Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 72-80 Continue Talking of Difficulties with Muslims and Jews

Asad offers two understandings of verse 72, both of which make sense to me. The one which came to mind as I read the verse seemed to be saying that Jews and Christians would say to the Muslims that they believed Mohammed’s revelation but would later renege amongst themselves. This would serve to keep the Muslim community, presumably, from pressuring them too much and therefore allow them to keep their own faith (however slighted it was by their behavior). Alternatively, Asad proposes (and he believes this) that the verse means that Jews and Christians accepted some of Mohammed’s earlier revelations but not later ones that conflicted with biblical stories. Quite frankly, I don’t know why both options can’t be the case. What do you think it means?

In verse 73, when Muslims are told not to trust anyone who doesn’t follow their faith, I’m wondering if this is meant to be in the historical moment or a larger directive. That is to say that I can understand why Muslims could not have trusted the local Jews and Christians in Mohammed’s day. Despite their shifting alliances, from a religious perspective, they were waffling. Thus, as they were not part of the umma without being Muslim, no one could be sure if they were friend or foe. However, my question is whether or not this is still meant to apply to Muslims. Should Muslims still not trust those of other faiths? Further, in a Muslim community that is far larger than a tribe (i.e. a society that is entirely Muslim), can trust really be given to everyone based on his/her faith alone? That’s not to say that we can’t trust people or that we can’t trust those with whom we feel a common kinship, but is it really a great idea to trust everyone on that basis alone?

I would definitely agree that there is no basis to the claim made, allegedly, by Jews, that they don’t have any moral responsibility towards non-Jews. The only thing that the Bible says is that Israelites can’t loan at interest to each other, but presumably they can to others. That doesn’t exempt anyone from moral responsibility though. It seems that verse 75, however, is true of every group of people. There are always some who will do the right thing and always others who won’t. I hardly think that this is Jew-specific, though I know that the Quran uses immediate examples from Mohammed’s present to provide us with statements that hold forever.

Ascribing things to the Bible that are not there is wrong, but I would hope that this refers to people who are intentionally manipulating it. True, the Quran says that it does refer to those who know that they lie, but it’s hardly fair – pending the Bible did once have a different form and was corrupted to its current state, even intentionally – to refer to all Jews and Christians who read the Bible and think that what it says is true when they were not involved in its corruption. They’re just saying what they ‘know.’ Indeed, Asad refers to ascribing meaning to something that is not intended to be as such, but that’s an entirely different matter (and no good).

I find verse 79 to be incredibly intriguing. Obviously it’s a reference to Jesus, but the verse says that Jesus said, “Become men of God by spreading the knowledge of the divine writ, and by your own deep study [thereof].” That, I would agree, is  something that definitely would have come from Jesus’ lips. I think it accompanies quite nicely the oft ignored verse from the Gospel of Matthew 5:17 in which Jesus tells his disciples and followers, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Setting aside the Christian religious interpretations of “fulfill,” Jesus is saying what the Quran is: keep studying the law (which means Torah) and spreading knowledge of God’s revelation. Of course, Jesus was talking to Jews, and as we’ve discussed from the second surah, God delivered messages in different ways to different peoples so that they could understand His revelation. Thus, it’s not problematic for Jesus to have been confirming for Jews that they should continue studying/practicing/spreading their revelation and laws.

My interest arises due to the fact that Jesus’ words validate the Torah as it was composed in his time. Whatever corruptions of the text were happening to the Torah to make it so irreparably unsatisfying to Muslims would have happened long before Jesus’ time both because of the general scrutiny and spread of the texts by this time and because the historical matching-ups of the text not being a single original text (i.e. The Documentary Hypothesis) are centuries and centuries earlier. Would Jesus really have encouraged people to continue believing a corrupted revelation, or is Jesus talking about something else entirely?

Can’t wait to find out what we held off on last week: what was going on in the life of Mohammed and the umma at the revelation of these verses. Please share anything else that I missed or that strikes you about these verses.

