Qur’an 15: The Rock

Everything can rise or fall. Some things fall like a rock. Sometimes, the rock is thrown.

In the fifteenth book of the Qur’an, the author dwells on the imagery of falling or casting down. These words can be used for things expelled from heaven like demons or punishments. They can also be used for blessings given by heaven. Implicit in all of this are how the imagery of the Rock is used in the Bible: to describe God, Christ, Peter. Given the era of the extinction of the Arian sacraments that the Qur’an was written in, the Qur’anic author may be contemplating the blessing and curses given to the community of believers by Peter’s successors — the Popes. Or how the same God who could be the Rock of faith could be associated with a church that the Qur’an denies exists.

Readings

A reading, from the Book of Genesis

When the morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to hurry, saying, “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city.” And while he lingered, the men took hold of his hand, his wife’s hand, and the hands of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city. So it came to pass, when they had brought them outside, that he said, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.”

Then Lot said to them, “Please, no, my lords! Indeed now, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have increased your mercy which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, lest some evil overtake me and I die. See now, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one; please let me escape there (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.”

And he said to him, “See, I have favored you concerning this thing also, in that I will not overthrow this city for which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.”

Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.

The sun had risen upon the earth when Lot entered Zoar. Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.

But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
Genesis 19:15-26

A song, from the Psalms

The Lord lives!
Blessed be my Rock!
Let the God of my salvation be exalted.

It is God who avenges me,
And subdues the peoples under me;

He delivers me from my enemies.
You also lift me up above those who rise against me;
You have delivered me from the violent man.

Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the Gentiles, And sing praises to Your name.
Psalms 18:46-49

A reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:

Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
1 Corinthians 10:1-11

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds,
and he will not be consoled until it reaches the Lord;
he will not desist until the Most High visits him,
and does justice for the righteous, and executes judgment.
Sirach 35:17

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ
Matthew 16:15-20

A Qur’anic Homily

Gates are defensive structures. The Gates of Hell cannot over a rock, when a heavy enough Rock is sent down on a mission.

Angels are sent down to do God’s will, but messengers like Peter were sent down with warnings:

They said, ‘O you, to whom the Reminder has been sent down, you are indeed crazy! Why do you not bring us the angels if you are truthful?!’

We do not send down the angels except with due reason, and then they will not be granted any respite.

Indeed, We have sent down the Reminder, and, indeed, We will preserve it.
Qur’an 15:6-9

Heaven has Gates too. But while the prayers of the faithful can penetrate them, the wicked cannot — and would not even believe if they saw:

That is how We let it pass through the hearts of the guilty: they do not believe in it, and the precedence of the ancients has already passed.

Were We to open for them A gate of the heaven so that they could go on ascending through it, they would surely say, ‘Indeed, a spell has been cast on our eyes; indeed, we are a bewitched lot.
Qur’an 15:12-14

Heaven also has Towers, towards that produce Fire. Many prophets have seen this fire and been welcomed in, but the demons fear and tremble:

Certainly We have appointed towers in the heaven and adorned them for the onlookers, and We have guarded them from every outcast Satan, except someone who may eavesdrop, whereat there peruses him a manifest flame.
Qur’an 15:16-17

Messengers like Peter are sent down like rain for the people, to give them the living water:

There is not a thing but that its source are with Us, and We do not send it down except in a known measure.

And We send the fertilizing wends and send down water from the sky providing it for you to drink and you are not maintainers of its resources.
Qur’an 19:21-22

But as Peter is a rock with a mission, to break down the gates of hell, the heaviness of the wicked instead consigns them away from paradise. They are like Lot’s wife, who will be left as a rock salt:

[Abraham] said, ‘O messengers, what is now your errand?’

They said, ‘We have been sent toward a guilty people, except the family of Lot. We will indeed deliver all of them, except his wife, We have ordained, will indeed be among those who remain behind.

So when the messengers came to Lot’s family, he said, ‘You are strangers,’

They said, ‘Indeed, we bring you what they used to doubt. We bring you the truth, and indeed we speak truly. Take your family in a watch of the night and follow in their rears, and none of you should turn around, and proceed as you are bidden.’ We apprised him of the matter that these will be rooted out by dawn.
Qur’an 15:57-66

For the wicked their greatest ‘triumphs will become their undoing, their elevations are instead their lowest points. The Fire for them is not redemptive but destructive.

