The Qur'anic legend of Abraham and the Idols
(A response to a Muslim article)
An article by Mohd Elfie Nieshaem Juferi claims to be a rebuttal to my article of the generally accepted Qur'anic myth concerning Abraham and the idols which comes from the Midrash Rabbah on Genesis - a 2nd century collection of Rabbinic Homilies.
We shall briefly examine the methodology of Mr Juferi who also goes by the title "Menj", his actual treatment of my authorities, sources and comments, his knowledge of the subject and lastly his authorities, arguments and sources.
METHODOLOGY - is personal attack and misrepresentation a valid methodology?
"The foundations for this scholastic tradition have been laid down by Abraham Geiger, whose discipleship includes two Jewish writers, Abraham Katsch and Professor C C Torrey. Indeed, this same desire has become an almost roguish obsession of the Christian missionaries, the most noteworthy name in this line of missionary bigotry is that of the Reverend W. St. Clair Tisdall. However, unlike Geiger, Katsch, and Torrey, the missionaries have failed to conduct any original research of their own, choosing instead to rely quite heavily upon the work of others."
However it has been well known from the very time of the compilation of the Qur'an that it contained "Tales of the Ancients". Indeed the rejection of the Qur'anic religion throughout the ages, by those interested in investigating it, has centered on the make up of the Qur'an and Rabbi Geiger in the introduction to his work only claims that he is giving the "general public a work" never claiming that he was the discoverer of the facts. Furthermore he acknowledges "It is assumed that Muhammad borrowed from Judaism, and this assumption, as will be shown later, is rightly based."
Juferi then takes personal issue with those he calls "missionary bigots" and claims:
"the missionaries have failed to conduct any original research of their own, choosing instead to rely quite heavily upon the work of others."
Juferi also claims, incorrectly, in linking my article that I am a missionary:
"It has been claimed by the Christian missionaries that:"
I can assure the reader that my research into this matter was entirely original. It was conducted at a Jewish Seminary, the Leo Baeck College library in North London with the assistance of the chief librarian.
Furthermore the text of the Midrash Rabbah Genesis, in which the myth is recorded, is readily available in the Soncino edition in many public libraries.
So to begin with the method of Juferi can be seen to be built upon false claims, assumptions and baseless personal attack
JUFERI'S REBUTTAL - What did Juferi rebut?
Juferi claims to have "rebutted" my article yet he only ever quoted one section of my article and never commented on any of my sources or authorities. Such a response can not be termed rebuttal since Juferi simply decided to ignore the authorities on the matter.
In fact what Juferi did was to take one paragraph, cut out the reference to the opinion of Rabbi Hertz that the story was a legend, and add it to a second paragraph making it look like one paragraph. This kind of editing is deceitful especially as Juferi never commented on the authorities I quoted to support my opinion.
Juferi then adds:
"The author went on to claim that since this story in the Midrash is similar to the Qur'anic version, therefore it could be concluded that the Qur'an borrowed this story. But is that really?"
But since Juferi never dealt with anything more of my article or any of the evidence this is not a rebuttal. Juferi simply went off at a tangent seeking to put in place the opinion of one single Jew which he found on an internet Bulletin Board. As we shall see the opinion of the "authority" is as confused as Juferi's on the matter.
AUTHORITIES - Why did Juferi not examine, quote or refute my authorities?
