Abbreviated and Translated from the Bessarione, xxvi, 1922

[We are glad to be able to give this extract from an excellent and instructive article by the kind permission of the author Monsignor Ignazio de Metteo.—EDITOR.]

Razi says that, according to Qaffal, tahrif means to bend something from its natural condition (Mafatih, 1 i, 379). The word is also defined as mispronouncing a word or a sentence so as to change the sense (Zamakhshari's Kashshaf on Kor. iv, 367); as erroneously changing a vowel-sign or a letter in writing or in uttering it (Qaffal in Razi's Mafatih, ii, 479); as the condition of the writing pen when the point is not cut straight but somewhat inclined.

Moslem polemists ascribe tahrif in general to the Jews and the Christians in reference to the Holy Scriptures, interpreting the word sometimes as a material change of the text and at other times, as a change in the sense.

Razi notes four kinds of Jewish tahrif: 1. Substitution of a term of the Pentateuch for another term; 2. Giving to the context a false interpretation (he regards this as the best explanation of tahrif); 3. Simulating adherence to Mohammed's words in his presence but dissenting from him in his absence; 4. Inverting the precepts of the Pentateuch, applying, for example, beating for the stoning therein decreed.

As European scholars and Christian polemists do 'not agree among themselves about the meaning of tahrif, an investigation of its' use by the Koran, the most ancient traditionists, and the Moslem polemists, might prove helpful to the student of Islam. Beginning with the Mecca Suras of the Koran, dating from a period at which Mohammed professed himself to be no more than a prophet preaching to the heathen Arabs the same religion as had been preached to the Jews and the Christians by their respective prophets, we find that these Suras contain no polemic acrimony, no censure whatever, nothing about an external or internal alteration of the Bible on the part of its adherents. On the contrary its genuineness and authenticity are implicitly recognized in such passages as Koran xxviii, 43-54; xlvi, 9; vi, 155-157, which follow:

Chapter xxviii, says that the Meccan idolaters, who before Mohammed's appearance alleged that God had never sent them a Messenger to lead them into His way, were, after Mohammed's coming, excusing their unbelief on the ground that he had not brought a book like Moses. The prophet retorts that they did not believe even in the Pentateuch which, along with the Koran, they held to be a work of magicians. This statement puts the book of Moses on a par with the Koran especially when it promises a 'double reward to those Christians' and Jews who believe both in their Scriptures and the Koran.

Chapter xlvi, 9 adduces as a proof of the divine origin of the Koran the testimony of a Jew who was considered by the prophet in position to judge rightly and who said that the Koran was in full accord with the Pentateuch.

Chapter vi 155 158 asserts that the righteous conduct of the Jews and the Christians is due to the guidance of their divine books. The Meccan idolaters therefore may no longer put forward any excuse as they also have received a divine book at the hands of Mohammed.

In the Medina period, after much controversy against the Jews and Christians, Mohammed was finally driven to declare that his religion was different from theirs and, to raise it from a mere national faith to the rank of a universal religion. From that time on, the former irenic language becomes contentious, polemic. However, on the question of tahrif, the Medina Suras also lead to the same conclusion as the Mecca Suras.

Take for example v, 45-52. Tabari explains that "they distort" in v. 45 means that the Jews change the penalty of the stoning sanctioned by the Koran into that of beating and of blackening the culprit's face;- that "the word" means "the precepts of God"; and that "If the thing is given to you by Mohammed in this fashion, accept it; otherwise be on your guard" means that the Jews delegated to question Mohammed on a case of adultery were expected to accept his judgment only if favorable to the penalty of beating (Tafsir, vi, 537). The hadiths of Abu Hurayra, Bara b. Azib and Abdallah b. Abbas say that on that occasion he required the application of the penalty specified in the Pentateuch for adultery.

Verse 47 which reads "How shall they take thee as a judge, when they possess the Pentateuch wherein is the judgment of God" means "How shall the Jews accept the verdict of Mohammed when they disobey, and disregard My verdict against adultery set down in the Pentateuch which they possess and recognize as My genuine and authentic book."

Verse 48 brings out the fact that the prophets anterior to Mohammed judged according to the law of the Pentateuch mentioned in the above verse. Mohammed himself is understood to pronounce himself for the penalty of stoning and to judge that the two tribes of Nadir and Qurayza should be treated alike in the application of the lex talionis, etc. In the above mentioned hadith of Abu Hurayra, Mohammed says explicitly: "I judge according to that which is found in the Pentateuch." And in the following hadith going back to Ikrama, we read: The Prophet and the prophets which preceded him judge according to the truth which is in it (Pentateuch). Tabari adds that just as the prophets so also the doctors of the Jewish law have judged according to the Pentateuch and that the words: "Those who do not judge according to that which God has revealed are unbelievers" refer to the Jews who, in case of adultery, substitute beating for the stoning and in case of homicide, impose the diya (bloodmoney), the whole of it on certain people and half of it on others, and then again they apply the lex talionis if the injured party belongs to the nobility, (the diya being reserved for the lower classes; see Tafsir vi, 146).

