Comparison: Scribes of The Qur’an vs Scribes of the New Testament (Part 2)


Last week we took a cursory look at the known scribes of the Qur’an, in comparison with the known scribes of the New Testament. This week, we’re going to venture a little deeper into understanding why the identity of the authors and scribes (amanuenses and copyists) is of concern to the modern reader. Unlike the Qur’an, the veracity of the New Testament is based on the claim that it is from eyewitnesses:

For almost seventeen hundred years, Christians regarded the four canonical Gospels as being, among other things, records of what actually happened. Divine inspiration seemed to guarantee historical veracity, as did the belief that the purported authors of those Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were either eyewitnesses or friends of eyewitnesses.[1]

It is therefore touted as a historical work, based on the witness of contemporaneous sources. However, both early sources and later sources agreed throughout Church history that the New Testament was ahistorical in many cases and as one Church Father would put it, based on “material falsehood”:

Even more clear-eyed was Origen, who in the third century anticipated modern criticism by candidly observing that at “many points” the four Gospels “do not agree.” He inferred that their truth cannot reside in “the material letter:” The Evangelists “sometimes altered things which, from the eye of history, occurred otherwise.” They could “speak of something thing that happened in one place as if it had happened in another, or of what happened at a certain time as if it had happened at another time,” and they introduced “into what was spoken in a certain way some changes of their own.” “The spiritual truth was often preserved, one might say, in the material falsehood.”[2]

The issue of scribes altering original works is not alien to the New Testament itself. A warning in Revelation 22, the last book of the Bible was placed there to very specifically warn scribes from altering the work, the author(s) of this work then, at the very least were aware of the fate that had befallen other Christian works of that time and prayed that this would not happen to their own:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”[3]

For those who argue that this book was written early, this quote demonstrates that at the time it was written scribes were altering works at such a scale of worry that the author(s) had to invoke a curse and warn them from altering their own work! Commenting on this passage, Phillip Comfort states:

“Since writers in antiquity were well aware that their books could be changed by scribes in successive copies, they made these warnings. Undoubtedly, they knew that there would be unintentional mistakes, which come through the course of making manuscripts. What they were hoping to protect against was intentional alteration of the writing.”[4]

What kind of intentional changes do we find in the New Testament manuscript tradition?

“Those who study the text and the history of its transmission realize that most of the substantive changes were made in the interest of “improving” the text. Various scribes were motivated to make changes in the text for the sake of harmonizing Gospel accounts, eliminating difficult doctrinal statements, and/or adding accounts from oral tradition.”[5]

“Whereas readers do this gap-filling in their imaginations only, scribes sometimes took the liberty to fill the unwritten gaps with written words. In other words, some scribes went beyond just imagining how the gaps should be filled and actually filled them. The historical evidence shows that each scribe who made a text created a new written text. Although there are many factors that could have contributed to the making of this new text, one major factor is that the text constantly demands the reader to fill in the gaps. During the reading process, the reader must concretize the gaps by using his or her imagination to give substance to textual omission and/or indefiniteness. Since this substantiation is a subjective and creative act, the concretization will assume many variations for different readers.”[6]

“Metzger considered the early Western text to be the work of a reviser “who was obviously a meticulous and well-informed scholar, [who] eliminated seams and gaps and added historical, biographical, and geographical details. Apparently the reviser did his work at an early date, before the text of Acts had come to be generally regarded as a sacred text that must be preserved inviolate.”[7]

“More often than not, the editors of the UBS/NA text considered the Alexandrian text, as the shorter text, to have preserved the original wording in Acts. My view is that in nearly every instance where the D-text stands alone (against other witnesses—especially the Alexandrian), it is a case of the Western scribe functioning as a reviser who enhanced the text with redactional fillers. This reviser must have been a well-informed scholar, who had a penchant for adding historical, biographical, and geographical details (as noted by Metzger). More than anything, he was intent on filling in gaps in the narrative by adding circumstantial details. Furthermore, he shaped the text to favor the Gentiles over the Jews, to promote Paul’s apostolic mission, and to heighten the activity of the Holy Spirit in the work of the apostles.”[8]

In Uloom al Hadeeth or the Science of Hadeeth, criticism of a transmitter is necessary for validating or verifying the information they are transmitting. This type of criticism is known as Rijal al Hadeeth, in which the character of the transmitter is examined. One might wonder, how detailed is this science in Islam? The following text should clarify the extent to which our methodology goes in order to validate information on a transmitter:

“A man bore witness in the presence of `Umar ibn al-Khattaab -radiyallaahu `anhu, so `Umar said to him: “I do not know you, and it does not harm you that I do not know you, but bring someone who does know you.”

