ه‍.ش. ۱۳۹۲ دی ۱۰, سه‌شنبه

Dramatic Features of The Bible and Qur'an

One of the most striking literary features of the Hebrew Bible in comparison with the Qur'an is that the biblical narratives are more fictional and dramatic than those of the Qur'an. In the Bible, characters are more human and thus more ignorant and rebellious making many mistakes. Whereas in the Qur'an the good characters are excessively faithful and wouldn't dare to challenge the commands of God/Allah. Let me give some examples.

In the Hebrew Bible, almost from the beginning of the book of Genesis, which lays the basis for many other biblical narratives, God's deeds and sayings are full of rage and mistakes which give him more of a human character rather than a mighty, unique and unmistakable god who can manage his self-invented universe properly:
3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die. 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3) [1]
In the later passages of this very chapter God regrets and corrects himself:
22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the Garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
Here lies the old irony that if God himself had created everything why would he made the serpent who seduced Eve which, in turn, consequently caused the fall of Adam?
Of course, from the standpoint of a literary critic or even an experienced reader, this is not a relevant question. Because, in this story we deal with an allegory or a myth or a fable which is more literary than theological. If we take the literary dimensions of such narratives more seriously, we may be able to explain the causes and the effects of such incidents better and make them also believable.
In another case, in the story of Lut, his two daughters’ work in collusion to make their father drunk and lie with him:
And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.” (Gen 19: 31-32)
Here, not only have we the sacred boundaries broken, but the text also crosses the bounds even the bounds of non-sacred and even modern narratives, since the incestuous theme is not very common in classics nor is in modern works.             
In contrast to the Hebrew Bible, in the Qur'an, God never comes to regret his own works, and Lut doesn't commit incest according to the narrative of the Qur'an. In the Qur'an characters are too decent and the narrator, whether Allah, Gabriel, or Mohammad, does not situate the personages in such hazardous conditions as that of Lut's. The Qur'an makes its characters more perfect but less human because they don't do evil, as a result, they have not real human characteristics and are indeed very one-dimensional. The biblical characters are much fully-formed, hence, more believable.
According to the Routledge's The Qur'an: an encyclopedia, some of the biblical characters are more revered in the Qur'an than the Hebrew Bible or the Gospels:
[…] Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Zechariah, John the Baptist and Jesus are, according to Islam, among the prophets and messengers of God. Jews and Christians recognize David and Solomon as great kings and patriarchs of ancient Israel, but not as prophets. However, in Islam they are regarded as prophets, and the Qur'an not only recounts their stories and also endeavors to restore their status by removing some of the charges and allegations made against their characters by earlier, deceitful authors. (328)
At the moment, I haven't a clear idea about the roots of such an attitude in the Qur'an. But, I suppose one of the main causes of such phenomenon lies in one of the essential strategies of the narrator of the Qur'an. Qur'anic narratives are severely bound by the moral codes of Islam, so the narrator has very little authority and his freedom in choice of subject-matter and typifying the characters is narrow. The Qur'an's prophets are more like cherubim not human, so, they rarely exhibit a common individual, therefore, they mostly function as mediums for conveying ideological motivations rather than accomplishing a fictional narrative.
According to the Routledge Encyclopedia: “The prophet Lut (Lot) is mentioned by name in the Qur'an twenty-seven times. Several long passages tell the story of Lut and the people of Sodom to whom he is sent (e.g. 7.80–84; 11.74–83; 15.61–77; 26.160–175; 27.54–58; 29.28–35; 37.133-138; 51.31–37; 54.33–40).” (376)
None of these references gives any clue of that astonishing incident which had happened to the Lut in Torah. Why? Because, I guess, according to the moral principles of Islam the prophets of Allah don't do such hideous things never. The authority of Allah is so extreme in the scripture that sometimes completely represses unpleasant parts of the old stories. The Story of Lut is a good example of this process.
In conclusion, I don’t think the issue is as simple and straight forward as I purported it above, but this note is only the beginning and I will expand on it to the extent that I’d finally gain a proper perception of both fictional characteristics of the two books (the Bible and the Qur'an), and also of the main moral and ideological motivations which bring such different attitudes out of similar characters.
It should be mentioned that by this comparison between the Bible and the Qur'an I am not going to evaluate the moral or religious principles of Judaism or Islam. Personally I think the Qur'an is more ethical than the Old Testament, but, as I mentioned before, I am interested in fictions rather than morals. So it goes!
Many thanks to Hadi for editing this note and for his helps and instructions.
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
[1] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, 2001
[2] The Qur'an: an Encyclopedia, Edited by Oliver Leaman, Routledge 2006

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