The Quran’s Mistakes regarding the Biblical Patriarchs

One formula that is used in the Scriptures to identify the specific God worshiped by Israel, highlighting their unique relationship to their covenant making God, is the expression, "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob":

"And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.’" Genesis 28:13

Here, God identifies himself to Jacob as the God his fathers, Abraham and Isaac. Obviously, when Jacob is addressed, God only refers to his fathers and Jacob’s own name is not yet part of the reference.

"He blessed Joseph, and said, ‘The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day,’" Genesis 48:15

In the above passage Jacob is addressing Yahweh as the God of his fathers and could not, therefore, call him the God of Jacob since he couldn’t call himself his own father! However, when addressing later generations, i.e. when God reveals himself to Moses and calls him to become his prophet/spokesman/the leader of Israel, he uses this identification:

"He said also, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God." Exodus 3:6

"Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, "I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt."’" Exodus 3:16

"The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him." Acts 3:13

The Quran also uses these same expressions:

When Joseph said to his father, 'Father, I saw eleven stars, and the sun and the moon; I saw them bowing down before me.' He said, 'O my son, relate not thy vision to thy brothers, lest they devise against thee some guile. Surely Satan is to man a manifest enemy. So will thy Lord choose thee, and teach thee the interpretation of tales, and perfect His blessing upon thee and upon the House of Jacob, as He perfected it formerly on thy fathers Abraham and Isaac; surely thy Lord is All-knowing, All-wise.' S. 12:4-6

And I have followed the creed of my fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Not ours is it to associate aught with God. That is of God's bounty to us, and to men; but most men are not thankful. S. 12:38

As anyone can see, the expression "your father(s)" along with the naming of the Patriarchs is obviously referring to the progenitors of Israel, to the ancestral line from whence the nation came. Abraham begot Isaac who in turn begot Jacob, who had twelve sons that became the nation or children of Israel. Interestingly, the Israelites are called the "Bani Israel" in the Quran. However, where on earth does this name come from? In the Bible it is clear, God himself gave Jacob the name Israel (Genesis 32:24-30). So his descendants are the children of Israel. But does the Quran explain anywhere why the Israelites are called Israelites?

Be that as it may, the reason for calling them Israel’s children is to identify their progenitor, the one who fathered them as a people. It refers to their ancestry, their lineage. This is why one will not find the authors of the Holy Bible including the other siblings or relatives of Isaac, or even Jacob, within this formula since these others had nothing to do with the formation of Israel. Hence, you will not read anyone saying, "the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, Jacob etc."

You may find them referring to Abraham’s family as Israel’s ancestors by way of contrasting the gods they worshiped from the God Israel worshiped:

"And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.’" Joshua 24:2

"Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:14-15

One may assume that the reference to Nahor shows that a person’s relative can be included as a father since Nahor was Abraham’s brother, making him an uncle of Isaac. Not necessarily since the reason for including Nahor as a father of the Israelites is because Isaac married his granddaughter, with Jacob marrying two of his great granddaughters:

"Now after these things it was told to Abraham, ‘Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.’ (Bethuel fathered Rebekah.) These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham's brother. Moreover, his concubine, whose name was Reumah, bore Tebah, Gaham, Tahash, and Maacah." Genesis 22:20-24

"Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder… When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, and said, ‘Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father's house for us to spend the night?’ She said to him, ‘I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.’ She added, ‘We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.’ The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master's kinsmen.’ Then the young woman ran and told her mother's household about these things. Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban. Laban ran out toward the man, to the spring… ‘Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her water jar on her shoulder, and she went down to the spring and drew water. I said to her, "Please let me drink." She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder and said, "Drink, and I will give your camels drink also." So I drank, and she gave the camels drink also. Then I asked her, "Whose daughter are you?" She said, "The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bore to him." So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.’ Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, ‘The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has spoken.’ When Abraham's servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the LORD. Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel and said to the servant, ‘Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?’ The servant said, ‘It is my master.’ So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother's death." Genesis 24:15, 22-29, 45-52, 62-67

"Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, ‘You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women. Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother's father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother's brother. God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!’ Thus Isaac sent Jacob away. And he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob's and Esau's mother." Genesis 28:1-5; cf. 29:4-30

Nahor was, therefore, one of the progenitors of the nation of Israel through the maternal line. This is perhaps why Joshua didn’t mention Haran, Abraham’s other brother, since he wasn’t one of Israel’s progenitors.

Beyond this, the expression also highlights the point that God made his covenant with the Patriarchs and their descendants after them, not with anyone else:

"When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites." Genesis 15:17-21

"When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.’ Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.’" Genesis 17:1-8

Now there was a famine in the land, besides the former famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went to Gerar to Abimelech king of the Philistines. And the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘Do not go down to Egypt; dwell in the land of which I shall tell you. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you and will bless you, for to you and to your offspring I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath that I swore to Abraham your father. I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.’" Genesis 26:1-5

Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’" Genesis 28:10-16

With all that behind us we can now turn our attention to the Quran and see how it once again gets its expressions and history jumbled up. The Quran contradicts this biblical pattern, and itself, by mentioning Ishmael as one of Jacob’s fathers!

