Problem Of The Parallels

M S M Saifullah (Adapted From Hamza Mustafa Njozi's work)

© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.

Last Updated: 13 June 1999


Assalamu-alaikum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:

We have seen various issues surrounding the Bible-borrowing theories of the Qur'ân. To sum up, this theory is greatly weakened by the following points:

First, Muhammad(P) said that the Qur'ân came from God and we have already attempted to show that from historical reasons Muhammad(P) could not have copied the Qur'ân from the Bible.

Secondly, Muhammad(P) was illiterate. He could not have studied and selected from previous scriptures without the ability to read and write.

Thirdly, the first Arabic version of the Old Testament and New Testament appeared a few hundred after the death of Muhammad(P). [1]

Fourthly, similarity between any two compositions or books does not in itself constitute sufficient evidence that one was copied from the other, or the latter from the earlier one. Both of them could be based on a common third source. This is precisely the argument of the Qur'ân. There are certain portions of the Bible that might have remained intact and if God is the source of both revelations that should explain the existence of parallels.

Fifthly, a close examination of the two texts would clearly show that the idea of borrowing is at best flimsy. Let us begin with the basic difference between the two books:

The Bible is not one book but a collection of at least 66 books according to the Protestant version or 75 according to the Roman Catholic Douay version written by at least 40 authors. Secondly, the Bible is a mixture of both divine statements and human commentaries of later followers. See for example Luke 1:1-4, and I Corinthians 7:25. The Qur'ân has no such commentaries, even the words of Muhammad(P) are not part of the Qur'ân. Thirdly, the New Testament's four gospels teach about Jesus(P), his life and mission. The Qur'ân is not a biography of Muhammad(P) written by his followers. Fourthly, the Bible has several books written many years after the death of those Prophets sometimes not in the original language of those Prophets thus giving rise to a number of difficulties in analysis. The entire Qur'ân was written during the lifetime of the Prophet(P) and it was memorised by hundreds of people in the original language. Fifthly, the four cannonised gospels were not the only gospels, the decision of what should be in the Bible and what should not is left to human judgement. In Islam there were no conferences to determine which chapter should or should not be in the Qur'ân.

The idea that the Qur'ân had borrowed from the Bible is further contradicted by the existence of basic creedal differenes between the two texts. The similarities are superficial. The following are some of those differences:

The Biblical concept of God is quite different from the Qur'ânic one. In the Bible, God is described in a human form[2]. He is depicted as one who gets tired and needs rest[3]. God walks in the garden and a man can hide himself from Him and to seek him out from his hiding place, God has to search for him[4]. Like a human being, God is depicted in the Bible as being sorry for some of His decisions, the implication being that he was either ignorant of the consequences or that He is subject to whimsical moods[5]. He is not only jealous, but is often referred to as the God of Israel[6]. Like a human being, God has nostrils, a mouth and dwells in thick darkness[7]. The Qur'ân denies that the similitude of God is like that of man or any of His creation:

And there is none like unto Him. [Qur'ân 112:4]

In the Bible, the God is also afraid of man's power and unity[8]. Such depictions are not only absent in the Qur'ân, but are regarded as sacrilegious to the Majesty of God.

The Biblical concept of prophethood is also radically different from the one presented in the Qur'ân. Whereas the Qur'ân depicts prophets as the best model of piety and moral uprightness, see Qur'ân 21:27 and 22:52, in the Biblical version almost all prophets seem to commit major sins in faith and moral standing. Some of the shameful deeds attributed to prophets include Aaron's(P) idol worship[9], Solomon's(P) inclination towards idolatry[10] and Jacob's(P) deceitful tricks towards his father Isaac(P)[11]. Abraham(P) had either contracted an incestuous marriage with Sarah, or he was simply an ignoble liar[12]. The drunken Lot(P) committed incest with his daughters and he is also reported to have given out his daughters to the lustful men of Gomorrah and invited them to do with his daughters as they pleased[13]. David(P) was not only a peeping Tom, but actually committed adultery with the wife of Uriah, and had her husband killed[14]. Judas committed incest with his daughter-in-law. Pharez and Zarah who were the result of that incest are honoured as the great grandfathers and great-grandmothers of Jesus[15]. It would appear as if God blesses Judas for his incestuous crime. Jesus(P) is reported to have rebuffed his own mother when he said,"Woman, what have I to do with thee?"[16] The Qur'ân accuses no Prophet(P) of any of the above charges.

