The Corruption of the Torah
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
Many Jews and Christians maintain that the Torah we have today represents the words of God as revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai. The Jews were entrusted with obeying and preserving the Torah of Moses. God commanded them not to corrupt His message:
“Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.” [Deuteronomy 12:32]
The purpose of this article is to show that far from being the pure word of God, the Torah that we have today has in fact been tampered with by man.
Please note that it is a pillar of faith for us as Muslims to believe that Moses, a great Prophet of God, received revelation. As will soon be demonstrated however, we also believe from both a theological and historical point of view, that the Torah we have today is not the same as what was originally revealed to Moses, peace be upon him.
Evidence Torah is Lost
What is the Torah?
The Old Testament we have today is a collection of books consisting of the Law, stories of the Prophets and various other writings such as the Psalms. The Hebrew word ‘Torah’ literally means instruction or teaching. It is used by Jews and Christians to refer to the first five books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). They believe these were dictated to Moses by God Almighty.
Which Version of the Torah?
The first problem we must deal with when discussing the Torah is the fact that there are many different versions being used today by Jews and Christians. Here are some examples of texts that contain different versions of the Torah. They are listed in order of oldest surviving manuscript evidence:
Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) – These are a collection of texts discovered between 1946 and 1956 inside caves near the Dead Sea. The texts are of great religious significance because they include the earliest known surviving manuscripts of the Old Testament but many are fragmentary. The scrolls date from approximately 150 BCE – 70 CE.
Septuagint (LXX) – This is the primary Greek translation of the Old Testament. It was completed by Jewish scholars in the late 2nd century BCE and the oldest manuscript evidence is the 2nd century BCE. Relatively complete manuscripts of the LXX include the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus of the 4th century CE. These are the oldest surviving nearly-complete manuscripts of the Old Testament in any language.
Masoretic Text (MT) – This is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Old Testament. The oldest extant manuscripts date from around the 9th century CE. This version is favoured by mainstream Judaism.
Samaritan Torah (ST) – This is the Samaritan version of the Torah written in the Samaritan alphabet which is derived from the paleo-Hebrew alphabet used by the Israelite community prior to the Babylonian captivity. The Samaritans represent a sect of Judaism that split off from the mainstream. There are still a few hundred Samaritans living in modern-day Israel. The oldest extant manuscripts date from around the 11th century CE.
The reason why these are classified as different versions, as opposed to different translations, is because there are many thousands of variations that exist between these texts. So how can scholars identify the version of the Torah that is closest to the original Torah given to Moses? Unfortunately it’s not as simple as just taking the version that has the oldest surviving manuscripts.
This would be the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), but the problem is that the DSS are highly fragmentary and only contain small portions of the Torah. Nor can we take the version with the earliest complete manuscript tradition, which would be the Septuagint (LXX), as this contains verses that are different to the earlier DSS.
The Masoretic Text (MT), which is very late in terms of manuscripts compared to the LXX, actually agrees with the DSS in some places where the LXX disagrees.
Here are some examples:
In the example above, the 32nd chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy is compared between the DSS, LXX and MT. Two verses are compared, 32:8 and 32:43. Even though we are comparing the same chapter of Deuteronomy, the texts never completely agree in all verses. Sometimes the DSS agree with the MT over the LXX, as in verse 32:43, and sometimes the DSS agree with the LXX over the MT, as in verse 32:8.
Unfortunately no one knows with certainty which version is the closest to the original Torah given to Moses. The proof of this is the way in which scholars of the Bible construct modern translations. Every modern translation of the Bible is essentially an eclectic translation because it combines from the different versions of the Torah.
Sometimes scholars go with manuscripts of the MT, sometimes the LXX and sometimes the ST. By borrowing from the different manuscripts they are essentially creating a new Torah that never existed before!
Some Examples of Textual Variations
There are thousands of variations that exist between the different versions. Most are minor variations such as the spelling of words, grammatical constructions and discrepancies in numbers.