In two hadiths (Tafsir, vi, 141) Ibn Abbas explains that the revelation of v. 46 was occasioned not only by the case of an adulterous woman, but also by the fact that Mohammed's judgment was asked on a controversy which came up between two Jewish tribes. Socially the Qurayza stood in respect to the Nadir on an inferior level. So it came to pass that whenever one of the Nadir murdered a member of the Qurayza, the lex talionis was not enforced, but the culprit paid 100 camel-loads of dates. Yet when the reverse happened, the members of the Nadir rigorously applied the lex talionis. Further, the less powerful tribe of the Qurayza paid the whole of the diya, whereas the more powerful tribe of the Nadir paid only one half (Tafsir, vi, 141).

Finally Tabari remarks on verse 51: "God never reveals a book to any prophet but that those for whom it has been revealed must observe that which it contains." Therefore as the Gospel is a book divinely revealed to a prophet, those for whom it has been revealed are under obligation to observe it by the express command of God. Otherwise they are unbelievers.

Razi's comment runs on the same lines as that of Tabari although enriched with copious and interesting details. Expounding v. 45, he brings out the judgment given by Mohammed in favor of the stoning when he had ascertained through Ibn Suriyya that it was prescribed by the Pentateuch. And in order to reenforce the Mosaic precept Razi recalls that the Shafi'ite school applies the penalty of the stoning to dhimmis in case of adultery and adds the following doctrine of ash-Shafi'i himself: It is undeniable that Mohammed commanded the stoning for the dhimmi adulterer. Now if this is a part of the religion of the Messenger of God, then our thesis is established. If, on the contrary, it goes back to the Mosaic law, it should constitute law in our religion also for two reasons: 1. Since the Messenger of God in such cases pronounced judgment in accordance with the law of the Pentateuch, it is a duty to imitate him; 2. Anything established in the law of Moses is in force so long as no other law has come down to abrogate it, which is the case in this matter. 2

To shed light on verse 48, Razi says that thousands of prophets came to the Jews between Moses and Christ, without any new book and under obligation to follow the Mosaic law; and that the doctors of the law memorized and ever kept in view these precepts and testified that everything therein contained was truth.

In the words: "Those who do not judge according to that which God has revealed, etc." he also sees the Jews who change the divine precepts because they do not hold them to be obligatory and that such people do not deserve to be called believers either in Moses and the Pentateuch or in Mohammed and the Koran.

About vs. 50-51 he says that the Gospel is a guide because it contains arguments for the unity of God, i. e., He has no companion, nor son, etc., as well as for the prophetic office and the future life; that it is light to the extent that it makes legal precepts manifest and it provides specific teaching of duties to be fulfilled. According to him the words: "Those who possess the Gospel judge according to that which God has revealed therein" (v. 50) refer to the evangelical precepts to which the Christian contemporaries of Mohammed were subjected.

To the objection: How can God command the Christians to judge according to the Gospel, after the revelation of the Koran? he replies: Those Koranic words may signify: 1. That the Christians may judge according to the arguments derived from the Gospel in favor of the prophetic character of Mohammed; or 2, that they may judge according to that which is in the Gospel and has not been abrogated by the Koran; or else 3, that they may judge according to that which is in the Gospel, without distorting or changing it.

An examination of ii, 70-73 will lead to the same conclusion.

Tabari says on v. 70: "Some of them listen to the words of God ... distort it, etc." and exposes first the discordant interpretations of the commentators according to which these Koranic words refer either to the Pentateuch or to the divine words heard by a number of Jews when God spoke to Moses. Then he declares that the latter interpretation supported by Rabi' b. Anas (d. 540 A. H.) and by Moh. b. Ishaq (d. 768 A. D.) is to be preferred. M. b. Ishaq, on the authority of some (Jewish) doctors says that Moses obtained of God permission for some Jews to hear His words when speaking to him. On their return, a few of these privileged Jews reported the opposite of what they had heard. At this point Tabari observes that the Jewish contemporaries of Mohammed could not have been expected to believe in him, inasmuch as they were not unlike their forbears in the matter of lying. Yea, rather they had a stronger disposition to change although they knew that which was found in their Holy Scriptures concerning Mohammed. Moreover, the word yuharrifuna here means that the Jews knowingly change the sense, the interpretation of the Pentateuch (Tafsir, i, 278-279).

Concerning v. 71 Tabari follows the explanation of Ibn Abbas, of Abu-l-Aliya and of Qatada according to which that verse means that among these lying Jews it was forbidden to make known the fact that Mohammed and his characteristics were mentioned in the Pentateuch. Concerning v. 73, he reports among others the following hadith of Ibn Abbas: "The ummiyun are those who do not believe in any messenger sent by God nor in any book revealed by Him; but in order to deceive from it some small gain, they write with their own hands a book and say to the foolish: This is from God (Tafsir, i, 286). This book, says Tabari, contained arbitrary interpretations. And on the basis of the following hadith of Ibn Abbas quoted by Tabari (Tafsir, i, 286): "The ummiyun neither know nor understand that which is found in the Pentateuch and therefore they arbitrarily deny the prophetic office of Mohammed," we may assume that the book in question contained arbitrary interpretations of such passages of the Pentateuch as refer to Mohammed. That Ibn 'Abbas believes in the existence of references to Mohammed in the Pentateuch is proved by another hadith of his quoted by Tabari (Tafsir, i, 280).

