Misspelling Muhammad: Why Robert Spencer is wrong about Thomas Presbyter

In the British Library collections is an eighth-century manuscript of a seventh-century text in Syriac, attributed to Thomas Presbyter. It’s a funny little jumble of geography, genealogy, chronicle and king-list. Why it survived I don’t know. But we’re very lucky it did, because it contains the earliest known mention in a non-Muslim text of the prophet Muhammad.

In the year 945 [=634], indiction 7, Friday 4 February at the ninth hour, there was a battle between the Romans and the Arabs of Muhammad in Palestine twelve miles east of Gaza. The Romans fled, leaving behind the patrician bryrdn(?), whom the Arabs killed. Some four thousand poor villagers of Palestine were killed there, Christians, Jews and Samaritans. The Arabs ravaged the whole region.

(Adapted from Palmer, West-Syrian Chronicles, 18-9; Hoyland, Seeing Islam, 120. Syriac text: Chronica Minora 2, 147-8).

There’s a lot to be said about this fascinating and troublesome little passage. What battle is this? Who is the patrician? Is bryrdn a name or a place? Are we to infer that Muhammad was still alive and leading an invasion, two years after (tradition tells us) he died?

But I’m not going to consider any of these questions today. Right now, I feel the need to rebut Robert Spencer’s maladroit interpretation of this source.

DidMuhammadExistCover

Robert Spencer’s book, Did Muhammad Exist?, was published 2012 by the American neoconservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute, to good reviews from other neoconservatives; as far as I can tell, it was ignored by most national press. However, in my experience, enough people have read his book and believe his claims that it’s worth engaging with them from time to time.

In Spencer’s view, this source “may not be an early reference” after all, perhaps having been added later; and besides, “it is not certain (although it is possible)” that the text really refers to Muhammad. It’s a rather small point within the book; but small mistakes can easily build to large, wrong-headed arguments. And the symbolism is great, since it’s one of our most important early sources that he so flippantly problematises. Best of all, he does so by misreading (genuine) scholars and then suggesting, bizarrely, that ‘Muhammad’ could not easily be misspelt by a foreigner.

It’s so ridiculous I just couldn’t help myself.

 

Seeing ‘Seeing Islam as Others Saw It’ as others saw it

Spencer starts off by questioning the date of the text.

“But some evidence indicates that these writings were revised in the middle of the eighth century, and so this may not be an early reference to Muhammad at all.”

He backs this up with a footnote quoting Robert Hoyland’s excellent study, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, 119:

“A mid-seventh century Jacobite author had written a continuation of Eusebius and… this had been revised almost a century later when the lists of synods and caliphs and so on were added”.

That does sound problematic. But if Spencer had read Hoyland more carefully, he would have seen that the “list of synods and caliphs and so on” was the last folio of the manuscript, which looks like an addendum. The mention of Muhammad belongs to the earlier bulk of the text, which does not have any tell-tale signs of later editing. Andrew Palmer (West-Syrian Chronicles, 5) explains:

“…the last folio of the manuscript stands apart from the rest. This is a list of caliphs, translated from the Arabic… Nothing else in the manuscript need have been written after AD 640. Indeed, the scribe marked the last folio off as a new beginning by placing the rubric: ‘It is finished’ at the end of what preceded it.”

Palmer goes on to explain that the author of the earlier text shows no awareness of Heraclius’ death in 641, or of anything that happened thereafter, so we can take it that 640-ish is the date of composition. This is all perfectly sensible, and Spencer would have known it if he had read Hoyland carefully. In fact, if he’d followed Hoyland’s footnotes – like a professional – he would even have found Palmer’s clarification. Spencer has managed to convince laypeople that he’s some sort of scholar, but he doesn’t really know how scholarship is done.

By the way, a hallmark of the amateur revisionist is that Spencer picks up on what he (wrongly) thinks is a note of doubt, while neglecting Hoyland’s very positive assessment:

“This is the first explicit reference to Muhammad in a non-Muslim source, and its very precise dating” – 4 February was indeed a Friday – “inspires confidence that it ultimately derives from first-hand knowledge.”