Let’s take a look at some examples by comparing the Septuagint Torah (LXX), Masoretic Torah (MT) and Samaritan Torah (ST):
In the verses above, it makes a big difference whether Ishmael is described as being wild (a possibly derogatory term) versus fruitful (which is a positive statement and would support the prophecy in Torah about Ishmael being made a great nation, see Genesis 17:20).
In the verses above, it appears that either the authors behind the Masoretic Text and Samaritan Torah changed the reference to “sons of Israel” to make the Torah more Israelite-centric, or the author of the Septuagint changed the reference to “angels of God” to make the Torah less Israelite-centric.
Before anyone makes the claim that they have the original Torah, they must first deal with the problem of establishing which version of the Torah, if any, is authoritative.
Even if we could somehow resolve the problem of which version of the Torah is authoritative, we would still have the problem of contradictions within the text. Here is one example:
It is clear from the account of Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 21:14-19 that Ishmael was a young child, perhaps a baby, when they were sent into the desert:
“Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.”
And as she sat there, she began to sob. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.” [Genesis 21:14-19]
It is possible to calculate the approximate age of Ishmael when he was sent into the desert with his mother.
According to Genesis 16:16, Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born:
Abraham was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
And according to Genesis 21:5, Abraham was one hundred years old when Isaac was born:
Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.
It follows that Ishmael was already fourteen years old when his younger brother Isaac was born.
According to Genesis 21:8-10 the desert incident took place after Isaac was weaned:
The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son…”
According to tradition, Isaac was two years old when he was weaned. Three years is the age of weaning mentioned in 2 Chronicles 31:16 and 2 Maccabees 7:27. Thus, it follows that when Hagar and Ishmael were taken away Ishmael was a fully grown teenager, around sixteen or seventeen years old.
The problem is that the profile of Ishmael in Genesis 21:14-19 is a small child and not a fully grown teenager:
Remember that it is Hagar that carried all the supplies into the desert (Genesis 21:14). If Ishmael were a teenager then surely Abraham would have made him carry at least some of the supplies to lessen the burden on his mother.
She put the boy under the bush (Genesis 21:15). Now the original Hebrew used is the word “shalak” which has the meaning ‘to throw, cast, hurl, fling’ according to Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon. One does not “throw”, “cast”, “hurl” or “fling” a teenager, especially when they are a woman and suffering from the fatigue of a harsh desert environment.
Even though it was Ishmael that was crying, God consoles the mother (Genesis 21:17). This could be taken to imply that Ishmael was too young to converse with.
She is asked to lift up the boy (Genesis 21:18). Again, one would not expect a woman suffering from the fatigue of a harsh desert environment to be able to lift up a fully grown teenager.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the Septuagint version of the Torah has the following for Genesis 21:14:
“And Abraham rose up in the morning and took loaves and a skin of water, and gave them to Agar, and he put the child on her shoulder, and sent her away, and she having departed wandered in the wilderness near the well of the oath.”
There is simply no way that a woman would be able to carry both the supplies and a fully grown teenager on her shoulders, so the Septuagint is even more explicit in conveying that Ishmael was a young child when he was sent into the desert.
All of these points imply that Ishmael was a small child and not a fully grown teenager, so there is a clear contradiction in the text.
If the original Torah is divinely inspired and has been preserved, then we should not expect find any contradictions within the text as God’s words are perfect. Since there are contradictions present in the text then this represents additional evidence that the Torah has been corrupted.
No Explicit Claims of Mosaic Authorship
Jews and Christians believe that the Torah we have today represents the original words of God as dictated to Moses, who wrote them down. What we find when we examine the different versions of the Torah is that there is no claim within the Torah itself that Moses wrote all 5 books. To the contrary, there are strong indications that they were written by someone other than Moses.
For example, there is a consistent use of the third person narrative throughout the Book of Exodus:
Then He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” [Exodus 3:6]
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” [Exodus 3:14]
Clearly, a third person such as a scribe or chronicler wrote these accounts, and not Moses himself. If Moses had been the writer then we would see the first person narrative being used.
Another issue is that of anachronisms. These are details that do not fit in with the supposed time of writing.
