"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Notes on Quran - Sura 20

Sura 20 - Ta Ha

So, call me crazy, but who knew Ta Ha was going to be a rather interesting sura with much of the story of Moses in it. At least a condensed form of Moses' story. Unlike the Bible which - as I remember - tells the story from birth and progresses towards later years, this sura starts with Moses seeing some suspicious fire and wandering over to it with hopes of getting an ember or finding direction from it. Did he have an inkling it might be a supernatural fire that could offer guidance for life? I didn't see mention of a bush that was burning yet not consumed. So anyway, the story begins with fire and God's calling out to Moses to take off his shoes because Moses was on holy ground.

Then there is the dialog between God and Moses with most similarities to the Bible though a few details are mixed up. For instance in the Bible Moses initially refused (well, he hemmed and hawed if not outright refused) to go to Pharoah because of his speech problem so God suggested Aaron to be sent with him. In the Quran Moses made the plea for Aaron to accompany him.

The Quran and Bible both have the rod turning to a snake story. Additionally the Bible has the miracle where Moses' hand becomes leprous when placed within his cloak. Then it becomes clean again when the same thing is done. These were signs God told Moses to use when Moses went to demand that the people of Israel be freed. This wasn't mentioned in the Quran from what I could tell, but I thought it worth sharing from Exodus 3.

5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." 6 Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

7 The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."

Isn't this wonderful? God heard the people crying out to Him and was "concerned about their suffering." So He sent Moses as His spokesman and deliverer.

Moses rightly wondered if he were up to the task. Sure he'd been well educated in Egypt as part of the royal household -- the "adopted" son of Pharoah's daughter -- however, he'd spent the last few decades tending sheep. Quite a chance that Moses had lost his polish after spending time rounding up and caring for the flock. Wondering is one thing, but Moses decided to question God about this task.

11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"

12 And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."

13 Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?"

14 God said to Moses, "I am who I am . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' "

This is where the biblical "I am" statement concerning God came from. New Testament author John also quoted Jesus as using this: 58"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" (see context in the latter part of John 8) . Ever notice how God uses ordinary people and sometimes those with not much self-confidence or people who think they are unable to speak well? I think God uses willing people and HE makes them usable. It doesn't matter so much if you aren't the most brilliant, best looking, most well spoken or whatever, it matters that you are willing to let God work through you. When this happens, He is glorified through your life! All glory belongs to God, right?

Back to sura Ta Ha... so God reminds Moses that His favor has been on him for a long time. God recalls the story of Moses' birth and how God instructed his mom to save him in such a clever way then had Moses nurtured by his own mother. (Like Joseph, Moses is another of those favorite Bible stories that all Sunday School-attending children learn.) God also reminds Moses of the circumstances of Moses' fleeing Egypt -- he killed another man!

In verse 55 there is talk of a Magic Rod Duel with Moses and Pharoah's magicians setting up a show-down time to see whose rod will be superior. This isn't exactly how the biblical version goes so it was interesting to note. It's almost like the story of Elijah on Mt. Carmel when he has a show down of sorts with the prophets of Baal. (Another favorite Sunday School story which I love!) So the Quran's version is - to me - a mixture of the Moses and Elijah stories. (Kind of fitting since these two prophets are the same ones who visited Jesus. See this from Matthew 17...

1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.)

So the rod duel happens, Moses' rod and the magicians' rods turn into snakes. They were able to copy God's miracle!! Whoa ho, but not so fast. Lookee here. Moses' rod snake ate the others' rod snakes! The magicians were convinced and bowed to the God of Moses! Even when threatened with persecution - limbs cut off and crucifixion [which I didn't realize existed back then]- they still didn't turn their backs on what they were convinced of -- the God of Israel was supreme!

The discussion between Pharoah and Moses definitely needs to be read from the Bible as the Quran skimps so much on details that it's like reading the cliff notes when you really need to read the full story to appreciate everything. In its defense, the Quran admits it is a reminder, therefore, you are supposed to refer back to the Torah for the details. The Quranic version of the ten plagues, the hardening of Pharoah's heart, the preparation for the exodus - the meal, the instructions, the importance of the blood in saving lives - is told (or not) in a matter of a handful of verses. Definitely read the full story if all the details you know are from the Quran. (Unless the full version is somewhere that I've just not read yet.) By reading the story in full, you will know more about the Passover as well.

