Do Western scholars think the Qur’an teaches the textual corruption of the previous scriptures? – Part 2

As with my previous blog post, this article is a response to a couple of Youtube videos (here and here) released a while ago by Blogging Theology. In those videos Paul portrays the majority of Western scholarship as accepting that the Qur’an teaches that the previous scriptures are textually corrupted. In reading from entries in the Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an he (9:54) speaks of how ‘there’s pretty much a consensus view’. But is this right?

Claims of consensusWalid Saleh and Gabriel Said Reynolds

In fairness, Paul is not the only person to claim this. Walid Saleh (2016b, 102) says that ‘Contrary to what [Gordon] Nickel suggests, the scholarly consensus is that the Qurʾān does indeed make the charge that Jewish and Christian scriptures have been textually corrupted’. Even Gabriel Said Reynolds (2010, 193), who himself interprets the Qur’an differently on this point, concedes that ‘[a]ccording to most Western scholarship, the Qurʾan is referring to textual alteration with the verb yuḥarrifūna‘.

On what basis do they claim this? Saleh (2016b, 102) notes in support those scholars who Nickel (2011) cites on p. 11, but who Saleh claims he ‘summarily dismisses…as if [they] were blatently wrong’. We will consider these scholars in due course. As for Reynolds (2010, 193), after making his statement he goes on to cite Hava Lazarus-Yafeh’s Encyclopaedia of Islam II entry ‘Taḥrīf’. Lazarus-Yafeh does indeed envisage some kind of textual corruption, as we discuss below. He then goes on to cite Edward W. Lane’s lexicon (19841, 549b), which in turn ‘relies on medieval Islamic dictionaries’ according to Reynolds (2010, 193), and which ‘defines the idiom taḥrīf l-kalima ʿan mawāḍiʿihi as “the altering of words from their proper meanings”‘, and which comments that it is in accordance with ‘this explanation, the verb [ḥarrafa] is used in the Ḳur[ān].’

Reynolds (193-194) goes on to disagree with this interpretation, instead understanding the phrase to refer to ‘scriptural falsification that involves reading or explaining scripture out of context’. But notice that Reynolds had spoken of the view of ‘most Western scholarship’, cites one (admittedly prominent) scholar who holds to this, and then cites a lexical work that actually understands a key phrase to be referring to non-textual corruption. Whether or not he intended to, Reynolds has hardly provided compelling proof that such a position is the view of ‘most Western scholarship.’ Now, Reynolds may well be making such a comment based upon his impression of the literature he has read. Or perhaps an entry in the prestigious EI2 gives some indication of the majority view. But impressions of the ‘majority view’ on a topic can be contradictory, and we will provide the results of our own findings below.

Categories of corruption

As discussed in my previous post, I will attempt to categorise scholarly views using the following positions (noting that a scholar will often hold to multiple):

  1. The Torah manuscripts themselves have been corrupted.
  2. False copy(s) of scripture have been produced.
  3. False interpretations (e.g. Mishnah or Talmud) have been written down.
  4. The manuscript tradition has been corrupted over a wide area.
  5. This corruption took place before the time of Muhammad.
  6. The Gospel (and not just the Torah) has been textually corrupted in some way.

An overview of English language scholarship

I have tried to include most of the relevant works I have read on this topic. I have tried to read the major relevant works that are often cited. I may well have missed or forgotten some works, in which place please do mention relevant works in the comment section. I am generally surveying English language scholarship; I include one or two pieces of continental scholarship where its contents have been summarised in an English language work.

Goldziher, Ignaz. “Über Muhammedanische Polemik Gegen Ahl Al-Kitab.” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 32 (1878), 341-387.

I have not read this German work. But Reynolds (2010, 194) summarises Goldziher thus:

Goldziher concludes (“Über muhammedanische Polemik,” 344) that the Qurʾan accuses the People of the Book of altering the text of scriptures brought down from heaven to Moses and Jesus: “Die Schriftbesitzer hätten die in ihren Händen befindlichen Offenbarungsbücher verändert und gefälscht (taḥrīf, taġyīr, tabdīl) abgeleitet.”

I will assume for the sake of argument that this is positions 1, 4, 5 and 6.

Hirschfeld, Hartwig. “Mohammedan Criticism of the Bible.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 13, no. 2 (1901): 222-40.

According to Hirschfeld (222-223):

Now the Qorān already distinguishes between the Law as revealed on Sinai, and the Bible as it was found in the hands of the Jews, or rather as Mohammed reconstructed it from the religious practices he observed among them. Wishing to uphold the divine origin of the Torah without incurring any liability as to its ritual laws, he declared that it had been tampered with by the Rabbis, who by making new laws aspired to divine honours. … When examining Mohammed’s attitude towards the Bible, one cannot help observing that it was almost the same as that of the Karaïtes. He only acknowledged as genuine what he considered to be the revealed text of the Torah, and this he took in a strictly literal sense. Those whom he held responsible for the alteration of the Law he styled Rabbanites [cf. Q 3:79], thus being actually the first to employ this term, which was used, in the same deprecatory manner later on, by the Karaïtes.

It is not clear to me whether Hirschfeld envisages corruption of the actual text of the Torah itself (position 1), or the ‘tampering’ of it by writing additional works of new laws (e.g. Mishnah and Talmud) (position 3). In favour of the latter, the Karaites are adduced as a parallel, who did accept the reliability of the OT but rejected other works of interpretation (the Mishnah and Talmud). However, in favour of the former is the describe distinction ‘between the Law [which] was revealed on Sinai, and the Bible as it was found in the hands of the Jews’ (position 1). Furthermore, ‘what he considered to be the revealed text of the Torah’ might suggest a difference from the Jewish view on the revealed text. Either way, given that this is a broad critique of rabbinic Judaism, this corruption probably was widespread and before the time of Muhammad (positions 4 and 5).

He may also envisage corruption of the Gospel: ‘[Ibn Ḥazm’s] object in criticizing the Bible was to substantiate the charges brought by Mohammed against Jews (and Christians) of falsifying their holy Writs. His strict way of interpreting the Qorān led him to take this accusation in its literal sense…’ (p. 226). This description of Mohammed’s charges may be Hirschfeld’s own interpretation, or that of Ibn Ḥazm, though more likely the former (thus position 6).

Hirschfeld, Hartwig. New Researches into the Composition and Exegesis of the Qoran. London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1902. I have utilised the free and partial version available here.

Hirschfeld (16; cf. also pp. 108-109) speaks of ‘Jews…[who] altered the law.’ and ‘Jews…[who] pervert the Book in order to reckon to it what does not belong to it’. This might sound like position 1, though as we have seen and shall see, such language can be used to indicate a variety of actions.

