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that name) does not recognise a state of existence differing
from the present. The pivot on which the entire system of
Mosaic legislation turns consists of tangible earthly rewards and
punishments. 1 The vitality of the laws is confined within a
very small compass. The doctrine of a resurrection, with the
ideas arising from it, which appears in later Judaism, — especially
in the writings of Daniel and Ezekiel, — is evidently a fruit of
foreign growth derived from Zoroastrian sources. Even the
descriptions of Sheol, the common sojourn of departed beings,
equally of the just and unjust, which appear in comparatively
early writings, do not seem of true Hebraic origin. In Sheol
man can no longer praise God or remember His loving-kindness. 2
It is a shadow-realm, a Jewish counterpart of the heathen
Hades, in which the souls lead a sad, lethargic, comfortless
existence ; knowing nothing of those who were dear to them
on earth, mourning only over their own condition. 3

But later Judaism is full of the strongest faith in a future
life. Tradition revels in the descriptions of the abodes of bliss,
or of the horrors of the damned. 4 Zoroastrianism thus acted
on the Hebraic race in a double way. It not only developed
in them a purer and more spiritual conception of a future
existence, but later Mago-Zoroastrianism, itself a product of
Chaldseism, strongly coloured the Rabbinical beliefs with
materialistic ideas of punishments and rewards hereafter. 5 It
was, however, among the Aryan nations of the East that the
doctrine of a future life after visible death was distinctly and
vividly recognised. In one branch of the Aryan family, it took
the shape either of an eternal metempsychosis, a ceaseless whirl
of births and deaths, or of utter absorption after a prolonged
probation in absolute infinity, or endless unfathomable space,

1 Comp. Alger, History of the Doctrine of a Future Life, p. 157 ; also Milman's
Christianity, vol. i. pp. 21, 25, 75, etc.

2 Ps. vi. 5.

3 Job xiv. 22. Comp. Dollinger, vol. ii. p. 389 ; and Alger, History of the
Doctrine of a Future Life, pp. 151, 152 et seq.

4 See Milman, History of Christianity, vol. i. p. 242, notes.

5 See the chapter of Alger, tracing the influence of the Persian system on
later Judaism, p. 165 el seq.


or nothing. 1 In the other branch, this doctrine was clothed
in the shape of a graduated scale of rewards and punishments,
in the sense in which human accountability is understood
by the modern Christian or Moslem. Whether the Mago-
Zoroastrians from the beginning believed in a corporeal resur-
rection is a question on which scholars are divided. Dollinger,
with Burnouf and others, believes that this notion was not
really Zoroastric, and that it is of later growth, if not derived
from Hebrews. 2

However this be, about the time of the Prophet of Arabia,
the Persians had a strong and developed conception of future
life. The remains of the Zend-Avesta which have come down
to us expressly recognise a belief in future rewards and punish-
ments. The Zoroastrianism of the Vendidad and the Bunde-
hesh, enlarging upon the beliefs of the Avesta, holds that after
a man's death the demons take possession of his body, yet
on the third day consciousness returns. Souls that in their
lifetime have yielded to the seductions of evil cannot pass the
terrible bridge Chine vad, to which they are conducted on the
day following the third night after their death. The good
successfully pass it, conducted by the Yazatas (in modern
Persian, Izad), and, entering the realms of bliss, join Ormuzd
and the Amshaspands in their abode, where seated on thrones
of gold, they enjoy the society of beautiful fairies (Hoordn-i-
Behisht) and all manner of delights. The wicked fall over the
bridge or are dragged down into the gulf of Duzakh where they
are tormented by the Dcbvcis. The duration of this punishment
is fixed by Ormuzd, and some are redeemed by the prayers
and intercessions of their friends. Towards the end of the
world a prophet is to arise, who is to rid the earth of injustice

1 And yet the Brahmanical priests painted the horrors of hell and the
pleasures of heaven with the vividness of a thoroughly morbid imagination.
The Arabic scholar is referred to the appreciative account of the Buddhistic
doctrines (not so much regarding future life as generally) in Shahristani,
p. 446.

