Muslim Golden Age myth – the shoddiness of modern scholarship

A worthy academic, one of the good ones, whose custom and might I say friendship is greatly appreciated, has mentioned, regarding the Muslim world, as commentary after the four post series, that the Islamic world was more vast and:

more advanced

More advanced than what? Than the Crusading west? And in which century? If the 11th to 15th, then there is a case. If the 7th to 10th, as we’ve seen over the four posts, there is no case.

There really is little evidence of any learning not derived from earlier learning then bastardized, within the 7th to 10th centuries dwelt on in the posts [see Carson in part one]. The Muslims owe a particular debt to Persia but that is Persian, not Muslim.

An example is the neo-Platonism and bastardized Aristotle mentioned in post one, and the only reason they had those was they had taken over key centres of learning in their slaughter and pillaging rampages.

Whilst in the west, there very much was learning going on from the 11th onwards, though evidence for earlier is scant.  Yet we know the texts came down and not from Arabic sources [see posts again], therefore, though there was scant evidence available on the 7th to 11th centuries, it must have been held somewhere, if only for the simple reason it was accessed later.

The evidence for that, as you read, was that the Christian versions of the texts differed from the Arabic or Islamic.

The gentleman himself wrote, quoting one of the sources in the posts:

“Not only in the muslim world, but also in Europe you cannot find archaeological artifacts from say 700 to 800.” There may be a fair bit of truth in that, and for the Dark Ages too.

When we speak of “advanced” and “superior”, on whose say-so do we say so? Modern scholars rely on modern selections of sources, generally accepted sources today such as the charlatan Gibbons, which there is quite a case are revisionist and ignore the totality of evidence, as laid out in the four posts and as gone into below in this comment.

As I wrote in the posts, if modern history books quoting ancient sources are one’s sources, then you will, in terms of those expurgated sources, be correct.  No dispute. The people I quoted in the posts though do not accept the modern orthodoxy, which is leftist and rationalist but more importantly, anti-Christian and pro-Islam. I don’t mean anti-Christian is bad, I mean that it is biased and therefore quite unsafe.

Modern sources are simply wrong, quite wrong in their heavy bias and selectiveness of which evidence they use and how to interpret it – that was the whole basis for the posts.

Let’s get to one specific – take the Library of Alexandria as a good example of this behaviour in academia, which has been going on a long time now. The rationalist Wiki presents it as gospel that:

It [the Library] flourished under the patronage of the Ptolemaic dynasty and functioned as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the 3rd century BC until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC, with collections of works, lecture halls, meeting rooms, and gardens.

Now which modern student is going to question that 30BC insertion?  On what basis would he?  It all looks quite rational, does it not and yet the BC designation is reassuring in itself.

However, it does not give the Coptic defence of their Pope or the Roman defence.  Those people had no comeback. It ignores that view and then states, boldly:

Possible occasions for the partial or complete destruction of the Library of Alexandria include a fire set by Julius Caesar in 48 BC and an attack by Aurelian in the AD 270s.

After the main library was fully destroyed, ancient scholars used a “daughter library” in a temple known as the Serapeum, located in another part of the city.

According to Socrates of Constantinople, Coptic Pope Theophilus destroyed the Serapeum in AD 391, although it’s not certain that it still contained an offshoot of the library then.

Were any scholar today go to Wiki for an overview of the end of the Library of Alexandria – obviously thence through the filter of the histories in libraries, he would not, even then, meet the constant Christian charges that Wiki and indeed libraries themselves have been gone through and key texts expurgated.

As an aside, having been a library assistant decades ago, I know that in our library, references to the Negritos, Carpentarians and Murrayans, the earlier accepted progenitor Aboriginal tribes, were simply removed, they disappeared. That was a political act in the attempt to make all aboriginal tribes part of one mass of indigenous population preceding the whites – it happened during the time of the long Labor Party capture of parliament.

This was the start of the whites-feel-shame, national-apology era.  I saw this actually happening and it was one reason I grew up and rejected this leftist-rationalist tactic.

