Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 122-129 Introduces us to Abraham, Ishmael and the Ka’aba

Verse 123 is a sad day to imagine, when men stop acting on behalf of one another and no one is willing to stand up for another.

Abraham and Such

The verses about Abraham fascinate me, primarily for their similarities to and differences from the biblical story. According to the Bible Abraham didn’t ask about his progeny – he was simply promised by God that he would be the father of many nations (among a few other things). Biblically, God made no caveats regarding the transgressors among Abraham’s progeny, though once Israel was with Moses in the desert they were reassured that if they were bad they would get kicked out of Cana’an.

So what is the relevance of Abraham here being told that God doesn’t tolerate transgressors or make them leaders among men? Well, for one thing, it adds an element of merit into the story that the Bible lacks. Abraham, in the Bible, is singled out by God for absolutely no reason. Numerous stories about “why Abraham” have been invented but none exist in the Bible itself. That is, no merit is involved with Abraham or his offspring. In the Quran, however, whether or not there is a reason for picking Abraham (I’m not there yet if there is), he is told that God will not honor his progeny who have what seems to be negative merit; that is, who are transgressors. This is a more long-sighted and thoughtful God. The God of Genesis makes an arbitrary promise and seems forced by the honor of His word to follow through for hundreds of years.

The Ka’aba

The connection of Abraham and Ishmael to the Ka’aba is also an interesting element to the understanding of Abraham for those familiar with only the biblical stories. It adds an entirely new dimension to the characters, particularly Ishmael, who plays a backseat role in the Bible. Connecting this revered figures to this spot and its sanctification must truly enhance the spirituality of worship.

The Bible connects Abraham with numerous spots in Canaan (Beer Sheba, Bethel, etc.), and though some people visit them out of reverence none is actually turned into a place of worship. Of course, it is believed that the spot where Abraham bound Isaac for sacrifice occured at Mount Moriah, which is allegedly the same place that the Temple was eventually located (where the Dome of the Rock now stands), but that is merely speculative (and in Islam the attempted sacrifice wasn’t of Isaac anyway!). All we know is that Abraham walked three days from Be’er Sheba and there is no real connection to the Temple Mount being Mount Moriah, nor does the Bible say it is so. The attempt to draw the connection in Jewish history, however, reinforces the understanding of the significance for Muslims that Abraham was involved with the Ka’aba.

Abraham and Islam

Abraham’s entreaty of God is also fascinating. By asking to be made to submit and by asking for submissive progeny it seems to me that he is literally asking for Islam, which means submission.

Though Jews like to say that Abraham was the first Jew, the Bible doesn’t make this claim and it is relatively unfounded. In the Quran, however, Abraham seems to be asking for, and therefore in a sense founding, Islam. Of course, Islam doesn’t begin until Mohammed’s time, but this lays the foundation for that in the earliest relevant generation.

Is verse 129 meant to be a specific reference to a particular apostle or a general plea for apostles to come and provide guidance? That is to say, is this a reference to Mohammed?

Summary

What do you think of these verses? What can you add that I didn’t mention or correct that I said? Have you ever been to the Ka’aba? Can you share your experience with us?

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The Cow 122-129

122. O Children of Israel, remember the favors I bestowed on you, and made you exalted among the nations of the world. 123. Fear the day when no man will stand up for man in the least, and no ransom avail nor intercession matter nor help reach. 124. Remember, when his Lord tried Abraham by a number of commands which he fulfilled, God said to him: “I will make you a leader among men.” And when Abraham asked: “From my progeny too?” the Lord said: “My pledge does not include transgressors.” 125. Remember, We made the House (of Ka’bah) a place of congregation and safe reatreat, and said: “Make the spot where Abraham stood the place of worship;” and enjoined upon Abraham and Ishmael to keep Our House immaculate for those who shall walk around it and stay in it for contemplation and prayer, and for bowing in adoration. 126. And when Abraham said: “O Lord, make this a city of peace, and give those of its citizens who believe in God and the Last Day fruits for food,” He answered: “To those will I also give a little who believe not, for a time, then drag them to Hell, a dreadful destination!” 127. And when Abraham was raising the plinth of the House with Ishmael (he prayed): Accept this from us, O Lord, for You hear and know everything; 128. And make us submit, O Lord, to Your will, and our progeny a people submissive to You. Teach us the way of worship and forgive our trespasses, for You are compassionate and merciful; 129. And send to them, O Lord, an apostle from among them to impart Your messages to them, and teach them the Book and the wisdom, and correct them in every way; for indeed You are mighty and wise.”

