Back in the first week of Lent, we found that it anachronistic in the ‘naughts’ to talk ‘Jews’ and ‘Christians’. Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian. In context of Roman empire, Herodian collaboration, Jewish Wars and, in 70CE, the destruction of the Second Temple, it’s premature to anticipate outcomes.
Synagogue Judaism was being developed in Javneh, and Talmud was being written, after 70CE. Paul, Peter, and others were negotiating an emergent Christianity, after 33CE. We were all ‘God-fearers’ in ‘diaspora’.
We’ve retold the stories of ‘heretics like us’ in the first century, neither as some original purity which later degenerated or fragmented, nor as some primitive rough drafts for progressive improvement. Many partisans were reworking the same traditions, into what would later emerge as two great and diverse religious traditions, like ‘twins separated at birth’. The myths and legends of Torah were mined to inform and express a new context.
Similarly, in the seventh century, those who followed Muhammad, as part of the new ummah, and those who remained good Jewish and Christian neighbours, reworked their faith life. Yemen was a Jewish nation, and Mecca and Medina included established Jewish and Christian communities. Arabs read the shared myths of Genesis, and traditions of Abraham and Ishmael as origin legends for clans and tribes, their own and others.
What Muhammad opposed was weakened monotheism and bad morality. When he rallied allies against ‘infidels’, many Jews and Christians shared the campaign, many without converting to Islam. It’s a stretch to find Antisemitism in the 6000 verses of the 114 surahs of Quran, and his version of the person and work of Jesus as one of the prophets is no great heresy. Maryam, wife of Caliph Mu’awiya and mother of Caliph Yazid was Jacobite.
When Muhammad moved from Mecca to Medina in the hijira of 622CE, festivals began as alternatives to infidel one: Eid al Adha, Eid al Fitr, and Ahsura, Each has shared roots and parallels in the Abrahamic traditions, varied expression in different Muslim traditions, dating from the 7th century, and elaborated over many centuries in varied cultures and contexts since.
Eid al Adha remembers Abraham’s sacrifice of his son. In Judaism the near-sacrifice of Isaac is observed in the Akedah. Eid al Adha and the Quran associates the submission of Abraham as involving Ishmael.
Eid al Fitr ends the month of Ramadan, breaking the monthlong fast, and including payment of Zakat al Fitr, charity gifts to the poor. This ‘sweet Eid’ in various cultures is widely celebrated, in varying ethnic traditions here.
Ashura is a parallel to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement in Judaism. The stories associated with the festival is exodus from Egypt, or Noah leaving the ark. It is voluntary in Sunni tradition, superseded by Ramadan, but central in Shiite tradition, commemorating Karbala and the death of Husayn.
Consider the various explanations that Christians would offer to explain their observances of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Is there really one ‘orthodox’ answer, relegating variations to the status of ‘heresy’? Our Calvinist Puritan ancestors tried to ban Christmas and Easter!
What if ‘heretics like us’ reclaim monotheism and morality, conserving and transforming our heritage of faith into what may emerge as post-modern Abrahamic faiths? The results will be as different from our medieval and our modern versions of each tradition, as they will be from each other.