Continuing onward through one of the more obliquely anti-Semitic parts of the Qur’an, we are muddling through yet more Qur’anic retconning of the Old Testament. The dilemma Muhammed faced in the religiously cosmopolitan city of Medina (where this surah was almost certainly written) is not unlike that faced by certain notable frauds and delusions of more recent memory: how to claim for your new religion the dignity of ancient antiquity, while still preserving its uniqueness from those very ancient religions with which you compete. Muhammed’s answer in surah 2, which will be repeated in occasionally more ridiculous and vulgar iterations throughout the Qur’an, is simple: the good Jews like Moses and Solomon were faithful Muslims who worshiped Allah – the rest are basically apostates, or as 2:99 puts it, “perverse.” Specifically, Muhammed places the great falling-away of the Jews from Allah (at least here) in the story of Moses’ lonely ascent of the Sinai, Muhammed’s garbled interpretation of which you’ll find here:
75. Can ye (o ye men of Faith) entertain the hope that they will believe in you?- Seeing that a party of them heard the Word of Allah, and perverted it knowingly after they understood it.
76. Behold! when they meet the men of Faith, they say: “We believe”: But when they meet each other in private, they say: “Shall you tell them what Allah hath revealed to you, that they may engage you in argument about it before your Lord?”- Do ye not understand (their aim)?
77. Know they not that Allah knoweth what they conceal and what they reveal?
78. And there are among them illiterates, who know not the Book, but (see therein their own) desires, and they do nothing but conjecture.
79. Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say:”This is from Allah,” to traffic with it for miserable price!- Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby.
80. And they say: “The Fire shall not touch us but for a few numbered days:” Say: “Have ye taken a promise from Allah, for He never breaks His promise? or is it that ye say of Allah what ye do not know?”
81. Nay, those who seek gain in evil, and are girt round by their sins,- they are companions of the Fire: Therein shall they abide (For ever).
82. But those who have faith and work righteousness, they are companions of the Garden: Therein shall they abide (For ever).
83. And remember We took a covenant from the Children of Israel (to this effect): Worship none but Allah. treat with kindness your parents and kindred, and orphans and those in need; speak fair to the people; be steadfast in prayer; and practise regular charity. Then did ye turn back, except a few among you, and ye backslide (even now).
84. And remember We took your covenant (to this effect): Shed no blood amongst you, nor turn out your own people from your homes: and this ye solemnly ratified, and to this ye can bear witness.
85. After this it is ye, the same people, who slay among yourselves, and banish a party of you from their homes; assist (Their enemies) against them, in guilt and rancour; and if they come to you as captives, ye ransom them, though it was not lawful for you to banish them. Then is it only a part of the Book that ye believe in, and do ye reject the rest? but what is the reward for those among you who behave like this but disgrace in this life?- and on the Day of Judgment they shall be consigned to the most grievous penalty. For Allah is not unmindful of what ye do.
86. These are the people who buy the life of this world at the price of the Hereafter: their penalty shall not be lightened nor shall they be helped.
87. We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of apostles; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you an apostle with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride?- Some ye called impostors, and others ye slay!
88. They say, “Our hearts are the wrappings (which preserve Allah.s Word: we need no more).” Nay, Allah.s curse is on them for their blasphemy: Little is it they believe.
89. And when there comes to them a Book from Allah, confirming what is with them,- although from of old they had prayed for victory against those without Faith,- when there comes to them that which they (should) have recognised, they refuse to believe in it but the curse of Allah is on those without Faith.
90. Miserable is the price for which they have sold their souls, in that they deny (the revelation) which Allah has sent down, in insolent envy that Allah of His Grace should send it to any of His servants He pleases: Thus have they drawn on themselves Wrath upon Wrath. And humiliating is the punishment of those who reject Faith.
91. When it is said to them, “Believe in what Allah Hath sent down, “they say, “We believe in what was sent down to us:” yet they reject all besides, even if it be Truth confirming what is with them. Say: “Why then have ye slain the prophets of Allah in times gone by, if ye did indeed believe?”
92. There came to you Moses with clear (Signs); yet ye worshipped the calf (Even) after that, and ye did behave wrongfully.
93. And remember We took your covenant and We raised above you (the towering height) of Mount (Sinai): (Saying): “Hold firmly to what We have given you, and hearken (to the Law)”: They said:” We hear, and we disobey:” And they had to drink into their hearts (of the taint) of the calf because of their Faithlessness. Say: “Vile indeed are the behests of your Faith if ye have any faith!”
94. Say: “If the last Home, with Allah, be for you specially, and not for anyone else, then seek ye for death, if ye are sincere.”
95. But they will never seek for death, on account of the (sins) which their hands have sent on before them. and Allah is well-acquainted with the wrong-doers.
96. Thou wilt indeed find them, of all people, most greedy of life,-even more than the idolaters: Each one of them wishes He could be given a life of a thousand years: But the grant of such life will not save him from (due) punishment. For Allah sees well all that they do.
97. Say: Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel-for he brings down the (revelation) to thy heart by Allah.s will, a confirmation of what went before, and guidance and glad tidings for those who believe,-
98. Whoever is an enemy to Allah and His angels and apostles, to Gabriel and Michael,- Lo! Allah is an enemy to those who reject Faith.
