Click to View


First Part.

Conceptions borrowed from Judaism?

As the ushering in of hitherto unknown religions conceptions is always marked by the introduction of new words for their expression, and as the Jews in Arabia,

page 31

even when able to speak Arabic, kept to the Rabbinical Hebrew names for their religions conceptions, so words which from their derivation are shown to be not Arabic but Hebrew, or better still Rabbinic, must be held to prove the Jewish origin of the conceptions expressed. The passage already quoted about the foreign language spoken by those who were accused of helping Muhammad in writing the Quran seems to point to the use among the Jews of a language other than Arabic. The object of this chapter is to enumerate the words which have passed from Rabbinical Hebrew into the Quran, and so into the Arabic language.

Tabut,1 Ark. The termination of ut is fairly certain evidence that the word is not of Arabic but of Rabbinical Hebrew origin;2 for this dialect of Hebrew has adopted in the place of other endings this termination, which is very common also in Chaldaic and Syriac and I venture to assert that no pure Arabic word ends in this way.3 Our word appears in two different passages with two different meanings: first, where the mother of Moses is told to put her son into an ark,4 the signification being here purely Hebrew; but from this it arose that the ark of the covenant5 was also called by this name. It is used thus especially6 in the sense of coming before the ark in prayer. In the second Sura7 we find it mentioned as a sign of the

page 32

rightful ruler that through him the ark of the covenant1 should return.2

Taurat, the Law. 3 This word like the Greek equivalent in the New Testament is used only for the Jewish revelation; and although Muhammad, having only oral tradition, was not able to distinguish so exactly, yet it is obvious that he comprehended the Pentateuch alone under this name;4 for among the Jewish prophets after the patriarchs he counts Moses alone as a lawgiver. For the most part the Law is mentioned in connection with the Gospel.5

Jannatu 'Adn, Paradise.6 The word "'Adn" is not

page 33

known in the Arabic language in the sense of pleasure or happiness, but this is the meaning which suits the word in this connection.1 In Hebrew this is the radical meaning; still this expression, viz., Garden of Eden, which occurs often in the Bible, is never to be explained out and out as Paradise; but rather Eden2 is there the proper name of a region which was inhabited by our first parents in their innocence, and the part in which they actually lived was a garden of trees. It is only natural that this earthly region of the golden age should by degrees have coins to be regarded as Paradise, in that the word itself3 no longer stands for the name of a place but is applied to a state of bliss;4 though the Jews still held to Eden as a locality also. It is clear from the translation "gardens of pleasure" that the Jews of that time not merely transferred the name Eden into Arabic, but carried over its supposed etymology as well. The more distinctively Christian name5 occurs seldom in the Quran, though it also is not quite

page 34

strange to later Judaism, as is shown by the story of the four who went alive to Paradise.1

Jahannam, Hell2 This word also, like its opposite Paradise, is of Jewish origin. According to its primary meaning and Biblical usage it too is the name of a place, though of a locality far less important than that which gave its name to Paradise. The vale of Hinnom was nothing more than a spot dedicated to idol worship and it is remarkable that the horror of idolatry led to the use of its name to designate hell. That this is the ordinary name for it in the Talmud needs no proof, and from it is derived the New Testament name Gehenna. Now, it might be asserted that Muhammad got this word front the Christians; but, even setting aside the argument that, as the name for Paradise is Jewish the probabilities are in favour of a Jewish origin for the word for hell also, the form of the word itself speaks for its derivation from Judaism. We lay no stress on the fact that the aspirate he, which is not expressed in the Greek, reappears in the Arabic, because this aspirate though not always indicated by grammarians in writing, appears to have been always sounded in speech. This holds good of other Greek words which have passed into Syriac.3 The letter mim which stands at the end of the Arabic (Jahannam), not being found in the Syriac word, proves the derivation from the

page 35

Hebrew word, Gehinnom). The word is found in many places in the Quran.1

Ahbar2 This word is found in several places in the Quran in the sense of teacher. Now the real Hebrew word3 habher, companion, has acquired in the Mishna a meaning similar to that of "parush;"4 only that the latter was the name of a sect and the former the name of a party within a sect. The word parush means, properly speaking, one separated, i.e., one who withdraws himself out of motives of piety, a Pharisee, as distinguished from one who grasps without scruple all the pleasures of this life, a Sadducee. Among those who were thus separated there grew up a difference from others not only in social customs, but especially in that they adopted a different doctrinal view, viz., a belief in oral tradition. They had also some very strict principles for the guidance of their lives. But the matter was no longer merely one of great carefulness in life and conduct, it became one of special learning and knowledge, which naturally could not be imparted in equal measure to all members of this sect. Hence these learned men, each of whom possessed some special knowledge, became greatly reverenced and in this way again a community was formed in contra-distinction to which the remaining people of the country were called the laity.5 The individual members of this community however were called habhaerim,6"fellows;" and thus, though the meaning 'teacher' is not, properly speaking, in the

page 36

word itself, yet the peculiar development of this community is the cause of the new meaning of the word.

