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In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World (Anglais) Broché – 4 avril 2013

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Known Unknowns

Between Two Worlds

Yusuf As'ar Yath'ar, an Arab king celebrated for his long hair, his piety and his utter ruthlessness, had been brought to defeat. Leaving the reek of the battlefield, he rode his blood-flecked white charger down to the very edge of the Red Sea. Behind him, he knew, Christian outliers would already be advancing against his palace--to seize his treasury, to capture his queen. Certainly, his conquerors had no cause to show him mercy. Few were more notorious among the Christians than Yusuf. Two years previously, looking to secure the south-west of Arabia for his own faith, he had captured their regional stronghold of Najran. What had happened next was a matter of shock and horror to Christians far beyond the limits of Himyar, the kingdom on the Red Sea that Yusuf had ruled, on and off, for just under a decade. The local church, with the bishop and a great multitude of his followers locked inside, had been put to the torch. A group of virgins, hurrying to join them, had hurled themselves on to the flames, crying defiantly as they did so how sweet it was to breathe in "the scent of burning priests!"1 Another woman, "whose face no one had ever seen outside the door of her house and who had never walked during the day in the city,"2 had torn off her headscarf, the better to reproach the king. Yusuf, in his fury, had ordered her daughter and granddaughter killed before her, their blood poured down her throat, and then her own head to be sent flying.

Martyrdoms such as these, feted though they were by the Church, could not readily be forgiven. A great army, crossing from the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia, had duly landed in Himyar. The defenders had been cornered, engaged and routed. Now, with the shallows of the Red Sea lapping at his horse's hooves, Yusuf had come to the end of the road. Not all his obedience to the laws granted to God's chosen prophet had been sufficient to save him from ruin. Slowly, he urged his horse forwards, breasting the water, until at last, weighed down by his armour, he disappeared beneath the waves. So perished Yusuf As'ar Yath'ar: the last Jewish king ever to rule in Arabia.

The collapse of the kingdom of the Himyarites in ad 525 is not, it is fair to say, one of the more celebrated episodes of ancient history. Himyar itself, despite having prospered for some six centuries until its final overthrow under Yusuf, lacks the ready brand recognition today of a Babylon, or an Athens, or a Rome. Unsurprisingly so, perhaps: for southern Arabia, then as now, was firmly peripheral to the major centres of civilisation. Even the Arabs themselves, whom the peoples of more settled lands tended to dismiss as notorious brutes--"of all the nations of the earth, the most despised and insignificant"3--might look askance at the presumed barbarities of the region. The Himyarites, so one Arab poet reported in shocked tones, left their women uncircumcised, "and do not think it disgusting to eat locusts."4 Behaviour that clearly branded them as beyond the pale.

Yet, it is not only in terms of its geography that Himyar seems to lie in shadow. Similarly obscure is the period in which the death of Yusuf occurred. The sixth century ad defies precise categorisation. It seems to stand between two ages. If it looks back to the world of classical civilisation, then so also does it look forward to the world of the Crusades. Historians categorise it, and the centuries either side of it, as "late antiquity": a phrase that conveys a sense of lengthening shadows, and the Middle Ages soon to come.

For anyone accustomed to thinking of history as a succession of neatly defined and self-enclosed epochs, there is something vaguely unsettling about this. Rather like the scientist in the classic horror film The Fly, who ends up a mutant combination of human and insect, the world of late antiquity can seem, from our own perspective, peculiarly hybrid. Far beyond the borders of Yusuf's Himyarite kingdom, empires raised on fabulously ancient foundations still dominated the Near East and the Mediterranean, as they had done for centuries. Yet, their very age served only to highlight how profoundly they were coming to slip the moorings of their past. Take, for instance, the region immediately to the north of Arabia: the land we know today as Iraq. Here, across mudflats that had witnessed the dawn of urban civilisation, loyalty was owed to a king who was, just as his predecessor had been a whole millennium previously, a Persian. His dominions, like those of the Persian Empire that had existed a thousand years before, stretched eastwards to the frontiers of India, and deep into Central Asia. The splendours of the court over which he presided, the magnificence of its rituals, and the immodesty of his pretensions: all would have been perfectly familiar to a king of Babylon. That this was so, however, had been almost forgotten by the people of Iraq themselves. A spreading amnesia was blotting out memories that had endured for millennia. Even the Persians, far from venerating the truth about their glorious imperial heritage, had begun to obscure and distort it. The legacy of Iraq's incomparable history lived on--preserved in the Persians' fantasies of global rule and in the many glories that lent such fantasies credence--but increasingly it wore the look, not of ages departed, but of something new.