Razi also records the two divergent interpretations of ii. 70. But he prefers to see in it an allusion to the Jewish contemporaries of Mohammed. The alteration, then, would have to do with the mention of Mohammed in the Pentateuch and with certain laws such as that of the stoning (i, 377-379). The expression: "after that they had understood it" is explained by him as referring to a conscious and deliberate distortion of the truth as it is in the Pentateuch. The words: "If they meet each other, etc." in vs. 71-72 mean according to him that among the Jews some forbid others to report to Mohammed and his companions the testimonies in the Pentateuch bearing upon his prophetic character. In favor of this he cites a hadith of lbn Abbas the tenor of which is as follows: When the munafiqs among the Peoples of the Book met the companions of Mohammed, they said: We believe in that which you believe; we bear witness to the fact that your companion is sincere, that his words are true, that we find his characteristics described in our book; then when they were alone by themselves their chiefs said to them: Shall you report to them that which God has revealed to you in His book concerning the characteristics and the description of Mohammed so that they may be provided with arguments against you?

The same idea is conveyed by ii, 38-39. According to Tabari v. 38 is speaking of the covenant once established between God and the children of Israel by which the latter had undertaken to make plain to the people Mohammed's mission and to believe in him and in that which he would bring from God; and God had promised that if they faithfully fulfilled that covenant, He would cause them to enter paradise, etc. In confirmation of this he quotes among others a hadith of Ibn Abbas. About the words: "Believe in that which I have revealed confirming that which you possess" he says that the Koran confirms the Pentateuch; the children of Israel are commanded to believe in the Koran; believing in it, they will come to believe also in the Pentateuch, since the Koranic command to recognize the prophetic office of Mohammed corresponds to that found in the Gospel and the Pentateuch. Thus to discredit Mohammed is to discredit the Pentateuch.

The words: "Do not barter off my signs for a low price" refer to the habitual concealment by the Jews of the Mosaic testimony in favor of Mohammed. So also v. 38, with the support of several hadiths of ,Ibn Abbas, Mujahid and Abu-l-Aliya.

Speaking of the same paragraph Razi says that the object of the covenant was according to some all the commands of God, but according to others, it was this testimony to Mohammed and his mission. He prefers the latter sense, confirming it with Koran xxviii, 52 - lvii, 28 as well as with two hadiths, one from Ibn Abbas and the other from Abu Musa al-Ashari, who was a companion.

The hadith of Ibn Abbas runs as follows: "God says in the Pentateuch: 'I will send an ummi prophet out of the children of Ishmael. Whoever follows and believes in the light that he shall bring, which is the Koran, I shall forgive him his sins, shall cause him to enter the Garden and bestow upon him two rewards, one for having followed the books brought by Moses and other prophets of the Children of Israel, and the other, for having followed the book brought by Mohammed, the ummi prophet of the sons of Ishmael.' "

According to Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, Mohammed affirmed that "three persons had received the reward twice, i. e., an individual who having first believed in Jesus, believed later in Mohammed, etc., etc." Here, however, Razi makes this objection: If the Scriptures contain testimonies in favor of Mohammed, how does it happen that those who possess them do not believe in him? And in answer he adduces two reasons: 1. It would be known to those alone who had profound knowledge of their sacred books, but as these are few, it is possible for them to keep the characteristics relating to Mohammed concealed. 2. On this question the Biblical text is not very clear, hence doubts and uncertainty may arise. At this point, Razi raises the following question: Can it be supposed that the Scriptures contain some mention of the time, place, and other circumstances of Mohammed? If so, the Biblical text should be so clear as to make it impossible to conceal these notices. Otherwise the text of the Bible cannot yield any argument for the prophetic office of Mohammed. And he concludes saying that the Bible does not specify the time and the place of the coming of Mohammed in such a clear manner as to be known by everybody. And hence it is not an absolute necessity that these should have been known in the religion of former prophets, (Mafatih. i, 315-319). After this Razi busies himself with seven prophecies in the Pentateuch and the the Gospels concerning Mohammed (Mafatih, i, 319-322).

Razi explains Kor. ii, 38 in two ways; 1. The Koran contains the confirmation of the truth of Moses and Jesus and their books so that faith in the Koran corroborates and increases faith in the Pentateuch and the Gospel. 2. Those former books teach that it is necessary to believe in Mohammed and hence faith in Mohammed confirms their contents. Razi prefers the latter interpretation because: 1. The testimony of the prophetic books is nothing but truth, 2. Mohammed knows the contents of those books not by human knowledge but through revelation.

Coming to the Koran v, 16-18, Tabari says that "to distort" (tahrif) in this passage means to change the words by writing with their hand other things and by giving them out as divine. Here he quotes a hadith of Ibn Abbas according to which "to distort the words" means to distort the precepts of God. Razi notes that "distorting" means here either giving a false interpretation or changing the words. In regard to the expression "giving the lie" he falls back upon Ibn Abbas who says that the word here means neglecting a part of what has been commanded to them in their book, i.e., belief in Mohammed.

The same things are said about iv, 48. lxii, 5, in which we read. "those upon whom the load of the Pentateuch has been laid are like unto asses which carry books." According to Tabari and Razi this means that they do not understand the book which they have received nor do they draw any benefit from it and thus fail to believe in Mohammed.