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Al-’Imran 72-80

72. And some of the followers of earlier revelation say [to one another]: “Declare your belief in what has been revealed unto those who believe [in Muhammad] at the beginning of the day, and deny the truth of what came later, so that they might go back [on their faith]; 73. but do not [really] believe anyone who does not follow your own faith.” Say: “Behold, all [true] guidance is God’s guidance, consisting in one’s being granted [revelation] such as you have been granted.” Or would they contend against you before your Sustainer? Say: “Behold, all bounty is in the hand of God; He grants it unto whom He wills: for God is infinite, all-knowing, 74. singling out for His grace whom He wills. And God is limitless in His great bounty.” 75. AND AMONG the followers of earlier revelation there is many a one who, if thou entrust him with a treasure, will [faithfully] restore it to thee; and there is among them many a one who, if thou entrust him with a tiny gold coin, will not restore it to thee unless thou keep standing over him – which is an outcome of their assertion, “No blame can attach to us [for anything that we may do] with regard to these unlettered folk”: and [so] they tell a lie about God, being well aware [that it is a lie].”76. Nay, but [God is aware of] those who keep their bond with Him, and are conscious of Him: and, verily, God loves those who are conscious of Him. 77. Behold, those who barter away their bond with God and their own pledges for a trifling gain – they shall not partake in the blessings of the life to come; and God will neither speak unto them nor look upon them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He cleanse them of their sins; and grievous suffering awaits them. 78. And, behold, there are indeed some among them who distort the Bible with their tongues, so as to make you think that [what they say] is from the Bible, the while it is not from the Bible; and who say, “This is from God,” the while it is not from God: and thus do they tell a lie about God, being well aware [that it is a lie]. 79. It is not conceivable that a human being unto whom God had granted revelation, and sound judgment, and prophethood, should thereafter have said unto people, “Worship me beside God”; but rather [did he exhort them], “Become men of God by spreading the knowledge of the divine writ, and by your own deep study [thereof].” 80. And neither did he bid you to take the angels and the prophets for your lords: [for] would he bid you to deny the truth after you have surrendered yourselves unto God?

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Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 21-30 Speaks of Judgment Day and Allies

Considering the stories in the Bible about the Israelites slaying their prophets, is verse 21 a reference to them? The following verses makes me believe so because they are a discussion of, I think, the Israelites and their laws (the Torah). At the end of verse 23, is the “it” that is turned away from, the Torah, the true uncorrupted Torah or neither, but actually the Quran which Jews are currently not accepting? This line about the fire not touching them but for a limited time is something we saw in The Cow, I think. As for the false beliefs, is this a reference to the corrupted Torah and the associated “silly” laws or is this something more ‘present,’ – as in, their corrupted Torah has caused Jews to betray the larger faith that the Quran now teaches and they aren’t accepting the latter because of the purnicious influence of the former?

Lot of questions there but I didn’t seem to be getting these opening verses with an overwhelming amount of clarity.

The remainder of this section seems to be a recognition of God’s power and what will happen on Judgment Day when everyone will be required to reckon for his deeds. In the midst of this larger theological speech is a point about acquiring allies and how Muslims cannot accept allies who are deniers of the truth rather than believers. Interestingly, there seems to be a caveat in place that is quite practical and allows non-believing allies to be acquired if good strategy and safety require it. I suppose that in the early years of the Medinan community, it would have been an absolute necessity for this to be so and were it not, the nascent Muslims may have been destroyed. However, strategic allying and political decision making by Mohammed allowed for the community’s survival and thriving.

What can you tell us about these verses? I feel like I left out a lot, but I wasn’t quite sure what to address and how.