Here is a different version of the Library of Alexandria, still within Wiki, before actually going to other sources.

In 642 AD, Alexandria was captured by the Muslim army of Amr ibn al `Aas. There are four Arabic sources, all at least 500 years after the supposed events, which mention the fate of the library.

Abd’l Latif of Baghdad (1162–1231) states that the library of Alexandria was destroyed by Amr, by the order of the Caliph Omar.

The story is also found in Al-Qifti (1172–1248), History of Learned Men, from whom Bar Hebraeus copied the story.

The longest version of the story is in the Syriac Christian author Bar-Hebraeus (1226–1286), also known as Abu’l Faraj. He translated extracts from his history, the Chronicum Syriacum into Arabic, and added extra material from Arab sources.

In this Historia Compendiosa Dynastiarum he describes a certain “John Grammaticus” (490–570) asking Amr for the “books in the royal library.” Amr writes to Omar for instructions, and Omar replies: “If those books are in agreement with the Quran, we have no need of them; and if these are opposed to the Quran, destroy them.”

Al-Maqrizi (1364–1442) also mentions the story briefly, while speaking of the Serapeum.

Looking at Abu’l Faraj, even one year ago, many Brits would have been sceptical, particularly as Wiki then tries to play these sources down [further down in quote].  It actually physically intrudes and offers its own weighting of those sources as gospel. However, the Muslim acts in Palmyra have shown the world that these people have scant respect for learning for precisely the reasons mentioned by Abu’l Faraj.

And how prevalent was and is that view?  I’d suggest that the Islamicists base their current views very much on their old revered figures, e.g. Ibn Khaldun.  And I see Khaldun as a major figure for them. There’s no dispute.

Place this:

The Kitāb al-ʻIbār (full title: Kitāb al-ʻIbar wa-Dīwān al-Mubtadaʼ wa-l-Khabar fī Taʼrīkh al-ʻArab wa-l-Barbar wa-Man ʻĀṣarahum min Dhawī ash-Shaʼn al-Akbār “Book of Lessons, Record of Beginnings and Events in the History of the Arabs and the Berbers and Their Powerful Contemporaries”), Ibn Khaldūn’s main work, was originally conceived as a history of the Berbers. Later, the focus was widened so that in its final form (including its own methodology andanthropology), to represent a so-called “universal history”. It is divided into seven books, the first of which, theMuqaddimah, can be considered a separate work. Books two to five cover the history of mankind up to the time of Ibn Khaldūn. Books six and seven cover the history of the Berber peoples and the Maghreb, which remain invaluable to present-day historians, as they are based on Ibn Khaldūn’s personal knowledge of the Berbers.

… next to this:

He who has not seen it does not know the power of Islam.

That’s where this man was coming from and fair dos, why shouldn’t he?  He was there, he had every right to be as strongly Islamic as I am both Christian and a demander of scientific integrity in a rationalist way.

In other words, One can be both Christian and a scientist, it is possible, the two kept separate – one concerning the spiritual basis of Man and the other the physical.  One can be a Christian and accept most of the fossil record, s both should be primarily concerned with turth. And one does not negate the other in itself. But that’s another argument for another day.

Coming back to the Ibn Khaldun, look who comments on  and skews what he actually was:

British historian Arnold J. Toynbee called the Muqaddimah “a philosophy of history which is undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place.”

Toynbee’s not an effing historian, he’s a communist anti-Christian and progenitor of the egregious Polly Toynbee of Guardian infamy – and look at the guff she writes.  He’s in no way an impartial historian of repute but to read Wiki, the sun shines out of his dark place.

I charge that few people today would go this far into it, just over an innocently expressed statement that it war [sic] the Romans or the Coptic Pope to blame, matey twas dem who wrecked the Library.

And remember:

Ibn Khaldūn has left behind few works other than his history of the world, Kitāb al-ʻIbar.

