Responses to Islamic Awareness

To Moo Or Not To Moo, That Is The Question!
The Art of Selective Quotation and the Tu Quoque Fallacy


The "Islamic Awareness" team desperately attempts to save the Qur'an from a serious historical and philosophical error - the Qur'an's claim that a Samaritan tempted the Israelites to worship the Golden Calf and that the calf mooed.

Saifullah and Company use a combination of ad hominem attacks against (in their words) the famous ‘Reverend and Saint’ Rev. W. St. Clair Tisdall and his master Abraham Geiger, and incomplete and selective quotations from various publications in order to defend, what they believe to be, the Word of God.

2. The Case Against Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer

The "Islamic Awareness" team quotes the The Jewish Encyclopaedia which says that the Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer was written during the post-Islamic period. They conveniently omitted a point that was made in another response to "Islamic Awareness" - that there are at least two ancient manuscripts of the Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer. The ancient Vienna manuscript, which has only in recent years been translated into English, shows every evidence of being pre-Islamic.

The "Islamic Awareness" team cites the Encyclopedia Of Islam to bolster their case that the Midrashic traditions (e.g., Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer and Tanhuma) which contain this story post-date Islam. However, this is not true.

Meyer Waxman's A History of Jewish Literature, a source also used by the "Islamic Awareness" team, tells us on page 139:

Besides the cycle of Rabba, i.e. Large Midrashim on the Pentateuch, there exists another Midrashic cycle on these books known as the Tanhuma-Yelamdenu-Midrashim. The first name given to it because of the numerous homiletic interpretations of verses quoted in the name of Tanhuma, the son of Abba, a famous Palestinian Agadist who lived towards the end of the fourth century. The second name of this cycle arises from the fact that a very large number of homilies open with the formula Yelamdénu Rabénu i.e. may our master teach us. It begins with a question in Halakah, and while the Halakic matter is dispensed with in a few words, the discussion turns to Agada and homiletic interpretation.

Of this kind of Midrashim, we have several versions: (1) An older Midrash which was known to the early scholars of Italy and France by the name Yelamdénu, but which is now practically lost except for a few fragments; (2) the printed Tanhuma; (3) the manuscript Tanhuma which was edited and published in 1883 by the late Solomon Buber. All three belong to one Midrashic cycle, and the Yelamdénu seems to have been the earliet, as collections of such homilies where the Halakah was joined to the Agada, inasmuch as the preacher was a teacher of both, existed in large numbers. It is these collections which served as the background and source books for the late Midrashim, the compilers of which drew upon them in abundance. For this reason, we find the homilies beginning with the formula, "May our master teach us," scattered through all Midrashic cycles such as the Tanhuma, Pesiktu (Sec. 84) and in the books of the Rabba (Sec. 82). The date of the Yelamdénu collection is, therefore, an early one and is probably contemporaneous with the Genesis Rabba, about the beginning of the sixth century C.E., and the place of origin, Palestine.

Of the other two versions, namely the Tanhumas, the printed one seems to have been earlier, but it could not have been the work of the author whose name it bears, as there are evidences which show definitely that the compiler was aquainted with the Karaite movement, with the works of Geonim written in the eighth century and other late events. The date of compilation is, therefore, placed by most scholars to be the second half of the ninth century.... The manuscript Tanhuma is not much younger than the printed one. It dates most likely from the end of the ninth century and is an incomplete version, as it contains new material only on the first three books of Moses; the other two are alike in both.

Please notice that Waxman tells us that the compilation dates from the second half of the ninth century. The man who compiled this Midrash, most likely included material dating from his lifetime in addition to older material dating from the pre-Islamic period. This process is how the Midrashim evolved over the centuries. The compiler was not the author of the entire work, as another source quoted by "Islamic Awareness" points out in another article.

Samuel Berman's A History of Jewish Literature, on page x, tells us:

The name Tanhuma Yelammedenu was assigned arbitrarily to this homiletical compilation and is found in a number of manuscripts and in several printed editions. The first half of the title, Tanhuma, was adopted from the name of Tanhuma bar Abba, one of the most prolific aggadists in Jewish literature, who lived in the fourth century C.E.. Numerous sayings quoted in his name in the text account for the attribution of this work to him. The second half of the title Yelammedenu, is, in fact, part of the formula yelammedenu rabbenu, "may our master teach us," which is repeated frequently in this Midrash. Scholars are in agreement that this formula was the title of a midrashic text that existed long before our Midrash was compiled. Though that work has been lost to us, quotations using the formula are to be found in a number of other Midrashim, as well as in our Tanhuma Yelammedenu.

