THE OLD TESTAMENT AND THE NEW TESTAMENT WHICH ARE NOW IN CIRCULATION ARE THOSE WHICH EXISTED IN THE HANDS OF JEWS AND CHRISTIANS IN MUHAMMAD'S TIME, AND TO WHICH THE QUR'AN BEARS WITNESS
IN this and the next chapter our object is to consider the question whether the books of the Old Testament, now in circulation among both Jews and Christians, and those of the New Testament, now in the hands of Christians, are those which existed in Muhammad's time, and, if so, whether they have in any degree become corrupted (محرّقة) or changed. Before we examine the evidence, let us for the moment suppose that the assertion so common among ignorant people in Muslim lands is correct, and (1) that the existent Scriptures are not those current in Muhammad's day, or (2) are at least so corrupted as to be unreliable. If so, then the condition of all men is most miserable. For it is clear to our reason that God's Word (كلام الله) is as unchangeable as His Will. That Word was spoken by the Prophets, as even the Qur'an teaches, and Muslims are commanded to express their belief in it (Surahs 2:130; 3:78). If then this Word of God has utterly vanished from among men, or has been so corrupted as to be no longer trustworthy, how miserable must all the race of men be, and how completely has the Qur'an failed to be a 1 مُهَيْمِن (Protector) to it! What then is the nature of the Qur'an, and how can Muslims trust even it, if it has failed to discharge the task committed unto it by God, as they believe?
But, thank God, the Word of God has neither perished nor been corrupted. God has been its Preserver. Even the Qur'an assists the Muslim truthseeker to recognize that the Bible is the Word of God.
Yet, strangely enough, in this matter we Christians have often to uphold the correctness of the statements which the Qur'an makes about the Bible, and in this way to defend the Qur'an from some of the Muslims themselves, who, not having considered that any attack on the Bible is an attack on the Qur'an which “confirms” and “protects it”, rashly do injury to their own honoured Book.
For instance, Shaikh Haji Rahmatu'llah of Dehli, in his Izharu’l Haqq (إظهار الْحقّ), published in A.H. 1284, tells us that certain of the ‘Ulama' at Dehli in A.H. 1270 put forth a fatwa', in which they said: “This 2 collection (of books), which is now known as the New Testament, is not received among us; and this is not the Injil which is mentioned in the Qur'an, but, on the contrary, in our opinion, the latter denotes the Word which was sent down upon Jesus.” Rahmatu'llah himself through prejudice has fallen into the same error, for he says: “The 3 original Torah and so also the original Injil were both lost before the mission of Muhammad, and those which are now extant are in the position of two books of romances collected from true and false anecdotes: and we do not say that they were extant in their genuineness up to the dispensation of the Prophet, and that then falsification (التّحريف) befel them both. By no means.” Of course this author, when he speaks of the “original Torah” and the “original Injil”, cannot mean the original manuscripts, for those of the Qur'an have likewise perished. Doubtless he means the true and actual contents of those MSS. Hence his statement is wrong, as not only Christians, but almost every learned Muslim in India in our own day will admit. In ancient times there was some excuse for ignorance and error on this subject, but there is none now.
Shaikh Rahmatu'llah tries to make the ignorant believe that the Torah entirely perished when the Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. In order to prove this he quotes a forged book entitled by some the Second Book of Esdras, and by others the Fourth Book of Esdras, and wishes Muslims to believe that Esdras, i.e. Ezra (عُزيَر), compiled 4 a volume, and pretended that it was the true and genuine Torah of Moses. But when we turn to the worthless book to which the Shaikh refers us, we do not find anything to support the Shaikh's statement. On the contrary, that book informs us (Chapter 14: 21, 22) that Ezra caused his scribes to write “all that hath been done in the world since the beginning, which were written in Thy Law” That is to say, according to this account, Ezra was a Hafiz of the Torah, and when he dictated the Torah to the scribes he was not forging a false revelation. Baizawi in his commentary on Surah 9 (At Taubah), ver. 30, relates a tale which, though totally unreliable, supports this explanation and opposes that of Shaikh Rahmatu'llah. Baizawi says that the Jews, “because after Nebuchadnezzar's onslaught no one was left among them who knew the Torah by heart, and he” ('Uzair, i.e. Ezra), “when God brought him to life after 100 years, dictated (املى) to them the Torah from memory, accordingly marvelled at that.” Under the circumstances it was not surprising that they should marvel, but it is surprising that anyone should believe such a story. Even Second (or Fourth) Esdras tells us nothing so absurd. Yet both it and Baizawi agree that Ezra was a Hafiz of the Torah, not a compiler of a forged Torah. If the tale told in Second Esdras were true, it would show that, just as the Qur'an would not perish if every copy of it were burnt, because there are men who know it by heart, and who could and would dictate it to others, so the Torah did not perish, because Ezra knew it by heart and dictated it to his scribes. This does not establish the destruction of the Torah, as Shaikh Rahmatu'llah thinks it does.
