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The Quran and the Biblical Texts

BS”D

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

Samaw’el and his arguments for the prophethood of Jesus and Muhammad

BS”D

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.

 

Comparative study on the law schools and overall structure of Islam and Judaism – Defining the Schisms

BS”D

 

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.

Pirqei Avot 1:1 – Making A Fence!

BS”D

Moshe received Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Yehoshu’a, and Yehoshu’a to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets passed it on to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be moderate in judgment, make many students, and make a fence for the Torah.

 

Some thoughts:

We are here presented with the chain of the Oral Torah, going back to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Moshe Rabenu, A”S, according to the rabbinical tradition, received both a written and an Oral Torah, the one giving the guiding lines, the other to explain them.

HaRaMBaM, Z”L, explains in the introduction to his M”T, that the teachers of the Oral Torah, Yehoshu’a bin Nun, the Elders, the Prophets and so on, would write down notes on the Oral Torah, but not itself, in order to help on memorizing it. This chain is continued through the Pirqei Avot (P”A), stating who received and from who, every time a new Rabbi is mentioned. Here it stops with the men of the Great Assembly, which was established by ‘Ezra, A”S.

They present the first ethical statement in this Seder, namely moderation in judgment, to make many students, and make a fence in Torah.

What does this mean? Well, there is of course the obvious reading of the verse, that this is directed to some kind of court, but personally I see a more personal level as well. Namely that when we end in situation where we “judge” people, then we shouldn’t judge people harshly, without understanding or mercy. Everybody can fail, and we are all people, so sometimes we don’t even realize when we fail, which doesn’t just go for the person we are “judging” but also for us selves. We might believe that we are right in the moment, but maybe we are actually the one who is wrong.

And in that regards, we should influence people, making them our “students”. Maybe not so much in the technical understanding of the word, that now we are teaching somebody, but when we act in the society, some are bound to react to it, to take it to themselves, and maybe even act as we are. The manner we are acting should be in a moderate way, and when people see how we deal with things, when we believe that we have been wronged, will influence how they will believe is right to act as well. We are a specie of social animals, influencing each other, as well as being influenced by each other, and each and every one of us, has an impact on the whole society.

And that is why we have to make a fence around Torah, because our actions are crucial for all of us, not only for the individual. We should guard us selves in our approach to Torah, not taking it for granted or too easy. As said earlier, we are only humans, and we do fail, so making a fence, will keep us from breaking the Commandments themselves, keeping our failings in safe distance, sort of speaking.

By having these three things in mind, we can help establishing a more ethical and understanding society, also when we or others are failing.

 

Who are introduced here?

 

Most know of Moshe Rabenu and Yehoshu’a, A”S, also known as Moses and Joshua. The Elders are the Judges and leaders mentioned in “Judges,” and the Prophets are, well, the Prophets of the NaCh (the Prophetical Books of the Bible). Then a group is mentioned, which might be unknown for some, namely “The Great Assembly,” which is also know, in Hebrew, as Anshei Knesset HaG’dolah (אנשי כנסת הגדולה), and existed – according to the traditional view – from the end of the Prophets until the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 CE. This Assembly are believed to have consisted of 120 known Sages, and probably a number of unknown Sages, among the Scribe, Ezra, A”S, who has a book ascribed to him in the Bible. Also some Prophets are believed to have been part of the Great Assembly.

The Assembly is credited for having established the Jewish Canon of the Bible, some of the more central prayers, such as the ‘Amidah, and the Rabbinical hagim, such as Purim. As such it is given great credit and has had a great impact in Judaism.

Though there are discussions on whether the Great Assembly really has existed among scholars, I will follow the traditional Jewish view here.

 

New terms:

 

A”S: ‘Alaiv HaShalom (עליו השלום), Hebrew for “Peace be upon him!” A term normally used about Prophets and Patriarchs.

Hag: Hagim in plural, a Hag (חג) is a Jewish religious festival.

Seder: Part of the Mishnah. The Mishnah is made in six parts, called S’darim (סדרים, plural for סדר), which is Hebrew for “order.” The word can also appear in other contexts.

TaNaCh: The Jewish Bible. The Bible is parted in three parts, namely Torah, which are the Five Books, Nevi’im, the Prophetical Books, and Ketuvim, the Scriptures. Taking the first letter of each part, the word TaNaCh (since Kaf, k, is changing to ch in the middle and end of words as a general rule) is formed. When only talking about the Prophetical Books and the Scriptures, the term NaCh is used. On more on the TaNaCh, see my article on it on Judaic Awareness.

Z”L: Zichrono Livracha (זכרונו לברכה), Hebrew for “May his memory be blessed!” Normally used for Rabbinical scholars and others who should be respected (such as parents), who are dead.