Quranic Intertextuality with Jewish-Rabbinic Tradition: The Case of ‘the Cow’ in Q 2:67-74

One of the most ambiguous pericopes in the Quran is the one about ‘the (female) cow’ mentioned quite briefly in Q2:67–74, from which the Second Sura, al-Baqara (the Cow), takes its name. The first part of the pericope begins with Moses conveying God’s commandment ‘to slaughter a cow’. Being asked by the Israelites to provide details about the cow, more restrictions are given regarding its age, colour, and status until they slaughter the cow. The second half of the pericope vaguely indicates a murder supposedly committed among the Israelites and the divine resolution for it, stressing that while God shows His signs to the people, the Israelites’ hearts seem to become harder than stone. On the one hand, Muslim exegetical tradition created a more and or less coherent exegetical narrative concerning this passage which elaborates the story of an unsolved murder among the Children of Israel and therefore the whole pericope is understood simply as a reflection of the legal prescription in Deut. 21. Comparing to parallel texts in the Bible, on the other hand, certain Western scholars suggested that these verses are a mixture of two Biblical texts, i.e. Num. 19:1-19 (‘parah adumah’, red cow) and Deut. 21:1-9 (‘ʿeglah ʿarufah’, broken-neck heifer). This paper attempts to reconsider the Biblical and post-Biblical context of this typically cryptic and ambiguous Quranic passage and would suggest a third possibility for an intertextual reading of the Quranic passage through symbolic rather than literal interpretation of some Quranic expressions. According to this reading, the Quranic pericope on ‘the cow’ can be understood as a critical reflection of the complicated and somewhat paradoxical issue of ‘the Red Cow’ (Num. 19) on which one can find lengthy discussions in Rabbinic literature.