Sunday, February 9, 2014

The History of the Bible and the Quran


The History of the Bible and the Quran: A Comparative Analysis of the Holy Texts

View as PDF

 “We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).”

-          The Holy Quran, Surah Al-Hijr, 15:9

The Bible (the Tanakh and the New Testament) and the Quran are without doubt among the most widely read and studied texts in human history.  Their influence on human civilization is immense and far-reaching.  Both texts are regarded by their ardent followers as divine revelation, free of error and preserved for all time.  However, just because something may be widely believed by a large number of people does not mean it is necessarily true.[1]  Hence, in order to arrive at the truth behind the Bible and the Quran, we must delve into the respective histories of these texts.  In doing so, we can attempt to determine whether these two books (which combined are followed by almost one-half of mankind) can really be described as divine revelation which have been protected from human corruption.  In this article, we will discuss the respective histories, using historical and academic sources, and determine whether Jews, Christians and Muslims are right to claim that their respective texts are truly the word of God and not the word of man.

The History of the Bible
      
            The history of the Bible is long and complicated.  Whether we are talking about the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) or the New Testament, delving into the history requires an intensive study which is outside the scope of this article.  The subject is so vast that entire volumes have been written on it.  For the purposes of this article, we will briefly discuss several facets of the Biblical text which best illustrate the true history of the Bible, and which demonstrate the proof of its evolution through multiple authors.  Given that the Tanakh is separate from and older than the New Testament, it behooves us to study them separately as well.

The Tanakh -

            The Tanakh has traditionally been divided into three sections: the Torah (also known as the “Pentateuch” or the “Five Books of Moses”), the Nevi’im (books of the Prophets) and the K’tuvim (Scriptures or “Writings”).[2]  The total of number of books in the Jewish canon is thirty-nine.[3]  However, in the Catholic canon, the “Old Testament” consists of 46 books, due to the Catholic view that such “apocryphal” works as Tobit and 1 & 2 Maccabees are divinely inspired.[4]  Meanwhile, the Syriac Orthodox Church considers the Apocalypse of Ezra as canonical and the Ethiopian Church includes the Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees in its canon.[5] 

Moreover, the Bible itself mentions some books which do not exist any longer and which were certainly not included in the official canons of each church.[6]  For example, Numbers 21:14 mentions a book known as the “Book of the Wars of the Lord”:

“The Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites.  That is why the Book of the Wars of the Lord says…”[7]

The exact nature of this book is not known, as even believers in the Bible will admit.  In the well-known Christian commentary “Barnes’ Notes on the Bible”, it is stated:

“Of "the book of the wars of the Lord" nothing is known except what may be gathered from the passage before us. It was apparently a collection of sacred odes commemorative of that triumphant progress of God's people which this chapter records.”[8]

This difference in the composition of the canon of the Tanakh naturally raises some questions, but when we study the history of the development of the canon, it actually becomes understandable as to why these differences exist.  For example, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has revealed evidence of a canon that was in flux even 2,000 years ago.  As the late Biblical scholar Geza Vermes observed:

“…at Qumran the concept ‘Bible’ was still hazy, and the ‘canon’ open-ended, which would account for the remarkable freedom in the treatment of the text of Scripture by a community whose life was nevertheless wholly centered on the Bible.”[9]
   
         In contrast to the Qumran community, the Jewish historian Josephus accepted a static canon.  Referring to the canon, he wrote:

“For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another (as the Greeks have) but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them, five belong to Moses, which contain his laws, and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death.  This interval of time was little short of three thousand years; but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books.  The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life.”[10]

Clearly, the canon existed in different forms even in the time of Jesus (peace be upon him).  Not only was there disagreement on the exact number of books, but there was also disagreement on the content of those books (as in the case of the apocryphal psalms found among the Dead Sea Scrolls previously mentioned).  It is no wonder then that there are still differences even in modern times.             

            In addition to the controversy surrounding the canon of the Tanakh, there are also debates (especially in modern times) about the exact authorship of many of the books.  In the center of these debates is the Torah itself.  While authorship of the Torah has traditionally been ascribed to Moses, modern scholarship has rejected this view.  As Maurice Bucaille explains:

“Today, this theory has been completely abandoned; everybody is in agreement on this point.”[11]

Due to modern textual criticism, the authorship of the “Torah” is no longer ascribed to Moses.  Instead, scholars now believe that that the so-called “five books of Moses” actually had multiple authors, a view known as the “Documentary Hypothesis”.  Bucaille summarizes the scholarly view as the following:

“As far as textual criticism is concerned, the Pentateuch provides what is probably the most obvious example of adaptations made by the hand of man.  These were made at different times in the history of the Jewish people, taken from oral traditions and texts handed down from preceding generations.  It was begun in the Tenth or Ninth century B.C. with the Yahvist tradition which took the story from its very beginning.  […] It was concluded in the Sixth century B.C. with the Sacerdotal tradition that is meticulous in its precise mention of dates and genealogies.”[12]

While this theory has been challenged and modified since it was first proposed, the current scholarly consensus is that the “Pentateuch” is the result of multiple authors.  The evidence certainly suggests this.  For example, when we read the account of the creation in Genesis, it is not difficult to see that there are actually two different accounts, placed side-by-side.  Genesis 1 offers one account whereas Genesis 2 offers another. 

