QUR’AN AND BIBLE
We have now come to the last subject: it is the confrontation, with modern knowledge, of passages in the Qur’an that are also referred to in the Bible.
We have already caught a glimpse of the problem when talking of the Creation. Earlier I stressed the perfect agreement between modern knowledge and verses in the Qur’an, and pointed out that the Biblical narration contained statements that were scientifically unacceptable. This is hardly surprising when we know that the great narration of the Creation contained in the Bible was the work of priests living in the sixth century B.C., hence the term ‘Sacerdotal’ narration. This seems mainly to have been conceived as the theme of a preaching designed to exhort people to observe the sabbath. The narration was constructed with a definite end in view, and, as Father de Vaux (a former head of the Biblical School of Jerusalem) has noted, this end was essentially legalist in character.
The Bible also contains a much shorter and older narration of the Creation, the so-called ‘Yahvist’ version, which approaches the subject from a completely different angle.
They are both taken from Genesis, the first book of the Pentateuch or Taurah: Moses is supposed to have been its author, but the text we have today has, as we know, undergone many changes.
The Sacerdotal narration of Genesis is famous for its whimsical genealogies, that go back to Adam, and which nobody takes very seriously. Nevertheless, such Gospel authors as Matthew and Luke have reproduced them, more or less verbatim, in their genealogies of Jesus. Matthew goes back as frar as Abraham, and Luke to Adam. All these writings are scientifically unacceptable, because they set a figure on the age of the world and the time man appeared on Earth, which is most definitely out of keeping with what has today been established with certainty. The Qur’an, on the other hand, is completely free of data of this kind.
Earlier on, we also noted how perfectly the Qur’an agrees with general, modern ideas on the formation of the Universe, whereas the Biblical narration stands in contradiction to them; the allegory of the primordial waters is hardly tenable, nor is the creation of light on the first day, before the creation of the stars which produce this light; the existence of an evening and a morning before the creation of the Earth; the creation of the Earth on the third day before that of the Sun on the fourth; the appearance of beasts of the Earth on the sixth day after the appearance of the birds of the air on the fifth day, although the former came first: all these statements are the result of beliefs prevalent at the time this text was written and do not have any other meaning.
As for the genealogies contained in the Bible, which form the basis of the Jewish calendar and assert that today the world is 5738 years old, these are hardly admissable either. Our solar system may be over 4 1/2 billion years old, and the appearance on Earth of man, as we know him today, may be estimated in tens of thousands of years, if not more.
It is absolutely essential, therefore, to note that the Qur’an does not contain any such indications as to date, and that these are specific to the Biblical text.
There is a second, highly significant, subject of comparison between the Bible and the Qur’an: this is the Flood. In actual fact, the Biblical narration is a fusion of two descriptions in which events are related differently. The Bible speaks of a universal flood and places it roughly 300 years before Abraham. According to what we know of Abraham, this would imply a universal cataclysm around the twenty-first or twenty-second century B.C. This would be untenable, in view of historical data.
How can we accept the idea that, in the twenty-first or twenty-second century BC, all civilization was wiped off the face of the Earth by a universal cataclysm, when we know that this period corresponds, for example, to the one preceding the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, at roughly the date of the first Intermediary period before the eleventh dynasty?
None of the preceding statements is acceptable according to modern knowledge.
From this point of view, we can measure the enormous gap separating the Bible from the Qur’an.
In contrast to the Bible, the narration contained in the Qur’an deals with a cataclysm that is limited to Noah’s people. They were punished for their sins, as were other ungodly peoples. The Qur’an does not locate the cataclysm in time. There are absolutely no historical or archaeological objections to the narration in the Qur’an.
A third point of comparison, which is exteremely significant, is the story of Moses, and especially the Exodus from Egypt of the Hebrews enslaved to the Pharaoh. Here I can only give a highly compressed account of the study of this subject that appears in my book. I have noted the points where the Biblical and Qur’anic narrations agree and disagree, and, for some details, I have found points where the two texts complement each other in a very useful way. Among the many hypotheses concerning the position occupied by the Exodus in the history of the Pharaohs, I have concluded that the most likely is the theory which makes Merneptah, Rameses II’s successor, the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The confrontation of the data contained in the Scriptures with archaeological evidence speaks strongly in favour of this hypothesis. I am pleased to be able to say that the Biblical narration contributes weighty evidence leading us to situate Moses in the history of the Pharaohs: Moses was born during the reign of Rameses II. Biblical data are therefore of considerable historical value in the story of Moses.
The medical study of the mummy of Merneptah has yielded further useful information on the possible causes of this Pharaoh’s death.
The fact that we today possess the mummy of this Pharaoh, which to be exact, was discovered in 1898, is one of paramount importance. The Bible records that it was engulfed in the sea, but does not give any details as to what subsequently became of the body. The Qur’an, in the surah Yunus, notes that the body of the Pharaoh, who was to be damned, would be saved from the waters.
So this day We shall save your (dead), body that you may be a sign for those who come after you! And verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our signs.
A medical examination of this mummy has, moreover, shown that the body could not have stayed in the water for long, because it does not show signs of deterioration due to prolonged submersion.
Here again, the confrontation of the narration in the Qur’an with the data provided by modern knowledge does not give rise to the slightest objection from a scientific point of view.
The Old Testament constitutes a collection of literary works produced in the course of roughly nine centuries and which has undergone many alterations. The part played by man in the actual composition of texts of the Bible is quite considerable.
The Qur’anic Revelation has a history which is radically different. From the moment it was first communicated to man, it was learnt by heart and written down during Muhammad’s own lifetime. It is thanks to this that the Qur’an does not pose any problem of authenticity. A totally objective examination of it, in the light of modern knowledge, leads us to recognise the agreement between the two, as has already been noted on repeated occasions. It makes us deem it quite unthinkable for a man of Muhammad’s time to have been the author of such statements, on account of the state of knowledge in his day. Such considerations are part of what gives the Qur’anic Revelation its unique place, and forces the impartial scientist to admit his inability to provide an explanation which calls solely upon materialistic reasoning.