segunda-feira, 9 de abril de 2012

Is Muhammad in the Torah? II

Now, from Maimonides' Epistle to Yemen:

(In this short response, Maimonides stated that "the claim that Mohammed is alluded to in the Bible is based upon nonsensical interpretations recognized as such even by the Moslems themselves".

But things have changed... and apparently for worse, since many Muslims are using the same old and discredited claims today. Claims that, almost a thousand years ago, were considered "ridiculous and absurd in the extreme"...)

"In your letter you mention that the apostle has spurred on a number of people to believe that several verses in Scripture allude to the Madman [i.e., Muhammad], such as "bime'od me'od" (Genesis 17:20), "he shined forth from Mount Paran" (Deuteronomy 33:1), "a prophet from the midst of thee" (Deuteronomy 18:15), and the promise to Ishmael "I will make him a great nation" (Genesis 17:20).

These arguments have been rehearsed so often that they have become nauseating. It is not enough to declare that they are altogether feeble; nay, to cite as proofs these verses is ridiculous and absurd in the extreme. For these are not matters that can confuse the minds of anyone. Neither the untutored multitutde nor the apostates themselves who delude others with them, believe in them or entertain any illusions about them. Their purpose in citing these verses is to win favor in the eyes of the Gentiles by demonstrating that they believe the statement of the Qur'an that Mohammed was mentioned in the Torah. But the Muslims themselves put no faith in their own arguments, they neither accept nor cite them, because they are manifestly so fallacious. Inasmuch as the Muslims could not find a single proof in the entire Bible nor a reference or possible allusion to their prophet which they could utilize, they were compelled to accuse us saying, "You have altered the text of the Torah, and expunged every trace of the name of Mohammed therefrom." They could find nothing stronger than this ignominious argument the falsity of which is easily demonstrated to one and all by the following facts:

First, Scripture was translated into Syriac, Greek, Persian and Latin hundreds of years before the appearance of Mohammed. Secondly, there is a uniform tradition as to the text of the Bible both in the East and the West, with the result that no differences in the text exist at all, not even in the vocalization, for they are all correct. Nor do any differences effecting the meaning exist. The motive for their accusation lies therefore, in the absence of any allusion to Mohammed in the Torah."
And he goes on:
"The phrase "a great nation" cited above does not connote a people in possession of prophecy or a Law, but merely one large in numbers just as in reference to idolaters Scripture says "nations greater and mightier than yourselves." (Deuteronomy 11:23). Similarly, the phrase "bime'od me'od" simply signifies "exceedingly." Were there any allusion in the verse to Mohammed, then it would have read "and I shall bless him bimeod meod," and whoever likes to hang on to a spider's web might then discover a reference to Mohammed therein. As it is, since Scripture says "I shall increase him bimeod meod," it can only denote an extravagant increment in numbers.
There is no question that the Divine assurance to Abraham to bless his descendants, to reveal the Torah to them, and to make them the Chosen People, refers only to the offspring of Isaac. For Ishmael is mentioned as an adjunct and appendage in the blessing of Isaac, which reads "and also of the son of the bond-woman will I make a nation." (Genesis 21:13). This verse suggests that Isaac holds a primary position and Ishmael a subordinate place. This point is made even more explicit in the blessing which ignores Ishmael entirely. "For in Isaac shall seed be called in thee." (Genesis 21:12). The meaning of God's promise to Abraham is that the issue of Ishmael will be vast in numbers but neither pre-eminent nor the object of divine favor, nor distinguished for the attainment of excellence. Not because of them will Abraham be famed or celebrated, but by the noted and illustrious scions of Isaac. The phrase "shall be called" simply means, shall be renowned, as it does in the verse, "Let thy name be called in them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac." (Genesis 48:16).

Other verses also indicate that when God promised Abraham that His law would be vouchsafed to his children as is implied in the words "And I will be their God" (Genesis 17:8), He meant Isaac to the exclusion of Ishmael as is intimated in the declaration "But My covenant will I establish with Isaac" (Genesis 17:21), although He had already conferred His favor upon Ishmael when He said "Behold I have blessed him" (Genesis 17:20). Similarly, Isaac by bestowing the blessing of Abraham upon Jacob exclusively, debarred Esau from it, as we read in his benediction "And may He give you the blessing of Abraham" (Genesis 28:4). To sum up, the Divine covenant made with Abraham to grant the sublime Law to his descendants referred exclusively to those who belonged to the stock of both Isaac and Jacob. Hence the prophet expresses his gratitude to God for "the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath unto Isaac, which He established unto Jacob for a statute, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant." (Psalms 105:9, I Chronicles 16:16)."