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Al-‘Imran 21-30

21. Verily, as for those who deny the truth of God’s messages, and slay the prophets against all right, and slay people who enjoin equity – announce unto them a grievous chastisement. 22. It is they whose works shall come to nought both in this world and in the life to come; and they shall have none to succour them. 23. Art thou not aware of those who have been granted their share of revelation [aforetime]? They have been called upon to let God’s writ be their law – and yet some of them turn away [from it] in their obstinacy, 24. simply because they claim, “The fire will most certainly not touch us for more than a limited number of days”: and thus the false beliefs which they invented have [in time] caused them to betray their faith. 25. How, then, [will they fare] when We shall gather them all together to witness the Day about [the coming of] which there is no doubt, and every human being shall be repaid in full for what he has done, and none shall be wronged? 26. SAY: “O God, Lord of all dominion! Thou grantest dominion unto whom Thou willest, and takest away dominion from whom Thou willest; and Thou exaltest whom Thou willest, and abasest whom Thou willest. In Thy hand is all good. Verily, Thou hast the power to will anything. 27. “Thou makest the night grow longer by shortening the day, and Thou makest the day grow longer by shortening the night. And Thou bringest forth the living out of that which is dead, and Thou bringest forth the dead out of that which is alive. And Thou grantest sustenance unto whom `Thou willest, beyond all reckoning.” 28. LET NOT the believers take those who deny the truth for their allies in preference to the believers – since he who does this cuts himself off from God in everything – unless it be to protect yourselves against them in this way. But God warns you to beware of Him: for with God is all journeys’ end. 29. Say: “Whether you conceal what is in your hearts or bring it into the open, God knows it: for He knows all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth; and God has the power to will anything.” 30. On the Day when every human being will find himself faced with all the good that he has done, and with all the evil that he has done, [many a one] will wish that there were a long span of time between himself and that [Day]. Hence, God warns you to beware of Him; but God is most compassionate towards His creatures.

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 243-248 Speaks of Fighting for God’s Cause and Brings Biblical Support

It’s not worth fearing death, being cowardly and abandoning your homeland because God can resurrect you. That’s an interesting way to start and a clear indication to me that we’ve moved away from the topic of marriage and divorce (aren’t I quite the little detective?).

Asad says this:

We must, therefore, assume (as Muhammad `Abduh does in Mandr II, 455 ff.) that the above allusion is parabolically connected with the subsequent call to the faithful to be ready to lay down their lives in God’s cause: an illustration of the fact that fear of physical death leads to the moral death of nations and communities, just as their regeneration (or “coming back to life”) depends on their regaining their moral status through overcoming the fear of death. This is undoubtedly the purport of the elliptic story of Samuel, Saul and David told in verses 246-251.

Being Grateful

“Most people are ungrateful,” rings so true. My mom always tells me, you’ve got to be grateful for everything. “I’m so grateful,” she says, and then I give her a hard time, saying, “I’m so grateful,” in my high-being-my-mom voice. Then we have a hearty laugh because she loves my imitation of her saying, “I’m so grateful.” But we always stop afterwards to take a minute to recognize how grateful we are. Life sucks for a lot of people and to whatever degree yours is good, it’s worth taking a minute to be grateful.

Fighting and Death

What is God’s cause, verse 244 begs? As Asad reminds us from earlier (2:190-194), God’s cause is a just war of self-defense against oppression or unprovoked aggression. That certainly seems reasonable to me. Being the aggressor is hardly ever acceptable, but protecting oneself against these terrible things is necessary. Let’s just hope, as we discussed before, that the right to fight doesn’t ever turn the tide in such a way that one becomes an oppressor himself to an unreasonable and unacceptable extent.

The concept of death (the ultimate loss, at least instinctively) is being intimately tied to God’s ability to give even more: which is to say resurrection, or life back. It really makes people start to think differently about the meaning of life, especially life in pre-Islamic tribal society which had little or no focus on the afterlife and was entirely concerned with the preservation of the tribe (and its allies) in this life. It was important in a society like that didn’t conceptualize the afterlife to change the way people conceived of death while grounding death in a context that was familiar. And later, of course, this still stays relevant for readers looking to understand death.

The Israelites and Samuel in the Book of Samuel

In verses 246ff, the Quran speaks of some events, to a greater or lesser extent, from the book of Samuel, when the Israelites saw that all those around them had kings and were protected and asked Samuel to allow God to raise up a king that would fight for them. The problem was that God was meant to be their king and God was meant to fight for them and they were supposed to fight for God and that show of faith – that when they fought God was fighting for them – was supposed to win them wars. This is a consistent theme throughout the Bible. However, the ever-faithless Israelites were unsatisfied and wanted a king to call their own.

The next verse (247) is curious because the Israelites didn’t really protest Saul’s existence as king. We can infer based on the fact that David was eventually allowed to arise over Saul (we’re told it’s God’s doing but readers understand that politically the tides had changed) that the people (or God…) had rejected Saul as king but this is not until later. At first they’re enthusiastic and don’t say anything about his wealth (or lack thereof). Not entirely sure what to do with verse 248?

