Is The Bible In Our Hands The Same As During The Time Of Muhammad (P)?

Is The Bible In Our Hands The Same As During The Time Of Muhammad (P)?

Mohamad Mostafa Nassar


1. Introduction

Is the Bible in our hands the same as during the time of Prophet Muhammad(P)? A Christian missionary trying to evangelize Muslims would answer in the affirmative. When pressed for an evidence to back up his claims about the integrity of his book from the advent of Islam until today, the missionary quickly turns to the Qur’an and the hadith, to the surprise of Muslims.

Now if we apply the standards used for authenticating the integrity of the Qur’an and the hadith, such as the isnad (i.e., the chain of narration), to the Bible, the Christian missionary would be hard-pressed to present a decent isnad of his Bible going back to Muhammad(P) leave alone Jesus(P)Isnad is a part of the religion of Islam. `Abdullah b. al-Mubarak (d. 181 AH), one of the teachers of Imam al-Bukhari, said:

The isnad is part of the religion: had it not been for the isnad, whoever wished to would have said whatever he liked.[1]

When confronted with such uncomfortable facts, the quickest way out for the missionary is to wiggle out of the argument by name calling. One such incident happened in the newsgroup soc.religion.islam, where the Christian missionary Jochen Katz said:

That is a bogus argument from an Islamic point of view. The scriptures are demonstrably the same today as in Muhammad’s time. Muhammad/Qur’an approved of them as genuine.

As far as the missionary’s position stands, there is neither any “demonstration” nor any show of “genuineness” of¬†his¬†scriptures since the time of Muhammad(P). This is not surprising. We can’t expect someone to show something of which he does not have any information about.

Furthermore, does it not occur to this missionary that he should use the Bible’s textual history to “demonstrate” the claims of “genuineness” of his scriptures, before using somebody else’s scripture for textual integrity?

In this article, we will briefly discuss the issue of the Bible that we have in our hands today, being the same as during the time of the Prophet(P), from the point of view of the textual history of the Bible and Islamic history.

2. On Canons & Their Content

According to the missionary:

The scriptures are demonstrably the same today as in Muhammad’s time.

Perhaps, the missionary meant his scriptures, i.e., the Protestant Bible. The Protestant Bible had a rather colourful history. This Bible came into being during the Reformation, nearly 900 years after the advent of Islam. One wonders how the Qur’an or the hadith literature can endorse a Bible that came some 900 years after them. Sounds silly… well it is! Nevertheless, let us examine the relevant evidence.

Even during the Reformation, the Canon of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, was called into question. Generally, the Protestants disputed the Catholic claim to interpret scripture, either by Papal decree or by the action of Church councils. No one had defined the limits of the Bible until the (Catholic) Council of Trent, 1546.

From this time, the Roman Catholic Church declared that the Old and New Testaments, plus the “apocrypha”, were scripture. Generally, Protestants have accepted the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, but have rejected the “apocrypha”. So, even 900 years after the advent of Islam, the Christians were bickering about which books should go into the canon and even more so the Protestants.

It gets worse when we examine the raging disputes about the contents of the Protestant Bible. The contents of this Bible were in severe dispute for over 150 years after the advent of the Reformation. This will be evident by going through the position held by some of the prominent Protestant reformers concerning the books in the Christian canon.

The Bible published by Martin Luther, a Protestant reformer, had the printing of “apocrypha” towards the end of the Old Testament.[2]¬†He also¬†disputed¬†the authenticity of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation.

They are printed towards the end of the New Testament. In Prefaces to each of these books, Luther explains his doubts as to their apostolic as well as canonical authority. Similarly, Johannes Oecolampadius, a German Protestant reformer, and an associate of Huldreich Zwingli in the Reformation in Switzerland says that,

“We do not despise Judith, Tobit, Baruch, the last two books of Esdras, the three books of Maccabees, the last two chapters of Daniel, but we do not allow them Divine authority equally with those others (i.e. of the Hebrew Canon).” He also adds that “In the New Testament… we do not compare the Apocalypse, the Epistles of James, and Jude, and 2 Peter and 2, 3 John with the rest.”[3] Zwingli, at the Berne disputation of 1528, denied that Revelation was a book of the New Testament.[4] Andreas Bodenstein of Karlstadt (1480-1541), an early friend of Luther, divided the New Testament into three ranks of differing dignity.

On the lowest level are the seven disputed books of James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation.[5] The four books, viz., Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation were labeled ‘Apocrypha’ in a Bible from Hamburg in 1596. In Sweden, beginning in 1618, the Gustavus Adolphus Bible labelled the four dubious books as ‘Apocryphal New Testament.’

This arrangement lasted for more than a century.[6] These disputes were not just confined to the New Testament. Some of the early Protestant Bibles also show the presence of those books that are condemned as “apocrypha” by modern day Protestants.

What about the Greek manuscripts? There are no Greek manuscripts before 800-900 CE which have the 27 books that became the “canonical” New Testament. Daryl D. Schmidt states:

Our search can thus be framed in this way: When did Athanasius‚Äôs list first become a table of contents for a complete Greek codex? When did a Greek codex first exhibit the sequence now considered canonical? These questions cannot be answered with any certainty, but they can provide a focus for our enquiry.[7]

Of the oldest candidate, Codex (1424), dated by Aland to c. 9/10th century, Schmidt concludes:

It may be a “complete New Testament,” but a rather unique one – certainly not an Athanasian codex.[8]

Of the next oldest candidate, Codex (175), dated by Aland to c. 10/11th century, Schmidt says:

The manuscript is defective, lacking the opening folios, and contains marginal corrections. The oddities here again rule out an Athanasian codex.[9]

Schmidt goes on to state the inability for several more 11/12th century manuscripts to claim the title of an Athanasian codex, until that is we arrive at manuscript (Greg. 922). Of this manuscript Schmidt states,

A Manuscript dated 1116 at Mt. Athos (Greg. 922) is a purer example of a complete New Testament codex. It could prove to be the oldest noncomposite complete New Testament with an Athanasian arrangement, although no detailed description is available to confirm this.[10]

As this codex finds its way into Alands’ list of Byzantine type minuscules, it is instructive to ask what the descriptor “Byzantine” means. Textual critics classify the witnesses (i.e., manuscripts) to the text of the New Testament according to the form of text they represent. Throughout the Christian history, these text-types evolved as they were copied and quoted in their respective geographical areas.

The Byzantine text-type, almost universally considered to be the worst text-type in relation to preserving the “earliest attainable text” of the New Testament, is characterised by smoothing, conflation, harmonisation and outright fabrication.[11] With this in mind, the label “Byzantine”, as applied to other minuscules on Alands’ list, usually means these are not important enough to be collated individually for variant readings.