"The argument from the phrase "He shined forth from Mount Paran" (Deuteronomy 33:2) is easily refutable. Shined is past tense. Had Scripture employed the future tense "he will shine forth from Mount Paran" then the imposters might have had a semblance of truth on their side. However the use of the past tense "he shined forth" demonstrates that this phrase describes an event that has taken place, namely the theophany on Sinai. When the Deity was about to reveal Himself on Sinai, the heavenly light did not descend suddenly like a thunder-bolt, but came down gently, manifesting itself gradually first from the top of one mountain, then from another, until He reached His abode on Sinai. This notion is implied in the verse "The Lord revealed himself at Sinai, after His light had radiated to them from Seir and glimmered from Mount Paran." (Deuteronomy 33:2). Mark welll, that the phrase "unto them" refers to Israel. Note also how Scripture indicates the various gradations in the intensity of the Divine Splendor. It speaks of the light that glimmered from Mount Paran which is further removed from Sinai, but of the light that radiated from Mount Seir, which is nearer to it, and finally of the revelation of the full splendor of God on Sinai which was the goal of the theophany as is related in the verse "And the glory of God abode on Mount Sinai" (Exodus 24:16), "and the Lord came from Sinai". (Deuteronomy 33:2).
Similarly, the idea that the light descended gradually from mountain to mountain is conveyed in Deborah's description of the grandeur of Israel at the Revelation on Sinai when she exclaimed "Lord when Thou didst go forth out of Seir, when Thou didst march out of the field of Edom" (Judges 5:4). Our sages of blessed memory, tell us that God, may He be praised and exalted, charged a prophet before the time of Moses to go to the Romans and another to go to the Arabs with the purpose of presenting them the Torah, but each of them in turn spurned it. When Moses was later sent to us we signified our acceptance in the words "All that the Lord hath spoken will we do, and obey" (Exodus 24:7). The aforementioned event happened before the Sinaitic Revelation, consequently Scripture speaks in the past tense: "He came, radiated forth, and shone," which proves that no prophecy is intended in these words."

You write in your letter, that some people were duped by the argument that Mohammed is alluded to in the verse "A prophet will the Lord thy God raise up unto thee, from the midst of thee, of thy brethren" (Deuteronomy 18:15), while others remained unconvinced because of the phrase "from the midst of thee." It is most astonishing that some folks should be deluded by such specious proof, while others were almost persuaded, were it not for the phrase "from the midst of thee." Under these circumstance it is incumbent upon you to concentrate and understand my view in the matter. Remember that it is not right to take a passage out of its context and to draw inferences from it. It is imperative to take into consideration the preceding and following statements in order to fathom the writer's meaning and purpose before making any deductions. Were it otherwise, then it would be possible to assert that Scripture has prohibited obedience to any prophet, and interdicted belief in miracles, by quoting the verse, "Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet," (Deuteronomy 13:4). It could likewise be affirmed that a positive command exists requiring us to worship idols, by citing the verse "And ye shall serve other gods" (Deuteronomy 11:16). Other illustrations could be multiplied ad libidinem. To sum up, it is wrong to interpret any given verse apart from its context.

In order to comprehend unequivocally the verse under discussion namely, "A prophet will the Lord thy God raise up unto thee, from the midst of thee, of thy brethren," it is necessary to ascertain its context. The beginning of the paragraph whence the verse is taken, contains prohibitions of the acts of soothsaying, augury, divination, astrology, sorcery, incantation and the like. The Gentiles believe that through these practices they can predict the future course of events and take the necessary precautions to forestall them. The interdiction of these occult proceedings were accompanied with the explanation that the Gentiles believe they can depend upon them to determine future happeneings. But you may not do so. You will learn about the time to come from a prophet who will rise up among you, whose predictions will come true without fail. You will thus arrive at a foreknowledge of circumstances without being obliged to resort to augury, divination, astrology and the like, for he will spare you that. Matters will be facilitated for you by the fact that this prophet will live within your borders. You will not be compelled to go in search after him from country to country, nor to travel to distant parts, as is implied in the phrase, "from the midst of thee."

Moreover, another notion is conveyed in the words "from the midst of thee from thy brethren like unto me," namely, that he will be one of you, that is, a Jew. The obvious deduction is that you shall be distinguished above all others for the sole possession of prophecy. The words "like unto me" were specifically added to indicate that only the descendants of Jacob are meant. For the phrase "of thy brethren" by itself might have been misunderstood and taken to refer also to Esau and Ishmael, since we do find Israel addressing Esau as brother, for example, in the verse, "Thus saith thy brother Israel" (Numbers 20:14). On the other hand, the words "like unto me," do not denote a prophet as great as Moses, for this interpretation is precluded by the statement "And there hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses." (Deuteronomy 34:10). The general drift of the chapter points to the correctness of our interpretation and will be confirmed by the succession of the verses, to wit "There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire etc.," (Deuteronomy 18:10), "For these nations, that thou art to dispossess, hearken unto soothsayers, and unto diviners; but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do ." (Verse 14). "A prophet will the Lord thy God raise up unto thee, from the midst of thee, of they brethren, like unto me," (Verse 15). It is obviously clear that the prophet alluded to here will not be a person who will produce a new law, or found a new religion. He will merely enable us to dispense with diviners and astrologers, and will be available for consultation concerning anything that may befall us, just as the Gentiles confer with soothsayers and prognosticators. Thus we find Saul advising with Samuel concerning his lost asses, as we read, "Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he said: 'Come and let us go to the seer'; for he that is now called a prophet was beforetime called a seer." (Samuel 9:9)."

"Our disbelief in the prophecy of Omar and Zeid is not due to the fact that they are non-Jews, as the unlettered folk imagine, and in consequence of which they are compelled to justify their standpoint by the Biblical statement "from thy midst, out of thy brethren." For Job, Zophar, Bildad, Eliphaz, and Elihu are all considered prophets and are non-Jews. On the other hand, although Hananiah, the son of Azur was a Jew, he was deemed an accursed and false prophet. Whether one should yield credence to a prophet or not depends upon the nature of his doctrines, and not upon his race, as we shall explain presently. Our ancestors have witnessed Moses, our Teacher, foremost among the prophets, holding a colloquy with the Divinity, reposed implicit faith in him when they said to him, "Go thou near and hear," (Deuteronomy 5:24). Now he assured us that no other law remained in heaven that would subsequently be revealed, nor would there even be another Divine dispensation, as the verse, "It is not in heaven," (Deuteronomy 30:12) implies. Scripture prohibits us from making any amendments to the Law or eliminating anything, for we read "Thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it" (Deuteronomy 13:1). We pledged and obligated ourselves to God to abide by His Law, we, our children, and our children's children, until the end of time as Scripture says "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever." (Deuteronomy 29:28). Any prophet, therefore, no matter what his pedigree is, be he priest, Levite, or Amalekite, is perfidious even if he asserts that only one of the precepts of the Torah is void, in view of the Mosaic pronouncement "unto us and unto our children forever." Such a one we would declare a false prophet and would execute him if we had jurisdiction over him. We would take no notice of the miracles that he might perform, just as we would disregard the wonder-working of one who seeks to lure people to idolatry, as we are enjoined in the verse "And the sign or wonder came to pass ... thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet" (Deuteronomy 13:3). Since Moses, of blessed memory, has prohibited image worship for all the time, we know that the miracles of a would-be-seducer to idolatry are wrought by trickery and sorcery, Similarly, since Moses has taught us that the Law is eternal, we stamp definitely as a prevaricator any one who argues that it was destined to be in force for a fixed duration of time, because he contravenes Moses. Consequently we pay no attention to his assertions or supernatural performances.

Inasmuch as we do not believe in Moses because of his miracles, we are under no obligations to institute comparison between his miracles and those of others. Our everlastingly firm trust and steadfast faith in Moses is due to the fact that our forebears as well as he, had heard the Divine discourse on Sinai, as it is intimated in the Scripture, "and they will also believe thee forever" (Exodus 19:9). This event is analogous to the situation of two witnesses who observed a certain act simultaneously. Each of them saw what his fellow saw and each of them is sure of the truth of the statement of his fellow, and does not require proof or demonstration, whereas other people, to whom they would report their testimony, would not be convinced without confirmation or certification. Similarly, we of the Jewish faith, are convinced of the truth of the prophecy of Moses, inasmuch as our ancestors in common with him witnessed the Divine revelation on Sinai, and not merely because of his miracles. He performed all of these only as the occasion demanded and as is recorded in Scripture.

We do not give credence to the tenets of a miracle worker, in the same way we trust in the truth of Moses our Teacher, nor does any analogy exist between them. This distinction is a fundamental principle of our religion, but seems to have fallen into oblivion, and has been disregarded by our co-religionists. This thought was present in the mind of Solomon when he addressed the Gentiles in behalf of Israel, "What will you see in the Shulamite? as it were a dance of two companies." (Song of Songs 7:1). The verse means to say, "If you can produce anything like the revelation on Sinai then we shall concede some misgivings concerning Moses."

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