Truth Unchanged, Texts Unchanging?

The Text of the Bible and the Text of the Quran: A Brief History


Its really nice to be able to agree with people. I like to agree with people. And I have trouble with the person who regards all types of communication to be subtypes of argumentation the person who views every statement as a full-out assault on his person, his pedigree or the way he rides the city bus. Yet, in spite of my aversion to this tank-column mentality, I do believe that there are some things worth arguing about. That some things are true, that others are false, and that the two cannot be compromised. And this is one thing on which Muslims and Christians agree: when we disagree with each other, we cannot both be right. But when someone degrades the Name of my God, mocks the Word of my God, and changes "the truth of God into a lie"[1] - I am no longer agreeable. Sadly, Muslim apologists, of late, have done just this. They have criticized and mocked the Bible[2] and its authenticity, and not too subtly either. On the other hand, our Muslim friends maintain their Qur'an is still the perfect replica of the heavenly table unchanged since its delivery over thirteen centuries ago. In this paper we will carefully examine both of these claims. In it, I simply argue that a Muslim cannot deny the authenticity of the Biblical text, without undermining all support for the Quranic text.

The Text of the Qur'an

The orthodox Muslim position on the text of the Qur'an is easy enough to state. With the exception, of a few Shiite groups[3], Muslims hold that not one jot or tittle has been changed in the text of the Qur'an since it was assembled in the early history of Islam.[4]

Mohammad informs us that the text was revealed to him over a period of 22 years, and that he met with the angel Gabriel annually to ensure that the Qur'an was unaltered. From this point, accounts vary greatly.[5] Some believe that Muhammad organized the Qur'an[6], others hold that Abu Bakr[7] was the first, or Umar[8], or Salim[9], or Uthman and a very weak isolate Hadith credits Ali with the work.[10] It is possible to find eight in the traditions who were supposed to have done the job.[11] Others yet hold that the final form was not finally settled until the recension of al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf.[12] There, however, a few factors that help us to eliminate Muhammad as a collector of the Qur'an. Briefly, the majority of the Hadith do not support the tradition, and many Muslims argue that the 'canon' could not have been closed until after the death of Muhammad because of on-going abrogation.[13] In this paper, we will assume that Umar and Abu Bakr performed the first collection of the Qur'an, and that Uthman placed Zaid in charge of the first recension of variant copies. This accounts to a degree, for a number of variations in the Hadith - and it is the Hadith which we must work with, as we have no other Muslim source for determining the history of the Qur'anic text. Now having introduced out topic, let us get to the heart of the matter: the existence and nature of textual variations in the Qur'an.

Textual Criticism and the Qur'an:

Textual criticism is not a new invention. And paleography is not a new science. So it would seem to be a fairly simple thing to get together a team of experts, board the transportation device of choice, and examine the oldest manuscripts of the Qur'an which Muslims can produce. "Strangely enough," Ahmad Von Denffer tells us,

although during the past two centuries of more intense orientalist study of Islam perhaps tens of thousands of books on Islam have been written and published by the orientalists, the original studies on the Qur'an, which are the sole basis of all research on Islam, number not more than half a dozen or so. . . - apart from translations - published during the present century.[14]

Only four German orientalists (Noldeke, Schwally, Bergstraesser and Pretzel), we are told, and two English scholars (Arthur Jeffery and John Burton) deal with the history of the text of the Qur'an.[15] Von Denffer views this absence of study on the Quranic text as "strange" - Arthur Jeffery does not. His colleague, Professor Bergstraesser, while studying the text of the Qur'an, discoloured one of twenty alleged originals of Uthman with his own blood.[16] Jeffery himself is barred from examining at least one manuscript which he maintains is of great importance.[17] The examination of the Quranic text has neither been an easy, nor a safe one for non-Muslims - neither have Muslims ever endeavoured to formulate a critical text themselves.[18]

In spite of this discouraging news, and in spite of the fact that the Archives in Munich have been destroyed by bombs and fire (so the whole process has to be begun again)[19], I do have access to both of the English works on the text of the Qur'an - hence, this paper. And though it is obvious that a paper of this scope cannot hope to deal exhaustively with the works of Jeffery and Burton - I can still summarize their conclusions.

Jeffery's work is basically a catalogue of textual variations (comparing today's text with the oldest sources) from 15 primary codices, 13 secondary codices and some unnamed codices. He sees this as the first step towards a critical text of the Qur'an (similar to the critical texts of the Bible). His work has not made Muslim apologist particularly happy, though Von Denffer acknowleges the usefulness for his work.[20]

Burton's work, The Collection of the Qur'an, discusses variances in the Qur'an and depends for the most part on the Hadith, rather than the extant texts of the Qur'an. Now we cannot agree with Burton on his major thesis: the Hadith are a 2nd or 3rd century forgery created to justify the doctrine of abrogation which in turn is used to reconcile the Sharia (law) with the Qur'an.[21] He argues that the Hadith depict the Qur'an as being corrupted - and then he rejects the Hadith. Yet in reaching this conclusion he reveals all the pertinent contradictory accounts of the origins of the text, and of the collection of the Qur'an. Simply because of this, his work remains invaluable.

Jeffery's thesis is brief and lucid: the different ancient texts he looks at are different. The Muslim relying on his putative knowledge tells us that from two to twenty "of the original manuscripts of the Qur'an prepared 1400 years ago still exist today,"[22] and that these texts are precisely the same. Jeffery points to the texts he has reproduced for us in his book and asks for explanations. And of course, he is provided with some.

There are three explanations for these variances that feature prominently in Islamic works on the subject. (1) The most common assertion is that the differences are merely that of 'dialect'.[23] Some Muslims were transmitting the Qur'an in a dialect other than that of the Quraish.[24] (2) Others tell us that the differences are only to be found in the copies "which some of the Companions of the Prophet and their followers had prepared for their personal use before the Caliph 'Uthman had several copies of the Qur'an prepared and sent to various Muslim regions."[25] Finally, one author states that (3), any critical work without the isnad on every variant reading is defective.[26] Uninhibited by chronology, we will discuss the first explanation first, the third one second, and the second one last.