The excessive veneration paid to these "fellows" by the Jews gives rise to Muhammad's reproof in the two passages last alluded to. He reproaches the Christians too in both places1 on account of the esteem in which they held the ruhban. This word ruhban is probably not derived from rahiba,2 to fear (thus god-fearing) but, like qissisun3 the word which accompanies it in Sura V. 85, is to be derived from the Syriac, which language maintained its preeminence among the Christians in those regions; thus ruhban is derived from the Syriac word rabhoye', and qissisun from the Syriac qishishoye.

So then ruhban does not really mean the ordinary monks, who are called daire' but the clergy; whereas qissis stands for the presbyter, the elder, who is called qashisho in Syriac.

Darasa4 to reach the deep meaning of the Scripture by exact and careful research. Such a diligent enquiry is mentioned in several passages.5 But this kind of interpretation, which is not content to accept the obvious and generally accepted meaning of a passage, but which seeks out remote allusions - this (though it may bring much of importance and value to light, if used with tact and knowledge of the limits of the profitable in such study)

page 37

is very apt to degenerate and to become a mere laying of stress on the unimportant, a searching for meanings where there are none, and for allusions which are purely accidental. And so the word acquired a secondary meaning, viz., to trifle, to invent a meaning and force it into a passage. Compare the standing expression1 current among many who seek2 the simple primary meaning. The word in this usage occurs in the Quran, particularly in the mouth of Muhammad's opponents; though until now this fact has not been recognised. The obviously misunderstood passage in Sura VI. 105 3 is thus explained, also that in VI. 157.4 The former may be thus translated "And when we variously explain our signs, they may say if they like Thy explanations are far fetched, we will expound it to people of understanding"; and the latter as follows: "Lest ye should say: the Scriptures were only sent down unto two peoples before us, but we turn away from their system of forced explanation"; i.e., they have left the Scriptures to us so overlaid and distorted that we cannot follow them. It is remarkable that this word, which is not a usual one in the Quran, appears in this sense only in the sixth Sura where it occurs twice; and this is evidence that just at the time of the composition of this Sura the word in its secondary meaning was used by some persons as a reproach to Muhammad. This observation furthermore might well serve to indicate the unity of this Sura.

Rabbani5 teacher. This Rabbinical word is probably

page 38

formed by the addition of the suffix an1 I (like nu) to the word "rab," thus, our lord or teacher. For though the termination "an'" is common in later Hebrew,2 yet the weaker word "rabbi" shows that people did not hesitate to append a suffix to the word rab, and then to treat the whole as a new word. However that may be, rabban is a word of itself now, and is only conferred as a title on the most distinguished teachers. The Rabbinical rule runs thus3 "Greater than rabbi is rabban." It appears as a title of honour in Suras III.73, V.48, 68. Rabbani is evidently a word of narrower meaning than the word ahbar explained above; and this explains why rabbani is put before abhar in the two passages last mentioned, where they both appear, and also the striking omission of our word in the other two places where ahhar occurs, and where Muhammad finds fault with the divine reverence paid to teachers, describing them with the more general word. The case is the same with qissis and ruhban. Both classes are mentioned with praise in Sura V.85, and with blame in Sura IX.31, 34, the latter class however only in connection with, abhar, in that ruhban (like ahbar) is of wider meaning: and further, on account of tho combination in one passage of two different classes among the Jews and Christians, viz., the ahbar and the ruhban, (cf. other similar combinations) no special differentiation was to be attempted.

Sabt4 day of rest, Saturday. This name continued to be applied to Saturday throughout the East by Christians as well as Muslims, though it had ceased to be a day of

page 39

rest.1 In one place2 Muhammad seems rather to protest against its being kept holy. The well-known Ben Ezra remarks on this in his commentary on Exodus xvi.13 where he says "In Arabic five days are named according to number, first day, second day, etc. But the sixth day is called the day of assembly4 for it is the holy day of the week; the Sabbath however is called by the Arabs sabt, because the Shin5 and the Samech (i.e., the Arabic an which is pronounced like the Hebrew Samech) interchange in their writings. They have taken the word from Israel."

