Opening of the Heavens in The Quran and Aramaic Gospel Traditions

Elsewhere in the synoptic Gospels we read about Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan river as it states,Then when Jesus had been baptized, just as he arose from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened up for him (ētptah.ū lēh šmayā) and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and it came onto him.(Matthew 3:16: cf. Mark 1:10; Luke 3:21; Diatessaron 4:36–38)

The opening of the heavens is a precursor to the next time the heavens are opened up for Jesus at his second coming, which is narrated in the Gospel of John, where Jesus tells his disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, after this you will see the heavens as they are open (mēn hāšā tēh.zūn šmayā da-ptīhīn) and the angels of God when they ascend and descend upon the son of man” (John 1:51; Diatessaron 5:20–21).

The wording of Jesus’s baptism account in the synoptic Gospels and the apocalyptic context of John’s verse which is itself a reformulation of Jacob’s ladder from Hebrew Scripture (Genesis 28:12; see further Chapter 6), were coalesced and dogmatically re-articulated in the verses of the Qur’ān. Hence, it states,

Indeed, the Day of Distinction (yawm al-fasl) has been appointed—the day when the trumpet will be blown and you come in waves, and [when] the heavens are opened up as doorways (futihat al-samā’ fa kānat abwāban), and [when] the mountains are liquefied and become a gush.(Q 78:17–20)

Lüling deduces that the apocalyptic passage of Q 78:18–19 is part of an “origi-nal” Christian strophe. In relation to this passage, Neuwirth argues that the preceding “āyācluster” of Q 78:6–17 is in dialogue with Pslams 104:1–23. If indeed there is some strophic or literary precedent to the text, it may likely belong to a passage in Biblical scripture.

However, in the case of Q 78:18–19 the passage in which it is in close dialogue is not the Psalms—as one might expect—but rather the Aramaic text of the Gospel of Matthew. More specifically, the phrase “the heavens are opened up” (futihat al-samā’) is virtually identical to “the heavens were opened up” (ētptah.ū . . . šmayā). Both phrases consist of the passive voice of the perfect f/p-t-h. and the word “heaven” (al-samā’, šmayā). Similarly amid passages condemning evil doers to hell, Q 7:40 states,

Those who reject Our signs and refuse them in arrogance, the doorways of heaven will not be opened up for them (lā tufattah lahum abwāb al-samā’), nor will they enter paradise until a camel goes through the eye of a needle (wa lā yadkhulūn al-jannah hattā yalij al-jamal fī samm al-khiyāt.). And thus do we reward the criminals.(Q 7:40)

Classical exegetes and modern specialists have been aware of the dialogue between this passage and Hebrew Scripture (for example, Genesis 28:10–17; Malachi 3:10), as well as the Gospels. The statement “the doorways of heaven will not be opened up for them” (lā tufattah. lahum abwāb al-samā’) is a dogmatic re-articulation of Jesus’s baptism scene, “suddenly the heavens were opened up for him” (ētptah.ū lēh šmayā; Matthew 3:16). However, the syntax is kept intact and consists of:

Verb to open (ētptah.ū) or not to open (lā tufattah.) +

preposition l with pronominal suffix (lēh; lahum) +

the heavens (šmayā) or its doorways (abwāb al-samā’).Moreover, what affirms the relationship between Q 7:40 and the Aramaic Gospels is the statement “nor will they enter paradise until a camel goes through the eye of a needle” (wa lā yadkhulūn al-jannah hattā yalij al-jamal fī samm al-khiyāt.), which is a dogmatic re-articulation of Jesus’s warning against the rich, stating, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (dalīl/pašīq hū l-gamlā l-mē‘āl/d-nē‘bar ba-hrūrā da-mhatāaw ‘atīrā d-nē‘ūl l-malkūtēh d-alāhā)”(Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25; Diatessaron 29:2–3).

Lastly, the rich men (‘atīrē, sg. ‘atīrā)—who are condemned in the prophetic ethics of both Muhammad and Jesus—are embodied in the opening of Q 7:40 as “those who reject Our signs and refuse them in arrogance.”

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