No one’s disputing Ibn Khaldūn’s far reaching history and that it was vital for an understanding of the Islamic world, from an Islamic perspective, just as Gibbons can only be seen as an anti-Christian rationalist and therefore highly suspect as to authenticity outside of his refusal to consider all the evidence.

To make the leap, as Toynbee and others have, that the Kitāb al-ʻIbar is impartial shows he and his mates should be drummed out of academia henceforth.  However, sigh, theirs is the hegemony in academia today.

Now, coming back to those Arabic/Islamic sources about the Library, Wiki then pulls this trick, remembering of course that this matter is still highly in dispute:

The story was still in circulation among Copts in Egypt in the 1920s.

Notice how “history” has been reduced to “story”, legend, an old wives’ tale. Note the use of the word “still”, as if it needed to alter.

And who is qualified to make that downgrading?  The Wiki author?  Just who is he or she? Whatsisname?  There ain’t none, is there? We never know who is boldly stating this as an unassailable Truth, downgrading one version and upgrading the other on his own say-so, placing it as the received wisdom at the top of the Wiki entry.

And Wiki editorship, as anyone knows who’s tried it, is a closed shop – one does not get to write on things like this.

But we blinkin’ well know who the real sources were, don’t we, the only actual sources mentioned on the demise of the Library?  Abd’l Latif of Baghdad, Al-Qifti, Abu’l Faraj and Al-Maqrizi.  Sources which actually stand up.

There’s no archaeological or documentary support for the other view, is there?

Edward Gibbon tells us that many people had credulously believed the story, but “the rational scepticism” of Fr. Eusèbe Renaudot (1713) did not.

Well, he’s dismissable for the reasons stated. Credulously?  Biased or what?

Bernard Lewis has argued that this version, though untrue, was reinforced in mediaeval times by Saladin, who decided to break up the Fatimid caliphate’s collection of heretical Isma’ili texts in Cairo following his restoration of Sunnism to Egypt, and will have judged that the story of the caliph Umar’s support of a library’s destruction would make his own actions seem more acceptable.

Oh that’s rich from a modern revisonist, that is. What a mix of surmise and opinion from the same man who brought us this:

Lewis is known for his views on the Armenian Genocide. He acknowledges that massacres against the Armenians occurred but does not believe it meets the definition of genocide.

Sheesh! Do you see what I mean by unsafe sources? Biased against all evidence? Yet we’re told he’s the “foremost” scholar.

Yeah, who tells us?  Wiki does, written by leftist-rationalists from academia – do you begin to see the incestuous nature of this “history”?  One leftist-rationalist quotes another in a different tome and another quotes him – and the student, being lazy and only having these as sources, blithely accepts that these four islamic sources can be discarded on the grounds that:

1.  Toynbee, Gibbons and Lewis say so and

2. Anyway, those Arabs came “at least 500 years” later, as if that’s some sort of argument against them. When did Toynbee, Gibbons and Lewis write – in the C7th?

And that’s what is so annoying about today’s [since 1776] revisionists – no one explores these people’s bona fides in any serious way.  They’re the one’s quoted, just as with Bloom’s Taxonomy, Dewey and Piaget in education and they are gods in that field.  They cannot be challenged. I challenge effing Toynbee right down the line as a skewed man with a chip on his shoulder and a demonstrable agenda.

Academia accords these bozos celebrity status – add Eric Foner in the States – an academia which has shut out all alternative scholars.  If you detect a note of warmth in this comment, you’d be not wrong.

Butler, A.J., The Arab Conquest of Egypt, is a prime example of the attempt to disparage by careful selection of evidence. He writes:

The case, however, against the existence of the Library in the seventh century, which is the point at issue, is not yet complete. Of course no one supposes that even in the great wars upon books — such as the war made by Diocletian upon Christian books and the war made by Theophilus upon pagan books — all the books in Alexandria perished. Even after the destruction of the great public libraries, there must have been many volumes in private collections, and many in the remoter monastic libraries. The very fact that Alexandrian learning was not extinguished proves the use of books.

