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Did The Jews Kill The Prophets? – OpEd

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The statement that the Jews killed the prophets appears three times in the New Testament and nine times in the Qur’an. Over the centuries these New Testament verses have been used by Christian Jew haters to incite and justify attacks on the Jewish communities of their own days. 

Ironically this charge is now being used by some Evangelical Christians as a way to slander the Qur’an and attack Muslims. They attack the nine verses in the Qur’an as being immoral; without mentioning the three similar verses in the New Testament.” 

“Examining One Element of Quranic Hate Speech” comes from the web site: Answering Islam: A Christian-Muslim dialogue. This is actually not a dialogue website; it is website from a group of Evangelical Christians attacking the Qur’an. I will shorten and also soften the article. 

“Are all Muslims terrorists because a substantial number of Muslim terrorists explode bombs and commit other atrocities on a regular basis? Obviously, the answer is NO. However, if accusing all Muslims of the crimes committed by a minority is wrong, what should we say to the following statements when the Qur’an claims over and over again; that the Jews killed the prophets or messengers who were sent to them.” 

I will omit the two longest Qur’anic verses (2:61 & 3:112) out of the nine verses the article quotes since all nine make the same charge. 

1 – “And when it is said to them (Jews), “Believe in what Allah has sent down,” they say, “We believe in what was sent down to us.” And they disbelieve in that which came after it, while it is the truth confirming what is with them. Say (O Muhammad to them): “Why then have you killed the Prophets of Allah afore-time, if you indeed have been believers?” (2:91) 

2 – “And “Verily! Those who disbelieve in the Ayat (verses, lessons, etc.) of Allah and kill the Prophets without right, and kill those men who order just dealings….” (3:21) 

3 – “Indeed, Allah has heard the statement of those (Jews) who say: “Truly, Allah is poor and we are rich!” We shall record what they have said and their killing of the Prophets unjustly, and We shall say: “Taste you the torment of the burning (Fire).” (3:181) 

4 – “Those (Jews) who said: “Verily, Allah has taken our promise not to believe in any Messenger unless he brings to us an offering which the fire (from heaven) shall devour.” Say: “Verily, there came to you Messengers before me, with clear signs and even with what you speak of; why then did you kill them, if you are truthful?” (3:183) 

5 – “Because of their breaking the covenant, and of their rejecting the Ayat (verses, lessons, etc.) of Allah, and of their killing the Prophets unjustly, …for they believe not but a little. (4:155)
The Answering Islam article then continues: “Without question, the charge that the Jews killed the messengers and prophets which God had sent to them is a very strong accusation. In the above passages it even sounds like they killed all prophets which were sent to them – note the definite article: “the prophets”. But there are two (other) passages which formulate more cautiously that they killed (only) some of them: 

6 – “And indeed, We gave Musa (Moses) the Book and followed him up with a succession of Messengers. And We gave ‘Iesa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), clear signs and supported him with Ruh-ul-Qudus (the Holy spirit/Gabriel). Is it that whenever there came to you a Messenger with what you yourselves desired not, you grew arrogant? Some, you disbelieved and some, you killed. (2:87) 

7 – “Certainly We made a covenant with the Children of Israel and We sent to them messengers; whenever there came to them a messenger with what that their souls did not desire, some (of them) they called liars, and some (of them) they (acutely) killed. (5:70) 

While the article does admit that the last two verses specifically do formulate more cautiously that they killed (only) some of them, nothing much is made of this significant difference by the Evangelicals. The evidence from both the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible that I will cite clearly shows that some Jews did kill some Jewish Priests and Prophets, usually due to a king’s direct command. 

But the majority of the Jewish People in those days never supported these disgusting killings, just as the majority of Muslims today do not support the disgusting acts of Muslim terrorist. 

