29 January 2012

Deuteronomy (דְּבָרִים)

Like many of the books in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy also has separate Greek and Hebrew names. While the word ‘Deuteronomy’ is of Greek origin which means "second law" (That’s the reason it is sometimes called இணைச் சட்டம் in Tamil), the Hebrew title ‘Devarim’ (דְּבָרִים‎) means ‘words’ (of God spoken through Moses). Just like how the Sura’s in the Qur’an are titled based on some of the key words that appear in the beginning of the chapter, this Hebrew title is also based on the opening phrase in the very first verse “eleh ha-devarim” which means "These are the words..." (Deut 1:1). In Tamil, the book is also called ‘உபாகமம். Deuteronomy has 959 verses and is the fifth and last book of the series of five books (Pentateuch) attributed to Moses.  With this we come to an end of the major scripture of the Jews, the Torah, which the Qur’an refers by name Taurat (توراة).

Deuternomy, besides recapitulating or recounting (i) the post-Exodus history of the Jews, (ii) their wanderings and conquests in the wilderness and (iii) the teachings of 10 commandments, it also contains warnings and promises and rewards and punishments the Lord of the Jews has laid out for Israelites for their obedience & disobedience of various domestic laws. The Book ultimately ends with the death of Prophet Moses, but not before it records his last counsel.

Deuteronomy has two verses that resemble the Kural in its idea. The directive “You shall not be partial in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike” (1:17) is very like the Kural “Justice may be called good only when it acts impartially regardless of the class of men” (தகுதி எனவொன்று நன்றே பகுதியால் பாற்பட்டு ஒழுகப் பெறின், Kural 111). Another verse in Deuteronomy describes the qualities of an ideal land: “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills” [8:7]. The Kural says “A land’s limbs are waters from rains, springs and well placed hills, and strong fortress.” (இருபுனலும் வாய்ந்த மலையும் வருபுனலும் வல்லரணும் நாட்டிற்கு உறுப்பு, Kural, 737). Let me now thrash out the three topics I would like to focus this week.

(1) Mantra of Jewish identity

In many religious and cultural traditions, certain phrases become a slogan or mantra of their identity. This phrase or sentence often becomes the most popular one to be displayed at home, offices, and in the modern days as a wallpaper in computers and laptops.  The origin of these key phrases usually come their respective scriptures or a well know literary work. For the Jews, it is their Shema which has its origin in Deuteronomy.

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD”;
 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your might.
And these words which I command you this day
shall be upon your heart;
And you shall teach them diligently to your children,
and shall talk of them when you sit in your house,
and when you walk by the way,
and when you lie down,
and when you rise.
And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand,
and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
And you shall write them on the doorposts
of your house and on your gates.
(Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

So the instruction is very specific, that the Jews will engrave this mantra “Hear,O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” in the heart, teach to children, recite it often and also display it at home. It has therefore become a statement of Jewish identity just like how the Shahada in Islam, Ek Onkar in Sikhism and Triratna in Buddhism has become the fundamental proclamations of these respective religions. Among these, Shema, Shahada and Ek Onkar, are summations of the monotheistic foundations of Judaism, Islam and Sikhism.

Ek onkar ()
Tiratna (त्रिरत्न)
Shahādah (الشهادة‎)
It is the symbol of unity of God in Sikhism, with all the three phrases emphasizing the attributes of a monotheistic God.
Triratna or Triple Gem refer to the three things that Buddhists are supposed to take refuge in Buddha, his Teaching and the Community.
The shahada is a Muslim’s faith in the unity or oneness of God (tauhid) and Prophet Muhammad as His messenger.  
(Ek Ōnkar)
ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ (Satnūm)
ਵਾਹਿਗੁਰੂ (Wāhegurū)
Buddham saranam gacchāmi
Dharmam saranam gacchāmi
Sangham saranam gacchāmi
لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله
Lā ilāha illallāh,
Muḥammad rasūl-allāh
God is one
His name is Truth
He is a wonderful Teacher
I go for refuge in the Buddha.
I go for refuge in the Dharma.
I go for refuge in the Sangha
There is no god except Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.
The first two phrases appear in the beginning of the Mūl Mantar, which is the opening prayer in the Sikh scripture Guru Granth Sāhib. The phrase “wāhegurū” appears elsewhere in the scripture (p. 1403).
This Triple Gem has its basis in Ratana Sūtta: The Jewel Discourse, a sutra in Sutta Nipāta (2.1) and Khuddakapātha (67).
Shahadat is not found the Qur’an as such like the Shema of Jews. Sura 112 is the most apt one that talks about the Unity of One God.

