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It has been some time – as usual – and I am as always terrible sorry for it.
The war is on break for now, people are back to normal, or at least as close you can come to normal here.
The studies are going on as usual as well, stressing me and leaving me with a lot of pressure, as well as a son soon to be born, BE”H. But I am grateful, very grateful.
I have been thinking about the comparative study, and how we teach about religions. One thing that has struck me is that we often teach about the religions for themselves, that is, instead of comparing some interrelated fields, we study them unrelated to each other. Take for example philosophy in religion (or religious philosophy). When we study Jewish philosophy, most often it is only rarely related to Islamic or Christian philosophy, but in order to get a good understanding of Jewish philosophy we need to relate it to other players in the field. Maimonides, for example, is influenced by a number of Islamic philosophers (as well as Greek), and has himself influenced both Christian and Muslim philosophers.
Another example is the role of central figures and how to understand them. Often we are told that Muhammad is to Islam what Moses is to Judaism, but is that really so? I have more and more thought about this issue, that we need to have the comparative element integrated into the general study and teaching of religions, in order both to understand the religions in and of themselves, as well as in their relation to other religions. I will try to give a small example on how this can be done in the following:
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all three religions based on one or more central figures. In all of them one person stands out of centrality compared to other central figures. In Judaism Moses is of great central importance, in Christianity Jesus has the same centrality, and in Islam it is Muhammad. What is interesting in this respect, is not so much how these characters are viewed and understand in the other respective religions – though that certainly also is of importance – but how they are central in comparison of other central figures in the respective religions, as well as how they are understood in comparison to how the central characters are understood in the other religions.
Moses, for example, is far from the only central character in Judaism, we can easily mention both Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, David, and Salomon as examples on other very central characters. And that is just in the Bible itself, would we expand our focus to other Jewish materials, then we would find Hillel and Shamai, Yehudah haNasi, Maimonides, and so on. And furthermore, though I believe that Moses is the most central character in Judaism (except God Himself, of course), I am not sure of how strong his centrality is compared to the centrality of the other characters. For example, where Moses is very central and of crucial importance when it comes to the implementation of law in Judaism, he doesn’t hold the same level of importance when it comes to the establishment of Israel as a people. There Abraham might be of greater centrality. Or Moses compared to David in the establishment of the kingdom of Israel. And so on. Yet, I still believe that Moses overall is of greater central importance than other characters are.
We see the same with Christianity, where Jesus is far from the only central figure. Take characters like Paul, Peter, and John. Or the various church fathers. Or even Luther. In both these cases, though there would be no Judaism without Moses, and no Christianity without Jesus, their central importance is to some degree matched by other characters, though the two religions might have existed in some form or another without them.
It seems to me that Muhammad enjoys a much greater centrality and importance when it comes to Islam. Though references are abundant to other characters in the Qur’ân, Muhammad is still the receiver of the Qur’ân, and in the early times he was the leading figure when spreading Islam, at least till his death. In this context we don’t see Moses or Jesus spreading their respective religions, which can be part of the reason that Muhammad is more central in Islam than the two in their respective religions. Of course there are other important characters, the four righteous caliphs, the founders of the legal schools, the philosophers, and so on, but put notice on how Muhammad is in focus, both when it comes to the role as the receiver of the Qur’ân as well as when it comes to the Hadith-literature. In comparison, the Mishnah is not ascribed to Moses, and the letters in the New Testament is not ascribed to Jesus. Where Moses mostly is of crucial central importance to the written Torah in Judaism, and Jesus plays somewhat the same role in Christianity, neither of them are ascribed to the “oral tradition” (the Mishnah/Tosefta in Judaism, and the letters in Christianity), while this is the case for Muhammad in Islam.
This is one aspect. Another aspect is how we view them, how we describe them. This can teach us a lot about how the followers of the respective religions understand their religion and their role as followers of the religion in question. I am not going to too much into how followers are relating to them, just use the most used examples.
Moses is – by Jews – described as “teacher”, Moshe Rabenu. This is very crucial for the Jewish conception. He teaches us and we learn from him. He has a role not unlike the rabbis, as the chief rabbi, and this – I believe – has left its mark on Jews, who generally have been very occupied by the focus on study.
Jesus, on the other hand, is described as savior. This is something we often see in how Christians describe themselves, as being saved.
Again we see Islam somewhat differ here. Muslims see themselves as submitted to God, not so much describing Muhammad as God’s submitter, but rather in describing themselves as such. Where Jews today are named after a tribe, Yehudah – earlier named as a people, Israel – Christians are named as followers of Jesus, the Christ, and Muslims are named after their relation to God, as people submitted to God. But Muslims are neither taking their name after a role perceived in relation to Muhammad, nor after a role described him. Nevertheless, in one incident we do see Muslim self-perceiving based on Muhammad, namely as the final group of believers. Muhammad is the final prophet, therefore those who are following him are the right group of believers. In Judaism as such Moses wasn’t the last prophet to come, and it wasn’t unperceivable that other religions would form, though they wouldn’t have importance for Israel as such, and in Christianity we also see the spokesman, the holy spirit, would come after Jesus.
All this more or less describes an idea I’m working on, which could be interesting to follow in the future. I don’t know if anything will come of this or what it will end with, but if any of you out there have any suggestions, then please share with me, I would be very interested in hearing about what you have on mind.
I also know that there are many conceptions and thoughts, which could have been explained better, for example when I talk about strength of centrality and the like, but again, this is mostly sharing thoughts.
Looking forward to hear from you.
All the best and Hanukkah Sameah!
Warning: This post might be somewhat offending to some Muslims, since it deals in part with the Quran outside the Islamic traditional understanding of it and its message.
