Comparison: Scribes of the Qur’an vs Scribes of the New Testament

A quick comparison on the identities of the scribes of the Qur’an and the scribe(s) of the New Testament. Quite the disparity!

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The list of names of the Qur’anic scribes was transcribed from Shaykh Muhammad Mustafa al Azami’s work on the Qur’an’s preservation[1]. To understand why the New Testament has unknown scribes, it should be noted that Irenaeus in 185 CE, was the first to name the authors of the New Testament gospels[2][3]. Prior to this, no name was attached to them and none of their authors were known. Moreover, since none of their authors were known, we know of none of their scribes. Comparisons are usually made between the hadith corpus and that of the New Testament. However, this is the fallacy of false equivalency, as the conditions for establishing a narration as da’eef, or weak is not met by the New Testament literature:

The Riwaayah of an unknown person is not acceptable because if his name is not known then his Haal (condition) cannot be defined (as to whether he is reliable or not). The Saheeh (correct) verdict is that a Mubham (unknown) Raawi cannot be declared as Aadil (reliable).[4]

On this basis, at the very least, the New Testament does not compare to a single weakly graded tradition from the hadith corpus.

Note: Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan (d. 640 CE), is not to be confused with Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah (d. 683 CE), they are two different persons.

and Allah knows best.

Sources:

  1. Al Azami, Muhammad Mustafa. The History of the Qur’ānic Text: From Revelation to Compilation : A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments. Leicester: UK Islamic Academy, 2003. 68. Print.
  2. Ehrman, Bart. “The Gospels Are Finally Named! Irenaeus of Lyons.” The Gospels Are Finally Named! Irenaeus of Lyons. – Christianity in Antiquity (CIA): The Bart Ehrman Blog. 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 3 July 2015.
  3. Irenaeus, Saint. Adversus Haereses. Vol. 3. Print.
  4. Al Asqalani, Ibn Hajr. Nukhbat Al-Fikar Fī Muṣṭalaḥ Ahl Al Athar. 62. Print.

Announcement: Temporary Delay in our Messaging Services

As Salaam ‘Alaykum wa As Salaamu ‘Ala Man Ittaba al Huda,

There is currently a backlog of emails and messages in the Calling Christians inbox. While we do wish we had the time to be able respond to all of these messages, we are unable at the moment, to cater to the needs of the thousands of you that engage with us frequently. As such, for the moment we are asking that you remain patient with us and at the most, expect a one month delay in replies from our question and answer service.

In mid July, when the month of Ramadan has been completed, we intend to make a few changes and several announcements regarding new additions to our team. We apologize for the delay in service. Thank you for your continued patience.

Regards,

Br. Ijaz.

Ramadan: The Month of the Qur’an

The Qur’an is a book with which most people know about, but of which many are not intimated with. This month is perhaps the best month in which we can dedicate the time to learning and understanding the Qur’an. Learning about, and understanding Islam is necessary for every Muslim (fard al ‘ayn), and moreso for the Muslims amongst us who do da’wah and engage in apologetics (the intellectual defense of Islam). A good place to start in our study of Islam, is in the passages of the Qur’an. Islam’s scripture. To kick off your engaging with the Qur’an, I’ve assembled a list of links that I think would help both Muslims and non-Muslims understand the Qur’an:

I’ll update this list as the month of Ramadan progresses.

“كِتَابٌ أَنزَلْنَاهُ إِلَيْكَ لِتُخْرِجَ النَّاسَ مِنَ الظُّلُمَاتِ إِلَى النُّورِ بِإِذْنِ رَبِّهِمْ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطِ الْعَزِيزِ الْحَمِيدِ”

“[This is] a Book which We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], that you might bring mankind out of darknesses into the light by permission of their Lord – to the path of the Exalted in Might, the Praiseworthy.” – Qur’an 14:1.

and Allah knows best.

New Testament Inconsistency: The Secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven

Matthew 13 presents a very peculiar problem for Christianity, in verse 10-11 it says:

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.”

From this, we learn that the masses were not able to understand Jesus when he spoke, apparently only those who were given the secrets of the kingdom of heaven would be able to understand what Jesus was saying. Who was given that knowledge? Just the twelve disciples. Therefore, according to the New Testament, Jesus went around preaching unintelligible sermons to masses of people (cf. Matthew 13:2, John 6:60), when the only people who could have possibly understood him were only the twelve because they possessed the “secret knowledge”. This however, is a compounded problem, as the secret knowledge (of the kingdom of heaven) that unlocked Jesus’ unintelligible sermons, didn’t seem to work. On more than one occasion the disciples had to stop Jesus and ask him to speak intelligibly to them:

“The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.” – Luke 18:34.

