The Qur'an and The City of Ur: A Rebuttal to David Wood

 

 

by

 

Bassam Zawadi

 

 

David Wood in his debate with Sami Zaatari on the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him) that can be seen here brought up the following argument:

 

 

In the Bible Genesis 15, we're told that God called Abraham out of "Ur of the Chaldeans". In Babylonian language, "Ur", just means city. But in the first century, Jewish Rabbi named Jonathan Ben Uziel was translating Genesis 15 into Aramaic. He came across the word "Ur", now Johathan did not know Babylonian so he confused the Babylonian word "Ur", which means "city" with the Hebrew word "Ur", which means "fire". This caused him to mistranslate the passage. Instead of saying that God delivered Abraham out of "Ur, city of the Chaldeans", Jonathan's mistranslation said that God delivered Abraham out of "the fire of the Chaldeans". Now why is this important? Well, Jewish writers ran with this idea of Abraham escaping from the fire and soon the Talmud contained all kinds of stories of Abraham being thrown into the fire by the Chaldeans and being miraculously rescued by God and these stories were quite popular in Arabia during the time of Muhammad among the Jews living there. And this is crucial because in Surah 21 we read about Abraham being delivered from the fire. Now Muhammad claimed that he was getting this story from God, but we know from history that this entire idea of Abraham being delivered from a fire was based on a mistranslation. So what makes more sense here? That God also mistranslated the word "Ur"? Or that Muhammad was getting his information from the people around him? (Time Slice: 13:03 - 14:50)

 

It seems like David took this argument from Jay Smith, when he writes:

 

The Bible itself gives us the answer. In Genesis 15:7, the Lord tells Abraham that it was He who brought Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans. Ur is a place, also mentioned in Genesis 11:31. We have evidence that a Jewish scribe named Jonathan Ben Uziel mistook the Hebrew word "Ur" for the Hebrew word which means "fire." Thus in his commentary of this verse he writes, "I am the Lord who brought you out of the fire of the Chaldeans."

Consequently, because of this misunderstanding, and because of a misreading of the Biblical verse a fable became popular around this era, which stated that God had brought Abraham out of the fire.

With this information in hand, we can, therefore, discern where the Jewish fable originated: from a misunderstanding of one word in a Biblical verse by one errant scribe. Yet, somehow this errant understanding found its way into the Qur'an. (Jay Smith, Is the Qur'an the Word of God? - Part 2, Source)

 

Three responses could be given to this.

 

The first one is simple and that is that David cannot actually prove that the statement in the Bible itself is true. Even if the Bible is only referring to the city of Ur and not the fire, why should Muslims care if the Qur'an is contradicting the Bible on this point? For all we know, the Bible is wrong and the Qur'an is right. For all we know, the truth could be that Ur is referring to "flame" and the Bible distorted it to only be referring to the city.

 

Secondly, it is actually possible that both statements are true. God did deliver Abraham both out of the city of Ur and the flame, but the Bible only mentions the city. Just because the Bible is silent on the issue of the flame, that doesn't mean that the story is false.

 

Thirdly, the Biblical passage could very well be interpreted to be referring to the flame of the Chaldeans and not necessarily the city of the Chaldeans. The book of Genesis is originally written in Hebrew. Thus, why would it be wrong to understand "Ur" here according to the Hebrew language? David himself admits that "Ur" in Hebrew, means "fire".

 

The Blue Letter Bible lexicon states.

 

Ur = "flame" (Source)
 

The Next Bible Study Dictionary states that Ur could also refer to:

fire, light, a valley (Source)


Abarim Publications state:

Ur (of the Chaldeans)

The name Ur occurs twice in the Bible. Most famously is Ur, the city in Babel from whence Abraham's family came. Another Ur is the father of one of David's mighty men (1 Chr 11:35).

The name Ur is identical to
('or 52) meaning to be or to become light, shine, give light.
Some derivatives: ('or 52a) means light, and ('ur 52d) means flame. ('ora 52b) is a feminine form of the word light (as such also used to mean joy) and also the name of a certain herb ('ora as used in 2 Ki 4:39); possibly a very spicy or otherwise inflaming herb, or simply endowed with bright blossoms, etc. TWOTOT lists the Urim as 52e. The word for luminary, whether lamp or celestial body, is (ma'or 52f).

