Monday, June 3, 2013

Surah 4.157 - some further reflections and a resource list


My interest in Surah 4.157 was in a very real sense renewed after reading James R. White's, What Every Christian Needs To Know About the Qur'an. I have posted two installments of my review of the book (first; second), and the second installment was on chapter 6, a chapter which focused on Surah 4.156, 157 ("forty Arabic words"). In that installment I stated, "Chapter 6 (pages 129-143) is the most disappointing of the book", and then offered 4 reasons for that conviction. I would now like to add yet one more: Mr. White's interpretation of Surah 4.157 makes constructive dialogue between Christians and Muslims virtually impossible. I say this, because if a Christian adopts Mr. White's interpretation (and most do so), then only one conclusion can be reached: Surah 4.157 is utterly false; and if a Muslim adopts the same interpretation (and most do so), then only one conclusion can be reached: the Bible on the issue of the crucifixion and death of Jesus is utterly false. When conclusions of this nature are embraced, any possibility of constructive dialogue vanishes. And further, any chance of objective reflection from either side of the issue also vanishes; which in turn means that when competent scholars present solid evidence such interpretations are severely flawed, they are almost universally ignored. Fortunately, there are some Christians and Muslims who are objective enough to recognize such flaws, and I am in debt to these folk for my understanding of Surah 4.157—i.e. the Qur'an does not deny the physical crucifixion and death of Jesus—which happens to be the most internally consistent interpretation. I shall now turn to the Qur'an itself, and let it speak to us on this issue:

It is He who has sent down the Book to you. Some of its verses are clear [muh'kamātun] and precise in meaning they are the basis of the Book while others are allegorical [mutashābihātun]. Those with deviation in their hearts pursue the allegorical, so as to create dissension by seeking to explain it: but no one knows its meaning except God. Those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say, We believe in it: it is all from our Lord. But only the wise take heed. (Surah 3.7 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

Some clear [muh'kamātun] ayat:

Do not say that those who are killed in Gods cause are dead; they are alive, but you are not aware of it. (Surah 2.154 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

God said, O Jesus, I shall cause you to die and will raise you up to Me and shall clear you [of the calumnies] of the disbelievers, and shall place those who follow you above those who deny the truth, until the Day of Judgement; then to Me shall all return and I will judge between you regarding your disputes. (Surah 3.55 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

Do not think of those who have been killed in Gods cause as dead. They are alive, and well provided for by their Lord; (Surah 3.169 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

I told them only what You commanded me [Jesus] to, Worship God, my Lord and your Lord. I was a witness to what they did as long as I remained among them, and when You did cause me [Jesus] to die, You were the watcher over them. You are the witness of all things, (Surah 5.117 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

Blessed was I on the day I was born, and blessed I shall be on the day I die and on the day I am raised to life again. (Surah 19:33 - Maulana Wahiduddin Khan)

A not so clear ayah (Dr. Joseph Cumming in his essay, "Did Jesus Die on the Cross?"[link] lists no less than 10 differing interpretations of this ayah in the major tasfīr literaturei.e. commentary on the Qur'an):

For their saying: “It is we who killed the Messiah Jesus son of Mary, the messenger of God.” Nay, they did not kill him by crucifying him. They thought they did, and those who affirm that are uncertain; they have no knowledge about it except by speculation. In certainty they did not kill him because God raised him from death up to Him. (Surah 4.157 - Dr. Suleiman Mourad)

If one begins with the clear ayat in mind (the Qur'an refers to those who do so as being, "firmly grounded in knowledge"), only one internally consistent interpretation of ayah 4.157 emerges: Jesus' physical body was crucified and killed on the cross, but His soul/spirit remained alive, and He was raised to the presence of God.

What follows, is a partial list of books, essays and websites/blogs that support the internally consistent interpretation of Surah 4.157:

Islamic Studies scholars -

"Does the Qur'an Deny or Assert Jesus' Crucifixion and Death?" (Paper presented in 2008 at the "The Qur'an in Its Historical Context" conference, University of Notre Dame; subsequently published 2011 in, The Qur'an in Its Historical Context 2, pp. 347-355)  - by Dr. Suleiman A. Mourad

"The Muslim Jesus: Dead or Alive?" (Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 72, 2009, pp. 237-58.)- by Dr. Gabriel Said Reynolds [link to online pdf copy]

“Towards an Islamic Christology II”, The Muslim World, Vol. LXX, April 1980, #2, (p. 106) - by Dr. Mahmoud M. Ayoub