For example, here the death of Moses happens before the book of Deuteronomy ends:
“Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.” [Deuteronomy 34:7]
“Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” [Deuteronomy 34:10]
There is a 1,000 year missing link in the transmission of the Torah. The Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest manuscript evidence that we have for the Torah, date from around 150 BCE – 70 CE. The scrolls include fragments of all 5 books of the Torah. When we consider that Moses lived around 1300 BCE this means that we don’t have any manuscript evidence until around 1000 years after Moses.
Moreover, within the Old Testament itself, there is strong evidence of transmission breaks:
Transmission break #1 – Sometime between Moses (approx. 1300 BCE) and King Josiah (approx. 600 BCE)
Hilkiah the high priest discovers the lost Torah:
“Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.” He gave it to Shaphan, who read it.” [2 Kings 22:8]
King Josiah tears his clothes when he learns of this:
“When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes.” [2 Kings 22:11]
Now this is the key point. After reading the Torah, they proceed to remove all aspects of idolatry and the occult:
Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfil the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the Lord. [2 Kings 23:24]
Now, if the Torah had never been lost, then they would have all known about the prohibition on idolatry in Deuteronomy 12:2. Clearly, they had not seen the Torah in a very long time.
Transmission break #2 – Sometime between King Josiah (approx. 600 BCE) and Ezra (approx. 400 BCE)
After the return to Jerusalem from exile, Ezra the scribe reads the Torah to the Israelites:
“All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.” [Nehemiah 8:1]
He reads to them details of how they are to celebrate a particular festival:
“They found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month.” [Nehemiah 8:14]
We are told that they had not celebrated the festival in this manner for a very long time:
“The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.” [Nehemiah 8:17]
Whatever Ezra had been a scribe of before had not included important parts of the Torah. This is because the commandments for the celebration are found in Leviticus 23:42. Clearly then they had not seen the book of Leviticus in a very long time.
Moral Flaws at Odds with the Purpose of the Torah
The Old Testament paints a very noble and honourable concept of prophethood:
“…Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” [2 Chronicles 20:20]
“Although the Lord sent prophets to the people to bring them back to him, and though they testified against them, they would not listen.” [2 Chronicles 24:19]
Unfortunately the Torah presents the Prophets in an extremely negative light. No sin is too great for them to commit, nor is any vice beyond their lowly desires (you can read more about this here ).
Therefore, believing that the modern Torah is uncorrupted would mean that we accept that the great Prophets of God are corrupted. This is not a viable position given the noble profile of prophethood as defined in the Old Testament itself.
New Testament Authors Affirm Corruption of the Torah
When you read a number of Torah citations in the New Testament, the New Testament writers are actually quoting from the Greek version of the Torah, the Septuagint.
Here is one example:
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” [Hebrews 1:6]
The above quotation is made by Paul in the New Testament and is citing Deuteronomy 32:43. Let’s compare this verse in the Masoretic and Septuagint versions of the Torah.
MT vs LXX
Notice that the Masoretic Text has no mention of angels worshipping God, this is missing in this version of the Torah. However the Greek Septuagint does contain the quote. This is just one example of many where the New Testament authors favoured the Greek Septuagint over the Hebrew Masoretic Text.
Most of the Old Testament was written originally in Hebrew, so it may come as a surprise to Christian readers to learn that this Greek version of the Old Testament, rather than a Hebrew text, is referenced in the New Testament.
The question then naturally arises, where is this original Hebrew text that the Greek Septuagint is based on? From the point of view of Christians, this original Hebrew text must be important if the inspired writers of the New Testament chose to quote from the Septuagint. The answer is that we have lost this earlier Hebrew text. We have lost a version of the Torah that the New Testament authors believed were the inspired words of God.
Jude and the Lost Book of Enoch
One of the startling discoveries among the Dead Sea Scrolls were the presence of apocryphal texts not found in the modern Old Testament. In 1956, during the excavation of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a book called “1 Enoch” (also known as The Book of Enoch) was discovered.
This presents a big problem for those Christians that believe the whole of the Bible to be inspired.
The Book of Jude in the New Testament actually quotes from the lost Book of Enoch:
“It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” [Jude 1:14-15]
The above verses, a quotation from Enoch, are not to be found anywhere in the modern Bible.
