Michael E. Pregill is a scholar of comparative religion, specializing in the history of the scriptural cultures of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Much of his research focuses on the reception of biblical, Jewish, and Christian traditions in the Qur’an and Islam. He lives and teaches in Los Angeles, California.
This book explores the story of the Israelites’ worship of the Golden Calf in its Jewish, Christian, and Muslim contexts, from ancient Israel to the emergence of Islam. It focuses in particular on the Qur’an’s presentation of the narrative and its background in Jewish and Christian retellings of the episode from Late Antiquity. Across the centuries, the interpretation of the Calf episode underwent major changes reflecting the varying cultural, religious, and ideological contexts in which various communities used the story to legitimate their own tradition, challenge the claims of others, and delineate the boundaries between self and other. The book contributes to the ongoing reevaluation of the relationship between Bible and Qur’an, arguing for the necessity of understanding the Qur’an and Islamic interpretations of the history and narratives of ancient Israel as part of the broader biblical tradition. The Calf narrative in the Qur’an, central to the qur’anic conception of the legacy of Israel and the status of the Jews of its own time, reflects a profound engagement with the biblical account in Exodus, as well as being informed by exegetical and parascriptural traditions in circulation in the Qur’an’s milieu in Late Antiquity. The book also addresses the issue of Western approaches to the Qur’an, arguing that the historical reliance of scholars and translators on classical Muslim exegesis of scripture has led to misleading conclusions about the meaning of qur’anic episodes.
Preface and Acknowledgements
Note on Style
1: Introduction: Method and Context in the Study of Bible and Qur’an
Part I: Foundations
2: Biblical Beginnings: The Calf of Sinai, the Calves of Jeroboam, and the Invention of Idolatry
3: Early Jewish Interpretation: An Opportunity for Repentance, a Pretext for Polemic
Part II: Jews, Christians, and the Contested Legacy of Israel
4: A Hard Yoke upon Their Neck: Patristic Polemic and Amoraic Apologetic
5: The Syrian-Palestinian Milieu in Late Antiquity: The Contested Legacy of Aaron and the Priesthood
Part III: The Qur’anic Calf Episode
6: The Qur’anic Calf Episode between Orientalism and Islamic Tradition
7: A Living Calf at Sinai? Reevaluating the Qur’anic Calf Episode
8: Rescripting Sinai: The Qur’an in the History of Interpretation of the Calf Episode