It is difficult pinpoint any particular slāka or mantra to be a unique and popular one in Hinduism. No doubt that the Gāyatri mantra is probably the most frequently used of all mantras, but I doubt if this could be equated to a Shahadah or Shema of the Jews. It is only a prayer and is more relevant to the entire opening recitations of Mūl Mantra of Sikhs and Sūrat Al-Fātiha of Muslims. We might consider ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ (तत् त्वम् असि) or "Thou are that" which appears in Chandogya Upanishad (6.8.7) as the possible one for Hinduism, but we do not see this being written everywhere like the “OM” symbol which seems to be the only symbol cosmopolitan.

(2) Torah and Qur’an

ךיהלא הוהיל ןה םימשה ימשו םימשה ׃הב־רשא־לכו ץראה
وَلِلَّهِ مَا فِى ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَمَا فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ ۚ وَإِلَى ٱللَّهِ تُرْجَعُ ٱلْأُمُورُ

Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.

To Allah belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth: To Him do all questions go back.
[Torah 5.10:14]
[Qur’an, 3:109]

Of all the religious scriptures I have read, it is to the Old Testament that the Qur’an resembles the most in spirit and content. Though the Qur’an recapitulates the stories of toils and struggles of prophets of the Old and New Testaments, particularly those of Moses and Jesus (referring to their scriptures as Taurat and Injeel), it is to the Old Testament that the essence and content of the Qur’an resemble. The resemblances come in the subject matters like sundry laws on what is permitted and forbidden and in divine retribution and commandments. Striking among these are the verses proclaiming the destruction of disbelieving communities and God inciting his believers to fight against those who refuse faith.  Presented in the table is below are some of exciting Qur’anic parallels found between Deuteronomy and Qur’an.

(a) Followers of Moses and Muhammad are told not get threatened by looking at the might of the opponents’ forces because they will have the support of God in their side
When you go forth to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. [20:1]
O Prophet, urge the faithful to fight. If there are twenty among you with determination they will vanquish two hundred; if there are a hundred then they will slaughter a thousand unbelievers, for the infidels are a people devoid of understanding. [8:65]
(b) Jews and Muslims are encouraged to fight people because they worship other gods, suppress the new revelation
Know therefore this day that he who goes over before you as a devouring fire is the LORD your God; he will destroy them and subdue them before you; so you shall drive them out, and make them perish quickly, as the LORD has promised you.
Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Apostle have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection. [9.29]
(c) Towns, people and cattle destroyed spoils taken as booty
And we captured all his cities at that time and utterly destroyed every city, men, women, and children; we left none remaining; only the cattle we took as spoil for ourselves, with the booty of the cities which we captured.
How many towns have We destroyed (for their sins)? Our punishment took them on a sudden by night or while they slept for their afternoon rest.  
And we utterly destroyed them, as we did to Sihon the king of Heshbon, destroying every city, men, women, and children. But all the cattle and the spoil of the cities we took as our booty.
How many were the populations We utterly destroyed because of their iniquities, setting up in their places other peoples? Yet, when they felt Our Punishment (coming), behold, they (tried to) flee from it. 
(d) Fighting is not prescribed if the people offer to surrender in peace
When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And if its answer to you is peace and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the LORD your God gives it into your hand you shall put all its males to the sword.
[20: 10-13]
Except for those who take refuge with a people between yourselves and whom is a treaty or those who come to you, their hearts strained at [the prospect of] fighting you or fighting their own people. And if Allah had willed, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you. So if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause [for fighting] against them. [4:90]
(e) Disbelievers are destroyed and subdued because they disobeyed the commandments
Know therefore this day that he who goes over before you as a devouring fire is the LORD your God; he will destroy them and subdue them before you; so you shall drive them out, and make them perish quickly, as the LORD has promised you. [9:3]
"And when We wish to destroy a town, We send Our commandment to the people of it who lead easy lives, but they transgress therein; thus the word proves true against it, so We destroy it with utter destruction." 
(f) Both texts permit women, captives of war, for marriage
and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and you have desire for her and would take her for yourself as wife,
[21: 11]
"Prophet, We have made lawful to you the wives whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has given you as booty;..."
(g) Both scriptures forbid soothsaying, divination, sorcery and the like
There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer,  or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
[18: 10-11]

(see also: Leviticus 19:26 "You must not practice either divination or soothsaying)
And (forbidden is it) that ye swear by the divining arrows. This is an abomination [5:3]
Said Moses: "Say ye (this) about the truth when it hath (actually) reached you? Is sorcery (like) this? But sorcerers will not prosper." [10:77]
When they had had their throw, Moses said: "What ye have brought is sorcery: Allah will surely make it of no effect: for Allah prospereth not the work of those who make mischief. [10:81]
(h) Lending money for interest is also an admonishment
You shall not lend upon interest to your brother, interest on money, interest on victuals, interest on anything that is lent for interest. To a foreigner you may lend upon interest, but to your brother you shall not lend upon interest; that the LORD your God may bless you in all that you undertake in the land which you are entering to take possession of it.

