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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Rape In the Palace" - Abraham & Sarah in Egypt

Yesterday I told you about the new book I'm reading and things pertaining to the Canaanites and Ancient Egypt. I'd planned to tell about a very interesting chapter, "Rape in the Palace," but ran out of room. So here are the things that caught my eye about the story of Abram and Sarai as they traveled to Egypt to escape the horrible famine in Canaan. (Read it here in Genesis 12.)

Knowing how beautiful his wife was, Abram devised a plan for keeping himself safe, well, alive while in Egypt. But it was at the expense of his wife's purity! The Bible's account says Sarai was taken into Pharoah's palace. Was she made part of his harem? Did he take her as a wife or concubine? The Bible doesn't go into those details though it does use the Hebrew word for "took" which is "ambiguous enough to allow for the possibility that they did have sex." (pg. 58) Scandalous!

I chuckled when I read that Abraham's inaction when Sarai was taken by Pharoah earned him "the contempt of one famously opinionated woman: England's Queen Victoria declared on her deathbed that she did not expect to see Abraham in heaven after his betrayal of Sarah." (pg. 53) Ha, ha....now, I don't agree with Queen Victoria, of course, but her thoughts amused me. I think Abraham was like any one of us: human, a sinner, imperfect. So, yeah, he was selfish sometimes.

Some good things stemming from this time in Egypt -- "Pharoah's capture of Sarai exposed him, and Egypt, to the power of the Biblical God." (pg. 59) "Pharoah, who was now profoundly frightened of the wrath of the foreigner's God, did not simply cast out the couple. He showered them with gifts of jewelry, donkeys, camels, and cattle in hope of appeasing their deity." (pg. 61)

She continues, "Compared to Abram, the Egyptian ruler comes off as rather sympathetic. The moment he discovers Sarai is married, he stops his advances. He appears shocked at the wrongdoing that Abram has allowed him to perpetuate and appalled at Abram for delivering his wife into sexual slavery. The question he asks Abram -- 'What is this that you have done to me?' - is exactly the same question God asks Eve in the Garden of Eden. This is a remarkable reversal for a Biblical story, as Pharoah is depicted as the virtuous man, the one allied more closely to righteous action than the patriarch." (pg. 61)

Ohhhh, something interesting about Hagar. Tradition says she was Pharoah's daughter and that "Pharoah was so impressed with the power of Abram and Sarai's God that he declared, 'I would rather Hagar be a slave in Abram's household, than a princess in my palace.'" Whether or not she was truly Pharoah's daughter, "legends are firm that she joined Abram and Sarai at this point in the story."

As the author concludes about this, "Not only would Hagar's arrival change Abram and Sarai's lives - as well as the course of human history - she would also be a constant reminder to Abram and Sarai of a painful and divisive time in their marriage." (pg. 62)

quotes from
Charlotte Gordon in The Woman Who Named God

What do you think about what she wrote? Is it different from your own thoughts? If so, how? Do you think her thoughts of Abram are too harsh? Her thoughts of Pharoah too good? What is your "take" on this story and on what do you base your thoughts?


Amber said...

I don't know...it sort of sounds like she's setting Abraham up to being a...I don't even know what phrase I want to use...someone who makes bad decisions based on his own fears. This is (of course) based only on what you've shared and the blurbs that I read when I looked up this book. She seems to be wanting to set Hagar up *ahead* of Abraham as having a better and more intimate relationship with God. It makes me uneasy with her work, to be honest, but we'll have to wait and see what you get out of the book. :)

I tend to view the 'heaping of gifts' on Abraham and Sarah as a little...creative history? It doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, to be honest. A Pharoah would be more likely to kill them both and be done with it. You've got to remember they were considered living gods in Egypt. I can see Pharoah giving them gifts, for services rendered. What those services were, who knows.

As for the 'tradition' that Hagar was a princess....I'd like more detail on it. Whose tradition? From where? Sources? I find it less than credible, to be honest. Pharoah's were *divine*. Their offspring intermarried to keep the divine blood in the family. *If* she were a daughter off of a minor wife or concubine, *maybe* she would be married off to a favored general, advisor, or cadet branch of the family. But given away as a slave? I don't think so.

Maybe she was already a slave in the harem, and assigned to Sarah during her stay. Perhaps, Pharoah gave her to Sarah as partial compensation for being married to Abraham. ;) Likely, Abraham bought her while they were in Egypt. I sincerely doubt he was sitting contemplating his navel all the time.

Susanne said...

