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Quran And Torah: The Story Of Moses – OpEd

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In October of 2013 this article of mine about the story of Prophet Moses in the Quran and the Torah was published on the web site khutbahbank.com and later republished in my book Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms. Since then the Abraham Accords have been signed and an Islamist Political Party has become part pf the ruling Government Coalition in Israel.

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I am a Reform Rabbi who has studied the Hebrew Bible in its original Hebrew language for over fifty years. I have always found that the advice Muhammad gave his adherents in the following hadîth narrated by Abu Huraira to be the best guide to understanding all of God’s Sacred Scriptures:

“The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah’s Apostle said (to the Muslims). “Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.’ (Bukhari book 92 #460 and book 93 #632)

I myself follow this profound advice because I think of myself as a Muslim Jew. Following Muhammad’s teaching I too neither believe nor disbelieve in the Quran. I do respect the Quran very much as a kindred revelation, first given to a kindred people, in a kindred language.

Islam teaches clearly that God does not have just one people or one true religion. Rather, God chose not to create human beings as one nation or with only one religion so that each religion could compete with all the others in order to see which religion produces the highest percentage of moral and loving people; and which people best embody in their personal and communal lives the moral teachings of their prophet.

As it is written in the Quran [5.48] “For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If Allah had pleased He would have made you one people, but (He didn’t) that He might test you in what He gave you. Therefore compete with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; for all return to Allah, so He will let you know that in which you differed.”

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This is a wonderful further development of the teaching of the Biblical prophet Micah (4:5) that in the end of days-the Messianic Age “All people will walk, each in the name of their own God, and we shall walk in the name of the Lord our God forever.”

I would like to show how the Quran and the Torah complement each other, and why it is false and narrow minded to say that one contradicts the other. There are many different details between similar narrations in Quran and Torah from which we can learn important lessons.

For example, both the Quran and the Torah relate events concerning the oppression of the Jewish people in Egypt, and how God sent Moses/Musa to liberate the Jews from persecution by Fir’aun/Pharaoh. The Torah mentions the role of Pharaoh’s daughter and the Quran mentions the role of Fir’aun’s wife. This is not a contradiction. A young woman in this situation would naturally go to her mother to enlist her aid first in convincing the father to agree. The mother has great influence, so she is mentioned in the Quran.

The Torah’s focus is on the daughter because the rabbinic midrash (a part of the oral Torah that plays a role somewhat similar to the oral Ahadith of the Prophet’s sunna) relates that the daughter of Pharaoh later joined the Jewish people when they left Egypt, and became a Jew.

The Quran mentions Haman to show that God has saved the Children of Israel from persecution by more than one Pharaoh; and in more than one land. This is a statement of God’s enduring commitment to helping the weak and the oppressed.

Let us compare some of the so called “error” passages together.

Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. (Exodus 2:1-4)

“In truth We recite to you some of the news of Moses and Pharaoh, for people who believe (in this Quran and the Oneness of Allah). Verily, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people sects, weakening (oppressing) a group (the children of Israel) among them, killing their sons, and letting their females live. Verily, he was of the Mufsideen (great oppressors or tyrants). And we wished to do a favor to those who were weak (and oppressed) in the land (of Egypt), and to make them (the Children of Israel) rulers and inheritors, and to establish them in the land (of Israel), and We let Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts receive from them, that which they feared. We inspired the mother of Moses, saying: “Suckle him (Moses), but when you fear for him, then cast him into the river and fear not, nor grieve. Verily! We shall bring him back to you, and make him one of (Our) Messengers.” (Quran 28: 3-7).

In the next few verses the Quran gives us some extra details explaining how Musa’s mother felt at the loss of her son. The Quran relates that Pharaoh’s wife, speaking on behalf his daughter, offered three different reasons to adopt Moses. The Quran also explains why Pharaoh’s daughter and wife could not hire an Egyptian foster mother to nurse Musa. God had already forbidden (other) foster suckling mothers for Moses, so Musa refused to suck from them. The Talmud (Sotah 12b) and the Midrash (Exodus Rabba 1:25) have a similar account to that of the Qur’an.

Western scholars, without any written evidence at all, simply claim that Muhammad got this teaching from the Oral Torah, because the final redaction of the Talmud occurred about about 50-100 years before Muhammad was born. However, Allah’s Messenger taught, “Prophets are half-brothers in faith, having different mothers. But their religion is one.” (Muslim book #030, Hadith #5836) All prophets have the same father, who is the One God whose inspiration gives birth to their prophethood.

However, each prophet has a different mother i.e. the nation and people as well as the period and age that he speaks to. Thus prophets are brothers in faithfulness to the One God, but their message differs because each must be appropriate to their motherland, their mother people and their mother tongue.

The differences in the details related by the Torah and the Quran are due to the different communities that each prophet addressed. The Torah focuses on the actions of Pharaoh’s daughter because according to the Oral Torah when the Jewish People left Egypt many years later, she joined them and converted to Judaism. So Pharaoh’s daughter is of great interest.

The Quran stresses two other important lessons. One is that bad events often eventually turn into good outcomes, so one should trust in God and not become depressed.

The other important lesson from the Quran’s version is the parallel between Pharaoh, done in by his own wife’s request; and Haman, done in by Esther, who only became the king’s Queen because Haman helped get rid of the previous Queen. Those who plan evil are often done in by their very own actions.

“Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She (the slave or Pharaoh’s daughter) opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. Then his sister (Miriam) asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother.

Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him. When the child grew older (two years later), she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She (Pharaoh’s daughter) named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:5-10)

The Quran says, “Then the household of Pharaoh picked him up, that he might become for them an enemy and a cause of grief. Verily! Pharaoh, Haman, and their hosts were sinners. And the wife of Pharaoh said; “A comfort of the eye for me and for you. Kill him not, perhaps he maybe of a benefit to us, or we may adopt him as a son.” And they perceived not (the result of that). And the heart of the mother of Moses became empty (sad and depressed). She was very near to disclosing his (being her son), had We not strengthened her heart (with hope and trust), so that she might remain as one of the believers.

She said to his (Moses’s) sister: “Follow him.” So she (his sister) watched him from a far place secretly, while they perceived not. We had already forbidden (other) foster suckling mothers for him, until she (his sister came and) said: “Shall I direct you to a household who will rear him for you, and sincerely look after him in a good manner?” So did We restore him to his mother, that she might be delighted, and that she might not grieve, that she might know that the promise of Allah is true. But most of them know not. (Quran 28:8-13)

The Quran teaches us that it was not just good luck for baby Musa’s mother that there were no nursing Egyptian mothers around when one was needed for Moses. It was all a part of God’s plan. The Torah focuses of Miriam’s courage and wisdom in speaking up at the right time because she was a prophetic agent of God (Exodus 15:20).

We see again that the differences between the Quran and the Torah are the result of different lessons being derived from the same events. These different lessons are not in opposition to one another; they complement and enrich each other.

We would be wise for all to learn the lessons taught by both Scriptures. When we follow Muhammad’s teaching to “believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.” we always gain a better understanding of God’s will, and of our own Sacred Scriptures.

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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