The Genesis of the New Faith
by Charles Cutler Torrey,
Hilda Stich Stroock lectures at the Jewish Institute of Religion, 1933
The word "culture" in its ordinary English meaning, is perhaps not often employed in speaking of the pre-Mohammedan tribesmen of northern and western Arabia. Their life is typical of something more interesting. There are certain groups of men, and phases of primitive civilization, the mention of which always creates a picture of hardship and valor, the triumph of human skill and endurance over natural conditions full of danger and privation. We find a flavor more appetizing than the taste of high life in Cooper's novels, and in the biographies of Daniel Boone and Kit Carson. When we read of the typical "cowboys" of a generation ago, we expect no mention of books and reading, of household luxuries and bric-a-brac; what we seek, and find, in the story of their life on the plains is a picture more entertaining, and also far more truly representative of their civilization or lack of it.
It is this appeal to the imagination which is made by the native of Arabia, in whatever variety of literature he is depicted. We see proud tribes, and their noted heroes, restlessly moving figures in a most forbidding landscape. We think of the exploits of Antar; the savage deeds of the freebooter and poet Shanfara, with every man's hand against him; Ta'abbata-sharran following the trail through the desert; the tent-dweller kindling for a passing stranger his hoarded pile of brushwood, and sharing with him the last handful of dates - nay, giving him the whole of it. The narratives in that great storehouse, the Aghani; the poems of the earliest period; and the quasi-historical works whose material is chiefly derived from these two sources; all give this lively picture of the Arab of Mohammed's day and earlier. They are concerned with the heroic and the picturesque, and hold in some contempt the humdrum ease of the town dwellers. Listen to al-Qutami, of the tribe of Taghlib (Nöldeke Del. Carm. Arab., 31):
They take justifiable pride in the strenuous life of their ancestors, so largely deprived of the comforts and even decencies of civilization; while of course knowing that there is another side to the picture. There is a popular saying which holds up to view one less desirable feature of life in the desert: "Everything is soap for the Bedouin."1 Doubtless; but those who coined the proverb knew the virtues of this toilet article, and presumably used it. The luxuries of the desert are the necessities of the city. All the time, as far back as any of our sources reach, the city life is there even when little or nothing is said about it.
We are gradually learning, in these days, that the ancient races in the Orient were much farther advanced in their knowledge of arts and crafts, and in their general culture, than we had supposed. The low estimate was a matter of course, while the evidence of high attainment was lacking. Even in the case of unpromising Arabia, I have no doubt that our estimate has been too low. Note, for example, the evidence collected by Wellhausen, Reste 201, note 2, in regard to the written tradition of the old Arabian poetry. There may have been much more writing of both poetry and prose than we have been wont to imagine. We are aware that the cities of South Arabia were magnificent and their culture well advanced, though our knowledge of them is still meager. Our definite information in regard to the cities in the northwestern part of the peninsula is very slight indeed, but even here we have ground for a probable conclusion.
The caravan trade did little for the Bedouins; they continued to live as they always had lived; but it did much for the emporia along the route. The products and symbols of a high civilization, in great number and variety, had for many centuries been familiar to the merchants and towns-people of the Hijaz. The influence of such acquaintance, long continued, is inevitably profound. As for Mekka, aside from the "through" traffic in which their participation was but slight, there were the local "caravans of winter and summer" mentioned by Mohammed in Sura 106; the caravan of winter going down to Yemen, and that of summer to the cities of Palestine, Syria, and Phoenicia. Mekka even had some importance as a junction, from which a trade route ran by way of Riad to Gerrha on the Persian Gulf. These merchants carried exports, and brought back imports. They also brought a change in modes of thought and habits of life, a wider horizon. How much of a gulf there was between the civilization of the roving clans of Suleim or Hudheil and that of the Qoreish of Mekka, we are not in a position to say; but a gulf there certainly was.
The Koran, in that portion of it which was composed at Mekka, gives the impression of a community both prosperous and enlightened. Those citizens (not named) who are attacked by the prophet as troublesome opponents are not merely wealthy and influential, there were among them men for whose knowledge and wider experience he had a wholesome respect. This means not only the Jews; though in knowledge of books and of religious history their communities certainly were no slight distance in advance of their Arab neighbors.
In such centers of an old civilization as Mekka, Yathrib, Khaibar, and Teima the ability to read and write had for centuries, as a matter of course, gone far beyond the requirement of mercantile transactions. The acquisition of these accomplishments was very easy, and the advantage derived from them very obvious. Schools of some sort must have been ancient institutions in the Hijaz, even though we know nothing in regard to them. Our sources give us no sure ground for conjecture as to the proportion of illiteracy in Mekka and Medina, nor as to the attainments of Mohammed's companions in general. There is a tradition, not given in Ibn Hisham's Life of the Prophet, but quite credible as to the main fact, to the effect that in the second year of the Hijra, after the battle of Bedr, some of the Mekkan captives were made to serve as schoolmasters, to teach the Muslim boys. This has sometimes been too hastily interpreted to mean that the Muslims themselves were for the most part illiterate. The implication is not necessary, however. We at the present day hire teachers for our children, not because we are unable to read and write, but because we are busy. Those who had migrated from Mekka with Mohammed were now reduced to dire straits in order to earn their living. They could not long remain as parasites on the so-called "Helpers" of Medina who had given them hospitality, but must shift for themselves in every possible way. Doubtless many, both of the emigrants and of the Helpers, were illiterate; but we can hardly doubt that the men of the better class had had the benefit of some schooling. We happen to know that this was true even of some of the slaves. Mohammed's legislation in Sura 24:33 implies that written contracts were a matter of course, and that his followers would have no difficulty in making them.
In regard to the Jews of either city we have better ground for an estimate. They were an educated people. If, as the available evidence makes probable, their settlements in this part of Arabia were ancient and chiefly the result of a considerable migratory movement, we could take it for granted that they brought with them and maintained the traditions of culture which they carried forth and perpetuated in other parts of the world. Their worship required a succession of learned men, and their laws necessitated a general religious training. The Arab tales and traditions, in their mention of the Israelites of the Hijaz, give everywhere the impression of a people relatively high in civilization. The respect with which Mohammed, even in his utmost exasperation, speaks of this "people of the Book" shows that for him they stood on a superior plane; and this not merely because of their religious inheritance, but also because they possessed knowledge of history and literature to an extent which differentiated them, as a people, from any native Arab community. It is not merely a few men that he has in mind; the manner in which he speaks of "the children of Israel" shows that his thought is of the Jewish people in general, as he and his fellows had come in contact with them. In our conception of the state of civilization represented by them we probably shall underestimate rather than the contrary.
What literature may we suppose the Jews of the Hijaz to have possessed, in the time of Mohammed? On the theory of their origin here presented the only possible theory, I maintain, to account for the plain facts before us - the question can be answered with very high probability. If these Hebrew settlements had existed since the sixth century B.C., and had kept in touch with the outside world (as they could not have failed to do, in view of the constant and very lively traffic), their history in this respect was like that of other Jewish colonies. Certainly they had all the sacred literature possessed by their neighbors in Palestine and Babylonia. They were indeed in a part of the world utterly different from any of the regions occupied by their brethren of the Dispersion. Life in Arabia had its unavoidable requirements, and they had become Arab tribesmen, at least externally; but they kept their religion, and their traditions; it is hardly conceivable that they should have done otherwise. Religious feeling, long-established customs, pride of race, consciousness of the great superiority of the Israelite faith to the native paganism, the influence of frequent visitors from the Jewish communities in the north and east, the enduring reputation of such learned Arabian Jews as Simeon of Teima and doubtless others whose names we do not know - these factors, especially, were potent in maintaining Arabian Judaism. Obvious and acknowledged superiority is not readily thrown away. It would have been easier to forsake the faith and the inherited practices in Rome or Alexandria than in the oases of the desert. The colonists, here as elsewhere, brought with them their sacred books, and scribes were of course raised up as they were needed.
