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?

Italian Author, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose Is One of the Most Compelling Books I’ve Ever Read

This book was spectacular, as my post title indicates. I read it a month ago (maybe longer now) and have been wanting to write this review for a while. Of course, the distance between me and the book grossly jeopardizes the thoroughness, accuracy and quality of my assessment but I suppose that’s a risk you just have to take

….and if you’re still reading have decided to take.

The brilliance with which this book reflected its time period (the first half of the 14th century) is simply marvelous, but I suppose that Umberto Eco is a scholar of the Middle Ages. I once wrote a post about my love of historical fiction and how important I find the accuracy of historical fiction to be, and I think that this book just takes the cake in the quality with which the period was understood and researched. In fact, though the story itself revolves around a series of disturbing deaths in a monastery in Italy, it also focuses heavily on a few key religious issues that were important at the time. Had the characters themselves not been distracted by these issues and literally had their own fascinating story thrust into the middle of them, then the book would never have been as accurate as it was.

One of these issues was the papal seat being moved to Avignon and the decadent lifestyle being lived there. This, of course, contrasts with the centrally important theological issue of Jesus’ poverty (or not) and whether that meant that all devout men (i.e. monks or those associated with the church) should be poor. Obviously the Pope and the wealthy bishops and cardinals insisted that Jesus was not destitute and to whatever degree he lacked property didn’t think that others should, and many different sects of monks insisted the opposite. Some monks took to condemning the pope as an impostor and the anti-Christ and were branded as heretical and persecuted by the Inquisition which had just started to get warmed up at the time. These central issues (pope at Avignon, Jesus’ poverty, heresy of disagreeing monks) were crucial to the time period.

Outside of these fascinating topics were intense and highly relevant philosophical conversations about the value of reason and revelation, learning and knowledge, life and death, the place of religion and so much more. But none was mentioned in some high-minded independent fashion. Rather, it was imbedded in the fascinating story that revolved around these murder mysteries.

Truly, The Name of the Rose is a work of genius. A wonderful book. Get your copy of The Name of the Rose today.

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Fun with the Bible: How Jesus’ Birth in Matthew is Like Moses’ Babyhood in Egypt

I don’t know if you’ve ever read chapter 2 of Matthew and thought to yourself, hmm, this sounds like something or reminds me of something that I just can’t put my finger on. If this has happened to you, you’re not alone and you’re picking up on an important motif that the author of the gospel of Matthew wanted you to see.

What happened to Jesus as a baby is meant to make us think back to the early chapters of the book of Exodus and liken Jesus’ tale to Moses.’ Why would Matthew want to do this? Well, Moses was the ultimate leader of the Jewish people (up until this point, Matthew would like you to believe), and perhaps more importantly, it is the Mosaic law that the Jews follow. Jesus is the bringer of the new law (that of the Holy Spirit) and should be, for Matthew, the leader of the Jewish people.

By likening their babyhoods Matthew is telling us that Jesus is now the new Moses. After chapter 1 which connected Jesus to Abraham and David, the other big figures of Judaism, Jesus is pretty set to rule the roost. (If you’d like to read about the connection of Jesus to those two figures in Matthew 1, click HERE.)

So, let’s list the ways that Jesus and Moses are connected:

1. Matthew 2:13 – Clue number one is the inclusion of the word “Egypt.” Go to Egypt, Joseph is told in a dream, and just like the Jews went to Egypt the first time because of Joseph, so too are some going now.

2. 2:16-17 – King Herod as the baby killer echoes the story of Pharaoh killing all the babies in Exodus 1.

3. Like Moses, Jesus escapes the baby-killing.

4. Joseph and company make their exodus from Egypt to Israel.

Now, some of you may be like, “Dude, that was not sufficiently convincing evidence.” I understand your troubles, but I stand by the fact that the inclusion of Egypt and babies being killed around Jesus and Jesus’ parents ensuring that he escaped this terrible fate, etc. are meant to make us liken Jesus to Moses.

What do you think? Do you buy it? Do you notice any other clues to this association?

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An Open Letter to Sarah Palin about Her Fundamentalist Christian Beliefs

Before you is a letter from someone I know and respect whose work is all about helping fundamentalist Christians who have chosen to leave their abusive and delusional religions do so in a safe and psychologically sound way. As the author of this letter has written, “Marlene Winell is a Bay Area psychologist who specializes in recovery from fundamentalist religion. She is author of Leaving the Fold:  A guide for former fundamentalists and others leaving their religion. She is the daughter of Assemblies of God missionaries. A longer article about Sarah Palin’s religion is on Dr. Winell’s website:  http://www.marlenewinell.net.”

Please feel free to leave any comments at the bottom of this letter and reproduce the letter in its entirety elsewhere on the internet (so long as you provide Dr. Winell as the author). If you would like to read an interview that I once conducted with Dr. Winell, please click HERE.

An open letter to Sarah Palin, from Marlene Winell, Ph.D.

Dear Sarah,

As a former fundamentalist, I’d like to call you on what you are doing.

This is not about disrespecting your private beliefs.  But you have a huge conflict of interest here by running for office and you can’t have it both ways (see Jesus’ words in John 2:15).

You have not been honest about the most important thing about you:  the fact that you are a born-again, literal Bible-believing, fundamentalist Christian.   Voters need to know you are not merely a “Christian” – a follower of Christ’s teachings.

Most people who have never been entrenched in the subculture of fundamentalist Christianity may not understand what this really means, but I do. Like you, I was raised in the Assemblies of God and I was a zealous part of the Jesus Movement.  Like you, my life was consumed with seeking God’s will for my life and awaiting the imminent return of Jesus.  It’s clear to me that you want to do the Lord’s will; you’ve said and done things like a true believer would. You are on a mission from God. If that is not true, then I challenge you to deny it.

Former fundamentalists like me know that your worldview is so encompassing, authoritarian, and powerful that it defines who you think you are, the way you view the world, history, other people, the future, and your place in the world.  It defines you far more than hockey mom, wife, woman, hunter, governor, or VP candidate.

You believe that every bit of the Bible is God’s perfect word.  You have a supernatural view of reality where Satan is a real entity and where good and evil beings are engaged in “spiritual warfare” (Ephesians 6:12).   Like Queen Esther, you believe that God has “called” and “anointed” you to lead America.  This is why you have accepted blessing for office through the “laying on of hands” and prayer to protect you from witchcraft.

So what does this mean for governing?  What could Americans expect with you at the helm?

You cannot affirm basic human decency or capability, because according to your dogma, we are sinful, weak, and dependant on God. And so, your decisions would not be based on expert advice or even your own reasoning, but on your gut-level, intuitive interpretation of God’s will.

This would allow you to do anything and claim you were led by God.

Your thinking necessarily is black or white.  People and policies are either good or bad.  After all, Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30).  Under your leadership, diplomacy and cultural nuance would be less important than not blinking.  In a spiritual war, you don’t negotiate with the devil.

Regarding social policy, as a believer in individual salvation, you would emphasize individual morality and responsibility, not a community approach with structural solutions.  You would be judgmental and controlling of personal choices regarding sex, reproduction, and library books instead of addressing global warming, torture, poverty, and war.  Your belief in eternal hell-fire, your deference to a literal Bible despite its cruelties and vengeful god, and your indoctrination to disbelieve your own compassionate instincts, are likely to leave you numb at your moral core.  You might recall the verse, “If a man will not work he shall not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10).  However, faith-based initiatives would be okay because they would use caring to evangelize.

How about science?  As it has in your governorship, your interpretation of the Bible would trump scientific scholarship and findings.  You would deny the human role in global warming because God is in control.  More importantly, you would not make the environment a priority because you do not expect the earth to last.

International affairs?  Since your subculture has identified the establishment of Israel in 1948 as the beginning of the end, you would see war, epidemics, climate change, and natural disasters, all as hopeful signs of Jesus’ return.  You would be a staunch supporter of Israel and deeply suspicious of countries like Russia identified with the antichrist in the end times literature.  (You have publicly said that you expect Jesus to return in your lifetime and that it guides you every day.)

The Christian fundamentalism that has shaped your thinking teaches that working for peace is unbiblical and wrong because peace is not humanly possible without the return of Jesus (1 Thess. 5:2,3).  Conflict, even outright war is inevitable, for Jesus came not to bring peace but a sword (Matt: 10:34-37).  Like millions of fundamentalist Christians, you may actually find joy in global crises because these things portend His return (Luke 21:28).

But all of this certainty and fantasy in today’s complex world is dangerous, Sarah.  There was a time when all of humanity thought the world was flat.  Today, the stakes for such massive error are much higher.

So we want to know, Sarah, Warrior Princess for God —  How dare you presume to take responsibility for our country and our planet when you, in your own mind, do not consider this home?   I mean home for the long haul, not just until your rescue arrives from space.  How dare you look forward to Christ’s return, leaving your public office empty like a scene from the movie, Left Behind?

