History and Sources

Are there any important links between the Qur’an and the Bible?

Since the Islamic interpretation of history overlaps in significant ways with those of Judaism and Christianity, one should not be surprised to find that some material in the Qur’an parallels some biblical material. Some narrative treatments of various biblical patriarchs and kings, whom the Qur’an identifies as prophets and messengers, immediately recall aspects of biblical accounts. But there are also interesting variations in the stories. Adam and Eve’s fall, for example, is connected with eating from a forbidden tree (or an ear of wheat in one version). Sprinkled throughout the scripture are references to Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son (whom Islamic tradition takes to be Ishmael rather than Isaac), and to Moses’ mission to Pharaoh, David’s musical gifts, Solomon’s royal grandeur, and others. Perhaps the single most important parallel is the story of Joseph of the many-colored coat, son of Jacob and father of two tribes of Israel. Sura 12 of the Qur’an retells the tale found in Genesis 39-50 with its own distinctive flavor and variations in detail. Only Joseph’s story is told in its entirety, and all in a single sura dedicated entirely to it.

Though many Jewish and Christian readers often conclude that Muhammad “borrowed” from the Bible, that is not necessarily the case. The way the Qur’an tells the stories, mostly in short excerpts and allusions, suggests that Muhammad’s listeners must have been already familiar with at least the general drift of the narratives. There are also some accounts of non-biblical prophetic figures, called Hud, Salih, and Shuayb, in some ways unique to the Arabian peninsula. It is important to note that Muslim tradition has discerned in both the Old and New Testaments references to the coming of Islam’s prophet. God promised to raise up for Israel a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18)—Muhammad. The prophet Isaiah sees two riders approaching, one on a donkey and the other on a camel: Jesus and Muhammad. Jesus promised to send a parakletos (“advocate,” John 14:16), but Muslim commentators argue that with the correct vowels, the Greek word is periklutos, meaning “highly praised,” the exact meaning of muhammad in Arabic.


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