The Qur’ān and the Bible: Text and Commentary is a groundbreaking comparative study that illuminates the connections between the Qur’ān and the Bible. While the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are understood to be related texts, the sacred scripture of Islam, the third Abrahamic faith, has generally been considered separately. Noted religious scholar Gabriel Said Reynolds draws on centuries of Qur’ānic and Biblical studies to offer rigorous and revelatory commentary on how these holy books are intrinsically connected.
Reynolds demonstrates how Jewish and Christian characters, imagery, and literary devices feature prominently in the Qur’ān, including stories of angels bowing before Adam and of Jesus speaking as an infant. This important contribution to religious studies features a full translation of the Qur’ān along with excerpts from the Jewish and Christian texts. It offers a clear analysis of the debates within the communities of religious scholars concerning the relationship of these scriptures, providing a new lens through which to view the powerful links that bond these three major religions.
Today Christians know the Bible as a work in two parts, the Old and New Testaments, and they may find it obvious that both belong in their scripture. For some in the early church, however, the inclusion of the Old Testament was not obvious. Marcion (d. ca. AD 160) made the case that the God of the Old Testament was a demiurge, a tribal deity not to be identified with the heavenly father of the New Testament. Accordingly, he argued that only the New Testament (and in fact, not all of the New Testament) should be considered scripture. The majority opinion of the early church, however, was different, namely that the Hebrew Scriptures are indeed the word of God. They were ultimately included in the Christian Bible.
Early Islam was faced with a similar choice in regard to the Jewish and Christian Bible. Muslims, in theory, could have considered the Bible authoritative scripture. There are some signs that the author of the Qur’ān attributed such authority to the Bible. In one place the divine voice of the Qur’ān commands its Prophet to confer with those “who read the Book” in times of doubt (Q 10:94). In another place this voice commands that the “People of the Gospel” judge according to what God has revealed in it (Q 5:47). However, in other passages (e.g., Q 2:42, 59, 79; 3:71, 187; 4:46; 5:13; 7:162), the Qur’ān suggests that the Jews (especially) and the Christians (also) have misread scripture, have hidden passages, or have pretended that things which they themselves have fabricated are scripture. In part inspired by such passages, the early Islamic community decided that the Bible was not authentic but rather falsified (muḥarraf) scripture. That community could have, conceivably, made a different decision, recognizing the authority of one kind or another of the Bible as scripture, as the early Christians did with the Hebrew Bible (and as Mormons, or Latter-Day Saints, would later do with the Bible, or as Baha’is would do with the Bible and the Qur’ān).
The decision to relegate the Bible to a status of inauthenticity had significant implications for the ways in which traditional Muslims and academic scholars alike would approach the Qur’ān. It is true that Muslim commentators not int frequently turn to Biblical traditions, and occasionally the Bible itself, in their efforts to understand the Qur’ān. Most Muslim commentators, however, did not have a copy of the Bible open on the desk next to them as they studied the Qur’ān. The same could be said for most Western academic scholars. Although things have begun to change, for much of the second half of the twentieth century, students pursuing Qur’ānic studies were trained in Islamic languages and literature but not in the Bible and Biblical literature. Their formation was comparable to that of a student of the New Testament who is never introduced to the languages, literature, and culture of second temple Judaism and the Mediterranean Roman world.
In The Qur’ān and the Bible: Text and Commentary, Bible and Qur’ān are brought together. This work is meant to make a contribution to our understanding of the Qur’ān by bringing to light its conversation with Biblical literature. The terms “conversation” and “Biblical literature” are key to understanding the methodology behind this work. By “conversation” the author mean the way that the Qur’ān alludes to, and develops, earlier traditions. By “Biblical literature” the author mean not simply the canonical Bible but also those post-Biblical (but pre-Qur’ānic) Jewish and Christian writings which became part of the repertoire of sacred history among Jews and Christians and, eventually, for the author of the Qur’ān.
