Earlier this year, the Turkish Islamic scholar Mustafa Akyol came out with the book The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims. The book is interesting, I’ll say that much. I had meant to read it earlier but other things got in the way. I picked it up yesterday and finished it today and am now going to share some of my thoughts on the book.
First of all, Mustafa Akyol is an interesting individual. Though a Muslim, he’s not that conservative in his faith. He’s not a Quran only Muslim but many times throughout the book he seems to treat the Hadith with less respect than the average Muslim. He also quotes numerous Shiite scholars with authority which may not resonate with a Sunni audience.
Starting on the first page of the book, he shows us his hand. He’s going with the classical Jewish Christianity vs Pauline Christianity dichotomy. He’s quite fascinated with the book of James. On page 4 he claims that in the early Church, the canonicity of James was disputed. The truth is that it may have had the odd dissenter but it was generally accepted. So basically for Akyol it’s James vs Paul. I personally believe that this whole false dichotomy started with Martin Luther and his doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. The Catholic Church has never had a problem with both authors. Luther is the one who created this mess. Without intending to, Akyol essentially admits that this doctrine comes from Luther and not Paul. On page 66 he writes:
Both, in other words, offer salvation to humankind through the right faith and good works – unlike the Pauline doctrine of being saved by “faith alone,” or sola fide, a theological term coined later by Martin Luther.
In other words, faith alone is not found in Paul but in Luther. Also, Akyol doesn’t go in depth in the works of Paul or James but merely assumes the dichotomy. For Akyol and others who believe the Paul vs James thesis I ask a simple question: What about Peter? He’s just as important as James or Paul. The reason that these people don’t bring up Peter is that he’s one of the twelve we know quite a bit about. If one reads his sermons and preaching in the early chapters of Acts, it becomes apparent that he believed what Paul and the rest of Traditional Christianity believes. The James vs Paul conflict evaporates when we look at the apostle Peter.
I liked the chapters where he deals with the Quran’s view of Jesus and Mary. He goes through the verses dealing with this issue, and it becomes quite apparent that they’re historically problematic. He offers a wide range of solutions for each one. Sometimes he endorses one response, and on others such as the crucifixion, he essentially leaves it up to the reader to decide. There isn’t much on the crucifixion in this book, probably because he knows that he’ll never win on this issue. He points out that the only people who denied the crucifixion were the Gnostics who denied that Christ had a physical body. He admits that this view doesn’t exist in Jewish Christianity.
He also points out the other problems for his position. On page 50 he concedes that there were multiple strands of Jewish Christianity with contradictory doctrines. He later states that there were branches of Jewish Christianity that had views acceptable to mainstream Christianity. He elaborates on this when he discusses the writings of St. Jerome. Akyol also appears to admire the Didache. He acknowledges that the Trinitarian baptismal formula found in the Didache is a problem but he gets around it by saying that it was a later insertion by a scribal editor.
The book is definitely worth a read. The writing style is immaculate and reminds me a lot of Kallistos Ware’s book The Orthodox Church. It flows well and is intended for a non-Muslim audience similar to how Ware’s book is intended for a non-Orthodox audience. Another part that I appreciate about the book is the level of research done. He brings up challenges to his position and tries to answer them whereas many authors would have just ignored the challenges. A lot of information is given. Akyol certainly put a lot of time into this. Although I disagree with the James vs Paul thesis, this book was honest in many ways and a pleasure to read. I’d recommend this one.