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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!’
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!
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.
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.
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.’
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!’
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.’
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.
Indeed, the elaboration of the heavenly book that is this Qur’an — as well as the Torah and the Gospels — are given 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.
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.”
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.
The Qur’an itself is literally incomprehensible. Imagine the books of Exodus, Chronicles, and Hebrews together, but with the chapters in 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 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 the 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 exist 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.
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