Bruce Seaton
Essay #2 of 4
Final Exam
ENGL 202: Biblical & Classical Literature

The Old Testament and the Koran share several important stories, tales that are essential to the central beliefs of both faiths, and yet members of these two faiths have had a lasting hatred that dates back to the formation of Islam in early seventh century, CE, and possibly even as far back as the story of Isaac and Ishmael. The differing ideologies of these two belief systems can be clearly seen in the differences between similar stories in the two major religious texts of these religions.

Although the basic plot lines and characters of these stories (specifically those of Moses/Musa, Noah/Nuh, and Abraham/Ibrahim) are similar, the point of view and even the major message of the texts varies, sometimes immensely. The major similarity between the works (and the one factor that separates both from Christian belief), is that the God of both texts is a cold, distant, absolute God. The constructive differences between the Old Testament and the Koran are the most easily noticeable separation of the texts, and no actual reading is required in order to see this. While the Old Testament is divided into more-or-less prose narrative, using the classic sentence/paragraph structure, or sometimes (as in the case of Psalms) into lengthy lyrical poetry, the Koran is set in a more poetic string of often only loosely related verse-statements that rapidly shift from subject to subject and from story to story.

This difference influences the styles of the works, as well. Aside from the double creation story in Genesis, the Old Testament generally only tells each story once, and the stories are organized into an (at least hypothetical) order of chronological basis. In the Koran, stories are often told in segments, which are mentioned in several different places and often only in passing. For instance, mention of Noah occurs in at least five separate surah (books) of the Koran: The Cattle, (6:84), The Holy Prophet (11:25, 32, 36, 42-48), The Children of Israel (17:3, 17), Marium (19:58), and Nuh (71:1, 21-26) but his story is never fully recounted. By contrast, Noah is only rarely mentioned after Genesis in the Old Testament, and in most cases, he is only mentioned in recounts of genealogies.

The Koran’s lack of a total retelling of the story of Noah gives a clue to the world of the Koran. Mustafa is writing to a group of people already familiar with the tale. The Koran is addressed to a group of people already well-versed in the stories of the Old Testament. The same is true of the stories of Moses and of Abraham, although in all of these stories lies an underlying sense of the total failure of the Jews. In the Koran, the Jews are the cast-off, the once-favored race of God, who are no longer protected by his love. The Koran also contends that Abraham was not, in fact, a Jew at all, but a Muslim. (3:67) The favored son of Abraham is another discrepancy between the books; the Old Testament favors Isaac, while the Koran argues that Ishmael, being firstborn, is the favorite of Abraham.

The Koran was therefore a response to Jewish tradition by the other line of Abraham. Muslims claim to be descendants of Ishmael, and further claim that the Jews lost their place in God’s eye by failing time and again to live up to his commands (these failures are a theme throughout the Old Testament). The stories of the Koran were intended to reawaken a sense of identity in the people of Ishmael, to recall them to the ways of God, and to reestablish a dynasty that had been lost in the two thousand years or so between Ishmael (~1600 BCE) and the writing of the Koran (~610 CE).


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