As I explained in my last post I did four assignments, and one of them was about how the Quran views and understands the Biblical scriptures. I am not going into detail or post the whole assignments here, that would be a little too much, but there were some aspects which I found rather interesting.
First off, I based the assignments on the findings of Gabriel Said Reynolds (which can be found in his “The Qur’ân and its Biblical Subtext”), who argues that the Quran, as far is it being studied by academics and on its own, should be studied in light of the Biblical texts, which – for him – gives more sense than reading it in light of tafsirs (Islamic commentaries), since that would mean that one would study the Quran through an afterthought, rather than relating to what might be the basis for the Quranic thought, which according to Reynolds are the Biblical texts, and I understand why he thinks so.
Though Reynolds’ book in itself is very interesting I won’t deal so much with its details here – though I might in another post – but more relate to his overall concept.
The second scholar I related to is Mondher Sfar and his “In Search of the Original Koran: The True Story of the Revealed Text” (translated by Emilia Lanier). This book is most likely to offend quite a lot of Muslim minds, since it basically attempts to challenge the Islamic traditional understanding of the Quran as revealed text and how it is revealed. Nevertheless I found it being somewhat in line with Reynolds’ book, and since I did want to challenge the normal understanding of how the Quran viewed the Biblical texts, I related to these two books.
Besides that I related to a etymological inquiry into certain terms, which normally are considered to be related to the Biblical texts, such as Tawrat (Torah, the Five Books of Moses), Zabur (the Psalms of David), and the Injil (the Gospel, relating more to the revelation Jesus got according to the Quran, rather than the four gospels and the New Testament as a whole). I also delved into the usage of suhuf, meaning scrolls or parchment, as well as kitab, meaning book. The two last terms seemed to be rather general, so I did not spend so much time on them. Here I related heavily on Jastrow’s dictionary, as well as the six translations of Pickthall, Yusuf Ali, Sahih International, Muhsin Khan, and Dr. Ghali (all as found at Quran.com – I can highly recommend the website).
What is interesting is not so much that the Quran views itself as being from the same source (God), or that carries the same significance – that it is sent in order to guide in the right direction, as a law from God. What is interesting is that it hints several places that the details of this divine law is not the same as it is presented in the Tawrat, Injil and in the Quran itself. It does hint at the Tawrat being specifically for the Jews, the Injil specifically for the Christians, and the Quran specifically for the Arabs/Muslims. We see it particularly in the fifth Surah (chapter), where Muhammad deals with the question of law and judgment.
What I was especially surprised about was the zabur, which traditionally has been interpreted and understood as being the Psalms of David. This is understandable, considering that David is connected with a revelation called “zabur,” but the term is also used in other contexts. In the following I will quote what I wrote in the assignment:
“Zabûr (زَبُور )
Zabur, which root (ز ب ر ) appears 11 times in the Quran, in the forms zubar (زُبَر – 18:96), zubur (زُبُر – 3:184, 16:44, 23:53, 26:196, 35:25, 54:43, 54:52), and zabur (زَبُور – 4:163, 17:55, 21:105), is normally understood as the Psalms given to David, though it is not clear whether it is the collections of psalms as they appear in the Bible (תהילים ).
In Lane’s dictionary he relates to Ibn Barî saying that the ”zibur” (الزبر ) means ”the Book of the Law revealed to Moses and the Gospel and the Kur-an [together]” (Lane, ”Arabic-English Lexicon”, on زبر, pp. 1211). I do not see the sense in relating this root to any other than the one hinted at by Ibn Barî, though he does not mention David in this relation, which is related to the zabûr in the Quran.
21:105 vs. 54:52 – 21:105 speaks of it being told that the righteous will inherit the land, while 54:52 speaks about recording deeds of the criminals. It could be understood from this, that the Zabur is something holding records of people deeds (?). But is it all people, and if so, all in the same “zabur”, or is it only the criminals as it might appear from 54:52 (in this case relate to Pickthall’s translation of zubur to “books of dark prophecies”).
When we relate to the use of the term, we see that it is used with different though related meanings. From a number of verses do we learn that zabur is something sent to more messengers (Quran 3:184, 16:44, 26:196, 35:25 – all expressed in the plural). There does seem to be a contrast between zabur, used in singular, and other messages sent to prophets, where the messages in general is sent to a number of messengers, but the zabur, with the definite article, is related to David only (Quran 4:163, 17:55). These are two of the only times zabur in singular definite form is mentioned in the Quran, the third being in relation to a statement about the righteous and their destiny as being the inheritants of “the land” (Quran 21:105), a statement which reflects Isaiah 60:21 – a possible connection – which could tell of an understanding which covers more than only the Psalms of the Bible. This could hint at the real understanding subscribed to the term, zabûr, to cover those part of the Bible (the TaNaCh part), which includes the Prophetical books as well as the Scriptures (the “NaCh” part, if not all, then at least in the overall meaning). This would also seem to confirm Reynolds’ approach, confirming the link and connection to the Biblical texts. If we relate to the Jewish traditional organization of the Bible, the prophets are gathered under one, “Nevi’im”, and it would seem that this could be the relation between the zabûr and the Biblical texts, except though in the case of the linking of the zabûr to David. Why zabûr is connected, if at all, to the Psalms though these are not normally considered prophetical by the Jewish tradition, can be related to how the Christian tradition views them, indeed as being prophetical, and considering how often the Psalms are connected to being prophecies about Jesus, in some way or another, it is no wonder if the Quran would view the Psalms as being part of the Divine revelations.