From that, he concludes:

Finally, the silence that ails among fifth and sixth century writers reigns also after the conquest. There are no Arab historians of Egypt in the seventh or eighth century; and it might be said that later writers were anxious to suppress the story of the burning of the Library.

But this cannot apply to the Coptic bishop, John of Nikiou, who was a man of learning, and who wrote before the end of the seventh century. The range and the detail of his work prove that he had access to plentiful sources of information fifty years after the conquest.

Abû’l Faraj himself — the author of the charge against the Arabs — proves that Alexandria continued to be frequented by students about the year 680 A.D.: for he represents James of Edessa as going to Alexandria to complete his education after receiving a thorough instruction in the Greek language and in the Scriptures at a Syrian Convent. This evidence warrants the assertion that some private and monastic libraries continued after, as before, the conquest.

So Faraj is fine on that but not for the bits the left-rationalists disagree with?  One preface to Butler finally states:

The conclusion of the whole matter can be no longer doubtful. The suspicion of Renaudot and the scepticism of Gibbon are more than justified. One must pronounce that Abû ‘l Faraj’s story is a mere fable, totally destitute of historical foundation.

Eh? What an amazingly rash conclusion, how biased, how agenda-ridden. About the only thing Butler does establish was that there certainly was destruction by the Romans and the Coptic Pope but that the texts still had to have existed after that, for the simple reason they’ve come down. He puts these texts in monasteries and in private hands but this in itself is an argument for the retention by Christians and/or Europeans of learning, which was the argument of JD Carson.

And there were four sources, not one – Abd’l Latif of Baghdad (1162–1231), Al-Qifti (1172–1248), History of Learned Men, Abu’l Faraj and Al-Maqrizi (1364–1442).

Presson Chesser, of OSU.ED online, wrote in a similar way:

The final individual to get blamed for the destruction is the Moslem Caliph Omar. In 640 AD the Moslems took the city of Alexandria. Upon learning of “a great library containing all the knowledge of the world” the conquering general supposedly asked Caliph Omar for instructions. The Caliph has been quoted as saying of the Library’s holdings, “they will either contradict the Koran, in which case they are heresy, or they will agree with it, so they are superfluous.”

The whole tone of his comment is a priori acceptance that the Muslims were blameless.  Why?  Why are these people trying to exonerate the Muslims?  Chesser himself repeats the exact argument why they were down for destruction.  We’ve already accepted before the series of four posts that the Muslims did preserve many selected texts and skewed them to support an Islamist world view – Carson was on about that.

However, there was ample evidence that far from this guff that the Muslims were deeply respectful of literature and culture and would never have done such a thing:

651AD According to an account in Al-Tabari, the Arab Commander Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas wrote to Caliph `Umar ibn al-Khatta-b about what should be done with the books of the Royal Library at the Persian capital of Ctesiphon in the province of Khvârvarân (today known as Iraq). Umar wrote back: “If the books contradict the Qur’an, they are blasphemous. On the other hand, if they are in agreement, they are not needed.” All the books were thrown into the Euphrates.

1140AD Following the sack of the Italian city of Otranto in July, 70 ships of the Muslim fleet attacked Vieste. On September 12 the Monastero di San Nicholas di Casole, which housed one of the richest libraries of Europe, was destroyed.

1193AD The Nalanda University complex in India, including its nine-storey library, was sacked by Turkic Muslim invaders under Bakhtiyar Khilji; this event is seen as a milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India. It is said that Khilji asked if there was a copy of the Koran at Nalanda before he put the library to the torch.

12thC Saladin breaks up the Fatimid caliphate’s collection of heretical Isma’ili texts in Cairo following his restoration of Sunnism to Egypt.

