Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 55-63 Insists on Jesus’ Humanity, Not His Divinity

Verse 55 is interesting for the different ways it would be interpreted by whomever is reading it. For instance, Christians would read this and assume that it is an outright praise of their religion and a guarantee that they are going to heaven. Why? Because it says that those who follow Jesus are placed above denying the truth. However, Muslims would read this and understand that Jesus was not the son of God and so Christians who believed in such things (taken a step further, the Trinity) would be wrong in their beliefs. Though I suppose the verse doesn’t really guarantee much other than a place above those who deny the truth (disbelievers?) – and honestly, is being above disbelievers really anything to be thrilled about? That just means that you’re not a disbeliever. Hmm. This is an interesting verse but I don’t think I’ve really cracked what it has to offer. What do you think?

I like the affirmation of the value of good works in verse 57. I’ve always found that to be a very important concept – as opposed to say faith or especially grace – because it is good works that make the world go round, no matter your religion, beliefs or anything else. We’re all people and we all deserve each others’ help and respect.

Boy are verses 58-60 the ultimate renunciation of a central Christian creed: namely, that Jesus is not human (at least not human only) but actually God. The Quran is making a real point of denying Christian beliefs about Jesus because Islam is monotheistic in the true sense of the word; Muslims cannot accept (reasonably so) the notion that Jesus – whom Islam considers a prophet like the others – is actually God . . . and simultaneously the son of God. NO! The Quran makes clear in three verses: Jesus was like Adam – human and from dust.

Verse 61 proposes an interesting way of resolving the dispute about Jesus’ divinity: get everybody together and then pray for a curse on whomever is wrong. Asad writes this about the actual confrontation regarding this verse:

“According to all the reliable authorities, verses 59-63 of this surah were revealed in the year 10 H., on the occasion of a dispute between the Prophet and a deputation of the Christians of Najran who, like all other Christians, maintained that Jesus was “the son of God” and, therefore, God incarnate. Although they refused the “trial through prayer” (mubahalah) proposed to them by the Prophet, the latter accorded to them a treaty guaranteeing all their civic rights and the free exercise of their religion.”

What do you think about these verses? Can you help me illuminate some of their meaning better?

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Al-’Imran 55-63

55. Lo! God said: “O Jesus! Verily, I shall cause thee to die, and shall exalt thee unto Me, and cleanse thee of [the presence of] those who are bent on denying the truth; and I shall place those who follow thee [far] above those who are bent on denying the truth, unto the Day of Resurrection. In the end, unto Me you all must return, and I shall judge between you with regard to all on which you were wont to differ. 56. “And as for those who are bent on denying the truth, I shall cause them to suffer a suffering severe in this world and in the life to come, and they shall have none to succour them; 57. whereas unto those who attain to faith and do good works He will grant their reward in full: for God does not love evildoers.” 58. THIS MESSAGE do We convey unto thee, and this tiding full of wisdom: 59. Verily, in the sight of God, the nature of Jesus is as the nature of Adam, whom He created out of dust and then said unto him, “Be” – and he is. 60 [This is] the truth from thy Sustainer; be not, then, among the doubters! 61. And if anyone should argue with thee about this [truth] after all the knowledge that has come unto thee, say: “Come! Let us summon our sons and your sons, and our women and your women, and ourselves and yourselves; and then let us pray [together] humbly and ardently, and let us invoke God’s curse upon those [of us] who are telling a lie.” 62. Behold, this is indeed the truth of the matter, and there is no deity whatever save God; and, verily, God – He alone – is almighty, truly wise. 63 And if they turn away [from this truth] – behold, God has full knowledge of the spreaders of corruption.

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Fun with the Bible: Adam and Eve’s Crotch-Covering Leaves

jay-with-adam-leaf

This is me in Kuala Lumpur holding a giant leaf that I found, and which made me think of Adam in the Garden of Eden. After the serpent tricks Adam and Eve, we can read in Genesis 3:7, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.”

Now, this is no fig leaf and it certainly couldn’t get turned into a loincloth, but I couldn’t help but think that if they’d had such leaves it would have been a lot easier for them to diaper-wrap these than anything else. After all, where did they learn to sow and with what implements were they sowing anyways?

Have you been to Kuala Lumpur? What do you think of this verse in the Bible?

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13 Silly Biblical Puns Really are Fun with the Bible

Though we’re always having fun with the Bible on Mondays, we rarely ever enjoy some good old fashioned jokes – Bible style. This week, let’s break from our somewhat serious Bible lessons – even though they’re fun – and chuckle at these goofy biblical puns.
Q. What kind of man was Boaz before he married Ruth?
A. Ruthless.