In the Dead Sea Scrolls, Enoch 1:9 says this:
“And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of holy ones to execute judgement upon all, and to destroy [all] the ungodly: and to convict all flesh of all the works [of their ungodliness] which they have ungodly committed, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners [have spoken] against Him.”
So here we have a situation of a canonical book (Jude) quoting a non-canonical book (Enoch). Either the Old Testament is incomplete or the New Testament author made a mistake in quoting from a non-canonical text. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which is the case.
Hebrew as a Lost Language
So far we have restricted our discussion to manuscripts and texts. What about Hebrew as a language, is it important that the language has been preserved? The answer is a resounding “Yes”, because you can’t separate language from Scripture.
If we were to lose the Hebrew language, then we would also lose the Torah. What use is having the perfect preservation of the content of a Scripture if you have lost the meanings of the words it is written in? You wouldn’t be able to properly understand the Scripture; it would be like having a lock without the key.
When we examine the Judaic tradition we learn that Hebrew was a dead language from the second century CE until the foundation of Israel. Ever since the spoken usage of Mishnaic Hebrew ended in the second century CE, Hebrew had not been spoken as a mother tongue.
Even though the Torah was originally revealed to Moses over three thousand years ago, the first Hebrew lexicon wasn’t created until the tenth century – some three hundred years after the Qur’anic revelation. They don’t have any dictionaries older than that.
They have oral traditions, such as the Mishnah, where they studied the Torah and the meanings of words, but they did not have a systematic lexicography that the Muslims have.
This idea seems to have been borrowed from the Muslims. It’s a known fact that in Hebrew studies, Hebrew scholars are forced to go to classical Arabic dictionaries to see what the Arabs had to say about the roots of words.
This is because Arabic and Hebrew are both Semitic languages and share many words with similar meaning. This allows Hebrew scholars to get a more ancient understanding of their own root structures .
What the Qur’an Has to Say About The Torah
“Indeed, We sent down the Torah, in which was guidance and light. The prophets who submitted [to Allah] judged by it for the Jews, as did the rabbis and scholars by that with which they were entrusted of the Scripture of Allah, and they were witnesses thereto…” [Chapter 5, verse 44]
“And when the anger subsided in Moses, he took up the tablets; and in their inscription was guidance and mercy for those who are fearful of their Lord.” [Chapter 7, verse 154]
The verses above show that the Qur’an speaks of the original revelation given to Moses, peace be upon him, in an extremely positive light. The original Torah is described as being “guidance”, “light” and a “mercy”, just as all divinely inspired Scriptures are.
The Qur’an also confirms that the Israelites, who were entrusted with safeguarding the Torah, were responsible for corrupting it:
“So woe to those who write the “scripture” with their own hands, then say, “This is from Allah ,” in order to exchange it for a small price. Woe to them for what their hands have written and woe to them for what they earn.” [Chapter 2, verse 79]
This verse of the Qur’an would have sounded like a conspiracy theory to most Jews and Christians living in the 7th century. Today there is a remarkable convergence of what the Qur’an says about the Torah and what modern scholarship says.
Today we see this Qur’anic verse with its historical insight vindicated by the Dead Sea scrolls and other manuscript discoveries. Today various Biblical scholars are affirming that people wrote it with their own hands and attributed it to Moses and thus to God.
I invite my fellow Jews and Christians to ponder the following point. If God wanted you, and indeed the whole of mankind, to have the original Torah, then why didn’t He preserve it?
As has been demonstrated, textual variants, contradictions and unknown authorship are just some of the serious issues that plague the modern versions of the Torah. Therefore we can only conclude that the modern day Torah is not the pure word of God as originally revealed to Moses, peace be upon him, but rather has been tampered with by man.
The answer to the question of why God did not preserve the original revelation given to Moses is that it was only ever meant to be a time bound message which served as a temporary placeholder until the coming of the Qur’an. It is only the Qur’an, God Almighty’s last and final revelation to mankind that is timeless. God has promised mankind that He will protect and preserve the Qur’an:
“Indeed, it is We who sent down the Qur’an and indeed, We will be its guardian.” [Qur’an 15:9]
Allah knows Best