Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 274-281, Mohammed’s Final Revelation, Forbids Usury

The subject of usury is one that comes to the fore in Judaism, Christianity, and now as I finally see, Islam. The Bible says, “If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them” (Exodus 22:25). It is this verse, in large part, which makes usury so repulsive to Christianity (well, not now but back in the day). Christians were forbidden to lend money at interest to one another. Jews were also forbidden, according to this verse, from lending money at interest to one another – but not to Christians. Why? Because the verse specifies “My people,” which for Jews means only other Jews. Thus, Jews can lend with interest to Christians.

Indeed, this is where the Christian stereotype of the greedy, money-grubbing Jew came from. There was a need in 10th century Christian society for money-lenders because Christians couldn’t do it themselves, and Jews were forbidden from doing pretty much everything else (couldn’t be part of guilds and do crafts, couldn’t own land and farm, etc. – hence, money-lending and middle-men traders). Thus, Jews became money-lenders in the Christian world. Today, neither Christians nor Jews seem to have such a problem with what we just call now, banking.

The questions that these verses bring up for me pertain to the nature of banking in modern-day Islam. With usury forbidden, how does banking work in theocratic Islamic countries, like say, Saudi Arabia. Is it forbidden? Is it considered a necessary evil? How do many modern Muslims in general reconcile this verse with what seems to have become the modern capitalist norm (not that all Muslims are modern capitalists but for those who subscribe)? I don’t expect anyone to be able to answer these questions for everyone else, but just generally to share how s/he deals with this. I find that Christians and Jews simply ignore it at this point.

I’d like to add a note by Asad about verse 281: that according to the uncontested evidence of Ibn’ Abbas this verse was the last revelation granted to the Prophet, who died shortly afterward.

Is there anything else you can tell us about these verses?

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The Cow 274-281

274. Those who spend their possessions [for the sake of God] by night and by day, secretly and openly, shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. 275. THOSE who gorge themselves on usury behave but as he might behave whom Satan has confounded with his touch; for they say, “Buying and selling is but a kind of usury” – the while God has made buying and selling lawful and usury unlawful. Hence, whoever becomes aware of his Sustainer’s admonition, and thereupon desists [from usury], may keep his past gains, and it will be for God to judge him; but as for those who return to it -they are destined for the fire, therein to abide! 276. God deprives usurious gains of all blessing, whereas He blesses charitable deeds with manifold increase. And God does not love anyone who is stubbornly ingrate and persists in sinful ways. 277. Verily, those who have attained to faith and do good works, and are constant in prayer, and dispense charity – they shall have their reward with their Sustainer, and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve. 278. O yo who have attained to faith! Remain conscious of God and give up all outstanding gains from usury, if you are [truly] believers;  279. for if you do it not, then know that you are at war with God and His Apostle. But if you repent, then you shall be entitled to [the return of] your principal: you will do no wrong, and neither will you be wronged. 280. If, however, [the debtor] is in straitened circumstances, [grant him] a delay until a time of ease; and it would be for your own good – if you but knew it – to remit [the debt entirely] by way of charity. 281. And be conscious of the Day on which you shall be brought back unto God, whereupon every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has earned, and none shall be wronged.

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Fun with the Bible: Happy Hanukah Book of Daniel – When Were You Written?

Today’s Agenda

I know that last week we talked about the plagues from the Exodus story (yes, the story, not the book, since we looked at Psalms), and that I promised to continue with that theme over the next few weeks. However, it’s Hanukah, and as such, I thought a brief digression into the materials of the Bible related to the holiday would be a nice way to change things up and enjoy something topical.

With that plan in mind I could turn to I or II Maccabees, but many of you may not have those books in your Bibles. Why? Because those books are what we call – depending on our religious predispositions – deuterocanonical, apocryphal or noncanonical. These words mean either that the books are additional but not wholly incorporated or official books of the Bible: considered holy but not in the canon. Because Jews themselves consider the books noncanonical (not part of the Bible), and yet the story of Hanukah is contained within their pages, we’re going to turn to a book that everybody thinks is part of the Bible, but for reasons other than what it is: Daniel!

