Religion and Society in the Near East, | Berkey’s focus in The Formation of Islam is on ideas and institutions and their social and political context. Jonathan Berkey’s book surveys the religious history of the peoples of the Near East from roughly to CE. The opening chapter examines the religious. Khalid Yahya Blankinship; Jonathan P. Berkey. The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, – (Themes in Islamic.

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Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. The Formation of Islam. So much is probably true of any thousand-year interval of human history, but this particular epoch was of special importance in that it saw the crystallization of the religious traditions which have survived into the modern era, and which formed the backdrop to the emergence of the new religion which traces its origins to the preaching of Muhammad in western Arabia.

This was an era of leading religious figures and of the production of foundational religious texts in all of these regions: From the standpoint of the religious traditions which are studied in this book, the year BCE may be somewhat arbitrary, since the subsequent centuries were, at least in the Near East, equally decisive regarding the articulation of identifiable religious traditions.

Conscience and History in a World Civilization, in 3 volumes Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1. The cultures produced in this region, and in those territories around its periphery including Anatolia, the peninsula of Arabia, and Iran as far as the Oxus River which played such critical roles in its historical development, mingled productively if not always entirely freely.

The formation of Islam: religion and society in the Near East, 600-1800

In the centuries before fomation rise of Islam, the Near East was dominated by two rival states. The Byzantine Empire, with its capital in Constantinople, was the old Roman Empire, or what was left of it. Across its eastern border, in the eastern half of the Fertile Crescent and in the lands beyond, lay the empire of the Sasanians, an Iranian berkfy which had come to power in the third century.

The two states were bitter rivals, and for much of late antiquity were at war.

The formation of Islam: religion and society in the Near East,

Their political rivalry, however, did not completely preclude meaningful cultural contact. The Berky, even islqm the height of their conflict with Rome in the sixth century, relentlessly borrowed from Byzantine culture everything from bath-houses to systems of taxation, and the shah Khusrau I Anushirvan r.

The conquests of the Muslim Arabs, who in the seventh century burst into the Fertile Crescent from the remote and inhospitable desert peninsula to the south, represent simply one more example of far older historical patterns. The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, volume 1: Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity Princeton: Princeton University Press,61—2.

World Publishing Company, Introduction 5 Central to the character of Near Eastern society in these centuries was the rise of an urban, mercantile economy. fodmation

Of course, no pre-modern society reached anything close to the levels of urbanization in our industrial and post-industrial world, and it is worth remembering at the outset that many of the religious developments described in this berjey reached the ninety percent or more of the population which was rural in attenuated and problematic form.

Nonetheless, cities there were, cities which were frequently dominated by merchants and others involved in a commercial economy, and often it was in them, or in response to their needs and uncertainties, that the religious developments which survived and which seemed important to later generations took shape.

The urban commercial economy had a decisive impact on religious develop- ments of the era. In the first place, the existence of regional and trans-regional trading networks discouraged cultural and religious parochialism. They helped to make possible, for example, the emergence of traditions which claimed adherents beyond any one city or locality: Similarly, they encouraged the spread of religious ideas from one place to another.

It comes as no surprise that the missionary activities of several of the religions of late antiquity — Manichaeism, for example, and later Islam — were closely associated with merchants. Secondly, and more importantly, urban commercial economies tended to make social inequities more conspicuous and brought social injustices into sharper relief. It was to such problems, made jonatan by the per- manently shifting character of urban life, that many of the new religions addressed themselves.

Although he seems to have glossed over some of the more nuanced questions regarding economic structures and social class, Hodgson drew in a general way upon the sociological analysis of Max Weber; and — if we allow ourselves at the outset to paint with a rather broad brush — it will serve us as well, in part because it informs some of the most basic questions about the origins and character of Islam.


