Lectures/Nov 30, 2016

Muhammad’s Community & the Spread of Monotheism in Late Antique Arabia

Muhammad’s Community & the Spread of Monotheism in Late Antique Arabia lead image

Muhammad's Community and the Spread of Monotheism in Late Antique Arabia, lecture by Robert Hoyland (New York University), ISAW-NYU, December 8, 2016, 6:00 pm

From Yemen to the Persian Gulf to the eastern shores of the Red Sea, monotheism, principally in the form of Christianity and Judaism, was spreading its tentacles around the edges of the Arabian peninsula in the Late Antique period and by the time Muhammad began his preaching, around 610 AD, of Muhammad, it had begun to penetrate the land's vast interiors. It used to be thought that the Qur'an was a reaction to paganism, but now it is becoming increasingly evident that it should be understood rather as a response to the Judeo-Christian currents swirling around its birth place in west Arabia. But why did Muhammad and his followers not simply adopt one of the two established monotheist faiths, what was their objection to them and what was the nature of their new community? This talk will look at some of the new discoveries of Christian and Jewish remains in Arabia and present the latest perspectives on the origins of Islam and the Muslim community.

Robert Hoyland is Professor of Late Antique and Early Islamic Middle Eastern History at ISAW. He read Oriental Studies at Oxford University, where he subsequently wrote a doctoral thesis on non-Muslim accounts of the rise of Islam (Seeing Islam as Others saw it, 1997). The emergence of Islamic civilization has remained a key focus of his research and is the subject of his latest book (In God’s Path: the Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire, 2014). The desire to better understand this phenomenon has led him down many different avenues of study: pre-Islamic Arabia (Arabia and the Arabs, 2001), epigraphy (“The Content and Context of Early Arabic Inscriptions”, 1997), papyrology (“The earliest attestation of the Dhimma of God and His Messenger and the rediscovery of P. Nessana 77”, 2014) and the late antique Greco-Syriac world ([with Simon Swain et al.] Polemon’s Physiognomy, 2007, and Theophilus of Edessa’s Chronicle, 2011). One avenue, archaeology, has become a passion for him in its own right and he has been involved in excavations in Syria, Yemen, Israel/Palestine and Turkey/Kurdistan. He has now embarked upon the excavation of the city of Partavi/Barda‘a in modern Azerbaijan, which was the capital of the Christian kingdom of Caucasian Albania and the site of the first Muslim garrison in eastern Caucasus.