Another example is the fact that the Pentateuch ends with the story of Moses’ death and burial, an account which was clearly written after the fact by another author:[13]

“And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said.  He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is.  Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.  The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.”[14]

            In addition, scholars have noted that the Pentateuch is linguistically very similar to books which were written near the end of the Jewish exile in Babylon, despite that fact that Moses lived centuries before.  As McKinsey notes:

“…there is no important difference between the language of the Pentateuch allegedly written by Moses and that of books written shortly before the Judaic return from the Babylonian Captivity a thousand years later.  If there had been no change in a language in a thousand years, that would have been an unparalleled event in human history.”[15]

An example of this linguistic similarity can be seen between the Book of Genesis and the Book of Isaiah.  According to Joseph Blenkinsopp of the University of Notre Dame:

“Emphasis in Isaiah 40–55, from the late Neo-Babylonian period, on Israel’s God as cosmic creator deity should also be given due weight. The verb ברא occurs with reference to Gods creative activity often in Genesis 16 (eleven times), even more often in Isaiah 4055 (sixteen times), and with relative infrequency elsewhere.  The god invoked by this prophet is, more clearly than in any other prophetic writing, a universal deity, creator of the world.”[16]

In addition to these facts, other internal evidence shows without a doubt that the Tanakh (even if it could be believed to have been the “word of God” at one time) has telltale signs of later redaction and editing.  The best evidence can be seen in the many historical errors and anachronisms which can be found in the text.  The presence of these is significant because if the Tanakh was indeed the word of God (and not of man), then we would expect it to be free of such errors.  Here we will mention some examples.[17]

A good example of a historical error (or exaggeration) is the size of the Israelite army in the time of King David.  According to 2 Samuel 24:9: 

“And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.”

According to this verse, the Israelite army in the time of King David numbered 1.3 million men (800,000 in Israel and 500,000 in Judah).  This has to be an obvious exaggeration since populations in ancient times tended to be much smaller than in modern times.  In the 21st century, there are only 5 countries which have armies numbering 1 million or more soldiers!  These are China, the United States, South Korea, India and North Korea.[18]  Yet, 2 Samuel 24:9 claims that the combined strength of Israel and Judah in the time of David was 1.3 million soldiers, which would make it among the largest armies in the history of the world, behind only the Chinese and American armies in modern times!  Ironically, the modern Israeli army is only the 6th largest army in the world, with a force of “only” 633,000 soldiers.[19]  It seems strange that the ancient Israelite army would have been larger than the modern IDF.  Hence, it is obvious that the figure given in 2 Samuel 24:9 is incorrect and is just an exaggeration.  Commenting on this verse, Dr. Boyd Seevers of Northwestern University states:

“These numbers seem quite high, especially considering the size of contemporary armies. Though clearly less complete that [sic] the biblical accounts, the contemporary sources typically give sizes of armies in the hundreds or low thousands, perhaps as high as a few ten thousands. For example, at the Battle of Kadesh in 1275 B.C., the great kingdoms of Egypt and Hatti apparently assembled armies of 20,000 and 16,000 men respectively. An emerging nation like Israel may have been able to muster only a smaller number.”[20]

We must also consider that at the height of its power in the 8th century BC, the Assyrian empire had an army of 150,000-200,000 soldiers.[21]  Given these facts, it is quite hard to believe that the Israelites would have had a million-strong army in the time of King David.  Certainly, with an army that large, they probably would have been able to conquer much of known world at the time!  When even the superpowers of the time, such as Assyria, could only muster armies no larger than 200,000 men, we must admit that there is something quite off about the strength of the Israelite army as mentioned in 2 Samuel.

As it turns out, exaggerating the Israelite numbers is not at all a rare occurrence in the Bible.  The Biblical authors frequently misstated these numbers.  For example, Exodus 12:7 claims:

“And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children.”

According to this verse, at the time the Israelites were leaving Egypt with Moses and Aaron, there were at least 600,000 men.  Using this figure, authors Louay Fatoohi and Shetha al-Dargazelli came to the following conclusion about the total Jewish population at the time of the Exodus, based on the Biblical account:

“If we consider the reasonable assumption that there were as many Israelite females as males, the children these families had and the elderly then the total number of the Israelites – that is all men, women, and children – who left Egypt with Moses must have been in the region of 2-3 millions [sic].  It is impossible that in 430 years only the population of the Israelites would have rocketed from less than one hundred to over 2 millions [sic]!”[22]

            An example of a Biblical anachronism is in the usage of the Egyptian term “Pharaoh”.  In the Bible, the rulers of Egypt, from the time of Abraham to Moses, are referred to as both “King” and “Pharaoh”.  For example, Genesis 12:15 refers to the ruler in Abraham’s time as “Pharaoh”:

“The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house.”

In Genesis 40:11, the cupbearer tells Joseph his dream and specifically refers to the ruler of Egypt as “Pharaoh”:

“…’Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.’”

In addition, once Joseph became the ruler of Egypt, he was also specifically referred to as “Pharaoh King of Egypt”, as stated in Genesis 41:46:

“Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt.”

Even the ruler who had preceded Joseph described himself as “Pharaoh” in Genesis 41:44:

“Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt.””

In the same way, the ruler of Egypt in the time of Moses is also referred to as “Pharaoh”, as is widely known, and also as “king”.  So, what does this all mean?  Does it matter that the Bible consistently refers to the rulers of Egypt as “Pharaohs”, regardless of the time period (i.e. in Joseph’s time or in Moses’ time)?  The answer is yes.  As Fatoohi and Al-Dargezelli explain:

“The title ‘Pharaoh,’ which means ‘great house,’ was used to refer to the palace of the sovereign since the Old Kingdom.  It was not used as an epithet for the monarch until the reign of Tuthmosis III (1504-1450 BCE) in the 18th Dynasty.  […] Significantly, the Bible also applies the title ‘Pharaoh’ to the Egyptian monarch during whom Abraham is said to have visited Egypt (Gen. 12:15, 17, 18, 20).  Abraham is believed to have lived at the beginning of the second millennium, and at the time ‘Pharaoh’ was still being used only for the palace.”[23]

Similarly, the “Encyclopedia Judaica” states:         