2 Alger has furnished us with strong reasons for supposing that the early
Zoroastrians believed in a bodily resurrection. The extreme repugnance with
which the Mago-Zoroastrians regarded corpses is no reason for discarding
this conclusion, as most probably this repugnance arose under Manichaean
influences ; see Alger, p. 138 et seq. Apropos of the repugnance with which
the Persians in Mohammed's time looked upon corpses, consult Dollinger,
vol. ii. p. 409.


and wickedness, and usher in a reign of happiness — the
Zoroastrian millennium, Ormuzd's kingdom of heaven. 1
After this, a universal resurrection will take place, and friends
and relatives will meet again. After the joys of recognition
there will follow a separation of the good from the bad. The
torments of the unrighteous will be fearful. Ahriman will
run up and down Chinevad overwhelmed with anguish. A
blazing comet, falling on the earth, will ignite the world.
Mountains will melt and flow together like liquid metal. All
mankind, good and bad alike, will pass through this glowing
flood, and come out purified. Even Ahriman will be changed
and Duzakh purified. Evil thenceforth will be annihilated,
and all mankind will live in the enjoyment of ineffable delights.

Such is the summary of a religion which has influenced the
Semitic faiths in an unmistakable manner, and especially the
eclectic faith of Mohammed.

About the time when Jesus of Nazareth made his appearance,
the Phoenicians and Assyrians had passed away. The hellenised
Roman ruled the world, checked in the East, however, by
triumphant and revived Mago-Zoroastrianism.

The Jew had lost his independence for ever. A miserable
sycophant occupied the throne of David. A mightier power
than that of the Seleucidae kept in subjection his spirit of
unruliness. Like every nation animated by a fierce love of
their country, creed, and individuality, the Jews, as their fate
grew darker and darker, became more and more inspired with
the hope that some heaven-commissioned ministrant, like
Gideon or Maccabeus, would restore their original glory, and
enable them to plant their foot on the necks of their many
oppressors. 2 The appearance of a Messiah portrayed in vivid
colours by all their patriotic seers, the Jewish bards, was
founded on one grand aspiration — the restoration of the

1 Shahristani calls this prophet Ushizerbeka. (Cureton's ed. p. 188) ; but
according to Western authors his name is said to be Sosiosch, who is to be
preceded by two other prophets, called Oscheder Bami and Oschedermah
(Dollinger v. ii. p. 401). De Sacy calls him Pashoutan (Sur Div. Ant. de la
Perse, p. 95).

2 It is not necessary, as Alger supposes, that because the Jews looked
forward to the reappearance of Elijah or some other prophet among them
for these national purposes, we must conclude that they believed in trans-


kingdom of Israel. Under the influences of the Mago-Zoro-
astrians and Chaldaeans in the East, and the Grecian schools of
philosophy in the West, among some classes of society
(especially among those whom the hellenising tendencies of
Herod had withdrawn from the bosom of Israel), the belief in
a personal Messiah was either faint and indistinct, or a mere
echo from the vulgar masses. But, as Milman beautifully
observes, the Palestinian Jews had about this time moulded
out of various elements a splendid though confused vision of
the appearance of the Messiah, the simultaneous regeneration
of all things, the resurrection of the dead, and the reign of
Messiah upon earth. All these events were to take place at
once, or to follow close upon each other. 1 The Messiah was to
descend from the line of David ; he was to assemble all the
scattered descendants of the tribes, and to expel and destroy
their hateful alien enemies. Under the Messiah a resurrection
would take place, but would be confined to the righteous of
their race. 2

Amidst all this enthusiasm and these vague aspirations, the
hopes of eternal life and future bliss were strangely mingled.
The extremes of despair and enthusiastic expectation of
external relief always tend to the development of such a state
of mind among the people. One section appears to look
forward to an unearthly kingdom, a reign of peace and law
under divine agency, as an escape from the galling yoke of
brute force ; the other looks forward to the same or cognate
means for securing the kingdom of heaven by the blood of
aliens and heathens. 3

The traditions which record the sayings of Jesus have gone

1 Milman, History of Christianity, vol. i. p. 76.

2 The similarity between the Zoroastrian idea of a deliverer and restorer
of religion and order on earth, and the Messianic conception among the Jews,
is, to say the least, wonderful. The Jews, it is certain, derived this concep-
tion from the Zoroastrians ; and in their misfortunes developed it in more
vivid terms. But I am strongly disposed to think that the idea of a Sosiosch,
whatever its prophetic significance, arose among the Persians also when
labouring under a foreign yoke — whether of the Semitic Assyrians or the Greek
Macedonians it is difficult to say. The very country in which the scene of
his appearance is laid — Kanguedez in Khorasan, according to De Sacy,
Cansoya, according to Dollinger's authorities — shows that the Persians, in their
misfortunes, looked to the East, especially to the " Land of the Sun," for
assistance and deliverance.