The general inference from all these passages just examined is quite plain. In the Koran tahrif means either false interpretation of the passages bearing upon Mohammed or non enforcement of the explicit laws of the Pentateuch. As for the text of the Bible, it had been altered neither before Mohammed, nor even during his life-time by those Jews and Christians who were not favorably disposed towards his mission. No rival text is assumed. The lie is not inside, but outside of the Scriptures. The books which they write and give out as divine are not parts of, or substitutes for, the Bible.

But it must also be said that Mohammed's harsh judgment does not apply to all the Jews and Christians. Along with these who interpret falsely and substitute other forms of punishment for those specified in the law, there are some who are both faithful interpreters and, perfect observers of the Scriptures. To these refer iii, 198 and ii, 515, according to Ibn Abbas and Abdallah b. Mas'ud (Tafsir i, 391). And it is not mere accident that these traditionists in explaining the two verses above mentioned use v, 16 with the negative particle la.

Now all this is decisive argument for the Moslems who absolutely believe in the divine origin of their religion and of the Koran. For us, however, the Koran is the historical record of Mohammed's ideas and judgments. His assurance that the Bible contains prophecies concerning his mission, critically examined, proves to be devoid of all value. As a matter of fact he lacked all the educational requirements competently to judge such questions. A minute comparison shows how inexact and erroneous are the Koranic reports of Biblical matters, a fact which we should perhaps disregard in view of Mohammed's favorable judgment on the genuineness of the Bible. And yet the deficiency of the accord between the Koranic references and the Bible stories themselves show that Mohammed was not consistent (coherent) with himself. He affirmed and then contradicted himself.

In fact, Koranic notices of the Old Testament are sometimes paraphrases of the Biblical text, sometimes contradictions of it and sometimes, mere legends derived from the Talmud or the imagination of Mohammed.

A good example of paraphrasing is vi, 74-78 which amplifies Abraham's call in Genesis xii, 1. The examples of contradiction are many. According to the Koran the basket into which Moses is laid is confided to the waters of the Nile which carries it to the bank (Koran xx, 39 and Exod. ii, 3); it is Pharaoh's wife who wishes to adopt the child, (Koran xxviii, 8 and Exod. ii, 5, 9-10); Moses gives drink to the flocks of two women (Koran xxviii 23-24 and Exod., ii, 16); a son of Noah refuses to enter the ark and drowns in the flood; other believers enter the ark with Noah's family (Koran xi, 42-45, and Gen. vii, 7); Sarah expresses her wonder at the annunciation by the angels that she will bear a son and she slaps her own face (Koran, xi, 74-75; li 28-29 and Gen. xviii, 12-15); Abraham explains to his son that he has had a vision about offering him as a sacrifice and asks his opinion of it and Isaac answers that the commands of God should be carried out (Koran xxxvii, 101 and Gen. xxii, 1-10); stones of baked clay rain upon Sodom and Gomorra (Koran. xi, 84 and Gen. xxii, 1-10), etc., etc.

Out of the notices drawn from the Talmud we may mention the following: The creation of seven heavens (Koran ii, 27; lxxii, 12; xvii, 46); God is the lord of the heavens and earth and that which is between them (Koran xxvi, 23; lxxviii, 37); God announces to the angels His purpose to create man; angels worship Adam (Koran ii, 28, 32); the dialogue between Cain and Abel (Koran v, 34); Abraham destroys the idols in his father's house (xxi, 58-64); the fire into which Abraham is cast turns cold (xxi, 68-69), etc., etc., etc.

Of the cases in which the inventive genius of Mohammed has been at work, we may cite Koran xviii, 59-81 where he speaks of a journey of Moses, of a fish which is restored to life, of a meeting of Moses with an old man, etc., etc.; ii, 63-68 where a murdered Jew comes back to life at the touch of a piece of flesh from a slaughtered cow and reveals hidden things; ii, 119-129 where Abraham and Ishmael lay the foundations of the Kaaba at Mecca; and especially xi, 27-51; lxxi, 1-29; xxvi 105-120; xix 42-50; xxi, 52; vii, 78-82; xxvi, 161 in which ancient patriarchs and their contemporaries are made indirectly to live in, and to describe, the circumstances in which Mohammed finds himself in the Mecca of the idolatrous and intractable Kurayshites.

The Koranic passages referring to the Gospels are few and brief. But here also there is a confusion of ideas and a promiscuity of the true and the false. The Trinity consists of God, Jesus and Mary (v, 116); Jesus was born under a palm-tree (xix, 23); speaks in his cradle (iii, 41); makes a bird out of mud, which, made alive by his breath, flies with God's permission (iii, 43); not he, but another who assumes his appearance is crucified (iv, 154); Mary is the daughter of Imran and the sister of Aaron (iii, 31; xix, 29; lxvi, 12); they, draw lots to decide who shall care for her; Mary is fed with miraculous food (iii, 32); etc.

One may safely assert that when we set aside Mohammed's own inventions and the legendary material that he borrowed from the Haggada and the Apocryphal Gospels, the purely Biblical references of the Koran are reduced to a minimum.

The Biblical references that we find in the Koran are so simple and easily remembered that they make it superfluous to ask who was Mohammed's inspirer. The Christian slave that he adopted as a son, the Jews of Mecca and Medina, the Jews that were gradually converted to Islam, the two sons of Suriyya, the Jews and Christians with who he must have come into contact in Syria and Arabia are more than sufficient to account for his vague knowledge of the Bible. Besides, not rarely do we find allusions to Bible stories in the pre-Islamic poetry of Arabia.

