Ramadan Says Text Variations Are Not Tahrif Fakes – OpEd


A profound Hadith declares that the month of Ramadan was when the three Abrahamic Religions began to receive their Books of Revelation. This Hadith, cited by ibn Kathir in elucidating Qur’an 2:185; states that Ramadan is a very special month because this one month in the Islamic lunar calendar was the same month when four of God’s books of revelations were sent down to four special Prophets: Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. 

Ibn Kathir states: Imam Ahmad reported Wathilah bin Al-Asqa` said that Allah’s Messenger said: “The Suhuf (Pages) of Ibrahim were revealed during the first night of Ramadan. The Torah was revealed during the sixth night of Ramadan. The Injil was revealed during the thirteenth night of Ramadan and Allah revealed the Qur’an on the twenty-fourth night of Ramadan.” (Ahmad 4:107 and Musnad 177025). 

So Ramadan’s revelation roots should stimulate Imams, Rabbis, Priests and Ministers to include in their sermons during Ramadan some positive thoughts that offer insight into each other’s Sacred Scriptures.

If one believes that there is only one God who is revealed by many different inspired prophets, then we should be able to learn more about God’s will by gaining insights into our own unique revelation, from other revelations of that one God. Since all monotheistic scriptures come from the one and only God, we should view other scriptures as potentially enriching our understanding and appreciation of our own scripture.

“And before it (the Qur’an) was the (Torah) scripture of Moses to lead and as a mercy. And this (Qur’an) is a confirming Book in an Arabic tongue to warn those who have wronged and as good tidings to the doers of good.” (Qur’an 46:12)

Although the Qur’an states: “Do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, but say, “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.” (29:46) 

In spite of this anti-zero sum philosophy most Muslim Polemicists argued that Tahrif meant not only did Jews interpret the Hebrew Bible wrongly but that they actually changed the written text of the Hebrew Bible.

One of the most respected scholars of Islam, Camilla Adang, states: “The Qurʾān more than once accuses the Israelites, the Jews, and the People of the Book in general, of having deliberately changed the word of God as revealed in the Torah and of passing off as God’s revelation something they themselves wrote (Q 2:75-9; 4:46; 5:13). 

They are charged with confounding the truth with falsehood (Q 2:42; 3:71); concealing the truth (Q 3:187), hiding part of the book (Q 6:91), or twisting their tongues when reciting the book (Q 3:78). In some verses we find a combination of allegations (Q 2:42; 3:71; 4:46). 

What may be at the root of these allegations is that the Jews denied that (Prophet) Muhammad  was mentioned in their scripture. Since the Qurʾān does not always explicitly state how, when, and by whom this misrepresentation (known as taḥrīf ) was effected, some authors ascribe a major role to Ezra, and different interpretations of the relevant verses soon arose. According to one, the Jews did not corrupt the text of their scripture, but merely misrepresented its contents. 

The other view, which developed somewhat later and seems to be held by a majority of Muslims, asserts that the Israelites and later the Jews changed the written text of the Torah, adding to and deleting from it as they pleased. Its most vocal and influential representative was Ibn Ḥazm of Cordoba (d. 456/1064)

Professor Emanuel Tov, the Magnes Professor of Bible (emeritus) at the Hebrew University points out an example of text varieties from a “poem towards the end of Deuteronomy (32:1–43), also known as the Song of Moses, contains a passage (Deut 32:8) which describes the early days of the world, when God Elyon, “Most High,” fixed (or divided up) the boundaries of the world’s peoples in accordance with the number (12) of the sons of Israel”. (Deuteronomy 32:8) 

When the Most High apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the (12) sons of Israel. The final word (Israel) has several differences variants:

According to the Masoretic version, the Most High divides the peoples of the world specifically into the number of the sons of Israel, ostensibly a reference to the 70 descendants of Jacob that came to Egypt according to Deuteronomy 10:22 (as well as Genesis 46:27 and Exodus 1:5 in MT). 

This is a strange claim: what is so significant about this number? If anything, as noted above, the symbolism goes in the opposite direction: the number (70) of Jacob’s descendants represents the (70 different) peoples of the world.

In contrast, the reading in 4Qumran Deuteronomy and the Greek translation makes perfect sense: “The Most High divided all the peoples of the world between the divine beings, with each people possessing their own deity. Indeed, the next verse continues this point nicely: Deuteronomy  32:9 “For YHWH’s portion is His people; Jacob, God’s own allotment.” 

Or as Prophet Micah 4:5 states: “All the (other) peoples walk each in the name of its god; and we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever.”

The Masoretic Text’s “sons of Israel” reflects a conscious public intervention in the text by a scribe uncomfortable with the seemingly polytheistic image of divine beings so that scribe de-mythologized the original description by replacing the word “god” with “Israel.”

I think that this imagery is not meant literally to be an assembly of divine beings (polytheism)  presided over by a supreme god “(the Most High)” as is familiar from Ugaritic poetry. It is a reference to the obvious truth that other peoples do have other gods (and religions) as also appears in Psalm 82 and 1 Kings 22:19. As Prophet Micah 4:5 states: “All the (other) peoples walk each in the name of its god; and we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever.” 

The Septuagint Greek translation solves the issue by using Messengers of God as the prophets of the one and only God. Prophet Abraham, the Hebrew (Genesis 14:13) was the first, and only prophet, to successfully establish, through the descendants of his two sons, three ongoing monotheistic religions that have lasted into the 21st century: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

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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