The largest surah in the Quran is, of course, the second in order, Al-Baqarah, containing many important commandments of the shariah, fasting and hajj and narrations relating the preceeding prophets to the Seal of the Prophets. It also contains the verse of the throne.
In particular, the surah narrates key two incidents in the relationship between Moses and the Israelites: their fall into idolatry and the cryptic commandment to sacrifice a “perfect” cow (found in Numbers 19 of the Torah). In the Qur’an, the Israelites are reluctant to sacrifice the cow at first, and proceed through three questions before they are satisfied with the “Truth” of what Moses speaks. Once satisfied, they sacrifice they cow, which is then used to awaken a murdered man from the grave.
The entire second surah is named Al-Baqarah — “The Cow” — not after the story of the Golden Calf, but after this perfect cow.
The question is — why is this Cow so important? What is it, precisely? And why does Israel require three moments of elucidation before they decide that Musa speaks the truth?
We can answer in three ways, of increasing detail.
First, we can say that Musa instructed Israel to sacrifice a Pefect, Yellow Cow to “clean up” the damage that was done by the worship of the golden calf. But to say this is simply to lay the signs before you: their Truth in relationship to you is not yet apparent.
In a second attempt, we might clarify and say: the Yellow Cow is exactly the Surah itself. Al-Baqarah is al-Baqarah. Its reading is its sacrifice. This does begin to involve you more — after all, reading is conducted by a reading subject. But, as the caterpillar inquired of Alice, who are you?
A third clarification is necessary.
Continue reading “The Yellow Cow”