And Abraham charged his sons with this and Jacob likewise: 'My sons, God has chosen for you the religion; see that you die not save in surrender.' Why, were you witnesses, when death came to Jacob? When he said to his sons, 'What will you serve after me?' They said, 'We will serve thy God and the God of thy fathers Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, One God; to Him we surrender.' S. 2:132-133

Since Ishmael wasn’t one of the progenitors of Jacob, who became known as Israel, the name by which his descendants were called, nor was he part of the covenant blessing:

"Then God said to Abraham, As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. ‘I will bless her, and indeed I will give you a son by her Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’ Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before You!’ But God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.’" Genesis 17:15-21

The Quran is therefore blatantly wrong here.

But there are further problems with these Quranic statements. We said that the expression "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" refers to Israel’s ancestry. More specifically, the expression refers to biological relations shared by the three in that Abraham fathered Isaac who in turn fathered Jacob. The expression clearly refers to father, son and grandson. Taking the statements of the Quran seriously we are left to conclude that the author thought that Abraham fathered Ishmael who in turn begot Isaac who then fathered Jacob! Notice once again what the text says:

Were you present when death came to Jacob, when he said to his sons. ‘What will you worship after me?’ They answered, ‘We will worship thy God, the God of thy fathers, Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac, the One God; and to HIM we submit ourselves.’ S. 2:133 Sher Ali

There is further support for this interpretation from the following texts:

Or do you say, ‘Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob, and the Tribes -- they were Jews, or they were Christians’? Say: ‘Have you then greater knowledge, or God? And who does greater evil than he who conceals a testimony received from God? And God is not heedless of the things you do.’ S. 2:140

Say: 'We believe in God, and that which has been sent down on us, and sent down on Abraham and Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob, and the Tribes, and in that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and the Prophets, of their Lord; we make no division between any of them, and to Him we surrender.' S. 3:84

We have revealed to thee as We revealed to Noah, and the Prophets after him, and We revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, Jesus and Job, Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and We gave to David Psalms, S. 4:163

Note the pattern here. Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the twelve tribes are all listed consecutively. In fact, this is the only consistent pattern in all of these verses, since the Quran jumbles the timeline by mixing together different prophets from different periods. For instance, no one will doubt that the following text is structured sequentially in terms of lineage:

Remember also Our servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -- men of might they and of vision. Assuredly We purified them with a quality most pure, the remembrance of the Abode, and in Our sight they are of the chosen, the excellent. S. 38:45-47

No one would have a problem in understanding that the above text means that Abraham fathered Isaac who begot Jacob. We know from the Holy Bible that Isaac fathered Jacob and that the latter then had twelve sons that became the twelve tribes forming the nation of Israel.

The foregoing strongly implies that the author thought that, much like Isaac begot Jacob, Ishmael begot the former who in turn was begotten by Abraham! Putting it simply, these passages presuppose the following sequence:

Abraham fathered Ishmael who fathered Isaac who fathered Jacob who fathered the twelve tribes.

It is obvious that the Quran is confused.

Now a Muslim may argue that the Quran realizes that Ishmael wasn’t Isaac’s father, but his brother, and cite the following text for proof:

Praise be to God, who has given me, though I am old, Ishmael and Isaac; surely my Lord hears the petition. S. 14:39

Abraham thanks God for giving him Ishmael and Isaac which shows that these two were siblings. We respond by saying not so fast. This same expression is used elsewhere in the Quran to refer to Isaac’s and Jacob’s relation with Abraham:

And We gave to him Isaac and Jacob -- each one We guided, And Noah We guided before; and of his seed David and Solomon, Job and Joseph, Moses and Aaron -- even so We recompense the good-doers -- Zachariah and John, Jesus and Elias; each was of the righteous; Ishmael and Elisha, Jonah and Lot-each one We preferred above all beings; S. 6:84-86

So, when he went apart from them and that they were serving, apart from God, We gave him Isaac and Jacob, and each We made a Prophet; and We gave them of Our mercy, and We appointed unto them a tongue of truthfulness, sublime. S. 19:49-50

And We gave him Isaac and Jacob in superfluity, and every one made We righteous and appointed them to be leaders guiding by Our command, and We revealed to them the doing of good deeds, and to perform the prayer, and to pay the alms, and Us they served. S. 21:72-73

If the expression in Sura 14:39 regarding Ishmael and Isaac being given to Abraham implies that they were brothers, then the same must hold true for Isaac and Jacob. Since the preceding passages all say that God gave Isaac and Jacob to Abraham then we must conclude that Isaac and Jacob were brothers as well, since this is the conclusion Muslims want to derive from the wording of Sura 14:39. But if these passages regarding Isaac and Jacob do not mean that they were brothers, since the texts do not necessarily mean that God gave them as sons to Abraham, but can refer to his family line which is carried over to his grandson Jacob, then we insist that the same applies to Sura 14:39. Just because Abraham supposedly prayed that Allah gave him Ishmael and Isaac this doesn’t mean that the two had the same exact relationship to Abraham. Much like the references regarding Isaac and Jacob are concerned, one can understand that Abraham was given Ishmael and then Isaac was given as a grandson from Ishmael so as to continue the line of Abraham.