The Quran then moves to Pharoah's army pursuing, getting drowned and then Moses going somewhere fast (vs. 83) and leaving his people behind. This was when the Israelites were encouraged by the Sameri (who are they?) to make a golden calf. The Sameri told them that this was their God. In the Bible something similar happens with a bit more detail provided there. Moses went up to Mt. Sinai where God revealed His laws to him concerning many issues. Moses was gone so long the people got restless. Here is the first part of Exodus 32.

1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."

2 Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."

You'll have to read the rest of the chapter to see God's and Moses' reaction to this blatant idolatry. Also note how Moses pleads for the Israelites even though they have sinned.

From the Quran I saw that Moses pulled Aaron's hair (vs. 93-94). Is this some custom to show frustration or anger or a bit of temper on Moses' part?

92. But (Moses) said: "O Aaron, when you saw that they had gone astray, what hindered you 93. From coming after me? Did you not disobey my command?" (And Moses pulled him by the hair). 94. "O son of my mother," (Aaron cried), do not pull me by my beard or my hair! I was really afraid you may say that I had created a rift among the children of Israel, and did not pay heed to your command."

This sura also mentions Adam and Eve. Here is a passage I marked "curious" as I wanted your take on what it means in order to make better sense of it.

113. That is why We have sent it down as an eloquent Qur'an, and explained in different ways the intimidations through it that they may haply take heed, or perhaps it may lead them to contemplate. 114. Exalted then be God, the real King; and do not try to anticipate the Qur'an before the completion of its revelation, but pray: "O Lord, give me greater knowledge." 115. We had commanded Adam before, but he disregarded it: We found him lacking in resolution.

I'm specifically interested in trying not to anticipate the Quran (were people trying to figure out what God would say next?) and the charge against Adam in the last verse. I guess it has to do with his sinning in the Garden of Eden.

Overall a nice sura with some interesting parts about Moses, Adam and Eve and a lovely beginning with praise for God.


Suroor said...

Wow! Lots of similarities and differences between the two accounts. I enjoyed the *fuller* version you offered. Thank you so much!

Regarding that quote from John 8, I read this somewhere:

"The Trinitarian argument is that Jesus’ “I am” statement in John 8:58 makes him God because it is identical with God’s “I AM” statement in Exodus 3:14. However, correctly translated, these two statements are very different.

The Greek phrase [ego eimi ] in John 8:58 means “I am the man.”

The Hebrew in Exodus 3.14 is actually God saying,"I will be or become what I will be or become.”
The Aramaic in Ex 3.14 14 is "Ahiyeh" means "the One Who Comes in His Coming" and signifys "the "Eterna Presence, the Ever Present".

Jesus did not literally exist before Abraham. Jesus figuratively "existed" in God's mind as God's plan to redeem mankind long before Abraham was born.

Jesus did not say, "Abraham rejoiced to see me", He said, "Abraham rejoiced to see my day". Abraham rejoiced to see the "Day of Christ" when all promises will be completed.

THUS it is not unlikely that in John 8:58 Jesus was speaking of the future resurrection of Abraham.

In the LXX Exo. 3:14, it is clear that the emphasis is not on the Ego aimi, but on 'O On.

Here is how the LXXE puts it.

Ex 3:14 And God spoke to Moses, saying, I am THE BEING; and he said, Thus shall ye say to the children of Israel, THE BEING has sent me to you.

I don't really care for the translation "the Being", but it shows where the emphasis was placed. It was not "I AM (the being), but rather "I am THE BEING ('o own).

We know where the emphasis was placed because the next phrase repeats 'o own" "..say to the children of Israel, 'o own" has sent me to you.

Thus the Jews of Jesus day would not associate "ego aime" with Exo 3:14 since that was NOT the word the LXX used for God.

Exodus 3:14
“You will say I AM (Ὁ ὢν) has sent me unto you”

John 8:58
“Before Abraham was I AM (Ἐγώ εἰμι)”

Anyone notice they didn’t even say the same thing?"

Just thought you'd find it interesting.

Suroor said...

OK, just trying out the new HTML and I think it didn't work :D

Susanne said...