Other superpowers were less neglectful of their pasts. The great cities of the Mediterranean, built of stone and marble rather than the mud-bricks favoured by the people of Iraq, were less prone to crumbling into dust. The empire that ruled them likewise wore, in 525, a veneer of venerable indestructibility. Even to the Persians, Roman might appeared something primordial. "God so arranged things," they would occasionally acknowledge, albeit through gritted teeth, "that the whole world was lit up from the beginning by two eyes: namely, by the wise rulers of the Persian realm, and by the powerful empire of the Romans."5 Nevertheless, the Romans themselves, although certainly never averse to flattery, knew better. Rather than believing that their empire had existed since the dawn of time, they knew perfectly well that all its greatness had evolved from nothing. To trace the course of that evolution might therefore be to fathom the secrets of its success. Even as Yusuf was vanishing into the Red Sea, plans were being laid in the Roman capital for an immense ransacking of libraries and archives, an unprecedented labour of scholarship whose goal was the preservation for all eternity of the empire's vast inheritance of laws. This was no arid, merely antiquarian project. History, no less than armies or gold, had come to function as one of the sinews of the Roman state. It offered the empire reassurance that it was precisely what it claimed to be: the model of human order. How, then, was the prestige of Caesar to be maintained, if not by a perpetual trumpeting of Rome's triumphant antiquity?

The challenge for Roman policy-makers, of course, was that the glories of the past did not necessarily provide them with a reliable guide for the future. Indisputably, the empire remained what it had been for almost a millennium: the most formidable superpower of all. Wealthier and more populous than its great Persian rival, its hold over the eastern Mediterranean, always the richer half, appeared secure. From the mountains of the Balkans to the deserts of Egypt, Caesar ruled them all. Nevertheless, it was clearly an embarrassment, to put it mildly, that what had once been the western half of Rome's empire had ceased, by 525, to be Roman at all. Over the course of the previous century, an immense swath of her holdings, like a sandcastle battered by the waves of an incoming tide, had crumbled utterly away. Britain had been lost as early as 410. Other provinces, over the succeeding decades, had followed. By the end of the century, the entire western half of the empire, even Italy, even Rome itself, had gone. In place of the venerable imperial order there was now a patchwork of independent kingdoms, all of them--with the exception of a few in western Britain--ruled by warrior elites from beyond the limits of the former empire. The relationship that existed between the natives and these "barbarian" newcomers varied from realm to realm: some, like the Britons, fought the invaders tooth and nail; others, like the Italians, were given to hailing them as though they were Caesars. Yet, in every case, the empire's collapse resulted in the forging of new identities, new values, new presumptions. These, over the long term, would lead to the establishment of a radically new political order in western Europe. Rome's abandoned provinces would never again acknowledge a single master.