Consequently codex 922, which may be the oldest “Athanasian codex”, is relegated to the sidelines due to its poor textual quality and fails to even make it into Alands’ list of most important minuscules! To put simply, Alands calls this minuscule (and many others Byzantine-type minuscules) irrelevant for textual criticism.[12] 

Furthermore, Metzger says, endorsing the scholars agreeing with Westcott and Hort’s theory on the Syrian (or Byzantine) text, that no ante-Nicene Father quotes a distinctively Byzantine-type reading.[13] 

So, the first “Athanasian codex”, which is based on the ‘inspired’ list of books as stated by Athanasius, dated nearly 1116 years after the birth of Jesus(P), contains distinctive readings that have not been quoted by any Christian prior to 325 CE including perhaps Athanasius himself![14]

In the concluding part of his paper, with regard to his provisional findings, Schmidt quotes James’s Sanders observations on the contents of the Psalter in various Hebrew manuscripts. Schmidt uses his quote in reference to the conclusion he was drawing about the New Testament manuscripts:

It was becoming clear that there were probably as many canons as there were communities…. Focusing on the question of fluidity in the matter of inclusion/exclusion of different books in different communities in antiquity brought attention to the question of literature considered authoritative ‚Äď that is, functionally canonical, by one Jewish or Christian community but not by another.[15]

Of the great Uncials, the celebrated Codex Sinaiticus (c. 350 CE) comes closest, but it also contains the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas which are absent in modern Bibles. As far as Codex Vaticanus (c. 350 CE) is concerned, the Pastoral Epistles and Revelation are nowhere to be seen (One wonders what else could have been missing from this incomplete manuscript!).

If we were to include the books of the Old Testament present in these Greek manuscripts, the case gets irredeemable for demonstrating the Christian “scriptures” being the same today as in Muhammad’s(P) time. Shall we also point out the well-known fact that no two manuscripts of the New Testament anywhere in existence are alike?[16] 

This being the case, Eldon J. Epp while discussing the issue of textual variants and canonicity raises an important point – which manuscript is canonical?

Finally, to raise the question to its highest level and broadest range, what can “canonical” mean when each of our 5,300 Greek New Testament manuscripts and perhaps 9,000 versional manuscripts, as well as every one now lost, was considered authoritative – and therefore canonical – in worship and instruction in one or more of the thousands upon thousands of individual churches when no two manuscripts are exactly alike?

A corollary heightens the force of the question: If no two manuscripts are alike, then no two collections of Gospels or Epistles are alike, and no two canons ‚Äď no two “New Testaments” ‚Äď are alike; therefore, are all canonical, or some, or only one? And if some or one, which?[17]

This suggests, as Epp has pointed out, that the canon formation was operating at two quite different levels – one at the level of scribes modifying the text to express their theology or other understanding and the other at the level of Church leaders of major localities seeking consensus on what books were to accepted in the canon.[18] Such a bicameral state of affairs pose serious problems for the nature of canon itself.

We already know that the Bibles (both Old Testament and New Testament included) differ depending upon the Church. Hence if we were to follow the Church tradition, we will end up having the Bibles of the Protestant ChurchRoman Catholic ChurchAnglican ChurchGreek Orthodox ChurchCoptic ChurchEthiopic ChurchArmenian Church and Syriac Church. They all contain a different number of books. Again the scriptures are demonstrably not the same today as in Muhammad’s(P) time.

Given such impossible scenarios, it is not so surprising to see a fellow missionary setting up a dichotomy between the content of the scripture and the canon of the scripture, as if that would sort the problem. He says:

It seems that Saifullah confuses two issues when addressing the claims of Jochen Katz that the Holy Bible of Muhammad‚Äôs day is the same as our present day Bible. Saifullah confuses the content of Scripture with the canon of Scripture. The point is not the canon per se, but whether the content of our present day Bible is the same as in the days of Muhammad.

A canon has a content or list of books which make up a “Bible”. If a book is added or deleted, then the contents vary as is so obvious and commonsense. If the canon of a “Bible” lacks inspiration, then it differs in content from the canon of a “Bible” which contains inspiration. Thus, the canon and the content are closely related.

Since the missionary is very much interested in the content of the present day Bible, let us take the example of modern day Protestant Bibles. It has been shown that the contents of the modern-day translations of the Bible followed by the Protestants such as NIV, RSV, NASV, etc. are based on textual sources that are critical editions, i.e., Biblia Hebraica and Novum Testamentum Graece (and also The Greek New Testament based on the latter).

These editions are eclectic and the readings included in these are based on editorial judgment. There is no evidence to show that the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament texts used in the translation of these modern days Bibles are either “original” or “inspired” by God. We would also like to point out that the critical texts of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament are unique. No texts like these ever existed in the history of Christianity until the advent of modern textual criticism.

Therefore, even if the missionaries foolishly prefer the content over the canon, they still have to live with the fact that in either of these two cases, the “scriptures” are demonstrably not the same today as in Muhammad’s(P) time.

This then brings us back to the issue of isnad. The purpose of isnad is the disclosure of the source of information. In the final stage, the source must lead to the person who had direct contact with the highest authority to whom the statement belonged.

The difference between the assessment of Islamic literature and Biblical literature is like the difference between night and day. In Islamic literature, the disclosure of sources is akin to the law of witnesses. The witnesses are examined according to their moral uprightness and chronology.

If one applies this methodology to Biblical literature, not a single sentence could be proven to be authentic due to the absence of disclosure with regard to the source of information. For example, assuming a certain character called “John” wrote the Book of Revelation, how do we know who he was?[19] What were his religious beliefs? What about his personal character? Was he an honest man? Did he have a strong memory? The lack of information about the people who transmitted the New Testament was addressed by Ehrman. He says:

The wide-ranging diversity of early Christianity, with its variegated social structures, practices, and beliefs, was matched only by the diversity of the individuals who comprised it. Among them were the unnamed transmitters of their texts, scribes who themselves, no doubt, constituted no monolith.

We unfortunately do not know who these persons were and are scarcely informed about their level of education, class, rank, or social status, either within the Christian community or without. They are nameless, faceless, transcribers of texts, texts that became, and in their minds probably already were, the sacred Christian Scriptures.

Our knowledge of who these persons were and what they stood for, what they hoped and feared and cherished, can be discerned only from what they chose to reproduce and from the distinctive features of their final products. To understand the scribes, we can only study their transcriptions.