It may be well to mention, however, that no scholar accepts the Second (or Fourth) Book of Esdras as the work of Ezra. A study even of its contents proves that the earlier part of it was written between 81 and 96 A.D., and the later part as late as 263 A.D., whereas Ezra lived in the fifth century before Christ. (Such passages as 2 Esdras 2:47; 7:28, 29, &c., show that the book was written after Christ's time, and not before it.) The book was never accepted by the Jews. The latter join with all scholars in rejecting the fable which is told in this book, though in the third century of the Christian era some people who knew no Hebrew were foolish enough to let themselves be deceived by it.
We must now show that the Torah and other ancient Sacred Books of the Jews did not perish in Nebuchadnezzar's time. This will be clear, if we prove that they still existed in Ezra's day, much more than a hundred years after the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians. The proof is not difficult, for in the genuine Book of Ezra, which is in the Canon of both Jews and Christians, we are told that Ezra “was a ready scribe in the Torah of Moses” (Ezra 7:6; compare Nehemiah viii), and that the Law of God (the Torah) was in Ezra's hand when he went up to Jerusalem from Babylon (Ezra 7:14). Therefore it is clear that the Book of the Torah had not been destroyed in Nebuchadnezzar's time. This Biblical testimony is sufficient; but it does not stand alone. In a Hebrew work entitled the Pirqey Abhoth (بِرقَىْ آبهَوْت), said to have been composed in the second century of the Christian era, it is said: “Moses 5 received the Torah from Sinai, and handed it down to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders, 6 and the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Synagogue.” The Great Synagogue is said to have been a body of learned men established by Ezra, and their main duty is said to have been to preserve the Torah and to teach it. The Talmud says of them that, after the Babylonian Captivity, “the men of the Great Synagogue restored the Magnificence (i.e. The Torah) to its ancient state.” In accordance with this the Pirqey Abhoth says 7 that “They used to utter three sayings: 'Be ye careful in judgement; and Raise up many disciples; and Make a hedge for the Torah.’ The last saying signifies, “Take means to preserve the Torah from all possible injury or corruption.” This has been done most carefully. No nation has ever taken such care of its religious books as the Jews have for ages past taken of theirs. They have kept a record even of the number of words and letters in the Sacred Text. One other passage from the Pirqey Abhoth we quote, to show what importance the Jews attached to the Torah. In it we read: “Simon 8 the Just was one of the survivors of the Great Synagogue. He used to say: 'The world exists through (stands on) three things,—the Torah, and Worship, and kind deeds.'“ The Jews have handed the Old Testament in the original Hebrew and Aramaic down from generation to generation with the greatest care and reverence.
One proof of this is that there is a difference of style in different parts of the Old Testament, thus showing that it is not the composition of one man, or indeed of one age. Then, again, there exist apparent though not real contradictions between different accounts of the same incident and other matters of no real spiritual importance. This proves that the Jews have made no attempt to change the text in order to get rid of apparent contradictions. The force of this argument will be understood from an illustration drawn from the Qur'an. In Surah 3 (Al ‘Imran), ver. 48, we are told that God said, “O Jesus, verily it is I that cause Thee to die and that take Thee up unto Myself”: and in Surah 4 (An Nisa), ver. 157, speaking of Jesus, we are told: “And there is none of the People of the Book but shall assuredly believe on Him before His death.” Some doubt whether the latter pronoun refers to Christ, but there is no doubt as to the mention of His death in Surah 19 (Maryam), ver. 34, where He is represented as saying: “And peace be upon Me the day I was born and the day I shall die, and the day I shall be raised alive.” Yet in Surah 4, ver. 156, it is denied that the Jews slew Him: “And they slew Him not, and they crucified Him not.” At first sight the reader would imagine that there was a contradiction here, some places asserting Christ's death, another denying it. Yet the very fact of this apparent contradiction being found in the Qur'an is a proof that the Muslims have not corrupted the text, in spite of the reading قَبْلَ مَوْتِهِمْ (“before their death”), which Baizawi 9 records, for قَبْلَ مَوْتِهِ (“before His death”). So it is also with apparent contradictions in the Bible. Their very existence is a strong proof that no attempt to reconcile them by altering the text has been made.
Certain Muslim writers have drawn up long lists of passages in which they venture to assert that absolutely vital contradictions are found in the Old Testament. The contradictions are only apparent, as in the instance we have quoted from the Qur'an. In many cases the apparently discordant passages can be reconciled with one another by the careful student. In others the difficulty in doing this manifestly arises from our not knowing all the circumstances of the case. But the very existence of such discrepancies and apparent contradictions proves most conclusively that the reverence the Jews felt for their Sacred Books was such that they made no attempt to alter the text in order to remove stumbling-blocks out of the way of thoughtless and prejudiced opponents, who in many cases desire to display their own fancied cleverness, not to find the Truth of God. It is always possible, even at mid-day, for a man to shut his eyes to the light which God gives: but he that chooses to walk in darkness cannot fail to go astray.