Time would see both the great empires of the age--the Persian as well as the Roman--go the way of Nineveh and Tyre. Not so the states established in Rome's western provinces, some of which still commemorate in their modern names the intrusions back in late antiquity of barbarian war bands. Small wonder, then, that European historians have traditionally seen the arrival of the Franks in the land that would eventually become France, and of the Angles in the future England, as events of far greater long-term significance than the activities of any Caesar or Persian king. We know now, as their contemporaries did not, that ruin was stalking both the rival empires. A century on from the collapse of the Himyarite kingdom, and the two superpowers were staring into the abyss. That the Persian Empire would end up toppled completely while that of the Romans was left as little more than a mangled trunk, has traditionally served to mark them as dead-ends, bed-blockers, dinosaurs. How tempting it is to presume, then, that they must have perished of decrepitude and old age. The lateness of late antiquity, to those who trace in it only a calamitous arc of decline and fall, has the quality of dinner guests who refuse to get their coats once the party is over.

Except that the empires raised by the peoples of the age wer... --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.

Revue de presse

A stunning blockbuster (Robert Fisk Independent) --ndependent

A compelling detective story of the highest order, In the Shadow of the Sword is also a dazzlingly colourful journey into the world of late antiquity. Every bit as thrilling a narrative history as Holland's previous works, [it] is also a profoundly important book (Christopher Hart Sunday Times) --unday Times

Written with flamboyant elegance and energetic intensity, Holland delivers a brilliant tour de force of revisionist scholarship and thrilling storytelling with a bloodspattered cast of swashbuckling tyrants, nymphomaniacal empresses and visionary prophets . . . Unputdownable (Simon Sebag Montefiore The Times) --The Times

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I have read several books based upon plain historical facts by Tom Holland and I liked them. But this subject, full of supernatural events and speculation about God was too much for him (and he agrees, it was the most difficult subject he tried to cover). Sorry!
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Fascinating. Excellently researched, detailed, complex. A clearly explained, with much wry humour, evolution of the three main religions and the struggle for supremacy of each. This work contains much little known historical detail which complements accepted scholarship.
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Je ne l'ai pas fini mais je suis très prise par ce livre et j'apprends beaucoup de choses .
Il faut s'appliquer et progresser lentement car c'est un livre dense .
Très contente
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Nothing more to desire for online book purchase: the book is delivered within a week and is very well protected. Very content with the service of Totnes Books.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) HASH(0x969a5510) étoiles sur 5 141 commentaires
109 internautes sur 116 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x979cb270) étoiles sur 5 an elegant read, but be careful of the details 4 juillet 2012
Par D. Layman - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
The reviews that precede me are thorough and point out both the strengths and weaknesses of *The Shadow of the Sword*. I am largely in agreement with their comments. I *do,* however, disagree with the claim that this is poorly written. To the contrary, the writing is elegant and flows rapidly: in the parts of the history that I was acquainted with, I could consume whole pages in seconds.

The problem arises precisely from Holland's fluent prose: as he reconstructs events, his eloquent descriptions can deceive the reader into taking his formulations literally, rather than being what they are--literary reconstructions. It reminded me of a newspaper: if it misrepresents the facts that I *know* about, how can I trust those assertions that I do *not* have personal knowledge about? I want to be clear: I am not accusing Mr. Holland of historical errors. The problem is that he writes so well that the reader can be tempted to take his descriptions at face value.

Here's an example, literally at random (Kindle Loc 3333): "In 527, five years before work began on Hagia Sophia, a small boy named Simeon had trotted through the bazaars and shanty-towns of Antioch, out through the olive groves that stretched southwards of the city, and up the slopes of a nearby mountain. Its rugged heights were no place for a child, nor for anyone with a care for comfort." There are 3 facts in those sentences: that Simeon became a stylite in 527, he was a child at the time, and that he came from Antioch. Everything else is in Holland's very vivid imagination.

Much in this work I already knew about: the Jewish and Christian history, and the contemporary skeptical reconstructions of Islamic origins and history. Unfortunately, when he poses the crucial questions about Islamic origins (ch. 6, "More Questions that Answers,"--"When?" [Loc 5030], "Where?" [Loc 5423] "Why?" [Loc 5779]), his answers are obscure. His answer to "Where?" was especially disappointing, since it is a question I myself have thought about a good bit. I was hoping he would give a clear, even if tentative, answer.