99. We have sent down to thee Manifest Signs (ayat); and none reject them but those who are perverse.
100. Is it not (the case) that every time they make a covenant, some party among them throw it aside?- Nay, Most of them are faithless.
101. And when there came to them an apostle from Allah, confirming what was with them, a party of the people of the Book threw away the Book of Allah behind their backs, as if (it had been something) they did not know!
Many are the names of God in Judaism, but it is beyond balderdash to claim that Moses or any other Jew would have used the word Allah to refer to God in a devotional sense, but in researching the historical context of this surah I came upon the interesting historical tidbit that it is not at all impossible that Jews would at least have known the word Allah long before the 7th century when the Qur’an was first received.
Both Jews and the word “Allah” enjoy an extensive history in the Arabian peninsula long predating Islam. Jews are known to have dispersed throughout what today is called Saudi Arabia after the destruction of the Second Temple in the 1st century, and, as certain mean-spirited Christian apologists take endless delight in pointing out, the word “Allah” has antecedents in both “pagan” and even Christian liturgy from around the same time period. Such historical fact raises a question that likely has some semiotic significance doubtlessly discoverable only deep in the navels of the great linguists. When I say God and a Jew says Adonai, it appears that we are referring to the same being. When I say God and a modern-day Muslim says Allah, it also appears that we are referring to the same being. Why is it wrong, then, to say that when Moses supposedly says Allah and I say God, we are again referring to the same being?
I think it is because when a 7th-century Arabian speaking outside of the Christian tradition says Allah, he is saying something more like Wodin or Demeter than God. A normally-acculturated 7th-century Arabian who hears the word Allah would have understood it to mean one of several members, or perhaps one concept among several theological concepts, in pre-Islamic Arabian times whom Muhammed simply intended to elevate above all others by association with the ancient gods of his co-monotheists. I commend you to works far more scholarly than mine for a more detailed look at the role of Allah in pre-Islamic Arabian polytheism, such as the magnificent Encyclopedia of Islam, though I must concede that in preparing the original Jefferson Qur’an I read a much older edition of that book than is available today and it is possible that the scholarly consensus has since shifted.
In this section I have preserved for the final version of the Jefferson Qur’an a (so far) record-setting seven verses, though some only in part. Because they do not form a nice or consistent narrative, I will explain my reasoning for their survival one at a time:
2:75 Can you, O men of Faith, entertain the hope that they will believe in you?
2:89 And when there comes to them a Book, they refuse to believe in it.
Even without the obvious original intention that this particular verse refer specifically to Muslims, I rather like the sentiment, since here God has told Muhammed something whose obviousness should be imparted likewise on the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who from time to time darken my doorstep: “do you really think that everybody is going to buy what you’re selling?” Not everyone who smells what you’re stepping in wants to follow in your footsteps.
2:96 You will indeed find them, of all people, most greedy of life: each one of them wishes he could be given a life of a thousand years.
Scorn for those who crave eternal life is just a nice sentiment for reasons comporting with my own philosophical leanings, namely, that mortality is generally a good thing and that eternal life is not altogether desirable. I once had the great pleasure of hosting the inestimable Robert M. Price at the Secular Student Alliance chapter of my alma mater, whose talk’s Q&A session saw a delightful exchange between Dr. Price and a good friend of mine in the audience, a devout evangelical type, paraphrased thusly:
Dr. Price: And what exactly is it that you would do for eternity in heaven?
Friend: …worship God?
Dr. Price: Well that sounds like it’d get pretty boring after a while.
Not an exact quote from any party involved, but you get the gist. “Greedy of life,” in the Qur’an’s phrasing, is such a nicely indelicate way of heaping scorn on what is truly my least favorite aspect of so many religions, which is the idea that it’s just a gas to go on and on and on for its own sake.
2:78 And there are among them illiterates, who do not know the Book, but see therein their own desires, and they do nothing but conjecture.
2:85 Then it is only a part of the Book that you believe in, and do you reject the rest? But what is the reward for those among you who behave like this but disgrace in this life?
2:87 Is it that whenever there comes to you a Messenger with what you yourselves do not desire, you are puffed up with pride?
Here is another fine sentiment to be turned on its head against the people who claim to believe it. How is any Muslim at all to know that he or she is not one of those “illiterates” referred to by this very verse, who stares at the Qur’an and only sees whatever comports most comfortably with their own biases and assumptions?
2:84 Shed no blood amongst you, nor turn out your own people from your homes.
I will go out of my way to preserve uncontroversially decent sentiments from the Qur’an if for no other reason than because I despise the attitudes of certain of my countrymen holding that the Qur’an is an irredeemable work of violent garbage from cover to cover. It is not. A lot of it is, but then, a lot of it isn’t, either. A lot of it is perfectly decent. Not killing and evicting each other – that is a perfectly decent attitude.
We are making progress. The baneful drudgery of surah 2’s Old Testament remixing is slowly coming to an end. At the very least you may rest assured that the next section contains some more bizarrely interesting Qur’anic apologetics.