…. Textual critics have long imposed a set of unnecessary restrictions on the parameters of their discourse, blinders that prevent fruitful dialogue with scholars in other fields and, as a consequence, skew the results of their labors. To engage in a study of the text requires a much greater awareness of the sociohistorical context of scribes than is normally envisaged.

It is simply not enough to think in terms of manuscripts as conveyors of data; manuscripts were produced by scribes and scribes were human beings who had anxieties, fears, concerns, desires, hatreds, and ideas Рin other words, scribes worked in a context, and prior to the invention of moveable type, these contexts had a significant effect on how the texts were produced.[20]

Ehrman asserts how important it should be for the textual critics to focus on the socio-historical context of the scribes as they were the conveyer of data. Strangely enough, is this not what Muslims scholars recognised and put into practice (from which developed the critical science of judging a hadith or a reading of the Qur’an) well over a thousand years ago?[21] 

Given a lack of information of, for example, who this “John” was who allegedly wrote the Book of Revelation, as with the majority of the authors of the New Testament, it will be hard-pressed for the missionaries to prove the integrity of their scriptures using the isnad-based methodology, notwithstanding their empty gasconades of the non-existing “Christian isnad“, let alone their “soundness” and “reliability”!

Another serious blow to the textual integrity of the Bible comes as we notice almost a complete absence of control methods for its transmission.[22] The textual critics of the New Testament have observed that

It is safe to say that there is not one sentence in the NT in which the MS tradition is wholly uniform.[23]

It is no wonder that the textual sources of modern day Protestant Bibles are based on “eclectic” editions which are a product of editorial judgments neither “original” nor “inspired” by God.

3. William Campbell Has Good Reasons To Cry (Or A Sob Story That Will Break Your Heart!)

One of the champions of the claim among the Christian missionaries for the textual integrity of the Bible throughout the centuries is William Campbell. He poses a question to Muslims:

… Muslims claim that the Bible has been changed. Is there any evidence for this in the Qur’an? In the Hadith? In history?

In order to support his viewpoint of the textual integrity of the Bible from the annals of history, Campbell narrates his visit to the British Museum in London, where the celebrated Codex Sinaiticus is kept.

In 1983 while passing through London, I went to the British Museum to see the Codex Siniaticus, one of the oldest complete copies of the New Testament dating from about 350 AD. I wanted to take the picture which can be seen on page 155. After asking the guard for directions, I went over to the glass covered case which he indicated, thinking only about how to take a picture through glass without getting a reflection.

I took one look at that Bible and it was as though all the hundreds of times I had heard “YOU CHANGED YOUR BIBLE” went through my head in one instant. I burst into tears. Even now as I write these words tears come to my eyes. I wanted to touch it. It would be like touching my brothers who wrote it 1600 years ago. We would be one together even though they had died long ago. It was tangible, touchable proof that the Gospel is as it always has been.

It is not surprising that the Christian missionaries always run for Codex Sinaiticus to prove the textual integrity of the Bible. In fact, it is one of the most damaging examples to show the textual integrity of the Bible. The Old Testament of this codex contains Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Jesus b. Sirach, I Maccabees and IV Maccabees that are absent in the Protestant Bibles. As far as the New Testament is concerned, Codex Sinaiticus also contains the Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas apart from the usual listing of books present in the Protestant Bibles.

In other words, both the Old and the New Testament contained in Codex Sinaiticus are different from the modern day Protestant Bibles. Given these facts, Campbell would be hard-pressed to show that his Bible has not been changed.

Campbell also claimed that Codex Sinaiticus is a “tangible, touchable proof that the Gospel is as it always has been”. Unfortunately for him, his claims rest on observing only a single folio of the codex. The proof of the lack of textual integrity of the Gospels themselves get more tangible and touchable if one reads James Bentley’s¬†Secrets Of Mount Sinai:

The Story Of Codex Sinaiticus. This book gives a brief introduction to Codex Sinaiticus and its significance. Some of the relevant excerpts dealing with the Gospels in the New Testament are as follows:

In fact we now believe that only three scribes copied down the original text of the codex. These scribes had taken sheepskin, much scraped and rubbed down and ruled on it with a pointer to keep the lines of their writing straight. Then they had written out the Bible – in many if not all the books by dictation, for two of the three scribes made phonetic spelling mistakes.

The third scribe, who spelled almost perfectly, wrote most of the New Testament, and some scholars have conjectured that this was copied from a written original, not taken down by dictation. But as this same scribe also wrote – with no spelling mistakes – most of the history and poetic books of the Old Testament, the theory is unproven.

A second scribe, who spelled fairly well, wrote the prophetic books of the Old Testament as well as the Shepherd of Hermas in the Codex Sinaiticus. And a third scribe, who spelled atrociously, wrote out Tobit, Judith, the first half of IV Maccabees, the first two-thirds of the Psalms, and six pages of the New Testament (including the first five verses of the Book of Revelation).

From time to time the readers, not the scribes, made errors. At I Maccabees, chapter 5, verse 20, for instance, the text should read that Judas Maccabaeus took 8000 men to the land of Gilead. The reader, not sure of the number, called out ‘either six or three thousand’. The scribe wrote down, ‘either six or three thousand’.

Codex Sinaiticus lacks much of the Old Testament, and originally must have contained about 790 leaves; 242 of the leaves found by Tischendorf contain parts of the Old Testament. A further 147¬Ĺ contain the New Testament, as well as the Letter of Barnabas and part of the Shepherd of Hermas. And herein lies the initial great importance of the codex. Codex Sinaiticus is the only known complete copy of the Greek New Testament in uncial (that is, rounded capital) script…..

Not surprisingly, others before Tischendorf had devoted themselves to purifying the Biblical text by means of Codex Sinaiticus. And after the codex was written, later correctors laid hands on it and for several centuries made alterations and notes on that text too. As he studied the codex, the eagle-eyed Tischendorf counted 14,800 such corrections made by nine separate correctors.

These correctors had devised conventional signs to indicate what they believed was the true text. For instance, a row of dots alongside part of the text indicated that the corrector believed that section ought to be deleted, because it was not in the original text of the Bible…..

Now the fabulous textual wealth of Codex Sinaiticus was made available to the Christian world in Tischendorf’s great edition, which he supplemented shortly before his death by a major two-volume edition of the text of the New Testament. Even today this edition remains an indispensable work of reference for scholars of the Greek text, for Tischendorf presented an amazingly extensive mass of information setting out evidence for and against various readings of the existing manuscripts.

His insights were brilliant – so brilliant that not everyone was bold enough to accept them. One suggestion made by Tischendorf on the evidence of Codex Sinaiticus, rejected by many of his contemporaries and vindicated by later scientific techniques, shows his genius at its most remarkable.

