By Dr. Maurice Bucaille (Edited by Dr. A. A. Bilal Philips)
BIBLE, QUR’AN AND SCIENCE
We have now come to the last subject I would like to present in this short pamphlet: it is the
comparison between modern knowledge and passages in the Qur’an that are also referred to in the Bible.
We have already come across some of the contradictions between scripture and science regarding the creation of the universe. When dealing with that topic, I stressed the perfect agreement between modern knowledge and verses in the Qur’an, and pointed out that the Biblical narration contained statements that were scientifically unacceptable. This is hardly surprising if we are aware that the narration of the creation contained in the Bible was the work of priests living in the sixth century BC, hence the term ‘sacerdotal’ ( priestly ) narration is officially used to refer to it. The narration seems to have been conceived as the theme of a sermon designed to exhort people to observe the Sabbath. The narration was constructed with a definite end in view, and as Father de Vaux (a former head of the Biblical School of Jerusalem) has noted, this end was essentially legalist in character.
The Bible also contains a much shorter and older narration of Creation, the so-called ‘Yahvist’ version, which approaches the subject from a completely different angle. They are both taken from Genesis, the first book of the Pentateuch or Torah. Moses is supposed to have been its author, but the text we have today has undergone many changes.
The sacerdotal narration of Genesis is famous for its whimsical genealogies, that go back to Adam, and which nobody takes very seriously. Nevertheless, such Gospel authors as Matthew and Luke have reproduced them, more or less word-for-word, in their genealogies of Jesus. Matthew goes back as far as Abraham, and Luke to Adam. These writings are scientifically unacceptable, because they set a date for the age of the world and the time humans appeared on Earth, which most definitely contradicts what modern science has firmly established. The Qur’an, on the other hand, is completely free of dates of this kind.
Earlier on, we noted how perfectly the Qur’an agrees with modern ideas on the formation of the Universe. On the other hand, the Biblical narration of primordial waters is hardly, nor is the creation of light on the first day before the creation of the stars which produce this light; the existence of an evening and a morning before the creation of the earth; the creation of the earth on the third day before that of the sun on the fourth; the appearance of beasts of the earth on the sixth day after the appearance of the birds of the air on the fifth day, although the former came first. All these statements are the result of beliefs prevalent at the time this text was written and do not have any other meaning.
Age of the Earth
As for the Biblical genealogies which form the basis of the Jewish calendar and assert that today the world is 5738 years old, these are hardly admissible either. Our solar system may well be four and a quarter billion years old, and the appearance of human beings on earth, as we know him today, may be estimated in tens of thousands of years, if not more. It is absolutely essential, therefore, to note that the Qur’an does not contain any such indications as to the age of the world, and that these are specific to the Biblical text.
There is a second highly significant subject of comparison between the Bible and the Qur’an; descriptions of the deluge. In actual fact, the Biblical narration is a fusion of two descriptions in which events are related differently. The Bible speaks of a universal flood and places it roughly 300 years before Abraham.
According to what we know of Abraham, this would imply a universal cataclysm around the twenty-first or twenty-second century BC This story would be untenable, in view of presently available historical data. How can we accept the idea that, in the twenty-first or twenty-second century BC, all civilization was wiped off the face of the earth by a universal cataclysm, when we know that this period corresponds, for example, to the one preceding the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, at roughly the date of the first Intermediary period before the eleventh dynasty? It is historically unacceptable to maintain that, at this time, humanity was totally wiped out. None of the preceding statements is acceptable according to modern knowledge. From this point of view, we can measure the enormous gap separating the Bible from the Qur’an.
In contrast to the Bible, the narration contained in the Qur’an deals with a cataclysm that is limited to Noah’s people. They were punished for their sins, as were other ungodly peoples. The Qur’an does not fix the cataclysm in time. There are absolutely no historical or archaeological objections to the narration in the Qur’an.
A third point of comparison, which is extremely significant, is the story of Moses, and especially the Exodus from Egypt of the Hebrews. Here I can only give a highly compressed account of a study on this subject that appears in my book. I have noted the points where the Biblical and Qur’anic narrations agree and disagree, and I have found points where the two texts complement each other in a very useful way.
Among the many hypotheses, concerning the historical time-frame occupied by the Exodus in the history of the pharaohs, I have concluded that the most likely is the theory which makes Merneptah, Ramesses II’s successor, the pharaoh of the Exodus. The comparison of the data contained in the Scriptures with archeological evidence strongly supports this hypothesis. I am pleased to be able to say that the Biblical narration contributes weighty evidence leading us to situate Moses in the history of the pharaohs. Moses was probably born during the reign of Ramesses II. Biblical data. are therefore of considerable historical value in the story of Moses. A medical study of the mummy of Merneptah has yielded further useful information on the possible causes of this pharaoh’s death. The fact that we possess the mummy of this pharaoh is one of paramount importance. The Bible records that pharaoh was engulfed in the sea, but does not give any details as to what subsequently became of his corpse. The Qur’an, in chapter Yoonus, notes that the body of the pharaoh would be saved from the waters:
“Today I will save your dead body so that you may be a sign for those who come after you.” Qur’an, 10:92
A medical examination of this mummy, has, shown that the body could not have stayed in the water for long, because it does not show signs of deterioration due to prolonged submersion. Here again, the comparison between the narration in the Qur’an and the data provided by modern knowledge does not give rise to the slightest objection from a scientific point of view.
Such points of agreement are characteristic of the Qur’anic revelation. But, are we throwing the Judeo-Christian revelation into discredit and depriving it of all its intrinsic value by stressing the faults as seen from a scientific point of view? I think not because the criticism is not aimed at the text as a whole, but only at certain passages. There are parts of the Bible which have an undoubted historical value. I have shown that in my book, The Bible, The Qur’an and Science, where I discuss passages which enable us to locate Moses in time.
The main causes which brought about such differences as arise from the comparison between the Holy Scriptures and modern knowledge is known to modern scholars. The Old Testament constitutes a collection of literary works produced in the course of roughly nine centuries and which has undergone many alterations. The part played by men in the actual composition of the texts of the Bible is quite considerable.
The Qur’anic revelation, on the other hand, has a history which is radically different. As we have already seen, from the moment it was first commto humans, it was learnt by heart and written down during Muhammad’s own lifetime. It is thanks to this fact that the Qur’an does not pose any problem of authenticity.
A totally objective examination of the Qur’an, in the light of modern knowledge, leads us to recognize the agreement between the two, as has already been noted on repeated occasions throughout this presentation.
It makes us deem it quite unthinkable for a man of Muhammad’s time to have been the author of such statements, on account of the state of knowledge in his day. Such considerations are part of what gives the Qur’anic revelation its unique place among religious and non-religious texts, and forces the impartial scientist to admit his inability to provide an explanation based solely upon materialistic reasoning.
Such facts as I have had the pleasure of exposing to you here, appear to represent a genuine challenge to human explanation leaving only one alternative: the Qur’an is undoubtedly a revelation from God.