Some of us fear moments when we need to defend our theology. Some of us seek them out. In reality, the majority of the witnessing encounters we’ll ever be involved in will be involuntary. They will involve less-than-optimal conditions, unexpected questions, and the split-second decision of how to represent our faith. So how do we draw others to God in the midst of these ordinary conversations?
September 25th, 2010
Announcing Trac5: A New Path to Peace
A team of friends have paused to take inventory of the remarkable success in a peacekeeping model we call “Trac5.”Along with the other traditional tracks of engagement it contributed to the rapprochement with Libya, deployment of UN Peacekeeping Forces in Darfur, release of 20 Korean Christian missionaries taken hostage by the Taliban, and recently the release of two girls charged with apostasy for “converting to Christianity” in Iran.
Our model is spiritually and relationally focused, grounded in the example of Jesus and fueled by stunning linguistic breakthroughs in the Semitic Holy Books. It is designed to mobilize and organically network emerging, spiritually-grounded “people movements” in over 100 countries, enabling them to support their leaders in incorporating Trac5 peacemaking values, and empowering the peaceful majority to undermine radicals bent on destruction.
Most constituents of the Abrahamic faiths believe that there is little hope of forging peace between Muslims, Christians and Jews. Many see fundamental common ground as a fantasy, with any apparent progress being at best temporary and historically unsustainable.
In this context, Trac5 stands out as a unique, tested approach to conflict resolution, particularly in the religious context. Traditional politicals strategies have failed to sufficiently address the root causes of human conflict, centered in enmity and alienation in the human heart. If and when such factors are considered, these approaches rarely incorporate a spiritual solution such as forgiveness. Trac5 utilizes education, engagement and resources to bring people together — not just conceptually but relationally — to pursue peace, keying on breakthrough insights from the Semitic holy books.
Trac5 can significantly reduce the negative impact of conflict on a region or people, beginning by personally engaging key leaders. Trac5 then assists in further bridge-building, development, and education after the relationship begins. One critical outcome of this process is the systematic undermining of militant ideologies, which threaten both East and West.
Finding faith-based common ground raises the level of understanding and gives people a place to breathe, and to respect each other. People weary of fear tactics and hate-mongering yearn for viable alternatives and spiritually-grounded solutions. Propaganda and zealotry are undermined when people experience authentic, faith-based bridging relationships and gather around creative, proactive solutions to shared challenges.
The Linguistic Relationship between the Aramaic of Jesus and the Arabic of the Qur’an
When an Arabic speaking Muslim friend saw Mel Gibson’s movie Passion of the Christ with most of the dialogue in Aramaic, he was very surprised that he did not need most of the subtitles in English to understand the movie!
This connection is a critical bridge builder: sister languages, Arabic, and Aramaic, the written language which was once the global language, stretching from the Near East to Malabar in India and East China.
Dr. Sidney Griffith, a Catholic priest and noted Syriac scholar, states that, “neither Qur’anic nor Aramaic scholars have seen fit to make the linguistic connection and it is about time that connection was made.”
Western academia has been primarily concentrated on Biblical Greek. What we need to now consider is the Aramaic/Syriac New Testament, written in the language Jesus actually spoke, as an additional tool for comparative analysis. I have found this an invaluable tool working with the Islamic world in seeking bridges to the common ground.
Muslims respect the similarity of words, meanings, and relate to the Eastern traditions and idiomatic nuances of the Aramaic. They are very similar to the Arabic of the Qur’an and the Hebrew of the Torah; and can help unlock useful mysteries within the Eastern Holy Books.
The Prophet Muhammad and Aramaic
Some Islamic historians tell us that trusted Assyrian and Syriac speaking believers in Jesus interacted with the Prophet Muhammad and likely read to him from the Aramaic Eastern Text. The very word Qur’an, which means “The Recital,” is derived from an Aramaic/Syriac word qiriana.
Original Revelation of the Holy Books: Why the Aramaic has special meaning for Muslims
The most compelling logic for use of the Aramaic New Testament in building bridges to the Common Ground deals with the Muslim view of “original revelation.”
Islam holds that God, through the angel Gabriel, spoke the revelation to the Prophet Mohammed in Arabic and is considered the official language of “The Recital.” Thus, the only accepted written version is Arabic.
Since Jesus spoke Aramaic, Muslims believe (consistent with Islamic logic) the “Holy” written version of the Gospel would be in Aramaic.