There are also creedal differences concerning belief in the hereafter, the concept of salvation and orientation towards life[17].

Apart from doctrinal differences, there are also major variations even in stories common to both the Qur'ân and the Bible. By way of example we shall cite the story of Adam(P) and Eve(P). The similarities between the two versions are that both books say Adam and Eve were the first human beings to be created. They lived in a garden and were permitted to eat from any tree except one. They succumbed to the temptations of Satan and ate from the tree, and they were sent to live on earth.

The following are the major differences between the two accounts.

  1. The Bible says it was a tree of knowledge, the Qur'ân makes no such mention. According to the Qur'ân, man is inherently inspired with the knowledge of good and evil and Adam(P) was taught the nature of all things, even before his disobedience[18].
  2. In the Biblical account, woman carries the burden of that mistake and in punishment God multiplied her agony in childbirth. There is not a single verse in the Qur'ân which suggests or implies in any way that the woman bears primary responsibility for that mistake. Pregnancy is described in the Qur'ân as noble and praiseworthy[19].
  3. In the Bible, Eve(P) is tempted by Satan who takes the form of a serpent. The Qur'ân says Satan tempted both of them and there is no mention at all of serpent, viper or snake[20].
  4. After their disobedience, the Bible does not at all mention that Adam(P) and Eve(P) repented, whereas the Qur'ân emphasizes this point. According to the Qur'ân, they repented and God forgave them[21].
  5. The Bible suggests that their coming to live on earth was a sort of punishment, while the Qur'ân says that was God's plan even before He created them[22].

The above differences have very serious doctrinal implications. The Biblical tree of knowledge implies that man was perfect before eating from the tree, but his nature changed after eating from it. According to the Qur'ân, man being a blending of clay and the soul has always been an imperfect being. While to the Christian, the problem is how to regain that previous perfection in order to get salvation and come back to Paradise, the Qur'ân expects man to have some lapses but the issue is whether he sincerely tries his best to fulfill the injunctions of God. While the Christian faith might admit the doctrine of original sin, the Qur'ân says every child is born pure and is only responsible for his own deeds. Whether as a result of original sin there must be bloodshed to reconcile man with God, the Qur'ân says God does not require bloodshed to forgive. And the idea that woman was responsible for the fall of man has implications in the position and status of woman in society.

There are also major variations in the stories of Abraham, Ishmael and Issac, Lot, Moses and Jesus(P). The idea that the Qur'ân has largely borrowed from the Bible is certainly erroneous. Infact even those scholars who postulate the borrowing theory like Phillip Hitti hasten to add that:

...the resemblences do not warrant the conclusion of borrowing or quoting.

or that he was not a slavish imitator[23]. The implication is that Muhammad(P) had thoroughly grasped and internalised the Bible, excessively edited it and then recast it in his own words. Richard Bell, however, who is at pains to prove the direct dependence of Muhammad(P) on the Bible also insists that he was not working on any real acquaintance with the Bible itself.[24]

Kenneth Cragg also says that Muhammad(P) had no personal contact with the written scriptures and says in the Call Of The Minaret:

The Biblical narratives reproduced in the Qur'ân differ considerably and suggest oral, not direct acquaintance. There is almost complete absence of what could be claimed as direct quotation from the Bible.[25]

The borrowing theory is further weakened by the prescence in the Qur'ân of stories or details which are absent in the Bible. The stories of the people of Ad and Thamud and their prophets Hud and Saleh(P) are not mentioned in the Bible. Some of the Qur'ânic details which have no parallels in the Bible include the dialogue which Prophet Noah(P) had with his son before the deluge, the dialogue between Abraham(P) and his father and between Abraham(P) and the tyrannical ruler (Nimrod). The miraculous escape of Abraham(P) from the fire and the miracle of resurrection he was shown from God when he brought back to life dead birds. Moses'(P) slaughter of the cow inorder to bring back to life a murdered man who revealed his killer, is absent from the Bible and so is the long dialogue betwen Moses(P) and the Israelites on what kind animal should be slaughtered. Also absent in the Bible are Jesus'(P) miraculous speech in the cradle and his fashioning out of clay a similitude of a bird and Mary's(P) miraculous sustenance from God.