Pp. 108-109 discuss a couple of the ḥarrafa verses, though it is not clear whether textual or oral corruption is alleged. He (114) also says that ‘What Muhammad really aimed at in those remarks was an onslaught against the authority of the Rabbinical code, which he represents as claiming equal authority with “the Book.” Some Jews, he says, pervert the Book in order to reckon to it what does not belong to it [Q 3:78].’ The reference to the ‘Rabbinical code’ may indicate position 3. p. 141 seemingly alludes to the content of Q 2:113 or Q 5:66, 68, though he seems to claim to cite Q 2:61, where Jews and Christians are reminded ‘that they stood on nought until they fulfilled the Tôrâ and the Gospel. This being in reality only a variation of the old reproach of tampering with the holy books…’ What kind of tampering is here envisaged?

In summary, either position 1 or 3 seems to be in view. It is seemingly an ongoing issue (thus positions 4 and 5), and not solely at the time of Muhammad. Position 6 may be hinted at in the last quotation above, but it is not clear.

Nöldeke, Theodore, Friedrich Schwally, Gotthelf Bergsträßer, and Otto Pretzl. The History of the Qur’ān [in eng]. Translated by Wolfgang H. Behn. Leiden: Brill, 2013 [original dissertation, 1860; 2nd edition published in 1909].

On pp. 119-20 the author(s) describe how the Qur’an (Q 16:43, 21:7) appeals to the people of the former scriptures to have the Qur’an’s own message confirmed; but the People of the Book in Medina refuse to do so. On p. 209 it says that ‘[a]lthough the Bible of the Christians and Jews originates from the same archetype [as the Qur’an], it has been subject to serious falsifications.’ Of what kind? Quite possibly textual (position 1), but this is not clear. And on p. 312 we read that ‘[Muhammad] imagined, for example, that Jews and Christians had received the same revelation, which in each case was falsified. For this reason, he, the Arab Prophet, was chosen by Allāh once again to recite the text of the ancient revelation from the Celestial Tablets.’ Although oral corruption is potentially in view here, textual corruption is more likely in view (position 1). This corruption likely occured in a widespread fashion before the time of Muhammad (positions 4 and 5). The Gospel also seems to be in view (position 6).

As with Frants Buhl (see below), there may be an imagined shift in Muhammad’s position due to the realisation that the ‘People of the Book’ would not accept his message (contrast pp. 119-120 to 312).

Matteo, Ignazio di. “Il ‘Taḥrīf’ Od Alterazione Della Bibbia Secondo I Musulmani.”. Bessarione 26 (1922): 64-111, 223-60.

I do not have access to and am not able to read this Italian work (assuming it is in Italian). I provide a (translated?) summary from Gordon Nickel (2011, 7, footnote 18):

After reviewing the exegetical treatment of key tampering passages in the Qurʾān by Ṭabarī and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, Di Matteo concluded: “According to the Qurʾān, the text of the holy scriptures has been altered neither before Muḥammad, nor even during his life-time by those Jews and Christians who were not favourably disposed towards his mission. In the Qurʾān taḥrīf means either false interpretation of the passages bearing upon Muḥammad or non-enforcement of the explicit laws of the Pentateuch, such as the stoning punishment.” [1922, 96]

Buhl, Frants. “Ṭaḥrīf.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, First Edition (1913-1936), edited by M. Th Houtsma, T. W. Arnold, R. Basset and R. Hartmann, 1934. Accessed online.

Buhl dives right in by speaking of ‘corruption of a document, whereby the original sense is altered’. The first part might sound like position 1, but he goes on to note that this ‘may happen in various ways, by direct alteration of the written text, by arbitrary alterations in reading aloud the text which is itself correct, by omitting parts of it or by interpolations or by a wrong exposition’. He notes those Qur’anic passages where ‘Muḥammad accused the Jews of falsifying the books of revelation given them’. He claims that it is not clear exactly how the Qur’an envisages this falsification, although ‘[t]here is a direct charge of having falsified the text’ in Q 2:79. This is somewhere between positions 1-3. He also speaks of ‘a peculiar fashion in vi. 91 where it is said “you make the scripture of Moses into leaves which you read out and suppress much of it;” which can only mean that in his opinion they removed the passages attesting the truth of his mission from the copies which they used in his disputations.’ This is a corruption of some texts but not others (position 2?), and taking place at the time of Muhammad (not positions 4 or 5).

Buhl does seem to make a tentative charge of textual corruption against the Christians, though it is not clear whether this is solely on the basis of the Qur’an or also ibn Hishām:

Muḥammad naturally extended this charge of taḥrīf to the Christians, of whom he also asserted that they likewise concealed the passages in their holy scriptures which contained evidence of the truth of his mission; cf. the appeal to the “possessors of a scripture” in Sūra ii. 141; iii. 64 and with reference to Muḥammad’s coming, Ibn Hishām, p. 388, although he probably means that Jesus’s refusal of the name God and the doctrine of the Trinity (e.g. v. 116) were based on falsifications of the scripture.

I will presume that Buhl is speaking here of Muḥammad’s view in the Qur’an rather than the view of Ibn Hishām. There is therefore the accusation of ‘falsifications of the scripture’, presumably here textual corruption (though it isn’t clear), by the Christians regarding Christology and the doctrine of the Trinity (positions 1, 6). There is presumably no reason why this should only happen at the time of Muhammad, and so presumably views 4 and 5 are in view here (but for the Gospel rather than the Torah).

Later on Frants Buhl does claim that the idea that the Qur’an teaches textual corruption was ‘decidedly the simplest and most logical [interpretation], for it was based on the first impression which the words of the Ḳurʾan naturally made’. Contra Adang and others who see a movement from milder to harsher accusations of textual corruption, Buhl considers the harsher accusation to be the earliest (even though the sole authority cited is Ibn Ḥazm cited in the 11th century CE!).

Muslims should be to some extent careful before accepting the conclusions of a scholar like Buhl. His exegesis of individual verses should of course be given careful consideration, but his historical scenario is one that Muslims will be loathe to accept:

This accusation [of falsification] was really the only way of escape for Muḥammad out of a dangerous situation, when he came into closer contact with the Jews in Medina. He had from the beginning appealed to the evidence of the “peoples of a scripture”, i. e. the Jews and the Christians, as he was firmly convinced that the contents of the Old and New Testament coincided with what he preached on the basis of his revelations. But his ideas of incidents and laws in the Old Testament contained such misunderstandings that they naturally provoked criticism and ridicule from the Jews and thus he was put in a false position. … there was only one thing for him to do, namely to declare that the Jews had maliciously corrupted their sacred books while he himself had given their true content. It was a bold assertion but was made easier for him by the fact that these scriptures were sealed books to his followers, while they believed firmly in the truth of his words.

Buhl’s interpretation is seemingly based upon the idea that the Qur’an has a stark contradiction. Any verses appealed to by those such as myself or Reynolds where the positive scriptures are highly praised can be accepted by Buhl, as he seems to think the Qur’an contradicts itself by later attacking the previous scriptures. By contrast, the opinions of scholars like Reynolds and Nickel (see below) is that the Qur’an is actually more harmonious; those verses that express doubts about how the previous scriptures are handled (e.g. they are concealed and misrepresented) are in fact perfectly compatible with the high praise and confidence that the Qur’an has for them and their textual preservation. Which scholars would Muslims prefer to side with?