1480 On July 28 an Ottoman fleet of between 70 and 200 ships arrived near the Neapolitan/Aragonese city of Otranto, in what is now the region Apulia, Italy. Possibly these troops came from siege of Rhodes. On July 29 the garrison and the citizens retreated to the citadel, the Castle of Otranto. The citadel had no cannons. On 11 August the citadel walls were breached by cannons. The garrison was killed.

A razzia was held to round up the male citizens. Archbishop Stefano Agricoli and others were killed in the cathedral. Bishop Stephen Pendinelli and the garrison commander, count Francesco Largo, were sawn in two alive.

On August 12 800 citizens who refused to convert to Islam were taken to the Hill of the Minerva, today called Hill of the Martyrdoms, and beheaded. The cathedral was used as a stable. Some citizens were transported to Albania as slaves.

In August 70 ships of the fleet attacked Vieste. On September 12 the Monastero di San Nicholas di Casole, which accommodated one of the richer libraries of Europe, was destroyed. In October 1480 Lecce, Taranto and Brindisi were attacked.

There are your Muslims for you.  And they are precisely the same today. Lewis himself concedes:

Myths come into existence to answer a question or to serve a purpose, and one may wonder what purpose was served by this myth. An answer sometimes given, and certainly in accord with a currently popular school of epistemology, would see the story as anti-Islamic propaganda, designed by hostile elements to blacken the good name of Islam by showing the revered Caliph ‘Umar as a destroyer of libraries. But this explanation is as absurd as the myth itself. The original sources of the story are Muslim, the only exception being Barhebraeus, who copied it from a Muslim author.

… but then goes on to conclude that European authors themselves exonerate Umar.  This is the sort of logic we’re dealing with.  MA Khan [ed] wrote:

Isya Joseph did a thorough investigation of Bar Hebraeus and his role in the narrations about the Alexandria Library destruction by Amr Ibn Al-As on the command of Omar. His research was published in 1911 in The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literature (Volume 27). Here is a link to his research.

The reader is advised to read pages 335-8. According to Isya Joseph, Bar Hebraeus says that Yahya, a Coptic philosopher, petitioned Amr Ibn Al-As to restore the royal library (Alexandria Library). Amr referred the matter to Omar. Omar ordered him to destroy the library on grounds that if what is in the library agrees with the contents of the Qur’an, then it is redundant. And, if the contents of the library do not agree with the Qur’an, then such contents are heretic.

In either case, the destruction of the library was necessary as Omar viewed it. Those of us who studied the personality of Khalif Omar “Al-Farooq” are not surprised at all by the story above. It fits Omar’s personality to expect such a reaction from him.

In any case, let us go back to Isya Joseph’s research. According to him, Bar Hebraeus’ writings date back to 1663. He is considered an authoritative source. However, modern scholars, Bernard Lewis being one of them, discredited his writings as a Christian effort to scandalize Islam and Muslims.

The assumption behind this is that no Muslim mentioned about Omar’s destruction of the Alexandria Library before Hebraeus. This latter assumption is actually mistaken. There are at least two independent sources that validate Hebraeus’s story. First, Abd-Al-Latif of Baghdad visited Egypt in the latter part of the sixth century AH (Islamic Calendar). He mentions that a library, which was in Alexandria, was burned by Umru ibn al-As in compliance to Omar’s orders. Second, Jamal Ad-din Al-Kufti, who was born in Kuft in upper Egypt in 565 AH, and died in 646, informs us that the library was burned by Umru Ibn Al-As (p. 335 in above link).

The author [ed] is an apostate Muslim. He writes of another exonerator of the Muslims in Phillip K Hitti:

[He denies Omar’s destruction of the library] on the grounds that the Library of Alexandria could not have existed because it was destroyed during the invasion of Julius Caesar in 48 BC.

But, according to Theodore Vrettos (Alexandria, City of the Western Mind , The Free Press, New York, 2001, p. 93-94):

“Caesar’s soldiers set fire to the Egyptian ships, and the flames, spreading rapidly in the driving wind, consumed most of the dockyard, many structures near the palace, and also several thousand books that were housed in one of the buildings. From this incident, historians mistakenly assumed that the Great Library of Alexandria had been destroyed, but the Library was nowhere near the docks.