Q. What do they call pastors in Germany ?
A. German Shepherds.

Q. Who was the greatest financier in the Bible?
A. Noah He was floating his stock while everyone else was in liquidation.

Q. Who was the greatest female financier in the Bible?
A. Pharaoh’s daughter. She went down to the bank of the Nile and drew out a little prophet.

Q. What kind of motor vehicles are in the Bible?
A. Jehovah drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden in a Fury. David’s Triumph was heard throughout the land. Also, probably a Honda, because the apostles were all in one Accord.

Q. Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?
A. Samson. He brought the house down.

Q. What excuse did Adam give to his children as to why he no longer lived in Eden ?
A. Your mother ate us out of house and home.

Q. Which servant of God was the most flagrant lawbreaker in the Bible?
A. Moses. He broke all 10 commandments at once.

Q. Which area of Palestine was especially wealthy?
A. The area around Jordan: the banks were always overflowing.

Q. Who is the greatest babysitter mentioned in the Bible?
A. David. H e rocked Goliath to a very deep sleep.

Q. Which Bible character had no parents?
A. Joshua, son of Nun.

Q. Why didn’t they play cards on the Ark ?
A. Because Noah was standing on the deck. (Groan…)

PS. Did you know it’s a sin for a woman to make coffee?
Yup, it’s in the Bible. It says . . . ‘He-brews’

Which was your favorite? Got any good ones? Stick them in the comments!

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Fun with the Bible: The Harmony of God’s Creation in Genesis 1

Common Misconceptions about the Creation Story

When you ask most people what God created on each of the six days of creation (remember, the seventh day was for chillin’ like a villain), they will generally answer incorrectly. Test this out. Don’t ask your local biblical scholar, of course, just someone who is aware of his or her religion, goes to church or synagogue occasionally and might have something to say. Day by day, his/her answer may go a little something like this:

1. The universe

2. Land and water

3. Sun and Moon

4. Plants

5. Animals

6. Adam and Eve

Now, that wouldn’t be a terrible guess, mind you. In some fashion or another those things were created, the order is not terrible, and they managed to fill six days. Of course, my made up answer might be a little biased since I know what really happened. They may skip one or two, wind up with Adam and Eve on day 4 and then have to backtrack and think about what happened in those last few days. “Uh, pot and beer, dude? Hehehe.”

The Beautiful Symmetry of Creation

In any case, I’d like to take a moment to show you what God created on which days (not that you couldn’t read it for yourself), just so that you can see the inherent harmony in the plan and in the mind of the author of Genesis 1.

1. Night and Day                          4. Sun, Moon and Stars

2. Sky and Water                          5. Birds and Fish

3. Dry land and Vegetation           6. Animals and Humankind

Now isn’t that special? Do you notice anything?

The way I laid it out should give away the beautiful symmetry of creation, how everything created in the first three days is complemented by what is designed for it specifically in the latter three days. The Sun, Moon and Stars make Night and Day a reality. The birds and fish populate the sky and water and then animals and mankind (or mammals, if you will) populate the dry land and utilize the vegetation. Beautiful!

One thing you might notice is that there’s no Adam and Eve. That’s right, in Genesis 1, the creation of humankind is the simultaneous existence of man and woman and what’s more, they look like God because they were created “in His image.” That means what it says. Notice also how humanity is the culmination of creation.

Some Differences in the Creation Story of Genesis 2

If you look at Genesis 2, which happens to be an entirely different creation story – that is, a competing story, not a complementary one – you will notice that initially some stuff is around and so is God and then God makes man and the rest of creation comes from man. All the animals and finally the woman (eventually Eve) come from man’s existence. Moreover, that story is “sloppier” in the sense that it does not provide us with the distance, majesty and order of the first creation story. In Genesis 2-3 God “forms” man and breathes life into his nostrils. Very physical and image oriented. In Genesis 1 how does God create everything? With his words: “God said.” Very different ideas of God who create different things for different reasons. Fascinating stuff.

Imagine the Cosmos

Also, what do the cosmos look like before God began creating in Genesis 1? Can you envision it? If you want to know what the cosmology of the author (or original teller of this tale) was, try to visual what’s happening in the first 10 verses.

