Free Ebook: A Beginner’s Companion to Arabic Manuscripts

For students unaccustomed to classical handwriting, the thought of consulting Arabic manuscripts can be daunting. However, anyone in the field of Islamic studies will testify that at times research requires that a student refer to these sources; it is, therefore, inescapable. This treatise hopes to serve as a companion for students who aspire to learn the fundamentals of this field. It explores scribal terminology, sources of manuscripts, dealing with catalogs, etc. It is adapted from an intensive on Arabic manuscripts by Shaykh Salih al-Azhari, an experienced curator at the Egyptian National Library.

abeginnerscompaniontoarabicmanuscripts-muntasirzaman

See the original download link here: Qalam Foundation

The Significance of the Salām

Both Muslims and Jews greet each other with prayers of peace, yet we must ask, what is the significance of the salām and what does it mean?

“And if you are faithful and mindful ˹of Allah˺, you will receive a great reward.” – Qurʾān 3:279d (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).

“Is there any reward for goodness except goodness?” – Qurʾān 55:60 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).

These āyāt teach a profound lesson that many miss. When we give the Salām (i.e. when you greet with “as-salāmu ‘alaykum [may the peace of God be upon you], and reply with “wa ‘alaykumus salām/ wa ‘alaykum as-salām [the greeting of prayer is returned; meaning: and upon you the peace of God]) you’re doing several things at once:

1. Making a du‘a for someone (that Allāh, who is As-Salām from Qurʾān 59:23 grants them peace).

2. Fulfilling the command of Allāh to make du‘a:

“Your Lord has proclaimed, “Call upon Me, I will respond to you.” – Qurʾān 40:60 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).

3. Obeying the command of Allāh to give the Salām:

“However, when you enter houses, greet one another with a greeting ˹of peace˺ from Allah, blessed and good. This is how Allah makes His revelations clear to you, so perhaps you will understand.” – Qurʾān 24:61 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).

4. When you reply to the Salām you get the reward of also praying for the other person.

5. When you reply you fulfilll the command of Allāh:

“And when you are greeted, respond with a better greeting or at least similarly. Surely Allah is a ˹vigilant˺ Reckoner of all things.” – Qurʾān 4:86 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).

6. You’re making dhikr (remembrance of God) of Allāh, reminding others to remember Allāh, and obeying the command to remember Allāh from the Qurʾān:

“˹Always˺ remember the Name of your Lord, and devote yourself to Him wholeheartedly.” – Qurʾān 73:8 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).

Imagine just by giving (or returning) something as simple as the Salām that you are fulfilling 7-8 commands of Allāh that are worthy of reward from Him.

Hence, Allāh declares:

“And We have certainly made the Quran easy to remember. So is there anyone who will be mindful?” – Qurʾān 54:17 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).

And:

“So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it.” – Qurʾān 99:7 (translation by Dr. Mustafa Khattab, The Clear Quran).

This is the beauty and depth of our Islām as found in something so simple as the Islamic greeting, yet it is so rewarding! Such a teaching can also be found in Judaism and Christianity. Jews traditionally greet each other with “shalom aleichem” (which means ‘peace unto you‘), even God in Judges 6:23 is said to have used a form of it as well. In Christianity it seems to have certainly been a greeting which Jesus the son of Mary is said to have used:

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” – Luke 24:36 (NIV).

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” – John 20:19 (NIV).

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  John 20:21 (NIV).

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” – John 20:26 (NIV).

There is even a command from Jesus to his disciples, which is very similar to the command the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave to his companions:

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ – Luke 10:5 (NIV).

While this practise is preserved by Muslims and Jews, most evangelical Christians do not keep this practise, though the Catholic Church keeps some form of this tradition in the rite of peace, but usually this specific phrase is not used and the rite involves shaking of the hands or hugging. The Salām then, is something beautiful, rewarding and meaningful, it is a simple practise but one which invokes the peace of God upon all of His creation.

And Allāh knows best.

Debate Review: “Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?” – Dr. Shabir Ally & Mr. John Tors

About a week ago I attended a debate between Dr. Shabir Ally and Mr. John Tors on the topic of, “Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?” (click the link to see the debate).

To begin with, I need to say that the church which hosted the event did an amazing job. The congregation at the North York Chinese Baptist Church were helpful, accommodating and very pleasant. The event was well-managed and I think all attendees would agree with me on this.

