Was Muhammad the Promised Prophet?

A Christian friend recently asked me if it’s true that Muhammad was predicted in Deuteronomy 18:18 as Muslims claim. Several Christian apologists like John Gilchrist, Sam Shamoun etc. have done a good job in refuting the “Muhammad in the Bible” fantasies. This is one of the claims that illustrate the shallow and inconsistent arguments Muslims resort to in a bid to “prove” that Muhammad is a prophet of God.

On one hand, they tell us that the Bible is “corrupt” and false, but when they are cornered with evidence against Muhammad, they start to appeal to the authority and credibility of the Bible to validate their guru. It’s a cognitive dissonance that is quite amusing and at the same time, sad.

In Deut. 18:18, God says to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.”

Because this promised Prophet would be like Moses, some Muslims have tried to link Muhammad with Moses by pointing at some “similarities” – none of which confers any prophetic identity. The Bible indicates 3 unique features that distinguish Moses as Israel’s first prophet:

1. He was the mediator of a covenant. When God manifested Himself to the children of Israel, He promised to send them a prophet like Moses “as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly” (Dt. 18:16).

Moses mediated the old covenant between God and the Israelites. Through him, God gave the Israelites His law and requirements. As a token of this covenant, Moses sprinkled blood of calves on the people (Heb. 9:20). But Muhammad was no mediator of any covenant.

2. Moses knew God face-to-face. He had such a unique relationship with God that for 40 years, God manifested and frequently spoke directly to him in a way that He didn’t do with others (Exo. 33:11). The Quran confirms this in Sura 4:164 “And to Moses Allah spoke directly.” Allah didn’t speak to Muhammad face-to-face.

3. Moses performed great signs and wonders. God used him to bring plagues on Egypt, divide the Red Sea, bring manna from heaven and water from a rock. On the other hand, Muhammad had no miracle or sign. Even when his critics demanded for some, he admitted he couldn’t work any miracle. Certainly, Muhammad wasn’t the promised prophet.

Like a drowning man – whether by hook or by crook – Muslims latch on to the phrase “from among your brothers” in Deut. 18:18 arguing that Arabs are the brothers of Israelites, so the promised prophet must be an Arab and was Muhammad. This claim doesn’t hold water.

Looking at the whole of Deuteronomy we see that the term “among their brothers” was exclusively used for only the tribes of Israel. In Dt. 18:2, it was used for the Levites and other tribes in Israel. In each instance the term “their brothers” occurs in the Old Testament, it always refers to the tribes of Israelites, not to non-Israelites:

“… The LORD your God has given you this land to take possession of it. But all your able-bodied men, armed for battle, must cross ahead of your BROTHER Israelites” (Dt. 3:18)

“If there is a poor man AMONG YOUR BROTHERS in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted… (Dt. 15:7)

“Be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from AMONG YOUR BROTHERS. Do not place a foreigner over you, one WHO IS NOT A BROTHER Israelite” (Dt. 17:15)

“Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is A BROTHER ISRAELITE or an alien living in one of your towns” (Dt. 24:14)

Some may argue that Isaac and Ishmael were half-brothers. But no valid connection exists between Ishmael and Muhammad or even the southern Arabs. In fact, no prophet was to be expected from the lineage of Ishmael because God’s covenant was with Isaac. Even the Quran agrees that prophethood was to come from the Israelites:

“And We gave to Him Isaac and Jacob and placed in his descendants prophethood and scripture…” (29:27).

Therefore, the promised Prophet was to come out of Israel and He is Jesus Christ. He is the “Prophet” (Mt. 13:57) and “the Son of the God” (Jn. 10:36). Like Moses:

1. He is the Mediator of a covenant. Through Him, God instituted a new covenant replacing that of Moses (Jer. 31:31-34). Under this new covenant, His laws would be written on His people’s hearts. This covenant was effected through blood (1 Cor. 11:25).

