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Islamo-Biblica I : the Torah, Herew Bible ...

Islamo-Biblica I: the Torah, Herew Bible and post-biblical Jewish and related writings.

Stephen Lambden UCMerced.

In progress 1990s + from 14-03-2017.

The paragraphs below are an extract  (with occasional revision)  from the Lambden Chapter IX `Islam' in John F. A. Sawyer ed. The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture,  Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2006. pp. 138-128

The Tawrat (‘Torah’, ‘Pentateuch’, ‘Hebrew Bible’) of Moses.

In the Qur’an, the term Tawrat (18 times) often indicates ancient scripture sacred to Jews. In the Tawrat the advent of Muhammad as al-nabı al-ummı  ‘the Gentile-unlettered prophet’ is predicted (Q. 7:156) and many attempts have been made to identify this reference. The Tawrat is only a few times loosely cited: in,  for example, Exodus 21:25–6 at Q. 5:45a (‘hand’ and ‘foot’ replace ‘nose’ and ‘ear’), and Genesis 32:33 (25) where Jacob–Israel is said to have allowed ‘all food’ to the ‘children of Israel’ except what Israel (Jacob) ‘forbade unto himself ’ (cf. Q. 3:87). It has been recently been suggested that the Prophet introduced a revised form of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1–17; Deut.5:6–21) in Qur’an 17:22–39 and 6:151–3 though this has no clear Islamic precedent (Brinner 1986; Lewinstein, E-Q 1:365–7). Muhammad, it might be suggested, could have been made aware of the Tawrat through his companion Zayd ibn Thabit (d. 655 or 675-6) who had received instruction in Hebrew (and Syriac) at a Jewish school (midras).

Post-qur’anic Islamic literatures contain many thousands of Tawrat quotations, many of which are not to be found either in the Pentateuch or any other biblical text. An example of this is to be found the Kitab al-Jalal wa’l-jamal ‘Book of the Divine Majesty and Beauty’ of Muhyı al-Dın Ibn al- ‘Arabı¯ (d.1240). Commenting upon Q. 51:56, he quotes the following extra-qur’anic revelation (hafith qudsi) allegedly contained in ‘His [God’s] Torah’ (tawrat)’:

God . . . revealed in his tawrat, ‘O Son of Adam, I created everything for thy sake and I created thee for My sake. So do not subjugate what I created for My sake to that which I created for thine own sake.’ (Ibn al-‘Arabı¯, Rasa’il, 15)

Note the use here of the biblical phrase ya ibn adam (‘O Son of Man’). Ibn al-‘Arabı  does not appear to cite the canonical Bible but often quotes non-canonical Islamo-biblical citations from pre-Islamic prophets.

The Q. also refers to divine revelations to Moses as alwah. (sing. lawh) scriptural ‘Tablets’ (Q. 7:145–51 cf. Exod. 24:12), kitab ‘the Book’ and al-Furqan ‘the Criterion’ (Q. 21:49). Muslim commentators have given rich interpretations to the ‘Tablets’ given to Moses on Sinai. The wide-ranging Fihrist ‘Bibliographical Compendium’ of the probably Persian Shi`i, Baghdadı book dealer, Abu ’l-Faraj Ishaq b. Warraq al-Nadım (d. 990) records a great deal relating to the Bible and related traditions including the fact that a certain Ahmad had it that the alwah  ‘tablets’ revealed to Moses on Sinai were ‘green’ in colour with the writing on them ‘red like the rays of the sun’ (Fihrist, 38/Dodge, 43).

In his seminal al-Insan al-kamil . . . ‘The Perfect Man . . .’, the Shi`ite Sufı ‘Abd al-Karim al-Jili (d. c.1428) writes: ‘God sent down the Tawra¯t unto Moses on nine alwah  (cf.Q. 17:101), and commanded him to communicate seven of them and abandon two . . . The [seven] alwah contained the sciences (‘ulum) of the ancients and moderns.’ In view of the description of the Tawrat in Q. 5:46, al-Jili also has it that the first two alwah were characterized by ‘Light’ and ‘Guidance’ (al-Insan, 1:114). Elsewhere, it is said that God sent down to Moses ‘nine Tablets’ but commanded him to divulge only seven of them. Two were made of ‘Light’, the lawh al-rububiyya ‘the tablet of Lordship’ and the marble, each exemplifying a divine quality, save the seventh which had to do with guidance on the religious path:

  • Tablet 1 = al-nur (Light)
  • Tablet 2 = al-huda (Guidance) (cf. Q. 5:44)
  • Tablet 3 = al-hikma (Wisdom)
  • Tablet 4 = al-taqwa  (Piety – the Fear of God)
  • Tablet 5 = al-hukm (Justice)
  • Tablet 6 = al-`ubudiyya (Servitude)
  • Tablet 7 = ‘The explication of the way of felicity as opposed to the way of misfortune [distress] and the clarification of what is foremost’ (trans Lambden from  Jili, al-Insan al-kamil, 1:114–15).

This, al-Jili asserts, is the substance of what God commanded Moses to instruct the people.

The huge and widely respected early nineteenth-century commentary of the ‘Alıd Sunnı Abu al-Thana’, Shihab al-Dın al-Alusi (d. 1854) also provides detailed comments upon the tablets which God gave to Moses on Sinai. Expounding the words, ‘And We wrote for him [Moses] upon the Tablets something of everything (Q. 7:145a),Alusi records various opinions as to the number of tablets, their substance, their scope and their writer:

[Regarding] their number, it is said that there were ten and [also that there were] seven or two . . . the tablets were [made of] green emerald. The Lord . . . commanded Gabriel and he brought them from [the Garden of] Eden . . . Others say that they were [made] of ruby . . . I say that they were of emerald . . . It is related from the Prophet, ‘The Tablets which were sent down unto Moses were from the Lote-Tree of Paradise (sidr al-jannat) and the length of the Tablet(s) was twelve cubits. (Ruh al-ma‘ani, V:55)