Some 40,000 book scrolls were destroyed in the fire, which were not at all connected with the Great Library; they were account books and ledgers containing records of Alexandria’s export goods bound for Rome and other cities throughout the world.”

It is therefore unsafe to accept Butler and Lewis at face value because they would surely have known this and yet did not stress it in their works.  this is at best shoddy scholarship.

Khan goes on that it’s not as if the Muslims don’t have form in this area, which flatly contradicts Butler [and Gibbons]:

The Library of Alexandria aside, we know other instances like burning the library in Nalanda by Bakhtyar Khilji, in Egypt by Saladin, and also libraries in Syria, Persia, Spain.

We saw that form in Palmyra.  We get a lot of rhetoric from the left-rationalists but from the side that does sheet it home to the Muslims, we get Muslim sources.

Bededotorg mentions a Pagan source who was vehemently anti-Christian and anti-Theophilus:

The pagan writer Eunapius of Antioch – Lives of the Philosophers – died after 400AD, included an account of the sack of the Serapeum in his Life of Antonius who, before he died in 390AD, had prophesied that all the pagan temples in Alexandria would be destroyed (not a desperately surprising contingency at the time). Eunapius wants to show how right he was.

As well as being a pagan, Eunapius is vehemently anti-Christian and spares no effort in making Theophilus and his followers look as foolish as possible. His narrative is laced with venom and sarcasm as he describes the sack of the temple as a battle without an enemy. If a great library had been destroyed then Eunapius, the pagan scholar, would surely have mentioned it. He does not.

Butler and Lewis do not go into his silence, they only go into the silence of those saying the opposite, that no one spoke of the existence of a library.

Socrates (died after 450AD) also wrote a History of the Church that continued on from that of Eusebius. His was more detailed and in Greek rather than Latin. It contains a chapter about the destruction of the Serapeum which acknowledges that the deed was ordered by the Emperor, that the building was demolished and that it was later converted to a church.

Again, no mention is made of any books that might have been in the Serapeum or what could have happened to them. His passage about the cross-shaped hieroglyphics found in the temple gives us some idea of how Christianity turned various pagan symbols to its advantage.

To be evenhanded, Paulus Orosius [died after AD420] wrote:

[T]here exist in temples book chests which we ourselves have seen and when these temples were plundered these, we are told, were emptied by our own men in our own time.” His statement that there was no other major library in Alexandria at the time of Caesar’s expedition is interesting and would seem to count against there being a Serapeum library at that time.

He does not specify which library.  And now to a critical point which puts it all in perspective:

The story that Theophilus destroyed a library is clearly a fiction that we can very precisely lay at the door of Edward Gibbon. It is in his monumental Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that we first find the allegation made. Gibbon seems mainly concerned to clear the Arabs of the responsibility of destroying the library and allows his marked anti-Christian prejudice to cloud his better judgement.

His excellent footnotes show he had exactly the same sources as we do but drew the wrong conclusions.  The story has recently been popularised by Carl Sagan who includes it in Cosmos.  He spices the story up with a role for the murdered philosopher Hypatia, even though there is no evidence connecting her to the library at all.

“We” here means Bededotcom, which is obviously Christian.

What we have here, finally dear reader, is an impossibility.  One must discount anything Gibbons wrote, anything Lewis or Butler wrote, even what I write on this matter, what Dearieme writes on it. We can ONLY look at original sources, in their totality – you get some sort of idea what a task that would be.

We have to discount the fame of left-rationalist lions and rely ONLY on sources from all sides.  In the impasse, all we have left are those four Muslim sources as a working model, certainly not what gibbons, Lewis and butler claim. We have here a straight argument along political lines. The diametrically opposite conclusions on the same source material, as mentioned in the previous quote, is quite indicative.

Oh and by the way, Ibn Khaldun himself told that Omar made a similar order about Persian books.