The Persian history was for me an eye-opener. In general, Holland excels at painting a picture of the fevered apocalypticism that coursed through Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian religiosity in the sixth and seventh centuries. That, along with the fact that he brings the contemporary literature on Islamic origins into popular historiography, is probably his greatest contribution.
145 internautes sur 165 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x96570330) étoiles sur 5 detailed exposition of Late Antiquity with unconvincing conclusion 20 mai 2012
Par David Reid Ross - Publié sur
Format: Relié
The book aims to explain Late Antiquity up to 600 AD, and to show how Islam developed from that up to 800 AD. Historians have much better records for Late Antiquity than they have for the first century of Islam - as this book notes and as many other historians have noted (and lamented). The bulk of the book amounts to an introductory overview; the origins of Islam takes up only the last third of it and this part reads more like an argumentary essay.

The prose is florid, yet interspersed with vulgarities. Holland is inordinately fond of the low, cant term "screwed" when discussing... tax extraction. This style felt to me like he was trying too hard to keep my interest. (He's much like Peter Heather here.)

Fortunately the book has marshaled an impressive array of facts behind its narrative. I was impressed that it had stayed so close to the cutting edge, especially in the Persia / Parthia sections.

Much of that recent material distills Parvaneh Pourshariati, "Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire"; that book came out in 2008. The reader must be warned here that Holland does not challenge Pourshariati where Pourshariati relies on mediaeval Iranian legend. For instance, Holland tells of Sukhrâ of the Parthian house Karin as avenger of the shah Peroz (pp. 83-5). Holland has this from Pourshariati `an Tabari (p. 455 nn. 47-49, 51). This is an in-house legend of the Karin and not history: Arthur Christensen, "Iran sous les Sassanides" (Copenhagen: 1944), p. 296. (Hat-tip to the review by Geoffery Greatrex, 1010.)

Where the book touches Islam, it is careful to contrast classical jargon against the way people (including Arabs) thought during the 600s. Two examples are "Quraysh" (from Syriac), who might not have coalesced into an Arabian tribe yet; and "Maqam" (from Hebrew), which back then meant "holy site". The book could have gone further - it applies the apocalyptic term Fitna to the First Civil War, but that term likely wasn't used for this war except amongst the Kufan Shi'a. Another scholar GHA Juynboll in the early 1980s showed that most Muslims agreed to apply Fitna only to the (far more destructive) Second Civil War.

Holland addresses the scholarly arguments over Islamic origins obliquely. I read in p. 306 that the scholarly consensus claims to have "disproved" that the Qur'an is a forgery... but the footnote 22 refers only to Wansbrough, Rippin and Hawting - all of whom argue that the Qur'an is, in fact, a forgery after all (wouldn't a better link point to the consensus, with the skeptics as a sub-footnote?). Later on, he'll note several contradictions between Arab rule and orthodox Islam, for instance Mu`awiya's consistent reference to the Crucifixion of Christ (which, as Holland points out, sura 4 denies). I suspect that Holland personally prefers the skeptic side; his book just won't admit it.

Holland is (much) more openly skeptical about the history of Mecca. He doesn't think Muhammad ever set foot there and he doesn't even think that the Zubayrite anticaliphate was based there. I felt whipsawed to see him (ostensibly) support the Qur'an and then to reject MECCA.

I wasn't convinced on the details of the argument; and I think that was because Holland hadn't fully convinced *himself* of it, or even fully formulated it when he submitted this manuscript. But that was just the last third. Up to then, the book was a real page-turner, exquisitely detailed and informative.

The book's wealth of detail holds value to all who are interested in Islamic origins. The book as a whole is also helpful as an introduction to Late Antiquity, especially Persian Late Antiquity (which we may now have to start calling, Partho-Persian). I have no problem in recommending this to others with occasional grains of salt.

