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Saadia Gaon and the Quran

The blog of the Revel Graduate School at YU has a very interesting summary of a talk given by Prof. Meir Bar Asher on the relationship between Saadia Gaon, his commentary on the Torah, the Quran, and Quranic interpretation. It makes for a great read on how knowledge of other religious and exegetical traditions can help us understand Jewish tradition.

Saadia’s endeavor to harmonize the Hebrew Bible with reason is not unlike similar Muslim attempts—through interpretation—to reconcile rational difficulties posed by the Qur’an. Indeed, this rationalist tendency is evident in some of the commentaries on Qur’an 3, 7 that Bar-Asher presented to the audience. The very early Qur’an exegete Muqatil ibn Sulayman (d. 767) explains that the muhkamāt are prescriptive verses dictating laws such as: “be good to your parents, and [do] not slay your children because of poverty…that you approach not any indecency outward or inward…and fill up the measure and balance with justice” (Qur’an 6:151-153). Bar-Asher suggested that this definition of muhkamāt parallels Saadia’s category of “rational commandments” (mitzvot sikhliyyot). According to Muqatil ibn Sulayman the mutashābihāt are the mysterious letters alif, lam, mim, etc. appearing at the beginning of some sura’s of the Qur’an—the meaning of which is unknown. Also giving Qur’an 3, 7 a “halakhic” valence, abu Ubayd (d. 838), another early commentator, equates the muhkamāt with the so-called “abrogating” verses of the Qur’an, while the mutashābihāt are the “abrogated” verses, i.e., laws that were given at an early stage but superseded by (“abrogating”) verses given later.

See here for the complete article.

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