Stephen J. Shoemaker

 

On his book The Death of a Prophet: The End of Muhammad's Life and the Beginnings of Islam

Cover Interview of April 24, 2012

A close-up

The introduction will give readers the best overview of the issues and questions that the book engages, as well as its broader intellectual context.  Nevertheless, I attempted to write the book so that each of its four chapters could be read largely on its own.

For some readers the most interesting material may be in the third chapter, which deals with the question of imminent eschatology in earliest Islam, that is, belief that the end of the world was very near at hand.  This topic raises fundamental questions about the nature of primitive Islam and its religious outlook and invites considerable suspicion regarding the traditional narratives of Islamic origins.  It also challenges widely held contemporary views of Muhammad as primarily a social and economic reformer or the architect of a pan-Arab “nationalist” or “nativist” movement.  Moreover, this investigation of early Islamic beliefs about the end of the world proceeds in a methodologically comparative fashion, drawing comparisons to study of the historical Jesus and primitive Christianity.  This chapter thus will especially interest readers with expertise and interest in biblical studies or the comparative study of religion.