Creating a usable history: On Paul and the Qur’an

In the next couple weeks, my students will finish their study of the Qur’an and read about the conquest of Mecca and the death of the Prophet. In the last couple iterations of the course, that’s where I ended, but this time around I decided to add back in one last day where we do The Forty Hadith of an-Nawawi, as a representative sample of the hadith. I anticipate that what they will experience when they read the hadith will be the same thing as past classes have experienced: relief.

And given the privilege that the hadith traditions — which gather sayings or incidents from the Prophet’s life in bite-sized units, with varying degrees of historicity — in the Islamic tradition, I imagine many Muslims feel the same way. The Qur’an is, to say the least, an unwieldy text. Continue reading “Creating a usable history: On Paul and the Qur’an”

Jacob in the Bible and Abraham in the Qur’an

A question that might occur to the reader of the Hebrew Bible is why exactly Jacob, who becomes the namesake of the nation of Israel and father of the twelve tribes, is portrayed in such a negative light — scheming, manipulative, always striving for advantage. My dear friend Bruce Rosenstock, who sadly passed away recently, once gave what must be the right answer: somebody has to want it. Every other character in Genesis simply hears and obeys, but Jacob alone actively seeks out the blessing. The fact that he does so in morally questionable ways only reinforces the point.

Teaching my class on the Qur’an, I was recently thinking related thoughts about the figure of Abraham. This is not to say that the Qur’an portrays Abraham as morally ambiguous — that would be completely contrary to the theological goals of its appropriation of the biblical heritage. Instead, Abraham seems to be portrayed as a kind of meeting place between reason and revelation. He doesn’t fight and scheme to get God’s blessing, but he does “independently” want it, because he reasons his way to it before God explicitly reveals himself.

Continue reading “Jacob in the Bible and Abraham in the Qur’an”