“The Crucifixion in the Koran,” (Muslim World 13, 1923, pp. 242–58) - by E.E. Elder

Jesus In the Qur'an (Oxford University Press ed. 1977; Oneworld Publications ed. 1995,  pp. 105-121) - by Dr. Geoffrey Parrinder

The Crucifixion and the Qur'an (2009) - by Dr. Todd Lawson

NOTE: One Islamic Studies scholar, Dr. Neal Robinson, was recently cited by a Muslim apologist who posts under the name Ibn Anwar (thanks to Ken Temple for bringing this to my attention). In the combox of a thread at Paul Williams' blog, Ibn Anwar quoted the following from Dr. Robinson:

“The attempt of some Christian apologists to circumvent the Qur’anic denial of the crucifixion is disingenuous in the extreme.” (Robinson, N. (1991) Christ in Islam and Christianity: The Representation of Jesus in the Qur’an and the Classical Muslim Commentaries. London: Macmillan Press Ltd. p. 115). [Link to Ibn Anwar's post]

The above quote from Dr. Robinson, if read by itself, seems to be denying any legitimacy to the interpretation of Surah 4.157 that I have adopted. However, one must not read the quote in isolation. Earlier in the same book, Dr. Robinson cited an early Muslim source which affirmed that it was Jesus himself who was crucified on the cross, and then laid in the tomb:

Jesus’ humanity (nāsut) was crucified and his hands were nailed to the cross. He was left there all day, given vinegar to drink, and pierced with a lance. He was taken down from the cross, wrapped in a shroud and laid in the tomb. Three days later he appeared to the disciples and was recognized by them. When the news spread that he had not been killed, the Jews opened up the tomb but did not find his mortal remains (nāsut). (Christ In Islam and Christianity, pp. 56, 57.)

Even more important is the following from Dr. Robinson's contribution on "Jesus" in Brill's, The Encyclopaedia of the Qur'ān (2005, vol. 3, pp. 7-21):

[T]he Qur'anic teaching about Jesus' death is certainly not clear-cut. Three things, however, may be said with certainty. First, the Qur'an attaches no salvific importance to this death. Second, it does not mention his resurrection on the third day and has no need of it as proof of God's power to raise the dead. Third, although the Jews thought they had killed Jesus, from God's viewpoint they did not kill or crucify him. Beyond this is the realm of speculation. The classical commentators generally begin with the questionable premise that Q 4.157-9 contains an unambiguous denial of Jesus' death by crucifixion. They found confirmation of this in the existence of traditional reports about a look-alike substitute and hadiths about Jesus' future descent. Then they interpreted the other Qur'anic references to Jesus' death in the light of their understanding of this one passage. If, however, the other passages are examined without presupposition and Q 4.157-159 is then interpreted in the light of them, it can be read as a denial of the ultimate reality of Jesus' death rather than a categorical denial that he died. (Cited in Dr. Todd Lawson's, The Crucifixion and the Qur'an, pp. 23, 24.)

Websites and blogs -

"DID JESUS DIE ON THE CROSS?" (Evidence for God's Unchanging Word - link)

"What does the Qur'an say about Jesus death?" (Antioch Believer - link)

"Never say die: The death of Jesus in the Qur'an" (Religion at the margins - link)

"Did Jesus Die?" (From the book, Jesus The Light And Fragrance of God, by M. N. Anderson - link)

"Two questions from a truth-seeking Muslim on the death of Jesus on the cross" (A Christian Thinktank - link)


Grace and peace,

David

P.S. For all my threads on Surah 4.157 see THIS LINK

8 comments:

kat said...

Deuteronomy 13 and 18:20 state that a false Prophet shall be put to death. In Islam, Jesus is a Prophet---therefore, if God allowed the Jews to put Jesus to death---it would mean that Jesus was a FALSE PROPHET.

Since the crucifixion has no significance in Islam anyway---It would be more proper to interpret the verse as saying that the Prophet Jesus was NOT crucified therefore the Jewish claim that they killed the false Prophet would be wrong. They did not kill him because God did not allow his true Prophet to be killed.

David Waltz said...

Hi kat,

Thanks much for taking the time to share some of your thoughts. Before I address your comment/post, I would like to say that I miss new threads on your blog (Islam - Quran Journal)—your last one being June 26, 2012—are you planning some new ones in the near future?