 

You say potato

But Spencer hasn’t finished with his obtuse reading of this source. He observes that Hoyland

“has translated tayyaye d-Mhmt as “the Arabs of Muhammad”; this translation and similar ones are relatively common. Syriac, however, distinguishes between t and d, so it is not certain (although it is possible) that by Mhmt, Thomas meant Mhmd—Muhammad.”

I should clarify what’s meant here. Syriac, like Arabic, does not usually represent short vowels, so don’t be thrown off by that. The issue is that the Syriac author has chosen an ‘emphatic’ t instead of an ‘unemphatic’ d. Since both languages have both of these sounds, why would there be any confusion between them?

Quite a few reasons, it turns out. It might simply be that the pronunciation Muhammad was uncomfortably foreign, even if the phonemes were individually native. My own name is a good example of this phenomenon: one by one the phonemes that make up Ian are pretty common, but their combination is pretty rare outside of English. I’ve been Éon in France, Eien in Germany, Eeenee in Egypt (no, I don’t know either) and Yan absolutely everywhere. In my name it’s the vowels that are twisted; between Arabic and Syriac it might be consonants.

Or perhaps Muhammad was too familiar, and the Syriac author was guilty of hyperforeignism: when speakers mangle a word so it sounds more like a foreign word ‘should’ sound. English speakers often do this with the Che in Che Guevara, turning it from chay into shay – perhaps influenced by the French chez. The fact that English contains both ‘ch’ and ‘sh’ sounds is neither here nor there. This is a surprisingly common feature of language. You may not know it, but you do this all the time.

Or maybe the emphatic t in Syriac is an attempt to mimic the d sound in Arabic for reasons of pronunciation that nevertheless aren’t clear from the script alone. We can see this in Pinyin, a popular system for transcribing Mandarin Chinese. Mandarin distinguishes between aspirated, ‘hard’ consonants and unaspirated, ‘soft’ consonants. English does have both aspirated and unaspirated consonants, but native English speakers aren’t consciously aware of the difference. However, we are more likely to aspirate unvoiced consonants (like t) than voiced consonants like d). So Pinyin uses unvoiced letters to stand for aspirated consonants, and voiced letters to stand for unaspirated consonants. This is why there are two ways of spelling Daoism-Taoism, one Pinyin and the other not, both sort-of correct. Spencer’s insistence that a spoken Arabic d be written with a Syriac d assumes a one-to-one correspondence of oral and written language that in reality is never so precise.

Neither Hoyland nor Palmer obsesses over the spelling: the difficulty of transcribing foreign words is taken for granted in philology. Spencer is placing an unreasonably high burden of proof on our medieval sources.

 

Mo money mo Mhmt

Any of these could account for the unfamiliar spelling. But there’s an even better reason to be sure that Mhmt is Muhammad. Spencer doesn’t mention – presumably he doesn’t know – that the spelling of Muhammad as Mhmt is very common indeed. It appears on Arab-Sasanian coins of the seventh and eighth centuries with inscriptions in the Pahlavi language, written in an Aramaic script closely related to the Syriac script of Thomas Presbyter’s manuscript. These coins bear the name Mhmt at the same time that Muhammad is first appearing in Arabic inscriptions.

MHMT1MHMT2

Sometimes the Pahlavi Mhmt and the Arabic Muhammad are written on the same coin; like this one from Ohlig and Puin (eds.) Hidden Origins of Islam (2008), 56:

MHMT4

Not only that; we even have a very early coin (70 AH = 689 CE) that bears the familiar Islamic slogan “Mhmt is the messenger of God” in Pahlavi.

MHMT3

These Arab-Sasanian coins are fairly common knowledge, and they prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mhmt is another way of spelling Muhammad.

