2017-05-30

There is ALWAYS another interpretation: even of the Quran

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by Neil Godfrey

Thou shalt not kill. 

Can’t argue with that, can we. It “speaks for itself”. No interpretation needed, right?

Except . . . .

People do indeed “interpret” the sixth commandment. They interpret it to mean that it does not forbid all killing, only the killing of persons; it does not apply to killing ants and flies. You can kill those. I think it is fair to guess that most believers in the Bible interpret the command to apply to killing that is not state-sanctioned. It is state-sanctioned, and therefore right, for soldiers to kill in war time. I imagine those who disagree with that interpretation and say it means we should not kill any other human under any circumstance are the minority. Pacifists, extremists. We might jail them in wartime or even shoot them.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Again, very clear and unambiguous. There’s simply no way you can “interpret” your way out of the blunt meaning of that commandment. It means you have to kill anyone who identifies as a witch. Christians included it in their Bible so why don’t they obey that command? Paul wrote that witchcraft ranks alongside idolatry which also requires the death penalty. So why don’t Christians put witches on death row along with murderers?

Somehow most Christians do find a way to interpret that command, not to change its meaning, but to relegate it to a status that is not relevant to them today.

When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you . . . and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them; then you must utterly destroy them . . . and show no mercy to them. . . . And you shall destroy all the peoples that the LORD your God will give over to you, your eye shall not pity them. . . .

God commanded the native inhabitants of Canaan should all be killed, too. A few extremist Jews do still believe in that command and when opportunities permit carry it out. You can’t fault them for their understanding of and obedience to the Bible. But no-one except the extremists themselves would suggest that they speak for “true Judaism” today.

No doubt most adherents of the Jewish religion acknowledge the terror in that command, but at the same time the plain evidence before our eyes tells us that most of them do not interpret that command in a way that obligates them to kill all Palestinian Arabs today. A few do boast that they believe in keeping both the spirit and letter of that command and they do kill Palestinian Arabs when opportunities permit. But they are the newsworthy exception. We do not judge the entire religion of Judaism according to those few Israeli terrorists.

But what is the “correct interpretation”?

 

But, some of us ask, how do we know what is the correct interpretation? Are the Jewish extremists who believe that the Palestinian Arabs should be murdered and who act on that belief when the chance arises following the “true” interpretation of the Bible? Do they represent “true Judaism”? Are all other followers of Judaism liars or deceiving themselves?

Let’s do a thorough study of the Bible to find out. . . .

Okay, I have read the commentaries and the scholarly works on the Bible and I can confidently say that those extremists have it right. The biblical command really did mean that the Jews were required to slaughter any non-Jew remaining in the land. Therefore…..?

If you follow that line of reasoning and accuse all Jews except for the handful of murderous extremists of lying to themselves about their religion, then I suggest you have no idea what religion is. You have set yourself up as god or simply chosen to side with the narrative of the killers.

If we follow that line of reasoning we fail to understand that religious beliefs are what the believers themselves say they are and what they themselves do. I cannot read the “Old Testament” and then declare that as a result of my reading I know what Jews believe and what Judaism is. Nor can I read the “New Testament” and as a consequence claim to know what “Christians” believe. If I want to know what Catholics believe, or what are the beliefs of the Baptists or Seventh Day Adventists or the Dave Koresh Waco cult, simply reading the Bible will not be particularly helpful.

Yet somehow when it comes to the religion of Islam it seems that a surprising number of us believe we can simply read the Quran, see passages that “admit of no other interpretation”, and declare we know exactly what Muslims believe. And if they deny it then they are lying to themselves or to us, we say — forgetting that the Jewish god instructed Moses to lie to Pharaoh and the Christian apostle Paul boasted of putting on whatever front he thought would win followers.

So many of us seem to insist that there is no other way to interpret the Quran and that it follows that Islam is by its very nature and sacred book a violent religion. If the overwhelming majority of Muslims they personally know disagree, so much for those “deluded” or “lying” Muslims.