Watt, Montgomery W. “The Early Development of the Muslim Attitude to the Bible.” In Transactions of the Glasgow University Oriental Society, edited by C. J. Mullo Weir, 50-62. Hertford: Stephen Austin & Sons, 1957.

For Nickel (2011, 6), this is a watershed publication; the view that the Qur’an itself does not believe the previous scriptures have been textually corrupted ‘made its scholarly appearance’ in this article by Watt (though Nickel does also note the earlier work of Di Matteo, 1922, see above. Perhaps he thinks these works each have a different focus).

Watt (1957, 53) writes:

The conclusion of this examination of passages is that the Qurʾān does not put forward any general view of the corruption of the text of the Old and New Testaments. It makes clear allegations of the concealment of passages. It also makes the accusation of taḥrīf (“corruption” or “alteration”), but by this does not mean tampering with the written text (except perhaps in copying it),[footnote – cf. 2.79] but – to judge from the examples – means the employment of various tricks in the course of dealings with Muslims.

The mention of potential tampering in the copies of scripture sounds like position 2.

Ayoub, Mahmoud. “Uzayr in the Qurʾan and Muslim Tradition.” In Studies in Islamic and Judaic Traditions, edited by W. M. Brinner and S. D. Ricks, 3-18. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986.

I do not have access to this work. I cite him via Nickel (2011, 7):

Contrary to the general Islamic view, the Qurʾan does not accuse Jews and Christians of altering the text of their scriptures, but rather of altering the truth which those scriptures contain. The people do this by concealing some of the sacred texts, by misapplying their precepts, or by “altering words from their right position.” However, this refers more to interpretation than to actual addition or deletion of words from the sacred books.

Nickel notes that Ayoub adds, ‘The problem of alteration (taḥrīf) needs further study.’

Adams, Charles J. “Qurʾān: The Text and Its History.” In The Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Mircea Eliade and Charles J. Adams, 156-76. New York: Macmillan, 1987.

Nickel (2011, 13) notes this work as part of a list of scholars who use the language of ‘falsification’, ‘corruption’ and ‘alteration’. Saleh (2016b, 102) considers this list to be ‘a list of the names of major scholars who hold this view [i.e. that the Qur’an teaches textual corruption]’. However I wonder if Saleh has, understandably, missed a subtle shift that Nickel may be making in his argumentation. Nickel is not clear here. He begins (11) by talking about ‘Major scholarly statements on the theme of tampering [which] have characterized the Islamic doctrine of scriptural corruption as a Qurʾānic accusation’, and proceeds (11-12) to cite Frants Buhl and Lazarus-Yafeh, who do indeed claim this (see above and below). However he (12-13) then says:

The same wording continues into articles published more recently, such as Abdullah Saeed’s article, “The Charge of Distortion of Jewish and Christian Scriptures.” Saeed begins his article with the comprehensive expression, “the Qurʾānic accusation that the scriptures of the Jews and Christians have been falsified, corrupted, altered and changed.” Similar phrases appear in other important scholarly publications.[There is then the footnote where he lists numerous scholars. He speaks of ‘similar expressions‘ in EQ articles, and at the end he speaks of ‘the more carefully nuanced expressions of Kate Zebiri…and Camilla Adang’] [Emphasis added]

Nickel is well aware that Saeed does not, in fact, argue that the Qur’an teaches textual corruption; within this section quoted, in a footnote, he (13) notes that ‘Curiously, Saeed’s article argues that a selection of classical exegetes did not understand the Qurʾān to be making the accusation of falsification. But even so, he does not qualify his statement at the start of the article.’ On p. 50 he will again cite Abdullah Saeed (2002 429): ‘In no verse in the Qurʾān is there a denigrating remark about the scriptures of the Jews and Christians. … Any disparaging remarks were about the People of the Book, individuals or groups, and their actions.’

On the basis of the above, I wonder if Nickel had made a digression from scholars who do believe that the Qur’an teaches textual corruption (Buhl and Lazarus-Yafeh), to how this language has become commonplace (even in Abdullah Saeed, whose views are closer to Nickel’s). In p. 13 he would then return to whether the Qur’an actually teaches textual corruption, by saying ‘Quite to the contrary, exegetes from the formative period of Qurʾānic commentary did not in the first instance understand the words of the Qurʾān to mean that Jews and Christians had falsified their scriptures.’ But perhaps this is incorrect, and Nickel is indeed listing scholars whom he believes do think that the Qur’an teaches textual corruption.

Let us now proceed to ourselves consider Adams’ comments. He (1987, 171-172) writes that ‘the Qurʾān particularly charges the Jews with having “corrupted” or “altered” their scripture or with having “concealed” parts of it.’ Given the large semantic range of words like ‘corrupted’ and ‘altered’, as discussed in our previous blog post and as Nickel (2011, 12) has noted concerning Abdullah Saeed’s language, it is a bit much to definitively declare that Adams has textual corruption in view here. But given the brevity of his comments, and how a non-specialist might be expected to understand this encyclopaedia entry, perhaps we should think that Adams intends his reader to understand these terms as implying textual corruption? Or perhaps he does not want to dedicate much space to the discussion? Note that Adams says ‘…or…or…’, perhaps indicating the different exegetical possibilities of the Qur’anic text.

Burton, John. “The Corruption of the Scriptures.” Occasional Papers of the School of Abbasid Studies 4 (1992): 95-106.

I do not have access to this work (though I think I may have read it previously…), but I cite it via Nickel (2011, 7):

Many non-Muslims are still firmly of the belief that the Jews and Christians are accused in the Qurʾān of having tampered with the texts of the revelations to the prophets now collected into the Old and New Testaments of their Bible. This is because they regularly encounter such charges in their reading. The accusation is a commonplace charge levelled against the People of the Book by Muslims, not, however, because of what the Qurʾān says, but because of what the Muslims say the Qurʾān says. In other words, it is mere exegesis.

Lazarus-Yafeh, Hava. Intertwined Worlds: Medieval Islam and Bible Criticism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

On p. 20 she writes that, according to the Qur’an, ‘Jews and Christians were accused of having concealed or deleted verses from their Scriptures, as well as of having distorted and rewritten others.’ ‘Deleted verses…rewritten’ are clear accusations of textual corruption. ‘Deleting’ verses from the scriptures sounds like position 1. ‘Rewritten’ may be position 2. It is not clear when she envisages this happening; she (20-21) shortly afterwards notes al-Al-Ṭabarī who accuses the Jews of adding and removing as they pleased (or hated!), including the description of Muhammad. The corruption of Muhammad’s description might suggest a localised corruption at the time and place of Muhammad; though it is possible this could have happened earlier in anticipation of his arrival, and the other elements they added and removed could have been done at any time (possibly positions 4 and 5). If Christians are envisaged as textually corrupting their scriptures (position 6) then this need not be restricted to the time of Muhammad (hence positions 4 and 5); however it is not clear whether the actions listed by Lazarus-Yafeh are all applicable to both Jews and Christians.

Lazarus-Yafeh, Hava. “Taḥrīf.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, edited by P. Bearman, Th Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. Van Donzel and W. P. Heinrichs, 111-12. Leiden: Brill, 2000.

