Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sura 12 - Joseph

Date and Context

This sura gives the Quranic version of the life of Joseph. His life is set forward as an example for Muhammad. The content of the sura suggests that Muhammad was in despair regarding his prophethood and sura explains this situation.
Till, when the messengers despaired and thought that they were denied, then came unto them Our help, and whom We would was saved. And Our wrath cannot be warded from the guilty. 12:110

A Meccan sura.


vv. 1-3, Introduces the mission of Muhammad to the Meccan (Quraysh)

vv. 4-18 The story of Joseph begins with his dream. He is betrayed by his brothers and taken into slavery.

vv. 19-34 Joseph is seduced by his master’s wife but is innocent. Though innocent he goes to prison.

vv. 35-49, Joseph preaches Islam to the prisoners and interprets their dream.

vv. 50-57 Joseph brought to the king. The women confess their crimes against Joseph. Joseph made ruler or the storehouses.

Vv. 58-82 Joseph’s brothers arrive, then return with the other son. Joseph has the cup put in saddle bag.

vv. 83-88 The brothers return to Jacob. Jacob tells them to return to Joseph

vv. 89- 101 Joseph is revealed to his brothers.

vv. 102-Conclusion - These prophets despaired but where justified and this is the same for Muhammad.

What I found interesting.

1. It is interesting how this sura has been changed from the original Biblical version. It is clearly based on the Biblical version yet also an interaction with it. But it is not just retelling the story but is a commentary on the story.

a. Differences

Planets instead of sheaves.

When Joseph said unto his father: O my father! Lo! I saw in a dream eleven planets and the sun and the moon, I saw them prostrating themselves unto me. 12:4

Joseph’s brothers do not sell him to the traders instead leave him in the well to be found by them (12:10). When Joseph is tempted by his master’s wife, his master calls for witnesses and establishes that Joseph is innocent. His wife then explains that Joseph is the most beautiful of men. Joseph's beauty is such that all women are uncontrollably distracted by it and cut their hands when cutting vegetables (12:26-31). When the cupbearer is released from prison he hears the kings dream and does back to ask Joseph to interpret it (12:46). Jacob’s sons used camels to get to Egypt (12:70) not donkeys (Genesis 44:3). I wonder if Muhammad had any idea where Jacob actually lived? It is the kings cup that Joseph plants in Benjamin’s bag (12:73). Jacob knows by revelation that Joseph is alive before his sons return to Egypt (12:87). And Joseph says,
Go with this shirt of mine and lay it on my father's face, he will become (again) a seer; and come to me with all your folk. 12:93

Joseph’s mother is alive and comes to Egypt (12:100)

b. History

The Bible says they sold Joseph for 20 shekels (a shekel being a unit of weight not a coin), but the Qur’an says he was bought with coins.
And they sold him for a low price, a number of silver coins; and they attached no value to him. 12:20

There were no coins that this period of history. There was also no crucifixion at this time.
O my two fellow-prisoners! As for one of you, he will pour out wine for his lord to drink; and as for the other, he will be crucified so that the birds will eat from his head. Thus is the case judged concerning which ye did inquire. 12:41

c. Details

I was struck by the lack of names in the story. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are named (12:38) but there are no names for the traders, Joseph’s brothers, his Egyptian master or the king. The details are very general. Also the account of Judah and Tamar (Genesis 38) is not included in the Qur’anic account. Again, the Qur'an is not telling the story of Joseph but is giving a commentary on the story of Joseph.

The Qur’an is meant to confirm the Biblical account and give a detailed explanation.
In their history verily there is a lesson for men of understanding. It is no invented story but a confirmation of the existing (Scripture) and a detailed explanation of everything, and a guidance and a mercy for folk who believe. 12:111

However, it does not do this. The Bible gives far more detail. Instead the Qur'an provides a truncated account which reflects the culture and theological questions at the time of Muhammad.

2. Intercession of the prophets
They said: O our father! Ask forgiveness of our sins for us, for lo! we were sinful. He said: I shall ask forgiveness for you of my Lord. Lo! He is the Forgiving, the Merciful. 12:97-98

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