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Archive for July 17th, 2012

(NOTE: I believe that what I have written here is an original counter-argument against a common Muslim argument in that I am bringing in the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer as a defeater to the discussion.  If this is not original, I would not be totally surprised since nothing is new under the sun.)

In a popular work titled, “A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam,” the book presented one of the arguments for the Qur’an’s divine origin is the fact that it reveals that the deep sea is dark.  The passage from the Quran that is cited to prove this comes from Surah 24:40.  Here I cite three popular translation:

YUSUFALI: Or (the Unbelievers’ state) is like the depths of darkness in a vast deep ocean, overwhelmed with billow topped by billow, topped by (dark) clouds: depths of darkness, one above another: if a man stretches out his hands, he can hardly see it! for any to whom Allah giveth not light, there is no light!
PICKTHAL: Or as darkness on a vast, abysmal sea. There covereth him a wave, above which is a wave, above which is a cloud. Layer upon layer of darkness. When he holdeth out his hand he scarce can see it. And he for whom Allah hath not appointed light, for him there is no light.
SHAKIR: Or like utter darkness in the deep sea: there covers it a wave above which is another wave, above which is a cloud, (layers of) utter darkness one above another; when he holds out his hand, he is almost unable to see it; and to whomsoever Allah does not give light, he has no light.

In context, Surah 24 deals with the issue of punishment of sexual sins, how these sins ought to adjudicated along with commands for Chasity and purity.  Verse 40 is situated in the logical section of verses 35-57 that deals with the topic of God as light, and the theme of punishment of darkness for the unbelievers and light for believers.

After citing the verse, the book goes on to say,

This verse mentions the darkness found in deep seas and oceans, where if a man stretches out his hand, he cannot see it. The darkness in deep seas and oceans is found around a depth of 200 meters and below. At this depth, there is almost no light.  Below a depth of 1000 meters there is no light at all.  Human beings are not able to dive more than forty meters without the aid of submarines or special equipment. Human beings cannot survive unaided in the deep dark part of the oceans, such as at a depth of 200 meters.  Scientists have recently discovered this darkness by means of special equipment and submarines that have enabled them to dive into the depths of the oceans.

(PAGES 20-21)

What is implied here is that humans in the seventh century during Muhammad’s days could not have known about the sea being dark.  It therefore must have been revealed by God.  As the book states, when summarizing all the arguments given,

The only possible answer is that this Qur’an must be the literal word of God, revealed by Him.

(PAGE 31)

Concerning those who live in the day and age before modern submarine, the argument assumes this,

P1. In order to know that the deep sea is dark, a human being must be able to enter into the deep sea.

P2. No human being has been able to enter into the deep sea.

C1. Therefore, no human being can know that the deep sea is dark.

With this understanding, the  core of the argument seems to be as follows:

P3. A book that reveals that the Deep Sea is Dark must be authored by God.

P4. The Quran reveal that the Deep Sea is Dark.

C2. Therefore, the Quran was authored by God (the Word of God).

I think this argument is not without it’s problem.

(1) First off, the Quran is not the only book that assumes that the deep of the sea is dark before the modern technological error of submarines.  Here the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer, a Jewish collection of Rabbinic sayings and interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures, can be a defeater against the Muslim argument.  This is noted in the tenth chapter of the work, where it gives an account of the “history of Jonah.”  According to Rabbi Tarphon, the fish that swallows Jonah had eyes like windows to look out into the sea, even giving lights for illumination:

Rabbi Tarphon said: That fish was specially appointed from the six days of Creation ” to swallow up Jonah, as it is said, ” And the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah ” (ibid.). He entered its mouth just as a man enters the great synagogue, and he stood (therein). The two eyes of the fish were like windows ^ of glass giving light to Jonah.

(GERALD FRIEDLANDER’S TRANSLATION PAGE 69)

Another Rabbi also added

Rabbi Meir said: || One pearl was suspended inside the belly of the fish and it gave illumination to Jonah, like this sun which shine with its might at noon ; and it showed to Jonah all that was in the sea and in the depths,^ as it is said, ” Light is sown for the righteous ” (Ps. xcvii. 11).

(GERALD FRIEDLANDER’S TRANSLATION PAGE 69-70)

This being the case, the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer could also be a substitute referent into the original Muslim argument:

P3. A book that reveals that the Deep Sea is Dark must be authored by God.

P5. The Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer reveal that the Deep Sea is Dark.

C3. Therefore, the  Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer was authored by God (the Word of God).

In light of this, should Muslims also accept the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer as Divinely authored as well?