In addition to the authorities and opinions quoted in my article which included a statement from a former Chief Rabbi of the the United Kingdom (Rabbi Hertz) I provided Juferi with a number of additional sources. Here are all the sources which were put to Juferi and which neither did he comment upon or seek to refute:
1. A dictionary definition of Midrashic stories "Ancient Jewish commentary on part of the Hebrew Scriptures attached to the Biblical text" (The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary)
2. Definition of midrash from the Encyclopedia Judaica 1996 Jerusalem edition vol 7
a. "The Midrash of the Torah is the lesson derived from the verse" (p1508)
b. "Genesis Rabbah...Oldest aggadic Midrash (p1510)
c. "The midrash consist of a collection of homilies (p 1510) d. Directly under the heading "Fiction Hebrew" - "The *story* in Talmudic Midrashic literature" (v6 p1261)
3. Rabbinic opinion a. The testimony of a former Chief Rabbi: "The fight against idolatry begun by the Prophets (Biblical Prophets) was continued by the Pharisees. Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, they taught, started on his career as an idol wrecker. In legends, parables and discourses, they showed forth the folly and futility of idol worship..." (Former Chief Rabbi J H Hertz from the "Book of Jewish Thoughts" 1942 - Pub - The office of the Chief Rabbi London)
b. The testimony Of Rabbi Dr I Epstein BA, PhD, D.Lit from the work which contains the Midrash on Abraham breaking idols which Muhammad retold in his own words. "The considerable indebedness of Mahommed to the midrash for the legendary and other material which he incorporated in the Koran has already been proved over a century ago by Abraham Geiger in his work..." (Foreword to the Midrash Rabbah Genesis Page XX - Soncino edition 1961 translated by Rabbi H Freidman BA, PhD and Maurice Simon MA)
4. More from the Encyclopedia Judaica
a. "When Muhammad began to fill his suras with stories of the Prophets, Abraham received a large share mainly on the basis of material from Talmudic legends.......He smashed idols of his father, was thrown into a furnace, was miraculously saved and migrated to the Holy Land...(v2 p119)
b. On another topic of interest "There is little doubt that in one form or another he (Muhammad) heard the story of Abraham as the founder of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as told in the book of Jubilees (22:23-4). With the aid of this new material Muhammad constructed the ingenious theory that Abraham built the Kabaa with his son Ishmael" (v2 p120)
c. "The Koranic story of Abraham which contains many Rabbinical legends is fully covered by H Speyer in...(v2 p121) Conclusion: It is very evident that Muhammad had a fixation with Abraham as a foundation tool upon which to construct his own religion and claim to prophethood. It is a far bigger topic than I have time or space to detail here.
The overwhelming opinion of all serious Jewish Authorities is that this story which appears in the Qur'an is a legend and a myth and Mr Juferi failed completely to comment on these authorities or to attempt to refute them.
JUFERI'S SOURCE AND AUTHORITY - The confusion, ignorance and weakness of Juferi and his authority.
In this section we shall examine Juferi's source, the dialogue Juferi had with his source and the way in which Juferi applied his source.
Who is Juferi's source?
1. Juferi's source claims to be a Jew going by the name of JosephG who Juferi came into contact through the message boards at CARM.org. Juferi established his own message board and JosephG joined that discussion. The credentials of JosephG are unclear but in a message dated 8/11/00 he had this to say about himself:
"For your information, I am Jewish, and am very actively involved in counter-missionary (Christian) work. As a native born, raised, and educated Israeli (I've now been living in the US for over 40 years), I am intimately familiar with the Hebrew Bible and, of course, fluent (at an expert level) in Hebrew. I also speak other languages (sadly, my Arabic, which I spoke quite well as a student, is very weak by now, since I haven't used it in all the time I've lived in the US)."
From this information it can hardly be claimed that this JosephG is any recognised Jewish authority. There is no mention of religious education, qualifications, Rabbinic training or bibliography. However at the time this seemed of little importance to Juferi - he had found his Jewish "authority" and if subsequently JosephG claims to be the chief Rabbi of the US - It will matter little because he has already demonstrated his ignorance of the issue in question as we shall see.
1a. What did JosephG know about Islam and the Qur'an which permitted him to be an authority on the matter under question? Well again we have to go to his message of 8/11/00 in which he says:
"One of my current interests is to learn about Islam"
To indicate how little he knows about the Qur'an he then asks:
"What I would like to ask of you is to make recommendations about the following:
1. Is the Holy Qur'an available online in English? And if there are more than one rendition, which do you believe is the one most faithful to the original text?
2. Can you recommend a good 'hardcopy' English version of the Holy Qur'an, since I'd like to purchase one as well?"
So from the statements of JosephG we can see that he knows little or nothing about Islam and appears to know even less about the Qur'an or it's contents. So much for Juferi's Jewish authority. Juferi having failed to refer to serious Jewish authority on the status of the Qur'anic Story of Abraham and the idols has chosen for his authority someone who has little or no knowledge of the contents of the Qur'an and as we shall also see, the Jewish Abrahamic myth.
DIALOGUE BETWEEN JUFERI AND JOSEPHG (part 1)
The story in question is recorded in the Midrash Rabbah on Genesis and is attributed to the great Jewish sage Rabbi Hiyya. The Midrash is a fundamental work of Judaism, which in the 1961 Soncino edition is of 10 volumes and which any educated religious Jew has very good knowledge. The stories in the Midrash are taught to Jews from childhood...
