72 Raisins?

Jan Antonsson


The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway

May 28, 2016

Neosho, MO

“These people honor me with their lips; but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matthew 15:8-9, NIV).

On Fareed Zakaria’s CNN Sunday broadcast, he interviewed a Muslim woman, Irshad Manji, on the subject of how the Qu’ran shapes our world politics today.  His question which got my attention, the topic of this writing, was this: “The Koran promises a martyr in the name of Islam, 72 virgins.  Is that true?” 

She flashed her winning smile and replied, “Nowhere in the Koran does it promise 72 virgins, 70 virgins, or 48 virgins.  What it promises, as far as heaven goes, is something lush.  The Arabic word for “virgin” has been mistranslated.  The original that was used in the Koran was the word for raisin, not virgin, in other words, that martyrs would get raisins in heaven, not virgins.”

That elicited a laugh from me as I pondered Fareed’s next comment,  “Imagine the surprise of the terrorists who imagined something completely different.”

Because I always like to research new information, I Googled it, and sure enough, found an interesting article from which I’ll relate two points:

  1. “Specifically, the Koran says martyrs going to heaven will get “hur,” and the word was taken by early commentators to mean “virgins,” hence those 72 concubines. But in Aramaic, hur actually meant “white” and was commonly used to specifically mean “white grapes.” That confirms what Irshad Manji told Fareed Zakaria, but an additional paragraph was equally interesting and a little scary:  
  2. “The real controversy is the notion that translations of Islamic holy text, including the Koran, have ever existed in the first place.  While the Bible has been rigorously, often even brutally, picked apart by scholars of every kind, the West has carefully avoided doing the same with the Koran. In the United States, where Arab and Islamic Studies rely on funding from the Gulf States, an interest in Koranic criticism is the foolproof way to commit career suicide. So for all intents and purposes, every word of the Koran came straight from heaven when Mohammed directly transcribed what the angel Gabriel told him to.”  End Quote.

I said this topic is somewhat scary, because I was remembering the attack on the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, in January, 2015. Jihadists killed 11 people and injured 11 others. Witnesses heard the gunmen shouting, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad,” and “God is Great” in Arabic while calling out the names of  the cartoonists.” (Taken from a BBC report).

You may also recall that Salman Rushdie’s novel, Satanic Verses, based on the life of Muhammad, won him world wide acclaim, as well as a Fatwa (a Death Sentence from Islamic authorities), for being disrespectful to the Prophet.

All these incidents and many more taken from world headlines came to me as I was planning to use the 72 raisins theme to make a point, dear to my heart, which is that even good men often make horrible mistakes when they interpret scripture to match up with their own agendas.  So I asked the Lord if was safe for me to write about this.  I got a green light from the Spirit, so I am writing about it.

In my childhood, the only Bible translation available to us was the King James Version, which my grandfather allegedly believed was dropped down from heaven on a silver cord.  It’s a glorious translation, literarily speaking, very lyrical and poetic, and to this day, when I’m given a scripture for my writings, I hear it in The King James Version.  I use that version in my computer Bible software to look up verses in translations which are clearer in meaning.

What’s wrong with The King James Version you may ask?  Benjamin Wilson, whose Emphatic Diaglot is a word for word Greek to English translation, stated that the KJV has 20,000 translation errors in it!  Not being a Greek scholar, I can’t confirm that number, but to me, one of the gravest errors is the mistranslation of “Gehenna” as “hell.”  The first piece the Spirit ever pressed me to write in 1998, is entitled, “Primrose Path to Gehenna.” (http://thegloryrd.com/1998/gehenna).

The source for that writing was Thomas Thayer’s book, The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment, published in 1871. (You can find it on http://tentmaker.org).

Thayer’s research shows that, “Gehenna occurs twelve times in the New Testament, and is always translated “hell.” The following are the texts: Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6. By consulting these passages the reader will see how many of them are simply repetitions, and how very few times this word is used, on which, nevertheless, more reliance is placed than on all others, to prove that “hell” is a place of endless torment.”  

Gehenna, originally a Hebrew word, signifies the Valley of Ben Hinnom.  Here the Jews offered their own children in sacrifice to the pagan god, Moloch. When King Josiah renewed the Covenant with God, he broke down the altars and shrines to all the pagan gods: “He desecrated Topeth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice his son or daughter in the fire to Molech” (II Kings 23:10, NIV).  

After that, Thayer points out,  “The place was held in such abomination that they cast into it all kinds of filth, and the carcasses of beasts, and the unburied bodies of criminals who had been executed. Continual fires were necessary in order to consume these, lest the putrefaction should infect the air; and there were always worms feeding on the remaining relics. Hence it came, that any severe punishment, especially an infamous kind of death, was described by the word Gehenna, or hell.”  End Quote. 

My generous sister and her husband treated Lenny and me to two trips to Israel. In the 2005 trip, on a bus tour of Jerusalem, we were traveling through an urban neighborhood, when our Israeli guide announced, “You are visiting Gehenna.  Now you can tell the folks at home that you’ve been to hell and back.”  The Israelis know that Gehenna is a physical location on the Southwest side of Jerusalem, NOT an everlasting destination.  Would to God that all Christians knew that today!

According to Jeremiah God said of this dreadful place, “They built the high places of Baal in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin” (Jeremiah 32:35, RSV).

So, if God felt that way then about this abominable practice, why do Christians today think He will use it on us if we die unrepentant?  In my youth, every sermon had a warning for us about burning in an everlasting flame if we didn’t shape up and repent of our sins.  Why?  Thayer believed that the Israelites who were carried off to Babylon for 70 years, picked up the belief in endless torment there.  

There’s no indication in the Old Testament that Israel feared hell after they died.  They feared it on the earth because their sins earned them punishment from God.  However, those horrors were for the living on earth, not for the afterlife as Isaiah’s comment confirms: “For when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9, RSV).  It couldn’t be plainer than that.

This life is not a bed of roses, but our suffering is ultimately redemptive, causing me to conclude that we don’t need to fear hell after we die, for it often is right here on earth as I’m sure the people of Syria and Iraq, languishing under the punishments dished out by ISIS would agree.

We Christians need not smirk at the promise of 72 virgins for Islamic martyrs, nor pat ourselves on the back that we are smarter than they, for our leaders have misled us for centuries.  Some were ignorant of what the Greek scriptures actually meant, and others intentionally used the fear of hell fire and eternal torment to wield absolute power over their hapless subjects.  It is not ours to judge anyone for anything, because the older I get, the more I understand why Jesus warned, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5, RSV).

What does God think of ISIS then, you ask?  Our Lord was tortured and crucified by radical, extremist, religious fanatics who believed they were killing the infidel, thus doing God’s will.  What did Jesus do about it?  He loved them and forgave them. Saul of Tarsus was certainly waging Jihad against the early church and God loved him out of it, forgave him and made him a great blessing to all of us.

Father, we thank You that Your perfect love casts out our fears, but some do not know Your love for they have never felt it.  Your presence allows us to experience Your unconditional love that we may be perfected by it. Of Your mercy and grace there is no end. We give You praise and adoration now and forever as we join our voices with “the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.  To God be the glory, world without end.  Amen.  Jan Antonsson

Jan Austin Antonsson

17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)

All our writings from 1998-2010 are on

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