Category Archives: Bookosphere

Qur’an 11: Hud

Hud is similar to Jonah, with prophetic stories of call, warning, and salvation is repeated. Instead of the focus on the Prophet Jonah, though, multiple prophets inside and outside the Bible are described in basically the same way. This structure is used to comment on the Second Letter of St. Peter.

The Qur’anic author seems to provide a point-by-point contextualization of Pope Peter’s letter, focusing especially on themes form the first three chapters.

Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you…

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked…

But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
2 Peter 1,1:1-2,2:1-11,3:8-9

The rest of this post will go thru the Qur’anic interpretation of the bolded portions, and conclude with some thoughts on the first eleven chapters of the Qur’an as a whole.

Proclaiming the Lord

By the Righteousness of Our God[,] and [the] Savior Jesus Christ…

A lot depends on if “Our God and Savior Jesus Christ” is support to be a list or not. I don’t know whether either the Greek original or subsequent Syriac translations of Peter’s epistle are explicit in whether or not a comma can be placed between “Our God” and “and Savior Jesus Christ”, but it appears the Qur’anic author wishes there was one, at least.

In keeping with his theology, the Qur’anic author focuses on the Lord, the person of God the Father…

In the Name of God, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful.

Alife Lam Ra. A Book, whose signs have been made definitive and then elaborated, from One all-wise, all-aware, declaring: “Worship no one but God. I am indeed a warner to you from Him and a bearer of good news.”
Qur’an 11:1-2

This are words that would be familiar with any Jew with a belief in a One-personed God:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Deuteronomy 6:4

Whoever the “I” in the Qur’anic quote is, the Qur’an does talk about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but in the same way it speaks of Moses and Mary — not in the way it speaks of God:

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

Bring on Themselves Destruction

But there were also false prophets among the people … who .. bring on themselves swift destruction

The Qur’an denies the ability of humans to control most actions, but agrees with the Catholic faith in an important way: it is possible to choose sinfulness, or a path away from God. The Fire is a tryst, an erotic appointment for the sinner, that he chooses instead of God:

Is he who stands on a clear proof from his Lord and whom a witness of his own follows? And before him there was the Book of Moses, a guide and mercy. It is they who have faith in it, and whoever denies him from among the factions, the Fire is their tryst. So do not be in doubt about it; it is the truth from your Lord, but most people do not have faith.
Qur’an 11:17

This idea, that God gave to humans of the ability to choose, is found in the church fathers. Writing in Syriac (the language the Qur’an may be written in) shortly before the Qur’an, this reality was described in analogical terms by adding a scene to the Bible to make this point:

And the children of Seth, who had besmirched themselves in the mire of fornication, ran to the door of the Ark, and entreated Noah to open to them the door of the Ark. And when they saw the water floods which were swirling about them and engulfing them on all sides, they were in great tribulation, and they tried to climb up the mountains of Paradise, but were unable to do so. Now the Ark was closed and sealed, and the Angel of the Lord stood over one side of it that he might act as the pilot thereof. And when the floods of waters mastered the children of Seth, and they began to drown in their great and mighty waves–then was fulfilled that which David spake concerning them, saying, “I said, Ye are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High. (Ps. lxxxii. 6.) But since ye have done this, and ye have loved the fornication of the daughters of Cain, like them ye shall perish, and even as they did so shall ye die.”
The Cave of Treasures, “The Third Thousand Years

The Qur’anic author generalizes this, emphasizing the Bible is not the limit of God’s action in the world, but a witness to its continuous operation:

These are from the accounts of the townships which We recount to you. Of them there are some that still stand, and some that have been mown down. We did not wrong them, but they wronged themselves. When your Lord’s edict came, their gods whom they would invoke besides God were of no avail to them in any wise, and they did not increase them in anything but ruin.
Qur’an 11:100

Here the Qur’an expands on the limitation of the written text to describe the transcendent reality found in the gospel. No text can fully describe the glory of God:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”

And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.
John 16:12-13,21:25

God’s justice, in the Qur’anic view, extends to providing people what they have worked for, their revealed preferences. In a passage terrifying to any recurrent sinner, God promises to pay each according to his works:

As for those who desire the life of this world and its glitter, We will recompense them fully for their works therein, and they will not be underpaid in it. They are those for whom there will be nothing in the Hereafter except Fire: what they have accomplished in the world has failed, and their works have come to naught.
Qur’an 11:15-16

Here the Qur’anic author is not just following Qur’an 8:60 — he’s following Christ, who notes the payment from God is for work not paid on this earth. This is true for good works:

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.
Matthew 6:1-2

as well as the bad:

Judas Maccabeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the peoples. You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people. Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law.
1 Maccabees 2:66-68

Angels and Humans

God did not spare the angels who sinned

The Bible states that judgment is not limited to humans, but extends to supernatural creatures too. Indeed, a cause of the flood (and seemingly the one that Peter and the Qur’anic author both references) was the angels having sex with women:

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.

And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Genesis 6:1-5

An angelic rebellion described at length in the apocrypha:

He [The fourth Fallen Angel] taught men the art of writing with ink and paper, and through this many have gone astray, from eternity to eternity, and to this day.

For men were not created for this, that the should confirm their faith like this, with pen and ink!
I Enoch 69:9-10

And resulting in eternal darkness for the rebellious angels:

But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day; as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
Jude 1:5-7

Thus, do demons too shudder at the coming justice…

Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!
James 2:17-19

The Qur’anic author is even clearer: hell will be filled with humans and supernatural creatures “all together”!

Had your Lord wished, he would have made mankind one community; but they continued to differ, except those on whom your Lord has mercy — and that is why He created them — and the word of your Lord has been fulfilled: ‘I will surely fill hell with jinn and humans, all together!’
Qur’an 11:118-119

The judgment is not limited to humans, nor only to biblical characters. Just as Ezekiel included “Gog and Magog” to shock the reader out of seeing just familiar lists, the Qur’anic author includes other locations, other judgments, and other prophets, as well. One such is Hud, for whom the chapter is named. Others are included as well, as wonderful in their faith as Gog and Magog are in their terror.

When Our edict came, We delivered Shu’ayb and the faithful who were with him by mercy from Us. And the Cry seized those who were wrongdoers, whereat they lay lifeless prostrate in their homes, as if they had never lived there. Now, away with the Midian! — just as Thamud was done away with!
Qur’an 11:94-95

Noah the Preacher of righteousness

God… saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness

There is no record in Genesis of Noah preaching. But the first Pope proclaimed that he did, and early church fathers expanded on this using the Talmudic method of adding scenes or details to the Bible.

Although Noah was an example to that generation by his righteous and had, in his uprightness, announced to them the flood during the one hundred years, they still did not repent. So Noah said to them, “Some of all the flesh will come to be saved with me in the ark.” But they mocked him, Now will all the beasts and birds that are scattered throughout every corner of the earth come from all those regions.”
St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 6:9

The Qur’anic author does the same, for the same goal: to create from Noah a type of prophet who proclaimed salvation to a doubting people. But just as St Peter added to Genesis, and St. Ephrem added to St. Peter, the Qur’anic author adds to St Peter: a consolation for Noah for the lack of his preaching. In the Qur’an faith precedes belief.

It was revealed to Noah: ‘None of your people will believe except those who already have faith; so do not sorrow for what they used to do. Build the ark before Our eyes and by Our revelation, and do not plead with me for those who are wrongdoers: they shall indeed be drowned.

As he was building the ark, whenever the elders of his people passed by him, they would ridicule him. He said, ‘If you ridicule us, we will ridicule you just as you ridicule us.
Qur’an 11:36-38

Faith before belief might be rephrased as doxology before pistis. A preacher who has not first led people into praise cannot successfully pray for their salvation:

But Noah had previously taught his family to glorify God, so they could become obedient to him:

Why were there not among the generations before you a remnant who might forbid corruption in the land, except a few of those whom We delivered from among them? Those who were wrongdoers pursued in the means of affluence they had been granted, and they were a guilty lot.
Qur’an 11:116

Referring to the story above, of some of Noah’s family drowned through unbelief, the Qur’anic author emphasizes this point. Even the family cannot be saved, cannot even be prayed for, before they have faith. Unless the faithful praise God, there is no hope for them.

Noah called out to his Lord, and said ‘My Lord! My son is indeed from my family, and Your promise is indeed true, and You are the fairest of all judges.’

Said He, ‘O Noah! He is indeed not of your family. He is indeed ‘Unrighteous Conduct.’ So do not ask Me of which you have no knowledge. I advise you lest you should be among the ignorant.’
Qur’an 11:45-46

While Nicene Christians disagree starkly about the procession of salvation outlined here, they agree with the Qur’anic author is the primacy of the relationship to God to even the most sentimental familial relationships:

For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
Luke 12:52-53

Deliver Righteous Lot

…turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot…

The Qur’an and Genesis agree that Abraham interceded for his nephew Lot on hearing of God’s planned destruction for Sodom:

And the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”

Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord.
Genesis 16:20-22

What happens next is a sort of game, where Abraham asks hypothetical questions and God plays along.

And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

So the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.”
Genesis 18:23-26

In the Qur’anic interpretation, this was a pointless exercise:

So when the awe had left Abraham and the good news had reached him, he pleaded with us concerning the people of Lot. Abraham was indeed most forbearing, plaintive and penitent.

O Abraham, let this matter alone! Your Lord’s edict has already come, and an irrevocable punishment shall overtake them.
Qur’an 11:74-76

Here the Qur’an agrees with the implication of the pre-Christian Book of Jubilees, where Abraham’s intercession is elided:

And on the new moon of the fourth month we appeared unto Abraham, at the oak of Mamre, and we talked with him, and we announced to him that a son would be given to him by Sarah his wife.

And Sarah laughed, for she heard that we had spoken these words with Abraham, and we admonished her, and she became afraid, and denied that she had laughed on account of the words.

