30 May 2009
Unless they study comparative religion, most Christians are unaware that Jesus and Mary feature in Islam. They may also assume that Christians have always believed in the theology of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism: belief in the Trinity and salvation by the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. All of these assumptions are incorrect.
The book starts with a historical account of Jesus and the early Christians. It discusses the relationship of St Paul with the disciples and the radical changes that St Paul made to the practices taught by Jesus. It then covers the theological disagreements between early Christians and how belief developed that a place in heaven came from redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus and not from living a good life in accordance with the laws of God as taught by Moses, the other prophets and Jesus. The book explains how the arguments between the early Christians were resolved through the exercise of state power by the Roman Empire at the Council of Nicaea. It also covers how the text of the New Testament was decided and two books excluded from it, The Gospel of Barnabas and The Shepherd of Hermas.
Although well worth reading, the book could be improved. In this 1996 edition, Ahmad Thomson adds to the original written 1977 text of Muhammad ‘Ata’ur-Rahim. However the early part of the book contains some imperfect English, presumably because ‘Ata’ur-Rahim was not a native English speaker. There is extensive coverage of the history of Unitarianism in the middle of the second millennium which is interesting to read but not relevant to the title of the book. There is also no need to reprint verbatim all of the verses in the Quran which mention Jesus since they are readily available elsewhere. Instead the book should concentrate on the key Islamic messages and provide the Quranic authority for them; the same applies to the chapter on Hadith which mention Jesus. Overall, it would be a much better book if the length was reduced to about 50%-75% of the current version by rigorous editing.