Bearing in mind that Juferi was supposedly refuting my article in which my source (The Midrash) was clearly mentioned he proceeded to ask JosephG this on 9/11/00:
"I wish to ask you about this: how authoritative is the stories in the Talmud? For example, I believe that the story of Abraham (P) and the idols is also available in the Talmud."
Now no writer including myself has ever claimed that the story is in the "Talmud". Furthermore Juferi, though, in his article, tries to dismiss the similarities of the stories in the Midrash and Qur'an here he admits that they are the same story.
In a reply of the same date JosephG has obviously not grasped the question and simply gives some background to the Talmud and fails to give any answer as he admits in a reply of the 9/15/00 10:15:27 pm. To a second question by Juferi. He says:
"I realize now that I never addressed your mention of the story of our Patriarch Abraham and the idols"
This omission by JosephG had prompted Juferi to earlier ask:
"I am made to understand that the story of "Abraham and the Idols" is in the part of the Talmud called Agada, right? A Jewish person told me that in the Agada, the stories may be truth or false. Your comment?"
Here Juferi introduces a suggestion that some unnamed authority told him that the Agada may be "truth or false". One can immediately see that this suggestion is designed to put words into the mouth of JosephG - But in replying JosephG discloses the awful truth of what the Agada really is: He writes:
"The Hebrew word agada means legend or fable. So, right from the definition you get the impression that it represents something which may or may not be true."
This is enough for Juferi who has pinned his whole rebuttal on a throw-away comment suggested to JosephG. He can simply cut out everything else and suggest that the story is indeed true because JosephG used the words "something which may or may not be true"
Of course the whole discussion between Juferi and his "authority" is shrouded in gross ignorance for it appears that neither have understood that the Qur'anic myth is not in the Talmud but the Midrash
But JosephG shows how little he knows in the matter and compounding the ignorance of both responds as follows:
"I did a quick search of the Talmud and, indeed, I found one reference in the Gemara, which is the larger portion of the Talmud and which contains the Agada. Here is the specific passage (the numbers refer to footnotes, which I also include below the passage):
Then the Holy One, blessed be He, will say, Some of yourselves shall testify that Israel observed the entire Torah. Let Nimrod come and testify that Abraham did not [consent to] worship idols; let Laban come and testify that Jacob could not be suspected of theft;9 let Potiphar's wife testify that Joseph was above suspicion of immorality; let Nebuchadnezzar come and testify that Hanania, Mishael and Azariah did not bow down to an image; let Darius come and testify that Daniel never neglected the [statutory] prayers;10 let Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, and Eliphaz the Temanite [and Elihu11 the son of Barachel the Buzite]12 testify that Israel has observed the whole Torah; as it is said, Let them [the nations] bring their [own] witnesses, that they [Israel] may be justified.13 [Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Avodah Zarah, 3a]
This is of course NOT the story in question at all!
In a subsequent discussion with Juferi this writer had on the Carm Bulletin Board Juferi again disclosed is ignorance of the subject and of Jewish literature by claiming on 29th September 2000:
"I don't get it, because the Midrash is indeed PART of the TALMUD!"
Now having suggested to his "authority" JosephG that the agada may or may not in general terms be "truth and false" and having by means of this suggestion received back the reply from JosephG:
"you get the impression that it represents something which may or may not be true."
Juferi has decided that this is enough to suggest that there is enough "evidence" from his "authority" to suggest that the Abrahamic story may indeed be true.
But this trick of suggestive thought offered to someone who is of no authority is simply no evidence of anything other than confusion and the gross ignorance of the subject which has been set out above.
DIALOGUE BETWEEN JUFERI AND JOSEPHG (part 2)
But, what may be described as a dialogue in confusion did not end there because JosephG finds some reference to the Midrashic Abrahamic story (without actually refering to the Midrash text himself). On the 9/20/00 he writes:
" In preparing the information for this post, I ran across something that referred to it in the Quran noting that the story of Abraham, the idols and the fiery furnace appears in Sura 21:51-71, and that it was taken from the Midrash Rabbah."
Juferi pompously and falsely castigates the "missionaries" for not having done any original research and yet it is blatantly evident that neither he nor his "authority" did any original research themselves.
