Olive Trees on Mount Sinai: Archaeological Error In The Qur'an? A Rebuttal To Sam Shamoun

 

by

 

Bassam Zawadi

 

 

Sam Shamoun in one of his articles states:

 

 

1. Geographical Errors

 

Olive Trees in Sinai

 

"Then We produced for you therewith gardens of palms and vines wherein are many fruits for you, and of them you eat, and a tree from the Mount of Sinai that bears oil and seasoning for all to eat." S. 23:19-20

 

As the late Christian scholar 'Abdallah 'Abd al-Fadi rightly pointed out:

"Commentators said that the tree refers to olives, and the seasoning refers to the food eaten with bread (al-Tabari, Jami' a-Bayan 18:13).

We ask: Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to refer to Canaan, which is known for olives, and not Sinai, where God had to provide manna for the Israelites, owing to the barrenness of the land? In other words, the Sinai Desert is not know [sic] for its olives." (Al-Fadi, Is the Qur'an Infallible? [Light of Life PO Box 13 A-9503, Villach, Austria], p. 28)

 

So obvious is this error that Muhammad Asad tries to cover it up:

 

"... as well as a tree that issues from [the lands adjoining] Mount Sinai, yielding oil and relish for all to eat."

 

Asad comments:

 

"I.e., the olive tree, native to the lands around the eastern, Mediterranean, where so many pre-Quranic prophets (here symbolized- because of its sacred associations- by Mount Sinai) lived and preach." (Asad, The Message of the Qur'an [Dar al-Andalus Limited, 3 Library Ramp, Gibraltar, rpt. 1993], p. 521, f. 8)

 

Abdullah Yusuf Ali notes:

 

"For Arabia the best olives grow round about Mount Sinai..." (Ali, The Holy Qur'an, p. 877, f. 2878)

 

It seems to not have dawned on Ali that an olive tree round about Sinai is not the same thing as saying that the tree is from Sinai. Hence, the error remains.

 

Let us analyze his statements individually.

 

Shamoun states:

 

1. Geographical Errors

Olive Trees in Sinai

"Then We produced for you therewith gardens of palms and vines wherein are many fruits for you, and of them you eat, and a tree from the Mount of Sinai that bears oil and seasoning for all to eat." S. 23:19-20

As the late Christian scholar 'Abdallah 'Abd al-Fadi rightly pointed out:

"Commentators said that the tree refers to olives, and the seasoning refers to the food eaten with bread (al-Tabari, Jami' a-Bayan 18:13).

We ask: Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to refer to Canaan, which is known for olives, and not Sinai, where God had to provide manna for the Israelites, owing to the barrenness of the land? In other words, the Sinai Desert is not know [sic] for its olives." (Al-Fadi, Is the Qur'an Infallible? [Light of Life PO Box 13 A-9503, Villach, Austria], p. 28)

 

The Quran says Mount of Sinai and not the entirety of the Sinai. Reference is not made to the "Sinai Desert" either. If there are olive trees on the mount (the Quran does not say the mountain was populated with olive trees), that does not mean that the Sinai as a whole is not barren. Nonetheless, does being "barren" mean no life whatsoever in the area of Sinai? Do we know if there exists any olive trees in Sinai?

According to Wikipedia:

It is not clear when and where olive trees were first domesticated: in Asia Minor in the 6th millennium (Rosenblum, p. 10); along the Levantine coast stretching from the Sinai Peninsula to modern Turkey in the 4th millennium (Davidson, s.v. Olives) (Source)

 

St. Catherine's Monastery is an Orthodox monastery on the Sinai Peninsula at the foot of Mount Sinai in Egypt.  The Monastery Garden on Mount Sinai have olive trees surrounding it:

 

Outside the walls is the Monastery Garden, created over many years by the monks. Soil was brought here from elsehwere [sic] and tanks were made to store water for irrigation. It contains fruit trees including olives, apricots and plums and produces a variety of vegetables. (St. Catherine's Monastery and Mount SinaiSource)

 

One can see the pictures himself:

 

 

 

Source: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/egypt/sinai-st-catherines-monastery.htm

 

 

 

A large thousand year old cypress tree, bare branched at the top, together with six younger cypresses and an olive tree surround an ancient well which is fed by snow melt and occasional rainfall.

 

Source: http://www.touregypt.net/walkingtours/MOUNTSINAI.htm

 

Shamoun then states:

 

So obvious is this error that Muhammad Asad tries to cover it up:

"... as well as a tree that issues from [the lands adjoining] Mount Sinai, yielding oil and relish for all to eat."

Asad comments:

"I.e., the olive tree, native to the lands around the eastern, Mediterranean, where so many pre-Quranic prophets (here symbolized- because of its sacred associations- by Mount Sinai) lived and preach." (Asad, The Message of the Qur'an [Dar al-Andalus Limited, 3 Library Ramp, Gibraltar, rpt. 1993], p. 521, f. 8)

 

Abdullah Yusuf Ali notes:

"For Arabia the best olives grow round about Mount Sinai..." (Ali, The Holy Qur'an, p. 877, f. 2878)

It seems to not have dawned on Ali that an olive tree round about Sinai is not the same thing as saying that the tree is from Sinai. Hence, the error remains.

 

Nothing in the above shows that there is an "obvious error", which caused Muhammad Asad to offer the above interpretation (which I cannot critically assess). This is Shamoun's (mis)interpretation of Asad's words; he is attempting to get inside Asad's minds.

 

It seems not to have occured to Shamoun that an olive tree round about MOUNT Sinai is not the same as "round about Sinai". Yusuf Ali DID NOT say "round about Sinai". He said "round about MOUNT Sinai". The same goes for Muhammad Asad.

 

We have already shown that there are olive trees on Mount Sinai, thus Shamoun's argument has been completely destroyed.

 

 

 

 

 

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