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al-A’raf: Midian’s fall

October 22, 2010 1 comment

This is a new "fallen civilization", though the story is the same: a messenger appears to rail against polytheism, a ruling elite rejects the message and persecutes the messenger's followers, and then God destroys the doubting, ruling elite.

Honestly, it's so similar to the other stories, I don't see the need to include some relevant passages.

What is interesting to add is that Midian appears in the Psalm 83 as well:

Treat them like Midian and Sisera…
Wiped out at En-Dor,
they served to manure the ground.

My God, treat them like thistledown,
like Chaff at the mercy of the wind.

al-A’raf: The fall of Lot’s tribe

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

080: And We sent Lot, who said to his people: "Why do you commit this lecherous act which none in the world has committed before?
081: In preference to women you satisfy your lust with men. Indeed you are a people who are guilty of excess."
082: His people made no answer, and only said: "Drive them out of the city. They profess to be pure."
083: But We saved Lot and his family, except for his wife, who was one of those who stayed behind.
084: And we rained down on them a shower (of stones). So witness the end of sinners.

That's a short story with Lot, and as someone who isn't that familiar with the Bible, I went to the source to compare.

Lot definitely wasn't a messenger in Genesis. He was just a man living in Sodom, though one could infer from Genesis 18:16-33 that Lot was a righteous man and a member of Abraham's tribe. Lot encountered two male visitors/angels on evening, and took them to his house to have dinner. Then a mob of Sodomites showed up, asking Lot to toss the angels/visitors out of his house so that the mob could have an orgy with the two men (or gang rape them if they weren't willing). Instead of sending out the angels, Lot offered to let the mob gang rape two of his virgin daughters. Nice fucking guy, pardon my French. A footnote in the New Jerusalem Bible states "at that period the honour of a woman was of less account… than the sacred duty of hospitality." Hospitality more important than letting your daughters get gang raped?

Anyhoo, nobody is gang raped, best as I can tell, but at dawn, the angels rush Lot and his family out of Sodom (but not his future sons-in-law, and can you blame them? Would you believe a man who just gave a gang of your neighbors permission to gang rape your bride-to-be if he told you God was about to destroy your house? Not only wouldn't I believe him, but he'd be saying that through a mouth full of broken teeth). God unleashes fire and brimstone, destroying the cities on the plains, and Lot's wife looks back (against God's command) and gets turned to a pillar of salt.

I find it interesting the Qur'an doesn't mention the desired gang rape of two angels, nor the offering of two virginal daughters to be gang raped instead. The gang isn't interested in rape at all, they just want to run Lot out of town.

The Biblical Lot frankly deserves eternal damnation. The Qur'anic Lot is just a homophobe.

al-A’raf: Thamud’s fall

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

073: We sent to Thamud their brother Saleh. "O you people," said he, "worship God, for you have no other god but He. Clear proof has come to you already from your Lord
074: Remember, how you were made leaders after the people of 'Ad… so that you could… carve dwellings out of mountains…
075: The chiefs among the people who were arrogant towards the weaker ones among them who believed, asked: "Do you really know that Saleh has been sent by his Lord?" They replied "Indeed we believe in the message he has brought."
076: Those who were arrogant answered: "We do not believe in what you believe."

Again, the set-up with Thamud is a direct parallel to Muhammad's message and the Qurayshi response.

Then we get to the camel.

073: Salih said "…this she-camel of God is the token for you. Leave her free to graze upon God's earth… lest a grievous punishment should befall you."
077: Then [the arrogant disbelievers] hamstrung the she-camel and rebelled against the command of their Lord, and said: "Bring, O Saleh, on us the affliction you promise, if you are one of the sent ones."
078: Then they were seized on by an earthquake…
079: Saleh turned away from them and said: "O my people, I conveyed to you the message of my Lord and warned you; but you do not like those who wish you well."

I shared an explanation about what this meant in a post a month ago, but I'm going to repeat the Michael Sell's explanation again here.

In disobeying their prophet, Salih, the people of Thamud slaughtered God’s camel mare. Nothing was more taboo in ancient Arabia than the unjustified killing of a camel mare. The central ritual of pre-Islamic poetry was the camel sacrifice and distribution of the meat throughout the tribe. The improper slaying of a camel mare was a sacrilege or abomination of such enormity that it led to tribal wars that lasted generations.

By slaughtering God’s camel mare, the people of Thamud committed what was by both ancient tribal standards and Qur’anic standards an abomination.