 

Seek knowledge, even in China; but not there

For students and enthusiasts of History, there are a few lessons to be gleaned from this episode. Read scholarly literature very carefully. Always follow the footnotes: if one scholar’s argument looks a bit thin, perhaps she cites someone else who gives a full explanation. Don’t neglect numismatics. Study languages, ideally the languages of your sources, and think about what happens when languages interact. Talk to historians: ask them why they read sources as they do. Be critical, be sceptical, but don’t be obtuse. And above all, please ignore Robert Spencer.

 

Edit (23/12/14): Thanks to some very clever readers, I can now explain exactly how these alternate spellings (probably) came about.

 

Bibliography

Robert Spencer, Did Muhammad Exist? (2012), ch. 1 and n. 5.

Andrew Palmer (ed.), The Seventh Century in West-Syrian Chronicles (1993), 5-24, 49-50.

Robert Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It (1997), 118-20.

E.W. Brooks (ed.), Chronica Minora 2 = Scriptores Syri 3:4 (1904), 76-154 (full Syriac text traditionally attributed to Thomas Presbyter).

Ian D. Morris

Ian D. Morris

Historian and occasional human, powered by tea and cat videos.

15 Comments

  1. Loved this article. Nice work. One point occurs to me, however: perhaps the ‘mhmt’ spelling reflects a pre-existing familiarity with such a term within the Syriac orthographic tradition, which was connected with the later use of ‘mhmt’ on the Pahlavi coins? In other words, ‘mhmt’ was not simply a Syriac phonetic transcription of an otherwise alien Arabic name that had emerged with the Arab conquests, but rather an existing — albeit relatively rare — epithet, name, or other term that was already used in the Syriac/Mesopotamian linguistic environment, and which mhmd was an Arabic pronunciation. This might explain the tenacity of that particular spelling in Syriac/Pahlavi (Pahlavi script being derived from Aramaic script) circles — just as other Syriac terms pre-existed their later Arabic counterparts (for example, isu’ rather than ‘isa).

    In other words, one must consider the possibility that mhmt accurately reflects a more archaic pronunciation and orthography, and mhmd is an innovation associated with later Arabic and Arabicizing.

    • Amusing thought! For this to be credible, we’d need evidence that the word, or something very like it, was used in that milieu before the conquests; I don’t believe that’s the case. Anyway, we don’t have to posit such outside influence, because we’ve a paradigm right now that makes good sense of the evidence. Thanks for reading; I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

      • Following up on the comment I made above, Al-Jallad has recently published a draft article on early conquest-era Arabic, noting the curious fact that the prophetic name was consistently transcribed and vocalized in Greek-script Arabic language as something like Mahmet (the phonetic realization in Arabic language itself), which seems to be an Aramaic-derived morphology, rather than the Arabic phonetics following the expected Arabic vocalization, Muhammad. Now, what to make of this curiosity, the apparent strong preference for an Aramaic-derived pronunciation of the prophetic name even within early conquest Arabic speech itself, is uncertain (presumably the epithet derived from an earlier Aramaic religious usage, reflected in its retained pronunciation?), but it implies there may have been a fascinating complexity regarding the early derivation and popular transmission and dissemination of the prophet’s name, an Aramaic archaism which was later ‘overwritten’ with the classical Arabic form and pronunciation. This issue has no real bearing on Muhammad’s existence as a historical person, of course, but it does have potential implications for why he was called Muhammad in the first place, what that epithet signified, and what sort of milieu may have popularized him as a religious figure in the early conquest era.

  2. Hello,
    Ian, you prove that Spencer read not carefully the notes. Not that Muhammad existed. Do we have a C14 for those earlier ms of Thomas ? If yes, the result is 650 ? If not…

    Then get p.592 of Seeing… and read with me : “The only possible explanation is that John [ bar Penkayé ] is recording what had reached him from Muslim informants, probably via their Christian slaves, and that Muslims preserved this account until the ninth century. And this is perhaps the most valuable aspect of the non-Muslim sources: not so much that they give independent testimony-though they often do that too-but that they can sometimes tell us what the Muslims were saying long before this was written down by the Muslims themselves. ”
    The christians sources are drawn from muslims ones and wrote down by christians. But where come the muslims ones ? Who recounts this history ? Muslims. On what base for us historians ? None. Muslims recounts what they want.