“The Egyptian expression per aʿo ("the Great House"), transcribed and vocalized pirʿu in Akkadian and parʿo in Hebrew, did not originally designate the king of Egypt, but rather his palace, and was used in this sense in Egyptian texts until the middle of the 18th dynasty (c. 1575–1308 B.C.E.). Circumlocutions were frequently used to specify the king in the texts of the 18th dynasty, and during the reign of the great conqueror and empire-builder, Thutmosis II (c. 1490–1436 B.C.E.), per aʿo, i.e., the palace, began to appear as another such designation, just as in more modern times "The Sublime Porte" meant the Turkish sultan. The Egyptian texts never used this designation, however, as part of the official titulary of the king, although from the 22nd dynasty on (c. 945–730 B.C.E.), it was regularly added, in popular speech, to the king's personal name. In the non-Egyptian sources, particularly in the Bible where it occurs not infrequently, Pharaoh always means the king of Egypt, although frequently the earlier usage, the addition of the king's personal name, is followed.”[24]

Thus, the term “Pharaoh” was only used to refer to the king of Egypt after a specific time period, which was many centuries after the time of Abraham and also Joseph.  The ruler of Egypt in either Abraham or Joseph’s time would certainly not have referred to himself as “Pharaoh”. Therefore, the Bible contains an anachronism by using that title to refer to Egypt’s ruler in their respective times.[25]  It would be akin to referring to the earliest Ottoman sultans as “The Sublime Porte”, even though that title was used to refer to later sultans only, as noted above.  For example, if a modern book claiming to be “divine revelation” had referred to the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent as “The Sublime Porte”, would that not be telltale evidence that its author was not all-knowing and was only presenting information based on his own time period?  

            In closing, the evidence we have considered above demonstrates that the Tanakh is a very human book.  Rather than being God’s word, it is far more likely that the Tanakh is the result of human authors and has undergone centuries of redaction and editing.[26]  Let us now turn our attention to the New Testament.

The New Testament -         

            The history of the New Testament shares many features with that of the Tanakh.  As we will see, the evidence shows that the history of the New Testament suffers from many of the same problems that have plagued the Tanakh, if not more so.  

            As with the Tanakh, the history of the New Testament canon is complicated.  While there is no difference between the modern Catholic and Protestant canons,[27] it does not mean that there were no controversies in Christian history.   In fact, in the early history of Christianity, the question of which books to trust was always controversial.  As Bucaille states:

“In the early days of Christianity, many writings on Jesus were in circulation.  They were not subsequently retained as being worthy of authenticity and the Church ordered them to be hidden, hence their name ‘Apocrypha’. […]

Perhaps a hundred gospels were suppressed.  Only four were retained and put on the official list of neo-Testament writing making up what is called the ‘Canon’.”[28]

Furthermore, when it came time to decide which books were to be retained, the process of selecting those books was anything but objective.  According to McKinsey (emphasis in the original):

“…the Bible was put together by a group of men who met, went through a collection of writings, and chose through voting those that are to be deemed divinely inspired.  Many of them wound up on the cutting room floor.”[29]

Nevertheless, many of the books which were eventually rejected had held firm authority among early Christians.  According to J.K. Elliot of the University of Leeds:

“Some early church authorities knew of and cited Gospels that were later branded as apocryphal. According to Eusebius the Gospel of Peter was read by the church at Rhossus. Jewish Christian Gospels like the Gospel according to the Hebrews were quoted by Fathers such as Clement, Origen and Jerome in the same way as they cited works that were later to be in the canon. All these Gospels, canonical and apocryphal (to use these terms anachronistically) presumably circulated originally as separate items.”[30]

Moreover, before the ecumenical councils determined which books were to be accepted as “scripture”, the prevailing approach of early Christians towards the many books that were in circulation (even those which eventually were accepted into the canon) was that they were not “scripture”.  For example, scholars point out that while the early church leader Ignatius of Antioch may have been familiar with some of the canonical Gospels, he never referred to them as scripture!  According to Bruce Metzger:

“He certainly knew a collection of Paul's epistles, including (in the order of frequency of his use of them) 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Romans, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 Thessalonians. It is probable that he knew the Gospels according to Matthew and John, and perhaps also Luke. There is no evidence that he regarded any of these Gospels or Epistles as 'Scripture'.”[31]

            Another example of a famous Christian leader who had differing views of
“scripture” is Justin Martyr.  He may have been familiar with the Gospel of John (and some of its theology) and the Synoptic Gospels, but he also used non-canonical sources as well.  As Metzger observed:

“In addition to echoes and quotations from the Memoirs of the apostles, Justin also makes use of various extraneous traditions, probably oral, about the life of Jesus.  It perhaps was noticed…that in quoting [Matthew] Justin says the Magi came from Arabia (Dial. lxxxviii. 1).  Likewise he states that Jesus was born in a cave near Bethlehem (Dial. lxxxviii. 5); that the ass colt used in the Palm Sunday entry was found ‘bound to a vine at the entrance of the village’ (1 Apol. xxxiii. 6); and that at the crucifixion mocking bystanders not only shook their heads and shot out their lips (1 Apol. xxxviii. 8) but ‘twisted their noses to each other’ (Dial. ci. 3) and cried, ‘Let him who raised the dead deliver himself’ (1 Apol. xxxviii. 8)”[32]

Furthermore, in summarizing Justin Martyr’s use of different sources, Metzger stated:

“He makes use of the Synoptics much more frequently than the Fourth Gospel.  Justin also alludes to various traditions bearing on the life of Jesus that came to be incorporated in apocryphal gospels.  […] In any case, he does not generally attribute to them an authority comparable to that of the Memoirs of the apostles. […] Justin does not appeal to the authority of Paul, but he considers the Apocalypse of John as both a prophetic and an apostolic work.”[33]