First, there is basically nothing but water. God makes light and separates it from dark but how does he create where we end up? Starting with Genesis 1:6 imagine a snowglobe being inserted into the water – this is the “separation of the waters from the waters.” Why would ancient people think that water was above and only a dome kept us from it? Think about lying in an empty field at night: looks like a dome, huh? Plus, during the day the sky is blue and when it rains, water comes from it – like the water dome is leaking. This was the vision, and after the snowglobe separates the waters, God can make land in the bottom water for us to hang out on.

Summary

What do you think about all that I’ve just said? Is there anything else you’d like to point out for us? Does anything not make sense that you’d like to discuss further?

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Quran Day: The Story of Adam and the Angels in The Cow 30-39

The Quran and the Bible – Influence, Harmony and History

I loved reading this section, but as many of you are probably figuring out, I love to talk about the Quran’s relationship to the Bible.

On a basic level, reading Genesis 2-3 alongside these verses provides a great comparison of two texts telling the same (but a different) story. Next, you get to extrapolate to a comparison of Judaism and Christianity v. Islam based on their respective texts, all the while wondering to what degree the Quran is influenced by the actual biblical story or by the people who believe in the biblical story (i.e. Christians and Jews). And then you have to wonder what stage of their religious development those Christians and Jews were at; what I mean is that Christians and Jews didn’t just believe the biblical story as is (by the first to sixth centuries CE) but had all sorts of theological interpretations and alternate understandings by the rise of Islam – some which are more visible and some less in the Quranic text. So where are the influences coming from and how!?

That I find this ridiculously fun is like lifting up my dress to reveal my nerdiness, but I think that religious interplay and influence between peoples and their texts is the bees’ knees – one of the coolest and most fascinating things to study.

So what do I have to say about these verses then…

I wonder why the angels are such a large part of the story of the creation of man. Admittedly, it adds a fascinating element if one knows enough about “angelology.” The angels here reflect a common theme whereby angels are jealous of men, because men sin and don’t worship God constantly as angels do yet are still given so much by way of paradise (Garden) and forgiveness/mercy and access to Heaven. These knowledgeless angels are not unexpected – Angels always seem to be simple peons of God who do what they’re supposed to not because they should but because it would never occur to them to do otherwise.

Some interesting contrasts with the biblical story are that no particular tree is mentioned at this point in the Quran (is it later?). Plus, there’s only one tree. The Garden of Eden in the Bible had two forbidden trees (Knowledge of Good and Evil, which Adam and Eve ate from, and the Tree of Life, which gave immortality). It stands to reason that God would not want Adam and Eve to eat from those trees (all-knowing and immortal people could be problematic – though in the Quran God gives knowledge of reality and all things before the tree scene!) but in the Quran we have no reason for this tree being a no-no. It’s simply an injunction that Adam cannot eat from a certain tree. Why? What does this teach more pointedly that the Bible does not? Obedience?

Also, the biblical story doesn’t have Satan as the tempter. Sure, Christians will tell you that the snake was Satan, but as you may have learned with me on Fun with the Bible day, we must believe the Bible for what it says and not what we want it to say. There is no Satan in the biblical story of creation – only a snake and the original author intended that this be a snake. I imagine that the story, by the composition of the Quran, was long since one with Satan and not a snake and that is why we have what we have here.

I also find this element of male-female antagonism fascinating. Is this etiological (that is, a story about history meant to explain the present)? Why do men and women not get along? As a punishment from God when they ate from the wrong tree and were kicked out of the Garden, of course. Fortunately, God only gives this punishment for a specific time period, a luxury the biblical reader was not privy to.

Really fascinating things here and so much I just can’t get to!

Questions and Other Posts

What did you notice in these verses? What did I leave out when comparing this passage to the Bible? What do you think of the theological elements in these verses? Please feel free to answer the other questions I’ve posed above.

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The Cow 30-39

30. Remember, when your Lord said to the angels: “I have to place a trustee on the earth,” they said: “Will You place one there who would create disorder and shed blood, while we intone Your litanies and sanctify Your name?” And God said: “I know what you do not know.” 31. Then He gave Adam knowledge of the nature and reality of all things and every thing, and set them before the angels and said: “Tell Me the names of these if you are truthful.” 32. And they said: “Glory to You (O Lord), knowledge we have none except what You have given us, for You are all-knowing and all-wise.” 33. Then He said to Adam: “Convey to them their names.” And when he had told them, God said: “Did I not tell you that I know the unknown of the heavens and the earth, and I know what you disclose and know what you hide?” 34. Remember, when We asked the angels to bow in homage to Adam, they all bowed but Iblis, who disdained and turned insolent, and so became a disbeliever. 35. And We said to Adam: “Both you and your spouse live in the Garden, eat freely to your fill wherever you like, but approach not this tree or you will become transgressors. 36. But Satan tempted them and had them banished from the (happy) state they were in. And We said: “Go, one the antagonist of the other and live on the earth for a time ordained and fend for yourselves.” 37. Then his Lord sent commands to Adam and turned towards him: Indeed He is compassionate and kind. 38. And We said to them: “Go, all of you. When I send guidance, whoever follows it will neither have fear nor regret; 39. But those who deny and reject Our signs will belong to Hell, and there abide unchanged.”