    • To my understanding, there’s only the one manuscript of Thomas’ chronicle, and that’s in an eighth-century recension. Carbon dating wouldn’t help us to date the ‘original’ text, even if it were reliable (that’s a whole other problem). It’s normal for pre-modern sources to take the form of later recensions. Our task is then to apply textual criticism: such as Palmer’s explanation, above, for why we take the chronicle to have been compiled around 640.

      Moving on. The basic problem in early Islamic history isn’t that Muslim testimony is always and everywhere unreliable – though all testimony is tendentious. The problem is that we rely too much on very late sources, and too little on earlier sources. Hoyland’s right that non-Muslims shared space with ‘Muslims’ (or however we should call them) in the seventh century, so they must have been in conversation. That’s good news for “us historians”, surely: it dissolves the false categories of ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ and offers hope that our earliest sources might not be too distant from the events they describe.

  3. You do not seems to take into account what Hoyland says : christians sources (in this case J.b.P) are drawn from “muslims” ones (who will be written down 150 years later) in Muawiya Abd al Malik times. Where comes the “muslims” ones ?
    This issue has (to my knowledge) not been adressed yet.

    • It’s true that we know little about the ‘Muslims’ of the seventh century, so the ways that they constructed and interpreted their collective history are obscure to us. And yet we do have (near-)contemporaneous sources that agree on important ‘facts’ with later sources. One of those ‘facts’ is that there was a leader of the Arabs called Muhammad. He was glossed by pseudo-Sebeos as a militant preacher, and arguably by the Doctrina Iacobi as a militant prophet. These, taken together with later epigraphic and numismatic sources and even later literary sources, can be best – most parsimoniously – read as attesting the existence of a religio-political leader of the early Arab conquests. What he meant, and what exactly he did where and how, are all contestable, but I haven’t seen a compelling challenge to Muhammad’s existence tout court.

      Hoyland’s article “Writing the Biography of the Prophet Muhammad” is a helpful overview, if I remember correctly.

  4. “It’s true that we know little about the ‘Muslims’ of the seventh century, so the ways that they constructed and interpreted their collective history are obscure to us. And yet we do have (near-)contemporaneous sources that agree on important ‘facts’ with later sources.”
    And some of the same (christians) which contradicts them : especially the “jihad” as recounted by the Muslims sources in the 9th cen. : “No description of _specific_ events of the _conquest_ can be found in the region contemporary literature until much later…” get to re read Nevo chap.2 Part II. J.b.P. (correct me if im wrong) tells us that the Arabs got two realms _without combat_ : it contradicts straightfully all the muslims accounts of the 9th century, accounts which are not only “history” but also the base of their religious beliefs, as “jihad” is a quranic prescription and is supposed to have been _applied_ between 630 and 640 in Palestine/Syria/Iraq.
    The question is : why then other christian sources seems to fit with the Muslims ones of the 9th, exalting the resistance of the christians against the hordes of the Saracens. There’s an easy answer to this : what happened in the 700’s years : what was the _sudden_ actions against the christians taken by the Arabs, 65 years after the conquest ?