Outside the Koran we should hardly expect to find any contemporary allusion to the learning of these Israelites. We do know that two of the large Jewish tribes of Medina, the Nadir and the Quraiza, were called the Kahinani (i.e the two kahin tribes); the name indicating that they daimed, doubtless with good reason, that their membership included certain priestly families.2 In Ibn Hisham's Life of the Prophet (ed. Wüstenfeld, p. 659) there is preserved a poem by a Jewish contemporary of Mohammed which deserves attention. It dates from the third year of the Hijra, when Muslims and Jews were already in open hostility. One of the latter, Ka'b ibn al-Ashraf, who was connected with the tribe Nadir, had made himself especially obnoxious to the prophet, and was accordingly assassinated, by high command. A well known Muslim poet, Ka'b ibn Malik, composed verses justifying the murder, blaming the Jews for their failure to support the true prophet, the heaven-sent messenger. A formal reply, as usual in the same rhyme and meter, was returned by Sammak of Nadir, and in it occur the following lines:
The doctors all, I note, refuse him credence,
All of them learned, men of worldly wisdom;
They who are versed in all the heavenly teaching
Uttered for us in Torah and in Psalter.
The verses are unquestionably authentic, and in view of the circumstances under which they were uttered we can be quite certain that no one in Medina at that time would have denied the claim which they make. In the Israelite tribes of the city there were men whose reputation for learning was generally known. The verses are also interesting for their Hebrew loanwords, four in number; reminding of August Müller's remark (quoted above, p. 17) in regard to the "Jewish Arabic" spoken by the Israelites of the Hijaz. These same words appear frequently in the Koran, and it is evident that the most of the terms of this nature which Mohammed employs had been in common use long before his time.3
The Koran occasionally - and, be it noted, also in the Mekkan period - takes notice of the Jewish scholars (ahbar)4, the rabbis (rabbanis), the word denoting a still more learned class (Geiger, p. 52), as in 3:73 and 5:48, 68. In 26:197 Mohammed boasts that "the learned (ulema) of the children of Israel" had given him encouragement. This incidental testimony, supported as it is by the whole Koran, is certainly to be taken at its face value. To assert that there were no Israelite scholars in Mekka and Medina, and that Mohammed did not know the difference between the learned and the unlearned, is easy, but quite in disregard of the evidence. All the history of his dealing with "the people of the Book" - the amount of exact information, from Biblical and rabbinical sources, which he received; the encouragement given him while he seemed a harmless inquirer; the long and bitter argument, in which he was continually worsted; and the final rejection of all his prophetic claims - shows him in close contact with an old and perfectly assured religious tradition, far too strong for him. The history would have been the same if he had made his appearance, first as pupil and then as dangerous innovator, in any center of Israelite culture.
The sacred books were there, in Mekka, and Mohammed had seen some of them - though he takes care not to say so. It is altogether probable, moreover, that each of the principal Jewish communities in the Hijaz possessed considerable collections of volumes-scrolls and codices; not only the Torah, the Prophets, and other books of the Bible; not merely also the authoritative rabbinical writings, as they successively appeared; but also the most important and most widely discussed works of the world-literature, including translations from such languages as the Syriac and Ethiopic. Libraries grow up slowly; but even a small nucleus is a very strong magnet, and the man who loves books will collect them, when, as in the present case, they are within easy reach. The Jews, by long tradition, were a people of books and reading; and wherever their culture struck deep root, some sort of literary activity was a matter of course. In the generations immediately succeeding the destruction of the temple at Jerusa1em by the Romans they clung closely to their canonical books and their religious tradition, letting everything else go by the board. This was partly the result of the calamities which had overtaken them, looked upon as a severe lesson, and partly in opposition to the Christian literature which was growing up, professedly based on the Hebrew and Jewish scriptures, canonical and extracanonical.
This attitude underwent a gradual change, of necessity, and that not only in the lands of the Dispersion. Before the time of Mohammed the haggadic midrash was gathering and adapting material from the Gentile literature, generally giving it a new religious coloring. The legends regarding Alexander the Great accord an interesting example. Any phrenetic narrative, pagan or Christian, might be laid under contribution, for no religion can build a fence around a good story. In a subsequent lecture, dealing with the narratives of the Koran, attention will be called to a remarkable series of legends in the 18th Sura, all belonging to the West Asiatic folklore. The collection was not made by Mohammed; the stories were merely abridged and adapted by him in characteristic fashion. It has been observed that a very considerable portion of these same legends is to be found in the homilies of Jacob of Sarug, a Mesopotamian Christian who wrote at the end of the fifth century; see especially the first chapter in Huber, Die Wanderlegende von den Siebenschläfern. The first in the Koranic series is a Christian tale, that of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. Every Christian element has been removed from it, however, and it would serve equally well as a story of Israelites persecuted for their faith. There is even some evidence that the Jews of Mekka regarded the legend as their own property, and quizzed Mohammed in regard to it (Nöldeke-Schwally, 139-143). Next comes a parable which, as many scholars have observed, sounds like a typical Hebrew mashal. Thereupon follow old pagan legends in a Jewish redaction, Moses taking the place, first, of Alexander the Great, then of the old Babylonian hero Gilgamesh (see the Fourth Lecture). It is perfectly evident that Mohammed's source was an already fixed collection of Jewish tales, existing at Mekka, in whatever manner he may have received them.
This I should suppose to be typical of a class of literature, designed for popular instruction, which might be found in any or all of the Israelite settlements, from Teima to Mekka. That it was in the Aramaic language, and written with the Aramaic alphabet, would be a matter of course; some direct evidence touching this question will be noticed presently. It is unlikely that any portion of this "world-literature" existed in the Arabic language in the time of Mohammed. The interesting narratives might be well known, however, even if they were not obtained from the Jews. The Arabs of Hira were bilingual, and so also, no doubt, were many of those on the Greek frontier; and the art of the story-teller flourished mightily in Arabia. But in the case just mentioned we certainly are dealing with a document, not with oral tradition.
Could Mohammed read and write? This may seem a very strange question, in the presence of the Koran. Would not the production, by an illiterate man, of a great literary work, admirable throughout in its discriminating use of words, the skillful structure of its sentences, and the surprising mastery of all the nuances of a very highly developed grammatical science, be in fact the miracle which it claims to be? The answer, however, is not such a matter of course as it seems. The grammar, i.e. the forms of the literary language, had long been completely developed in the pre-Mohammedan poems, which were a multitude and familiar throughout the Arabian peninsula; and oral tradition can accomplish wonders. It is with the Arabic language only that the question is ordinarily concerned; but if it should be answered in the affirmative, it is necessary to go farther, and inquire whether there is any likelihood that the prophet could also read Hebrew or Aramaic. This might at the outset seem very improbable indeed, but there are no known facts which could warrant the assertion that it is impossible.
The direct evidence, it is needless to say, is scanty and difficult of interpretation. The orthodox Muslim Tradition generally (but not quite consistently) maintains that the prophet could neither read nor write. It is quite evident that dogmatic considerations were chiefly influential here. We have to reckon with a tendency, not simply with a record of known facts. As for the testimony of the Koran, it can be, and has been, interpreted in more than one way. It is quite natural that the prophet should not take occasion to affirm his ability, if he possessed it. The real question is whether he does not deny the ability. Some have claimed in support of this view the passage 29:47, in which the angel of revelation says to Mohammed, "You have not been wont to recite any (sacred) scripture before this, nor to transcribe it with your right hand; otherwise those who set it at nought might well have doubted." But this is a very dubious argument, to say the least. As Nöldeke-Schwally, 14, remarks, it can be turned the other way. The natural implication of the passage is that the prophet was writing down the Suras of this particular "Book," though he never before had undertaken any such portentous task (cf. also 87:6). And I believe that it will be found probable, when all the evidence is taken into account, that Mohammed did write down the whole of the Koran 'with his right hand.' This passage will come under consideration again, in the sequel.