Based on this I believe that it would be correct to only understand zabûr as the Book of Psalms in the two cases when it is prescribed to David, if we should understand it in this relation at all, while in any other case, when the Quran talks about az-zubur and az-zabûr (in 21:105) as covering the Bible, except the Torah. It would also seem weird that the Quran did not have any concept of the rest of the books in the Bible, if we only understand zabûr either in context of the Book of Psalms or as covering all Scriptures in general, an understanding I believe we rather should find in the usage of kitâb.”
And with that I will stop here. Please comment and ask if there should be any questions.
All the best
In the last part we dealt with the first mishnah of Tractate B’rachot, being presented for opinions on until when we can recite the Shma’, the context of the Shma’, and so on. In this part we will focus on the first discussion relating to the mishnah, called “sugya,” where the Gemarrah will discuss the issue of the order of the recitals of the Shma’:
|The text of the Gemarrah is build up by several parts, dealing with different issues. Each of these parts are called “sugya.”|
|When the Gemarrah talks about the Tanna, then it is referring to the Mishnaic Sage behind the Mishnaic text.|
|As It Is Written||Dichtiv||
|Whenever the Gemarrah states this term, then it deals with Biblical texts.|
|If You Want||`I Ba’yet||
|This expression introduces a strengthening analogy.|
|If This Is So||`I Hachi||
|This expression introduces a challenge to the preceding argument.|
תנא היכא קאי דקתני מאימתי ותו מאי שנא דתני בערבית ברישא? לתני דשחרית ברישא!
תנא אקרא קאי דכתיב בשכבך ובקומך – והכי קתני זמן קריאת שמע דשכיבה אימת? משעה שהכהנים נכנסין לאכול בתרומתן
ואי בעית אימא יליף מברייתו של עולם דכתיב ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום אחד
אי הכי סיפא דקתני בשחר מברך שתים לפניה ואחת לאחרית ובערב מברך שתים לפניה ושתים לאחרית לתני דערבית ברישא
תנא פתח בערבית והדר תני בשחרית עד דקאי בשחרית פריש מילי דשחרית והדר פריש מילי דערבית:
To what is the Tanna referring since he teaches ”from when,” and more, why is it that he teaches about the evening first? He should teach about the morning first.
The Tanna refers to the verse ”when you lay down and when you rise” – And this is what he is teaching, when is the time of the recital of the Shma’ when laying down? From the time that the Kohanim enters in order to eat their Terumah.
And if you want, [then] say that he learned from the creation of the world, as it is written “and it was evening and it was morning, one day.”
If this is so, [why is it] in the end [of the Mishnah] taught ”In the morning do you bless twice before [the Shma’] and once after [the Shma’], and in the evening do you bless twice before [the Shma’] and twice after”? Teach in the evening first.
The Tanna opened in the evening and then teaches in the morning, [and] while referring to the morning he explains the subjects of the morning and then returns and explains the subjects of the evening.
- What does the Tanna (of the Mishnah) refer to when he asks “from when”?
- Why does he teach about the evening Shma’ before the morning Shma’?
1: The Gemarrah wonders why the Tanna asks the question “from when” in regards to the evening Shma’. As we learned in the last post this is a rather sudden way of introducing the Mishnah. No explanations on what is going on or what we are about to deal with, just a question throwing us directly into the discussion. This isn’t the worry for the Gemarrah though – it is more interested in the source for the Mishnah’s question. “On what do you base this question? Why do you find the need to ask ‘from when’?” The answer is based on the Biblical verse of Devarim (Deuteronomy), which is part of the recital of the Shma’, and which gives us hints at when we should recite it. If we are to recite a Biblical text, shouldn’t it give us answers about itself as well? The Gemarrah answers for the Mishnah as well: when you lay down [to rest] and when you rise. And since the laying down comes first, then it is clear that this is the Shma’ which the Mishnah relates to, the evening Shma’, and evening, that is, when the evening Shma’ of “when you lay down” can be recited from “when the Kohanim enters to eat their Terumah.”
This first answer answers both the two questions asked, namely what is the basis (Devarim 6:7) for the question, and why is the evening Shma’ dealt with before the morning Shma’, namely because of the order of the wordings of “when you lay down” and “when you rise.”
The Gemarrah offers yet an answer, if the first isn’t satisfying, namely that we can establish the order of why the evening Shma’ is dealt with before the morning Shma’ on the order of Creation, namely that evening came before morning, as it is seen in Bereshit (Genesis) 1:5 – “and it was evening and it was morning, one day.”
A third question:
- Why is a later mishnah dealing with the subjects of the morning Shma’ before the evening Shma’, if the order of the Biblical verses argues for the opposite?
The argumentation of the order is challenged by the Gemarrah, referring to a later Mishnah (B’rachot 1:4), which in its order deals with the subjects of the morning Shma’ before it deals with the subjects of the evening Shma. If this is the case, the Gemarrah states, then the Tanna should deal with the morning Shma’ first here also, not the evening Shma’.
This, explains the Gemarrah, is no problem since the Tanna begins with the evening Shma’, which should be so based both on the context of the verse commanding the recital of the Shma’ twice a day, as well as the order of the Creation, but only in order to begin the whole discussion, and then continue to the morning Shma’, and while he is dealing with the morning Shma’ then he deals with its subjects as well, for then to return to the evening Shma’ after that.
There are a number of answers given to us here, not all of them being answers to questions asked, but that is also part of the discussion of the Gemarrah. What we learn here is the order of the recital of the Shma’, having it based on two Biblical verses (Bereshit 1:5 and Devarim 6:7), that evening was prior to morning in the Creation, that the Tanna only used the evening Shma’ as an introduction to the discussions on the subjects related to the recital of the Shma’.
As we see from this first discussion the Gemarrah doesn’t have a problem conducting a discussion with itself. It raises problems as they come, and deal with them based on quoting sources, the Bible and various Mishnaic material, in order to establish a conclusion, a conclusion the Gemarrah itself isn’t afraid of questioning.