Arising against the back- ground of injustice, inequality, and social dislocation, they pointedly spoke to 6 Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion, trans. Beacon Press,esp. Produced by increasingly literate societies, they were frequently affirmed by scriptures, both oc for which a divine origin was claimed the Torah, ielam, or the Koran and those of a more exegetical character the Talmudas well as those of a more indeterminate nature the Zoroastrian Avestan texts and the surviving com- mentaries in which they are embedded.

This was true even of a religion such as Judaism, which, succumbing to the powerful gravitational pull of late antique Hellenism, beerkey beyond the this-worldly focus of its core Biblical texts. Two general trends among the religions of the end of the classical and the late antique worlds deserve special mention.

First, they tended to be closely associated with states and empires. Islam itself from the beginning represented a close if problematic fusion of political and religious authority, in which condition it once again constituted less a rupture with the Christian Roman past than a continuation of one of the major themes of late antiquity, an opportunity, as it were, to do Constantine one better.

Isolated Jewish kingdoms or principalities emerged in various times and places — in Armenia, Chalcis, Cappadocia, Iturea, and Abilene in the first century CE; among vormation Himyarites, in southern Arabia, during the sixth century; or among the Khazars of Central Asia in the eighth — and the Jewish revolts in Palestine in 66 and CE represented a striking amalgamation of political and religious authority.

The Formation of Islam | Jonathan Berkey –

Harper and Row, Cambridge University Press, A second point concerns the universalist character and claims of the religions of late antiquity. The adherents of the religions of late antiquity — or at least those adherents who took their religion seriously — increasingly associated their faith with a truth which applied to all the world, and not just to a particular people or place. Surely one of the features of Christianity which appealed to Constantine and his successors was its universalism, for it allowed the emperor to present himself as the representative or instrument of a God who stood over all of humankind, a God who could reveal to Constantine his sign and commend it to him as the banner under which to carry out his military campaigns.

In a famous passage from his Christian cosmography, an early sixth-century Alexandrian merchant named Cosmas glossed a verse from the Book of Daniel which he took to refer to the rough coincidence of the establishment of the Roman Empire and the birth of Christ. For while Christ was yet in the womb, the Roman empire received its power from God as the servant of the dispensation which Christ introduced, since at that very time the accession was proclaimed of the unending line of the Augusti by whose command a census was made which embraced the whole world.

It is doubtful that Islam began as anything more than the monotheistic religion of the Arabs. Of course it did eventually become universalist; the existence and permanence of a territorially enormous and explicitly Muslim state probably made that transformation inevitable.

The social dimension was equally significant, as merchants crossing inter- national borders cultivated a truly ecumenical outlook. But more importantly, monotheism itself must have contributed to the phenomenon of universalism, since Carolina: Knopf,—7.

Hakluyt Society,70—1.

The belief in a single god, by contrast, can easily become an assertion that that deity can be understood and approached in only one way. And mono- theism, or at least a tendency toward belief in a single god, jonatuan the late antique world, by no means exclusively in its Jewish or Christian form.

Bwrkey various local and national religions, even the colorful and exuberant polytheism of Egypt, were not immune to the force of the monotheistic ideal. From monotheism, it is but a short step to an explicit, and potentially militant, universalism. The example of Judaism in this regard is somewhat problematic, since Jewish monotheism was coupled with the association of Judaism with a particular ethnic group.

Even so, there was a strong formwtion streak in the Judaism of late antiquity. One should not overstress the simplistic contrast be- tween the tolerant polytheism of the classical Mediterranean world and the more repressive berkeg of the monotheistic faiths.

On the other hand, the con- fessional religions of late antiquity were by nature increasingly exclusive: Moses Hadas New York: Bantam, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,52; H. Liverpool University Press,1—24, esp.

Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety: Crossroads,—92, esp. Introduction 9 tradition and the next. This leaves open, furthermore, the analytically separate issue of religious syncretism. Confessions which exclude others are a necessary ingredient of a world of distinct religious identities and of competing faiths. And the world we are investi- gating was, as much as anything else, a world of missionaries, proselytization, and religious competition.