And we told her the name of her son, as his name is ordained and written in the heavenly tablets (i.e.) Isaac,

And (that) when we returned to her at a set time, she would have conceived a son.

And in this month the Lord executed his judgments on Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Zeboim, and all the region of the Jordan, and He burned them with fire and brimstone, and destroyed them until this day, even as I have declared unto thee all their works, that they are wicked and sinners exceedingly, and that they defile themselves and commit fornication in their flesh, and work uncleanness on the earth.

And, in like manner, God will execute judgment on the places where they have done according to the uncleanness of the Sodomites, like unto the judgment of Sodom.

But Lot we saved; for God remembered Abraham, and sent him out from the midst of the overthrow.
Jubilees 16:1-7

The Qur’an does not elide the intercession, but presents it as parallel as another wasted gesture, Sarah laughing at the announcement that she will give birth in her old age.

Certainly Our messengers came to Abraham with the good news, and said, ‘Peace!’ ‘Peace!’ He replied. Presently, he brought a roasted calf. But when he saw their hands not reaching out for it, he took them amiss and felt a fear of them. They said, ‘Do not be afraid. We have be sent to the people of Lot.’

His wife, standing by, laughed as We gave her the good news of Isaac, and of Jacob after Isaac. She said, ‘Oh my! Shall I, an old woman, bear, and this husband of mine is an old man?! That is indeed an odd thing!’
Qur’an 11:69-72

Sarah’s story ends with grace on her, and amusement but not anger at her doubt. Because as with Abraham, it is doubt from one who has faith, and not from the godless:

They said, ‘Are you amazed at God’s dispensation? God’s mercy and His blessings upon you, members of the household. He is indeed all-laudable, all-glorious.’
Qur’an 11:73

The Promise of the Future

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance

Writing through the voice of angels, the Qur’anic author consoles the sinner with unseen support. As men and the supernatural can fall into the Fire, men and the supernatural wait and praise and hope for God’s grace together:

Say to those who do not have faith, ‘Act according to your ability; we too are acting. And wait! We too are waiting!’

To God belongs the Unseen of the heavens and the earth, and to Him all matters are returned. So worship Him and trust in Him. Your Lord is not oblivious of what you do.
Qur’an 11:121-123

Indeed, the elaboration of the heavenly book that is this Qur’an — as well as the Torah and the Gospels — are give to men for their hope:

Whatever that We relate to you of the accounts of the apostles are those by which We strengthen your heart, and there has come to you in this the truth and an advice and admonition for the faithful.
Qur’an 11:120

People who turn away from prophets have as their weakness this lack of hope. Prophets in ancient days were rejected because the good news was received doubtfully. They do not hope in God, and so see giving up their fathers’ unbelief for a new belief as a bad deal:

They said, “O Salih! Before this, you were a source of hope to us. Do you forbid us to worship what our fathers have been worshiping? We have indeed grave doubts concerning that to which you invite us.”
Qur’an 11:62

This is an old story.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
Romans 1:20-24

Conclusion

The Qur’an itself is literally incomprehensible. Imagine the books of Exodus, Chronicles, and Hebrews together, but with the chapters in a random order. There’s obviously some context, some additional text, whose knowledge is assumed. Throughout this reading of the Qur’an I have read it with the context that makes the most sense of a Christian and Jewish, near eastern people: the Bible, the Church Fathers, the Apocrypha, and the Talmud.

The traditional answer is that the co-text should be the hadiths (sayings), a corpus that’s about 10x the length of the Qur’an, states what was happening when each verse was revealed, and often with a commentary by Muhammad.

Revisionists such as Christoph Luxenberg and Gabriel Said Reynolds instead argue for the method I present here.

A strength of the revisionist view is that they historical case is stronger than either Luxembourg or Reynolds seem to realize. They accept the typical dating of the Qur’an to around ~620 or so. This matches up to the end of Apostolic succession for the Arians in Justinian’s persecution campaign. The Arians not only insisted they were Catholic, and at one point had a majority of bishops, but also Apostolic succession and the seven sacraments. Without bishops all but two (baptism and marriage) would soon become impossible to actually receive. And the Arian bishoprics were destroyed around the time the Qur’an was written.

The Qur’anic author is wrestling with this traumatic dislocation. He is presented a post-Catholic version of Arianism, an Arianism that can survive without the sacraments. Except for three aspects which would strike most as esoteric (whether the church does exists as an entity, whether sacraments once could be obtained, and whether Christ is inferior to God inferiority of Christ to the Father), the Qur’anic author would have for into the Reformation worldview.

This is the context for Hud, the eleventh chapter of the Qur’an. Like a good Reformation writer, the Qur’anic author emphasizes the universality of God’s decision. The familiar and the foreign alike will face salvation or judgment, Biblical characters and people nowadays both need to have faith in God.

Impressions of “Hans Urs von Balthasar: Rediscovering Holistic Christianity,” by Kevin Mongrain

Hans Urs von Balthasar is a short summary. I don’t have a firm grasp of the man Balthasar. But at a high level, it appears that Balthasar is similar to GK Chesterton in his focus on the codependency of mysticism and theology. That is, Balthasar sees Thomas Aquinas’s system view of God to be as true and valid as Francis of Assisi’s mystical vision. He also sees the Church Fathers as a “source” of the faith which has been neglected in favor of Aquinas’s “summary” of theology. Balthasar focuses on Glory as a goal of worship. The book does not spend enough time on Balthasar’s seemingly odd ideas about the Son, or his role in Catholic intellectual history.

I’ve become more aware of Balthasar over the last year, primarily from social and new media. Taylor Marshall, author of The Crucified Rabbi, greatly dislikes Balthasar. On his show he dedicated an episode to criticizing Balthasar and his ideas:

Meanwhile, Robert Barron, author of To Light a Fire, admires Balthasar greatly. He’s also put out his own videos — shorter but punchier, praising the man. A similar view has appeared on Catholic podcasts like Clerically Speaking* and Credal Catholic

Balthasar focuses on the “Glory” of God. Doxa, or “Glory,” is a form of belief that contrasts with (and complements) episteme. Thus the relationship between Glory and Theology is more obvious in Greek than it is in translation in Latin and in the West. Indeed, the demand that Aquinas’s theology have a mystical pairing is close to the Orthodox criticism of Catholicism.

The word doxa picked up a new meaning between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC when the Septuagint translated the Hebrew word for “glory” (????, kavod) as doxa. This translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was used by the early church and is quoted frequently by the New Testament authors. The effects of this new meaning of doxa as “glory” is made evident by the ubiquitous use of the word throughout the New Testament and in the worship services of the Greek Orthodox Church, where the glorification of God in true worship is also seen as true belief. In that context, doxa reflects behavior or practice in worship, and the belief of the whole church rather than personal opinion.
Doxa,” Wikipedia

But more often than “Glory,” Balthasar uses the word “Beauty.” I don’t understand what Balthasar means by using “Beauty” as a strict synonym, or his purpose in seeming to adopt the German romantic tradition into Catholicism. I am unsure if this is a culture touchstone that Balthasar uses to demonstrate his point, or indicates goals beyond the recovery of Glory into Christianity.

According to the book, Balthasar also shared ideas that fit less well with the Catholic or Orthodox traditions. He seems to see the Son as inferior to the Father, and insists that it was the Father who raised the Son, and not the Son who raised Himself. This changes the view of Good Saturday away from the Harrowing of Hell and towards the suffering of Christ in hell. Yet Balthasar’s insistence that the Christian re-presents the procession of the Trinity may fit with the Shepherd of Hermas.

I would have enjoyed a greater discussion about Balthasar’s role in Catholic intellectual history. Balthasar gives an important focus to Mary and prayer, in a way that’s presented as a change from neoscholasticism. This fits with what I have heard before, that it was Balthasar influence (and those with similar views) influence on the Second Vatican Council that helped center these in the Church’s teachings, and pivot away from the specific scholastic process that had been common before. Yet how his thoughts related to others in that council, what was the cause and what was the effect, is left unanswered in this short volume.

I read Hans Urs von Balthasar: Rediscovering Holistic Christianity in the Audible edition.

In Memory: Jeff Carlson

Some news is so surprising and hits so hard it paralyzes you.

Almost two years ago I received this email:

Some of you have already heard, but for those who have not, I am so sorry that I need to share unbelievably sad news with you all. Our beloved Jeff passed away on Monday, July 17 of a very aggressive lung cancer. We are in utter shock and disbelief.

Thank you to all of you who have known Jeff during his life, whether through his writing career or personal life, for your friendship and support to him throughout.

Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers and if choose to, please direct any communications back to my email address, noted above.

I knew Jeff the blogosphere. I had read his short story “The Frozen Sky.” The story was about an astronaut trapped under the ice of Europa. He was kind enough to discuss it with me. I then read the book version he wrote, and we spoke again. Having these brief interactions just made me happy, I was so excited to see where Jeff’s career was going.

And then I got the sad news. And it was just something that was there, in my inbox, and I didn’t want to do anything with it, because it felt so sad to know that I wouldn’t get to read the next part of the story in this life.

I am so grateful that I got to know Jeff, even if in an online way. We have the ability to have such effects on each other,

Jeff’s obituary is available online.

Qur’an 10: Jonah

After the nightmare of Repentance, with the teacher who wrote that book attacking the concept of teachers, the familiar opening of Jonah feels like coming home:

In the Name of God, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful.
Alif, Lam, Ra. These are the signs of the Wise Book.
Qur’an 10:1

Relatively little space is given to the obligatory attacks on Judaism and especially Catholicism. Instead a universal pattern of apostleship is given, where men produce elaborations upon the Book such as the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’an. Water, the life of this world, is either the source from which the next world will be found, or is the graveyard of the unbeliever. This is shown through three biblical stories, those of Noah, Moses, and Jonah.

Intercession and Apostleship

As if to emphasize this, the rhetoric softens radically, with intercessors denied except if or when God permits them. At first glance this allow both a Jewish view of Moses, and a Catholic view of the intercessory role of Mary and the Church.