What Daniel Purports to Be

First question: Did Daniel, whoever that is, write the book of Daniel? The answer: no, plain and simple. The person who the book of Daniel is about and who tells us this story is not the person in the story. How do we know this? Because the story takes place in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court in the middle of the sixth century BCE after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judea, and the book tells us of things that happen up to a precise moment in time hundreds of years later. Curious, no?

Of course, many people will contend – as they do every day – that the book of Daniel is a prophetic book envisioning the future of the Jews up until that specific time: which happens to be during the reign of the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, who ruled over Judea in 167 BCE and desacrated Jewish law and the Temple (the Hanukah story). But if this is a prophetic book by a prophet then why is it that the author gets the ending and what happens in the year 164 BCE totally wrong? Because obviously he stopped writing the book before the events of that year took place and didn’t know them, meaning that our book was written sometime between his last right event (167) and his historically erroneous conclusions (164).

What the ‘Prophecy’ Really Tells Us

Interesting, too, is how the detail of the prophetic vision enhances and is consistently more accurate throughout the ‘prophecy’ as the time gets closer to the writer’s own time. The vision recounts the various kings and conquerors who came into Judea from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, who is being made aware of the vision, to the time of the Maccabean revolt (i.e. the Hanukah story), and the more contemporary we get, the more accurate and descriptive.

Of course, Daniel’s audience is not the Maccabees or their followers. He is trying to comfort those people who remain faithful to the Jewish law at such a terrible time (the primary subject of the earlier written part of the book in another language!) and comfort them in their decision to continue praying to God for help rather than fight. Thus, more than a book that can tell us about the time of Nebuchadnezzar or a book that prophecies the future, Daniel is essentially a book that sheds light on an attitude of a particular group of people that suffered during the time of the Hanukah story.

There’s much more that can be said about this fascinating book, but I’ll leave it there for now. Oh yeah, and Happy Hanukah!

Summary

What do you think of the book of Daniel and what I’ve written here.

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Fun with the Bible: The Exodus from Egypt and the Seven Plagues – Wait, I Thought There Were Ten

Yes, you read that right: there were 7 plagues. Now, I’m not going to spell out how that works in just one blog post. It would be long and complicated and then I wouldn’t know what to write about for the next couple Fun with the Bible posts, but I will get you started. I think that we should do a little of the requisite leg-work together because a. it’s fun, b. it’s challenging and c. it makes you really understand what’s going on when you can see it for yourself.

Now, sometimes you’ll have to trust me because we’re going to need the Hebrew text in order to really get an accurate picture of what’s going on, but I’ll tell you what it says and you can see what you think.

But where to start when discovering that there weren’t actually 10 plagues during the Exodus in Egypt but only 7? How about we start out of Exodus entirely, hmm? Let’s turn to….Psalms! Yes, that’s right. Please take out your Bibles – or open the Bible in another tab – and flip to Psalm 78, verses 42-51. Read these verses. Curious, no? It’s a recounting of the plagues in Egypt, called in verse 43 “signs.”

How many do you see? Count them. I’ll give you a second.

….

Alright, how many? Seven! That’s right: seven.

1. Blood

2. Flies

3. Frogs

4. Pestilence

5. Locusts

6. Hail

7. Slaying of the first born

That’s right – we’re missing lice, boils and darkness. Where are they?

Let’s turn to Psalm 105, verses 26-36. Read them. We’ve got the plagues going on here, too, don’t we? And how many are there. That’s right, 7!

1. Darkness

2. Blood

3. Frogs

4. Flies/Gnats

5. Hail

6. Locusts

7. Slaying of the first born

Here they’re called signs and miracles (verse 27), and we picked up Darkness.

But before we depart for the moment, what kinds of questions should we be asking ourselves about these psalms, the Exodus and the plagues.

First, why do two separate Psalms both give us plague stories with only 7 plagues? What’s significant about 7 that 10 doesn’t have? Where are the missing plagues? Which stories are older: the Psalm traditions or the Exodus narrative? Is the Exodus narrative all it appears to be when taken at face value?

Read the Psalms again and then check out Exodus 7-12 to start thinking about next week.

What do you think about these questions so far? Thoughts about the plagues?

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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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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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