So let’s recap. Jesus speaks unintelligibly to the masses. Of the masses, 12 disciples have the “secret knowledge (of the kingdom of heaven)” which would enable them and only them to understand what Jesus was saying. Of these twelve, none of them understood what Jesus was saying according to Luke 18:34, because the meaning of what Jesus was saying was hidden from them. What this means is that Jesus did a lot of talking to a lot of people and no one was able to understand what he was saying. To explain this Monthy Python-esque scenario, I’ve developed a parable of my own:

Sam is a wealthy king. He called his entire kingdom together and said to the large crowd before him, that behind that door there was a million gold coins. He then invited the crowd to open the door. The crowd rushed to the door and tried opening it. The door was locked! Sam approached his close friends and said, “to unlock the door you need a secret key, I will give each of you a secret key so you may enter the room with a million goal coins!” What Sam did not tell them, was that they keys were fake and would not work. Sam’s friends ran to the door and each of them tried their keys, none of the keys were able to open the door. David, one of Sam’s friends returns to him and says that the keys are not unlocking the door. Sam the wealthy king is surprised, and tells them that he has given the keys for the door and it is their fault the keys are not working.

Then imagine that 2000 years later there were still people claiming to have that key, with the door still remaining forever locked. That’s exactly the scenario we are left with. What’s the use of giving them secret knowledge that’s supposed to explain what he’s been saying all along, when the knowledge is still hidden from them? You might be saying to yourself, this doesn’t sound right, there must be an explanation. Well, no less than 2 chapters later in Matthew 15:15-16 we read:

“Peter said to Him, “Explain the parable to us.” Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also?”

In this case, Jesus of all people seems to be surprised that the secret knowledge he gave them (cf. Matthew 13:10-11, Luke 8:9-10), which he then hid from them (Luke 18:34), leaves them still unable to understand what he’s saying. In other words, Jesus is surprised they still don’t understand him, even though he is the one that hid its meaning from them.

and God knows best.

The Markan Gospel’s Systematic Development in Light of Miracle Sets

Traditionally speaking, Christian apologists have always appealed to the Gospel ascribed to Mark’s haphazard narrative inconsistencies (in regard to the narratives of the synoptics) as a proof of its early authorship being attested by Papias, as recorded in Eusebius’ Church History:

“This also the presbyter said: Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely. These things are related by Papias concerning Mark.” – 3.39.15.

However, using narrative criticism, we are able to examine the patterns of literary development as envisaged by the Markan author. Thus, as we will see, the Markan Gospel cannot be considered disorderly, but should be considered as a work of systematic literary development. Whatever work Papias was referring to, has not remained with us (not a single papyri of the Markan Gospel exists earlier than the mid to late 3rd century), or what later Christians (such as Eusebius) identified with earlier Christians (Papias) is mistaken and as such, should be taken as mere anachronistic apologetic revisionism. As the “Church” began to develop, so did its history, especially in regard to its origins. This might seem odd to some, but we need to remember that as the various early Christian communities began to coalesce, a homogenous “universal” or Catholic history of the “true” Church began to manifest itself, what we refer to today as the proto-orthodox Church.

Jaroslav Pelikan says in the Christian Tradition Vol 1:

“There is a sense in which the very notion of tradition seems inconsistent with the idea of history as a movement and change. For tradition is thought to be ancient, hallowed by age, unchanged since it was first established once upon a time. It does not have a history, since history implies the appearance at a certain point in time, of that which had not been there before.

According to the Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius, orthodox Christian doctrine did not really have a history, having been true eternally and taught primitively; only heresy had a history, having arisen at particular times and through the innovations of particular teachers Roman Catholics polemics has frequently contrasted the variations of Protestantism with the stable and unchanging doctrine of Roman Catholicism.

It seems that theologians have been willing to trace the history of doctrines and doctrinal systems which they found to be in error, but that the normative tradition had to be protected from the relativity of having a history or being, in any decisive sense, the product of a history.” – pp. 7 – 8.

Many Christian scholars on early Christian traditions, agree that Church history tends to be generative as opposed to retentive (as is often claimed):

“At the same time, such individual memories also typically come to be calibrated in relation to an emerging communal consensus— either reactively or, more often, in convergence with it. Memory of this sort is of course highly episodic, lumpy, and often somewhat formulaic— characteristics to which even eyewitnesses are hardly immune. And it can often be generative of meaning, rather than merely retentive.” – Markus Bockmuehl, Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church (pp. 11-12).

So, while the quote attributed by Eusebius to Papias may be more of a generated communal teaching which later manifested itself in Church tradition, can we truly say that the Gospel ascribed to Mark is the work of a scribe hastily writing down an orator’s recounting, as opposed to a work of systematic literary development? The answer is no. There are two sets of miracle stories in the Markan Gospel that follow a specific pattern, that bear witness to an intentional development of the Christ’s image in comparison with the Messianic archetype prevalent throughout Judaic literature.