On the evidence of his eyesight alone, Tischendorf decided that the last verse of St John’s Gospel (John 21, verse 25) was a later addition to the original text of Codex Sinaiticus. The verse reads, ‘There were many other things that Jesus did; and if all were written down, the world itself, I suppose, would not hold all the books that would have to be written’. Tischendorf claimed that this verse was written with a greater delicacy than the rest.

He insisted that the shape of the letters was slightly different. He added that the ink used was a little lighter in colour for this verse than for the rest. (The scribes re-filled their pens on average every one-and-a-half lines as they wrote the Codex Sinaiticus; but Tischendorf said he had never seen precisely that colour of ink elsewhere in the whole manuscript.)

At the time most scholars disagreed with his judgment about this verse. But long after his death, twentieth- century science proved Tischendorf to have been absolutely right. When the Codex Sinaiticus was examined under ultra-violet light, it was discovered that the Gospel of John did in fact originally end at chapter 21, verse 24. After this verse, the scribe added a small tail-piece, and the words, ‘The Gospel according to John’. Later on, another scribe erased the tail-piece and these words, writing over them our present verse 25…..

In Britain the Authorized Version of 1611 still captivated many, even those who suspected its inaccuracies. Right or wrong, it had become a sacred text.

Throw no shadow on the sacred page,
Whose faults, if faults, are sanctified by age,

wrote John Ruskin. The Authorized Version had enshrined sacred Scripture in a language of unique beauty and force. But scholars and serious churchmen were now well aware that it was inaccurate. Even so, when the authorities in the Church of England agreed to a revision, they decreed that the new translation must ‘introduce as few alterations as possible… consistently with faithfulness’. Nonetheless, this project gave an urgency to the study of the Greek New Testament, and in particular to the work of two great Cambridge scholars, Brooke Foss Westcott (who later became Bishop of Durham) and Fenton John Anthony Hort…..

Not everyone agreed with these two Cambridge professors of divinity; but those who disagreed were chiefly slightly bizarre. (More than slightly bizarre was Dean J. W. Burgon of Chichester, who described Sinaiticus and Vaticanus as being among ‘the most scandalously corrupt copies extant’.)

As Caspar Ren√© Gregory justly observed of Codex Sinaiticus, ‘Many scholars have felt it necessary to decry the text of this manuscript. That is wrong. Tischendorf may well have rated his great find a trifle too high. He would have been more than human if under the circumstances he had not done it, seeing that he for three years ate, drank, and slept this manuscript. Had he lived, he would surely here and there have modified his predilection for its readings. But it is, nevertheless a very exceptional manuscript’.

As witness to the authentic words of Holy Scripture Westcott and Hort marginally preferred Codex Vaticanus over Sinaiticus. But here, too, Caspar Ren√© Gregory had some astute words of comment. ‘It used to be the fashion to say that the Sinaitic manuscript was very badly written, was full of clerical errors, and therefore less trustworthy.

And the Vatican manuscript was supposed to be very correctly written. When, however, the Vatican copy came to be better known, it was found that in this respect there was not much choice between the two.’

What really outraged men like Dean Burgon was principally that, however learnedly Codex Sinaiticus was edited, it revealed a text of the Bible that again and again differed from what they had revered and loved as Holy Writ. Take, for example, the Lord’s Prayer. Generations of Englishmen had been accustomed to the version, in Luke chapter 11, verses 2 to 4:

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth
Give us day by day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive everyone that is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

They learned to accept this as an alternative to the more familiar version in Matthew chapter 6, verses 9 to 13.

Now they were presented with an even more truncated version. The Lord’s Prayer of Codex Sinaiticus reads simply:

Father, Hallowed be thy name,
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, as in heaven, so upon earth.
Give us day by day our daily bread
And forgive us our sins, as we ourselves also forgive everyone that is indebted to us.
And bring us not into temptation

Codex Vaticanus even omitted the words, ‘Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth’. For generations, it would seem, men and women had repeated spurious words, fondly believing that they came from the lips of Jesus himself. Moreover, even the more familiar version in Matthew was suspect. The Matthean ending to the Lord’s prayer, ‘For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen’, likewise was absent from Vaticanus and Sinaiticus.

Some well-loved stories also disappeared in the text so carefully and long preserved on Mount Sinai. The eighth chapter of St John’s Gospel, in the received text, contains the story of a woman who had been caught committing adultery. The scribes and the Pharisees wish to stone her to death, following, as they say, the law of Moses. Jesus says, ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her’. One by one the woman’s accusers slip away, until she and Jesus are alone together.

Then he asks her, ‘Where are your accusers? Has no-one condemned you?’ She answers, ‘No-one, my Lord’. Jesus responds, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.’

We now know that some ancient manuscripts transfer this story elsewhere in the New Testament, to the Gospel of Luke. In some manuscripts the scribes have indicated that they doubt its authenticity. It nowhere appears in either Vaticanus or Sinaiticus.

The evidence of the manuscript from Mount Sinai was proving more and more difficult to digest. In the received text, Luke chapter 24, verse 51, tells how Jesus left his disciples after his resurrection. He blessed them, was parted from them, ‘and was carried up into heaven’. Sinaiticus omits the final clause. As the textual critic C.S.C. Williams observed, if this omission is correct, ‘there is no reference at all to the Ascension in the original text of the Gospels’.

Persistently and disturbingly, the codex from Mount Sinai omits cherished sentences of Holy Scripture. In Matthew chapter 17, the disciples of Jesus fail to cast out a devil from an epileptic. Verse 21 in the received text gives Jesus’s explanation that such a healing requires much prayer and fasting. Codex Sinaiticus omits the explanation. Again, the received text of Mark’s gospel begins with the words,

‘The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’. Codex Sinaiticus omits ‘the Son of God’. In Luke’s Gospel, the received text of chapter eleven contains the following words, attributed to Jesus. ‘You know not what manner of spirit you are of. For the son of man is come not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them’. Neither sentence occurs in Codex Sinaiticus.

As if this were not enough to shock those schooled on older versions of the gospels, Codex Sinaiticus even minimizes some of the punishments in store for the wicked, according to the traditional texts. St Mark’s Gospel, chapter 9, for instance, describes hell as a place ‘where the worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched’ (a description taken from the last verse of the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah). Codex Sinaiticus omits the words.

Scholars like Tischendorf, Westcott, and Hort were not, however, daunted by what they found. All three, and many like them, had sufficient faith that what they were doing ultimately would uncover divine truth. Even so, they made assumptions about the transmission of the text of Holy Scripture which Codex Sinaiticus ought to have led them to abandon…..

