The Qur'an and Its Biblical Reflexes
Investigations into the Genesis of a Religion
- ISBN: 9781498569453
- Published By: Lexington Books
- Published: October 2018
In The Qur’an and Its Biblical Reflexes: Investigations into the Genesis of a Religion, Mark Durie presents a thesis in which he argues that Qur’anic theology is not inherited from a Judeo-Christian background. However, the book engages very little with existing literature in Qur’anic studies and hardly engages with any biblical studies, especially about theology during late antiquity. Unfortunately, while there are many flaws, with limited space, I can highlight only a few.
In chapter 2, the book argues that there was an eschatological crisis. In the beginning, the Qur’an promises an imminent punishment against nonbelievers. As this imminent punishment did not occur, the Qur’anic style changed, eventually suggesting that the imminent punishment is to be carried out by the hands of the believers.
Chapter 3 expands on this, using a linguistic model to identify a chronology for the Qur’an using two metrics: lexical distance andformulaic distance. I must admit that my mathematics and engineering background makes me somewhat bias in my critique of this method. First, without knowing the statistical distribution along with the standard deviation, the averages become just nonsensical numbers. Second, even with the properanalysis, without any context to avoid type I and type II errors, the results would continue to be meaningless. For example, numbers may tell us that people with larger shoe sizes are significantly better drivers. But to draw any conclusion from such analysis without understanding the context would be premature. While the numbers are correct, the data includes both children and adults, skewing the results.
Another problem with this mathematical method stems from the assumption that Durie and other scholars are making—that Qur’anic style simply changed with time. It assumes that an author cannot change styles depending on the genre and audience. Michael Fishbane argued that some biblical authors used terms and formulae of previous works to deliberately allude to them. It is likely that the Qur’an uses a similar strategy, especially considering its orality, in order to remind the audience of previous utterances.
Chapter 4 discusses Qur’anic theology, contrasting its differences with biblical theology—a new notion that did not exist in early Judeo-Christian history during which time the Qur’an emerged. The Qur’an and Its Biblical Reflexes did not engage with any late antiquity literature on theology. For example, while the book illustrates how there are people who love God and that God loved, the Qur’an contains no command to love God. Instead, it presents Qur’anic theology as a master-slave relationship. Durie uses the Shemaʿ to prove that biblical theology entails the commandment to love God, yet he fails to realize that the Talmudic understanding involves people accepting to be in servitude of God. While one might argue that the Talmud is not the Bible, the Qur’an was not composed in a void without Jewish tradition, and there is much evidence that the Qur’an was aware of Talmudic teachings and engaged directly with it. One might also argue that the Qur’an frequently states that “ḥamd” is to God. While this term is typically understood as praise, its Semitic root is no different than the Ten Commandments’s desiring of the neighbor’s wife. As such, it can be understood to mean desire is to God enticed by love, while also Q. 94:8 is a clear command to desire God.
Durie makes the point that the Qur’an emphasizes God as the one and that no other exists, which is different from the Pentateuch portrayals that devotion is to be given to God alone without excluding the existence of other gods, though one might argue that Deuteronomy 32:39 is explicit about the exclusion of other gods. Nonetheless, while Durie acknowledges that later biblical books assert that God exists alone, he dismisses the idea that the Qur’an could have inherited such a notion from the Bible based on the premise that it is not specifiedin the Pentateuch.
Chapter 6 is marred with methodological inconsistencies. First, it suggests that the term “masīḥ” is an unanalyzable Arabic morphology when, in actuality, it is in the form of “faʿīl,” very common in Arabic. In another example it is argued that “rūḥ” in Arabic means “blowing” and that the Qur’an fails to define it as some sort of spirit or breath. Q. 15:29 and 38:72 do describe it in the sense of breath or spirit, but Durie argues that they should be translated as, “blown from My blowing.” Durie should have noted the definition if, as he insists, it is different from breath, wind, or spirit. Another example is Durie’s understanding of God’s presence, where he states that the Qur’anicdescription of God as all-encompassing (muḥīṭ) is in knowledge only. While Durie tries to exclude post-Qur’anic literature, he echoes here the interpretation of some later Muslim schools of thought and not necessarily the Qur’an.
There are other flaws as well, for example, while the Qur’an portrays David and Jesus cursing nonbelievers, Durie states that it is unfounded biblically. The Qur’anic understanding of a curse is the expulsion from divine mercy, which David appears to warn the wicked (e.g., Psalm 37), while Jesus gives woes to the Pharisees warning them of an inescapablehell (e.g., Matthew 23:33). Additionally, the book critiques Qur’an 9:111 which states God has purchased from the believers, their selves and their wealth for heaven, killing and getting killed for the sake of God, a promise found in the Torah and the Gospel as well. Durie argues that such a reference is nonexistent in the Bible. The Shemaʿ passage in Deuteronomy commands people to love God with all their heart, selves, and strength. Additionally, the Talmud explains that all their strength means with all their wealth too, an idea mirrored in the Gospels, where the rich are to give away their wealth and follow Jesus. Finally, as to killing and being killed, this may be mirrored in Matthew 10, with Jesus stating that he did not bring peace, but a sword, and everyone is to take the cross and lose their life for the sake of Jesus.
In summary, while the book boasts a “deeper analysis,” claiming any similarities between the Qur’an and the Bible to be superficial, it fails to realize the shallowness of its own examination. A humble approach would have been appreciated. For example, if we apply this methodology to the Book of Zephaniah, we could conclude that the book has little to do with the rest of the Hebrew Bible, or, since the Christology of the Gospel of John is unique, it therefore has nothing to do with its Jewish background or the rest of the Gospels.
Although the book is best described as novice, it is written clearly. Durie is a prodigious writer. However, this volume should be categorized as polemic rather than academic as, due to the rhetoric, generalizations, and lack of rigor, it fails to provide any substantive scholarly contribution.
Abdulla Galadari is Assistant Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Khalifa University of Science & Technology in the United Arab Emriates.Abdulla GaladariDate Of Review:March 4, 2019