Ur means Flame or Light. (Source)


James L. Kugel in his book Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible as it was at the Start of the Common Era, page 267 states.

As we have seen, "'ur of the Chaldeans" can be taken to mean "the flame of the Chaldeans." (Source)

 

 

Now James L. Kugel is not certain whether this is true and probably does not even favor this position, however it is at least possible. 

 

 

In conclusion, the Biblical verses speaking about "Ur of the Chaldeans" is left open to interpretation. It appears to me that since Genesis was written in Hebrew and not in the Babylonian language it would make more sense to understand the word "Ur" as "flame". However, even if the Bible did make it crystal clear that it was only referring to Ur the city and not the flame, this doesn't make the Bible right and the Qur'an wrong. One would have to prove that the Bible is actually correct on this point. Also, it is possible that God delivered Abraham out of the city and the flame and just because the Bible is silent on the issue of the flame (assuming it is only clearly speaking about the city) that doesn't render the story to be false.

 

Again, as a Muslim I don't see this argument just like many other arguments posing a threat to Islam.

 

Appendix

 

Sam Shamoun tried refuting this article over here. If you see above, I offered three different responses to David.

He tried to rebut my first response:


The first one is simple and that is that David cannot actually prove that the statement in the Bible itself is true. Even if the Bible is only referring to the city of Ur and not the fire, why should Muslims care if the Qur'an is contradicting the Bible on this point? For all we know, the Bible is wrong and the Qur'an is right. For all we know, the truth could be that Ur is referring to "flame" and the Bible distorted it to only be referring to the city.


by repeating his same old worn and torn arguments regarding Islam endorsing the Bible, which have all been sufficiently addressed here and to which Shamoun didn't even attempt to respond to most of my arguments.

He tried to rebut my second response:


Secondly, it is actually possible that both statements are true. God did deliver Abraham both out of the city of Ur and the flame, but the Bible only mentions the city. Just because the Bible is silent on the issue of the flame, that doesn't mean that the story is false.


by claiming that the Qur'an says that the Torah is fully detailed, thus it should have mentioned the fact that Abraham was saved from the fire. However, the Muslim position is that the Torah is corrupt and thus it is not difficult to believe that this part of the story is missing.


Secondly, just as Shamoun doesn't understand the verses that speak about the Qur'an being fully detailed (*) it wouldn't be surprising for us to see that he would make the same mistake here. The Torah being fully detailed does not imply that it must record every single event in the life time of the Prophet. Shamoun said:


Surely, Abraham being thrown in the fire is one event that God would not forget to mention since it exemplifies the faithfulness and righteous character of God's friend (cf. Isaiah 41:8; James 2:21; Q. 4:125). In fact, this story would go perfectly with Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his beloved son, since they show how loyal and faithful the patriarch was to God from beginning to end.


And:


This would be similar to omitting the story of Moses' mother placing him in an ark and Pharaoh's daughter finding him, or to Moses killing a man in defense of his fellow Israelite and fleeing Egypt as a result of it.


This is mere speculation, for Shamoun is assuming that God must have recorded every significant event of Abraham's life. Abraham lived for several years and I am pretty sure that there were several moments of his life where he was preaching to the people that must have been significant and inspiring for everyone to read, but God with His wisdom decided which stories to keep. Allah could have possibly decided that He would want to share this story later on in the Qur'an and not necessarily back then in the Torah. I don't see why this is not a possibility.

For crying out loud, Shamoun in his debate with Sami Zaatari even admitted that it is possible that Jesus could have directly and clearly claimed to have been God to the disciples in secret (is there anything that can be more important than this?), but the New Testament authors didn't record it.

He said:


Your arguing from silence, right, and absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Now let me repeat that again. Now just because the documents do not say that he said "x" does not mean that he didn't say "x". (Time Slice: 20th minute, 10th second onwards)


If Shamoun can admit that this is a possibility then why can't he admit that it is possible that Allah didn't want the Torah to mention the story of Abraham escaping from the fire and decide to share it later on to future generations in the Qur'an? Oh yeah I know why, it is because Shamoun as always employs double standards.


