More on rajim — banished from heaven or pelted with stones?


On the topic of the Qurʾānic word rajim used to describe Satan…An Ethiopic form of rajim (regemt) is used in the Ethiopic Bible (i.e. the Bible written in the ancient language of Ethiopia) for the cursing of the serpent in Genesis 3.14, and for the casting of the condemned into the fire with the devil in Matthew 25.41.  In other Ethiopic texts an adjectival form of this term is commonly used together with the word “Satan” in the phrase saytan ragum (compare the Quranic Arabic al-shaytan al-rajim).

The question regarding this term that has interested me is its relationship to the Arabic verb rajama, which comes from the same root but means “to stone” (used both for the stoning of people and for the stoning of pillars in the hajj).  Now elsewhere (Q 67.5) the Qurʾān describes the masabih (literally “lamps” but here it seems to be a reference to the stars) of heaven as rujum (a word from the same root as rajim and rajama).  Traditional Muslim scholars explain this verse with the tradition that God throws stars at demons, or “stones” with the stars (hence the idea that shooting stars occur when God – or an angel — is throwing a star at a demon).

However, the Qurʾān never actually has God doing such a thing – it mentions only that when demons or jinn try to listen into God’s conversations in heaven they are “pursued” by a shihab, a word which seems to mean something like a “fiery flash” (see Q 15.18; 37.10; 67.7; 72.9).

In order to explain the two different uses of the root r.j.m.  in the Qurʾān a scholar from the early 19th century, named van Vloten, argued that in the days of the Prophet Arabs used to throw stones (rajama) at snakes.  For this reason they began to call the devil “rajim” (he assumes that they connected the devil with snakes even though the Qurʾān does not have a snake in the Garden with Adam).  That is, they thought of the devil as a snake and liked to throw stones at snakes and so called him “the stoned one.”  I like van Vloten’s creativity…but perhaps he was too creative.

It seems that when the Qurʾān names Satan al-rajim it means simply to describe him as the one sent out or banished from heaven.  The Qurʾān means that Satan is an outcast from heaven.  It does not mean (imho!) that he is “stoned” or “pelted with stones.”

Ok — that’s it for my first modest post.  Happy to be here! Gabriel

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