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"German Police, Worried About a Violent Backlash,

told the professor to move his religious-studies center to more-secure premises." So reports the Wall Street Journal:

Muhammad Sven Kalisch, a Muslim convert and Germany's first professor of Islamic theology, fasts during the Muslim holy month, doesn't like to shake hands with Muslim women and has spent years studying Islamic scripture. Islam, he says, guides his life.

So it came as something of a surprise when Prof. Kalisch announced the fruit of his theological research. His conclusion: The Prophet Muhammad probably never existed.

Muslims, not surprisingly, are outraged. Even Danish cartoonists who triggered global protests a couple of years ago didn't portray the Prophet as fictional. German police, worried about a violent backlash, told the professor to move his religious-studies center to more-secure premises....

Prof. Kalisch's religious studies center recently removed a sign and erased its address from its Web site. The professor, a burly 42-year-old, says he has received no specific threats but has been denounced as apostate, a capital offense in some readings of Islam....

I naturally have no idea whether Muhammad existed or not; I leave such matters to historians (which could certainly include theologians, if they're doing good history). The conventional wisdom appears to be that he did indeed exist. "[O]nly a few scholars have doubted Muhammad's existence. Most say his life is better documented than that of Jesus.... The Prophet differed from the flawless figure of Islamic tradition, Prof. [Tilman] Nagel says, but 'it is quite astonishing to say that thousands and thousands of pages about him were all forged' and there was no such person."

But the only way one can trust the judgment of professionals on this is if they're free to challenge conventional wisdom, and to respond to such challenges. Even if Prof. Kalisch is wrong, and badly so, we can't know that he's wrong unless he is free to provide his evidence and his conclusions and others are able to rebut them (or support them).

Thanks to Religion Clause for the pointer.

Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
What if, say, it was thousands and thousands of Wikipedia pages?
11.17.2008 1:45pm
Mister Thorne (mail) (www):
I wonder what the outcry would be if some academic said the man we refer to as Jesus Christ never existed. After all, the only evidence we have for his existence are stories written by people who never met him.
11.17.2008 1:50pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Wow, I'm crushed. I thought that Islam was the only religion that wasn't a pile of made up bullshit.

I mean, my suspension of disbelief held fine through the part where an omniscient god wrote yet another bestselling book but absent-mindedly left the enforcement and interpretation of it to a bunch of bloodthirsty maniacs.

But now we find out that the prophet didn't really exist? That tears it.
11.17.2008 1:53pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
That happens pretty regularly, Mister Thorne. There is ample debate in historical circles over whether Christ was an actual real historical person. You perhaps haven't seen major stories about this because, well, most Christians don't feel the need to riot over such things, and also because in the MSM, Christianity is the one and only religion it's ok to offend.
11.17.2008 1:54pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Yeah, there is regular debate over the existence of Christ. It's the same basic problem as this new scholar has raised- it never occurred to anyone to document any of his spectacular miracles until long after he was dead and buried. Timing that doesn't exactly lend itself to verifiability of the alleged facts.

It would be like someone in writing a holy book about someone from the 1900s or the 1800s- say, give Abraham Lincoln super powers or something. And then wait a few millenia and have wars over the revealed truth of the Divine Prophet Mecha Lincoln.
11.17.2008 2:01pm
David Warner:
Saint Godwin would be amused.

Meanwhile in the SeKKKular Paradise, my students don't even believe the Moon Landing happened. Maybe a little suspension of disbelief wouldn't be entirely out of order...
11.17.2008 2:08pm
Happyshooter:
Yep, the first mention of Christ as a person by a historian was Flavius Josephus, who didn't start writing until ~AD 71.

This first mention of Jesus left out any God-like powers, if you discount some fluff that appears to have been added over the years as the books were rewritten.

Josephus' writing was used in the 20th Century to locate Herod's Tomb, and was found quite accuate in its description. Most of the debate today isn't over whether Josephus was an accurate historian, but rather in what way his passages about Christ were rewritten over the years.
11.17.2008 2:13pm
Fub:
David Warner wrote at 11.17.2008 2:08pm:
Meanwhile in the SeKKKular Paradise, my students don't even believe the Moon Landing happened. Maybe a little suspension of disbelief wouldn't be entirely out of order...
Well, let's hope that the sharia courts of SeKKKular scientists and engineers will at least give them a show trial before beheading them.
11.17.2008 2:28pm
whit:
<blockquote>
I wonder what the outcry would be if some academic said the man we refer to as Jesus Christ never existed. After all, the only evidence we have for his existence are stories written by people who never met him.
</blockquote>

others have made this point, but i'll repeat.

