Marmaduke Pickthall, The Meaning of The Glorious Koran. An Explanatory Translation (1930)
Al-Baqarah (The Cow) is so named from the story of the yellow heifer (vv. 67–71.). As is the case with many other sûrahs, the title is taken from some word or incident which surprised the listeners. All suggestions to the contrary notwithstanding, it seems probable that the whole of this sûrah was revealed during the first four years after the Hijrah, and that by far the greater portion of it was revealed in the first eighteen months of the Prophet’s reign at Al-Madînah — that is to say, before the battle of Badr.1
The Jewish tribes, once paramount in Yathrib had, not very long before the coming of Al-Islâm, been reduced by the pagan Arab tribes of Aûs and Khazraj, each Jewish tribe becoming an adherent of one or the other. But they had preserved a sort of intellectual ascendancy owing to their possession of the Scripture and their fame for occult science, the pagan Arabs consulting their rabbis on occasions and paying heed to what they said. Before the coming of Al-Islâm,2 these Jewish rabbis had often told their neighbours that a Prophet was about to come, and had often threatened them that, when he came, they (the Jews) would destroy the pagan Arabs as the tribes of A‘âd and Thamûd had been destroyed of old.3 So plainly did they describe the coming prophet that pilgrims from Yathrib recognised the Prophet, when he addressed them in Mecca, as the same whom the Jewish doctors had described to them. But the Jewish idea of a Prophet was one who would give them dominion, not one who would make them brethren of every pagan Arab who chose to accept Al-Islâm. When they found that they could not make use of the newcomer, they opposed him and tried to bewilder him with questions from their theology, speaking to him as men who possessed superior wisdom; failing to perceive that, from a Prophet’s standpoint, theology is childish nonsense, the very opposite of religion, and
1 Th. Nöldeke, Geschichte des Qoráns, Zweite Auflage, bearbeitet von Fr. Schwally, Part I, pp. 173 seq.
2 Al-Islâm means “The Surrender” — i.e. man’s surrender to God’s will and purpose.
3 Ibn Hishâm (Cairo ed.), Part I, pp. 180 seq.