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Bible Encyclopedias
Bible in Mohammedan Literature

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Mohammed's View of Jewish Scriptures.

Through intercourse at Mecca, at Medina, and on his various journeys in the seething, germinant Arabia of his day, Mohammed learned to distinguish between idol-worshipers and such people as he termed "the People of the Book": holders and followers of a written revelation. Most prominent among these were the Jews and Christians; thrice mention is made in the Koran of the Sabeans as being in the same class as, and once of, the Magi. As to the nature and contents of their books, Mohammed had only one fixed idea: These taught the same doctrine exactly as he taught; could, in fact, teach no other, as all doctrines came from the one Lord. There are vague references to certain "leaves" being delivered to Abraham; but what eventually became of them Mohammed does not say. The later Moslem theory is that they were taken back into heaven, and that whatever light the Sabeans and Magi enjoy is derived from them. One practical result is that Islam does not reckon Zoroastrians and worshipers of the host of heaven as idolaters, but consents to enter into treaty with them. But the books of the Jews and Christians were clearly there; they had remained unto Mohammed's day. To Moses, the "Tawrat" had been revealed; to David, the "Zubur" (Psalms); and to Jesus, the "Injil" (Evangelium). Thus, the Torah, the Psalms, and the "Gospel" represented for Mohammed the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. How vague his idea was and how both Jews and Christians must for him have melted together into one is evident from his belief that Miriam, the sister of Moses, was the same as Mary, the mother of Jesus.

To the series of prophets involved in this scheme of religious history Mohammed claimed to be heir. In the providence of God the time had now come when the Arabs, in their turn, were to have a prophet sent to them, speaking in their tongue, sprung from their blood, and calling them to repentance and to the acceptance of the one God and His doctrine as the other prophets had done with their respective peoples. Mohammed seems to have been quite satisfied that what he taught stood clearly written already in the Tawrat, the Zubur, and the Injil. The Jews and Christians, he felt, must recognize that he was exactly such a prophet as those who had come before; that he fulfilled all the conditions called for in the Books. This, evidently, was rooted in his self-consciousness, and, with his scheme of religious policy, was all the basis he had. Of direct knowledge of the sacred books, as then in the hands of the Jews and Christians, he appears to have had none. He felt no need of it. When, therefore, the Jews and Christians refused to recognize his doctrine and to accept his prophethood, he could only ascribe their conduct to perverse obstinacy. They concealed passages in their books; they misinterpreted others, "twisting their tongues in them" (Koran 3:72).

The God of Islam and Yhwh Identical.

In time he gave up the attempt to secure such support, and fell back on the simple weight of his own authority. Traditions, which may have taken form later, indicate, in their substance at least, the attitude to which he came. "Have nothing to do," he is reported to have said, "with the People of the Book and their books; say unto them, 'We believe in that which has been revealed to both of us; your God and our God is the same.'" Essentially he meant, "My revelation is the same as that which stands in your books. You misinterpret, conceal, and pervert; my revelation is certain and is enough." Such, apparently, was the attitude of Mohammed himself to the Scriptures. In illustration, reference may be made to the following passages in the Koran, suras 2:85,129,209; 3:60,72,179,184; 4:161,169; 5:47,85,109; 19:28; 26:192; 29:45; 42:11; 57:25; 61:6; 62:5; 66:10.

But such a position could only be maintained by Mohammed himself with his intense consciousness of the truth of his mission. After his death came rapid changes which were natural in themselves, but the definite origin of which is mostly obscure to us. The only means of access which the earliest Moslems had to the sacred books of the Jews and Christians was through proselytes; and these proselytes, from a variety of causes, misled much more than they instructed their new coreligionists. For one thing, the Moslems regarded them as authorities on the history of the past. They asked innumerable questions, and expected answers. The more marvelous the answer, the better they seem to have been pleased. Only on one point these converts had to be wary: Their replies must square generally with the Moslem scheme of thought and theology; otherwise their heads were in danger. Under these conditions of risk, marvelous tales sprouted freely. The Midrashimun doubtedly helped; but the imaginations of the converts, thus stimulated, probably accomplished more. Of the latter, two names are worthy of mention as romancers of quite astonishing capacity; viz., Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. 728) and Ka'ab al-Aḥbar (d. 652).

False Citations from Torah.

To the labors of these men, then, to the Oriental horror of a vacuum, and to the Oriental indifference as to how a vacuum is filled, is due the overwhelming mass of misinformation on the Old and New Testaments that still oppresses the Moslem world. First, the Torah is confused with the Tables of the Law, and the latter are increased in number. Again, the Torah is enormously increased in bulk: it is alleged to contain a varying number of parts, up to 1,000, and to make seventy camel-loads. Each single part takes a year to read through. Only four men—Moses, Joshua, Ezra, and Jesus—have studied it all. Clear statements, all imaginative, are given as to how it begins and ends. Quotations of the wildest character are introduced as from it; and the quoter will say calmly, "I have read them in the Torah." The same exactly holds good in regard to the Gospel and the Psalter. As to the Psalter, there exists in Arabic one of one hundred and fifty chapters, only the first two of which agree with the Psalms; the rest being a free imitation of the Koran. Possibly the Torah and the Gospel may at one time have been similarly perverted, but of such corruptions no traces now exist. The Torah was said to begin like sura of the Koran and to end like sura In it was an exact description of Mohammed and of some other persons associated with the beginning of Islam. For the Gospel, the following statement by an early authority will probably suffice: "I found in the Gospel that the keys of the treasure of Ḳarun [Korah] were a load for sixty mules; no one of them was larger than a finger, and each key served for a separate treasury."