The topic itself is a little unusual (which is a good thing) as to debate if Jesus rose from the dead, one has to first grant the argument that he did die. In other words, we can’t debate this specific topic if we say he never died. This point seems to have been missed by both Muslim and Christian debate enthusiasts, it should also be noted that granting an argument for the sake of the argument, is not the same as accepting that argument. One may well wonder why a Muslim debater would put themselves in such a contentious position in the first place. The answer for this question was provided in the debate itself in which the question was asked, “what does it mean for Jesus to have died?” Christians answer this question differently and so the “type” of “death” was a focus of this debate. An easier way to have framed the debate would have been to make a minor change to the title to emphasise that the topic was about death:

Did Jesus Rise From “The Dead”?

Before the debate I read through most of the relevant articles on Mr. Tors’ website and while at the debate, I found myself a bit confused after his opening statement. Practically his entire opening statement is what I had read the night before and it can be found on his website in the form of two articles:

  • THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER AND THE EVANGELICAL BETRAYAL OF THE BIBLE: Exposing the Major Weapons Levied Against the Trustworthiness of the Bible
  • THE RESURRECTION ACCOUNTS: “Incompatible Contradictions” or Coherent History?

In fact, during the debate I was sharing these articles with both Christians and Muslims, most of whom expressed surprise at what seemed to be general confusion as to why Mr. Tors would prepare in such a way for a debate. That is to say that he largely used articles from 2015 and 2018 with no new research being presented or accounted for. The attendees had no need for Mr. Tors’ opening statement, just granting us 10 minutes to do some quick reading would’ve sufficed. Mr. Tors began the debate with two important points:

  1. We shouldn’t base our views on assumptions,
  2. We shouldn’t base our views on presuppositions.

Rather, he argued, we should look at the evidence itself first and if needed, then at works of scholarship. The problem he quickly found himself in was then ironic, as he seemingly argued that he had evidence that Jesus died and was resurrected. This evidence turned out to be Mr. Tors just quoting the Bible. It was then I realised that had he believed in what he said at the start of the debate then he wouldn’t have assumed that the Bible was true or presupposed it as being factual. Indeed, it’s a tall order to hold him to his own words, but if someone lays out a specific methodology at the start of a debate then I largely hope that they would at the very least be superficially consistent but even this was not afforded to us (the audience).

This point did not seem to strike Mr. Tors at all and it left me completely bewildered at what he had hoped to achieve. Muslims don’t accept the Bible as a valid source for theology, and Christians don’t accept the Qur’an as a valid source for their theology, so what is achieved in ministering to Muslims in using a text we don’t accept? Dr. Ally at least attempted to reference both the Bible and the Qur’an throughout the debate. Mr. Tors or someone who works for his ministry later argued in the comments section (of the re-upload) of the debate video on YouTube that while the New Testament is a historical work, the Qur’an was not (in regards to Jesus) and so he did not consider any appeals to it as sufficient for the topic. This is despite the fact that he himself holds to a form of the New Testament text which is not wholly extant in any manuscript before the mid-medieval period (roughly from the 10th to 15th century CE). He holds to the Byzantine Priority position, a minority view in the world of Christendom.

Edit: 22.01.2020, Mr. Tors mentioned to me that he does not hold to the Byzantine Priority position but rather a Majority Text position. The difference is negligible but I thought it best to use the phrase he uses to describe his beliefs.

Oddly enough, Mr. Tors later argued that it didn’t matter what date the earliest extant (still surviving) manuscripts of the crucifixion and resurrection accounts came from. At that point in the debate I lost any hope in Mr. Tors advancing any form of a consistent argument. Either it is the dates do matter or they don’t, either it is the gospel narratives do have contradictions because the gospel authors focused on different elements of the story by design or there are no contradictions and they give the exact same narratives, either it is he is arguing for the New Testament to be a theologically preserved version of the best witness testimony or he is willing to apply historical standards to the gospels. It just seemed like he was willing to flip-flop on his positions without care for consistency, reasonableness or intellectual humility.