As for my third argument:


Thirdly, the Biblical passage could very well be interpreted to be referring to the flame of the Chaldeans and not necessarily the city of the Chaldeans. The book of Genesis is originally written in Hebrew. Thus, why would it be wrong to understand "Ur" here according to the Hebrew language? David himself admits that "Ur" in Hebrew, means "fire."


Shamoun goes ahead and attacks strawman:


How amazing that one of the very sources that Zawadi selectively cited argues that the kind of information found in Genesis concerning the story of Abraham is so accurate that it must be historical, the very thing Zawadi tries to deny!


I challenge Shamoun to point out where in my entire article I denied that this story of Abraham is not historical. If Shamoun remembers my second response:


 Secondly, it is actually possible that both statements are true. God did deliver Abraham both out of the city of Ur and the flame, but the Bible only mentions the city. Just because the Bible is silent on the issue of the flame, that doesn't mean that the story is false.


I am actually affirming that it is possible that the story is true.


In my third argument, I was arguing that it is at least possible to interpret Ur in the verse to mean "flame". In order to refute this Shamoun states:


In other words, the story of Abraham being saved from the fire is a legend that originates from the second century before Christ at the earliest, and was possibly derived from another myth concerning Abraham's brother Haran perishing in the fire! And both of these legends originated out of the Babylonian word Ur!

 

Notice that when Shamoun quotes James Kugel, you can see the lack of certainty in any of the statements from Kugel:

 

"As noted the motif 'Haran Perished in the Furnace' is quite separate from 'Abraham Saved from Fire,' although the two depend on the same pun (Ur = fire). Which came first? The very fact that 'Haran Perished in the Furnace' is found in an ancient work like Jubilees, whereas nary a hint of 'Abraham Saved from Fire' is found in that text, nor in Ben Sira or the Wisdom of Solomon, might suggest that the latter motif is more recent; its first undeniable appearance is in Pseudo-Philo and the Apocalypse of Abraham, both probably first century C.E. However, a somewhat ambiguous piece of evidence might argue to the contrary:

For this one [Abraham], who left the splendid enclosure

Of the awesome race [that is, Babylon], the Praiseworthy One [God] with thundering sound prevented the immolation.

- Philo the Epic Poet, cited in Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica 9.20.1

"Various commentators have seized upon the highlighted phrase as a reference to God's stopping of the sacrifice of Isaac, or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but it may well be that the 'immolation' in question was the burning of Abraham in a fiery furnace. If so, then this motif would arguably go back to the second century B.C.E.

"Whatever the date of these motifs' earliest attestations, it seems likely that.

 

This is all mere speculation. It appears to me that just because Christians can't find manuscript evidence dating earlier than what we have already, they are ready to quickly assume that this is a later development.

 

However, Rabbi Shraga Simmons gave a logical response to this:

 

Question

I would like to ask a question about the story of Abraham breaking the idols in his father's house. I heard from a Christian source that rabbis made up this story in the second century to show the dangers of idolatry. Is this true? 

Answer

Good question!


The Jewish people received two Torah's at Mount Sinai. One was the Written Torah (a.k.a. the Five Books of Moses) while the other is known as the Oral Torah as it was not written down and was kept as an oral tradition. In time, because the Jews were being scattered throughout the world in our hard exile from the Land of Israel, the Oral Torah was also committed to paper, and it could be that the story of Abraham smashing the idols (which is a true story) was committed to paper at that time. Nevertheless, even though it was written down at that time, the origin of the story goes back to the time of Abraham.
(Source)

 

 

Indeed, we must not forget that there was a written Torah and oral Torah and this story could have found its way into the oral Torah and then eventually got written down. Problem solved.


So much for Shamoun's response.

 

Appendix 2

 

 

Shamoun strikes back. He says:

 

This completely ignores all of the verses from the Quran which I quoted which say Jesus came to confirm the authenticity and authority of the inspired Scriptures in his possession.

 

I already addressed Shamoun's arguments near the end of my article here.

 

He then says:

 

As a further illustration of his desperation Zawadi insists that, just because the Quran says that the Torah is a fully detailed revelation, this doesn't require God to record the story of Abraham being saved out of the fire, even though this is supposed to be one of the most important moments in the patriarch's life!

