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The Death of a Prophet

The End of Muhammad's Life and the Beginnings of Islam

Stephen J. Shoemaker

Publication Year: 2012

"A work of utmost importance, and one that has profound implications for our understanding of how Islam began."--Fred Donner, University of Chicago The oldest Islamic biography of Muhammad, written in the mid-eighth century, relates that the prophet died at Medina in 632, while earlier and more numerous Jewish, Christian, Samaritan, and even Islamic sources indicate that Muhammad survived to lead the conquest of Palestine, beginning in 634-35. Although this discrepancy has been known for several decades, Stephen J. Shoemaker here writes the first systematic study of the various traditions. Using methods and perspectives borrowed from biblical studies, Shoemaker concludes that these reports of Muhammad's leadership during the Palestinian invasion likely preserve an early Islamic tradition that was later revised to meet the needs of a changing Islamic self-identity. Muhammad and his followers appear to have expected the world to end in the immediate future, perhaps even in their own lifetimes, Shoemaker contends. When the eschatological Hour failed to arrive on schedule and continued to be deferred to an ever more distant point, the meaning of Muhammad's message and the faith that he established needed to be fundamentally rethought by his early followers. The larger purpose of The Death of a Prophet exceeds the mere possibility of adjusting the date of Muhammad's death by a few years; far more important to Shoemaker are questions about the manner in which Islamic origins should be studied. The difference in the early sources affords an important opening through which to explore the nature of primitive Islam more broadly. Arguing for greater methodological unity between the study of Christian and Islamic origins, Shoemaker emphasizes the potential value of non-Islamic sources for reconstructing the history of formative Islam. Stephen J. Shoemaker is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oregon and author of Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii

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pp. 1-17

The publication of Patricia Crone and Michael Cook’s controversial study Hagarism in 1977 unquestionably marks a watershed in the study of religious culture in the early medieval Near East, even if its significance has occasionally been underestimated by other specialists in this field.1 In particular, ...

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Chapter 1. “A Prophet Has Appeared, Coming with the Saracens”: Muhammad’s Leadership during the Conquest of Palestine According to Seventh- and Eighth-Century Sources

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pp. 18-72

At least eleven sources from the seventh and eighth centuries indicate in varied fashion that Muhammad was still alive at the time of the Palestinian conquest, leading his followers into the Holy Land some two to three years after he is supposed to have died in Medina according to traditional Islamic accounts. ...

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Chapter 2. The End of Muhammad’s Life in Early Islamic Memory: The Witness of the Sīra Tradition

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pp. 73-117

Any effort to reconstruct the life of Muhammad and the origins of the religious movement that he founded must confront the difficult problem that there are only a handful of Islamic sources from the early period that convey any information regarding his life—or death, for that matter. Particularly troubling ...

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Chapter 3. The Beginnings of Islam and the End of Days: Muhammad as Eschatological Prophet

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pp. 118-196

Insofar as the early sīra traditions preserve a memory of Islamic origins that has been deeply colored, if not completely determined, by the faith and practice of Islam during the eighth and ninth centuries, one must look elsewhere for evidence of what the “historical” Muhammad and his earliest followers ...

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Chapter 4. From Believers to Muslims, from Jerusalem to the Hijāz: Confessional Identity and Sacred Geography in Early Islam

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pp. 197-265

The Hour’s failure to arrive in a timely fashion certainly must have required Muhammad’s early followers to undertake a profound reinterpretation and revision of his original message, much as one similarly finds in the wake of early Christianity’s failed eschatological expectations. Inasmuch as Muhammad ...

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Conclusion: Jesus and Muhammad, the Apostle and the Apostles

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pp. 266-278

The Islamic tradition reports Muhammad’s death at Medina in 632 before the Near Eastern conquests with remarkable consistency, a fact that might appear to inspire some sort of confidence in the historical accuracy of this account. Nevertheless, at present we do not have any evidence that this particular ...


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pp. 279-352


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pp. 353-390


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pp. 391-406


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pp. 407-408

E-ISBN-13: 9780812205138
E-ISBN-10: 0812205138
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812243567
Print-ISBN-10: 0812243560

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion