Prophets And Their Righteous Entourage In The Quran and the Aramaic Traditions

The clearest point from which to begin our examination of the Quran and its dogmatic re-articulation of the Aramaic Gospel Traditions is the shared rubric of prophetic tradition, which has been defined earlier. More specifically, this discussion will explore two related subjects. First, common articulations of prophecy—namely the place of Jesus among the Hebrew prophets in the Aramaic Gospel Traditions, as well as their role in the language and structure of the Qur’ān—will be addressed.

Next will be discussed the alienated, oppressed and disenfranchised members of society in whom the prophets Jesus and Muhammad saw righteousness and who influenced the very core of their teachings and ethics.

The Line of Prophets

The Gospel authors, who composed their accounts of the “good news” decades after the fact, recognized Jesus as a prophet (Aramaic nabīyā; Matthew 13:57; 21:11; Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24; 7:39; 24:19; John 4:19, 44; 6:9–17; 7:40; cf. also Thomas 52; Diatessaron 14:48; 16:38–39; 18:45–46; 21:23–24, 48–49; 24:29; 35:16; 36:26; 53:51–52) and situated him at the end of a long line of prophets and prophetic ances-tors in genealogical form.

Matthew 1:1–16 is a genealogy of “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham,” which documents the generations starting from Abraham and ending finally with “Jesus, who is called the Messiah/Christ (mšīh.ā).” Similarly, Luke 3:23–38 traces Jesus’s lineage, through David, all the way back to “Adam who was the son of God.” These genealogies were fused and formulated in the appendix of the Diatessaron.

The genealogies of the Gospels were modeled after the Hebrew Bible before it (Genesis 5, 10–11; 1 Chronicles 1–3; etc; cf. in rela-tion Gēnzā RbāR2:1) and resemble the ansāb genre of later Islamic literature.

Jesus and the Hebrew Prophets

In the Gospels, the relationship between earlier Hebrew prophets like Adam and Abraham on the one hand, and Jesus on the other, is redefined by Paul’s letters and, in turn, dogmatically re-articulated by the Qur’ān. As the chief proponent of “original sin,” Paul’s theological formulation of this doctrine has two parts. First, he teaches that all of humankind since the fall of Adam have become tainted with original sin or “death” (Romans 5:14). Second, he insists that only through the grace of Christ, which he calls “eternal life,” can mankind be saved from original sin (Romans 5:21). Consequently, Paul states, “For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

These words established the religious “likeness” of Adam and Jesus. The doctrine of Jesus as the “second Adam”—discussed by Syriac speaking theologians like Aph-rahat and Jacob of Serugh—were likely debated in the sectarian circles of the Qur’ān’s milieu.

However, the Qur’ān itself is relatively unconvinced of Paul’s doctrinal framework. Nowhere does it accept the idea of original sin, but rather it gives privilege to old fashioned personal accountability (Q 6:164; 17:15; 35:18; 39:7).

Nevertheless, like Paul it is equally pessimistic that, “indeed mankind is at a loss,” adding the condition however, “except those who believe, do good works, give council towards the truth and give council towards endurance” (Q 103:2–3; cf. James 2:22).

Furthermore, the power of redemption attributed to Jesus—or any other prophetic or saintly figure for that matter—is refuted by the Qur’ān since it goes against the very spirit of personal accountability at the center of its message (Q 74:48).

Following its dogmatic reasoning, the Qur’ān makes its sectarian position clear with regards to Jesus’s relationship to Adam. Hence, it states, Indeed, the likeness of Jesus with God is as the likeness of Adam (inna mathal ‘īsā ‘ind allāh ka mathal ādam); he created him from dust (khalaqahū min turāb), then said to him ‘be’ so he became (thumma qāl lah kun fayakūn).(Q 3:59)

This verse was allegedly revealed as a result of a theological dispute between Muh.ammad and a Christian delegation from Najrān.7 The content and style of this verse are a dogmatic re-articulation of interrelated layers of Christian scripture and homiletics that likely circulated in a dialect of Aramaic.

Hence, the Arabic word mathal, used in the same manner of Aramaic matlā,8communicates the meaning of “similitude” or “likeness” and, by extension, “par-able.”9 The frequent use of parables in qur’ānic speech appears to be a hermeneuti-cal approach to address a sectarian audience, and was inspired to a great extent by Biblical antecedents, especially the style of speech characterized by Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew 13:3, 24; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10–11; and so on).10 In addition, Q 13:6 preserves the Aramaic plural matlātā in mathulāt, “parables,” instead of the more usual amthāl.

Furthermore, the formula mathal [X] ka [Y], “the par-able/likeness of [X] is like [Y],” which this verse employs, is found in other pas-sages throughout the Qur’ān (Q 2:264; 7:176; 14:18; 62:5; and so on) and—more importantly—reflects the formulaic and didactic speech of Jesus in the Gospels when speaking about parables (Matthew 11:16; 13:24; 22:2; Mark 4:2; Luke 6:48; and so on).

Related formulae reproduced in the Qur’ān include introductory statements in the Gospels repeated by Jesus almost verbatim before citing parables. Thus, Jesus states: “and he spoke this parable” (w-ēmar matlā hānā; Luke 13:6; 15:3), “and he spoke [to them], therefore, the parable of . . .” (w-ēmar l-hūn dēyn āp matlā d . . .; Luke 18:1; 9; Luke 21:29); “another parable he put forth unto them, saying” (akhrānā matlā amtēl/awsēp/sām11l-hūn w-ēmar; Matthew 13:24, 31, 33). In the case of Luke 14:7 it states about Jesus, “and he put forth [lit. said] the parable of . . .” (w-ēmar hwā matlā).

The Qur’ān duplicates this formula several times with some variation. It recalls that “[Jesus] the son of Mary was put forth as an example/parable (d.urib mathal)” before Muh.ammad’s folk and then denied (Q 43:57).

It also states about either pre-Christian prophets whom Jesus expounds upon in a parable (Matthew 21:33–41; Mark 12:1–11; Thomas 65) or his followers who prophesied and were mar-tyred in Antioch (see below), “and he put forth [lit. struck] the parable of . . .” (wa lahum mathalan; Q 36:13). Although the Aramaic and Arabic text are syntactically equivalent, the speaker in the qur’ānic verse is an unknown third person—probably God. Elsewhere this is made explicit as it states, “God put forth the parable of . . .” ( allāh mathalan; Q 14:24; 16:75–76, 112; 39:29; 112; 66:10–11), whose language is further reflected in Diatessaron 32:16. One further example admonishes its audience using the passive voice, “O people, a parable was put forth (d.urib mathal) so listen to it!” (Q 22:73). Not only do the style of parables show tremendous correspondence between the Qur’ān and the Aramaic Gospels Traditions, but so too does the content, which is a subject that will resur-face in Chapter 5.

Going back to the likeness of Adam and Jesus in Q 3:59, the second layer of Christian literature with which this qur’ānic verse is in dialogue is 1 Corinthians 15:22, and the subsequent theological teachings concerning Jesus as the “sec-ond Adam.” The apparent emphasis on the human nature of Jesus as a prophet by likening his creation to that of the first prophetic ancestor Adam, namely by underscoring their common origin from dust, aims to deconstruct the mainstream Christian doctrine concerning the second Adam.This dialogue likely circulated within the Qur’ān’s milieu in a dialect of Christian Aramaic.

This prospect is justified by the third layer of Christian literature in dialogue with this qur’ānic verse. God’s creative “speech act,” qāl lahū kun fayakūn, “He said to him ‘be,’ and he became” at the end of the verse, is a formula that occurs nine times in the Qur’ān (Q 2:117; 40:68; and so on), and which—more impor-tantly—reflects the Syriac wording of Aphrahat’s (d. 345) Demonstration on the Sabbath as it states, b-mellat pūmēh, emar wa hwāy, “through the word of His mouth, He said and it became.” Since this work shares the late antique context in which the Qur’ān emerged, the correspondence between God’s creative speech act in Aphrahat’s work and the Qur’ān is linguistically closer than—say—the Hebrew, Jewish Aramaic, or even Syriac text of Genesis 1:3.

After Adam, another major patriarch plays an essential role in both the Gospels and the Qur’ān. Abraham is not merely the chief prophetic ancestor who legiti-mates Jesus and Muh.ammad’s claim to prophecy (see below), but also the father of a great nation and paragon of faith. During one incident when attacking the Pharisees (see Chapter 4), Jesus states,

Assemble, therefore, fruits (pīrē) that will be worthy of grace (t.aybūtā), and do not begin to say within yourselves, “we have Abraham as our father.” For I say to you that from these stones (kīfē) God [will], instead [of you], find children (bnayā) for Abraham. (Luke 3:8: see further Matthew 21:43; Diatessaron 4:16–17; Hebrews 6:13–17)

The goal of this verse is to demonstrate to the Pharisees—and by extension the Israelites—that they are no longer worthy of grace, and not solely based on their Abrahamic descent. As a result, Jesus prophecies that God will raise for Abraham, out of the very stones of the earth, new children—fruits that will be worthy of grace. The elements of this verse are reorganized and re-articulated by the Qur’ān to engage Muh.ammad’s sectarian audience in an Arabian context. Thus, Abraham reaches the barrenness of the desert and petitions God,

Our Lord (rabbanā), I have indeed settled some of my offspring (min dhuriyyatī) in a valley that is without vegetation (wād ghayr dhī zar‘) near your sanctified home (‘ind baytik al-muh.arram). Our Lord, may they estab-lish prayer (li yuqīmū al-s.alāh). So let the hearts of people (af’idah min al-nās) incline towards them, and grant them some fruits (min al-thamarāt) that they may show gratitude(la‘allahum yashkurūn).(Q 14:37: see also Q 2:126)

Q 14:37 fulfills Jesus’s prophecy in Luke 3:8. Firstly, the verse is a prayer, Abraham’s personal appeal voiced directly to God Himself, which opens like many other poignant qur’ānic ‘liturgical prayers’ (Q 3:9, 193; 10:88; 60:5; and so on) in the precise manner of the Biblical antecedents with which they are in dia-logue. In this respect, the Arabic rabbanā, “our Lord,” corresponds to “YHWH, our Lord” (Hebrew yehwāh adōnēyn); “God, our Lord” (Jewish Aramaic alāhārabūnānā); “Lord of ours” (Syriac māryā māran) at the opening of Psalms 8:2,10; and Christian Aramaic abūn, “our Father,” in the opening of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2; see later discussion). Knowing that the Israel-ites are the earlier generation of Abraham’s children who have fallen from grace, God has indeed found “from . . . stones (kīfē)”—symbolized by “a valley without vegetation (wād ghayr dhī zar‘)”—children/offspring (byanāor dhuriyyah) for Abraham. Furthermore, as a result of their imminent establishment of prayer and the inclination of their hearts, God will “grant them”—though not cause them “to be” as Luke states—fruits (thamarāt or pīrē) that they may show gratitude (la‘allahum yashkurūn).”

Showing gratitude (Arabic shukr) is what makes one worthy of grace (Aramaic t.aybūtā) and is, furthermore, the opposite of rejectionism or rebellion (Arabickufr; see Q 27:40; 76:3). Moreover, the imminence of God finding new children for Abraham—which has been argued earlier—is more apparent in the Aramaic text of Luke 3:8 than the Greek (see above). Lastly, what makes the Qur’ān’s re-articulation of Luke’s passage dogmatic is the imposition of the Ishmael-ites—that is, those descended from Ishmael who lived in the wilderness (Genesis 21:18–21) and the prophetic ancestor from which Arabs of Syro-Mesopotamian origin (al-‘arab al-musta‘rabah) are allegedly descended, and even Muhammad himself—as Abraham’s new children worthy of grace, ultimately replacing the Israelites.

Diminishing the religious importance of the Israelites is also an outcome of Paul’s doctrine and the Qur’ān’s dogmatic re-articulation thereof. Paul’s emphasis on Abraham’s faith and his stance against Jewish legal practices (Romans 4:1–25; Galatians 3:6–29) is emended in the Qur’ān to refute Abraham’s status as a Jew, Christian or heathen/polytheist and—most importantly—establish the purity and legitimacy of Hanafite-Islam (Q 2:135, 140; 3:64, 67)

One final patriarch plays an essential role in both the Gospels and the Qur’ān alike—King David. The genealogical and authoritative portrayal of Jesus as the son of King David prevalent throughout the Gospels surfaces in its dogmatic form in Q 5:78. However, since this verse is a curse, it is further discussed in another article. In addition to this verse, the Qur’ān extols David’s wealth, wisdom, and his authority over the birds of the mountains (Q 38:18–20) in the spirit of the verses from the Psalms from which it is ultimately inspired (Psalms 11:1; 37:30; 50:11; and so on). It also portrays him—as do the late antique Syriac speaking churches and their literature—to be the model of repentance (Q 38:17).

At any rate, the tradition of the Hebrew Prophets and the institution of proph-ecy passed onto John the Baptist, then Jesus, and later to his followers on the day of Pentecost who preached in Jerusalem, Antioch and throughout the Near East (Acts 2:1–4, 11:27–30). The prophethood of Muh.ammad and revelation of the Qur’ān were—as Biqā‘ī illustrates throughout his lengthy introduction—heir to this tradition.

Muhammad and the Qur’ān

However, in this regard the Qur’ān’s structure is quite different from that of the Gospels, and the Bible text as a whole. Being composed “at the time,” it is—quite necessarily—a collection of topically erratic yet linguistically cohesive prophetic pronouncements, and not a neatly composed historical narrative like the Gospels or Pentateuch, which were composed decades or centuries after the events they describe. It may, nevertheless, be reasonable to posit as Bennabi has done, that the closest Biblical likeness to the prophetic articulation of the Qur’ān may be found in the prophetic language of Jeremiah. It follows, therefore, that the incorpora-tion of certain Biblical prophets and their ancestors was not communicated by the Qur’ān in the form of long, comprehensive, Biblical genealogies, but rather dogmatically re-articulated as abbreviated lists of prophets accentuating the sig-nificance of faith (Q 2:133, 136; 3:84; 12:38; 38:45), revelation (Q 4:163), and criticizing Judeo-Christian sectarianism (Q 2:140). For example it states,

Say, “we believe in God, and that which was revealed (unzil) to us, and that which was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, the tribes (al-asbāt.), and that which was revealed to Moses, Jesus, and that which came (ūtī) to the prophets (al-nabiyyūn) from their Lord. We do not differentiate between anyone of them; and we are to Him submitters (muslimūn).” (Q 2:136)

This verse portrays the qur’ānic vision of prophetic tradition in a nutshell by starting with Abraham and ending with the transfer of prophetic responsibility to the muslimūn. Moreover, this verse incorporates the prophetic ancestor from which Muh.ammad is said to have descended, Ishmael (see above). By including Ishmael in this list the Qur’ān is responding to and emending Biblical passages in which Ishmael is absent, and from which it is ultimately inspired (Exodus 3:15–16; 1 Kings 18:36; 1 Chronicles 29:18; Matthew 22:32; Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37; Acts 3:13; and so on). At any rate, lineage from Abraham was vital to legitimize and qualify the prophetic credentials of both Muh.ammad (through Ishmael in the Qur’ān), as well as Jesus (through David in the Gospels; also cf. as well John 8:58)

Like Jesus, Muh.ammad was believed to be the final link in a long line of Near Eastern prophets. His vision of Islam as the final manifestation of the entire Judeo-Christian sequence of prophetic traditions is built into the structure of the Qur’ān text and is made evident from its intense preoccupation with Hebrew and Christian prophets, as well as other ancient charismatic figures styled after them. For example, stories of these prophets often come in the form of merging ideas from Hebrew tradition with that of Christian, Arabian, or Hellenic traditions (Q 2:136; 11:89; 14:9; 18:94; and so on). In addressing these individuals and nar-rating their stories, the Qur’ān makes frequent use of the terms nabī(prophet) and rasūl (messenger, apostle), both of which are treated synonymously. For instance, Enoch, Ishmael, and Muh.ammad are explicitly identified as both nabīand rasūl (Q 19:51, 54; 33:40). The difference in terminology may reflect a change in Muh.ammad’s audience or geographical location. Perhaps rasūl, which is employed with greater frequency in Meccan Surahs, was the term of choice among the apoc-alyptic Christian or Hanafite circles of Mecca, and the term nabībecame favored in Muh.ammad’s prophetic lexicon when he migrated to Medina (assuming the Sīrah is accurate in this respect) where there was a greater Jewish audience.

At any rate, prophetic tradition in the Qur’ān is—perhaps more than any other late antique Near Eastern scripture—inseparable from the vivid apocalyptic imagery and fiery warnings for which prophets are sent.

This is evident through-out the text and is exemplified in the opening words of Q 21 entitled “The Proph-ets” (al-anbiyā’), which begins with the sharp words of warning, “The people’s [day of] account has approached while they turn away in foolishness!” (Q 21:1). The subject of apocalypticism will be taken in up in more detail in another article.

Going back to the subject of prophets in the Qur’ān, of the 114 Surahs that make up the text, nine are named after prophets or prophetic ancestors: Q 3 āl-‘imrān (The Progeny of ‘Amrām); Q 10 yūnus (Jonas); Q 11 hūd; Q 12 yūsuf (Joseph); Q 14 ibrāhīm (Abraham); Q 19 maryam (Mary); Q 31 luqmān; Q 47muh.ammad; and Q 71 nūh.(Noah). Similarly, three Surahs are named after salient dimensions of prophetic tradition: Q 21 al-anbiyā’ (The Prophets), Q 28 Stories) and Q 78 al-naba’ (The News). In addition, the Qur’ān names 25 prophets explicitly. It also makes reference to un-named rasūls, possibly modeled after: the parable in Mark 12:1–5 where some of Jesus’s followers who proph-ecied and were martyred in Antioch (Q 36:13–25; cf. 11:91); individuals such as the mother of Moses who received revelation (wah.y; Q 28:7); and the virgin Mary who spoke to God through the mediation of angels (Q 3:42–48).

And while the Qur’ān admits that it only teaches about a limited number of prophets (Q 40:78), it assures that messengers were sent to every single nation (Q 16:36), some of whom were more gifted than others (Q 2:253), and the most important of whom it calls “the messengers of great authority” (ulū al-‘azm min al-rusul; Q 46:35). This highly developed “prophetology,” and the language, motifs, and imagery of prophetic tradition—as well as apocalypticism latent within in—are prevalent in virtually every single Surah.

Interestingly, while the Qur’ān is cautious to defend Muh.ammad against accu-sations of being a liar, poet, priest, sorcerer or being possessed (Q 51:52; 52:49; 68:2; 69:41; 81:22–25), it has no developed concept of antichrist or “false mes-siah.” One may conclude, therefore, that the question of a false messiah was not a major concern in the Qur’ān’s milieu as it may have been elsewhere in the late antique Near East. Only after the Islamic conquests of the early–mid-seventh century, when the early community of Arabian Muslims became settled among more distant Judeo-Christian and Zoraostrian populations of the Near East and they had to defend the legitimacy of their new scripture, prophet, and dominion from surrounding naysayers, did the idea of a false messiah become a relevant part of Islamic religious discourse.

Therefore, Jesus’s warnings in the Gospel of Matthew against the rise of many deceitful “false Messiahs (mšīh.ē dagālē), and false prophets (nabīyē d-kadbūtā) . . . [who] will show great signs and wonders” (Matthew 7:15; 24:11, 24; see in relation Luke 6:26; Acts 13:6; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1; Revelations 16:13; 19:20; 20:10) are manifested in the apologetic literature of the early (ca. 714–845 CE) as well as later Islamic literature (after 845 CE). There are an abundance of warnings Muh.ammad and his companions are alleged to have expressed in the Hadith corpus against the great signs and wonders of the false Messiah, whose Arabized name al-masīh. al-dajjāl is a calque for mšīh.ādagālāfrom the Aramaic Gospel Traditions (Mark 13:22; cf. 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7; see further Didache 16:6–10; Bahmān Yasht 2:24).

In the Qur’ān, some of Muh.ammad’s interlocutors who denigrate him as “a hexed man” (Q 25:8) also denigrate him for being lowly human messenger, one who “devours food (ya’kul al-t.a‘ām) and roams the marketplaces (wa yamshī fīal-aswāq).” They also ask for an angel in his stead (Q 25:7; cf. Q 5:75). In this respect he is likened to Jesus, the “glutton and drunkard” (ākēl w-šātē; Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34) who roamed among the poor and downtrodden masses in the “marketplace” (šūqā; Matthew 11:16; 20:3; Mark 6:56; Luke 7:32). Attributing alcoholic drink to the person of Muh.ammad was out of the question on dogmatic grounds (cf. Q 2:219; 4:43; 5:90–1). However, the clause “who/he devours food” (ya’kul al-t.a‘ām) is an elaboration of “glutton” (ākēl), where both ya’kul and ākēl share the root’-k-l. Similarly, the word for “marketplaces” (aswāq, sg. sūq) comes from the Aramaic word šūqā, like that attested throughout the Gospels.

The Righteous Entourage

Both in the Qur’ān and the Aramaic Gospel Traditions, prophets are closely associated with the most righteous—and frequently least fortunate—stratum of society. This ‘righteous entourage’ is mentioned along with the prophets in the Gospels as God states, “indeed, I am sending to them prophets and righteous men (nabīyēwa šlīh.ē) . . .” (Luke 11:49; cf. Diatessaron 41:1; Didache 15:4). It is worth men-tioning that the word šlīh.ē, that is, “righteous ones,” became the standard word for “apostles” in Syriac. Elsewhere Jesus privileges his own followers over this group by stating,

Thus, truly I say to you that many prophets and sincere men (nabīyē wa zdīqē) have wanted to see the things which you see but have not seen [them], and to hear the things which you have heard but have not heard [them].(Matthew 13:17)

Collectively the prophets (nabīyē) and their righteous (šlīh.ē) and sincere (zdīqē) cohort are expounded upon in Syriac Christian literature, and later on in the Qur’ān. It states,