Briefly, the problems with 'the dialect answer' are three: the Hadith does distinguish between different 'readings' and different 'dialects';[27] Companions of Muhammad who spoke the same dialect and were from the Quraish tribe still held that the other's text was corrupted[28] and finally, Jeffery reminds us, the vast majority of dialectical differences are not written anyway.[29] The problem with explanation (3) is in fact provided by Von Denffer himself: someone simply has to trace back the isnad and publish that too. Von Denffer acknowledges that the gathering of the isnad can be done.[30] But he objects to the whole idea as, he maintains, such a collection presupposes that "the text of the Qur'an as we have it today, is not the 'original' or 'correct' version."[31] On this he is simply wrong. One can go about tracing the isnad to demonstrate that there are variances in the earliest copies of the Qur'an. Granted. But one can also trace the isnad to demonstrate that the orientalists are all wrong and that the manuscripts are all forgeries or something of that sort. This would, after all, provide the final answer to our question. This is precisely what Professor Bergstraesser was doing until his assassination.

The second explanation is the most interesting (the well-it's-only-the-codices-of-the-companions position). This explanation admits the variances, but minimizes them by relegating the codices of the companions to a rather trivial position, and portrays them as being of dubious worth. With this answer in front of us, I think it is worth beginning with a question of Burton: if we trust the Hadith of the Companions - why not their codices? They do after all, have the same isnad.[32] Now Burton of course, rejects the variances as being trivial because he sees the Hadith as pure forgery. Doubtless however, most Muslims will sleep well with dismissing the variations in this manner. But as Muslims want to depend on the Hadith as reliable[33], and the Hadith must be traced to the contemporaries of Muhammad, and the same isnad support the alternative readings of the Qur'an in addition to the Hadith - one cannot dismiss them lightly. Burton has this to say:

The Qur'an, like the Sunna, had originally relied for its dissemination upon oral transmission, and Muhammad, it has been hinted above, is pictured in some of the exegeses of Q. 87 as failing to retain in his memory all the materials revealed to him by Gabriel. Portions of the Qur'an are thus conceived to have been irrecoverably lost before the Prophet had communicated them to his followers. In the case of the revelations which Muhammad had successfully communicated, the quality of his memory is irrelevant. The Companions assumed the responsibility for their memorisation and preservation. Subsequently, certain of the texts, intended by their divine author not to appear in the version of the Qur'an to be transmitted to posterity, were withdrawn from the memories of Muhammad and his associates [emphasis added].[34]

This observation is critical: the companions cannot be dismissed - rather their word is of paramount importance. They are the ones who memorized the Qur'an. They are the ones who wrote it down. So we must return to the record of the Hadith, and ask a question: what did the companions think of Zaid's compilation of the Qur'an? The answer is not difficult to find. Simply put, the most knowledgable companions were incensed with the recension of Uthman,[35][36] they continued to use their own codices,[37] and they commanded their followers to do likewise.[38] Zaid's recension was so unpopular in some regions that non-Uthman texts were commonly used until 322 AH - it was in fact called the period of ikhtiyar, or "free choice."[39] The companions on whose memory the correct transmission of the Qur'an depended, were unhappy with the Qur'an of Zaid - and therefore of ours today, if it is Zaid's. The material that Jeffery has found and reprinted from the companions cannot be classed as trivial. It is the key to the support or collapse of the assertion that the Qur'an has never changed. Unless Jeffery's work is the world's most clever forgery - which no one has claimed - there is certain evidence that there are variances.

In spite of all the evidence and argumentation, it remains difficult to comprehend what could have motivated the early Companions - who for the most part[40] remained dedicated Muslims - to intentionally corrupt the text. I think the answer is to be found in posing another question to the Hadith: how 'fixed' was the Qur'an in Muhammad's own lifetime?

As good as seventh century memories were supposed to be, unintentional errors could creep in; and some codices reveal evidence of inserted exegetical notes to aid the teacher or reader.[41] Others have the occasional synonym in the place of the original word.[42] It is this last phenomena that interests us. Today such a manoeuvre would be considered a sacrilege, but it appears from the Hadith that Muhammad accepted synonyms as adequate representations of the revelation.[43][44] We are also told that seven different readings of the Quran were revealed,[45] and on occasions where Muslims disputing over a passage would come to have Muhammad settle the dispute, he would tell them that they were both right.[46] There is therefore no need to dream up some conspiracy theory - the Qur'an simply was not a rigid text in Muhammad's lifetime - and the texts of his companions reflect that fact. But there are also other arguments for variances in the Qur'an - some weaker, some stronger.

First of all, if it is acknowledged that 90 percent of the Hadith were fabricated by pious, well-meaning Muslims[47] - one must ask why the same could not, at least theoretically, have been done with the Qur'an. I consider that argument of the weaker brand, as the majority of the society could not read or write, and many of the variant texts belonged to the Companions of Muhammad. In fact, the safeguards for keeping unwanted material out of the Qur'an were for the most part, very stringent[48] and we can at assume for the sake of argument that there have been no major additions.[49] This point is rightly impressed upon us by Muslim apologists of all stripes. But there is a word closely associated with 'additions' that is also very relevant to us - 'subtractions.'

In spite of all the safeguards imposed by Zaid to assure us that nothing has been added to the Qur'an, we are struck with the plain and broad fact that there is no mechanism possible for assuring us that parts of the Qur'an are not missing. In fact, Ali, Abdullah, Ubbay, and Hudaifa all held that parts of the Qur'an were missing,[50] and the Mutazalite scholar, al Nazzam, accuses Abdullah of denying two Surahs that he held to be part of the Qur'an.[51] We also have examples of missing content such as the infamous 'Satanic verses,'[52] and the two doctrines of abrogation which allow the 'word-only' to be lost, or the 'word-and-content' to be lost.[53] These not only make room for, but explicitly teach us that some parts of the Qur'an are lost. It should be no surprise then if an abrogated verse be found in an ancient manuscript - it should in fact be expected.