So a man said: ‘I know him, O Chief of the Believers.’
He said: “What do you know of him.”

He said: ‘Uprightness.’
He said: “Is he your closest neighbour; so that you know about his night and his day, and his comings and goings?”

He said: ‘No.’

He said: “So have you had (monetary) dealings with him involving dirhams and deenars, which will indicate his piety?”

He said: ‘No.’

He said: “Then has he been your companion upon a journey which could indicate to you his good character?”

He said: ‘No.’

He said: “Then you do not know him.”

Then he said to the man: “Bring me someone who knows you.”[9]

Such a detailed criticism of any transmitter (whether orally or textually) in early Christianity has never been done, nor had such a science been developed in the Christian tradition. Rather, the most critical methodology of verifying information in the Christian tradition has been one of assumption. Rather than critically examining the characters of scribes, and transmitters, it is assumed that the earliest witnesses would have corrected misinformation from being shared:

“The primary reason is that the writers (or their immediate successors) were alive at the time and therefore could challenge any significant, unauthorized alterations. As long as eyewitnesses such as John or Peter were alive, who would dare change any of the Gospel accounts in any significant manner? Any one among the Twelve could have testified against any falsification.”[10]

We’ve already seen just how unreliable the early scribes were, and now that we know that there was no methodology to verify early transmitting of information, how can we be certain that if we assume the disciples were around, that they would be able to correct and thus stop misinformation from spreading? We cannot be certain of this, in fact, this assumption is erroneous given that the very Gospels themselves which are alleged to have been written during the time of the 12 disciples can’t even get the origin of Jesus meeting some of his most important disciples correct! In the origin story of the disciple Phillip, Jesus meets Philip in the city of Bethsaida. This is anachronistic, as Bethsaida only became a city after the ministry of Jesus ended. Therefore when Jesus met Philip in Bethsaida, it was considered a village. The Gospel of Mark in 8:23 correctly identifies it as a village (Greek: kome), but John in 1:44 refers to it as a city (Greek: polis). Considering that three disciples, Philip, Andrew and Peter were from Bethsaida, then how is it possible that all three of them let such a minor detail in one of the twelve’s origin stories be incorrect?

So that’s a minor detail, what about the origin stories for both Peter and Andrew?

In Matthew 4:18, Jesus meets Peter and Andrew on the seashore while fishing with nets. At that time the poorer fishermen did not have boats and so they would cast nets from the shoreline and catch whatever they could have. Just three verses later in 21 – 22, Jesus meets James and John with their father, who unlike Peter and Andrew, have a boat and are mending their nets. So Jesus in 5 verses, meets four of his most prominent disciples. In Mark 1:16 – 20, he tells us the same story in Matthew, but with a big difference, the third man in the boat when Jesus meets James and John for the first time is a hired servant and not their father, thus showing their wealth in comparison with Peter and Andrew. He makes the distinction between their places in society more noticeable.

In Luke though, it’s a different story. Jesus when he first comes to Capernaum, goes to Peter’s house and cures his mother in law (Luke 4:38). Then later, he stumbles across Peter on the shore of the lake, but they have a boat and he finds Peter mending a net, not using it to fish, a different story from Matthew. Jesus then proceeds to embark on Peter’s boat, perform a miracle in the lake and it is then that James and John notices the miracle and joins Peter. Again, this contradicts both Matthew and Mark’s story in which Peter, Andrew and Jesus while walking on the shoreline, spots James and John, then they leave their boat and follow Jesus on the shore. Have you noticed Luke never mentions Andrew? That’s a problem because in John’s account, Andrew met Jesus when Jesus was at the River Jordan with John the Baptist. Then Andrew finds Peter and takes him to meet Jesus (John 1:39-42). Then they go to Galilee in the region of Bethsaida. No mention of meeting on a boat, by a boat, because of a boat, or because of fishing, a completely different narrative. Definitely no mention of either James or John, the sons of Zebedee.