Amber, yes, I totally understand what you mean because I get the same impression especially when I read the title and jacket of the book. Normally Harvard-educated people aren't my source of Biblical knowledge and, in reality, this lady is not either, however, I thought it would be interesting to see her point of view. And I have enjoyed learning more about the culture back then. I get the impression this book is strongly from a more feminist-leaning view of the women of the Bible based on what she has written about Sarah so far. Not that feminist-leaning is bad or anything, just maybe that's why Abraham looks, thus far, to be as you described him. :-) It's like she is making this into a complicated love story. Really drawing out the characters and such. I still have a ways to go to see how it plays out. Will keep you posted.

As for Pharoah, well, yes, she explained that he was worshiped as a god, however, she said this troubling thing God did to his household made Pharoah believe in the power of the Biblical God. So maybe the gifts were - as the author wrote - a way to appease this god.

Yeah, I don't think so about Hagar being Pharoah's daughter as well, however, she mentioned Jewish tradition suggested this. Her sources are quite extensive. (It seems??) She goes a lot by the Midrash. (Think Mohammad and the ahadith, kind of.) She told how the Jews believe God gave two Torahs to Moses -- one written and one oral. The Midrash is like a commentary on the Bible to explain things. She said to some Paul's letters are a type of "midrash" based on Jesus' teachings. Her sources on the Hagar thing are the Genesis Midrash and something titled "Ginzberg, Legends, 101" in the end notes. And she does say it is *tradition* and not known fact. I guess if it were true, then Pharoah was indeed amazed by this God of Abraham if he wanted his daughter to be a slave in Abe's household rather than a princess in his own. *shrug* I just found it all interesting and thought to share. I'm SO GLAD you shared your opinion on this. I really hoped that you would because I appreciate how you think. Honest. Even if you do think wrongly about the fox and little prince story. ;-P

Amber said...

Glad it's not just me getting harsh impression of this lady. :) But I understand, and completely encourage reading other peoples points of view. It's why I read atheist literature, even though I know that they are wrong.

*Why* do so many feminists need to raise women up by putting the men down? Is it that they don't think women can rise without lowering the men? That's insulting. :p

I'll be keeping an eye on this series of posts.

Hmph. I still don't think that Pharoah gave Abraham all sorts of swag to appease God. I actually went back and read the passage:

"15 The princes of Pharoah also saw her and commended her to Pharoah. Then the woman was taken to Pharoah's house. 16 Now he treated Abram well for her sake, and gave him sheep, oxen, donkeys, male and female servants, mules and camels. 17 But the Lord plagued Pharoah with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram's wife. 18 So Pharoah called Abram and said, 'What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, 'She is my sister'? I might have taken her as my wife. Now, therefore, here is your wife; take her and go your way.' 20 So Pharoah commanded his men concerning Abram; and they sent him away; with his wife and all he had."

Pharoah gave Abram all those things *before* the plague fell on him. If I had to guess, I'd say they were *payment* for Sarai. Abram was allowed to keep them, when he and Sarai got kicked out of Egypt, but they were given to him before God stepped in. (As an aside, the footnote in my Bible implies that God stepped in to protect Sarai's virture, so, before Pharoah 'knew' her. Not so out of the question, Pharoah's had *lots* of wives and concubines and slave girls to entertain themselves with. He might not have gotten around to Sarai right away.)

And another thing: gods, in the ancient world, were tied to a particular land. That's why you got the gods of Egypt, gods of Greece, gods of Canaan, etc. on and on. The understanding of the people was that the gods were actually *tied* to the land. If you travelled to another place you stepped out of the realm of the influence of your gods and into the realm of the 'native' gods. So, as far as Pharoah would have been concerned, *his* gods were the ones pissed at him. He could not (likely) have conceived of a God who could *travel*. Who could influence outside of His 'native' sphere.

The word 'midrash' sounded really familiar, so I looked it up, and it is what I thought it is. The 'filling in the blanks' and adjusting perceived contradictions. Midrash is where we get the story of Adam's first wife, Lilith. So I don't even think it's on the level of ahadith (which aren't all that trust worthy in themselves anyway, given the number of 'false' ones floating around). It's...ancient Biblical fanfiction! Like the 'Women of Genesis' series I read a while back. Someone expanding and filling in details that aren't in the written text. Some of it may be based on oral tradition, sure, but it's not hard and fast, as you know. :)

Yeah, it's very interesting, but I doubt her conclusions, completely. I might put her down as 'entertaining fiction', but that's about it.

'Even if you do think wrongly about the fox and little prince story. ;-P'

*sigh* I'm never going to live that down, am I? ;)

Suroor said...

Thanks for this post. Really enjoyed it.

Typically the Islamic view of Abraham is the same as the Christian view with some minor modifications. And even before I read this post I always thought that Abraham did make some really odd decisions in life as a prophet. But then I always compare all great men with Jesus and no one comes close to him so I automatically assume (perhaps wrongly?) that they are all imperfect except for Jesus.