PLENTY of academics/historians etc. have either doubted he existed, questioned his existence, or even outright stated he didn't exist.

feel free to ramble over to amazon.

i entered "jesus never existed" into a text search and...

i got pages of hits. check it out

you can do the same thing with "mohammed never existed"

the difference in results is quite striking

note this may be because there is much stronger evidence that jesus didn't exist.

but the point is that despite people on the radical left's claims that "radical christianity" is just like radical islam...

people are safe to criticize christianity, and even question the existence of jesus.

the same cannot be said for critics of mohammed or islam.
11.17.2008 2:31pm
Sarcastro (www):
radical Christians: they won't blow you up like radical Islamists.
11.17.2008 2:40pm
Mister Thorne (mail) (www):
I suppose there won't be another great religion (i.e., one that attracts, say, hundreds of millions of adherents). And that's because we could record what the founder of another great religion says and does. We could all see whether he actually walks on water (or was that a special effect?) or can cause jugs and jugs of wine to appear from nothing (another special effect?).

I don't know. Given all the fantastic stuff we see on TV or in the movies -- stuff that looks very realistic but can't possibly happen -- it might be pretty tough to believe in the founder of another great religion.

But now, suppose he appeared everywhere at once. Not in a film, but in real life. He shows up in my office at the same time as he shows up in your office and at the post office, the grocery store, the stop light, Wendy's, the UN, Flight #484 . . . he appears everywhere (and to everyone) all at once!

Wouldn't that be something?
11.17.2008 3:03pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Sarc.
But they're still the worst of the threats.
See any liberal.
11.17.2008 3:05pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Mister Thorne--
To make it be something, you would have to rule out the possibility the great person was a clone or hologram. :)
11.17.2008 3:07pm
Fub:
Mister Thorne wrote at 11.17.2008 3:03pm:
But now, suppose he appeared everywhere at once. Not in a film, but in real life. He shows up in my office at the same time as he shows up in your office and at the post office, the grocery store, the stop light, Wendy's, the UN, Flight #484 . . . he appears everywhere (and to everyone) all at once!

Wouldn't that be something?
FedEx, UPS, DHL and every other courier would be ripping their pockets to get to the money to hire the dude, at least if he could carry stuff with him when he did it.
11.17.2008 3:12pm
David Warner:
Fub,

"Well, let's hope that the sharia courts of SeKKKular scientists and engineers will at least give them a show trial before beheading them."

This engineer was sorely tempted to act as judge, jury, and executioner right on the spot, I'll tell you. Guilty until proven innocent is no way to run a country.
11.17.2008 3:19pm
richard cabeza:
cause jugs and jugs of wine to appear from nothing
As opposed to converting water to wine?
11.17.2008 3:32pm
Alex C:
It's the same basic problem as this new scholar has raised- it never occurred to anyone to document any of his spectacular miracles until long after he was dead and buried.

Whoa. So in another hundred years or so L. Ron Hubbard is going to be credible?
11.17.2008 3:37pm
Craig R. Harmon (mail):

note this may be because there is much stronger evidence that jesus didn't exist.


What would evidence that Jesus didn't exist look like? Even a total absence after 2000+ years of any sort of evidence that he did exist would not be evidence that he did not exist. Perhaps what was meant was: "note this may be because there is much stronger evidence that Mohammad did exist than that Jesus did."
11.17.2008 3:38pm
Sammy Finkelman (mail):
>> Even if Prof. Kalisch is wrong, and badly so, we can't know that he's wrong unless he is free to provide his evidence and his conclusions and others are able to rebut them (or support them). <<

As a general rule, this is true, but we've already had a lot of time to consider this question, so it is not reall true in this paricular case.

The idea that Mohammed never existed is a little ridiculous. What about the wars over the succession? This is all true even if you have no original documents left.

What Kalisch was doing was applying the usual 19th century Bible criticism rules to Mohammed. It's the same kind of thinking that caused people to asset that King David never existed - and equally absurd. Well, maybe more absurd even, since it is more recent.
11.17.2008 3:41pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"You perhaps haven't seen major stories about this because, well, most Christians don't feel the need to riot over such things, and also because in the MSM, Christianity is the one and only religion it's ok to offend."

Is it offensive to anyone to question the existence of Jesus? Who is offended? Why? Are they offended by qustioning the existence of any other figure? Who?
11.17.2008 3:54pm
whit:
let's assume this professor is totally wrong, and there's metric a**loads of evidence that mohammed existed.

so what?

the point is not whether or not he (or jesus) existed.

the point is that one can freely dispute ANY tenet of christian faith, to include the very existence of the Son of God (tm), without fear of the kind of murderous crap that happens nearly every time somebody dares criticize/depict islam/mohammed.

the problem is with all these ninnies that keep drawing equivalence between islamofascists (and to borrow a sullivanism) and christofascists.
11.17.2008 3:56pm
Fub:
Sammy Finkelman wrote at 11.17.2008 3:41pm:
The idea that Mohammed never existed is a little ridiculous. What about the wars over the succession? This is all true even if you have no original documents left.
By that standard we can conclusively state that Robert Jenkins actually produced his long severed ear before the House of Commons in 1738. Otherwise the War of Jenkins' Ear would not have happened.
11.17.2008 4:06pm
LM (mail):
David Warner:

Meanwhile in the SeKKKular Paradise, my students don't even believe the Moon Landing happened.