Dying for Their Beliefs

The Islamist extremists who have murdered thousands of Muslims do not think their apostate victims were “lying” to themselves or anyone else about their Islamic beliefs. That’s why the killed them.

The Real Comparisons with Mein Kampf

Several times I have come across white Westerners without any serious background in Islamic studies setting themselves as the “true interpreters” of the Quran. On what authority? They have read the Quran! And maybe a few other works and websites that support their eagerness to find some congenital evil in the heart of “the other”. Several times I have found these self-appointed experts drawing analogies with Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Yes, there is an analogy there — but it is not between Mein Kampf and the Quran. Hitler was drawing upon existing ideas bound up with nationalism and socialism and reinterpreting them into something toxic. We find Islamist extremists today or a generation ago have done exactly the same thing. Here are some of their works that can be compared with Mein Kampf:

  • The Management of Savagery / Najif
  • Milestones / Qutb
  • Democracy: a Religion / Maqdisi (Also “A Message to the American People”, video)
  • The Absent Obligation / Faraj
  • 44 Ways to Support Jihad / Awlaki
  • The Global Islamic Resistance Call / Suri

 

There are your blueprints to violence that stand beside Mein Kampf. They are the titles that set out what is “wrong” with todays world, and yes, they include attacks on the majority of Muslims who want to get along peacefully with their neighbours.

Us and Them

Religions do not exist as some objective, unchanging reality “out there”. Religions are a social construct that go through changes like any other social construct.  They are what their followers make them to be. Their sacred books teach what their believers believe them to teach. That has always been the nature of religions.

Today we have seen Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Jews justifying violent, murderous attacks on Muslims. Most Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Jews deplore and condemn their violence and their arguments.

Most Christians and Jews accept that their Bible contains cruel instructions but at the same time they believe that God wants them to follow the other passages in the Bible, those stressing love and good will.

Yet for some reason too many of cannot bring themselves to believe that the other “people of the book” could possibly be the same as us.

Jewish and Christian history has not been pretty, and today there are factions of Muslims who are taking their turn at showing their most ugly side; and it is those Muslims who really are a lot more “like us” than many of us care to see who are suffering the most at the hands of those extremists.

(This post is directed at those who see Islam as inherently violent by nature, as if a religion can possibly have a nature independently of the people who profess it. I am not interested at this point in any wider discussion of Islam or any religion.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

  • 2017-05-30 09:08:00 UTC - 09:08 | Permalink

    Hello Neil:

    One small clarification…You wrote:

    “Thou shalt not kill.”

    The Hebrew text [Ex 20:13] “Lo tirtzach” reads when properly translated into English as:

    “Thou shalt not murder.”

    Obviously there is a substantial difference between the concept of murder and killing [i.e., more than the loss/taking of a life].

    Thank you.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2017-05-30 16:07:36 UTC - 16:07 | Permalink

      Or is that “murder” translation an attempt by scholars to limit the command to something more “reasonable”? Maybe you are right (I have heard the argument before) — but I do not know the grounds for the claim that it should be translated “murder” and not “kill”. I’d be interested to know what evidence is offered to support this claim, and what, exactly, is the distinction between “kill” and “murder” in the sources relied upon.

      • 2017-05-31 00:05:33 UTC - 00:05 | Permalink

        Hello Neil:

        Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to write back. In response to your reply I carried out a brief review of the literature. A Google search reveals opinions on both sides of the aisle… One writer stated:

        “Professor Lang has touched on what is, to put it mildly, a lively issue. A Google scan of the Internet comes up with 134,000 entries on the Sixth Commandment, a high percentage of them dealing with its translation! Although a sampling of these entries shows that few have anything cogent to say about the linguistic issues involved, many illustrate why the debate is so fervid.
        Read more: http://forward.com/articles/6091/on-language/