Westcott and Hort were equally adamant that all alterations must have happened by accident, not by design. In their introduction to their edition of The New Testament in the Original Greek, they wrote, ‘It will not be out of place to add here a distinct expression of our belief that even among the numerous unquestionably spurious readings of the New Testament there are no signs of deliberate falsifications of the text for dogmatic purposes’.

Codex Sinaiticus could have proved them wrong, not so much because its own text has been corrupted in this way, as because it contains many texts which later scribes were theologically motivated to delete or change.

For example, in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel we are told of a leper who says to Jesus, ‘If you will, you can make me clean’. Codex Sinaiticus continues, Jesus, ‘angry, stretched out his hand and touched him, and said, “I will; be clean”‘. Later manuscripts, perceiving that to attribute anger to Jesus at this point made him appear, perhaps, too human, alter the word ‘angry’ to ‘moved with compassion’.

In Matthew’s Gospel Codex Sinaiticus contains another suggestion about Jesus which conflicted with the theological views of later Christians and was therefore suppressed. Speaking (in Matthew chapter 24) of the day of judgment, Jesus, according to Codex Sinaiticus, observes that ‘of that day and hour knoweth no-one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only.’

Other ancient manuscripts also contain the words ‘neither the Son’. But the suggestion here that Jesus might not be on the same level of knowledge as God was unacceptable to later generations of Christians, and the phrase was suppressed.

At this point even Hort was momentarily tempted to suspect a theologically motivated suppression, admitting that the omission of these words ‘neither the Son’ can indeed be explained ‘by the doctrinal difficulty which they seem to contain’.

Even more strikingly, because Codex Sinaiticus was worked over by correctors long after it was first written, one can actually see this process of alteration for doctrinal reasons at work. Two examples make this abundantly clear. In both cases later correctors have objected to the text as preserved by the great codex. The first example concerns Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives.

According to the text of Codex Sinaiticus, St Luke’s Gospel records that ‘there appeared unto him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground’.

This text, with its suggestion that Jesus needed the support of an angel, and that before his arrest and trial he was in agony, is not to be found in the Vatican codex. Codex Sinaiticus clearly shows that the debate about them affected later scribes. One of them has placed dots beside the text, indicating that it ought to be deleted. A yet later scribe has carefully tried to erase these dots.

Equally revealing is the way the correctors of Codex Sinaiticus dealt with words attributed to Jesus on the Cross by St Luke’s Gospel. Jesus’s prayer, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’, is deleted by a corrector. J. Rendel Harris believed that the text was deliberately cut out by those Christians who believed God could never have forgiven the Jews for the death of Jesus. Had not the destruction of Jerusalem shown this?

Here, on the other hand, Hort still maintained that the text had disappeared for entirely innocent and accidental reasons. ‘Wilful excision on account of the love and forgiveness shown to the Lord’s own murderers’, he wrote, ‘is absolutely incredible.’…..

It must not be supposed from these examples that Codex Sinaiticus invariably supports an ‘unorthodox’ view of Jesus. On the contrary, in the genealogy of Jesus given by St Matthew, for instance, Codex Sinaiticus is (unlike some other manuscripts) one that carefully supports the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus, ending the list of his ancestors with the words, ‘Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ’.

Often, too, the additions to the text which are found in later documents but not in Sinaiticus are merely harmless, and indeed sometimes positively useful additions. Two such examples may be cited from St John’s Gospel. In chapter 4 a woman of Samaria is asked by Jesus for a drink. She answers ‘How do you, a Jew, ask a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ Later scribes add an explanation to the original authentic text: ‘for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans’.

Similarly in chapter 5 of John’s Gospel, Jesus comes across a great many sick persons lying by a pool. A later scribe has added an explanation not found in Codex Sinaiticus: ‘for an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatever disease he had’.

One of the most delightful, and innocuous later changes to the text as preserved by Codex Sinaiticus, concerns the parable of the prodigal son, which is recorded in Luke’s Gospel in chapter 15. In this parable, Jesus tells of a young man who persuades his father to give him his inheritance early, and then goes away and wastes it all. Starving, looking after pigs for a living, the young man repents.

He decides to return home and say to his father, ‘I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants’. And, in Codex Sinaiticus, he does precisely this. He finds, however, that his father has long looked out for him and welcomes him, as if he were returned from the dead, as a beloved son.

Now the delightful change in later manuscripts is that the son, himself so unexpectedly welcomed by his father, prudently omits to offer himself as a hired servant! Yet in the end all the textual changes discovered as a result of the heroic labours of Tischendorf and his fellow scholars remained disturbing. And in one point twentieth-century theologians have found the witness of Codex Sinaiticus extremely disturbing indeed. The issue concerns the central doctrine of the Christian faith itself the resurrection of Jesus Christ……

But here arose an extraordinary paradox. The Codex Sinaiticus, the manuscript which in Tischendorf’s view approached most nearly to the text of the Gospels as they were originally written, revealed an extraordinary omission. According to Sinaiticus, the Gospel according to Mark, unlike the other three Gospels, contains no account of the appearance of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection.

According to Mark, chapter 16, three women – Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James the disciple, and Salome – bring oils to anoint the dead body of Jesus as it lies in his tomb. A huge stone had been placed over the entrance to this tomb, and the three women wonder who will roll it away for them.

They are astonished to find it already rolled away. Entering the tomb, they see a youth wearing a white robe sitting on the right-hand side. They are dumbfounded, but the youth says ‘Fear nothing’. He tells them that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, is not there, because he has risen.

Then the youth gives the three women a message for Jesus’ disciples: ‘He will go before you into Galilee and you will see him there, as he told you.’ But, oddly enough, the women do not hand over this message. According to St Mark’s Gospel, as contained in Codex Sinaiticus, ‘they went out and ran away from the tomb, beside themselves with terror. They said nothing to anybody, for they were afraid’.

There, according to Codex Sinaiticus, the Gospel of Mark comes to an end. It does not so end, of course, in the Authorized Version of the English Bible, nor in the received text of any of the orthodox Christian churches. Their versions all continued with a further twelve verses:

Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven devils. She went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they heard he was alive, and had been seen by her, disbelieved. And after these things he was manifested in another form to two of them, as they walked, on their way into the country. And they went away and told it unto the rest. but they did not believe them either.

And afterwards he was manifested unto the eleven themselves, as they sat at meat: and he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen him after he was risen. And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believes and is baptized will be saved; but he that disbelieves shall be condemned.

