Was the Torah given for guiding the Egyptians?

Another careless formulation in the Qur'an

The Qur'an makes the following statement about the mission of Moses:

Then We sent Moses and his brother Aaron with Our signs and a manifest authority
unto Pharaoh and his Council; but they waxed proud, and they were a lofty people,
and they said, 'What, shall we believe two mortals like ourselves, whose people are our servants?'
So they cried them lies, and they were among the destroyed.
And We gave Moses the Book, that haply they would be guided; S. 23:45-49 Arberry

There is no further explanation in the immediate context of this passage. The verses immediately before the quoted passage contain some general remarks about messengers, and S. 23:50 switches the topic again and makes a remark about Jesus and Mary. Reading this text the way it is formulated can only lead to the conclusion that the Book given to Moses was for the purpose of guiding the Pharaoh and his council who are representing the Egyptian people. There is no other referent for the last pronoun "they" in this passage.

This is obviously wrong as is well known from the Bible. And even the Qur'an says elsewhere:

Indeed, We gave Moses the Book; so be not in doubt concerning the encounter with him;
and We appointed it for a guidance to the Children of Israel. S. 32:23 Arberry

I do not say that the author of the Qur'an intended to teach that the Torah was given for guiding the Egyptians. I merely observe that this passage was formulated in a sloppy way so that it gives the wrong impression and creates a logical contradiction in the Qur'an when taking the text of S. 23:45-49 literally. S. 23:49 has to refer to the Children of Israel, but we can only know this because we know the full story. Taking S. 23:45-49 by itself results in a different meaning.

On second thought: Could there be more to this than meets the eye? Could it be that the author of the Qur'an really wants to say that the Torah was FIRST given to the Egyptians and that the Children of Israel only (later) inherited it from the Egyptians?

And, indeed We gave Musa (Moses) the guidance, and We caused the Children of Israel to inherit the Scripture [i.e. the Taurat (Torah)], S. 40:53 Al-Hilali & Khan

Admittedly, this sounds like a really weird interpretation. But it does not appear as strange anymore when we realize that the Qur'an actually teaches that Allah caused the Israelites to inherit the land of the Egyptians. Why not then inherit the scripture of the Egyptians along with their land?

And WE revealed to Moses, directing him, ‘Take away MY servants by night, you will surely be pursued.’ And Pharaoh sent summoners into the cities, announcing, ‘These are a small party, Yet they have offended us; And we are a multitude fully prepared and vigilant.’ So WE turned them out of gardens and springs, and treasures and an abode of honour. Thus it was; and WE gave them as heritage to the children of Israel. S. 26:52-59 Sher Ali

We will recite to thee something of the tiding of Moses and Pharaoh truthfully, for a people who believe. Now Pharaoh had exalted himself IN THE LAND and had divided its inhabitants into sects, abasing one party of them, slaughtering their sons, and sparing their women; for he was of the workers of corruption. Yet We desired to be gracious to those that were abased IN THE LAND, and to make them LEADERS, and to make them THE INHERITORS, AND TO ESTABLISH THEM IN THE LAND, and to show Pharaoh and Haman, and their hosts, what they were dreading from them. S. 28:2-6 Arberry

For a thorough discussion of this strange teaching of the Qur'an, see the article Israel, the Quran and the Promised Land.

Jochen Katz

The Incoherence of the Qur'an
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