[This book was a gift to me; but the donor did buy it via Amazon.]
[Also, a disclosure: At the time of posting this review, May 2012, I was writing a book of my own. My book partly depends upon this book and some might consider my book a rival (although I never intended to rival this book). I stand by my (4/5) rating and by the text of this review.]
100 internautes sur 114 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x96570570) étoiles sur 5 A long and winding road 4 juin 2012
Par Max Blackston - Publié sur
Format: Relié
If you didn't know the author, the title of this book and its cover illustration - a fallen helmet with vacant staring eye-sockets lying in the desert sand - give the impression of an epic historical novel. Distribution too; I bought a soft cover "airport edition" - a channel better known for promoting the latest books by best-selling authors. Although in its style and structure it reads like a novel - somewhat florid prose, and dramatic interruptions in the narrative to allow the reader to catch up on another part of the plot - anyone who buys the book under this expectation will soon realize that what they actually have is a hardcore history book.

It is essentially an attempt to present a historical account of Mohammed and the early history of Islam, as opposed to the idealized version subsequently enshrined in the religion that was founded in the name of the prophet. In order to achieve this, the author traces the development of the three major religions of antiquity - Christianity, Judaism and the Zoroastrianism of the Sassanian Persian empire. This forms the essential context for explaining the rapid spread of Islam on the back of the Arab conquest of the ancient east early in the seventh century. He describes how some form of monotheism was by this time already pervasive in most of what we call the middle east. And this did not exclude the Arabs; thousands had moved north, where they could make a profitable living, policing the borders of both Byzantine and Sassanian empires as mercenaries, and where at the same time they were likely to have been influenced by the winds of monotheism. Crucially, he presents compelling arguments why Mecca - a thousand miles south in the middle of the Arabian Desert - could not have been the flourishing entrepot and major pre-Islamic religious center which Muslim tradition (although not the Qu'ran) would have it. Instead, he locates the place from which the prophet migrated to Medina and then returned to in triumph as somewhere on the Palestinian/Syrian border - perhaps even Mamre, where Abraham - the father of the Arabs as well as of the Jews, had pitched his tent beside a Terebinth tree. It was not until half a century after Mohammed's death, that the non-exclusive community of "believers" that he had founded was transformed into Islam, "submission" , by Abd al Malek the Caliph of the Umayyad dynasty. Just as the Byzantine emperors had felt the need to stamp out different versions of Christianity and impose an orthodoxy on all their subjects, and just as the Rabbis of the Talmud labored to define minutely every aspect of Jewish life, so the leader of the first Arab empire needed to establish a defining central orthodoxy for his huge and diverse realm. That orthodoxy was Islam, a religion exclusively for the Arab conquerors, whose holy language was Arabic, and whose geographical origins were deep in Arabia.

The book eventually achieves its objective - but the road is long and winding. Some examples: The third chapter "New Rome" - although harking back to the origins of Rome - is essentially a narrative about Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire. How is it possible to get 28 pages into such a narrative before the word "Christian" occurs? Apparently - as far as the story so far is concerned - Constantine's only significant achievement was moving the seat of empire to Byzantium. Then there are pages of panegyrics about Justinian's efforts to codify Roman law, but nothing about his ecclesiastical policies or his success in recapturing the lands of the western empire overrun by the barbarians in the previous century. The next section of this chapter swoops back in time to recap the growth of Christianity, Constantine's role in its establishment as the religion of the Roman state, and eventually Justinian too. Judaism gets a similar switchback treatment; starting with the Talmudic academies in 6th century Babylon, we flash back to Edessa where Jewish and Christian identities were being fought over in the 3rd century, and finally - in a chapter entitled "The Children of Abraham", which leads with six pages on Christian monastics and pilgrims - we get a potted history of the Jews from the time of Abraham up to the "present". i.e. 6th century Palestine.

