Many of the political conflicts between the Arabs and Israel can be traced back to Biblical stories the Quran usurped and reworked in disturbing manners to suit the goals of Islam. Some scholars recognize this phenomenon as an even more egregious form of Replacement Theology than Christianity ever was, leaving no room for compromise.
“The entire basis of the regional conflict is based on religion and begins inside the holy books,” Dr. Bat-sheva Garsiel, of Bar Ilan University, told Breaking Israel News. “Islam agrees that God gave the Torah to the Jews at Mount Sinai but the details and the differences are what fuel the conflict.”
Muslims believe the Quran was verbally revealed by God to Muhammad through the angel Jibril (Gabriel ) over a period of 23 years, beginning on 22 December 609 CE. Written more than 500 years after the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 CE and almost 2,000 years after Rabbinic sources claim God gave Moses the Torah at Mount Sinai, the Quran acknowledges that it is based the Torah. The Torah basis is unmistakable as there are no less than 50 characters in the Quran that have their sources in the Bible.
The commonalities between the Quran and the Jewish Torah are indeed extensive and Dr. Garsiel has written several authoritative books on the convergence of Judaism and Islam. She believes the differences between the texts are significant and have real-world implications.
The common elements shared by the Torah and the Quran first appear at the very beginning, with the story of Adam and Ḥawwā (Eve) and continue with Cain and Hābīl (Abel). For the most part, the stories in the Quran and the Torah are very similar. These common elements are intentional from the side of Islam.
“Islam believes that both the Quran and the Torah came down from heaven at Sinai,” Dr. Garsiel said. “The Arabs of Muhammad’s time respected the Jews and held them in high regard. Scholars of Islam believe that because of the status of Jews, Muhammad learned directly from Jews in Saudi Arabia.”
“Ibn Ishaq, a Muslim Arab author who wrote about the life of Muhammad less than one hundred years after his death, wrote that Muhammad used to go to the Jewish readings of the Torah which the Jews read first in Hebrew and then in Arabic for the Arabs who came to hear the reading.”
Dr. Garsiel noted that there are many differences in the Biblical accounts as they are related to in the Quran.
“Since Muhammad did not write it down, many of the details differ from the Jewish tradition though the main themes are the same,” Dr. Garsiel said. “The Muslims explain this by saying that Jews changed the Torah. There are also some aspects of the Torah, for example, some of the laws of keeping kosher, that Islam believes are specific to the Jews and not relevant to the Muslims.”
These similarities, rather than bring Islam and Judaism closer, are actually the basis for the inter-religious conflict, beginning with the story of Abraham, who is described very differently in the Quran.
“Abraham is revered as the biological father of Isaac but he is described in the Quran as establishing Islam,” Dr. Garsiel explained. “Despite Abraham being a devout Muslim, the people around him did not believe in Allah. This did not change until Muhammad who re-established Islam and purified the Kaaba in Saudi Arabia (Islam’s holiest site) which, according to the Quran, was first established by Adam.”
The textual conflict between the Quran and the Torah continues with the Jewish patriarch, Isaac and the Arabic patriarch, Ishmael.
“When it comes to the Binding of Isaac, there is an ongoing dispute within Islam as to which of Abraham’s son was on the altar,” Dr. Garsiel said. “The Quran only describes him as ‘the son.’ This is a dispute with major implications since the son who was on the altar has greater merit. This is further confused since many of the aspects of Isaac in the Torah were adopted by the Quran to describe Ishmael.”
This dispute between Ishmael and Isaac is still expressed today in the ancient city, Hebron. At the heart of the city is a large structure built by King Herod, the king of Judea in the first century BCE. The structure is the location of the Cave of the Patriarchs, the burial site of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs. Abraham’s purchase of the site is mentioned in the Torah.
And then Avraham buried his wife Sarain the cave of the field of Machpelah, facing Mamre—now Chevron—in the land of Canaan.Genesis 23:19
Despite the Quran’s rejection of Isaac’s spiritual relevance and his bloodline, Islam has laid claim to the Cave of the Patriarchs and in the 12th century, the entire site was converted into a mosque. Though Muslim interest in the site is clearly due to the significance of Abraham and his purchase of the site as it is related in the Quran. Nonetheless, it is, ironically, the Hall of Isaac that is designated for solely Islamic use and Jews are forbidden to enter.
