The Joseph story in Genesis and the Qurʾān

Not my usual post, thought I would share this very interesting discussion that goes through the Qurʾānic story in light of biblical and extra-biblical intertextuality. They notice some very interesting interlinguistic allusions and engagement with biblical tradition.

10 thoughts on “The Joseph story in Genesis and the Qurʾān

    • @ Amirul Afiq

      I don’t understand what “non-traditional methodology” means. We aren’t asking for his fiqh or aqeedah the analysis is on intertextuality. This whole “beware of this guy” is a recent phenomenon. Classical scholars would say the person was a deviant in a subject and take the rest of the work. A prime example is Zamakshari who was a hardcore Mutazilah (and argues several of their positions in his tafseer) but his grammar analysis in there is incredible and he is undisputed in the field.

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  1. Salam alaikum brother Taha, I read some of your earlier posts on the structure of the Qur’an and surah Yusuf, and found them very interesting and would like to hear your thoughts on a subject I am currently researching. I don’t know if you noticed this but it occurred to me some time ago that the Qur’anic stories are somehow organised in a parallel way, it seems to me like they all have shared and repeated elements which fulfil an argumentative as well as an aesthetic function. At first, it may seem that these repetitions are redundant and chaotic but after further reflection, it becomes clear that the repeated elements have some kind of function.

    For example, if we look at surah Yusuf, like Nouman Ali Khan mentions as well as Joseph Witztum, we see it shares a lot of similarities with surah Qasas, but I noticed also it shares a lot with other stories as well, like surah Kahf. If we look at the episode of Musa and Khidr there are some interesting similarities:

    Similar vocabulary:
    فَأَنسَاهُ الشَّيْطَانُ ذِكْرَ رَبِّهِ/وَمَا أَنسَانِيهُ إِلَّا الشَّيْطَانُ أَنْ أَذْكُرَهُ
    لَا أَبْرَحُ حَتَّىٰ أَبْلُغَ مَجْمَعَ الْبَحْرَيْنِ/فَلَنْ أَبْرَحَ الْأَرْضَ
    مَا كَانَ لِيَأْخُذَ أَخَاهُ فِي دِينِ الْمَلِكِ/وَكَانَ وَرَاءَهُم مَّلِكٌ يَأْخُذُ كُلَّ سَفِينَةٍ and many more
    Similar themes:
    When Musa and his servant lost the fish, Musa said: ذَٰلِكَ مَا كُنَّا نَبْغِ
    When brothers found their food they said: قَالُوا يَا أَبَانَا مَا نَبْغِي
    Musa and his servant are leaving food and travelling to find a man whom Allah gave knowledge: وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلْمًا
    Brothers of Yusuf are leaving behind a man whom Allah gave knowledge(Yaqoub) in search for food: وَإِنَّهُ لَذُو عِلْمٍ لِّمَا عَلَّمْنَاهُ وَلَـٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
    Brothers promised their father they will take care of Benyamin and failed, Musa promised Khidr he will be patient and failed
    In the first story, there is a ruler who is stealing(غصب-which is one form of stealing) ships from sailors. In the story of Yusuf, the brothers are made to look like they stole from the ruler with another form of stealing(سرقة).
    In surah Kahf the vehicle of transport is a ship, while in surah Yusuf vehicle of transport is a camel(ship of the desert) which are usually mentioned together in Qur’an: وَعَلَيْهَا وَعَلَى الْفُلْكِ تُحْمَلُونَ
    In the third story two brothers, who are sons of a good man(described as salih), have a hidden treasure: وَيَسْتَخْرِجَا كَنزَهُمَا
    In the story of Yusuf(described as muhsin) is hiding a cup in his brother’s saddle-bag: ثُمَّ اسْتَخْرَجَهَا مِن وِعَاءِ أَخِيهِ

    Also,the episode of Musa and Khidr parallels the story found in surah Qasas:
    Khidr damaging the ship to save the ship from an evil ruler is parallel to the story of Musa being thrown in the water to be saved from Firawn.
    Musa kills someone-Khidr kills a boy
    Khidr helps two brothers whose father is a good man-Musa helps two sisters whose father is a good man.
    There are many more parallels in the Quranic stories which I found and I am currently trying to gather them in one article and inshallah publish it in a local Islamic journal.