            All of these differing opinions obviously led to different canons.  Some canons included the letters of Clement while others included the Shepherd of Hermas.  On the other hand, some canons rejected books like 2 Peter and Revelation.  According to Elliot:

“The canon of the Coptic church includes 1 and 2 Clement (and the Apostolic Constitutions) after Revelation. Jerome hesitated about the status of the Epistle of Barnabas ('almost a New Testament book' De Vir. Ill. 6). He also knew that the Shepherd of Hermas was read in some churches (De Vir. Ill. 10). The Shepherd of Hermas is included in the ninth-century manuscript Codex Fuldensis and also in the Complutensian Polyglots. […] 1 and 2 Clement are included within the Paulines in one Harclean Syriac MS. This varied testimony shows how these texts were on the fringes of the New Testament canon for many centuries. However, the canonical list in the sixth-century Codex Claromontanus marks the Epistle of Barnabas and The Shepherd of Hermas together with the Acts of Paul and the Apocalypse of Peter as works of doubtful canonicity.”[34]

In addition, the Peshitta omitted many of the standard canonical texts:

“Of more significance is the Syriac. For a time the Syriac included 3 Corinthians. Of particular importance is the canon of the fifth-century Peshitta which omits four short epistles (2 and 3 John, Philemon, 2 Peter) and Revelation. All 27 New Testament books ultimately appeared in the Philoxenian version, yet the official lectionary of both East and West Syrian churches uses only the 22 books found in the Peshitta.”[35]

Given all the evidence, it is clear that the New Testament canon was never static.  Instead, it was in constant flux, evolving over a period of time.  Moreover, different churches had different ideas of what was “canonical” and what was not.

            Having considered the canon history, we can move to the issue of the authorship of the 27 canonical books of the New Testament.  While Christians maintain that all of the books were written by authorities such as Paul and the Apostles, the historical evidence shows otherwise.  As it turns out, there are some New Testament texts that have been regarded by scholars as definite forgeries.  For example, there is general consensus that both 1 Peter and 2 Peter are forgeries and were not written by Peter.[36]  Discussing 2 Peter, for instance, Ehrman notes that it attempted to explain why Jesus had not yet returned despite clear prophecies in the Gospels:

“One of the reasons virtually all scholars agree that Peter did not actually write this letter is that the situation being presupposed appears to be of much later times.  When Peter himself died – say, the year 64 under Nero – there was still eager expectation that Jesus would return soon; not even a full generation had passed since the crucifixion. […] By the time 2 Peter was written, Christians were having to defend themselves in the face of opponents who mocked their view that the end was supposed to be imminent.  So ‘Peter’ has to explain that even if the end is thousands of years off, it is still right around the corner by God’s calendar; everything is still on schedule.”[37]

Besides the issue of out-right authorship, scholars also point to the testimony of early church leaders to show that Christian scribes were constantly making changes to the texts.  For example, Origen observed with regard to the manuscripts he had studied:

“The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please.”[38]

Another early church leader, Dionysius, the Bishop of Corinth, accused “heretics” of altering his letters as well as the canonical books:

“When my fellow-Christians invited me to write letters to them I did so.  These the devil’s apostles have filled with tares, taking away some things and adding others.  For them the woe is reserved.  Small wonder then if some have dared to tamper even with the word of the Lord himself, when they have conspired to mutilate my own humble efforts.”[39]

While Dionysius was referring to heretics from other sects making these changes, Ehrman points out that it was actually the other way around:

“…recent studies have shown that the evidence of our surviving manuscripts points the finger in the opposite direction.  Scribes who were associated with the orthodox tradition not infrequently changed their texts, sometimes in order to eliminate the possibility of their ‘misuse’ by Christians affirming heretical beliefs and sometimes to make them more amenable to the doctrines being espoused by Christians of their own persuasion.”[40]

So what kinds of changes were being made by these scribes?  Were they minor changes, such as spelling, or were they major changes which altered the theological context?  Let us take a look at some examples.  First, it should be pointed out that despite the rich collection of extant manuscripts of the New Testament,[41] no one manuscript matches another and the differences are too numerous to count.  As Ehrman notes:

“…there are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament.”[42]

While it is true that most of these differences are minor, or as Ehrman puts it, “immaterial and insignificant”, he also observes that:

“If one wants to insist that God inspired the very words of scripture, what would be the point if we don’t have the very words of scripture?  In some places…we simply cannot be sure that we have reconstructed the original text accurately.”[43]

Here are a few examples of verses which have been added, deleted or edited in the Bible.  As stated above, there are many examples, but for the purposes of this article, we are only mentioning the major ones:

1.  The Johannine Comma –

Perhaps the best example is the so-called “Johannine Comma”.  As Ehrman explains:

“This is the account of 1 John 5:7-8…found in the manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate but not in the majority of Greek manuscripts, a passage that had long been a favorite among Christian theologians, since it is the only passage in the entire Bible that explicitly delineates the doctrine of the Trinity…”[44]

The actual verse in most Greek manuscripts is very different from how Christians read it.  The Greek manuscripts render the verse as follows:

“There are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood, and these three are one.”[45]

But when compared to what most some modern Bibles have, there is a clear and shocking difference:

“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.  And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”[46]

Clearly, there is a complete absence of verse 7 from the Greek manuscripts.  The verse was not only edited, it also had additions made which were fabricated in order to provide clear “evidence” of the Trinitarian doctrine.  As Ehrman observes:

“Without this verse, the doctrine of the Trinity must be inferred from a range of passages combined to show that Christ is God, as is the Spirit and the Father, and that there is, nonetheless, only one God.  This passage, in contrast, states the doctrine directly and succinctly.”[47]

