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Historicity of Mohammed

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I guess the Bible predicted another prophet would come, just like Jesus said another comforter would come. but some how Mohammed does`nt seem to fit that will. or maybe he did but extremists turn it into something ugly.

Edited by docyabut2

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Arculf went to Jerusalem in the 680s spent 9 months there and describes the city in detail, no mention of Mohammed, no Mention of Muslims, no mention of a new religion he does mention Saracens.

Willibald 721-727 spent 6 years there and again all he mentions is Saracens.

The further distance in time from the death of Mohammed the more the hadiths know about him, Islam just doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Edited by hetrodoxly

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Peter B

One other topic I wanted to discuss here – something of a random issue but I think more than peripherally relevant – is linguistic and cultural continuity. And to lay the background, I apologise it’s necessary to go back to provide some context.


At the height of its power in the 2nd century, the population of the Roman Empire was about 50 million. However, thanks to a combination of war, famine and disease (particularly an outbreak of the plague in the late 2nd century), it seems that by the start of the 5th century the Empire’s population had fallen to about 30 million – about 10 million in the west and about 20 million in the east.

During the course of the 5th century, the Western Roman Empire was conquered by a series of Germanic tribes, while the Eastern Roman Empire underwent a bit of a demographic recovery, with its population reaching perhaps 25 million by the end of the century. Then, in the middle of the 6th century, the conquests ordered by the Emperor Justinian recovered North Africa, Italy and a bit of Spain, which may have pushed the Empire’s population up to around the 30 million mark. But then came the Plague of Justinian (which apparently killed about one person in three), along with a series of land losses to barbarian attacks. This means that by the start of the 7th century, the Empire’s population may have crashed back to about 15 million.

Estimates for the population of Sassanid Persia are harder to come by, but given the relative military strengths of the two empires, a figure of around 10 million would seem reasonable – Persia always had the smaller population, but its compact shape made deploying its available military forces more efficient; thus it was always able to challenge Roman military power despite this lower population.

Army size

Now there’s a rule of thumb which says that any society with a cash-based economy – one which being a soldier is a specialised occupation rather than every adult male being called up to fight as in tribal societies – is going to start suffering economic problems if the size of its army is more than 1% of its total population. At the height of the Roman Empire’s power, its army totalled about 300,000 men – 30 legions each containing about 5000 legionaries and about 5000 auxiliary troops. As this army represented about 0.7% of the Empire’s population, the army wasn’t a burden on the economy.

But late in the 3rd century the Emperor Diocletian reorganised the army, increasing its nominal size to nearly 500,000. In a population of about 30 million this contributed to the economic problems he had to sort out. The result was that the army (especially the largely static border forces) was chronically understrength. When the Empire split into West and East in 395, the West inherited nearly half the army, which was way beyond its ability to pay – it could at best hope to maintain an army of around 100,000. It was this economic imbalance which lay at the heart of the fall of the Western Empire and the concurrent survival of the Eastern Empire.

The fall of the Western Empire…

During the course of the 5th century the Western Roman Empire was conquered by various Germanic tribes – the Vandals, the Suevi, the Franks, the Visigoths, and a couple of others. We know the Vandals numbered around 100,000 (men, women and children) when they crossed into North Africa, so this allows us to calculate a rough figure of 500,000 people who conquered the Empire. At first glance this can seem a slightly shocking result – that the Empire was conquered by a group of people numbering 5% of its population.

But there are two points to consider. Firstly, these 500,000 people included somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 adult males, all of whom were expected to fight. Now while the individual tribal warrior was no match for a trained Roman soldier (and even in the 5th century a trained Roman soldier was still a formidable fighter) the fact remained that the invading Germanic tribes could field more fighting men than the Empire could support. In other words, the Western Roman Empire was actually conquered by larger forces than it could itself field. Secondly, behind all the tribes which successfully conquered the Empire (and the few which were destroyed in the course of the invasion) there were many more sitting beyond the old Imperial border who were waiting to try their luck against the Empire. In fact there were to be more Germanic invasions of Western Imperial lands even after the Western Empire had fallen.

…and language

Not surprisingly, these conquering Germanic tribes slid into positions as a ruling class at the top of the social heap of late Roman society. Although in most places they soon intermarried with the surviving members of the Roman upper classes, you only need to look at the names of the kings – of the Vandal Kingdom, of Visigothic Spain, of Frankish Gaul, for examples – to see they retained strongly Germanic names.

Now when these tribes conquered their various potions of the Western Roman Empire, they all spoke some variety of Old German. But within a couple of centuries, the Germans in each location (with one particular exception) had stopped speaking their old language and instead adopted the local version of Latin (which in Spain would go on to become Spanish, and so on).

And to show the durability of language, most people within the old borders of the Western Roman Empire, at least in Europe, still speak a local variety of Latin (with that one particular exception). There are other minor exceptions – German is now spoken in a few regions south of the Rhine and Danube Rivers, such as in Austria and in the Rhineland in Germany.

