Islamic Tahrif Began With The Samaritans – OpEd


Religious charges of Tahrif, the corruption of other people’s sacred scriptures, did not begin with Islam; they began with Judaism and Christianity. Rabbi Elazar ben Yossi HaGelili who lived in the first half of the 2nd century C.E. said: “I said to the Cuthite scribes: You falsified the Torah and gained nothing from that. For you wrote “near the terebinths of Moreh near Shechem,” [“near Shechem” being an addition by the Cuthites to the Samaritan Torah]. (Sifre on Deuteronomy piska 56)

The Samaritan Pentateuch is the sacred scripture of the Samaritan community whose holy writings comprise solely the Torah, the Five Books Of Moses-Pentateuch, from the second century B.C.E. until today. The full text of the Samaritan Pentateuch, like the rabbinic Masoretic Text is known from medieval manuscripts dating to the ninth century C.E. onwards, and undoubtedly goes back to ancient pre Qur’an Jewish texts. 

 The rabbis describe the Samaritan Pentateuch as a falsification of the Jewish Torah (Jerusalem Talmud Sotah 7.3; Babylonian Talmud Sotah 33b; and Sanhedrin 90b) and its text was never quoted in rabbinic literature.

The Israelite Samaritans, as they call themselves, are closely related to the Jews, but they do not identify as Jews and therefore their Samaritan Pentateuch is not considered a Jewish text any more. 

Yet the Dead Sea Scrolls contain texts that are very similar to the Samaritan Pentateuch which demonstrates that this text type was also considered to be an authoritative Jewish text in the generations prior to the birth of Prophet Jesus. 

These predecessors of the Samaritan Pentateuch found at Qumran share all the major features with the Samaritan Pentateuch which was created probably in the second century B.C.E. by slightly rewriting one of these pre-Samaritan texts to reflect the importance of Mount Gerizim.

Organized Judaism from the Rabbinic period on-wards always considered the Masoretic Text as the only (kosher) text of the Bible, and thus by implication the “original text” of the Hebrew Bible. The rabbis describe the Samaritan Pentateuch as a falsification (Tahrif) of the Jewish Torah (Jerusalem Talmud Sotah 7.3; Babylonian Talmud Sotah 33b; and Sanhedrin 90b) and its text was never quoted in rabbinic literature.

Independently, Mani. who lived in Persia from 216-274 C.E. and was the founding prophet of the Manichaean religion, charged all the other then existing sacred scriptures with tahrif. 

The Manichaean version of Genesis is not just a derivative distortion of orthodox scriptures. It is close to some older traditions from earlier stages of the biblical narrative tradition which were subsequently dropped from their original settings by the final redactors of Genesis, and which are now found in texts like Jubilees and portions of 1 Enoch.

A principal critique Mani levels against some of his prophetic predecessors is that they failed to insure the accurate registration and preservation of their writings, and so these writings; which eventually evolve into the canonical scriptures associated with religions like Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity; were corrupted and falsified by later generations of disciples and followers.

 Ibn al- Nadīm reports that ‘Mānī disparaged the other prophets in his writings. He found fault with them and charged them with lies, and maintained that devils had taken possession of them and had spoken using their tongues.’ 

Christian polemicists have used tahrif claims since the time of Justin Martyr (c.100-165 C.E.), who was born of pagan parents. By 132 C.E. he had become a Christian and by the 140’s began charging Jews with the alteration of those portions of Jewish scripture which purportedly predicted the advent of Messiah Jesus and the Christian Church. 

Justin Martyr built on the New Testament writing of Paul (2 Corinthians 3:14), “But their (Jewish) minds were closed. Until this very day, the same veil remains over their reading of the Old Testament [and] has not lifted, for only in Christ is it done away with.” 

Similar accusations would appear in Islam under the label of tahrif (alteration) particularly with regard to falsification in both Jewish and Christian scriptures (Quran 3:78; 4:46; and 5:15).

All of these pre-Qur’an influential religious thinkers were themselves influenced by a non-religious pagan Greek philosopher named Aristotle (384–322 BC) who believed that truth had to be what is called today: a Zero Sum Game. 

Greek philosophy, with its requirement that truth must be unchanging and universal, influenced most teachers of sacred scripture during early Medieval times to believe that religion itself was a zero sum game; the more truth I find in your scripture the less truth there is in mine. 

Instead of understanding differing texts as complementary, polemicists made them contradictory and declared the other religion’s sacred text to be false.

If religion is to promote peace in our pluralistic world we must reject the zero sum game ideology and develop the pluralistic teachings that already exist within our own sacred scriptures, and especially in the Qur’an. 