And whoever obeys God and the messenger (al-rasūl), they are with those whom God has granted glory among the prophets (al-nabiyyūn), the sincere (al-s.iddīqūn), the martyrs (al-shuhadā’) and the righteous (al-s.ālih.ūn); and they are the best of companions.(Q 4:69)

Keeping in mind morphological differences and corresponding philological reflexes between Arabic and Aramaic, this qur’ānic verse reproduces salient com-ponents of the language in the Aramaic text of Luke 11:49 and Matthew 13:17. The Arabic names for the prophets (al-nabiyyūn), the sincere (al-s.iddīqūn, where the Arabic s. corresponds to the Aramaic z) and the righteous (al-s.ālih.ūn, where the Arabic s. corresponds to the Aramaic š) neatly match the Aramaic terms nabīyē, šlīh.ēand zdīqē. The Qur’ān adds the martyrs (al-shuhadā’) to its list of the right-eous entourage. This may be due to the inclusion of the martyrs (sāhdē) among the ranks of the righteous entourage in the works of several Syriac Christian authors, or it may be due to the militarization of the righteous entourage in the Qur’ān’s milieu (see this article). Furthermore, although not explicitly mentioned in the Gospel texts, the martyrs of the early church—Aramaic sāhdē, from which the Arabic shuhadā’ comes—play an important role in subsequent New Testament passages (Acts 22:20; Revelations 2:13; 17:6), later Syriac literature and subse-quently the Qur’ān’s milieu. It is little surprise, therefore, that due to the familiar nature of these epithets for the righteous entourage that the codices of both Ibn Mas‘ūd and Ibn ‘Abbās have al-s.ādiqīn in place of al-s.ālih.īn for Q 63:10.

The Elect

In relation to the righteous entourage, both Hebrew and Christian scripture speak of God’s “elect,” that is, those whom He has chosen. There is a great deal of diversity concerning precisely who the elect are, and the different roles they play throughout the Bible. Thus, the qūr’anic usages of the Arabic verb ijtabā(“to elect,” eighth form ifta‘al of the rootj-b-ā) are diverse like their Biblical anteced-ents. However, it does not closely match the Hebrew and Jewish Aramaic versions of the Old Testement, but is adopted, rather, from the Syriac noun gabyā(“the elect;” fromg-b-ā; Cf. CPA bh.īrā) of the Old Testament Peshitta and Gospels.

In the Gospels, Jesus describes the days of great tribulation that will precede the apocalypse, stating “however, for the sake of the elect whom He elected (gabyēda-gbā) those days will be shortened” (Mark 13:20; cf. Matthew 24:22). Concerning the deceit of false prophets and the false Messiah he adds, “if they could they would deceive the elect (gabyē)” (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). During the apocalypse, the angels are gathered at the sounding of the trumpet and, God “will gather his elect (gbūhī/ah.īdawī) from the four winds, from one end of the heav-ens to the other” (Matthew 24:31; cf. Mark 13:27; Diatessaron 42:11–12, 19). Finally and most importantly, Jesus asks his followers rhetorically, “Therefore, will not God allthemore seek vengeance for his elect (gbūhī/bh.īrawī)—who cry out to Him day and night—and with whom he suffers long?” (Luke 18:7–8; cf. Diatessaron 33:23–24).

This poignant verse has no single linguistic correspondence in the Qur’ān. How-ever, its dogmatic re-articulation informs us of the anxiety felt by Muh.ammad and the nascent Muslim community, the sectarian conflict which they endured and the vengeance they sought from God (cf. Q 2:214; 10:102; 20:130; 30:47; 40:51; 18:28; and so on). In fact, the Qur’ān also portrays the sectarian players of Muh.ammad’s day accusing him of cherry-picking verses. It states, “And when-ever you did not bring them a sign (āyah), they would say, ‘perhaps you [merely] chose a few (lawlā ijtabaytahā)?’ Say, I merely follow that which is revealed to me from my Lord” (Q 7:203).

Nonetheless, beyond the strong sectarianism of the Qur’ān’s milieu, ijtabāis always associated—as in the Gospels—with the prophets and their righteous entourage. Thus, the Qur’ān states,

These are the ones upon whom God has completed his favor (ni‘mah), among the prophets (al-nabiyyūn) of the progeny of Adam, from those whom We carried with Noah among the progeny of Abraham and Israel, and from those whom We guided and elected (mimman hadaynā wa ijtabaynā).(Q 19:58)

Other qur’ānic passages addressing the prophetic and righteous generations of the past also pair ‘guidance’ (Arabic hadā, “to guide”) with election (Q 6:87; 16:121; 20:122; 42:13). The favor (ni‘mah) of being elected—which this verse also teaches—is passed on to the prophet Muh.ammad. Concerning Muh.ammad’s rise to prophethood, it states, “thus, your Lord elects you (yajtabīk), teaches you the interpretation of stories (yu‘alimukta’wīl al-ah.ādīth) and completes his favor (ni‘mah) upon you” (Q 12:6), as He did with generations of prophets like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob before. Therefore, Muh.ammad’s election meant that God ‘taught’ him and—like prophets and messengers (Q 3:179) before him—completed his ‘favor’ upon him. In contrast, God’s election of the prophet Jonas—called “he of the fish” (s.āh.ib al-h.ūt)—is a kind of divine ‘rehabilitation.’ After he “angrily fled [from God] (dhahab mughād.iban)” (see dhū al-nūn, Q 21:87), “he cried out in frustration” and so “His Lord elected him (ijtabāh)” and, therefore, made him one of the righteous (s.ālih.ūn; 68:48–50). Finally, as heir to Muh.ammad’s burgeoning prophetic tradition, God also elects the Hanafite-Muslims (Q 22:78).

