Prophets Moses, Zarathustra And The Qur’an – OpEd


The term torah means “teaching” or “instruction.” Sometimes it refers to a specific instruction, such as the decisions given by a judge (Exodus 18:16 and Deuteronomy 17:11) or the instructions given by God to Prophet Abraham (Genesis 26:5 and Qur’an 87:18-19 18 “Verily, this is in the former (written) Scriptures: The Scriptures of (Prophets) Ibrâhîm (Abraham) and Mûsâ (Moses)”.

Deuteronomy in contrast, applies the term torah more broadly, encompassing a collection of laws. The term there refers specifically to the legal part of Deuteronomy (chapters 12-26), which were delivered by Moses to the Israelites on the plains of Moab. It is in this context that the term torah reflects a more central religious conception and comes to refer to what ultimately becomes a canonical composition.

It is mainly in Deuteronomy that the term torah is applied to a written document in particular, as reflected in the frequent use of the phrases ספר התורה (“the book of the torah”) and ספר הברית (“the book of the covenant”) as well as various instructions relating to writing.

The Jewish History books of the Hebrew Bible sometimes uses phrases such as תורת משה (“the torah of Moses”), ספר תורת משה (“the book of the torah of Moses”), and ספר התורה (“the book of the torah”) to refer not merely to the laws of Deuteronomy 12-26, but to the entire literary book of Deuteronomy, including its historical and rhetorical introductions. For example, Joshua 8:31 describes the building of the altar on Mount ʽEbal as follows: “as Moses, the servant of YHWH, had commanded the Israelites, as is written in the book of the torah of Moses (בספר תורת משה),” a reference to Deuteronomy 27:2-8.

In the post-exilic books (mainly in Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles), the term torah assumes a broader semantic range encompassing all of the 5 books of Moses. The implications of this semantic shift are far-reaching: this innovative conceptualization of torah contributes to the perception of the textual unity of the Pentateuch as revealed legislation. The figure of Moses to whom the torah is emphatically ascribed is likewise transformed in this framework, in the sense that Moses is no longer the mediator of a law code, but also the personal authority justifying the fusion of distinct Pentateuchal codes into one textual and legal unity.

The authors of Ezra-Nehemiah projected the consolidation of the torah onto the figure of Moses, with Ezra as the mediating official chosen by both the Persian king and YHWH to bring this Torah to Judea and ensure its central position among the Jews: Ezra 7:6 that Ezra came up from Babylon, a scribe expert in the Torah of Moses which YHWH God of Israel had given, whose request the king had granted in its entirety, thanks to the benevolence of YHWH toward him.

A central conception of Ezra-Nehemiah is that YHWH gave His laws as the written Torah to Moses, and Ezra’s job was to promulgate this Torah, ensuring that it is fulfilled by the Jews.

Dr. Rabbi Yishai Kiel, who has a Ph.D. degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Rabbinics and Iranian Studies (2011) points out that a similar conception is found in Zoroastrian thinking during this period. The law (dāta) is set down by Ahura Mazdā, the supreme deity in Zoroastrianism. 

In fact, the book of Ezra explicitly makes this parallel by having King Artaxerxes I (ruled from 465–424 BCE) use the Persian word as a synonym for Torah in his proclamation appointing Ezra as leader: Ezra 7:25 “And you, Ezra, by the divine wisdom you possess, appoint magistrates and judges to judge all the people in the province of Beyond the River who know the laws of your God, and to teach those who do not know them. 7:26 Let anyone who does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king be punished with dispatch, whether by death, corporal punishment, confiscation of possessions, or imprisonment.”

While the term dat or data is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible in a more general sense of “law, custom, Ezra 7:26 is using it as a reference to Torah, i.e., God’s laws. This reflects the term’s usage in the Avesta (the collection of the Zoroastrian sacred texts), which commonly uses dāta to designate divinely revealed law.

While there is no consensus regarding the date of the Avesta, many scholars believe that Avestan works crystalized orally between the late second and early first millennium B.C.E, before the advent of the Achaemenids—in other words before the period of Ezra and Nehemiah.