The scholarship, in as much as I am qualified to judge it, is impeccable. The voluminous chapter notes are evidence of the thoroughness of Holland's research and the comprehensiveness of his sources. His reference to the marginal role of the rabbis until the 6th century, when they firmly established themselves as the leaders of the community and teachers of Jewish Law, is an example of how his narrative reflects recent state-of-the-art scholarship. His sources on Islam seem to include the most recent critical studies by Ibn Warraq and Fred Donner and others I am not familiar with.

The problem is Tom Holland's style; you never know quite where he is going. The narrative's swerves and switchbacks occur quite stealthily; in each chapter there is always a crucial turning point, which leads to his plot objective; you find yourself doing a backward search in an effort to find out how you got to where you are. The other book of his that I have read (Millenium/ The Forge of Christendom), starts at the end of the "story" with the dramatic meeting between the German emperor Henry IV and Pope Gregory at Canossa. There it worked, because in a way the whole book is about the efforts of the Catholic Church to achieve its independence from emperors. In the present book I feel it works to the detriment of the narrative. The other distraction in the present book is the way he switches from a sweeping historical perspective to minute - and often prurient - details, like the halitosis of Abd al-Malek or the sexual antics of the empress Theodora before she got religion and married Justinian. Perhaps he really is trying to appeal to an audience that doesn't normally read "real" history, and would not swallow a straightforward chronological narrative - good luck with that.
18 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x965708d0) étoiles sur 5 part exegesis, part history, part textual criticism 7 septembre 2012
Par doc peterson - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
I haven't read the previous books by Tom Holland about the classical west The Forge of Christendom: The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West, Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic, Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West), of which apparently _In the Shadow of the Sword_ is the concluding volume. It is long winded ( some may say exquisitely detailed - I found it a bit overwritten), but ultimately Holland makes an interesting - if not tremendously controversial - point: as with the development and evolution of Christianity, so too did Islam evolve and change over time before finally asserting itself as a "religio" - a religion in its own right.

The first 300 pages of the book have very little to do with Islam, as Holland discusses the tumultous world that was the Near East in the 4th - 6th centuries: the Roman empire in the west was crumbling, there were divisions within the Christian church, the Sassanid empire was facing a succession crisis, and disease - apparently Y. pestis (bubonic plague) - ravaged the cities. To contemporaries, it must have been apocalyptic. In this highly charged social, political and religious climate emerged Islam. That these factors influenced its metoric success is hardly news (for an excellent and readable history on this period, I recommend The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In). Holland first argues that Islam (and the Muslim world) are strongly influenced by these classical precursors - that the Islamic empires of the Near East are very much part of the classical world and are, to a large extent, successor states. For example, in commenting on a 679 pilgrimage by the Frankish bishop Arculf, Holland writes, "the difference between (Frank and Arab) was one of quality, not kind. Saracens and Franks both lived like squatters amid the splendours of a vanquished greatness." (369) This, too is not a new interpretation. (An outstanding discussion of the connections between classical Rome and Greece to the Islamic world is Lost Histories: Exploring the World's Most Famous Mysteries.) What is new - and, I imagine, volitile and (somewhat) revolutionary, is Holland's textual criticism of the Qu'ran.

"Textual criticism" is a way scholars attempt to discern the authorship, date and place of composition of ancient texts. Of course, to do this to the Qu'ran would be (to devout Muslims), anathema, the Qu'ran understood to be divinely revelaed in its entirety to the Prophet Mohammed. Yet there are a number of tantalizing and unresolved questions that Holland considers. For example, given the wide variety of Christian sects in the Near East at the time of Mohammed, who (or rather which group) was he referring to when Mohammed referred to "Christians"? (There are several very good books on the history of the early Church during this time; a few I recommend are Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew and The Birth of Christianity : Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus) Why did Muslims reorient the qibleh (originally facing east towards Jerusalem, later facing south towards Mecca) when there is no Qu'ranic evidence to support or explain this? Holland goes further, seriously questioning the isnads (the "pedigree") of the hadith (the "sayings" attributed to Mohammed), essentially arguing that the more elaborate the isnad, the more likely it is to have been an utter fabrication.