What are your thoughts on these verses? What did I miss or get wrong?

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The Cow 243-248

243. ART THOU NOT aware of those who forsook their homelands in their thousands for fear of death, whereupon God said unto them, “Die,” and later brought them back to life? Behold, God is indeed limitless in His bounty unto man -but most people are ungrateful. 244. Fight, then, in God’s cause,* and know that God is all-hearing, all-knowing. 245. Who is it that will offer up unto God a goodly loan,* which He will amply repay, with manifold increase? For, God takes away, and He gives abundantly; and it is unto Him that you shall be brought back. 246. Art thou not aware of those elders of the children of Israel, after the time of Moses, how they said unto a prophet of theirs,* “Raise up a king for us, [and] we shall fight in God’s cause”? Said he: “Would you, perchance, refrain from fighting if fighting is ordained for you?” They answered: “And why should we not fight in God’s cause when we and our children have been driven from our homelands?”** Yet, when fighting was ordained for them, they did turn back, save for a few of them; but God had full knowledge of the evildoers. 247. And their prophet said unto those elders: “Behold, now God has raised up Saul to be your king.” They said: “How can he have dominion over us when we have a better claim to dominion than he, and he has not [even] been endowed with abundant wealth?” [The prophet] replied: “Behold, God has exalted him above you, and endowed him abundantly with knowledge and bodily perfection. And God bestows His dominion upon whom He wills: for God is infinite, all-knowing.” 248. And their prophet said unto them: “Behold, it shall be a sign of his [rightful] dominion that you will be granted a heart* endowed by your Sustainer with inner peace and with all that is enduring in the angel-borne heritage left behind by the House of Moses and the House of Aaron.** Herein, behold, there shall indeed be a sign for you if you are [truly] believers.”

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 211-216 Speaks of Familiar Things and a Single Community

When verse 213 says that “men belonged to a single community,” is it saying that at one point we were all the same and only later separated or is it just referring to a single community? I’m not clear because of what follows it: God sent them messengers and the Book. If Book is a reference to originally sending the Bible, then it wasn’t to everyone, it was to the Israelites. Similarly, if Book refers to the Quran then there wasn’t one community at the time. So what is this reference to a single community? Is it a state of nature kind of thing?

I also find verse 216 particularly interesting. Bad things (e.g. fighting) is good for us and things that please us aren’t good for us. Only God knows. I find this particularly interesting because people often insist that certain things are or aren’t good for us – marijuana, sex, skiing, television, fat, etc. – and though we seek to find out and solve these riddles, many of our actual conclusions come down to moral or cultural judgments. E.g. Fat is ugly and bad (it’s not); marijuana is bad for you and should be illegal (worse things are legal); sex is wrong before marriage (for much of human history the convention didn’t exist – was the procreation wrong?), etc. Only God knows what’s really good and bad for us, so why do we keep trying to push our views on others?

Thanks for being a part of Quran Read-A-Long and leaving your thoughts with us, answering some of my questions and elaborating on other parts of these verses that I missed.

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The Cow 211-216

211. Ask the children of Israel how many a clear sign We had given them. But if one changes the favor of God after having received it, then remember, God is severe in revenge. 212. Enamored are the unbelievers in the life of this world, and scoff at the faithful. But those who keep from evil and follow the straight path will have a higher place than they on the Day of Reckoning; for God gives in measure without number whomsoever He will. 213. Men belonged to a single community, and God sent them messengers to give them happy tidings and warnings, and sent the Book with them containing the truth to judge between them in matters of dispute; but only those who received it differed after receiving clear proofs, on account of waywardness (and jealousies) among them. Then God by His dispensation showed those who believed the way to the truth about which they were differing; for God shows whom He please the path that is straight. 214. Do you think you will find your way to Paradise even though you have not known what the others before you have gone through? They had suffered affliction and loss, and were shaken and tossed about so that even the Apostle had to cry out with his followers: “When will the help of God arrive?” Remember, the help of God is ever at hand. 215. They ask you of what they should give in charity. Tell them: “What you can spare of your wealth as should benefit the parents, the relatives, the orphans, the needy, the wayfarers, for God is not unaware of the good deeds that you do.” 216. Enjoined on you is fighting, and this you abhor. You may dislike a thing yet it may be good for you; or a thing may haply please you but may be bad for you. Only God has knowledge, and you do not know.

