Monday, January 5, 2009

A Rainbow over Monotheist Scripture

The above image, which can be seen in greater detail by clicking on it, was created by a collaboration between Chris Harrison, a computer scientist and Christoph Römhild, a Lutheran pastor. The lower stalactites show each of the individual chapters of each book in the King James Bible and above are arcs representing each of the know cross references coloured by their span distance.

The longest stalactite for example corresponds to Psalm 119 the longest single chapter in any of the books. By far the greatest contribution comes from the Old Testament, the New Testament forming little more than the small set of internal arcs far right where the last group of mid length stalactites correspond to the gospels.

At face value, the image suggests a great deal of integration between the Christian heritage of the New Testament and the Hebrew tradition of the Old Testament, although these are fundamentally divergent between a sacramental and a covenantal approach to the Godhead. However, this apparent integration is largely a function of the degree to which the New Testament has striven to link itself intimately to the Old as its scriptural predesessor, rather than a fundamental affinity between the two religions. Nevertheless the diagram does attest to the high degree of fusion and continuity between Jewish and Christian scripture as representing two core planks of the monotheistic complex, of which Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the central icons.

The great arcs crowning the entire figure represent the associations that span the founding myths of Genesis to Revelation and other New Testament chapters. These confirm the destiny Christianity has carved out for itself as the inheritor of the Fall and the Eden story of the falling out between Eve, Adam and Jehovah as an allegory of original sin and the existential dilemma of Abba a new manifestation of the ancient God acting in history, with Jesus acting as the arrow lightning rod stringing the bow which extends from Genesis to the End of Days.

A second set of arcs links New Testament chapters to the prophets, such as Isaiah and Daniel and to the Psalms seeking to establish Jesus as the prophesied messiah. The fewer assocations between the later prophetic books leave a somewhat ironic shadow arc, given the strong analogies between Yeshua's mission and the foolish shepherd of Zechariah with its apocalyptic denouement.

One thing the figure makes abundantly clear is the deeper scriptural integration between Judaism and Christianity than that between Islam and either of the former.

In contrast, the Qur'an, although it claims a common Abrahamic heritage, and to be the final destiny of all three religions, and does refer in various Sura to Biblical events, from Eden, through Abraham, to the prophets and Jesus as a prophet, along with Mary as his mother, runs an independent course in short poetic sketches, mixing brief Biblical outlines with elements of Jewish Targum and Midrash, such as the story of Solomon and the Hoopoe spying on the Queen of Sheba, which attest to the pivotal influence of Judaism on Muhammad's development, and the debt Islam owes to the Jewish tradition for its very existence.

The Queen of Sheba and the Hoopoe

The Qur'an recounts the tale of the hoopoe and Solomon witnessing the Queen of Sheba's hairy feet in a deceptive floor mirror, neither of which is in the Bible, but which appear in Jewish midrash in the Targum Sheni. Historians have recounted with alarm the violence with which Muhammad portrays Solomon's reaction to the Hoopoe's absence, especially since it is said that Muhammad then forbade the killing of the Hoopoe:

And he reviewed the birds, then said: How is it I see not the hoopoe or is it that he is of the absentees? 1 will most certainly punish him with a severe punishment, or kill him, or he shall bring to me a clear plea. And he tarried not long, then said: I comprehend that which you do not comprehend and I have brought to you a sure information from Sheba (27.20 ).

One should note that the Qur'an makes a specific accusation that, despite being an Arab nation, the Queen of Sheba, unlike the Hebrew King, is worshiping the sun and the devil, implying that women are wont to seek after false Gods - an echo of his own destruction of the Goddess of Mecca - Allat, al-Uzza and Manat:

Surely I found a woman ruling over them, and she has been given abundance and she has a mighty throne: 1 found her and her people adoring the sun instead of Allah, and the Shaitan has made their deeds fair-seeming to them and thus turned them from the way, so they do not go aright (27.23).

This is ironical and intolerant, for the Bible, despite many diatribes against the gods and goddesses of the nations, says that Solomon himself worshipped Asherah and freely allowed his wives to worship their own deities:

But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites: ... For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. ... And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods (1 Kings 11).

Likewise at Hudaybiyah and other places of strategic vulnerability, Muhammad refers in the Qur'an to the Sakina or Spirit of Tranquility, of which Karen Armstrong has noted "The sakina it will also be recalled, seems to be related to the Hebrew Shekhinah, the term for God’s presence in the world."

He it is Who sent down the sakina into the hearts of the believers
that they might add faith unto their faith (48:4)

The Qur'anic instances of sakina share many attributes of the Shekhinah, including 'indwelling' but ironically appear repeatedly in the Qur'an in contexts where a temporary peace is struck, only to be obrogated later, when strategic circumstances are more favourable, leading to the notion of takiya or faking the peace.

Although the earliest datings of the Targum Sheni are hard to finally pin down, leading to some controversy as to whether they predate the Qur'an, it is clear that the Qur'anic references, like the Christian aspects of the Biblical rainbow, are linking to preexisting Jewish folklore, which Muhammad learned from the Jews of Medina, where there had been a strong Jewish colony, lasting from Roman times, before committing an unnecessary genocide of 700 Jewish men and taking the women as sexual slaves after the siege of Medina by the Quraysh of Mecca.

Like Christian claims that the Old Testament prophetic references show Jesus was the chosen messiah, Muslim claims that the Qur'an is a primary source and that the Targum Sheni is merely a later reflection of the Muslim account is a religious reconstruction which runs contrary to the natural history of cultural traditions and leads to false 'docetic' claims concerning the ultimate Abrahamic and Adamic roots of Islam, which parallel the Christian great arcs above linking Genesis to Revelation.

Like the Book of Mormon, the Quran represents a disjunction in the scriptural tradition, having its own parallel summary accounts in Arabic rather than any of the extant Biblical languages, from Hebrew, through Aramaic, to Greek, which enabled a degree of scriptural integration between Jewish and Christian scriptures, which was impossible for the Quran.

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