  5. “One of those ‘facts’ is that there was a leader of the Arabs called Muhammad. He was glossed by pseudo-Sebeos as a militant preacher, and arguably by the Doctrina Iacobi as a militant prophet. These, taken together with later epigraphic and numismatic sources and even later literary sources, can be best – most parsimoniously – read as attesting the existence of a religio-political leader of the early Arab conquests.”
    But he was dead. An not from the Jacobi which did not name it. So _nobody_ has seen him. None. Im a christian, a follower of Jesus, does this implies Jesus has existed ? Nope. It implies that i _believe_ that he’s existed, that’s not the same thing. The “Tayyayé ‘d Mhmt” does not witness of the existence of Muhammad the prophet of islam, 1) because he was _dead_ at that time (coincidentally ) the muslims tells us, ; it witnesses of the _belief_ of a figure named Muhammad that’s all. So where comes the name “Muhammad” spoken by the sources or the Tayyayé ? It comes from the Qur’an : Sanaa manuscript give a C14 between 540 and 650. The Qur’an almost partially was written and was talking about a prophet named “Muhammad.” Just _talking_ : nobody has ever seen him between 540 and 650.

  6. And last for now : do we need the “prophet of islam born in Mecca died in Medina” to have the Qur’an ? Not at all : all the doctrines of the Qur’an are anteriors and findeable elsewhere. Il suffit juste de chercher…

    • I don’t see how Bar Penkaye implies a bloodless conquest. I also don’t see why non-Arabic sources should invoke the word jihad specifically, though some of them do interpret the Arabs as fighting for a religious cause. It’s notable that many of our early sources call the Arabs muhajirun, ’emigrants’, cohering nicely with those archaic Arabic traditions that praise the twin duties of migration and jihad. Now, whether the word jihad was used at the time isn’t obvious – though I think it was –; but it’s reasonable to infer that a culture of militant colonialism did prevail in the seventh century, coded in a monotheistic idiom.

      Carbon dating isn’t as reliable as you’re making out. Alba Fedeli gave a brilliant paper to a conference recently, insisting that – when done well, which it often isn’t – carbon dating should be applied alongside other kinds of evidence; she also criticised scholars and journalists for broadcasting preliminary results as though they were solid facts – because #science. (Hopefully that paper will be published in the proceedings.) It’s generally understood that our earliest fragments date to around ‘Abd al-Malik’s reign. François Déroche’s book, Qur’ans of the Umayyads, is useful on this topic.

      Basic questions – who compiled the qur’anic texts, where to situate specific passages within Late Antique literature, how the corpus connects to Muhammad – are still unknown. I would like to react to that word ‘anterior’, though. While the qur’anic texts clearly do draw on older materials (how could they not?), they refashion these materials in interesting ways. In any case, they apparently represent a community or communities familiar with (para)biblical (oral?) literature, composing and redacting in Arabic, presumably during the seventh century: these texts can be located roughly in the broad sweep of history. And they do mention Muhammad, which isn’t nothing. But I’m fairly agnostic on how to interpret the Qur’an.

      If you demand eyewitness testimony for historical figures, very well. Your history is then a vacuum haunted by empty discourses. You and I have nothing meaningful to discuss: I can’t follow you down that epistemological rabbit hole.

      I have to stand up for the Arabic historical tradition here. It’s deeply flawed. It bears the marks of a long transmission, with excessive narrativisation and rationalisation. Yet it was not invented from nothing. It remembers people and tribes with a surprising degree of accuracy, coherent with numismatic, epigraphic and non-Arabic evidence. Political history is possible. In order to do away with Muhammad entirely, we’d have to undo the entire tradition. That’s neither proportionate nor parsimonious.

  7. “I don’t see how Bar Penkaye implies a bloodless conquest.”
    He implies :
    “Now when these people came, at God’s command, and took over as it were both kingdoms, not with any war or battle, but in a menial fashion, such as when a brand is rescued out of the fire; not using weapons of war or human means”
    http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/john_bar_penkaye_history_15_trans.htm
    It’s clear. No war, no “jihad”.It contradicts the Muslims sources: especially the “jihad” as recounted by the Muslims accounts written in the 9th ; accounts/muslim sources which are not only considered “history” by the Muslims but also are the base of their religious beliefs, since “jihad” is a quranic prescription and is supposed to have been _applied_ /taking place between 630 and 640 in Palestine/Syria/Iraq according to their accounts. John b. Penkayé said the opposite and by this assertion contradicts all the Muslims sources of the 9th.
    Plus there’s no archeological evidence of any “conquest” in Palestine/Syria in the 7th century. The Nessana Papyrii never state about an “invasion” of any Arabs : scholars have no explanation for this and continue to stuck to the 150 years late muslim sources.

