Q 38 as Re-written Bible

The prophetic stories that form the core of Q 38 (David and the disputants, Solomon and the horses, and Job and the healing spring) pose several difficulties for scholars. First, the stories seem to have little that connects them to the rest of the sura, or indeed to each other. Second, the stories have elements which diverge significantly from biblical and para-biblical traditions. Finally, there are many aspects of the stories that remain difficult to understand, even after filling in gaps using the supposed biblical subtext. I propose to show that traditional exegetes and modern scholars have systematically misunderstood the prophetic stories, as both have tried to read them in light of their biblical parallels. Instead of assuming a biblical subtext, if we regard the stories as rewritten Bible, whereby highly original stories are created using biblical figures and themes, the interpretative problems are immediately solved. The David and Solomon stories give us contrasting ways in which two prophet-kings exercised political power, both of which were marked by an imbalance; David is neglecting his political responsibilities in favour of devotional worship of God, whereas Solomon, engrossed in preparations for war, is neglecting his personal piety. Both stories are then contrasted with the powerless Job, who regains full health through God’s intervention. This interpretation allows us to appreciate the role of these stories in a sura that deals with the leadership of the Meccan pagans and the persecution of the believers. More broadly, this study provides a counterweight to the impulse of many Qur’an scholars to impose a biblical subtext to Qur’anic stories at the expense of a close reading of the stories themselves.