Temporary or situational verses in monotheistic scriptures.

“It is because of the hardness of your heart that Moses allowed you to put away your wives; in the beginning it was not so. « (Matthew 19,8)

From these words, which the Gospel of Matthew attributes to Jesus, one can extract the idea that at least a part of the revelation, would carry a message or a transitory rule, simply adapted to the psychological characters or to the state of advancement of the populations to which the prophets addressed.

Thus, some prophets would not have communicated to mankind a divine, immutable, eternally perfect and meaningful instruction, but rather a message adapted or even perfectly adapted to the state of advancement of the peoples to whom they were addressed.

A passage from Leviticus attributed to Ezekiel seems to convey the same idea:

« I (God) also gave them precepts that were not good, and ordinances by which they could not live. » (Ezekiel 20,25.)

“I made them unclean by their gifts, when they caused all the firstborn to pass through the fire. It was to stun them, so that they would know that I am the Lord. ”(Ezekiel 20,26.)

This type of statement calls for at least two types of interpretation or perspective.

First of all, an external interpretation or external criticism, which could be the work of a rigorous scholar and able to identify the meaning of this text, and this, independently of the dogmatic consequences which could result from the choice of such or such interpretation. .

This scholar will see this text as an object, which he will study after putting it at a distance. He will employ a methodology, philosophical hermeneutics for example, a methodology which will not be subordinated to dogmatic constraints resulting from adherence to a dogmatic system.

For example, he could envision, like Daniel I. Bloc, for this text, half a dozen interpretations.

According to the author, reading these two texts from Jewish and Christian sources would lend credence to the idea that certain laws, although inscribed in the Torah, would not be perfect, but simply adapted to the reception capacities of the peoples to whom they were intended.

The ordinary religious scholar, for his part, will adopt the perspective of the believer and in particular that of a man attached and concerned with the preservation of a dogmatic, theological system as well as its coherence.

A Catholic priest will readily admit the obsolescence of the situational verses, this being not contrary to the position of the Church, which explains the status of the scriptures as follows:

« The bible was written by the People of God and for the People of God, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit » [1].

He will understand that this evocation of the status of the bible informs incidentally about what the scriptures are not.

Thus for a Catholic priest, the bible not being the literal word of God, and its content not being the result of a divine dictation or of a pure and simple recitation of the word literally transmitted by God, the lapsing of the circumstantial verses will not be a problem.

Conversely, the notion of revelation as it is perceived by the conservative stream of Muslim tradition is based on the idea that the Qur’an is the literal word of God, perfect and free from all error. For most Muslims, the Koran would be the dictation of God.

In view of these preconceptions, it will therefore be difficult for an ordinary imam to accept the situational or temporary character of certain non-abrogated verses and in particular of the abrogating verses of the Qur’an.

Yet according to Olivier Hanne « the internal criticism of the text (The Koran) in relation to the caliphal context also showed that the abrogations of verses usefully responded to the conjunctural needs of the successors of Mohammed » [2]

However, if the abrogations of verses were indeed a conjunctural phenomenon as this is affirmed by Olivier Hanne and by most of the ismalogues, this would amount to admitting the conjunctural character therefore by nature temporarily, of the verses bearing the abrogation.

Koran 2v106: « Each time We abrogate a verse ( » nansakh « ) or that We delay it (or make it forgotten), We bring a better one or a similar one… ».

This verse, according to Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, would reactivate more spiritual Meccan verses which according to him would not have been abrogated, but suspended, the time for humanity to acquire the capacities of reception of these verses, considered by the Sunni orthodoxy as repealed by more severe Medinan verses.

The idea of suspension would ultimately only be the logical consequence of the situational and therefore temporary nature of the repealing verses.

In the same way that according to Jesus (Matthew 19,8), Moses grants the right of repudiation to the Hebrews because of the « hardness of their hearts », Muhammad adapts his message to his audience.

The original, ontological and spiritual message of the Meccan period is forgotten (or suspended) within the meaning of sura 2v106: « If We abrogate any verse or that We make it forgotten, We bring a better one, or a similar one » (because not suitable for the Medina community).

This is the thesis of Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, who considers like other Muslim reformists that most of the Medina verses are situational verses which were useful for the leadership of the Medinian community at the time, but are not valid for the here and now.

This is also what Jesus seems to say about the Mosaic law, especially in matters of divorce, considering that this law was given to men because of « the hardness of their hearts. »

According to Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, despite certain entanglements, two Koranic corpus stand out clearly, with on the one hand a message from the Meccan period (beginning of preaching) wanting to be universalist, ontological, spiritual, gentle and merciful, focused on the improvement of the individual, and on the other, a Medinan message (delivered after the expulsion of Mohammed from Mecca) political, sometimes legislating, going towards more severity and less freedom, having for vocation to govern the Medinian community and to respond to the controversies of the moment.

The admission of the situational character or temporary character of certain abrogating verses of the Koran: Which reactions?

In conclusion, we will just say a few words on this subject.

No one will dispute that those who are attached to the tradition of Sunni orthodoxy as the foundation of a legal and societal system can only be resistant to this reformist conception.

On the other hand, if one disregards the emotional attachment of Muslims to the idea that the Koran is the perfect, eternal and immutable word of God, the admission of the situational and temporary character of certain verses considered as abrogating, should not reasonably be expected to generate any particular difficulties for a Muslim who sees in Islam, a spiritual practice and not a legal system.

On the contrary, the adoption of this conception would allow muslims to state without being contradicted that in no case the verse affirming « No compulsion in religion », should be regarded as abrogated.

Finally, it is evident that if a majority of Muslims were to access to this concept, it could be gradually carried by the imams, who in turn could teach this new way of looking at the scriptures, which would dissolve many tensions and cognitive dissonances.

[1] Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “VERBUM DOMINI” of Pope Benedict XVI

[2] (Olivier Hanne. « The Koran put to the test of historico-philological criticism ». « Pitfalls of hypercriticism, dead ends of literality. Hypercriticism and literalism in the historian approach », Madalina Vartejanu-Joubert , Mar. 2012, La Roche-sur-Yon, France, ffhalshs-01461158).

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