What if monkeys were gods?
Sura 2 verses 65-66Made to monkeys and pigs as punishment
“And you certainly know those of you who broke the Sabbath commandment. So we said to them: 'Be apes, despised!' And then we made this a punishment for contemporaries and offspring and an exhortation for those who fear God . "
The Koran speaks three times of people being turned into monkeys. In two cases (Sura 2 verse 65; 4: 163-166) the transformation represents a divine punishment for breaking the Sabbath, although the specific offense is not mentioned. In the third incident, God curses people he is angry with and turns them into monkeys and pigs. (5:60).
The series "Koran explains" as a multimedia presentation
The verses fit into a pattern from the Koran. They express the ambivalent attitude towards the so-called "people of the book" (ahl al-kitâb). This means Jews and Christians. Both are communities that once received divine guidance in the form of scriptures.
Reuven Firestone is an American rabbi and Koran expert. (priv.) On the one hand, Jews and Christians are respected as believers in the one great God (Sura 2 verse 62; 5:69; 22:17). On the other hand, according to the Koran, they fail to live entirely according to the divine commandments. They are said to have distorted the text or meaning of their scriptures. If demands were made, they would not comply with them (2: 101 and 174; 3:78; 4:46; 5:13, 41). In addition, according to the Koran, they refuse to accept the true uniqueness of God (4: 171; 5: 72-75, 116; 19: 88-93; 23:91). Their deficits ultimately open the door to a new divine message, brought on by the last and noblest prophet of God: Mohammed.
The verses quoted at the beginning represent a polemic against Jews and Christians. They do nothing different from earlier holy scriptures. These too contain polemics against established religious forces who reject new communities and their claim to the embodiment of the Holy Scriptures.
So most Jews opposed Jesus (Bible: Matthew 16 verse 1; 19: 3, 22: 23-46; Mark 10 verses 2-12), most pre-Israelite peoples against the Old Testament (Bible: 4th book Moses chapters 22-24) and most Jews and Christians against Muhammad. Like the scriptures before him, the Quran reacts with contempt to this resistance.
On the one hand, the Koran expresses its concerns through argument. On the other hand, he resorts to biblical narratives. Sometimes, however, the Koran also quotes stories that are not known from other sources. That is exactly what applies to both of our verses.
The older literature contains accounts of Israelites who violated God's expectations in various ways. Monkeys also appear in various ancient works. In Jewish and Christian traditions, however, there are no noteworthy depictions of God turning wrongdoers into monkeys. There are at most a few indirect indications. However, these do not serve as evidence that the Koran has borrowed the story from earlier works, as some orientalists believe.
The story in the Koran is unique. It impressively underpins God's providence and his demand for obedience. As a universally valid message, it is addressed to Jews and Christians as well as to those Arabs who follow traditional religions.
The transformation of malefactors into monkeys is part of a larger message found in the other monotheistic scriptures as well. It reads: Those who do good, avoid evil, and accept God's authority will be blessed and rewarded. Everyone else, however, will suffer.
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