Tablets of Moses (a)
Tablets of Moses (a) or Alwāḥ Mūsā (Arabic: ألواح موسی) are two tablets sent down to the Prophet Moses (a) on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. Upon witnessing the Israelites worshiping a calf, Moses (a) was infuriated and threw the tablets on the ground. According to Islamic sources, the broken pieces of tablets survived among the Israelites and were kept in the Ark of the Covenant. However, according to the Torah, Moses (a) went to Mount Sinai again, where another set of Tablets were sent down to him.
The divine revelation was inscribed on stone tablets and was then sent down to Moses (a). The Torah narrates the story as follows:
|“||Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, tablets that were written on both sides, written on the front and on the back. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets.||”|
|— Exodus 32:15-16|
Although the Qur'an is not explicit on the tablets being sent down in the "tryst" (mīqāt), it does say that when Prophet Moses (a) returned from the "mīqāt" and witnessed people worshiping a calf, he (a) threw down the tablets[Note 1], and when he (a) calmed down, he (a) picked up the broken pieces of the tablets again[Note 2]
Some Exegetes of the Qur'an such as 'Allama Tabataba'i believe that the tablets mentioned in the Qur'an are the same tablets mentioned in the Torah. Others maintain that they were sent down before the revelation of the Torah. Rashid Rida, the author of al-Minar, says about the relationship between the tablets and the Torah: "The Tablets were the first part of shari'a (religious law). Indeed, they were a concise version of the Torah, and then detailed rulings regarding worships, transactions, and the like were gradually revealed on different occasions. The same type of revelation is true of the Qur'an as well".
The tablets were kept in the Ark of the Covenant in the Solomon's Temple. Eventually, after Nebuchadnezzar's invasion of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, the Ark of the Covenant and tablets inside it were lost.
The Torah is explicit that there were two Tablets: "The two Tablets of the covenant". The Qur'an talks about "alwah"[Note 3] without referring to the number. Thus, there are different views among exegetes of the Qur'an with respect to the number of the tablets. Some of them believe that "alwaḥ", which is in plural form, was used instead of the dual form (muthanna), that is "lawḥayn" (Arabic:لَوْحَیْن), so the tablets were two.
The Qur'an characterizes the contents of the Tablets as follows without going into the details:
- And We wrote for him in the Tablets advice concerning all things and an elaboration of all things.
- He (Moses) picked up the tablets whose inscriptions contained guidance and mercy for those who are in awe of their Lord.
Breakage of the Tablets
The Prophet Moses (a) spent 40 days in Mount Sinai. When he returned, he brought with him the tablets on which the revelation was engraved. But when he witnessed the Children of Israel worshiping a calf, he was infuriated and threw down the tablets, and they broke. Some exegetes of the Qur'an believe that the reason why Moses (a) broke the Tablets was his anger of calf-worshiping by the Israelites.
Here is how the Torah narrates the story:
|“||As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses' anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.||”|
|— Exodus 32:19|
Renewed Descent of the Tablets
The Torah narrates the story of the second Tablets as follows:
|“||The Lord said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to me, on the top of the mountain. No one shall come up with you, and do not let anyone be seen throughout all the mountain; and do not let flocks or herds graze in front of that mountain.” So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the former ones; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tablets of stone.||”|
|— Exodus 34:1-4|
However, the Qur'an and other Islamic sources are not explicit about the second Tablets. Many exegetes of the Qur'an believe that the broken pieces of the first tablets survived among the Israelites and were kept in the Ark of the Covenant.
- The concept of "tryst" -"mīqāt" in Arabic"- is taken from the Qur'an 7:142.
- Ṭabāṭabāyī, al-Mīzān, vol. 8, p. 250.
- Qurṭubī, al-Jāmiʿ li-aḥkām al-Qurʾān, vol. 7, p. 289.
- Rashīd Riḍā, al-Manār, vol. 9, p. 164.
- Rashīd Riḍā, al-Manār, vol. 3, p. 131.
- Ibn Ṭāwūs, Al-Malāḥim wa l-fitan, p. 142.
- Exodus 32:15
- Rashīd Riḍā, al-Manār, vol. 9, p. 164.
- Qur'an, 7:145.
- Qur'an, 7:154.
- Exodus, 20:1-18.
- Qurʾān, 2:51.
- Qurʾān, 7:150.
- Ṭabarī, Jāmiʿ al-bayān, vol. 2, p. 388.
- Ṭabarī, Jāmiʿ al-bayān, vol. 9, p. 44.
- Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr al-Qurʾān, vol. 1, p. 508; Ṭabrisī, Jawāmiʿ al-jāmiʿ, vol. 1, p. 136.
- When Moses returned to his people, angry and indignant, he said, 'Evil has been your conduct in my absence! Would you hasten on the edict of your Lord?' He threw down the tablets. Qur'an, v:150
- "When Moses' indignation abated, he picked up the tablets whose inscriptions contained guidance and mercy for those who are in awe of their Lord." Qur'an, 7:154.
- "Alwaḥ" is a plural noun in Arabic and the plural form in this language equals at least three.
- Ibn Kathīr, Ismāʿīl b. ʿUmar. Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿAẓīm. Edited by Muḥammad Ḥusayn Shams al-Dīn. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmīyya, 1419 AH.
- Ibn Ṭāwūs, ʿAlī b. Mūsā. Al-Malāḥim wa l-fitan. Qom: Muʾassisat Ṣāḥib al-Amr, 1416 AH.
- Qurṭubī, Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-. Al-Jāmiʿ li-aḥkām al-Qurʾān. Tehran: Intishārāt-i Nāṣir Khusru, 1364 Sh.
- Rashīd Riḍā. Tafsīr al-Manār. Cairo: al-Hayʾat al-Miṣrīyya al-ʿĀmma li-l-Kitāb, 1990.
- Ṭabarī, Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-. Jāmiʿ al-bayān. Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifa, 1412 AH.
- Ṭabāṭabāyī, Muḥammad Ḥusayn al-. Al-Mīzān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān. Fifth edition. Qom: Daftar-i Intishārāt-i Islāmī, 1417 AH.
- Ṭabrisī, Faḍl b. al-Ḥasan al-. Jawāmiʿ al-jāmiʿ. Tehran: Intishārāt-i Dānishgāh-i Tehran, 1377 Sh.