Let us now very briefly state what proof we have that the Old Testament in the first place and the New Testament in the second, which are now in circulation, are those which existed in the hands of the “People of the Book” in Muhammad's time, and to which the Qur'an bears such clear witness.
We have lists of the Old Testament books which formed the Jewish Canon of Holy Scripture. These lists are far earlier than Muhammad's time, and they contain all the books now found in the Hebrew Old Testament.
Josephus, 10 the Jewish historian, writing about 90 A.D., says: “Among us there are not myriads of discrepant and self-contradictory books, but only twenty-two books, containing the history of all time, and rightly believed Divine. And five 11 of these are those of Moses; and they contain both the laws and the connected history of the human race until his death. This period falls little short of 3,000 years. From Moses' death up to the reign of Artaxerxes, King of the Persians after Xerxes, the Prophets after Moses wrote in thirteen 12 books the things which occurred in their own times. The four 13 remaining books comprise hymns to God and directions for men's conduct.” The Council of Jamnia, (90 A.D., gives the same Canon. Somewhat later the Council of Laodicea in 363 A.D. mentions the same number of books, twenty-two, as constituting the Old Testament. For convenience sake in more recent times some of these books have been subdivided, but in most cases we can tell exactly when this was done. For instance, in the St. Petersburg Codex, written in 916 A.D., in Hebrew, all the twelve Minor 14 Prophets are still included in one book, the separate Prophets forming as it were chapters in the volume. The total number of verses in all the twelve is reckoned up, and given in one sum. The division of “Samuel” into two books, “Kings” into two books, “Chronicles” into two books, Ezra and Nehemiah into separate books, was first made in the edition of the Hebrew Old Testament printed at Venice in 1516 and 1517 A.D.
Josephus informs 15 us that other books, besides the twenty-two (books “which have not been accounted equally worthy of credit”), had been translated into Greek. So it is that, besides those which the Jews regarded as canonical, and which they still preserve in Hebrew, the Septuagint Greek Version contains others which, though written considerably before Christ's birth, have never been received into the Jewish Canon. These, therefore, cannot be considered part of the Old Testament. As far as can be ascertained, the Torah was translated from Hebrew into Greek in Egypt between 285 and 247 B.C., at the desire of the king, Ptolemy II, surnamed Philadelphus. Some deem a later date (250-200 B.C.) more probable: but that is a matter of little importance. The rest of the Old Testament books were translated later, but all long before Christ's time. This Septuagint Version (“Version of the Seventy”, so called from the traditional number of the translators employed in making it) is the earliest translation of the Old Testament known to us.
We proceed to mention other versions of the Old Testament, in order to show how certain we are that the Old Testament we now have is the same that existed in Muhammad's time and long before. If it had not existed, even the most ignorant of men will readily understand that it could not have been translated.
A Greek version by Aquila was made in 130 A.D. Another by a Samaritan called Symmachus was finished about 218 A.D. The Itala or Old Latin Version belongs to the second century of the Christian era. It was made from the Septuagint. Jerome's translation of the Old Testament, styled the Vulgate, was finished in 405 A.D., and was directly from the Hebrew.
Translations into Syriac began very early. Jacob of Edessa says that one was made about Christ's time for Abgar, King of Edessa. The Peshitta (بشِطّا) Syriac version of the Old Testament is first referred to, it is thought, by Melito of Sardis in the second century. Others ascribe it to the third century. The Philoxenian Syriac Version was made by a translator named Polycarp about 508 A.D. It was revised by Thomas of Heraclea (حرقل) in 616 A.D. All the other Syriac versions were therefore made before Muhammad's time, but this one during his lifetime.
When the disciples of Muhammad fled from Mecca before the Hijrah, and took refuge in Abyssinia, they found the Christians there reading the Æthiopic Old Testament as well as the New. This version was then so old as to be difficult for the Abyssinians themselves to understand, for it had been made about the fourth century, from the Septuagint.
When 'Umar conquered Egypt, he found the people mostly Christians. They had translated the Old Testament from the Septuagint into three at least of the dialects of their own tongue, the Coptic. These are known as the Buhairic (بُحَيْرِي), the Sa'idic (صَعِيدي), and the Bushmuric (بُشْمُورِي) versions. They were probably made in the third or fourth century, though some think earlier.
Parts of the Old Testament were translated from Syriac into Armenian about 411 A.D. Another version made from the Septuagint into Armenian was published in 436 A.D. About a century later, but still long before the Hijrah, the Georgian version was made from the Armenian.
If we now turn to Europe, we find that a Gothic bishop named Ulphilas, who died in 381 or 383 A.D., translated the Bible into Gothic for his own people about 360 A.D.
Most of these versions were made by Christians, except of course the Septuagint and Aquila's version. But the Jews also translated much of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Aramaic when the majority of them had ceased to speak Hebrew. Onkelos's version of the Torah was made between 150 and 200 A.D. Jonathan ben 'Uzzi'el translated the books of the Prophets about 322 A.D. Besides these there is the Jerusalem Targum, also made before the Hijrah, probably in the sixth century.