Your Lord is indeed God, who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and then settled on the Throne, directing the command. There is no intercessor, except after His leave. That is God, your Lord! So worship Him. Will you take then take admonition!
Qur’an 10:3

But there seems to be a parallel with the angels who speak — perhaps the only intercessors are those that elaborate on the Heavenly Book to man, if not the books such as the Torah that elaborate on the Book itself:

When Our manifest signs are recited to them, those who do not expect to encounter Us say, Bring a Lectionary other than this, or alter it. Say, I may not alter it of my own accord. I follow only what is revealed to me. Indeed, should I disobey my Lord, I fear the punishment of a tremendous day.

Say, Had God wished, I would not have recited it to you, nor would He have made it known to you, for I have dwelt among you for a lifetime before it. Do you not exercise your reason?
Qur’an 10:15-16

Like some Protestants, the Qur’anic author refers to Catholic veneration of the saints as ‘worship.’ The author’s perspective, that created beings are unable to help themselves or others, means that this veneration is pointless — no intercession from a human to any creature is possible.

They worship besides God that which neither causes them any harm, nor brings them any benefit, and they say, ‘These are out intercessors with God.’ Say, ‘Will you inform God about something He does not know in the heavens or on the earth?’ Immaculate is He and far above any partners that they ascribe!
Qur’an 10:18

Indeed, the venerated may be unaware of the veneration. Given the Qur’anic author’s affection for Mary, this is striking, as it implies Mary is in a form of semi-consciousness or soul-sleep and unable to understand or know about this affection until the Last Day:

On the day when We gather them all together, We shall say to those who ascribe partners, ‘Say where you are — you and your partners!’ Then We shall set them apart from one another, and their partners will say, ‘It was not us that you worshiped. God suffices as a witness between you and us. We were indeed unaware of your worship.’ There every should will examine what it has sent in advance,d and they will be returned to God, their real master, and what they used to fabricate will forsake them.
Qur’an 10:28-30

The rhetoric hardens, limiting even the educational role of intercession. This is in keeping with the previous chapter, Repentance, but underscores the apparent rhetorical purpose of this chapter’s more gentle opening.

There is no guide, no teacher, no intercessor except for the elaborations of the Book. These elaborations, such as the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’an, may be trustworthy, even if the humans who teach from them often are not.

Say, "is there anyone among your partners who may guide to the truth?’ Say, ‘God guides to the truth. Is He who guides to the truth worthier to be followed, or he who is not guided unless he is shown the way? What is the matter with you? How do you judge?’
Qur’an 10:35

According to Catholics, Mary is the Spouse of God the Holy Spirit, and the Church is the Spouse of God the Son. But these partners do not have teaching authority — a direct assault against the Church’s magisterium.

They say, ‘God has offspring! Immaculate is He! He is the All-sufficient. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. You have no authority for this. Do you attribute to God what you do not know?
Qur’an 10:68

The Parable of Water

This is so central to this chapter I’m going to repeat it word for word: According to the Qur’anic author, the parable of the life of this world is that of water.

The parable of the life of this world is that of water which We send down from the sky. It mingles with the earth’s vegetation from which humans and cattle eat. When the earth puts on it luster and is adorned, and its inhabitants think they have power over it, Our edict comes to it, by night or day, whereat We turn it into a mown field, as if it did not flourish the day before. Thus do We elaborate the signs for a people who reflect.
Qur’an 10:24

"Life of this world" is what is purchased with the broad that "comes down," the living bread that "came down," from heaven. The "life of this world" is obtained by bread which is somehow like rain water:

I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world."
John 6:48-51

Like water, the life of this world can be formless nothingness, as well as the life-giving source:

Every soul shall taste death, and you will indeed be paid your full rewards on the Day of the Resurrection. Whoever is delivered from the Fire and admitted to paradise has certainly succeeded. The life of this world is nothing but the wares of delusion.
Qur’an 3:185

Water has a universal archetypal meaning that matches these extremes, both the maternal and the chaotic:

The domain of the unfamiliar might be considered the ultimate source of all things, since we generate all of our determinate knowledge as consequence of exploring what we do not understand. Equally, however, the process of exploration must be regarded as seminal, since nothing familiar can be generated from the unpredictable in the absence of exploratory action and conception. The domain of the known — created in the process of exploration — is the familiar world, firm ground, separated from the maternal sea of chaos.
Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning p. 94.

This world is water, chaos, and the origin point of spiritual growth. The soul can continue to God and onto dry land, or be thrown back into the water. This can be seen by central moments in the lives of three apostles involving water: Noah gathering his family into the ark, Moses crossing the Red Sea, and Jonah during the storm.

The Prophets

Three stories are used to illustrate this point: Noah, Moses, and Jonah

Noah

Noah was a non-Jew who lived among non-Jews, and

God decreed the earth to be wicked, selected Noah, and Noah led those who would follow:

And God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch…

And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you…

Then the Lord said to Noah, "Come into the ark, you and all your household, because I have seen that you are righteous before Me in this generation.
Genesis 6:13-14,17-18,7:1

Noah’s mission was sent to save his own family, though the Qur’an adds a scene where he also castigates the unbelievers who are about to be drowned.

Relate to them the account of Noah when he said to this people, ‘O my people! If my stay be hard on you and my reminding you of God’s signs, I have put my trust in God alone. So conspire together, along with your partners, leaving nothing vague in your plan; they carry it out against me without giving me any respite.
Qur’an 10:71

Moses

Moses follows the same pattern, of declaring judgment, selecting Moses, and Moses being appointed a leader for those who follow:

And the LORD said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows…

So He said, “I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain."

Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, “I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt;

So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go.
Exodus 7,9-10,12,16,20

Yet there’s a shift here. Note that now it’s not just the family, and not even Israel’s children, but even Pharaoh repents:

We carried the Children of Israel across the sea, whereat Pharaoh and his troops pursued them, out of defiance and aggression. When overtaken by drowning, he called out, ‘I do believe that there is no god except Him in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am one of those who submit!’
Qur’an 10:91

This comes from an interpretation of Exodus in which it is Pharaoh, and not the narrator, who announces God’s glory after the drowning of the army:

The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; My desire shall be satisfied on them. I will draw my sword, My hand shall destroy them.’

You blew with Your wind, The sea covered them; They sank like lead in the mighty waters.

"Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, Fearful in praises, doing wonders?"
Exodus 15:9-11

Jonah

The pattern is similar, though these three examples give us a fuller view of how God operates. Noah was a gentile sent to gentiles, Moses, a Jew sent to Jews and to the Gentiles (if Pharaoh did convert), Jonah was a Jew sent to the Gentiles:

Most people remember Jonah’s mission to Ninevah, which is at the end of the biblical book about his exploits. But before that he has an inadvertent mission to gentile sailors during a storm:

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, "Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.

But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up…

Then they said to him, "Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?" "I am a Hebrew," he replied. "I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." Then the men were even more afraid, and said to him, "What is this that you have done!" For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them so.

Then they cried out to the LORD, "Please, O LORD, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you."
Jonah 1:1-4,8-10,14

And in this case it is the stubborn Jonah, and not the initial disbelievers, who fall into chaos. The LORD was the true teacher of the gentiles, and Jonah’s lack of faithfulness meant he needed to convert his own heart as well:

So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.
Jonah 1:15-16

Recall that, in parable, water is the life of this world. By recognizing God the sailors quieted the storm, and transformed the sea from the source of death to the source from which they would next enter dry land.

Why has there not been any town except the people of Jonah that might believe, so that its belief might benefit it? When they believed, We removed from them the punishment of disgrace in the life of this world and We provided for them for a time.
Qur’an 10:98

An Apostle for Every Nation

As with Judaism (which instructs that God gave all men the Noahide Covenant, and only a few the Mosaic covenant) and Christianity (which holds Judaism must continue to exist until the fullness of the gentile enter), the Qur’anic author view of the diversity of religious expression as willed by God:

Mankind were but a single community; then they differed. And were it not for a prior decree of your Lord, decisions would have been made between them concerning that about which they differ.
Qur’an 10:19

All nations are given the Book — the Heavenly Scrolls — through lesser books that elaborate upon it. The Qur’anic author calls his own book the Lectionary (lit. qur’an), and sees is elaborating the Heavenly Book:

This Lectionary could not have been fabricated by anyone besides God; rather, it is a confirmation of what was before it, and an elaboration of the Book, there is no doubt in it, from the Lord of all the worlds.
Qur’an 10:37

Noah, Moses, and Noah came before, announcing God and warning of the water — the life of this world:

There is an apostle for every nation; so when their apostle comes, judgment is made between them with justice, and they are not wronged.
Qur’an 10:47

Because the work of these men (as well as Ezra and Jesus, according to the Qur’anic author) are fundamentally united — elaborating the Book — ambiguities in one elaboration can be answered by conferring with experts in other elaborations:

So if you are in doubt about what We have sent down to you, ask those who read the Book before you. The truth has certainly come to you from your Lord; so do not be among the skeptics.
Qur’an 10:94

Elaborations of the Book

The message of the tenth chapter of the Qur’an is the widespread ability of man to elaborate on the heavenly Book, and the consequences of understanding that elaboration for man’s life. Without the Book, chaos will overtake man. With the book, chaos is the raw material out of which an eternal life can be built.

Indeed, God does not wrong people in the least; rather, it is people who wrong themselves. On the day He will gather them as if they had not remained except for an hour of the day getting acquainted with one another. They are certainly losers who deny the encounter with God, and they are not guided.
Qur’an 10:44-45

A similar message is expressed by philosophical self-help authors, from Jordan Peterson to Peter Thiel. It’s fair to say that the Qur’anic author was a thinker as brilliant and religious heterodox as Peterson and Thiel. And all of them are taking seriously the question of how the meaning of the world expresses itself in our world.