Now from the Koran we turn to the oldest and most traditions of the companions. We have seen that in substance Abu Hurayra, al-Bara b. Azib and' Ibn Abbas make tahrif consist in that the Jews wander away from the precepts of the Pentateuch. Ibn Abbas asserts further that tahrif is misinterpretation. They obscure the passages concerning Mohammed. Ibn Abbas and Abudallah b. Mas'ud give to understand that those who do not practice tahrif hold to the precepts of the Pentateuch, read the Scriptures as God revealed them and give them the right interpretation. Thus again we do not have two Biblical texts; but two groups of Jews. Not one of the afore-mentioned traditionists understands the word in the sense of a material change of the text of the Bible. If they had heard something against the genuineness and authenticity of the Biblical text from Mohammed, they would not have failed to reveal it.

Recording a disputation which the Christians of the Najran and the Jews held before Mohammed, and in which each side professed unbelief in the prophet and sacred book of the other side, Ibn Abbas points out that faith in Jesus was a covenant promise on the part of the Jews in the Pentateuch and that in the Gospel Jesus commands belief in Moses and the Pentateuch. This means that Ibn Abbas believed in the divine value and genuineness of those sacred books (Tafsir, i, 373-374).

Another hadith ascribed to Ibn Abbas says that prominent Jews coming to the prophet asked him: "O Mohammed, believest thou that thou art in the religion of Abraham? Believest thou in the Pentateuch which we possess? Wilt thou testify that it is truth from God?" Mohammed answers: "Yes. But ye have denied,'etc.',' (Tafsir v, 72). Another hadith of Ibn Abbas mentioned by Ibn Khaldun on the authority of Bukhari says: '"God forbid that any religious community (umma) should. purposely change their book brought down 'to their prophet or that which is in its meaning, said he And verily change and tahrif it through interpretation" (Ed Bi ii, 6).

(Here the author siding with Leone Caetani against Goldziher the genuineness of most of the traditions ascribed to Ibn Abbas.)

The disciples of the above mentioned tradition as well as those who lived later, agree with them in their explanation of tahrif. For example Jabir b. Abdallah (d. 78 A. H.), Mujahid (d. 110 A. H.) and Suddi (d.127 A. H.) speaking of Koran v, 45, 48, relate it to the question of the stoning for adultery. Mujahid speaking of Koran iv, 48, Abu-l-Aliya (d. 90 A. H.) speaking of ii, 71-73, Ikrama (d. 105 A. H.) speaking of ii, 169 and Qatada (d. 117 A. H.) speaking of ii, 154 dwell upon the Jewish habit of twisting the meaning of the Pentateuch and the Christian habit of distorting the Gospel in order to conceal the prophecies concerning Mohammed. Suddi speaking of ii, 73 mentions the Jews who write books and sell them to the Arabs for gain's sake. Concerning ii, 95 Suddi remarks that the Pentateuch and the Koran are in full accord, nevertheless the Jews leave the Pentateuch in order to adhere to the book of Asaf (Tabari, Tafsir vi, 138, 546; i, 286, 334). Dahhak b. Muzahim (d. 102 A. H.) applies Kor. x, 94 and Qatada, Kor. ii, 115 and iii, 2 to the good Jews and Christians who obey their Sacred Books. Qatada, on the basis of Koran v, 52, declares the religions preached in the Pentateuch, Gospel and Koran to be one, although these differ in the law they impose. Abdarrahman b. Zayd b. Aslam (d. 182 A. H.) explains tahrif in Koran ii, 70 as the practice of some Jews who interpreted the precepts of the Pentateuch to suit those who offered them gifts, while to those who came to them empty-handed they gave the straight interpretation.

Now we come to the Moslem polemists. And of these the first one that will be considered is the Zaydite imam al-Qasim b. Ibrahim (d. 860 A. D.). In his "Confutation of the Christians" he uses many passages of the Gospel and maintains that the Christians have fallen into error in asserting the deity of Christ because they have not rightly interpreted their books. Then he exhorts them "to observe the Pentateuch and the Gospel revealed to them by their Lord to cease to invent lies against God, interpreting these books blindly, etc." Then quoting Matt. 1:1; 1:20-21; Luke 1:31-32; John 1:45, 12-13, he finds that the Gospels contain five definite testimonies against the deity of Christ. He once says: "At the very beginning of the book which you call the Gospel are written the words which you have not denied 'The generation of Jesus Christ the son of David.'" It is note-worthy that nowhere he accuses the Christians of having altered the text of the Gospel.

al-Mas'udi (d. 965 A. D.) in his Muruj adh-dhahab, contesting the Jewish reckoning of the world's age (7000 years) says: "Hence we do not determine that which God has not determined and we do not accept that which the Jews have asserted seeing that the Koran (ix, 48) affirms that they distort the words spoken by God" (Muruj adh-dhahab, Cairo, 1303, vol. i, p. 272-273). Here also the alteration is in the interpretation, not in the text. But on the other hand in the same work (vol. i, p. 27) he says that the Gospels contain a good deal of information concerning Jesus, Mary, Joseph; but he does not think it best to relate them because God does not speak of them in the Koran nor Mohammed in the traditions.