So yes, Abraham may have been an imperfect mortal and may have sinned (and repented) but how many wrongs are allowed to a Patriarch?

I didn't think that the writer was making women (Sarai and Hagar) both more precious in the eyes of God than Abraham. At least that is not the impression I got from this post and perhaps in the book it is different.

But what I saw was something different - that sleeping with those other than your spouse was not considered a grave 'sin' in those days because if that was a sin then if Sarai did have sex with the Pharaoh, what Abraham did was a greater sin in the eyes of God. But we know that he was never reprimanded by God in the Bible for pretending that Sarai was his sister.

It also made me think ... hmm, so I always pitied Sarai for being barren and knowing that and accepting another woman in her husband's bed to please him but somehow if she had sex with the Pharaoh it sort of neutralizes the issue because it makes you think that sex had little to do with love and marital loyalty. I can't explain in words what I really mean here. It is complicated :)

Sorry for the long comment.

Sarah said...

Interesting post, and comments.

It does seem from the passage as if Abraham sort of sold Sarah, to protect himself. I read on in Genesis and it seems that the same thing happened again later, with Abimelech. Except that time she definitely hadn't been touched. It is quite shocking, why would Abraham fear so much for his own life when supposedly he knew God was on his side? (Especially the later time with Abimelech when he'd already been given a promise of descendents.) I don't have a problem with men of God being fallible, but still! :O

Regarding Hagar, I know that in the Arab tradition she was a wife of Abraham and not a slave, and it seems in that tradition Abraham didn't just abandon her and Ishmael but built the Kaaba with them and so on. The idea that she was a princess probably fits more with that picture (which existed prior to Islam by the way). Of course the Arabs would want to believe Hagar was a wife and not a slave, since they descend from her, but then of course the Hebrews would probably like to believe Sarah was of a higher status than Hagar. Hard to say what the truth is!

Wafa said...

what mazes me the most is how all divine religious are similar , islam tell the same story about Ibraham and Sarah, i have read the bible and noticed how much we are close !!! but it really scary how much apart people of different religions are in real life , espically nowadays !!!

Amber said...

I have to say, as much as Abram's repeated mistakes and lack of faith make us sit back and shake our heads, they do make him more human, and relateable.

On an only tangentially related note, it's one of the things that I disliked about Islam, was that all the the prophets were supposedly perfect. No human being can be perfect.

Achelois said...

Wrestling with Religion, many Muslims - scholars and ordinary Muslims alike - actually believe that Hagar was a slave. There is no problem with accepting that since many scholars claim that Muhammad himself kept slaves. I know that at least 50% Muslims accept that Maria the Copt was a slave and not a legal wife.

Also, according to Muslim tradition Abraham did abandon Hagar and Ishmael in Mecca and later returned to the city when Ishmael was a young man to build the Kaaba with him. According to ahadith, he was abandoned as a 'suckling baby.'

Amber, in Islam prophets are accepted as humans with the capacity to sin. The only 'prophet' who is explicitly called sinless in the Quran and ahadith is Jesus. Even Muhammad is hinted in the Quran to have sinned for he is told several times in the Quran to ask for forgiveness. In ahadith he called himself a mere human being who can err and sin.

But Jesus is said to have never sinned.

Amber said...


Really? When I was learning about Islam, talking to Muslims, they told me that the prophets were all sinless and perfect examples to every other person. And that even if a prophet referred to himself as having sinned, that (and you'll have to forgive me, the forum where I had this discussion has been shut down, so I can't go back and reference the exact quote) they're so far above the rest of us that what they consider to be a sin isn't one, really. That they're so critical of themselves that they'll call something they did a sin when they wouldn't count it against any other (lesser) person. I hope that made sense...

Susanne said...

Amber, that second source I gave yesterday should have been "Ginzberg, Louis. Legends of the Jews, 6th ed. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1992." It helps to check the Bibliography.

"It's why I read atheist literature, even though I know that they are wrong."

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnd fundamental/creationists' stuff from time to time, right? ;-)

I'll keep watch and see if the author ever makes Abraham out to be someone worthwhile. :-) Agreed what you said about feminists. It's one reason I didn't consider myself one for so long. I am not one who feels we should have no use for men as it seems *some* feminists believe. Or I get that impression anyway.

Agreed about the gifts and God intervening as far as Sarah's purity is concerned. I reread those chapters and saw what you did about the gifts. Maybe she thought that way because of the following chapter which states Abraham had become wealthy. But that could still be because Pharoah gave Abraham livestock when he took Sarah as you stated. Btw, many commentators -- Jewish, Christian and Islamic -- believe the same about Sarah NOT being defiled by Pharoah. They, too, believe God stepped in. Some say because Sarah spoke up to the Pharoah and said "no way" basically.