3 Like the modern, though obscure, sect of Christadelphians.

s.i. n


through such a process of elimination and selection, that it is
hardly possible at the present moment to say which are really
his own words and which are not. 1 But taking them as they
stand, and on the same footing as we regard other religious
documents (without ignoring their real spirit, yet without
trying to find mysterious meanings like the faithful believer),
we see that throughout these traditional records the notion of
an immediate advent of a new order of things, " of a kingdom
of heaven," is so predominant in the mind of Jesus as to over-
shadow all other ideas. The Son of Man has appeared, the
kingdom of God is at hand ; such is the burden of every hopeful
word. 2 This kingdom was to replace the society and govern-
ment which the Prophet of Nazareth found so imperfect and
evil. At times his words led the disciples to conclude that the
new Teacher was born to lead only the poor and the famished
to glory and happiness ; that under the hoped-for theocratic
regime these alone would be " the blessed," and would con-
stitute the predominating element, for " woe " is denounced
in awful terms against the rich and the well-fed. 3 At other
times, the realm of God is understood to mean the literal
fulfilment of the apocalyptic visions or dreams connected with
the appearance of the Messiah. Sometimes, however, the
kingdom of God is a realm of souls, and the approaching
deliverance is merely a spiritual deliverance from the bondage

1 Milman himself admits that the traditions regarding the acts and sayings
of Jesus, which were floating about among the Christian communities, were
not cast into their present shape till almost the close of the first half of the
second century (History of Christianity, vol. i. p. 126). Necessarily, therefore,
the ancient collectors and modellers of the Christian Gospels, or as Milman
regards them, rude and simple historians, must have exercised a discretionary
latitude in the reception of the traditions. They must have decided every-
thing on dogmatic grounds. " If a narrative or scripture was, in its tone and
substance, agreeable to their (preconceived) views, they looked upon defective
external evidence as complete ; if it was not agreeable, the most sufficient
was explained away as a misunderstanding." Hence a great many additions
were made, though unconsciously, to the sayings and doings of Jesus. On
this point the testimony of Celsus, with every allowance for exaggeration,
must be regarded as conclusive when he says the Christians were in the habit
of coining and remodelling their traditional accounts (Origen c. Celsus, ii. 27).
And this on the principle laid down by Sir W. Muir in Canon III. p. lxxxi.
vol. i. {Life of Mahomet).

2 Matt. iv. 17, x. 7, etc.

3 Luke vii. 20 et seq. In Matthew " the poor in spirit " are mentioned.
But the simpler statement of Luke, from a comparison of all the circum-
stances, seems more authentic.


of this mundane existence. All these conceptions appear at
one period to have existed in the mind of Jesus simultaneously. 1
But the fierceness and bigotry of the dominant party and the
power of the Roman eagle made any immediate social change
impossible. As every hope of present amelioration died away,
hopes and aspirations of a brighter future took possession of
the heart. Jesus felt the present state could not last long ;
that the time of the regeneration of mankind was at hand, 2
when he himself would appear in the clouds of heaven, clothed
in divine garments, seated on a throne, surrounded by angels
and his chosen disciples. 3 The dead would rise from their
graves, 4 and the Messiah would sit in judgment. The angels
would be the executors of his sentence. He would send the
elect to a delightful abode prepared from the beginning of the
world, and the unrighteous into " everlasting fire prepared for
the devil and his angels," 5 where there would be weeping and
gnashing of teeth. The chosen, not numerically large, 6 would
be taken into an illuminated mansion, where they would
partake of banquets presided over by the father of the race of
Israel, the patriarchs, and the prophets, 7 and in which Jesus
himself will share. 8