2. Jesus knew God face-to-face. He declared this in John 7:29 and 6:46.

3. Jesus performed great miracles. Like Moses, He also exercised power over the sea (Mk. 4:39).

Muhammad deceived his followers to believe that he was mentioned as God’s prophet in the Bible. This is why today Muslims are forced to jump through different hoops to “find” him within its pages. Let’s examine these two claims in the Quran:

Those who follow the Apostle, the unlettered Prophet whom they (Israelites) will find mentioned in their own (Scriptures) – in the Law and the Gospel – for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil … He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them…” (Q 7:157)

This statement was attributed to Moses. One, there’s no way the Israelites could have known of any prophecy of an apostle of Allah to come within the pages of the Gospel when the Gospel had not yet been revealed in their time. The gospel was penned by Jesus’ apostles – and the Judaists didn’t believe the gospel – so how could Allah be telling them of a book that didn’t exist until 1,500 years later? Two, if Muhammad was unlettered or illiterate (as Muslims claim) how could he have certainly known that his coming was predicted in the Law and Gospel?

Three, Moses says the coming prophet would uphold justice, fairness and free the Jews from their yokes, but Muhammad was a great enemy to the Jews. He hated them; cursed them; enslaved them, assaulted them and unjustly murdered hundreds of them in one single day. Ibn Umar reported Muhammad as saying:

“You will fight against the Jews and you will kill them until even a stone would say ‘Muslim, there is a Jew (hiding himself behind me), kill him’.” (Muslim 7:41:6981)

Are we to believe that God who called Israel “the apple of [His] eye” (Zech. 2:8) and loved them “with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3) would then send them an apostle “like Moses” to rape, oppress, banish and slaughter them? Far from it!

In the second claim, Jesus allegedly says:

O children of Israel! I am the Messenger of Allah unto you, confirming the Taurat (Torah) which came before me, and giving glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad. they said: this is obvious sorcery!” (Q 61:6).

This statement lacks an eye witness account and like many fictional speeches Muhammad imputed onto Bible characters, it is invalid. Here was a man who lived for 40 years as a good ol’ pagan, going on caravan journeys, sitting around night fires with Jewish, Christian and Sabean traders listening to their stories and … boom, he wakes up one day to realize that his name is “Ahmad” announced as Jesus’ successor in the Gospels! Megalomania much?

Maybe, Muhammad forgot he had earlier recited that prophethood was reserved for the Israelites: “And We [Allah] did certainly give the Children of Israel the Scripture and judgement and prophethood, and We provided them with good things…” (Q 45:16)

The textual validity of Sura 61:6 is also questionable. The manuscript of Ubayy Ibn Ka’ab (one of the 4 earliest memorisers of the Quran), though destroyed by Uthman, survives in quotations and it reads differently from the common version:

“O Children of Israel! I am the messenger of God to you And I announce to you a prophet (nabiy) whose community (umma) will be the last community and by which God will put a seal on prophets (nabiyun) and messengers (rusul), they said: this is obvious sorcery!”

The part appearing in bold says nothing about an “Ahmad” promised by Jesus. It was obviously a later interpolation. Both variants may have been smuggled into the text to support an agenda. Irrespective of the cheap labours of Muslim apologists to legitimise Muhammad from the Bible, in the light of evidence, they have no ground to stand on.

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Mithras, Zeus and Jesus Christ

One of the arguments used by anti-Christians to discredit the historicity of Christ, His atonement for sin and Christianity as a whole is that Jesus was “modelled” after older pagan deities like the Roman Mithras or the Greek Zeus. One of them quotes Gerald Berry’s Religions of the World, saying:

Both Mithras and Christ were described as ‘the Way, ‘the Truth,’ ‘the Light,’ ‘the Life,’ ‘the Word,’ ‘the Son of God,’ ‘the Good Shepherd.’ The Christian litany to Jesus could easily be an allegorical litany to the sun-god. Mithras is often represented as carrying a lamb on his shoulders, just as Jesus is. Midnight services were found in both religions. The virgin mother… was easily merged with the virgin mother Mary. Petra, the sacred rock of Mithraism, became Peter, the foundation of the Christian Church.

These critics also allege that Mithras was born on December 25; visited by shepherds at birth; had 12 apostles, instituted a last supper and died for humanity – all of which the New Testament adopted for Jesus.

First, we all need to understand the historical setting of the Roman Empire where Christianity and Mithraism thrived. The early church consistently refused to integrate with the surrounding syncretic religions. This was why for 3 centuries, Christianity was despised and persecuted. In first century Roman Empire, 4 major classes of religions were embraced:

Nature religions – revolving around belief in supernatural power in natural things and worship of trees, sun, moon, rivers, stones and deities in charge of them e,g Greek paganism.

