Some Major Geographical Alterations Made in the Quran

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Some Major Geographical Alterations Made in the Quran

Characteristic of post-Othmanic exegesis was the relocation of the few precise geographical terms in the text of the Quran to far-off Saudi Arabia, away from the Levantine neighborhood, which was the scene of the original Revelation, and of the currently on-going Islamic advance. This had the effect of distancing the narrative of the post-Othmanic interpretation from the Syrian and Nabataean milieu of the Hashimite original, and hence made it more difficult to discredit, as well as removing it from its Nestorian Christian context. (Fuller details on the geographical location of the original Mecca and of the original Medina can be found in Testimony #10, below, >>)

Thus, for example, the important shrine at “Bekka” or “Bakka” (also pronounced “Mecca”), mentioned in the Othmanic Quran, was originally located on Mount Sinai, and the city so named was the city of Pharan (also spelled Paran) within the wider territory of Arabia Petraea in the Sinai Peninsula: sic, according to the Othmanic Quran itself (Sura 95:1-4), 7th century AD, and according to Thomas Artzruni, 10th century AD, the city of Pharan being still known as Mecca in his day. The earliest historical witness to the location of the Mountain on which the Law was given, the Coptic monk Cosmas Indicopleustes (early 6th century AD, Christian Topography, Book V, MS p. 195f., ed. Migne, Patrologia Graeca vol. 88, col. 198ff.) says the city of Pharan lay immediately under Mount Sinai. The relevant passage of Thomas Artzruni, cited in full hereafter, reads: “…. in the regions of Arabia Petraea in the place (called) P’aran {Pharan}, which is now called Mak’a {Mecca}”. The Quranic verses read as follows: “By the fig and the olive, and the Mount of Sinai, this City of Security, We [Allah and the angels] have indeed created man in the best of molds.” The words “City of Security” are used to describe the site of the shrine known as the Kaaba to which the Othmanic Quran commanded pilgrimages to be made, and prayers to be directed, for the reasons given in Sura 5:97, “Allah made the Kaaba the Sacred House as an asylum of security”, and in Sura 3:96-97, “The first house [= place of worship] appointed for men was that at Bekka …. In it are signs manifest, for example the station of Abraham [viz. where Abraham once stood]: whoever enters it attains security …. etc.” The Quran explicitly locates the City of Security at Mount Sinai. The Bekka/Mecca which was the sacred site of the Muslims, according to a Samaritan tradition (Asatir VIII. 3), was the Biblical Hebrew “Boachah” (in Samaritan Hebrew “Baka”) mentioned in Genesis 25. 18 as located within the district of Shur. The wilderness of Shur stretched southwards from the northern coast of the Sinai peninsula, east of the Nile Delta and Lake Timsah, along the western Sinaitic coast of the Gulf of Suez as far as Wadi Feiran (the site of the city Pharan), and thus immediately adjoined Boachah/Baka/​Bekka/​Mecca at Mount Sinai. Shur was inhabited by the Ishmaelites in their earliest days.

The wider area encompassing Pharan and the Desert of Paran was Arabia Petraea. It included the desert east and south of the Dead Sea, the territory along the eastern shores of the Gulf of Akaba, and the Peninsula of Sinai. Pharan, in Wadi Feiran under Mount Serbal (which was Mount Sinai according to Cosmas Indicopleustes, viz. the mountain he locates six Roman miles from the city of Pharan in Wadi Feiran), a little to the north of the port of Tor on the Gulf of Suez, was the site of the first miracle of water from the rock performed by Moses, and Petra, the cave-city in the mountains south of the Dead Sea, the site of the second miracle of water from the rock, as well as of the tomb of Aaron. Muhammad’s mentor Sergius is commonly reported to have been resident in Bozra near Petra and to have frequented Mount Sinai.