All four Gospels, have contradictions, errors and in some cases, a completely different narrative regarding the origin of Jesus meeting four of his twelve disciples. As we read earlier, according to Christian scholarship, if the disciples were alive they would have corrected any falsification, as we have just seen, either the disciples were complicit in falsifying information or the Gospel stories as we currently possess them were not verified by the disciples themselves. In fact, the reason that we cannot critically assess the character of any of the early transmitters in Christianity, or its disciples is because we know so little about them. Take for example, the rock on which Jesus is alleged to have built his Church, the disciple Peter, the most important disciple. What do we know about Peter?

“It is one of the inscrutable ironies of Christianity’s humble beginnings that we know so little about Jesus of Nazareth’s leading disciple— the one identified in the Gospel of Matthew as the “rock” on whom Jesus would build his church, listed in later Christian tradition as Rome’s first bishop, and one of its two apostolic martyrs at the hands of Emperor Nero. But who was this man, and what happened to him? Any conventional quest for a “historical Peter” runs into the ground rather swiftly.”[11]

“Yet they remain remarkably vague or silent about many of the things we would like to know about this apostle’s origin, character, missionary career, and death. Why would these sources show such a lack of interest in the fate of such a prominent apostle? This can only leave the modern reader frustrated and mystified. The historical Peter himself left virtually nothing in writing, and even less of archaeological interest— whether in his native Galilee, in Jerusalem or Caesarea, in Antioch or Corinth.”[12]

“Among the numerous extant writings in his name, there are of course two short and remarkably different letters of uncertain date and origin in the NT. Beyond that, we have a bewildering range of apocryphal sources, styled as written by or about him, dating from the second through (at least) the sixth century. The authenticity of these documents remains contested among scholars of diverse critical presuppositions. On perusing the scholarly secondary literature, it seems hard to dispel the impression that the vast majority of leading specialists on both sides of the Atlantic now regard neither of the NT’s two Petrine letters as coming from Peter’s own pen.”[13]

It is amazing that Christians would like to tell us what the disciples believed about Jesus, but the reality is that they themselves do not know much, if anything about Peter. Moreso, not only do they know nothing about Peter, they have very little to tell us about the origins, or ends of any of the disciples. Therefore, when Christians claim that the New Testament is based on eyewitness testimony and that the New Testament is historically accurate, on what basis are they making these claims? The early Church had no methodology for verifying and validating information made about Jesus, the one theory Christian scholarship offered about the disciples correcting information did not stand up to scrutiny, historically we know nothing about the earliest witnesses, therefore by every criteria they claim to stand on, the New Testament fails every one of them.

In contrast to the disaster that is the Christian transmission of information, the sciences of Uloom al Hadeeth and Uloom al Qur’an, are far more detailed and critical of transmitters. More critical, than any methodology ever offered by the Christian tradition. It is often claimed that our hadeeth corpus is on par with the New Testament’s authenticity, but as demonstrated last week, this cannot be the case. Pursuant to this, if one of the sub-sciences of Uloom al Hadeeth, Rijal al Hadeeth, is more demanding and critical than any methodology ever used in Christian scholastic history to validate or verify the New Testament, then it stands to reason that our weakest narrations from the hadeeth corpus are more authentic, valid and historically viable than the entire New Testament.

and Allah knows best.

Sources:

  1. Allison, Dale C., Jr.. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Kindle Locations 32-34). Kindle Edition.
  2. Allison, Dale C., Jr.. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Kindle Locations 42-46). Kindle Edition.
  3. Unknown. The Book of Revelation, 22:18-19. NIV 2011.
  4. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 6833-6835). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  5. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 6890-6892). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  6. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 8023-8028). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  7. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 8691-8694). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  8. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 8702-8708). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  9. Reported by al-Bayhaqee and others, and it was declared to be ‘saheeh’ (authentic) by Ibnus-Sakan, and our Shaykh (Muhammad Naasiruddeen al-Albaanee) agreed; and refer to ’al-Irwaa’ no. 2637. As recommended by the blog’s owner, Br. Omar.
  10. Comfort, Phillip (2010-07-19). Encountering the Manuscripts (Kindle Locations 6801-6803). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  11. Bockmuehl, Markus (2012-11-01). Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church (p. 3). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  12. Bockmuehl, Markus (2012-11-01). Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church (p. 3). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  13. Bockmuehl, Markus (2012-11-01). Simon Peter in Scripture and Memory: The New Testament Apostle in the Early Church (p. 4). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.