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Fun with the Bible: The Lesson of the Battle of Jericho and Why the Wall Came Down

Are you familiar with the book of Joshua in the Bible? It’s the first book after the Five Books of Moses, because it’s the book named after the person who led the Israelites after Moses kicked the bucket.

Joshua and the Conquest

Well, traditionally, the story of Joshua, which is to say the book of Joshua, is known as the Conquest of Canaan because it’s the story of the Israelites marching into Canaan, conquering the entire local population and taking all of the land for themselves that God had decided to give them. On multiple occasions the text says explicitly that the Israelites conquered all of the locals. For example, Joshua 11:19 reads, “There was not a town that made peace with the Israelites…all were taken in battle.”

Curiously, however, numerous later discussions of the Israelites in the land, whether from Judges, Samuel, Kings or other books speak of other local Canaanites being in the land, an indication that the book of Joshua did not accurately reflect what happened.

Interesting as well is the fact that half of the book is consumed with the division of the land for the tribes and other such technical details and not actually the conquest of the land. Only a few battle stories occur, all of which have different reasons for existing and which collectively lay down the “way things worked.” I’d like to focus on one: Jericho.

Jericho – Silliness Equals Victory?

God tells Joshua that in order to properly concur the city of Jericho the people needed to do a bunch of things related to parading the ark for seven days around the city, blowing their trumpets at allotted times, etc. and then the wall would fall down and they could go inside and kill everybody.

This, you may say, sounds silly. Run around the city a bunch of times, play some music and CATCHA! – the city walls come crashing down. But do the Israelites do as they were commanded? Yes, they do. And what happens? The wall tumbles down and the Israelites are victorious.

What, then, is the battle of Jericho actually meant to teach us (us being the contemporary reader, whether at the time of the story’s composition or now – or theoretically the Israelites at the time)? That we should do exactly as God says and we will be victorious in battle. Repeat: exactly as He says, no matter how silly sounding or how unlikely a path to victory, and God will take care of the rest for us.

And what about the battle with the Gibeonites, when they deceive the Israelites into swearing peace on God’s name despite the fact that God wanted them dead? Well, we learn here that we must under all conditions respect oaths made in God’s name, even if those defy God’s wishes, because an oath on God’s name is more important. Curious, no? An oath before God’s wishes?

Summary

What lessons do you derive from the book of Joshua? Did you notice how few battle stories there actually were?

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Fun with the Bible: The Theme of the Second Son in Genesis and How God Does What He Wants

The Nifty Theme of Anti-Primogeniture

One interesting theme to note in the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is how it’s all about God changing the way that the natural order plays out. One primary example of the way this happens is who the inheritance goes to in the line of the Israelites ancestors. In each instance, it is the older son that tradition and convention and ‘nature’ tell us should get the inheritance – known as primogeniture – but the second son who actually receives it because that is God’s will.

Abraham’s inheritance should actually go to Ishmael as his first born male son. However, it is actually Isaac who receives Abraham’s inheritance. Similarly, Isaac had two twin sons, Esau, who came out first, and Jacob, who came out second. Esau was meant to get his father’s blessing and inheritance, but it was Jacob who received it.

Why Can’t I Have Babies?

