Did you know Jews worshiped Ezra as the Son of God? It seems they do…or at least, that seems to be the presentation given in much of Islam. Although most Muslims may not believe this, one of the most curious passages in the Quran is the one which states that Jews believe Ezra to be the Son of God. This statement is found in S. 9:30. Some translations of the verse are as follows (all emphasis is mine):
The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth! [Yusuf Ali]
And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they! [M. Pickthall]
And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away! [M.H. Shakir]
The Jews say: Ezra is the son of God; and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of God. That is the utterance of their mouths, imitating the utterances of those who disbelieved before [them]. God assail them! How they are deviated! [Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute Translation]
The Jews say, ’Ezra is the Son of God’; the Christians say, ’The Messiah is the Son of God.’ That is the utterance of their mouths, conforming with the unbelievers before them. God assail them! How they are perverted! [Arthur J. Arberry]
AND THE JEWS say, “Ezra is God’s son,” while the Christians say, “The Christ is God’s son.” Such are the sayings which they utter with their mouths, following in spirit assertions made in earlier times by people who denied the truth! [They deserve the imprecation:] “May God destroy them!” How perverted are their minds! [Muhammad Asad]
This is a curious passage because it is well known that Jews do not believe Ezra as the Son of God, especially in the same context as Christians with Jesus as the Son of God. Not even within the book of Ezra in the Bible do we find any such worship.
Ibn Kathir, famous 14th century Muslim scholar and commentary writer, doesn’t seem to argue whether Jews believed Ezra was the Son of God or not – in fact, he seems to accept it as fact. As written in the Tafsir Ibn Kathir:
As for the Jews, they claimed that `Uzayr was the son of God, Allah is free of what they attribute to Him. As for the misguidance of Christians over `Isa, it is obvious. This is why Allah declared both groups to be liars [source; emphasis mine]
The same with Tafsir al-Jalalayn:
The Jews say: Ezra is the son of God; and the Christians say: The Messiah, Jesus, is the son of God. That is the utterance of their mouths, for which they have no support, nay, imitating the utterances of those who disbelieved before [them], from among their forefathers, mimicking them. God assail, curse, them! How they are deviated!, turned away from the truth, despite the proofs having been established. [source; emphasis mine]
Where did this idea that Jews worship Ezra as the Son of God come from? Some scholars and translators, such as E.H. Palmer and Rodwell, claim it to be Mohammad’s imagination. However, this odd belief appears to be sourced to a small sect of Jews in Medina who accosted Mohammad for not believing that Ezra was a Son of God. The ahadith report on this:
According to a Tradition on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbās – quoted by Tabarī in his commentary on this verse – some of the Jews of Medina once said to Muhammad, “How could we follow thee when thou hast forsaken our qiblah and dost not consider Ezra a son of God?” [From Muhammad Asad’s commentary on S. 9:30, source]
I am aware that, because of this fact, many Muslims argue that this passage is not referring to all Jews, but a select few. Yet when we look at the original Arabic, and go to the specific parts regarding the Jews and Christians, we find no differentiation:
wa qalati al-yahoodu: The Jews say…
wa qalati al-nnasara: The Christians say… [source]
The grammar is practically the same for both. We know that the Quran consistently charges the Christians with false beliefs concerning Christ. Therefore just as this must refer to all Christians, so it must also refer to all Jews. The Quranic text itself (as well as the majority of translations) is very clear: the Jews and the Christians worship men as the Son of God. If it is indeed referring to only a small number of Jews, why the use of such language in this passage? Also, why is there no further differentiation between Judaism and its sects in the previous and following verses? The language of the Quran (just as in S. 9:30) is not specific but broad. S. 9:31, in fact, continues the charge against all Christians and keeps the same language.
Also problematic for this explanation is the fact that Mohammad himself said Jews (in a general, not specific, sense) worshiped Ezra as the Son of God, as found in valid ahadith discussing what will happen to unbelievers in hell:
“…Then the Jews will be called upon and it will be said to them, ‘Who do you use to worship?’ They will say, ‘We used to worship Ezra, the son of Allah.‘ It will be said to them, ‘You are liars, for Allah has never taken anyone as a wife or a son’…” [Sahih Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 105; emphasis mine]
“…Then it will be said to the Jews, ‘What did you use to worship?’ They will reply, ‘We used to worship Ezra, the son of Allah.‘ It will be said to them, ‘You are liars, for Allah has neither a wife nor a son’…” [Sahih Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 532s; emphasis mine]
“…Then the Jews would be summoned, and it would be said to them: What did you worship? They will say: We worshipped ‘Uzair, son of Allah. It would be said to them: You tell a lie; Allah had never had a spouse or a son…” [Sahih Muslim Book 001, Number 0352; emphasis mine]
Note the language. The Jews will be summoned (no specific language used), and they will be asked who they worshiped. They will say, “We worshiped Ezra, Son of God.” Therefore, it will be said to them exactly what is said to the Christians: God has no spouse and no son. Therefore, according to Mohammad, Jews will be cursed in hell and called liars because they worshiped Ezra as the literal Son of God…again, something which Jews do not do.