2.  Mark 1:2 –

The verse has been shown to contain a contradiction with the Tanakh, and it seems that Christian scribes tried to cover it up.  The “earliest and best manuscripts” render the verse as follows:
“Just as is written in Isaiah the prophet…”[48]

In this case, most Bibles are in agreement with the earliest manuscripts, as they also mention Isaiah.  However, it appears that some early scribes recognized that this was an error and attempted to change it.  As Ehrman notes:

“The problem is that the beginning of the quotation is not from Isaiah at all but represents a combination of a passage from Exod. 23:20 and one from Mal. 3:1.  Scribes recognized that this was a difficulty and so changed the text, making it say, ‘Just as is written in the prophets…”[49]

So, in the case of this verse, we ironically find modern Bibles actually agreeing with the earliest manuscripts, but they actually serve to show that the author of Mark confused the passage from the Tanakh and mistakenly attributed it to Isaiah.  In other words, this is not really an example of a corruption, as much as it is an example of an attempted corruption by scribes.  Fortunately, it was retained in its original form but that only serves to expose a serious error on the part of the supposedly “inspired” author of the Gospel of Mark.  It also serves as just more proof that scribal changes (whether successful or not) were quite frequent. 

3.  Hebrews 1:3 – 

According to Ehrman:

“In the opening of the book of Hebrews there is a passage in which, according to most manuscripts, we are told that ‘Christ bears [Greek: PHERON] all things by the word of his power’ (Heb. 1:3).  In Codex Vaticanus, however, the original scribe produced a slightly different text, with a verb that sounded similar in Greek; here the text instead reads: ‘Christ manifests [Greek: PHANERON] all things by the word of his power.”[50]

The irony of this change is that a second scribe erased the word “phaneron” and put in “pheron”.  Then, a third scribe came along and erased the word “pheron” and replaced it with “phaneron” and then added a note in the margin stating:

“Fool and knave! Leave the old reading, don’t change it!”[51]

4.  The Pericope Adulterae –

As a fourth and final example, let us look at the so-called “Pericope Adulterae”, the famous passage in the Gospel of John about the adulteress who was brought before Jesus.  According to Ehrman:

“Despite its popularity, the account is found in only one passage of the New Testament, in John 7:53-8:12, and it appears not to have been original even there.”[52]

There are good reasons for scholars to be certain that this passage is a later addition to the Gospel of John.  They note that the pericope is not found in the earliest manuscripts.[53]  In fact, besides one exception, it does not appear in any Greek manuscripts until the 9th century.[54]  Scholars also note that the writing style is very different and includes certain words and phrases which are not found in other places in the Gospel.[55]  According to Ehrman:

“The conclusion is unavoidable: this passage was not originally part of the Gospel.”[56]

From these four examples, we can see that Christians tended to make changes to the text for both minor and major reasons, the latter of which were mostly theological.  For more examples, readers should see the previously cited references.[57]

            Considering all the evidence presented above, it should be clear that neither the Tanakh nor the New Testament have remained in the same condition as from their inception.  Through the ages, both texts have been edited and rewritten.  The dubious history behind each book led to centuries of disagreements among the faithful and questions of authenticity.  Even today, the controversy continues.  Let us now consider the history of the Quran and whether it too suffers from the complications and controversies which plague the Tanakh and the New Testament.

The History of the Quran

            As with our analyses of the Tanakh and the New Testament above, in our study of the history of the Quran, we will emphasize views on its canonicity and authorship as well as paleographical evidence.  

            Starting with the canonicity of the Quran, upon analyzing the Islamic sources, we find that unlike the Tanakh and the New Testament, there has been absolutely no disagreement among Muslims on which parts of the Quran are canonical and which are not.  Among the two main Islamic sects, Sunnism and Shiism, there is absolute agreement that the Quran has remained the same throughout its history.[58]  Although some early Shiite-influenced sources referred to alleged “variant” readings, these were based on dubious scholarship and without any evidence.  For example, the 8th-century CE scholar Al-Amash (d. 148 A.H.)[59] claimed the presence of many variants in the so-called “Mushaf of Abdullah ibn Mas’ud”, but as M.M. Al-Azami points out:

“Not only does al-Amash fail to furnish any references for this – hardly surprising given his proclivity for tadlis (concealing the source of information) – he is moreover accused of Shiite tendencies.”[60]

In any case, there is unanimous consensus among contemporary Shiite scholars that the Quran is the same now as it has always been.[61]  As far as the “Mushaf of Ibn Masud” is concerned, early Sunni sources were in agreement that it was “…in line with the rest of the Muslim umma.”[62]

            Having considered the canonicity of the Quran, let us turn to the question of authorship.  Once again, Sunnis and Shiites are in agreement and always have been.  All Muslims, whether Sunni or Shiite, are in agreement that the author of the Quran was Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) and there was never any question of dubious “authorship”, as in the case of the different books of the Bible.[63]  

            Of course, non-Muslims will question this claim and non-Muslim scholars are no different.  On the question of who wrote the Quran, secular scholars will of course reject any claim of divine authorship, as they would do with similar claims regarding the Tanakh and the New Testament.  The difference, however, is that while there is abundant evidence of multiple authorship of the Tanakh and the New Testament, no such evidence exists with regard to the Quran.  