Markan Miracle Sets 2

As we can see from this simple break down, the miracle stories are equally divided into two sets. Each set has the same pattern and form of miracles: one sea/ water – three healings – one mass feeding. Both sets of miracles, also occur within six successive chapters, with the first set ending and the second set beginning within the same chapter and within one verse of each other. These are not and cannot be coincidences, or disordered in any way. They are quite specific in pattern and form, the ordering of these miracle stories are intentional and systematic. Further analysis shows, that the author derived these miracle stories from earlier Jewish Messianic types, who were to guide their people in times of great turmoil:

Markan Miracle Sets

Thus, the intention of ordering and mentioning these specific miracles attributed to Christ, was done with the purpose of painting Christ in the same image and stature as that of Moses, Elijah and Elisha. In fact, the author who developed these miracle sets, does include specific mention of Jesus being like, or being Elijah within the same chapters:

Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” – Mark 6:15.

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” – Mark 8:28.

Therefore, it should be concluded from reading the Gospel ascribed to Mark, that this piece of literature has undergone intentional development, with specific goals in mind to paint Christ in light of earlier Messianic archetypal figures. The narratives are in order, for the purpose the author intended to achieve, and as such, we can understand that it is the case that either Papias’ statement refers to some other piece of literature, or that the Gospel of Mark has undergone significant systematic literary development with a Jewish audience in mind and as such, is no longer in its original form.

and God knows best.

The Sun Sets on Nabeel Qureishi

Most people understand that language has depth. That language has devices that are used to convey ideas, thoughts and beliefs beyond a one dimensional literalistic paradigm. Most people are familiar with the sciences of exegesis and hermeneutics, which are often employed in helping us to understand scripture. Now, that is most people and not all people. One of those people who doesn’t understand these things is Nabeel Qureishi. For example, he recently posted this:

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Now, see if he had read his Bible, even given it a cursory glance he’d come to realise that the phraseology of the Semitic people who wanted to describe a limit or boundary as given by the sea would often use the language of, “where the sun sets”. So for example, we read in the Qur’an 18:85-86:

He set out (westwards) on an expedition, Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it [as if] setting in a spring of dark mud, and he found near it a people.

So, as these passages state, he set out on a journey through the land until he reached a limit where he found a people. What was used to describe this limit? The sea and the sun setting. This was a phrase used to describe the limit of one’s journey being bounded by some body of water be it a sea or an ocean, a lake etc. In Nabeel’s very Bible, such phraseology is used:

“From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory.” – Joshua 1:4

“See, I have apportioned to you these nations which remain as an inheritance for your tribes, with all the nations which I have cut off, from the Jordan even to the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun.” – Joshua 23:4

Some translations don’t use a literal rendering of the words, they try to contextualize them. So in the NASB, NIV and other similar translations they try to translate a text according to its usage and not according to its literal meaning. The Qur’an in most cases uses a literal rendition of the Arabic. The literal rendition of the above Bible passages, uses the exact same terminology that the Qur’an does. We read from the ISV:

Your territorial border will extend from the wilderness to the Lebanon Mountains, to the river—that great River Euphrates—all the land of the Hittites—as far as the Mediterranean Sea where the sun sets.

In one instance, there had to be a citation note explaining why a portion of this passage was excluded from the main translation:

Now look, I have allocated these nations that remain as an inheritance for your tribes, including all of the nations that I have eliminated, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea to the west.[b]

b. Joshua 23:4 Lit. Sea that faces the setting sun

The reason that most Christians are unfamiliar with this phrase is because most English Bible translations, translate “the setting of the sun into the sea” or “the setting of the sun by the sea”, to “the west” or to “the Mediterranean Sea”. So when they see such a phrase in the Qur’an, they don’t make the connection between a descriptive term and its use in scripture by the language of the people at that time. This is what happened in the case of Nabeel. He is not familiar with the language of the Bible, nor with the language of the Qur’an.

To aid Nabeel, I’ve used a popular language device in the title of this post. “The Sun Sets on Nabeel Qureishi,” is an oft used language device. Given that Nabeel seems to read things literally, I wanted to point out to him that not everything can or should be read literally. Here’s some examples of language devices being used in sentences and they aren’t meant to be understood literally:

  • I want to address the elephant in the room.
  • The rolling hills of the countryside.
  • It’s raining cats and dogs.
  • The sun set on Jim’s career.

So, Nabeel, I’m addressing you, the guy in this picture:

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“The Sun Sets on Nabeel Qureishi,” does not mean that I think the sun is literally falling on top of you. It does not mean that I want the sun to harm you. It does not mean that I think the sun goes up or down. It quite simply, does not mean anything literally. In modern English, the sun setting for someone can have varying meanings. It can mean they’re shining less brightly as a person, and just so I don’t confuse you, by shining brightly I mean they are not performing according to expected standards of normalcy. In some cases it also means the person is dim (again not literally, but in terms of wit, see: dimwitted), or in decline (again not literally in decline, like as if they’re sitting or stooping, I mean performance or career wise) in some way.

I hope you’ve learned something very valuable today. You can swap a t-shirt for a suit, but it doesn’t make you any smarter. As for his claim on Qur’an 86:7, I didn’t want to confuse him any further than he already is, but for everyone else here’s an excellent article explaining the basic Arabic usage of the terms in the passage.

and God knows best.

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