have read, I found the following to be of interest:

        >>14th November 2014

        Palimpsest manuscripts containing the Qur’an are exceedingly rare. One such manuscript is The ‘Mingana Palimpsest’ – A Manuscript Containing The Qur’ān From 1st Century Hijra. Apart from Ṣanʿāʾ, Yemen, the only other location presently known to contain a palimpsest manuscript of the Qur’an is Cambridge University Library. In 1914 Alphonse Mingana and Agnes Smith Lewis examined the Qur’anic text contained in this manuscript, though the publication never received much attention from scholars, primarily attributable to Mingana’s involvement in manuscript forgeries. Almost 100 years on, Alba Fedeli has kickstarted efforts to have the text properly digitised and preserved for future generations of scholars and a scientific edition of the text is forthcoming. What makes this manuscript remarkable is the scriptio superior text contains Christian material, whilst portions of the scriptio inferior text contain verses coming from at least two Qur’ans. According to Alain George one of these Qur’ans may be amongst the earliest in existence.>> [http://www.islamic-awareness.org/New/update14.html]

        Back to reading…

        Grace and peace,

        David

  2. Good morning Allan,

    With reference to the topic at hand, I think you will find the following article from the Islamic Awareness site to be germane:

    Dated Texts Mentioning Prophet Muhammad From 1-100 AH / 622-719 CE [http://www.islamic-awareness.org/History/Islam/Inscriptions/earlysaw.html]

    Would be very interested in your thoughts once you have had a chance to read it…

    Grace and peace,

    David

  3. Doctrina Jacobi is primarily a polemic against Judaism. The historical context of this needs to be understood. During the Byzantine-Persian war(602-628), the Jewish population in the Levant sided with the Persians in pushing out Roman (Byzantine) troops from the region. When Heraclius regained control of the region, he ordered the forced conversion of Jews. The author, supposedly a newly baptised Jew is trying to convince other newly baptised Jews to accept Christianity faithfully. At this time both Jews and Christians were expecting the imminent fulfilment of Daniel 2. This was a time of heightened Messianic expectations among both Jews and pro-Byzantine Christians. Both groups were expecting the imminent arrival of the kingdom of the rock of Daniel 2 (although in different ways).

    Islam is only very briefly dealt with in this work. I do not think the author could have had any possible idea that Islam was going to endure. This would explain why he barely touches on this.

    So let us examine the points you mentioned-

    1) This prophet supposedly was with the armies at this point.

    Answer- The author could have thought he was present with them even though he passed away just two years ago. This could also be a confusion on the part of the author. The Prophet Muhammad did in fact lead a military expedition(called expedition of Tabuk) in Ghassanid controlled territory in the year 630, when there were reports of the Ghassanids(Byzantine vassals) gathering mercenaries to fight the Muslims. The author may have conflated these two events. This is very common among writings in the past.

    Besides, whether the Prophet at this point was alive or not is a detail concerning the inner workings of the new community. Even today, most people do not know the details of the inner workings of other countries/communities. How many Americans do you think could name the Prime Minister of Canada?
    The author does not have any strong information on the inner workings of the Muslim community. If he did, he would probably devote more ink on this than a small section.

    2) This prophet supposedly talked about a new Messiah and not the Messiah Jesus:

    Answer: This is an anti-Jewish polemic. It is well-known that Jews regarded Islam as the stepping stone for the arrival of their Messiah. Jews who accepted the prophet-hood of the Prophet Muhammad, but saw him as a prophet only for gentiles, believed he paved the way for their Messiah. (See Secrets of Simon ben Yuhai). Even Jews writing many centuries later, who rejected the truth claims of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad believed he paved the way for their Messiah because the spread of Islam meant that nations around the world had accepted the one God. They said because Islam led people to believe in the God of Israel, the only thing the Messiah had to do was convince them of the Messiah of Israel. See Maimonides’ writings.

    So is the author conflating Jewish hopes at this time with the beliefs of the Muslims?