God has gracefully given the Logos — the meaning of all things — to His creation. Catholics then and now teach that this Logos is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Christ’s words and deeds are elaborated by His bride, the Church, to whom He granted teaching authority. To the Qur’anic author, the logos is the Book, elaborated upon by books such as the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’an. The chaos within the logos is Wisdom — the chaos outside of it is death.

Impressions of “Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change,” by Risto Siilasmaa with Catherine Fredman

Impressions of “Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change,” by Risto Siilasmaa with Catherine Fredman

Transforming Nokia ties together three business stories I’ve been reading about for years: the history of Bell Labs, the history of cell phones, and the history of Microsoft. The perspective is biased — told from the perspective of the last Chairman of Nokia’s cellular era and first Chairman of Nokia’s networking era — but informative. The book’s only weakness is it feels like a rough draft of a business self-help book glued onto a corporate history — I would take less self-help, and more corporate history.

The last ten years of the cell phone business has seen the death of companies like Blackberry and Palm, while Apple and Google formed a duopoloy.

Two other players in this market where Nokia, with the Symbian Operation System, and Microsoft with Windows Phone. The middle episodes of Transforming Nokia place place during events which made it clear that Symbian was now obsolete, but where it was unclear if Windows Phone provided a meaningful way forward. Windows Phone had less technical debt, better design, better monetization options for the company, and better tooling for engineers.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to combine Symbian’s marketshare with Windows Phone’s modern platform. There was no ability for apps written on one platform to run on another, and seemingly no discussion about this either. Windows Phone entered the market with no apps that could run on it, leaving it a worse library than any operating system. And new apps were written for the new market leaders, Apple iOS and Google Android, which already had share. To have bet the company on two different operation systems, both of which had complementary advantages and neither of which were able to survive on their own, must have been incredibly frustrating.

And not just frustrating — a major failure for another company too. Microsoft’s failure with Windows Phone lead to the firing of CEO Steve Ballmer and new CEO Satya Nadella’a major strategy shifts. Microsoft’s investments in Nokia were scrapped, and even Microsoft’s internal hardware development focused on a sister project, Windows RT, was fundamentally impacted by Nokia and Microsoft’s total defeat in the hardware market.

Stephen Elop, Nokia’s CEO during its attempted transition, temporarily ran the Microsoft Mobile division it bought from Nokia until Satya gave up on that effort. A lot of the book is given to the perspective of Risto Siilasmaa, who regularly criticizes the actions of the prior chairman while defending Elop, who had been hired by the prior Chairman. It seems that Riisto sees his role as primarily that of chief investor — a position typically taken by the CEO in the U.S. — and not of executive leader — also a role for the CEO in the U.S. While Risto ultimately abandoned the phone as a business, he seems to believe that Elop ran the phone business as successfully as possible given the circumstances.

Ultimately, Nokia sold the phone business to Microsoft, and used that successful sell to buy one and a half real businesses: the half of Nokia Siemens Networks the company did not earn, plus Alcatel-Lucent — Lucent itself being a rebrand of Bell Labs. The history of (Nokia) Bell Labs is tragic. The invention of the semicoonductor made computer miniaturization possible. Terrible leadership clapped itself on the back for changes that lead to the death of its ability to function as a first-class company or laboratory. Four years ago I read the most recent book about the firm, which was “high detailed, impressionist, echoing with nostalgia,” and impossibly beautiful.

Bell Labs – in the form of Alcatel-Lucent — enters Transforming Nokia near the end. Nokia is seeking safety in the telecommunications business, and Alcatel-Lucent is a similarly sized company with similar problems but complementary product lines. What feels like it should have been the most dramatic part of the story — a potential merger-of-equals under French control becoming a takeover of Alcatel-Lucent by Nokia — is oddly downplayed. Perhaps because those events are the most relevant inside the company, Siilasmaa is careful to avoid providing signals as to the company’s future intentions.

I enjoyed the history a lot, and the Siilasmaa’s in general seemed more forthright about Nokia than Satya did about Microsoft. The tone feels closer to very self-critical works, such as We Were Yahoo or Robert X. Cringley’s takedown of the modern IBM. My gripe is that the author uses a lot of buzzwords – phrases like “The Paranoid Optimist” and other jargon is used a lot, and I’m not sure if this is how the author thinks or if he’s planning a consulting career after Nokia. Or just really likes some phrases.

On a personal note I enjoyed hearing about the post-Nokia history of their phone business, called “Devices and Services” in the book. I knew Nokia D&S became Microsoft Mobile, I did not know these assets then formed the core of HMD, the company that made my (current) Nokia phone.

I read Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change in the Audible edition.

Qur’an 9: Repentance

The first chapter of the Qur’an was a prayer. The next seven chapters explored a churchless Arian Christianity. The writer of the Qur’an struggled with the loss of the sacraments, a church he felt to be fundamentally corrupt and hostile, all while showing his devotion of Mary, and belief in heaven, hell, and purgatory.

But now something breaks. Every chapter so far has begun with “In the Name of God.” Not this one.

A repudiation by God and His Apostle to the polytheists with whom you made a treaty:

Travel in the land for four months, but know that you cannot frustrated God, and that God will disgrace the faithless.
Qur’an 9:1-2

Like the author of Ezekiel the Qur’anic author is using the alienation effect to force the reader to stop think. You are reading a book. You are reading a teaching written by a teacher.

Remember this. Think about what polytheism, worship of many Gods, means. Recognize those false gods who are not the One. Follow the One, not the other gods. Worship the One Alone. And have hope, for the One demonstrates His greatness through your weakness, and not only your strength.

Kill and Protect the Worshipers of Other Gods

The Qur’an appears contradicts itself. This chapter does so immediately, and obviously. Believers are told to kill “polytheists” in one verse:

Then, when the sacred months have passed, kill the polytheists wherever you find them, capture them and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every ambush. But if they repent, maintain the prayer, and give the zakat, then let them alone. God is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful.
Qur’an 9:5

And be merciful in the next:

If any of the polytheists seeks asylum from you, grant him asylum until he hears the Word of God. Then convey him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know.
Qur’an 9:6

We can resolve this contradiction by treating the Qur’an as Wisdom writing. In this genre, the pattern of instructions reveals a broader theme.

Consider where Christ both demands constant forgiveness, and warns of a lack of forgiveness:

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

“So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Matthew 18:21-35

The Qur’anic author references this contradiction, and the seventy granted repentances, and the lack of any:

Whether you plead forgiveness for them or do not plead forgiveness for them, even if you plead forgiveness for them seventy times, God will never forgive them because they defied God and His Apostle, and God does not guide the transgressing lot.
Qur’an 9:80

The point of course is not to literally count the number of times we forgive. The point is not that God can’t forgive, or that God is not all-forgiving, all merciful.

The point is that forgiveness is divine. And that a lack of forgiveness separates one from the Divine.

Likewise, the Qur’an’s rival teaching of polytheists — they must be killed but granted asylum — likewise has a clear meaning: Do not worship other gods, worship the forgiving God..

Yet Arabia was largely Christian and Jewish during the writing of the Qur’an. So who were the “Other Gods” a poly-theist would have worshiped?

One Teacher, One God

Christ’s rhetorical attacks were often aimed at the “scribes and pharisees.” The target were folks who explicitly believed in God, and backed that with action, but with a priority greater than god. The Qur’anic author adapts and updates this attack, against “scribes and monks” in an attack against believers who loved gold more than God:

O you who have faith! Indeed, many of the scribes and monks wrongfully eat up the people’s wealth, and bar from the way of God. Those who treasure up gold and silver, and do not spend it in the way of God, inform them of a painful punishment on the way when these shall be heated in hellfire and therewith branded on their foreheads, their sides and their backs: ‘This is what you treasured up for yourselves! So taste what you have treasured!
Qur’an 9:34-35

Here the author is rephrasing the apostle James, who said the same:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.
James 5:1-3

James and the Qur’anic author are emphasizing the same phenomenon — corrupted faithful who mislead others. False teachers. When only the One is a Teacher, and other “teachers” place heavy burdens on people by barring them from the way of God:

Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.
Matthew 23:1-9

The One Teacher does not mean that no one can physically provide information to another. But the source of any Teaching is the one Teacher: God. The Lectionary or qur’an — which seems to be the Qur’anic author’s way of referring to his work — the Torah of the Jews and the Gospel of Christ are all seen as teachings from God, but not a substitute for God.

Indeed, God has bought from the faithful their souls and their possessions for paradise to be theirs: they fight in the way of God, kill, and are killed. A promise binding upon Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Lectionary. And who is truer to his promise than God? So rejoice in the brain who have made with him, and that is the great success.
Qur’an 9:111

The Qur’anic author seems to be aware he’s at risk of pride here, putting his composition at the same as the Law and the Gospel. But from his perspective, both are re-establishments of a forgotten law:

The Gemara notes: And Reish Lakish follows his line of reasoning stated elsewhere, as Reish Lakish said: I am the atonement for Rabbi ?iyya and his sons, as initially, when some of the Torah laws were forgotten from the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael, Ezra ascended from Babylonia and reestablished the forgotten laws. Parts of the Torah were again forgotten in Eretz Yisrael, and Hillel the Babylonian ascended and reestablished the forgotten sections. When parts of the Torah were again forgotten in Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi ?iyya and his sons ascended and reestablished the forgotten sections. This expression of deference toward Rabbi ?iyya introduces the halakha that Reish Lakish is citing in his name. And so said Rabbi ?iyya and his sons: Rabbi Dosa and the Rabbis did not disagree concerning the soft mats of Usha
Sukkah 20a

The theme of forgetting, and replacing what should be remembered with Teachers, is also in the Gospels:

Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; 3 and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.

Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”
Matthew 16:1-5

The Qur’anic author’s comparison of his Lectionary to the Torah and the Gospel seems not intended to place it as a divine object, but to emphasize the created nature of all earthly texts, and all earthly teachers. One may be a saint, or in biblical terminology a Son of God, without being the One:

The Jews say, ‘Ezra is the son of God,‘ and the Christians say, ‘Christ is the son of God.’ That is an opinion that they mouth, imitating the opinions of the faithless of former times. May God assail them, where do they stray?!
Qur’an 9:30

The Qur’anic author is using Biblical rhetoric, problematizing the Hebrew Bible’s description of an inner class of angel-like beings called the Sons of God. The Apostle, Paul, made the same point, twice emphasizing the equivalence of all believers with the Sons of God:

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. or the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.
Romans 8:14-19

The implication is here, for the Qur’anic author himself, and every subsequent transmitter of wisdom. The right action is grief for the distress of sinners, concern for sinners, and mercy to sinners.

There has certainly come to you an apostle from among yourselves. Grievous to him is your distress; he has deep concern for you and is most kind and merciful to the faithful.
Qur’an 9:128

But when he is rejected, that’s ok. Because while we are commanded to be righteous to each other, the true object of our love is the One

But if they turn their backs, say, ‘God is sufficient for me. There is no god except Him. In Him alone I have put my trust and he is the Lord of the Great Throne.
Qur’an 9:129

One Father, One God

Yet faith in God, to the Qur’anic teacher, means splitting from these teachers, and keeping one’s eyes on God as the Teacher. These aren’t the only Case where faith forces painful splits:

Works are to be split from Faith, in opposition to to the view of religion as managing a powerful relationship. Maintaining a house of prayer, like serving as a teacher, is no substitute for God:

Do you regard the providing of water to hajj pilgrims and the maintenance of the Holy House of Prayer as similar to someone who has faith in God and the Last Day and wages jihad in the way of God? They are not equal with God, and God does not guide the wrongdoing lot.
Qur’an 9:17

Likewise, as the earthly teacher is nothing compared to God as teacher, the earthly family is nothing compared to God:

O you have who have faith! Do not befriend your fathers and brothers if they prefer unfaith to faith. Those of you who befriend them — it is they who are the wrongdoers.
Qur’an 9:23

Christ, of course, made the same point:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.”
Matthew 10:34-39

The Qur’anic author also uses the Lord’s prayer as an example of how even prayer needs to be separated from faith:

Among them are some who say, ‘Give me leave, and do not put me to temptation.’ Behold, they have already fallen into temptation and indeed hell besieges the faithless.
Qur’an 9:49

The choice is meaningful. For Just as Christ separated son from father, but united him with the One Father, the Qur’anic author tries to separate student from teacher, but unite every godwary student with the One Teacher.

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

“Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven Hallowed by Your Name…

Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.
Matthew 6:7-9,11-13

One Foundation, One God

Jews and Catholics are blamed for their respect for their religious authorities:

They have taken their scribes and their monks as lords besides God and Christ, Mary’s son; though they were commanded to worship only the One God, there is no god except Him; he is far too immaculate to have any partners as they ascribe!
Qur’an 9:31

These merely human teachers give a foundation only as strong as sand. A house built on these teachers, on the worship of these other gods, will fall into chaos:

Is he who founds his building on Godwarines and pleasure better-off or someone who founds his building on the brink of a collapsing bank which collapses with him into the fire of hell? God does not guide the wrongdoing lot.
Qur’an 9:109

The Qur’anic author here is restating Christ:

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
Matthew 7:24-27

There’s one solid foundation, for basing one’s faith, whether in reception or in promulgation: God.

“Hear, O Israel: he Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

We cannot see God on earth, but we can see His Image: Christ. This means that the visible foundation is Christ alone, while the foundation as such is God alone:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him….

But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Matthew 17:1-3,7-8

But note how these ends. The words that are taught are actually commands from God. The “teaching” is not from the man who teaches it — it’s a commandment from the Lord:

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7

And it is God’s role, and not man’s, to share these facts. Consider how the first Pope was himself silenced by God:

While [Peter] was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” …

Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
Matthew 17:5,7

One Friend, One God

The Qur’anic author emphasizes the unique and direct relationship between the believer and God. So while there are apostles, helpers, and fighters, these are all fighters for God, those who “Help” through submission, and so on.

Certainly God has turned clemently to the Prophet and the Emigrants and the Helpers, who followed him in the hour of difficulty, after the hearts of a part of them were about to swerve. Then he turned clemently to them — indeed he is most kind and merciful to them.
Qur’an 9:117

Even the Kingdom of Heaven’s only Helper is God Himself, and not its subjects:

Indeed, to God belongs the Kingdom of the Heavens and the Earth. He gives life and brings death. And besides God you do not have any friend or helper.
Qur’an 9:116

The same wisdom in contradiction. We may help each other. But the only real Helper is God. This does not mean individual creatures can’t work together. Joshua’s conquest of Canaan was made possibly with the Commander of the Lord’s Army, for example. But the Work that mattered was God’s will, not a creature’s response to it.

Then God sent down His Presence upon His Apostle and upon the faithful, and He sent down hosts you did not see, and He punished the faithless, and that is the requital of the faithless.
Qur’an 9:26

We now see who the polytheists are — hypocrites: those who have the Heavenly Tablets as conscious knowledge but not in their hearts:

Fight those from among those who were given the Book who do not have faith in God nor in the Last Day, nor forbid what God and His Apostles have forbidden, nor practice the true religion, until they pay the tribute out of hand, degraded.
Qur’an 9:29

They are the enemy:

“O you who have faith! Fight the faithless who are in your vicinity, and let them find severity in you, and know that God is with the Godwary.
Qur’an 9:123

One Comfort, One God

How can we bare this message?

From a Catholic perspective, the answer may be: we can’t. The Qur’anic author’s vision is of a fundamentally atomized creation, with every created thing utterly dependent and contextualized by God alone. This is largely compatible with Calvinism as described by Dumbrell and van’t Veer, but contradicts the Catholic vision of creation as an inter-connected body in which all members co-participate in the work of salvation in this world.

But the Qur’anic author would respond that he re-presents a hope that can overcome any sin. Christ tells us not to put a light under a wicker basket:

“No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.”
Luke 11:33-36

But even a light we desire to extinguish would be magnified if God wishes:

They desire to put out the light of God with their mouths, but God is intent on perfecting His light though the faithless should be averse.
Qur’an 9:32

The believer is promised a paradise even better than Eden:

God has promised the faithful, men and women, gardens with streams running in them, to remain in them, and good dwellings in the Gardens of Eden. Yet God’s pleasure is greater; that is the great success.
Qur’an 9:72

And even that famously backward people, the Arabs:

The Arabs are more obdurate in unfaith and hypocrisy, and more apt to be ignorant of the precepts that God has sent down to His Apostle, and God is all-knowing, all-wise…
Qur’an 9:97

Can be adopted into the love of God:

Yet among the Arabs are those who believe in God and the Last Day, and regard what they spend as nearness to God and the blessings of the Apostle. Now it shall indeed bring them nearness, and god will admit them into His mercy. God is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful.
Qur’an 9:99

Conclusion

Kill the worshiper of other gods. Forgive the worshiper of other gods. If you believe that I am your teacher, you are the worshiper of other gods.

The Ninth Chapter, Repentance, is unlike any other. It starts in a shocking manner that makes one question the teacher. The lesson is going to be on poly-theism, the worship of other Gods in addition to God. Faith, according to the Qur’anic author, requires splitting all false foundations away from God and the believer. Only the One is a Teacher, as Christ said. God transcends the limitations of all limited teachers, and promises a reward greater than paradise to those who repent of other teachers.

In this chapter the reader is immediately taken out of just reading into realizing he is worshiping the writer as a God. This is an unforgivable sin. But the words that are missing from the very beginning of the Book are the most important words of all

In the Name of God, the All-Forgiving, the All-Merciful

Impressions of “Alpha and Omega,” by Harry Turtledove

Recently I finished Alpha and Omega, Harry Turtledove’s book of the end of the world. I have a soft spot in my heart for Turtledove’s earlier book, Guns of the South. Turtledove’s book is not a lesson in theology, but could be thought of as a secular Lord of the World: a blow-by-blow account of the Eschaton from the perspective of several secular characters, as well as a few religious point of view characters.

But first: a few words about Guns of the South. Guns is an alternate history where time-travelers present General Robert E. Lee with a large truck full of AK-47s, associated parts, and ammunition. The rest of the book is told primarily from the perspective of Union and Confederate war-fighters. I loved Guns of the South because of the relentlessness with which it takes the logic of its initial premise. Second- and third- order effects, such as the Union’s industrial base better ability to replicate parts, are taken seriously. The conclusion is a brilliant combination of historical contingency and historical determinism.

Alpha and Omega is not as good. The book’s blending of apocalypses is original.  Yet Turtledove is clearly better at materialistic history rather than comparative theology. Turtledove does not have more than a surface-level understanding of the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, as in the scene where a televangelist gives prayers for the dead:

Lester Stark prayed for the victim’s soul and drove on.
p. 46

There are other cases where the Jewish and Islamic distinctions are likewise muddled. Yet there are still some good lines and set-pieces which cleverly play on expectations, such as the origin of the “Messiah”

Chaim knew exactly what he wanted: “Take me instead!”

“What?” The rabbi’s eyebrows came down and together in a scowl that should have petrified Chaim.
p.g 393

The context being a very odd take on Paul:

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:7-8

and the loneliness of the Messiah:

Before this started, Eric hadn’t worried about the Messiah. He’d never imagined Him as the loneliest guy in town. Judging by Chaim Avigad, that came with the package.
pg. 446

being an unstated commentary on Matthew:

Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Matthew 27:45-46

I wanted more of the historical strengths of Turtledove’s earlier works. When Turtledove writes about history he’s on solid ground, and the result is great:

“Then this is yet the Kingdom of Judah?” he asked.
“This is Israel,” Chaim answered.
“The northern kingdom, the false line, have conquered the true, holy realm?” The ancient Jew sounded horrified.
pg. 432

Plus some of Turtledove’s references to recent history were fascinating:

The 1948 War of Independence saw bizarre things, like Israeli Air Force pilots flying Messerschmidt 109s (Czech-built postwar versions) against Egyptian B-17s and their Spitfire escorts.
pg. 444

Sadly, there’s nothing like Lee’s dialogue in Guns of the South where he discusses the future South Africa’s political situation with time traveling Afrikaners. I enjoyed Alpha and Omega, but it was neither as good as the comedic Tom Stranger series, nor as thought-provoking as Ball Lightning, other fiction books I’ve read recently. If there are sequels to this book, I may not read them.