There are three sources for the deducing of rules presented for us here. The first, and most important, is the Biblical Scripture, the Torah, the second is the Oral Tradition, here presented in the form of the Mishnah itself, and the third is the inferring by analogy (called Maqqish or Heqqesh). The last is done by the comparison of two cases, in order to establish a conclusion. Here presented in the comparison between the evening Shma’ being presented before the morning Shma’. The question is why this is so. By comparing to two Biblical sources, Devarim 6:7 and Bereshit 1:5, we can learn that just as the evening Shma’ is mentioned in the Bible, so should it be in the Mishnah, which again follow the order of Creation. By this do we see the red thread between the Written and the Oral Torah. In the mishnah itself, the one dealt with already, we see a fourth source, namely consensus, which was the case of the “the Sages say.”
This conclude the first Sugya of the first mishnah.
Time for the next part of Samaw’el’s arguments against the Jews. In the last part we saw how he attempted to argue for the existence of abrogation both in the Jewish Bible and in the Jewish tradition, leaving it possible that the whole Bible itself has been abrogated for the Qur’ân.
In this post we will see how he attempts to argue for the prophethood of Jesus and Muhammad, and how the transmission of the two is stronger than that of Moses.
The next premise is that as far a person is reasonable he will not refuse to believe a prophet, whose teachings is generally acknowledges, and then believe in another, so far that he hasn’t seen either of them.
If a Jew would be asked, Samaw’el argues, about whether he has seen Moses and witnessed the miracles performed by him, the Jew has to admit that that is not the case. The question to follow will be how the Jew then know about the prophet hood of Moses something the Jew most likely will explain is known from the transmission from father to son and so on. This transmission in Arabic is called ‘tawâtur.
Samaw’el then points out that such transmission also goes for Jesus and Muḥammad, so if the question is only about transmission, then one might believe in Jesus and Muḥammad as well, and not only Moses.
To this the Jew can answer that “the testimony of my father about the prophethood of Moses is reason for my affirmation of his prophethood.” But why would the father of the Jew be right in this and without criticism, Samaw’el asks. As well as the Jew can point to his father, who is teaching their traditions and transmissions, so can the gentiles, infidels as they are described by Samaw’el, who are teaching what is considered false belief by the Jews, and this – he continues – is not necessarily based on truth, but rather out of loyalty to ones community and traditions, and the resistance to leave the community and one’s people. If the Jew really holds his fathers to be correct and the unbelievers in error, then he needs to prove his claim, since the focus now changes from being following a religion or faith out of mere tradition, to be a matter of claim of truth.
Maybe the Jew will claim that his fathers are on a higher level that the fathers of other peoples in matter of knowledge and reliability, but that would oblige the Jews to prove that. And if he would claim this, Samaw’el maintains, he would be in error since it is obvious that other peoples have produced more than the Jews could even dream about, not to talk about that the Jews are not even mentioned among the other people. Especially compared with the Muslims the Jews fade away, considering all the numerous works, which the Muslims have produced in any one science thinkable.
So far as the Jews admit that their fathers are on level with the fathers of other people, then they are only left with the transmission about Moses, and if that is the case they also have to accept the transmission of Jesus and Muḥammad.
Samaw’el’s next attempt is then to convince the Jews about Jesus’ prophethood. He does so by relating to a messianic verse in the Bible, Bereshit 49:10, which states that the “scepter shall not depart from Judah… until Shiloh comes…” It is agreed and understood among Jews, that this verse indeed relates to the Messiah. Samaw’el attempts to coin this verse with Jesus, by pointing out – he believes – that the Jews had a kingdom until the advent of Jesus, after which the Romans ruled the Jews and Jerusalem, leading to the dispersal of the Jews. Based on this the Jews should acknowledge that Jesus was the one they were waiting for.
He then introduces the next part, staying focused on Jesus, asking what the Jews are saying about him. The response is in the negative, he explains that Jesus was the son of Joseph by fornication, that he learned the Name of God and with its help forced his will on many things. Samaw’el then asks if it isn’t the case that Moses was taught the Divine Name by God, which was composed by 42 letters, and by this Name Moses parted the sea and performed miracles. This, he claims, they can’t deny, and since that is so, since both Moses and Jesus performed miracles by the use of God’s Names, why do the Jews reject Jesus while accepting Moses? Of course the Jews have an answer to that, namely that whereas Moses learned the Name by divination, receiving it through prophecy, Jesus learned the Names from the walls in the Temple. Samaw’el retaliates by asking that since one who is not selected by God can take advantage of His Names in order to make miracles, why then do the Jews trust that Moses indeed was selected by God, to which the Jews, again, will answer that he received the Names from God Himself. And Samaw’el wanted to get to here, since then he could ask how they knew that that was so, the answer being that it was by chain of transmission to their ancestors.
He doesn’t stop there, asking the question why they accept the prophethood of Moses. The answer, according to Samaw’el, will be based on the miracles Moses performed. The question is then whether they have seen those miracles, to which they of course have to answer in the negative, which isn’t neither a way to authenticate the prophets, Samaw’el explains, since if we should establish the verification of a prophet’s prophethood on miracles, then they would have to be maintained even after the death of the prophet, for each generation to see. So the miracles themselves are not a proof, rather the transmission – again – is what establish the authority, and both Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad are equals in this respect. The conclusion from this, he explains, is that the transmission of evidence for Moses is weaker than that of Jesus and Muhammad, since in case of Muhammad and Jesus, both have a chain of transmission, while their followers’ believe in Moses is only based on the texts they believe in, not in his chain of transmission, which is only found among the Jews.