As a Muslim who is invested in these kinds of debates, I look forward to them with a great deal of anticipation. Some times that anticipation pays off in the form of the robust debates between Dr. Shabir Ally and Dr. James White and some times they clearly don’t, as in this case. Mr. Tors’ primary (and seemingly only) argument for this debate therefore can be summarised as, “the Bible teaches that Jesus died and was resurrected, and this is true because the Bible teaches it”. While that may strike a chord with Christians, it doesn’t with the Muslims and it’s such an obvious point that I wonder if Mr. Tors cared for Muslims to even attend this debate in the first place. If one were to watch his opening statement, you would find him preaching directly to the Christians in the audience, word after word of caution about not allowing scholars and liberals to change their beliefs, to change how Christians should understand the Bible. Yet, I struggled to find an instance where he addresses the crowd as if there were Muslims in it, people who plainly do not accept the Bible as scripture. After all, he gave no reasons as to why Muslims should begin believing in the Bible, rather his focus seemed to be on keeping Christians Christian.

That is where a marked difference can be seen between Dr. Ally and Mr. Tors. Dr. Ally spent a few minutes at the start of his opening statement engaging with the crowd directly, he explained why he was there, what he hoped to achieve, what Muslims, Christians and those from other faiths can gain by being at the debate event. His words acknowledged the presence of other faiths in the audience, it provided a reason for us to pay more attention to what he said. Another point of note was the difference in composure and demeanour. While Dr. Ally was generally congenial and jovial, Mr. Tors at times appeared dismayed, upset or aggravated. This led to the second half of the debate being more contentious (which is not in itself a negative thing), giving rise to many instances of riposte between the speakers.

I’ve sat through classes by Dr. Licona and Dr. Habermas, evangelical scholars who are well renowned for their arguments regarding the positive evidence for the crucifixion and the resurrection. I’m writing a book myself on the topic of the resurrection, so I attended this debate to gain some knowledge that I could have hoped to engage with on multiple levels, but I left the debate event empty handed, there simply was not much presented on the Christian side of the topic that would allow me to analyze or engage with Mr. Tors’ arguments. In the end I had hoped for more substance but it was nonetheless a good event otherwise. I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Tors in person, he was kind, shook my hands and engaged in brief but meaningful conversation, and for that I sincerely thank him.

and Allah knows best.

Debate: “Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?” – Dr. Shabir Ally & John Tors

The debate is at the North York Chinese Baptist Church located at #685 Sheppard Avenue East in Toronto, Canada.

Topic: Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?

Date: Saturday 11th January 2020.

Debaters: Dr. Shabir Ally and Mr. John Tors.

The livestream is available at this link (YouTube) and this link (Church Website).

You can also stream the debate below:


Yours in Islam,
Br. Ijaz.

 

The Birth Narratives of Jesus in the New Testament – Part 2

Last week, we took a cursory look at the birth narratives (of Jesus, otherwise known as the infancy narratives) in the New Testament. Not everything is as it seems though. I had published that article as an introduction to the subject, today however we will look at a story (infancy narrative) present only in the gospel attributed to Matthew.
Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men[a] from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

If you read closely, within the first verse we are told that wise men come to visit baby Jesus. Next to the phrase “wise men” we find a citation, citation “[a]”. What does this citation read?

Matthew 2:1 Greek magi; also verses 7, 16

So who were the Magi (image taken from my debate slides, direct link to Strong’s Concordance here)?

Magi Meaning in Strong's Lexicon

Depending on the translation you read, these wise men came either to worship him or to pay homage to him. Let’s accept the Christian claim that these black magic practitioners (hereafter I refer to them as ‘black magicians’) came to worship Jesus. What then? They decide not to return to Herod and tell him where Jesus is located. You might think to yourself then, well if they decided not to harm Jesus then they must be good black magic sorcerers. Yet, can there be one who uses black magic for good? The use of black magic is in and of itself a form of pagan worship, to the point that the God of the Bible expressly calls for the removal of such people from Israel in Deuteronomy 18:10-12 (emphasis mines):

There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.

Isaiah 47:12-15 says (emphasis mines):

“Keep on, then, with your magic spells
and with your many sorceries,
which you have labored at since childhood.
Perhaps you will succeed,
perhaps you will cause terror.
13 All the counsel you have received has only worn you out!
Let your astrologers come forward,
those stargazers who make predictions month by month,
let them save you from what is coming upon you.
14 Surely they are like stubble;
the fire will burn them up.
They cannot even save themselves
from the power of the flame.
These are not coals for warmth;
this is not a fire to sit by.
15 That is all they are to you—
these you have dealt with
and labored with since childhood.
All of them go on in their error;
there is not one that can save you.