It is well known that in early times the Samaritans were great enemies of the Jews. The Samaritans refused to accept as inspired any part of the Old Testament except the Torah of Moses. That, however, they did accept and honour. We do not know for certain when they got a copy of the Hebrew Torah. Some suppose it was about 606 B.C. when the seventy years' captivity of the Jews began. 16 Others think that it was brought to Samaria by Manasseh, grandson of Eliashib the High Priest. He had married Sanballat's daughter (Nehemiah 13:28), and, being banished from Jerusalem by Nehemiah, founded another 17 Temple on Mt. Gerizim about 409 B.C. We still possess copies of the Samaritan Pentateuch, as it is called, written in the original Hebrew language, but in different letters from those in use among the Jews.
When we examine all these different witnesses, and inquire of them whether the Old Testament at present in use among both Jews and Christians was in existence among them in Muhammad's time, they all with one voice answer, “Yes.” It is true that different readings occur, as they do in the Qur'an and in all ancient books. It is also true, as we have seen, that the Septuagint translators permitted a few books of no authority to be circulated, in addition to those of the Hebrew Canon. But they did not reject one single book of that Canon. Taking all the versions of the Old Testament that we have mentioned together, there is not one doctrine which is in the slightest degree affected by the trifling variations in readings that exist between them. Hence on this evidence, were there no other, it is clearly proved that our present Old Testament is that which existed in Muhammad's time, and to which the Qur'an so repeatedly bears witness.
Turning now to the New Testament, we must inquire whether the volume now current under that name is the same as that which existed in Muhammad's time. About this among all men of learning there is absolutely not the slightest doubt.
Recent investigation has proved that even in Christ's lifetime some of His disciples had written down short notes of His words and works. Many of these may still be recognized as among the verses which compose St. Mark's Gospel in particular, though these notes are also in a measure incorporated into the Gospels according to St. Matthew and St. Luke. Of course the narrative of His Crucifixion, Burial, Resurrection, and Ascension could not be written till after His Ascension had occurred. When there were so many men still living who had seen and conversed with our Lord after His Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6), it was not necessary to compose books to inform men of what they were day by day hearing from living witnesses (Acts 1:21, 22), who could be cross-questioned, as a book could not be. Besides this, the Risen Lord had commanded His disciples to preach the Gospel (i.e. the Good News), not to write it in the first instance. When we read St. Paul's Epistles we see what that Gospel (بشارة) was. We must remember that the earliest of these Epistles (I and 2 Thess.) were written only about twenty-two or twenty-three years after the Ascension of Christ, and we see in these and the other Epistles of St. Paul the very same doctrines which we Christians hold to-day.
When the first generation of Christians was passing away, God's Holy Spirit directed the Gospels to be written for the benefit of posterity. St. Mark's was finished before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and probably between 65 and 66 A.D., at Rome. Mark was not only a friend and companion of the Apostles and other early disciples, but he was always in the early Church spoken of as the interpreter of St. Peter. The Gospel according to St. Mark rests therefore, humanly speaking, in large measure on the information supplied by St. Peter himself. Of course Divine Inspiration did not alter that information; it merely directed Peter and Mark what to record and what not to record, bringing to Peter's remembrance what Christ had said to him (John 14:26; 15:26), and guarding him from error. St. Matthew's Gospel was also written before 70 A.D.; St. Luke's Gospel probably between 60 and 70 A.D.; St. John's between 90 and 100 A.D., when the “beloved disciple” was a very old man. We have therefore two Gospels written by two Apostles, Matthew and John, a third by the chosen friend of an Apostle and probably at his dictation, and a fourth by Luke, the friend of St. Paul. Luke tells us that he had most carefully, made inquiries about every matter he records (Luke 1:3, 4) from eye-witnesses. There is no real doubt that much of what we read in the first two chapters of his Gospel came from the lips of the Virgin Mary herself.
It may be objected that all this is not Inspiration. It is not such inspiration as is imagined by some Muslims, who believe the story that the Qur'an was written down on the Preserved Tablet ages before the creation of the world, and sent 18 down to the lowest heaven on the Night of Power, and then dictated to Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel verse by verse, as occasion required. Inspiration of that kind seems to us Christians to be most undesirable, and it is certainly incapable of proof with regard to the Qur'an, as is shown in the book entitled “The 19 Original Sources of the Qur'an”. All thoughtful men will perceive that, even were we to suppose that any Holy Book was composed in heaven in this way and sent down to men, it would be impossible to prove that all this had really occurred. But the Christian view of Inspiration is that God Most High, in causing a Divine Revelation to be written down for the guidance of men, used not merely the Prophets' hands, but also their brains, minds, memory, intellect, spirits, so that the message was God's, the words those of the writers (compare John 16:13).