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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Acts 2, the Coming of the Holy Spirit and the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai – Wait! Where Did These Connections Come From

The Background

The first scene in Acts 2:1, we are told in the opening line of the chapter, takes place on the day of Pentecost, which is the fiftieth day after the death of Jesus, which we should remember happened at Passover.

In Jewish tradition, Pentecost corresponds to a very important holiday about the harvest, known as Shavuot. This holiday was once about collecting the first fruits of the spring harvest and bringing a portion of them to God as a sacrifice acknowledging his hand in making it a fruitful year. Thanks God!

Returning to the book of Acts, we are told that it is the day of Pentecost and then something very amazing and special happens: the Holy Spirit descends on a community of those assembled (vague language, I know), and they all believe in Jesus and what happened to him. This begins the descent and spreading of knowledge of the Holy Spirit and in a certain sense, involves the giving of a new law or order (read Acts 2:1-13 for more).

So why is this interesting?

Lookin’ at the OT

Way back in the day, which is to say, throughout the text of the Old Testament, there is no other significant thing worth associating with the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost, if you prefer). The Israelites were simply instructed to celebrate the harvest and go to Jerusalem to give some of it to God. However, in the first few centuries of the common era (which I will qualify by saying after the assembly and spread of the New Testament), we see an increasing association in Jewish writings between the holiday of Shavuot and the giving of the Torah – which is to say the Jewish law – on Mount Sinai by God to Moses and the Israelites.

Now, to be fair, when we do the math and look at the dating and time provided in Exodus and Deuteronomy it does not become inconceivable that Shavuot and the giving of the Torah come close to coinciding – it’s not like we’re trying to align two totally disparate times of year (think about the fact that the Jews left Egypt at Passover and wandered for a while towards Sinai). Nonetheless, the text doesn’t actually share this crucial fact with us and so it remains unfair to assume that Shavuot happened at the time the Torah was given.

So Why This Later Association

Basically, I contend, and though I’m not alone in this and have argued for it before, scholars can fall on both sides of the fence, that Jewish rabbis saw this Christian association, and whether or not they took it only from there or brought back older sources that contended the same thing, and began emphasizing the giving of the law at Shavuot. Christians in the first centuries as well as rabbis – and the intellectual interplay of the two groups is difficult to follow and chart with any real assurance – began to insist that the day of Pentecost (or Shavuot) was a day on which God gave laws. For the Jews, it happened at Sinai. Christians agreed and said that the new law as given by the Holy Spirit happened on this day too and then Jews said that Christians were just saying that because they knew that this was a day on which God gave laws.

Do you see what I’m driving at? Traditions arose, and it’s unclear entirely from where, but Jews and Christians then competed for the supremacy of their tradition as the two religions developed in the first few centuries of the Common Era.

Summary

Quickly, I’d like to mention that there is one source that definitely predates the New Testament and that does mention the giving of the Torah as being on Shavuot, but it’s still way after the Old Testament writings and we can’t be sure where it lies along the trajectory of this tradition. Definitely before Acts, though. What are the odds that the author of Acts invented his tradition independently of a previous author?

There’s a great deal more to this story than just this, and a lot of arguments to be made on both sides but I just wanted to draw your attention to the developments that occurred in Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity in their early centuries, how the two religions interacted with each other in a complex and fascinating way and how it is unclear where many of their traditions began but that in some form or another they can be connected to the Bible.

What do you think about this whole issue? Does it interest you that Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity formed due to their interactions and did not happen in the Mother-Daughter religious development that many people like to insist upon? Any other thoughts?

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Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 87-97 Alludes to the Problem with Jewish Chosenness

Since this entire passage seems to me to discuss how the Jews don’t believe in revelations that came after the Torah despite their verification of the Jews’ own text, I’m going to focus only on verse 94, which concerns, I think, chosenness. Please feel free to comment on any other part of this passage, however, as it’s all up for discussion.