The dominant factor in the religious turmoil of late antiquity was the rise of Christianity, and the competition between Christianity and paganism was largely of Christian manufacture. In what follows we will try to elucidate briefly the identities and parameters of the traditions involved in the religious competition of late antiquity.

University of Uslam Press,5—6. Dodds used the phrase to describe the third century, but it is just as descriptive of the ensuing centuries. Brown, Religion and Society, Jews constituted a significant minority of the population in many Mediterranean towns, and Judaism had an impact on the religious lives of many non-Jews as well.

It was out of Judaism that Christianity first arose, and at least partly through a bitter dispute with beerkey mother faith that the new religion defined itself. As we shall see, the relationship between Judaism and Islam was just as close.

Nor were the older pagan traditions immune from the influence of the first of the major monotheistic faiths. Nonetheless, reconstructing the history of Judaism in the Near East in the centuries before and after the berky of Islam is difficult, given the nature of the surviving historical record; much of the story has to be pieced together from sources hostile to the Jews and their faith. The God of Israel was known throughout the Near Eastern and Mediterranean worlds, thanks to the widespread dispersal of his islzm.

In part their dispersion resulted from the successive deportations of Jews formztion Palestine, under the Assyrians and Babylonians and, in the wake of the Bar Kochba rebellion in the second century CE, the Romans. By the rise of Islam, for example, the Jewish community of Babylonia was well over one thousand years old.

But there was also considerable voluntary migration, especially to flourishing cities such as Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in northern Syria. In the early first century BCE, the Sibylline oracle had commented that Jews could be found throughout the known world, an observation repeated in a somewhat boastful letter of King Herod Agrippa to the Roman emperor Caligula.

Jerusalem, he declared, is the mother city, not of one country Judaea but of most of the others in virtue of the colonies sent out at divers times to the neighbouring lands of Egypt, Phoenicia, Syria, the part of Syria called the Hollow and the rest as well and the lands lying far apart, Pamphylia, Cilicia, most of Asia up to Bithynia and the corners of Pontus, similarly also into Europe, Thessaly, Boeotia, Macedonia, Aetolia, Attica, Argos, Corinth, and most of the best parts of Peloponnese.

And not only are the mainlands full of Jewish colonies but also the most highly esteemed of the islands Euboea, Cyprus and Crete. Jews had settled, of course in Palestine, but also throughout the Graeco-Roman world, as the apostle Paul well knew.

Jonathan Berkey – the formation of islam

One of the most important Jewish communities in nerkey Mediterranean region was found in Egypt. A permanent Jewish presence in Egypt dated back to at least the sixth century BCE, with the establishment of a mercenary garrison on the Elephantine island near modern Aswan. The Jewish community in Egypt was extremely diverse. Many of the Jews berkkey Egypt were, or had as their forebears, soldiers, as the settlement of Jewish military colonies continued throughout the Ptolemaic period.

By the early first century CE, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo estimated the total Jewish population of Egypt at one million; Jews were found in all the major towns, in the Delta, the Thebaid, and the Fayyum. Communities of Formatiion, too, joanthan be found scattered through the country, from the mid-third century BCE through at least the end of the Islamic Middle Period. Above all, Jews were found in Alexandria, the capital of Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt, in which they formed a distinct and self-regulating community.

In light of what came later, it is worth recalling that many Jews participated freely in the religious dialogue and experimentation which characterized the centuries just before and at the start of the Common Era.

Hellenism was a powerful cultural current, one which pulled many Jews into its wake.

Many Jews had become speakers of Greek — hence the need for the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, produced in that most Hellenistic of cities, Alexandria, in the third century BCE. Moreover, the intellectuals among them such as the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo berket in sustained exchange with their pagan colleagues, an exchange through which the Jews sought to explain and justify their traditions and their faith.