Quran Read-A-Long: 153-163 Has a Line That’s Nearly Identical to Deuteronomy 6:4

I’m going to start out with a bold question and I hope no one takes offense. I’m just looking to understand what I read and understand how it relates to Islam or anyone who believes or interprets the Quran in any way.

Is verse 154 one that people use to kill and die in the name of God? To ask that more bluntly, is this a verse that terrorists exploit? It tells us not to think “that those who are killed in the way of God are dead, for indeed they are alive, even though you are not aware.” If I was reading this more innocently I would say that this line means that those who die as good Muslims live on in the afterlife, but all things considered, I can see how someone could exploit this line to justify their actions as for God and insist that they are going to the good afterlife.

What are Safa and Marwa and in what ways are they the symbols of God?

Verse 158, I think, is referring to the Hajj, a Muslim’s required journey once in his lifetime to Mecca at a particular time of year to worship at the Ka’aba. The latter part of the verse, though I don’t think it’s saying this directly, seems to excuse the person who can’t do this (it’s allowed not to if you are truly unable for some reason) and say that his judgment will be based entirely on his merit – whether or not he does good of his own accord. Gotta appreciate that.

Interesting that the latter half of verse 159 brings up people who are worthy of condemning others. I know that judgment is reserved for God and that God has already condemned those who are being judged in this verse, but are there really people who are allowed to pass such judgment, too. I recall discussing that simply passing judgment is something that can get you condemned, if nothing else, so who is doing the condemning?

Verse 163 sounds like Deuteronomy 6:4 which is a prayer of supreme importance in Judaism, called the shemah. It is a one line prayer about God being the only God: “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” This line says, “Your God is one God. There is no god other than He.” Pretty similar, hmm? Very interesting.

What are your thoughts about these verses? Did I miss anything important or get anything wrong?

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The Cow 153-163

153. O you who believe, seek courage in fortitude and prayer, for God is with those who are patient and persevere. 154. Do not say that those who are killed in the way of God are dead, for indeed they are alive, even though you are not aware. 155. Be sure We shall try you with something of fear and hunger and loss of wealth and life and the fruits (of your labor); but give tidings of happiness to those who have patience, 156. Who say when assailed by adversity: “Surely we are for God, and to Him we shall return.” 157. On such men are the blessings of God and His mercy, for they are indeed on the right path. 158. Truly Safa and Marwa are the symbols of God. Whoever goes on pilgrimage to the House (of God), or on a holy visit, is not guilty of wrong if he walk around them; and he who does good of his own accord will find appreciation with God who knows every thing. 159. They who conceal Our signs and the guidance We have sent them and have made clear in the Book, are condemned of God and are condemned by those who are worthy of condemning. 160. But those who repent and reform and proclaim (the truth), are forgiven, for I am forgiving and merciful. 161. But those who deny, and die disbelieving, bear the condemnation of God and the angels and that of all men, 162. Under which they will live, and their suffering will neither decrease nor be respite for them. 163. Your God is one God; there is no god other than He, the compassionate, ever-merciful.

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The Book of Deuteronomy is Found and King Josiah Reforms Israel

Boy is this topic endless and fascinating but I’m just going to give you a teaser and to really enjoy and appreciate its depth you’re going to have to do a little legwork on your own. But WAIT! If you don’t want to do legwork there’s still fun to be had with the Bible, so read on. For those of you with a little more time and interest, read on and then read on.

He Found What!?

In 2 Kings 22:8 is says, “The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord.'”

Now, there are a couple of books mentioned throughout the Bible, most of which we don’t have anymore and can only drool at the vast wealth of information and resources that are now gone but once existed within them. For instance, the book of Kings constantly refers to the Annals of the Kings of Judah and the Annals of the Kings of Israel, what were obviously two large and lengthy indexes maintained through the reigns of each king of both states. If only we still had these books….

In any case, 2 Kings 22:8 has long troubled rabbis and scholars because the question is always, which book. For traditional Judaism it’s easy to think that this simply refers to the entire Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) because the people were not doing what they were supposed to and the finding of this book was followed by an incredibly repentant King Josiah and a huge series of reform that reflects things in the Bible.

But There’s More to This

For scholars, however, it’s not so simple. By the time of King Josiah the Torah did not exist in the form that we have it. Four separate texts that currently comprise the Torah existed but no straight-up Torah. So what was this book. Well, based on when the book of Deuteronomy was written (or at least the bulk of its meat) and based on the particulars of King Josiah’s reforms, scholars have concluded that the book found was the book of Deuteronomy!