Under Christianity in Arabia the New Catholic Encyclopaedia says that during the time of the Muhammad(P)

The Hijaz [Arabian peninsula] had not been touched by Christian preaching. Hence organisation of the Christian church was neither to be expected nor found.[26]

Where did Muhammed(P) get so many details which are absent in the Bible if the Qur'ân was principlally but not exclusively dependent on Jewish and Christian traditions as claimed by the Orientalists and Christian missionaries?

Related Articles On The Borrowing Theories Of The Qur'ân

The Orientalists,The Bible & The Qur'ân: A Brief Review Of Bible Borrowing Theories

Is The Bible Really The Source Of The Qur'ân?

The Defense of The Qur'ân Against The Bible Borrowing Theory

Haman, The Qur'ân & The Bible

   Islamic Awareness Qur'ân Sources Problem Of The Parallels


References

[1] Please refer to Is Bible Really The Source Of The Qur'ân? section.

[2] Genesis 1:26, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in out image, after our likeness', or Gen. 9:6, 'for God made man in his own image.

Compare these passages with the Qur'ân which says: "Say: He is God, the Eternal the Absolute. He begets not, nor is he begotten. And there is nothing like God." Qur'ân, 112:1-4 or "there is nothing comparable to Him" 42:11.

[3] Genesis 2:2, Gen. 2:3. Compare with the Qur'ân 2:255.

[4] Genesis 3:8-11. Compare with the Qur'ân 6:3.

[5] Genesis 6:6 and Exodus 32:14. Compare with Qur'ân 2:255 and 6:59.

[6] Exodus 34:14 and Exodus 20:5. Nowhere in the Qur'ân is God described as the God of the Qurashites or the God of the Arabs. See Qur'ân 1:1, 4:79.

[7] 2 Samuel 22:9-15, 1 Kings 8:12 and Numbers 11:25. Compare with Qur'ân 42:11.

[8] Genesis 11:5-9 and Gen. 3:22-24.

[9] See Exodus 32:1-20.

[10] See 1 Kings 11:4.

[11] See Genesis 27:10-30.

[12] See Genesis 12:10-20 and 20:2-18.

[13] See Genesis 19:30-38 and Gen. 19:1-10.

[14] See 2 Samuel 11:2-5, 11:15-18.

[15] See Genesis 38:16-18 and Matthew 1:3.

[16] John 2:4.

[17] For a detailed discussion about these issues refer to G. Miller, Missionary Christianity, (place date and publisher not given), pp.1-38.

[18] See Genesis 2:16-17, cf. Qur'ân 2:31-33.

[19] See Genesis 3:12-17, cf. Qur'ân, 29:8, 46:15.

[20] See Genesis 3:1-7, cf. Qur'ân, 2:36, 7:20.

[21] See Qur'ân, 2:37, 7:23.

[22] See Genesis 3:17-19, cf. Qur'ân, 2:30.

[23] Philip K. Hitti, Islam and the West: A Historical Cultural Survey, 1979 (Reprinted), Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, New York, pp. 17-18.

[24]Richard Bell, The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment: The Gunning Lectures Edinburgh University, 1925, London: Frank Cass and Company Limited,
1968 (Reprinted),
p. 112.

[25] Kenneth Cragg, The Call of the Minaret, 1985 (2nd Edition), Orbis Books: New York, p.66.

[26] New Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1967, The Catholic University of America, Washington D C, Vol. 1, pp. 721-722.

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