July 16: Mohammed covers the Bible

Obviously, the good people at Collier & Son wanted the Harvard Classics to be on every classy-aspirational bookshelf in the country; that's why I bet there's no fiction in it (novel-readers, as we all know, are not to be relied on), and I'm sure they felt that everything was safely noncontroversial.

And now it's a century later and we discover it has two volumes of Darwin and the Koran. Was this but the first step in Harvard's long-range plan to destroy America? (Step 2: Vietnam.) Or was the Koran merely a holy book of an exotic people most of us would never care about, because we didn't know they had oil, which we hardly used in 1908? I think the latter, of course, but it is kind of funny in a the Trilateral-Commission-controls-your-microwave way to believe the former.

Anyway, it's our first dose of The Koran today, and to be helpful we get a sura (see, I've already been to Wikipedia) about stuff from the Bible. It's basically Mohammed's free-flowing, Cassandra Wilson-like cover of some of the classics from the Great Biblical Songbook:

These are those to whom God has been gracious, of the prophets of the seed of Adam, and of those whom we bore with Noah, and of the seed of Abraham and Israel, and of those we guided and elected; when the signs of the Merciful are read to them, they fall down adoring and weeping.

And successors succeeded them, who lost sight of prayer and followed lusts, but they shall at length find themselves going wrong, except such as repent and believe and act aright; for these shall enter Paradise, and shall not be wronged at all,—gardens of Eden, which the Merciful has promised to His servants in the unseen; verily, His promise ever comes to pass!
One thing you definitely can conclude from this sura is that Islam! Has its! Excitable! Passages!
They take other gods besides God to be their glory! Not so! They shall deny their worship and shall be opponents of theirs!
The antecedents kind of float around, and it's kind of hard to follow what's going on, or what the argument is. Here's the Nativity story -- it's kind of long, but you didn't mind it when Linus did it on the Charlie Brown Christmas special, so show a little sensitivity:
So she conceived him, and she retired with him into a remote place. And the labour pains came upon her at the trunk of a palm tree, and she said ‘O that I had died before this, and been forgotten out of mind!’ and he called 2 to her from beneath her, ‘Grieve not, for thy Lord has placed a stream beneath thy feet; and shake towards thee the trunk of the palm tree, it will drop upon thee fresh dates fit to gather; so eat, and drink, and cheer thine eye; and if thou shouldst see any mortal say, “Verily, I have vowed to the Merciful One a fast, and I will not speak to-day with a human being.”’

Then she brought it to her people, carrying it; said they, ‘O Mary! thou hast done an extraordinary thing! O sister of Aaron! 3 thy father was not a bad man, nor was thy mother a harlot!’

And she pointed to him, and they said, ‘How are we to speak with one who is in the cradle a child?’ He said, ‘Verily, I am a servant of God; He has brought me the Book, and He has made me a prophet, and He has made me blessed wherever I be; and He has required of me prayer and almsgiving so long as I live, and piety towards my mother, and has not made me a miserable tyrant; and peace upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised up alive.’

That is, Jesus the son of Mary,—by the word of truth whereon ye do dispute!
I got whiplash there around "son of a harlot" -- and, I barely had time to register the birth-pang-consoling dates (a touch I love, but then I enjoy dates also) when the newborn baby speaks, and then the sura stops the narration and is immediately off on theological disputes:
God could not take to himself any son! celebrated be His praise! when He decrees a matter He only says to it ‘BE,’ and it is; and, verily, God is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him; this is the right way.

And the parties have disagreed amongst themselves, but woe to those who disbelieve, from the witnessing of the mighty day! they can hear and they can see, on the day when they shall come to us; but the evildoers are to-day in obvious error!
(Note the Rocky Todd-ism.) The Wikipedia article says that "the seeming "disorganization" of Qur’anic literary expression.. is in fact a literary device capable of delivering 'profound effects — as if the intensity of the prophetic message were shattering the vehicle of human language in which it was being communicated.'" It does sound more urgent than the Bible, which has been smoothed down over the centuries (and by Greek philosophy) -- it sounds a little like Christopher Smart -- if it hits you right you'd be totally won over and wonder why people bother with that fusspot Paul of Tarsus.

It also sounds like something that needs a big superstructure of theology around it. Jobs for everyone -- the perfect scripture!

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