And these signs shall follow those who believe. in my name they will cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall in no way hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.’ So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen.

Now if the text of Codex Sinaiticus truly represents what came from the hand of the person who wrote this Gospel, these twelve verses, Mark 16, verses 9 to 20, are as spurious as the text of the three heavenly witnesses exposed by Richard Porson. Far from defending the traditional gospel story, Tischendorf’s great discovery had exposed a yet more alarming addition to the original text.

The scribe who brought Mark’s Gospel to an end in Codex Sinaiticus had no doubt that it finished at chapter 16, verse 8. He underlined the text with a fine artistic squiggle, and wrote, ‘The Gospel according to Mark’. Immediately following begins the Gospel of Luke.[24]

William Campbell burst into tears when he saw a displayed folio of Codex Sinaiticus at the British Museum, London, presumably because his belief that the Bible was not changed got strengthened. Now that we know that the contents of Codex Sinaiticus are different from modern day Protestant Bibles, we have provided Campbell with good reasons to cry.

His cornerstone for the historical proof of textual integrity of the Bible lies shattered before his own eyes when tangible and touchable evidences are presented. Unfortunately for him, emotionalism and sob-stories are not substantive proofs for the textual integrity of the Bible.

4. So, What Did The Bible Look Like In Arabia During The Advent Of Islam?

This is a difficult question to answer mainly because the information about Christianity and the books it used as scriptures in Arabia during the advent of Islam are quite sketchy. We have the non-Islamic and Islamic sources that provide some information about the Bible, but nothing conclusive. But they both are sufficient to show that the Christian “scriptures” are not demonstrably the same today as in Muhammad’s(P) time.

The non-Islamic sources suggest the presence of the Syriac Church (and its various sectarian off-shoots such as Jacobite, Nestorian, Monophysite Churches, etc.) in certain areas of Arabia and that the Church service used to be in Syriac.[25] Indeed it has been confirmed that the earliest Biblical manuscripts in Arabic came into existence only after the advent of Islam and during the period of Christian-Muslim polemics.[26] 

They were translated from Syriac into Arabic. The Syriac Churches used the Diatessaron, the four-in-one Gospel, introduced by Tatian, and was read in the Syriac Churches for quite some time before it was replaced by the Peshitta. The Peshitta has a different number of books in the New Testament. This represents for the New Testament an accommodation of the canon of the Syrians with that of the Greeks

Third Corinthians was rejected, and, in addition to the fourteen Pauline Epistles (including Hebrews, following Philemon), three longer Catholic Epistles (James, 1 Peter, and 1 John) were included. The four shorter Catholic Epistles (2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude) and the Apocalypse are absent from the Peshitta Syriac version, and thus the Syriac canon of the New Testament contained but twenty-two writings.

The Old Testament consists of the usual books of the Hebrew Bible as well as books such as BaruchEpistle of JeremiahPsalms additions, Prayer of ManassehTobitJudithWisdom of SolomonWisdom of Jesus b. SirachI-IV MaccabeesPsalms of Solomon and Apocalypse of Baruch. Given these facts, it would be hard to demonstrate that the Christian “scriptures” are demonstrably the same today as in Muhammad’s(P) time.

As for the Islamic sources, some interesting snap-shots of the contents of the Christian Bible are also seen in Ibn Hisham’s Al-Sirah Al-Nabawiyyah. He mentions some of the beliefs of the Christians who talked to the Prophet(P):

[Those who talked to Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, were Abu Haritha Ibn `Alqama, Al-`Aqib `Abdul-Masih and Al-Ayham al-Sa`id.] They were Christians according to the faith of the king with differences between them; they say: He is Allah, and say: He is Son of Allah, and say: He is the third of three [i.e., part of Trinity] and these are the claims of Christianity. [They use as evidence for their claim that He is Allah the argument that] he used to raise the dead, cure the sick, create from clay bird-like structure then breathe into it to make it a [living] bird. All this was by the leave of Allah, the Praiseworthy the Exalted {to appoint him as a sign for men} (Maryam:21).

They also argue for saying that he is Son of Allah by saying he had no known father and spoke in infancy which is something never done by any human being. They use as evidence for their claim that He is the third of three [i.e., part of Trinity] the argument that Allah says: We did, We commanded, We created and We judged [i.e., by using the plural for Himself], and whereas if He was one, He would say: I did, I judged, I commanded and I created; but it is He, Jesus and Maryam. The Qur’an was revealed addressing all these arguments.[27]

There are two things about Christianity during the time of the Prophet(P) that stand out. Firstly, the belief that Jesus(P) spoke in infancy and that he used to create from clay bird-like structures and breathe into them to make them living birds. Secondly, the trinitarian doctrine that God is composed of the Father, Jesus and Mary. Since the doctrinal issue does not concern our discussion, we will focus on the first point that deals with the nature of the scripture itself.

The miracles of Jesus(P) speaking in infancy and giving life to birds made out of clay are usually dismissed by the missionaries as “apocryphal” but these were perfectly acceptable to Christians in Arabia during the advent of Islam. The Online Catholic Encyclopedia attests the popularity of infancy narratives among the Syrian Nestorians. It is interesting to note that the Arabic version of infancy narratives were translated from a Syriac original.[28]

This indirectly confirms Ibn Hisham’s narrative in Al-Sirah Al-Nabawiyyah with regard to the belief of Christians during the advent of Islam that Jesus(P) spoke in his infancy and breathed into clay bird-like structures and turned them into living birds. However, this only provides us a snap-shot of the kind of “scripture” the Christians were using during the advent of Islam and can in no way provide a complete picture of what their entire “scripture” looked like.[29]

Moreover, the disagreement of Jews and Christians among themselves about their own scriptures was well-known during the advent of Islam and that also gave an impetus for `Uthman to collect the Qur’an.

Hudhaifa bin al-Yaman came to `Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were Waging war to conquer Armenia and Azerbaijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur’an, so he said to `Uthman, “O Chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Qur’an) as Jews and the Christians did before.”

The disagreement among the Christians concerning their scriptures can be shown by studying the various canons of their Bible throughout the centuries before and after the advent of Islam. The disagreement among them concerning their scriptures persist even today. With all the facts in front of us, we can conclusively say that the Christian scriptures are demonstrably not the same today as in Muhammad’s(P) time.

5. Conclusions

It was claimed by the Christian missionaries that their scriptures are demonstrably the same today as in Muhammad’s(P) time and that the Prophet(P) approved them as genuine. However, there was neither any “demonstration” nor any show of “genuineness” from the missionaries. This is not surprising. The Protestant Bible came into being during the Reformation, nearly 900 years after the advent of Islam. One is left to wonder how the Qur’an or the hadith literature could have endorsed a Bible that came some 900 years after them.