Hasan b. Ayyub who lived at the beginning of 987 A. D. does not deny the genuineness and authenticity of the Gospels but accuses the Christians of not having understood them (Ibn -Taymiyya, by the author, Palermo, 1812 A. D., pp. 124-136).

The Sincere Brethren who flourished at Basra, towards the end of the tenth century and composed an encyclopedic work of fifty tractates have taken a stand against the Koran in that on the basis of the Gospel records they have declared the death of Jesus to have been real. For them these passages are genuine because they cite them to prove that Moses, Jesus and the other prophets believed in immortality and eternal bliss. They give a very interesting account of Jesus' mission and spirit (See Rasail ikhwan as-safa, ed. Fr. Dietrici, Leipzig, 1883., ii, pp. 600-604). They also hold the Pentateuch, the Gospel, the Psalms and the Koran to be of equal value using them all together as the second source of their knowledge.

Biruni (c. 1048 A. D.) occupies himself quite extensively with the dates of Biblical events derived from the number of years directly indicated in the Old Testament or elaborately derived from the Book of Daniel or certain passages of the Pentateuch where the numerical value of the Hebrew letters has been brought into play. In these minute examinations he finds certain discrepancies with-in the original text and its translations as well as between the Bible and other chronological sources. He also points out differences among the evangelists in regard to the life and words of Christ. From such premises he draws the conclusion that "the words in the Scriptures have been misunderstood and badly applied (Muharraf) and the text (an-nass) in them has been changed from its right road."

Ibn Hazm (d. 1064 A. D.) maintains that the text of both the Testaments have suffered change (See the author's ibn Taymiyya, pp. 12-17 and a work which will soon appear on Ibn Hazm's so-called contradictions of the Bible).

Sharastani (d. 1153 A.D.) in his Al-Milal wa-n-nihal vol. ii, pp. 48-63) holds that except a few passages of the Pentateuch where some change has slipped either into the writing, or form, or into the interpretation, the whole book bears witness to Mohammed. As for the Gospels, unlike some other polemists, he gives present four books containing the allegories, parables, sermons, rebukes and precepts of Jesus are real Gospel, written by Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John, apostles of Christ. He quotes Matt 5:44-45, 48; 6:1; 14:33; 28:19; John 1:1-3, 18; 20:17.

Fakhr ad Din Razi (d. 1209 A D), besides affirming categorically that the Biblical text has not been changed, say that the narratives of the Koran concerning Biblical events are in perfect harmony with those of the Bible, which is an argument in favor of Mohammed, who had not learned them from any human being and must have received them by divine revelation (Mafatih, i, 409, ii, 380). He offers two explanation for the Koranic words: "the Messenger confirms the Pentateuch." 1. That Mohammed recognizes the prophetic character of Moses and the genuineness and authenticity of the Pentateuch; 2. That Mohammed confirms that book to the extent that his coming was foretold in it so that when he came he thereby confirmed what was said in the Pentateuch. Here Razi asks the question: How could Mohammed confirm the Pentateuch and the Gospel when the laws therein promulgated different from those brought by him. His answer is that Mohammed's confirmation implies unity in the fundamental doctrines and laws of all those three books. The difference lies only in the particular laws. But this cannot be called discord seeing that all the prophets affirm that truth in Moses' time was the law of Moses and truth in Mohammed's time was the law of Mohammed.

He raises another objection; How can the Koran confirm those former books when it abrogates the major part of them? As an answer he suggests that the precepts as well as the prophecies concerning Mohammed were in force only until the revelation of the Koran came. Thus they agree with the Koran, and the Koran confirms them. He adds that, the Koran confirms everything which refers to God and the events narrated in those sacred books.

Shihab ad-Din Abul-Abbas Ahmad b. Idris as-Sin-haji al-Qarafi (d. 1285 A. H.) in his unedited work called al-ajwiba-l-fakhira an al-aswila-l-fajira (Vatican Libr., Arabic Section No. 343) reports that the Christians on the basis of the Koranic words: "We have revealed unto thee the book in truth, which confirms the preceding books" maintain that the Pentateuch and the Gospel could not have been nor can be altered because they were sufficiently known in diverse times and countries. He replies that the confirmation applied to the condition in which those books were first revealed, not to their present condition. The Four Gospels contain now so many lies, so many contradictions that they could not have come from Jesus, nor from his immediate companions; The real Gospel as revealed through Jesus is no longer distinguishable in them. Speaking of the Pentateuch he says that only one Sura of it was taught to the Jews by Moses. The book itself was entrusted to the Levites and became lost when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the kingdom of Israel and massacred the sons of Aaron. After the Captivity Ezra gathered the written parts from the priests who had preserved them and formed the present Pentateuch. Whoever will examine it will easily see in the anthropomophisms of it that an ignorant man has composed it. He lays this corruption at the door of the intervening paganism of the children of Israel. Besides God's corporeality and His regret for the deluge, he points out: 1, that whereas it is said that Adam and Eve would die if they ate from the forbidden tree, they kept on living; 2, that whereas Lot as a prophet should never have hesitated to obey God, the angels had to push him out of Sodom; 3, that whereas Abraham was a just and God-fearing man he is made in the existing Pentateuch to make Isaac sole heir of all his goods, excluding his other sons. As for the prophecies in those sacred books concerning Mohammed, they had no great importance for the Moslems themselves who have his miracles to fall back upon, but they may be used to constrain the People of Scripture to recognize Mohammed.