Note that this is an entry in the Enyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, rather than of the Qur’an. Accordingly much of the article deals not just with the Qur’anic, but also the post-Qur’anic perspective.

She begins by defining the term as:

change, alteration, forgery; used with regard to words, and more specifically with regard to what Jews and Christians have done to their respective Scriptures (yuḥarrifūna ʾl-kalima ʿan mawāiʿhi, sūra IV, 46, V, 13; see also II, 75), in the sense of perverting the language through altering words from their proper meaning, changing words in form or substituting words or letters for others. Such substitution is also termed tabdīl, a wider term, used also in other contexts, but in the Ḳurʾān and later literature practically synonymous with taḥrīf

‘changing words in form’ is presumably position 1, and perhaps also ‘substituting words or letters for others’. But is her first sentence solely a Qur’anic understanding, or how the Qur’an can be understood in the lens of Muslim interpretation (see the second sentence)? Let us err on the side of assuming that Lazarus-Yafeh probably does think the Qur’an teaches textual corruption (position 1). Is this also predicated of the Christians, whom Lazarus-Yafeh mentions (position 6)? Perhaps, though its not necessary that all of the actions listed are predicated to both Jews and Christians.

But positions 1 or 2 and, 4, 5 and quite possibly 6 are probably indicated when she notes that:

[t]he accusation of forgery…[i]n the Medinan Sūras…is a central theme, apparently used to explain away the contradictions between the Bible and the Ḳurʾān and to establish that the coming of the Prophet and the rise of Islam had indeed been predicted in the “true” Bible.

Lazarus-Yafeh, Hava. “Tawrāt.” In The Encylopaedia of Islam (2nd Edition), edited by P. Bearman and al Et. Leiden: Brill, 2000.

We can learn more about Lazarus-Yafeh’s perspective from her (2000) entry “Tawrāt.” In The Encylopaedia of Islam (2nd Edition) (discovered via Nickel, 2011, 12). She writes:

The contradictions between the Ḳurʾānic and Biblical stories, and the denial of both Jews and Christians that Muḥammad was predicted in their Holy Scriptures, gave rise to the Ḳurʾānic accusation of the falsification of these last by Jews and Christians respectively [see TAḤRĪF]

Presumably Lazarus-Yafeh does not think that the Qur’an teaches that Jews and Christians have corrupted all of the biblical stories at the time of Muhammad, and so a more widespread (position 4) and previous corruption (position 5) is in view. The New Testament is mentioned shortly before, and so position 6 also seems to be affirmed.

As I discussed above in commenting on Frants Buhl, Muslims should be cautious citing scholars such as Lazarus-Yafeh. She seems to envisage a human process whereby the Qur’an shifts its strategy in response to Jewish and Christian denials that Muhammad was predicted in their scriptures, as well as perhaps a growing realisation that the Qur’an’s own narrations did not match up with those texts. There is potential for disharmony, or even contradiction, between different parts of the Qur’an. I have argued above that my approach, as well as that of scholars like Watt and Reynolds, provides a more harmonious reading of the Qur’an.

Radscheit, Matthias. Die Koranische Herausforderung: Die Ṭahaddī-Verse Im Rahmen Der Polemikpassagen Des Korans. Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1996.

I do not have access to, nor can I easily read, this work. Nickel (2011, 50) writes:

Matthias Radscheit [1996, 82-83], reflecting on the impression left by the Qurʾānic material related to tampering with scriptures, writes, “That it did not mean falsification of the fixed written Torah or Gospel shows itself – negatively – in that taḥrīf is never connected explicitly with these books, and – positively – by the verses which exhort the ahl al-kitāb to hold to what is in their scriptures.’

Böwering, Gerhard. “Chronology and the Qur’ān.” In Encyclopedia of the Qur’ān, edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 316-35. Leiden: Brill, 2001.

This is one of the sources cited by Nickel (2011, 13) and highlighted by Walid Saleh (2016b, 102), see discussion above.

To my reading, he seems to be giving the Muslim perspective on this issue:

Inasmuch as Muslims believe that the Qurʾān has been preserved unchanged through time in its pristine Arabic, it is superior to all other scriptures because of the faulty form in which these latter have been preserved by their respective communities. In particular, the revealed scripture given to Jesus, called the injīl (q.v.; see GOSPEL ) and also the scripture given to Moses, called the tawrāh (see TORAH ) have undergone alteration (taḥrīf, see CORRUPTION ) at the hands of their followers through such modification of the original texts as insertions, omissions or falsifications (see POLEMIC AND POLEMICAL LANGUAGE ). In Muslim eyes, the Qurʾān alone has remained unchanged over time… (emphasis added)

Denny, Frederick. “Corruption.” In Encyclopedia of the Qur’ān, edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 2001. Leiden: Brill.

This is one of the sources cited by Nickel (2011, 13) and highlighted by Walid Saleh (2016b, 102), see discussion above.

Denny writes:

…perverting scripture (see SCRIPTURE AND THE QURʾĀN ) so as to mislead and conceal its meanings. … The matter of distorting scripture is addressed in Medinan passages accusing Jews (see JEWS AND JUDAISM; MEDINA) of the practice, e.g. Q 4:46: “Some of those who are Jews shift (yuḥarrifūna) words from their proper places and say, ‘We hear and disobey,’ and ‘Hear as one who hears not,’ and ‘rāʿināʾ [an insulting corruption of an Arabic phrase, ‘rāʾinā,’ meaning “Please listen to us”], distorting with their tongues and slandering the religion.” The corruption of scripture is not a major or sustained topic in the Qurʾān although it became an important and abiding theological as well as textual controversy in later relations between Muslims and the People of the Book (q.v.; see also POLEMICS AND POLEMICAL LANGUAGE; THEOLOGY AND THE QURʾĀN).

It is not clear whether Denny envisages textual corruption (which he describes as part of the ‘later’ ‘controversy’) when he speaks of ‘corruption of scripture’. In the sentences before, quoted above, he speaks of ‘perverting…mislead[ing]…conceal[ing]…distorting’, and cites a passage that might seem to be about oral corruption.

Rubin, Uri. “Children of Israel.” In Encyclopedia of the Qur’ān, edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 2001. Leiden: Brill.

This is one of the sources cited by Nickel (2011, 13) and highlighted by Walid Saleh (2016b, 102), see discussion above.

He writes:

A major sin committed by the Children of Israel, one which signifies violation of God’s covenant, is the distortion (taḥrīf) of the word of God, i.e. the Torah ( Q 5:13; see CORRUPTION ). The same is said of the Jews as well ( Q 4:46; 5:41). The Qurʾān also mentions those of the People of the Book who conceal parts of the Book ( Q 6:91; see also Q 2:159, 174; 3:187, etc.). The Qurʾān not only recounts the sins of the Children of Israel but states that some of their own prophets, namely David (q.v.) and Jesus have already cursed them for their deeds ( Q 5:78).