Thanks for explaining more about the midrash being like Bible fanfiction. Yes, how you described it seems exactly as her book is. Much of it does seem fiction based on true events and ancient culture. As I said, just wanted to read her perspective. She even starts the whole book saying that whether or not you believe Abraham really existed, it's important enough to know about him because of how his life has influence in today's world (with all the Jews, Christians and Muslims and how all that is playing out.)

LOL...no, you'll never live down the fox and little prince story as long as my memory holds. :)

Susanne said...

Suroor, I enjoyed what you had to say. I wish it were not so complicated so you could explain what you meant more thoroughly.

Since I grew up on the Bible, I never thought any of the Patriarchs and prophets were sinless. The Bible doesn't really sugarcoat their lives, but shows us how they are fully human. I've had a friend tell me that the Jews changed their prophets to be this way to excuse themselves for their own sins, however, I have *never* thought that way myself. (I'm not Jewish either, but...). Instead it makes me grateful that God is able to use sinful people such as myself. It's not that those people are sinless or nearly perfect and I have to be this way, rather it shows that God is able to use ordinary people who have a heart for Him. That's comforting to me. I can learn from the bad decisions David or Abraham or Moses or Jacob or Solomon made and not excuse myself, but realize decisions have consequences and I should avoid certain things. I believe the key is having a heart that loves God and wants to obey Him, being quick to repent of sin and allowing Him to use us.

And, yes, everyone pales in comparison to Jesus who was the perfect one - the example we follow (hopefully).

Susanne said...

Laila, yeah, it shows how quickly we often forget the faithfulness of God. Jesus often was amazed at his own disciples who had little faith after having seen him perform miracles. And then remember Moses' and God's frustration at the children of Israel who had seen God perform miracle after miracle after miracle yet still they fretted and fussed and complained and grumbled and feared. So I guess it's human nature. Thanks for your comment - good stuff!

MuSe, welcome back. Yes, it's interesting to see how similar some of the stories are. I'm glad when my Muslim friends can come add the Islamic POV to these discussions. Thank you for what you shared.

And so true this -- "but it really scary how much apart people of different religions are in real life , espically nowadays !!!"

Amber, yes, the fallibility of the prophets and patriarchs does make it easier for us to relate. I also have heard Muslims say the prophets were nearly sinless. As my friend put it once, "They sometimes made mistakes, but ..." and I got the impression those "mistakes" were not really sins. And if I remember correctly I was told **John the Baptist** was the only prophet who never sinned. /:-I I recall the first time I told X about David and Solomon according to the Bible and X was shocked at how the Jews had made their kings/prophets into such awful sinners. Actually X didn't know about Solomon's sins (did have previous knowledge of David, but they were still shocking!) and was like "Oh, I see the Jews have even made Solomon into a sinner."

Achelois, I *love* when you add to the discussion especially sharing things you know coming from a Muslim background. Thank you! I enjoyed reading what you said.

Great discussion, Ladies. Thank you so much for what all you shared!

Sarah said...

Achelois, thanks for the corrections, I did not know some Muslims agreed Hagar was a slave. I have only ever heard her mentioned as a wife. I was only assuming Abraham was around more in Hagar and Ishmael's life because of them building the Kaaba together, which I don't think there's any mention of in the Judeo-Christian history. So he might not have been around all the time, but certainly could have been around more than I had previously assumed (from my Christian background).

And yes, on Amber's point, the idea that prophets are sinless in Islam is pretty hard to square with the Quran. This is one of those annoying "textbook Islam" tenets that on closer inspection turns out to be completely baseless (in my opinion, at least ;) ). The Quran admonishes Muhammad a number of times, for a start. I noticed that Moses apparently had quite a temper - he killed a man (prior to his prophetic career), and lost his temper with his followers when he found them committing idolatry. Also although it doesn't mention David committing adultery, it does concur that he had the woman's husband put on the front line and killed so he could have her.

I haven't come across anything saying Jesus was sinless in the Quran, though?

Amber said...

Yes, bibliography's are wonderful things. :)

'Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnd fundamental/creationists' stuff from time to time, right? ;-)'

No, those I read because I'm a theological masochist. :)

Yeah, I think, at some point, Pharoah went to Sarah, and she was, 'uh, so sorry your excellence, but...'. How else did Pharoah know she was Abraham's wife when he reamed him out?

Wow. 'X' was confused...