I read Alpha and Omega in the Kindle edition.

Impressions of “Paul: A Biography,” by N.T. Wright

Recently I read Paul, N.T. Wright’s biography of The Apostle. Paul fits within other books I have read that emphasize the Kingship of Christ in the Kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of Heaven. Wright emphasizes faithfulness to this King, and the freedom that following the King gives to His subjects. Along the way N.T. Wright reconstructs Paul’s journeys, creating a chronology that is both traditional and revisionist.

Heaven and Earth

The oldest Christian creed we have is the Apostle’s Creed. Paul’s missionary journeys took place about halfway between the first of Christ and the writing of the Creed, in A.D. 120. It concludes:

I believe in the Holy Ghost,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting
.
Amen.
The Apostles Creed

Christians look forward to a resurrected body and everlasting life. Heaven is not promised as a place of living. Though having one’s own body, a physical existence, is promised.

This brings up a distinction between C.S. Lewis, who Wright reminds me of, and Wright himself. Both were Anglican, both had a knack for talking to a Catholic and Reformed audience simultaneously, and both have a delightful British writing style. But there’s a striking difference. Lewis focuses on Christianity as a philosophy, or even cosmic worldview.

The Weight of Glory focuses on dimensional projection, and The Great Divorce on an image of heaven, hell, and purgatory. Yet if there’s a central difference between Wright and Lewis, it’s that Wright emphasizes Christ’s mission in this world, and not a platonic understanding of the next world. Our home is earth, the Kingdom of Heaven is already here in part, and the promise of the future is the resurrection of the dead on a new earth, and not eternal souls living in Heaven. I suspect Wright would state that Lewis’s Christianity was less bodily and more abstract than anything written in the Bible, and that such Platonism was not a legitimate development of doctrine, but a forgetting of the good news of the Bible: the Heavenly Kingship of Jesus Christ. To give a brief illustration, the first mention of “Heaven” in each of the gospels is either announcing Heaven breaking into earth, or Heaven as the location that God lives:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Matthew 3:1-2

It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Mark 1:9-11

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”
Luke 2:13-15

And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
John 1:32-33

Heaven is not promised as a location for us to live in either the Creed or the gospel text. But the invasion of Heaven into this world, a royal brigandry against the forces of darkness, is:

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.
Matthew 12:25-30

By Faithfulness to the King You Are Saved

The Bible was written for us but not to us — it was written to the Jews and later Romans of the near east thousands of years ago. Understanding its message for us requires understanding how it’s message would have been understood by the people to whom it was written.

This is the approach taken by thinkers like Michael Heiser (Reformed), Taylor Marshall (Catholic), and N.T. Wright himself (Anglican). All argue that it is clear that Christ established a Kingdom during his earthly ministry, and his teachings (and those of other early Christians) should be read in that context. What Christ brought was not a philosophy called Christianity, but a Kingdom that reorganized the Kingdom of Israel into the Kingdom of Heaven — the Kingdom of God. In this way Mormonism — at least in its corporal understanding of the importance of Jesus — is onto something.

A consequence is an sudden ending of the debate around “justification by faith alone” or “justification by faith and works” — the great dispute between the Catholic and Protestant faiths. If Christ’s Kingship is literally true, then the Biblical term “faith” is better translated and “allegiance” or “faithfulness,” and the distinction between “faith” in Christ and working for Christ melts away. The Greek word translated as ‘faith’ — pistis — refers to the faithful obedience of a subject to a king, or a soldier to a commanding officer. Consider the two passages that had been held up by these rival groups of Christians — the message is the same:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has pistis but does not have works? Can pistis save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also pistis by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have pistis, and I have works.” Show me your pistis without your works, and I will show you my pistis by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that pistis without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that pistis was working together with his works, and by works pistis was made perfect?
James 2:14-22

and Paul’s justification “by faith” becomes

We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by pistis in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by pistis in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
Galatians 2:15-16

Faithfulness in bad faith is not faithfulness. Faith in God is not like the Chinese Imperial Religion where the relationship between fully transactional. And faithfulness without obedience is not faithfulness. Though the purpose of works is to climb the ladder of faithfulness to a closer relationship with God.

According to Wright, Paul argue that God’s righteousness refers to His continued upholding the covenant with Israel. God is a conquering Sovereign who upholds a terms of surrender with a lesser party, in spite of repeated breaches by the lesser party. When Paul speaks of righteousness, Wright argues, is not speaking of individual entrance into heaven — but that in spite of Covenant breach by the inferior party (Israel), but superior party (God) would remain loyal. This makes sense to me. The Old Testament description of Covenant is clearly along the lines of an Status-of-Forces or Instrument-of-Surrender, so it makes sense this theme is continued in the New Testament as well.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by pistis.”

For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.)
Romans 1:6,5:17

Freedom in the Kingdom

A “kingdom” reading of the Bible involves at least two offices Christ establishes — the Queen Mother (Mary) and Prime Minister (Peter). Wright elides the issue, noting that (whatever was said in the Gospel itself) by the time of Paul’s ministry a de facto office of “pillar” had been established that included Peter, as well as James and John

And when James, Cephas [Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I also was eager to do.
Galatians 2:9-10

This trio was the group that had witnessed the Transfiguration, or in other words were present at the apparent Constitutional Reform of the Kingdom of Israel into the Kingdom of Heaven, and seemed already at that time to be part of an inner circle:

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
Matthew 17:1-9

Paul though at least seems to subvert the new Christian government, whether based on Peter’s Prime Ministership or these “pillars.” He derived his apostleship directly from Christ, and not from the Twelve. This is a challenge to a fully incarnate understanding of the Kingdom, as Paul emphasizes the Sovereign is still God in Heaven:

But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:11-12

Though Paul argues that in doing so he is not subverting the government, but enjoying his “right” as a subject of Christ:

Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?
1 Corinthians 9:1-5

It is this sort of “freedom” — not a reading of Reformation-era concerns against the Curia, but Paul’s actual position within the Kingdom of Heaven, that he talks about when he speaks of freedom from the law. The Kingdom of Heaven does not have a rule of law but rule by the Man-God, Christ:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:2-4

This is a profound point I did not grapple with before. God is greater than the Covenant, and greater than the Prime Ministership he appointed. Whether in the old or new Israel, the reality of the Covenant and the Papacy are confirmed and not undermined by the righteousness of God in upholding them along with the direct access of the believer to God. Thus when Elijah tried to lift the Covenant, he emphasized the superiority of God over the merely human King of Israel. With Christ, we now have a righteous King, but are left with merely human Prime Ministers — Popes. This is a view — that the Pope is Christ’s Prime Minister, but a Prime Minister who presides over free subjects, is perhaps best reflected in a document Wright does not mention — the Second Vatican Council. Note how the Council not only restates Paul’s message on freedom, but insists on God’s “righteous” upholding of the terms of His kingdom, as God upholds His covenant.

It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth. However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed.
Dignitatis Humanae, A.D. 1965

The Journeys of Paul

Wright reconstructs Paul’s travels in terms of major political cities in the Empire. A typical pattern of Paul was first to appear in the Jewish synagogue, and then elsewhere in the city:

But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”

Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen:

So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.
Acts 13:14-16,42

This is in keeping with the literal Kingship of Jesus Christ, whose arrival is announced to the country he is king of — Israel — and then to the newly liberated areas of the gentiles. While Heiser emphasizes Christ’s kingship over supernatural forces and powers — the Canaanite gods and the like — Wright emphasizes that it is Caesar himself who is now subjugated. Caesar had been called…

A Savior who has made war to cease
and who shall put everything in peaceful order;
and whereas Caesar,
when he was manifest,
transcended the expectations of all who had anticipated the good news,
not only by surpassing the benefits conferred by his predecessors
but by leaving no expectation of surpassing him to those who would come after him,
with the result that the birthday of our God signaled the beginning of Good News for the world because of him
Priene Calendar Inscription, 9 B.C.

From the beginning, the Church used this rhetoric to make an identical but opposite point: the King is here, but the King is Christ.

Wright also addresses the question of the order of Paul’s travels, and where documents were written. The imprisonment traditionally ascribed to Paul’s stay in Rome, Wright places in Ephesus. If so, this is only obliquely referenced as part of the “uproar” mentioned by Luke:

And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen…

But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: “Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.” And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia
Acts 19:23-24,34-41,20:1

Wright also identifies the Letter to the Ephesians (whose initial line “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus” does not occur in the oldest surviving manuscripts) as a catholic letter, and the same as the supposedly lost Letter to the Laodiceans. Wright’s new chronology of Paul has other implications too. He does not find room in this chronology for some of the pastoral letters, leading the possibility open that either Paul traveled extensively during his pre-trial imprisonment in Rome (possible, as he was a citizen) or even was acquitted. The earliest extra-biblical mentions of Paul are ambiguous here:

Through envy Paul, too, showed by example the prize that is given to patience:
seven times was he cast into chains;
he was banished;
he was stoned; having become a herald, both in the East and in the West,
he obtained the noble renown due to his faith; and having preached righteousness to the whole world,
and having come to the extremity of the West,
and having borne witness before rulers,
he departed at length out of the world,
and went to the holy place,
having become the greatest example of patience.
1 Clement 5:5-7

Another example is Paul’s fundraising efforts to Jerusalem. The Apostle repeatedly mentions this effort in his letters:

But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.
Romans 15:25-32

but their reference to it by Luke in Acts is brief, does not address the raising of the money, or how the money was received. The brief mission is bracketed by Paul (at trial) saying he had a clean conscience and no one disputed his mission.