 

I already argued that this is mere speculation. There are other more inspiring events in Abraham's life and it is not difficult to believe that this story was not included in the previous revelations.

 

If there is any event that we would expect to find mentioned it would be this one since it is similar to the story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his beloved son, i.e. just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son in his love and devotion to God he was also willing to sacrifice his own life by being burned alive in the fire.

 

My subjective logic says that it is more inspiring to see a father willing to kill his own son rather than himself, since most fathers would care about saving the life of their sons over themselves. Shamoun's subjective logic says that they are the same. That is all there is to it, subjectivity. That is all that Shamoun's argument is based on. OH WOW, I APOSTATIZED! I will shut down my website now because Shamoun's argument is just so convincing and irrefutable.

 

Yet doesn't the very fact that Zawadi has to explain why this event was only recorded at a much later time actually prove my point that this story is a very significant moment in Abraham's life, just as important and significant as his willingness to kill his beloved son? Doesn't this also show why Muhammad included it in his own scripture, since he seemed to realize just how significant this was in demonstrating the kind of faithfulness Abraham had in God? And wouldn't we therefore expect this story to be mentioned in the Torah especially when it records all the major events in Abraham's life? Zawadi keeps digging himself further down the hole.

 

I never denied that the story was very important. All I said is that it is not necessarily important that God revealed it at that particular time to those particular people. I don't understand how Shamoun wants me to believe that it is okay for the entire Old Testament to not clearly define God as a triune God and not clearly spill out for us that the future Messiah is God incarnate who will die for the sins of the world, but not okay for God to mention this special event from Abraham's life in the previous revelations. Talk about double standards.

 

Shamoun says (bold emphasis mine):
 

He quotes my response to Zaatari's assertion that Jesus never said he is God is nothing more than an argument from silence since just because the NT doesn't record Jesus saying it doesn't mean that he didn't.

Now is this similar to my point concerning the story of Abraham being taken out of the fire? Not at all since the Holy Bible doesn't claim to be an exhaustive record which mentions everything that God and his inspired spokespersons have done, but a sufficient witness to the saving acts of God:

"Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." John 20:30-31

The Quran, however, claims that, in the case of the Torah or the Book of Moses, it is a fully detailed record which lacks nothing substantial. So in answer to Zawadi's question, the reason why we would expect that Allah would mention Abraham's story in the Torah is because of the Quranic claim that Moses' Book contains a detailed explanation of everything. So much for Zawadi's smokescreens and false analogy.

 

Notice how Shamoun says that the Qur'an states that the Torah was a book that lacks "nothing substantial". What does "nothing substantial" mean? Is the cure for cancer something substantial? Yes it is. Is it mentioned in the Bible or Qur'an? No. Well why not? Well, because "nothing substantial" being left out means that nothing substantial for the person's guidance and acquirement of salvation is left out. Was the story of Abraham being rescued from the fire really necessary for the previous generations to know? I see no objective reason why that is so.

 

But certainly, to believe in a Triune God is something substantial in the eyes of Christianity. Well why wasn't that clearly mentioned in the Torah for the Jews to believe in? I guess it wasn't that "substantial" for them to know then. Probably because it is not true and that is why both Jews and Muslims condemn it as polytheistic heresy.

 

Shamoun then says:

 

Zawadi accuses me of attacking a straw man, and yet in so doing he once again proves that he cannot comprehend what he reads.

 

Oh this is going to be funny. We will now see who has the reading comprehension problem.

I had stated that one of the very sources which Zawadi referenced confirms the historical veracity of the Genesis story of Abraham leaving Ur for Haran, and subsequently Canaan. Zawadi argues that he doesn't deny that the story of Abraham is historical and that it is possible that Ur can refer both to a city and the flames. Yet Zawadi must have forgotten what he wrote and we will therefore highlight it for him so he doesn't miss it this time:

The first one is simple and that is that David cannot actually prove that the statement in the Bible itself is true. Even if the Bible is only referring to the city of Ur and not the fire, why should Muslims care if the Qur'an is contradicting the Bible on this point? For all we know, the Bible is wrong and the Qur'an is right. For all we know, the truth could be that Ur is referring to "flame" and the Bible distorted it to only be referring to the city.

