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The Quranic Jesus: A New Interpretation by Carlos A. Segovia (December, 2018)

The Quranic Jesus: A New Interpretation by Carlos A. Segovia (December, 2018)

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Segovia (Carlos A.), The Quranic Jesus: A New Interpretation, Berlin, De Gruyter, ("Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – Tension, Transmission, Transformation; 5"), 2017, 200 p. ISBN 978-3110597646

The Author

Carlos A. Segovia is Lecturer in Quranic Studies at the Humanities Division in Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus (Spain), and co-director (with Guillaume Dye, Emilio González Ferrín, Manfred Kropp, and Tommaso Tesei) of The Early Islamic Studies Seminar: International Scholarship on the Qur’ān and Islamic Origins. URL: E-mail contact:


The modern study of the quranic Jesus has basically moved in a single direction, as generally scholars have approached the Jesus passages contained in the Qur’an from a thematic standpoint. Somewhat inoffensively, therefore, they tend to distinguish between the passages in which Jesus’s birth is reported, those that mention his miracles and his mission to Israel, those relative to his death, those which briefly mention him as a prophet or a righteous among others, and those that discuss his divine sonship thus denying the very basis of mainstream Christian doctrine – which, consequently, most modern scholars regard as the primary target of the Qur’an’s counter-Christology. It is this last point, moreover, that has largely overdetermined all modern interpretations of the quranic Jesus. Accordingly, most scholars take the quranic passages allusive to Jesus’s birth, life, and death as being merely illustrative of some key episodes of Jesus’s “biography” as told in the gospels; in their view, therefore, such passages convey a purely descriptive purpose, even if their narratives often draw on apocryphal sources, or else display new “data.” In contrast, the passages that criticise the notion that Jesus is God’s son are interpreted by them to contain the Qur’an’s own theological message about Jesus. Things are much more complex, though. It may well be, for example, that some if not all of the alleged descriptive Jesus passages hide more than they seem to offer at first sight; or, to put it in more forceful terms, that they serve an ideological purpose which is anything but descriptive. Also, it is not altogether clear how one ought to articulate and interpret the quranic passages that refer to Jesus as God’s messiah instead of God’s son, those which deny Jesus’s divine sonship, those that impugn the Christian trinity, and those which contend that God is childless: do they all belong to the same redactional layer?, and, more importantly, even if one agrees that they all aim at the same idea, which is their exact theological intent? Lastly, is it possible to reread the Christology of the Qur’an (i.e. the latter’s treatment of God’s Word and of Jesus’s messiahship) against the background of the Near-Eastern Christological developments of the 7th century? And if so, how should they and how should they not be linked?; that is to say, what specific type of contextual connection between them should be acknowledged in order to pay justice to their apparently complex intersection and what particular type of subordination should be avoided in turn? So far, these questions have either never been asked, or have been approached from a viewpoint that systematically takes from granted, somewhat naively to say the least, the cut-clear religious boundaries of the Islamic faith in the early-to-mid-7th century (the decades in which, presumably, the quranic corpus was put together).
In contrast, by putting forward a “symptomatic reading” (Althusser) of the relevant quranic passages – a reading that attempts at disclosing their “buried problematic” through a careful examination of their rhetoric and imagery – my book offers three hypotheses that may be summarised as follows:

(1) Originally, the earliest redactional layers of the Qur’an bear witness to a non-Jesus-centred Christology that was later re-shaped in light of, and subordinated to, a less-ambiguously monotheistic creed introduced at a later stage in the development of the quranic corpus together with a prophetical kerygma.

(2) In turn, all the Jesus passages contained in the Qur’an belong to two distinct and successive redactional layers contemporary with the Arab conquest of Syria-Palestine and Iraq and, more precisely, with Mu‘awiya’s and ‘Abd al Malik’s rules, respectively: the first of these layers presents evident and recurrent anti-Jewish overtones and upon close analysis proves to be pro-Christian, while the second one is overtly anti-Christian.

(3) It is therefore incorrect to read the Qur’an’s Jesus passages from the point of view of the latter anti-Christian texts. On the one hand, the Qur’an’s pro-Christian Jesus passages must be replaced in their historical context, and hence read vis-à-vis the well-documented Jewish criticism of Jesus (and Mary) current in the aftermath of the Persian invasion of the Near East. On the other hand, the early Christology of the Qur’an must be examined against the development of a peripheral religious culture in the southern- and eastern limes of the Byzantine empire (from pre-Islamic Yemen to pre-Islamic Iraq).

It is primary intended, then, for scholars working in the fields of quranic studies, emergent Islam, and early Christian-Muslim relations. Yet additionally it could be of some interest for scholars of late-antique Christianity working on the extra-biblical literary traditions about Jesus.

(Source: Carlos A Segovia)

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