The argument which has weighed heaviest with those who would have Mohammed illiterate is the fact that he repeatedly describes himself as "ummi," a curious Koranic adjective which always expresses contrast with the "people of the Book." Interpreting this as "unlettered," and supporting the interpretation by the Tradition and the prevailing low estimate of Arabian culture, Nöldeke in his Geschichte des Qorans (1860) adjudged Mohammed illiterate, or nearly so. Wellhausen adopted this view, expressing it with emphasis, and it was generally accepted; Sprenger (Das Leben und die Lehre des Mohammad, 1861-1865) was one of a few who maintained the opposite. More recently, there has been a growing tendency to predicate for the prophet some literary training; thus Grimme, Rudolph, Schulthess, and others. In Nöldeke-Schwally, 14, it is shown that ummi cannot mean "illiterate"; and the view there maintained is that it designated those who do not have ("or know") the ancient holy scriptures. Even this explanation, however, is unsatisfactory. It does not at all account for the statement in 2:73 (see below); nor does it provide a reasonable derivation of the strange adjective, which certainly cannot be explained by 'am ha-ares(!), nor by any native Arabic use of umma, "nation". On the contrary, this is one of the Jewish-Arabic locutions of which August Müller speaks, being simply the transfer into Arabic of the Hebrew goi, goyim. It was not coined by Mohammed, but was taken over by him from the speech which he heard. It designated any and all who were not of the Israelite race (as has already been said, and is well known, Mohammed does not distinguish Christians from Israelites). The passage 2:73, which has made trouble for previous explanations of the problematic term, expresses the indignation and scorn with which the prophet replies to certain proselytes in one of the Medinese tribes, who had tried to trick or ridicule him by means of some "scripture" of their own composition - a most natural proceeding for would-be Israelites. He has just been speaking of the Jews, and now continues: "And among them there are certain goyim, who do not know the scriptures, but only hope to appear to, and who think vain things. Woe to those who write out scriptures with their hands and then say, This is from God!" Here, the adjective is plainly used in reproach and contempt; elsewhere, it means precisely "Gentile," most obviously in 3:69! The Koran, then, gives no ground whatever for supposing Mohammed unlettered.
On one point, at all events, there has been very general agreement among students of the Koran, namely, that Mohammed did not wish to seem to be one to whom reading and writing were familiar accomplishments. This, however, is a little too sweeping a statement of the case. He did not wish to seem to be a man of book-learning; to be dealing out what had been obtained from writings. He had not copied books, nor parts of books, nor written down what any man had dictated. The reason for this is obvious: he would not weaken the assurance, constantly maintained, that his outgivings were of superhuman origin. God was now producing and perfecting for the Arabs a holy book, delivered through Arabian messenger in the same way in which the Jews and Christians had received their scriptures. The prophets of Israel had spoken by divine inspiration, not from book-knowledge. Mohammed himself certainly never doubted, from the beginning of his ministry to the day of his death, that his 'Koran' was the product of divine illumination, nor would he have others doubt. We are reminded of one of the great teachers of the New Testament. The apostle Paul had read Christian gospels, and had talk with disciples and companions of Jesus; but neither in his own thoughts nor in his writings would he allow these facts any weight. The truth was revealed to him, he repeatedly declares; "I conferred not with flesh and blood"; "They who were of repute imparted nothing to me" (Gal. 1:1, 2:6). Mohammed would have used the same words: the Koran came him from above, not from any human teachers, nor from the reading books.
This is very different from a profession of unfamiliarity with reading and writing, nor is it easy to believe that he could have made any such profession. When we think of the period of preparation - certainly no brief period - which preceded the beginning of the Koran and the public appearance of the prophet, it seems truly incredible that he should not have made himself familiar with these very ordinary accomplishments. It is altogether likely, indeed, that he had possessed them from his boyhood. The family of Hashim, to which he belonged, was respected in Mekka though neither wealthy nor especially influential. His grandfather 'Abd al Muttalib and his uncle Abu Talib, in whose care he was brought up might certainly have been expected to give him some of the education which Mekkan boys of good family were wont to enjoy. The fact that was chosen by the prosperous widow Khadija (whom he afterwards married) as the man to take charge of her trading ventures would seem make it almost certain that he was known to have some acquaintance with "the three Rs."
Supposing that all this is granted, the probability that Mohammed had learned to read Hebrew or Aramaic in any effective way may nevertheless seem remote. Not that the acquisition would have been difficult, a short time would have sufficed; but because he could get what he wanted in a much quicker and easier way. The alphabet could indeed be mastered in a few hours; and the two languages, in both vocabulary and grammar, bear enough resemblance to the Arabic to enable one who is accustomed to read and write the latter to labor through the sentences of a Jewish document after a comparatively short period of study with the aid of a Jewish instructor. In view of Mohammed's great interest in the Jewish scriptures, and the length of time during which he must have been receiving instruction in them; in view also of certain features in the Koran, it is easy to believe that he may have gained this gentle eminence in comparative Semitic philology. It is perhaps not too fanciful a conjecture that the brief exclamatory utterance which is believed with good reason to have constituted the very beginning of the Koran contains reference to this fact. Sura 96:3-5: "Recite! for thy Lord is the most gracious One; who teaches the use of the pen; teaches man what he had not known." The three lines are built upon the word qalam, "pen," which furnishes the threefold rhyme. Doubtless the thought of the Jewish and Christian scripture is in the background; but we should hardly expect the human element in the divine revelation to be so strongly emphasized, in this brief outburst, unless the message to the Arabs was also in mind. There is a personal note in the announcement: "Thy Lord is most gracious." It is natural to think that the nascent prophet here speaks out of the consciousness of his own experience.
However this may be, no wielding of the qalam, nor ability to spell out the words of an ancient sacred book, can account for Mohammed's acquaintance with Hebrew and Jewish lore. It is quite evident from the volume and variety of the material, derived from literary sources, which the Koran brings before us that it cannot, in the main, have been derived from the prophet's own reading. It would indeed have been easy for him to peruse, with the help of a teacher, some portions of the Hebrew sacred writings; it seems the easiest explanation of some of the phenomena which we can observe in the Koran that he did this; but, even if this may he supposed, the amount of such laborious perusal must have been small at best. The manner in which he gained his extensive, even though superficial acquaintance with the Hebrew scriptures and the Jewish halakh and haggada was by oral instruction, teaching which must have covered a very considerable period of time.
We have no definite and trustworthy information either as to the place or places, where the instruction was given, or as to any individual who gave it (see, however, what is presently to be said in regard to the passage 16:105). Presumably the prophet's own city, Mekka, was the principal place, and perhaps it was the only one, during his preliminary training and the earlier part of his career. It has often been surmised, and sometimes treated as an assured fact, that Mohammed gained some, or much of his religious information abroad, while on his travels as a caravan merchedise, especially in Syria. The conjecture, however, is neither well founded nor helpful. There is in the Koran nothing whatever that could not easily have been obtained in Mekka and Medina, nor any sort of material from which an origin outside of Arabia seems likely. The stories of Mohammed's distant journeyings are purely fanciful; it is not likely that he ever went north of Teima, the distributing center where the caravan merchandise was taken over by the carriers to the north and east. Nothing in the Koran gives the suggestion of a man who had been abroad; one receives distinctly the contrary impression.
