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Muḥammad as an Episcopal Figure

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The Medinan stratum of the Qurʾān ascribes to Muḥammad a noticeably elevated status and a far wider range of functions than the earlier Meccan layer. Although this shift may well have responded to, and been facilitated by, historical circumstances, it is nonetheless appropriate to inquire whether specific aspects of it might be drawing on pre-Qurʾānic precedents. I argue that the Christian episcopate, arguably the most widespread type of urban religious leadership in late antiquity, yields a surprising number of close overlaps with the Medinan presentation of the function and authority of Muḥammad. In tandem with this assessment, however, the article also considers important differences between the figure of Muḥammad and that of the Christian bishop. The most important such divergence consists in the fact that the Qurʾānic Messenger, unlike a Christian bishop, does not owe his authority to ordination by an ecclesiastical hierarchy: Muḥammad does not occupy an office that imparts authority independently of the person occupying it.Le substrat médinois du Coran attribue à Muḥammad un statut particulièrement élevé et un éventail de fonctions bien plus large que la période mecquoise. Bien que ce changement ait pu répondre et être facilité par des circonstances historiques, il est néanmoins approprié de se demander si des aspects spécifiques de celui-ci pourraient s’appuyer sur des précédents pré-coraniques. Je soutiens que l’épiscopat chrétien, sans doute le type de direction religieuse citadine le plus répandu dans l’Antiquité tardive, donne un nombre surprenant d’étroites coïncidences avec la présentation de la fonction et de l’autorité de Muḥammad à Médine. Cependant, parallèlement à cette appréciation, l’article relève également d’importantes différences entre la figure de Muḥammad et celle de l’évêque chrétien. La plus importante distinction réside dans le fait que le messager coranique, contrairement à un évêque chrétien, ne doit pas son autorité à une ordination par une hiérarchie ecclésiastique : Muḥammad n’occupe pas un office qui confère une autorité indépendamment de la personne qui l’occupe.This article is in English.

Affiliations: 1: University of Oxford


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