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?

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: Al-`Imran 1-9 Discuss the Quran Itself

We’ve reached the third surah! What’s more, verse two begins with a very important affirmation that we’ve discussed before: that there is no deity but God. Why important other than the obvious truth of the matter? Because Mohammed had to make it clear to the Quryash and other Arabs that Allah was the only God and that the secondary daughter deities that they worshiped and had shrines to were not real.

Verse three is a noteworthy internal affirmation of the Quranic revelation. The idea, as Asad seems to interpret it, is that whatever still remains so of the Torah has its verity confirmed by the Quran wherever the Quran speaks of similar things. We’ve discussed that the Quran believes the Torah and the Gospels to be corrupted. I have agreed that the Torah is not a single text but actually a series of interwoven texts (this theory is known as the Documentary Hypothesis). What I am particularly interested in at this moment is the Injil, or what the Quran believes the Synoptic Gospels are based on – a more accurate Gospel of Jesus. Is this document the same one that biblical scholars believe exists – the document known as Q? Or is this more similar to the Torah situation in which there is believed to be a complete and accurate document that lacks corruption and tells the story of Jesus’ life exactly as it happened (the implication here being that scholars don’t believe that Q is necessarily the truth so much as a document closer to Jesus and which the documents we have would have been partially based on)?

It seems significant that the directly stated verses are the “essence of the divine writ,” though there are many other verses that are allegorical in nature and require more strenuous mental searching and understanding. I think this is for the benefit of everyone who reads the Quran. All Muslims – not just the wise – should be able to read the Quran, God’s word, and take away from it the most important points, values and rules. There are plenty of simple people in the world and they should not be intimidated by reading the Quran and hearing God’s word: they should have the pleasure of knowing what God wants from them on their own. This speaks to the Islamic lack of clergy (which I think is awesome, by the way) because Muslims don’t require someone else to tell them what the Quran says. It is God’s word right to their ears. Similarly, Muslims don’t need any sort of intermediary through which to offer their prayers, whether a preist or Jesus (or Mohammed, as the case may be). Their prayers go right to God – perhaps in part because they are able to undersand God’s simple and most important words for themselves.

What are your thoughts about these verses? Please feel free to answer any posed questions or just address your own issues with the opening verses of Al-‘Imran.

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Al-`Imran 1-9

In the name of God, the most gracious, the dispenser of grace:

1. Alif. Lam. Mim. 2. GOD – there is no deity save Him, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent Fount of All Being! 3. Step by step has He bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ, setting forth the truth which confirms whatever there still remains [of earlier revelations]: for it is He who has bestowed from on high the Torah and the Gospel 4. aforetime, as a guidance unto mankind, and it is He who has bestowed [upon man] the standard by which to discern the true from the false. Behold, as for those who are bent on denying God’s messages – grievous suffering awaits them: for God is almighty, an avenger of evil. 5. Verily, nothing on earth or in the heavens is hidden from God. 6. He it is who shapes you in the wombs as He wills. There is no deity save Him, the Almighty, the Truly Wise. 7. He it is who has bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ, containing messages that are clear in and by themselves – and these are the essence of the divine writ – as well as others that are allegorical. Now those whose hearts are given to swerving from the truth go after that part of the divine writ which has been expressed in allegory, seeking out [what is bound to create] confusion, and seeking [to arrive at] its final meaning [in an arbitrary manner]; but none save God knows its final meaning. Hence, those who are deeply rooted in knowledge say: “We believe in it; the whole [of the divine writ] is from our Sustainer – albeit none takes this to heart save those who are endowed with insight. 8. “O our Sustainer! Let not our hearts swerve from the truth after Thou hast guided us; and bestow upon us the gift of Thy grace: verily, Thou art the [true] Giver of Gifts. 9. “O our Sustainer! Verily, Thou wilt gather mankind together to witness the Day about [the coming of] which there is no doubt: verily, God never fails to fulfil His promise.”

Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 284-286 Complete the Second Sura

This repetition affirming the equality of the messages (despite differences in prophetic ability) from God’s different apostles (which is, I think, to say prophets) is very important. It makes Islam an incredibly inclusive religion, not shunning and belittling any of the other religions, which it acknowledges as other ways of believing in God and going to Heaven. I’m not particularly sure about the nuances of this understanding but generally speaking, this is my understanding after the conversations that have accompanied Quran Read-A-Long.

Asad tells us that the reference in verse 286 to God not laying the burden upon Muslims that he laid upon those before is a reference to the Mosaic law of Judaism and the world-renunciation of Christianity. If that is what’s being referred to here (and I can roll with that for the sake of argument) then I dare say that I concur with the burdensome nature of either of those things. I take this to mean, then, that the Quran considers its relatively long list of injunctions non-burdensome, and I ask, what is the difference between that which the Quran tells Muslims to do and that which the Torah tells Jews to do?

My own answer is obviously hindered by my lack of knowledge of what else, beyond the Cow, the Quran tells Muslims to do day to day, so my answer is only tentative, and it would seem to lie in the seeming arbitrariness of some of the things listed in the Torah – for instance, the kosher dietary laws. However, Islam shares a few of those laws (like a prohibition on eating pig), and so my question becomes whether or not this is a comparison not of the Torah itself but of the Rabbinic law (the Talmudic law, that is) that Mohammed would have theoretically seen the Jews around him abiding by – and that rabbinic law is a much longer and more tiresome list than the Torah’s own list. However, I would then offer a comparison between those legal minutae and the Hadith and other jurisprudence practiced of Muslims. If it is saying that the Quranic law is not burdensome because it is practical, then I would mention that a lot of what is mentioned in the Torah is practical too – like laws about sexual deviancy or treating society’s underprivileged fairly – despite the lengthy set of sacrificial laws that tax our modern sentiments.

Now, this isn’t meant to be me putting my foot down in these comparisons, because like I said, my knowledge of the rest of what the Quran is asking is not filled out yet (like my knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence, believe it or not), but the Cow does seem to have a lot of directives, many atuned to running a balanced and just society, and some seemingly slightly less necessary (no pig?) – which isn’t to say there aren’t good reasons, but just to say that the differences in those elements of the religions aren’t entirely clear to me yet. As for the comparison with Christianity, it sounds like this is the Quran’s way of saying (at least according to Asad’s interpretation) that Islam, though focused on the next life like Christianity, is not obsessed to the exclusion of an appreciation and enjoyment of this life.

I’ve left a lot up in the air here and would be incredibly appreciative of any clarifying comments and thoughts.

We’ve made it to the end of The Cow, and though it’s the second sura, it’s also the first long one so that’s exciting! Thanks to everyone who’s made it this far with me and who has joined Quran Read-A-Long. I hope you’ll continue to read and comment as we move into the third sura, Al- ‘Imran, next week.

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The Cow 284-286

284. Unto God belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is on earth. And whether you bring into the open what is in your minds or conceal it, God will call you to account for it; and then He will forgive whom He wills, and will chastise whom He wills: for God has the power to will anything. 285. THE APOSTLE, and the believers with him, believe in what has been bestowed upon him from on high by his Sustainer: they all believe in God, and His angels, and His revelations, and His apostles, making no distinction between any of His apostles; and they say: “We have heard, and we pay heed. Grant us Thy forgiveness, O our Sustainer, for with Thee is all journeys’ end! 286. “God does not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear: in his favor shall be whatever good he does, and against him whatever evil he does. “O our Sustainer! Take us not to task if we forget or unwittingly do wrong! “O our Sustainer! Lay not upon us a burden such as Thou didst lay upon those who lived before us!* O our Sustainer! Make us not bear burdens which we have no strength to bear! “And efface Thou our sins, and grant us forgiveness, and bestow Thy mercy upon us! Thou art our Lord Supreme: succor us, then, against people who deny the truth!”

The Book of Deuteronomy is Found and King Josiah Reforms Israel

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

He Found What!?

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

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

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

But There’s More to This

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

What do you think about all this?

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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.