That faiths have long labored to deny and destroy any evidence that there were any other interpretations of their belief than that accepted as "orthodox" is a subdiscipline of history and literary criticism. As Holland writes, "Long before the coming of Islam, schoalrs labouring over other works of scripture had inadvertently demonstrated an unsettling truth: the greater the sense of awe with which a text was regarded, the more complete might be the amnesia as to the original circumstances of its composition." (307) The final 140 pages of _In the Shadow of the Sword_, Holland attempts to show just how complete Islamic amnesia is towards the creation of the Qu'ran, with some startling inferences about where the original "city of the Prophet" was. (Holland claims it was not Mecca for a variety of reasons.)

The sanitization of the Qu'ran, and the uniformity of Islam, Holland attempts to show, was only complete with the ascention of the 'Abbysids as the ulema ascended to religious supremacy, recognized "by everyone, even the Caliph ... (of) the ulema's understanding that attributed almost every single thing of value ... to the Prophet and the Prophet alone." (431) Of course, in so doing, the 'Abbysids imitated both the Sassanids and Romans before them who believed their position as rulers of the world was the result of favor by the gods.

The claims and inferences Holland makes are fascinating and compelling. While I agree in broad terms with much of what he asserts here (especially regarding the evolution of Islam as a faith), the specific supporting details he provides are thin and based on conjecture. Holland attributes this to the lack of a tradition of literary inquiry (ala the Talmud), and he may be correct; still, there wasn't enough of a "smoking gun" - or even of a perponderance of evidence for me to be convinced wholly of his argument. The argument is worth considering; it is disappointing, then, to have it so deeply buried in historical detail that ultimately is of only ancilary value.
10 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x96570684) étoiles sur 5 Fascinating hypothesis, this book will cause you to need to read more books to investigate the claims. 23 juillet 2015
Par JustinHoca - Publié sur
Format: Broché
In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire
I started writing a review of this book and realized that my notes as well as the additional history I needed to look up and read more on were so long that it would take days to write it, so I will summarize. I learned much from this thought-provoking book. I have read Hourani's History of the Arab Peoples and will now need to lower my rating of it, one realizes that author left out so much of religious and cultural importance in the centuries both before and after Mohammed. I have read other histories of Islam and the Middle East but all omitted the details that this book includes, and the devil truly is in the details. The author is tying together multiple strands of Middle Eastern history to help the reader understand the historical context that a historical Prophet Muhammed would have lived in and Islam took root in. He also details what we know about the history of early Islam and the never-ending wars between adherents of Islam for power.

Although not its objective, this book does a great job helping a Westerner understand that the inter-Islamic war we see raging in the Middle East and North Africa today is neither new nor unusual in history. (By this I mean Saudi-backed Sunnis fighting Iranian-backed Shia in Yemen, multiple Sunni states fighting ISIL in Syria, Fatah fighting the PLA in Palestine, etc. The book also provides many historical reminders that Christians throughout the ages have tried to interpret biblical prophecy/eschatology through the lens of events around them. Who was the fourth beast of Daniel? Was it Rome? Was Constantine's conversion the foretold fall of the fourth beast? When Rome crumbled and fell speculation about the Beast shifted to the followers of Mohammed. When Arab tribes fought wars amongst themselves, the certainty about the prophecies became more uncertain. I enjoyed the citation of so many ancient sources by the author.

Holland points out that there is no well-preserved history of early Islam. No complete history was compiled until the 9th century, no writings exist prior to two centuries after the Prophet. Even the battles that Muhammed fought in the Koran cannot be verified. There is one Jewish record of a "false prophet" invading Palestine dating around two years after Muhammed's reported death. Ibn Is Sham's biography circa 800 AD is about the most authoritative that can be found.

