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Founding Gods, Inventing NationsConquest and Culture Myths from Antiquity to Islam$
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William F. McCants

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780691151489

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691151489.001.0001

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The Beneficent Sky God: Cultural History in the Qur’an

The Beneficent Sky God: Cultural History in the Qur’an

(p.29) Two The Beneficent Sky God: Cultural History in the Qur’an
Founding Gods, Inventing Nations

William F. McCants

Princeton University Press

This chapter considers the Qur'an's interpretation of the origins of civilization. When the Arabs conquered the Near East, they shared with their subjects (mainly Jews and Christians) the notion that civilization had arisen as a consequence of Adam's fall. But in contrast to the Hebrew Bible, the Qur'an portrays the rise of civilization positively and makes God its prime mover, much like the gods of ancient Near Eastern myths. There are at least two reasons for this difference. First, Muhammad draws on noncanonical biblical scripture and storytelling that link God, angels, and chosen human interlocutors to the development of beneficial arts and sciences. Second, Muhammad draws on some version of these texts (perhaps oral) to prove his argument that God is the source of all civilization, an argument influenced by late-antique thought on divine providence. He makes this argument to justify either proselytizing among or conquest of non-Muslims, who have forgotten the source of civilization and thus deserve to lose it.

Keywords:   civilization, Qur'an, Islam, Muhammad

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