The Qur’anic author teaches that these signs and symbols are given as a lesson. Both Peter and Lot’s wife were rocks, it was their relationship with God which determined what kind of rock they would be.

The rocks to the wicked will be their doom and torment

By your life, they were bewildered in their drunkenness. So the Cry seized them at sunrise, and We made its topmost part its nethermost, and rained on them stones of shale.

There are indeed signs in that for the percipient. Indeed, it is on a standing road, and there is indeed a sign in that for the faithful.
Qur’an 15:72-74

But for the righteous, the Rock will crash the gates of hell, and enter them into Paradise:

Indeed, the Godwary will be amid gardens and springs.

“Enter it in peace and safety!”

We will remove whatever rancor there is in their breasts; brothers on couches — facing one another — therein neither weariness shall touch them, nor will they be expelled from it.
Qur’an 15:45-48

The Speaker

Throughout my reading of the Qur’an I’ve there’s a mystery that doesn’t quite go away. Who is the speaker? The closest in narrative composition to the Qur’an is the Book of Jubilees, where the speaker is obviously a group of angels

And thereupon we saw His works , and praised Him, and lauded before Him on account of all His works; for seven great works did He create on the first day.
Jubilees 2:3

But it seems unusually clear in this chapter (or I’ve just begun noticing it), that Creation is split between the royal “We”…

Indeed, it is We who give life and bring death and We are the inheritors.

Certainly We know the predecessors among you and certainly We know the successors, and indeed it is your Lord who will resurrect them. He is all-wise, all-knowing.

Certainly We created man out of a dry clay from an aging mud, and We created the jinn earlier out of a piercing fire.
Qur’an 15:23-27

And God, as in this doublet where creation is ascribed to both “We” and “your Lord”:

We did not create the heavens and the earth and whatever is in between them except with consummate wisdom, and indeed the Hour is bound to come. So forbear with a graceful forbearance. Indeed, your Lord is the all-Creator, the all-Knowing.
Qur’an 15:85-86

If “We” are another creator, it is a creator who is not God, at least according to the Qur’anic author:

So proclaim what you have been commanded, and turn away from the polytheists. We will indeed suffice you against the deriders — those who set up another Deity besides God. Soon they will know! Certainly We know that you become upset because of what they say. So celebrate the praise of your Lord and be among those who prostrate, and worship your Lord until certainty comes to you.
Qur’an 15:94-99

But if the Royal We is not God, nor can it be Christ as commonly understood:

Certainly We gave Moses the Book and followed him with the apostles, and We gave Jesus, the son of Mary, clear proofs and confirmed him with the Holy Spirit. Is it not that whenever an apostle brought you that which was not to your liking, you would act arrogantly; so you would impugn a group, and slave a group?
Qur’an 2:57-58

At this point my thought is that the Royal We are either a group of angels specifically tasked with Creation, or else Jesus Son-of-God, distinct from Jesus Son-of-Mary. Presumably that answer is to be found in whether the Royal We ever bow, but even that is not clear, as Christ himself came in the form of a servant…

When your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed, I am going to create a human out of a dry clay from an aging mud. So when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My spirit, then fall down in prostration to him.

Thereat the angels prostrated, all of them, but not Iblis: he refused to be among those who prostrated.

He said, ‘O Iblis! What kept you from being among those who have prostrated?’

Said him, ‘I will not prostrate before a human whom You have created out of a dry clay form an aging mud,.

He said, ‘Begone hence, for you are indeed an outcast, and indeed the curse shall lie on you until the Day of Retribution.’
Qur’an 15:28-34

The last time I noted this question of the Royal We’s identity in the Qur’an is in the Qur’anic chapter that references a letter of St Peter, and this chapter is called “The Rock.” I don’t know what to make of this for now.

Conclusion

The Qur’anic author believed that some not-quite-Divine entity or entities co-created the universe with God, and in that universe they send down blessings and curses to man. These things sent down — from rain to apostles– are not ends in themselves, but signs that should point the heart toward God. Men are naturally impatient and want definite proof — but man’s ability to doubt means he can always talk himself out of every evidence, and by the time of the final judgment, too much will be revealed for the wayward man to take.

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