1 Renan, Vie de Jesus, p. 282.

2 Matt. xix. 18.

There can be no doubt that Jesus himself believed in a corporeal resur-
rection, and in tangible rewards and punishments in a future life. He often
spoke of " the blessed " in his kingdom eating and drinking at his table. But
whilst in the early traditions passing under the name of the four apostles,
the accounts, owing to careful pruning, are meagre enough, later traditionists
enlarge upon the descriptions of paradise and hell, and revel in the most
gorgeous fantasies, which go under the name of revelations {vide Rev. xxi.
8-21, xxii. 1, 2). In puerility even the Christian traditionists do not fall
short of the followers of other creeds. The tradition handed down by
Irenaeus on the authority of John declares Jesus to have said, " Days shall
come in which there shall be vines, which shall have each ten thousand
branches, and every one of these branches shall have ten thousand lesser
branches, and every one of these branches shall have ten thousand twigs, and
every one of these twigs shall have ten thousand clusters of grapes, and in
every one of these clusters there shall be ten thousand grapes, and every one
of these grapes being pressed shall yield two hundred and seventy-five gallons
of wine ; and when a man shall take hold of one of these sacred bunches,
another bunch shall cry out, I am a better bunch, take me, and bless the
Lord by me," etc.

3 Matt. xvi. 27, xxiv. 30, 31, xxv. 31 et seq. etc.

4 Rev. xx. 12, 13. Compare these notions with the Zoroastrian belief.

5 Matt. xxv. 41. B Luke xiii. 23.

7 Matt. viii. 11 ; Luke xiii. 28, xxii. 30. s Matt. xxvi. 29.


That the inauguration of the new regime with the second
advent of Jesus and the resurrection of the human race was
considered not to be distant, is apparent from the words of
the Master himself, when he impressed upon his hearers the
approach of the kingdom of God, and the utter futility of every
provision for the occupations and exigencies of the present
life. 1

The words of the Teacher, acting in unison with the state
of mind engendered by the circumstances of the age, 2 had sunk
deep into the hearts of his disciples, and all looked forward,
with a vividness of expectation hardly surpassed in the annals
of human beliefs, to the literal fulfilment of the prophecies
concerning the millennium.

" If the first generation of the Christians had a profound and
constant belief, it was that the world was approaching its end,
and that the great ' revelation ' of Christ was to happen soon." 3
It is only when the Christian Church becomes a regular
organisation that the followers of Jesus expand their views
beyond the restricted horizon of the Judaic world, and, for-
getting their millenarian dream, they pass into the Greek and
Roman system, and extend the empire of their creed over
untold legions of barbarians fresh from their forests, who
looked upon Jesus and his mother as the counterparts of their
own Odin and Freya worshipped in their primeval homes.

But ever and anon the Christian world has been agitated in
moments of convulsions and disasters by the millenary excite-
ment and fierce expectation of the apocalyptic appearance of
the great Prophet of Nazareth. The idea, however, of the
realm of God has, with the lapse of ages and the progress of
thought, taken either a spiritual shape or utterly faded away
from the mind, or, where it has been retained, derives its
character from the surroundings of the individual believers.
The Jew, the Mago-Zoroastrian, and the Christian all believed
in a bodily resurrection. The crude notions of primitive
Mosaism had made way for more definite ideas derived chiefly

1 Matt. x. 23 ; Mark xiii. 30 ; Luke xiii. 35 ; Matt. vi. 25-34, viii. 22.

2 Mark the bitter term which Jesus applies to his generation.

3 Renan, Vie de Jesus, p. 287. Comp. also Milman's History of Christianity,
vol. i. p. 378.


from the Chaldaeo-Zoroastrian doctrines. We know how among
the Persians the old worship of the mountains, the simple
teachings of the early teachers, had grown, under the magic
wands of the Babylonian wizards, into a complex system of
graduated rewards and punishments, — how Chaldasan philo-
sophy had permeated Mago-Zoroastrianism to its innermost
core. Primitive Christianity, with its vivid belief in the
immediate advent of the material kingdom of Christ, had
imbibed notions from Chaldaean, Mago-Zoroastrian, and
Alexandrian sources which had considerably altered the old
conceptions. Jew, Christian, and Zoroastrian all looked, more
or less, to material rewards and punishments in a future