This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.

“Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, n the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult. They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me
Acts 24:16-19

So what does this mean? I don’t know. Its interesting Paul refers here to the “pillars” as Holy Ones, the same terms used for high-ranking functionaries of God in Daniel when translated to Greek:

‘This decision is by the decree of the watchers,
And the sentence by the word of the holy ones,
In order that the living may know
That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men,
Gives it to whomever He will,
And sets over it the lowest of men.’
Daniel 4:17

This is both a high praise (being compared with angels!) and a subtle knock (like the angels, subject to a higher power). What’s the purpose of including this reference in such a moment? As I said — I don’t know.

Final Thoughts

N.T. Wright’s biography of Paul made The Apostle a fascinating man for me in a way he wasn’t before. I knew the focus on Christ’s Kingship, Paul’s dual identity as both Jew and Roman, and about his travels. But I hadn’t thought to consider the chronology of Paul’s actions, or how the events in Paul’s letter interact with Luke’s recording of similar events.

I read Paul: A Biography in the Audible edition.

Impressions of “The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution that Swept Virtual Reality,” by Blake Harris

Two years ago I read Console Wars, Blake Harris’ history of the competition between Nintendo and Sega in the 1990s. Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Shortly after that book came out the leadership of Oculus VR asked Harris to document their efforts. Console Wars follows the men who lead that effort — Brendan Iribe, Jack McCauley, Michael Abrash, John Carmack, and most of all — Palmer Luckey.

The book begins by following Luckey’s initial work hacking together hardware components to attempt to mimic high-end virtual reality systems. The process is classic disruption, focusing on building a somewhat inferior hardware product at dramatically lower costs. Luckey succeeded at the goal, and had the good fortune to be working at the same time that John Carmack (creator of the DOOM franchise) was building and publicizing a ‘test bed’ to allow easy comparison of VR quality. Carmack heard of Luckey’s efforts, highlighted it during an industry conference, and the buzz began.

The second part of the book focuses on the formation of Luckey’s company, Oculus VR. This seems to have been a happy time. The narrative follows Palmer and Brendan primarily. I would have enjoyed learning more about what Carmack was up to, as well as the manufacturing process, but the perspective of these two are still great. Oculus first achieved fame beyond the gaming or VR circles for an extremely successful kickstarter campaign. The blow-by-blow of the creation of that video, which is later recapitulated during a lawsuit, was really fascinating.

The last part of the book is the acquisition of Facebook, and after. There’s actually a few sub-narratives here: the neutering of Oculus’s competitor, Valve. The lawsuit with ZeniMax/Bethesda. And Palmer Luckey being fired for his political activities.

Console Wars concerned Nintendo’s rise to the top of the Console Market, and then her challenge by Sega. At Sega’s best she controlled half of the home console market. Oculus headed off that possibility early on. What Tim Kalinske (head of Sega America) was to Nintendo, Michael Abrash (head of Valve’s VR effort) was to Oculus — a formidable potential competitor. So three days after Facebook acquired Valve, Facebook hired Michael Abrash, and thus (for one man’s generous compensation package) ended a potential competitor.

Throughout the book the relationship between John Carmack and ZeniMax, the company that bought his previous company “id,” is a source of drama. ZeniMax has a poor reputation in the gaming community. The founder lost control of the company to the current CEO, who is a lawyer and not a developer by background. Unfortunately (for the source of drama) Facebook has both plenty of lawyers and plenty of money, so from a corporate perspective the lawsuit seems to have been more important for honor than practical effects.

A more serious change was what appears to have been political reprisals by Facebook against Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, for donating $10,000 to a Trump-associated campaign group in the 2016 election. Non-disclosure and non-disparagement agreements for now keep us from knowing the full truth, but *The Wall Street Journal has a factual analysis of the situation. In case case it seems dangerous to be a conservative in a visible position at Facebook, and Palmer did not last long.

The History of the Future is an enjoyable and fast-paced read about a contemporary corporate history. It’s a worthy follow-up to Console Wars. I read The History of the Future in the Audible edition. An hour long interview with the author on Triangulation is also available.

Qur’an 8: The Spoils

The eighth chapter of the Qur’an is famous for its violence, at least in anti-Islamic circles. Litanies like this…

.. give more examples of violent verses from the eighth chapter than from any other. The chapter’s name — “The Spoils” — hardly helps. Yet, the litany’s violent impressions of the first several chapters don’t match my impressions of chapter 2, “The Heifer,” chapter 3, “The Family of Amram,” or chapter 5, “The Table.” So is chapter 8, “The Spoils,” that bad in the context of the Bible?

Let’s use one verse as a key, and open the door of the Qur’an…

Prepare against them whatever you can of power and war-horses,
awing thereby the enemy of God and your enemy,
and others besides them,
whom you do not know, but God knows them.

And whatever you spend in the way of God will be repaid to you in full
and you will be not wronged.
Qur’an 8:60

Within this one voice, there’s promises of payback, victory, a faithless adversary, total consecration to God, and all things being made right.

Let’s dig in.

Pay Back

The Qur’an’s promise that God will pay to men what men deserve continues the Biblical theme of pay back:

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Pay to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Mark 12:17

Christ himself references the Maccabean promise to pay back to the gentiles exactly what they deserved:

Judas Maccabeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the peoples. You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people. Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law.”
1 Maccabees 2:66-68

As Christ ensured us to be sure that Caesar collects, and Judas Maccabeus wanted to ensure that Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Qur’anic author is warning the reader God can pay back to you, too. No debts will be left outstanding. But if you go with God, with way will be easier. This is because the burden we have been given from the Father is easy, and the burden manageable:

Now God has lightened your burden, knowing that there is weakness in you. So if there be a hundred steadfast men among you, they will overcome two hundred; and if there be a thousand, they will overcome two thousand, by God’s leave, and God is with the steadfast.
Qur’an 8:66

Or as Christ said:

All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Come to Me, all you who labor
and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.

Take My yoke upon you
and learn from Me, for I am gentle
and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.

For My yoke is easy
and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:27-30

Victory

The reference to the multiplicative power of God in the verse we began with — that God’s help makes your own efforts a rounding error — seems to reflect the reference to David’s successes relative to Saul’s.

Now it had happened as they were coming home, when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women had come out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments. So the women sang as they danced, and said:

“Saul has slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands.”

Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said,

They have ascribed to David ten thousands,
and to me they have ascribed only thousands
.
Now what more can he have but the kingdom?”

So Saul eyed David from that day forward.
1 Samuel 18:6-9

The Qur’anic author, like Joseph Lozovyy in his analysis of David, Saul, and Doeg, views David’s success as the result entirely of God’s effort, and not reflective on David’s own skill or work. Faith — which the Qur’anic author sees as humility before God’s presence, and not as obedience to a king — makes one part of the heavenly host:

The faithful are only those whose hearts tremble when God is mentioned, and when His signs are recited to them, they increase their faith, and who put their trust in their Lord, maintain the prayer and spend out of what We have provided them. If is they who are truly faithful. They shall have ranks near their Lord, forgiveness, and a noble provision.
Qur’an 8:3-4

The righteous victory then is a victory where one does noting (except have hearts that tremble, put their trust in the Lord, maintain prayer, and use what God gives), and God smites the enemy. Faith, and not works, matter to the Qur’anic author. So the analogy of God smiting Pharaoh’s army, which the Israelites did little else to help other than escape…

Like the precedent of Pharaoh’s clan and those who were before them, who impugned the signs of their Lord; so We destroyed them for their sins and We drowned Pharaoh’s clan, and they were all wrongdoers.
Qur’an 8:54

… highlights perhaps the only work that God accepts, according to the Qur’anic author: belief.

Belief

After Pharaoh’s army was drowned, the Children of Israel were in the Wilderness between the sin of Egypt and the promise of Canaan. During this time, spies were sent into Canaan to investigate the land. All agreed with the basic facts — that the land of Canaan was good, but that it held the faithless — Amalekites:

Now they departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. Then they told him, and said: “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.”
Numbers 13:26-29

The Qur’anic author summarizes what happened next:

As your Lord brought you out from your home with a judicious purpose, a part of the faithful were indeed reluctant. They disputed with you concerning the truth after it had become clear, as if they were being driven toward death while they looked on.
Qur’an 8:5

Caleb and Joshua advocated for an attack…

Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”

and [Caleb and Joshua] spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.”
Numbers 13:30,14:7-9

but the other spies urged Israel to turn back, leading even Moses and Aaron to despair:

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.”

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.
Joshua 13:31-14:5

The Qur’anic author identifies the fear of the ten as ultimately Satanic, as it placed trust in human strength and not God’s. In this view the purpose of the spies was simply to see what God had prepared for them, and not worry about the practicalities of seizing a new land:

Do not be like those who left their homes vainly and to show off to the people, and to bar from the way of God, and God encompasses what they do.

When Satan made their deeds seem decorous to them, and said, ‘None from among those people will defeat you today, and I will stand by you.’But when the two hosts signed each other, he took to his heels, saying ‘Indeed, I am quit of you. I see what you do not see. Indeed, I fear God and God is severe in retribution.’
Qur’an 8:47-48

The Lord does not need human strength. He will send Angels to give victory to those He wishes:

When you appealed to your Lord for help, He answered you: ‘I will aid you with a thousand angels in a file.’
Qur’an 8:9

Sure enough, when Joshua assumed command and led the people into Canaan, the Lord’s commander personally promised support:

Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year.

And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?”