What if you are completely wrong and you wreak havoc instead with your policies?  If you deny global warming, brand people and countries “evil,” support war, and neglect global issues, you can create the apocalypse you are expecting.  And as it gets worse and worse, and you look up for redemption, you just may not see it.  What then?  In that moment, you and all who have shared your delusion may have the most horrifying realization imaginable.   And it will be too late.  Too late to avoid destruction and too late to apologize to all the people who tried to turn the tide and needed you on board.

And you, John McCain, how dare you endanger all of us for the sake of your politics?  How dare you choose a partner who is all symbol and no substance, preying on the fears of millions of Americans?   Shame on both of you.

Leave this beautiful, fragile earth to us, the unbelievers in your fantasy.  It’s the only heaven we have and you have no right to make it a hell.

Sincerely,
Marlene

Marlene Winell, Ph.D.
October 21, 2008

Press Release – October 21, 2008
Contact:  mwinell@gmail.com

If you would like to read an interview that I once conducted with Dr. Winell, please click HERE.

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Fun with the Bible: Was the Author of the Gospel of Luke Really a Woman?

Who Really Wrote the Gospels

It is a common scholarly contention that the author of the Gospel of Luke was actually a woman. Now, it is definitely accepted that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not the authors of the respectively named gospels. Indeed, there’s no claim of authorship in the gospels, but similar to the Five Books of Moses, people wanted to attribute authorship to credible sources.

Thus, the third gospel was attributed to Luke, “the beloved physician” of Col. 4:14. As scholars and religious people alike agree, the author of Luke is also the author of Acts, hence Luke-Acts, though neither mentions Luke’s name or the “acts of the apostles.” But no matter – I said we were here to talk about Luke’s gender.

Ways that Luke Could be a Woman

So why might Luke be a woman. A few brief reasons that I’m going to mention and then I’ll leave the rest to you to read yourself.

1. There are more female characters in Luke (and when I say this I include Acts because of the similarities) than any other gospel. And it’s disproportionate – not just a couple. (e.g. the extended scenes with Mary and Elizabeth in chapter 1).

2. Luke speaks on multiple occassions of things that only concern women (menstration, pregnancy, etc.) and seems to understand and compare events to the pain and beauty of childbirth.

3. Woman have active and important roles for main events throughout the story, being the first to see Jesus, care for him, talk to him, etc. after key happenings. Women also believe in Jesus more often than men. (e.g. the poor widow in 21:1-4 whose offering is more important than anyone else’s; 24:10 when the women believe in and share the ressurection and the apostles don’t believe at first).

Reasonable Skepticism

If you doubt what I’ve written I understand. My examples are minimal and my case not made particularly well. However, there are many more examples of these things and more reasons that the author of Luke-Acts could have been a woman. The best way to start to see these reasons (aside from scholarly literature) is to read Luke-Acts with this in mind and start to recognize the huge and important role of women and the imagery related to women that exists.

It is possible, of course, that a male author could have a view of women that made them necessary characters in his telling, but his understanding of female experiences would be quite impressive. In either case, just read for yourself and see what you think about the role of women. Even if you disagree, what do you think about the place of women in Luke-Acts? Did you notice anything that you didn’t before?

Summary

Remember, Fun with the Bible is not about destroying people’s understanding of the Bible but about enhancing it by questioning our established beliefs and making us rethink how much there is to read about beyond what we’ve been told. Feel free to ask any questions and leave any comments about these and other issues.

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Fun with the Bible: The Synoptic Gospels and John Crucify Jesus on Different Days – Want to Know Why?

What!? The gospels have contradictory stories?! Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. Now, I’m not going to do all of the legwork for you – you’ll have to read through the stories (at least the key parts at the end) to see for yourself what’s going on – but I will tell you what’s written and, as briefly as possible, what it means.

The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke, which are all telling effectively the same story. In their story, there is a Last Supper (you remember – Jesus gives out the bread…’my body’ … etc.), and that Last Supper is what Jewish holiday meal? Passover. Correct! So, Passover is the same day every year: the night of the 14th of the month of Nissan. That means that the next day, the 15th of Nissan, Jesus is crucified (making the 15th a Friday, right?), and then he is resurrected on Sunday the 17th (three days later – Bible counts each of the days whether it’s whole or not).

You with me?