The Idea of Chosenness

Jews believe that they are the chosen people. Apparently, they were elected by God way back in the day to possess a certain land and forever be God’s chosen and consecrated people. Personally, I don’t live way back in the day – though I may recall it frequently in anecdotes and such – but rather, I live today. What’s important to me are the concerns that we face today and how to make today a better place.

Living in the Now

Many people don’t share those concerns to the extreme that I do, which isn’t to say that they’re not interested in present day issues as much as to say that they’re not concerned with them to the exclusion of what was once important. I am. Some see that as a flaw or as foolishness, but it’s just who I am. I very rarely see the value of preserving tradition solely for the sake of tradition and particularly if it’s detrimental to modern concerns and progress.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t value and respect tradition and the past. After all, I’m trained as a historian and I love studying and understanding religion (hence, The Zen of South Park). However, I’m not attached to ideas or traditions from the past so much so that I can’t give them up to make the world a better place. Most people aren’t with me on that, and I can appreciate that.

The Problem with Chosenness

The idea of being chosen by God, I think, is a dangerous notion. Chosenness implies elitism and a “better than others-ness” that I find pernicious to people’s ability to interact, coexist and progress. How can we talk to one another knowing that the other considers his race/religion/ethnicity/family superior to everyone else’s – and I don’t just mean to have its general advantages and qualities (which is probably okay) but that he believes that he has been chosen by God as an elect?

That’s a pretty twisted notion and makes mutual dialogue difficult. I constantly struggle with the idea of chosenness because I dislike it when people think that there’s something innately special about themselves that is not so in others – that birth precedes merit. This idea manifests itself in many forms throughout the world, but is quite apparent in the notion of Jewish chosenness – the suggestion that only the Jews are God’s chosen people.

Summary

Now, this passage doesn’t provide a flattering portrayal of the Jews, considering that it lambasts them for rejecting these very words which verify the truth of the Torah, and I must point out that my own sentiments on the matter of chosenness do not follow this general thread of condemnation. However, I found the larger point here – that the Jews stick to the Torah and its notion of chosenness to the exclusion of others being able to reach God, which is a patently absurd idea (that we can’t all be with God in the afterlife) – that I find it damaging and unhelpful and wanted to speak out about it myself.

What do you think of this passage? Do you have anything to add? What do you think of the idea of chosenness, whether in this particular instance as it relates to the Jews or in its general application to so many people’s understanding of themselves and their people as supremely special?

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The Cow: 87-97

87. Remember We gave Moses the Book and sent after him many an apostle; and to Jesus, son of Mary, We gave clear evidence of the truth, reinforcing him with divine grace. Even so, when a messenger brought to you what did not suit your mood you turned haughty, and called some imposters and some others you slew. 88. And they say: “Our hearts are enfolded in covers.” In fact God has cursed them for their unbelief; and only a little do they believe. 89. And when the Book was sent to them by God verifying what had been revealed to them already – even though before it they used to pray for victory over the unbelievers – and even though they recognized it when it came to them, they renounced it. The curse of God be on those who deny! 90. They bartered their lives ill denying revelation of God out of spite that God should bestow His grace among His votaries on whomsoever He will, and thus earned wrath upon wrath. The punishment for disbelievers is ignominious. 91. And when it is said to them: “believe in what God has sent down,” they say: “We believe what was sent to us, and do not believe what has come thereafter,” although it affirms the truth they possess already. Say: “Why have you then been slaying God’s apostles as of old, if you do believe?” 92. Although Moses had come to you with evidence of the truth, you chose the calf in his absence, and you transgressed. 93. Remember when We took your pledge and exalted you on the Mount (saying: ) “Hold fast to what We have given you, firmly, and pay heed,” you said: “We have heard and will not obey.” (The image of) the calf had sunk deep into their hearts on account of unbelief. Say: “Vile is your belief if you are believers indeed!” 94. Tell them: “If you think you alone will abide with God to the exclusion of the rest of Mankind, in the mansions of the world to come, then wish for death if what you say is true.” 95. But they will surely not wish for death because of what they had done in the past; and God knows the sinners well. 96. You will see they are covetous of life more than other men, even more than those who practice idolatry. Each one of them desires to live a thousand years, although longevity will never save them from punishment, for God sees all they do.