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ISIS Embraces Critical Scholarship of the Bible?

August 16, 2016

The fifteenth issue of ISIS’ English-language propaganda magazine Dabiq spread across the internet this month. This issue focused on an extended critique of both western secularism and Christianity in attempt to convince westerners to convert to Islam and join the Islamic State.

This blog has previously examined how the increasingly ideological and post-state nature of modern war is creating a situation where scholarship will be increasingly appropriated by armed groups and the purveyors of ideological arguments will frequently become targets. The new issue of Dabiq provides an interesting opportunity to examine an instance of such appropriation in action.

Its centerpiece is a fifteen page article titled “Break the Cross.”Although the article is unsigned, it was obviously written by a native English speaker who appears to be familiar with critical scholarship of the Bible and early Christianity as well as a very basic reading knowledge of Hebrew and Greek.

Upon closer examination, however, the article’s sources appear largely culled from public domain books and other material freely available on the internet. Assuming that the author of this piece is located within territory held by the Islamic State, this may be due to a lack of available resources. Reports that ISIS has burned libraries in the territories it controls could further limit the accessibility of knowledge to the group’s researchers.

The article cites only two very out-of-date scholarly sources by name to support various textual arguments related to the Bible: Strong’s Concordance (published in 1890) and Adam Clarke’s 1831 Commentary on the Bible (making full use of the author’s 19th-century antisemitic prejudices).

The rest of the article’s sources are more obscure but can be revealed through some internet sleuthing. The article discusses – correctly – the semantic relationship between various names for God in Semitic languages (p. 49 in Dabiq issue #15). But then the author gives the name for God in “Chaldean” as 𐎛𐎍 , utilizing a Ugaritic font which happens to be found in the English language Wikipedia page for the Canaanite god El instead of the Akkadian signs for the equivalent noun ilum. (Ugaritic fonts, being alphabetic and therefore containing far fewer signs, are better supported than Akkadian cuneiform fonts on most computers).

The author commits a similar error in discussion of the word בַּר , which means “son” in Aramaic. The author, wishing to argue that Jesus’ contemporaries referring to him as the “bar of God” in their native language could mean something else besides “son of God,” appears to have looked up the Hebrew word בַּר in Gesenius’ 1846 Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon and found that it means “beloved” or “pure” (p. 56). The two are different words, in different languages, and derived from different roots (The Hebrew בַּר is derived from the verb בָּרַר , while the Aramaic has no clear triconsonantal root).

It has often been said that atheists merely believe in one less God than religious people, and many of the arguments the author uses against Christianity can be found on many skeptic websites. Arguments that the Gospels were written at a late date (p. 50), that the date of Christmas was an appropriation of the birthday of the god Sol Invictus, or that the Comma Johanneum is not original to 1 John 5:7-8 (p. 53) are readily found while browsing the online atheist community.

Other arguments are more specific to the online Muslim apologetics community. A number of the Dabiq author’s arguments seem derived from those presented on the website Answering Christianity, maintained by American Muslim apologist Osama Abdallah. Most of what Abdallah writes is standard mainstream Islamic apologetics, albeit in a less polished internet format. Abdallah renounces violence and attempts to spread Islam by peaceful persuasion only, and his website argues that ISIS was created by the CIA and Mossad to discredit Islam.

Nevertheless some of his arguments have now been appropriated by ISIS, including arguments that Simon of Cyrene may have been crucified instead of Jesus as evidenced by Gnostic writings (p. 54-55), that Muhammad was the prophet promised in Deuteronomy 18:18 (p. 59), and the argument that the Greek word parakletos in John 16:7-11, generally taken by Christians to refer to the Holy Spirit, was originally written periklytos, “the admirable one,” and therefore also refers to the coming of Muhammad. (the latter argument was originally made by Muslim convert David Benjamin Keldani in his 1928 book Muhammad in the Bible).

All that this shows is how the work of a great number of people unconnected to and unsupportive of ISIS and their goals has been collated and redirected for the purpose of recruiting people to join the Islamic State.

Thanks to the magic of the internet, everyone is now an expert. And since everyone is now an expert, even a brutal and thuggish organization occupying a stretch of landlocked, mostly undeveloped desert land in the Middle East can now throw together seemingly sophisticated scholarly-sounding recruiting pitches based on amateurish misinterpretations of hundred-plus year old extremely outdated but free and public domain source material.

Welcome to 21st century war.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2016 2:27 AM

    Reblogged this on Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin and commented:
    This is a disconcerting blog on how ISIS views the Bible. It is disturbing to read ISIS publications for the West

  2. ralfellis permalink
    January 9, 2017 7:26 AM

    Quotes from the ISIS handbook.
    Everything that ISIS does comes from this book.
    And this book is on sale in every mosque in Britain:

    ISIS are taking defeated unbeliever women as sex slaves!! So where do they get these barbaric ideas from? From the ISIS handbook, of course….

    O Prophet! Lo! We have made lawful unto thee … the milik al-yamin (those whom
    thy right hand possess) of those whom Allah has given to you as spoils of war” Koran 33:50.
    (The milik al-yamin are slaves and sex-slaves.)

    .

    ISIS are beheading unbelievers. So where do they get these barbaric ideas from? From the ISIS handbook, of course….

    I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off
    their heads and strike off every fingertip of them. Koran 8:12

    .

    ISIS are crucifying unbelievers!! So where do they get these barbaric ideas from? From the ISIS handbook, of course….

    The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and
    strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered
    or crucified. Koran 5:33

    .

    ISIS are mutilating unbelievers by cutting off limbs on opposite sides!! So where do they get these barbaric ideas from? From the ISIS handbook, of course….

    The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle and strive to
    make mischief in the land is only this, that they should … have their hands and their
    feet cut off on opposite sides. Koran 5:33

    .

    ISIS are burning unbelievers!! So where do they get these barbaric ideas from? From the ISIS handbook, of course….

    Garments of fire have been prepared for the kuffer unbelievers. Scalding water will
    be poured upon their heads to melt their skins and that which is in their bellies;
    and they shall be lashed with rods of iron. If they try to escape, they shall be dragged
    back and told, ‘taste the torment and the Fires’. Koran 22:19

    .

    ISIS are subjugating unbelievers!! So where do they get these barbaric ideas from? From the ISIS handbook, of course….

    Fight those to who the scriptures were given and do not believe in Allah … until
    they are … in absolute submission. Koran 9:29

    .

    ISIS are a protection racket, forcing unbelievers to pay protection money!! So where do they get these barbaric ideas from? From the ISIS handbook, of course….

    Fight those to who the scriptures were given, and do not believe in Allah … until
    they pay the Jizya protection money. Koran 9:29

    .

    ISIS are making war on unbelievers!! So where do they get these barbaric ideas from? From the ISIS handbook, of course…..

    Make war on the kuffer unbelievers and hypocrites, and deal harshly with them. Koran 9:73

    .

    ISIS are taking over unbeliever’s lands!! So where do they get these barbaric ideas from? From the ISIS handbook, of course…..

    Do they not see how we invade their lands and diminish their borders? Koran 13:40

    .

    ISIS are killing unbeliever children!! So where do they get these barbaric ideas from? From the ISIS handbook, of course….

    And as for the boy (I killed), his parents were Muslims and we feared lest he
    should oppress them by rebellion and disbelief. Koran 18:80
    (Hence the many ‘honour killings’ by Muslim parents.)

    .

Trackbacks

  1. ISIS Embraces Critical Scholarship of the Bible? – Foundations of Islamic Traditions – Fall 2016

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