JosephG having in general terms quoted from his book (possibly an encyclopedia) a description of the the Midrash then answers another question from Juferi:
>>Exactly how authentic is this story to the Jewish belief? Or is it irrelevant? Perhaps some Jewish scholar works would help.<<
It is difficult to attach any degree of authenticity to this story, since there is no dated direct evidence or documentation to support it.
But although JosephG correctly states that there is no evidence to support the authenticity of this story, one takes this to mean historical authenticity confirming that it was true of Abraham, he shows that he did not fully understand or examine the story in the Midrash itself.
In fact the Midrashic story does carry with it documentation and evidence of its date. In the Midrash the invention of the myth is attributed to a great Jewish sage the Rabbi Hiyya, also called "The Great" (Rabbah) who lived in the 2nd century and was one of the "Amoraim". Rabbi Hiyya's opinions and writings are recorded scattered through the Midrash and the Talmud and the Talmud also contains his life details.
APPENDIX BY DR RICE
Mt Juferi introduces a claim which has been clarified over and over. He writes:
The following is a reproduction of the response of Brother Fariduddien Rice to James Dowdeswell regarding the charge that the story of 'Abraham and the Idols' was copied from the Midrash Rabbah on the newsgroup SRI. Only an excerpt of that response is included here:
What Juferi does is suggest a claim that no one has ever made. His claim is that the writer of the Qur'an copied from the Midrash. No one has ever claimed that. What is claimed is that Muhammad heard this story and retold it. Every authority who has commented on this issue makes this claim and yet Juferi has to persist in ignoring the claim and substituting his own red herring.
Juferi then goes on to reproduce a response by Dr Rice and all that is necessary is to demonstrate that Dr Rice, himself, falls into the same error that Juferi tries to defend.
Here are two comments by Dr Rice:
If the Qur'an copied the story from the Bereshith Rabbah, why are there differences?
Now, if the Qur'an copied the Bereshith Rabbah ....
However none of the authorites ever make this claim and so Dr Rice is also trying to sell the same red herring as Juferi.
Here again is what Rabbi Abraham Geiger wrote: "It is assumed that Muhammad borrowed from Judaism, and this assumption, as will be shown later, is rightly based." Any examination of the claims of the authorities will disclose that they considered Muhammad to have heard these stories and having done so retold them. Any small differences in the stories as recorded in the Midrash and Qur'an are therefore easily explained as occurring due to verbal transmission.
Since this response is only connected to Juferi's claimed "rebuttal" of my article I leave the matter here for the present.
Mr Juferi has shown that his methodology of rebuttal is woefully inadequate and lacking any credibility but instead relies on misrepresentations and false claims.
His "rebuttal" did not quote more than one section of my original article and edited out the authority of Chief Rabbi Hertz
Juferi didn't refute, nor did he comment on the opinion or evidence of any of my authorities or sources.
Juferi and his Jewish friend JosephG never ever carried out any original research and in their dialogue demonstrated that:
1. Juferi's method was to make suggestive statements in the hope that his friend would confirm them and give him "words" to quote as if they were to be considered authority.
2. That Juferi is ignorant of Jewish religious literature and showed that he didn't even know in which item of Jewish literature the Qur'anic story appears, maintaining to the end of our discussion that the Midrash was in the Talmud.
3. That Juferi's authority was ignorant not only of Islam but also the Qur'an and began looking in the Talmud for the Qur'anic story, not knowing that it was in the Midrash.
4. That, having by a trick of Juferi's suggestion, provided the basis for Juferi's bogus claim (that the story was not true or false) JosephG found some third hand reference that suggested that the Midrashic story had indeed found its way into the Qur'an. However JosephG did not know the story well enough (surprising for a Jew as this story appears in many Jewish children's story books) to know that its invention was attributed to one of the greatest early Jewish Sages whose life details appear in the Talmud and whose dates are well documented.
The Midrashic legend which appears in the Qur'an is one which all Jews, having been brought up as Jews would have known about and would have told their children from an early age. All serious authentic Jewish authorities confirm that the Midrashic story is a myth and legend and that Muhammad heard this mythical story and, believing it to be authentic, retold it as part of the Qur'an.
The claim by the people of Muhammad's time that he was simply retelling "stories of the ancients" is entirely justified. The Midrashic myth of Abraham and the idols proves without doubt that the Qur'an is not divine revelation but a hoax.
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