And yeah, that's how they said it. Prophets made 'mistakes', but they weren't ever sins! Even if they counted as sins if anyone else did them!

Achelois said...

OK, let me try to explain. What I meant is that sex outside of marriage was not a grave sin in the eyes of men and women in Abraham’s time. I always felt that Abraham’s relationships with Hagar (and Keturah as well – who btw, doesn’t exist in Islamic texts) was not quite ‘kosher’ because frankly I prefer that Christ never kept slaves for comfort or for sex. We don’t learn from the Bible that he did anything like that.
But if Abraham slept with Hagar, through the book you quote we learn that he didn’t mind his wife sleeping with the Pharaoh either. Perhaps to him an heir and his own safety were far more important than sex with people other than the spouse.
I know that this book would be banned by Muslims :)

Achelois said...

Amber, Muslims hardly ever believe in what they believe :D Haha!
The text says something and they believe something else. David is known to have sinned, so did Solomon and Moses and even Muhammad but Muslims as a group would never ever accept it. The belief in the infallibility of the prophets is so strong that now Muslims actively deny the episode of the Satanic Verses claiming that Muhammad was sinless even though he himself believed otherwise.
Ibn Arabi, a Sufi saint believed that the Adam that sinned in heaven cannot be the Prophet Adam (Muslims believe Adam was also a prophet) because how could a prophet forget a strict order by God not to eat the forbidden fruit and get expelled from paradise. Therefore he claimed that the Adam who sinned in Heaven was a different Adam and not Prophet Adam!
So yes, while in the religion of Islam prophets have been known and accepted to have sinned (mainly because it is based on Judeo-Christian sources), Muslims believe otherwise because they as a people venerate all Godly people quite easily.

Achelois said...

Wrestling with Religion, the Quranists absolutely believe that Hagar was a wife because they claim that prophets never kept concubines. They even claim that she was never abandoned in Mecca because if she were it would make Abraham a cruel man. But concubinage in itself is not seen as a moral offence by traditionalists who claim that all prophets kept concubines from Abraham to Muhammad. The fact that Hagar gave Abraham the first son is enough for Muslims to respect her as a wife.
Verses 3:46 and 19:19 are taken by Muslims to believe that Jesus was sinless. In 19:19 the word used to describe Jesus is ‘zakiyya’ which means ‘faultless’ so he is explicitly called sinless or faultless in the Quran which I believe (not a common Muslim belief) is based on the belief derived from the NT.

Sarah said...


Ah, so for the traditionalists, she became a wife by bearing a son or something like that? That might explain why I've only seen her mentioned as a wife.

I'm curious about your comments on the Quran - I'm currently undecided on the nature of the Quran, and it's a little obsession of mine! You say you think it's based on Judeo-Christian sources - do you think this makes it bogus, or do you think God spoke to Muhammad through those sources?

I feel embarrassed asking such a direct and nosy question, but it's rare to find such independent thinkers in the Muslim tradition and I would love to know what (if anything) you've concluded.


Achelois said...

Laila, I admire honesty and straightforwardness a lot so I don’t mind your question at all. I actually tried to comment on your blog on the ‘Jesus in Quran’ post but for some reason I can’t leave a comment on your blog so I gave up. Maybe if I write here what I wanted to write there I would be able to explain how I think about the nature of the Quran.

Regarding that post of yours I always thought it was quite plainly given in the Quran that Mary was a virgin:

She said: "How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, nor am I unchaste?" (Quran 19:20). It is an exact and correct translation from the Arabic text.

These are the exact words used in the apocryphal text of The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary:

"How can that come to pass? For while, according to my vow, I never know man, how can I bring forth without the addition of man's seed?"

In fact, the verses in the Quran where the birth of Mary is announced to her mother also parallel those used in The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary.

Verses from Surah Maryam correspond to those in The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary and The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, both of which are apocryphal texts. We read that Jesus spoke from his cradle. Those are details found in the same order and exact details in the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas written much earlier than the compiled Quran.
Even very early scholars like Ibn Ezra claimed that Torah was not written by Moses and was written a lot later. We know that the Gospel was written many years after Jesus’ death. Both books can be compared to the Muslim belief in the ahadith – written by those other than the Prophet and at least 200 years after his death. But Muslims think that Quran is the uncreated word of God and the Quran itself claims that both Torah and Gospel are revealed books. Muslims also believe that the Jewish and Christian Bibles that exist today are corrupted but then we see many verses in the Quran that exist in the same order in the Bibles.

I strongly believe in God and love Him very, very much to the point of obsession but I don’t think He writes books. I believe that He inspires people and He is kind enough to speak to anyone who truly wants a connection with Him and not just the prophets.

