Did the Prophet Isaiah truly walk naked for three long years?

A close examination of Isaiah 20:2: Did he indeed have to walk absolutely naked according to the passage?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

   “at that time the LORD spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot. Then the LORD said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.” (English Standard Version, Isaiah 20:2-4) [emphasis added]

A reader or an observer without any bias or vested interest in the Bible or Christianity, would hesitate little to come to the plain meaning as conveyed by the above excerpt from Isaiah 20: that the Prophet Isaiah, however strange as it may be, received admonition from his God to strip himself naked to the point of baring his rear end (buttocks) and to also walk completely barefoot, essentially then stark naked, as a shocking display to warn the Egyptians and the Cushites of impending doom that shall befall them where they too shall have to be stripped completely naked from top to bottom.

The avid Christian or believer in the Bible on the other hand, in this day and age, would be utterly shocked at this passage and may well dismiss the apparent meaning of the excerpt and scramble to find an alternative explanation, so as to satisfy his faith in a God that would only give sane commandments to His people, most especially His specially chosen ones, the Prophets, and would not in His Loving Kindness damn them to shame and embarrassment. None can capture the above conservative or fundamentalist sentiment better than the Reverend Daniel Waterland, D.D., who served as the Master of Magdalene College in Cambridge, Canon of Windsor and Archdeacon of Middlesex. He writes:

Isaiah XX. 3, 4.

  AND THE LORD SAID, LIKE AS MY SERVANT ISAIAH HATH WALKED NAKED AND BAREFOOT THREE YEARS FOR A SIGN AND WONDER UPON EGYPT AND UPON ETHIOPIA; SO SHALL THE KING OF ASSYRIA,&c. The Objector hereupon says: “How many commands did God give his Prophets, which, if taken according to the letter, seem unworthy of God, as making them act like madmen, or idiots!” As for instance, “the Prophet Isaiah walked for three years together naked for a sign.” The Objector, to do him justice, is not singular in finding fault with this place of the Prophet, nor in his so construing it as if the Prophet went stark naked, and for three whole years together, if the literal interpretation is to be admitted: and upon that supposition, he has some colour for saying, that such a command “seems unworthy of God,” as making the Prophet act like a madman, or an idiot.” [1]

We may understand from the above, that the staunch Bible Thumper, the Christian conservative or the fundamentalist, may strongly wish to dismiss the meaning of the text as plainly conveyed by the words therein so as to avoid painting a picture of a deity that is prone to exhortations of lunacy upon his prophets, to have them perform acts of insanity. And to this effect, many apologists and interpreters have come up with clever interpretations simply to evade the plain meaning of the text as it stands. And there are typically three different excuses, to satisfy Christian sensibilities, that are posited as alternative meanings to what is scripturally evident:

1. The ‘nakedness’ is only partial, in that he was only commanded to make bare the upper part of his body, while the lower part remained clothed apart from the feet that were to be barren too. This view finds its place in such individuals as Joseph Benson in his commentary where he writes, “Not wholly naked, but without his upper garment, as slaves and prisoners used to do, whose condition he was to represent. This action was both agreeable to the mode of instruction made use of in those times, and, as it was intended to excite the attention of the Israelites, was like very well adapted to promote that intention.”

Matthew’s Jesus performs a circus trick

Matthew’s Jesus performs a circus trick: Matthew 21:5 has Jesus riding on two donkeys into Jerusalem

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

  One of the most telling verses in the Gospel According to Matthew is verse 5 of chapter 21 and verse 7 of the same chapter confirms Matthew’s confusion of a quotation from the Old Testament that he tries to apply on Jesus. Herein lies evidence that Matthew had the capacity to invent history rather than report honestly events in a historical manner. Let us have a look at the verse in question.

“Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

The above translation comes from the New International Version. Some Bible translations try to blur the evident difficulty by omitting the conjunction between “donkey” and “colt”, thus making it appear as if Matthew understood the intention and meaning of the original verse that he quotes from the Old Testament in Zechariah 9:9. I have chosen the above translation as it captures more accurately the meaning of the original Greek than those amelioratory translations that placate fundamentalist and conservative believers of the Bible. The original Greek reads thus:

Εἴπατε τῇ θυγατρὶ Σιών Ἰδοὺ ὁ Βασιλεύς σου ἔρχεταί σοι πραῢς καὶ ἐπιβεβηκὼς ἐπὶ ὄνον καὶ ἐπὶ πῶλον υἱὸν ὑποζυγίου. (emphasis added)

The bold and underline segment of the verse in the original Greek above says ‘epibebekos epi onon kai epi polom’ which literally means “mounted on a donkey and on a colt”. Maarten J. J. Menken gives an accurate rendering of the original Greek into English in his work ‘Matthew’s Bible’: Tell daughter Zion: Behold, your king is coming to you, meek and riding on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” [1]

As mentioned above, the quotation in Matthew 21:5 is derived from Zechariah 9:9. The original text of Zechariah 9:9 shows that only one animal is intended as the one to be rode upon by the king, who is supposed to be Jesus in Matthew’s mind, and that the original text actually employs a Hebraic poetic device of parallelism of which Matthew was evidently unaware. Not understanding the concept of parallelism in Hebrew, Matthew commits the mistake of thinking that two animals were intended rather than one. The text of Zechariah reads as follows:

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The Hebrew reads:

גִּילִ֨י מְאֹ֜ד בַּת־צִיֹּ֗ון הָרִ֙יעִי֙ בַּ֣ת יְרוּשָׁלִַ֔ם הִנֵּ֤ה מַלְכֵּךְ֙ יָ֣בֹוא לָ֔ךְ צַדִּ֥יק וְנֹושָׁ֖ע ה֑וּא עָנִי֙ וְרֹכֵ֣ב עַל־חֲמֹ֔ור וְעַל־עַ֖יִר בֶּן־אֲתֹנֹֽות׃ (emphasis added)

The bold and underline part in the verse above says, “werokeb al hamor we’al ‘ayir ben ‘atonot” which means “and riding on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a donkey”. That would be a literal rendering of the Hebrew (but it should be noted that ‘atonot אֲתֹנֹֽות actually means ‘she-asses’ in its literal sense) and to the uninitiated it would appear to correspond to Matthew 21:5. But in fact, it does not. The ‘waw’ used in the verse between ‘hamor’ (donkey) and ”ayir’ (colt) is understood, in context and in language, as an explicative (even) rather than a connective or a conjunction (and). Biblical scholar Lee Martin McDonald explains:

“In Matthew’s telling of the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, he, like the other evangelists, quotes a passage from Zechariah 9:9, but apparently interprets that passage to indicate that there are two animals brought to Jesus and he rode on both of them. Mark, Luke, and John all have but one animal involved. It would appear that Matthew understood the Hebrew letter waw in Zechariah 9:9 to be a connective rather than an explicative (“and” instead of “even” or “especially”), which the context in Zechariah demands and the other Gospels recognize. Matthew is probably using the Greek text of Zechariah in this instance, since the Greek kai (“and” or “even”) can be understood as an explicative (even) or a connective (and).” [2]

The rivals of Paul who were followers of Jesus

2 Corinthians 11:4 provides a clue to the existence of a powerful rival group that opposed Pauline Christianity

by Ibn Anwar BHsc (Hons), MCollT

   The text of 2 Corinthians 11:4 reads as follows:

“For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.”

From this verse, we may glean that there was at least one group that was prominent enough to receive Paul’s attention and compel him to spend ink on it that was teaching a different Jesus and a different gospel than what Paul was teaching as James Dunn writes, “Similarly in 2 Cor. 11.4 the “other Jesus” preached could refer to a differently interpreted Jesus tradition.” [1] Though little detail is given concerning this group, we may reasonably speculate about their fundamental beliefs that disconcerted Paul by looking at the content of the context of 2 Corinthians 11:4, with particular focus on what points that Paul emphasise therein.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, one of his primary concerns is with the crucifixion of Jesus, the belief that Jesus suffered and died as a sin offering. As James Dunn writes, “The most distinctive emphasis of Paul’s preaching on Jesus, however, was on Jesus’ crucifixion… in 1 Cor. 2.2 Paul recalls how ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. For in Cor. 15:2 he recalls the message he had preached to the Corinthians, including the message that ‘Christ died for our sins…” [2] From the emphasis Paul puts on this theme, we may discern that those mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:4 may well have opposed this belief that Paul was propagating. To this effect, commenting on the phrase “another Jesus” in 2 Corinthians 11:4 the scholar Colin Kruse writes:

“It may well be that in their preaching Paul’s opponents stressed the power and glory of Christ to the virtual exclusion of the fact that he had also known weakness, humiliation, persecution, suffering and death. Paul preached Christ crucified as Lord, so a proclamation like that outlined above would seem to him to be the preaching of another Jesus.” [3]

This means that anyone who did not preach that Christ was crucified as Lord, that he suffered humiliation, persecution, suffering and ultimately death on the cross was antithetical to Paul’s ministry and was therefore preaching another Jesus.

David Garland who is Dean of George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University, likewise, writes:

“Another Jesus” refers to a different interpretation of Jesus that is not congruent with with the facts of Jesus’ life and death. Paul’s emphasis in 13:4, that Christ was “crucified in weakness,” suggests the possibility that the rivals presented a Jesus who was not “weak, suffering and humiliated.” They may talk about Christ, but Christ crucified is not the heart of their gospel nor does it influence the way they live.” [4]

Is ‘Isa a fake name of Jesus invented by Islam?

Refuting the falsehood that ‘Isa is not the real name of Jesus

by Ibn Anwar, BHSc (Hons.), MCollT

     In my rather long experience in engaging with Christians, they have often questioned the validity of identifying Jesus with the Qur’anic name that is given to him: ‘Isa (عيسى). They would argue that Arab Christians have long identified this individual that we today generally know as Jesus as Yasu’ (يسوع) and so there is no historical basis for the name ‘Isa. In this brief article we shall examine the validity or lack thereof of the Islamic usage of the term ‘Isa as the historical name of the son of Mary who lived some 2000 years ago in Palestine.

    Before we begin looking at the various names that are attributed to the son of Mary, we should have a little grasp of the historical context within which the son of Mary lived, with particular focus on the language that was used, at the time in the son of Mary’s locality and what his own native language would have been. We now know for certain that the language used by Jesus and those around him in Palestine was Aramaic. This fact is attested by the Catholic theologian Lucien Deiss who writes, “Jesus’ mother tongue was Aramaic.” [1] Similarly, Robert H. Stein writes, “Gustav Dalman at the turn of the century clearly demonstrated that the native tongue of Jesus was Aramaic.” [2] And Sang-ll Lee makes it rather unequivocal that, “…the consensus of modern New Testament scholars…Jesus spoke Aramaic as his matrix language.” [3] We have thus established that the language that was used by Jesus and his local compatriots was in fact Aramaic (or sometimes called Syriac).

  A pertinent question that may follow from the above elucidation would thus be, “What was the name of Jesus in Aramaic?” And from this question we may certify whether the Arabic name ‘Isa has any historical validity or not. Before we answer this question however, we may well ask, “Where did the name Jesus come from?” How is this a relevant and valid question? Well for starters, when Jesus lived in Galilee, Palestine the letter ‘J’ that we are so familiar with in our Roman alphabet did not exist. In the time of Jesus, the local dialect that was spoken, that is, the language of the common folk was Aramaic and we cannot stress this enough. Hebrew on the other hand was the language of the learned elite that was used by the Pharisees for learning and liturgical purposes. So in Hebrew, Jesus’ name would have been Yeshua or Yehoshua (ישוע or יהושע) and this was then rendered into Iesus (Ἰησοῦς) in Greek as the New Testament authors, who spoke Greek, started writing about Jesus. This then was borrowed into Latin and much later, when English became the more prominent language that eventually replaced Latin, the term Iesus (or in its genitive form Iesu e.g. initium evangeli Iesu Christi Filii Dei in Mark 1:1) took the form of Jesus. From this short historical account of the formation of the name Jesus, we may say that there is a rather huge gap between the original name of Jesus with the much later invention of his name, that is, Jesus in English.