That the Mount Sinai referred to in the Quran was Mount Serbal, towering over Wadi Feiran, not the site at St Catherine’s monastery much later identified as Mount Sinai, is proven by the reference in the Quranic verse to figs and olives, which are abundant in the luxurious palm-grove of Wadi Feiran, but absent in the parched plains around St Catherine’s. (On this and the following geographical facts relating to Mount Serbal-Sinai, see the relevant sections of TheSinaitic Exodus Inscriptions.) Another Quranic reference to olives at Mount Sinai is cited by Mukaddisi (179) and the description of the location only fits Mount Serbal, Cosmas’ Mount Sinai, not St. Catherine’s: “Tur Sina [Mount Sinai] lies not far from the Bahr al Kulzum (the Red Sea). One goes up to it from a certain village called Al Amn [viz. Elim] which same is the place where Moses and the children of Israel encamped. There are here twelve springs of fairly sweet water, and thence up to Sinai is two days’ march. The Christians have a monastery (Dair) in Mount Sinai, and round it are some well cultivated fields, and there grow here olive-trees, said to be those mentioned by Allah in the Kuran (chap. xxiv., verse 35), where it is written concerning that ‘blessed tree, an olive neither of the east, nor of the west.’ And the olives from these trees are sent as presents to kings.” Here Sinai is near the Red Sea, which is true of Mount Serbal, but not of the mountain at St. Catherine’s; the fields around Sinai are cultivated, which is again true of the former, not of the latter, and Serbal is two days’ journey from Elim (identified by the monks as the port of Tor on the Gulf of Suez), not three days’ journey like St. Catherine’s. Similarly in Idrisi (2): “Jabal at Tur [Mount Sinai] is reached from Faran (Paran) [i.e. the city of Faran in wadi Feiran]. It lies close to the (Red) Sea, and the mountain-chain stretches parallel thereto, and between it and the sea is a road that is much traversed. It is a high mountain into which you go up by steps, and at its summit is a mosque where there is a well of stagnant water, from which those who come and go may drink.” Again here the location of Sinai is close to the Red Sea at the Gulf of Suez, in a mountain-chain running parallel to, and separated from, the sea by a plain. This is precisely the case with Mount Serbal. Serbal is located in the mountain-chain running like a vast granite wall parallel to the Gulf of Suez. The mountains are separated from the latter by the Plain of Kaa (inland from the port of Tor, the traditional monastic site of Elim). Travelers pass across the latter to Serbal and onward another day’s journey to St. Catherine’s. St. Catherine’s is much further inland within the mountainous zone, and not noticeable from the Red Sea. There are steps running up the slopes of Serbal, as described by Idrisi. The mosque on one of the peaks referred to here, with a well of stagnant water in it, is doubtless the original Kaaba shrine, at the place called “Bekka”. Only the pagan Arabs, and other Ishmaelites, before the reception of Muhammad’s Revelation, were interested in this site, and its name is consequently unknown to Christian and Classical sources. When the Revelation popularized it, its name was transferred to the city of Pharan in Wadi Feiran, and this was known henceforth as the “city” of “Bekka/Mecca”, being the principal civilian settlement in the vicinity of the sacred location on the mountain. The water in the shrine is referred to elsewhere in Muslim sources, e.g. Ibn Ishaq in Guillaume, Life of Muhammad, 2006, p. 176. He describes a pagan precinct at Mecca sacred to Tammuz under the title Dushara : “in it was a trickle of water from a rivulet from the mountains.” The Kaaba is said to have been a pagan temple before Muhammad’s time, and Muhammad removed the idols from it. The pagan Saracens at Sinai (Serbal) are known to have had a temple to the moon-god on the mountain before the Muslim era. It contained a sacred stone which supposedly turned from white to black when the moon entered a certain phase. This undoubtedly was the original “black stone” at “Bekka” which became famous in Islamic legend, and this similarly is said to have turned from white to black.

The whole area of Paran (Pharan, Faran), and more widely of Arabia Petraea, was associated with Abraham in the most ancient sections of the Torah (where Petra is called Kadesh, “Holy Place”, and En-mishpat, “Fountain of Judgment”, retrospectively after the water miracle), and so too in the Quran. Abraham was indeed present in the vicinity of “Bekka” (Pharan), as he is said in Genesis to have camped “between Kadesh and Shur”, that is, between Petra and the desert east of the Nile Delta and along the shore of the Gulf of Suez, which included the territory of Pharan. Abraham dismissed Hagar and her son Ishmael into this wilderness area, and he is said to have dwelt henceforth in the “wilderness of Paran” or Pharan (Gen. 21. 21), which stretched from the vicinity of Mount Sinai and Wadi Feiran north and eastwards towards Kadesh (Petra), as demonstrated by a comparison of Numbers 10. 12 and the following passages describing the journey to Kadesh, with Numbers 13. 26. All the events referred to in those Biblical passages are described as having transpired within the wilderness of Paran. The Othmanic Quran itself (Sura 34:17) admits Abraham dismissed Hagar and Ishmael into the vicinity of Allah’s sacred house, the Kaaba: “O Lord,” Abraham is there quoted as saying, “I have caused some of my offspring [referring to Ishmael and his descendants] to dwell in an unfruitful valley [lit. wadi] near thy holy house”. Therefore, the Kaaba was in the near vicinity of the wilderness of Paran, since Paran was where Ishmael dwelt according to Gen. 21. 21. In fact, Wadi Feiran (Paran/Pharan) itself, so named after the wilderness, was most definitely in the days of Ishmael an “unfruitful valley”, as the Othmanic Quran states it was, since it was barren and without water as late as the time of Moses: Moses brought forth water from the rock at Rephidim within Wadi Feiran precisely because it was required in that parched and desolate valley to give drink to the Exodus Israelites. In the post-Othmanic interpretation “Bekka” was identified with Mecca in Saudi Arabia (an alternative spelling for which was “Bekka”). And the name Paran, referring originally, and in all the earlier historical sources, to the wilderness in the vicinity of the Sinaitic “Bekka”, was transferred, along with the name of the shrine, to Saudi Arabia. The word “Bekka”, “Boachah” in Biblical Hebrew and “Baka” in Samaritan Hebrew, will be shown (infra) to mean “Agitated” or “Frantic” in the act of running to and fro, and the fuller form of the place-name, Boachah Ashur, to mean “Frantic Step”, in reference, most probably, to the frantic search of Hagar for water for her and her son Ishmael, which God eventually provided by revealing to her a fountain at that place (Genesis 21. 12-21). Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael, of course, historically, were never present in Saudi Arabia. As a consequence of the post-Othmanic dislocation, the whole history of Abraham and his family was transported into the far-off southern deserts, and has remained there, in Arab mythology, ever since.