Final note: the bit about "carving dwellings out of mountains" is a reference to the Nabateans who carved beautiful facades of buildings in walls of what is today called Petra.

al-A’raf: ‘Ad’s fall

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

065: And we sent Hud, their brother, to the people of 'Ad. He said: "O you people, worship God, for you have no other god but He…"
066: The chiefs of his people who were infidels replied: "We find you full of folly, and a liar to boot."
070: "Have you come to say to us that we should worship only one God, abandoning those our ancestors had worshipped? If so, bring on us what you threaten us with, if what you say is true."
071: Hud said…"Why dispute with me about names [of other deities] invented by you and your ancestors for which no sanction was sent down? So wait (for what is to come), I am waiting with you."
072: Then We saved him and those on his side by Our grace, and destroyed to the very last those who rejected Our signs and denied the truth.

Not a lot of detail in this one, beyond 'Ad denying the message and the messenger. This is perhaps the "fall" that is the most similar to the back-and-forth that Muhammad and the Quraysh were having.

Not much else to add here.

al-A’raf: Noah and the Flood

October 18, 2010 Leave a comment

The story of the flood is ingrained in the Abrahamic tradition, so much so that there's a scientific debate dating back to 1996 about whether a sudden flood in the Black Sea 7,000 years ago could have been the root event of a variety of flood mythologies, from Gilgamesh to Noah (as well as causing the spread of agriculture in Europe and the Middle East).

I have a pretty strong recollection of Noah from Bill Cosby. He's probably the main source of my understanding of the story. What's clear is that Noah never went out and talked to anyone, he was never a prophet. God told him to build an Ark to save a remnant of God's creation.

Let's go to the New Jerusalem Bible (Genesis:6) again:

Yahweh saw that human wickedness was great on earth and that his heart contrived nothing but wicked schemes all day long. Yahweh regretted having made human beings on earth… and Yahweh said, "I shall rid the surface of the earth of the human beings whom I created… But Noah won Yahweh's favour… Noah was a good man, an upright man among contemporaries, and he walked with God…

God said to Noah… "Make yourself an Ark…" For my part I am going to send the flood, the waters… to destroy all living things.

Noah did… exactly as God commanded.

And then the flood came for forty days and forty nights, etc., etc. You know the story.

Here's the Qur'anic version:

059: We sent Noah to his people, and he said: "O people worship God; you have no other god but He; for I fear the retribution of the great Day may fall on you."
060: The elders of his people replied: "We see clearly that you (Noah) have gone astray."
061: "I have not gone astray, O my people," Noah said, "but have been sent by my Lord, the creator of all the worlds…
063: "Do you wonder that a warning has come to you from your Lord through a man who is one of you, and warns you to take heed for yourselves and fear God?…"
064: But they called him a liar, and We saved him and those with him in the Ark, and drowned the others who rejected Our signs…

The Biblical Noah reacted to God, followed his commands to build an Ark, but brought no message to his people to save them. God had already judged.

The Qur'anic Noah brought a message to his people to save them, but was spurned, so God saved Noah and his family by placing them on the Ark.

The stories are the same, and yet so profoundly different. The Qur'anic Noah is clearly a Messenger just like Muhammad, and the result of rejecting of Noah's message shows what will happen if Muhammad's message is rejected as well.

al-A’raf: Man’s fall

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

019: "And you, O Adam, and your spouse, live in the Garden and eat your fill wheresoever you like, but do not approach this tree, or you will become iniquitous."
020: But Satan suggested (evil) to them, in order to reveal their hidden parts of which they were not aware and said: "Your Lord has forbidden you this tree that you may not become angels or immortal."
022: …When they tasted of the tree their disgrace became exposed to them; and they patched the leaves of the Garden to hide it. And the Lord said to them: "Did I not forbid you this tree?…"

Read Genesis:3, and you'll get much the same story, albeit expanded, including a better explanation of what eating the fruit of the tree gave Man (the ability to tell good from evil, not just modesty and immortality).

But here's where it gets interesting; where the Qur'an forks from the Bible. First, Adam and Eve beg for forgiveness in the Qur'an, rather than making excuses about who tempted whom in Genesis.

023: They said: "O our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, If You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we shall certainly be lost."
024: "Go," said God, … "and live on the earth for a time ordained, and fend for yourselves."
025: You will live there, and there will you die," He said, "and be raised from there on Judgment Day."

The Bible moves right on to Cain and Abel after the explusion, but the Qur'an does something else entirely, which snaps to the entire narrative thread about Man being lost, and forgetting or garbling the message of God. The sons of Adam, the entire future lineage of mankind, is brought forth to receive a warning from God.

