Michael E. PregillJan 22, 2021
The Golden Calf Between Bible and Qur'an
Scripture, Polemic, and Exegesis from Late Antiquity to Islam
Oxford University Press 2020
In his exciting and thorough book, The Golden Calf between Bible and Qur'an: Scripture, Polemic, and Exegesis from Late Antiquity to Islam (Oxford, 2020), Michael Pregill explores the biblical and Qur'anic episode of the golden calf as understood by various Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sources. The incident refers, of course, to when the Israelites created a golden calf in the absence of the Prophet Musa. Pregill shows that the episode's various interpretations across time reflect the cultural, religious, ideological, social, textual, and other contexts in which the issue was being discussed. Each community sought to legitimate its own existence, theology, and tradition through its interpretation. So, for instance, the episode is central to Jewish and Christian arguments over the inheritance of the covenantal legacy of Israel. Each community also appropriates and subverts the apologetic renderings and tropes of the other communities, not passively accepting or rejecting but strategically negotiating with it to adapt to new contexts. The episode therefore becomes crucial for the community’s self-identification. More specific to Islam is a key component of his argument that while western academic scholars draw heavily from the tafsir tradition, they fail to situate the episode in its historical context in the late antique milieu.
In our discussion today, Pregill describes the golden calf episode at length from biblical and Qur’anic perspectives. He summarizes some of the major arguments and contributions of the book, identifies scholars with whom he is in conversation, discusses the status of Qur’anic studies today, reflects on the identity of the mysterious Samiri in the Qur’anic version, emphasizes the recent diminished importance and the dire need of exploring tafsir (Qur’anic exegesis) in the study of Islam, explains the relationship between western scholars of Islam (or the Qur’an specifically) and classical Muslim exegetes, and a lot more.
Shehnaz Haqqani is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Mercer University. She earned her PhD in Islamic Studies with a focus on gender from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018. Her dissertation research explored questions of change and tradition, specifically in the context of gender and sexuality, in Islam. She can be reached at email@example.com.