(See also Psalm 15:5)
Those who consume interest cannot stand [on the Day of Resurrection] except as one stands who is being beaten by Satan into insanity. That is because they say, "Trade is [just] like interest." But Allah has permitted trade and has forbidden interest. So whoever has received an admonition from his Lord and desists may have what is past, and his affair rests with Allah. But whoever returns to [dealing in interest or usury] - those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide eternally therein. [2:275]
(i) Law of divorce: Interesting to know that while Deuteronomy forbids a husband to remarry his wife after divorce, the Qur’an permits this but only after she gets married and divorced by another 
Then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring guilt upon the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance.
In Qur’an sura al-Baqara says,”…So if a husband divorced his wife he cannot after that remarry her until after she has married another husband, and he has divorced her, in that case there is no blame on either of them if they reunite…”

3) Higher than the heavens and deeper than the oceans
For this commandment which I command you this day
            is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.
It is not in heaven, that you should say,
            `Who will go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us,
            that we may hear it and do it?'
Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say,
            `Who will go over the sea for us, and bring it to us,
            that we may hear it and do it?'
But the word is very near you;
            it is in your mouth & in heart, so that you can do it.
(Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

The practice of using height of the heavens, depth of the oceans, at time even the width of the earth as examples to denote the farthest points of humanly possible limits is not uncommon to find in literary works of the world. In the above Biblical verse, these boundaries have been employed to assert that Yahweh’s commandments are not beyond the reach of his chosen people.

If you still keep asking “Where can I find the moral law?”, Doctrine of Mean provides the answer employing the very same examples of extremes. Doctrine of Mean is one of the Chinese classics attributed to Confucius, and is considered a guide to perfect oneself.  Quoting from the ancient Book of Songs, Confucius  interprets the reference to the soaring hawk and diving fishes this way.

The Book of Songs says,
            The hawk soars to the heavens above
            Fishes dive to the depths below.
That is to say,
            There is no place in the highest heavens above
            Nor in the deepest waters below
            Where the moral law is not to be found.
(Doctrine of Mean, 12)

How much you love me?” is perhaps the most often asked question that girls pose to their boyfriends. In the Sangam literature of Tamils, poet Thévakulattār employs the same extremes of measures to express the love of the heroin towards the hero.

Wider than the earth,
And higher than the sky,
And deeper than the vast ocean
Is my love for this man of the hills
            Where bees make honey
            From the black-stalked kurinchi flowers.
(Kurunthogai 3)
[Translator: Shanmugam Pillai & David Ludden]
நிலத்தினும் பெரிதே; வானினும் உயர்ந்தன்று;
நீரினும் ஆர் அளவின்றே- சாரல்
கருங் கோல் குறிஞ்சிப்பூக் கொண்டு,
பெருந்தேன் இழைக்கும் நாடனொடு நட்பே.

Or, how great is the stature or fame of a king? We say Akbar the Great, Alexander the Great, Ashoka the Great, but there is no yardstick to measure their greatness. How did then poets describe the greatness of their kings and emperors? The following poem from Tamil Sangam classic Paditruppathu, poet Kumattūr Kannanār describes the greatness of his king Imayavaramban Nedunchéralāthan in the following terms:

Your greatness is such in cannot be measured
Even like the land, and the shoreless sea,
The constant wind and the sky above.
(Patitruppattu, 2:14)
[Translator: A.V. Subramanian]

Is it possible for me to escape from the consequence of my evil deeds?” is a question that would be reverberating in the hearts of evil-doers. The Buddhist Dhammapāda reiterates that no one is exempted from the effects of evil karma.

Neither in the skies,
Nor in the depths of the ocean,
Nor in the rocky caves,
Nowhere upon the earth
   Does there exist a place
   where a man can escape from his evil deeds.
(Dhammapāda, 127)

Ven. Nārada interprets this verse with the following story: Three groups of monks went to see the Buddha. On their way one group saw a flying crow being burnt to death. Another group saw a woman being drowned in mid-ocean. The other group saw seven monks imprisoned in a cave for seven days. All of them wanted to know from the Buddha the reason for these occurrences. The Buddha related that the crow, as a farmer in a previous birth, had burnt a lazy ox to death, the woman had drowned a dog, and the monks, as cowherds in a previous life, had imprisoned an iguana in an anthill for seven days. The Buddha added that no one is exempt from the consequences of his or her past evil deeds.


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