One of the most common arguments made by non-Muslims is that the author of the Quran, whether it was Muhammad (peace be upon him) or someone else, simply copied from the Bible.[64]  Yet, this argument is very easily refuted.  If the Quran was simply the result of copying from the Bible, then why do we find so many differences between the two?  Also, why doesn’t the Quran repeat the mistakes found in the Bible?  We noted above that the Tanakh mistakenly referred to the ruler of Egypt in the times of Abraham and Joseph as “Pharaoh” whereas the Quran did not make this mistake.  If the author was simply copying what he saw in the Bible, how was he able to ignore the errors, especially if the author was an Arab merchant with no knowledge of Egyptian history and no capability of deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics?[65]

Since there is no definitive proof of the non-Muslim claim of human authorship of the Quran, let us move on to another aspect of the history which is a favorite target of apologists: the compilations of Abu Bakr and Uthman Ibn Affan (may Allah be pleased with them both).  Here, we will summarize these important events in the Quran’s history and show why they serve as indisputable proof of the Quran’s matchless preservation.

During the reign of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), the Quran was compiled into a book for the first time.  Up to that point, it had existed in the form of various manuscripts which were scattered throughout the Muslim world, as well as in the memories of the Muslims.  The time had come to bring them together.  As Islamic scholar Ahmad Ali Al-Imam explains:

“The Companions and their Successors, all of whom relied on memorizing the Qur’an, taught the Qur’an to the young and newly converted Muslims by requiring them to memorize it.  In addition, they had their personal manuscripts.

The Qur’an remained uncompiled until 12 AH/633 AC, when 70 huffaz (people who had memorized the Qur’an) were killed while fighting the self-proclaimed prophet Musaylimah in Yamamah.  Earlier, 40 (possibly 70) of them had been killed in the Battle of Bi’r Ma’unah.  Umar suggested to Abu Bakr that he compile the Qur’an in a single official book so that none of it would be lost if due to destruction or large-scale death among the huffaz.”[66]

So, the Qur’an had not yet been collected together in book form, but it was memorized by thousands of Muslims.  Also, the personal copies of the Sahabah (the companions of Muhammad) were not guaranteed to be complete or even in the right order.  It needs to be remembered that the revelation did not work on a schedule.  Often times, it came suddenly.  It was also not guaranteed that every single Sahabi was present for every single revelation, which would explain any omissions from the personal manuscripts.  That is why it was important to make one single compilation, just in case more memorizers of the Quran died in large numbers, as they did in the battles of Yamamah and Bi’r Ma’unah.  Summarizing Abu Bakr’s efforts, Al-Azami states:

“In serving the Qur’an Abu Bakr acquitted himself most admirably, heeding its mandate of two witnesses for establishing authenticity, and applying this rule to the Qur’an’s own compilation.  The result, though written on rudimentary parchments of varying size, constituted as sincere an effort as possible to preserve the Words of Allah.”[67]

            During the reign of the third Caliph, Uthman Ibn Affan (may Allah be please with him), disputes arose among some new Muslim converts over the correct pronunciation of the Quran.  Al-Azami summarizes the situation and Uthman’s response to it as follows:

“Hudhaifa bin al-Yaman went to Uthman directly from the Azerbaijani and Armenian frontier where…he had observed regional differences over the pronunciation of the Qur’an – differences which had caused friction. […]

Hudhaifa bin al-Yaman’s warning to the Caliph came in 25 A.H., and that very year Uthman resolved to end these disputes.  Assembling the people, he explained the problem and sought their opinion on recital in different dialects…”[68]

After this deliberation, Uthman appointed a committee to prepare a master copy of the Quran (using the compilation of Abu Bakr), which was then sent to the major centers of Islamic rule, along with reciters who would teach the people.[69]  It should also be pointed out that before the final copies were sent to the different destinations, they were read to the Sahabah to ensure complete agreement.[70]  This final copy was the basis for all subsequent manuscripts of the Quran.[71]  The extant manuscripts, many from the 1st century of the Islamic calendar, are in perfect agreement and show no evidence of scribal alterations.[72] 

            Some non-Muslims have claimed that the discovery of the Sana’a manuscripts[73] serves as evidence of the Quran’s evolution.  But the facts demonstrate the exact opposite and even non-Muslim scholars acknowledge this.  According to Scott MacMillan:

“…the restored fragments contain no major aberrations and certainly no indelible human fingerprints that prove the Koran has profane origins.[74]

            In closing, in our brief analysis of the Quran’s history, we have seen that when compared to the respective histories of the Tanakh and the New Testament, the former lacks any of the difficulties of the latter two.

Conclusion

            In this article, we have studied the histories of the Tanakh, the New Testament and the Quran.  All three books are regarded by their respective followers as divine revelation, preserved for all time.  Having considered the evidence, we must conclude that the truth is not always in line with popular opinion.  However, it should be clear from the discussion above that while the Tanakh and the New Testament (hence the entire Bible) have a dubious history, the same cannot be said about the Quran.  The preservation of the latter is a fact of history, and was a fulfillment of Allah’s promise:

“We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).”[75]

And Allah knows best! 


[1] The argument that something must be true because many people believe it is a logical fallacy known as an argumentum ad populum. 

[3] The Protestant canon also acknowledges the same 39 books.  The only difference is that in the Hebrew Bible, books like 1 & 2 Samuel were counted as one book instead of two.  Similarly, the 12 books of the “Minor Prophets” (such as Hosea, Jonah and Malachi) were also counted as one book.  Hence, the Jewish canon technically has 24 books but if counted separately (as the Protestants do), they are 39 books in all (http://carm.org/why-apocrypha-not-in-bible).

[5] Philip Jenkins, "Which Bible, whose canon?" Christian Century 128, no. 18 (2011): 45.

[6] C. Dennis McKinsey, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), p. 20.

[7] New International Version.

[9] Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (New York: The Penguin Press, 1997), pp. 16-17. 

Vermes mentions that among the “canonical” texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are also apocryphal works, , such as:

“…the Psalms Scroll from Cave 11 [which] contains seven apocryphal poems, including chapter LI of the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira, not annexed to, but interspersed among, the canonical hymns.”