We must here explain away a difficulty which stands in the way of many of our Muslim brothers when seeking the truth. Some say, “The Injil which Christians now have cannot be the Injil which was sent down unto Jesus, because there are now four separate Anajil (اناجيل), not one Injil, and they were not composed till a considerable time after Jesus had ascended into heaven.” Now it is not difficult to answer this argument. If there is any force in the latter part of it, it would affect the Qur'an as well as the Injil; for the Qur'an was not “collected” and put together until after Muhammad's death, as we learn from the Mishkatu’l Masabih 20 and from other Muslim authorities. But it should be explained that in reality there exists only one Gospel, for the word Injil, though it is now used as the name of a book, and its meaning is not often remembered by Muslims, really means “the Good News”. “Injil” is only the Arabic form of the Greek Ευαγγελιον, which denotes this (الِبشارة). This Good News, this Divine Message of God's love and the way of salvation through Christ, is one, though told in different ways, so that it may appeal to a larger number of people, and may be supported by the testimony not of one man only, but of four. Again we say there is only one Gospel. In the original Greek the title of the books shows this, for they are called “The Gospel according to St. Matthew”, “the Gospel according to St. Mark”, &c. Only for brevity is the shorter title “St. Matthew's Gospel”, &c., employed. Each of the four Evangelists told the Good News in his own way, under the guidance of God's Holy Spirit; but the message was one and the same. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles shows that this Gospel was preached by the Christians immediately after the Ascension in land after land. But it was first of all preached by Christ Himself (Mark 1:15; 13:10; Luke 20:1), and therefore must have already “been sent down unto Jesus”, for He Himself claimed that His message was from God, saying, “The things therefore which I speak, even as the Father hath said unto Me, so I speak” (John 12:50; compare John 8:28; 12:49).
With regard to the books which together form the New Testament, it is well known to all scholars that they were not received into the Canon except gradually and after the most careful inquiry, lest by chance some book which was of no authority and devoid of inspiration should be incorporated into this collection. This examination occupied some considerable time, because some of the Epistles were private letters to individuals (I and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 2 and 3 John), and the rest of them were in the first place addressed to individual Churches. But, from the writings of early Christians which have been preserved, we know that the four Gospels were known and recognized as authoritative between 70 and 130 A. D. A fragment of a work dating from about 170 A.D. contains part of a list of the New Testament books. It is called the Muratorian Canon, and, though torn, it mentions or implies the existence of every New Testament book, except the Epistle of James, the second Epistle of Peter, and the Epistle to the Hebrews. But the list when complete almost certainly included these also, for elsewhere they were all received in the second century, with the doubtful exception of 2 Peter, which is not often mentioned in early lists. Considering that books were then very costly, that most of the Christians were poor (1 Corinthians 1:26, 27), that the whole of the New Testament books, if written in the large Greek letters then in use, and on rolls of parchment, would form not a volume, but a small library, we are surprised to find them all, or almost all, so early known in different lands. In the Laodicean Council of 363 A.D., in which (as we have seen above) the twenty-two Books of the Hebrew Old Testament are mentioned, the Canon of the New Testament includes all our present New Testament, except the Revelation of St. John. Hence we see that at that time there was still some doubt about the latter; some Churches received it, and some had not yet decided to do so, though they afterwards admitted it. The Council of Carthage in 397 A.D. gives a list of all our present New Testament books, adding the words, “We have received from our fathers that those books must be read in the Church.”
Besides these catalogues drawn up by Councils, we find in the works of certain eminent Christian writers of early times lists of the books which their own study and investigation led them to accept as undoubtedly written by the Apostles and other early disciples of Christ. For instance, Origen, who died in 253 A.D., mentions all our New Testament books. Athanasius, who died in 315 A.D., does the same. Eusebius, writing about the same date, also mentions them all, though he tells us that some people still doubted whether the Epistle of James, the Epistle of Jude, the Second Epistle of Peter, the Second and Third Epistles of John, and the Revelation of John were genuine. More careful inquiry, however, as we have seen, led to the conviction on the part of the Church in general that these books too should be considered part of the New Testament Canon.
Thus during the first four centuries we have testimony from Palestine, Syria, Cyprus, Asia Minor, Alexandria, North Africa, and Italy to the existence and genuineness of every book in the New Testament.
It is therefore clear from this point of view that our New Testament, as at present circulated among Christians, was in existence in Muhammad's time among the Christians who then lived in Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Abyssinia and other lands with whose peoples he was brought into contact.
So far we have proved that the Old Testament and the New existed in Muhammad's time. But we have not yet shown how it is that we know that the Old and New Testament books that then bore the names of those in our present Bibles actually were the same. May it not be that those which then were called by these names have perished, and that others have been forged in their stead, the names only remaining the same? If any Muslim will for a moment imagine the question put to him with regard to the Surahs of the Qur'an, “How do you know that the Surah Al Baqarah, for example, that is printed in your present copies of the Qur'an, is the same Surah as the one that bore that name in ‘Umar's time?” he will perceive the absurdity of putting a similar question to us Christians regarding our Sacred Books. Yet, in order to remove all possible excuse for doubt and uncertainty, we shall reply to it.