Now, in John, there is a symbolism different than in the Synoptic Gospels: there is no Last Supper (well, at least not an important one that’s mentioned and thought to be Passover), and Jesus is actually crucified on the 14th of Nissan (which is thus, in this story, a Friday) and resurrected on Sunday, which in this story is the 16th of Nissan. But why different dates?

Well, on the 14th of Nissan, during the day, Jews would sacrifice the lamb that was then eaten that night during Passover (an important ritual we won’t get into here). The lamb was always sacrificed on that day, the 14th of Nissan, and the Passover meal eaten that night. For John, Jesus was the Lamb of God (no other gospel uses this language) and John wanted Jesus to be the Passover sacrifice – the ultimate sacrifice that atoned for our sins (which is mostly the purpose of sacrifice – atoning).

John felt this symbolism stood above all else in importance – making Jesus the ultimate passover sacrifice – and so he crucifies Jesus on Friday, the 14th of Nissan. However, considering the Last Supper, as the Passover meal that had the symbolism of the bread and wine as Jesus’ body and blood, to be of utmost importance, the writers of Matthew, Mark and Luke made Jesus’ crucifixion the following day, Friday the 15th of Nissan (since the Passover meal is always the night of the 14th).

Pretty crazy and cool, huh? Today, the symbolism of either gospel is used to create a much larger theology though the dating ultimately makes the two stories irreconcilable with their portrayal of facts. Fascinating theology but impossible factually. Which one is true? We’ll never know, but both are holy canon in Christianity and considered to be 100% accurate.

What do you think? Did you go read for yourself and see? Is anything unclear or would you like to know more? Please just ask – the fascinating literature surrounding these facts in the first few centuries after Jesus (and the simultaneous development of Judaism and its understanding of Passover) is incredible.

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Jesus’ Connection to King David in Chapter 1 of Matthew Utilizes Gematria to Confirm Messiahship

As many people know when they read the New Testament, it’s very important that Jesus be connected to King David because it is supposedly a descendant of David who is the rightful heir to the thrown over the Jewish people, and by extension, their savior.

The Abraham-David-Exile-Jesus Genealogy

Bearing this in mind, we can take a look at the opening chapter and verses of the New Testament, Matthew 1, which begin with a genealogy. The genealogy is in three parts, starting with Abraham, a natural beginning, and ending in Jesus. Part one goes Abraham to King David; part two is David to the time of the Babylonian exile – when the monarchy came to an effective end; and then from the exile to Jesus, the period when the Jews desperately needed a savior.

In between each of these groupings are fourteen generations, a fact that is highlighted in Matthew 1:17: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.”

Playing with Hebrew in the New Testament

Yeehaw, you might say. That’s great….but why are we being told this seemingly irrelevant fact? Well, this has to do with a fascinating linguistic trick with Hebrew, whereby each letter correlates to a particular number and the manipulation and analysis of those numbers reveals interesting facts.

So why 14 generations? Well, the name David (as in, King David), in Hebrew is three letters with the sounds D-V-D (vowels are not independent letters). D (or daled) is the fourth letter and so has a value of four, and V (or vav) is the sixth letter and therefore has a value of six. Thus, d-v-d correlates to 4-6-4 which has a total value of 14. David, then, equals 14. The fact that 14 generations each separate Abraham and David, David and the exile, and the exile and Jesus, when the object is to connect Jesus to David and David’s name equals 14, serves to reinforce the connection between Jesus and David.

What This Means

Now, do I think that the gematria proves that Jesus is the messiah? No – the rabbis were masters of manipulating letters and words to correlate them to other things in mesmerizing ways, and Jesus and those who told of his life are a product of this time. It is interesting, I think, that Matthew (or the person who wrote Matthew) does not mention this element of David and Jesus’ connection. Perhaps he is leaving it for us to figure out, but I find it more likely that by the time the story got to him, it no longer reflected its linguistically Semetic origins (that is, Aramaic, Jesus’ language, and Hebrew, a related tongue), but rather, was a story in Greek whose Semetic elements would have been lost on the writer and his audience. Nonetheless, it’s interesting that this element exists in the story, reminding us of how well-crafted the tale of Jesus was and how crystallized the notion of his messiahship was by the time this story was related to the author of Matthew.

Afterthoughts and Questions

What do you think about this genealogy? Do you have anything to add to what I’ve said? If you are a Christian who has ever discussed these verses in Church or religious study, has this fact come up and if so, how was it discussed and portrayed?

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