Quran Day: The Cow 21-29 Speaks of Allah’s Omniscience and Other Qualities

God’s Characteristics

I was struck throughout these 9 verses by the flurry of ways that Allah, as He’s portrayed here in the Quran, reflects issues that the biblical reader will notice immediately. Then suddenly, at the end, there’s a huge difference (a difference that a biblical reader, though not necessarily a religious Christian or Jew, might notice).

In verse 29 of the Cow, we learn that God is omniscient; that is, he has knowledge of everything. Though predictable that the Quran would make sure to let us know this seemingly obvious fact, it is noteworthy that the Bible doesn’t actually tell us this about God.

Jews and Christians will insist that God is omniscient – after all, how could He not be? – but show me where it says that in the Bible. It doesn’t. The Jewish and Christian conception of God that developed in the centuries surrounding the year 0 was one of an omniscient and omnipotent deity, but God was not always thought of like this. In fact, there are instances in the Bible where we see that God just doesn’t know certain things (in Gen. 3 He has to look for Adam and Eve and calls to them because He doesn’t know where they are).

My point is that by the seventh century and the development of Islam, the concept of God in monotheistic traditions had developed in such a way that God was quite obviously omniscient, as the Quran states outright. God, we learn in these verses, is also the creator and the controller of nature.

Covenant?

One point I would love to understand better in these verses is from 27, when God’s “covenant” is spoken of. A covenant was a two-party agreement in the Ancient Near Eastern world, and either the word is being used generally or I’m having some trouble with it. Can anyone tell me what the Arabic word is?

Usually a covenant is not God’s, per se, but God’s covenant with person x. Is it implied that this is God’s covenant with mankind or individuals? Is this common language and should we understand what is being said?

Man as Creation’s Culmination

It seems a bit unfair of me to compare everything in the Quran to the Bible but as one who has studied that text and since the Bible is known to the Quran, I feel justified making such comparisons. Verse 29, that God made all that lies within the earth for you, is an interesting combination of the two creation stories in the Bible.

In Genesis 1, everything is created and human beings (not Adam and Eve) are the final creations: they are the culmination of creation. In Genesis 2, a different creation story (just read them and you’ll see that they are two different tales) tells us that man is created, and then everything else is created for him to enjoy.

These two different ideas – man as culmination of creation and as the catalyst for additional creation – seem to be harmonized in the Quranic verse, “God made for you all that lies within the earth.”

What do these verses make you think about? The notion of resurrection is also present in these verses? What is the Muslim understanding of resurrection? Are there any notions here about God that you find are the same as or different from those expressed in the Bible?

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The Cow 21-29

21. So, O you people, adore your Lord who created you, as He did those before you, that you could take heed for yourself and fear Him. 22. Who made the earth a bed for you, the sky a canopy, and sends forth rain from the skies that fruits may grow – your good and sustenance. So do not make another the equal of God knowingly. 23. If you are in doubt of what We have revealed to Our votary, then bring a Surah like this, and call any witness, apart from God, you like, if you are truthful. 24. But if you cannot as indeed you cannot, then guard yourslves against the Fire whose fuel is men and rocks, which has been prepared for the infidels. 25. Announce to those who believe and have done good deeds, glad tidings of gardens under which rivers flow, and where, when they eat the fruits that grow, they will say: “Indeed they are the same as we were given before,” so like in semblance the food would be. And they shall have fair spouses there, and live there abidingly. 26. God is not loath to advance the similitude of a gnat or a being more contemptible; and those who believe know whatever is from the Lord is true. But those who disbelieve say: “What does God mean by this parable?” He causes some to err this way and some He guides; yet He turns away none but those who trangress, 27. Who, having sealed it, break God’s covenant, dividing what He ordained cohered; and those who spread discord in the land will suffer assuredly. 28. Then how can you disbelieve in God? He gave you life when you were dead. He will make you die again then bring you back to life: To Him then you will return. 29. He made for you all that lies within the earth, then turning to the firmament He proportioned several skies; He has knowledge of every thing.