Also found among the scrolls were the “Pseudoepigrapha” involving:

“…biblical figures such as Joseph, Qahat, Amram, Moses, Joshua, [and] Samuel” (Ibid.)

[10] Flavius Josephus, Against Apion, 1.8.

[11] Maurice Bucaille, The Bible, the Qur’an and Science: The Holy Scriptures Examined in the Light of Modern Knowledge (New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an, Inc., 2003), p. 33.

[12] Ibid., p. 34.  For an example of the Yahvist and Sacredotal versions, see Bucaille’s “Table of the Distribution of the Yahvist and Sacerdotal Texts in Chapters 1 to 11 in Genesis”, p. 35.

[13] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 365.

[14] Deuteronomy 34:5-8.

[15] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 367.

[16] Joseph Blenkinsopp, "Abraham as Paradigm in the Priestly History in Genesis." Journal of Biblical Literature 128, no. 2 (2009): 230.

[17] For a complete list of historical errors, see McKinsey, op. cit., pp. 333-352.

[19] Ibid.

[22] Louay Fatoohi and Shetha Al-Dargazelli, The Mystery of Israel in Ancient Egypt: The Exodus in the Qur'an, the Old Testament, Archaeological Finds, and Historical Sources (Birmingham: Luna Plena Publishing, 2008), p. 58

To put this in perspective, we can compare the alleged Israelite population to what the approximate Egyptian population would have been at the time of the Exodus.  According to Professor Nicholas Rauh of Purdue University, the Egyptian population grew from 1.5 million in the year 2,500 BC to 3 million during the period known as the “New Kingdom”, which spanned from 1550 BC to 1069 BC.  In other words, over the course of roughly 1,500 years, Egypt’s population only grew by 1.5 million!  This would mean, if we are to believe the Bible, that the Israelite population was almost as large as the Egyptian population, if not larger, at the time of the Exodus, and that it grew by over 2 million in just a little over 400 years.  That is, of course, impossible.

On a related note, the Quran states in contrast to the Bible that the Israelites were a small group, although it does not provide an exact number.  This assertion is far more logical and likely than the Biblical claim.  For more, see Fatoohi and Al-Dargazelli, op. cit., pp. 140-142.

[23] Ibid., p. 41.

[24] Alan Richard Schulman, Moses Aberbach, and Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg, Pharaoh Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 16. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.

[25] In contrast to the Bible and its erroneous usage of the title “Pharaoh”, the Quran is in line with the historical facts, for when referring to the ruler of Egypt during the time of the prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him), it repeatedly and consistently refers to him not with the specific title of “Pharaoh” but as the more general title of “king”:

“So the king [maliku] said: ‘Bring ye him unto me.’ But when the messenger came to him, (Joseph) said: "Go thou back to thy lord, and ask him, 'What is the state of mind of the ladies who cut their hands'? For my Lord is certainly well aware of their snare’” (Surah Yusuf, 12:50).

On the other hand, when referring to the ruler of Egypt during the time of the prophet Musa (peace be upon him), the Quran repeatedly and consistently refers to him as “Pharaoh”:

“Then after them We sent Moses with Our signs to Pharaoh [fir’awna] and his chiefs, but they wrongfully rejected them: So see what was the end of those who made mischief” (Surah Al-Araf, 7:103).

[26] This does not mean that the Tanakh is entirely a book of falsehood.  On the contrary, Muslims will readily acknowledge that there is some truth in it and that would be a sign of its original, pristine state.  However, through the centuries of evolution, it is clear that the Tanakh can no longer be considered the pristine “word of God”.

[27] Both Catholic and Protestant Bibles have 27 books in the New Testament, beginning with the Gospel of Matthew and ending with Revelation.

[28] Bucaille, op. cit., p. 90.

[29] McKinsey, op. cit., p. 18.

[30] J.K. Elliott, "Manuscripts, the Codex and the Canon." Journal for The Study Of The New Testament 19, no. 63 (1997): 105-123.

[31] Bruce Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1997), p. 43.

On a side note, Ignatius (like most early Christians) believed that he was living in the “end times”.  In the letter to the “Ephesians”, Ignatius clearly stated that the Christians were living in the “last times”:

“The last times are come upon us. Let us therefore be of a reverent spirit, and fear the long-suffering of God, that it tend not to our condemnation. For let us either stand in awe of the wrath to come, or show regard for the grace which is at present displayed— one of two things” (http://earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-ephesians-roberts.html).

It is also interesting that Christian tradition maintains that Ignatius was a student of John.  Would his belief that the end was near have been also taught by John?  We know that the Gospels claim that Jesus had prophesied that the generation of the disciples would live to see his second coming.  Ignatius seems to confirm this interpretation, which is why he clearly states that the “last times are come upon us.”  Of course, since the end did not come, did Jesus make a false prophecy or did the early Christians erroneously attribute this false prophecy to him?  According to Biblical scholar Geza Vermes, the latter is more likely:

“The belief that the Second Coming would occur during the lifetime of the contemporaries of Jesus was part of the expectation of the early church” (The Authentic Gospel of Jesus (London: Penguin Books, 2003), p. 299).

[32] Metzger, op. cit., pp. x-xi.

[33] Ibid., p. xii.

[34] Elliott, op. cit., pp. 105-123.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Bart Ehrman, Forged: Writing in the Name of god – Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (New York: HarperOne, 2011), pp. 66-70.

[37] Ibid., p. 70.

[38] Bart Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (New York: HarperOne, 2007), p. 52.