Suroor, thanks! I did find it all interesting! I'm glad you shared it.

Hey, you made the writing blue and underlined. That's pretty cool! :)

I appreciate all the interesting feedback and the "I am" study/comparison as well. Thanks for taking the time to send it! Kind of had to laugh at Jesus saying "I am the man!" :D

Suroor said...

I know! The "Yo! I'm the man!" was so cute :)

I remember a Muslim cousin explaining the differences between the Bible and Quran as a mix of:

1) Quranic details are correct because they are from Allah
2) What common people didn't know, Allah knew and sent it to Muhammad via Gabriel
3) Muhammad knew everything because he used to spend all night studying with Gabriel
4) Bible is corrupted

However, I don't know why anyone would change the names of Jesus' relatives of those of Moses'. And now I know from my own studies that all these details that exist in the Quran but don't exist in the Bible, exist in apocrypha so they were common knowledge in those days when those texts were canonised. The mix-up between names is still something I don't understand, though.

Sarah said...

It's so interesting to read these posts. I have nowhere near the same knowledge of the Bible as you, so I wasn't able to make these comparisons like you are doing. Thanks for posting them so I can see how they match up. :)

Susanne said...


"The mix-up between names is still something I don't understand, though."

Because it was a mix up. Men are prone to error. That's how I understand it.


Susanne said...

Sarah, you were the one who inspired me to do these. I'm glad they are helpful somehow! :)

Durriyyah said...

Ah, the I AM verses :) I've encountered this numerous times when dialoguing with many different Christians. Now, what I've found interesting is that in the footnotes of one of my Bibles (I have 4 - New American, Revised Standard, King James, and New World Translation) it says that the OT account saying I AM is translated from Yaweh (maybe it's Elohim, but in any case, it is one of the proper names God uses in the OT) and the translation from the Greek in the NT is just a rendering of saying "I am." Thus, the commentators of the New American Bible says that these verses are not connected as it is so often explained.

There are a number of books that tell the full version of Moses's story using the Qur'an and Hadith, so the lay person, like me, can read it from beginning to end. :)

20:93-94 - This is showing a bit of a temper on Noah's part, and his own human weakness in such. I know I can't say I would have acted much differently if I trusted in someone and by my perception, they stood idly by while they broke the #1 rule set for them.

20:113-115 - This is a reminder for the people at the time of the Qur'an being revealed, and now! :) Just as you've said in earlier posts that stories are missing so much of their content, but then as you continue reading, you find more and more. Be careful not to assume what is before you. :) These verses also remind me, at least, to read the Qur'an and think about the meaning, and what God is trying to tell us. It is far too easy to read it as if it is a novel or a book of history without remembering its original purpose - a Guidance to Mankind.

Susanne said...

Durriyyah, by the way, what does your name mean? :)

Thanks for your explanations on these verses and also the "I am" ones. :) I am still waiting for some of the full stories to be revealed in the Quran. I'm on 41 now and have read bits and pieces of some - mostly Joseph and Moses with some of Noah, Jonah and Solomon. And I'm *trying* to figured out the purpose and not read it as a novel. It's mostly a reminder of God's oneness, the coming judgment day and a defense of Muhammad as a prophet and the Quran as his message.

Enjoyed reading your thoughts - thanks much!

Durriyyah said...

Durriyyah means glittering star.

I read all the commentary when I read the Qur'an, which really helps with understanding what the true purpose of each story is and finding the different nuances with each, what seems like, repetition of the same story.

Funny, when I read the Bible now, I have the Qur'an-reading thought process in me and I get to some mundane details and I ask myself "why is this here, what am I supposed to learn from this?" and I get lost in the details trying to find the meaning when it isn't meant to be read that way. It's funny how our minds become programmed to read a classification of books in a certain way.

Susanne said...

Durriyyah, glittering star is so pretty! :)

"I ask myself "why is this here, what am I supposed to learn from this?" and I get lost in the details trying to find the meaning when it isn't meant to be read that way. It's funny how our minds become programmed to read a classification of books in a certain way."

Yes, that's very true! Wonderful point. :)

Anonymous said...

I love how you guys are reading both books!! Good on you!! It's really nice to see because there is a lot of points that are the same in both.