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07/17/2014

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Aaron Alvarez

In regards to Chapter four and Spinoza's claim that Christ "perceived truly, or under­stood the things revealed...Christ, therefore, perceived the things revealed truly and adequately...no one is made blessed unless he has in himself the mind of Christ." , it may be that it is a reference to theosis and apotheosis from various sources. These ideas tended to play a large role in philosophy and theology. Examples from the monotheistic religions include Ephraim the Syrian, Greggory of Nyssa, Ibn Arabi, Suharwardi, and early Rabbinical Sifrot Ha-Hekkhalot literature. I wish I had the linguistic skills to investigate the topic more; it is a site of interaction between many topics that is a treasure trove.

Keith Green

One problem with Bowerstock is that he treats "muslim" as a religious identity--as something one can "be" in the way that one can "be" a Jew or a Christian, from the outset. We shouldn't 'essentialize''religion' here, and we shouldn't assume that there have always been religious identities that one took on simply in virtue of participating (by whatever means) in some specific form of "theism". Of course Abraham was neither Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. But to refer to him as "muslim" in the way that the Q'uran does is really just to say that he "submitted". I also don't see how one could "be a pagan monotheist" in the context of 7th century Arabia. "Hanf" usually designates monotheistic Arabs who did not otherwise identify as Jewish or Christian. What is missing in Bowerstock's account (and in many histories of Islam) is an adequate appreciation of an association of "submission" and "monarchy", and the degree to which resistance to monarchy had become implicated in "sun'na" or the "custom" traditions of Arabic tribes, and their "identity". Mohammed's achievement (or the achievement of his followers in the era of the 'rightly guided caliphs' before 661) is to conceive a way to "ritualize" "submission" in such a way that it could be detached from monarchy and reconciled with a conception of 'sun'na'--the largely oral 'custom' which governed the political organization of central Arabic tribes. Note also that one "pilar" of Islam (among others) takes ritualized gestures that "perform" submission, and redirects them to Allah and to Mecca. This step helps to enable the emergence of a "muslim" religious identity, where 'being' muslim entails having a sort of normative relationship to authoritative institutions---the sort of thing that 'constitutes' religious identity for Jews, Christians, or participants in any other religious tradition.
On introducing Spinoza into the conversation: One thing that is actually insightful about Spinoza's conception of prophesy (as something that involves polity-founding, on his interpretation) is that it pretty well describes what Mohammed did. The more challenging side of Spinoza's conception of prophets, prophesy, and their roles has to do with what more recent biblical scholars call "outsider" prophets, which includes perhaps even more of the prophets who are associated with texts that are part of the Jewish/Christian canons--prophets who seem to embody 'outsider' 'disruptive' social criticism--prophets who do not 'found' a new polity but who become models of a certain kind of outsider 'advocacy'.
The way to really appreciate the scope (and necessity for ethics) of Spinoza's conception of prophesy is to examine more closely the contrast that Spinoza sometimes draws (in the TTP) between the prophets and "christ", but the sense in which one can come to embody "the mind of christ" (who aimed to "improve the understanding" rather than found or uphold a polity, according to one version of this distinction in the TTP). So I like the final paragraph here--about 'reading the Qur'an' and 'being 'saved''. This is just one of the reasons why Spinoza's view of "christ" needs more critical interpretive examination. And it does suggest that it is misleading to attempt to implicate Spinoza into any anti-islamic social vision, merely as a 'founder' of Enlightenment.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.

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