What do I mean when I said, based on the particulars of the reforms. Well, some of the laws presented in the book of Deuteronomy differ from the way they are given in the Leviticus-Numbers section that provides the bulk of the laws. Moreover, the book of Deuteronomy has certain interests that challenge the status-quo of what had been, like its obsession with destroying all high-places (any place around the country where people may have worshiped) in favor of a centralized location (the Temple in Jerusalem).

By further probing the texts we find more and more similarities between Josiah’s actions and the book of Deuteronomy that are actually different elsewhere in the Torah.

Summary

In this brief explanation these reasons may hardly have convinced you that the book of Deuteronomy was what the High Priest found and Josiah sought to implement the reforms of, but I challenge you to do some investigation of your own.

First, read 2 Kings 22-23 (at least everything about Josiah). Also, read the corresponding section in Chronicles 34-35 because it also talks thoroughly about what Josiah did (and curiously adds details absent from the book of Kings). Then go to Deuteronomy and read the laws and concerns expressed therein and notice the fascinating ways in which they line up. This next step is obviously a crazy undertaking but read from Exodus 19-Numbers 10 and notice different holiday celebrations, concerns of the text and more.

I’d love to hear your questions and thoughts about this so please ask below. If you have any trouble with the text let me know and I’ll be happy to work it out with you.

What do you think about all this?

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Fun with the Bible: The Many Interpretations of Deuteronomy 18:15

How We Arrived at This Topic

Last week, on Quran Read-A-Long Kay asked, What do the passages of Deuteronomy 18: 15-18 refer to? (there are different English versions of this passage and not all versions use the term “brother”). She also wrote, “There is a passage in Deuteronomy 18 (NIV) 15 to 18-15 says “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers. You must listen to him.” I don’t know what this passage means to Christians or Jews but the use of the words “from among your brothers” is interesting as from the Muslim perspective—the brotherhood of the sons of Prophet Abraham could possibly give these passages significance.”

The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible translates this verse as, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.”

Now usually I rely heavily upon the NRSV. It’s an excellent, scholarly translation that takes account of the most ancient Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and even sometimes Latin (the Vulgate) texts of the Bible in order to render the most accurate translation possible. It eschews translations that are misleadingly theological in nature; where discrepancies in the ancient texts exist, it footnotes those differences.

Kay has raised the issue of what exactly this verse means, and more importantly, to whom it means such things. Briefly, I’d like to say what it means to each religion and then comment on the interpretation itself.

Christians and Jews: Different Interpretations – How Strange!

For Christians, the meaning here is abundantly clear: this prophet raised up from among your own people is Jesus. How could it be anyone else? A prophet comparable to Moses, an Israelite, etc. Definitely the J-Man.

For the Jews, this isn’t anyone in particular. It wouldn’t be far fetched to say that this is a reference to the future messiah, but no such word is used and it certainly wasn’t written with that in mind. For the Jews, this could be any of the prophets that came in a long line of prophets after Moses. “Like me” doesn’t necessarily mean in extreme quality, as one who speaks face to face with God, but only “a prophet, like me.” This is simply, ‘be prepared for more prophets because you said that you wanted prophecy to know what God wants so be on the lookout.’ This coincides perfectly with the fact that the verse can also be translated acceptably with all of the references to “prophet” in the plural, as in “The Lord your God will raise up prophets for you like me from among your own people; you shall heed such prophets.”

At the same time, it warns that such prophets will only come from among your own people, that is, the Israelites. This would have been quite a warning for Jews when it came to Mohammed. He was not from among their people. He was an Arab, a notably different people, though Semitic, that exists in the Bible. So, in some sense, for the Israelites/Jews, this verse is cautionary against someone like Mohammed bringing revelation from God because he couldn’t possibly be a prophet.

From A Muslim Perspective

And that, of course, brings us to a Muslim perspective on this verse and the translation of the verse itself. The word used for “your own people” is achichah, which is a plural possessive of the Hebrew word, ach, whose most immediate and obvious translation is “brother.” It’s a curious place to use the word. Of course, ach can also be translated as “kinsman” or “friend,” hence the natural leap to “your own people.” Few would question the reach. However, rather than use a word like am (nation), in which case the meaning would be pretty blatant (though, notably, still not exclude Jesus), the text uses the word ach which even when translated otherwise, still has the connotation of brother.