Then he puts a short note on the Quran, stating that its miraculous character is evident for all with “a taste of eloquence.” It is interesting to see here, how he uses a non-rational argument, while attempting to prove his points by reason.
He does feel though, that he needs to reflect a little more on the chain of transmission. What if the Jews should state that since all the nations, or at least both Jews, Christians, and Muslims, are attesting to the prophethood of Moses, then this would show a strong chain of transmission, stronger than that of Jesus and Muhammad? To this does he would need to ask whether the Jews would say that the consensus of the nations on this matter is correct, and as far as the Jews would say yes, he would ask them how they would respond, when he points out that the nations also has a consensus on the Jews being in error. If they then would deny the consensus of the nations, then he would say that they also have to do that in the former case, and only being left with the weak transmission of their own small community, being the smallest in number, and therefore the weakest of the transmissions.
Based on this, he argues, Jews have to accept that the prophethood of Jesus and Muhammad is true.
Let us take a look at Samaw’el’s polemical arguments in his Ifḥam al-Yahûd.
The work is organized in nineteen ‘chapters,’ but they can again be organized into overlaying themes of arguments, which is indeed what Perlmann has done in his translation of the Ifḥam. The themes as we find them are:
- A return to abrogation
- Jesus and Muḥammad
- The claim to being the chosen people
- The Bible
- Composition of the Bible
- Jews on Islam
- Objectionable aspects of Jewish law; levirate, segregation
- Rabbanites & Karaites
- Epilogue: Sins and follies of the Jews
What Samaw’el attempts to do is to prove that in the Jewish tradition there is found examples on abrogation, and by forcing the Jews to accept that he (feels he) proves that the Torah might have been abrogated.
With that established he argues for the status of Jesus and Muḥammad, then for why the Jews are not chosen, for then to focus on the Bible and its composition, Jewish reflection on Islam, a discussion on Halachah (Jewish religious law) and issues within the law, moving on to the particulars of the Rabbanites and the Karaites, for then finishing off with the sins and wrongdoings of the Jews as a whole.
I will be presenting one part on its own, not going through all of the arguments, since that probably will be rather overwhelming in just one post. When I am done with the presentation of his arguments I will attempt to present you for the various Jewish responses, and then finally try to give some responses myself, some of his arguments being rather time-bound and having lost their actuality today.
The first focus is on his arguments for abrogation.
Samaw’el first introduces us for his base of arguments, which – he claims – is meant to convince the Jews of the principle of naskh, abrogation, based on their own scriptures and methods.
His way of arguing is based on a proposal, which then can either be accepted or denied. Here it is the question on whether there was a divine law before the giving of the Torah or not.
If they, the Jews, deny this, then they will also deny – according to Samaw’el – that God gave Noah a commandment, namely the one against murder (Genesis 9:6). Besides this point, he also points out the commandment to Abraham to circumcise the male children at the eight day.
Should the Jew admit that, yes, God did give divine commandments before the giving of the Torah, then he will ask them, whether it didn’t add something to those earlier precepts. In case the Jews answer that it (the Torah) didn’t add anything then it is meaningless, since it does not contain anything besides the already given legislation, and thus it cannot be of divine origin. But, he states, that would be the same as to not believe.
In case the Jews says that, yes, it did add something new, then – Samaw’el asks – does this new addition not prohibit what has was allowed before? In case they deny this, then they are found in fault, since the Torah added the prohibition against working on Shabbat, something which before the giving of the Torah was permitted. And furthermore, all addition in law has as its purpose to either allow what was prohibited before or prohibit what before was allowed. These examples, he states, are clear examples on Naskh, abrogation.
One could argue, he maintains, that one does not first forbid something, in order for later to allow it, since that would be like allowing the same thing that one forbids, and that would go against the nature of God (described as “the wise one”). But since He is commanding two things at two different points of time, this will not be a problem, only if it happened at the same time.
Then the case might be forwarded that the Torah forbade what had been forbidden, but not the other way around. That is, it is true that there was a law before, and that law prohibited murder, but murder had not since been allowed (relating to his two examples), but earlier it had been allowed to work on Shabbat, but after the giving of the Torah that became prohibited.
The obvious problem for Samaw’el here, because he does accept that this is a legitimate claim, is that if one holds that that is the case, then the Quran can only prohibit what earlier was allowed, but not allow what earlier was prohibited. This is based on the rationale that one who abstains from what is permitted is not per ce a violator, but one who does what he has been forbidden certainly is a violator, and since the Quran allow working on Shabbat, then that would be an encouragement to violate a commandment.
Samaw’el attempts to answer this by pointing out that something does not necessarily need to be prohibited for good. Rather, he explains, since working on Shabbat had been permitted for Abraham and other before him, and then prohibited, then it certainly is possible that it again would be allowed.
The reasoning behind Samaw’el’s argument here is that either a law is imposed for all times, having God being displeased with it in total, or it is not imposed for all time, and God only displeased for a certain amount of time, and since working on Shabbat was not prohibited for all time, then it holds that it is possible that it can be changed later.
Of course Samaw’el concludes from this that if a divine messenger, Muḥammad, would bring miracles and prove to be a prophet, then it would be possible that he would change what before was deemed illegal. Especially when – according to Samaw’el – a man brings clear proof that he is a prophet, then one should heed his message, which would be of reason, contrary the precept found in Judaism, such as cleansing impurities with ashes of the heifer, which in turn also would make the Kohen burning the heifer unclean (Numbers 19).
Since God is above any imperfection and criticism, and his messenger necessarily may speak a true message, then it stands for God to be able to change what He earlier has commanded, and Muḥammad, who is send by God, should be heeded, if one will not deviate from the truth.