The number of the prophet's authorities must have been small. It is possible to assert this from our knowledge of the man himself. He was not one who could go about freely and openly, asking for information - even before the idea of an Arabian revelation first entered his head; nor was it ever characteristic of him to take others into his confidence. In the hadith there are some very circumstantial narratives which show that on occasions when Mohammed was in serious need of counsel, even Omar and the trusted companion and adviser Abu Bekr were held off at arm length.5 We should have known this from the Koran, without the aid of the hadith. He was not a man to make intimate friends; if he had been, he never would have stepped forth as a prophet. He consulted privately as few as possible of those who could give him what he wanted, and kept his own counsel. Knowing how he was wont to treat - and maltreat - his material, we can say without reserve that he was very fortunate in the choice of his teachers. He can hardly have discussed with them much of what they told him. If he had done so, he certainly would have been saved from many of the blunders into which he fell. It would seem probable, from what we know of the mental attitude of the man, revealed in every feature of his life and work, that even in the presence of learned men he did not wish to acknowledge to them, or to himself, that he was acquiring information which was totally new. Whatever he thus received was a divine gift, to be refashioned according to his own divinely aided wisdom. This conception of the matter would have been especially easy if (as we may suppose) he had already learned to spell out Hebrew words and decipher sentences for himself. Probably few of his contemporaries, aside from the teachers themselves, knew whom he had been consulting; and certainly no one of the latter, not knowing what other instructors Mohammed might have had, would be inclined to accept responsibility for the travesty of Hebrew history which the Arabian prophet put forth. He had not been given this history in connected form, but in fragments of narrative, largely unrelated - and he trusted Gabriel to put them together for him. His studies certainly attracted very little attention at the time. In his youth and early manhood, and until his public appearance as a prophet, he was an insignificant personage, not particularly noticed by anybody (see Snouck Hurgronje, op. cii., 657). Mekkan tradition preserved no record of his teacher or teachers. The legends of the monk Bahira, of his Ten Jewish Companions, etc., are all perfectly worthless, mere romancing. His "studies" were indeed observed and commented upon. In two very important passages the Koran refers to human instruction received by the prophet, in both cases in answer to the cavilling charge that his divine wisdom was only what might be acquired by any one who was willing to waste his time in listening to "old stories." The first of the passages is 25:5 f. "The unbelievers say: This is only falsehood of his own devising, and other people have helped him to it. And they say: Old stories, which he has written out for himself; and they are dictated to him morning and evening." This is instruction given in Mecca, extending over some time. The stories from the Old Testament are especially referred to. Mohammed does not deny the human teacher, but only insists that the teaching came down from heaven. What the scoffing Mekkans said was certainly true as to the process by which the narrative material in the Koran was generally obtained. The teacher was some one whose continued intercourse with Mohammed they could observe, there in their own city. It was at home, not abroad, that the prophet received at least the Biblical (and haggadic) narratives which occupy so large a part of the Koran. The word qaum, "people," in this passage is indeed quite indefinite; it need not imply more than a single instructor. Since, however, the material referred to is Jewish, and since also we know that during nearly the whole of the Mekkan period it was upon the Jews and their knowledge of holy writ that he relied, it is a fair inference that the reference is to as representative of this "people," the Israelite colony in Mekka.
A still more important passage, significant in more ways than one, is 16:105, also of Mekkan origin. The angel of revelation is the speaker. "We know very well that they say: It is only a mortal man who has taught him. But the language of him to whom they refer is foreign, while this language is clear Arabic!" The person here referred to may or may not be the same one who is mentioned in 25:5. Certainly nothing opposes the supposition that both passages point to the same individual, while it is clearly supported by two considerations especially: these portions of the Koran are of about the same date; and Mohammed never would have frequented two or more teachers if one would suffice. It plainly is implied here that the Mekkans knew of but one, namely "that one whom they have in mind." Here, then, we may fairly conclude, is Mohammed's chief source, very likely his only major source of instruction aside from what he was constantly seeing and hearing, in the Jewish community which he frequented.
Especially interesting is the statement regarding the language. The man was a Jew; additional reason for this statement will be given in the sequel. He was not of Arabian birth, but came from without. As already remarked, the old and highly prosperous Israelite colonies in the Hijaz were frequently enlarged, both from Arabia and from the outside world. On the one hand, they inevitably attracted considerable companies of proselytes. Whole Arab tribes or clans would be likely to join them, assimilating more or less completely their religion and culture.6 Small groups of foreigners arriving in the country would see their best prospect of protection and success in entering the strong Hebrew settlements and professing the Israelite faith. I have shown reason for believing that we have in 2:73 a highly interesting allusion to certain of these "Israelites for revenue only." (page 38). In the first lecture, moreover (p. 15), I spoke of Jews who came from foreign parts to join their co-religionists in the Hijaz. One of these was the man to whom the prophet is now alluding. This learned rabbi (for such he certainly was), resident in Mekka among those of his own race and presumably speaking their dialect, had not been in Arabia long enough to enable him to speak Arabic correctly. Any discourse uttered, or dictation provided, by him would at once have been recognized as 'ajami (the word employed in the passage just translated). The word most commonly, but not necessarily, points to the Persian domain, and on all accounts it seems the most probable conjecture that this was a Babylonian Jew who had come down with one of the caravans from the northeast. (It seems characteristic of Mohammed to resort to such an outsider, for his private tutoring, rather than to any of those with whom the Arabs of Mekka were well acquainted.) There are some features of the Koranic diction, especially in the proper names, which suggest a teacher who was accustomed to Syriac forms;7 and a portion of the material taken over by Mohammed, especially the legends in the 18th Sura (mentioned above; and see especially the Fourth Lecture) and the quite unusual bit of mythology introducing the Babylonian angels Harut and Marut (Sura 2:96)8 would naturally point the reader to southern Mesopotamia.
Whether Mohammed had only one habitual instructor in Mekka, or more than one, he certainly learned from many, and in many ways. An essential framework of the new faith he had built up from his own observation and deep meditation, without consulting anybody. By far the most important factor in his religious education was the close and the continued acquaintance with the actual practice of a superior religion. He had frequented the Jewish quarter in his native city until he had learned much in regard to the children of Israel, "whom Allah prefer over the rest of the world" (45:15, and elsewhere): their fundamental beliefs, their book-learning, their forms of worship, and some of the law and customs which regulated their private and social life. Without this personal experience, observing the actual example with his own eyes and serving it for a considerable time, he could not possibly have conceived Islam.
Doubtless regarded as a promising convert, he was permitted to see the sacred books and to witness the divine service. The impression made upon him was profound. There is a very significant passage in the third Sura which has not received due attention. In verses 106-110 the prophet contrasts the Muslims with the unbelievers among the Jews, while acknowledging that some of the latter are true believers. In the past, as he I often declared, the children of Israel were the preferred of Allah, but this is true no longer. (106) "You (the Muslims) are the best people that have been brought forth for mankind; ... if the people of the Book had believed, it would have been better for them. There are believers among them, but the most of them are perverse. (107) They can do you little harm; and if they do battle against you, they will turn their backs in flight. (108) Shame is decreed for them ... and they have incurred the wrath of God; and poverty is stamped upon them; this, because they denied the signs of God, and slew the prophets unjustly (repeating the list of charges and penalties given in 2:58, 84 f.). (109) Yet all are not alike among the people of the book is an upright folk, reciting the signs of God in the night season, and prostrating themselves." Rudolph, p. 8, strangely holds, against the whole context, that this last verse may refer to the Christians; apparently unaware that the Jews, as well as the Christians, kept vigils and prayed with genuflections and prostrations.