State religion – the Emperors were believed to be gods and accorded divine honours. Festivals were held in their honour and sacrifices offered to their images for the unity of the Empire.

Mystery religions Рsecret societies or cults that claim to help people out of difficult life situations and provide a bridge to the afterlife. They had certain ceremonial acts such as water rites, ritual meals, blood sacrifices which were kept secret to non-initiates e.g Mithraism, Eleusinian mysteries, Bacchanalian mysteries, mysteries of Isis.

Judaism – the early Romans couldn’t initially distinguish Jews who practiced Judaism from Christian Jews. In Acts 18:12-17, Gallio the Roman governor, dismissed Paul’s case as a dispute within the sects of Judaism. But as unbelieving Jews increasingly opposed Christianity, the heathen also joined them [1]

What impressed the pagan world of the new faith of Christianity was not the familiarity, but the difference. They considered Christianity a “strange religion;” an illegal religion (religio illicita) and this led to the murder of many Christians. If Jesus was a myth and if Christianity was an offspring of paganism, the disciples and early Christians wouldn’t have laid down their lives instead of giving it up.

Mithraism, however, was a mystery religion practiced between 1st-4th century A.D. The religion had its roots in the Hindu Vedas. It developed in Persia about 500 years before Christ and further developed in Zoroaster’s (Zarathustra) movement about 200 years before Christ. Mithraism reached its peak in third century Rome, during the same period Christianity was rapidly growing.

Those who claim Mithras was a prototype of Christ assume that Mithra worship was a cohesive, monolithic religion, but this is not so. “The god is unique in being worshipped in four distinct religions: Hinduism (as Mitra), in Iranian Zoroastrianism and Manicheanism (as Mithra), and in the Roman Empire (as Mithras).” [2]

Not only were there variations in name, each religion’s beliefs about Mithra also differed. The Persian cult differs markedly from the Roman one. The Roman Mithras is said to have slain a bull but there is no evidence that the Persian Mithra ever had anything to do with killing a bull. Some writers agree that the bull-slaying Mithras must have been a god worshipped in the 1st century BC to whom an old name was applied. [3] This eliminates the possibility of modelling Christ after Mithras.

Many critics also ignorantly conflate Mithra with Sol when they identify him as the sun god. Various artworks depict Mithras dining with Sol, Mithras ascending behind Sol in the latter’s chariot, both deities shaking hands and at an altar with pieces of meat on a spit. One artwork shows Sol kneeling before Mithras who hold an object resembling a bull’s haunch. [4] This difference is crucial because the birthday of Sol Invictus was December 25, but not that of Mithras. Amongst Roman mystery cults, Mithraism had no “public” face; its ceremonies were confined only to the initiates. The festival of Sol Invictus on December 25 wasn’t specific to Mithraism. [5]

Mithras wasn’t born of a virgin like Jesus. He was said to have been miraculously born from a rock and there are different accounts of this. One said he leaped out of the rock as a child, another says as a youth, another says as flames and another as thunderbolt. But there is no¬†account of Mithras born by a virgin mother.

The claims of Mithras visited by shepherds at birth or having 12 apostles lacks documented evidence. This is simply a cheap attempt to “christianize” the myths of Mithras and create a false parallel with Christ. A scholar admits: “We possess virtually no theological statements either by Mithraists themselves or by other writers.” [6]

The alleged salvific death of Mithra is based on an inscription that says “and you have saved us … in the shed blood.” But no written narrative or theology from Mithraism survives and limited information can be derived from these inscriptions. “However, in the absence of any ancient explanations of its meaning, Mithra’s iconography has proven to be exceptionally difficult to decipher.” [7] According to Robert Turcan, Mithraic salvation had little to do with the other worldly destiny of individual souls, but was based on the Zoroastrian pattern of man’s participation in the cosmic struggle of the good creation against the forces of evil. That is far from what the New Testament teaches.

The so-called “last supper” by Mithras is a fanciful deduction from the ritual meal Mithraists observed. Modern critics, deploying a twisted logic, assume that since Mithraism had such ritual meals and it supposedly was older, Christianity must have stolen the idea from them! This hypothesis falls flat on its face. Most of the textual evidence for Mithraist doctrine was written after the New Testament was widely circulated.