We have several facts to deal with: 1) the Quran states that Jews believe Ezra is the Son of God in the same way that Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God; 2) it is believed that only a certain amount of those, at least those that confronted Mohammad, believed Ezra was the Son of God; 3) Mohammad states regarding the Last Day that Jews will be condemned for worshiping Ezra as the Son of God; 4) even more horrifying, S. 9:30 wishes for Allah to “curse,” “fight” or “destroy” the Jews for this belief, despite the fact that only a small number held it. If you look at the previous verse (S. 9:29), it becomes apparent that Muslims are even told to make war with Jews for it. This is not solely my exegesis, but that of classical Quranic commentary as well:
[In relation to S. 9:29] Allah the Exalted encourages the believers to fight the polytheists, disbelieving Jews and Christians, who uttered this terrible statement and utter lies against Allah, the Exalted. [Continuing to S. 9:30] As for the Jews, they claimed that `Uzayr was the son of God, Allah is free of what they attribute to Him. As for the misguidance of Christians over `Isa, it is obvious. This is why Allah declared both groups to be liars [Tafsir Ibn Kathir, source]
One common argument is that the Jews of Medina referred to Ezra as a metaphorical Son of God – in other words, they venerated Ezra into a Jewish version of sainthood. Some Muslims have pointed me to Shia ahadith that verify this point of view with an exchange between Mohammad and the Medina Jews clarifying this manner. Of course, the first and most immediate problem with this argumentation is Islamic apologetics itself. Whenever Christ refers to Himself as “Son of God” in the New Testament, it is argued by many Muslims that it is used in simply a metaphorical sense. Yet if we are to believe that Mohammad (and indeed, Allah himself) condemned such a title for a man, then Jesus was at fault for using that very name for Himself. Therefore, Muslims cannot argue this in regards to S. 9:30 without becoming inconsistent in their apologetics.
Humorously enough, one finds the classic “Don’t use ahadith/Use ahadith” fallacy so common in Islamic apologetics coming into play here as well. While in discussion with a Muslim, I brought forward the sahih ahadith by Bukhari which cited Mohammad saying that “the Jews” will say they worshiped Ezra as the Son of God. As per classic strategy, the Muslim gentleman said you couldn’t trust all hadith sources. He then stated that the passage referred to only a small number of Jews in Medina. I pointed out that he could only come across such a conclusion by turning to the ahadith, as such clarification was not found in the Quran. I then asked him to present some common standard which could be used to verify what hadith source could be trusted and which could not. Either out of willful ignorance or lack of experience giving this point any serious thought, the gentleman proceeded to argue in a circle of, “You can’t trust any hadith…oh no wait, trust the hadith I’m giving.” My point in bringing this up is that, in trying to go to the ahadith to defend their understanding of S. 9:30, a Muslim is forced to address other strange passages in valid hadith sources which contradict their point or make it problematic. In denying one over the other, however, they merely present a double standards…and truth does not stand easy on double standards.
It would seem that Mohammad was guilty of either one of two things: 1) a logical fallacy known as a hasty generalization, which seeks to draw an erroneous opinion on many because of a small sample; 2) a poor grasp on the differentiation between veneration and worship, as he seems to confuse the worship of Christ as God to the veneration of prophets as godly men. If either were true, it would still mean one thing: because of this fault, Muslims are today given a book which has a strange and imperfect theological statement about another faith which they are forced to defend.
Let me present an example that can be understand from the opposite mindset, so that any Muslim readers coming across this can understand how Jews and Christians feel. Suppose there exists a prophet after the time of Mohammad, and this prophet grows up in the India/Pakistan area where a lot of Ahmadi Muslims live. He has limited meeting with Muslims, and most of the ones he meets are the Ahmadi (who are not considered orthodox by most Muslim groups). From his experiences with them, he puts into his scripture: “The Muslims say that Jesus is not buried in India.” Skip ahead 1400 years later: the followers of this prophet are forced to explain to orthodox Muslims why such a strange verse exists in their scripture. It would be a flawed belief based on a flawed theology – it would therefore make it a man-made scripture and religion.
If we were to believe that the Quran was simply God inspiring man, one could perhaps be somewhat forgiving – but we are told by Islam that the Quran is the literal word of God, as if God were there in the room speaking to us and telling us what to do. It is venerated by Muslims and treated with greater respect than any other item in the household or mosque. Yet this book is full of theological errors which could only come from man. I already touched on this blog regarding Mohammad’s errors regarding the Trinity – so too did Mohammad err in the belief of orthodox Judaism. As I asked in that post for the thinking reader to ponder, so I ask it here: if Allah’s word is flawed, and Allah has no understanding of a religion’s basic doctrine, and cannot differentiate between veneration and worship, and condemns an entire group for the beliefs of a few…is that the God of Gods, or is that a man-made doctrine based on man-made understanding? Is the error of S. 9:30 an error on the part of Judaism, or is it an error on the part of Mohammad?