It is helpful to note that Aramaic was the first written Semitic script of the three, followed by Hebrew and finally, Arabic. The ever widening “gulf” separating us is unfortunate, but it is my hope that studying the related Semitic languages of the East will serve as a key foundation, providing evidence that our faiths have more in common than we have believed in the past.
Christian & Islamic Views of God: Our differences don’t change who God is
One student, in a last effort to refute the presentation, conceded “Islam may be referring to the same God as the Jews and Christians linguistically, but Islam sees God very differently than Christianity.” In a similar vein, I received through a friend a recent email from Ravi Zacharias’ ministry. The email from Ravi’s staff confirmed that we don’t disagree on the name of God, but rather His character. I agree that this is true; yet in my work I have found that those differences are much narrower than we might first suppose.
There are indeed differences in perception of the character of God, just as there are many views people may have of you! Some view you as a friend, others as an enemy. Some may look at you as someone who is fair, others as a scoundrel. My wife views me as a partner, lover, etc, much differently than my children; they in turn see me differently than my siblings. Moreover, each of them has their individual understanding of me; my character, nature and directives. But I am the same person, viewed differently by different people.
Christians demand that Muslims view God in the context of their particular doctrine alone as evidence of following the “true” God. One needs to be careful, as this premise negates Jews of the Torah from believing in the same God. After all, Jews do not accept Jesus as Messiah, let alone see Him as God’s Word, Spirit and supernaturally conceived like the Muslims do. Perhaps enforcing our respective dogma on others is why Christians are themselves so divided into what Bill Hybels has counted as 36,000 sects and denominations. Do any of the 147 varieties of Baptists view God exactly the same? What about Pentecostals, Catholics, Methodists, or Quakers, let alone Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc.?
From another standpoint, one cannot assume that current struggles with extremism within Islam represent the whole of its history or its future. Who did the Christian church claim as God while engaged for centuries in the Crusades; enforcing the Inquisition; or rising up in violence, Protestant against Catholic? Those behaviors were unconscionable, but do Christians say that those being misled at that time did not pray to the same God as they do now? Clearly, the performance of the human family does not define who God is.
However unlikely it seems, a careful review of the Muslim Holy Book reveals Christians share much more with Muslims in their concept of who God is than any of our respective religious dogmas might dictate. After reading the Qur’an, most would agree we are both referring to the one God: magnificent and omnipresent, omnipotent creator of heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael. He is the God of the prophets, such as Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Noah and John the Baptist.
He is the same God who in both the Gospels and Qur’an sent the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, who birthed a sinless Messiah named Jesus through the Holy Spirit. The same Jesus, who could heal the sick, raise the dead, was taken up to God and is coming back on Judgment Day. There is of course much more to discuss, but what other God could all this be referring to?
In the end, the seminary students were nearly unanimous, agreeing that the three major faiths do pray and refer to a monotheistic god, and that linguistically they are the same “God.” While many left changed in attitude, most confessed discomfort using Allah in place of “God.” Western bias against it is difficult to break.
I must confess that after extensive Western/Christian training myself, it has taken time for me to feel comfortable using the Arabic term, Allah, for God in conversations. My mentor Rev. John Booko, who has been a pastor for 50 years, helps me break my dogmatically negative feeling about Allah when he prays in the name of Alaha in his Aramaic language.
Do we not all fancy ourselves on a path seeking revelation of the “true” God? None of us has to scratch very deeply to find out that our concept of God is different from another’s concept of God. My concept of God is not the same as when I first believed. Some days it is not even the same as it was the day before. God does not change, but I do! God is revealing himself from day to day through dialogue, reading of the Scriptures and through experiences. Because some have not arrived at what each of us might believe is His true nature, let us not condemn another, and cut ourselves off from others in the process of their search.
What I have hoped to outline here is evidence that the Abrahamic faith traditions share the same linguistic name for God and describe God similarly. While we feel there are profound differences in our view of His character, our journey of discovery has revealed many of these “differences” that seem daunting are minimized with careful reading of the Holy Books in Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic. When people open a door to explore common ground we should not slam it in their faces.
