Do Western scholars think the Qur’an teaches the textual corruption of the previous scriptures? – part 2

New blog post:

Does what it says on the tin! It’s quite long – a casual reader may just want to skip to the conclusion and analysis.

Happy to discuss here or in the comments section on the article 🙂

Categories: Islam

11 replies

  1. “By contrast, scholars such as Watt, Reynolds and Nickel provide a more harmonious interpretation of the text.”

    Not really. As Sandra Keating writes, “…the term taḥrīf has been translated in different ways and often reflects the position of the scholar more than the intent of the text itself. These translations include ‘falsification,’ ‘misinterpretation,’ ‘alteration,’ or ‘corruption,’22 all of which are sometimes correct, but can also lead to a misunderstanding of the purpose of the teaching. Too much emphasis on parsing terms can cause one to lose sight of the larger trajectory of the text and the intention of its author.”

    She goes on to say, “The movement of reform put into motion by Muḥammad in the early seventh century did not grow out of a simple desire to create a community of like- minded ‘Believers,’ nor is it the remnant of confused and misunderstood Jewish or Christian teachings floating around the Arabian Peninsula. The Qurʾān and the earliest teachings of Muḥammad display a clear theology of revelation that, though not systematically presented, is concerned with establishing the credibility of the nascent community. Over time, it comes to be articulated in a way that emphasizes its supersessionist character. It is not, however, a type of supersessionism that desires to suppress or destroy monotheistic religions already in existence. In fact, it depends on them. Rather, this is a forward- looking supersessionism, intent on incorporating Muḥammad and his followers into the greater plan of salvation history. To do this, the Qurʾān insists on God’s justice, equality among all believers, and equitable access to revelation. Nevertheless, without a notion of taḥrīf, such a vision becomes nearly impossible to defend.”

    • Thank you so much for your comment 🙂

      You say ‘Not really’, but your comment doesn’t actually respond to the point made which is that Reynolds and Nickel do not posit contradiction in the text, whereas it looks like Buhl does. I’m not saying Buhl is the only alternative vision out there, but he does seem to pose more contradiction than Reynolds and Nickel – he thinks the Qur’an changes its argument, whereas Reynolds and Nickel do not posit this.

      As for the rest of the comment, it’s very interesting. I’m particularly grateful for you highlighting Keating’s work – as it’s pretty new (2020), I had not yet come across it.

      Interestingly, she actually (like Frants Buhl, and perhaps also Noldeke and Lazarus-Yafeh) seems to posit a development. Indeed she discusses this in great detail:

      ‘It is very clear from the earliest sources that Muhammad and his followers believed that he was a prophet like the prophets of the Jews and Christians, and he expected that his message would be recognized and accepted by those communities. When they did not welcome him as one of their own, however, an explanation was necessary. It is here that the notion of tahrif comes into play.’ (202-203)

      And on p. 208: ‘A growing awareness of discrepancies between Muslim beliefs and those of other monotheists is evident in the Qur’an, although not in a systematic way. … It may well be the case that early on Muhammad was quite convinced of the continuity between his message and that of Jews and Christians, but their refusal to recognize him on theological grounds eventually led to a breach. Thus, (and I believe this is the most likely scenario) he began to emphasize errors, first in their interpretation of their scriptures, and then even in the editions of the scriptures themselves.’

      And on p. 211: ‘Muhammad and his followers were convinced that he was receiving a new iteration of revelations previously given, yet paradoxical verses in the collection of these revelations seem to point to a lack of knowledge about the actual beliefs of those to whom God had sent His angels before. It is only over time that Muhammad began to recognize exactly what was different, and what the implications of those differences were.’

      This interesting work, and to be clear I reject its major argument (I think she is putting an inaccurate big picture over fine-grained analysis, rather than building the big picture out of the fine-grained analysis. Also I prefer a more synchronic approach) but its interesting nonetheless, can thankfully be freely accessed here on the publishers website –

      As I say in my article – Muslims should be cautious before utilising such arguments which posit such contradiction and/or evolution in the Qur’an

      • Zetter: This interesting work, and to be clear I reject its major argument…

        You’re some random guy on the internet. Your rejection of the majority scholarly position (which you are obviously doing for the sake of polemics) doesn’t matter.