It is this that makes Kay’s translation from the NIV so valid and the subsequent Muslim outlook on this verse so viable. She has pointed out, quite rightly, that Isaac and Ishmael were brothers. Thus, with the Israelites/Jews descending from Isaac and the Arabs descending from Ishmael, these two tribes are in fact, brother-tribes, or in a sense, kinsman. Thus, a line in the Bible that could acceptably be translated as foreshadowing the rise of a prophet like Moses (a big-time prophet) that comes from among your brothers, could quite easily be seen as a reference to Mohammed for Muslims.

The Historical-Critical Take

Where do I stand? I think that all of these interpretations, from a religious perspective, take into account the possible and appropriate translations of this verse, and therefore are equally viable depending on the perspective of where you’re sitting. I study these things because of the many fascinating and possible interpretations, what they reveal about each religion individually and the ways that they theologically interact with one another.

However, I also know that the book of Deuteronomy was written in the middle of the seventh century BCE and that this line has been written retrospectively. What this line is really doing is letting the future readers of this book know that Moses knew that there would be more prophets to come. Seeing as how the last five hundred years of Israelite history had been littered with prophets, this was a good way of showing Moses’ knowledge and verifying the legitimacy of prophecy.

It is possible that this line also ensured the exclusion of certain people who had been coming around Judea in these tough times claiming to be prophets (remember that the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires were taking over the known world at this time and people were claiming prophetic powers all over the place and there needed to be a way to discern who was legit and who was full of it – similar to what happened in Jesus’ time with the Romans). In this way, the writer of these lines used a word that would intentionally exclude all non-Judeans from possibly offering true prophecies so that his readers would have some criteria by which to discern legitimacy.

Later on, Christians and Muslims and Jews in their own ways, could look back at this line and see it as a way of foreseeing Jesus or Mohammed or whomever else – which, religiously, is fine – but reading it in the context of its historical circumstances can also help us understand what it’s doing here.

Summary

I would like to point out that interpreting this verse as Jews and Arabs being brother-tribes and kinsman, as long as no proselytizing efforts accompany the gesture, is an awesome way to look at this verse from a modern perspective. It’s a shame that more people aren’t focusing on this relationship, like Kay is. A brotherhood, kinsman perspective can sometimes help to reduce tensions and make people think a little harder about why the hatred is necessary.

What do you think? Anything to add? Questions?

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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: 6 Great Reasons that Moses Could Never Have Written the Bible

I was asked during the first Fun with the Bible post to talk about the authorship of Genesis-Deuteronomy, also known as the Pentateuch, the Torah or the Five Books of Moses. The question was, is Moses the author of the books whose collective title bears his name. The answer is no.

What Are Our Premises?

Now, numerous religious people will be popping their lids right now and claiming that I’m wrong, a blasphemer, a moron, evil, Satan, etc. And who would I be to deny most of those appellations. But as for the first one, I must object. Moses is not the author of any part of the Bible.

How do I know such things? Well, I must admit that my criteria for investigating the Bible are reason, logic, linguistics, archaeological evidence and the actual words of the Bible. I’m not concerned with what religious authorities say unless they are basing their arguments on these criteria and not just tradition, which is the only thing that could contend for Moses’ authorship.

Though I can’t supply a full list of reasons right here, I will offer a few examples as food for thought to get you started, and then send you on your way to read the first books of the Bible yourself.

A Few Good Reasons

1. Reason number one is that the Bible NEVER claims to be authored by Moses or anyone else for that matter. No one internally claims authorship. If Moses authored the Bible, you think he’d have said something – or anyone who wanted to be remembered for doing so for that matter. Only later religious people, hoping to attribute authorship and lend validity, claimed that Moses was the author.

2. Another issue is time. The Pentateuch is written in such a way – and doesn’t try to hide the fact! – that implies looking backward. It refers to the present day by saying things like “until this day” or “that was current then.” For instance, Genesis 23:16 refers to weights and measures as they were current in the time of the story, not the author’s time. Things are said in Moses’ time that they are there until this day.

3. Getting things plain wrong is a problem too. Presumably if God was telling Moses the way things were, he wouldn’t get facts wrong. For instance, in Genesis 21:32-34, the Bible speaks of Abraham residing in the land of the Philistines, a people that, archaeologically speaking, weren’t in the land until hundreds and hundreds of years after the supposed time of Abraham.