Thus IMHO He can inspire anyone and He definitely did inspire prophets but I don’t think He used them as stenographers. In that way I know that at least the Gospel does not make loud claims. It merely highlights the teachings of Christ who was inspired by God, but there are no claims that every word of the Gospel is the unaltered word of God which makes it easy for a believer to accept its message and reject odd parts without feeling guilty. This does not mean I don’t respect the Torah or the Quran. There are definitely great lessons in both books as well but to accept them as unaltered words of God is difficult.

Susanne, I am so sorry for this lengthy comment. I got carried away :)

Sarah said...

Achelois, thanks for answering my question! Sorry to hear you couldn't comment on my blog. But I'm glad there was a way for you to share this with me.

I have been aware that the Quran contains stories that compare to apocryphal Judeo-Christian sources, for some time. I do not think this was a coincidence. It's one of the reasons I have difficulty seeing the Quran as a totally miraculous phenomenon.

The historical accounts confuse me. There seems to be only one continuous story and that's Surah Yusuf. Why does that one get told in full and at length? I don't know. Plus when it tells the story of Lot's escape from Sodom and Gomorrah, sometimes it says his wife was left behind, sometimes it says an old woman was left behind. Not an inconsistency, but it does make it seem like parallel accounts, like the different gospels. So I can see where you're coming from.

I can imagine God speaking to a prophet through his own mind and through the stories/legends he already knew. But as you say, this is not a view of revelation that traditional Islam supports.

A while back I got some comments from an interesting person who had concluded, like you, that God doesn't write books. I have been thinking about that too and wondering whether I believe it. If God did write a book, how would I expect it to look? I'm not sure. Lately I am thinking that expecting any religion or scripture to be perfect is asking too much, because only God is perfect.

Maybe the idea of "words of God" was needed in order to preserve the message. After all, the Quran seems to have been preserved a lot better than the hadiths, because it was committed to memory verbatim and revered in that way.

Working out what the overall message of the Quran is and what I think about it, is my main "quest". But I can't deny there is this side issue of how it came about. I also can't deny that Christianity doesn't have this problem because as you say, its texts were never meant to be literal words of God.

So far, Islam is winning with me because of tawheed. I think being a freelance monotheist is the only other viable option for me right now. But I don't know whether I think reason alone can lead us to tawheed, or whether revelation through prophets was required to allow us all to get there. Also the support available in belonging to a religion seems to be a good argument for the existence of religions.

If I may ask you another question, do you think Muhammad was mistaken about his supposed revelation experiences, or do you think at least some of the Quran was actually later compiled from various sources and then retrospectively developed an identity as a book of God?

Thanks again for sharing your views... it's helpful and timely for me. ;)

And Susanne, I hope you don't mind me rambling on like this on your blog... but knowing you I am hopeful that you'll find the discussion interesting :) Personally this space feels like a little Switzerland... I can't write on my own blog at the moment because there were too many people bombarding me with views and I needed some "head space". I feel safer here :D Thanks for having me!

Susanne said...

I am absolutely loving that you all are leaving your thoughts. They are most welcome and please don't apologize for their length or anything. Really. I love being safe like Switzerland! :-D

Talk away, Ladies! I am enjoying the discussion. You all know I like hearing your thoughts - thus why I visit your blogs! Speak freely! :)

Achelois said...

Laila, I am sure you know about the other serious contradictions in the Quran about Biblical events as well. For example, in the Quran Mary the mother of Jesus is confused with Miriam the sister of Moses. I have read both the Muslim and Christian arguments about it and believe that she is in fact quite sadly confused with Moses’ sister in the Quran. Or that David is said to have worn a chain mail which was not even invented in David’s time although iron was begun to have been actively used by then. Also, a pharaoh was supposed to have crucified someone but crucifixion was invented many centuries after the pharaohs. I have an e-book that very nicely explains how the claim that the embryology in the Quran is a miracle is a false claim and highlights the erroneous beliefs about conception and pregnancy of those times which exist in the Quran. For example, people in that time believed in Aristotle’s belief that a fetus is the coagulated menstrual blood turned into a clot by the sperm and the very first verse believed to have been revealed to Muhammad states “Read in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clot.” But we know today that a fetus is not a blood clot. We also now know that mountains actually cause more earthquakes rather than prevent them, and that the Earth is not flat or that the Sun does not revolve around the Earth, or that it does not dip into murky water. These were the beliefs of people from early Judeo-Christian times and existed in the early Islamic period as well, but God definitely knew even then that these were not universal truths. How did they make it first into the Bible and then into the Quran?

Achelois said...