According to Sa'id b. Hasan of Alexandria (Masalik an-nazar fi nubuwwat sayyid al-bashar, written in 1320 A. D.; see Goldziher: "Said b. Hasan d'Alexandrie" in the Revue des Eludes Juives, 1895, Tome xxx, pp. 1-23) both the Pentateuch and the Gospel have been changed. The Christians who find in their present Four Gospels permission to eat the flesh of the mayta, the blood and flesh of swine while Jesus says: he did no come to annul but to fulfill the Mosaic law; who say that Jesus forbids circumcision; who eliminate from the Gospel all allusions to Mohammed, cannot pretend to hay an unaltered Gospel.

Ibn Taymiyya (d.1327 A. D.) generally admits the genuineness of the Scriptures, except in a few instances such as the crucifixion of Jesus.

Jawzivya (d. 1350 A. D.) in his work called Hidaya al-hayara fi ajwibat al-yahud wa-n-nasara which is largely a plagiarism from his master Ibn Taymiiyya's al-Jawab as-sahih, holds the Pentateuch and the Gospels to be partly genuine and partly altered. The passages concerning Mohammed, or proving the humanity of Christ, and others which, according to him, have been misinterpreted by Christians to prove the deity of Christ, are genuine. The story of Lot with his daughters and certain portions of the New Testament which he regards as contradictory or improbable are altered. He also accepts Sinhaii's account of the transmission of the Pentateuch to draw the inference that there are alterations, but he does not reach the same extreme conclusions. Unlike Sinhaii he values the so-called Biblical testimonies, because Mohammed himself saw in them the best proof of his prophetic mission.

An anonymous writer of the 16th century seems to hold that there are only partial alterations in the Pentateuch in his work called Tayyid al-'milla he endeavors to prove that the spiritual supremacy and the temporal power were promised to the children of Ishmael; and not Isaac but Ishmael was the legitimate descendent of Abraham, that Sarah had no superiority whatever over Hagar who was a legitimate wife. Then he takes pleasure in making a great array of the sins of Israel and her leaders as recorded in the Bible. He does not forget to put into relief what he thinks are prophecies concerning Mohammed in the Pentateuch and the Gospels.

Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406 A. D,.) in his Kitabu-l-ibar (Ed. Bulak, 1284, vol. ii, p. 6) holds to the genuineness of the Biblical text, and answering those who accuse the Jewish doctors of having tampered with the Pentateuch he quotes the hadith (handed down by Ibn Abbas) which says that it is impossible for a people materially to alter its revealed books, and Koran v, 47, "They have the Pentateuch wherein is found the judgment of God." He says that an altered Pentateuch would no longer contain the judgment of God. For Ibn Khaldun therefore tahrif is alteration of the sense. However he would admit that some errors may have slipped into the text.

At-Tarjuman (see T. W. Arnold's The Preaching of Islam), a shallow-minded apostate from Christianity, whom the Moslems hold in great veneration, in his polemic work called Tuhfat al-arib fi-radd ala ahl as-salib composed in 823 A. H. charges the four evangelists with having greatly corrupted the Gospel of Jesus, which originally was a single Gospel, and takes pleasure in picking out so-called contradictions in the four Gospels.

In his valuable work called al-aqwal al-qawima fi hukm an-naqI min al-kutub al-qadima, Biqai (d. 1480 A. D.) answers those who had criticized him for having made of the Old and New Testaments a greater use than was necessary, saying that he had followed in that simply the footsteps of the Moslem imams and naming such, prominent authors as Abu-l-Fadl Iyad, Ibn Zafar Shams ad-din Abu Abdallah, Taftazani and Sayyid Jurjani. He favors for tahrif the meaning of "alteration in the sense" and points out that the text of the Pentateuch is the same all over the world.

Abu-l-Fadl al-Maliki as-Saudi writing a titleless polemic in 942 A. H. with the help of al-Jafari's Takhjil man harrafa l-injil considers the Bible as partly altered and partly authentic and genuine. To the latter class belong all the prophecies concerning Mohammed and the passages that show that Jesus was not God but a human being, a prophet and a messenger of God.

To prove the humanity of Christ he examines in the first chapter of his work nine passages of the Gospels such as the baptism of Jesus, Matt. iii, 11-15 (but he rejects vs. 16-17 as spurious); Jesus' temptation (Matt. iv, 1,11); Jesus' retirement in order to avoid persecution at the hand of Herod (Matt. xiv, 1-13); etc., etc. In the fifth chapter he still tries to prove that Jesus was only a human being and a prophet, and appeals to (Matt. x, 24, 40; John x, 14) some of the miracles of Jesus and such passages as call him a prophet. He discusses also the so-called contradictions of the Bible, and the existence of a Gospel of Jesus apart from the four Gospels.

Hindi belongs to the 19th century and is the author of the well-known Izhar al-haqq (1854 A. D.) a polemic writing directed against Protestant missions in India and particularly against Pfander's Mizan al-haqq.