It is not clear what kind of ‘distortion’ is envisaged. Similarly with the ‘distortion’ (taḥrīf) mentioned in his (2003) EQ entry ‘Jews and Judaism’. Regarding Q 2:79 he says ‘[i]t is probably implied here that the Jews sold the believers forged copies of their scriptures’, which would be position 2. The majority of his comments in the article concern concealing the truth and oral corruption.

Reference: Rubin, Uri. “Jews and Judaism.” In Encyclopedia of the Qurʾān, edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 21-34, 2003.

Newby, Gordon Darnell. “Forgery.” In Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 242-44, 2002.

This is one of the sources cited by Nickel (2011, 13) and highlighted by Walid Saleh (2016b, 102), see discussion above.

I discuss this work extensively in my previous blog post. It is not clear whether he holds to textual corruption.

Saeed, Abdullah. “The Charge of Distortion of Jewish and Christian Scriptures.” Muslim World 92, no. 3-4 (2002): 419-36.

Saeed (2002, 420) notes that ‘[t]here are a number of instances in the Qurʾān that appear to indicate that there was some “distortion” of parts of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, either of the meaning of the text or in some cases of some parts of the text itself.’ His ensuing comment on Q 2:59 suggests he may be thinking there of the word that is spoken, rather than necessarily the word that is written (though he may well mean that; he may be tying in Q 2:59 to ‘distortion…of the meaning of the text’). He does go on to note Q 2:79, seeing it as a reference ‘to some people (apparently a reference to certain Jewish scholars) writing something and then attributing it to God, but without specifying what that is’. This is perhaps position 2 or 3. Later on he will note al-Ṭabarī’s interpretation of Q 2:79 who wrote a book of their interpretations. In the article he notes the complexity of Muslim interpreter’s views on the ḥarrafa verses, and whether or not they entail textual corruption (and if so, of what kind).

On p. 429 he writes:

In no verse in the Qurʾān is there a denigrating remark about the scriptures of the Jews and the Christians. Instead, there is respect and reverence. Any disparaging remarks were about the People of the Book, individuals or groups, and their actions.

He (434) does note that:

[a]lthough the possibility of textual corruption of the Jewish and Christian scriptures in small sections (changing a word or a phrase but not wholesale or large scale deliberate falsification) existed, almost all interpreters whose views are explored herein seem to have seen the corruption as largely lying with interpretation…and concealing or obscuring…[e]ven if there is textual corruption associated with interpretation, the actual scriptures can still be relied upon and considered “Books of God.” For the Qurʾān, the concept of the “Book of God” was appropriately used to [sic] the scriptures of Jews and Christians even though these may not be from the Muslim point of view “exactly as they were” during the time of Moses or Jesus [he has earlier distinguished between the Qur’anic and Muslim perspective on this matter]… If the texts have remained more or less as they were in the seventh century CE, the reverence the Qurʾān has shown them at the time should be retained even today. Many interpreters of the Qurʾān, from Ṭabarī to Rāzī to Ibn Taymiyya and even Quṭb, appear to be inclined to share this view.

Technically speaking, he may concede a small degree of position 1 (the ‘possibility of…changing a word or a phrase but not wholesale or large scale deliberate falsification’), but not to a functional level whereby those previous scriptures cannot be trusted. It is not clear even here if this is his own interpretation of the Qur’an, or those of the interpreters (though if it is his own view, this would match what he says on p. 420). Either way, I hope the reader will understand why, in the context with the views of this article, I do not think Saeed holds to position 1 functionally. He (429) earlier noted that Jews and Christians are exhorted by the Qur’an to judge by the Torah and Gospel as they had them in the seventh century, which in turn have ‘remained more or less [the same] as they were in the seventh century CE’ until today (434).

We can perhaps draw in Abdullah Saeed’s (2011) more recent work. He (193) writes:

The Qurʾān shows utmost respect and reverence for what the Qurʾān calls “the Tawrat” (Torah) of the Jews, revealed to Moses, and the Injil (Gospel) of the Christians, revealed to Jesus. … The only denigrating remarks in the Qurʾān are about certain individuals or groups of People of the Book (Jews and Christians) and their actions. (Emphasis original)

The emphasis upon the misconduct of ‘individuals or groups‘ might suggest that Abdullah Saeed does not hold to corruption of the entire manuscript tradition.

Reference: Saeed, Abdullah. “How Muslims View the Scriptures of the People of the Book: Towards a Reassessment?” In Religion and ethics in a globalizing world, edited by Luca Anceschi, Joseph Anthony Camilleri, Ruwan Palapathwala and Andrew Wicking. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Accad, Martin. “Corruption and/or Misinterpretation of the Bible: The Story of the Islāmic Usage of Taḥrīf.” Theological Review XXIV, no. 2 (2003): 67-97.

Accad argues that the ḥarrafa verses are about the corruption of the meaning rather than the text (69), and cites Watt’s (1991, 6) position (see entry on Watt above) approvingly (70).

Schöller, Marco. “Opposition to Muḥammad.” In Encyclopedia of the Qurʾān, edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 576-80, 2003. Accessed online.

Interestingly, this is not one of the EQ entries cited by Nickel (2011) on p. 13 and highlighted by Walid Saleh (2016b, 102). Schöller’s position sounds closer to Nickel. He writes: ‘Inevitably, the Prophet is depicted as defeating the arguments of his opponents, who then take to cheating (q.v.) or will not argue on the accurate record of their revealed scriptures ( Q 2:75; see also 2:89-91, 101; see FORGERY ).’ (Emphasis added). This last phrase could be taken to mean they do not argue on the ‘accurate record of their revealed scriptures’, because they have corrupted that record. But more naturally it seems, to me at least, to suggest they have an ‘accurate record’ in their scriptures but will not base their positions on it. Q 2:75 can be interpreted in different ways, but Q 2:89-91 and Q 2:101 speak of the Jews rejecting the Qur’an even though it is ‘confirming what is with them’, and they in turn hide their scriptures behind their backs. It seems like Schöller is taking this as evidence that their scriptures are indeed an ‘accurate record’.

Graham, William A. “Scripture and the Qurʾān.” In Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 558-69, 2004. Accessed online.

I discuss this in detail in my previous blog post, where I concede positions 1, 4, 5, and 6.

Lowin, Shari. “Revision and Alteration.” In Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 448-51, 2004. Accessed online.

This is one of the sources cited by Nickel (2011, 13) and highlighted by Walid Saleh (2016b, 102), see discussion above.

