Qur'an Contradiction:

Prophets and Kings in Israel before the time of Moses?

The Qur'an states:

Remember Moses said to his people: "O my people! Call in remembrance the favour of Allah unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples." [Sura 5:20]

There are two options how to understand this verse. Both lead to serious historical errors.

Either, Muhammad was looking back at the whole history of Israel with all their prophets and kings when putting these words into the mouth of Moses.

Moses himself could never have said it this way, because Israel only became a distinctive "people" during their time in Egypt (and most of this time, they were slaves to the Egyptians). They became a separate nation in their own right in the time of Moses by God's act of liberating them, leading them out of Egypt, and giving them a "constitution" through his covenant with them at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-23).

Moses was the first prophet from among Israel; and Israel's first king, Saul, would begin his reign about 400 years after Moses.

Therefore, at the time when Moses was standing before the people of Israel there had not yet been any prophets or kings from among them that he could call their remembrance to.

This is, therefore, another historical compression in the Qur'an and a clear contradiction to history as documented in the Bible.

Muhammad had heard of many kings and prophets in Israel, but was not clear about their historical succession, so that his ignorance lead to this historical error in the Qur'an.

Another option would be that Muhammad reformulated whatever he had heard about Exodus 19 where it is stated:

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Althought the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites." [Ex. 19:3-6]

Several observations: First, the people of Israel were never offered to all become kings (as the verse in the Qur'an seems to say). No, they should become priests, a kingdom of priests, but it is God's kingdom, where the Lord only is their king. Second, there is no mention of prophets in that passage. Third, and most important, the Israelites became disobedient very fast, and therefore not all of Israel became priests, only one family, the descendents of Aaron, received the priesthood, while the tribe of Levi (one of twelve tribes) would be servants for other religious and temple duties. This offer and promise of "all Israel a kingdom of priests" did not become reality.

I am not aware of any passage in the Torah or the other parts of the Jewish scriptures where all Israelites are called kings. In the contrary, at the end of Moses' life, in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 God PREDICTS that in the FUTURE Israel will ask for a king then and tells Moses in advance what the people are to do in that case. Not one of them was a king at the time of Moses.

If Muhammad refered to this passage, instead of thinking about the whole of Israelite history, then he also messed it up considerably, both in content and regarding the time frame, because in the Torah, it is an offer for the future (which did not become reality), while in the Qur'an it is a call to rememberance of what Allah has supposedly already given them (however he never did, because of their disobedience).

In any case, whatever its exact meaning, the verse in the Qur'an is historically wrong. Can we really maintain the claim that the author of this quranic confusion is the one true God?

Jochen Katz

Bassam Zawadi's response to this article is discussed here.

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