Certainly Mohammed had witnessed nocturnal Jewish devotions, both the prayer ritual and the recitation (chanting) of the Hebrew scriptures. From the former he devised his own prescription of a prayer season in the night (11 :116; 17: 80 f.; 76: 25 f.; and see p. 136); while it was in partial imitation of the latter that he devised the form of his Qur'an, with its rhythmic swing and - specially - the clearly marked-off verses (ayat, "signs."). It was in order to assert the originality of his own "recitation," moreover, in distinction from that of the Jews, that he uttered the words of 29:47: "You (Mohammed) have not been wont to recite any scripture before this, nor to transcribe it with your right hand." He had neither recited Jewish scriptures nor copied them - a charge which would inevitably have been made by the Mekkans.
It is perhaps useless to conjecture what writings other than the Hebrew scriptures, specimens of the widespread Aramaic literature, might have been shown to him and perhaps read by him, at least in part. One might think of Bible stories in popular form, or of other religious narratives. In spite of the very strong probability that the most of what he received was given to him orally, and chiefly on the basis of oral tradition, there is a certain amount of literary transmission to be taken into account. I may be permitted to refer to a conjecture of my own, published in A Volume of Oriental Studies presented to Edward G. Browne (1922), pp. 457ff. The story of the Seven Sleepers and Decius, mentioned above, appears in the Koran (18:8) as "the men of the Cave and ar-Raqim. As soon as the suggestion of Aramaic script is made, the almost perfect identity of and is apparent. The problematic name in the Koran is the result of a misreading. The mistake might possibly occur in more than one variety of Aramaic script, but would have easy explanation only in the "square character" employed in the Jewish writings. Horovitz, p. 95, was inclined to doubt this solution of the long-standing riddle of "ar-Raqim," for two reasons: (I) no other similar example of misreading has been found in the Koran; and (2) the prefixed Arabic article is unexplained. The first of these objections can hardly be termed weighty, under the circumstances; and as for the second, since raqam has the form of an Arabic adjective; the prefixing of the article was very natural. Mohammed himself would have been especially likely to add this original touch. The coincidence is too exact to be accidental, since the hypothesis offers no difficulty at any point.
It can hardly be doubted, in view of the evidence thus far presented that Aramaic writings were numerous in Mekka and Medina, as well as in the other Jewish centers in northwestern Arabia. I have shown that the legends of the 18th Sura were clearly obtained from a Jewish recension, and it now appears (as of course would be expected) that the language was Jewish Aramaic. Was it Mohammed himself who made the misreading Raqim.9 The supposition is by no means necessary but it seems easier than any other. If the belief that he could read such document is felt to be too difficult, it may at least be maintained that the stories had been read (translated) for him, and that he had thereafter spelled out some part for himself. As has already been said, however, the task of learning to read Aramaic would have been very easy, especially while spending much time in a bilingual community.
Concerning the Jewish Aramaic spoken in this region we have of course very little information. We do happen to know a few of its peculiarities which doubtless were many. Dialects are easily formed, and go their own devious ways. The Hijazi Jews were in a position very favorable for developing peculiarities of speech, both home-grown and borrowed. The nearer Christian communities made their contributions; and here, who there was comparatively little occasion for controversy, such transfer was easy. Arabian Christianity - some of it - had much in common with Judaism (Wellhausen, Reste, p. 200), and the influence of course worked both directions. The Jews in southern Babylonia and Yemen, especially took their toll of new words from their Christian or pagan neighbors and then passed them on to the Hijaz, where not infrequently the Aramaic became Arabic. There is an interesting survival from this Hijazi dialect - a specimen of billingsgate - in one of the poems of Hassan ibn Thabit, Nöldeke, Del. Carm., 70, 12.10 There is an especially opprobrious epithet which was applied to the Qoreish of Mekka by the adherents of Mohammed at Medina. The poet now launches it at the enemy: ya sakhina! The meaning of the term was soon lost; the scholiast and the native lexicons, clinging to the Arabic root, proffer a ridiculous explanation; Nöldeke notes, originis ignotae. It is the Aramaic "scab!" a term of abuse not infrequently heard in modern times. The Qoreish were a scab, a sore, on the fair face of the Hijaz. The word was as familiar in Mekka as in Yathrib.
A few other examples of Hijazi Aramaic - words used in meanings unknown or unusual elsewhere can be inferred with very high probability from the Koran. Thus "alms," whence the Arabic zakat (see the concluding lecture); "religion"; "unbeliever" (see Horovitz, p. 60); "divine help," Arabic furqan,11 certainly the term regularly used in this sense by the Jews of this region, as occasionally in the Targums as the rendering of Hebrew yesha', yeshu a, teshu'a. Very probably we should also include and meaning respectively "lection" and "section" (or "chapter"). The former would be the regular Jewish Aramaic counterpart of the Syriac qeryan; and the latter could very naturally arise as a literary term designating a "closed series" of sentences (or especially of pesuqim). Both terms certainly were taken over into Arabic before Mohammed's time. It must be remembered that he had no intention of adorning the "pure Arabic" of his Koran with speech borrowed from any other language. He likes to mystify by inventing strange words now and then, but that is quite another matter.12 In such passages as 10:39; 11:16; 2:21 it is plainly implied that the term sura is perfectly familiar to his hearers; and as for qur'an the use of the verb (imperative) in the all-important passage 96:1 shows that he thought of the verbal noun as belonging to his own language. But such technical terms in Arabic are usually of foreign origin.
An obvious peculiarity of this dialect is that - as in Syriac - the Biblical proper names which in Hebrew are written Yisra e1, Yishma el, etc., was pronounced Isra'el, Ishma'el, etc. This might, of itself, have originated a mere dialectic variation in Aramaic, without outside influence; but there is another fact to be taken into account. The Biblical proper names generally, as they occur in the Koran, are not modeled closely upon the classical Hebrew or Aramaic forms, but - as in other parts of the world - are conformed to the language of the land. The most of the names were early taken over into Arabic in forms borrowed or adapted from the neighboring regions where the inhabitants were Jewish or Christian. The Arabs of Yemen, Mesopotamia, and the Syrian border made their several contributions; and as these gained currency in the native speech, they naturally were adopted by the Jews of the Hijaz. At all events, the names were all, without exception, received by Mohammed from the Jews of Mekka, among whom they doubtless had been in use for a long time.
We happen to have evidence of the occurrence in pre-Mohammedan times of the names Adam, Ayyub, Da'ud, Sulaiman; as well as 'Adiya, Samau'al, Sara, and Yuhanna, which do not occur in the Koran (see Horovitz, Untersuchungen, 81 ff.). Others which probably are pre-Islamic though the evidence is doubtful, are Ibrahim, Isma'il, Nuh, and Ya'qub. And certainly these concerning which we happen to possess evidence are merely a few out of many which were in use. Harun (for Aharon) antedates the Koran, as we know with certainty from the verses of 'Abu bas ibn Mirdas preserved in Ibn Hisham, 661; and this doubtless is true also of its counterpart Quran (for Korah), concerning whom Mohammed narrates, in Sura 28:76, and probably also in 33:69, what he had learned from the haggada; as shown by Geiger, 165 f. Fa'ul is a favorite form in Arabic for reproducing strange names; thus Da'ud, Qabus, Faghur La'udh, qamus (for ), and many others. The pairing of names and other words, moreover, by fashioning a paronomastic counterpart to an already existing form, is also thoroughly characteristic of the native speech; it must be remembered that Mohammed did no create the Arabic language. The pair Qabil and Habil (Cain and Abel), not occurring in the Koran and perhaps long antedating it, may serve as an example. It is probable that Yajuj was fitted to Majuj long before the rise of Islam; and as for Talut, the "tall" king (verb 'tala) who opposed Jalut, this is typical Arabian humor - of which Mohammed possessed very little. The prophet took faithfully what he found; and he was not so simple as to make himself ridiculous in the eyes of the "people of the Book" by appearing ignorant of the well known Biblical names. I have already conjectured (above) that the names Harut and Marut were brought to Mekka from the Arabs at the southern border of Babylonia. The name Ilyas may have been, as Horovitz, 82, observes, conformed to a genuine Arab name; but it is perhaps quite as likely that it was derived from Abyssinia along with the names Yunus and Fir'aun, and a large number of other words which were borrowed thence by the Arabs many generations before Islam (see below). It often has been said that Mohammed himself "must have heard from Christians" this or that name. Now there is no clear evidence that Mohammed ever received anything directly from a Christian source; but however that may be, there is no good reason for supposing that any one of the proper names in the Koran was first introduced by him into Hijazi Arabic.