In summing up, I want to stress that if the Hadith are accurate, the Qur'an is for the most part, unchanged. I think it is safe to conclude with Fazlur Rahman that "A great many variant readings have been recorded by Quranic commentators but, as scholars agree, they do not materially affect the meaning of the Qur'an except in a very small number of relatively unimportant points of ritual."[54] We will only know for sure once scholars are allowed full access to examine all the ancient manuscripts of the Qur'an. But we cannot hold that there are no variances - that the Qur'an "remains today letter for letter as it was revealed over 1400 years ago."[55] If the Hadith are correct, neither Muhammad, the Companions, nor the early Muslims had an absolutely static Qur'an. Our Qur'an is a reliable record of the Qur'an of what Muhammad's taught - the message, the doctrines, and most of the laws are all intact. But not, in some cases, verbatim. If on the other hand the Hadith are not accurate - we still have Jeffery's variances. Clearly, Jeffery remains a skunk for any Quranic garden party.

The Text of the Bible

Now I not only like to agree with people, but I also like to be fair with people. So I try to sketch both the Christian and Muslim positions as best as I can. We cannot of course treat all their arguments in a paper of this scope - we will not even begin to deal with Old Testament criticisms.[56] Instead we will narrow our discussion to the New Testament, particularly the four Gospels.[57]

The orthodox Christian position on the Bible is not difficult. The entire New Testament was written by Apostles and eyewitnesses in the first century, with the Gospels already circulating before the fall of Jerusalem - 70AD. Each book or letter was inspired by God, and therefore contains no error, and expresses no contradictions. There are slight variations in the text - the accuracy of the copy exceeds 99%[58] - and there is no single fact or doctrine called into question by the variations in the extant codices. Jesus has told us that "heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words will not pass away."[59] - this is the infallible testimony of the Scriptures. Christians hold that the truth of this testimony is evidenced in the world, and key to this witness is the early dating of the Scriptures. The assertions of Muslim apologists typify the reasons why this early dating is significant.

When researching what Muslim apologists have to say about the Bible, I have tried to cite what appears to be their best and most popular works on the subject.[60] The main assertion of Islam's apologists is simple: the Bible is corrupted. More specifically, the Gospels are not an authentic record of the words of Jesus. Some time is required for this to take place, as orthodox Islam holds that Jesus wrote a gospel too.[61] We need enough time for (a.) His gospel to be written, (b.) His gospel to be lost (or corrupted almost completely),[62] (c.) every secondary trace of it to and mention of it to be lost in all the annals of history, (d.) a whole new set of gospels to be created (Maurice Bucaille suggests there may have been a hundred gospels)[63] and (e.) the Christian community had to accept these forgeries. Clearly we need more than time for these historical gymnastics - we need the most incredible conspiracy theory of history. So, some arguments are offered.

The most comfortable way of explaining the loss of Christ's Gospel and the creation of the new ones has been to create a sort of 'blank spot' in history. Muslim apologists hold that the earliest writings had to be written in the late first century,[64] and all codices and papyri relegated to the third where possible, and the late second century for any fragments of the New Testament.[65] Any differences between the early manuscripts must be magnified, and those documents considered unreliable must be touted as the most accurate.[66] Church history must be depreciated, and the conclusions of higher criticism embraced. This is the most comfortable way of explaining the loss of the gospel that agrees with the Qur'an, and the creation of some new ones which do not. But as necessary as these assertions are for the Muslim, they leave him without a foundation of his own to rest on. We'll start with the last thing first: higher criticism (different than 'modern' criticism, as 'higher' criticism was popular a century ago).

'Higher' criticism, its late dating of the New Testament, and its hypothesized 'Pauline' and 'Johannine' schools, rest on theories that were very much in vogue in the last century. Their presuppositions, briefly, disallow the supernatural (eg. miracles), any reference to Jesus proclaiming himself to be more then a man ('God' was a dubious concept to these scholars), and any possibility of fulfilled prophecy. Baur, his co-theorists, and his modern counterpart in the "Jesus Seminar" hold that there was a dialectical tension between Paul and the Judeo-Christians - a tension which developed into different schools,[67] and the letters and gospels were reactions against these developing theological tensions. They had a reason for this. They wished to justify these presuppositions enumerated above. The German critics wanted to 'late-date' the gospels because the gospels contained prophecies (e.g. the fall of Jerusalem) - and those prophecies were fulfilled. Rather than accept that God revealed something and it came to pass, they supposed that survivors of the event described it as prophecy, after the fact. This accounted for the accuracy of the prophecy, but needed late dating.

Having belaboured the point, here is the problem: Muslim apologists want to hold to the conclusions of higher criticism but reject its presuppositions. But higher criticism is only a theory. It is a misunderstanding to hold that there is 'evidence' for the theory. No archaeologist has stumbled across a 'Johannine schoolhouse' that outlines the plans for a revision of biblical history, or a 'Pauline clubhouse' that has action plans for getting around the 'Judeo-Christians' on the blackboard. The presuppositions have formed the theory, not the other way around. So if Muslims are to abide by the conclusions of higher criticism, they need to formulate their own arguments. And I must point out that if one is to accept higher criticism of the Bible, one should accept higher criticism of the Qur'an. The scholars who reject the Bible, also must reject the Qur'an. The arguments of higher criticism are completely incompatible with Islam. So if Muslims want the dating of higher criticism, they must provide their own arguments. And some have.

On a purely evidential basis, some have asserted that all the documents of the New Testament are not old enough. The popular Muslim apologist, Maurice Bucaille, tells us that the oldest manuscripts of the Gospels are from the 4th century,[68][69] though he does allow that the writing of the Gospels was probably finished before 110 AD. Christians have three general arguments against this late dating: (1) the internal evidence for dating withing the manuscripts, (2) extant fragments, papyri and manuscripts, and (2) the testimony of early Church history.