The one particular exception is in Britain, where Germanic Anglo-Saxon has completely displaced the old Latin and British languages in what’s now England. The reason would appear to be because the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain was delayed for a century by a Romano-British fightback which restricted the Anglo-Saxons to a narrow strip of land along the eastern shore of Britain. During this century the Anglo-Saxons built up their population (while the Romano-British population stagnated) such that when they broke out in the late 6th century, they represented a much higher proportion of the total population than was the case on the Continent. And being the dominant population in that strip of land, everyone within it was soon speaking some Anglo-Saxon language or other. On top of that, the Anglo-Saxons divided Britain into many separate, small kingdoms. This meant that a higher proportion of the native Romano-British population would have had contact with English-speaking Anglo-Saxons, as opposed to the fairly remote Germanic ruling classes on the Continent. Despite this, there were still pockets of British-speaking people in what we now call England even at the time of the Norman conquest in the 11th century. In other words, the Romano-British survivors of the Anglo-Saxon invasion assimilated to their conquerors due to the conquerors both representing a much higher proportion of the total population and the conquerors living much more closely to their Romano-British subjects.

And this is where the issue of language durability becomes interesting – and relevant even today.

The Arab Conquest

The Arabs completed the conquest of Sassanid Persia by 651. By that time they’d also taken Egypt, Palestine and Syria from the Romans. Egypt was a fabulously wealthy province, with most of its massive wheat production being shipped to Constantinople to feed the urban poor. Alexandria was the second city in the Empire, and Antioch in Syria was the third city in the Empire. The loss of these provinces must have cost the Empire close to two-thirds of its population. Put those figures together, and you can see that within 20 years of the first Arab incursions the Arabs were ruling a population which must have been in the region of 20 million.

And the Arabs themselves? They were mostly tribal, like the Germanic tribes which conquered the Western Roman Empire – every adult male was considered to be a fighting man. It’s hard to be sure of numbers, but we can roughly work back from what we know about the battles they fought. For example, at the pivotal battle of Yarmuk in 636, defeat at which cost the Romans control of Syria, the Romans are generally considered to have had 50,000 men (there's a contemporary mention of this figure in a Christian Syriac Bible, so it’s not just Arab propaganda). This is likely to be an inflated figure – ten years earlier the Romans were struggling to field 40,000 men against Persia. So a figure of 20,000-30,000 seems more reasonable, even if we figure that part of the Roman army consisted of Christian Ghassanid Arab allies. This suggests a similar figure for the Arabs, who are seriously unlikely to have risked battle, no matter their religious fervour, if their numbers were much less. If we add on several thousand more raiding Persia and Egypt at the same time, this suggests the Arabs could summon a maximum of perhaps 40,000 fighting men. This in turn suggests a total Arab population of maybe 250,000.

Now this doesn’t mean the entire population of the Arabian peninsula was 250,000. It’s likely to have been higher, with settled kingdoms around the coast. But many of the fighting men in these regions are likely to have stayed where they were - the forces invading Rome and Persia are rather more likely to have been drawn from the nomadic population - from people for whom the raiding lifestyle was second nature. Rather, I’m looking at the total number of warriors with their family members who ventured out of Arabia to conquer the world. And around the middle of the 7th century, it seems reasonable to say that a total Arabic ruling population of around 250,000 was in control of a subject population of around 20 million.

In other words, the Arabs had done what the Germanic tribes had done 200 years earlier, except that they conquered twice the population with half the numbers, and they’d done so in just 20 years. So where the Germans represented about 5% of the population they’d conquered, the Arabs were less than 1.5% of the population they’d conquered.

It’s not surprising that both conquerors and conquered saw the Will of God in this. (Never mind that the Arab victories were gained against two decimated military forces - this wouldn't really have been in the minds of people at the time.)

And then, over the centuries, another fairly astonishing thing happened: completely against the population gradient, Arabic replaced the local languages. It took a long time – Arabic was still a minority language in places like Syria and Egypt even 500 years ago, and even now there are substantial minorities in these countries which speak the ‘native’ languages – but it raises the obvious question of what motivated the Arabs so strongly to maintain their language. And to answer that question we have to look at those first few generations of Arabic rule, and particularly the origins of that rule.

Abd al-Malik may have been the first Arabic ruler to call himself Caliph rather than Emir, he may have been the one who unified the Caliphate’s currency and decreed that Arabic would be the sole official language of the Caliphate (and to have been Caliph when Mecca is first mentioned by name outside the Quran). But it’s hard to escape the idea that there must have been someone real at the origin of the Arab Empire - a Jesus to Abd al-Malik's Saint Paul. Islam as a religion may be mostly what it is today because of Abd al-Malik, but I think it's almost certain that he was working from something which already existed - a set of ideas first expressed by someone other than himself. And that someone would be Muhammad.

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Evidence suggests that Mohammed, like Jesus, probably never existed. The earliest contemporary accounts are from 125 AD, several decades after the fact, and are on 3rd-hand accounts from questionable sources. There is no physical evidence that Mohammed ever existed.

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