The concept of the elect from the Gospels is taken up in subsequent passages of the New Testament, Apocrypha (Romans 8:33; Titus 1:1; 2 John 1:13; Tho-mas 49; and so on) and in later Syriac literature as well, which provided several potential avenues for the transmission of ideas about the elect into the Qur’ān’s milieu. Consequently, in the Qur’ān those whom God elects are the prophets (al-nabiyyūn) or messengers (al-rusul), the righteous (al-s.ālih.ūn) and finally the Hanafite-Muslims.

Blessed are: t.ūbā

One of the most captivating passages found in the Gospels—no less in Aramaic—is that of the Beautitudes (from Latin beatudomeaning “happiness”). This time-less passage alleged to have been spoken by Jesus transforms the formulae found in Hebrew Scripture originally employed to emphasize a believer’s faith and the glorification of God (Psalms 2:12; 84:4; Isaiah 30:18; and so on) to consoling all of society’s downtrodden. The portion of Matthew’s Gospel that includes the beau-titudes and the verses immediately following were dogmatically re-articulated in different parts of the Qur’ān. The relevant portion from Matthew follows.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit (t.ūbayhūn/t.ūbtānāītayhūn l-mēskīnē b-rūh.), for them is the kingdom of heaven (d-dīlhūn hāy malkūtā da-šmāyā).
  • Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be consoled.
  • Blessed are the meek (mkīkē), for they will inherit the earth (d-hānūn nērtūn l-ar‘ā).
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (kīnūtā/zadīqūtā), for they shall be satiated.
  • Blessed are the merciful (mrah.mānē), for they will be shown mercy (rah.mē).
  • Blessed are the pure in heart (aylēn d-dākīn b-labhūn), for they will see God (nēh.zūn l-alāhā).
  • Blessed are the peacemakers (‘abday šlāmā), for they will be called the chil-dren of God (bnūhī d-alāhā).
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness (ētradēfūmēt.ūl kīnūtā), for them is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are you when people dishonor you, persecute you (rādfīn/mh.asrīn/sānīn lkūn), and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
  • Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven (d-agrkūn sagī ba-šmāyā); like this did they persecute the prophets before you (hākanā . . . rdapū la-nbīyē d-mēn qdāmaykūn).
  • You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has become tasteless, with what will anything be salted? It is, therefore, not good for anything except to be thrown out and walked upon by people. You are the light of the world (antūn nūhrēh d‘ālmā). It is not possible to hide a city that is built on a mountain, nor can they light a lamp (w-lā manhrīn šrāgā) and put it under a bushel, but on a lampstand (mnārtā); and it illuminates all that are in the house (wa mnāhēr l-kūl aylēn da-b-bayt ēnūn). Let your light shine like this before people (hākanā nēnhar nūhrkūn qdām bnay anāšā), so that they may see your good works (‘bādaykūn t.ābē), and glorify your Father who is in heaven (wa nešbh.ūn l-abūkūn d-ba-šmāyā).

(Matthew 5:3–16: cf. Luke 11:2–4; Thomas 24, 33, 77; Diatessaron 8:27–36)

This passage is, furthermore, most captivating in Aramaic where—unlike the Greek text—it rhymes. Although not poetry in the strict sense of the word, the rhyme scheme of verses 3–6 is: A-B-A-B; and for verses 7–17 it is: A-A-B-A-A-B-A-A-B-A-A. Furthermore, the rhyme morphemes at the end of each verse are (A) the Aramaic emphatic nominal singular article ā and (B) the Aramaic plural imperfect suffixūn. It is also little surprise, therefore, that the rhyme of ūn or ā is fairly prevalent in Syriac and Christian Palestinian Aramaic religious literature.60This corresponds, moreover, to the two most common rhyme morphemes (Arabicfawā; cf. qawāfī of poetry) employed at the end of qur’ānic verses: (1) the Arabic nominal accusative case an, or nouns ending inā; (2) and the Arabic plural verbal and nominal siffux ūn/īn.

However, the Aramaic Beatitudes not only made a contribution to the stylistic development of the Qur’ān, but also to its content. For the Qur’ān dogmatically rearticulates the message of the Aramaic Beatitudes when discussing the sectar-ian strife and the suffering withstood by the early community of faithful believers (Q 13:27–29). It consoles them stating, “[As for] those who show faith and do good works (al-ladhīn āmanū wa ‘amalū al-s.ālih.āt), for them are blessings (t.ūbālahum) and an excellent fortune” (Q 13:29).

Although the root t.-y-b, from which t.ūbā comes, is common to Semitic lan-guages in general, three features of this qur’ānic verse compel us to draw a con-nection between it and Matthew’s Aramaic Beatitudes. One is that the phrase “for them are blessings” in Q 13:29 differs slightly from the Jewish Aramaic of the Targum and even more so from Hebrew Scripture, but shares a great deal more with its counterpart found in the Aramaic Gospel Traditions. Two is that the final long āvowel (alif maqs.ūrah) corresponds to the Aramaic emphatic or definite state ā (functioning like the Arabic definite article al-) and is otherwise foreign to Arabic. The final indicator is t.ūbā’s conjunction with lahum, which is equivalent to the Aramaic noun t.ūbāplus third person plural pronominal hūn, that is, t.ūbayhūn, “blessed are they.” Beyond these relationships, the dogmatism of Q 13:29 in re-articulating Matthew 5:3–16 particularly is felt in its terse and summarizing approach, leaving out details that are either potentially detrimental to a strict monotheistic vision (such as “seeing God,” “the children of God,” and God as the “Father”), or too foreign in context (being “blessed when dishonored,” and being “the salt of the earth”). The style and content of the remaining details resurface in different parts of the Qur’ān and are a subject of study throughout the remainder of this article.