Right, so it’s not a few generic wise people from the East, but a few black magicians, a few sorcerers, a few diviners. That changes the immediate context of the story. Why would these people be coming to see Jesus? We are not given a reason, though it can be surmised that they did so to bring gold, frankincense and myrrh. All of which, including the Magi, play no role in the story thereafter. What is perhaps most concerning is if this story is accurate, a lot of important questions arise. Why would Mary or Joseph allow black magicians/ sorcerers to come near their infant child? Did Mary or Joseph join these people in worship? The story is silent on these issues, but the visit of these black magicians does play a central role in how Jesus is perceived among his own people within the New Testament narratives.

If the infancy narratives in the Gospels are true, then the later reactions of Mary the mother of Jesus do not truly make sense, but ironically the actions of the Jews of Jesus’ day (as the New Testament presents them) do seem to be reasonable. To set the stage, Jesus has healed people and is also doing exorcisms (driving out evil spirits), some people complain about what Jesus is doing, they complain to his family members:

Mark 3:21-31

Roughly ten passages later we learn that the family members who said, “he is out of his mind,” also includes his mother Mary. Yet, if the infancy narratives as presented in the New Testament are true, then Mary no doubt had to know that Jesus was God and would be doing miracles. That her immediate reaction is to refer to him as being “out of his mind” does not seem in the least bit reasonable. What then did the Jews of that time within that same story (after the words of his family) say? We read from Mark 3:22 the following:

Mark 3:22

The Jews were not referring to him as a demonic agent for the fun of it, it is quite clear that from the New Testament’s narrative that throughout Jesus’ time, there was an association with him and demons/ black magic and things of this nature which had been readily condemned in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) in very harsh terms (as mentioned, in part, above).

This brings us back to the Magi. They were following a star which had apparently risen at the time of Jesus’ birth and they followed it to the place where the infant Jesus was located (Matthew 2:9):

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.

There are a few things to consider here. There is no consensus in Christian scholarship regarding the time frame of the visit of the black magicians. There are generally two main options:

  • It could be within weeks of Jesus’ birth
  • Up to two years after Jesus’ birth

It cannot be two years after Jesus’ birth as that would mean the star was in the sky for two years. Considering that King Herod was actively hunting for Jesus, in order to execute him (Matthew 2:13) and that he was consulting astrologists/ black magicians (Matthew 2:7), then how is it possible that no one in those two years accounts for this star in the sky? More so, it is not any kind of star, but one which was different enough that they could tell when it was over a person or not. So it would mean all the astrologists in the ancient world, missed a special star over a possible two year period (using the meaning of the word παιδιον, at least one Christian apologist argued to me that the visit could have been up to 7 years after the birth of Jesus, that makes the issue worse, not better).

One could conjecture and say that perhaps the star was only visible to the very people that the God of the Bible condemns (as quoted above). This would then mean, that the only people to see this star (which announced the birth of allegedly, God himself) were the one group of people that God has confirmed are in error such that they were to be driven out of Israel (as referenced in Deuteronomy 18:10-12). We never hear about or from the astrologists/ black magicians again, which is peculiar. For if this is from eyewitness testimony, then how did an eyewitness know what the Magi dreamt after having met Jesus in Matthew 2:12?

And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

We also know that after this dream, they were not the ones to tell Joseph and Mary about being in immediate danger, but rather an angel of the Lord did so in Matthew 2:13 via a dream:

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

This therefore rules out the possibility that the Magi ever returned to tell anyone about their dream, so where exactly did this story come from? As with most things for the New Testament, it is silent on this and these passages only serve to promote doubt about the New Testament’s authenticity and reliability. One can also rule out that the black magicians/ astrologers were there to warn Joseph and Mary about King Herod, as they never did so and it takes an angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph in a dream to deliver this information. As a side note, multiple Christians have confused astrology and the science of astronomy in response to what I’ve written (and said in my debate), though these were not apologists in a career sense. That they cannot tell the difference between the two is not surprising but it does explain why they did not notice the impact that the Magi had on the infancy narratives of the New Testament.