      • Yes, I do have the intellectual ability to appreciate something as a thought-provoking work, which interacts with recent scholarship and which makes relevant points, even though I do disagree with its methodology and conclusions. I presume you are too? In which case I don’t see the problem.

        ‘You’re some random guy on the internet’ – ad hominem response that doesn’t engage with my articles.

        ‘Your rejection of the major scholarly position’ – completely dismissing the blog post where I actually try and figure out what the majority position is. I may well be wrong, but can you explain why? Can you highlight all the works that I’ve missed?

        ‘which you are obviously doing for the sake of polemics’ – I believe in the truth, and not bending facts to suit one’s worldview. I can be a Christian, but accept that the majority of scholarship disagrees with me on something. I do that on plenty of issues. But I’m just not convinced that’s the case here.

        Does the sheer fact I’m a Christian (which I make very clear on the homepage of my website) disqualify me? If so, should Muslim apologetics websites also close down?

      • Kmak we’ve had civilised discussions on this website, and I expressed my sincere thanks to you for highlighting Keating’s work. Let’s leave ad hominem attacks aside

      • Zetter: ‘You’re some random guy on the internet’ – ad hominem response that doesn’t engage with my articles.

        I respect scholarship. You don’t do scholarship, you manipulate scholarship for polemical purposes.

        When the majority of scholars, academic and traditional, interpret Tahrif as textual corruption (as noted by Saleh and Reynolds) but some random polemicist on the internet says otherwise, the a priori likelihood of the majority scholarly view is much, much higher.

      • I do note in my article that Saleh and Reynolds say that, but I note that Saleh just refers to Nickel’s footnote, and then I investigate what those scholars are actually saying. As for Reynolds, yeah he does say that, fair enough, but he cites only one source in favour, and then cites another source that makes the opposite point.

        I concede in my article that perhaps these guys are aware of some key works in the literature that I’m not aware of (but I’ve read a lot on this topic, and have paid close attention to works cited within those to see what the relevant works are). All I can talk about is the survey of the literature that I have done.

        Different scholars sometimes make different statements about what the majority position is. Scholars are not infallible.

        But anyway, even if it is a majority, the minority position can still be right. And I’ve indicated that some of those holding to the minority position are highly respected scholars.

        But anyway, we can agree to disagree, but let’s keep it civil. Perhaps instead of saying ‘You’re some random guy’, say ‘With all due respect, I can only imagine that Saleh and Reynolds, experienced scholars in the field, might be aware of works you haven’t come across…’ And instead of ‘you manipulate scholarship for polemical purposes’, perhaps let’s not use words like ‘manipulate’? As for ‘polemical purposes’, I assume you think Muslims shouldn’t be appealing to academic works in their apologetics?

      • Also can I check, at what level would my research become credible to you? Undergrad, masters, doctoral, or professor? I’m wondering what the level would be

      • Kmak: I respect scholarship. You don’t do scholarship, you manipulate scholarship for polemical purposes.

        She is very circumstantial, not very solid broof. Do you also respect when she says Quran misunderstand Christians and the trinity, the role of Jesus, Mary etc.? Page 204 and 205.

        Even Walid Saleh sais there are only 3 charges of falsification in the Quran and none of them are that jews changed the scriptures they had.

  2. “The Bible through a Qur’ānic Filter: Scripture Falsification (Taḥrīf) in 8th- and 9th-Century Muslim Disputational Literature – Ryan Schaffner

    Enjoy 🙂

    • Thanks Purple Rain 🙂

      I do agree that early on Muslims were alleging textual corruption, and Ryan makes clear that he thinks this goes back to the 8th century – I have no reason to disagree.

      However, does Schaffner state that the Qur’an itself says this? This is my immediate concern. I would not be at all surprised that towards the end of Muhammad’s ministry and/or immediately after his death, with the rapid Islamic conquests, it quickly became obvious to Muslims that there was a disjunction between their scriptures and the previous scriptures, and the charge of textual corruption would have arisen.

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