The Mystery of the Messiah: The Messiahship of Jesus in the Qur’an, New Testament, Old Testament, and Other Sources (by Louay Fatoohi)

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To my knowledge there is no academic studies of what the messiahship of Jesus means in the Qur’an in comparison with the messiahship in Judaism and Christianity. This book: The Mystery of the Messiah: The Messiahship of Jesus in the Qur’an, New Testament, Old Testament, and Other Sources, by Louay Fatoohi (Luna Plena Publishing, 2009 ), is the only one of its kind.

I consider Dr. Louay Fatoohi a unique muslim scholar of comparative religion. He came from Arab Christian background and has been passionate in studying the Qur’an, Islam and comparative religion since his youth . He is one of a few muslim author I know who is equally conversant with scholarly works on religion on both Christian and Islamic tradition, modern and classical as well as other historical sources, or on combinations of these writings.

This book, I must say,  is concise yet dense with information with meticulous crafted analysis on  why and how the Messiah was developed in Judaism and Christianity. Fatoohi seeks to show that the Qur’anic Messiah is actually the historical one. Fatoohi drew upon his extensive study on the historical Jesus as he went through the concept of the “Messiah” in the Qur’an, the Bible (canonical and non canonical sources) and Dead Sea Scrolls and scholars from this field.

In one chapter Fatoohi examines the concept of “Messiah” in the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish sources, including the Dead Sea Scrolls,. He make a very important observation that this title “Messiah” in the Hebrew Bible is applied only to historical never prophetic / future saviour figures, only later Jewish theology and literature started to invent this title as prophetic King, the salvational eschatological Messiah serving to free an oppressed jews abandoned by God.  Fatoohi also explains different messiahs in other Jewish writings, the most prominent is the one described as the “son of David” the Royal military saviour and other is the priestly Messiah of Aaronic decendant, albeit the jews were not unanimous in their depiction of the awaited Messiah.

In another chapter Fatoohi go through the concept of the term Messiah in the greek New Testament, Christos (Χριστός) from which “Christ” is derived. All New testament writers recognise Jesus as the Christ but in the New Testament the concept of “the Messiah”reflect the substantially bigger role as opposed to the Hebrew Bible. However Fatoohi explains Jesus of the Gospels was not properly anointed according to jewish tradition so that Jewish authorities and most jews did not recognise his messiahship. The same chapter Fatoohi highlight that the term “Christ”makes most of its appearance in Paul’s letters. Paul incorrectly use the term “Christ” as a proper name not title. This show his flawed understanding of what the term mean. Paul’s Christ is a spiritual figure who came to redeem people, by being crucified and raised from the dead. This version of Christ, Fatoohi argues, blur the historical Jesus because it is lack of Jesus historical details. Over centuries, most christians took Paul version of historical Jesus and focus only on the alleged crucifixion and the resurrection of him.

Fatoohi dedicated a chapter discussing Al-Masih in the Qur’an.  Essentially Fatoohi shows that the title is never presented as the reason for a special prophethood that make Jesus one of the most favoured prophets (yes , Jesus is one of those prophets) however Qur’an 3:45  give indication that the Messiah was a concept that God had previously revealed: a prophecy, although this prophecy is not specifically cited anywhere in the Qur’an as mentioning it centuries after it was fulfilled would not serve any purpose. Also Fatoohi explains that the use of definite article Al Masih does not necessarily mean that the Qur’an implies that there was only one Messiah although Jesus was the one special Messiah.

The rest of the chapters Fatoohi discuss the different identities and attribute that the Gospel writers presented the Christ and examine each one of them from the Qur’an perspective, here are some salient points from this book, which I find it interesting:

  • King of the Jews — in addition to anointed priests and prophets , the awaited Messiah is seen by the Jews as King, however the general context in NT, Fatoohi argues that Jesus never sought nor was he ever given the Kingship title. Jesus confirmed that he was the Christ in a way that a prophet and rabbi who remind people to go back to the religion of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Aaron and all Hebrew prophets. The Christian image of the Messiah as a Spiritual King is the result of blending the Jewish concept of the messiah as an earthly King with the fact that Jesus historical role who was a spiritual leader to the Jews. The Qur’an corrected this distortion and put Jesus as a prophet who teach his people to go back to the teaching of what earlier prophets had brought. Jesus of the Qur’an is not a political leader who was expected to re-establish an earthly kingdom i.e. Israel nor a quasi God who posses the throne of Heaven.
  • Second Coming — Fatoohi persuasively argues that the concept of Jesus second coming was developed by Jesus early followers to explain his failure to deliver what they thought the Christ was going to do. The Qur’an does not support this concept of returning Messiah. The Qur’an messiah fulfilled his mission on earth. Although there are a number of hadiths attributed to Prophet Muhammad that seems to confirm Jesus second coming, it must have been influenced by Christian understanding. I am surprised that Fatoohi arrive at this conclusion  there is Qur’anic verses which indirectly seems to suggest Jesus return e.g.[Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 159, Sûrah al-Zukhruf: 61] as well as those hadiths predicting the returning of Jesus which are considered authentic, nevertheless I still find Fatoohi position plausible albeit minority position among Islamic scholars. I will look into this matter.
  • Son of David — Many christians are eager to link Jesus as being descendant to David, the second King of Israel (later just Judah) who had descendants also upon the throne. Here Fatoohi shows how contradictory position in the four gospels in relation to Jesus as being the son of David, and how those position were not reconcilable. On the other hand the Qur’anic position is consistent in maintaining that Jesus is “the son of Mary”, this mean the Qur’an reject any idea that Jesus is a warrior Messiah like David who was going to restore Israel thus the fulfilment of the prophecy to David in 2 Samuel 7:16. In my opinion Fatoohi also spot on when bringing the point that Jesus link to Aaron because the fact that the Qur’an call Jesus’ Mother as “sister of Aaron. While as Fatoohi pointed out it is common mistakes among Biblical scholar to understand the expression “sister of Aaron” as meaning that Mary had brother called “Aaron” not as title of tribal connection , I have personally fascinated by this Qur’an term. To me  there is a good reason why the Quran refer Mary to Aaron kinship. It emphatically gives a particular significance that Mary’s son ie. Jesus has the birth right as “the Messiah” or anointed one as we can read in Exodus 30:30-31 when  God ordered prophet Moses to anoint his brother Aaron with a special type of anointment with a particular oil for kings …..from this anointing it give him and his heirs the right to the priesthood title down to prophet Jesus, hence the title Jesus “the Messiah”.
  • Saviour — Fatoohi explains that the Qur’anic Messiah of Jesus is neither a saviour to bring the jews to restore its own kingdom nor the one who save people from sin by playing role as atoning agent, he is no unique saviour,  a messenger and prophet albeit one of special messenger who was conceived miraculously and performed impressive miracles.
  • Suffering Messiah — Fatoohi rightly mention that Judaism actually never knew of a suffering or resurrected messiah and the Qur’an reject the idea that the Messiah ever suffered the Passion. The concept of suffering messiah was a novelty that Christian writers introduced.

As a final point, Fatoohi concluded from his study  that the messiahship of Jesus in the Qur’an represent the original concept of the messiah or one messiah which was revealed by God which predate any shift in the meaning by Jews and Christian. At first the Jews did not expect a redeemer Messiah as this title is just for any past figures who were anointed as a gesture to sanctify themselves. Later the Jews started to invent a eschatological warrior messiah and associate him with King David to restore the Kingdom of Israel. Christians inherited this type of Messiah and projected it even more on their Christ: a King from throne of Heaven who already came to atone people sin. Jesus saw his messiahship as a mandate to conform divine messages that had been revealed to previous prophets that is calling people back to the way of God of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Aaron and all Hebrew prophets.  That is the historical Messiah the Qur’an is telling us about.

I can say Fatoohi’s study  is helpful in considering critically how the significance  of Messiahship evolved from just anointed  past figures  to eschatological warrior King of Judaism to Pauline god-men Jesus and later how the Qur’an corrected Jesus messiahship back into rightful role : to led jewish people to salvation by showing them the right way to God. 

As no other Muslim writer/scholar I know have ever attempted to author a book focusing on the concept of “Messiah” like this book, I praise the author for his initiative.

Also Dr. Fatoohi has also authored books on similar genre in my collection which I also recommend

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1 Response »

  1. I have written an essay on this topic of messiahship, I have listed the differences between Christian and Jewish ideas and reasons for the Quranic conception of a messiah. A short and sweet essay.

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