In the case of two of the Koranic Biblical names there may be a reasonable suspicion of error in the written transmission, either by Mohammed or by some one of his predecessors. El-Yesa' for Elisha' may be a mere whimsicality of the popular oral tradition, but it is easiest to think of it as originating in the sight, rather than the hearing, of the name. Yahya, for John (the Baptist), is more puzzling. Whether it is a genuine Arabian name (as some have held) or not, it is strangely remote, in both form and sound, from either Yohanan or . I have long believed it probable (with Barth Casanova, and possibly others; see Horovitz, 167, bottom) that the explanation is to be found in a misreading of Yuhanna written in Arabic characters, this name being known to us as pre-Islamic.
Especially characteristic of the Jewish-Arabic dialect is the formation of curious mongrel words, partly Aramaic (or Hebrew) and partly Arabic sometimes a legitimate mixture, at other times reminding of the whimsical creations which appear now and then in bilingual communities - and when some of the early German settlers in Pennsylvania used the wort Schnecke for "snake." Zabur, already mentioned, is formed on an Arabic root which bears no relation to the original Hebrew word. Taurat mentioned in the same connection, was originally written with the consonant ya as though from , a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic. Ummi for (see above) is quite characteristic. Ma'un, Sura 107:7, is the of Ps. 90:1 and 71:3 interpreted by Arabic 'aun. It probably was in familiar use among the Arabian Jews long before Mohammed's time. Mathani 15:87 and 39:24, is the plural of with the meaning "teaching." In the former passage, the numeral "seven" seems utterly inappropriate and improbable, no matter what theory of its meaning is held. I think that we have here the Aramaic , and that sab'un min al-mathani was a standing phrase in the Jewish circles known to Mohammed. "We have brought you an abundance of teachings and the magnificent Koran" has the right sound. The peculiar employment of saut ("whip") for "(divinely wrought) catastrophe," with the verb of "pouring out," in 89:12, also has behind it a popular Jewish-Arabic phrase, derived from the overflowing scourge" of Is. 28:15. The word hanif has given rise to an amount of conjecture. From the way in which Mohammed employs it we may safely conclude that he heard it frequently from the Jews, and used it as they did. His idea of its meaning is best seen in 22:32, cf. also 2:129 and 3:89; it describes those who separate themselves from the worship of false gods. Abraham fled from Ur of the Chaldees as a , a heretic; and the Hijazi Jews, connecting the word with Arabic hanafa "to turn aside," used the Arabic adjective as a term of high praise descriptive of their great ancestor. Hawiya, 101:6, one of the numerous Koranic names of "hell," is a Jewish-Arabic adaptation of the "final calamity," of Is. 47:11, cf. vs 14. See the Oriental Studies presented to Edward G. Browne, pp. 470 f. It is not at all likely that Mohammed himself originated the term. Almu'tafikat, the collective name of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the cities "destroyed" with them, is a typical mixture: an Arabic form based on the Aramaic root , reminiscent of the Hebrew usage with derivatives of . Equally typical is the phrase rabb al-'alamin, which adapts a Jewish Aramaic formula (found, in more than one form, as far back as the book of Tobit, 13:6, 10), by introducing the purely Arabic rabb, "Lord." Only a bilingual community could have produced this combination.
These are specimens, others might he added to the list. Besides, the Koran contains many Aramaic loanwords, most of them doubtless long current in Arabic, and not all of them of Israelite origin. It has been a favorite theory, that Mohammed mistook the meaning of not a few of the foreign words which he happened to have heard, and used them in an illegitimate way. An occasional slip of this nature would not be surprising; the use of the word 'illyun in 83:18ff. seems to be an example; but in general it certainly is the case that he merely illustrates usage current in Mekka and Medina. That it is prevailingly Jewish usage is everywhere obvious. When, for example, he tells the incident of the manna and quails, using mann and salwa; we know with certainty that his narrator was one who had been brought up in the language of the Targums. It would be interesting to know in what way his curious word yaqtin, for Jonah's gourd (37:146) is related to the Hebrew and whether the new creation is in any way his own. But conjecture in such a case is fruitless.
The use of the Aramaic language by the Hijazi Israelites in their own settlements might have been taken for granted without any illustration. This was the medium of common intercourse among the Jews of the Dispersion generally; used in its various forms from Egypt and North Africa to Persia, and from Asia Minor to Italy; as universal a racial speech as Yiddish has been in modern times, and withal a literary language of high rank, though largely supplanted in this capacity by Greek in the most strongly Hellenistic regions. The Targums and the haggada went everywhere, and popular dialects, like the one now under consideration, were a matter of course. The way in which the language flourished in Italy, in the Middle Ages, is a particularly instructive example.
The Ethiopic loanwords in the Koran have often been thought to indicate one source from which Mohammed received personal instruction. A few of them, of not infrequent occurrence, belong to the religious terminology; thus fatara, "create," munafiq, "hypocrite," al-hawariyun, "the Apostles," and several others. Nöldeke has collected all these Koranic words, 21 in number, in his Neue Beiträge zur semitischen Sprachwissenschaft, 47-58; and it is easy to see from his list that only a part of them have to do with religious conceptions. To suppose that Mohammed himself had learned all these from Abyssinians would necessitate the additional supposition that he had lived for some time in an Abyssinian community, where he had learned to speak the Ethiopic language. But there are other facts to consider. There are many Ethiopic loanwords in Arabic aside from those in the Koran (see Nöldeke, ibid.), and something is known in regard to their origin. Siegmund Fraenkel, Die aramäischen Fremdwörter im Arabischen, pp. 210-2l6, in discussing the numerous Arabic words of Ethiopic origin dealing with ships and shipping, showed that these were a partial fruit of the long period during which the Arabs and Abyssinians were associated (as already mentioned) in charge of the traffic through the Red Sea.13 It was through this long and close association that at least the principal gain of Ethiopic words, the many secular and the few religious terms, was made by the Arabs, before the rise of Islam.
Mohammed had heard more than one language spoken, and seen more than one written, in his own city. The atmosphere in which he grew up was not merely commercial, nor was it by any means uncivilized. It was at home, not in the course of any travels, that he learned what he eventually put to use. His "Arabic Koran," a work of genius, the great creation of a great man, is indeed built throughout from Arabian materials. All the properties of the Koranic diction, including the foreign words and proper names, had been familiar in Mekka before he appeared on the scene. The fundamental doctrines, as well as the terminology, were provided, and close at hand, for one who had the wisdom to see and the originality to adopt them. By good fortune, it was Israelite schooling of which he availed himself, during the years of his preparation. The teacher (or teachers) whom he frequented "morning and evening" could, unquestionably, give him by far the greater part of what we find in his new system of faith and practice for the Arabian people. The leading ideas of early Islam are all prominent in the ancient religion which he had observed, and whose teachings he had heard. Some of them, no doubt, had been familiar, as Jewish or Christian doctrine, to all the best informed Arabs of Mekka; to some extent, indeed, they had their counterpart in the native paganism. But the paramount influence of Judaism is manifest in every part of the Koran.