It would seem that Lowin may well believe that the Qur’an alleges some kind of textual corruption of the previous scriptures:

Perhaps the most famous accusation of textual alteration and revision, however, concerns not the qurʾānic text but the Bible. This charge appears in the Qurʾān itself…the Jews and the Christians tampered with their texts by engaging in both taḥrīf and tabdīl (see Q 2:42, 59, 75-9; 3:71, 78; 4:46; 5:13, 41; 6:91; 7:162, among others…This claim explains why Muḥammad does not appear in either the Hebrew Bible or New Testament, despite the Muslim claim that his arrival and mission had originally been predicted there. Jewish and Christian alteration of the biblical text also solves the riddle of why, if all three scriptures derived from the same divine source, the qurʾānic versions of accounts often contradict those of the Bible. The Muslim charge of biblical alteration eventually coalesced into two forms…

There is some reason to wonder exactly what Lowin is claiming. Much of the article is about the beliefs of later Muslims, rather than the Qur’an itself. The end of this paragraph talks about a ‘Muslim claim that [Muhammad’s] arrival and mission had originally been predicted…’ and ‘[t]he Muslim charge of biblical alteration…’ Lowin may simply be communicating that the Muslim claim of textual alteration has a basis in the Qur’an, but as it is interpreted by Muslims. As I expressed in my previous blog post, this is the danger of reading too much into or out of comparatively brief encyclopaedia entries. But let us give the benefit of doubt to the position opposing mine, and concede that Lowin is stating that the Qur’an itself teaches ‘textual alteration and revision’ of the Bible. Given the large discrepancies between the Qur’an and the former scriptures, Lowin probably envisages positions 1, 4, 5 and 6.

Zebiri, Kate. “Polemic and Polemical Language.” In Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān. Qurʾānic Studies Online, 114-25: Brill, 2004.

This is one of the sources cited by Nickel (2011, 13) and highlighted by Walid Saleh (2016b, 102), see discussion above. Nickel (2011, 13) speaks of ‘the more carefully nuanced expressions of’ both Zebiri and Adang’s EQ entries (for the latter see below).

Zebiri says of Jews and Christians:

Their respective scriptures and faiths are at least implicitly affirmed (e.g. Q 5:44, 46-7; 10:94), but at times there seems to be an expectation that People of the Book should believe in the Qurʾān…Criticisms which are directed at both Jews and Christians, although not necessarily to the same degree, include distorting, forgetting, misinterpreting or suppressing parts of their scriptures (e.g. Q 2:75, 101; 5:15, 41; see REVISION AND ALTERATION )

A charge of ‘falsifying’ or ‘corrupting’, let alone a clear charge of textual corruption, is strikingly absent. She does later on refer to how ‘the main areas of criticism were scriptural integrity and the related accusation of suppressing predictions of Muḥammad and conveying false doctrine’, but under the section ‘Post-qurʾānic polemic’. She does speak of how the ‘qurʾānic assumption that God revealed the gospel (q.v.; injīl) to Jesus in the same way that he revealed the Qurʾān to Muḥammad, which posits an Aramaic gospel consisting purely of God’s own words.’ However, the implications of this (i.e. taḥrīf) may only have been drawn out in post-Qur’anic Muslim reflection, which is where Zebiri discusses this.

McAuliffe, Jane Dammen. “Introduction.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Qurʾān, 1-20. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

On pp. 3-4 she writes: ‘The qurʾānic abrogation of previous scriptures argues that differences between the Qurʾān and such earlier revelations are a consequence of deliberate or inadvertent corruption in the transmission of these prior texts.’ She goes on to mention ‘the corruption of earlier canonical texts’. This sounds like positions 1, 4, 5 and 6. 

Adang, Camilla. “Torah.” In Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe, 2006.

This is one of the sources cited by Nickel (2011, 13) and highlighted by Walid Saleh (2016b, 102), see discussion above. Nickel (2011, 13) speaks of ‘the more carefully nuanced expressions of’ both Zebiri and Adang’s EQ entries (for the latter see below). Interestingly, this is also one of the sources highlighted by Paul Williams, and discussed in length in my previous blog post. I concluded there that Adang seems to clearly hold some position, or combination of positions, within 1-3. It is not clear whether she holds to positions within 4-6.

Reynolds, Gabriel Said. “On the Qurʾanic Accusation of Scriptural Falsification (Taḥrīf) and Christian Anti-Jewish Polemic.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 130, no. 2 (2010): 189-202.

Reynolds (190) speaks of his ‘argument that the Qurʾan has a quite limited sense of what the act of scriptural falsification involves.’ Shortly before he had defined ‘scriptural falsification’ ‘as an overarching topical description for everything that the Arabic term taḥrīf might entail’.

In reflecting on the ‘eight different verbs or verb phrases’ with which the Qur’an ‘describes scriptural falsification’, he concludes that:

Evidently the Qurʾan is principally concerned with the misuse of scripture. In none of these examples does the Qurʾan insist that passages of the Bible have been rewritten or that books of the Bible have been destroyed and replaced by false scripture. Instead, the Qurʾan argues that revelation has been ignored, misread, forgotten, or hidden. The Qurʾan is certainly concerned with false scripture when it proclaims, “Woe to those who write revelation (al-kitāb) with their hands and then say, ‘This is from God’.” (Q 2:79). Yet in this passage the Qurʾan does not accuse Jews or Christians of changing the Bible. Instead, it argues against those who treat the words of humans as revelation, while neglecting the words of God.

Reynolds thus rules out position 1, and is either postulating position 2 or 3. He (193-194) will go on to argue that the ḥarrafa verb in the Qur’an does not entail textual corruption, and furthermore that all usages of the verb are ‘against the Jews and never against the Christians.’ (position 6 is therefore ruled out). Indeed, a major part of Reynold’s article (196-200) is that the Qur’an ‘seems to echo traditional themes of Christian anti-Jewish polemic’, specifically the idea that the Jews fail to read their scripture correctly (and find Jesus therein, or in this case Muhammad), rather than that they have textually corrupted their scripture.

Commenting on Q 5:47 he (195) claims that the Qur’an ‘assumes that the valid Christian revelation is still at hand in its day.’

David, S. Powers. “Review of Narratives of Tampering in the Earliest Commentaries on the Qurʾān, Gordon Nickel.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 133, no. 3 (2013): 559-62.

In Narratives of Tampering Gordon Nickel successfully deploys the techniques of word study and semantic analysis in an effort to disabuse scholars of the mistaken assumption that the doctrine of textual distortion is found already in the text of the Qurʾan. This reader has in consequence been largely disabused of this notion – albeit not entirely. In my view, greater attention should be paid to the exegeses of Q 2:79, 3:78, and 5:13, in which verses the plain meaning points to the manipulation of text. (562)

Powers thus still seems to hold to some degree of textual corruption. Exactly what form of textual corruption, however, is unclear; presumably at least position 1 or 2.

Griffith, Sidney H. The Bible in Arabic: The Scriptures of the “People of the Book” in the Language of Islam. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013.

We have discussed Sidney Griffith’s book in our previous post. I conceded that he does seem to affirm at least positions 1, 4, 5 and 6.

El-Badawi, Emran Iqbal. 2014. The Qurʾān and the Aramaic Gospel traditions. London & New York: Routledge.

The book as a whole discusses the Qurʾan’s ‘dogmatic re-articulation’ of the Aramaic Gospel traditions (206). Textual corruption is specifically alleged (76, 116, 129). From my recollection of the work, I believe he affirms at least positions 1, 4, 5 and 6.