A number of phrases found in the Young Avesta solidify the connection between the law set by Ahura Mazdā and the revelation to Zarathustra. The Avesta contains a parallel phrase to Ezra’s “Torah of Moses,” namely, “the law of Zarathustra” (dāta zaraθuštri), which seems to designate a manifestation of the Zoroastrian Tradition. The personal attribution to Prophet Zarathustra, as the authoritative recipient and mediator of the law set down by Ahura Mazdā, serves to unify the various components of the religious tradition and justify their inclusion in a single coherent notion of textual unity and scriptural revelation.

The Daēnā of Ahura Mazdā in the Young Avestan passages refers among other things, to the totality of traditions and instructions revealed by Ahura Mazdā to Zarathustra (Videvdad 2.1-2):

Zarathustra asked Ahura Mazdā: “O Ahura Mazdā, most Life-giving Spirit, Orderly creator of all things in the world of the living with bones, with whom among men did you first converse, you, Ahura Mazdā, other than me, Zarathustra? To whom did you exhibit the daēnā, the one of Ahura Mazdā and Zarathustra?”

“Taught by Ahura Mazdā, spoken by Zarathustra” is an expression in a number of Young Avestan passages. In another Young Avestan text (Videvdad 5.23), the “law of Zarathustra” is praised as being above and beyond all other “words,” due to its divine origin: Then Ahura Mazdā said: “Well, Spitama Zarathustra, it is like this, this law (dātəm), the one discarding the old gods in the Tradition of Zarathustra, (is) above and beyond other words in greatness, goodness, and beauty, like the Vourukasha Sea is above and beyond other waters.”

The Avesta is the law of Zarathustra – A later Pahlavi (Middle Persian) gloss, from the Sasanian period or perhaps earlier, but which is probably based on the earlier evidence, explicitly identifies the “law of Zarathustra” and the “sacred word” with the Avesta. So, the dāta and  daēnā of Zarathustra were linked to the Avesta, as representing the totality of the Zoroastrian Tradition as revealed to Zarathustra by Ahura Mazdā.

The Avestan construction of the “law of Zarathustra” subsumes under its wings a variety of sacred utterances and manifestations of divine revelation. The personal authority of Zarathustra, as the recipient and mediator of the law set down by Ahura Mazdā, serves to unify and consolidate the various components of the Zoroastrian Tradition as well as justify their inclusion in a single coherent framework of textual unity and scriptural authority.

Similarly, Moses functions in Ezra-Nehemiah as the thread unifying and consolidating the various law codes of the Pentateuch. In addition to Ezra 7:6 quoted above, this formulation appears in a number of passages in Ezra-Nehemiah, such as Nehemiah 8:1 and 10:30: Neh 8:1 … and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the scroll of the Teaching of Moses with which YHWH had charged Israel. Neh 10:30 …and take an oath with sanctions to follow the Teaching of God, given through Moses the servant of God, and to observe carefully all the commandments of YHWH our Lord, His rules and laws.”

The related concepts of “the Torah of YHWH through Moses” and “the dāta and daēnā of Ahura Mazdā through Zarathustra” allowed each culture to construct an unprecedented comprehensive scriptural unity by the weaving of the elements known through divine revelation, thus creating the Jewish Torah and the Zoroastrian Avesta. Part of giving these projects’ authority was projecting these undertakings back onto the authoritative and authorial figures of Prophets Moses and Zarathustra. 

This seems to have occurred in both cultures at roughly the same time, namely the Achaemenid Period when long after the Avesta was consolidated orally, Xerxes I (ruled 486-465 B.C.E.) mentions the “law set down by Ahuramazdā” in one of his inscriptions (XPh 46-56): The man who behaves according to the law (dāta) which Ahuramazdā set down and sacrifices to Ahuramazdā according to the Order (ạrtāvā) up on high, will be blessed while alive and with Order when dead.”

Perhaps this is why the Qur’an offers religious protection for Christians, Jews, and others: “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil, and believes in Allah, has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all things.” (Qur’an 2:256)

Ibn Kathir, the most popular traditional Qur’an commentator said: Allah said, (There is no compulsion in religion), meaning, “Do not force anyone to become a Muslim, for Islam is plain and clear, and its proofs and evidence are plain and clear. Therefore, there is no need to force anyone to embrace Islam. Rather, whoever Allah directs to Islam, opens his heart for it and enlightens his mind, will embrace Islam with certainty. Whoever Allah blinds his heart and seals his hearing and sight, then he will not benefit from being forced to embrace Islam.”

