Quran Read-A-Long: Al-‘Imran 31-41 Starts to Reveal Where This Surah Gets Its Name

These verses are very interesting, particularly as they discuss the mother of Mary (the grandmother of Jesus), and make it quite clear that Jesus and this woman came from the House of Imran, which is the house of the father of Moses and Aaron. This ultimately creates a huge and direct connection right in the Quran from Adam through Noah, Abraham Moses, Aaron, and Jesus. As this surah is called Al-‘Imran, or as I understand that, the House/Family of Imran (or Amram, of the Bible), this surah (or at least part of it) is about these prophets and important people. I’m very excited to see how these different characters and this larger family are made relevant in Islam and the Quran.

In the last surah, JDsg had to point out to me the point of the surah being called the Cow and when we were in the midst of those particular verses he was like, “Yoohoo, Jay! Over here.” I hope that this time I’ve at least identified the connection (a bit) between the surah title and the relevant verses (not that it was obfuscated or anything), but I look forward to everyone’s help elaborating upon their relevance and meaning within this surah.

These verses are particularly interesting because as far as I know there is no where in the New Testament that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is mentioned before the story of Jesus is immediately relevant. I would be fascinated to learn if there are any Gnostic sources or alternate non-canonical gospels that discuss the birth and life of Mary before Jesus and if they exist, how they compare to this story here. Beyond that, I’d be interested in knowing where and how long they were preserved, whether on parchment or orally. Does anyone know of anything in particular?

The story about Zechariah recounted in verses 38-41 can be found in a somewhat similar fashion at the beginning of the New Testament book of Luke. The Quran’s version is certainly more terse than that in the New Testament, and though it’s not necessary to recall all of the differences between the two versions, I will point out what seems to me to be a significant lacuna: that the angel mentioned in the New Testament who foretold the birth of John (the Baptist) was the Angel Gabriel, the same angel that relates the Quran to Mohammed, if I have my facts straight. Why would this be left out? Could it be that the story was not known in this fashion or was it an intentional omission and a ‘clarification’ of the New Testament story? Intentional, I say, because perhaps the significance of Mohammed’s revelation was not meant to be compared with that provided to Zechariah about John the Baptist? That doesn’t seem a good answer to me as the Quran, though recognizing the new trumping of itself revelation-wise, still respects all revelation – that leaves the question open and one over which I will anxiously await others’ thoughts.

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Al-‘Imran 31-41

31. Say [O Prophet]: “If you love God, follow me, [and] God will love you and forgive you your sins; for God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.” 32. Say: “Pay heed unto God and the Apostle.” 33. BEHOLD, God raised Adam, and Noah, and the House of Abraham, and the House of `Imran above all mankind, 34. in one line of descent.* And God was all-hearing, all-knowing** 35. when a woman of [the House of] `Imran prayed: “O my Sustainer! Behold, unto Thee do I vow [the child] that is in, my womb, to be devoted to Thy service. Accept it, then, from me: verily, Thou alone art all-hearing, all-knowing!” 36. But when she had given birth to the child,  she said: “O my Sustainer! Behold, I have given birth to a female” – the while God had been fully aware of what she would give birth to, and [fully aware] that no male child [she might have hoped for] could ever have been like this female – “and I have named her Mary. And, verily, I seek Thy protection for her and her offspring against Satan, the accursed.” 37. And thereupon her Sustainer accepted the girl-child with goodly acceptance, and caused her to grow up in goodly growth, and placed her in the care of Zachariah. Whenever Zachariah visited her in the sanctuary, he found her provided with food. He would ask: “O Mary, whence came this unto thee?” She would answer: “It is from God; behold, God grants sustenance unto whom He wills, beyond all reckoning.” 38. In that self-same place, Zachariah prayed unto his Sustainer, saying: “O my Sustainer! Bestow upon me [too], out of Thy grace, the gift of goodly offspring; for Thou, indeed, hearest all prayer.” 39. Thereupon, as he stood praying in the sanctuary, the angels called out unto him: “God sends thee the glad tiding of [the birth of] John, who shall confirm the truth of a word from God, and [shall be] outstanding among men, and utterly chaste, and a prophet from among the righteous.” 40. [Zachariah] exclaimed: “O my Sustainer! How can I have a son when old age has already overtaken me, and my wife is barren?” Answered [the angel]: “Thus it is: God does what He wills.” 41. [Zachariah] prayed: “O my Sustainer! Appoint a sign for me!” Said [the angel]: “Thy sign shall be that for three days thou wilt not speak unto men other than by gestures. And remember thy Sustainer unceasingly, and extol His limitless glory by night and by day.”

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 249-253 Gives Us Some Lessons From the Bible…Sort Of

But for the lesson that Asad points out (that faith is nothing without a disregard of material interests), I can’t figure out why Saul would tell his men that God is testing them based on their ability not to drink the water. From the previous few verses we know that we’ve turned to a discussion of ancient Israel, and it seems as though the Quran is teaching us what value the stories should have.

As this story about Saul, the first king of ancient Israelite, and his army is not in the Bible, I wonder where Mohammed would have heard such a story. If these verses are Medinan, then there are a few Jewish tribes around, some of whose members had converted, and others whom Muhammed would have just interacted with in the day to day. At this time, the Jews, I believe, were communicating a number of elements from their religion and scriptures to Mohammed so I’m guessing he’s learning quite a bit that is winding up in the Quran.

That said, this verse seems particularly fitting for this time period because of the escalation in tensions with the Quryash in Mecca. The Muslims early victory in the first real battle between them and the Quryash would have surely seemed like a blessing sent from heaven – one they could have never received without the faith they had and the sacrifices they were making to live away from their families and kinsmen. And the Muslims were, of course, the underdogs as the end of verse 249 suggests. Thus, lessons from the Bible and the Jews would have been most appropriate at this time.

What I wonder, though, is where this particular story came from. Was it a legend amongst the Jews that was communicated to Mohammed as they discussed the Bible, or was it something that was revealed to Mohammed and made sense after these discussions? I would love to see a book that traced the origins (to whatever extent possible) of the bible-related tales in the Quran that aren’t actually in the Bible. That would be fantastic.

On a similar note, I’m pondering the portrayal of the story with David and Goliath, only because of the different way that the Bible recounts this story – that David came later to the battleground because he was not part of Saul’s forces. Then he slew Goliath. These verses make it sound as though David was there, slew Goliath and then God loved him. Perhaps this is just the Quran abbreviating the story to its essentials since what is relevant in the Bible is not as relevant here, or when the story was getting summarized, it became naturally abridged this way.

In any case, this also seems to me to be a particularly Medinan notion because it justifies the need to fight and do battle: without the ability to defend oneself, corrupt people would have taken over everything. At a time when the early Muslim community in Medina would have been learning that it were going to have to take on a military aspect, it would have been important that they be reassured about the necessary steps to come. Not that fighting wasn’t already a part of Arab tribal life in the years before Mohammed, but the Quryash had not been fighting for a while at this point and reminding them of the need to defened themselves and the divine justifications for doing so would have been crucial.

My guess upon reading verse 253 was that the person God spoke to Himself was Moses and Asad confirmed that suspicion in his note on this verse. That makes Moses, Jesus and Mohammed those people to whom God communicated His messages in a comprehensive way. The latter part of verse 253 is quite a note about Free Will and Human Nature.

Can you help me flesh out anything that I’ve said about these verses, correct anything or add anything that I missed? Thanks so much for being a part of Quran Read-A-Long!

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The Cow 249-253

249 And when Saul set out with his forces, he said: “Behold, God will now try you by a river: he who shall drink of it will not belong to me, whereas he who shall refrain from tasting it – he, indeed, will belong to me; but forgiven shall be he who shall scoop up but a single handful.” However, save for a few of them, they all drank [their fill] of it. And as soon as he and those who had kept faith with him had crossed the river, the others said: “No strength have we today [to stand up] against Goliath and his forces!” [Yet] those who knew with certainty that they were destined to meet God, replied: “How often has a small host overcome a great host by God’s leave! For God is with those who are patient in adversity.” 250. And when they came face to face with Goliath and his forces, they prayed: “O our Sustainer! Shower us with patience in adversity, and make firm our steps, and succor us against the people who deny the truth!” 251. And thereupon, by God’s leave, they routed them. And David slew Goliath; and God bestowed upon him dominion, and wisdom, and imparted to him the knowledge of whatever He willed. And if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another,* corruption would surely overwhelm the earth: but God is limitless in His bounty unto all the worlds. 252. These are God’s messages: We convey them unto thee, [O Prophet,] setting forth the truth-for, verily, thou art among those who have been entrusted with a message. 253 Some of these apostles have We endowed more highly than others: among them were such as were spoken to by God [Himself], and some He has raised yet higher.’ And We vouchsafed unto Jesus, the son of Mary, all evidence of the truth, and strengthened him with holy inspiration. And if God had so willed, they who succeeded those [apostles] would not have contended with one another after all evidence of the truth had come to them; but [as it was,] they did take to divergent views, and some of them attained to faith, while some of them came to deny the truth. Yet if God had so willed, they would not have contended with one another: but God does whatever He wills.

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.”

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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Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 130-141 Speaks of Islam’s Relationship to Judaism, Christianity and Their Shared Prophetic History

Verses 130 to 133 affirm the commitment of the ‘forefathers,’ if I can use a particularly Jewish word for referring to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (is that word used in Islam?) to the one and only God and Abraham’s very language reminds us of the importance of submitting to God – of Islam.

In verse 134 something fascinating happens: we are told that each person is judged by his own merit. Fantastic! In the Bible this is not so. Numbers 14:18 says, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” Well that sucks!

We’re responsible for what the people before us did? In the real world this sometimes seems to be the case: future generations will suffer the transgressions of our current (and recent politicians), by having to mend relations with the world, endure the destruction of social security’s false promises and bail ourselves out of a seemingly insurmountable debt – but is God inflicting this punishment on us because of previous generations? The Bible says yes and the Quran says no. Each man is responsible for his own fate, a notion that manifests again at the end of this section.

I also like the call of verse 135, which says, forget the religion (Judaism or Christianity) and emulate the righteous and pious person who came before them both: Abraham. Of course, we are supposed to understand, I’d imagine, that Abraham was the archetype of the good Muslim and being a good Muslim means being like Abraham, but we see that the importance here is the qualities: upright and not an idolater. The Quran follows up by showing reverence for all the prophets to whom God provided revelation and who acted properly, not distinguishing between them.

The continuation and links to the previous religious traditions, I think, is a very special element of Islam. For obvious reasons, Judaism can’t easily link forward, and the development of modern Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity is the story of the two traditions trying to differentiate themselves from one another in the early centuries of the Common Era. Islam, however, draws on the strengths of both (their righteous prophets and not their tangential modern results) and gives us, in a sense, a more inclusive religious offering.

What do you think about these verses? What did I miss?

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The Cow 130-141

130. Who will turn away from the creed of Abraham but one dull of soul? We made him the chosen one here in the world, and one of the best in the world to come, 131. (For) when his Lord said to him: “Obey,” he replied: “I submit to the Lord of all the worlds.” 132. And Abraham left this legacy to his sons, and to Jacob, and said: “O my sons, God has chosen this as the faith for you. Do not die but as those who have submitted (to God).” 133. Were you present at the hour of Jacob’s death? “What will you worship after me?” he asked his sons, and they answered: “We shall worship your God and the God of your fathers, of Abraham and Ishamel and Isaac, and one and only God; and to Him we submit.” 134. Those were the people, and they have passed away. Theirs the reward for what they did, as yours will be for what you do. You will not be questioned about their deeds. 135. They say: “Become Jews or become Christians, and find the right way.” Say: “No. We follow the way of Abraham the upright, who was not an idolater.” 136. Say: “We believe in God and what has been sent down to us, and what had been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their progeny, and that which was given to Moses and Christ, and to all other prophets by the Lord. We make no distinction among them, and we submit to Him.” 137. If they come to believe as you did, they will find the right path. If they turn away then they will only oppose; but God will suffice you against them, for God hears all and knows everything. 138. “We have taken the coloring of God; and whose shade is better than God’s? Him alone we worship.” 139. Say: “Why do you dispute with us about God when He is equally you Lord and our Lord? To us belong our actions, to you yours; and we are true to Him.” 140. Or do you claim that Abraham and Ishamel and Isaac and Jacob and their offspring were Jews or Christians? Say: “Have you more knowledge than God?” Who is more wicked than he who conceals the testimony he received from God? God is not unaware of all you do. 141. They were the people, and they have passed away. Theirs the reward for what they did, as yours will be for what you do. You will not be questioned about their deeds.

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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13 Silly Biblical Puns Really are Fun with the Bible

Though we’re always having fun with the Bible on Mondays, we rarely ever enjoy some good old fashioned jokes – Bible style. This week, let’s break from our somewhat serious Bible lessons – even though they’re fun – and chuckle at these goofy biblical puns.
Q. What kind of man was Boaz before he married Ruth?
A. Ruthless.

Q. What do they call pastors in Germany ?
A. German Shepherds.

Q. Who was the greatest financier in the Bible?
A. Noah He was floating his stock while everyone else was in liquidation.

Q. Who was the greatest female financier in the Bible?
A. Pharaoh’s daughter. She went down to the bank of the Nile and drew out a little prophet.

Q. What kind of motor vehicles are in the Bible?
A. Jehovah drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden in a Fury. David’s Triumph was heard throughout the land. Also, probably a Honda, because the apostles were all in one Accord.

Q. Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?
A. Samson. He brought the house down.

Q. What excuse did Adam give to his children as to why he no longer lived in Eden ?
A. Your mother ate us out of house and home.

