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The Death of a Prophet: The End of Muhammad's Life and the Beginnings of Islam (Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion) Hardcover – November 16, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"...[Shoemaker] develops [previous ideas] substantially, discusses them in the light of recent publications, and also offers highly instructive parallels with the situation in (and scholarship on) early Christianity. ... [he] has done a very good job of highlighting the issues and giving them sophisticated and thorough discussion, and [The Death of a Prophet] is a worthwhile addition to the fast-expanding body of material on Islamic origins."—Journal of the American Oriental Society



"A work of utmost importance, and one that has profound implications for our understanding of how Islam began."—Fred Donner, University of Chicago

About the Author

Stephen J. Shoemaker is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oregon and author of Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption.
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Product Details

  • Series: Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (November 16, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812243560
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812243567
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,926,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ulrich on August 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Shoemaker gives an outstanding analysis of early Islamic history here, and convincingly shows that the early community of believers was far more apocalyptic and Israel-centered than the religion which later emerged as Islam. It's remarkable how Western scholars have often claimed that Muhammad was an innovative social reformer in a pagan Hijazi climate, rather than a militant apocalyptic leader --- despite how poorly those claims of Hijazi social reform fit the earliest historical evidence (from many different sources) and the actual text of the Qur'an (with its constant claims to be just a 'reminder' of previous prophetic messages, and its endless appeals to Judgment Day). With a fairly encyclopedic summary of the evidence and issues, Shoemaker presents probably the most compelling revisionist account to date -- better than the more well-known recent efforts of Donner, for example.

Unfortunately this book is far too expensive. In its favor, it has library quality binding, and is well produced. But a paperback edition would do the world a great service.

Lastly I was puzzled by Shoemaker's omission of what would seem to be a terrific piece of historical evidence in support of his thesis: There is a tombstone inscription, which contains the date 691 AD (i.e. one year prior to the Dome of the Rock), which seems to be the earliest "true Islamic" inscription, in the sense of explicitly referring to Islam and Muhammad. This inscription is remarkably supportive of Shoemaker's thesis that the early community of believers looked on Muhammad's death as an unexpected tragedy that wrecked their apocalyptic expectations (Muhammad being expected to lead them into Jerusalem, initiating the end times).
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Caliph al Ma'mun on December 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The study in this book seeks to focus and prove crucial points about the histoical muhammad and his movement. First , muhammad participating in the conquest of Palestine. Second, Muhmaad unknown date of death (and probably place of death?). Third, the eschatological message of muhammad and his movement. finally , the transition from the believer movement to islam at the end of 7th century. Shoemaker identify 11 source that claim directly or indirectly that muhammad lead a campaign in Palestine. many of these sources were written within the early years of "islamic" conquest.Furthermore, he identify that the core message of muhammad and the early movement , was the end of the world. Using the methods of studies on early Christianity as an example , plus Paul Casanova methods, he concluded that muhammad was an end time prophet. while his study seems convincing, and very well argued, it seems that the author had followed Fred Donner study (muhammad and the believers) as the basis for his fourth chapter. Donner built that theory using the Quran as a historical document from the life of muhammad, ignoring luxenburg and Lulling strong discoveries that it might pre-date muhammad. Sadly, the Author mention the former briefly. However, this book is worth it's price.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David Reid Ross on May 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Death of a Prophet" delivers an argument in four chapters, toward a new model of Muhammad's last years and religious mission. I consider Shoemaker's book a parallel to Spencer's "Did Muhammad Exist?". (From me, this isn't an insult - just an observation.)

The first chapter lays out eleven early witnesses to the Arab prophet's invasion of Palestine, in the mid 630s CE. Following this is an essay upon the classical Islamic account of Muhammad's death in Madina, a cluster of hadiths lately arranged into a narrative; the essay casts doubt upon this frame, and instead points out the "vestiges" of the Prophet's last day in Palestine (the Mut'a campaign). Next is an essay about the modern scholarly state-of-the-question about mission of earliest Islam; this is interspersed with Qur'anic passages on the end of the world, and it concludes that early Islam was indeed all about the end of the world. The fourth chapter deals with "sacred geography", that is where exactly was the focus of Islamic piety in those days: Jerusalem, is the answer. The book concludes that Islam probably was Palestine-focused in its origin and that Muhammad died with his back to Mecca and his face to the Temple Mount, so to speak.

The first part is the best part, by *far*. We get all the non-Muslim material right in front of us, giving the pertinent arguments in a readable fashion. In fact this part I consider indispensable.

However then the rest of the book continues to argue with other scholars on this or that minute point. These digressions seem to crop up often in books like this; starting with Wellhausen. Schacht and Juynboll worked around this stylistic problem by pushing their lemmas into smaller-print asides inlined with the text; I am unsure how well this worked for them, either.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A. Musa on February 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Meticulously researched and lucidly written, The Death of a Prophet is a must read for anyone interested in the issue of Islamic origins.
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