As if this wasn’t bad enough… there is another place in the Quran where Lot is said to be the father of Isaac and Jacob!

But LOT believed him; and HE said, ‘I will flee to my Lord; He is the All-mighty, the All-wise.’ And We gave HIM Isaac and Jacob, and We appointed the Prophecy and the Book to be among HIS seed; We gave HIM HIS wage in this world, and in the world to come HE shall be among the righteous. And LOT, when he said to his people ‘Surely you commit such indecency as never any being in all the world committed before you.’ S. 29:26-28

The author of the Quran has written the text in such a manner as to make Lot the object of the verb, implying that Allah gave him both Isaac and Jacob! Now the Muslim will of course say that the immediate context deals with Abraham, and therefore the pronoun refers back to him. We don’t contest that this is what the author intended, but this explanation doesn’t help the Muslim case any since it shows that the Quran is less than eloquent and not as perfect as Muslims want people to believe. It exposes the utterly human origin of the Arabic text of the Quran, since we expect that a divinely dictated text (which is what Muslims believe about the Quran) would avoid such confusion and ambiguity.

Finally, the Quran is further mistaken when it claims that Ishmael received revelation and was a prophet:

Say you: ‘We believe in God, and in that which has been sent down on us and sent down on Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob, and the Tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and the Prophets, of their Lord; we make no division between any of them, and to Him we surrender.’ S. 2:136

And mention in the Book Ishmael; he was true to his promise, and he was a Messenger, a Prophet. S. 19:54

Since revelation and prophethood were part of the covenant blessings which God made with Jacob/Israel, not with Ishmael:

"He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules. Praise the LORD!" Psalm 147:19-20

"Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God." Romans 3:1-2

"who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen." Romans 9:4-5

A point on which the Quran agrees:

And We bestowed on him Isaac and Jacob, and We established the prophethood and the Scripture among his seed, and We gave him his reward in the world, and lo! in the Hereafter he verily is among the righteous. S. 29:27

Indeed, We gave the Children of Israel the Book, the Judgment, and the Prophethood, and We provided them with good things, and We preferred them above all beings. We gave them clear signs of the Command; so they differed not, except after the knowledge had come to them, being insolent one to another. Surely thy Lord will decide between them on the Day of Resurrection touching their differences. S. 45:16-17

Ishmael, therefore, couldn’t have been a divinely inspired prophet.

To summarize the Quran’s errors regarding the Patriarchs:

  1. The Quran mistakenly presents Ishmael as one of Jacob’s fathers.
  2. The Quran mistakenly presents Ishmael as the father of Isaac.
  3. In other texts, Ishmael and Isaac are grouped together as those whom Allah gave to Abraham, much like Allah gave him both Isaac and Jacob. This either means that Jacob is the brother of Ishmael and Isaac, or that Ishmael is Isaac’s father just as Isaac is Jacobs’ father!
  4. The Quran mistakenly assumes that Ishmael was a prophet who received revelation.

Even Islamic scholarship sees just how confused the Quran is regarding the exact relationships between the Patriarchs and Ishmael. Noted Islamicist F.E. Peter makes the following analysis:

... The point is worth noting because in its earliest understanding, the Quran appears to have regarded Isaac and Jacob as Abraham's sons, as in 19:50, a Meccan revelation. It describes God’s regard for Abraham after his rejection of his family’s paganism ... Ishmael is in fact mentioned in the same sura, in verse 54, following Moses, and with no apparent connection with Abraham ... The immediate connection of Isaac and Jacob with Abraham and Ishmael’s separation from all three is not an isolated occurrence. It appears again in lists in 6:84-86, 21:72-85, 38:45-48, where Ishmael appears without note or particular importance amidst a miscellany, and not always the same miscellany, of prophets. The conclusion seems inescapable. While still at Mecca Muhammad was under the impression that Isaac and Jacob were Abraham’s sons, then at some point, probably at Medina, he corrected the genealogy (14:39), and eventually, for reasons more theological and polemical, placed emphasis on Ishmael (2:125, 127). (Peters, Muhammad and the Origins of Islam [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1994)], p. 118)

If the Muslim tries to turn to the Holy Bible in order to solve this mess then they would be further compounding the problem. In the first place, the Bible contradicts the claim that Jacob’s sons identified Ishmael as one of his fathers. Jacob, in Genesis, identifies Yahweh as the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac. Secondly, the Bible rejects the claim that God gave Ishmael revelation and prophethood since it expressly says that Ishmael was not included in God’s covenant blessings that were given solely to Isaac, Jacob and his children. Thus, if the Bible is used to confirm the Quran then the same Holy Bible can also be used to falsify it. It’s as simple as that.

Sam Shamoun

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