He adheres to the view that the original Pentateuch and Gospel having become altered had ceased being revealed books even before the coming of Mohammed. These books are now no more than biographical works in which the false is mingled with the true. It is the Koran that may serve as a guide to what is to be accepted or rejected in them. On the other hand, no judgment must be passed on Biblical matters upon which the Koran remains silent. In confirmation of his thesis he invokes the authority of Ibn Abbas and Juraj. The view of the first has already been sufficiently discussed. That of the second is expressed in a comment on Koran v, 52 which runs as follows "As for that which the possessors of the Scriptures tell of their book, if it be found in the Koran, believe it, otherwise do not believe it." But nothing in this tradition could force Hindi's explanation upon us. The contrast is not necessarily between the Bible and the Koran, but rather between the Koran and Jewish reports of Biblical matters. But if Ibn Jurayj's comment may be considered ambiguous, Razi himself is very definite on that verse. Commenting upon it he affirms the genuineness of the Scripture. 3

Hindi recognizes tahrif in both senses, i.e., as change in words and change in interpretation. He distinguishes in the first one: (1) change of words; (2) interpolation and (3) omission (of words or facts?)

In proof of change in words, in the Pentateuch, Hindi points out the divergencies in dates as shown by the Hebrew, Samaritan and Greek texts. He refers especially to the chronological tables constructed by Henry Westcott in his commentary on the Pentateuch and to Augustine's opinion, therein cited, according to which the Jews changed the number of the years before and after the deluge in order to discredit the Greek version. Hindi quotes further Kennicott and others to prove that the Protestants themselves admit the existence of alteration in the Biblical text. He cites over 35 cases of change in words. Of these the following may serve as example. In Deut. xxvii. 4, the Hebrew text reads "upon Mount Ebal," but the Samaritan text reads "upon Mount Gerizim." He cites 43 cases of interpolation, of which the following are typical examples: Gen. xxvi 31 speaks of kings ruling over Israel, a state of affairs of which Moses could have known nothing. Deut. iii 14 ends with the words: "they are villages of Jair until this day." Moses could not have added the words "until this day". Horne in the first volume of his commentary expresses the opinion that these words were originally a marginal note which later on slipped into the text.

Hindi gives many examples of omission in the Bible. Of these we may cite the following. According to Gen. xv, 13-14 Abraham is told that his descendents shall sojourn in Egypt for four hundred years. But according to Exodus xii, 40 they dwelt in Egypt for 430 years, while judging from the fact that Qahit (Kohath) the son of Levi was the grandfather of Moses (Gen. xlvi, 11) they could not have dwelt in Egypt more than 215 years. On this latter number of years the Protestant historians and commentators agree and it is further confirmed by the fact that Paul counts 430 years from the time of the promise to Abraham to the time of the giving of the Mosaic law (Galat. iii, 16-17). But here the Samaritan text shows its superiority by saying: "All the time which the children of Israel, their fathers and their grandfathers dwelt in the land of Canaan and Egypt was 430 years." Then again Gen. iv, 8, reads in the Hebrew text: "Cain said to Abel, his brother; and when they were in the field, he fell upon Abel, his brother and slew him." But the Samaritan text as well as the Greek and other ancient versions give this passage as follows: "Cain said to Abel, his brother: come, let us go to the field; and when they were in the field, etc." Christian scholars recognizing this omission of the Hebrew text have already inserted the missing words in some modern versions. Besides these cases of tahrif in the Scriptures, Hindi speaks also of contradictions and errors in proof of which he compares Ezek. xlv and xlvi with Num. xxvii and xxix; Josh. xii,. 24-28 with Deut. ii; i Chron. iv with viii, etc.

Among the most recent Moslem polemists we may name Muhammad Effendi Habib and Muhammad Husayn Najafi. In his Al-burhan as-sarih fi bashair an-nabi, the first affirms that such parts of the Gospels as are in harmony with prophecies and precepts of the Pentatcuch have not been altered. These words imply also the genuineness of the Pentateuch and the prophetic books in so far as they contain prophecies and precepts.

The second author in his Ad-din wa-l-islam explains tahrif as material change in the text of the Bible, but plainly shows that he has not understood the best commentaries of the Koran. He says also that the Koranic praises of the Holy Scriptures do not apply to the present form of the Bible.

In concluding our review of the Moslem polemists, we may note that while the Koran and the early traditionists recognize the genuiness of the Biblical text, the polemists coming much later are divided on the question, some adhering to the older view and others explaining tahrif as corruption of the text.

Abstract made from the original Italian by:

Hartford, Connecticut.


1 The edition used for reference is that of Cairo 1324 A.H. (ad ed)

2 Mafatih III, p. 406. On p. 408 Razi mentions a group of Hanafites who on the basis of v. 47 assert that the Taurat and other, laws that have preceded the revelation of the Koran are obligatory upon Moslems so long as they have not been abrogated. Nawawi (d. 5277 a. h.) teaches that not only the man who holds the Koran in small esteem but also those who do not believe in all the Scriptures, who jeer at them or who do not value them, are unbelievers. Thus both Shafites and Hanafites implicitly admit the genuineness of the Holy Scriptures, since to the extent that they can consider the laws not abrogated by the Koran as obligatory and in force for the Moslems, they judge them to be just as they were revealed by God.

3 The testimony of the Koran as a book that may not be abrogated nor altered in any way is that the Pentateuch, the Gospel and the Psalms are evermore truth, veracity and permanent. So the truth (haqiqa) of these books has always been known (Mafatih Vol. iii, p. 412).

The Muslim World, vol. 14: 1924, pp. 61-84.

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