Laila, you can email me anytime you feel like chatting. My email is achelois06 at gmail dot com.
I began reading the Quran when I was six years old and finished reading it in Arabic with correct recitation in less than a year. I didn’t pick it up for another 20 years and frankly it didn’t bother my parents because I had ‘read’ it! But when I read it again and looked up various translations (including one in easy Arabic) I was in for surprises. I have read seven different interpretations and it wasn’t until I had read the Jewish and Christian Bibles (which are banned for Muslims to read in the ME, btw) that I felt the urge to read the sirahs (biographies) of Muhammad. I have read at least four different ones by Muslims and non-Muslims.
I am fairly certain that much that we have today in terms of biographies, ahadith and the Quran is very carefully preserved. Almost calculatingly preserved. As a Hanafi I used to recite dua Qunoot in the Isha prayer (in witr) and did you know that it was part of the Quran compiled in Syria by a senior hafiz of Muhammad’s time and later chucked out by Caliph Uthman? My Shia friend was kind enough to show me her Quran and that is much different from Sunni Quran. The Quran of the Qadianis and Ismailis is also different. How do we know which one is the most well-preserved? It again depends on which sect we belong to.
I was recently reading the account of convert to Christianity from Islam and s/he compared the events in Muhammad’s lives with that of Ahmed Qadiani. I must say they were very similar. So I tried to secure a copy of one of his books. I only managed to find a reference to it and his books (which he claimed were dictated by Gabriel to him in Arabic – he did not know a word of Arabic being Indian himself, but once he was sermonizing and automatically began speaking in flawless Arabic in a different voice for an hour after which he collapsed!) had great messages. Yet Muslims would never accept his books as revelation? Why not – I mean if they are in a different language, a language he didn’t know; and if they contain moral lessons; and if they preach tawheed, then why can’t they be a miracle? And he was alive in the age where his voice could be recorded and he could be photographed so we know that his books are preserved very well.
The thing is the older the belief the more it becomes true even if it may not be the case. All monotheists may find Hinduism strange and wonder how seemingly intelligent people can bow their heads to stone idols of elephants and monkeys. But Hinduism is one of the oldest religions and hence the truth to those who are born into the religion. Muhammad was a powerful man. When he wasn’t powerful he was just one of the many prophets that were appearing in Arabia and was non-threatening. I have read the original letter written by him to the two ruling brothers of Oman and it was extremely authoritative. That is how Islam grew basically.
I am a Unitarian Universalist. I believe in good moral lessons which can come from any holy book. I’m not arrogant about what I must follow. If there is a great lesson in the Sikh’s Book, why shouldn’t I respect and follow it? I once read that it is foolish to imagine how God speaks. To think that God speaks in the words of the Quran is limiting His immense power. If we believe that His one glimpse could burn down Mt. Sinai how do mere pages survive if His words appear as the Quran on them. I made sense to me.

Achelois said...

Oh and Laila, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but which religion(s) are you comparing Islam with for tawheed? I am assuming you are comparing it with Trinitarian Christianity. But there are other religions that preach strict monotheism, for example Sikhism or Unitarian Christianity or even Ismaili Shiaism and Ahmadism. Why is it that only Islam is making sense to you? I’m sorry if it is an uncomfortable questions and you are free to ignore it. Islam is not the only religion that preaches monotheism but it is more universal. Sikhs are very strict monotheists – their ‘kalima’ is ek onkar saath naam (there is one (ek) God and His name is the Truth (saath)); there is no human being mentioned in their Kalima and is free from ‘shirk’. Unitarian Christians are also very strict monotheists and believe in Jesus as a human guide and prophet.

Susanne said...

Sarah/Laila/WWR, interesting about the Qur'an saying what it does about Moses and David. Yes, how can having someone murdered only be a "mistake" and no grave sin? Thanks for bringing that up. It seems the Muslims (some) have even whitewashed their own holy book! :-O

"Lately I am thinking that expecting any religion or scripture to be perfect is asking too much, because only God is perfect." -- good point

Achelois, thanks for what you shared about sex outside of marriage in that culture. Hmmm. Interesting to think about anyway. Why do you think this book would be banned by Muslims? It gives the Muslim POV as well. She tries to mesh all three Abrahamic religions and has sources from each.

Wow about the two Adams! See why I am glad you are commenting on this topic? I learn a lot from you. Remember how much I enjoyed these types of discussions on your old blog? I always liked hearing what you'd learned from your reading of spiritual things. They were quite challenging. I still remember your post about whether Isaac or Ishmael were the son whom Abraham offered to God. I wish that blog were still accessible. :-)

"I strongly believe in God and love Him very, very much to the point of obsession but I don’t think He writes books. I believe that He inspires people and He is kind enough to speak to anyone who truly wants a connection with Him and not just the prophets."

