W. Wesley Williams est docteur en études islamiques à l’Université du Michigan, Département d’études proche-orientale, Ann Arbor, 2002-2008.
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Islam is often viewed as the religion par excellence of divine transcendence. God is khilāf al-’ālam, “the absolute divergence from the world” and this characteristically Islamic doctrine of mukhālafa “(divine) otherness” precludes divine corporeality. In as much as this latter is conditio sine qua non of visibility, it is axiomatic that the God of Islam in invisible and therefore non-theophanous. This tradition of divine invisibility and incorporeal transcendence is in radical discontinuity with the Biblical/Semitic and ancient Near Eastern tradition of transcendent anthropomorphism and perilous visio Dei, according to which God/the gods has/have bodies human of shape but transcendent in substance, manner of being, and effect. Seeing this transcendently anthropomorphic deity is possible but dangerous for mortal onlookers. The profound disparity between Islamic and Biblical/ancient Near Eastern articulations of divine transcendence raises questions regarding Islam’s place among the Semitic religions. This dissertation argues that as a member of the Semitic religions Islam too possessed a tradition of transcendent anthropomorphism, theophany and visio Dei, which tradition likely originated with the Prophet MuÈammad. When read in the context of possible Biblical and ancient Near Eastern narrative/mythological subtexts, rather than affirming divine invisibility the relevant Qur’ānic passages seem to qualify divine visibility and theophany. It is argued here that despite the Aristotelian-Neoplatonic critique of anthropomorphism by rationalist groups such as the Mu’tazila a defining aspect of the traditionalist Sunnī ’aqīda or creed for the first four centuries (9th-12th CE) was the affirmation of Muhammad’s visual encounter with God. As in post-Maimonidean Judaism, however, the Aristotelian-Neoplatonic revision of the Sunnī creed will eventually be so successful that it has resulted in the near-total forgetting of this earlier Islamic tradition of anthropomorphic theophany and Visio Dei.. Ph.D.. Near Eastern Studies. University of Michigan, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies.