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Crossroads to Islam: The Origins of the Arab Religion and the Arab State (Islamic Studies) Hardcover – June 1, 2003

3.4 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the consensus view of early Muslim history, the Arab tribes, united and inspired by Muhammad's teachings, embarked on a military jihad that wrested Syria and Palestine from a weakened Byzantine Empire in the years after 630 A. D. But according to this radical revisionist treatise by the late Israeli archaeologist Nevo and Koren, an "information specialist," every particular of this orthodoxy is wrong. Basing their arguments on a detailed examination of archaeology, contemporary texts, linguistic analyses and evidence from coins, the authors arrive at a thesis that will surely be incendiary to Islamic believers. The authors argue that Byzantium voluntarily transferred her eastern provinces to Arab client states in continuance of an imperial policy stretching back for centuries. The Arabs who took over the region after 630 A.D. were not Muslims, but a mixture of pagans and adherents of a Judeo-Christian "indeterminate monotheism" from which Islam evolved over succeeding decades. Muhammad was not a historical person, they argue, but a mythical figure who became, starting in the 690s, a "National Arab Prophet" of a new official religion for the consolidating Arab state. In addition to the Muslim ire that the authors' religious debunking will raise, specialists in the field may have objections to their treatment as well. Especially unconvincing is their rational-actor account of Byzantine policy towards the eastern provinces, where, they assert, the Byzantine government deliberately fomented and then persecuted heresies, stoked hatred of the emperor himself and left its territories open to military incursions by rival powers, all in order to reconcile the inhabitants to their long-planned abandonment by the empire.
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Review

"informative survey of the origins of the Arab religion and state; an important addition to the literature on Arab-American history" -- The Bookwatch, November 2003
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Product Details

  • Series: Islamic Studies
  • Hardcover: 462 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (June 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591020832
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591020837
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #483,917 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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This work is an important contribution to a historical-critical reading of the Koran and the origins of Islam.

As other reviewers have noted, it should not be read in isolation, and like all revisionist scholarly works, it must be read in an awareness that further sources or documentation might require even further revision.

But as it stands, it cannot be ignored. It is certainly NOT "pseudo-scholarship," as one reviewer claims. I have a Ph.D. in religious studies, and am familar with historical-critical and source-critical methodology as it is used analyzing the origins of religions and biblical studies. It is those who dismiss Nevo who are guilty of "distorting or omitting the important evidence," evidence that is laid is in careful detail. Just the appendices, that lay out the inscriptional data, (in both Arabic and English translation) is worth the price of the book.

In evaluating this data, the non-specialist must bear one central fact in mind: there is NO primary, contemporaneous data for the origins of Islam. The Koran/Qur'an gives no such data. Muslim traditions are written 200-300 years later. This is why the careful analysis of the changing themes on the dateable inscriptions are so important.

Contrary to "R. Kevin Hill," it is not true that "Much of his evidence is numismatic." Nevo is explicit: numismatic [coin inscription] evidence is "insufficient as the [i]primary[/i] type of evidence on which to ground a historical theory." The core evidence is based on the sequence of ideas in inscriptions, both official and popular.
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Format: Hardcover
I am torn by this book. While I have read previous academic journal articles and in-depth humanities public magazines about such things as textual variation in the Quran and its theoretical path of evolution (with which I agree), nonetheless, Nevo and Koren take this ball and run onto a whole new playing field. And here, on the issues of secular Byzantine history and eastern church history, the two seem to almost willfully adopt a contentious theory and deliberately reinterpret every bit of archaeological and literary evidence that does not agree with said theory.

So, I give it two stars. Here's why, with some suggested alternative reading at the end of this review.
While the Sassanid seizure of Palestine (and Egypt), followed by Byzantine counter-war later, would have left Palestine stripped of Byzantine troops and open to a peaceful non-Muslim monotheist Arab infiltration, some of their speculation here is historically unfounded, and unnecessary. There is no need to presume that the Byzantines had totally withdrawn their forces in the process of establishing Arab foederates circa 500-525, or a century before the Sassanid invasion. And, even to the degree Byzantine troops were withdrawn, this certainly doesn't mean Byzantine interests were withdrawn. To the north and west, over the previous two centuries or more, Eastern, Western and unified Roman Empires had established various Germanic tribal foederates without withdrawing Roman interests in Gaul, Pannonia, etc.

On church history, the authors engage in pure speculation, unsubstantiated by any footnoted research. They claim Byzantine emperors such as Justinian and Justin deliberate fostered heresy in outlying provinces as a way of pushing Palestinians, Egyptians, etc.
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Format: Hardcover
As David Cook of Rice University stated, Nevo's work falls squarely into the "Hagarist" tradition that radically reinterprets early Islamic history. For the most part, scholars of early Islam--even Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, authors of Hagarism[1]--have avoided the full implications of this interpretation because of the almost complete lack of non-Muslim sources and the difficulties in working with the tendentious Muslim ones. Nevo and Koren overcome this problem by focusing upon sources not usually adduced by scholars of Islam: archeology and epigraphy. By examining the archeological remains (and in some cases the lack thereof) of the early Islamic period, the authors call into question the standard accounts of Muslim conquest that are still cited as fact in most history books. They supply a vast selection of inscriptions hitherto unnoticed and uncited in the standard histories, which for the most part are datable to the seventh and eighth centuries, and use them to build a historical theory considerably different from the standard account.

Nevo's theory is that Arab history--specifically not Islamic history--is completely a construct and cannot stand up to historical examination on the basis of non-Muslim sources. His theory surmises that paganism was far more deeply rooted in pre-Arabian society than was previously thought and that much of what we now call early Islamic history records the development away from that heritage into a monotheistic belief-system that did not reach perfection until the ninth century at the earliest.

For the most part, Crossroads employs a very rigorous, historical methodology, focusing exclusively upon those sources datable from before the ninth century, which usually means non-Muslim ones.
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