This theme presents itself in the case of the matriarchs as well. In each case, Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel are all barren and unable to provide children for their husbands, but God reverses the natural order and allows them all to have children because he will affect the way this line goes.

Applying This to the Torah at Large

This notion sits behind the entire experience of the Israelites as they are given the land of Cana’an by God, and is the point that the Five Books of Moses are making (in the story part, not the laws). God, at creation, has partitioned the land of the earth accordingly, but because it was His land, He was entitled to change His mind later on – something He did – and give certain parts to other people. The Torah is the story of him opting to give an already alloted piece of land to the descendants of Abraham.

In a cynical sense, the Torah is, in essence, an Israelite justification for why they had the right to dispossess the local people and take the land for themselves and live there. Their book says, because God told us it was ours when He changed his mind about the people here! The Torah is an old-ass piece of political propaganda, if you look at it this way.

Disclaimers

A. the Torah is A WHOLE lot more than this.

B. this is a cynical view though something to consider

C. Though the attitude may have modern ramifications this understanding is not meant to be applied – nor should it be applied – to the modern circumstances in the state of Israel. That would be foolish and lack consideration for myriad other factors like factual historical circumstances and other purposes of the Torah.

Wrap Up

What do you think of these ideas? What do you find noteworthy around these stories in the book of Genesis?

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Quran Day: The Cow 47-59 Recounts Exodus and God’s Relationship with the Israelites

Though there are an endless number of things to say about these verses, I’m going to go with two in particular: the first is the events recounted in Exodus and recalled here and the second is this notion of remembering.

What Comes from Exodus

Verse 49 begins a list of things that happened to the Israelites in the second book of the Bible, Exodus, the one that begins with the Israelites’ enslavement. God recounts how He saved the children of Israel from Egypt, parted the sea to aid their escape, communed with Moses, and how the Israelites made a calf, how God gave Moses the Book and Discernment (which I believe means the Bible and Prophecy, though instead of prophecy perhaps wisdom and [juris]prudence), how God sent manna and quails, etc.

Another hot topic in these sections is the Israelites’ disobedience (and they were so unruly between Egypt and Canaan that it’s a wonder they got anything – worse than bratty children in the backseat of a car!), and God’s continual mercy as he forgave them and still allowed them to go forward.

The Actual Bible in the Bible…and Then in the Quran

I would like to point out three things though. First, how it says that God gave Moses the Book. As I take this to mean the Bible, I must say that according to the Five Books of Moses, this didn’t happen. God didn’t give Moses a book (to read about Moses’ biblical authorship and the specifics of Deuteronomy’s mention of this, click HERE). Now, of course, this isn’t too important because the inherited tradition is that God did give Moses the Bible (or at least the beginning of it) so we’ll move on.

My Trouble with Verse 58

The second thing is verse 58, the one part of the events recounted (which admittedly seem to extend outside of Exodus), that I don’t understand or at least can’t match up to anything in the Bible. I don’t remember God ever saying that or anything like it to the Israelites, but perhaps it’s the Quran’s way of saying that God gave the Israelites every chance to go to Heaven (this great city?) and that they just had to do it a certain way and as the following verses showed, they just kept sinning and perverting God’s word.

It is fascinating that God tells the Israelites to repent in these verses because repentance and forgiveness by God were concepts entirely absent from ancient Israelite religion (that is, the religion reflected in Genesis, Exodus-Deuteronomy). I believe that forgiveness and repentance are very important concepts in Islam and so it’s interesting that in recounting ancient Israelite history, the Quran has God emphasizing the importance of repentance to the Israelites, though the concept was never there and doesn’t exist in that part of the Bible, beyond basic apologizing after the Golden Calf incident, but certainly not as a theological emphasis or doctrinal necessity.

Finally, though a quick summary, I would like to say that for the most part this section captures the gist of the Old Testament. God did the Israelites a lot of favors from Egypt forward, the Israelites treated God poorly and were totally ungrateful, and then throughout the Prophets the Israelites are accused, like verse 59 here, of perverting the word of God and being sinners. Thus, retribution was sent, ultimately for the Jews in the form of the Babylonian Exile.