Q. Which servant of God was the most flagrant lawbreaker in the Bible?
A. Moses. He broke all 10 commandments at once.

Q. Which area of Palestine was especially wealthy?
A. The area around Jordan: the banks were always overflowing.

Q. Who is the greatest babysitter mentioned in the Bible?
A. David. H e rocked Goliath to a very deep sleep.

Q. Which Bible character had no parents?
A. Joshua, son of Nun.

Q. Why didn’t they play cards on the Ark ?
A. Because Noah was standing on the deck. (Groan…)

PS. Did you know it’s a sin for a woman to make coffee?
Yup, it’s in the Bible. It says . . . ‘He-brews’

Which was your favorite? Got any good ones? Stick them in the comments!

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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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Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 104-112 Provides Us With Some Familiar Things and Reminds Us that Everyone Can Have His Reward with God

Kick-off

Immediately in verse 105 I’m pleased by the distinction of “those without faith among the people of the Book.” I think that it complements something that we run in circles around week after week: that not all Jews (or Christians for that matter) are enemies of God. Only the ones who don’t believe in Him/have faith/etc.

Grace in Islam or a Bad Translation?

The concept of grace in this verse also interests me. Grace, at least in Christianity, implies that someone is saved by the grace of God, if you will, which is to say that as far as humans are concerned it’s a very fanciful (I dare say, almost whimsical) thing on God’s part: almost Job-ian (and not the Job portrayed in the Quran but the Job that we see in the biblical book of Job which has different lessons). Perhaps my translation is crummy, or as Kay suggested last week I need to be looking at multiple translations, but putting aside my preconceived notions regarding the concept of grace, I think it might be important to understand how this idea manifests and works itself out in Islam.

Allah’s Prophets and the Right to Upgrade Technology

Verse 106 acknowledges that Allah is entitled to do away with prophecies of the past or replace them with better ones. How could He not have that right!?

First of all, He’s Allah. That alone should give him sufficient right (something He says). Second of all, I look at this from a technology perspective. Just because dial-up internet was the latest and greatest thing when it happened two decades ago doesn’t mean that we should stick with it because it was the harbinger of the internet age and a time of rapid and mass transformation for everything technological. When cable modems came out, you better believe I upgraded and the rest of you probably did too. Why stick with what’s old and outdated when there’s something fresh and new that carries a better message (that’s an email reference, not necessarily a religious one 😉 ).

In any case, what I’m saying is not to accept cavalierly the replacement of Judaism and Christianity and those religions’ respective (and primarily overlapping) prophets with Islam and Mohammed. What I’m suggesting is that internal to the text and Islam, we better believe that Allah has the right to give us the latest and greatest rather than to leave us with last week’s technology…or prophet. I mean, if we let Cisco tell us when to let go of the past, then we better let God.

A Warm, Fuzzy Feeling: Be Good and It’s All Good

We seem to have covered the many themes found in the middle verses of this passage before so instead of me not adding anything constructive, I’ll move onto the end, knowing that some of the participants in this project will enlighten me as to anything I may have neglected in those verses.

All I can really say about verse 112 is that I like it. It’s another one of those like 2:62 type verses that says that everyone has the ability – regardless of religious affiliation – to have his reward with God. Do two things: surrender to God with all your heart and (this I see as supremely important) do good. That’s it – give your heart to God and do good. And in English I love looking at the etymological relationship between those two words (God and good).

Summary and Welcome Newcomers

That’s it for this week. Please feel free to share any thoughts, add anything, make any corrections, etc.

I’ve noticed more Quran Read-A-Long readers as of late, and so I just want to welcome you all and let you know that this is a place where we can read the Quran together, a few verses at a time, and try to learn a little something with each other, regardless of our religions, about this amazing book and about Islam. So, don’t be shy – feel free to leave your comments and thoughts and let us know what you know.

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The Cow 104-112

104. Say not (to the Prophet), O believers: “Have regard for us (ra’ina),” but “look at us (unzurna),” and obey him in what he says. Painful is the nemesis for disbelievers. 105. Those without faith among the people of the Book, and those who worship idols, do not wish that good should come to you from your Lord. But God chooses whom He likes for His grace; and the bounty of God is infinite. 106. When We cancel a message (sent to an earlier prophet) or throw it into oblivion, We replace it with one better or one similar. Do you not know that God has power over all things? 107. Do you not know that God’s is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and that there is none to save and protect you apart from God? 108. Do you too, O believers, wish to question your Apostle as Moses was in the past? But he who takes unbelief in exchange for belief only strays from the right path. 109. How many of the followers of the Books having once known the truth desire in their hearts, out of envy, to turn you into infidels again even after the truth has become clear to them! But you forbear and overlook till God fulfils His plan; and God has power over all things. 110. Fulfil your devotional obligations and pay the zakat. And what you send ahead of good you will find with God, for He sees all that you do. 111. And they say: “None will go to Paradise but the Jews and the Christians,” but this is only wishful thinking. Say: “Bring the proof if you are truthful.” 112. Only he who surrenders to God with all his heart and also does good, will find his reward with his Lord, and will have no fear or regret.

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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