4. Mistakes and inconsistencies exist in the text, problems that surely Moses, if God were telling him what to say, would not have created. The reason for these problems, scholars have discovered, is that there are multiple authors’ voices and texts in the Pentateuch. In fact, Genesis through Deuteronomy is the weaving together of multiple texts to create one story. It was done very well but the originals were not changed. Some characters have multiple names, contradicting or repeating stories, etc. We don’t have to get into the details here but this is called the Documentary Hypothesis. If you want to know more, we can talk about it. Just ask.

5. Logical inconsistencies exist. Read the first verse of Deuteronomy. “These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan.” Well, it’s logically impossible for Moses to have written such a sentence. “Beyond the Jordan” means on the other side of the Jordan (though some crappier translations try to gloss over this wording, the original biblical Hebrew has precisely this meaning) and it is a biblical fact that Moses never went into the land of Canaan. Therefore, if he was only on the eastern side of the Jordan River and the person said he spoke on the other side of the Jordan River the person writing must logically be writing from inside of Canaan (approximately modern day Israel). That person can’t be Moses. Get it?

6. Moses can’t speak of his own death, right? In the end of Deuteronomy, Moses talks of his own death – saying, “Moses died.” The author also says that Moses was “unequaled” after we are told earlier that Moses was the most humble man ever. Seems illogical that he could say both things about himself, huh?

Where to Go from Here

There are numerous other reasons besides and many more examples for each of the points I’ve mentioned but this should get you started. If you read Genesis through Deuteronomy from the beginning without the usual religious biases that people have trouble with then you’ll see all this for yourself.

Read the Bible like any other book that you would read, not affording it the privilege of not making sense simply because it doesn’t and because it’s the Bible. Ask questions and see what’s wrong. I’m here to help if you get stuck or don’t understand something.

This is having fun with the Bible – reading it on our own to see all the great things we can learn from it while trying to get at the truth about its history and origins.

Do you have any questions? Do you disagree with everything I’ve said and want to tell me why? Do you think Moses wrote the Pentateuch? Why?

Can you give any other examples of why Moses couldn’t have written the Pentateuch?

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Around the World Pic of the Day: Spinoza Street in Amsterdam

Jay at Spinoza Street

Jay at Spinoza Street

After 5 trips to Amsterdam I finally made it to the only place that I ever really wanted to go (aside from coffee shops and live sex shows, of course): Spinoza Street.

I really never cared about seeing that much else in Amsterdam, though I guess I have. Five times there and I’ve still never been to the Anne Frank House. I just don’t care. I’ve taken canal tours, hung out all over the city, relaxed in parks, and seen plenty of the great sites and museums. Once, two friends and I even took a nice day trip to Utrecht (beautiful place).

But here I am at Spinoza Street. Why do I care about this and why am I sharing with you what hardly seems like a religious site? Well, Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza was perhaps one of the greatest and most important philosophers to ever think and write about religion. His thought pretty much changed the face of the European Enlightenment, sending it in directions no one could have predicted. His intellect was truly mind-boggling and his words sensationally fascinating.

One of my favorite books of all time, Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise, is overwhelmingly incredible in the scope and depth of its thought as well as the magnitude of its impact. I can read it again and again without my amazement ceasing even momentarily. Everyone should read this book (click HERE to purchase it now!).

Spinoza, though not the first to know it, was the first to make a stink out of the fact that there is no conceivable way that Moses could have written the Torah, the first five books of the Bible (Genesis-Deuteronomy), also known as The Five Books of Moses (I was asked if this could be the subject of a Fun with the Bible Monday – it will be). He investigated the Bible in a truly scholarly way, and indeed, was the first person ever known to live outside of any religious community. In abandoning his Judaism he never actually converted to Christianity, an unprecedented move that resulted in an amazing, if lonely life.

My reverence for Spinoza and his brilliant mind made me concerned only with visiting the street in Amsterdam – his home town – that bears his name. So, it’s a “religious” site for two reasons. First, because it commemorates a man whose life was dedicated to the scholarly study of religion and philosophy and second because I effectively made a pilgrimage there (even though it took me five times to get the pilgrimage right, but hey, Amsterdam can be a pretty distracting place….pretty lights…).

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