The author attempts to investigate the roots of Islam-- what can we piece together about the Prophet and the Koran? Is it possible to provide the historical/critical analysis of the Koran that is so popular with the Bible today? (Ans: No) Where was Muhammad from? Where was the Koran written, and when? He presents surprising evidence that the Koran and sayings of Muhammad were not important to early Islamic chieftans who conquered, and warred with one another, in the name of Islam. The Koran was later declared eternal and uncreated, hadiths recorded were eventually examined and narrowed, while still containing various contradictions and historical problems.

More interestingly is the author's hypotheses of various verses in the Koran being inspired by or copied from the religions present around Mecca at the time, including gnostic Christianity, Judaized Christianity, Jews and Samaritans, Greco-Roman pagans, Arab pagans, and Zoroastrians. This explains why it contains stories of Jesus found in Gnostic gospels like Thomas, creeds from Zoroastrianism, etc. Biblical texts are always being discovered and compared to one another, thousands of manuscripts exist and are endlessly studied and compared. In contrast, supposedly the earlist Korans were recently discovered in Yemen, and while two scholars were invited to examine the texts access was barred after one claimed it contained differences from the accepted, authoritative (eternal and uncreated) Koran.

One story found in the Koran but appearing to have ancient Christian roots is that of the Seven Sleepers. Holland writes that the legend originates around Ephesus, but this appears to be quite uncertain and controversial in reality. Nonetheless, it was widely-known enough that it found its way into the reported words of the Prophet.

In Part II of the book, the author explains the history of Persia as well as the Sassanians, the role of the "Shah of Shas" which long predates Islam or Christianity. I found the explanation of Zoroastrianism and the Shah's role as "protector of the true religion" interesting. Priests had to make up a story to go with the "mathra" of Zoroastrianism. Early adherance to Islam took on a decidedly Zorastrian style in Persia, and much of how Sharia law is administered owed itself more to the religions around the area than to anything in the Koran itself.

A brief history of the Jews is explained, from the exile in Babylon and the formal writing of the Torah and the first commentary on the text, to the Jews initial hailing of Muhammad as a liberator of Jerusalem from the Romans to their eventual disappointment.

We moderners forget that ancient communities were not as segregated as we like to imagine. Jews and Parthians converted to Christianity and retained aspects of their former lives. Samaritans battling Justinian's soldiers fled to Persia and took their religious beliefs with them. There were Christians living like Jews in Mesopotamia, and Christians fell into conflict with Zoroastrians. The author cites records that Zoroastrian communities sometimes accepted or embraced Christianity, or at least tolerated Christians, because they performed miracles-- healings, exorcisms, etc. that modern Christian cessationists would be uncomfortable thinking about. In any case, Christianity of 600-800 A.D. was a "kaleidescope" of theology and practice. It was this world that Muhammad would have traveled and interacted in.

Holland includes the history of the Roman Empire's entrance into Palestine and Syria and its conflicts with the Persians among others. Probably 1/3 of the book focuses on the time of Justinian, his codex, his interpretation of Christianity, the fight to renew the wide borders of the Empire, and the Plague which wiped out much of Christendom's population and set the stage for Islamic conquest through Anatolia and into Europe. I recommend Justinian's Flea as another detailed account of this period.

In all, I give this book 4.5 stars out of 5. There are some points where he retells a story (like the Seven Sleepers) for dramatic effect without explaining that he is telling perhaps one disputed version of the story. But his hypotheses are worth examining. I read an article recently by another historian saying that perhaps Islam is popular because the Koran has not been subject to the same textual analysis and criticism that the Bible and other religious texts have been subjected to. I think that is ultimately the unspoken conclusion the reader gleans from Shadow of the Sword. Legends often come from actual events but are embellished to fit the needs of the storyteller. The early adherents of Islam put together a story to maintain unity among warring factions to make war on other "incorrect" factions and fill the void left by the dying Roman empire. Disagreements about the story still remain and factions are still fighting for power and control in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman and British Empires (outside the scope of this book), so 2015 looks a lot like 715.
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