There is even possibility that Mithraism adopted the communion rite from Christianity, because they had no concept of death and resurrection of their god. Justin Martyr, in his First Apology (chapter 66) accused the Mithraists of diabolically imitating the Christian communion. David Ulansey therefore concludes:

“Owing to the cult’s secrecy, we possess almost no literary evidence about the beliefs of Mithraism. The few texts that do refer to the cult come not from Mithraic devotees themselves, but rather from outsiders such as early Church fathers, who mentioned Mithraism in order to attack it, and Platonic philosophers, who attempted to find support in Mithraic symbolism for their own philosophical ideas. [8]

In light of the post-Christian origins of the mysteries of Mithras, Dr. Edwin Yamauchi states “Those who seek to adduce Mithra as a prototype of the risen Christ ignore the late date for the expansion of Mithraism to the west” [9]

Zeus and Jesus

Some uninformed critics and misguided Christian assert Jesus was modelled after Zeus by some crypto-pagans in the early church who stripped Christianity of its Hebrew roots and changed the Saviour’s name into a pagan god’s to merge it with paganism. A. B. Triana wrote in Origins of Christianity:

They (the Graeco-Roman World) had worshiped Zeus as the supreme deity. Their savior was Zeus, so now they were ready to accept Jehoshua as Jesus – Ieosus, meaning hail Zeus. Now our translated scriptures say that Jahwah’s (Jehovah’s) Son’s name is Jesus, which is a compound word made up of Ie and Zeus (Hail Zeus)

Proponents of this bizarre conspiracy theory (mostly Hebrew Roots adherents) are not only bereft of proofs, they are also stumped by their own imaginations. They teach that anyone who uses the name of Jesus instead of His Hebrew name Yahshua is worshipping a false god and not saved. In fact, the Hebrew name of Jesus is Yeshua, a form of the name Joshua and both mean the same: “Yahweh is salvation.”

The similarity in pronunciation between Ieosus and Zeus doesn’t imply a borrowing of one from the other. To suggest that the name Bruno was derived from Juno is a phonetic fallacy. The Greek word for “hail” is xaipe or xaipete and it’s not a constituent of the Greek name Ieosus, so the “hail Zeus” accusation is hinged on wholesale ignorance.

Ieosus is the Greek name of Christ and that was the language in which the NT was written. First century works of Jewish historian, Josephus Flavius – written in Koine Greek – refer to at least 20 different people with the name Jesus (i.e Ieosus). [10] The Hebrew name of Jesus is not “too sacred” to be transliterated into another language neither does its translation change its meaning. God’s name is not limited by human language.

The name of Jesus given in Matthew 1:21 is the one by which men shall be saved from their sins. This name carries the same power and authority whether as Iesus (Latin), Yasu (Arabic) or Jesu (Yoruba). The name “Jesus” is the Anglicized form of Ieosus or Yeshua and it has nothing to do with Zeus. No informed person with a modicum of intellectual honesty would claim Jesus is a copy of Zeus. His infancy narrative alone has varying accounts. One version says he was raised by Gaia, another says by a goat named Amalthea, another says by a nymph Adamanthea, another says a nymph named Cynosura, yet another says by a shepherd family.

Some critics have also attempted to forge a link between Christ and Dionysus, the Greek god of grape, wine, ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy. The mysteries of Dionysus was known as a ‘cult of souls’ in which priests forged necromantic links with the dead. But the Lord Jesus “has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10).

Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets of the Old Testament. He has no link to any ancient pagan deity neither was Christianity built on the foundation of myths artfully spurn by pagans.

Notes

1. Titilayo Dipe, History and Doctrines of the Early Church, University of Ibadan Press, 1992, 2-4.

2. John Hinnells, Studies in Mithraism, Rome, 1990, 11.

3. David Ulansey, Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, Oxford Univ. Press, 1991, 8.

4. Roger Beck, Mithraism, 2004, 287-287.

5. Walter Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults, Harvard Univ., 1987, 10.

6. Clauss Manfred, The Roman Cult of Mithras: The God and his Mysteries, xxi.

7. David Ulansey, p 8.

8. David Ulansey, The Cosmic Mysteries of Mithras.

9. M. J. Vermaseren, Mithras, The Secret God, 1963, 76.

10. Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition, Baker pub., 2007, 129.