Sir Frederick Kenyon (cited by Yusuf Ali as an authority on the Bible) deals masterfully with the internal dating of the Bible, dealing in depth with the Gospel of John which critics have attacked with greatest vehemence - for John witnesses to many of Christ's claim to be the only Way - and to be God incarnate. Commenting on an archaeological find, he concludes that:

The net result of this discovery -- by far the most important since the discovery of the Sinaiticus -- is, in fact, to reduce the gap between the earlier manuscripts and the traditional dates of the New Testament books so far that it becomes negligible in any discussion of their authenticity. No other ancient book has anything like such early and plentiful testimony to its text, and no unbiased scholar would deny that the text that has come down to us is substantially sound.[70]

As for the late dating and corruption of extant manuscripts, I can only provide a survey here, while allowing Norman Geisler and Kenyon[71] to deliver the devastating news:

There is more abundant and accurate manuscript evidence for the New Testament than for any other book from the ancient world. There are more manuscripts copied with greater accuracy and earlier dating than for any secular classic from antiquity. First, let us examine the number and nature of the New Testament manuscripts themselves....
The total count of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament is now around 5,000. The New Testament scholar Bruce Metzger counts 76 papyri, 250 uncials, 2,646 minuscules, and 1,997 lectionary manuscripts. This would total 4,969. No other book from antiquity possesses anything like this abundance in manuscripts.[72]

Kenyon holds that we have portions of the New Testament dating back to the beginning of the second century.[73] And a part of the Gospel of John was preserved for us in Egypt, having made it there already by 130-150 AD.[74] He holds that in the third century the gospels and Acts circulated as a unit, and that the four gospels could have been circulating together in the second century.[75] Church history supports this. The writings of the fathers have plenty to say about the Bible.

The testimonies of Ignatius,[76] Irenaeus,[77] Polycarp,[78] Papias,[79] Melito,[80] Theophilus,[81] Justin Martyr,[82] Hegesippus,[83] Tertullian,[84] Clement of Rome[85] and Clement of Alexandria[86] all make reference to the New Testament[87] - often as Scripture. In 140 AD when Marcion (a Gnostic) presented his New Testament Canon, he was opposed by Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Epiphanius.[88] To posit that the New Testament Canon had just been written, when (1) the Bible was already widely spread, with (2) no controlling body existed for the dissemination of the Bible (as the slight variances in texts demonstrate)[89] and with (3) people already being labelled as heretics because of their positions on Scripture, is simply a display of one's lack of knowledge in Church history.

These testimonies are, loosely speaking, the 'Christian Hadith.' The church fathers were the people who lived with and were taught by the apostles - the inspired authors of the New Testament.[90] The parallel is a weak one however, as the writings, unlike the Hadith, were written records, not verbal traditions recorded two centuries later. For this very reason, any denial of the reliability of the early church writings leaves Islam's apologists devoid of grounds for accepting the Hadith. Particularly when we are told that Muslim scholars, from Bukhari on, do not accept nine tenths of all Hadith. There simply are no giant holes in time for the apologists' version of history to take place.

Final thoughts

It seems plain to me, that if Muslims accept a higher criticism of the Bible - they must accept a higher criticism of the Qur'an. And if they are to reject the Gospels as inauthentic records because of slight variances in our manuscripts - they must dismiss the 'Gospel of Jesus' as myth[91] - because there are no manuscripts. If Muslims believe that any variance in the texts of revelation is a sure sign that a revelation is not from God - then the Qur'an is surely not of God. If Muslims maintain that there has been a grand conspiracy of history and that the testimony of the witnesses cannot be trusted - then no one can trust the verbal records of the Hadith - recorded centuries later. And yet if the Hadith are accurate, the Qur'an does have variances. Plainly, Muslim apologists cannot deny the authenticity of the Biblical text - without undermining all support for the Quranic text. Plainly Muslim apologists need some new arguments. Some better arguments. Some arguments that will discredit the Bible - without destroying the Qur'an.


End Notes:

1. Romans 1:25a.

2. Eg. Maurice Bucaille refers to the Old Testament as an "odd assortment of documents." The Bible, the Qur'an, and Science (Indianapolis: North American Trust Publications, 1979), 5.

3. Gatje, Helmut. The Qur'an and its Exegisis: Selected texts with Classical and Modern Muslim Interpretations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 39.

4. See also: Muhammad Zafrulla Khan's Islam: Its Meaning for Modern Man (London: Routledge & Keagan Paul, 1980), 83; Von Denffer, Ahmad. Ulum Al-Qur'an: An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1989), 44; Khalifa, Mohammad. The Sublime Qur'an and Orientalism (London: Longman, 1983), 15, 48; Islamic Information and Da'wah Centre. The Bible and the Quran Compared: Part 1. Pamphlet: Islamic Information and Da'wah Centre. Why God's Book Cannot Contain Error. Islamic Information and Da'wah Centre International. Pamphlet.

5. Rippin, Andrew. Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, Vol. 1. The Formative Period (London: Routledge, 1990), 24.

6. Zaid is cited to support this tradition. Burton, 214.

7. Burton, John. The Collection of the Qur'an. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 122. (Hereafter referred to as 'Burton' - any other work of Burton will be cited in full). Zaid is also credited with the Hadith supporting Abu Bakr as the first collector of the Qur'an. Burton, 123. He is also credited with saying the same about Umar. See also Rahman, Fazlur. Islam (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966), 41.

8. Burton, 120. The reports of Umar and Abu Bakr can be reconciled if one extracts from the tradition that Abu Bakr told Umar to do the collecting after Umar came to him and asked, though this really stretches the literal interpretation of some of the Hadith.

9. Burton, 120-121.

10. Burton, 122.

11. Burton, 165.

12. Jeffery, Arthur. The Qur'an as Scripture (New York: Books for Libraries, 1980), 99. "That the practice of pointing came generally accepted and consistently carried through the whole of the Codex is said to be due to the activity of the famous official al-Hajjaj b. Yusif, who was perhaps the most remarkable figure in Islam during the Caliphate of 'Abd al-Malik. When we come to examine the accounts of the activity of al-Hajjaj in this matter, however, we discover to our surprise that the evidence points strongly to the fact that his work was not confined to fixing more precisely the text of the Qur'an by a set of points showing how it was to be read, but he seems to have made an entirely new Recension of the Qur'an, having copies of his new text sent to the great metropolitan centres, and ordering the destruction [sic] of earlier copies in existence there, much as 'Uthman had done earlier."

13. Burton, 112.

14. Von Denffer, 158.

15. I should note that 'Western' scholars are not inherently critical of the Muslim account. William Muir, in his The Life of Mahommet, Vol. 1 (Osnabruch: Biblio Verlag, 1988), 27 - is sympathetic, as is William Montgomery Watt. Companion to the Qur'an (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 1994), 26, 156. They are of course not alone. And it should be noted that Muir predates Jeffery, and Watt does not go into any depth here.