Well said. I don't think God writes books either. We should never put our holy books above the God of the book. He is the One we worship and obey. While I believe the holy books are beneficial for teaching us about God and He uses them to communicate with us, I don't think we should make the holy books idols.

"These were the beliefs of people from early Judeo-Christian times and existed in the early Islamic period as well, but God definitely knew even then that these were not universal truths. How did they make it first into the Bible and then into the Quran?"

I think because the Bible is claimed to be the inspired word of God, there is room for human error regarding the earth being flat, bats being categorized as birds and so forth. As you said, those were the beliefs at that time. Does this affect the message God wants us to learn from Bible? I don't think so. The problem with the Qur'an is that it is supposedly word for word from God so there is *no room* for humans' erroneous beliefs. Either God said it and believed the earth was flat or babies came from a blood clot or else He is not all-knowing. With the Bible, you have room for the transcribers' limited human knowledge without affecting the message of or about or from God.

Thanks for explaining why you are UU now. I have GREATLY enjoyed learning from yours and Sarah's discussion here. You ladies feel free to keep on talking here as long as you like. (Amber, too!) I love learning from others' discussions as long as you don't mind me listening in on ya. ;-)

Thanks for your comments. Loved them!

Achelois said...

Susanne, Hagar doesn’t exist in the Quran. Can you believe that? I think the books would be banned because it shows Abraham in a weaker position than Hagar.
I would like you to read something. When you have the time please email me and I’ll send you something to read.

Sarah said...


I have been reading the translation of Muhammad Asad - his notes rationalise a lot of the things you mention. But I must admit he seems to tie himself in knots at times.

I read in a book by Farid Esack that there were variant versions of the Quran, and that no-one knew whether they had successfully compiled all of it (after Muhammad's death). I don't know why no-one talks about these things. Well, I think I do really. ;)

Re the hadiths, I didn't think they could be as accurate as people think because of all the contradictions, and because really it's not easy to remember someone's words unless they are memorised verbatim - they change over time - Chinese whispers like. Also the hadiths are very different in nature from the Quran - much more rules and trivialities. This has always been difficult to understand.

I feel like a weight has lifted. I didn't expect this to happen, but I can finally admit that it doesn't add up and I can't bring myself to believe in it.

Funny you should mention Sikhism. I went to the Sikh temple a couple of weeks ago for a "meet the Sikhs" type of event. I like it but I'm not sure about reincarnation.

Yes, I have always been comparing Islam with Christianity. I don't know where I will go next but I don't feel in such a hurry now.

Thanks for offering me your email address. I will keep in touch with you, I think. If you would like to email me my address is on my blogger profile page.

By the way, I read some of your old blog too and loved it! I recently came across your new one so I am still following you. ;)

Achelois said...

Muhammad Asad is very good. Makes so much sense and is so knowledgeable.

I guess I got too tired *trying* to make sense of excuses and accept them as truth all the time. There are events in the Judeo-Christian bibles that make me shake my head in disbelief (like sacrificing poor turtle doves after period!) but I guess I wasn't compelled to believe in them. It was all sorted out for me - they had been *corrupted.*

I just don't feel the need to belong to one religion anymore. The most important thing is to be moral and good which is hard in itself. I fail miserably so many times. That doesn't mean I can't be Muslim; it just means why should I be just Muslims when I can be Christian/Jewish/Sikh/Buddhist as well. Muslims would say I am picking and choosing. Well, I am :) God is so complicated, belief in one religion is too simple for the complication He poses.

Yes, reincarnation is a tricky one to believe in. I am still learning about it and there are times when I think it is possible but not in the Hindu - 7 times manner. I'm still not clear what I think about it yet.

The Radium Grrlz said...

Just heard the passage about Abram in Mass & no explanation given, as often in Bible readings the men are the focus but all I could think of was Hagar sounds like a victim of abuse then cast out & Abrams a rapist?! I knew Old Testament was unpleasant but I just can't relate to this stuff, it's vile. If it's just a historical account - with the New Testament being the actual guide - why does it get read out at church, what's it meant to be telling us. I'm Christian but I struggle with religion as much is man-made rather than being genuinely from God, you have to pick your way thru' the snares, the red herrings - but maybe that's the point of Faith; to believe in God despite the guff religion sometimes throws in the way?! *Disagree with the author laughing at Queen V; Victoria obviously had morals & saw thru' the story, what's to 'chuckle' about?

visigoth77 said...

It's disturbing that you think rape is funny and can't see the story from terrified Sarai's point of view. You rail against feminism so much that the plight of used and abused women barely casts a ripple for you.

I'll pray for you.

Because you need it.

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