Islamo-Biblica III: the Gospels-Injil, New Testament ...

Islamo-Biblica III: the Injil,  Εὐαγγέλιον, Gospel(s) or loosely, New Testament .

Stephen Lambden UCMerced.

In progress 1980s + 14-04-2017.

 The  Qur'anic Arabic  إنجيل  or  Injil,  Gospel(s) indicated the revealed text or book given by God to Jesus of Nazareth (d, c.  33 CE) the founder of Christianity or the complex of many subsequent religious groups which regard him as a sage, prophet or divine being of central salvific significance. The canonical or apocrypal Gospels or the `New Testament' are only sparingly referred to and infrequenly cited or paraphrased in the Qur'an. As commonly listed, there are twelve, mostly late Medinan direct references to the injil in six different Qur'anic surahs. This word Injil  is derived from the Greek Εὐαγγέλιον evangelion ( = gospel or `good news' ) which was most likely channelled into Arabic and the Qur'an through Middle Eastern Christians speaking and reading one or more of the following languages:

  • Ethiopic =  wangel
  • Syriac  ܐܘܢܓܠܝܘܢ    =         and ' or
  • Persian  =       andjil.

The word Gospel (Injil) occurs twelve times in the Qur'an. Adapted from Geoffrey Parrinder's list in his Jesus in the Qur'an, these references are as follows:

  • Q. 3:2 [3] : 'He sent down the Torah and the Gospel aforetime as guidance for the people.'
  • Q. 3:43 [48]: 'He will teach him the Book and the Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel.'
  • Q. 3:58 [65]: 'Why do ye dispute about Abraham, seeing that the Torah and the Gospel were not sent down till after his time?'
  • Q. 5:50 [46]: 'We gave (Jesus) the Gospel, containing guidance and light, confirming the Torah which was before it, and as guidance and admonition to those who show piety.'
  • Q. 5:51[47]: 'Let the people of the Gospel judge by what God hath sent down therein; if any do not judge by what God hath sent down, they are the reprobate.'
  • Q. 5:70 [66]: 'If they had established the Torah and the Gospel, and what has been sent down to them from their Lord, they would have eaten from above and from beneath their feet.'
  • Q. 5:72 [68]: '0 People of the Book, ye have nothing to stand upon until ye establish the Torah and the Gospel and what has been sent down to you from your Lord.'
  • Q. 5:109 [110]: 'I have taught thee the Book and the Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel.'
  • Q. 7:156 [157]: 'The Gospel in their possession, urging them to what is reputable, and restraining them from what is -disreputable making good things allowable for them and foul things forbidden, relieving them of their burden and the shackles which have been upon them.'
  • Q. 9: 111 [112] : 'A promise binding upon him in the Torah, the Gospel and the Qur'an.'
  • Q. 48:29: 'What they are compared to in the Gospel is a seed which puts forth its shoot.'
  • Q. 57:27: :We gave (Jesus) the Gospel.

Parrinder makes some important observations in this connection:

"In the Meccan sura 19 : 31 [30] comes the word attributed to Jesus: 'He hath bestowed on me the Book'. The above verses show that Jesus was given all the truths enshrined in the sacred books, the Torah and the Wisdom. Ibn Ishāq [= Muhammad ibn Isḥāq ibn Yasār, d. c. 150s/760s in his sirah or biography] said that 'in the Gospel is what Jesus brought in confirmation of Moses and the Torah he brought from God (The Life of Muhammad, 258) ... There is no suggestion in the Qur'an that the Gospel given to Jesus was different from the canonical Gospels held by Christians. This is a matter of importance, in view of later Muslim polemic. Indeed the Qur'an enjoins the 'people of the Gospel' to 'judge by what God hath sent down therein'. (5,51147) It speaks of ' the Gospel in their possession' (Q. 7 : I 56 [1 57]) and urges them to follow the messenger spoken of in it. The Qur'an itself is sent down to confirm the Book which was before it, and to act as a 'protector over it'. (Q. 5: 52 [48])..." (Parrinder, 1996: 144-5)

"The Injıl (‘Evangel’, Gospel[s]) of Jesus.
Twelve times used in the Qur’a¯n, the qur’a¯nic Arabic Injı¯l translates the Greek evangelion ‘good news’, ‘gospel’ (cf. the Ethiopic cognate wangeˇl, ‘Evangel’, Jeffery 1938: 71–2). It evidently signifies the original kerygma of Jesus as well as the Scripture of Christians at the time of the Prophet. Though now lost, an Arabic Injil probably existed around or just after the time of the Prophet (EI2 Indjil). Muhammad may have had some exposure to New Testament concepts through Waraqah b. Nawfal, the biblically learned cousin of his first wife, Khadijah bint al-Khuwaylid (d. c.619 CE) (Ibn Ishaq-Guillaume, 83). From Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. c.732) and Ibn Ishaq (d. 765) to the polymath Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (d. 1051) and the mystically inclined ‘Abd al-Hamıd al-Ghazzali (d. 1111) among many others, Muslim thinkers throughout the centuries have cited the New Testament in biblical or Islamo-biblical forms. Thousands of texts ascribed to Jesus or the Injı¯l exist in the Islamic sources. They often express Islamic perspectives
rather than anything Jesus might have uttered, but must still be viewed as important expressions of Islamic spirituality. Sayings of Jesus or sayings from the Injı¯l are especially significant in Islamic mysticism and Shı¯‘ı¯ gnosis (Asín Palacios 1919, 1926;Ayoub 1976; Khalidi 2001).
A one-time disciple of the unworldly ‘Umayyad preacher Abu  Sa‘id Hasan al-Basri (d. 728), the important early Iraqi preacher and moralist Abu  Yahya Malik b. Dinar (d. c.747) frequently cited Jewish sources and was greatly influenced by Christianity (Pellat EI2 VI:266–7). Known as the Rahib (monk-ascetic) of the Arabs, he is presented by Tor Andrae as the Muslim originator of the Islamo-biblical version of the following story of Jesus, the disciples and the dead dog: 

Jesus and his disciples walked past a dead dog. The disciples said: ‘How disgustingly he stinks!’ But Jesus said: ‘How white his teeth are!’ In this manner he exhorted them not to speak ill of anyone. (Isfahani, Hilya 2:283 trans. Andrae [1947] 1987:17)

Versions of this story are found in the writings of various Persian poets including the mathnawı¯ poem entitled Bustan (‘Orchard’) of Shaykh ‘Abu Abd Allah Sa‘dı of Shiraz (d. c.1292). A poetical version is also found in the Khamsah of Nizami   ‘Even pearls are dark before the whiteness of his [the dead dog’s] teeth!’ (trans. Alger, Poetry of the Orient: 70; Khalidi 2001: 127).
The deeply spiritual and intellectual mystic Ibn al-‘Arabı¯ (d. 1240) quite frequently cited the Injıl, though rarely, the canonical Bible. He claimed mystic intercourse with the celestial Jesus which evidently made concrete biblical consultation and citation unnecessary. Jesus, the fountainhead of the Injıl, converted him, taught him and ever watched over this deeply qur’anocentric mystic (Futuhat vol. III: 341; vol. II: 49; Addas 2000: 25–6).

Islamo-biblical pericopae relating to Jesus or the Injıl are found in the writings of many Shi`i sages, philosophers and theologians. Sadr al-Dın Shirazi
(d. 1640) attributes the following words to Jesus, which obviously say more about Mulla Sadra or his source than anything Jesus himself might have uttered:

Out of the community of Muhammad . . . are the ‘ulama¯’ (the learned), hukama’ (the wise, philosophers). In view of (their) [legal] comprehension (fiqh) they are even as prophets (anbiya’). They will be made content by God with but little of providence (al-rizq) and God
will be satisfied with them through a mere token of their action. They will assuredly enter Paradise through [their uttering] ‘There is no God but God’. (Sh-Kafi 3:100)

For many disciples of Ibn al-‘Arabı  in particular, both the Tawrat, Torah or Hebrew Bible and the Injıl (Gospel) anticipate the Qur’an. They become quintessentially proto-qur’a¯nic writings mystically registered in the Qur’an, just as the whole Qur’an was thought to have been registered in the basmalah, its first letter ‘b’ or its dot as the alphabetic locus of created Reality and the divine Word. ‘Abd al-Rah.man Jamıi (d. 1492), like other Sufis of the school of Ibn al-‘Arabı, including al-Jili [ Gilani]  (d. c.1428: al-Insan, 1:111–14), expressed this in the 28th section of his composite Arabic-Persian Naqd al-nusus. (The Deliverance of the Texts), which comments upon aspects of Ibn al-‘Arabı¯’s Naqsh al-fusus. (The Imprint of the
Bezels). Focusing upon the mysteries of the ‘bezel’ relative to ‘the peerless wisdom in the Muhammadan Word’, the Qur’an is equated with the Logos-like nafs (‘Self ’) and haqiqa (Reality) of Muhammad seen as a singular expression of the combination of the entirety of the divine books. He said,

‘God revealed one hundred and four books from heaven.’ Then he deposited the knowledge of these one hundred in these four; that is, the Tawrat, the Injıl, the Zabur and the Furqan ‘Criterion’ (= the Qur’an). Then he deposited the knowledge of these four in the Qur’an. He
then deposited the knowledge of the Qur’a n in the substance of its [114] surahs. Then he deposited the substance of its surahs into al-Fatiha ‘the opening Sura’. Whoso has a knowledge of the commentary (tafsir) on has a knowledge of the commentary upon all the revealed books of God. Whosoever recited it (al-Fatiha) it is as if he had recited the Tawrat, the Injıl, the Zabur and the Furqan. (Jami‘, Naqd: 275)

Jami's mystical conflation of all the revealed books in this way, so that the substance of the Bible as contained in the Tawrat, Zabur and Injıl is spiritually subsumed within the essence of the Qur’an, to some degree, rendered biblical citation and knowledge secondary or unnecessary. It also highlights the essential ‘oneness’ of Abrahamic, biblical-qur’anic sacred writ (Lambden 2002).

Aside from the Sufi mystical appropriation of the Injı¯l and other pre-Islamic scriptures, Shi`i hadith collections include texts that establish a close connection between pre-Islamic scripture and the authoritative Being of various (Twelver Shi`i) Imams as loci of Islamic authority and persons truly biblically aware. The Imams and especially the twelfth messianic Qa¯’im (‘Ariser’) or Mahdı  inherit the real pre-Islamic scripture and Abrahamic-Isra'ilialiyyat traditions as well as the secrets of future events either in oral, mystical ways or in the form of varieties of an inscribed, though ‘unwritten’, scroll known as the Jafr (lit. inscribed cowhide) (‘Ali, Kitab al-jafr; al-Bursi, Mashariq, 94; Mulla Sadra, Sh-Kafi 2: 85–9; Majlisi, Bihar2 1: 238f.; 47:270ff.). The future messianic Qa’im is expected to appear in possession of varieties of this Jafr, including divinatory dimensions of the ‘ilm al-huruf, the qabbalistic ‘science of letters’ or gematric prognostication. According to Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq (d. c.765) and others, there were two types
of Jafr: (1) al-jafr al-abyad. ‘the white jafr’ with pure recensions of the Suhuf of Abraham, the Tawrat of Moses, the Zabur of David and the Injıl of Jesus as well as the mushaf (Scroll) of Fatima ; and (2) al-jafr al-ahmar ‘the red jafr’, a bag containing the weaponry of the prophet Muhammad or of the messianic Qa’im as the bearer of the sword.

‘Abd al-Karım al-Jili’s consideration of the Injıl also includes the following interesting passage,

God sent down the Injil unto Jesus in the Syriac language and it is recited in seventeen languages. The beginning of the Injıl is ‘In the Name and the Father and the Mother and the Son’ like the beginning of the Qur’an, ‘In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate’. His community takes this utterance (al-kalam) according to its outer sense. They suppose that the Father and the Mother and the Son are tantamount to the Spirit, Mary and Jesus. Thus they say: ‘God is the third of three (Q. 5:73) and they do not realize that the intention of ‘the Father’ is the name Allah (God). And the ‘Mother’ is His Being, the Divine Essence which is expressive thereof through the substance of Reality. And in the ‘Son’ is the ‘Book’ which is indicative of absolute existence for he is the subsiduary  and outcome of the substance of His Being. Hence God, exalted be He, says, ‘and with Him is the Archetypal Book (umm al-kita¯b)’ (Q. 13:39b). (al-Jili al-Insan al-kamil, 1: 143–4)

The real Injıl is here painted in distinctly proto-qur’anic terms. The true Gospel must be expressive of Islamic perspectives and be in the language of Jesus, assumed to be Syriac-Aramaic as it is in several other medieval and some later Islamic sources. The original Injıl was thought to have been written in Hebrew or Syriac (Aramaic) being replaced by inadequate Greek Gospels, or texts in other languages. Such a viewpoint was expressed,
for example, by numerous medieval and later writers, including al-Jahiz (d. 869), ‘Abd al-Jabbar (d. 1025), and al-Shahrastaani (d. 1153). Established New Testament scholarship affirms that the four canonical Gospels were originally written in Greek though thevexistence of earlier Aramaic or Hebrew texts has been voiced since the first Christianvvcenturies and is today fundamental to those ‘criteria for authenticity’ surrounding the
scholarly quest for the genuine, Aramaic kerygma or logia of Jesus (Casey 1998, 2002; Peterson 1989). As indicated in the above passage, it was following and developing qur’a¯nic polemic that Muslim scholars contested Christian doctrines, including the Trinity, Incarnation, Sonship, Atonement, Crucifixion and Resurrection, etc. Existing New Testament texts were often viewed as not being proto-Islamic enough as well as textually corrupt, indirect representations of the original Injıl.

The always singular qur’anic Injıl (Gospel – not Gospels) may refer to a unified original Gospel. Such a text is believed by Muslims to have been revealed to Jesus though he is not known to have written or personally directed the writing of anything (cf. though Rev. 1:1f.). The Injıl may have something of a prototype in Tatian’s (d. 185 CE) Diatessaron, a conflation of the four gospels into a continuous narrative, written around the year 170 CE, and widely used in Syriac-speaking churches until the adoption of the four separate Gospels probably in the fifth century ce (see Peterson 2001). The Injıl of the Qur’an is assumed to be identical to the Gospel in the hands of the Prophet’s Christian contemporaries (Q. 5:47).

Statements are attributed to the Shi`i Imams which are interesting in the above connection. The first, sixth, seventh and eighth Shi`i Imams are resented in various Shi`i sources including the Ihtihaj (Religious Disputation) compilations of al-Tabarsı (d. c.1153) and Majlisi (Bihar2 vols 9–10) as having an impressive knowledge of the Bible and of the Jewish and Christian religions. In Ibn Banuwayh [Babuys]  al-Qummi’s (d. 901) Kitab al-Tawhid (‘Book of the Divine Unity’, c.950), there is an account of the conversion of the (now unknown) Christian Patriarch Bariha by the eighth Imam Musa al-Kazim (d. 799) and the Shi`i theologian Hisham b. al-Hakam (d. 796). The Imam is presented as having an unsurpassed knowledge of al-kitab ‘the Book’ (Bible, New Testament) and its ta’wı¯l ‘exegesis’. He is said to have recited the Injıl/Gospel in Christ-like fashion and explained to the astounded Bariha that ‘We [the Imams] have the [Abrahamic] books as a legacy from them. We recite them as they did, and pronounce them as they did’ (Tawhid, 275; trans. Thomas 1988: 54ff., 60). In a debate with the (Armenian) Patriarch (al-jathilıq), the Jewish Exilarch (ra’is al-jalut) and others (Ibn Babuya, Tawhid, 417), Imam ‘Alı al-Rida’ (d. 818) is said to have shown his expertise in all past sacred scriptures in their original languages (Hebrew, Persian, Greek, etc.). He exhibited a perfect knowledge of biblical prophecies fulfilled in Islam, for example, and stunned the Jewish Exilarch by reciting verses of the Torah and a conflation of Isaiah 21:7 with parts of Psalm 149 (Tawhıd, trans. Thomas, 1988: 73 n.53, 77). When asked by the
Christian Patriarch to explain how ‘the first Gospel’ had been lost, rediscovered and reached its present form, he replied that the Gospel was lost for a day, then rediscovered when John and Matthew communicated it. Claiming a greater knowledge of Gospel origins than the Patriarch, Imam al-Rida’ explained:

I know that when the first Gospel was lost the Christians met together with their experts and said to them: ‘Jesus, son of Mary, has been killed and we have lost the Gospel. You are the experts, so what can you do?’ Luke and Mark said to them: ‘The Gospel is in our hearts and we will produce it for you book by book, every one . . . we will recite it to you, each and every book, until we have brought it together for you completely.’ So Luke, Mark, John and Matthew sat down and wrote for you this Gospel after you had lost the first Gospel. But these four were disciples of the first disciples. (Ibn Ba¯buya¯, Tawhid, 425–6 trans. Thomas, 74 cf. Bihar2 10: 306f.)

In this text the Imam understands that the extant Gospels are not first-hand, eyewitness accounts and acknowledges the fourfold origins of the canonical Gospels. Though an alleged first Gospel (= the qur’a¯nic Injı¯l) had been lost, it was recovered by ‘disciples of disciples’. This Imam does not accuse Christians of tah. rı¯f ‘falsification’ and in fact quite frequently cites canonical Bible texts. Others, however, perhaps a majority of Muslims, have not been so favourably disposed."

The paragraphs above from the heading `The Injıl (‘Evangel’, Gospel[s]) of Jesus' 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. 140-144.

 

Select Bibliography

Hillier,H. Chad

2006 `Injil' in Oliver Leaman ed. The Qur'an: an Encyclopedia. London+ New York: Routledge, 2006, pp. 296-298,

Khalidi, T.

  • 2001, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and stories in Islamic literature, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2001.

Jeffery, Arthut

  • 1938. The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur'an, Baroda: Oriental Institute, 1939. Rep. Leiden: Brill,

Parrinder, Geoffrey,.

  • 1996. Jesus in the Qur'an, Oxford: OneWorld, 1996