Last night, you wrote:

==Deuteronomy 13 and 18:20 state that a false Prophet shall be put to death. In Islam, Jesus is a Prophet---therefore, if God allowed the Jews to put Jesus to death---it would mean that Jesus was a FALSE PROPHET.==

From the Injil we read:

Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell? Therefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: some of them shall ye kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom ye slew between the sanctuary and the altar. (ASV - Matthew 23:33-35)

==Since the crucifixion has no significance in Islam anyway---It would be more proper to interpret the verse as saying that the Prophet Jesus was NOT crucified therefore the Jewish claim that they killed the false Prophet would be wrong. They did not kill him because God did not allow his true Prophet to be killed.==

The above does not make sense to me, for God allowed John the Baptist to be killed, and he was a rasul/prophet.

See THIS LINK, for a list (and excellent article) on all the rasul mentioned in the Qur'an.


Grace and peace,

David

ali khan said...

Thank you David for the short and spot on article !

I want to say two things here , one in reference to your article and the other to the comment of kat

Concerning your article , i want to add that sura 3:55 uses the word 'mutawaffika' , which is used for sleep and death in sura 39:42:

"God takes [mutawaffika] the souls of the dead and the souls of the living while they sleep—He keeps hold of those whose death He has ordained and sends the others back until their appointed time—there truly are signs in this for those who reflect."

In this verse it cannott be sleep as God says he sends back the souls of those who do not die , whereas in chapter 3:55 the word 'rafaika' follows mutawaffika which means God has taken the soul of Jesus Christ and has not send it back instead raised it to himself , in short this verse clearly means God caused Jesus Christ to die.


Coming onto to the comment of kat , David you have rightly pointed out that even John the Baptist despite being a messenger was killed , does it makes him an impostor ? , no . Surprisingly 2 verses before sura 4:157 God speaks about Jews killing the messengers of God in defiance of right .

John the Baptist's birth , life and death is compared to that of Jesus Christ in sura 19 , i;e both had a miraculous birth , both were compassionate and both died a violent death and withhold to God till there last breath . So both are given peace and salutations by both saying "peace be the day that i was born , peace be the day that i die and peace when i will be raised back to life again ."

kind regards

ali khan said...

In this verse....... sura 3:55

kat said...

I do not have a firm opinion on the matter yet, I am only speculating...

John the Baptist-As far as I know, the Jews made no claims about killing him?

Surah 4 verse 154 mentions "For their saying: “It is we who killed the Messiah Jesus son of Mary, the messenger of God.” Nay, they did not kill him..."---and therefore refers to that particular claim----and since it is a claim by Jews it can be connected to Deuteronomy....

It is my speculation that perhaps God is not particularly concerned if Jews thought Jesus Christ was a false Prophet or not---they had already rejected him, thus had made their choice----Nor is it concerned with those who chose to follow Jesus Christ as they too had already made their choice---this verse is in the Quran precisely because it (Quran/God) wants Muslims to follow Jesus Christ as the true Prophet.

Surah 19:33 (as mentioned above by ali khan)"Blessed was I on the day I was born, and blessed I shall be on the day I die and on the day I am raised to life again."
-------is similar to 19:15--------
"So peace on him the day he was born, the day that he dies,and the day that he will be raised up to life (again)." ---in reference to John the Baptist

My site---Thankyou for your interest. Yes, Inshallah, I have been pondering about the story of al-Khidr in the Quran but have not been able to find the words and organize them coherently........

kat said...

sleep/death---I agree with ali khans comments on this matter --- in Sura 3 verse 185 (partial) it says---
"every soul shall have a taste of death; and only on the day of Judgement shall you be paid your full recompense..."----the human body dies and the soul experiences this death.

David Waltz said...

Hi Ali,

So good to see you back. Your thoughts on the Arabic word mutawaffika are greatly appreciated. I think you may find the following online article interesting (though it is a bit too polemical for my taste, I still think it has some useful content):

Study of the Word, "Mu-ta-waf-fi-ka"


God bless,

David

David Waltz said...

Hello again kat,

Yesterday, you posted:

==I do not have a firm opinion on the matter yet, I am only speculating...==

Me: Understood. Given that there have been at least 10 different interpretations of Surah 4.157, I think it is wise to proceed with some caution.

You also wrote:

==My site---Thankyou for your interest. Yes, Inshallah, I have been pondering about the story of al-Khidr in the Quran but have not been able to find the words and organize them coherently........==

Me: Excellent!!! I shall be looking forward to your upcoming post. I have great interest in the "servant" ['abdan] of Surah 18. I am going to add your blog you my reading list so I do not miss it...


Grace and peace,

David