        However, I am of the opinion [and of course I could be wrong] that the scales tip in favor of the translation “murder”… One [Jewish] response in favor of “murder” can be read at:http://jpfo.org/rabbi/6th-commandment.htm. Another interesting presentation was offered by Dennis Bratcher, raising issues that you addressed: The Word “to kill” see:http://www.crivoice.org/terms/t-kill.html

        Below are citations from three standard sources that also lend support to both sides [intellectual honesty]:

        From the Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains:

        8357 רָצַח (rā∙ṣǎḥ): v.; ≡ Str 7523; TWOT 2208—LN 20.61–20.88 (qal) murder, kill, i.e., take the life one another so as to cause a state of death (Ex 20:13; Nu 35:6, 11, 12, 16,17,18,19, 21,25, 26, 27,28, 30,31; Dt 4:42; 5:17; 19:3, 4, 6; 22:26; Jos 20:3, 5, 6; 21:13, 21, 27, 32, 38; 1Ki 21:19; Job 24:14; Jer 7:9; Hos 4:2+), note: this action can refer to an accident, manslaughter, premeditation, or governmental execution; (nif) murdered, be killed (Jdg 20:4; Pr 22:13+); (piel) murder, kill (Ps 62:4[EB 3]; 94:6; Hos 6:9+), note: for piel ptcp. as a noun in 2Ki 6:32; Isa 1:21, see 5344.5

        From Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon:

        7523 רָצַח [ratsach /raw·tsakh/] v. A primitive root; TWOT 2208; GK 8357; 47 occurrences; AV translates as “slayer” 16 times, “murderer” 14 times, “kill” five times, “murder” three times, “slain” three times, “manslayer” twice, “killing” once, “slayer + 310” once, “slayeth” once, and “death” once. 1 to murder, slay, kill. 1A (Qal) to murder, slay. 1A1 premeditated. 1A2 accidental. 1A3 as avenger. 1A4 slayer (intentional) (participle). 1B (Niphal) to be slain. 1C (Piel). 1C1 to murder, assassinate. 1C2 murderer, assassin (participle)(subst). 1D (Pual) to be killed.

        From The Abridged Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon of the Old Testament:

        vb. murder, slay — Qal murder, slay, with premeditation; c. acc. pers., unawares; slay as avenger; esp. pt. as subst. = slayer, manslayer, without intent; murderer, with intent. Niph. be slain; murdered. Pi. (intens.) murder, assassinate; Pt. as subst. murderer, assassin.

        Unfortunately, space [and time considerations] would limit a full discussion, if such a thing is even possible, on this important and timely topic. The bottom line is that all life should be respected and valued.

        Thank you for raising our consciousness.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2017-05-31 02:44:18 UTC - 02:44 | Permalink

          When you say “the scales tip in favour” I am reminded that opinion is divided and therefore we have no secure assurance that the word has some objective meaning of “murder”. The commentaries, lexicons, do not answer the question since they are merely citing opinions with little definitive argument, too.

          It makes perfect sense that in context (and context is always at the heart of any translation) the sixth commandment should have the restricted sense of murder. We know killing of animals, for example, was part of their commanded ritual. But once again we are into interpretation.

          Even the word “murder” has to be interpreted for meaning. Is killing a prisoner of war “murder”? is killing an enemy “murder”? is killing a wounded and suffering friend to put him out of his misery “murder”; is killing a fetus “murder”? and so on.

          What concerns me is the way too many people throw out the most fundamental understanding that all reading is always a matter of interpretation at some level when it comes to their views of Muslims and the Quran. This is ignorance and bigotry, imo.

  • Tige Gibson
    2017-05-30 14:50:08 UTC - 14:50 | Permalink

    Objectively, what is lawful is whatever you can get away with that is conducive to your government’s goals. A casual glance at what average people started doing immediately after Trump’s election news broke is the most basic proof.

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