    “Carbon dating isn’t as reliable as you’re making out. Alba Fedeli gave a brilliant paper to a conference recently, insisting that – when done well, which it often isn’t – carbon dating should be applied alongside other kinds of evidence; she also criticised scholars and journalists for broadcasting preliminary results as though they were solid facts – because #science. (Hopefully that paper will be published in the proceedings.) It’s generally understood that our earliest fragments date to around ‘Abd al-Malik’s reign. François Déroche’s book, Qur’ans of the Umayyads, is useful on this topic.”

    François Déroche in these last courses in the Collège de France : http://www.college-de-france.fr/site/francois-deroche/_audiovideos.htm spoke as i said, he spoke about the _Sanaa Palimpsest MS_ : (low) 543- (high) 650. Im fully French fluent : I’m French. 26.05.2015 course at 39 minutes.
    I do not talk about Umayyad MS, i talk about Sanaa Palimpsest MS : (low) 543- (high) 650 : Muhammad was known by the Qur’an, Qur’an was partially written before 650 (as Sanaa Palimpsest MS witness) as Déroche said about the C14 dating : so during the conquest the Tayyayé knew Muhammad because the Qu’ran was written down almost partially as we can see in Sanaa Palimpsest MS.There is no account existing about someone who have _seen_ him kata sarka. None. As e.g. I never see Jesus Christ yet im a follower of Jesus-Christ…

    “Basic questions – who compiled the qur’anic texts, where to situate specific passages within Late Antique literature, how the corpus connects to Muhammad – are still unknown. I would like to react to that word ‘anterior’, though. While the qur’anic texts clearly do draw on older materials (how could they not?), they refashion these materials in interesting ways. In any case, they apparently represent a community or communities familiar with (para)biblical (oral?) literature, composing and redacting in Arabic, presumably during the seventh century: these texts can be located roughly in the broad sweep of history. And they do mention Muhammad, which isn’t nothing. But I’m fairly agnostic on how to interpret the Qur’an.”

    I was not talking about materials (you’re totally right about that though, it’s a reshapping of biblical literature) , i was talking about doctrines of the Qur’an. All exists before 543. Jesus mere man, God is unique, etc. Nihil nove sub sole.
    There’s no account of a “Muhammad rasul Allah” before 685. We have “Muhammad” in non dated arabo byzantine coins as Spencer show. It is only “sure” from the Qu’ran that we have the name “Muhammad”. I know that we have an inscription in Old arabic but scholars disagree about it. That’s all we have.

    • Book 15 of Bar Penkaye describes the “sons of Hagar” as invaders whose “delight was in shedding blood without reason, and its pleasure laying hands on everything. Its passion was raiding and stealing, and its food hatred and anger; it was never appeased by offerings made to it. When it had prospered…, it had taken possession of all the kingdoms of the earth, had subjected brutally all the peoples and brought their sons and daughters into a bitter slavery, … and the blood of the martyrs of Christ shed…” etc.

      The shorter statement at the end of Book 14 – “not with any war or battle” – exaggerates to convey the ease with which the Arabs seized territory: “How, otherwise, could naked men, riding without armour or shield, have been able to win, apart from divine aid[?]”, he asks. It’s a rhetorical question, as is the almost immediate counterpoint, “Who can relate the carnage they effected[?]”. This is an interesting literary device, so thanks for drawing my attention to it, but it’s not to be understood literally.

