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Ta Ha: More Exodus

March 23, 2011 1 comment

There was a TON of Exodus material in Sura 7 / Al-'Araf, and Ta Ha includes some of the bits skipped.

It goes into detail about Musa's birth, the fiery bush, how the whole staff/snake/staff thing works, etc. It also has greater specificity around the parting of the sea:

077: We commanded Musa: "Journey by night with Our creatures, and strike a dry path for them through the sea. Do not fear of being overtaken, nor have dread of any thing."
078: The the Pharaoh followed them with his army, but the sea overpowered and engulfed them.
079: The Pharaoh led his people astray and did not rightly guide them.

That last line is the core difference between the Old Testament stories and the Qur'anic versions: everyone, not just the Jewish tribes, could follow god's word. The Qur'anic Pharaoh and his people rejected Musa's message from god, and paid the price. The Torah version, Pharaoh's fate was sealed because he didn't free his Jewish slaves.

The next interesting deviation comes with the story of the Golden Calf, which Ta Ha recounts in depth. I'm not surprised the Golden Calf is making its second appearance: Islam is not fond of idols, and the ease of man going astray is a common theme.

In Exodus, Moses commands some of his followers to slaughter 3,000 of those who worshipped the Golden Calf. No such thing here.

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Categories: Exodus, Sura 20: Ta Ha

al-A’raf: The Commandments and the Golden Calf

February 21, 2011 Leave a comment

The later part of Exodus and al-A'raf focus on the giving of the ten commandments and the Golden Calf.

The Qur'an, however, spends very little time–a mere six ayas–covering the commandments themselves in this sura, and only one directly references the commandments themselves:

145: And we wrote down on tablets admonitions and clear explanations of all things for Musa, and ordered him: "Hold fast to them, and command our people to observe the best in them."

The other five ayas cover Musa's interaction with god on the mountaintop, as well as condemning revelation those who "behave unjustly with arrogance" and deny god's signs–an indirect rebuke of the Qurayshi disbelievers. That's it for the ten commandments.

The Golden Calf, however, covers fourteen ayas (at least, according to my count/opinion). The matter of worshipping idols is much more relevant to the realities in Mecca: most pre-Islamic Arabs worshipped idols, whether they were Christian, pagan or Jewish.

The Qur'an:

148: In the absence of Musa his people prepared the image of a calf from their ornaments, which gave out the mooing of a cow. Yet they did not see it could neither speak to them nor guide them to the right path. Even then they took it (for a deity) and did wrong.
149: Then they were filled with remorse and saw that they had erred and said:
"If our Lord does not forgive us we will surely be lost."
150: When Musa returned to his people, indignant and grieved, he said:
"How wickedly you behaved in my absence…"
152: Surely those who have taken the calf (as a god) will suffer the anger of their Lord…
153: Yet those who do wrong, then repent and believe, are forgiven, for your Lord is forgiving and kind.

Exodus:

When the people saw that Moses was a long time before coming down the mountain, they… melted [gold] down in a mould and with it made the statue of a calf. "Israel," the people shouted, "here is your God who brought you here from Egypt."

Yahweh then said to Moses, "Go down at once, for your people… have become corrupt."

Moses and Yahweh then begin to horsetrade over whether or not Yahweh should kill all the people Moses brought out of Egypt. Yahweh relented, and then Moses went down the mountain, destroyed the golden calf, and castigated his people. The Moses gathered those who had remained true to Yahweh, and ordered them to slaughter three thousand men.

Holy shit.

So, in the Qur'an, the people created and worshipped a calf, but then realized it wasn't a god and begged for God forgiveness. Musa finds them after this point, and scolds them after the fact, but God forgives them (later in the sura) because they repented.

In Exodus, the Israelites don't repent until Moses scolds them; but even then, repentance isn't enough. Moses orders those loyal to Yahweh to slaughter three thousand of those who worshipped the calf.

And Islam is the violent religion? I gotta say, I like Musa far more than Moses.