Furthermore, the contents of this Bible were in severe dispute for over 150 years after the advent of Reformation as evident from the raging disputes between the reformers (that makes it over a millennium after the advent of Islam!). Indeed, Christianity is unable to produce a single Greek New Testament Codex according to the limit and order as stated by Athanasius (“the fountain of salvation”) until the Mt. Athos (Greg. 922) manuscript dated 1116 CE.

Yet, incredibly, the missionaries would want us to believe that the “eclectic” Greek New Testaments we have today, which are textually different from the manuscript stated above, are the same in both ‘canon’ and ‘content’ as at the time of Prophet Muhammad(P). Unless one is capable of time travel, this incredible claim, which has its basis in fantasy rather than fact, does not contain a shred of evidence.

Moreover, the Protestant Canon is one of many canons of the different Christian Churches and contains a different number of books when compared with other canons. It was also shown that the textual content of modern day Bibles used by the Protestants is “eclectic” and based on editorial judgment. Texts like this never existed in the history of Christianity until the advent of modern textual criticism.

Furthermore, it was also pointed out according to Islamic sources, the Christians during the advent of Islam believed in the miracles of Jesus(P) speaking in infancy and giving life to birds made out of clay. These miracles are now demoted to the status of “apocryphal” literature. It is very appropriate to say that one Christian’s “scripture” is another one’s “apocrypha”.

Thus the claim that the scriptures are demonstrably the same today as in Muhammad’s(P) time rests on unproven grounds when examined from the point of view of Christian history. The claim that the Qur’an and the hadith endorse a “scripture” based on “eclectic” sources that are a product of editorial judgment is rather far-fetched.

And Allah knows best!

References & Notes

[1] S. Hasan, An Introduction To The Science Of Hadith, 1995, Darussalam Publishers: Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), p. 11.

[2] Dr. Martin Luther, Biblia, 1538, Wolff K: Strassburg.

[3] B. F. Westcott, The Bible In The Church: A Popular Account Of The Collection And Reception Of The Holy Scriptures In The Christian Churches, 1879, Macmillan & Co.: London, p. 270.

[4] B. M. Metzger, The Canon Of The New Testament: Its Origin, Significance & Development, 1997, Clarendon Press: Oxford, p. 273.

[5] ibid., pp. 241-242.

[6] ibid., pp. 244-245.

[7] D. D. Schmidt, “The Greek New Testament As A Codex”, in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (eds.), The Canon Debate, 2002, Hendrickson Publishers, p. 476.

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] ibid., p. 477.

[11] The best word to describe the Byzantine text-type is “corrupt”. See B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary On The New Testament: A Companion Volume To The United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, 1971, United Bible Societies, London & New York, pp. xvii-xxi; B. F. Westcott & F. J. A. Hort, Introduction To The New Testament In The Original Greek, 1882 (1988 reprint), Hendrickson Publishers Inc., pp. 115-119.

[12] K. Aland & B. Aland (Trans. E. F. Rhodes), The Text Of The New Testament: An Introduction To The Critical Editions And To The Theory And Practice Of Modern Textual Criticism, 1995 (2nd Revised Edition), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids (Michigan), p. 142. After listing Byzantine type minuscules by century, including codex 922, Alands say:

All of these minuscules exhibit a purely or predominantly Byzantine text. And this is not a peculiarity of the minuscules, but a characteristic they share with a considerable number of uncials. They are all irrelevant for textual criticism, at least for establishing the original form of the text and its development in the early centuries.

Also see D. D. Schmidt, “The Greek New Testament As A Codex”, in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (eds.), The Canon Debateop. cit., p. 471.

[13] B. M. Metzger, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, And Restoration, 1992 (Third Enlarged Edition), Oxford University Press: Oxford & New York, p. 135. He says:

By the way of retrospect and evalution it may be said that scholars today generally agree that one of the chief contributions made by Westcott and Hort was their clear demonstration that the Syrian (or Byzantine) text is later than the other types of text. Three main types of evidence supports this judgement:

(1) the Syrian text contains combined or conflate readings which are clearly composed of elements current in earlier forms of text;

(2) no ante-Nicene Father quotes a distinctively Syrian reading; and

(3) when the Syrian readings are compared with the rival readings their claim to be regarded as original is found gradually to diminish, and at last to disappear.

[14] For discussion on the issue of early Christians using the Alexandrian text-type please see L. Vaganay & C-B Amphoux (Trans. J. Heimerdinger), An Introduction To New Testament Textual Criticism, 1986, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge (UK), pp. 108-109; B. M. Metzger, The Text Of The New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, And Restorationop. cit., pp. 278-279; K. Aland & B. Aland (Trans. E. F. Rhodes), The Text Of The New Testament: An Introduction To The Critical Editions And To The Theory And Practice Of Modern Textual Criticismop. cit., pp. 65-66.

[15] D. D. Schmidt, “The Greek New Testament As A Codex”, in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (eds.), The Canon Debateop. cit., p. 479.

[16] G. A. Buttrick (Ed.), The Interpreter’s Dictionary Of The Bible, 1962 (1996 Print), Volume 4, Abingdon Press: Nashville, pp. 594-595 (Under “Text, NT”); G. D. Fee, “The Textual Criticism Of The New Testament” in R. K. Harrison, B. K. Waltke, D. Guthrie and G. D. Fee (ed.), Biblical Criticism: Historical, Literary And Textual, 1978, Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids (MI), p. 128.

[17] E. J. Epp, “Issues In The Interrelation Of New Testament Textual Criticism And Canon”, in L. M. McDonald and J. A. Sanders (eds.), The Canon Debateop. cit., p. 514 (italics original).

[18] ibid.

[19] Irenaeus and most later writers assumed that the author was the John who wrote the Gospel and letters, and that he was the son of Zebedee. But some, like Dionysius of Alexandria (third century), anticipated the majority of modern scholars by questioning this identification because of differences of thought, style and language. See “Revelation, The Book Of” in B. M. Metzger & M. D. Coogan (ed.), The Oxford Companion To The Bible, 1993, Oxford University Press: Oxford & New York, p. 653.

[20] B. D. Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption Of Scripture: The Effect Of Early Christological Controversies On The Text Of The New Testament, 1993, Oxford University Press: London & New York, p. 274 and p. 277.

