“The Foremost of Believers:” The Egyptians in the Qur’ān, Islamic Exegesis, and Extra-Canonical Texts
Date: 8 December 2014
University of Exeter
PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies
From the perspective of the Hebrew Bible the Egyptians represented the quintessential “other” to the Israelites - lascivious, idolatrous, tyrannical, hostile and murderous. The biblical characterization of the Egyptians may be explained by the historical context in which early Israel emerged, a context in which Egypt represented a ...
From the perspective of the Hebrew Bible the Egyptians represented the quintessential “other” to the Israelites - lascivious, idolatrous, tyrannical, hostile and murderous. The biblical characterization of the Egyptians may be explained by the historical context in which early Israel emerged, a context in which Egypt represented a political, military and cultural threat to Israel’s survival and distinctiveness, and in which the Israelites came to regard themselves as a covenanted people, in a unique and exclusive relationship with their God. This biblical perspective was inherited to some extent by the early Christian community, which according to the apostle Paul has been grafted into Israel’s salvation history, and thus continued to associate the Egyptians with idolatry and base morality. The Islamic assessment of the ancient Egyptians, as presented particularly by the Qur’ān, extra-canonical works and commentaries, and how it compares to biblical and extra-biblical views, is the subject of this study. Drawing on distinctions of covenanted and missionary identities as described in Anthony Smith’s Chosen Peoples (2003), this thesis hypothesizes that the Qur’ān and Islamic tradition with their pronounced missionary thrust present a rather different image of the “other,” particularly the Egyptians, given the historical context in which Islam emerged. This study presents a unique examination of the Egyptians in the Qur’ān and extra-canonical texts as related through their encounters with the prophets Ibrāhīm, Yūsuf, Mūsā and ‘Īsā. It combines a detailed exegetical and intertextual study of revelant Qur’ānic verses with an analysis of extra-canonical texts such as the qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā’ and traditions such as are found in al-Ṭabarī’s al-Ta’rīkh al-rusul wa’l-mulūk. Moreover, this thesis addresses historical, Egyptological and archaeological issues, and how the Qur’ānic portrayals of the Egyptians in particular reflect the concerns and values of the early ummah, a community of believers which not only struggled to survive the hostilities of the Quraysh, but which sought to bring them and others to faith in the God of Ibrāhīm.
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