One of the traditional sources of opposition to Islam among both Christian Priests and Ministers, as well as Jewish Rabbis, is the Qur’an’s claim that the sacred scriptures of both Christians and Jews have been, to some unknown extent, corrupted either textually in writing, or at least verbally by erroneous interpretation.
As a Reform Rabbi who believes that Prophet Muhammad was an authentic prophet of the One God to the polytheists of the world; and a reforming prophet to the two monotheistic religions of Prophets Moses, David and Jesus; I offer an example of how to minimize and even harmonize this conflict.
Prophet Micah asserts that even in the peace time future of the Messianic Age, “All people will walk, each in the name of its God.” (Bible Micah 4:5) So worldwide peace and religious unity will not be the result of total conformity to one universal religion. It will result from the harmony of different monotheistic religions, each following its own view of what the one God demands of them and respecting other monotheistic religions’ views of what the One God demands of them.
As the Qur’an says: “For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If Allah had wanted He could have made you one people, but (He didn’t) that He might test you in what He gave you. Therefore, compete with one another to hasten to do virtuous deeds; for all return to Allah (for judgement), so He will let you know [about] that in which you differed.” (5:48)
However, Greek philosophy so greatly influenced early Christianity that the Jewish tribal pluralism of Prophet Micah was lost and replaced by a zero-sum game concept. In a zero-sum game any value or true spiritual insight I grant to another scripture somehow diminishes my own.
This view was the result of the specific influence of Aristotle, and Greek philosophy’s general emphasis on the logic of the excluded middle. Something is either true or it is false. There is no other option. All truths must be universal. If two propositions contradicted one another, one or both must be false. They cannot both be true.
The goal is not to modestly try to harmonize different religious perspectives of what the one and only God demands; but to self-righteously exaggerate religious differences, well beyond any reasonable understanding of the two sides.
This Greek influence even entered Jewish thinking during the centuries of Jews defending the Hebrew Bible against Christian trinitarian polemics. When the Qur’an revealed new perspectives of Biblical events, most Jews joined Christians in denying, disbelieving, and refusing to accommodate the Qur’an’s verses; although both Jews and Christians knew that rabbis and priests also offered a variety of different glosses of Biblical texts among themselves.
Yet 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 for 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 monotheistic scriptures as potentially enriching our understanding and appreciation of our own scripture.
“A faction of the people of the Scripture wish they could mislead you. But they do not mislead except themselves, and they do not perceive [it]. O People of the Scripture, why do you disbelieve in the verses of Allah while you witness? O People of the Scripture, why do you confuse truth with falsehood, and conceal the truth while you know [it]? (3:69-71)
Say, "O People of the Scripture, come to a word that is equitable between us and you - that we will not worship [anything] except Allah, nor associate anything with Him, nor take one another as lords instead of Allah ." But if they turn away, then say, "Bear witness that we are Muslims [submitting to only monotheism].” (3:64)
The Jews in Medina who did not worship anyone except Allah, and did not associate anything with Him, and did not take one another as lords instead of Allah; should have supported Prophet Muhammad as an authentic prophet of monotheism; but they did not because they too were locked into Aristotle’s zero sum game thinking.
So in accordance with the Qur’an’s spirit of religious pluralism, I offer an interpretation of how the Qur’an’s claim that the sacred scriptures of Judaism and Christianity have been, to some extent, changed either textually in writing, or at least verbally in erroneous interpretation, and yet still remain true for their believers, because monotheism is not a zero sum game.
I summarize most of the following from an article by Marc Zvi Brettler, Professor of Judaic Studies at Duke University, and Professor of Biblical Studies (Emeritus) at Brandeis University.
Jewish tradition says that a special psalm of David [in the Zabur] be recited for each festival. This custom goes back at least to late rabbinic times, as recorded in the post Talmudic Tractate Soferim, where Psalm 30 is associated with Chanukah. This psalm was chosen because the superscription, mentions the Chanukah (dedication) of the Jerusalem Temple (House of God).
Most Orthodox rabbis say Psalm 30’s superscription refers to the dedication of the First Temple, [Solomon’s Temple], though some scholars connect it to the dedication of the Second Temple. But the historical celebration of Chanukah occurred in 164 BCE., 350 years after the dedication of the Second Temple in 515 BCE. Thus, the psalm cannot be referring to Chanukah; the historic holiday.