Besides these three books which Mohammed recognized, there are also given references to the Wisdom literature; and in this case a much closer approximation is made to the truth. There are quotations from the Wisdom of Solomon, the Testament of Solomon (apparently part of Proverbs), and the Wisdom of the Family of David, and these have usually at least a possible source. Further, it must not be thought that all this characterized only the earliest times and the most ignorant and careless minds. Al-Gazzali (d. 1111), the greatest theologian of Islam, and a man of the intellectual rank of Augustine or Thomas Aquinas, quotes almost as credulously and rashly as any. Nor does he ever dream of verifying a quotation. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1209), another theologian of eminence, boasted that he knew the Torah and the Gospel by heart; and yet in his commentary on the Koran the most incredible things are cited as being contained in these. The best we can say for him is that either there were a pseudo-Torah and a pseudo-Gospel, which deceived him, or else that he lied. Such were the results of the mendacity of the early proselytes to Islam and of the credulity and carelessness of the Moslems. As some excuse for the last may serve the feeling which grew up that there was sin as well as danger in reading the books of Jews or Christians. Even Ibn Khaldun (d. 1405), the first philosophical historian of Islam, disapproved of such study: Mohammedans had certainty in the Koran, he held, and should be content with that.

Among the various general statements in the Koran that Mohammed had been foretold in the earlier books, only one gives the impression that Mohammed had had a specific passage in mind. It is in sura 61:6, where Jesus says, "O Sons of Israel, lo, I am a messenger of God to you . . . giving you good tidings of a messenger who will come after me, whose name will be Aḥmad." This seems a tolerably clear reference to the promise of the paraclete in John's Gospel, ch. et seq., and a very early Moslem tradition so takes it, quoting an Arabized form of the Greek παράκλητος. Another passage is Deuteronomy 18:18 et seq.: "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee." This, it is explained, could only refer to a prophet of the line of Ishmael; for he was the brother of Isaac, and there was no prophet of the line of Esau; and "their brethren" excludes the line of Jacob. In Isaiah 21:6-9 the rider on the ass is Jesus and the rider on the camel is Mohammed. The details in Isaiah 60:4-7 are regarded as applying very exactly to Mohammed. Also, in Deuteronomy 33:2 "Sinai" refers to the Mosaic revelation; "Seir" is a mountain in Syria where Jesus served his Lord; and "Paran" is either a mountain of the Banu Hashim, where Mohammed similarly worshiped, or Mecca itself. These are accepted, as good proofs by the great scientist Al-Beruni (d. 1048).

Islamic Study of Original Sources.

But meanwhile, and alongside of this mass of traditional ignorance, a beginning had been made in Islam of the direct study of the older sacred books. It belonged to the brief period of scientific life and liberty under the first Abbassids and especially under Al-Mamun. Through the Persian Aristotelians and physicians, the Syrian monasteries, and the heathen of Harran, Greek civilization and its methods began to affect Islam. So the historians of the time show a commendable desire to go back to original sources and to test and examine for themselves. Ibn Waḍah, who wrote about 880, had an excellent knowledge of the Scriptures, as also, of parts at least, had Ibn Ḳutaibah, who died in 889. Yet in the works of both of these writers are included wild legends that had come down from the earlier times, which the Moslem "ḳuṣṣaṣ" or story-tellers had delighted to retouch and expand, side by side with sober translations from the Hebrew and Greek. And, just as the flourishing time of science under the Abbassids was short, so, too, with this branch of it. Ṭabari (d. 921) is already less affected by it; and Mas'udi (d. 957), although a free-thinking theologian, seems to have gone back to traditionalism. The result was simply that another set of assertions, much more trustworthy, was added to the contradictory jumble which was being passed on from writer to writer.

With Ibn Ḥazm, the Zahirite (d. 1064), however, a new development was reached, with results lasting to the present day. Ibn Ḥazm is distinguished in Moslem history for having applied to theology the principles of literal interpretation already used by the Zahirites in canon law, and for the remorseless vigor and rigor with which he carried on his polemics. He now marked a similar era in treating the doctrine of the older Scriptures, declaring them to be forgeries. Modern education in India and elsewhere has spread a more exact knowledge of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures.

For the present-day position of more orthodox Islam, reference may be made to Pfander's "Mizan al-Ḥaḳ," a translation of which appeared in London in 1867, and to the reply to it by Raḥmat Allah, "Iẓhar al-Ḥaḳ," a translation of which by Carletti was published in Paris in 1880.

  • Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, pp. 61, 211, 433, 439, 629, and elsewhere;
  • this must, however, be used withcaution. The principal monograph is by Goldziher, in Z. D. M. G. 32:341 et seq.;
  • Steinschneider, Polemische und Apologetische Litteratur in Arabischer Sprache, 1877;
  • Schreiner, in Z. D. M. G. 42:591 et seq.;
  • Goldziher, in Stade's Zeitschrift, 13:35 et seq.;
  • Brockelmann, ibid. 15:138,312;
  • Bacher, ibid. 15:309;
  • idem, in Kobak's Jeschurun, 8:1-29 et seq.;
  • Hirschfeld, in Jew. Quart. Rev. Jan. 1901;
  • a Moslem controversial treatise (in Arabic) has been poorly edited by Van der Dam, under the title Disputatio pro Religione, Mohammedanorum, Leyden, 1890.
D. B. M.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Bible in Mohammedan Literature'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​b/bible-in-mohammedan-literature.html. 1901.
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