The One God. The strict monotheism which has always been characteristic of Islam was nowhere more sharply pronounced than in the Koran. It was not a new idea in pagan Arabia, but the extraordinary emphasis given to the doctrine by Mohammed was the result of Jewish teaching. The term Allah, "the God," was already well known to the native tribesmen. There is, for instance, the familiar passage in the mu’allaqa of the poet Zuhair (lines 27f.):
Or the line from one of an-Nabigha's poems (Diwan, ed. Ahlwardt, 19, line 17b.):
Ahlwardt, Bemekungen über die Echtheit, u.s.w., pronounced this poem spurious, but on quite insufficient grounds. Nöldeke has called attention, on the contrary, to the fact that the poem is addressed to a Christian prince, and that the poet is known to have had frequent intercourse with Christians.14 This might suggest Christian origin for the use of the term "Allah" in pre-Islamic time; but the presence of a similar and long-standing monotheistic usage in pagan Arabia makes the supposition unnecessary. The ultimate origin may be neither Christian nor Hebrew.
The South Arabian inscriptions have brought to light a highly interesting parallel. In a number of them there is mention of the God, who is styled "the Rahman" (Merciful). A monument in the British Museum, deciphered by Mordtmann and D. H. Müller, is especially remarkable.15 Here we find clearly indicated the doctrines of the divine forgiveness of sins, the acceptance of sacrifice, the contrast between this world and the next, and the evil of "associating" other deities with the Rahman. As Margoliouth, Relations between Arabs and Israelites, 68, remarks, "the Qur'anic technicality shirk, association of other beings with Allah, whose source had previously eluded us, is here traced to its home." Moreover, we may now see a reason why Mohammed made his persistent attempt, in the Suras of the later Mekkan period, to introduce the specifically Arabian term (as he very naturally regarded it) "ar-Rahman" in place of "Allah," but ultimately abandoned it (17:110). It is of course to be borne in mind that the religious conceptions found in these South Arabian monuments are all ancient and widespread in western Asia, with their counterparts in the cuneiform documents as well as in the Aramaic inscriptions.
The supposition of any Christian element in Mohammed's idea of God is certainly remote. If he had ever consulted with Christians (which I find very difficult to believe), he would presumably have heard the monophysite doctrine, which would have been likely to give him the strong impression of (at least) two Gods. The adoration of the Virgin Mary, moreover, had reached a pitch which easily accounts for the Koranic teaching (doubtless obtained from the Jews) that the Christian Trinity consisted of Allah, Mary, and Jesus (5:116; Cf. 4:169, and especially 72:3). In one of the early Suras, 112, a vigorous little composition, the evil of associating others with Allah is attacked: "Say, Allah is One; Allah the eternal; he did not beget, nor was he begotten; nor his he any equal!" Some have interpreted this as alluding to the pagan minor deities, "daughters of Allah," mentioned in 53:19 f. But the denial of "equality" in the last verse, compared with 72:3, just mentioned, shows plainly enough that the polemic here is not against pagan worship. And the intensity of the prophet's feeling finds its most probable explanation in the Israelite reaction against the Christian doctrine.
The Written Revelation. It was from the Jews of Mekka that Mohammed learned of a divinely revealed book. This probably was the first great awakening and transforming idea that he received: Allah gives "guidance and help" (huda we-furqan) through revelations written down by inspired men. It took hold of him with tremendous force, and started him on the path which he thenceforth followed. He himself saw portions of these heaven-sent scriptures, handled with such veneration; and he also was profoundly impressed by the intimate acquaintance with them shown by these learned men: "they know the Book as they know their own children!" (2:141, 6:20). When at length he formed the idea of the Arabian Book, he was resolved that his followers should learn it, reading half the night, if need be (73:1-4).16 He knew - certainly he often had been told - that what he had seen and heard of the Bible was but a small part of the whole. The archetype of all holy scripture is preserved in heaven. Hence the "preserved tablet" of the Koran (85:22). St. Clair Tisdall, The Original Sources of the Quran, 119, compares Pirke Aboth v, 6, the heavenly tables of the Law. Mohammed of course had no intention of merely reproducing in the Koran, as his own revelation, any portion of what had been translated or paraphrased for his benefit. He makes one formal citation of Old Testament scripture (a very noteworthy fact), in Sura 21:105, naming its source as "az-Zabur" (the Psalter). It is in fact from Ps. 37:29, "the righteous shall inherit the earth." With his profound conviction of his own divine appointment, he could not doubt that his advent had been predicted in the scriptures which had preceded him. He says this in more than one place, of course venturing no more than the vague assertion in regard to the Hebrew writings. The Christian scriptures were far more remote; and here he goes farther, declaring in 61:6 that Jesus foretold a coming prophet named "Ahmad."17 This assertion may have taken shape out of Mohammed's own strong conviction, but it is perhaps more likely that he is repeating what someone had told him.18
It is very unlikely that Mohammed had ever seen Christian scriptures, of any sort. Certainly he never had become acquainted with their contents, beyond the few quotations and bits of legendary narrative that had reached his ear. Otherwise, with his thirst for information in religious matters, and his wish to show himself acquainted with the previous written revelations, he would have made acquisitions both significant and unmistakable, and would not have remained so profoundly ignorant of Christian history, custom, and doctrine.19 There are three passages in the Koran which seem clearly to be dependent on the New Testament. (I have been unable to find more than these, even after carefully examining the lists provided by Rudolph and Ahrens.) The first is the saying in 7:38, 'They (the hostile unbelievers) shall not enter paradise until the camel passes through the eye of the needle' (cf. Matt. 19:24). This a proverb which was known to both Jews and Christians everywhere. The second is 57:13, which immediately reminds any one who is familiar with the Gospels of the parable of the Ten Virgins, Matt. 25:1-13. This is one of the most striking, and most universal in its application, of all the popular mashalim in the Gospels. By Mohammed's time, many who were not Christians had some knowledge of what was in the Christian scriptures. The third is the opening section of Sura 19, verses 1-15, which recount briefly and in poetic diction the story of the birth of John the Baptist as told in Luke 1:5-25, 57-66; a fine bit of purely Jewish narrative in the style of the Old Testament. The aged priest Zachariah, serving in the temple at Jerusalem, prays for a son and heir, though his wife is barren. He is promised a son named John, a name "not previously given." For a sign assuring the fulfilment of the promise, he is dumb for three days. As he comes forth from the temple, he makes signs to the people.
Mohammed had not himself read this account. His mistake in regard to the name "John" (cf. Luke 1 :61) came from misunderstanding the man who told him the story. It is very noticeable that the correspondence with the Gospel narrative ceases with the first chapter of Luke. Mohammed's informant seems to have been one who was interested in the story of the priest Zachariah and the birth of John the Baptist,20 but not at all in the birth of Jesus. Instead of gleaning any incidents from the second chapter of Luke, Mohammed is now, in his story of Mary and Jesus (verses 16- 34), thrown entirely on his own imagination, of which he makes characteristic use. The sad blunder in vs. 29, identifying Mary with the sister of Aaron, continued in 3:30 ff. and 66:12, is the result of his own ignorant combination, not what any other had told him. It is a fair conjecture that each and all of these three bits of Gospel tradition were delivered to him by his Jewish teachers. There is no difficulty in the supposition, and no other seems quite plausible.
The Prophet, and the Chosen People. Mohammed's doctrine of the nabi and his mission was fundamental, one of the few supremely important ideas in Islam. And this, again, the conception of the prophet as the final authority on earth, he could only have obtained from Israelite sources. The whole history of Israel centered in prophets. In each successive stage, one of these divinely appointed men was the vice-gerent of God. They were the true leaders of all worldly affairs for they alone possessed the direct revelation; kings held a relatively lower place. Questions of high importance and great difficulty could only be settled "when a prophet should arise." After Mohammed came to the persuasion that the Arabs must have their prophet, the idea of the authority of this vicegerent grew steadily. In the older parts of the Koran it is Allah who must be obeyed; in the Medina chapters it is almost everywhere "Allah and his prophet."