(2) Secondly, invoking the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer as a defeater might bring some possible objections by Muslim apologists.  I anticipate two possible counter-arguments: (a) That the Quran predates Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer, and (b) the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer is dependent upon the Quran as its’ source.

(a) Possible Objection: The Quran predates Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer

Some might object that the Quran predate the  Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer.  Three things can be said in response to this.  First off,  when we take the citation at face value, one must note that the two Rabbis describing the darkness of the sea lived centuries before the Quran was written down.  Thus, these citation might predate the Quran itself, before the seventh century advent of Islam: Tarphon was from the first to the second century, and Rabbi Meir was also from the second century A.D, along with Rabbi Eliezer who supposedly collected these Rabbinic citations.  Secondly, any argument put forth to demonstrate that the citations cannot be attributed to Rabbi Tarphon, Meir or Eliezer as the editor,  would seem just as equally speculative as the position that these quotes are from these Rabbis.  However, it would seem that the methodology behind such arguments would engage in the same Source/Redaction criticisms that Liberals employ against the Quran, and one that a Muslim apologist should reconsider pursuing to avoid the charge of being inconsistent and engaging in methodological double-standard.  Thirdly, one must not forget the bigger picture: the point is that the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer still predate modern Ocean studies and mentioned that the sea is dark.  Thus, the objection that the Quran came first before the edited version of Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer was completed does not really resolve the dilemma that this work, like the Quran, does mention about the deep of the sea is dark.  The difficulty it raises against the Quran still stands.

(b) Possible Objection: The Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer is dependent upon the Quran as its’ source.

This hypothetical objection, if it works, would undercut the conclusion that the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer is divine if it can be shown that it is dependent upon the Quran as a source.  If one were to make this objection, the it would be ironic since historically scholars have attributed  the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer as one of the source for the Quran, though there is no consensus with this today, as Muslim apologists correctly points out.  It is true that one can make a case that the Quran came before the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer.  However, to argue that the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer is dependent upon the Quran as its’ source is another matter.  Two things can be said in addressing that matter.  First off, while there are some correlation between some of the stories in the Quran and Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer, this does not necessarily mean that the Quran was the source for Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer or vice versa.  For instance, there might be a third source that both the Quran and Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer shared.  Even assuming the Islamic view of the origin of the Quran, the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer might happen to record accounts of events that happen to have been handed down as true and which the Quran affirms (that is not to say that I personally believe this is so, or that the accounts both mentioned in the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer and Quran are true, but I point this out to show that correlation does necessitate that the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer is dependence upon the Quran as a source).  Secondly, noting the polemical tendency in Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer makes it unlikely that whoever the Jewish writers/editors were, they would have been inclined to go to the Quran as a source material.  As GERALD FRIEDLANDER notes in his introduction to his translation of the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer,  the work alludes unfavorably towards the Islam:

§ 8. Polemical Tendency in P.R.E.

Apparently there is no direct reference to Christianity. On the other hand, there are several allusions to Islam as the ” Fourth Kingdom ” destined to persecute the Chosen People prior to the dawn of the Messianic Kingdom.

(GERALD FRIEDLANDER’S TRANSLATION PAGE lv)

The “Fourth Kingdom” is an allusion to the book of Daniel in the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament), who will persecute the Jews, and this fact makes its improbable for the author/editor of the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer to borrow from the religion or the culture that it is against, much less so if it is persecuted by it.  In fact, a survey of Jewish rabbinic materials and the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer indicate that the Jews Rabbinic writting projects were always consciously trying to be set apart and different in their beliefs and practices from other people.  All this makes it unlikely for any Jewish Rabbi to read the Quran in the first place for the purpose of incorporating it into the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer, much less an obscure reference to the darkness of the deep of the sea found in a verse in a Surah, buried deep within the Quran.

Therefore, it would seem that the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer provides a defeater to the Muslim argument that the reference in Surah 24:40 to the darkness of the deep of the Sea is an argument for the divine authorship of the Quran, if Muslims would not hold also that the Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer is God’s divine word (which being Jewish, is contradictory to the teachings of Islam).

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It seems that 9/11 sooner or later will pop up in any discussion about Islam.  No event in the recent history of the West have sparked more curiosity and questions about Islam than what that dreadful day and the bloody decade that followed afterwards.

Can there be a just war theory that can justify responses to terrorists within a Christian worldview?

For those interested in this philosophical/ethical discussion from a Christian worldview, I thought this was a good hidden/open treasure available online for those who want to have a serious reading on this topic.

The following is a 2003 thesis by a student at the Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) name Dale Courtney.  The thesis is titled, “A Just War Response To The 11 September 2001 Terrorist Attack.”

A PDF file of it is available by clicking HERE.

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