I have run out of space, but allow me to share one last thought. In interfaith relations, the nature, person and mission of Jesus of Nazareth is often seen as the crux of the problem, when ironically, he is in fact the extraordinary solution.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face. 1 Cor. 13:12
In Part 1 we addressed the differences in belief about Allah and God and began the discussion by sharing research and perspective on the argument that Allah is a pagan moon-god. We continue this dialogue with a linguistic overview of the words used to name God in various languages.
Is the English “God” Pagan?
If one argues the name “Allah” is pagan-based, what about the origins of the English word “God?” I personally was stunned to learn that it actually has more historic baggage than Semitic words such as Allah. “God” is derived from a proto-Germanic pagan word (possibly Zoroastrian) for a water god, water spirit, or idol (pronounced “gut”). It held no gender until the Germanic tribes adopted Christianity, when the male gender was later included.
Is the Greek and Latin for “God” also Pagan?
Next the students and I reviewed the history of our theologically favored Greek and Latin words for “God.” The Greek Theos (from whence we derive “theology,” “theologian,” etc.) has a heathen Greek origin, from the Indo-European root dhes. The popular Latin word deus -along with the Spanish dios and French dieu-is also pagan-based. The Greek god Zeus has the root dyeu and is the origin of the word for God used in the early Latin Vulgate version of the Bible.
So, let’s say that thousands of years ago, the ancient word Allah may have been based on a moon-god (which as we have seen is itself an open question). Perhaps the more relevant question is: what meaning does the present use of the word evoke for people today and to which god is it referring? Would any English speaking person think when they say “God” that they are referring to a Germanic water-spirit? Of course not! The English word is commonly used by Christians for false gods, simply inserting a capital “G” when referring to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael. When Latino believers speak of Dios, are they referencing the origin of the name, and speaking of the Greek god Zeus? Certainly not!
For over 500 years before the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, Arab Christians and even some Jews in the Arabian Peninsula used the Arabic word Allah for God. 10-12 million Christian Arabs currently use Allah every day as their Arabic word for God. Are they praying to a moon-god? What of the five million Assyrian and Chaldean Christians who pray to Alaha, a derivative of Allah?  Rev. John Booko, one of the officiating pastors at my wife’s and my wedding, who is an Assyrian Evangelical Christian, always prays “in the Aramaic/Syriac name of Alaha.”
The Hebrew Name for “God”
Are the Jews who pray to the Old Testament’s Elohim praying to the same God as all the rest? Is it, or is it not, the same God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael, whether spoken in any language?
An Israeli Semitic language scholar once told me:
In Canaan El was the chief deity of the Canaanite pantheon and was worshipped as a bull deity (which is where the whole idea of the golden calf in Exodus came from). The Israelites were worshipping the true God in a proscribed form. The Aramaic form of this was Alah, which under the influence of a linguistic shift known as the “Canaanite Shift” in Hebrew became Eloah. The plural form of the latter, which is also used in the Hebrew Bible, is Elohim. But the Aramaic Alah was how one said “God” in that language, even in Jesus’ day. Thus if Jesus spoke Aramaic, then he also called God Alah; Arabic came up with nothing new when it referred to the one true God as Alah. In fact, Arabic-speaking Christians would have used this word for God long before Mohammed was born.
The general Hebrew term for God is El. The Israeli airline is named El Al, where El also means “up” in the air. El is a shortened version of Elohim, which is the plural of Eloah, as we touched on before. It is used throughout the Old Testament over 2,300 times. Ironically, even Elohim has pagan roots. Elohim as well as El were ancient Canaanite, Phoenician and Amharic/Ethiopian names for deity.
Perhaps the most specific Hebrew name for God is YHWH, also mistakenly referred to as Yehovah, meaning self-existent and eternal. YHWH is rooted from ‘Hayah’, the to be verb, which is from ‘Hava’, to breathe, or to be, which connects to ‘Ayil’. Finally ‘Ayil’ leads us back to ‘El’, which is the root of all the Semitic names for God. YHWH is spoken aloud on rare Jewish celebrations as just “Ya.” Jews often replaced the actual name of God for Adonay (Lord) orally and in their written scripts.
The Arabic Name for “God”
As we have discussed, the Arabic word for God is Allah. It also is derived from the Aramaic Hebrew word, El. It is a contraction of Al and Ilahi, which literally means “the God.” (Al is Arabic for “the” as in Isa al-Mesiah “Jesus the Christ.”) The Arab “Ilahi” is the same word for God as used in the Hebrew and Aramaic. In fact, if one were to remove all the vowel markings (Semitic languages are all consonants and use markings to make vowels) from the Arabic Al-Ilahi and Hebrew El-Elohim (both meaning “the God”), remove the plural of the words and they are transliterated nearly identically as Al-Alh and A-Alh. Both words correspond back to the Aramaic Alah and the Syriac Alaha.