What God intended from the beginning to give out to mankind he gave piecemeal, each time through some one prophet to the men of his generation. According to the Israelite tradition, each of the many portions of Hebrew scripture was written by a prophet, a "man of the Book" - as Mohammed declares, for example, of John (Yahya), in 19:13. Moreover, these human depositories of the divine wisdom were all members of a single great family. In all Mohammed's contact with his Israelite teachers he had been impressed with the idea of the chosen people. This, again, laid hold of him mightily, and brought forth his conception of the great mission of the Arabs. Allah had selected, once for all, the family of Abraham. Israel (which for Mohammed of course included the Christians) had had its day, and it was now the turn of Ishmael. On this other branch of the family rested the final choice, and he, Mohammed, was the final prophet.
All of the Koran was sent from heaven, he believed. As for the fits, or seizures, resembling epilepsy, out of which he brought forth some of the messages received in times of most urgent need, I have long believed that they were obtained through self-hypnotism. Before Mohammed made his public claim to prophecy, he had acquired the technique of this abnormal mental condition; in the same way in which countless others have gained it, namely through protracted fasting, vigils, and excited meditation. The first fit, or fits, came upon him unawares, and he recognized a heaven-sent answer to his searchings of heart. As usual in such cases, the means of producing the states came more and more completely under his control; and he used them, in good faith, as a divine gift. After the paroxysm, through which he believed himself to receive illumination from above, followed a struggle with the ideas and phrases of the desired "message," until at last it was worked into shape. Whatever form of words Mohammed thus decided upon was the one to which he was guided by the angel of revelation; of this he was fully persuaded, and his right to give it forth he never doubted. The well known phenomena of self-hypnotism agree strikingly with the description of Mohammed's "fits" given by his biographers. See especially Otto Stoll, Suggestion und Hypnotismus, 2te Aufl., Leipzig, 1904, pp. 256-258; also John Clark Archer, Mystical Elements in Mohammed (diss.), New Haven, Yale Press, 1924, pp. 71-74, 87; and my essay, "Mysticism in Islam," in Sneath's At One with the Invisible, Macmillan, 192 I, pp. 144-146.
Other Doctrines. The leading themes of the prophet's early preaching, those on which he chiefly relied to make an impression on his hearers, whether city dwellers or nomad tribesmen, were each and all characteristic features of Judaism. The resurrection of all men, both the just and the unjust; an idea familiar at least since Dan. 12:2 f., and always powerfully influential. The Judgment Day, yom dma rabba, when the "books" are opened, and every man is brought to his reckoning. The reward of heaven, the "garden," and the punishment of hell, with the everlasting fire of Gehinnam; ideas which Mohammed of course enriched mightily from his own imagination. The doctrine of angels and evil spirits; in particular the activities of Iblis, and of Gabriel, the angel of revelation. Mohammed must have been profoundly impressed by the first chapter of Genesis, judging from the amount of space given in the Koran to the creation of heaven and earth, of man, and of all the objects of nature. He may or may not have heard the verse Micah 6:8; at all events, he reiterates in his earliest Suras the primal duties of man: belief in Allah, humanity, and fair dealing.
The doctrines listed above are all equally characteristic of Christianity; but it was not from Christians that the Arabian prophet obtained them. These beliefs, and the many others connected with them, could not be acquired, and digested, in a few days, or in a few months; and it is utterly impossible to suppose that Mohammed ever had any continuous intercourse with Christians. He has some scattered information - a considerable amount, though generally vague or fantastic - about Christian beliefs, and has been told numerous things which occur in Christian scriptures; but of the basal, omnipresent conceptions, the matters of chief popular interest, the polemical theses (against the Jews, for example), characteristic of that religion, even in its crudest forms, he has not an inkling. With Judaism, on the contrary, his acquaintance is intimate and many-sided. He learned his lessons well; and when a thoroughgoing comparison is made of the Koranic material, of all sorts, with the standard Hebrew-Jewish writings then current, we must say with emphasis that his authorities, whoever they were, were men well versed in the Bible, the oral law, and the haggada.
1 [Landberg, Proverbs et Dicions du Peuple Arabe, p. 170].
2 [See Nöldeke, Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Poesie der alten Araber, p. 54 f.; also Margoliouth, Relations, 73, 79]
3 [The Hebrew terms in the quoted verses are obvious enough. Zubur comes from under the influence of a genuine Arabic root zhr, "writing"; an especially good example of this Hijazi dialect. It is unnecessary to argue that the Jews of Mekka and Medina did not adopt this word from Mohammed (!); and he, for his part, was not so simple as to invent Hebrew technical terms in place of those already in use].
4 [Rudolph, Abhängigkeit, 5, note 31, is mistaken in supposing that in Sura 9:35, 31 Mohammed designates Christian scholars by this word. The context plainly shows the contrary].
5 [E.g. Bokhari, ed. Krehl, II, 105, 156].
6 [See Nöldeke, Beiträge zur Kenntniss der Poesie der alten Araber, p. 551].
7 [The name Yajuj was probably adapted by the Arabs-Jewish and Christian - of southern Iraq from the "Agog" which appears in the Syriac legend cf Alexander].
8 [See Littmann, in the Andreas Festschrift, 70-87, and Horovitz, Kor. Untersuchungen, 146 ff.].
9 [Huber, Die Wanderlegende, p. 319, remarks that the use of written sources by Muhammed seems plainly suggested; yet he feels himself bound by the prevailing opinion decide against this].
10 [See the Diwan of Hassan ibn Thabit, ed. Hirschfeld, CLXXV, 9; and the scholion, p. 102].
11 [The native interpreters of the Koran of course did not know the origin of the word, but from the meaning of the common Arabic verb combined with such passages as 25:1 and 3:2 decided that it signified "revelation." It never has this meaning in the Koran, however, but in all the cases of its occurrence signifies precisely "divine aid." The claim has often been made in modern times that the word is of Christian origin, but this is absolutely out of the question; only the Jewish use can explain it].
12 [His foundness for high-sounding and perhaps unusual words is very characteristic but; that he was able to recognize any of them as of foreign origen (Wellhausen, Reste, 205, note) may well be doubted].
13 [There is a curious reference to sea-faring Arabs in the Futuh Misr of Ibn 'Abd al Hakam, p. 122, line 3, in the chapter dealing with the settlements of the Arab tribes Al-Fustat. A certain locality in the old city is said to have been occupied by the rubbaniyu min Ghafiq. Now these "sea-captains of Ghafiq" are something of a puzzle, since this was a Syrian tribe, always far from the sea. I suspect that we have here a confusion with Yemenite maritime town of Ghalifiqa, the well-known harbor of the city Zebid on the Red Sea, doubtless very active in the long-continued sea traffic in company with the Abyssinians. See nevertheless, in the same work, p. 3, line 16].
14 [See my Commercial-Theological Terms in the Koran, p. 18, note].
15 ("Eine monotheistische sabäische Inschrift," in the Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, vol. X (1896), pp. 285-292].
16 [Verse 20, added later to relieve the severity of tie prescription, makes it plain that the opening verses were not intended to apply to the prophet alone, but to any pious Muslim who was comfortably "wrapped up" for his night’s sleep].
17 [Of course not Muhammed, for every such prediction must have its element of mystery].
18 [I can see no plausibility in the conjecture, first made by the Muslims (e.g. Ibn Hisham 149 f.), and very often repeated, sometimes adorned with a play on Greek words, that the allusion is to the Gospel of John, 14:26; 16:7].
19 [Richard Bell, The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment, has an excellent chapter on Muhammad's attitude to Christianity. This subject will be considered further in the next lecture].
20 [Mohammed tells the story again in 3.33 a., besides alluding to it in 21:89 f]
Lectures by Charles Cutler Torrey
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