Remembrance

The last thing I want to mention is the way many of these verses start, emphasizing “Remember.” This makes me think of the Passover holiday celebrated by Jews that is designed to make Jews remember the many things that God did for them. Jews recount the events so that they never forget what they owe God. That feeling, though obviously in brief, seems echoed here based on the interweaving of God’s great actions, mercy and forgiveness.

What do these verses make you think about? What can you add to our understanding of these verses? Is there any part of the summary of ancient Israelite history that you have trouble placing as a biblically recounted event?

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The Cow 47-59

47. Remember, O Children of Israel, the favors I bestowed on you, and made you exalted among the nations of the world. 48. Take heed of the day when no man will be useful to man in the least, when no intercession matter nor ransom avail, nor help reach them. 49. Remember, We saved you from the Pharaoh’s people who wronged and oppressed you and slew your sons but spared your women: In this was a great favor from your Lord. 50. Remember, We parted the sea and saved you, and drowned the men of Pharaoh before your very eyes. 51. Yet, remember, as We communed with Moses for forty nights you took the calf in his absence (and worshiped it), and you did wrong. 52. Even so, We pardoned you that you may be grateful. 53. Remember, We gave Moses the Book and Discernment of falsehood and truth, that you may be guided. 54. Remember, Moses said: “My people, by taking this calf you have done yourselves harm, so now turn to your Creator in repentance, and kill your pride, which is better with your Lord.” And (the Lord) softened towards you, for He is all-forgiving and merciful. 55. Remember, when you said to Moses: “We shall not believe in you until we see God face to face,” lightening struck you as you looked. 56. Even then We revived you after you had become senseless that you might give thanks; 57. And made the cloud spread shade over you, and sent for you manna and quails that you may eat of the good things We have made for you. No harm was done to Us, they only harmed themselves. 58. And remember, We said to you: “Enter this city, eat wherever you like, as much as you please, but pass through the gates in humility and say: ‘May our sins be forgiven.'” We shall forgive your trespasses and give those who do good abundance. 59. But the wicked changed and perverted the word We had spoken to a word distorted, and We sent from heaven retribution on the wicked, for they disobeyed.

Fun with the Bible: Tragedy Strikes – The Terrible Tale of the Ninth of Av

For our first Fun with the Bible Monday, we’re going to discuss the most tragic day on the Jewish calendar: Tisha B’Av, or the 9th of Av. Perhaps this seems sick and sadistic, but as I’ve told every woman I’ve ever loved, take me or leave me. And as it happens, this Sunday does happen to be the dreaded day, Tisha B’Av.

The History

Why so awful? Well, it’s purported to be the day that everything awful happened in Jewish history, beginning with the destruction of the first Jewish Temple, built by Solomon in Jerusalem (for more on this click HERE). This destruction, of course, led to the exile of the people from Judea to Babylon. The day was then extended in the memory of the Jewish people to include the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans, and even other awful days after that.

The rabbis who shaped the Jewish religion said that lots of things happened on the 9th of Av. Are you familiar with the biblical story where Moses led the Israelites to the border of Cana’an and sent spies in to scout out the land? Well, the spies returned to Moses and the people and complained about the land and how hard it would be to conquer it (Numbers 13:32). This badmouthing, the rabbis said, happened on the 9th of Av. In modern times, people have even tried to say that Hitler made his decision to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto on the 9th of Av.

So, in short, the 9th of Av has been turned into the most terrible day of mourning and fasting on the Jewish calendar, and this coming Sunday is that terrible day.

Fun with the Bible

But here’s where Fun with the Bible comes in. If we look in the Bible, it doesn’t actually say that the original tragic event reputed to have occurred on the 9th of Av – the destruction of the Temple – really happened then!