16. Jeffery, Quran, 97.

17. He has, in fact, been only able to catalogue a small number of extant manuscripts relative to the number that are available.

18. Jeffery, Arthur. Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur'an. (New York: E.J. Brill, 1975), 3.

19. Jeffery, Quran, 103.

20. Von Denffer, 161.

21. Many scholars have examined the Hadith, have recognized the contradictions and have held that must try and find the one true account from all the contradictory accounts. Burton simply takes one more step, and argues that none of the Hadith related to the Quran are accurate (he concludes that Muhammad wrote the Quran, that it has been changed by later Muslims, and that it is incompatible with the Sharia). We can reject his conclusion (regarding the massive Hadith conspiracy) because he can only arrive at his conclusion if he knows that the Hadith are false. Contradictions alone are never enough to establish this. (eg. Joe can assert A, Sue can assert B, and Herb can assume C - if the three contradict each other, that does not rule out the possibility that one of his assertions may be true. Though none, admittedly, may be). We can, secondly, reject his hypothesis regarding the Hadith, because it is a theory based on a 'conspiracy' of significant magnitude that is not justified by standard test of historiography. A confused account, yes. No truth in it - no. And that takes us to our third objection to Burton's conclusion: the theory itself relies on the Hadith. If the Hadith are all fabricated then the Hadith on which he builds his theory are fabricated. If his position is true, it cannot be true. His thesis is internally inconsistent, and in fact is self-refuting. The Hadith which he marshalls to support his opinion are, to be sure, impressive - but not sufficient.

22. Islamic Information and Da'wah Center, The Bible and the Qur'an Compared: Part 1. Pamphlet; and Jeffery, Qur'an, 97. The years referred to here are years from the Muslim calendar. Hence the fourteen centuries.

23. Khalifa, Mohammad. The Sublime Qur'an and Orientalism (London: Longman, 1983), 47.

24. Muhammad's tribe.

25. Von Denffer, 161.

26. Von Denffer, Ahmad. Ulum Al-Qur'an: An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an. (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1989), 161-162.

27. Burton, 170.

28. "A further modification was imposed upon the scholars. 'Abdullah, in the case of the non-Arab had permitted the substitution of one word for another. 'Abdullah was a non-Meccan. The substitution would have been presumably a synonym in his dialect for a word in the Meccan dialect. Then there was the story of 'Umar's quarrel with Hisam. Not only were 'Umar and Hisam fellow tribesmen. Both were fellow tribesmen of the Prophet. The reference to dialects was thus watered down to a reference to synonyms. The aim was to rationalize the claim that there had existed variant readings transmitted from several Companions of the Prophet." (Burton, 154).

29. Jeffery, Qur'an, 96.

30. Von Denffer, 162. Note that he must argue this - if Muslim scholars cannot account for the ancient texts, then there is no way of conclusively demonstrating that those texts are not the authentic originals.

31. Von Denffer, 161.

32. Burton, 168.

33. That is, the most commonly accepted collections of Abu-Muslim, Bukhari, etc.

34. Burton, John. Kal-nasikh wa-l-mansukh (Cambridge: Trustees of the "E.J.W. Gibb Memorial" Trust, 1987), 5.

35. Burton, 166-167.

36. Jeffery, Materials, 8.

37. Burton, 169.

38. Burton, 167.

39. Jeffery, Materials, 1; Qur'an, 97-98.

40. Zwemer, Samuel, M. Islam: A Challenge to Faith (New York: Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, 1907), 23-24.

41. Burton, 171.

42. Burton, 152.

43. Burton, 188.

44. Khalifa, in an attempt to deal with all these problems, constantly makes deprecating remarks about their intellect, education and above all their conclusions - but fails to explain what is wrong with the premises of the arguments. He in effect 'defies the phenomena' without offering any argument more penetrating than ad hominen rebuttals (eg. pp. 49, 51-52). He concludes that none of these men are qualified to make assertions about the text of the Qur'an (though he feels qualified to criticize the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, and the sacred writings of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confuciansim, and Taoism). Khalifa depends heavily on Bucaille, and also uses an encylopedia for his criticisms of the Bible. Khalifa, 7-9.

45. Burton, 148-149. Cites Tabari here.

46. Burton, 149-151.

47. Richard Bulliet lays some of the blame on the shoulders of Muhammad himself - he quotes the following Hadith: "Mendacity will spread after me. So when someone relates a hadith from me, test it according to the Qur'an and sunna; if it agrees with them, then it is from me, regardless of whether of not I have actually said it." [emphasis mine]. Islam: The View From the Edge (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 35.

48. Burton cites an exception to this rule on p. 126.

49. Exceptions: see Burton, 220.

50. "'They collected the Qur'an into a mushaf in the reign of Abu Bakr, some men writing to the dictation of Ubayy. When they reached Q9.127 some supposed that that was the last part of the Qur'an to have been revealed. But Ubayy pointed out that the Prophet had taught him two verses more and, since they were the last of the Qur'an to have been revealed, the Book should close on the note on which it had begun.'
Other verses had been withdrawn in respect of both their wording and ruling. An example in the Tradition is Anas' hadith on the Qur'an's reference to the Bi'r Ma'una martyrs. Further cases include Ubayy's remark that Ahzab had originally been as long as Bauara; Hudaifa's remark, 'They don't recite a quarter of al Bara'a today'...
The Qadi Abu Bakr al Baqillani states, 'The entire Qur'an revealed by God and commanded by Him to be recorded in writing, except what he suppressed, wording and ruling together, or wording only, although He may have also suppressed the ruling, is this which is between two covers. Not one jot is missing and not one tittle has been added.'" (Burton citing various Hadith. 124, 130-131. See also 117).

51. Despite the statement attributed to 'Abdullah that he who denies a single verse of the Qur'an denies the entire revelation, 'Abdullah is depicted in the literature as having denied whole chapters of the Qur'an! ...The codex ascribed to 'Abdullah is said to lack three of the suras present in our (the 'Uthmanic) text. The codices ascribed to ibn 'Abbas, Ubayy and Abu Musa are said to contain two suras which the 'Uthmanic text lacks." (Burton, 220).