[39] Ibid., p. 53.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Most of these manuscripts are from medieval times.  There are no manuscripts from the 1st century CE and there are certainly no original manuscripts.  P52, a small fragment containing the Gospel of John, has traditionally been dated to the end of the 1st century.  However, recent scholarship has questioned this.  According to Brent Nongbri of Yale University (emphasis in the original):

“…any serious consideration of the window of possible dates for P52 must include dates in the later second and early third centuries.  Thus, P52 cannot be used as evidence to silence other debates about the existence (or non-existence) of the Gospel of John in the first half of the second century” (Brent Nongbri, "The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel." Harvard Theological Review 98, no. 1 (2005): 46).

[42] Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, op. cit., p. 10.

[43] Ibid., p. 11.

[44] Ibid., p. 81.

[45] Ibid.

[46] King James Version.

[47] Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, op. cit., p. 81.

[48] Ibid., pp. 94-95.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid., p. 56.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid., p. 63.

[53] Ibid., p. 65.

[54] M.M. Al-Azami, The History of the Qur’anic Text from Revelation to Compilation: A Comparative Study with the Old and New Testaments (Leicester: UK Islamic Academy, 2003), p. 287.

[55] Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, op. cit., p. 65.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Specifically, see Al-Azami, op. cit., pp. 285-290 for a short list of corrupted verses.

[58] According to Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Al-Husayn ibn Babwayh, one of the most famous Shiite scholars:

“Our belief is that the Qur’an which Allah revealed to His Prophet Muhammad is (the same as) the one between the two covers (daffatayn).  And it is the one which is in the hands of the people, and is not greater in extent than that. The number of surahs as generally accepted is one hundred and fourteen ...And he who asserts that we say that it is greater in extent than that, is a liar” (http://www.al-islam.org/shiite-encyclopedia-ahlul-bayt-dilp-team/belief-shia-in-completeness-quran).

[59] A.H. means “After Hijra”.  The Hijra was the migration of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) from Mecca to Madinah around 12 years after he declared his prophethood.  It corresponds to 622 C.E., so the Islamic year 148 corresponds to the year 770 C.E.

[60] Al-Azami, op. cit., p. 198.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid., p. 197.

[63] The Shiite scholar Allama Muhammad Ridha Mudhaffar stated:

“We believe that the Holy Qur’an is revealed by Allah through the Holy Prophet of Islam dealing with everything which is necessary for the guidance of mankind. It is an everlasting miracle of the Holy Prophet the like of which cannot be produced by human mind. It excels in its eloquence, clarity, truth and knowledge. This Divine Book has not been tampered with by any one. This Holy Book which we recite today is the same Holy Qur’an which was revealed to the Holy Prophet. Anyone who claims it to be otherwise is an evil-doer, a mere sophist, or else he is sadly mistaken. All of those who have this line of thinking have gone astray as Allah in Qur’an said: "Falsehood cannot reach the Qur’an from any direction (Qur’an 41:42)” (http://www.al-islam.org/shiite-encyclopedia-ahlul-bayt-dilp-team/belief-shia-in-completeness-quran)

[64] Of course, since Muhammad (peace be upon him) was unable to read or write, he could not have been the author of the Quran, let alone manage to consult Jewish and Christian sources to provide inspiration!

For a list of different accusations of plagiarism and their refutation, see the following: http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Sources/

[65] According to the British Museum, the reading and writing of hieroglyphics had disappeared by the 4th-century CE and was only revived by scholars after the discovery of the famous “Rosetta Stone” (http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/t/the_rosetta_stone.aspx).

[66] Ahmad Ali Al-Imam, Variant Readings of the Qur’an: A Critical Study of Their Historical and Linguistic Origins (London: The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2006), p. 15.

[67] Al-Azami, op. cit., p. 86.

[68] Ibid., pp. 87-88.

[69] There is disagreement as to how many copies were made.  Some reports state that one copy was sent to Kufa, Basra and Syria and one was kept in Madinah, while other reports state that in addition to these, copies were also sent to Mecca, Yemen and Bahrain.  According to the most authentic reports, however, eight total copies were made, with one being retained by Uthman himself (Al-Azami, op. cit., p. 94).

[70] Ibid., p. 93.

[71] For a more detailed summary of the Uthmanic writ, see Al-Azami, op. cit., pp. 87-108, and Al-Imam, op. cit., pp. 42-49.

[72] For a list of manuscripts and other texts containing the Quranic verses, see the following: http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Text/Mss/

[73] The Sana’a Manuscripts were discovered in the Grand Mosque in city of Sana’a, Yemen in 1972 (Scott MacMillan, "Sana'a: City of the Book." History Today 61, no. 4 (2011): 10-17).

[74] Ibid.

[75] Surah Al-Hijr, 15:9 (Yusuf Ali Translation).

4 comments:

  1. Whether it is Quran, Bible, Geeta or any other scripture, the message is the same. You may have one religion and your friend has the another, but you both are made by the same consciousness - God. Thank you for writing about the history of Bible & Quran. I loved the article.

    Regards,
    Brano Willis

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello Brano. Welcome to the blog. I appreciate your comments but I do disagree. The message is certainly not the same. If it was, then you would have no problem converting to Islam or Hinduism right now. Since I doubt that you would convert, it means that the message is obviously different enough that you would not feel comfortable.

    I do agree that we are all made by God, but that is precisely why we need to shun all beliefs that run counter to God's teachings. The Bible, for example, deifies the blessed Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him). This runs counter to God's explicit teaching in both the Tanakh and the Quran.

    I do not mean you any offense and I do greatly appreciate your comments. I hope we can continue this conversation.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Salamu Alaikum Faiz. This article is a great intro for me as I am currently interested in reading the bible but didn't know how to begin. Having conversations with my christian friends will be easier for me because I will understand their point of view from the bible, in addition to having my point of view from the quran. Jazakallah Khair.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Walaikum as-salaam sister Maryam. I am glad that you have found this article helpful. May Allah increase you in knowledge and faith.

      Delete