The definition afforded by The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia is as follows:
“Allah (ăl’ə, ä’lə), [Arab.=the God]. Derived from an old Semitic root referring to the Divine and used in the Canaanite El, the Mesopotamian ilu, and the biblical Elohim, the word Allah is used by all Arabic-speaking Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others. Allah, as a deity, was probably known in pre-Islamic Arabia. Arabic chronicles suggest a pre-Islamic recognition of Allah as a supreme God, with the three goddesses al-Lat, al-Uzza, and Manat as his “daughters.” The Prophet Muhammad, declaring Allah the God of Abraham, demanded a return to a strict monotheism.”
Aramaic: Could Jesus Have Used the Same Word for “God” as the Muslims?
The Aramaic word for God is Elah, or Alaha,  also derived from El.  The ancient Hebrew word Elah, means “something strong,” like trees of the oak, rooted in Elijah, meaning God of YHWH, which again leads us to its root, El. 
Elah  is used about 70 times in the Old Testament. When combined with other words, we see different attributes of God. Some examples: Elah Yerush’lem - God of Jerusalem: (Ezra 7:19); Elah Yisrael - God of Israel: (Ezra 5:1); Elah Sh’maya - God of Heaven: (Ezra 7:23); Elah Sh’maya V’Arah - God of Heaven and Earth: (Ezra 5:11). 
There are also several verses in the Qur’an using Elah and its derivatives, Il or El. These words are specifically referred to in the Qur’an (see Sura 9:8 and 10). While some Islamic scholars understand it to mean blood ties, most others take it as short for the Arabic word Ilah, meaning “Lord.” It could also be the Arabicized Aramaic Hebrew for EL as in Ismael (Ishmael), which means “God listens” and/or Elah, or Deity, from its original Aramaic or Syriac. It may surprise some people to know that even Jesus used this form for God in Matt. 24:47 when he cried out in the Aramaic language, “Eli, Eli“, meaning “my God, my God.”
Jesus, an Aramaic speaker, would naturally use Alaha just as Aramaic speakers do today. It is simply the Aramaic version of the identical Arabic word Allah. “The cognate Aramaic term appears in the Aramaic version of the New Testament, called the Peshitta, as one of the words Jesus used to refer to God, e.g., in the sixth Beatitude, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see Alaha.’ The Arabic Bible uses the same word in Matt. 5:8, for instance, translated Allah.” 
While all this may seem confusing, simply stated and confirmed by Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew Lexicon,El is the root word for God in Hebrew, Elohim; in Aramaic, Alaha; and in Arabic, Allah. Furthermore, they connote the same God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael. In addition, the prophesied Messiah in Isaiah 9:6 of the Tenach is referred to as El.
After speaking at a peace conference in Egypt, I approached the heads of the Lutheran and Coptic (Egyptian) Churches who were in attendance. I asked these two Christian leaders what name they used for “God” in their churches. They looked at me very puzzled and responded “Allah, of course!” They would be shaken to know that probably 99 percent of Western Christians do not think Allah is the same God as the Christian God. Their response to my seemingly stupid question is a microcosm of the answer; it is simply the Arabic word for “God.”
The “Correct” Name of God
Eventually the seminary students clearly understood the different forms of “the name of God” used in the Holy Books. Hebrew El, Aramaic Alaha and Arabic Allah are identical words derived from the same linguistic root, using the Semitic letters Alef-Lamed-He, pronounced ila. Such names should not be the focus of scorn, or the cause of division and war. The slight modifications among each of the language groupings simply reflect different pronunciations conforming to the historical pattern of cognate shifts in each tongue, not different words. To put it simply, the Latin, Spanish, and Italian words for God (Deus, Dios, and Dio) and the English and German words (God and Gott) all mean the same as do the Semitic Allah, Alaha and Elohim.
Islam and Judaism do not have a problem seeing the God of each tradition as the God of Abraham, so why should we? The seminary students were intrigued and lined up after the presentation to express their excitement.