The Encyclopedia Of Islam entry cited by the "Islamic Awareness" team (page 1046) has some interesting perspectives concerning how, and where, Muhammad lifted the information which he used to create his tale:

Speyer suggested a reference to the story of Zimri (and thus al-Samiri) ben Salu from Numbers 25:14, who was guilty of defying Moses in having relations with a Moabite woman. More recently, Schwartzbaum, developing a suggestion of Yehuda, has suggested that we have a tale in which the story of King Jeroboam's calves (one of which, according to Talmudic tradition, was able to talk, thus being parallel to the Kur'anic idea of the golden calf "lowing") has merged with that of Moses and the golden calf. The conflation stemmed from Jeroboam's statement "here are your gods, Israel, that brought you up from Egypt" (I Kings 22:28) in reference to his two golden calves, a statement which also appears in Exodus 32:4 in the mouth of Aaron. Providing the link to al-Samiri is the point that Jeroboam's capital was Shechem (I Kings 12:25), the Samaritan sacred centre.

3. To Moo Or Not To Moo, or Tu Quoque

The "Islamic Awareness" team desperately attempts to side step the issue of Almighty God being so deceitful as to trick the Israelites into the worship of an idol, something God detests, by causing the Golden Calf to moo. The question of whether, or not, God would deceive people into sinning highlights the differences between the God of Christianity and the god of Islam. The Quran testifies that Allah is a deceiver:

Lo! the hypocrites seek to beguile Allah, but it is He Who beguileth them. When they stand up to worship they perform it languidly and to be seen of men, and are mindful of Allah but little; (Sura 4:142)

Further passages which claim that Allah is a deceiver or schemer include Suras 8:30 and 3:54. Allah even misleads people and has actually created people to burn in Hell:

"Whomsoever Allah guides, he is rightly guided, and whom He leads astray, they are the losers! We have created for Hell many Jinns and men... Do ye desire to guide him whom Allah led astray? Whom Allah leads away, you will find no way for him." Sura 4:87, 90 (c.f. S. 11:118, 120)

"Those whom Allah wills to guide, He opens their breast to Islam; Those whom He wills to leave straying, - he makes their breast close and constricted, as if they had to climb up to the skies: thus does Allah lay abomination on those who refuse to believe." Sura 6:125

"Many are the Jinns and men we have made for Hell." Sura 7:179

"Allah leads astray whomsoever He will and guides whomsoever he will." Sura 14:4

With this view of God, I wonder if the "Islamic Awareness" team has ever considered the possibility that Allah is deceiving them? If we compare the Muslim god with the God worshiped by Christians, we find that God is Holy and Faithful,

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. Deuteronomy 7:9

The quality of Faithfulness is essential to God's being because without it, He would not be God. If God acted in a way that was unfaithful, it would be to act contrary to His nature, and this is impossible:

"... if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself." 2 Timothy 2:13

"Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for He is faithful that promised." Hebrews 10:23

For God to mislead the Israelites into worshiping an idol is unthinkable based on the Faithfulness and Holiness of God. God does not test people through deception:

"There has no testing taken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tested above that you are able; but will with the testing also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it." 1 Corinthians 10:13

The "Islamic Awareness" team then employs the Tu Quoque fallacy in a somewhat bizarre argument:

We will simply reply by saying that Christians themselves report the idols or statues of Virgin Mary performing "miracles" for believers. This has been reported in both Europe and Latin America. Does that now mean that their (Trinitarian) god has given these idols the power to perform miracles, even though idolatry is so much detested by God?

In other words, if my religion has a problem, then so does yours. As a Bible believing Christian, I do not accept such things as a sign of anything - God is not the deceiver, that distinction belongs to Satan. Bleeding statues, crying icons, milk drinking Ganesh statues, the Shahada in the tomato, and false prophets such as Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and Sun Yung Moon are deceptions created by man and/or Satan.

The Bible warns us:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible. (Matthew 24:24)

Does this prove that Muhammad borrowed his tales from the Midrash? No, it does not. In fact, Jewish scholars, such as Berman, tell us that they have no idea of the original text of the Midrash Tanhuma-Yelammedenu, or how much of it can be attributed to Rabbi Tanhuma. However, the question cannot be so easily dismissed with the selective quotations of the "Islamic Awareness" article.

Andrew Vargo

Other Articles On The Borrowing Theories Of The Qur'ân

What Is The Source Of The Story Of Cain & Abel In The Qur'ân: Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer Or Midrash Tanhuma?

Is The Qur'ân's Story Of Solomon & Sheba From Targum Sheni? [1], [2]

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