Critical Analysis: Judaism and Islam
The Qur'an constantly refers to Biblical characters. However, Muslims believe the Bible has been corrupted. This creates theological problems:
- Why should anyone, with complete certainty, accept a 7th century author(s) description of events occurring 1,000-4,000 years before?
- Without accepting the Old Testament/Jewish traditions as a credible source, it is impossible to know what these Qur'anic stories mean. What is the point of believing in stories if one doesn't even know what exactly happened in them?
We, however, cannot follow these narratives so easily, first, perhaps, because they have been broken up or pasted together in ways different from their original recitation, or, more pertinent to our present purpose, because these stories are "biblical" only in the sense that they take characters or incidents from the Bible as their point of departure. But their trajectory is haggadic, the residue, echo, recollection--we are at a loss precisely what to call it--of what is palpaply Jewish midrashim, though which they were, or whence, we cannot even guess. We have only one biblical midrash current in the seventh century Arabia, and that is the Quran itself.
Who was Elias?
The Qur'an refers to Elias (Ilyas), also called Elijah, only three times. An Old Testament (OT) prophet (1 Kings Chapters 17-21, 2 Kings Chapters 1-2) Elijah was also mentioned in the New Testament. Without accepting the Bible, it is hard to understand what the Qur'anic verses below mean. What is the point of believing that Ilyas was one of the apostles if we know so little about him?
Abraham Geiger (1833), Translated by F.M. Young, 1896
Clearly influenced by Judaism/Old Testament, the Qur'an discusses such OT characters as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Job and Jonah.
The Old Testament (OT) stories are compelling. It was widely believed that Moses wrote the Pentateuch which describes how over 600,000 people were freed from slavery via the miracles of the ten plagues and splitting of the sea. There was also the account of the miracle of being fed manna from heaven while they lived 40 years in the desert. How could so many people accept such facts if they were false?
However, the evidence for 600,000 witnesses is Biblical testimony, and the evidence that the Bible is true is because there were 600,000 witnesses. This is circular reasoning. Further, very few Biblical events were alleged to have been witnessed by 600,000 people. Also, the Bible claims that the Israelites were stiff-necked people. Hence, not all the witnesses believed.
Modern Bible scholarship demonstrates that the five books of Moses were written by multiple authors’ centuries after the alleged exodus. Moses lived around 1,300 BCE (assuming he even existed), and the earliest author of the five books lived around the 9th century BCE.
Even if the traditional view of Mosaic authorship and Biblical chronology is accepted, problems arise: The accounts of Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are recorded a few hundred to roughly 3,000 years after the event. Current events are difficult enough to understand and believe; it is much more difficult to accept testimonies recorded centuries after the fact and without the benefit of modern technologies.
Modern Biblical scholars as well as traditional Muslims believe that the OT is corrupt. Modern Bible scholars also believe that the five books of Moses had multiple authors and hence evolved over time. It is therefore clear that we have no fully reliable Biblical text. When the story of Noah was recorded in the Bible thousands of years after the alleged event, the people listening to these stories had no way of verifying them. Similarly, the Qur'an was written roughly 2,000 years after the exodus, hence there were no witnesses to these Qur'anic stories.
Islam borrowed many Jewish ideas such as prayer, holy land, temple, synagogue, pilgrimage, interest, holy books, angels, fasting, charity, holy language, animal sacrifice, monotheism, prophets, last day, holidays and dietary laws. The concept of Hadith and Talmud are similar as they both are alleged to be based on an oral tradition (eventually written down) used to expand on the written tradition (OT or Qur'an). Arguably, Islam is just another Jewish sect, and given that Judaism was corrupted then it is not hard to accept that so was Islam.
- The King James Version in Matthew 17:4 (as well as other places) refer to the person as Elias, but many other New Testament translators call him Elijah. Also, Maulana Muhammad Ali’s "The Holy Qur'an with English Translation and Commentary" 1995 edition in 37:130 writes: "and Elias is the same as Elijah of the Bible."
- Exodus 32:9 "And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people."
- See books like Richard Elliott Friedman’s “Who wrote the Bible” and Julius Wellhausen’s "Prolegomena to the History of Israel"