Saturday, May 26, 2012

الانجيل باللغة العربية

This got me thinking (via Ann Althouse). We have hundreds of copies of the New Testament in dozens of languages that predate Islam. The Qur'an and Hadith state pretty clearly that the Injil ("Gospel" but used to refer to the New Testament as a whole) that existed at the time of Muhammad was consonant with the Qur'an. A century or so later, when certain sundering differences between the two became apparent (for example, Jesus really was crucified), Muslims began claiming that Christians must have changed the Injil to make it incompatible with the Qur'an -- that is, they must have changed the New Testament after the Qur'an was written. Nevermind the fact that this was logistically impossible given how widespread Christianity was. And nevermind the hundreds of copies of the New Testament we have that predate the advent of Islam and upon which our Bibles are based. Today that's still the main argument you'll hear from Muslims against Christianity: Christians changed their Bible.

So the fact that we can prove -- historically prove -- that the New Testament was not changed after the Qur'an was written has not made an impression on Muslims of any generation. But what that link got me thinking about was an idea I had several years ago and that has popped into my head every now and then ever since. One of the dozens of languages that the New Testament was translated into in the pre-Islamic era was Arabic (obviously -- otherwise there wouldn't be the references to the Injil in the Qur'an and Hadith). And some of these translations have survived. In other words, among the hundreds of New Testaments that predate the Qur'an that we have access to today are some Arabic translations. I seem to recall being told that these translations were not very reliable, and they tend to be unreliable in just those places that would allow for Nestorianism. I have to say, I've never been able to generate much condemnatory feelings toward the Nestorian heresy, although I don't feel any temptation to actually subscribe to it. Nevertheless, I think it would be an interesting idea to publish a New Testament in Arabic based solely on these early Arabic versions. In particular, I think it would be interesting to publish it throughout the Muslim world and call it The Injil between the Hands of Muhammad or something similar. Have a brief introduction saying that it is based on these texts, which are located at the following libraries, and which are dated to whatever years before Muhammad by the following methods. Print it, distribute it, then run like hell and see what happens. Any takers?


natehardee said...

This is interesting in light of someone in Iran, recently, claiming that they can crumble Christianity with the gospel of Barnabas

Jim S. said...

That's the first link in the post.

Unknown said...

Now that you mention those arabic translations, maybe what Muhammad meant is that those were the injil that were altered. Either way though, his claim that Jesus was just another mortal prophet is not really that far fetched.

Jim S. said...

Muhammad isn't the one who said the Injil was altered, he said it was holy and perfect -- in fact the Qur'an and Hadith say that the Injil cannot be altered because it is the word of God. It is only later generations of Muslims who read the Injil and who recognized the contradictions between it and the Qur'an that said it must have been altered. But, again, they claim that it must have been altered after the Qur'an was written, since the Qur'an says the Injil is right in everything it says.

The early Arabic translations we have are not very good translations (allegedly -- I could be wrong about this) but they weren't altered in such a way to support Islamic doctrine. They still say that Jesus was crucified and killed, that he died for the sins of the world, that he was (and is) the son of God, God incarnate, etc. What I think they allow is Nestorianism which is a heresy that has to do with the relationship between Jesus' divine and human natures. But that's completely inconsistent with Islam which says that Jesus is not God, that he was never crucified, etc.

Finally, the problem with saying that Jesus was just another mortal prophet is difficult since it is the consensus of scholarship today that the historical Jesus did portray himself as God incarnate. Not by saying it directly (that would have gotten him killed on day one) but by doing things that could only be done by God in Judaism, such as forgiving sins or willingly receiving worship. I don't see how a man who portrayed himself as God incarnate could have been just another mortal prophet of God. If he was wrong then he wasn't a prophet at all, and if he was right, he was more than just a mortal prophet.