I had a late dinner at Aladdin's tonight - the place was packed, some of the new decour from their renovations is in place, and, looking around, I think I was the only person eating alone. Hmm.
I've been thinking about the role that Yeshua ben Joseph and Mohammad played in the foundations of the "new" faiths that were built around them - were figures like them necessary to establish a coherent new system? Were they necessary to effectively branch from the existing religious order? I think these are two different questions - Barring competitive pressure from Judaism (clearly dominant in Yeshua's time and place) and whatever form of Abrahamic monotheism was present on the Penninsula (Islamic sources suggest that pre-Quran, there was a fairly strong tradition in this line, whether we should identify it as Judaism or not is a tricky quesiton), establishing a new faith with those basic ideas takes a certain plausibility combined with means to meet individual and societal needs. With that pressure there, there's the added need to establish a coherent identity that will draw a community to defend the idea (memetics?) from the "parent" set of ideas. Perhaps in a declining/weak time for the parent set, the ability to supress heresy would be limited and we might not see so much pressure. The difference in ideas between Christianity and Judaism involves deeply fundamental matters - the universalisation of the faith (without Noahide laws and ties to there being a "chosen people"), the reworking of notions of sin and forgiveness, the end of value for centuries of tradition, the claim that there was a Moshiach, these among others are not things that would easily make a lasting change. There were several other would-be Moschiachs both before and after Yeshua (note that here I am accepting what's considered Peter's claim that Yeshua was Messiah and God as a working definition for what Christianity means - whether Yeshua actually made the claim isn't strictly relevant). Was such radical departure from Judaism needed to establish a separate religious community? What if we were to imagine severing the claims - a universalised Judaism without changes in the nature of Hashem? Could that have survived? Or was it necessary to be very bold to produce enough difference for the splinter group to hang on to and fight for? Islam, by comparison, did not fall so far from the tree - theologically, it's much closer, and its traditions and feel caused it to evolve in similar ways even after what I'm going to call that separation (if we allow that what it branched from was in fact Judaism rather than a vague set of Abrahamic folk sentiments). It may have already inherited most of its differences before its rebirth under Mohammad - in Islamic literature, it's generally suggested that the Jews were chosen by Allah to spread Tawrat, but ethnic vanity caused them to place themselves above the rest of the world and distort/rewrite Tawrat towards that end. We might understand this to be a common pre-Islamic sentiment of the people of the Penninsula, or possibly a backrationalisation.. I suspect that in both cases though, making large changes in a faith still takes some kind of strong shock, whether the change is revolutionary (Christianity) or evolutionary (Islam), and a strong leader (Peter-Yeshua vs Mohammad) can act as that..
My body seems to suggest ice cream more often when it's deathly cold like this. That's pretty broken.