Interlinguistic pun in the Qur’an

I came across something very interesting recently. In Surah Baqarah 2:93:

And [recall] when We took your covenant and raised over you the mount, [saying], “Take what We have given you with determination and listen.” They said [instead], “We hear and disobey.” And their hearts absorbed [the worship of] the calf because of their disbelief. Say, “How wretched is that which your faith enjoins upon you, if you should be believers.”

In Deuteronomy 5:27, the same incident is recorded, although the Israelites say, “we hear and we obey”, that is w’šāma‘nū w‘āśînū in Hebrew. The Qur’an, however, uses a very similar sounding verb to turn this very phrase on its head: Here, the jews say “samiʿnā  wa ʿaṣaynā.”, or “we hear and we disobey”.

Ofcourse, commentators note that the Qur’an implies that this was not actually vocalized by the Jews, since the mount did not fall on them and the Jews were not wiped out, but rather that their proceeding actions reflected this very attitude of “hearing and disobeying”, hence the following statement “And their hearts absorbed [the worship of] the calf because of their disbelief.” In other words, according to the Qur’an, the Jews with Moses might as well have stated that had heard and they disobeyed because of their worship of the calf. 

This brilliant play on words requires a knowledge of Hebrew on behalf of the author of the Qur’an, and is simply one example of the masterful rhetoric that the Qur’an is capable of.

Thanks to my friend Sharif Randhawa for pointing this out!

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