Part 3 will be out soon…

As an addendum, to explain the significance of as astrology and why the Magi were watching the skies for signs, we read (it is attributed to the Biblical Solomon but there is no data which indicates this is true, just like the New Testament it is likely a work of homonymous/ pseudepigraphic authorship):

The zodiacal astrology, combined here with demonological perspectives, is further attested by the seven constellations that appear through the power of Solomon’s evocation:

(8:1) There came seven spirits bound up together hand and foot, fair of form
and graceful. When I, Solomon, saw them, I was amazed and asked them, “Who
are you?” (2) They replied, “We are heavenly bodies [esmen stoicheia], rulers
of this world of darkness [kosmokratores tou skotous].” (3) The first said, “I am Deception.” The second said, “I am Strife.” The third said, “I am Fate.”
The fourth said, “I am Distress.” The fifth said, “I am Error.” The sixth said, “I am Power.” (4) The seventh said, “I am The Worst. Our stars in heaven look
small, but we are named like gods. We change our position together and we live
together, sometimes in Lydia, sometimes in Olympus, sometimes on the great
mountain.”

Source: Von Stuckrad, Kocku. “Jewish and Christian Astrology in Late Antiquity: A New Approach.” Numen 47, no. 1 (2000): 1-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3270359.


Update: 30th December, 2019

Following the publication of this article, Dr. Ehrman also published a similar article which overlaps with and confirms the arguments I’ve presented here. The following except is taking from this blog post by him, for full access a subscription is needed to his blog:

Here is what I say about it in my book The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. (This is a college-level textbook: but if you are interested in basic knowledge about everything connected with the New Testament, it would be a great place to start: it includes discussion of every book of the NT and has suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter)

*******************************************************

The story of the visit of the Magi (2:1–12), found only in Matthew, is one of the most interesting tales of the New Testament. Here we are less interested in the historical problems that the story raises (e.g., how can a star stand over a particular house?) than in the point of the story in Matthew’s Gospel. Ancient readers would have recognized the Magi as astrologers from the East (perhaps Assyria) who could read the course of human events from the movements of the stars. These wise men are pagans, of course, whose astral observations have led them to recognize that a spectacular event has transpired on earth, the birth of a child who will be king.

and Allah knows best.

The Birth Narratives of Jesus in the New Testament – Part 1

Have you ever read the birth narratives about Jesus in the New Testament? They are generally a lot later than people know them to be (in terms of manuscript dating). Generally only Papyrus 4 is said to be earlier than Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus in the 4th century CE, but it is still generally dated from the late 2nd century to the early 4th century CE. That is roughly between 150 to 300 years after Jesus’ time on earth. Regardless of these facts, the narratives themselves are difficult to follow and understand, they are often in direct contradiction to each other and have almost no overlap. There are important textual variants present in both groups of passages, but this is not meant to be an article focused on textual criticism. Our goal is to read these narratives and then to point out any difficulties we see with them.
Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV)

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Luke 2:1-22 (ESV)

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.

The narrative in Matthew tells us that it took a special sign from God, a star, in order for the wise men to find Joseph, Mary and Jesus. There is no mention of these wise men in the narrative which Luke gives us. Do note, I’m not saying “Matthew” or “Luke” as in reference to historical persons, but as for simple titles to refer to their various stories as presented in the New Testament. Interestingly in Matthew, these wise men first go to Jerusalem to inquire about the location of the Messiah, yet when they reached Jerusalem all the chief priests and scribes of the people (Matthew 2:3-6) were already aware that the Messiah was to be found in Bethlehem. At the outset this first piece of information presents us with the problem of the wise men being not so wise, if all the chief priests and scribes already knew this information (which is a quote from the Old Testament), then how is it possible that the only people to visit baby Jesus are the very people who don’t know how to find him?

What makes this worse is that all of Jerusalem was troubled alongside Herod regarding the news of the birth of the Messiah. If that is the case, then most people in Jerusalem would have known this information, so it was not only all the chief priests and all the scribes, but also most of the people who knew where to find the Messiah. Yet, Herod tasks the wise men to find the Messiah, yet if he already knew they were in Bethlehem and wanted to kill the Messiah, why not send Roman soldiers? Instead, it seems to appear that the authors of Matthew found it sensible to write that the wise men were to go to Herod and ask him information that was widely and publicly circulated, then they were to go to Bethlehem and find him, then they would travel from Bethlehem back to Jerusalem to inform Herod. Such a circumstance allows for only one conclusion, that the authors of Matthew had to provide a window of time for Joseph, Mary and Jesus to fear for their safety and flee out of Bethlehem.

