A few days ago I watched Islam: The Untold Story, which was based on Tom Holland’s book In the Shadow of the Sword. I read the book recently – following the review in the Oak Hill magazine – and really enjoyed it, so I was happy to see a TV adaptation. If you haven’t seen it – or read the book – I would recommend it: it gives an insight into the earlier years of Islam, some of which are quite striking. One message that seemed to come across is that there’s no real evidence as to who wrote the Quran. There are traditions that developed subsequently, but there are none in actual written form. It’s a similar story with Mecca: no-one knows where Mohammed was from, much of what is known about the Prophet is actually later tradition.
All this put into sharp relief the Christian story. Recently I’ve been reading Tom Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, which I’ve had for a couple of years but never found the time to actually read it until now (it’s 738 pages of quite dense prose).
To my mind, the contrasts are stark. Tom Holland hints at this in his book, but in the Bible the history is an integral part of the book: it namechecks contemporary kings, lands, peoples, towns: in short, you can quite easily test it against other forms of history. One thing which struck me about visiting the British Museum earlier this year was how much of the Old Testament is actually confirmed by archaeological evidence.
But the New Testament is perhaps even more conclusive: what Tom Wright does in The Resurrection is construct a thorough and – to my mind – sound argument for the historical veracity of the resurrection. He examines the context of thought about the resurrection in the ancient Greek world, as well as the spectrum of thought in second-temple Judaism; he examines the epistles, the gospel narratives, the resurrection narratives – in short, it seemed to me he left no stone unturned.
Essentially he argues that no earthly event could have caused what we have in the New Testament to come about, it could only have been the resurrection as it is described. (That does absolutely no justice at all to his argument; someone has put up a summarised version of the book here which might help).
I don’t want to dwell too much on the book, but it did make me consider the contrast between Christianity and Islam from a historical perspective: it seems that there are sound historical reasons for believing in the Bible. With Islam, it seems the picture is a bit more murky.