[21] B. Lewis, Islam In History, 1993, Open Court Publishing, p. 104-105. About the Islamic “traditional science”, he says:

From an early date Muslim scholars recognized the danger of false testimony and hence false doctrine, and developed an elaborate science for criticizing tradition. “Traditional science”, as it was called, differed in many respects from modern historical source criticism, and modern scholarship has always disagreed with evaluations of traditional scientists about the authenticity and accuracy of ancient narratives. 

But their careful scrutiny of the chains of transmission and their meticulous collection and preservation of variants in the transmitted narratives give to medieval Arabic historiography a professionalism and sophistication without precedent in antiquity and without parallel in the contemporary medieval West.

By comparison, the historiography of Latin Christendom seems poor and meagre, and even the more advanced and complex historiography of Greek Christendom still falls short of the historical literature of Islam in volume, variety and analytical depth.

Similarly Watt says:

… it would have been easy to invent sayings of Muhammad. Because the cultural background of the Arabs had been oral the evidence that came to be expected was the chain of names of those who had passed on the anecdote containing the saying…

The study of Traditions rapidly became a distinct branch of the studies of the general religious movement. It was soon realized that false Traditions were in circulation with sayings that Muhammad could not possibly have uttered. The chains of transmitters were therefore carefully scrutinised to make sure that the persons named could in fact have met one another, that they could be trusted to repeat the story accurately, and that they did not hold any heretical views.

This implied extensive biographical studies; and many biographical dictionaries have been preserved giving the basic information about a man’s teachers and pupils, the views of later scholars (on his reliability as a transmitter) and the date of his death. This biography-based critique of Traditions helped considerably to form a more or less common mind among many men throughout the caliphate about what was to be accepted and what rejected.

See W. M. Watt, What Is Islam?, 1968, Longman, Green & Co. Ltd., pp. 124-125.

[22] That is, how the information was transmitted from one person to another. The transmission of knowledge in Islam was through ijaza. It means, in short, the fact that an authorized guarantor of a text or of a whole book (his own work or a work received through a chain of transmitters going back to the first transmitter or to the author) gives a person the authorization to transmit it in his turn so that the person authorized can avail himself of this transmission.

The ijazas often having indications of dates and places and details of the names of the persons who formed links in the transmission-which precede, frame or follow not only the texts of hadith, of fiqh or of tafsir, but also theological, mystical, historical and philological works, and even literary collections, of both prose and poetry.

In other words, the ijaza system was a way of controlling who could make copies of someone’s work and what uses they could put it to. If the copier didn’t display the proper permission from the original author, by way of the chain of authorities on the ijaza, people would regard the copier as a forger or thief. As mentioned earlier, this system was extensively used in the transmission of Islamic literature.

For its use in the transmission of major hadith collections, please see, J. Robson, “The Transmission Of Muslim’s Sahih“, Journal Of The Royal Asiatic Society, 1949, pp. 49-60; J. Robson, “The Transmission Of Abu Dawud’s Sunan“, Bulletin Of The School Of Oriental And African Studies, 1952, Volume 14, pp. 579-588; J. Robson, “The Transmission Of Tirmidhi’s Jami`“, Bulletin Of The School Of Oriental And African Studies, 1954, Volume 16, pp. 258-270; J. Robson, “The Transmission Of Nasa’i’s Sunan“, Journal Of Semitic Studies, 1956, Volume I, pp. 38-59; J. Robson, “The Transmission Of Ibn Majah’s Sunan“, Journal Of Semitic Studies, 1958, Volume III, pp. 129-141.

[23] G. A. Buttrick (Ed.), The Interpreter’s Dictionary Of The Bibleop cit., p. 594.

[24] J. Bentley, Secrets Of Mount Sinai: The Story Of Codex Sinaiticus, 1985, Orbis Publishing Limited: London (United Kingdom), pp. 117-139.

[25] S. H. Griffith, “The Gospel In Arabic: An Enquiry Into Its Appearance In The First Abbasid Century”, Oriens Christianus, 1985, Volume 69, pp. 126-167.

[26] ibid., p.132.

[27] Abu Muhammad `Abd al-Malik Ibn Hisham al-Ma`afiri, Al-Sirah Al-Nabawiyyah, 1998, Volume II, Dar al-Hadith: Cairo (Egypt), pp. 181-182. Also available on the web.

According to the translation of Guillaume:

The names of the fourteen principal men among the sixty riders were: `Abdul-Masih the `Aqib, al-Ayham the Sayyid; Abu Haritha b. `Alqama brother of B. Bakr b. Wa`il; Aus; al-Harith; Zayd; Qays; Yazid; Nubayh; Khuwaylid; `Amr; Khalid; `Abdullah; Johannes; of these the first three named above spoke to the Apostle.

They were Christians according to the Byzantine rite, though they differed among themselves in some points, saying He is God; and He is the son of God; and He is the third person of the Trinity, which is the doctrine of Christianity.They argue that he is God because he used to raise the dead, and heal the sick, and declare the unseen; and make clay birds and then breathe into them so that they flew away; and all this was by the command of God Almighty, ‘We will make him a sign to men.’

They argue that he is the son of God in that they say he had no known father; and he spoke in the cradle and this is something that no child of Adam has ever done. They argue that he is the third of the three in that God says: We have done, We have commanded, We have created and We have decreed, and they say, If He were one he would have said I have done, I have created, and soon, but He is He and Jesus and Mary. Concerning all these assertions the Qur’an came down.

See A. Guillaume, The Life Of Muhammad: A Translation Of Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, 1998 (13th impression), Oxford University Press: Karachi (Pakistan), pp. 271-272.

The isnad of this report is mursal.

[28] This is according to the Online Catholic Encyclopedia under “Apocrypha” for Arabic infancy narratives. On the other hand, Tisdall says concerning the Arabic version of Gospel of the Infancy:

The style of the Arabic of this apocryphal Gospel, (Gospel Of The Infancy) however, is so bad that it is hardly possible to believe that it dates from Muhammad’s time. As, however, Arabic has never been supposed to be the language in which the work was composed, this is a matter of little or no consequence. From a study of the book there seems little room for doubt that it has been translated into Arabic from the Coptic, in which language it may have been composed.

See Rev. W. St. Clair Tisdall, The Original Sources Of The Qur’an, 1905, Society For The Promotion Of Christian Knowledge, London, p. 42.

[29] Alfred Guillaume mentions another citation from the New Testament present in Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah dealing with the prophecy of coming of Munahhemana in Syraic or the Paraclete in Greek. See A. Guillaume, “The Version Of The Gospels Used In Median Circa 700 A.D.”, Al-Andalus, 1950, Volume 15, pp. 289-296. His conclusions concerning the “versions” of Gospels used, however, are inconclusive.

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