Yet, if we look at the narrative in Luke 2:7, Mary gives birth to Jesus. In Luke 2:8-20, an angel appears to native shepherds who reside near Bethlehem and gives them the news about the Messiah. These shepherds and the angels, along with their conversation is totally absent from Matthew’s version. Luke 2:17-18 then says:

17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

The Shepherds then announce the news of the angels and the news directly about Jesus. There is no warning about their safety, no concern about Herod wanting the Messiah to be killed, the shepherds made the news “known” and specifically that “all” who heard the news, wondered about it. Had they been concerned about the Messiah’s safety, why would they make the story “known”? The narratives here have very little overlap, indeed there is no fleeing to Egypt as Matthew recounts, but in the story of Luke, Jesus and his family venture into Jerusalem where Joseph and Mary are to present Jesus in the Temple, as Luke 2:22 says.

There is a simple explanation to all this. If Herod wanted to kill the Messiah, and he knew the Messiah had to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem for presentation before the Lord, then why not have the soldiers present within and throughout Jerusalem, wait at the Temple in secret and then kill every boy who is brought forth?

If one were to read the story of Matthew in isolation, it would be a suspenseful drama, filled with prophecies, fear, intrigue, mystery, violence and a great escape!

If one were to read the story of Luke in isolation, it would be filled with no suspense, no fear, no violence and no great escape, but rather it would appear to be a happy story without any worrying, anxiety or concern.

As Christmas comes closer, we will compare and contrast the various stories, try to make sense of them and even try to solve the contradictions without compromising on the text themselves. If it is possible to find an alternative version which perfectly harmonizes these two narratives, I would love to read it. Unfortunately, I’ve read from Tatian’s to modern authors such as Dr. Licona in an effort to find atleast one version that manages to combine these two narratives without having need to omit or add one element or another. What curious problems do you see in these narratives?

Part 2 can be found here.

and God knows best.

An Example of Tahrif (Corruption) in the Bible

Muslims are often told that the corruption of the Bible as Muslims believe in, cannot be demonstrated. Simple examples of taḥrīf (corruption; technically: to move something from its place) are generally dismissed as copyist errors which do not affect the overall meaning of the message, though it does need to be pointed out that at some point there will be enough small changes that they aggregate into meaningful differences. If it was the case that many small changes were ineffectual in the validity of scripture (its meaning and authority) then either it is the case that the scripture itself is so vague and impactless that changes don’t matter on a macro scale or it is the case that the changes do eventually matter because the sanctity and preservation of scripture matters.

The Qur’ān makes a few claims regarding the taḥrīf of the Bible:

“Do you ˹believers still˺ expect them to be true to you, though a group of them would hear the word of Allah then knowingly corrupt it after understanding it?” – 2:75 (trans. by Dr. Mustafa Khattab).

“But they broke their covenant, so We condemned them and hardened their hearts. They distorted the words of the Scripture and neglected a portion of what they had been commanded to uphold. You ˹O Prophet˺ will always find deceit on their part, except for a few. But pardon them and bear with them. Indeed, Allah loves the good-doers.” – 5:13 (trans. by Dr. Mustafa Khattab).

Prof. Adam Gacek writes in his Vademecum (pp. 31-32) regarding the definition of the word taḥrīf:

2. distortion, error, usually involving either transposition of letters within a word, e.g. علم/ عمل or شقر /شرق , or mispronunciation, e.,g. طغرا /طرة (MU, X, 57; MQ, 641: al-taḥrīf bi-al ziyādah aw bi-al-naqṣ); falsification (of a text), comp. al-qalb al makānī, taṣḥīf.”

Regarding “al-taḥrīf bi-al ziyādah aw bi-al-naqṣ”, this means a change by means of increasing or by decreasing (letters, words, passages, etc).

Let’s now proceed by looking at an example of a simple change of one word in which it was swapped with a word of the opposite meaning. At first we will look at a Jewish translation (CJB; emphasis mines), then at Christian translations (ESV, NIV; emphasis mines).