One proof of the identity of our present books of the Bible with those which existed in Muhammad's day is: that we actually possess a number of Manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments, which Manuscripts themselves were then extant. This is true with respect to the New Testament in the original Greek, and to the Old Testament in the Greek translation, as we shall soon point out.
As to the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, the most ancient MS. we have of any part of it is a small Hebrew papyrus discovered in Egypt only four or five years ago. It contains the Ten Commandments and the Hebrew Creed, &c. (Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 6:4-9). It was written between 220 and 250 A.D. That was a long time before the Hijrah.
The most ancient MS. of any large size, however, that we now possess is that called “Oriental No. 4445”. It is preserved in the British Museum, and was written probably between 820 and 850 A.D. The next oldest is the “St. Petersburg Codex”, which bears on it the date 916 A.D. It is carefully preserved in St. Petersburg. But these are copied from far older MSS., to whose existence they bear testimony, mentioning two (among others) called the “Sepher Hilleli” and the “Sepher Mugah”. Zakkut (زَكّوت), a Jewish chronicler who wrote about 1500 A.D., tells us that the “Sepher Hilleli” was written about 597 A.D., and that he himself saw two parts of it, containing the books of the Former and those of the Latter Prophets (i.e. Joshua, Judges, First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi). The “Sepher Mugah” was probably at least as old. At least one of these two MSS. was in existence in Muhammad's time. From Jewish comments on them we know that they contained the same books as the present Hebrew Bible. Of later Hebrew MSS., which are copies of more ancient ones, we have not a few.
If it be asked what has happened to the older MSS., the answer which the Jews themselves give is that, when worn out with being read in the Synagogue, it was customary to place them in the Genizah (“treasury” or “storehouse”). After a time, when some distinguished Rabbi died, a worn-out MS. used often to be buried with him. On other occasions, after most carefully copying these ancient MSS., it was customary to burn them with all reverence, lest they should be put to some unsuitable use.
If we now turn to the Septuagint Greek version of the Old Testament, the very existence of which bears witness to that of the Hebrew text from which it was translated, we actually possess several MSS., which were written many years before the Hijrah, and which therefore existed in Muhammad's day as they still exist. We proceed to mention the principal of these:
1. Codex Sinaiticus (السّفر الْسّينايُ), written in the fourth or at the beginning of the fifth century.
2. Codex Vaticanus (الواطيقاني), written in the fourth century, perhaps early in that century.
3. Codex Alexandrinus (الإْسكندري), written in the middle or end of the fifth century.
4. Codex Cottonianus (القُطّوني) of Genesis, written in the fifth or sixth century.
5. Codex Ambrosianus (الاّمبروسياني), written about the first half of the fifth century.
All these MSS. of the Greek Old Testament were actually in existence in Muhammad's time. If any scholar therefore wishes to know what the Torah, the Zabur, and the Books of the Prophets were to which the Qur'an refers, all he has to do is to pay a visit to the Libraries in which these MSS. are treasured up. Our Greek copies of the Old Testament, which are in the hands of all Christian scholars, are printed in accordance with the text found in these ancient MSS. When we compare the Hebrew MSS. already mentioned with these ancient Greek MSS., we find that they agree in every single doctrine. A few slight differences of reading are found, and in some places the Greek translators have wrongly translated a difficult word. The Septuagint Version also differs from our present Hebrew text with respect to the ages of some of the Patriarchs mentioned in Genesis 5 and 11 But these differences of reading do not in the slightest degree affect religion in either faith or practice.
Of the Greek New Testament we also possess very ancient MSS. These are on parchment, not on paper, so that Shaikh Rahmatu'llah's remark, “The 21 preservation of the paper and the letters for 1,400 years or longer is extraordinary,” is out of place. But in Egypt we have found writings even on papyrus which are more than 1,800 years old, as scholars well know. Many MSS. which contain the Old Testament in the Greek translation also contain the original Greek of the New Testament. 1. One of these is the Codex Sinaiticus, mentioned above. It is preserved in the Imperial Library at St. Petersburg. 2. A second is the Codex Vaticanus, preserved in the Vatican Library at Rome. 3. A third is the Codex Alexandrinus, which is in the British Museum in London. The dates of these have been already given. 4. In 1907 four portions of a Greek MS., probably belonging to the fourth century, but certainly not later than the sixth, were discovered in a monastery near Sohag in Egypt, opposite Akhmim. One portion contains the Books of Deuteronomy and Joshua; the second contains the Psalms; in the third are the Four Gospels; in the fourth, fragments of St. Paul's Epistles. 5. The Codex Bezae (السِفّر الْبِيزاَيُ), preserved at the University of Cambridge, was written about the beginning of the sixth century. 6. The Codex Ephraemi (السِّفر الإفرْايُمي), which was written early in the fifth century, is now in the National Library, Paris.