Sakinat6 the Presence of God. In the development of Judaism, in order to guard against forming too human an idea of the Godhead, it was customary to attribute the speaking of God, when it is mentioned in the Scripture, to a personified word of God7, as it were embodying that emanation from the Deity which came in Christianity to a veritable Incarnation. In like manner also when in the Scriptures the remaining stationary, or the resting of God is mentioned, something sensible proceeding from Him is to be thought of. This is especially so in the case of God's dwelling in the Temple;8 and this emanation of the

page 40

Godhead to adopt the speech of the Gnostics, was called on this account the Shekinah, the resting. From this derivation Shekinah came to be the word for that side of Divine Providence which, as it were, dwells among men and exerts an unseen influence among them. In the original meaning, viz. that of the Presence in the Temple over the Ark of the Covenant between the Cherubim,1 the word is found in Sura II.249. In the sense of active interposition and visible effectual rendering of aid it occurs in Sura IX.26, 40 2 in the sense of supplying peace of mind and at the same time giving spiritual aid it is found in Sura XLVIII.4, 18, 26.3 It is remarkable that the word appears in three Suras only, (but several times in the two last mentioned,) and with a somewhat different meaning in each; and it seems here again, as we remarked above on the word darasa as though outside influence had been at work, i.e., that the use of this word by other people seems to have influenced Muhammad at the time of the composition of these Suras.

Taghut4 error. Though this mild word for idolatry is

page 41

not found in the Rabbinical Writings,1 still the Jews in Arabia seem to have used it to denote the worship of false gods, for it appears in the Quran2 in this sense.3

Furqan,4 deliverance,5 redemption. This is a very important word, and it is one which in my opinion has till now been quite misunderstood. In the primary meaning it occurs in tho 8th Sura: "O true believers! if ye fear God, He will grant you a deliverance6 and will expiate your sins, etc." Elpherar gives five different explanations to this verse, each as unsuitable as Wabi's translation and the passage seems to me truly classical for the primary meaning of the word. This meaning appears also in Sura VIII.42, where the day of the Victory of Badr is called the day of deliverance,7 and in Sura II.181 where this name is given to the month Ramadhan as the month of redemption and deliverance from sin. Muhammad entirely diverging from Jewish ideas, intended to establish his religion as that of the world in general; further he condemned the earlier times altogether calling them times of ignorance.8 He declared his creed to have been revealed through God's Apostles from the earliest times, and to have been only renewed and put into a clearer and

page 42

more convincing form by himself. Hence the condition of any one outside his belief must have seemed to him a sinful one, and the divine revelation granted to himself and his predecessors appeared to him in the light of deliverance from that sinful life which could only lead to punishment; and therefore he calls revelation itself in many places Furqan, as in many he calls it rahmat,1 mercy. In some passages he applies the term to the Quran,2 and in others to the Mosaic revelation.3

In this way all the passages fit in under the primary signification of the word, and there is no need to guess at a different meaning for each.

Ma'un,4 refuge. This word bears a very foreign impress, and is explained by the Arabic Commentators in a variety of ways. Golius following them, forces the most diverse meanings into it. It appears in Sura CVII.7, and seems to me to mean a refuge - "they refuse refuge," i.e., they give no shelter to those asking for help. Later on the word seems to have been regarded as derived from 'ana5 (certainly not from ma'ana to which Golius refers it), and thence it acquired the meaning of support alms.

Masani,6 repetition. There has been much perplexity about this word, mainly because it has been considered as an Arabic word and has not been traced back to its source. As by degrees other teaching viz., tradition,7 grew up by the side of that contained in Holy Writ, the whole law

page 43

was divided into two parts,1 the written teaching, that is the Bible, and the teaching by word of mouth or tradition. To occupy oneself with the former was called "to read;"2 to occupy oneself with the latter was called "to Say."3 In the Chaldaic Gemara the latter word means to speak after, to repeat the teacher's words after him. In like manner the word tinnah4 was need almost exclusively of choral music, in which the choir repeated verses after the precentor. Thus teaching by word of mouth was called mishnah,5 and so also the collection of oral teaching - the whole tradition; and afterwards when this was all written down the book received the same name. Now, however, an etymological error crept in and derived this word from shanah in its true Hebrew meaning "to repeat," and then applied it to the repetition of the written teaching.6 The error of this explanation is shown both in the use of the word and in its inflection.7 Still it seems to have been accepted by the Roman Jews, and thus it came about that in Justinian's Novels the Mishna is called secunda editio.8 The same thing happened in the case of the Arabian Jews, and so we get our word masani. Muhammad putting his book in the place of the whole Jewish teaching calls it not only Quran (miqra) but also masani.9

page 44

Malaku't,1 government. This word is used only of God's rule, in which connexion it invariably appears also in RabbinicaI writings.2 It occurs in several passages in the Quran.3 From this narrow use of the word, and from a false derivation from mala'k, or malak4 (a word which comes from quite a different root, and which in Arabic has only the meaning of a messenger of God) it came to be used for the realm of spirits.5

Those fourteen words, which are clearly derived from the later, or Rabbinical Hebrew, show what very important religious conceptions passed from Judaism into Islam, - namely, the idea of the Divine guidance, sakinat, malakut;6

page 45

of revelation, furqan, masani; of judgment after death, jannattu, 'adu and jahannam, besides others which will be brought forward as peculiar to Judaism.

JUDAISM AND ISLAM [Table of Contents]

Click to View