How far would St Ephrem the Syrian recognise Moses in the Qur’an?

Dr. Elena Narinskaya
Junior Research Fellow, The Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies

Ephrem the Syrian, the fourth century theologian and poet, is well known for his commentaries on the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments. The purpose of this study is to establish a dialogue between the exegetical writings of this Christian Old Testament commentator and the narrative about Moses as presented in the Qur’an. It has been established that Ephrem in his Old Testament exegesis was heavily relying on the Jewish tradition of biblical exegesis.* It is also clear that the author/s of the Qur’an were familiar with both traditions of Jewish and Christian biblical exegesis. Therefore, comparative analysis of the thematic commentaries depicting Moses in the Qur’an and in Ephrem’s writings could highlight how each source interprets the biblical story of Moses’ life and ministry. The study will also aim to establish the influencing tendencies for each of the respective Christian and Muslim sources.

The study will start by setting four original sources in a line of chronological narration of the story of Moses. It will be expressed visually by a four column table. The first two columns represent the biblical narrative of the Old Testament and the development of that narrative should be by Jewish biblical exegetes. The final two columns will be set thematically in order to show how the portrait of Moses was received, adopted and presented in the writings of the Christian biblical exegete, Ephrem the Syrian, and in the suras of the Qur’an.

The outcome of the study will be an analytical comparison of the three monotheistic traditions of biblical exegesis as they are presented by the selected original sources for this study, i.e. Midrash Rabbah, biblical commentaries of Ephrem the Syrian, and the passages of the Qur’an. The conclusion of the study will aim to underline the unique and specific differences between each of the respective sources, and also to draw together the similarities in their presentations. Hence, the outcome of the study will show three examples within the three monotheistic traditions of the ways in which Mosaic biblical narrative of the Old Testament was reciprocated, appreciated and further developed by the authors of the analysed texts.