And why doesn’t the Qur’an mention the specific name of the subgroup party? Because sacred scriptures are intended for all generations, and while the party groups names change over the generations, the evils just reappear in different iterations. To make it clear that even if the word ‘some’ does not appear in some verses of the Qur’an criticizing Christians and Jews, it should should always be applied to the meaning of the text, the Qur’an states explicitly: 

“They are not (all) the same; among the People of the Scripture is a community standing, reciting the verses of Allah (as prayers or in study) during periods of the night and prostrating. They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and they enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and hasten to (do) good deeds. And those (People of the Book) are among the righteous. And whatever good they do – never will it be removed from them. Allah is Knowing of the righteous.” (3:113-15) 

Thus the Qur’an’s many narrations of events in Jewish history, when a part of the Jewish People were disloyal to the whole nation’s covenant with God, are selected archetypal events for all humanity to learn from.The Qur’an always states that a party of Jews were faithful to the covenant with God, while another part of the community was not: 

“They are not all alike. Some of the People of the Book are firmly committed to the truth. They recite the Verses of Allah during the hours of night, and remain in the state of [prayer] prostration before their Lord.” (Qur’an 3:113, Qadri translation) 

The explicit declaration of the Qur’an that the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) are not all alike must guide all explanations of all verses that apply to People of the Book. So some “…are firmly committed to the truth. They recite the Verses of Allah during the hours of night, and remain in the state of [prayer] prostration before their Lord.” means some do and some do not; just as some Muslims pray everyday and are committed to the truth, and some Muslims don’t. 

The reason there is so much criticism of Christians and Jews in the Qur’an is because the history of the Children of Israel as a religious community constantly striving, and sometimes failing, to live up to its covenant with God, was so well known in Arabia that the Qur’an uses the ups and downs of Jewish history an excellent example for other people. A young religious community needs to learn from the bad experiences of its elders. 

For dramatic pedagogical reasons the majority of the verses that declare the Jews killed prophets, do not specify ‘some’ because if the Jewish People, who Prophet Moses told: “O my people! Remember God’s favor upon you, for He appointed among you Prophets, and rulers, and He granted to you favors such as He had not granted to anyone else in the worlds” (5:20), if even the Jewish People had a party among them who rejected some prophets, how much the more-so would the outright polytheistic, idol worshiping, pagans of Makka reject and try to kill Prophet Muhammad. 

The same dramatic pedagogical style is found in the three New Testament verses about a group of Jews rejecting or killing the prophets. In the book of Matthew, Jesus supposedly states that people like you Jews who are rejecting my teachings, killed everyone from Abel to Zechariah; a vast exaggeration. 

“And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. (Matthew 23:35) 

Since the People of Israel did not exist in the generation of Abel, they could not possibly be responsible for his death. Only those (some) who actually personally rejected a prophet; ‘kill’ him, even symbolically. 

Also, the Jews are blamed in the New Testament for the death of John the baptist, who was killed by King Herod’s orders, and Jesus, who Christians believe was crucified by the Romans. Thus 1 Thessalonians 2:14,15 states: “For you also have suffered like this of your countrymen, even as they have of the Jews; who both killed the Lord Jesus Christ and their own prophets, and have persecuted us (followers of Jesus, the Son of God); and they please not God, and are contrary to all men.” 

Now Prophet Zechariah was indeed murdered between the temple and the altar. One of the history books in the Hebrew Bible (2 Chronicles 24:20-21) tells us: “And the spirit of God enveloped Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the Priest, and he stood above the people and said to them, “God says: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord? You will not succeed because you have forsaken the Lord, and He has forsaken you.” And they conspired against him and stoned him by the king’s command, in the courtyard of the House of the Lord.” 

The king referenced here was King Joash. The Prophet Jeremiah alludes to this incident in his lament over the destruction of Jerusalem and its Holy Temple in the Book of Lamentations: “Will Priest and prophet be slain in the Sanctuary of the Lord? (2:20) 

Almost all references to ‘killing’ prophets are dramatic pedagogy for rejecting the prophet’s message; but there were three actual Biblical cases when a Jewish prophet was killed by a king: Prophet John the baptist, Prophet Zechariah the Priest, and Uriah ben Shemaiah a prophet from Kiriath-jearim.

“When the King was told Uriah’s message had prophesied against the Temple and the city of Jerusalem, the same way Prophet Jeremiah would do some years later, King Jehoiakim summoned his officials and military men and decided to have Uriah killed.” (Jeremiah 26:21). 

Fearing for his life, Uriah took refuge in Egypt. At King Jehoiakim’s command, Elnathan ben Achbor went to Egypt with a detachment of men to secure Uriah’s return. The execution of Uriah took place on the king’s authority. 

In truth, 99%+ of the tribes and nations who received prophets “killed them: by rejecting them so completely that we do not even know the names of their rejected prophets. The Jewish People however, preserved the names messages of their Prophets; and therefore the purpose of the lives of more than 90% of the prophets God sent to them; and for this alone they deserve respect.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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