But what if the superscription to Psalm 30 does not refer to the dedication of a new Temple (first or second); but literally refers to a different Chanukah-dedication.
The Prophet David problem [he died before Prophet Solomon built the first Temple] bothered medieval commentators, and they offered several solutions. One answer was that Prophet David received credit for the Temple in this psalm, as a reward for his strong desire to build the Temple.
Or as Bereshit Rabbati (Genesis 4:20) states; Prophet David wrote this psalm in honor of the Temple dedication by Prophet Solomon, because he was shown it fully built in a vision.
But this issue can also be solved by positing that Psalm 30’s superscription was originally מזמור לדוד, “a psalm of David,” just like the preceding Psalm 29 and the following Psalm 31. The intervening words, שיר חנכת הבית, “A dedication song of the House of God” were added into the middle of the superscription by a rabbinic scribe.
The Superscription was added because of a connection between the psalm and the historical Chanukah.. The psalm describes overcoming, at great odds, enemies—an apt description of the Maccabean experience and the exact situation that led up to Chanukah.
In addition, the psalm mentions chasidim in verse five.. The Jewish translation of this phrase is the “faithful.” Yet we know from both 1 and 2 Maccabees that in the second century BCE, a specific group developed, associated with the Maccabees, who called themselves Chasidim.
So, it is possible that someone after the Hasmonean victory in 164 BCE could have read Psalm 30 and thought: “Prophet David must have prophesied this about us Chasidim!” Psalm 30, for that very reason, may have been recited as part of the dedication ceremony on the first Chanukah in 164 BCE since it was seen as appropriate, or even prophetic, to what had happened.
Psalms, like other biblical books, went through some modifications—the original text of Prophet David’s Psalms was not rigidly preserved. Thus, Psalm 72:20 says: “Here end the prayers of David son of Jesse,” This suggests that an earlier collection of Psalms originally ended there.
Psalm 30 originally begun with the superscription, “a psalm of David,” with little or no association with the dedication of the First or Second Temple. Then, during the Maccabean revolt, the Maccabees and the “Chasidim” saw themselves described in this psalm, seeing the defeat of their enemies as a prophecy by Prophet David, of their success and possibly, during their successful re-dedication of the Temple in 164 BCE, they may even have recited this very psalm.
Somewhat later, someone wrote the words שיר חנכת הבית, “A song for the dedication of the House (of God)” in the margin of a copy of psalms, to point out that this was the song the Hasmoneans sang at the rededication in 164 BCE, and that all Jews should recite it each year during Chanukah, the commemoration of this event. Eventually, the words were placed between the words מזמור, “A psalm” and לדוד “of David,”.
Professor Brettler says, and I fully agree with him, this is the best explanation available, and if correct, suggests that the custom to say the Psalm 30 on Chanukah, still practiced today by many Jews, is exactly what this superscription—one of the latest traditions incorporated into the Hebrew Bible—is telling us to do.
This is also an insight that Jews can gain from the Qur’an because the Hebrew Bible focuses on David and Solomon as kings; and how we should learn to avoid some of their personal and political decisions. The Qur’an reminds Jews that David and Solomon were also prophets; and that we should also learn from their prophecies.
Finally, we are reminded that the Hebrew Bible is an anthology of dozens of different Prophetic books, written down over a thousand-year period. The Hebrew Bible is also three times larger [419,687 words] than the Greek Bible [138,162 words] and five times larger than the Arabic Qur’an [77,797 words].
Thus, it is not surprising that the Hebrew Bible has been modified by Rabbinic scholars and scribes more frequently than the other two scriptures. These rabbinic modifications are similar to Ahadith graded Sahih (sound) or Hasan (good), that vary by only a few words or phrases from other very similar and equally graded Hadith; and cannot be compared to the major trinitarian changes Paul introduced into the Gospels.
Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as the Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California. His web site is: www.rabbimaller.com. He blogs on the Times of Israel. Rabbi Maller has published 400+ articles in some two-dozen different Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. He is the author of two recent books: "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right for You? A 21st Century Kuzari".