Having dealt with the first approach to proving that abrogation also is part of the Jewish tradition, Samaw’el now continues with the next, relating to the matter of the red heifer, the cow having to be burned in order to use its ashes for purification, a process which would leave the one performing the burning impure himself. The problem, according to Samaw’el, is that since that process is needed in order to purify a person who has been in contact with a corpse, it is still not needed in order to allow the person to pray or carry holy texts, according to the Rabbinic tradition.
If this is explained with the fact that the ritual of the heifer cannot be done today, from the lack of the Temple, then Samaw’el’s answer – again in form of a new question – is whether the inability to perform the act also dispense it. Here, again, two answers are possible, either that yes, it does dispense it, which, he maintains, proves abrogation by reason of present circumstances, and thus proves his point, that laws and rules can be abrogated. In case that they answer in the negative, they basically admit that they are in a continuous state of impurity, so far as they have been in contact with a corpse, a tomb or the like. This is a build up for his coming point, being triggered by the strictness surrounding the menstruation of the woman, leading to a period on approximately two weeks, having the consequences that a man cannot touch her in that period, not even her husband, who has to sleep separate from her. The answer to this might be that it is a commandment from the Torah, which means that it has to be interpreted in its most strict sense, but if that is the case, then the case of a man having been in contact with a corpse has to be even more strict, since it demands the sacrifice and burning of an animal in order to purify him. And furthermore, should a non-Jewish woman being menstruating she won’t be considered impure, her touch not being shunned on the same level of that of a menstruating Jewish woman, even though nothing is mentioned about this in the Torah. And this leads to yet another example on abrogation.
The Jews might argue in return, that this is not based on the Scriptural text alone, but on the system of laws which constitutes the Oral Tradition. This, Samaw’el explains, is leading to the question of the Jewish sages, whether they are reaching their conclusions on human reasoning or whether they are divine tradition. As is the case, it would be stated that this is surely tradition going all the way back to Moses, which then will lead to Samaw’el asking how the sages then can reach different conclusions, since that would leave with a tradition which each of the disagrees will claim goes back to Sinai. This is contradictory in the eyes of Samaw’el, being an example on the Jews baseness, crediting God with contradictory commandments.
Samaw’el is aware that there is a principle of following the majority, when it comes to halachic decisions in Judaism, though he considers this to be the giving up of one of the sages’ tradition, or at least as consider the possibility of an error in his tradition, which would lead to the conclusion that he (the sage in question) cannot be trusted anymore, or – as a last consort – that the sages have agreed that one decision abrogates the other. And since there are many examples on sages being the minority in some cases, they are the majority and followed in others, this would have to lead to the acceptance of abrogation yet again.
His third argument over abrogation is focused on the Jewish prayers. This is introduced with the question on prayers and fasts, whether the prayers that the Jews are praying at his time (Samaw’el) are the same as those of Moses.
He presents us for a number of examples from the ‘Amidah, the main prayer prayed thrice daily, asking if any of these examples were prayed by Moses and the Jews of his time. The examples mentioned by Samaw’el of course cannot be said by Moses, since they mention the ingathering from the exile from the four corners of the earth, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Besides those two examples he also mentions the fast of Gedalyah, the fast of Tisha b’Av and others examples, which only can have been established long after Moses lived. If these examples still leave the Jews denying that there are talk about any abrogation, he will point to Deuteronomy 13:1 “Everything I command you that you shall be careful to do it. You shall neither add to it, nor subtract from it.”
His final argument on abrogation regards the first-born, who according to Exodus 13:2 is sanctified for God, but – Samaw’el points out – it was later changed so the Levites took the place of the first-borns of Israel, since they joined Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai and witnessed the worshiping of the gold-calf.
Based on all his arguments presented here, he conclude that the Jews cannot deny these arguments, leaving them only with admitting either that the Torah has been altered or that these are indeed proofs of abrogation.
 It is the same reasoning that can be found in medieval argument for God’s eternity. Nothing can be eternal if it has a beginning or an end.
Or something like that. Okay, sorry, I have been terrible quiet lately. The excuses are many, but it doesn’t chance the quiet from my side, something I hope to change within the next coming days. Maybe it’s because I’ve been too busy, maybe I haven’t felt that I had things to share, or maybe I just didn’t feel like writing much. I think it’s a combination, but I’m really not sure.
Anyway, some news. I got my first assignment back, on Ibrahim as an Early Monotheist, which gave me an A (yeah!), and recommendations for improvements, such as explaining why the differences I found are there. I might attempt to incorporate that, but I still wanted to share the done assignment with you, which you can find on the right side on the main page, in the Box-widget. Yes, that’s another new thing, where you from now on will be able to find the various articles I might write, as well as my done assignments, as soon as they are available.
What else is new? Well, I found out what I’m going to focus on in the polemics-class (Battle over the Bible), namely Modern Jewish-Muslim polemics over the Bible. At least that’s the idea. I hope that that will give me the chance for some insights in a world, which normally isn’t being introduced to many, both in a historic and more recent context. For example am I planning on writing a review on an article about the mufassir (Muslim interpreter of the Quran), Ibn Biqâ’î, who used the Bible in his tafsir (interpretation of the Quran), and reactions to that, as well as the four Muslim approaches to the Bible. Hope that will interest some of you.
That’s it for now I think. Hope to get back soon, BE”H.
In the second verse of the Torah, which deals with the creation, we find the expression “והארץ היתה תהו ובהו” – The earth was in utter chaos. The problem I have with this statement is that I don’t feel that I fully appreciate the meaning of the expression “Tohu vaVohu.”