While we have addressed a dialogue on the linguistic roots of the name for God here in Part 2, many believers (and several students I addressed) feel that the larger issue is not only the name of God, but what each religion teaches about who God is. Part 3 will address questions related to the Christian and Islamic views on this topic.
 The Aramaic word Alaha is also spelled Elaha. “The -’a’ at the end is the determined form, which originally meant ‘the’ in regular Aramaic. By the time the Syriac language was in its heyday, the determined forms were otiose, as occurred in the East Aramaic dialects in general, including Jewish Babylonian Aramaic and Mandaic.” Dr. Eldon Clem, private communication to author.
 Dr. Eldon Clem, Syriac scholar of Jerusalem, Israel, Quote from a private conversation, February 2006.
 The Hebrew word translated “God” (’elohim) is a plural noun denoting majesty, and the writers of Scripture used it as an honorific title. Though it is plural in form, it is singular in meaning when referring to the true God. This name represents the Creator’s transcendent relationship to His creation. Dr. Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Genesis” Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes, 2009 Ed., http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes.htm (Jul. 29, 2009).
 M. James Sawyer , Th.M., Ph.D., Lecture Notes on The Names Of God, Bible.org, http://bible.org/article/lecture-notes-names-god (Jul 29, 2009).
 “Jewish Arabic translation of the Torah was translated by the Jewish scholar Saadia Gaon before 1000 AD and has been used by Middle Eastern Jews until the present time…There were other Jewish Arabic translations as well, notably the one made by the Karaites at the same time as Saadia. All of these Jewish translations use Allah as the name of God, using it to translate both Elohim and YHWH. There are multitudes of ancient Christian Arabic translations of Scripture, from the seventh century until now, and they all without exception use Allah.” Brown, 80-81.
 “Allah,” The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. (Columbia University Press, 2003), Dec. 9, 2005 (http://www.answers.com/topic/allah).
 The determined form, meaning “the God,” although in later Syriac when the determined forms lose their force, “Alaha” becomes the normal way of saying “God.”
 Dr. Imad Nicola Shehadeh, President and Professor of Theology, Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, private communication to author, Feb. 2006: “I agree with you that the term ‘Allah’ comes from the Aramaic/Syriac ‘Allaha’ (from now on, when I say Aramaic, I mean Aramaic/Syriac). The evidence is overwhelming. I have published an article on this in order to show that Allah was not originally a moon-god as some have suggested, but came from the Aramaic Allaha used by Jews and Christians of Muhammad’s day. (If interested, please see Bibliotheca Sacra journal, volume 161, issue 641, 2004).”
 Associated with this name in the OT (Old Testament) is the idea of power, “The Strong One.” http://bible.org/article/lecture-notes-names-god.
 “Elah” is Aramaic, corresponding to the Aramaic sections of Ezra.
 Tracey R. Rich, The Name of G-d, Judaism 101, http://www.jewfaq.org/name.htm (Jul. 29, 2009).
In a recent message to my email list subscribers I touched on the fact that we need a new strategy for interactions between Muslims and Christians, whether in America or in other countries throughout the world. I suggested Jesus of Nazareth as a model for our interactions. He demonstrated how to respect and strengthen relationships with those who were like him and those who were very different from him. He pointed people to God and painted a picture of what God’s Kingdom is really like.
One of the ways we begin to be able to connect to others different from ourselves is to understand them; eliminating barriers or unnecessary misunderstandings between us. An issue I hear over and over from Christians who struggle to understand Muslims is the belief that we worship two different Gods and that Allah is a false god.
This is one of the most painful misunderstandings. Many Christian laymen and leaders feel that Allah is not the same God as the God of the Hebrews, or Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael. In fact, they will often argue Allah is a moon-god. Televangelist Benny Hinn has commented, “This is not a war between Arabs and Jews. It’s a war between God and the devil.”
It would be wonderful if Christians and Muslims could get beyond the basics of respecting another’s name for God and reach a consensus. It would open doors to desperately needed dialogue and communication, allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal common ground as to the nature of God. Let us make sure this “feeling” towards Allah is not merely a trained cultural response and/or an emotional one, but instead cultivate a view founded on fact and linguistics, seated in an understanding of the history and culture surrounding the origins of the names for God. Let us also approach this issue asking God to reveal the truth to us, as much as we are able to understand.
Seminary Students Consider: Is Allah a moon-god?