52. Sherif, Faruq. A Guide to the Contents of the Qur'an (London: Ithaca Press, 1985), 39.

53. Burton, 124, 130-131.

54. Rahman, Fazlur. "The Message and the Messenger," Islam: The Religious and Political Life of a World Community. Kelly, Margorie, ed. (New York: Praiger, 1984), 49.

55. Islamic Information and Daw'ah Centre. The Bible and the Qur'an Compared: Part 1. Pamphlet.

56. I will restrict myself to a couple observations. Most late dating of the Old Testament was built on the assumption that there was no writing prior to 1000 to 800 BC. A theory latched on to by Encylopedia Britannica's 9th edn, 1881. This dating of course would make the concept of Moses writing the Pentateuch impossible. Kenyon has exploded this myth in his book The Bible and Modern Criticism. This scepticism did not originate with the Bible but was a trend of the times, touching the works of Homer, etc. Kenyon points out as one example that the excavations at Nippur, Ashur, Ur, and Kish have "brought to light thousands of inscribed tablets ranging back to the third millenium BC." 11. This precedes the time of Abraham significantly. The first presupposition led textual critics to a further conclusion. They noticed that the Pentateuch appeared to rely on a number of earlier documents. Since they already determined that there was no writing prior to Moses, they decided that the Pentateuch was written over a considerable period of time in various stages after Moses. Now no Christian scholar is silly enough to assert that the Deuteronomic postscript and account of the death of Moses was written by Moses - but this does not mean that it need be dated at the time of the Kings or after, as Khalifa, Bucaille, and Metzger and May in The New Oxford Annotated Bible. With documents going back to the third millenium, the Pentateuch may rely on some documents - but Moses still could have used these documents. The Bible not only makes reference to non-Biblical books (Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18; 1 Kings 11:41; 2 Chronicles 9:29; Esther 10:12) but it openly tells us that research is used by some authors eg. Luke 1:1-4. This does not in any way contradict the fact that these holy men of old were inspired (not 'guided' as Khalifa caricatures inspiration, p.7) by the Holy Spirit.

57. Not that they are any more important than the other portions of Scripture - but they are more vehemently attacked by Muslims than most other books of the Bible.

58. Geisler, Apologetics, 307.

59. Matthew 24:35

60. Yusuf Ali's polemic translation and commentary, Mohammad Khalifa (who relies heavily on Maurice Bucaille), Maurice Bucaille himself, and two popular handouts - one by Islamic Communication Trust, and the Islamic Information and Daw'ah Centre. I have also referred to a work by Bruce Metzger (Bucaille - approved) and "The Jesus Seminar" - a popular work with the MSA. Necessarily, as he best typifies the research and argumentation of Muslim apologists and is by far the most popular (and vitriolic) - I quote extensively from Bucaille. At the end of this paper I include an appendix which briefly examines the research methods of the five Muslim works.

61. A Muslim version, not the one Mark refers to in 1:1.

62. It is interesting to note that the chart Bucaille reprints that depicts the history of the Gospels leaves no room for a "gospel of Jesus." Bucaille, 76.

63. Bucaille, 78.

64. Eg. Muhammad Ata ur-Rahim, Jesus Prophet in Islam, (Norfolk: Diwan Press, 1977), 17.

65. Bucaille, 54-81.

66. Even the Roman Catholic Church which endorsed the Apochrypha in 1546 holds the Apochrypha as "useful for edifying reading but without the authority of Holy Scripture." Good News Bible: Catholic Study Edition, (New York: Sadlier, 1979), 1152.

67. Blomberg, Craig L. "The Seventy Four "Scholars": Who Does The Jesus Seminar Really Speak For?" Christian Research Journal. (Christian Research Institute, Fall 1994), 35-36. This article contains the best summary position on Textual criticism and penetrating rebuttal that I have seen yet.

68. Bucaille, 78.

69. He neglects to inform the reader that the term 'manuscripts' refers to 'vellum' - only a recent invention and thus earlier copies were written on the fragile papyri. Papyri disintegrated quickly unless in an extremely dry climate (like Egypt or the Jordan wilderness) and therefore finds are hard to come by. In addition to this, Christians were persecuted fiercely, and the cumbersome rolls of papyri would not be easy to hide. Kenyon, Frederic G. The Text of the Greek Bible (Surrey: Unwin Brothers Limited, 1975), 3-11.

70. Kenyon, Our Bible, 20.

71. The following excerpts from Kenyon are also very relevant to our topic:

The first really important discovery of Biblical manuscripts did not appear until 1931. This was a group consisting of portions (sometimes substantial, sometimes small) of eleven codices (ie. in leaves like a modern book, not rolls) ranging in date from the second to the fourth century and therefore for the most part older than the great vellum codices, the Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, which up to then were the oldest extant authorities for the text of the Greek Bible... Three manuscripts are of the New Testament, among which nearly every book is represented; one having originally contained the four Gospels and Acts in a hand which may be assigned to the first half of the third century; one contains nearly the whole of the Pauline Epistles (86 leaves out of 104, of which the last five were probably blank), written about a.d.200; and one with the middle third of Revelation of the third century... It will be seen that these manuscripts between them carry back the textual tradition of the New Testament for a full century...
Its importance lies in the fact that papyrological experts agree in assigning the date of its writing to the first half of the second century. Small therefore as it is, it suffices to prove that a manuscript of the gospel was circulating, presumably in provincial Egypt where it was found, about the period A.D. 130-150. Allowing even a minimum time for the circulation of the work from its place of origin, this would throw back the date of the composition so near to the traditional date in the last decade of the first century that there is no longer any reason to question the validity of the tradition. And this evidence does not stand alone. In the same year, 1935, Dr. (now Sir) H.I. Bell and Mr. T.C. Skeat, of the British Museum, published some fragments, purchased the previous year for the museum, of three leaves of papyrus codex, the writing of which can also be ascribed to the first half of the second century. They contain records of incidents in our Lord's life, apparently forming portions of a Gospel differing from the four canonical books though with strong signs of relation to them. The style is simple and straightforward, without any of the exaggerations or tendentious doctrinal character of the later apochryphal gospels; and its date of origin must be assigned to the first century. The fragments include records of four incidents in our Lord's life... The language of the the Synoptic Gospels is evident here; but in the fourth incident the language of the Fourth Gospel is equally clear... It is evident therefore that the writer of this "new Gospel" was acquainted not only with the Synoptic Gospels but with St. John: for the only alternative, that he was writing material which was afterwards incorporated in the Fourth Gospel, is highly improbable in view of the very individual style of that Gospel. There is no evidence or probability of a school of "Johannine" writers earlier than the Gospel itself.
Here, therefore, is confirmatory evidence of the existance of the Fourth Gospel by about the end of the first century: and the implications of this evidence are of the first importance. If the Gospel was written before the end of the first century, as now seems irrefragably proved, not only are the contentions of Baur, van Manen, and all that school shattered to pieces, but the probability of the authorship of the Apostle St. John seems to be enormously strengthened. (Our Bible, 18-23).

72. Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 306-307.

73. FF. Bruce supports this: "Towards the end of the first century we have signs of a move to collect the literary remains of Paul.. the Acts of the Apostles became more generally known towards the year 90... at a later date in the first century it began to circulate among the churches and immediately it rekindled a strong interest in the personality and activity of Paul... We know, for example, that about the year 95 the cupboard somewhere in Rome which was the Vatican Library of that date contained not only Paul's letter to the Romans (as we should expect in any case) but also copies of his letter to the Corinthians and (possibly) one or two others. It also contained copies of the Epistle to the Hebrews" The Spreading Flame: The Rise and Progress of Christianity from its First Beginnings to the Conversion of the English (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1966), 224.

74. Kenyon, The Bible, 21.

75. Kenyon, Greek, 9.

76. "Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (martyred c.116), clearly knows our New Testament in general. He knew the Epistles of Paul well, but the Gospels of Matthew and John appear to have been his favorites." (Thiessen, 12).

77. Norman Geisler also informs us that Irenaeus, who was born in the early first half of the century (Kuiper, B.K. The Church in History (Grand Rapids: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., ND), 17.) referred in passing to the gospels as Scripture. Geisler, Norman L. Decide for Yourself: How History Views the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 25-26.

78. "Polycarp, bishp of Smyrna (c.69-155), uses much of the New Testament in his letter to the Phillipians. He had the Gospel of Matthew, and probably also the other three Gospels; he had all of Paul's Epistles, I Peter, and I John; he had I Clement and probably also the Book of Acts." (Thiessen, 12).

79. Papias, bishop of Hierapolis (c.80-c.155), testifies that Mark wrote his Gospel according to what he had heard Peter tell of the words and works of Christ, and that Matthew wrote his Logia in Aramaic. He knew John's Gospel, and Eusebius tells us that he quotes I John and I Peter." (Thiessen, 12-13).

80. Thiessen, 13.

81. "Theophilus, bishop of Antioch (c.115-c.188), wrote a treatise to his pagan friend Autolycus. It seems clear that he had the bulk of our New Testament books and that he held them in equal terms with the Old Testament. He first mentions the Gsopel of John by name." (Thiessen, 13).

82. "Justin the Martyr (c.100-165) was a Greek born in Samaria. He wrote a number of works; three of those which have come down to is are unquestionably genuine: the two Apologies and the Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. It is practically certain that he used Matthew, Luke, and John, and his reference to the Memoirs of Peter probably means Mark's Gospel. He knows Acts, 1 Peter, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, Hebrews, the Apocalypse (which he regards as a work of the Apostle John), and the Didache. Justin travelled widely and finally settled in Rome, where he founded a school. His testimony is, therefore, very important." (Thiessen, 16).

83. "Hegesippus (c. 110-180) a Jewish Christian Church historian, is a witness against the Tubingen hypotheses. He gives us a lengthy account of the martyrdom of James, the Lord's brother. Travelling a good deal, he finally came to Rome. Eusebius tells us that on his way, "he found everywhere the same doctrine." He embodied his findings in five books, known as Memoirs. No doubt the bulk of our books in the New Testament were at use in Corinth and Rome at the time, and the absence of any note of surprise or dissent in the writings of Hegesippus may be taken as a sign that he was accustomed to the recognition of the same books." (Thiessen, 16-17).

84. Tertullian specifically referring to four Gospels. Geisler, Norman L. Decide for Yourself, 26-27. "Tertullian of Carthage (c. 150-222) was a lawyer of great influence, and a voluminous writer in Latin. He also wrote some in Greek. His writings laid the foundations for Latin theology. He accepts our four Gospels, thirteen Epistles of Paul (Souter raises a question about Philemon), Acts, 1 Peter, 1 John, Jude, and the Apocalypse. He holds that Barnabas wrote Hebrews, and does not accept the book as Scripture. He does not mention or quote from James, 2 Peter, and 2 and 3 John, which may or may not indicate the rejection of these books. In his case also 1 John may have been intended to mean 2 and 3 John as well. (Thiessen, 23).

85. "Clement of Rome (c.30-100) wrote a letter in the name of the Church at Rome to the Church at Corinth about A.D.96, known as 1 Clement which was regarded as canonical by some writers. He knew Matthew, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and is full of references to Hebrews. He may have been acquainted with James, 1 Peter, 1 Timothy, and Titus, also, although this is not certain. There is nothing that does not fit in with the authenticity of the others also. (Thiessen, 21).

86. "Clement of Alexandria (c.155-c.215) has left us with three great works, The Exhortation to the Greeks, The Pedagogus, or Instructor, and The Stromato, or Miscellanies. He was exceedingly well read. Clement accepted all the books in our present New Testament, not passing by the books that were disputed by some, as Jude and the rest of the Catholic Epistles. He held that Hebrews was written by Paul in Hebrew and that Luke had translated it. But he commented on only four of the Catholic Epistles, leaving out James, 2 Peter and 3 John. He also recognized the Apocalypse." (Thiessen, 17)

87. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

88. Thiessen, 21.

89. Kenyon concludes that "it is evident that by the end of the second century there was no general control of the text of the books which were gradually coming to be recognized as canonical." Our Bible, 20.

90. A helpful reference work can be found in the writings of Eusebius Pamhilus (c.265-340). Ecclesiastical History. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991.