The roots of the two words, Tahah (תהה) and Bahah (בהה), make it all even more difficult, having Tahah meaning to wonder, to be amazed, to be dumbfounded, to ponder or to reflect, while Bahah means to stare into space, to daydream, or to gaze. The thing is, the expression “Tohu vaVohu” has always been understood as utter chaos, or without form, and still is. If we look at the four most used English Jewish translations, we will see the expression being translated as follows:
‘Astonishingly empty’ (Judaica Press and Artscroll), and ’unformed and void’ (Soncino and JPS)
Checking a number of Christian translations, we reach the same understanding of the words, meaning without form, empty, or void.
This is also the sense left us when we relate to various commentators, e.g. Rashi who writes that Tohu “is an expression of astonishment and desolation, that a person wonders and is astonished at the emptiness therein.” This is an interpretation which leans on the meaning of Tahah, though he doesn’t relate to the second part of the expression, Bohu. Ibn ‘Ezra understands the expression as “empty waste,” while Nahmanides states that the “lower prime matter, after its creation from nothingness, was completely prime matter, that is matter without substance.” So also here are we dealing with understandings of the expression as something without form or, as Nahmanides express it, substance. Contrary the other commentators Nahmanides attempts to translate Bohu on its own, explaining that it consists of ‘bo’ and ‘hu,’ that is “is in him,” relating to the idea of a being. I would suspect that he somehow attempts to relate it to Bahah, ‘seeing’ something that will be in ‘it,’ that which still is without form.
Onkelos, the Aramaic Targum found with any Hebrew Bible, which was written in the beginning of the second century, translates the expression as “צדיא וריקניא” –Tzadya w’Reqanya, meaning something desolate and empty, also dealing with the same meaning. The Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah) takes another approach, relating the Tohu vaVohu to evilness and wrongdoing, though still in the negative understanding of void and waste.
When we look at other Biblical passages using the words, then we find Tohu ten places, all relating to something being vain, void or confusion, while Bohu is found three times, relating to emptiness.
So by now we have established that the understanding of Tohu vaVohu means something astonishing/confusing emptiness, void, desolate being without form or something in that regards. For me, when I read this expression, I get the idea of a world still not being formed or ‘expressed,’ sort of speaking. Something has to be added, we are still viewing something not yet decided on.
That said, I still don’t feel that I have the full understanding of the expression itself, nor of the words. They escape me, my full understanding of them. I need to approach them closer, but how? Also their relations to their roots, how can they change their meaning like that? Do they change meaning at all? Something I’m sure of is that this isn’t the last time I’m going to deal with this subject.
Comparative study on the law schools and overall structure of Islam and Judaism – Defining the Schisms
Considering finding the comparison of the evolution of the Jewish maḍhab, I think there are some things that need to be in place, before we can begin the comparison. First off, one of the reasons the various maḍâhib appeared was the internal split as well as the geographical distance between the centers. People became more focused on their local center than on the overall center. When do we see the same in Judaism? Another thing which needs to be in place, is the acknowledgment of the same basic sources. When talking about Islam the split in the legal sources is the Sunnah and the Imams, where the Shi’as don’t acknowledge the Sunni compilations of Hadith, so the Sunnis don’t acknowledge the Shi’a ditto as well as the status of the Imams. Within the Sunni maḍâhib the basic sources where agreed upon, as they were, I believe, in the case of the Shi’a maḍâhib.
So we have two levels of comparison here. One is in the schism of disagreement on basic sources, that is, the sources considered holy and thus basic for further understanding of Allah’s will, the other the schisms within the major movements, where it is a question more about different principles in the interpretation of these sources, than the sources themselves.
When I think of examples on the first schism in Judaism, I find many and from various periods of time. During the Biblical times the obvious example is that of the Samarians and the Judeans. During the time of the Second Temple there are the schisms between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Essenes and the other Jewish groups (in regards to the status of the Temple as well as the priesthood of the Essenes), and later on between the Rabbinic Jews and the Karaites. Today we might even talk about the schism between the Orthodox on the one hand and the Reform on the other (with the Conservative movement somewhere in between). What is worthwhile to notice here is that we are talking about schisms, which emphasis the struggle on who are the right ones to define what “true Judaism” is, that is, where do we put the limits. That is also the case in the Islamic schism between the Sunnis and the Shi’as. Of course, which I dare say is obvious, it doesn’t mean that the two parts in each schism, whether Jewish or Muslim, denies the other side’s right to leave an imprint on the religion, as well as the case can be that sometimes the one part denies the other side’s right, while the other side acknowledge the right of the first side.
The schisms which I believe cannot be placed within this category of schisms, let’s call it the Schism of Who is Right, are those of the Ashkenazim and Sfaradim, and that of the Talmuds Yerushalmi and Bavli, simply because we have two sides, in both cases, agreeing on the basic sources.
This leaves me though with maybe even more work. First off, which groups should I focus on? It is clear that I need to decide on whether I focus on the Rabbinical Jews, the Sadducees, the Reform, the Sunni, or the Shi’as, for the sake of focus. Second off, I also need to establish whether we can find examples on the maḍâhib in all cases. Maybe I find it among the, let’s say, Karaites, but it doesn’t mean that it exists in the case of the Sadducees. I need to define my approach, my focus, and be able to explain why I chose that focus.
Some recommended reading:
“Studies in Usul al-Fiqh,” Iyad Hilal, can be found at www.islamic-truth.fsnet.co.uk
“Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence,” M. H. Kamali, can easily be found by search on Google.
“Hadith : Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World,” Jonathan A. C. Brown. Oneworld Publication, 2009.
“The Most Learned of the Shi’a: The Institution of the Marja’ Taqlid,” edited by Linda S. Walbridge. Oxford University Press, 2001.
“Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law,” Ignaz Goldziher (translated by Andras and Ruth Hamori). Princeton University Press, 1981.
“Halakha in the Making: The Development of Jewish Law from Qumran to the Rabbis,” Aharon Shemesh. University of California Press, 2009.
“The Talmud: A Selection,” Edited by Norman Solomon. Penguin Books Ltd, 2009.
“Who Owns Judaism? Public Religion and Private Faith in America and Israel,” edited by Eli Lederhendler. Oxford University Press, 2001.
“For the Love of God and People: A Philosophy on Jewish Law,” Elliot N. Dorff. The Jewish Publication Society, 2007.
“An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law,” edited by N. S. Hecht, B. S. Jackson, S. M. Passamaneck, D. Piatelli, and A. M. Rabello. Oxford University Press, 1996.
“The Sages,” R. Ephraim Urbach. The Magnes Press, 1987.
“The Halakhah: Its Sources and Development,” R. Ephraim Urbach. Modan Ltd, 1996.
Yet another post on Avraham Avinu, A”S. I know it, I’m going crazy, but there’s a reason. As you know, I’ve been writing that I’m doing an assignment on him for one of my exams, and where the other courses haven’t been so extensive or focused on one theme, it has been easier (or just more compelling) to go really deep with my studies on Avraham Avinu, A”S.
I will be going on with my posts on him for a little more time, but there will also be presentations of other exams I’m doing, for example in Early Christianity and Approaching Classical Jewish Texts. The exam in the course in Early Islamic Texts has been given, orally, and didn’t take so much, since the course continues into next semester. The same is the case with the course in Early Christianity, which does have a shorter written assignment on some six to eight pages. I’ll present that within a couple of days, there are some interesting things there. I still haven’t received that questions for Approaching Classical Jewish Texts, so I can’t share my thoughts on that one with you yet.
Anyway. I’ve made a habit of making a working paper when I have to deal with assignments, and this is also the case with this assignment. Sometimes they are given as presentation to the teacher or incorporated in the introduction for the assignment itself. This one is mostly for my own though, so I don’t feel bad about sharing it with you, so you can see what I will be focusing on in my assignment.
When I studied on University of Copenhagen, I usually put my assignments up after evaluation, but I’m not sure I’m allowed to do that now though I don’t see how it should be a problem. If there won’t be any problems in it, I will share my assignments with you, as soon as they have been evaluated.
Here’s my working paper – feel free to comment:
Abraham as an Early Monotheist
Abraham plays a very central role both in Judaism and Islam. Many examples on this can be mentioned, but just to mention two examples, one from Judaism, one from Islam, then we can think of the Jewish convert receiving the title of “ben Avraham” (son of Abraham), or the way he is described in Quran as Hanif and being the only one called “Khalilat Allah” (friend of Allah). Abraham is a role model in both religions, one being emphasized in attempts to console and bringing Arabs and Jews together, focusing on his role as forefather for both people. Therefore it could be interesting to see how he is described as a faithful role model for the two people.
What I found interesting in this relation is to find out how he is described in early Islamic literature, and then see if we can find Jewish sources for these descriptions, or whether he is described in a genuine Islamic way. Where we find Jewish sources, it could be interesting to see how far back they are depicted, and whether there has been any evolution in them. This is to see if it is the same Abraham the Muslims and the Jews are focusing on as a role model at all, or whether there are related to two different forefathers.
The questions I will attempt to answer are to be presented as:
What are the main points presented about Abraham in early Islamic literature in regards to him being an early monotheist? Are there any examples of these representations of him in pre-Islamic Jewish sources, and if there are, do we find any evolution in these?
My approach will thus be to find accounts in early Islamic literature, depicting Abraham as a monotheist, then to see if I can find any similar accounts in earlier Jewish literature, starting with later Jewish literature and then working my way back, to end with Biblical account of Abraham.
What I will not be dealing with, are the questions on whether there has been later Islamic influence on Jewish thoughts on Abraham, since part of my approach is to find examples on Jewish thoughts in Islamic presentation of Abraham, as well as examples being purely Islamic.
I will do this by doing comparative analysis between the texts, but in order to get to a better understanding of the meaning applied to certain terms, as well as finding elements which can be said to be similar or where they differ from each other. This point is also important in order to determine whether Ibrahim is depicted as Avraham from an earlier or later stage of Jewish literature.
It will be done in various stages, starting by finding the Quranic meaning of Abraham as a Hanif, finding Quranic accounts relating to this meaning, comparing this with later similar Islamic representations, and then working backwards through Jewish literature, to see if and where those representations can be found and when they can be found. When this is done, I believe it will possible to determine how Abraham is described in early Islamic literature, where we can speculate on Jewish influence, when the Jewish representations have first evolved, and finally what can be said to be pure Islamic description of Abraham.
What I will not be doing here, is relating to Christian sources, unless it is needed, so when I state that I will find “pure Islamic descriptions of Abraham,” it is with the reservation that this can be found in Christian sources, rather than being “purely Islamic.” Also in this, even if not found in Christian sources, it might be found in pre-Islamic Arabic legends on Abraham.
I will be using a number of sources, a list of which can be found in the end of the assignment, the primary sources being found among following literature:
The Quran – Yusufali’s translation unless otherwise stated.
Ahadith – Here only Sahih Bukhari and Muslim.
Sirat al-Nabawiyya – Here only Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari’s History.
The Talmud – Primarily the Babylonian Talmud.
Midrashim – Primarily Bereshit Rabbah.
Targumim – here only Targum Onkelos and Targum Jonathan.
Rewritten bibles – here only book of Jubilees, Josephus’ “Antiquities,” and Philo’s “On Abraham.”
The Bible – The JPS 1999 translation unless otherwise stated.