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Archive for July 23rd, 2012

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Continuing with our series, Surah 5:13 is another proof text Muslims use to try to establish that the Quran teaches the Bible has been textually corrupted.  Here I provide three English translation of this passage, though afterwards all citation of the Quran will be from Yusuf Ali’s translation:

Sahih International

So for their breaking of the covenant We cursed them and made their hearts hard. They distort words from their [proper] usages and have forgotten a portion of that of which they were reminded. And you will still observe deceit among them, except a few of them. But pardon them and overlook [their misdeeds]. Indeed, Allah loves the doers of good.

Yusuf Ali
But because of their breach of their covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard; they change the words from their (right) places and forget a good part of the message that was sent them, nor wilt thou cease to find them- barring a few – ever bent on (new) deceits: but forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds): for Allah loveth those who are kind.
Shakir
But on account of their breaking their covenant We cursed them and made their hearts hard; they altered the words from their places and they neglected a portion of what they were reminded of; and you shall always discover treachery in them excepting a few of them; so pardon them and turn away; surely Allah loves those who do good (to others).

But does this verse really teaches that the Jewish Scripture has been corrupted textually?  Let’s take a closer look.

Establishing the Context:  Surah 5 is titled “The Table.”  It is a chapter that’s 120 verses in length, and primarily addresses the question of Jews and Christians who are not Muslims.  Verse 13 is situated in a section beginning at verse 12 which discusses about Allah withdrawing from unbelieving people of the Book, with verse 12 indicating that verses 12-13 refers to the Jews since verse 12 explicitly refers to “Children of Israel.”  It is clear that the Jewish Scriptures are in view here.

Exegesis

At a superficial glance, two phrase in Surah 5:13 might seem to suggests that the written text of Scripture has been corrupted: “they change the words from their (right) places ” and they “forget a good part of the message that was sent them.

(1) It is difficult to establish that this verse teaches the corruption of the written manuscripts of the Bible when the verse itself does not even mention writing whatsoever.  Don’t forget that it does not necessarily follow that just because the verse says words were changed and forgotten that it must mean it refers ONLY to the activity of written transmission of the Scripture, since one may forget the content when reciting it audibly, practically in daily living, etc.  Thus right off the bat, this verse cannot be serve as proof that the written transmission of Scripture has been textually corrupted since it does not even address the topic of writing.

(2) Concerning “they change the words from their (right) places ,” one must remember that Surah 4:46 said the same thing with the similar phrase that the Jews “displace words from their (right) places.”  As Part 2 of this series already established, the phrase referring to changing or displacing “words from their (right) places” cannot be referring to the corruption of the written Scriptures, since in that same verse it also affirm the faithful transmission of the Jewish Scripture!  In fact, “displace words from their (right) places” seems to be more idiomatic than literal, and whatever this idiomatic phrase means, it cannot be referring to the corruption of the written record of Scripture.  In fact, Sahih Translation takes this phrase to mean “they distort words from their [proper] usages,” a reference to misinterpretation rather than textual corruption of the Scriptures.

(3) Concerning, the phrase “and forget a good part of the message that was sent them,” note that in order for one to forget something they must at least had that thing at one time to begin with.

(4) Concerning the previous point, one might say that the Scriptures were actually forgotten long ago before the Quran was written.  However, considerations of the larger context of the rest of Surah 5 makes this improbable since within Surah 5 itself it would go on to appeal to the Jews and Christians to affirm their own Scriptures!  One must reckon with Surah 5:65-69 which talks about the People of the Book (Jews and Christians, explicitly both mentioned in the passage as well) and their Scriptures.  Note verse 66 affirmation of the Law (Jewish) and the Gospel (Christian): “If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side. There is from among them a party on the right course: but many of them follow a course that is evil.”  Apparently from verse 65, both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures were “sent to them from their Lord.”  Verse 68 then goes on to affirm the present ongoing reality of the Bible (both Jewish and Christian Scripture) as God’s revelation: “Say: “O People of the Book! ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord.” It is the revelation that cometh to thee from thy Lord, that increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. But sorrow thou not over (these) people without Faith.”  Note the affirmation in verse 68 was stated in two ways:  (a) First as foundational: “ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord,” and (b) secondly, note the present tense “is” in “t is the revelation that cometh to thee from thy Lord.”  Apparently, Surah 5:68 presupposes the Jewish and Christian Scripture to still be God’s Word (rather than the corruption of God’s Word).  Finally, Surah 5:69 affirm that the content of the Bible is still God’s salvific Word: “Those who believe (in the Qur’an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”  Rather than affirm the Bible’s corruption, the rest of the context of Surah 5 affirms the contrary, that the Bible is still God’s Word.

(5) Adding more weight against the current Muslim interpretation is the fact that historically, Muslims did not interpreted Surah 5:13 to mean that the Bible has been corrupted.  From the Tafsir, we noted that Muslim commentators commenting on this verse accused the Jews of altering the punishment of adultery (which brings death):

(What do find of the ruling about stoning in the Tawrah) They said, `We only find that they should be exposed and flogged.’ `Abdullah bin Salam said, `You lie. The Tawrah mentions stoning, so bring the Tawrah.’ They brought the Tawrah and opened it but one of them hid the verse about stoning with his hand and recited what is before and after that verse. `Abdullah bin Salam said to him, `Remove your hand,’ and he removed it, thus uncovering the verse about stoning. So they said, He (`Abdullah bin Salam) has said the truth, O Muhammad! It is the verse about stoning.’ The Messenger of Allah decided that the adulterers be stoned to death and his command was carried out. I saw that man shading the woman from the stones with his body.” Al-Bukhari and Muslim also collected this Hadith and this is the wording collected by Al-Bukhari.

(Accessed: http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=776&Itemid=60)

Note the following observation from this citation:

(a) Muslims still went to the Torah to prove their point, with the assumption that it was not corrupted: “They brought the Tawrah…”

(b) The Jews according to the Muslim account, still had an uncorrupted Bible because they had to try to hide it with their hands: “but one of them hid the verse about stoning with his hand”

(c) The Jews according to the Muslim account, still had an uncorrupted Bible because they had to avoid reading it: “and recited what is before and after that verse.”

(d) Readers of the Bible will note that the text has not been corrupted since it still record accurately that the penalty for adultery in the Old Testament is stated to be stoning.

(e) Nowhere in the Bible today do one find that the penalty in the Old Testament for adultery was only that they should be exposed and flogged.

Conclusion

After a closer inspection of Surah 5:13 itself, with idiomatic consideration in light of Surah 4:46, alongside consideration of the larger context of Surah 5 and looking into the Tafsir of the Quran for Surah 5 as a historical witness, we must conclude that Surah 5:13 is insufficient to prove the thesis by contemporary Muslims that the Quran teaches the Bible has been textually corrupted.

GO TO PART 4

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