God of the Bible, God of the Koran. Interviews with Jean-Louis Schlegel
by Thomas Römer and Jacqueline Chabbi
Threshold, 304 p., € 22
God, whether we call him Yahweh or Allah, is he “the same”? Regularly raised in the context of interreligious meetings, the innocent question can give rise to heated debates. Two recognized specialists, one from the Old Testament, the other from Islam, undertake in this book of interviews to provide their answers, which they rooted in the cultures of origin of the Hebrew Bible and of the Koran.
→ READ. Bible and Koran, for “unfaithful fidelity”
Gold between the distant VIIIe century BC AD, in an ancient Near East marked by the rivalry between the kingdoms of the North (Israel) and the South (Judah), and the immense and arid expanses of Arabia of the VIIe apr. J. – C., where evolve tribes which fight continually for their survival, the difference is not negligible. The image of God, his name, his attributes, the nature of his relationship to humans, obviously derive from the political and societal context in which the two sacred books were developed. The first quality of this rich discussion is undoubtedly to convince the reader of the relevance of such an approach.
Two voices mingling
The floor, cleverly distributed by the publisher Jean-Louis Schlegel, is first given at length to the Swiss exegete and biblical scholar Thomas Römer (first four chapters), before the historian of the medieval Muslim world Jacqueline Chabbi develops her point. on Islam (next five chapters). It is only during a – too – brief epilogue that their two voices really merge, bringing out more clearly the lines of convergence and divergence felt throughout the reading.
Among the many subjects discussed regarding the development of the Hebrew Bible and the Koran (the role of oral transmission, the intentions of the “authors”, the taking of freedom from historical reality, etc.), that of the divine uniqueness is perhaps one of the most interesting. It is around 622 BC. AD that the kingdom of Judah decrees that the only Yahweh is that of Jerusalem – without denying the other gods for all that. “The discourse of the god one (not yet unique) aimed to legitimize the small kingdom of Judah with its capital, Jerusalem”, explains Thomas Römer while specifying that the aforementioned capital was ridiculous compared to “Mega-cities” like Nineveh or Babylon.
As far as Allah is concerned, divine oneness is understood differently. “In this environment (the small city out of town of Mecca, Editor’s note) where you never knew if the rain was going to fall, the only God of the Koran provides in a way a “guarantee against all risks” ”, says Jacqueline Chabbi. Guardian of the life he created, the unique god is first and foremost a “useful” god, capable of resolving all human problems.
A little-known subject, “the appropriation” by the Koran of biblical stories
Jacqueline Chabbi then dwells on a subject less known to the general public: « l’appropriation » by the Koran of biblical accounts, put at the service of its own argumentation. It is certainly from Yemen, a monotheistic focus from the IVe century, that these accounts could reach Mecca. “The Koranic word appropriates these biblical borrowings all the more easily since no representative of Judaism or Christianity is there to give the reply or to dispute anything”, specifies the historian. Thus, if the Koran resumes the six days of Creation, it ignores the seventh, that of divine rest, not being able to conceive of a cessation of work in such a hostile nature. “The work never stops. Whether it is the divine Creator or humans, that would be too risky. “
→ MAINTENANCE. “The Koran calls for many interpretations”
If these interviews sometimes move away from the central subject of the identity of God, even the digressions are not lacking in clarity, revealing the wide culture and the teaching talents of the two sought-after researchers. Both plead for a historical approach to sacred texts – a movement started in the 19th century.e century for the Bible, but which is still cruelly lacking in Koranic research.