Al Qurtubi says: Scholars disagree and hold various positions regarding the legal status and meaning of this verse. Some say that it is abrogated because the Prophet forced the Arabs to adopt the din (religion) of Islam and fought them and was only pleased with Islam for them. Sulayman ibn Musa took this view, saying, “It is abrogated by ‘O Prophet! Do jihad against the unbelievers and the hypocrites.’ (9:73)” That is related from Ibn Mas’ud and many other commentators. 

(Others say) It is not abrogated and was sent down about the people of the Book in particular and means that they are not forced to adopt Islam when they pay jizya. Those who are to be forced are the idolaters. Only Islam is accepted from them, and they are the ones about whom ‘O Prophet! Do Jihad against the unbelievers and the hypocrites.’ (9:73) was revealed. 

Muhammad Ayoub said: Mujahid said, “This was before the Apostle of God was commanded to fight against the People of the Book. God’s saying, ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ was abrogated and he was commanded to fight against the People of the Book (Qur’an  9:29). According to other traditions, the verse was revealed in reference to the People of the Book, who should not be compelled to enter Islam so long as they pay jizyah (poll tax). The verse is thus, not abrogated. 

Tabari relates on the authority of Qatadah, “(Pagan) Arab society was compelled to enter Islam because they were an unlettered community [ummah ummiyah], having no book which they knew. Thus nothing other than Islam was accepted from them. The people of the Book are not to be compelled to enter Islam if they submit to paying the jizyah or kharaj [land tax].” The same view is related on the authority of al-Dahhak, Mujahid, and Ibn ‘Abbas (Tabari, V. pp. 413-414). 

Tabari agrees with this view and asserts that the verse applies to the people of the two Books (Torah and Gospel) and the Zoroastrians.

Thus the Qur’an proclaims: “Say, ‘People of the Book, let us arrive at a statement that is common to us all: we worship God alone, we ascribe no partner to Him, and none of us takes others beside God as lords.” (3:64)

“Allah enjoins justice, kindness and charity to one’s kindred, and forbids indecency, wickedness and oppression. He admonishes you so that you may take heed (Quran 16:90)

“[Believers], argue only in the best way with the People of the Book, except with those of them who act unjustly. Say, ‘We believe in what was revealed to us and in what was revealed to you; our God and your God is one [and the same]; we are devoted to Him.” (29:46)

“And He does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with anyone who has not fought you for your faith or driven you out of your homes: God loves the just. (60:8)

‘People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you could get to know one another. In God’s eyes, the most honored of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is all knowing, all aware”. (49:13)

The non-Muslims mentioned in these verses clearly include all non-Muslims, not just People of the Book. The diversity among mankind mentioned in Qir’an 49:13 is mentioned with a total  affirmation that its purpose is that different groups and individuals were enabled to learn to know each other. This point is underlined in several verses teaching that diversity in ethnicity, color, faith and culture was intended by our Creator:

“If God had so willed, He would have made you one community, but He wanted to test you through that which He has given you. (5:48) “If your Lord had pleased, He would have made all people a single community, but they continue to have their differences. (11:118–19)

“Had your Lord willed, all the people on earth would have believed. So can you [Prophet Muhammad] compel people to believe? (10:99)

The above verses abrogate those temporary (pre-democracy) verses that seem to command an ever ongoing war with non-Muslims: “O you who believe stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even if against yourselves, or your parents, or your relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, God takes care of both. So do not follow your desires, lest you swerve. If you deviate, or turn away—then God is Aware of what you do.” (Quran 4:135)

It is very important to understand that ‘religious pluralism is the will of God’ is different from religious, moral or cultural relativism. Relativism teaches that all values and standards are subjective, and therefore there is no higher spiritual authority available for setting ethical standards or making moral judgments.

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.

One thought on “Prophets Moses, Zarathustra And The Qur’an – OpEd

  • March 31, 2023 at 3:45 pm

    You obviously do not study history. The entire success in the spread of Islam beginning in the 7th century Anno Domini sprang from the use of tremendous Muslim violence in Anatolia, North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula and the southern part of Europe (particularly Italy, France and Sardinia) where tens of thousands of Christians were slaughtered or enslaved by Muslim marauders. So much for “no forced conversion” in the so-called “Islamic faith”.


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