The popular Christian notion, fostered by ecclesiasticism ,
that Mohammed denied souls to women, is by this time, we
believe, exploded. It was a calumny concocted to create an
aversion against Islam. But the idea that the Arabian Prophet
promised his followers a sensual paradise with hooris, and a
graduated scale of delights, still lingers. It is a sign alike of
ignorance and ancient bigotry. There is no doubt that in the
Suras of the intermediate period, before the mind of the Teacher
had attained the full development of religious consciousness,
and when it was necessary to formulate in language intelligible
to the common folk of the desert, the realistic descriptions of
heaven and hell, borrowed from the floating fancies of Zoro-
astrian, Sabaean, and the Talmudical Jew, attract the attention
as a side picture, and then comes the real essence — the adoration
of God in humility and love. The hooris are creatures of
Zoroastrian origin, so is paradise, 1 whilst hell in the severity of
its punishment is Talmudic. The descriptions are realistic,
in some places almost sensuous ; but to say that they are
sensual, or that Mohammed, or any of his followers, even the
ultra-literalists accepted them as such, is a calumny. The wine
" that does not inebriate " and the attendants " that come not
nigh," can hardly be said to represent sensual pleasures !

The chief and predominating idea in Islam respecting a future
life is founded upon the belief that, in a state of existence here-
after, every human being will have to render an account of his

1 In Persian, firdous.


or her actions on earth, and that the happiness or misery of
individuals will depend upon the manner in which they have
performed the behests of their Creator. His mercy and grace
are nevertheless unbounded, and will be bestowed alike upon
His creatures. This is the pivot on which the whole doctrine
of future life in Islam turns, and this is the only doctrinal point
one is required to believe and accept. All the other elements,
caught up and syncretised from the floating traditions of the
races and peoples of the time, are mere accessories. Setting
aside from our consideration the question of subjectivity
involved in all ideas of future rewards and punishments, we
may say, in all ideas of a life after death, we must bear in mind
that these ideas have furnished to the moral teachers of the
world the most powerful instrument for influencing the conduct
of individuals and nations. But though every religion, more
or less, contains the germ of this principle of future account-
ability in another state, all have failed thoroughly to realise
its nature as a continuous agency for the elevation of the masses.
Virtue, for its own sake, can only be grasped by minds of
superior development ; for the average intellect, and for the
uneducated, sanctions, more or less comprehensible, will always
be necessary.

To turn now to the nature of these sanctions, it must be
remembered that it is scarcely ever possible to convey an idea
of spiritual pleasure or spiritual pain to the apprehensions of the
generality of mankind without clothing the expressions in the
garb of tangible personalities, or introducing sensible objects
into the description of such pleasure or pain. Philosophy has
wrangled over abstract expressions, not dressed in tangible
phraseology. Such expressions and conceptions have seen
their day, have flourished, and have died without making them-
selves felt beyond a restricted circle of dreamers, who lived in
the indefinable vagueness of their own thoughts.

Mohammed was addressing himself not only to the advanced
minds of a few idealistic thinkers who happened to be then
living, but to the wide world around him engrossed in
materialism of every type. He had to adapt himself to the
comprehensions of all. To the wild famished Arab, what more
grateful, or what more consonant to his ideas of paradise than


rivers of unsullied incorruptible water, or of milk and honey ;
or anything more acceptable than unlimited fruit, luxuriant
vegetation, inexhaustible fertility ? He could conceive of no
bliss unaccompanied with these sensuous pleasures. This is
the contention of that portion of the Moslem world which,
like Sanai and Ghazzali, holds that behind the descriptions of
material happiness portrayed in objects like trees, rivers, and
beautiful mansions with fairy attendants, lies a deeper meaning ;
and that the joy of joys is to consist in the beatific visions of
the soul in the presence of the Almighty, when the veil which
divides man from his Creator will be rent, and heavenly glory
revealed to the mind untrammelled by its corporeal, earthly
habiliments. In this they are upheld by the words of the
Koran as well as the authentic sayings of the Prophet. " The
most favoured of God," said Mohammed, " will be he who shall
see his Lord's face (glory) night and morning, a felicity which
will surpass all the pleasures of the body, as the ocean surpasses
a drop of sweat." One day, talking to his friend, Abu Huraira,
the Prophet said, " God has prepared for His good people what
no eye hath seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the
heart of anyone," and then recited the following verse of the
Koran : "No soul knoweth the joy which is secretly prepared
for it as a reward for that it may have wrought." x Another
tradition 2 reports that Mohammed declared the good will
enjoy the beatific vision of God, to which reference, he said,
is made in the following verse of the Koran : " And God
inviteth unto the dwelling of peace . . . For those who do good
there is excellent reward and superabundant addition." 3

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 24 of 55)