There's a bit of Exodus in al-A'raf, but to be perfectly honest, slogging through this sura is one of the reasons I took a long break in blogging. I'm going to skip that, and jump right to the summation, which is pretty interesting.

al-A’raf: Moses and Pharaoh

February 14, 2011 Leave a comment

The story of Musa (Moses) is a long one compared to the previous sections, and I'm not going into it in detail. I assume any reader would have some knowledge of the Exodus legend–it's so deeply embedded in Western culture, after all. What I will do is highlight some of the differences, as they are critical to maintaining the chain of God's messengers.

First, it's clear from the Qur'an that the listener was already intimately familiar with the story of Musa. There is no mention of Pharaoh ordering all the male babies born to Jews be killed; nor of Musa as baby in the reeds and rescued by one of Pharaoh's daughters, as detailed in Exodus 2.

In fact, some pieces are delivered merely in shorthand from the Biblical version. For example, the New Jerusalem Bible has a long exchange between Musa and Yahweh granting Musa miraculous powers to show the new Pharaoh (Exodus 4), as well as a variety of exchanges between Musa and Pharaoh. The Qur'an jumps right to the Plagues (Exodus 7).

104: Musa said: "O Pharaoh, I have been sent by the Lord of all the worlds;
105: I am duty bound to speak nothing of God but the truth. I have brought from your Lord a clear sign; so let the people of Israel depart with me."
106: Pharaoh said: "If you have brought a sign then display it, if what you say is true."
107: At this Musa threw down his staff, and lo, it became a live serpent.
108: And he drew forth his hand, and behold, it looked white (diseased) to those who beheld it."

No clear mention of the Jews being slaves; no explanation of the white hand meaning that Musa could change it from diseased to healthy and back at will. The listener must already have known all these details. The exchange with Pharaoh's sorcerers is different, though: In Exodus, the sorcerers also turned their staves into snakes, but then Musa's snake at the sorcerers' snakes. In the Qur'an, the sorcerers "bewitch the eyes of the people and petrify them," while Musa releases them from the enchantment.

But then comes the most interesting deviation between Exodus and the Qur'an:

120: The sorcerers fell to the ground in homage,
121: And said: "We have come to believe in the Lord of all the worlds,
122: The Lord of Musa and Aaron."
123: But Pharaoh said: "You have come to accept belief in Him without my permission!…
124: I will have your hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, and have you all crucified."
125: They answered: "…
126: "The only reason you have to hate us is that we believed in the signs of our Lord as they came to us. O our Lord, give us sufficient endurance that we may die submitting (to You)."

All of a sudden, Exodus has been subtly changed to turn Musa's message into one of conversion of all people, not just escape for the enslaved Jewish tribes. It also includes the same miracle of sudden conversion upon hearing the words of a messenger of God that is central to the founding of Islam. And you have the same issue of a secular ruler oppressing those who adopt the new faith.

The plagues, Passover, the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of Pharaoh's troops are the rushed through quickly–the listener would know the story, of course–to get to the more relevant issues of faith and worship that occur on Sinai. Here's how quickly it goes:

127: And the leaders of Pharaoh's people said to him: "Would you allow Musa and his people to create disorder in the land and discard you and your gods?"
Pharaoh replied: "We shall now slay their sons and spare their women to subdue them."
130: We afflicted the people of Pharaoh with famine and dearth of everything that they might take heed.
131: Yet when good came their way they said: "It is our due;"
but when misfortune befell them they put the omen down to Musa… but surely the omen was with God.
133: So We let loose on them floods and locusts, and vermin, frogs and blood — how many different signs.
But they still remained arrogant, for they were a people full of sin.
134: Yet when punishment overtook them, they said: "O Musa, invoke your Lord for us…
If the torment is removed, we shall certainly believe in you and let the people of Israel go with you."
135: But no sooner was the punishment withdrawn for a time to enable them to make good their promise than they broke it.
136: So We took vengeance on them, and drowned them in the sea for rejecting Our signs and not heeding them.