When dealing with the fact that a Bible passage in the Song of Songs or Shir haShirim 5:16 שיר השירים ה:טז in Hebrew where the word “Machamadim” מַחֲמַדִּים is clearly shown, Christian apologists like James White in his debate with Br. Zakir Hussain titled “Is Muhammed Prophesied in the Bible?” typically respond that it cannot refer to Prophet Muhammad (p) based on the following arguments:
- The context of the whole Song of Solomon is about human love or human sexual desire.
- The word is in adjective form and can be found in other places in the Bible.
- The word is in plural form.
White even boldly claims that this is the weakest argument the Muslims have on finding prophet Muhammad in the Bible.
Let us have a closer look and see if this argument is valid.
Human sexual desire or God’s beloved man?
To address his first argument, nowhere does Jewish and Christian tradition read this particular passage solely in its literal meaning of romantic sexual poetry between a man and a woman.
In Judaism the Song was taken not to be about sexual desire but God’s love for Israel.
The Rabbis at Yabneh accepted the Song into the canon — to believe Rabbi Aqiba, without much hesitation — because they read it both pseudepigraphically, as stemming from King Solomon himself, and allegorically, as a depiction of God’s love for Israel rather than man’s love of sexual partnership.
Christians also followed suit after Jewish exegetes began to read the Song allegorically, as having to do with God’s love for his people. Christian exegetes treat the love that it celebrates as an analogy for the love between God and the Church.
The surface or “literal” subject matter of the Song was the love that joins a bride and her betrothed, a sexual longing that the Song celebrates cheerfully. Understood in that way, however, the Song had little to say directly about the relation between God and “us”; and that relation of course defines the basic interest — the agenda — that Jews and Christians alike brought, and bring to their reading of the Scriptures. Hence the traditional resort to allegory in interpretation of the Song: the love that it celebrates is treated as a figure or analogy for the love between God and the people of God, the Church.
Therefore it is clear that the intellectual tradition in Judeo-christianity understood the context of Song of Songs to be not about human love or human sexual desire but rather as an allegory of the relationship between God and His special person or people.
Bearing in mind centuries of Judeo-Christian interpretation battle, why can’t Muslims be allowed their own understanding of the text? Why can’t Muslims read the Song of Songs as a befitting allegory of God’s love for someone really special, someone who will glorify and exalt God in a manner the like no one has ever seen before – which to Muslims can only refer to Prophet Muhammad (p), the last messenger of God who has proclaimed and spread the genuine truth about God: the One and Only all-powerful God, guarding against the false belief of polytheism of multiple gods or god in three persons.
Just an ordinary Hebrew adjective ?
It is obvious that James White has little or no familiarity in Hebrew or in any other Semitic language. Anyone with has proficiency in Semitic languages must recognize that etymologically, there is no so called adjective in Arabic or in Hebrew. In semitic thinking the quality of a noun is described by another noun — either concrete or abstract. The main idea of an expression is stated first and it is then qualified by what immediately follows. For example “A big house” is, in the Semitic parts of speech, “a house (the main idea), a big (one)” (qualifying it) – בַּיִת גָּדוֹל (bayiṯ gāḏôl) in Hebrew or بيت كبير (bayt kabîr) in Arabic.
In particular when we analyse the Song of Songs 5:16:
חִכֹּו֙ מַֽמְתַקִּ֔ים וְכֻלֹּ֖ו מַחֲמַדִּ֑ים זֶ֤ה דֹודִי֙ וְזֶ֣ה רֵעִ֔י בְּנֹ֖ות יְרוּשָׁלִָֽם
|חִכּוֹ֙||ḥikkōw||His mouth||Masc Noun|
|מַֽמְתַקִּ֔ים||mamṯaq-qîm,||a sweetness||Masc Noun|
|וְכֻלּ֖וֹ||waḵullōw||he wholly||Masc Noun|
|מַחֲמַדִּ֑ים||machamad-dîm;||a precious man||Masc Noun|
|דוֹדִי֙||ḏōwḏî||my beloved man||Masc Noun|
|וְזֶ֣ה||wazeh||and this||Masc Pronoun|
|רֵעִ֔י||rê‘î,||my friend||Masc Noun|
|בְּנ֖וֹת||banōwṯ||O daughers||Fem Noun|
|יְרוּשָׁלִָֽם||yarūšālim.||of Jerusalem||Proper Noun|
So it is clear from the passage above the word Machamad מַחֲמַדִּ֑ functions as a masculine noun not an adjective, and it refers to a person, a man. The word itself comes from the stem חמד (hamad) which occurs all over the Semitic spectrum but with slightly differing meanings; in Arabic it means praiseworthy but in Hebrew it means something precious or desirable.
Some interesting points to note:
- Most strikingly this particular form could not refer to a figure whom Christians refer to Jesus because he was mentioned in Isaiah as a man whom would not be desired לֹֽא נֶחְמְדֵֽהוּ loneḥmaḏê-hū (Isaiah 53:2).
- This passage also mentions “his mouth” which was full of sweetness. How can an “adjective” have a mouth? So this passage must be talking about a person, a man.