Besides these larger MSS., we also possess in our libraries smaller MSS. which contain separate portions of the New Testament in Greek. Of these the oldest is a single sheet of papyrus recently discovered with others in the ruins of Oxyrhynchus, near the present village of Bahnasah in Egypt, about 120 miles south of Cairo, and hence called one of the Oxyrhynchus (بهنسيّة) Papyri. It was written between 200 and 300 A.D., that is to say, between 370 and 270 years before Muhammad's birth. It contains the first and the twentieth chapters of St. John's Gospel. Such recently discovered MSS. are of especial value from our present point of view, because, as they had been buried in the desert sands in what afterwards became a Muslim land, hundreds of years before the Hijrah, and remained in that state until dug up recently, not even the most bigoted of men can say that they were forged after the “descent” of the Qur'an, or that they have been “corrupted” (محرّقة) by Christians since, or in Muhammad's time.
We already possess 3,899 MSS. either of the whole or of separate parts of the Greek New Testament. All of these have been carefully examined and entered in catalogues, so that students may know where they are kept. There are also probably between 2,000 and 3,000 others not yet catalogued.
So far we have been speaking of MSS. of the New Testament in the original Greek. But we may here mention that some of the existing MSS. of Versions into other languages are also more ancient than Muhammad's time. For instance, of the Peshitta (بِشطّا) Syriac Version we have at least ten MSS. which were copied in the fifth century from still more ancient ones, and thirty which belong to the sixth century.
In speaking of the Old Testament we mentioned a considerable number of the Versions of it made into languages so ancient that no one now living speaks any of them as his mother tongue. Still more numerous versions of the New Testament into such very ancient languages exist, in whole or in part. Of these we proceed to mention some of the most important. All those here spoken of, except one mentioned below, were made long before Muhammad's time, and it was made during his life, but before the Hijrah.
I. We have several versions into Syriac, especially the Peshitta (بِشطّا), made in the second or third century; the Philoxenian Syriac, made about 508 A.D., and its revision by Thomas of Heraclea (حرقل) in 616 A.D. But besides these there were other Syriac Versions, two of which are preserved for us in the MSS. called the Curetonian and the Sinai-Syriac. The early existence of a translation of the New Testament into Syriac is proved by the fact that Tatian, who was born probably in 110 A.D., composed a Harmony of the Four Gospels. We possess this work in a slightly varied form in Latin and Armenian. An Arabic version of this “Diatessaron”, as it is called, was made from the Syriac by Ibnu't Tabib (ابْن الطّبيب), who died in 1043 A.D. Of very great interest are the fragments recently found of a version of the New Testament made from the Greek into the dialect of Syriac spoken in Palestine, for that was the mother tongue of the Lord Jesus Christ. This version was probably made in the fourth century, if not earlier. The MS. which contains what remains of it is called the “Codex Climaci Rescriptus” (سِفر كليماكوس). It was written in the sixth century, and contains portions of the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the Epistles of St. Paul.
Into the Latin language in early times a large number of translations of parts of the New Testament were made. Mention of these is found in the writings of Augustine and Jerome. The latter tells us that in some cases these versions were not very correct, owing to the ignorance of the people who made them for their own use. The best of these translations was the Itala or Old Latin Version, which belongs to the second century. Owing, however, to the need of having a more correct translation in Latin, Jerome translated the New Testament into that language between 383 and 385 A.D. We possess at least 8,000 MSS. of this translation. It is called the Vulgate (التّرجمة العاميّة) Latin Version. Some of these MSS. date from the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries. Hence not only was the Bible translated into Latin long before the Hijrah, but even several of the MSS. which we have of that translation were quite old in Muhammad's time.
We have already said, in speaking of the Old Testament, that in very early times versions of it were made into three different dialects of the Coptic language. The same is true with regard to the New Testament. The Buhairic (البُحَيْرِي) version was made between the third and the fourth century, the Sa'idic (الصَعِيدي) probably about the same time. The third or Bushmuric (البُشْمُورِي) dialect was subdivided into three sub-dialects, the Fayumic (الفيومي), the Lower Sa'idic, and the Akhmimic (الاخميمي). Into each of these a version of part or the whole of the New Testament was made. The Sa'idic version is probably the oldest of all. The oldest MSS. of the Coptic New Testament belong to the fourth and fifth centuries.
The Gothic version was made about 360 A.D. The MS. in which it is preserved was written in the fifth or sixth century.