First, turn to II Kings 25:8, the book that tells the story of the kings of Israel and Judah and ends with the destruction and exile. And the fifth month is Av. It reads, “In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month … Nebuchadnezzar … burned the house of the Lord.” (Don’t worry, I didn’t omit anything that changes what this means, so…) What!?! The seventh of Av? Suspicious, no?

Now turn to Jeremiah 52:12-13, a book by one of the great Israelite prophets alive and prophecying at the time of Jerusalem’s capture and destruction. It reads, “In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month…he burned the house of the Lord.” I’m sorry – did everyone hear that. Jeremiah said it was the 10th of Av, and the writer of the book of Kings (maybe we’ll get into who that was another time) said it was the 7th of Av. Huh!?

So what happened here? Basically, there was an inconsistency between two equally valid texts, both agreed to have been written with divine inspiration (again, an issue for another time), and those people who commented on the texts and read and thought about them (eventually, the rabbis) had to do something about it. So what did they do? Rather than give precedence to either text, they effectively took an average and said, the actual date of the Temple’s destruction must be somewhere in between the two accounts. Lo and behold, the 9th of Av it is. Therefore, it is this day that Jews spend mourning, fasting and crying, and claiming that other terrible things happened on to compact the day’s sadness.

The Point

Now, why did I share this?

To undermine the integrity of the Bible? To cast doubt on faith or on the Jewish religion? No (though perhaps those are unintended bonuses). I did this, among other reasons, to point out the importance of reading the Bible for ourselves and not taking the word of other people for what it says.

The Bible is a fascinating and spectacular book. I dare say it’s my favorite book (and note, I’m not religious at all). It is incredibly long, written by numerous people over the course of 1000+ years, has every kind of story and writing imaginable (poetry, prose, tragedy, comedy, romance, social/political intrigue, every stratum of society included, sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc., etc.). In the meantime, it opens up a world of fascinating history (what may or may not be historically accurate is a discussion for another day), reveals the mindset, attitudes and worldviews of countless people, times and places and so much more. All that and it’s the most highly revered text by two world religions (Christianity and Judaism) and respected by Islam as well. And there are so many more reasons to love this book.

Recommendation

However, people manipulate the Bible every second of every day, striving to use it for their own purposes and designs. Now, I don’t have any problem with people reading the Bible and interpreting it after their theological fashion. I mean, hey, that’s religion for you and it’s part of the book’s beauty. However, that should remind us that the Bible can be made to say anything, and nearly any opinion can be plumbed from its cavernous depths. For that reason, we need to be careful and we need to read it ourselves. I encourage everyone to go get him or herself a copy of the Bible (the editions that have the most accurate translations are the Jewish Publication Society Edition and the New Revised Standard Version) and start reading from the beginning.

You’ll be amazed at what’s in there and at what’s not in there that people may have told you was – case in point, that the Temple was destroyed on the 9th of Av. Well, maybe no one told you that one but you’ll be surprised nonetheless. It’s a fascinating and wonderful book.

On Fun with the Bible days, we will look at some idea, theme, section or passage of the Bible and learn about it from a historical-critical perspective. That is, as scholars investigate it. We will leave our religious biases aside (though I do invite you to discuss your religion’s perspective on any particular theme or passage in the comments of the post) and try to learn about the Bible for what the Bible says (and we’ll add what archaeologists and historians have discovered as well). Then we’ll see how what we’ve discussed can be maintained as relevant today. Whether religious or secular I think you’ll have something to learn if you join me every Monday for Fun with the Bible. And generally posts won’t be as long as today’s.

I encourage you to send me your questions about the Bible or to recommend your favorite passages or themes for discussion. Email them to me at JaySolomon@thezenofsouthpark.com or just post them as comments. If you start reading the Bible on your own, I would be delighted to help you along with any places you get stuck or have questions about terms or anything else at all.

And remember, always read for yourself!

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