Bringing world renowned scholar Assoc. Prof. Dr. Reza Aslan down to size

When the lion bit more than he could chew

by Ibn Anwar BHsc (Hons)

I once had the greatest admiration and respect for Assoc. Prof. Dr. Reza Aslan (the latter means lion in Persian) for his academic prowess and courage to publicly challenge the presumptions of the likes of Sam Harris and Robert Spencer. I was confident in his ability as a qualified scholar of religion boasting several degrees in the field. Reading his books, articles and listening to many of his speeches and debates made me sure that he was well grounded in the mainstream academic discourse and the rigorous methodology that comes with it – its foundation being research and evidence for any proposition. Unfortunately, this mountain of approbation and veneration crumbled to pieces when I came across a radio interview with Business FM Malaysia that he had on a local Malaysian issue that has caused much confusion and bitterness between the majority Muslim community and the minority Christians in the country; that is, should Christians be allowed to use ‘Allah’ in their liturgical ceremonies, ecclesiastical practices and religious publications.

The radio show began by singing paeans to Aslan and lionizing his person by listing his impressive set of qualifications that include a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies in the History of Religions from Harvard University, A Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing from the University of Iowa and a PhD in the Sociology of Religions from the University of California. No doubt, these would be the building blocks of a most laudable resume. What is sad about the whole affair is that Aslan completely put to shame those imposing degrees the moment he opened his mouth to comment on a question put to him, “What is your take on it?” Perhaps his erroneous thoughts were the result of overconfidence resulting from the golden platter of extolment that was royally presented to him by the radio talk show hosts. Whatever the reason was he came confidently to the fore and said the following:
“My take is the historical take on it. It is not an interpretation. It’s a historical fact (he pressed on the word fact to emphasise the claim). Allah is a construction of the word ‘al-ilah’. That is what the word is. ‘Al-Ilah’ means ‘the God’.” (words in parentheses are mine)

Did the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. intend to commit suicide?

Examining the charge that the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. desired to commit suicide

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons)

   Among the many nefarious attacks that are thrown at the prophet Muhammad s.a.w. none has received so scarce and miniscule a treatment as the serious charge that the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. intended to kill himself by jumping off a cliff. This is one of the favourite charges levelled against Islam by Arab Christian polemicists. Is there any truth to it? Let us begin by reading the tradition(hadith) in question:

Waraqa said, “This is the same Namus (i.e., Gabriel, the Angel who keeps the secrets) whom Allah had sent to Moses. I wish I were young and could live up to the time when your people would turn you out.” Allah’s Apostle asked, “Will they turn me out?” Waraqa replied in the affirmative and said: “Never did a man come with something similar to what you have brought but was treated with hostility. If I should remain alive till the day when you will be turned out then I would support you strongly.” But after a few days Waraqa died and the Divine Inspiration was also paused for a while and the Prophet (peace be upon him) became so sad as we have heard(come to know) that he intended several times to throw himself from the tops of high mountains and every time he went up the top of a mountain in order to throw himself down, Gabriel would appear before him and say, “O Muhammad! You are indeed Allah’s Apostle in truth” whereupon his heart would become quiet and he would calm down and would return home. And whenever the period of the coming of the inspiration used to become long, he would do as before, but when he used to reach the top of a mountain, Gabriel would appear before him and say to him what he had said before. (Ibn ‘Abbas said regarding the meaning of: ‘He it is that Cleaves the daybreak (from the darkness)’ (6.96) that Al-Asbah. means the light of the sun during the day and the light of the moon at night). (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 87, hadith 111)

The above hadith indicates that the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. attempted to commit suicide several times whenever there was a pause in the revelation (fatra al-wahy). This story is extremely suspect on many levels despite the fact that it is included in Bukhari’s Jami’ al-Sahih. Dr. Mohar Ali has a good treatment on the matter and he shows that the text and chain of transmission both show that the story is actually inauthentic:

“This story of extreme frustration on the Prophet’s part on account of the pause in the coming of wahy and, in consequence, of his alleged suicide attempts, is not at all worthy of credence. As Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani points out, the story is only an addition and surmise on Al-Zuhri’s part and no statement of the Prophet himself, nor of A’ishah (r.a.) nor even of ‘Urwah ibn al-Zubayr (Fath al-Bari, XII, 376. Ibn Hajar’s words are:من بلاغات الزهري وليس موصولا) . This addition has been so mixed up with the text that it appears to be part of the original narration. That it is Al-Zuhri’s addition is very clear from his qualifying clause, “as we have come to know”, with which he introduces this section. Had it been the Prophet’s or A’ishah’s (r.a.) statement, there would have been no need to add this expression, for the chain of narrators had already been given at the beginning of the narration.