Sirry, Mun’im A. Scriptural Polemics: The Qurʾān and Other Religions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Sirry (chap. 4) comments on how Muslim interpreters have understood verses of falsification.  On pp. 132-132 he perhaps gives his own view on what the Qurʾan says on this matter – it’s position has ‘ambiguity’ (131). He speaks of Jews and Christians having been ‘charged with having distorted, concealed, and corrupted their scriptures. Even on the question of taḥrīf, some passages (i.e. 2:75) suggest that the People of the Book commit an interpretive distortion, while others point to a written one (4:46; 5:15, 41).’ (131-132). If he thinks that Q 4:46, 5:14, and 41 ‘point to’ written corruption’, this is probably position 1 or 2. It may well be positions 4-5, though this is not clear. As for position 6, it depends whether all of the ‘People of the Book’ commit all of the various actions described by Sirry.

Nickel, Gordon. The Gentle Answer: To the Muslim Accusation of Falsification. Calgary: Bruton Gate, 2015.

He writesthe goal of this chapter is simply to show that the Qurʾan does not accuse the Bible of corruption’ (19-20). Concerning Q 2:79, one of the most plausible candidates for verses alleging textual corruption, he notes that no particular scritpure is specified, nor the location, nor those involved (74-75). He claims that when commentators allege textual corruption in Q 2:79 or Q 3:78, it is typically corruption of the Torah, by the Jews of Medina, concerning the description of Muhammad. He will note that some scholars suggest that al-Tabari understood Q 2:79 to be speaking of a different religious text (e.g. the Mishnah or Talmud) (position 3) (85-86).

I am not entirely clear how Nickel understands Q 2:79; whether he thinks this is only some of the Jews, in Medina, corrupting the description of Muhammad, or perhaps writing down other texts (e.g. the Mishnah), or something else entirely. Nickel clearly states, however, that he believes ‘the Qur’an does not accuse the Bible of corruption’ (19-20). Perhaps he believes in position 2 or 3, but seemingly not 1 or 6, and certainly not 4-5.

Saleh, Walid A. “The Hebrew Bible in Islam.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, edited by Stephen B. Chapman and Marvin A. Sweeney, 407-25. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016a.
———. “Narratives of Tampering in the Earliest Commentaries on the Qurʾān (Review).” Al-Masāq 28, no. 1 (2016b): 101-04.

I discuss Saleh’s work in some length in my previous blog post. I concluded that he seems to argue for positions 1, 2 and 6, and probably 4 and 5.

Boisliveau, Anne-Sylvie. “Qurʾānic Discourse on the Bible.” MIDÉO [Online] 33 (2018). Available at

Commenting on the ḥarrafa verses:

It would be tempting to try to determine which of the two interpretations of the notion of taḥrīf is ‘the correct one’. This is not what will be done in this article: centuries of study of the text have sustained both interpretations. In fact, when looking at the qurʾānic verses on which this whole debate usually focuses, no decisive argument in favor of any one of the two interpretations emerges. (Paragraph 6)

Even so, she does state that Q 2:75-79 does refer to ‘writing down [which] was perverted (Taḥrīf al-naṣṣ).’ (Paragraph 10). However she does immediately go on to say that ‘Verse 78 also mentions people ‘from them’ (from the Jews?) accused of being pagans and of mulling over it: it seems that these people are accused of taḥrīf maʿnawī or, at least, of ignorance of the true meaning of the scripture.’ She (paragraph 11) states that, though it is not certain, this is probably about some group of Jews (from ‘pagans amongst them) corrupting the Torah (position 1 or 2). She speaks of ‘a written version that is corrupted’, perhaps implying that other versions may not be corrupted (thus perhaps not positions 4 and 5?).

She goes on to discuss how Q 4:46 may be speaking of incorrect translation into Arabic. She claims that for rāʿinā it is ‘[m]ost plausibly’ a written corruption (position 1) that is then read out. We may speculate that this could indeed be before the time of Muhammad (4-5), though it would not entail a corruption of the Hebrew text, and so does not entail position 4-5 in the sense that we understand it.

In paragraph 14 she writes:

Therefore, the analysis of the four verses does not enable us to choose, with entire certainty, one of the two taḥrīf options, even though taḥrīf al-naṣṣ seems to engender more support and that a third type implying a written translation to Arabic appears.

It is not clear whether ‘taḥrīf al-naṣṣ seems to engender more support’ refers only to Q 2:75-79, or whether her detection here of taḥrīf al-naṣṣ (‘corruption of text’) leads her to find its presence in the Q 5:13 (where she said ‘corruption of interpretation’ was most plausible) and in Q 5:41 (where she considered either option plausible).

Despite her comments above, she (paragraph 16) notes that the tone of intentional malpractice (‘they twist their tongues’) would suggest ‘corruption of interpretation’, and she finishes the section by stating that ‘no clear decision can be made regarding whether the qurʾānic text really states that there is a textual alteration of the Bible or whether it actually means something else’.

In paragraph 18, when discussing baddala (to change), she may well be envisaging textual corruption when she speaks of ‘Jewish scriptural falsification’ that took place in the past (potentially positions 1, 4 and 5). I only say ‘may’ as we have repeatedly seen how authors can use words like ‘falsification’ to mean different things.

In much of the rest of her article, I struggle to understand whether she is presenting the Qur’an’s own perspective or how the Qur’an might be received by a listener, and by a listener who has become familiar with the previous scriptures. The reader who hears the Qur’an but is familiar with the previous scriptures will come to the conclusion that they have been falsified, because they do not match up with the Qur’an (paragraphs 37, 56, 58ff.) (position 1 or 2, potentially 4-6 also). But is Boisliveau here discussing how a text would be received, or is she attempting to discern the actual intention of the Qur’an, that the Qur’an is intentionally hinting at the corruption of the previous scriptures? Sometimes she sounds like she is discussing one, at others times the other; she may even, in post-modern fashion, find little distinction between the two.

Firestone, Reuven. “The Qurʾan and Judaism” in The Oxford Handbook of Qurʾanic Studies, edited by Mustafa Shah and Muhammad Abdel Haleem, 140-151. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020.

The Jews, however, broke their covenant (Q. 4.155; 5:13) – or, some Jews broke their covenant (Q. 13:25) and perverted their scripture either by distorting the text (Q. 5:13) or by twisting the meaning of the words (Q. 4:46). (146).

I presume that ‘distorting the text’ means some kind of textual corruption, as it is put in contrast to ‘twisting the meaning of the words’ (though it is possible that something like reading them out of order might be envisaged). The wording sounds more like position 1 than 2. It is not clear whether he holds to 4-6.

Whittingham, Martin. A history of Muslim views of the Bible: the first four centuries. Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter, 2020.

A surface reading of Qurʾanic verses on alteration would indicate that what is described is opposition to Muhammad by specific Jews, consisting of either concealing, or occasionally textually altering, the meaning of certain key passages from their scripture. These passages are often thought to concern Muhammad himself. Christians are not implicated in these accusations, even though the Qurʾan criticises their doctrines far more than it criticises Jewish beliefs’ (27).

…even the Qur’an, if carefully interpreted, levels charges only at specific groups, rather than a broad-ranging dismissal of the Biblical text, contrary to what many today assume. (170)

It sounds like Whittingham is open to position 1, though seemingly not 6. He seems to also reject positions 4 and 5.

