Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Qur'anathon Day 4: In A Gadda Da Vida

"We said: "O Adam! dwell thou and thy wife in the Garden; and eat of the bountiful things therein as (where and when) ye will; but approach not this tree, or ye run into harm and transgression/but come not nigh this tree lest ye become wrong-doers/and do not approach this tree, for then you will be of the unjust."

- Al-Baqara 2:35 (varying translations)

"But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." - Genesis 2:17

There are some striking narrative similarities between Torah, Bible and Koran. All three holy books contain references to Adam, Adam's primacy in God's creation, the naming of things, a blessed Garden, and the Tree of Knowledge. Missing from the Qur'anic account of this story: the name of Adam's wife. I'd be curious to understand why Eve's name is omitted from the Qur'an. Is it because "Eve" was a name given to Adam's wife at a later date in time? Are Eve's actions responsible for "the fall," as they appear to be in the traditional interpretations of Bible and Torah? That does not seem to be the case here, according to my reading of the text. The "blame" for their temptation is ascribed to Satan/Shaitan/Iblis, but it would seem from the text that both Adam and "his wife" were equally guilty in breaking God's rule.

Also of interest to me: The result of eating from the Tree of Knowledge (known only as "this tree" in the Qur'anic text) seems to differ greatly when one compares the Torah/Bible scripture with its Qur'anic equivalent. Eating of the Tree of Knowledge in the Bible/Torah leads to death. This is stated (as far as I can tell) unambiguously across multiple English translations. In the Qur'an, however, the punishment is not death - it is, variously, "harm and transgression," becoming "wrongdoers," and becoming one of the "unjust."

"And seek assistance through patience and prayer, and most surely it is a hard thing except for the humble ones," - 2:45

I've been reading "The Case for God," by Karen Armstrong, and upon reading this portion of scripture I was reminded of Armstrong's assertion that achieving a feeling of transcendence - learning to practice true religiosity - is hard work, in the same way that learning to sculpt or paint with some acumen is hard work. I like that the Qur'an advises us of this. I like that it reminds us of the difficulty inherent in transcending Self and achieving communion with Divinity. One of my personal quibbles with religion as practiced by some of my fellow Americans lies in the total lack of difficulty, committment and devotion required of its practitioners. There's a real sense that God has been transformed into an all-knowing Slot Machine; people are told that God will give them whatever they want if they just keep tugging the lever/praying away.

That view of religion seems like "cheap grace" to me, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer ("Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! And the essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite."). It demands little-to-nothing of practitioners, and it creates (to my mind) a sense of undeserved entitlement.

Enough high-horsing from me. Back to the text:

"And remember, We delivered you from the people of Pharaoh: They set you hard tasks and punishments, slaughtered your sons and let your women-folk live; therein was a tremendous trial from your Lord." - 2:49

It's not just Adam and the Garden that get mentioned in the Qur'an, much to my surprise. Al-Baqara also takes pains to link the God of the Qur'an directly to the God of the Torah/Old Testament. Unlike the Bible/Torah, the Qur'an does not have any apparent desire to educate its readers as to what Adam or Moses' story was in any detail. Instead, as noted by Talif Khalidi in his introduction, the Qur'an assumes familiarity with these stories and uses them to underline its points. We'll talk more about Moses in the next post. In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Have you anything to share with me and with the readers that might shed light on what we're reading? Are you finding these posts interesting/worth continuing? I welcome your thoughts, your observations, and your questions.


  1. As a note on these posts -- I am finding them very interesting and read every one. I regret I do not have much to contribute to the conversation.