At the Center of a Roiling World

"The more Muslims, Jews, and Christians entered into dialogue with one another, the more each religion came to recognize areas of incompatibility with the others. […] They are perilous incompatibilities. How each generation handles them is a test of its humanity. In recent times, alas, few generations have passed this test. But we have to keep on trying. To get the beginning of the story right is part of this effort. For this reason, we must be grateful to Bowersock for giving us, at this time, a masterpiece of the historian’s craft."

Extrait :

"In 638, the Patriarch Sophronius welcomed the Muslims. He went out to greet the Caliph Umar, "in one of the most remarkable and indicative episodes in early Islamic history." Umar entered the city without a struggle. Sophronius got what he wanted. Umar decreed that no Jew was to live in Jerusalem. As far as the patriarch was concerned, Christian hegemony had been validated—not overturned—by the Arab conquest. Similar deals were struck throughout the eastern provinces, always to the advantage of the Christian populations. For the Christians, memories of the Persians and hatred of the Jews trumped their own ecclesiastical divisions; and the prospect of a return to business as usual in a comfortable Middle East trumped any reserves about the new religion of the Arabs.

Nonetheless, it was a fateful agreement. A new Arab kingdom had indeed brought a new religion. In 691, the caliph Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock. The mosaics of the interior carried inscriptions that echoed the words of the Koran. They summed up the points of disagreement between Muslims and Christians. God was One. He was not Three. Jesus Christ had been a servant of God, not a Son of God. Any other view of Christ was proclaiming an unwarranted exaggeration. "Do not go beyond the bounds of your religion… Stop, it is better for you.""

Source :

Peter Brown, "At the Center of a Roiling World", NYRB, 11/05/17