I recall speaking to an assembly of seminary students in Lancaster, PA a few years ago. When questioned, their view was unanimous that Allah was a false god and in fact, derived from a moon-god of ancient times. They were ready and had a prepared statement to read:
During the nineteenth century, then later in the 1940’s, and finally during the 1950’s, archeologists’ digs gathered from both North and South Arabia depict evidence of a moon-god (called Hubal during pre-Islamic times). This deity was worshiped even in the Prophet Muhammad’s day. According to inscriptions, while the name of the moon-god was not Allah, his title was al-ilah, i.e. “the deity,” meaning that he was the chief or high god among the gods.
The moon-god was called al-ilah, “the god.” However, this name (Arabic: Il or Ilah) did not originate as a title for the moon-god. Thousands of years before that, Semites used variations of Il/El and Alah to refer to their high gods.
Noted Christian historian Philip Hitti also feels the designation of Allah as a moon-god is not correct.  The Islamic symbol of the crescent moon is often raised as evidence reflecting a moon god. However, history reveals that the Ottoman invaders of the Byzantine Empire simply adopted their defeated Christian foe’s symbol of the crescent moon and continued using it.
Muhammad viewed monotheists in history such as Abraham and those in his time as haneef, believers in the One Supreme God, creator of the heavens and universe, inspirer of the prophets through the Rouh Qudus, the “Holy Spirit.”And the word he used for this God was Allah.
I shared with the seminary students,
“If Allah was indeed one of the 360 gods represented in the Kabba in Mecca prior to Muhammad, it does not preclude one of them being the One True God of the Old and New Testament. It could be considered similar to Paul on Mars Hill in Acts 17, identifying the true God from all the false idols. Muhammad did the same by destroying all the other idols in the Kabba, leaving the one ilah. The Apostle Paul faced similar push back with the Greek pagans as Muhammad did with the Arab pagans. After gaining their attention by quoting various Greek philosophers, Paul announced that he knew the name of this ‘unknown god’ and proceeded to teach of the one true God. The scripture says that while ‘some mocked…many followed and surrendered’ to God. The point being, that the origins of a name do not always reflect on the later application.”
The seminary students were listening, but I could tell they were not with me yet.
To further emphasize and explain this topic, I will delve further into the origins of the name “God” from a linguistic viewpoint on this blog in the coming weeks. Please feel free to follow along with us in exploring this issue.
Shalom, Shlama, and Salaam,
 Amaud, Halevy and Glaser went to Southern Arabia and dug up thousands of Sabean, Minaean, and Qatabanian documents that depict Allah as a moon god. Robert Morey, The Islamic Invasion: Confronting The World’s Fastest-Growing Religion (Harvest House Publishers, 1992)
 Archeologists G. Caton Thompson and Carleton S. Coon made discoveries in Arabia. Morey.
 Wendell Phillips, W.F. Albright, Richard Bower made similar discoveries as they excavated sites at Qataban, Timna, and Marib. Morey.
 Tracing the origins of ancient gods is often tenuous. If the name Hubal is related to an Aramaic word for spirit, as suggested by Hitti, then Hubal may have come from the north of Arabia. Philip K. Hitti, History Of The Arabs (1937), 96-101.
 Welllhausen indicates that Hubal was regarded as the son of al-Lat and the brother of Wadd. Wellhausen (1926), 717, as quoted by Hans Krause, Hans Krause’s Research Reports, http://hanskrause.de/HKHPE/hkhpe_32_01.htm.
 Attempts to identify Hubal with Allah have been notably popular among evangelical Christians, but even they acknowledge that this hypothesis is speculative, and it is contradicted by the Islamic-period texts from which most knowledge of pre-Islamic Arab religion derives. Answering Islam, Moon God, http://www.answering-islam.org/Index/M/moongod.html (Jul. 29, 2009).
 Rick Brown, “Who is ‘Allah’?” International Journal of Frontier Missions, 23:2 (Summer 2006), 80 (http://www.commonpathalliance.org).
Words out of Context Maintain Harmful Misunderstandings
One of the core ways for misunderstanding to build up is by receiving incomplete information about something someone else has said. I believe this is a big part of the distrust between the Abrahamic faiths, and indeed, many of our broader misunderstandings today. For example, the media can emphasize one particular phrase a person says, and build a completely different story based on that statement than what was intended.