Now it would come about when the cycle of the feasting days would be over, that Job would send and summon them, and offer up burnt-offerings early in the morning burnt- offerings according to the number of all of them, for Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and blasphemed God in their hearts.” So would Job do all the days. – Job 1:5 (CJB).

“And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed[a] God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. – Job 1:5 (ESV).

Now the Hebrew text (MST – Masoretic Text):

וַיְהִ֡י כִּ֣י הִקִּיפוּ֩ יְמֵ֨י הַמִּשְׁתֶּה֜ וַיִּשְׁלַ֧ח אִיּ֣וֹב וַֽיְקַדְּשֵׁ֗ם וְהִשְׁכִּ֣ים בַּבֹּקֶר֘ וְהֶֽעֱלָ֣ה עֹלוֹת֘ מִסְפַּ֣ר כֻּלָּם֒ כִּ֤י אָמַ֣ר אִיּ֔וֹב אוּלַי֙ חָטְא֣וּ בָנַ֔י וּבֵֽרְכ֥וּ אֱלֹהִ֖ים בִּלְבָבָ֑ם כָּ֛כָה יַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אִיּ֖וֹב כָּל־הַיָּמִֽים:

The word used in the English is “blasphemed”, the word used in Hebrew is H1288 or the word for “blessed”. “Blasphemed” and “blessed” are words with the opposite meaning, so what happened here? The CJB offers little explanation (at least the digital version I checked), but the ESV rightly has a footnote there:

Job 1:5 The Hebrew word bless is used euphemistically for curse in 1:5, 11; 2:5, 9

As this footnote explains, this issue has arisen in multiple places within the text of Job, at a count of at least four (4) times. They do offer one explanation, the word bless is used euphemistically to mean curse. Yet, is this true? Not exactly, the NET in Translation Note #30 says (emphasis mines):

The Hebrew verb is בָּרַךְ (barakh), which means “to bless.” Here is a case where the writer or a scribe has substituted the word “curse” with the word “bless” to avoid having the expression “curse God.

For similar euphemisms in the ancient world, see K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, 166. It is therefore difficult to know exactly what Job feared they might have done. The opposite of “bless” would be “curse,” which normally would convey disowning or removing from blessing. Some commentators try to offer a definition of “curse” from the root in the text, and noting that “curse” is too strong, come to something like “renounce.”

The idea of blaspheming is probably not meant; rather, in their festivities they may have said things that renounced God or their interest in him. Job feared this momentary turning away from God in their festivities, perhaps as they thought their good life was more important than their religion.

This would be less of a problem if the entire story of Job did not rest on the meaning of this one word. In the Bible, Satan challenges God by claiming that the only reason the Patriarch Job is so faithful to God, is only due to the blessings which God had bestowed upon him (wealth, a good family, good health, etc). Satan then suggests to God, that should God take these blessings away from Job that Job will then either curse God (if the translations are right) or that Job will bless God (if the edited Hebrew text is right). In other words, either Satan wins the challenge against God or God wins the challenge against Satan.

Given that Job ends up cursing God and repenting for it, and given the use of the original Hebrew word of “curse” (i.e. the word before the scribes changed it to bless in the Hebrew), this would mean that Satan won the challenge against God.

The Challenge by Satan (Job 1:11 – NIV):

“But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Job’s Admission of Cursing God (Job 42:1-3 – NIV):

Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

Interestingly, the NIV has no footnote to indicate that the word should be read in its opposite (and therefore in its original) meaning. To further illustrate this point, the Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments says (emphasis mines):

Job 42:3. Who is he that hideth counsel? — What am I, that I should be guilty of such madness? Therefore have I uttered that I understood not — Because my mind was without knowledge, therefore my speech was ignorant and foolish; things which I knew not — I have spoken foolishly and unadvisedly of things far above my reach.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary says (emphasis mines):

42:1-6 Job was now sensible of his guilt; he would no longer speak in his own excuse; he abhorred himself as a sinner in heart and life, especially for murmuring against God, and took shame to himself.

In conclusion, this is striking because the Qur’ān teaches:

There are some among them who distort the Book with their tongues to make you think this ˹distortion˺ is from the Book—but it is not what the Book says. They say, “It is from Allah”—but it is not from Allah. And ˹so˺ they attribute lies to Allah knowingly. – 3:78 (trans. by Dr. Mustafa Khattab).

and Allah knows best.

« Older Entries