That's silly. Of course it happened. The question is, "Where?". When you claim your lunar landing happened the one place guaranteed to have no witnesses, the moon, what thinking person wouldn't smell a rat?

I suppose you also think it's a coincidence that not a single Apollo Astronaut was in WTC #7 on 9/11.
11.17.2008 4:09pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
It seems that the spiritual truths behind Christianity predate Jesus by quite some time - possibly millennia, even - so Jesus may have been invented as a "teaching tool" by early Christians when they started to write down their version of these truths and founded the Christian religion....

I don't suppose that there is any reason that Islam should have done things differently.
11.17.2008 5:07pm
Smokey:
From Fub's link:
One of the first actions was the British capture, on November 22, 1739, of a minor silver-exporting town on the coast of Panama (then New Granada), called Puerto Bello... The poorly defended port was attacked by six ships of the line and a dinosaur under Admiral Edward Vernon.
Well, no wonder the English captured the port! They had a dinosaur.
11.17.2008 6:26pm
David Warner:
Smokey,

"Well, no wonder the English captured the port! They had a dinosaur."

Palin was right! Void the election!
11.17.2008 6:50pm
Katl L (mail):

Flavius Josephus,is the only source out of the Gospels about Jesus
11.17.2008 7:23pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
I'd just like to point out that even with a complete grasp of the historical facts the existence of Jesus/Mohammed would likely still be up in the air.

I mean suppose, contrary to fact, that there was some Jewish dude named Jesus but it turns out he was actually totally romanized and told mocking stories about "Jesus" to amuse his roman friends but came down to us today as the bible. Would the existence of this man count as "Jesus having existed?" Alternatively suppose there was some dude who did almost everything the bible claims Jesus did but was never called Jesus until a clerical error that occured while preparing the early copies of the scriptures.

The point is that in order to claim that "Jesus really existed" you need to do more than to show than there was some dude 2000 years ago by this particular name, or even that this dude is causally responsible for the biblical stories. Jesus was a very common name and many many people probably played essential roles in bringing us the bible stories. Rather to say 'Jesus existed' is to claim that some historical figure fufils enough of our conceptions about Jesus to warrant the name.

Now, my understanding is that the current best historical evidence suggests there was indeed a messianic figure in Judea 2000 years ago and I'm inclined to take that figure as sufficiently satisfying our conception of "Jesus" to warrant the claim "Jesus existed." However, as far as Mohamed goes even though I think the best evidence also suggests that someone introduced the Muslim religion at the relevant time in history I don't know if the purely secular figure responsible for the historical events is close enough to the Islamic conception of Mohammad to warrant the name.

In particular one might think that, given the very literalist mindset of much of islamic belief/culture, an essential part of what it means to be Mohammed is to be god's prophet and the performer of these various miracles. One could certainly believe in the historical figure while thinking the name "Mohammed" as used by most muslims did not refer.
11.17.2008 7:48pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Somewhere in G. K. Chesterton there's an account of a scholar who denied the historical existence of Jesus, and was so enraged by the apparent reference to Jesus in the Annals of Tacitus that he was driven to insist that Tacitus had never existed either, and the Annals were a medieval forgery. I was amused to find, on Googling this, that some have argued that the passage in question (it's about Nero's persecution of the Christians, but refers specifically to one "Christus" put to death under Pontius Pilate) really is a spurious Christian interpolation, though no one now seems to go so far as to claim that Tacitus himself is one. Apparently it's generally accepted now as genuine.

When you see vast movements of people inflamed by an idea, to the point where they will kill or die for it, it seems nonsense to me to assume that they've all come upon it spontaneously. There aren't, in the end, all that many things that people will willingly give up their lives for. Personal loyalty and transcendent truth are two of the few, and I can't imagine either Christianity or Islam spreading as they did without either.
11.17.2008 9:05pm
Craig R. Harmon (mail):

