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Patricia Crone, 70; scholar of Islamic history

Patricia Crone wrote that Mohammed was perceived as a preacher in the Old Testament tradition.Columbia University Press

NEW YORK — Patricia Crone, a scholar who explored untapped archeological records and contemporary Greek and Aramaic sources to challenge conventional views of the roots and evolution of Islam, died July 11 at her home in Princeton, N.J. She was 70.

The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where she was a professor from 1997 until her retirement last year, said the cause was cancer.

Fred M. Donner, a professor of Near Eastern history at the University of Chicago, said Ms. Crone “made it clear that historians of early Islam had failed to really behave as historians — that is, had failed to challenge the validity of their sources, but rather had accepted complacently what I call the ‘traditional origins narrative’ created by the Islamic tradition.”

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As a result, in books like “Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World” (1977, written with Michael Cook), she disputed assumptions that Islam had been transmitted by trade from Mecca, in what is now Saudi Arabia, suggesting that it had been spread by conquest instead. She also identified how indigenous rural prophets in what is now Iran had defied conquering Arabs and helped shape Islamic culture, setting the stage for conflicts within Islam that endure today.

Current events frequently intruded on Ms. Crone’s scholarship on historic divisions in the Middle East between secularism and Islamic orthodoxy, and between the Arab world and the West. Writing about present-day Muslims on the website openDemocracy in 2007, she said, “Wherever they look, they are being invaded by so-called Western values — in the form of giant billboards advertising self-indulgence, semi-pornographic films, liquor, pop music, fat tourists in indecent clothes and funny hats, and politicians lecturing people about the virtues of democracy.”

Patricia Crone was born in Kyndelose, Denmark. She leaves four siblings.

She attended the University of Copenhagen and then received undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. She taught at Oxford and Cambridge before joining the Institute for Advanced Study, an independent research center.

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“Each one of her brilliant and original monographs — and the same holds true for most of her articles — had profoundly impacted the field or helped to identify entirely new branches within the discipline,” Professor Sabine Schmidtke, who succeeded Ms. Crone at the Institute for Advanced Study, said.

In another essay for open- Democracy, Ms. Crone focused on the Prophet Mohammed, writing that “we can be reasonably sure that the Koran is a collection of utterances that he made in the belief that they had been revealed to him by God.”

She also wrote that Mohammed was perceived not as the founder of a new religion but as a preacher in the Old Testament tradition, hailing the coming of a messiah.

His success, she contended, “had something to do with the fact that he preached both state formation and conquest: Without conquest, first in Arabia and next in the Fertile Crescent, the unification of Arabia would not have been achieved.”