Islamo-Biblica II : the Psalms, the Zabur ...


Islamo-Biblica II: the Psalms, the Zabur and related post-Qur'anic Islamic writings.

Stephen Lambden UCMerced,

1990s - In progress 2017.

"The Zabur (‘Psalter’, ‘Psalms’ ).

The term zabur designates the revealed book of 150 (or so) ‘Psalms’, attributed to David (alone) in Islamic literatures (Q. 4:161; 17:57; 21:105). It may reflect the Hebrew term mizmôr (‘Psalm’) or be a popular general designation for this Davidic part of scripture (Jeffery 1938: 148–9). The plural zubur means ‘scripture’ in general (Q. 26:196 etc.). Psalm 37:29a (cf. 37:9b, 11a) as a citation from the Zabur is quoted at Qur’a¯n 21:105b,
‘My righteous servants who shall inherit the earth’. This stands out as the only fairly literal biblical citation in the Qur’an. During the first Islamic centuries, versions of the Psalms were much cherished by Muslim philosophers, ascetics, Sufis and others. Zabur texts were early translated, even recreated into Arabic (Schippers, ‘Psalms’, E-Q 4:314–18), most notably perhaps by Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. 728 or later) who composed a still extant and variously entitled Kitab Zabur Dawud (Khoury 1972: 258f. and EI2 article). As with the Tawrat, Islamic literature contains large numbers of Zabur citations often with no identifiable relationship to the biblical Psalms. In his commentary on the Shi`i hadith compendia of Kulaynı  Sadra al-Dın Shırazi (d. 1640) cites the Zabur with the following introduction:

And as for the Zabur, God (exalted be He), said [therein], ‘O David! Say unto the learned [Rabbis] of the children of Israel and their monks: “Address such people as are God-fearing. And if you do not find among them the fear of God, then converse with the learned ones.
And if you do not find it with them, converse with the wise. The fear of God, knowledge and wisdom are three realities which exhibit a degree of oneness such that if but one of them is absent in any one of My creatures, I have desired his destruction.” ’ (Sh-Kafi 1992, vol. 3: 99–100)

Illustrative of a developed Islamic view of the Zabur are the following statements of ‘Abd al-Karım al-Jıli. For him, Zabur is a Syriac term meaning ‘book’. It was sent down for David, as the most sensitive of the people and one especially good and virtuous. A recluse, hardly appearing before his people, he only made the Zabur known to a select group. It mostly consisted of religious exhortations and praises of God. It is without a religious law (sharı¯‘a) save for a few specified verses (al-Insan, 1:121–4)."

The paragraphs above are an extract  (with occasional revision)  from the Lambden Chapter IX `Islam' in John F. A. Sawyer ed. The Blackwell Companion to the Bible and Culture,  Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2006. pp. 138-128