027: O sons of Adam, let not Satan beguile you as he did your parents out of Eden,… we have made the devils the friends of those who do not believe,
028: … [W]hen they (some of the sons of Adam) commit (future) shameful acts…
029: Tell them: "My Lord has enjoined justice, devotion in all acts of worship…"
033: Tell them: "My Lord has forbidden repugnant acts… sin and unjust oppression…
035: O sons of Adam, when apostles come to you from among you, who convey My messages, then those who take heed and amend will have neither fear nor regret.
040: …Those who deny Our signs and turn away in haughtiness from them, the gates of heaven shall not be opened, nor will they enter Paradise, until the camel passes through the needle's eye…
042: As for those who believe and do good… they are men of Paradise where they will abide forever.

From the moment of man's expulsion from Eden, all men and women not yet born received a warning from God about how to conduct their lives. More important, they are advised to heed future prophets from God, as it is likely that they will lose their way without guidance.

It's a stunning moment. Time is removed from the equation, and at one moment, every soul yet unborn receives a direct message from God.

al-A’raf: Satan’s Fall in the Bible

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

As a secular humanist in a Christian culture, I've always known that Satan was a fallen angel, and if I know that, then it must be in the Bible somewhere. I mean, it is all over pop culture in the west, from Good Omens to the His Dark Materials trilogy to the Incarnations of Immortality series, even to the movie Dogma (yes, my popular culture tends to poke fun at Christian esoterica). So when I encountered this bit in the Qur'an, I thought it would be interesting to compare the Bible and the Qur'an.

I checked in Genesis in my first edition copy of the New Jerusalem Bible, the Catholic Church's modern translation of the Bible from 1985 (I "borrowed" this bible from my father at least a decade ago). Just a snake in Genesis. So I look in the 'Index of Persons,' and check every single reference for Satan and Lucifer. Only three have some relevance: Isaiah, Ezekiel and the Apocalypse of John.

Isaiah 14 discusses the fall of the king of Babylon:


How did you come to fall from the heavens
Daystar, son of Dawn?
…You who used to think to yourself:
"…I shall rival the Most High."
Now you have been flung down to Sheol (Hell/grave/pit),
into the depths of the abyss!
"When they see you, they will scrutinise you
and consider what you have become,
"Is this the man who made the world tremble…?
…All other kings of nations, all of them,
lie honourably, each in his own tomb;
but you have been thrown away, unburied,
like a loathsome branch…

The key here is "Daystar, son of Dawn" which refers to Lucifer according to several websites I found. But the entire text is about the king of Babylon; a man, not an angel. And even if this passage refers to a fallen angel, it's pretty clear that Daystar had no subsequent career of power. He was a figure of pity and scorn, not Satan.

Ezekiel 28:11-19 is the next, and here there is a bit more about what we would consider an angel that has fallen, though it is in an elegy to the king of Tyre, and could just as easily be hyperbole for a man who has passed from this world.

You used to be a model of perfection,
full of wisdom,
perfect in beauty;
you were in Eden, in the garden of God…
I made you a living creature with outstretched wings, as guardian…
Your behaviour was exemplary from the day you were created
until guilt first appeared in you,
because your busy trading
has filled you with violence and sin.
I have thrown you down from the mountain of God
and destroyed you, guardian winged creature…
Your heart has grown proud…
Your wisdom has been corrupted…
So I have brought fire out of you to devour you;
I have reduced you to ashes on the ground…
You are an object of terror;
gone for ever."

Again, this is a final ending of one "gone forever," not a rebirth as the Devil, or as Neil Gamon and Terry Pratchett put it "the Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Great Beast that is called Dragon, Prince of This World, Father of Lies, Spawn of Satan, and Lord of Darkness." (OK, this is the Anti-Christ, but you get what I mean)

Revelation/Apocalype of John:12 is a text that Katie tells me was probably written as a complex allegory to the reign of Nero from 54 to 68 CE (probably written down a few years after Nero's death). The exact bit (from my New Jerusalem Bible) is as follows:

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman… pregnant and in labour… Then a second sign appeared in the sky: a huge red dragon… The dragon stopped in front of the woman as she was at the point of giving birth, so that he could eat the child as soon as it was born. The woman was delivered of a boy, the son was to rule all the nations with an iron sceptre, and the child was taken straight up to God.

And now war broke out in heaven, when Michael with his angels attacked the dragon. The dragon fought back with his angels, but they were defeated and driven out of heaven. The great dragon, the primeval serpent, known as the devil or Satan, who had led all the world astray, was hurled down to the earth and his angels were hurled down with him.

If there's a casting out of the "primeval serpent" in this passage, it sure as hell was millenia after the creation of the world and of man.

And there's no reference to the Dragon being tossed out of Heaven or Eden or what have you at some earlier date. It's quite possible that the Dragon existed independently of God.

 In short, in the Bible that I've got, Satan wasn't listed as an angel, nor did he fall from grace.

Fascinating.