Muhammad: Man or Myth? | J. Mark Nicovich, Ph.D. | Catholic World Report
A review of Robert Spencer's Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins.
In recent decades it has become common in certain circles—often academic, sometimes popular—to challenge the historicity of famous figures and seminal events. The most well-known expression of this trend can be seen in those circles, skeptical and sometimes openly atheistic, that have taken the “search for the historical Jesus” to an extreme, calling into question whether a historical Jesus existed at all. The “Jesus Seminar” is a perfect example of this skeptical and even sensationalist approach. The general argumentation of this sort is centered on attacking the early Christian sources, citing the temporal distance of the Gospels and other writings from the early first century and the heavily biased nature of these texts as reasons to doubt the very existence of Jesus and to suspect he was merely a character invented to justify a particular theology, rather than the actual progenitor of it.
The skeptical cacophony has reached enough of a crescendo that Bart Ehrman, a leading New Testament scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill, recently published Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (HarperOne, 2012), a defense of the historical existence of Jesus. Ehrman is certainly no fundamentalist—in fact, he has publicly identified himself as an agnostic—and in this new work he is fully aware of the biases and pitfalls inherent in the early Christian sources. Yet despite these obvious issues he still demonstrates the overwhelming evidence for the historicity of Jesus, even if he does portray a rather different figure than the one depicted in the Gospels.
A similar series of works have appeared that attempt to work the same kind of radical historical revisionism on the early history of Islam, focusing on the person of Muhammad and the text of the Qu’ran, including Karl-Heinz Ohlig and Gerd-R Puin’s The Hidden Origins of Islam, Hans Jensen’s Mohammed: Eine Biographie, and an entire body of work by Ibn Warraq. The present work under consideration, Robert Spencer’s Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins (ISI, 2012) is the latest and perhaps most provocative of these books.