The second technical defect in the story has been pointed out by Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani. He states that it is a shadh (strange or odd) report in that it has come down only once through a chain of narrators subsequent to Al-Zuhri among whom there is Ma’mar, and that in all other forms in which the matter is reported, even though Ma’mar is mentioned as one of the narrators, this addition does not occur. Nor is this addition found anywhere else with an uninterrupted chain of narrators worthy to be cited as evidence.

Apart from these technical considerations, the Prophet’s character and personality do not admit of such a conduct on his part. The story is all the more unworthy of credence because it speaks not of one such alleged suicide attempt but several such attempts; as if the assurance given by Jibril for the second time (i.e. after the first appearance at the cave of Hira’) would not have satisfied the prophet! The story might have originated, as one scholar points out, in someone’s seeing the prophet frequenting the hills, as he naturally did during the pause in the coming of wahy, and then supposing on the basis of that sight that the Prophet was about to throw himself down from the top of the hill! And once such a surmise was circulated it easily found its place in subsequent reports with further mixing up of the facts and circumstances (See Musnad, II, 232-233; Abu Nu’aym, Dala’il, 68-69; Al-Bayhaqi, Dala’il, I., 393-395.)” [1]

Biblical Taqiyyah (Dissimulation)

The Bible teaches and promotes dissimulation

by Ibn Anwar BHsc. (Hons), MCollT

To accuse Islam of teaching dissimulation(taqiyyah) and its adherents of practising it is one of the most common tactics employed by critics and detractors of Islam in their relentless crusade to demonise the faith. Many Christians gladly hop on the bandwagon peddling the mantra at every street corner, shouting to one and all, “Muslims do taqiyyah. Never believe them!”.  Do Christians never lie? “No, real Christians will not lie!” answers the deluded cultic Christian. The more edified ones will concede saying, “yes, Christians do lie as well, but the difference between Islam and Christianity is that the Bible does not teach or promote lying in any way while the Qur’an and Sunnah do.” Really? Even a “white lie” is sinful according to the Bible? “Yes, even a white lie is wrong. No such thing as a white lie!” says the confident Christian.

In this article we will not concern ourselves with what taqiyyah truly means in Islam and whether its representation by its critics is accurate or not. That execrcise can be done at a later date. In the meantime, it is sufficient to mention here that most Muslims have never heard of the term in their entire life as is readily admitted by so called ex-Muslims themselves (refer to the video at the end of the article). In this article we will unpack the question of whether the Bible is truly immune from promoting dissimulation or deception. Our first subjects are Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives of Exodus 1. Who were these fine women exactly? Let us turn to Exodus 1:15-22.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah,“When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.” (Exodus 1:15-22)

In summary, Pharoah instructed Shiphrah and Puah to murder newborn Hebrew male babies. They did not follow through with the order as they feared God. They let the boys live. The Phraoah found out that they did not complete their task and summoned them to answer for their failure. They feigned innocence and ignorance by deceiving the king that they could not reach the women on time when they gave birth. Their lives were clearly spared by their deception and God rewarded them for their deed without reproaching their lie in any way. Is this not a clear example of dissimulation? President of the Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary in Portland, Oregan, Dr. Daniel R. Lockwood writes:

“The faith of the midwives, named Sephirah and Puah, is a breathtaking story (Exod. 1:15-22). Pharoah personally gives them their ghoulish assignment, probably to discourage any disobedience. But surprisingly they conspire to disobey Pharaoh and deceive him. And their plan works.


Furious, Pharoah declares an all-out genocide on Hebrew male infants. Yet he accepts the midwives’ story with little investigation, and we are privy to the reason why. These women fear the Lord and obey him; and, though they likely expect to die, God favors them with both life and prosperity.” [1] (emphasis added)