Analysis of results

I hope the reader will forgive this incredibly lengthy, and at times tortuous, discussion. I hope I have highlighted the nuance that is needed when discussing ‘textual corruption’ and what this might or might not entail. I hope despite the complexity, that some overall insight has nonetheless been provided.

I have produced an Excel spreadsheet to try and make sense of the information above:

Allow me to share a table summarising the results:

Pos. 1Pos. 2Pos. 3Pos. 4Pos. 5Pos. 6

I remind the reader of what these positions are:

  1. The Torah manuscripts themselves have been corrupted.
  2. False copy(s) of scripture have been produced.
  3. False interpretations (e.g. Mishnah or Talmud) have been written down.
  4. The manuscript tradition has been corrupted over a wide area.
  5. This corruption took place before the time of Muhammad.
  6. The Gospel (and not just the Torah) has been textually corrupted in some way.

As I mention in the spreadsheet, there are a handful of occasions where there is more than one work listed for each scholar (Hirschfeld, Lazarus-Yafeh, Rubin and Saeed), but these roughly balance each other out (Hirschfeld and Lazarus-Yafeh are more pessimistic, Rubin and Saeed more optimistic). This has occurred because in this article I have considered more than one work from these scholars.

The category ‘Yes’ is where I believe an author does seem to be affirming a position in a given work. ‘Yes?’ is where they seem to be, but it’s not very clear. For ‘Maybe?’, it’s not very clear. ‘Blank’ includes those who clearly disavow such an idea, or who fail to affirm it, often even though they write in contexts where one might expect them to affirm the idea. I have of course often had to rely on my judgement, doing my best to be fair; I hope that my mistakes go in both directions.

On the basis of the above, I do disagree with Walid Saleh (2016b, 102) when he says that ‘Contrary to what [Gordon] Nickel suggests, the scholarly consensus is that the Qurʾān does indeed make the charge that Jewish and Christian scriptures have been textually corrupted’. For starters, the claim that the Christian scriptures have been textual corrupted is (slightly) weaker than that the Jewish scriptures have been corrupted. And more importantly, I see a large number of scholars on both sides of the issue, including very prominent scholars against Saleh’s position (Watt, Burton and Reynolds). There is far too much diversity to speak of a ‘consensus’, contra both Saleh and Paul Williams’ more tentative suggestion of ‘pretty much a consensus view’ (9:54).

We have mentioned that even Gabriel Said Reynolds (2010, 193) concedes that ‘[a]ccording to most Western scholarship, the Qurʾan is referring to textual alteration with the verb yuḥarrifūna‘. We noted how, at least in that article, he does not provide sufficient citations to demonstrate this point (though he may not have been intending to). Can we speak of ‘most’ or even a majority of Western scholarship holding that the Qur’an teaches the textual corruption of the previous scriptures?

Based on the data in the table above, I have in fact found a slight minority of scholars who clearly teach that the Torah manuscripts themselves have been corrupted (11 out of 37). A few more seem like they are saying this (3), and so one can add them to the mix (14 out of 37). This is not a majority, and it is virtually the same as ‘blank’ (15 out of 37), who either clearly deny such a position or who fail to affirm it, often even when commenting on such a topic.

A conservative approach would be to say that English language Western scholarship (NB: I include just a few non-English works) is divided on this topic, without being able to pin down precisely which side is in the majority. If one thinks I have been too hesitant to attribute position 1 to scholars, and they were to shift all of the ‘Maybe?’ to ‘Yes’ or ‘Yes?’, this would be 22 out of 37 – a comfortable, though hardly overwhelming, majority. I would be reluctant to describe even this as ‘most Western scholarship’ as does Reynolds.

Furthermore, this headline figure of 11, or 14, or 22, scholars out of 37 affirming position 1 is still not necessarily the same as the position advanced by Muslims today. Given that we have entire copies of the Torah and Gospel before the time of Muhammad, substantially the same as what we have in the present day, Muslims need to advocate widespread textual corruption centuries before the time of Muhammad (positions 4, 5 and 6). Though not dramatically so, the case for this is weaker still, and I refer the reader again to the table above.

Finally, I remind the Muslim reader that they should be cautious for appealing to scholars like Frants Buhl (see above), who effectively believe the charge of textual corruption was introduced because of opposition faced by Muhammad and Medina. He effectively posits a contradiction between the earlier appeals to the former scriptures and the later charge of textual corruption. The Muslim cannot accept this contradiction. A similar approach may be more subtly present in the approach of Nöldeke and Lazarus-Yafeh. By contrast, scholars such as Watt, Reynolds and Nickel provide a more harmonious interpretation of the text.

1 thought on “Do Western scholars think the Qur’an teaches the textual corruption of the previous scriptures? – Part 2

  1. Purple Rain

    The Bible through a Qur’ānic Filter: Scripture Falsification (Taḥrīf) in 8th -and 9th -Century Muslim Disputational Literature

    This dissertation considers the manner in which Muslims viewed the Bible in disputational literature of the 8th and 9th centuries CE. Muslim views on the Bible have been dichotomized in recent scholarship into the following categories: taḥrīf al-maʿnā (misinterpretation), which is characterized as the “early” view; and taḥrīf al-naṣṣ (textual corruption), which is characterized as the “later” view. This dissertation challenges this characterization of “early” Muslim views on the Bible through an examination of the following: (1) al-Qāsim b. Ibrāhīm’s (d. 860 CE) al-Radd ʿalā al-naṣārā (The Refutation of the Naṣārā), which is the earliest dialectical Muslim refutation of Christian doctrine and considered the prime exemplar of “early” Muslim views on the Bible; (2) Muslim disputational literature of the 8th and 9th centuries CE, including the works of Ibn al-Layth (d. ca. 819), ʿAlī al-Ṭabarī (d. ca. 860), al-Jāḥiẓ (d. 868f), and Ibn Qutayba (d. 889); and (3) Christians perceptions of Muslim views on the Bible, as demonstrated in the works ascribed, whether legitimately or not, to the Byzantine emperor Leo III (d. 741), Theodore Abū Qurrah (d. after 816), Timothy I (d. 823), Ḥabīb ibn Khidma Abū Rāʾiṭah (d. ca. 835), ʿAmmār al-Baṣrī (d. mid-9th cent.), ʿAbd al-Masīḥ b. Isḥāq al-Kindī (likely d. 9th cent.), and Abraham of Tiberias (ca. late 9th cent.). Through an examination of the aforementioned sources, this study demonstrates, in contrast to the majority of recent scholarship, that Muslims were advancing charges of the Bible’s textual corruption by the 9th, and likely as early as the 8th, century. As a result, ii the dichotomy used between a supposed early charge of taḥrīf al-maʿnā (misinterpretation) and a supposed later charge of taḥrīf al-naṣṣ (textual corruption), is demonstrated to be erroneous. In its place, this dissertation offers a potential framework for assessing Muslim views on the Bible based on the Qur’ān’s primacy as the arbiter of scriptural truth.


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