The association of Bekka on Mount Sinai with Hagar and Abraham in the Othmanic Quran built also on the typology employed by Paul in Galatians 4. 25, which identified Hagar (viz. the Hagarenes or Ishmaelites) with Mount Sinai in Arabia. Sinai signified, according to this exegesis of the Apostle Paul, the Mosaic Law dispensed on that mountain; and the fact that Sinai was located in Ishmaelite territory, signified that those (Jews) who were in bondage under the Mosaic Law were merely “children of Abraham” in a physical or genetic sense, like Ishmael, whilst spiritual (Christ-believing) children of Abraham were typed by Isaac, the “child of promise”, and their homeland was the heavenly Jerusalem. Traditions associating certain rocky eminences around Bekka (originally, that is, the area of Mount Sinai-Serbal and Wadi Feiran), with Hagar, proliferated as a consequence in later Muslim tradition.

Similarly, the “Medina” of the Quran denoted originally (as in the very early text quoted in Testimony #3, below, >>) a particular “city of Midian” in Arabia Petraea, that is, within the district east, south, and south-east of the Dead Sea, and the neighboring areas under Midianite control: but in the post-Othmanic interpretation “Medina” was identified with Medina in Saudi Arabia. The meaning of the name Midian was “dispute, disputatious judgment”, and the form Medinah or Medina, meant “the location of such a disputatious judgment”, hence “province, city etc.”, and this name too, for obvious reasons, was of frequent occurrence in the Near East. The obscure references in the current text of the Quran to a migration of people connected with Muhammad from Bekka to Medina was explained in terms of a supposed flight of Muhammad from the Saudi Arabian Mecca to the Saudi Arabian Medina in the post-Othmanic interpretation, instead of by the historical flight and migration of Muhammad and forty or so companions from his birthplace Bekka, viz. Pharan (where his prophecy was at first rejected), to the “city of Midian”, as Thomas Artzruni calls it. The latter was defined by Thomas as one of the Midianite cities destroyed by the Exodus Israelites, according to Numbers 31. The city named “Midian” referred to in Numbers, the one associated with the daughters of Moab and the feast of Baal-Peor, — was that which was situated just south of the River Arnon adjoining Areopolis on the borders of Moab, as described in Jerome’s Latin version of the Onomasticon of Eusebius. (Areopolis is the Hebrew Ar Moab, the Byzantine Rabbathmoba, Moabite Rabbath, the modern Er-Rabba in Jordan.) The Onomasticon differentiated it from the identically named “city of Midian” near Tabuk further south, on the east coast of the Gulf of Akaba, which was where Jethro welcomed Moses in his flight from Pharaoh. By the time of Muhammad the population of the ancient, now ruined, city of Midian south of the Arnon, had transferred to the newer city immediately adjoining, that is, to Areopolis or Moabite Rabbath, and the latter had become known as the “city of Midian”. The followers of Muhammad preferred the Biblical name, city of Midian (Arabic Medina), because it reminded them that they were the “new Israel” entering the Promised Land by the same route as the ancient Exodus Israelites. In Muhammad’s day an army of 12,000 Jews had gathered in this city of Midian, having been expelled from Edessa in northern Syria by the Byzantines. Muhammad was accepted by the Jews as their prophetic leader, and they marched under his banner into Palestine. (This according to the Armenian chronicle, based on eye-witness accounts, and on the related sources drawn on by Thomas Artzruni.) The flight of Muhammad from Pharan (“Mecca”) to Midian (the “city of Midian”, or “Medina”) was the incident which triggered these later successful military adventures, and hence of major importance in the history and progress of the Revelation.

By the by, Muhammad is represented in the eye-witness account preserved in the Armenian chronicle as a strong supporter of the claims of Israel to the Promised Land, to the point of willing to die in battle in order to put effect to those claims. The same attitude is evinced in the behavior of Muhammad’s immediate successors, according to that account. This is the reverse of the post-Othmanic narrative, which has had such a deleterious effect on the relations of Muslims and Jews since the time of Othman.

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