The Poor

For both the Qur’ān and the Gospels, the righteous entourage typically includes the poor and disaffected members of society. We learn from the Beatitudes about the underprivileged social standing of the righteous entourage that surrounded Jesus, especially the poor in spirit (mēskīnē b-rūh.) and the meek (mkīkē; Matthew 5:3, 5; cf. further James 2:5). Although mkīkēis not found in the Qur’ān, the usage ofal-mustad.‘afūn, “the downtrodden” (Q 4:75, 98, 127; see further Chapter 4) is its nearest approximation.

However, the identical usage of mēskīnēin the Aramaic Gospels, and its Ara-bized form, masākīn (or sg. miskīn) in the Qur’ān is far more common. Thus, Jesus’s deep empathy, intimate association and his subsequent self-identification with his society’s poor men and women is a salient feature of the Gospels’ mes-sage. While defending the actions of a poor woman to anoint Jesus with rather expensive oil against society’s more affluent critics, he states, “indeed, you will always have the poor (mēskīnē) with you, but you will not always have me” (Mat-thew 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8; Diatessaron 39:14–15). At the same time, the importance of feeding the poor is at the core of the qur’ānic message as itinstates “as a substitute [to fasting] the feeding of a poor person” (fidyah t.a‘ām miskīn; Q 2:184; cf. Q 5:95; 58:4). The Qur’ān, therefore, dogmatizes and elevates the importance of Jesus’s concern for the poor (mēskīnē) by making it a penalty enforced by law (fidyah t.a‘ām miskīn). The attitude of both scriptures towards the rich vis à vis the poor is the same as well.

Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus advises a rich man how he may have eternal life by first of all keeping the commandments and then he tells him,

If you hope tobe perfect, go and sell what you have and give to the poor (hab l-mēskīnē), and you will have treasure in heaven, and [then] come follow me. However, when the young man heard these words, he went away in distress, for he had many possessions. (Matthew 19:21–22: cf. Mark 10:21–22; Luke 18:22–23; Diatessaron 28:49–50)

The Qur’ān similarly condemns the affluent members of society (see further Chapter 4) because it accuses them—almost as a commentary to the episode of the rich man in Matthew 19:21–22—stating,

To the contrary, indeed you do not honor the orphan (la tukrimūn al-yatīm). Nor do you advocate feeding the poor (la tah.ud.d.ū ‘alāt.a‘ām al-miskīn). And you devour the inheritance [of orphans?] greedily. And you love wealth [too] greatly.(Q 89:17–20: cf. Q 74:44; 107:3; 69:34)

The verse begins with blaming the rich for not honoring society’s orphans which, based on Q 93:6–11 (and the Sīrah), may be the result of Muh.ammad’s harrowing memories as an orphan and his heightened sensitivity to their cause. More significantly, the injunction from the synoptic Gospels, namely “give to the poor” (hab l-mēskīnē), was not fulfilled by the rich in Jesus’s day. Thus, we find in the qur’ānic verse based on the synoptic passage a dogmatic re-articula-tion, “Nor do you advocate feeding the poor” (la tah.ud.d.ū ‘alā t.a‘ām al-miskīn), which based on the usage of the verb (“advocate”) and not hab (“give;” cf. Q 3:8; 25:74) or a verb like it, is not merely advice from a teacher but the rapprochement of God and the community. Furthermore, where the young man of the Gospels flees in distress—since he does not wish to give away his many possessions—the Qur’ān accuses him and his likes that they love wealth far too much.

The Qur’ān and Gospels also agree on their stance towards charity. Thus, in the Gospels, Jesus expands his concern for feeding the poor to include society’s physically handicapped, advising,

However, when you have a gathering (qbūlā), call the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind (qarī l-mēskīnē wa sgīfē wa h.gīsē wa smāyā). And you will be blessed (t.ūbayk), for they cannot compensate you (d-layt lhūn d-nefr‘ūnāk). Indeed, your compensation will be at the resurrection of the sincere (nēhwē gēr fūr‘ūnāk ba-qyāmā da-zdīqē).(Luke 14:13–14, 21; Diatessaron 30:7–8: cf. further 1 Cornithians 13:3)

Two elements of this verse in Luke are re-articulted in the Qur’ān. First, the demand that “when you have a gathering, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind” resurfaces in the Qur’ān when it states concerning the feast after pilgrimage (al-h.ajj), “[And they should] mention the name of God in appointed days on account of whatever cattle He bestowed upon them, so eat from it and feed the miserable poor (at.‘imū al-bā’is al-faqīr;” Q 22:28).

The adjective al-bā’is (“the miserable”), which qualifies the noun al-faqīr (“the poor”), should thus be understood intertextually with Luke as a grouping of soci-ety’s maimed, lame, and blind. Second, Luke’s statement to the givers of charity, namely that their “compensation (fūr‘ūn) will be at the resurrection of the sincere,” matches the words of Noah in the Qur’ān when he states, “O my people, I do not ask of you wealth (mālan) for it [my prophethood], as my wages (ajrī) are to be paid by God” (Q 11:29; cf. Q 11:51). It also matches the words of the prophets, in general, who are repeatedly quoted in the Qur’ān to instructed their people, “I do not ask of you any wages (ajr) for it, as my wages (ajr) are to be paid by the Lord of the worlds (rabb al-‘ālamīn)” (Q 26:109, 127, and so on; cf. Q 34:47 and simi-lar verses). This, furthermore, goes hand in hand with the concept of reward for charity shared by both the Qur’ān and the Gospels, “As for whatever charity (min khayr) you present for the sake of your souls, you will find it with God (tajidūh ‘ind allāh); indeed, God sees all what you do” (Q 2:110).