After all “all prophets are brothers. They have the same father (God) but different mothers (mother tongues, motherlands and unique historical circumstances that account for all the differences in their scriptures). 

Religions differ because the circumstances of each nation receiving them differ. Where sacred Scriptures differ they do not nullify each other; they only cast additional light on each other.

The Qur’an states, in opposition to the Greek Zero Sum Game theory of truth, that: “If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (God’s plan is) to test you in what He has given you: so compete in all virtues as in a race. The goal of you all is to (please) Allah who will show you on judgment day) the truth of the matters in which you dispute.” (Qur’an 5:48)

So until judgement day humans here on earth are limited to the particular truth of there own specific religion. 

My own belief is based on an important Hadith of Prophet Muhammad. Abu Huraira relates, “The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah’s Apostle said (to the Muslims). “Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.”‘ 

Following Muhammad’s teaching I neither believe nor disbelieve the Qur’an. If I believed in the Qur’an, I would be a member of the Muslim ummah (community). But I cannot disbelieve in the Qur’an because I believe that Prophet Muhammad was indeed a non-Jewish, Abrahamic prophet; and I respect the Qur’an as a revelation to a kindred people, in a kindred language. 

In fact, the people, the language and the theology are closer to my own people, language and theology than that of any other religion on earth.

Unlike those in the past who played the zero sum game, I do not seek some verse in the Qur’an I can dispute or object to. Indeed, this is what the Qur’an itself teaches. “For every community We have appointed a whole system of worship which they are to observe. So do not let them draw you into disputes concerning this matter.” (22:67)

And the Qur’an clearly states: “Those who believe (Muslims), those who advocate Judaism, Christians, Sabeans, whoever truly believes in God and the Last Day, and does good righteous deeds, surely their reward is with their Lord, they will not fear, nor will they grieve.” (2:62)

Thank God, in 21th century America the majority of most religious groups now believe the teachings of the Qur’an cited above. A survey of over 35,000 Americans in 2008 found that most Americans agree with the statement: many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life. Among those affiliated with some religious tradition, seven-in-ten say many religions can lead to eternal life. 

This view is shared by a majority of adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including 82% of Jews, 79% of Catholics, 57% of evangelical Protestants and 56% of Muslims. (From the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2008, Pew Research Center.) 

Thus, in 21th century United States most Christians, Jews, and Muslims have rejected the zero sum mind set and believe in the Qur’an’s pluralism teachings. Only those who reject God by disbelief or by unrepentant evil activities will be the losers when Judgement Day comes. 

Although many, perhaps most theologians will learn that they might not be as smart as they thought they were. 

It is also very important to understand that ‘religious pluralism is the will of God’ is different from religious, moral or cultural relativism. Relativism teaches that all values and standards are subjective, and therefore there is no higher spiritual authority available for setting ethical standards or making moral judgments. 

Thus, issues of justice, truth or human rights are, like beauty, just in the eye of the beholder. Most people, especially those who believe that One God created all of us, refuse to believe that ethics and human rights are simply a matter of taste. Religious pluralism as the will of God is the opposite of cultural or philosophical relativism. 

The fundamental idea supporting religious pluralism is that religious people need to embrace humility in many areas of religion. All religions have always taught a traditional anti self – centered personal egoism type of humility. 

Religious pluralism also opposes a religious, philosophical, and self righteous intellectual egoism that promotes a tendency to turn our legitimate love for our own prophet and Divine revelation into universal truths that we fully understand and know how to apply. 

Religious pluralism teaches that finite humans, even the most intelligent and pious of them, can not fully understand everything the way the infinite One does. 

This is true, for every human being, even for God’s messengers themselves. When prophet Moses, “who God spoke with face to face, as a person speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11) asks to see God face to face, he is told, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see My face and live.” (33:20) 

Similarly, in the Qur’an prophet Jesus admits to God, “You know everything that is within myself, whereas I do not know what is within Yourself”. (7:116) And when prophet Jesus was asked, in private, by his disciples, “What will be the sign for your coming (back) and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) Jesus warns his disciples about upheavals and false Messiahs that will come. Then Jesus concluded by saying, “But about that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the son: only the Father”. (24:36) 

A similar statement was made by Prophet Muhammad when he was asked, “Tell me about the Hour”. He said: “The one questioned about it knows no better than the questioner.” (Muslim book 1 Hadith 1&4) 

God taught the general principle of epistemological humility through his Prophet who taught his followers “I am no novelty among the messengers. I do not know what will be done to me, or to you.” (Qur’an 46:9) 

In truth, the only universal truth should be the humility to admit: “Only God knows”

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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