Flavius Josephus,is the only source out of the Gospels about Jesus


Not so. Pliny the Younger and Tacitus both mention Christ as the one whom Christians worship. Suetonius mentions Chrestus (meaning, if I recall correctly, "kind" in Latin), perhaps a misunderstanding of Christus (the latinization of Christ). There are also references, preserved in Christian sources, to now lost non-Christian sources referring to Jesus. These are only as good as one is wont to credit the reliability of the Christian sources preserving the non-Christian sources, of course, but it is not true that Josephus is the only (non-Christian or pagan) source outside of the Gospels about Jesus.
11.18.2008 12:11am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
It appears that the Apostles, and many of the disciples, who were said to have known Jesus, made major changes in their lives. "Come, follow me," and give up all that ye, and so forth.
It would be one thing to follow a centuries old story.
It is another to face an individual and make such a change on the spot.
So, either the stories of the Apostles and certain of the disciples who knew Jesus are false, or they had met Somebody of some influence.
11.18.2008 12:23am
traveler496:
TruePath:

Now, my understanding is that the current best historical evidence suggests there was indeed a messianic figure in Judea 2000 years ago and I'm inclined to take that figure as sufficiently satisfying our conception of "Jesus" to warrant the claim "Jesus existed."


Huh? TruePath, being messianic is a necessary but not sufficient condition to be the Jesus of the Bible. Jim Jones was messianic, as were Hitler and David Koresh, but I don't think most folks would consider these people to satisfy their conception of Jesus, even ignoring the anachronism.

I think that to qualify as the Jesus of the Bible, one must (among other things) be able to perform supernatural acts of the kind Jesus is described as performing in the Bible, and to be able to do these things because one is the son of the God of the Bible.

I find it plausible that there was a messianic dude 2000 years ago in the region - heck, I'd even buy several messianic, charismatic, inspirational dudes. But there's absolutely no credible evidence that someone existed who could do the supernatural stuff claimed of Jesus in the Bible. And without that, you don't have a Jesus, you just have one or at best a few charismatic guys.
11.18.2008 1:18am
Craig R. Harmon (mail):
traveler496,

Couldn't it just be enough that there was a Jew named Yeshuah (Anglicized into Jesus) who said some wise things and was kind and compassionate to the poor and sick and challenged the religious leadership of his time and tried to promote a sense of community, unity, compassion and love toward others and so forth and that this particular Yeshuah made a rather strong impact upon some of his contemporaries and stories grew up about him that mythologized him into the anti-Caesar (Augustus, by the way, was hailed as savior, lord, god of god, son of god and other other titles ascribed to the Jesus of the Bible). Okay. Yeshuah may not have been everything later writers wrote of him but he was still THE Yeshuah of whom the Gospel writers and others wrote even if the canonical Gospels and other NT authors go beyond who the historical Yeshuah was. In a sense we would have to say that the guy about whom the Gospel writers were writing did exist. While modern scholars are not unanimous in their opinion about what this Yeshuah did say and do as opposed to what constitutes mythology or the belief of a later generation of followers concerning this Yeshuah, there is a great deal of agreement on a basic core of sayings and doings and being done tos which can be said that a guy named Yeshuah said and did and had done to him.

I really think the question here is not: was this Yeshuah very God of very God, did he walk on water and change water into wine. I think the question is: was this Yeshuah an altogether ahistorical construct by a group of people promoting a kingdom of god type religion within Judaism and the gentile world in contradistinction to the emperor cult of Rome. That is to say, is there sufficient historical evidence that we must even posit that that the Jesus of the Bible goes back to any historical person who ever said or did or had anything done to him at all. Aside from the canonical and extra-canonical documents, all written decades to nearly a century or more after the time that Jesus was purported to have lived and died, all of which, having been written by faithful partisans with a distinctively evangelistic purpose, are of a historically suspect nature, there is very little historically reliable data upon which to build a case that anyone who actually existed can be firmly placed behind the biblical documents.
11.18.2008 3:12am
mischief (mail):
People have tried to argue that for a long, long, long time, Craig.

The problem with the Jesus-you-would-rather-have-existed is that there is no evidence for him. You can only get it by expurgating the evidence.
11.18.2008 3:04pm
traveler496:
Craig R. Harmon:

Couldn't it just be enough that there was a Jew named Yeshuah (Anglicized into Jesus) who said some wise things and was kind and compassionate to the poor and sick and challenged the religious leadership of his time and...


Sure, Craig. But that is a different claim than I was reacting to. I was merely pointing out that there's no credible evidence for the Jesus of the Bible, as he's described in the Bible (assuming, I sloppily neglected to mention, that the Jesus of the Bible is even a coherent concept - for all I know there are substantive internal contradictions which render JoB not only unsupported by the evidence but logically impossible).

I really wish that people would waste less time on wacky beliefs - and not just because it wastes their time. In this connection I hope it's not too presumptuous to foist on the few remaining readers of this thread one of my favorite quotes (from memory, so take w/ grain of salt):


A habit of basing beliefs upon the evidence, and of giving them only that degree of credence which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world suffers.

--Bertrand Russell, A Free Man's Worship, 1923
11.18.2008 9:00pm