    Furthermore, it is technically true that the Prophet Muhammad taught the arrival of the Messiah. That Messiah of course is none other than Jesus in his second coming. In any case, even if the author knew that Islam affirmed the Messiah Jesus, he may have regarded the Messiah Jesus of Islam to be different Jesus. Like Paul says in Galatians while discussing men sent by James, that they were teaching “a different gospel”. And in Corinthians he speaks of “a different Jesus”.

    3) This prophet supposedly claimed he had the keys to paradise:
    Answer:This could be misinformation or conflating a metaphor with something physical. Or the author may be using his own vocabulary to describe Muslim views.

    • Hello, sorry for the late reply.

      Thanks for the input. I actually agree with a lot of what you said. I absolutely agree that the author of this document believed that this Prophet’s teachings would not last.

      Yes, perhaps Jews did believe that Muhammad was a stepping toward the coming of their own Messiah but then how can one accept him as a Prophet?

      You say:

      “Jews who accepted the prophet-hood of the Prophet Muhammad, but saw him as a prophet only for gentiles, believed he paved the way for their Messiah.”

      How can you accept someone as a Prophet and not agree with what he says regarding the Messiah who has come and gone? I think this is where your analogy falls apart.

      Jews in later centuries thought that Islam paved the way for their Messiah because it helped gentiles learn about the God of Abraham. This is not the same as accepting him as a Prophet.

      The author of the Doctina Jacobi is obviously an educated man who could write polemically and knew the scriptures(NT and OT) well. Regardless, when we look at the small portion on Islam, we don’t find orthodox Islamic theology.

      The problem with the early sources on Islam is not that we don’t have them. We do have some, though not as much as we like. The problem for Islam is these early sources don’t square with orthodox Islamic theology or the traditional narrative of what the conquerors were supposed to believe.

      This is not the only document from 630-690 to raise questions. Perhaps I’ll deal with more in the future.

      Thank you so much for you input. Feel free to subscribe to get my updated posts.

  4. “he was proclaiming the advent of the anointed one, the Christ who was to come.” This is not part of Islamic theology. According to Islam, Jesus Christ is the Messiah(Hebrew for anointed one) and he came 600 years earlier. This is completely inconsistent with traditional Islamic origins.
    – actually according to Islamic theology Jesus Christ has a second coming, this must be what was being proclaimed

    It is also interesting that this Prophet is said to posses the “keys of paradise” which is a phrase found nowhere in Islamic literature.
    – true, muslims considered the knowledge and teachings of the Prophet as keys to paradise, could this be what was being claimed

    I was also thinking the they may have mistook the first caliph for a prophet?

    I’m also interested in reading material that were written during the time of Jesus Christ or soon after.

    Seems like you do a lot work to present the truth without compromise, so I am sure you may have a few sources that you can direct me to.

    Meanwhile going to go through rest of your content – seems like you got good material here 🙂

    Thank you

    • Hello Fact Finder,

      Thank you for taking an interest in this blog. I’m Catholic so everything I write is from that point of view. I talk a lot about Protestantism, Islam, Atheism, and cultural liberalism. I try to review popular apologetics books as well but I haven’t done one in a few months.

      Regarding Material about Jesus, unfortunately no material exists from His life but we do have writings of his followers in the New Testament written shortly after His life. Apart from this, your best bet would be to read the works of the apostolic fathers such as Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp who didn’t write in the first century but their writings are still less than 100 years after Christ.

      I do try to keep this blog fresh and up to date with a lot of content. I typically post every 4 or 5 days. If you subscribe to my blog via email, you will get email updates every time I have a new blog post.

      Thanks so much for visiting my page. If you have any questions about the Catholic faith, feel free to ask.

      God Bless,

      Allan Ruhl

      • Thank you very much Allan Ruhl.

        May God reward you and guide you to research and write more beneficial material.

        I pray that you will have access to primary sources and earliest documents for analysis.

        All the best,
        Fact Finder