The Death of a Prophet: The End of Muhammad's Life and the Beginnings of Islam. By STEPHEN J. SHOEMAKER. Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion. Philadelphia: UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA PRESS, 2012. Pp. vii + 408. $75.
In their 1977 book Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World Patricia Crone and Michael Cook advanced the hypothesis that Muhammad had originally sought to capture Palestine and to establish his Abrahamic faith-based polity there in anticipation of the impending arrival of the messiah and of Judgment Day. The failure of these events to materialize forced a reevaluation of this apocalyptic agenda. In the first place, "the prophet was disengaged from this original Palestinian venture by a chronological revision whereby he died two years before the invasion began" (p. 24). And in the second place, there was a geographical emendation whereby the Prophet's exodus (hijra), which had been from Arabia to Palestine, was now made an intra-Arabian movement: from Mecca to Medina. To back up their argument Crone and Cook provided a list of non-Muslim authors who appeared to suggest that Muhammad was alive at the start of the Arab conquests in ad 634. They did not attempt to analyse the testimony of these authors, but simply observed that "the convergence is impressive" (pp. 152-53 n. 7).
In the book under review Stephen Shoemaker takes up this hypothesis and subjects it to a thorough investigation and extensive discussion in the light of scholarship since 1977. In chapter one he examines the sources adduced in Hagarism and adds a couple more, bringing the total to eleven. None of the sources is without problems--some are polemical, others have confused or vague chronologies, a few are remote in time and/or place from Muhammad's Arabia--but could one say, with Crone and Cook, that taken together they make a compelling case? It should be noted at the outset that the traditional Muslim account does have Muhammad initiate the conquests, and even has him lead one raid in 630 into Palestine (the section of it known as Palestina Tertia/Salutaris, modern south Jordan). It is possible that this is what underlies the testimony of these eleven non-Muslim authors--none is specific about dates and places in any case--but it is true that if one only had their testimony to go on, one would assume a wider geographical remit and a longer duration for the campaigns carried out under Muhammad's personal direction.
In his second chapter Shoemaker looks...