Portal: Islam and the Judeo-Christian Tradition

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The Qur'an makes constant reference to the stories of the Judeao-Christian tradition. The references are familiar and sometimes in passing, and assume a great deal of familiarity on the part of the listeners. The audienceof the Qur'an was clearly one well-acquainted with the stories themselves and the Qur'an itself says that it is a "reminder" (73:19) of the message which has come before. The stories referenced are not only from the Bible, but come from a wide variety of literary traditions within ancient near east Christianity and Judaism such as the Alexander Romances, saints lives, and the Talmud. The stories (and even the names of the characters) often differ markedly from their original versions, sometimes in content and sometimes in emphasis. These stories are also preserved in secondary Islamic literature such as the Israeliyyaat, or the "Israeli" (Jewish) stories, and together these stories (and the Islamic accretions thereto) form the corpus of Islamic "Heilsgeschichte" or "holy history" and myth outside of the life of the prophet himself.

Islam and the Hebrew Bible Tradition

The influence of the Hebrew Bible tradition is deep and long in the Islamic tradition; in many ways the sirah casts Muhammad in the role of a prophet in the a la Moses the Lawgiver. The Islamic tradition retains many of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, but often gives their stories new twists, such as the focus on the homosexuality of the sodomites in the story of Lut.

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The story of Lot, the one pious man of the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, is transformed from a parable on the virtue of hospitality into a fiery rebuke of homosexuality in the Islamic tradition.

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Mary, the mother of Jesus, gets her own chapter in the Quran and is an important Islamic figure; this chapter, surat-Maryam, also seems to indicate that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is somehow the sister of the Haarun (Aaron), the brother of Moses.


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Islam and the Christian Scriptural Tradition

Jesus (called 'Isa in the Qur'an, as opposed to Christian Arabs who call him the more accurate title Yasuu') is a primary figure in the Qur'an, and the Qur'an (from the perspective of a Christian heresy hunter) can even be said to have its own Christology. The virgin birth and mother Mary are extremely prominent in the Qur'an, with Mary getting an entire surah dedicated to her. The Muslim apocalypse cycle is also heavily indebted to the Christian tradition, and features not only the return of Jesus to judge the world but also al-masih al-dajaal, the imposter Christ or antichrist. The disciples, though mentioned in the tradition, play no significant part in the stories of the tradition which focuses rather on Jesus and Mary.

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The virgin birth of Jesus is attested to in the Qur'an in somewhat graphic terms.

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The vision of Jahannam or hell finds origin in the original vision of the "lake of fire" in the New Testament but is far more graphic, drawing on the Christian accruements which the myth had accumulated between the writing of the New Testament and the career of Muhammad.

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Jannah or paradise is described both in the Qur'an and Sunnah, but the form it takes here is wildly difference from the asexual, cebral experience of heaven described by the Christian Scriptures and tradition.

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The Qur'an and the rest of the tradition describe Jesus as "Al-Masih" or Christ, but what this means in the Qur'an is very different than the orthodox Christian understanding of this idea.

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Islam and extra-biblical Stories from the Jewish and Christian Traditions

The Qur'an and the Islamic tradition draw stories not only from the bible, but also from the vast array of extra-biblical Christian and Jewish literature which was circulating in the Middle East at that time.

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Alexander the Great shows up in the Qur'an, not as the Alexander of history from the Anabasis, but rather the fictional Christian-before-Christ of the Christian Alexander romances.

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The Christian martyr tale of the 7 sleepers of Ephesus, Christian youths who escaped the persecution of a pagan Roman emperor by falling asleep in a cave for hundreds of years, is recast in the Qur'an as proof of Allah's divine power.

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This series of articles illustrates how the Qur'an took stories from a wide variety of extra-biblical literature from the ancient middle east.


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