91. But what if such a gospel did emerge? Douglas Groothuis issues this challenge: "Should any supposed record of Jesus' life come to the fore, let it marshal its historical merits in competition with holy writ. The competitors have an uphill battle against the incumbent." Rhodes, Ron. "The Jesus of the New Age Movement: Part Two in a Two Part Series on New Age Christology," Christian Research Journal. (Fall 1989), 15ff.


Appendix: Research and Citation Methods

This appendix is simply a brief analysis of how some Muslim apologists are doing their research. I am concerned with both the research scope, and methodology of these apologists, and can only hope that this appendix may reach some budding researcher, and be of some help to them. The methodology in research is perhaps the most serious.

Maurice Bucaille cites a number of authors in his work, The Bible, the Qur'an, and Science, but he rarely cites what page (and at times what work) he derives his information from when speaking with reference to the Bible or its text.[1] Yusuf Ali is guilty of precisely the same fault in his two appendices on the Bible. No page references. Mohammad Khalifa refers to Bucaille's work - and follows suite. No page references. The best referenced apologetical works were, ironically, the two shortest - the two pamphlets referred to in this paper.[2] I find it disappointing that Ahmad von Denffer depreciates Arthur Jeffery's work because he left out the isnad of the codices he cites. I can only say that Islam's apologists diminish their credibility when they leave out the modern equivalent of isnad - page numbers. Their omission makes any examination of context at best, labourious, and at its worst, impossible. There is a fine line between inferior documentation and dishonesty.

Equally as damaging to credibility, is the reliance on works such as dictionaries, encyclopaedias and introductions to Bibles as sources for broad sweeping, global-type claims about history, doctrine, exegesis and integrity of the biblical text.[3] This is not scholarship. Maybe this is allowable in a small paper (such as the pamphlets), but not in a book that purports to be teaching about the origins of the Bible. Bucaille complains a number of times that commentators do not touch on the alleged contradictions of the Bible.[4] I found this an extraordinary claim I referred to the six commentators[5] on my shelf and each provided a discussion, often quite in depth, on the very points that Bucaille labours at from pages 83-93. Perhaps his problem lies in the fact that he uses 'commentaryets' rather than commentaries. Perhaps it is to be found in the simple fact that he cites so few authors. In fact, the number is so limited that he cites the same authors in his 'defence' of the Bible as he does in his assault on it![6] Simply put, Bucaille & Co. are knocking down the proverbial straw man.

The only other thing that really concerns me, is who these authors cite. Wherever it is possible to determine who Bucaille is citing, he is citing Roman Catholic sources. Without exception. The same goes for the two handouts with one exception.[7] Relying on Roman Catholic authors is of course not a problem in and of itself (though Bucaille's work seems in part to be a reaction against his Roman Catholic up-bringing)[8], but the almost exclusive reliance on those sources is a rather skewed sampling of Christian apologetics and theology. The problem could be a result of Bucaille's habit of equating Catholicism with Christianity, as if the Roman Catholic were accepted as an authority over all of Christianity.[9] The reader must also be alerted to the fact that the Roman Catholic tradition has always undermined the foundation of Scripture in their rejection of the Bible alone as the source of Divine truth.[10] Protestantism has always - as Bucaille indicates on page 44[11] - placed a greater emphasis on Scripture. One would hope then, for a defence of Scripture, that Bucaille would dedicate some space to an orthodox Christian defence of Scripture. For that is the last point: the men Bucaille cites are not orthodox Christians. It is no wonder that they provide him with unorthodox conclusions. Since Vatican II, the bulk of Roman Catholic scholarship has been unorthodox. This is particularly noticeable in their Bible introductions on which Bucaille depends so heavily. Considering themselves advanced, these authors have followed the higher criticism of the last century.[12] Bucaille takes note of this on page 47[13] - but sees no necessity to qualify any of his finds.

My last comment pertains to Yusuf Ali's work - just something I found interesting. There are few great scholars who would disagree with Yusuf Ali's data, arguments or conclusions more than Sir Frederic Kenyon. And Ali cites Kenyon as an authority on the Bible.[14] I agree of course. He is.

Notes:

1. Bucaille, Maurice. The Bible, the Qur'an, and Science (Indianapolis: North American Trust Publications, 1979). Noted exceptions: page 67 and 114.

2. One is produced by Madresa Ashraful Uloom (The Islamic Communication Trust), and the other is by the Islamic Information and Da'wah Centre.

3. Eg. Bucaille, 3, 10, 45, 59, etc.

4. Bucaille, 59.

5. The Expositor's Bible, Vol.4. Nicoll W. Robertson, ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1943), 698; Henry, Matthew. A Commentary of the Whole Bible, Vol.5. (Iowa Falls: World Bible Publishers, N.D.), 3-5, 617-619; Poole, Matthew. A Commentary of the Holy Bible Vol.3. (McLean: MacDonald Publishing Company, N.D.), 2-5, 203-204; Ryle, J.C. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. Vol. 2. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 105-107; Wesley, John. The New Testament (Halifax: William Nicholson and Sons, 1869), 11-12, 149-150; Calvin, John. Commentary on the Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke. Calvin's Commentaries Vol. XVI. William Pringle, trans. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1993), 80-92.

6. Eg. Bucaille, 39 - cites Father de Vaux to defend the Bible, on p. 11-14.

7. James Dunn's The evidence for Jesus is cited, but as his middle initial has been left out, there is no helpful method of determining which James Dunn he is.

8. Bucaille, 44-45.

9. Eg. Bucaille 1, 2.

10. Geisler, Norman L., and Ralph E. MacKenzie. "What Think ye of Rome? Part Three: The Catholic Protestant Debate on Biblical Authority," Christian Research Journal, Spring/Summer 1994, 26-27, 35-39.

11. Bucaille, 44.

12. Kohlenberger, John R. III. "How to Choose a Study Bible", Christian Research Journal, Winter 1996, 18.

13. Bucaille, 47.

14. Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. The Holy Qur'an: English Translation of the meanings and Commentary, Revised and Edited By The Presidency of Islamic Researchers, IFTA, and Call and Guidance. (King Fahd Holy Qur'an Printing Complex, N.D.), 332, 334.


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