Besides the MSS. of the Bible in various languages, we have also other evidence of a valuable kind to show that our present Old Testament and New Testament are those which existed in Muhammad's time and long before. This evidence is afforded by quotations from the Bible found in the writings of different Christian authors in early days. Their books are some in Greek, some in Latin, some in Syriac, others in Coptic, others in Armenian. A large number of verses from the Bible are found in their works, just as many verses of the Qur'an are found in the writings of Muslim authors who have written in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Turkish, and other languages. If every copy of the Qur'an were lost, most or all of it could be recovered by collecting these quotations. In the same way, if every copy of the Greek New Testament had perished long before Muhammad's time, it might all be collected from the numerous quotations from it found in the Christian writers of the first few centuries. A few verses are quoted also by heathens, such as Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian the Apostate. Besides actual quotations, all the Christian writers show an accurate knowledge of the events in Christ's life, His Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, that are detailed in our four Gospels. This is quite a different line of evidence from what we have previously mentioned, and it supports what has been proved by the testimony of those witnesses whom we previously called upon to testify.
Again, in the catacombs beneath the city of Rome, tombs of many Christians of the second, third, and fourth centuries have been found. The inscriptions and the pictures on these tombs show that in those days Christians believed the doctrines taught in our present Bible.
It has now become clear and beyond dispute that long before Muhammad's time the Jews and the Christians had definite canons or lists of books which they held to be Divinely inspired, and that these books were the very same that are found to-day in the Old Testament and the New Testament which are now in circulation, and which have been translated into Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, and some four hundred other languages.
When, therefore, the Qur'an tells us that Muhammad was directed by God Most High to consult “the People of the Book” as to the teaching to be found in “the Book”, the reference cannot be to any book but the Bible which we now have, since the Old Testament and the New were then, as now, the Sacred Scriptures of the Jews and the Christians. The Qur'an, as we have seen in Chapter I, names the chief divisions of the Canon of Scripture,—the Torah, the Zabur, the Prophets, the Injil,—and actually quotes from them passages which are found in our present Bible. The Qur'an applies to the Bible the very loftiest titles, calling it the Word of God (كلام الله), the Book of God, the Furqan (فرقان) or Distinction, the Zikr (ذِكر) or Reminder. The Qur'an threatens with fearful punishments in the next world (Surah 40:72) those who do not reverence the Bible. The Qur'an claims to have been sent down from God expressly to confirm (Surah 3:2) and preserve this Book (Surah 5:52): and Muslims are commanded to believe in the Bible as firmly as in the Qur'an (Surahs. 2:130; 3:78) itself.
Since, therefore, it has been proved that the Old Testament and the New which are now in circulation among the Jews and the Christians are those which existed among them in Muhammad's time, and to which the Qur'an bears witness, it is incumbent upon all true Muslims to read them with earnest prayer to God Most Merciful, that He would aid them to understand “the Book of God”, “the enlightening Book” (Surah 35:23), and to find it a light and a mercy, “a guidance and an admonition to people of understanding.” 22
1. Surah 5 (Al Ma'idah), ver. 52, says: 'And We have sent down unto thee the Book in truth, confirming what was before it of the Book, and a Protector over it' (مُهَيْمِنًا عَلَيْهِ). On these latter two words Baizawi's comment is: رقيبًَا على سائر الْكتب يحفظه عن الْتّغيْير ويشهد له بالْصّحّة والْثّبات وقرىٌ على بِنْية الْمفعول اى هوُمِنَ عليه وحوفظ من الْتّحريف والْحافظ له هو الله او الحُْفّاظ في كُلّ عمر
The Jalalan explain مُهَيْمِنًا by شاهِداً. 'Abbasi says شهيداً عليه على الْكتب كلّها. In the interlinear Persian and Urdu version in the Qur'an printed in India, at the Hashimi Press, A.H. 1299, it is rendered نِكهبان. In the Qur'an printed at Tehran in A.H. 1312, it is كَواةِ راست. The word is really Aramaic in form.
2. ان هذا الْمجموع المشتهر الآن بالْعهد الْجديد ليس بمسلّم عندنا وليس هذا هو الإنجيل الّذي جائ ذكرهُ في الْقرآن بل هو عندنا عبارة عن الكلام الّذي انزل على عيسىَ (pp. 144, 145)
3. Izharu'l Haqq, p. 142.
4. Izharu'l Haqq, p. 166
5. Pirqey Abhoth, i. 1.
6. Those mentioned in Joshua 24:31.
7. Pirqey Abhoth, i. 1.
8. Pirqey Abhoth i. 2.
9. Vol. i, p. 241.
10. Against Apion, Bk. I, chap. viii.
11. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.
12. Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Twelve Minor Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel.
13. Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs.
14. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
15. Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. xii, cap. 2: Against Apion, ii. 4.
16. It ended 536 B.C.
17. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. xi, ch. viii.
18. For various theories about the "Descent" of the Qur'an, see the Kashfu'z Zunun, vol. ii, p. 340, printed at Constantinople, A.H. 1310.
19. In Arabic called مصادر الإسلام; in Persian ينابيع الإسلام; in Urdu also it bears this latter name.
20. Mishkat, pp. 185 sqq.
21. ان بقاء الْقرطاس والْحرف على الف واربع مأية او ازيد مستبعد عادةً. Izharu'l Haqq, p. 245 of vol. i
22. (Surah 40:56) هُودىَّ وَذِكْرىَ لأِولِي الأْلبَابِ.