So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?”
Joshua 5:12-14

The Faithless Adversary

In our everyday life the faithless, according to the Qur’anic author, are those who label religion as superstition. Or, to put it another way, those who fail to see that ancient stories are are true:

When Our signs are recited to them, they say, “We have heard already. If we want, we can say like this: ‘These are nothing but myths of the ancients.'”
Qur’an 8:31

But in the Hebrew Bible, as referenced in the Qur’an, the paradigmatic unbelievers are the Amalekites:

Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-Lord-Is-My-Banner; for he said, “Because the Lord has sworn: the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
Exodus 17:8-16

Moses’s had to have his hands held up because of exhaustion. If man’s strength ensured success, implies the Qur’anic author, Moses would have been defeated. But victory comes from God. Perhaps he even gave Moses the exhaustion on purpose, to prevent Moses from being tempted to try to help himself:But even Moses’s exhaustion was not a weakness, it was from God. Sleep for a faithful warrior is not a dereliction of duty, but trust in God’s strength:

When He covered you with drowsiness as a security from Him, and sent down water from the sky to purify you with it, and to repel from you the defilement of Satan, and to fortify your hearts, and to make feet steady with it.

Then the Lord signaled to the angels: ‘I am indeed with you; so steady the faithful. I will cast terror into the hearts of the faithless. So strike their necks, and strike their every limb joint!”
Qur’an 8:3-4

Thus God granted Moses the victory, as he urged, with outstretched hands held up by others, the people to fight:

Oh prophet! Urge on the faithful to fight: if there be twenty steadfast men among you, they will overcome two-hundred; and if there be a hundred of you, they will overcome a thousand of the faithless, for they are a lot who do not understand.
Qur’an 8:65

Just as your own work cannot help you, nor can the work of others. Trusting in the work of others to save you is like trusting the Amalekites as you wander through their land. Would be intercessors should not be sought, according to the Qur’anic author, but dispersed. Trust only in God:

Indeed, the worst of beasts in God’s sight are those who are faithless; so they will not have faith. Those with whom you made a treaty and who violated their treaty every time, and who are not Godwary. So if you confront them in battle, treat them as to disperse those who are behind them, so that they may take admonition. And if you fear treachery, from a people, break off with them in a like manner. Indeed, God does not like the treacherous.
Qur’an 8:55-58

Consecration to God

The Hebrew word translated in the New Kings James Version as “utterly destroyed” is herem. The Hebrew word herem, translated as “under the ban,” “utterly destroy,” totally dedicate to God,” “strike with a curse,” or “reincorporate for God,” is a particularly regrettable example of most translations attempting to explain rather than translate the scripture. Literally “Herem” means to set-aside. like its cognate term harem. This literally means the transformation of the profane to the sacred.

From Lachish Joshua passed to Eglon, and all Israel with him; and they encamped against it and fought against it. They took it on that day and struck it with the edge of the sword; all the people who were in it he utterly destroyed that day, according to all that he had done to Lachish.

So Joshua went up from Eglon, and all Israel with him, to Hebron; and they fought against it. And they took it and struck it with the edge of the sword—its king, all its cities, and all the people who were in it; he left none remaining, according to all that he had done to Eglon, but utterly destroyed it and all the people who were in it.

Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to Debir; and they fought against it. And he took it and its king and all its cities; they struck them with the edge of the sword and utterly destroyed all the people who were in it. He left none remaining; as he had done to Hebron, so he did to Debir and its king, as he had done also to Libnah and its king.

So Joshua conquered all the land: the mountain country and the South and the lowland and the wilderness slopes, and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel had commanded.
Joshua 10:34-40

The Hebrew Bible itself ends with the word herem, a threat (or hopeful promise!) of total dedication of Israel to God:

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a utter destruction.”
Malachi 4:5-6

Christians, who know that John the Baptist is the new Elijah, believe that Israel was made herem as all things were restored to the position they were in Eden: totally dedicated to God. This dedication was made real by Christ’s conquests of the unseen realm.

Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.
Matthew 17:11-13

This view is expressed by Mary’s words. Mary is important because what she is is what all are meant to be by the new Elijah’s work — by the total dedication of everything, by the restoration of everything to the way it was meant to be:

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:38

This view of total dedication — of not treating God as transactional partner but as the object of total love — is the view of the Qur’anic author. Consider a tithe. From Genesis this was calculated as ten percent of the spoils:

Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.

And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. Abram and Melchizedek

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:

“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;

And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

And he gave him a tenth of all.
Genesis 14:14-20

In the Qur’an, the tithe should be a fifth, not a tenth:

Know what whatever thing you may come by, a fifth of it is for God and the Apostle, for the relatives and the orphans, for the needy and the traveler, if you have faith in God and what We sent down to Our servant on the Day of Separation, the day when the two hosts met; and God has power over all things.
Qur’an 8:41

The purpose is not a mathematical formula, but an emphasis that mere rule-keeping is not the point. Consider how many times Christ told us to forgive, when asked for a rule by the first Pope:

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
Matthew 18:21-22

It’s not that 420 (70×7) times is actually enough — it’s that if you’re counting, you’re missing the point. The world is herem, all things belong to the world.

The opposite of Mary, the opposite of “the apostle” led by God, is the first king of Israel, Saul. The eighth chapter of the Qur’an seems to lean on Saul (who lost control of the land of Israel) as an example of what not to do, and Joshua (who gained control) as the positive example.

A prophet may not take captives until he has thoroughly decimated in the land. You desire the transitory gains of this world, while God desires the Hereafter, and God is all-mighty, all-wise. Had it not been for a prior decree of God, there would have surely befall you a great punishment for what you took. Avail yourselves of the spoils you have taken, as lawful and good, and be wary of God. God is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful.
Qur’an 8:67-69

While the new Elijah, John the Baptist, placed all of Israel under the Ban as part of lifting the covenant, Saul tried to prevent even giving to God what was his. Saul tried to trick God, placing only “under the ban” that which he did not want:

And Saul attacked the Amalekites, from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt. He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.
1 Samuel 15:7-9

Samuel the prophet was horrified. The ten spies had melted before the Amalekites — now Saul was letting greed overcome him. Saul did not trust God to provide:

So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel? Now the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?”
1 Samuel 15:17-19

The Qur’anic author generalizes Samuel’s excoriation of Saul to an instruction for all the faithful:

Fight them until persecution is no more, and religion becomes exclusively for God. So if they desist, God indeed watches what they do. But if they turn away, then know that God is your Master: an excellent master and an excellent helper!
Qur’an 8:39

God is not a cosmic foreign power capable of being negotiated with. The Biblical, and Qur’anic, view of the Divine is not the sort of statecraft imagined by Chinese Imperial Religion. God loves you, and wants your love.

So Samuel said:

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?

Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He also has rejected you from being king.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23

This means when God wins something, he does not just demand its destruction: He demands that thing is for Him, as well. The spoils of war are not merely material things: they are the souls of those who submit to God — including yourself:

They ask you concerning the spoils. Say, ‘The spoils belong to God and the Apostle.’ So be wary of God and settle your differences, and obey God and His Apostle, if you are faithful.
Qur’an 8:2

All Things Made Right

Nothing is bad in itself. When God does prohibit things, like certain foods (as described by both the Qur’anic author and Christ), the things are prohibited for our good, not because they are unclean in themselves.

As an example, take riding horses.

Joshua led an army without horses, and so it was natural that God commanded him to destroy the horses he encountered:

But the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow about this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” So Joshua and all the people of war with him came against them suddenly by the waters of Merom, and they attacked them. And the Lord delivered them into the hand of Israel, who defeated them and chased them to Greater Sidon, to the Brook Misrephoth, and to the Valley of Mizpah eastward; they attacked them until they left none of them remaining. So Joshua did to them as the Lord had told him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire.
Joshua 11:6-9

Later, King David (who finishes the conquest by taking Jerusalem), has different actions. The horses are not fully destroyed, for now the Lord has willed that Israel is capable of learning how to ride horses:

David also defeated Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to recover his territory at the River Euphrates. David took from him one thousand chariots, seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand foot soldiers. Also David hamstrung all the chariot horses, except that he spared enough of them for one hundred chariots.
2 Samuel 8:3-4

The Biblical completion of this is Christ riding on a colt to Jerusalem. What was God had prohibited, Christ now does in glory:

Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. 3 And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.”

So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?”

And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
Mark 11:1-8

The Army that once helped Joshua, the animal that served Jesus, all are included in glorious End:

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
Revelations 19:11-15

The moral lesson of all this — of Joshua’s hope and faith, of the belief that the impossible is possible if God wills it, is a lesson of redemption. No matter your sins, God can forgive you. Don’t trust in your own strength. It is God who will save you:

O you who have faith. If you are wary of God, He shall save you, and absolve you of your misdeeds, and forgive you, for God is a dispenser of a mighty grace.”
Qur’an 8:29

Conclusion

The eighth chapter of the Qur’an combines the stories of Moses and Joshua’s, Samuel’s and David’s, conquests to explain how God is sovereign, but provides and tools and possibilities of all he desires. The faithful do not despair, but obey God, fear Him and not the world, and strive to do His will.

So, is “The Spoils” in particular, and the Qur’an in general, an eliminationist screed? Is it as violent as the anti-Qur’anic litany implies?

Consider two verses, not mentioned above:

Like the precedent of Pharaoh’s clan and those who were before them, who denied God’s signs, so God seized them for their sins. God is indeed all-strong, severe in retribution.
Qur’an 8:52

and

Indeed, the faithless spend their wealth to bar from the way of God. Soon they will have spent it, then it will be a cause of regret to them, then they will be overcome, and the faithless will be gathered toward Hell so that God may separate the bad ones from the good, and place the bad on one another and pile them up together and cast them into hell. It is they who are the losers.
Qur’an 8:36-37

The first states that God will destroy an entire clan of a leader who disobeys. The second is that the faithless themselves are sorted, and the “Bad” faithless are cast down.

To me this is exactly as contradictory on its surface — and exactly as wise — as the Scriptural verse it reference:

You shall not bow down to them nor serve [idols]. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Exodus 20:5-6

Hear, o readers of the Torah and the Gospels, that the Lord our God is one Lord, and you should love him with all your heart, all your mind, and all your life.