Theophanes On The Medieval Jewish Acceptance Of Prophet Muhammad As The Awaited Messiah

The point of this article to comprehend the element of opportunism and utilitarianism as being the key element in the development of Messianic hopes among the medieval Jews. There exist scores of “prophecies,” “visions” and recognitions by the various medieval Rabbis and Jewish mystics, which whole-heartedly identify and accept people such as King Cyrus of Persia, Alexander the Great, Prophet Muhammad(P) and the second Arab caliph `Umar I(P) as the promised Jewish Messiah.

Further in this regard, I present in the following the pertinent extract from the “Chronographia” of the medieval Christian historian and theologian Theophanes. While reading this, his Christian bias has to be remembered. For instance, when he writes:

    “At the beginning of [Muhammad’s] advent the misguided Jews thought he was the Messiah who is awaited by them”

Though the incident(s) referred to could very well have been true, yet the description of those Jews as “misguided” does not represent factuality, but the reporter’s Christian bias.

The extract1 is as follows:

AM 6122 [A.D. 629]

In this year died Muhammad, the leader and false prophet [sic!] of the Saracens, after appointing his kinsman Abourbacharos [Abu Bakr] to his chieftainship. At the same time his repute spread abroad and everyone was frightened.

At the beginning of his advent the misguided[!] Jews thought he was the Messiah who is awaited by them, so that some of their leaders joined him and accepted his religion while forsaking that of Moses, who saw God.

Those who did so were ten in number, and they remained with him until his murder. But when they saw him eating camel meat, they realized that he was not the one they thought him to be, and were at a loss what to do; being afraid to abjure his religion, those wretched men taught him illicit things directed against us, Christians, and remained with him….

He taught his subjects that he who kills an enemy or is killed by an enemy goes to Paradise; and he said that this paradise was one of carnal eating and drinking and intercourse with women, and had a river of wine, honey, and milk, and that the women were not like the ones down here, but different ones, and that the intercourse was long lasting and the pleasure continuous; and other things of profligacy and stupidity; also that men should feel sympathy for one another and help those who are wronged.

It would be a classic faux pas to uncritically accept the account of Theophanes. Rest assured that Theophanes’ was a heresy-based account, coloured further by his bias as a Christian theologian as noted earlier.

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He were right insofar as he spoke of some Jews having accepted Muhammad(P) as the Messiah because that is attested by other circumstantial evidence as well — but that was it. All other secondary details in his account — details such as the number of those Jews as “ten,” Muhammad’s(P) eating of “camel’s meat” as the cause of those Jews’ reversion, Muhammad’s(P) telling the Jews “illicit things” about the Christians, Muhammad’s(P) “murder”, etc. — were all clearly bigoted mythical stereotypes.

Ironically, it evaded Theophanes’ attention that if (as he claimed) the Jews had rejected the Messiahship of Muhammad(P) because “they saw him eating camel meat”, then there would have been no way those Jews had accepted Jesus(P) as the Messiah, considered what the Gospel attributed to him:

“And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.” [Matthew 15:10-11] (KJV)

How could Theophanes have justified the Jewish prohibition of eating camel meat in the presence of this statement of Jesus? And if, as Theophanes states, those Jews had rejected the Messiahship of Muhammad for his violation of the Jewish dietary laws, they would surely have rejected the Messiahship of Jesus as well in light of his contempt for the same laws, as is discernable in the cited verse.

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This straw man clearly demonstrates that this whole story was cooked up by Theophanes in order to explain the embarrasing report, which had reached him, of some of the Jews’ acceptance of Muhammad(P) as their promised Messiah.

Footnotes

  1. Theophanes, “The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor,” as reproduced in Readings in Late Antiquity: A Sourcebook, tr. Cyril Mango and Roger Scott, ed. Michael Maas (New York: Routledge, 2000), p. 355 []

2 Comments

  1. This supposed statement by Theophanes sounds false. Has it been verified?
    Why do I say it is false? because in the first sentence he states Muhammad “died”. then you go down to the fourth sentence and Theophanes says that Muhammad was Murdered. Murdered?
    The sentence reads:
    “Those who did so were ten in number, and they remained with him until his murder.”

    So, the narrator jumps from “dying” to “murder”. Which is it? Could Muhammad have been murdered?

  2. Dear Asif Iqbal

    When Theopanes wrote,

    “…those wretched men taught him illicit things directed against us…”

    he was saying that the Jews taught Muhammad (PBUH) illicit things not the other way around as per your explanation,

    “…Muhammad’s(P) telling the Jews “illicit things” about the Christians,…”

    Just had to clear this up. Informative article :)

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