In some cases, we simply lack the information to understand what a person is saying. Consider some of Jesus’ phrases, which sound familiar to the Western mind, but perhaps we have not fully understood. It is cases like these where studying the text through the Eastern lens reveals perspective we have not seen before.
Did Jesus Really Say, “I Come to Bring a Sword”?
“Do not suppose I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” At first blush, this verse seems to be in total contradiction to all the of Jesus’ teachings. How could the man who taught us to “turn the other cheek” and “love our enemies” by claiming that he came to bring a sword? In fact, this verse has even been used by some to justify violence against “non-believers.”
The truer meaning here is not sword, but division. This is more accurately rendered in the common English translations of the corresponding passage in Luke: “Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? I say to you no, but divisions.”
The teachings of Jesus were so revolutionary and contrary to the political, social and religious order of the day that when people followed them, divisions among families, friends and institutions inevitably ensued. Dr. Lamsa comments that the Eastern idiomatic aspect of these verses were not known by the Greeks. Jesus never suggested that his followers ought to “take up the sword,” but rather that following him would inevitably cause “divisions” and persecutions-as history has in fact shown to be the case.
[The Aramaic example is excerpted from Appendix 3 of A Deadly Misunderstanding.]
If we realize we can misunderstand our own text without careful study and prayer for God to reveal the truth to us, how much more might we misunderstand a related but unique text of a neighboring faith?
The conversation surrounding A Deadly Misunderstanding and the Muslim-Christian divide has been picking up the last few weeks, and we thought it would be great to highlight several bloggers that recently made ADM a focus on their blogs. Seth McBee is fostering an ongoing conversation over at Contend Earnestlyregarding Islam and Christianity and made Mark one of his resources for that conversation, starting with his review of A Deadly Misunderstanding and continuing by featuring several of Mark’s YouTube videos.
“This book will stretch anyone who reads it. There is so much “good” in this book and so much that the reader will realize about their own journey towards truth (if they are honestly trying to learn), that it is well worth the read. If you like where you are currently in your understanding of the world and are enjoying what is portrayed in American media, don’t read this book. But, if you want to see what is actually happening elsewhere, what Muslims actually believe, what the Bible actually says in certain points and desire to be stretched, you need to read this book.”
“The book is a blend of narrative (Mark’s own expanding web of relationships with Islamic leaders, teachers, and scholars), and theology (Mark’s ever expanding discoveries of common beliefs between Christians and Muslims). I won’t reveal those points of common interest because I think you should take the time to read the book. After all, nearly every nation in which our military is involved in conflict has a sizable Muslim presence. Conventional wisdom, even, would tell us that we should know our enemy. Jesus would tell us that we should love our enemy. Mark will tell us that when we begin to study our enemy, we realize that he might not even BE our enemy, that we perhaps share more in common, than we differ.”
“I want to be clear: this is no milquetoast universalist pablum. Siljander is NOT claiming some notion of all roads leading to God. What he’s doing is far more careful and well-thought than that. He is demonstrating the frequency with which fundamental–often violent–differences between the Abrahamic faiths are based on ignorance: not only ignorance of the “other’s” faith, but all too often ignorance of the actual text and context of our own faith and its creeds. In this, he’s coming to a conclusion a Muslim roommate and I (with far less scholarship) came to more than 20 years ago: if both of us and our brothers merely were careful to follow what OUR OWN SCRIPTURES actually said, we’d find a lot of common ground, and at the very least, we couldn’t fight each other.”
All of these reviews kicked off a flurry of comments at their respective blog pages. We really appreciate the level of dialogue and critique that these bloggers are nurturing. These issues run deep and as Seth mentioned, can be difficult to articulate without being misunderstood, “The written word can be misleading and very difficult to convey at times, especially on such touchy subjects as this.” Mark found that this was especially true when attempting to write a book appropriately encouraging and challenging for both a Muslim and Christian audience. We’re happy to have bloggers who are seeing the “heart” of the issue and willing to discuss and dialogue on this new approach for bridge building. This only helps all of us to grow. Thank you.
And from the other side of the world, we are excited to see that Salim Al-Hasso has created a page on his website dedicated to sharing about the work Mark is doing. Salim saw Mark on Al Jazeera at home in Iraq and was moved to make information on his work more widely available. He has gathered an impressive resource page by linking to one Al Jazeera video and various reviews of A Deadly Misunderstanding.