In light of Zawadi's assertion my point still stands.

 

First of all, Shamoun accused me of trying to argue that the story in the Bible is not historic. I never said that. I only said that its fabrication was a possibility and not a certainty. If I was claiming that it was a certainty then I wouldn't have said:

 

Secondly, it is actually possible that both statements are true. God did deliver Abraham both out of the city of Ur and the flame, but the Bible only mentions the city. Just because the Bible is silent on the issue of the flame, that doesn't mean that the story is false.

 

Shamoun was making it out to be that I was striving to prove that the story was definitely false, while I wasn't. Thus, my charge against him for attacking straw man stands.

 

Secondly, Shamoun's source as I already highlighted above is not that convincing since it is mostly based on conjecture. Just because the city of Ur was there during the time of Abraham is not evidence that the story as we find it in the Bible is authentic.

 

Shamoun says:

 

As is his habit Zawadi throws one of his own sources under the bus. He now calls into question James Kugel on the grounds that his comments show that he wasn't certain. Zawadi is constantly providing evidence that he is either desperate, and will say anything to defend his position no matter how fallacious, or really suffers from a serious lack of reading comprehension.

 

I wasn't quoting Kugel in order to prove a point with certainty, but to prove a possibility. Secondly, since when do I have to accept everything that an author says on a particular subject? 

 

Shamoun said:

 

But now he wants to prove that the oral Torah is another valid source of revelation so as to show that it is possible that Abraham's story was originally a part of it! This merely proves that Zawadi is not seeking truth but will often lie and distort sources in order to defend his false religion and false prophet.

 

I have no problem believing that certain true statements got their way mixed into other stories. What is the problem with this? I don't believe that the Bible is inspired; yet don't find it hard to believe that it could contain true statements. I don't' see what is wrong in believing the same thing regarding the oral Torah.

 

More importantly, where does the Quran ever mention Allah giving an oral Torah to Moses or to the Jews?

 

Well no where does the Qur'an mention that the Old Testament is the word of God, yet I have no problem believing it contains true statements.

 

Secondly, Shamoun must stop attacking straw man. I never said that Allah revealed an oral Torah to Moses (peace be upon him). I only said that it is possible that the story found its way into the oral Torah. That is a big difference.

 

Shamoun then states:
 

We would like Zawadi to show us that passage. In fact, doesn't his own scripture speak of Allah giving Moses a Book which is fully detailed? Just in case he missed it, here are the texts once again:

And we gave Moses the scripture, complete with the best commandments, and detailing everything, and a beacon and mercy, that they may believe in meeting their Lord. S. 6:154

He said, "O Moses, I have chosen you, out of all the people, with My messages and by speaking to you. Therefore, take what I have given you and be appreciative." And We wrote for him on the Tablets the lesson to be drawn from all things and the explanation of all things (and said): Hold unto these with firmness, and enjoin your people to take the better therein. I shall show you the habitation of the ungodly. Those who follow the Messenger, the gentile/unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in the Torah and the Gospel WHICH ARE WITH THEM. S. 7:144-145, 157

So what need is there of an oral Torah when the Book of Moses is a fully detailed revelation that contains the explanation of everything?

As I clarified previously, I never claimed that Allah revealed an oral Torah. However, I would like to point out that Christians like Shamoun are in trouble. I have written an article over here that clearly shows that the textual Torah as Christians have it today cannot be understood without the oral Torah. This shows that there must have been an oral Torah that was revealed, which in turn makes Christians rejecters of God's revelation since they reject the oral Torah (assuming that these were revelations anyways)

 

Shamoun has failed to show an error in the Qur'an and has only allowed me to show the public the problems in his own faith.

 

Keep up the good work Sam! 

 

 

 

 

Recommended Reading

 

www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Sources/BBrabbah.html (See under the section "6.1 St. Jerome's Writings and The Qur'an")

 

http://www.call-to-monotheism.com/does_the_qur_an_mentioning_stories_found_in_previous_writings_threaten_its_credibility_

 

 

 

 

 

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