- The passage tells us that this maḥămad is beloved (a man); how can an adjective can be a beloved of anyone?
- The masculine noun takes the form of what in Hebrew is called Maqtal . Here hebrew root-verb חמד (hammed) is given with the pre-fix מ (mem) מחמד (mahmad) literally denoting a place or agent of preciousness. This correspond with Arabic construct اسم المشتق Ism al-Mushtaq, in which the word محمد Muhammad takes its form.
Far from being mere sounds having similarity or a wrong part of speech, Muslims have a strong case to relate the name of the prophet Muhammad to its Hebrew root-verb חמד (hammed) in Song of Songs 5:16 to a prophecy about an individual to come, a mystery man, not about an adjective whom God loves and desires.
The same way the word Islam relates its root-verb שלם (shalem), meaning to be whole or complete — hence the familiar words שלום, shalom, meaning peace, and Islam, meaning to be at peace or to be complete.
But the word Machamad-dîm is in the plural..
This can not refer to a single person Muhammad – or can it?
If we look at the passage and the overall structure in the Song of Songs, it consistently retains singular in meaning for the actors involved in the plot.
Jewish and Christian translation all give singular meaning:
His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely (Machamad). This is my beloved, this is my friend, daughters of Jerusalem. (New International Version)
His mouth is sweetness itself; he is desirable (Machamad) in every way. Such, O women of Jerusalem, is my lover, my friend. (New Living Translation)
His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely (Machamad). This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem. (King James Bible)
His mouth is most sweet; Yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem. (JPS 1917)
The style the Biblical Hebrew uses for this particular passage is called the ‘majestic plural’. It is a plural word referring honorifically to a single person or entity. Such plural forms are most commonly used when referring to the God but it can also be used when referring to a human.
Here is one beautiful example: in Genesis 24:9
וַיָּ֤שֶׂם הָעֶ֙בֶד֙ אֶת־יָדֹ֔ו תַּ֛חַת יֶ֥רֶךְ אַבְרָהָ֖ם אֲדֹנָ֑יו וַיִּשָּׁ֣בַֽע לֹ֔ו עַל־הַדָּבָ֖ר הַזֶּֽה
So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter. (NIV)
Here although all the translations render this passage to… “his master”… the Hebrew word used is in plural adonaw אֲדֹנָ֑יו which literally means “his masters” not in singular form אֲדֹנוֹ adonó which means “his master”
Having said that the word מַחֲמַדִּ֑ים Machamad-dîm must denote something not just an ordinary noun. It must refer something possessing godly and holy qualities. What is more interesting is out of 12 variations from the Hebrew root-verb חמד (hammed) taking this majestic plural form, there exists only one occurrence throughout the Bible. This boost the prophetic significance for the holy prophet Muhammad in this particular passage.
Also for those with familiarity with the rule of Tajweed will notice that Muslims pronounce the word Muhammad as Muḥammadin in the genitive case or Majrur when reciting the Qur’an and it sounds almost exactly when a rabbi recites מַחֲמַדִּ֑ים Machamaddîm in the original Hebrew.
Furthermore Song of Songs 5:10 says:
דּוֹדִי צַח וְאָדוֹם, דָּגוּל מֵרְבָבָה
10 ‘My beloved is white and ruddy, pre-eminent above ten thousand.’
This is a very strong case to be a prophecy of Prophet Muhammad as he conquered Mecca. It is a well known historically documented fact that in the year 630 CE Muhammad entered Mecca as the leader of an army of 10,000 “ten thousand men”.
This verse and the preceding verse (v. 11)
11 His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are curled, and black as a raven.
This amazingly also matches Prophet Muhammad’s physical description as found in hadith sources (light skin and black and wavy hair).
Then the Song of Songs verse 5:15 compares this prophetic mystery man to the land of “Lebanon” which is the land of the Arabs.
שׁוֹקָיו עַמּוּדֵי שֵׁשׁ, מְיֻסָּדִים עַל-אַדְנֵי-פָז; מַרְאֵהוּ, כַּלְּבָנוֹן–בָּחוּר, כָּאֲרָזִים.
15 His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold; his aspect is like Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.
This undeniably implies that the mystery man would be an from Arab lineage.
Instead of being the weakest evidence, the Song of Songs 5:16 gives very strong evidence for the prophecy of prophet Muhammad (p) in the Bible.
What more proof can we ask for? We have his very name mentioned letter by letter and it is referred to in such a special unique form.
So the Muslim translation of Song of Songs 5:16 should rendered like the following:
His mouth is full of sweetness; he is Muhammad in every way. Such, O women of Jerusalem, he is my beloved, my friend.
الَّذِينَ آتَيْنَاهُمُ الْكِتَابَ يَعْرِفُونَهُ كَمَا يَعْرِفُونَ أَبْنَاءَهُمْ ۖ وَإِنَّ فَرِيقًا مِّنْهُمْ لَيَكْتُمُونَ الْحَقَّ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ
Those to whom We gave the Scripture know him (Muhammad) as they know their own sons. But indeed, a party of them conceal the truth while they know [it]. (Q 6:20)