      On the Nessana papyri, I agree with Rachel Stroumsa’s comments in her doctoral dissertation (pp. 6-7):

      “‘A people without a history’ – so [C.J.] Kraemer [a modern editor] calls the inhabitants of Nessana, with more than a touch of disparagement (or even contempt). By that, Kraemer means that the papyri do not reflect or comment upon the great movements of armies and the change of the political map of the Levant and the Mediterranean in the seventh century. … This attitude is a corollary of the focus on great men and grand movements which dominated history in general and Classics in particular in the 1950’s. With the changes introduced by the French Medievalists of the so-called New History school, the emphasis changed to a focus on society as the proper subject of historical research, rather than events. This new focus obviously lent itself well to the wealth of documentary evidence pouring out of Egypt… Thus what to Kraemer and his contemporaries was a liability – namely, the internal, micro-historical nature of the Nessana documents – can be seen as an asset. Since the inhabitants of Nessana were not members of the higher echelons of Palestinian society – in contradistinction to the wealthy and more sophisticated burghers seen in the papyri of Petra – they give us a chance to glimpse lives which are often unknown, and to examine the importance attached to different allegiances and groupings in circles that did not fall under elite or highly literate influence.”

      We shouldn’t expect local administrative documents to tell us about battles: that’s not what they’re for.

      The problem of archaeological evidence deserves a real conversation, which I’m not able to have right now. It’s enough to make three points. First, the Middle East is a difficult region in which to excavate, so we’ve rather little to go on. Second, archaeologists have tended to privilege Roman layers, destroying Islamic layers in the process, so even those sites that have been excavated have turned up less than we might have hoped. And third, the Arabs – unlike the Sasanians in the early seventh century – had little strategic interest in the sort of military and urban activity that might have left a rich archaeological legacy. They took slaves and booty, but then it was more profitable to extract taxes than to raze cities; as mobile garrisons they settled in tented communities (a fustat is a tent!), but only slowly developed these into permanent cities.

      I meant to imply that doctrines were among the materials reshaped in the process of composition and recension that produced the Qur’an. I’m not a specialist on the Qur’an, but I’ve never seen colleagues suggest that the qur’anic texts can be placed before 543. Have you? I suspect many of the intertexts we’ve identified are most comfortably situated in the seventh century.

      Jeremy Johns argues that early professions of ‘Islamic’ religiosity were sponsored by the imperial state, which had only come to fruition under ‘Abd al-Malik; Robert Hoyland responds that an imperial state with the requisite resources did already exist, but simply had “no pressing need to proclaim publicly the tenets of their belief. ‘Abd al-Malik did so because he was fighting to hold the polity together, trying to rally the Muslim community behind him and to find a rationale for their continued existence together in the face of a debilitating civil war”. Either of these, or another explanation entirely, may explain the shortage of Arabic references to Muhammad. Pastoralist raiders don’t keep diaries. The argument from silence would be thin even if there were silence, which there isn’t: Muhammad is attested already by the mid-seventh century.

      I’ve already explained that your impossible standard for evidence is one that effectively dissolves all of history into collective myth. Your answer was to restate your original position, with some Greek thrown in. I was not impressed: τὸ δὶς ἐξαμαρτεῖν οὐκ ἀνδρὸς σοφοῦ. I won’t be answering any more assertions along that vein.

      You’ve not listened carefully to what Déroche says in that video (for which, thanks). He says we can date Qur’anic fragments from the third quarter of the seventh century, and he dismisses those numbers you’ve given for Sanaa – “c’est pas possible” – because he knows that carbon dating is often spurious, and that we should integrate its results with other kinds of evidence. He considers the Sanaa fragments to be Umayyad, which is why he treats them in Qur’ans of the Umayyads: “the problem may lie with the conditions (arid or semi-arid climate) under which the cattle, the hides of which were later turned into parchment, was raised. … I would therefore suggest on the basis of the various points I enumerated that the Codex Ṣanʿāʾ I was written during the second half of the first/seventh century and erased at the earliest by the middle of the following century.”

      I’ve explained that carbon dating is iffy, and I’ve advised you to read what Déroche has to say on that matter in Qur’ans of the Umayyads. This right here is me underlining those points in the hope that you’ll seriously think about them.

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