”Another example of the Incoherence of the Qur'an”
Intelligence tests often use questions in a format like this 1: "What does not belong? Circle the item which does not belong into this group: [spoon, knife, fork, hammer]."
The Qur’an makes the following statement regarding the recipients of divine revelation:
“We have revealed to thee as We revealed to Noah, and the Prophets after him, and We revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, Jesus Christ and Job, Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and We gave to David Psalms, 4:163;
Which entry on this list does not really belong there? Which is "the odd one" because it is different from all the others? That was not too difficult: What are "the Tribes" doing in a list of prophets? However, adding "the Tribes" into this list of "recipients of revelation" certainly raises the question:
How and when did "the Tribes" receive revelation in the same way as the others on that list? After all, the main point of this verse is this claim of similarity: "We have revealed to thee (Muhammad) AS we have revealed to Noah, and ..."
Yes, the tribes did receive revelation, but the Qur’an is mixing two categories. Noah, Abraham, David, etc. are people to whom God spoke, to whom he gave direct revelation. Let's call them first-hand recipients of revelation. The Tribes are second-hand recipients of revelation. They received the Word of God through the Prophets living at their time (the 1st-hand recipients) like Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah, etc. We, today, are third-hand recipients as we did not receive revelation directly through living prophets, but through the second-hand recipients who have passed it on. However, the difference between second-hand and third- hand recipients is relatively minor. The big difference is between first-hand and second-hand recipients. In other words, the Qur’an is mixing apples and oranges. He is confusing the categories of recipients of revelation. Most English translations correctly render the Arabic term "al-asbat" as "the Tribes". However, a number of translators were apparently rather uncomfortable with the inclusion of "al-asbat" (the Tribes) in this list of prophets, and they decided to "adjust" the meaning of it by substituting this word with something else in English, or leaving it untranslated and then "explaining" the term in a different way:
… the Patriarchs, Khalifa;
…and his children and WE gave David a Book. Sher Ali;
…and Al-Asbat [the twelve sons of Ya'qub (Jacob)], (Psalms). Al-Hilali & Khan;
These three substitutions or explanations are basically the same. They created a harmonization for this verse, have removed this problem in 4:163 by using dishonest translation, and their manipulation of the meaning is itself evidence that there is indeed a problem. That "al-asbat" means "the Tribes" can easily be seen in 7:160. However, even if we were to accept the translation "the Patriarchs", it will not really help the credibility of the Qur’an. There is no record that God spoke to all the sons of Jacob directly in the way he spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob's son Joseph is the only one of the 12 who is special in this regard. Jacob's sons were not all prophets. Substituting "the tribes" with "the patriarchs" only replaces one kind of error with another. Moreover, the Qur’an does not paint too flattering a picture of the sons of Jacob. According to 12:8, the sons of Jacob call their father dalal ("far astray", a word that the Qur’an usually uses for the unbelievers). Furthermore, they plotted to kill their brother Joseph, a prophet of God (12:9), but in the end "only" sold him into slavery (). They lied to their father Jacob first about their intentions regarding Joseph and afterwards about what they had done to him (-18). Interpreting al-asbat in 4:163 as "the patriarchs" means that the Q actually teaches that 11 prophets were plotting to kill another prophet, their brother Joseph, and they were repeatedly lying to their father, the prophet Jacob.
On second thought, putting Muhammad on one level with those patriarchs is maybe not so far off the mark? (*) Certainly more appropriate than equating him with Noah, Abraham or even Jesus Christ! Apart from this main blunder, there are a number of other strange features in 4:163
a) Given that Moses is the only prophet who is mentioned more often in the Qur’an than any other, and given the constant claim of Muslims that Muhammad was the awaited "prophet like Moses", it is rather curious that his name is omitted from this particular list which has the purpose of connecting the revelation given to Muhammad to the revelation given to earlier prophets.
Up to Jesus Christ, the names are given in chronological order but, starting with JC, the second half of the list is a chronological mess.
b) Whom does the phrase "and the Prophets after him" refer to? To prophets living in the time between Noah and Abraham? After all, this phrase is inserted into the chronological part of the list. Who are they supposed to be? The Bible does not mention any prophets between Noah and Abraham. Or does it refer to all prophets that came after Noah? Then this phrase would also include all the names that come after it. Why then mention them again?
c) "We have revealed to thee as we have revealed to ...": As mentioned above, the point that is made here is a claim of similarity. However, the only revelation that is named, the Psalms, are very much unlike the Qur’an. Even worse, Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob did not get any book, so that the comparison of Muhammad's experience of revelation with the revelation given to the first five persons named on this list seems to be rather pointless, at least in regard to authenticating Muhammad’s revelation by comparison with earlier revelation.
d) If revelation to the tribes, i.e. the Israelites, refers to the full Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testamen and the Bible, then Muslims need to face the issue that this Bible says that Ishmael did not receive revelation, and that he is not a prophet. This constitutes another element of incoherence in this verse.