“Isaac is revered by the Muslims because he was related to Abraham and Ishmael,” Dr. Garsiel said as an admittedly less than an optimum explanation for the current situation in the Cave of the Patriarchs.
The burial site of Moses is unknown and therefore, not a source of dispute. But he is the Biblical character whose representation in the Quran has been the basis of the century-long conflict in Israel between the Muslims and the Jews.
“Moses in the Quran is more or less similar to what the Torah wrote about him,” Dr. Garsiel said. “The biographical details are almost identical. The Quran wrote that Moses brought the Jews out of Egypt and God gave them the Torah at Mount Sinai. It does not mention the Jews going into Israel. The Jews went into ‘the Holy Land’ or the “Promised Land’. This is understood to be ‘Greater Syria,’ which includes parts of today’s Syria, Israel and Jordan.”
On the basis of the Quranic Exodus narrative, the Jews should have a clear claim to Israel, but it is specifically this story which is the basis of Islam’s rejection of the Jewish State.
“Modern Islam, especially radical Islam, has changed the precise meaning of what is written in the Quran in this regard,” Dr. Garsiel said. “Islam believes that the land was indeed promised to the Jews but since the Jews sinned, the land, all of ‘Greater Syria,’ no longer belongs to the Jews.”
“They acknowledge that Jerusalem and Israel were Jewish, are still Jewish in their essence, but it is no longer relevant,” Dr. Garsiel emphasized.
Another interesting difference between the Quran and the Bible that has present day political implications is based on the differences between the versions as they relate to the story of the Prophet Samuel anointing King Saul.
“In the Bible, Samuel initially resists the imperative to anoint a king,” Dr. Garsiel noted.
Shmuel was displeased that they said “Give us a king to govern us.” Shmuel prayed to Hashem. I Samuel 8:6
“In Judaism, a flesh-and-blood king is not the optimal condition,” Dr. Garsiel explained. “In the Quran, Samuel is immediately enthusiastic, indicative of the Islamic emphasis on its role as a political structure.”
This conflict over Biblical narratives is even greater between Islam and Christianity with regards to their different interpretations of Jesus. Dr. Timothy Furnish who teaches history at Reinhardt University has a Ph.D. in Islamic studies. As a devout Lutheran, the appearance of Jesus in the Quran is personally significant to Dr. Furnish.
“The Quran does tell about Jesus as a Muslim Prophet,” Dr. Furnish told Breaking Israel News. “But the Quran changes many of the details, denying the role Jesus has in Christianity. The Quran specifically rejects the crucifixion story and resurrection, and the Hadiths (Islamic oral traditions) explain that Judas was crucified in his place. Islam claims that Jesus went straight to heaven without dying.”
“In the hadiths, it is written that when the Mahdi (the Muslim messiah) arrives to conquer the world for Islam, Jesus will also arrive and work with him,” Furnish continued. “He will kill all the swine since they are impure and break all the crosses since the crucifixion never happened. He will offer the Christians the choice of converting to Islam or dying.”
Dr. Furnish described Islam as basing itself upon Replacement Theology, a belief that it has replaced all previous religions. Replacement Theology was a core tenet of Christianity. Subsequent to and because of the Holocaust, some mainstream Christian theologians and denominations have rejected Replacement Theology, also known as supersessionism.
“Tahrif, Islamic Replacement Theology, is a much more extreme form than Christianity ever was,” Dr. Furnish claimed. “There are many branches of Christianity that allow for other religions, but there is no branch or interpretation of Islam that allows for any other religion.”
Dr. Garsiel agreed with Furnish’s characterization of Islam.
“As its basis, Islam believes that every other religion, especially Judaism and Christianity, are no longer valid,” Dr. Garsiel said. “Islam acknowledges that the Torah and New Testament were both given from heaven but since Muhammad’s arrival, there is no place for other religions in the world. At its core, Islam believes that everyone must be Muslim.”