    I would like to ask you what do you think about these parallels and what function do you think they fulfil. Recently I started thinking that maybe the function of these stories and their repeated elements is somewhat typological and predictive and those repetitive elements are there to draw attention in order to compare them with the prophetic mission and struggles of Prophet Muhammad pbuh. I think Amin Ahsan Islahi also had a similar theory in that he thought that Qur’anic structure reflects various phases of the “Islamic movement”. I would love to hear your thoughts if you have time and I am not bothering you, I would also like it if you could recommend me some books or articles which could help me expand these ideas, thank you very much for your time and for your wonderful posts.

    Salam alaikum

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for sharing! You are definitely right. I did not notice the parallels of the story from outside the sūrah, but there are definitely a lot of parallels with stories even within the sūrahs. To me, this is evidence of inner-Qurʾānic coherence. You might find the works of Rabia Bajwa (https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/bitstream/handle/10822/558226/Bajwa_georgetown_0076D_12000.pdf?sequence=1) and Marianna Klar (no link, sorry) useful. You should definitely publish on it if you can.

      The story of musa and khidr also have links with the dhū l-Qarnayn narrative. Both build a wall, both have three journeys et cetera.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for taking the time to respond and thanks for the links and suggestions. As for dhū l-Qarnayn parallels, I noticed them too, also it seems to me like the surah Kahf possesses a ring structure on a macro level while at the same time the smaller segments are connected by parallelism. If we look at surah Kahf from this perspective, it suggests that the story of dhū l-Qarnayn is parallel or tied to the people of the cave(they do share some similar motifs like the mentioning of the sun, people being hidden for a long time, the building of the wall or masjid and so on). But maybe this information is not so important for your research.

        Also, I’ve been thinking of qur’anic usage of motifs from a literary point of view(maybe someone will benefit from it), but as you suggested sometimes they can be useful for determining to which specific period does the surah belong. For example, I noticed an interesting motif in surah Maryam, the motif of silence and speech. Zakariyyah loses the ability to speak, Maryam vows to not speak to anyone, the people of heaven will not hear vain talk and so on. It seems to me that this motif develops progressively through the surah, reaching its culmination in the last ayah where we are told that not even a whisper will be heard from the unbelievers.

        There is also a wordplay on the name Zakariyyah in the first and the last ayah ذِكْرُ رَحْمَتِ رَبِّكَ عَبْدَهُ زَكَرِيّ.
        أَوْ تَسْمَعُ لَهُمْ رِكْزًا R-K-Z and Z-K-R.

        The motif of silence to me suggests that this surah belongs to the early Makkan period (as Imam Suyuti suggests) when the prophet Muhammad was still secretly inviting people to Islam.

        Once again, thank you for taking the time to respond and may Allah reward you…

        Liked by 1 person

    • By the way, this is quite relevant for Qurʾānic dating as well. Some scholars (rather unconvincingly) argue that parts of the Qurʾānic text belong to between 630-650CE (because the manuscript evidence doesn’t let them put it any later).

      Structural coherence stuff is relevant because it justifies starting from the position that the text reflects the Prophet’s own revelation, pre-632CE: And, in turn, this is useful for reconstructing dates of particular stories (such as dhul qarnayn, as being prior to the Neṣḥānā). That’s why I myself was focused on noticing links between DQ and the surah as a whole.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Great, please forward my thanks to that person. I already shared some of my observations regarding the parallels of surah Yusuf and Kahf (and surah Qasas) as well as some of my observations regarding usage of some motifs in Qur’an (like usage of the fire and masculinity motif in surah Saffat and its connection with surah Sad) with brother Sharif Randhawa ( I am currently doing his course on Qur’an and Bible) and dr. Sohaib Saeed.

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