And thus, the “compensation” (Aramaic fūr‘ūn) or “wages” (Arabic ajr) for charity are to be found with God on the Day of Resurrection. To ask for com-pensation or wages, furthermore, may have been perceived as the mark of a false prophet (Didache 11:5–16). That the Qur’ān makes use of the term ajr to designate the wages of humankind and their judgment may go back to Romans 6:23, where “the wages (agūrtā/parnūsā) of sin is death.”

As we have seen earlier, on some occasions in the Gospels, Jesus comforts the poor along with several other downtrodden members of society. Thus he quotes Isaiah 61:1 stating,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me (mšah.nī) to give good news to the poor (l-mēsbarū l-mēskīnē). He has sent me (šlah.nī) to heal the broken hearted (tabīray labē) and to preach deliverance (šūbqānā) to the captives (šēbyē), to give sight (h.azyā) to the blind (‘awīrē), and to liber-ate (mēšrarū) the bruised (tabīray).(Luke 4:18: cf. further Matthew 11:5; Luke 7:22; Diatessaron 5:38)

The grouping of the downtrodden members of society (see earlier al-mustad.‘afūn fī al-ard.) along with the poor, which was likely informed by a dialogue with the Aramaic Gospel Traditions, is frequent in the Qur’ān as well (Q 2:215; 4:36; cf. further 17:26; 24:22; 30:38; and so on). However, two qur’ānic formulae demon-strate a dogmatic re-articulation of their Gospel antecedents. The first states, “And they give food (yut.‘imūn al-t.a‘ām), despite loving it (‘alā h.ubbih), to the poor (miskīnan), the orphan (yatīman) and the captive (asīran);” (Q 76:8).

Aside from the orphan—a unique personal concern to Muh.ammad—the verse’s concise wording cites the poor and captive (where Arabic asīr reproduces Ara-maic šēbyā) of Luke 4:18, and possibly even Isaiah 61:1 before it. Furthermore, Q 2:177 states,

Worthiness (al-birr) is not directing your face towards the east nor the west, but rather righteousness is [for?] he who believes in God, the last day, the angels, the scriptures, the prophets, and who gives wealth (ātā al-māl), despite loving it (‘alā h.ubbih), to members of [their] relatives (dhawī al-qurbā), the orphans (al-yatāmā), the poor (al-masākīn), the wanderer (ibn al-sabīl), the beggars (al-sā’ilīn), and for [the freeing of] captives (fi al-riqāb), and who establish prayer (aqāmū al-s.alāh), give charity (ātū al-zakāh), fulfillers of their covenants (al-mūfūn bi al-‘ahd) when they make them, and the steadfast during times of hardship and harm . . . (Q 2:177: cf. further 2:215, 215; 4:8, 36, 127; 8:41; 17:26; 24:22; 30:38; 59:7)

Similar to Luke 4:18, this verse lists the different downtrodden members of society who deserve help, including: the poor (al-masākīn or mēskīnē); rela-tives, orphans, wanderers (possibly traveling apostles and prophets as in Matthew 10:41; Thomas 42; Didache 12; or caravan people as in Ardā Virāf Nāmak 67:6; 93), and beggars who comprise those referred to by Luke as the bruised (tabīray) and broken hearted (tabīray labē). Most significantly, the Biblical prophecy “to preach deliverance to the captives” is realized by the dogmatic re-articulation of the Qur’ān’s penalty for religious misdemeanors—often taken in conjunction with the penalty to feed the poor (see above)—to “free a slave [lit. a neck]” (tah.rīr raqabah; Q 4:92; 5:89; 58:3; cf. further Exodus 21:2).

Servants or Sons of God?

It is clear, at least in light of the Greek word pais found in Ezra 4, that some scrip-tures and religious circles in the late antique Near East made little or no distinction between “servants” or “sons” of God. This is not the case with the Qur’ān. One explicit example of dogmatic re-articulation is found in the Qur’ān’s rejection of the phrase “sons of God” (bnūhī d-alāhā), which originates in the Israelite mythol-ogy of Genesis 6:2–4, but was taken up by the beautitudic language of Matthew 5:9, and subsequent Christological formulations of Paul (Romans 8:14, 19; Gala-tians 3:26). Thus it states,

The Jews (al-yahūd) and the Christians (al-nas.ārā) say, “we are the sons of God (abnā’ allāh) and his beloved ones (ah.ibbā’ih).” Say then, “why does he punish you for your sins? To the contrary, you are human beings whom He created. He forgives whomever He wills and punishes whomever He wills” . . . (Q 5:18: cf. in relation 9:30)

The Qur’ān takes offense at the kinds of mythological and Christologi-cal descriptions that portray God’s creatures somehow as divine (cf. in relation Q 37:149–154). Therefore, the closeness of God and mankind embodied in the epithet “sons of God” (Aramaic bnūhī d-alāhā; Arabic abnā’ allāh), which is a staple of Christian scripture and theology but unacceptable for a stricter standard of monotheism, is re-articulated in qur’ānic terms, placing a huge gulf between God and mankind. Thus, the “servants of God,” or ‘ibād allāh also join the ranks of the Qur’ān’s righteous entourage (Q 44:18; 76:6; 37:40, 74, 128, 160, 169; cf. Q 25:63). The servants of God, similar to “fulfillers of their covenants” (al-mūfūn bi al-‘ahd) cited earlier in Q 2:177, are said to “fulfill their vows (yūfūn bi al-nadhr), and fear a day whose evil will be widespread” (Q 76:6). This is because the apocalyptic impulse—whose most salient manifestation is the Day of Judg-ment—is a critical feature of prophetic teachings and ethics.

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