Author conviction, a conviction which has only increased during his work on The Qur’ān and the Bible: Text and Commentary, is that the Qur’ān is an original work in literary and religious terms, but also a work which depends heavily on its audience’s knowledge of the Bible and the traditions which developed out of the Bible. The Qur’ān and the Bible: Text and Commentary accordingly seeks to promote an appreciation for the meaning of the Qur’ān by providing both relevant Biblical traditions and some commentary on the nature of the Qur’ān references to them.
According to Faruq Sherif, approximately one-fourth of the Qur’ān’s verses are concerned with narratives of prophets or other figures from Jewish and Christian tradition. Yet the Qur’ān’s relationship to Biblical material goes well beyond narrative. Its vision of creation and eschatology (the beginning and end of things), its cosmology, its use of parables, and its discussion of legal matters are all intimately connected to Biblical tradition. Even the Qur’ān’s concept 0f Muhammad’s prophethood (i.e., the idea that God would send an angel to one man and task him with communicating the angel’s messages to his people) is Biblical.
Readers of The Qur’ān and the Bible: Text and Commentary will also notice that the Qur’ān tends not to quote the Bible verbatim. Indeed, it may be argued that the Qur’ān contains no direct citations of the Bible whatsoever. The closest thing to a citation in the Qur’ān is perhaps 21:105 (“We wrote in the Psalms, after the Remembrance: ‘My righteous servants shall inherit the earth'”), but in fact this verse merely resembles certain elements of Psalm 37. The Qur’ān (7:40) refers to the Biblical maxim of the “eye of the needle,” but it does so in a unique manner. Similar observations might be made about the way the Qur’ān refers to a “mustard seed” (Q 21:47; 31:16), “uncircumcised hearts” (Q 2:88; 4:155), or the “twinkling of an eye” (16:77). In each case a Biblical turn of phrase is cited, but to a different effect. Perhaps the closest thing to a quotation in the Qur’ān is 5:32 (“That is why We decreed for the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul…”), but then this is a quotation of the Jewish text known as the Mishnah, and not of the Bible. All of this suggests that the Qur’ān emerged in a context where Biblical expressions permeated the oral culture; they were “in the air.”
In other words, the absence of direct quotations of Jewish and Christian texts in the Qur’ān reflects the path these texts took to reach the Qur’ān’s author. As Sidney Griffith has argued, neither the Bible nor other Jewish and Christian texts were available in Arabic at the time of the Qur’ān’s origins. The author of the Qur’ān would have heard only descriptions or paraphrases of such texts rendered into Arabic orally, most likely from some form of the Semitic language known as Aramaic. Yet the Qur’ān’s author also played an active role in developing Biblical material. The Qur’ān has not simply borrowed material from Jews or Christians. Instead, it has consciously reshaped Biblical material to advance its own religious claims.
Reynolds’ argument that the Qur’ān is so closely, or organically, related to the Bible represents a departure from traditional ideas that the background of the Qur’ān is largely pagan (and partially Jewish). In terms of method, however, the present work is rather unoriginal. As mentioned earlier, classical Muslim exegetes, beginning already with the earliest commentators, such as Muqātil b. Sulaymān (d. 150/767), often provide Biblical traditions in their attempts to render the Qur’ānic text more intelligible. Eventually such traditions would come to be known as Isrā’īliyyāt and would be maligned by some tradition-minded scholars as unreliable (because they did not come through trusted chains of traditions leading to the Prophet or his companions). By then, however, many of the hadith which such tradition-minded scholars would cite instead to explain Qur’ānic material were themselves infused with material from the Bible or post-Biblical Jewish and Christian literature.
Much recent scholarship on the Qur’ān, such as the recently published HarperCollins Study Qur’ān (edited by S. H. Nasr and others), sets the Qur’ān’s relationship with the Bible aside. The Study Qur’ān, which is the fruit of extensive research and collaboration, provides readers with summaries of Islamic commentaries and various essays. It does not provide an analysis of the Qur’ān’s relationship to Biblical literature.
The Qur’ān and the Bible: Text and Commentary, by contrast, focuses less on medieval commentaries and more on the religious traditions of the Qur’ān’s own context, the period known as Late Antiquity. Thus, one might say that this volume is meant to be at once a reference work and an argument about the importance of a “contextual” reading of the Qur’ān.