The Bible, the Qur'ān and the Question of Taḥrīf ("falsification") and Tabdīl ("alteration").




The Bible, the Qur'ān and the Question of Taḥrīf ("falsification") and Tabdīl ("alteration").

Stephen Lambden UC Merced1980s -Under revision and correction:

LAST UPDATED  08-12-2017


Select Qur'an Texts:

Belief in the taḥrīf  ("falsification")  of the Bible became widespread in the post‑qur’ānic Muslim world. It outlawed or inhibited Muslim Bible study and quotation. The following qur’ānic verses most centrally bear upon the charge of the  taḥrīf  (falsification) of  pre‑Islamic scripture :

Four qur’ānic verses and a few supplementary texts refer to a Jewish falsification or  alteration (ḥarrafū)   of the text and / or meaning of the words of the Torah (Q. 2:75b; 4:46a; 5:13a; 5:41b). It is implied that Jews deliberately altered, corrupted, misread or somehow perverted scripture by subjecting texts to  taḥrīf   (`falsification’, Q. 4:46 5:13;  2:75; etc) and/ or tabdīl   ("alteration", Q. 4:48; 5:16ff). Having analysed  the relevant verses Montgomery Watt, Mahmud Ayoub and others have convincingly argued that the qur’ānic use of the imperfect  active form yuḥarrifūna  (`falsification’ / `corruption’) does not support the post‑qur’anic theory of the  corruption of the  whole Bible (Montgomery Watt, 1978:24; Ayoub 1986:3).

To some degree following earlier religious accusations of scriptural misreading and corruption voiced by Jews against other Jewish factions (including Samaritans and Christians) and Christians against Jews and others, Muslims also came to accuse Jews and Christians of championing an outdated or "false" scripture. This was to some extent born out of their early difficulty in debate with Abrahamic ahl al‑kitāb. e.g. proving the prophethood of Muhammad from the Bible. For many centuries Sunnī Muslims and a good many 19th century and earlier Shī`ī Muslims, upheld the dogma of biblical taḥrīf  on the basis of qur’ānic verses and a critical examination of biblical texts. Details cannot be gone into here save for brief mention of a few vehement Muslim upholders of the textual corruption of the Bible and of a few Muslims who rejected any thoroughgoing doctrine of taḥrīf.  .

`Alī ibn Aḥmad Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456 /1064)

The  prolific Andalusian theologian, jurist and ultimately Ẓāhirī (literalist) writer, `Alī ibn Aḥmad Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456 /1064) was perhaps the most virulent anti‑Bible Muslim thinker. He authored his anti‑biblical encyclopaedia, the Fiṣāl fī’l‑milāl... (Differentiation of the Religious  Communities) and several other works with a view to exposing the absurdity and falsity of Jewish  and Christian scripture and tradition. Ibn Ḥazm spelled out some of the many "errors" and "distortians" he felt underlined the to him obviously non‑revealed nature of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Gospels / NT (Palacious, 1927; Arnaldez, EI2 III:795; Chejne, 1982; Pulcini, 1998, Adang, 1996:237‑248.

On similar though even more focussed lines is Ibn Hazm's Iẓḥār tabdīl al-yahūd wa’l-nasārā  (Exposition on  the Alternation [of the Torah and Gospel] by the Jews and the Christians). According to Pulcini, Ibn Ḥazm’s numerous Arabic biblical quotations (which sometimes differ significantly from the Masoretic text and the Greek LXX)  are derived from a complete Christian produced Arabic Bible fundamentally based upon a Latin Vorlage  (source document) (Pulcini, 185).

Qajar Persia

In the 19th century Muslim world a recrudescence of polemical, anti‑biblical writing was precipitated in response to evangelical orientalism in the form of anti‑Islamic Christian missionary propaganda. Especially notable in this respect was the widely distributed Mīzān al‑ḥaqq   ("The Balance of Truth";  Armenian, 1831; 1st Persian ed. Shushy 1835; 2nd ed., Calcutta, 1839; Urdu, 1840; Turkish, 1862; Arabic, 1865)  of the German Protestant missionary  Carl Gottleib Pfander (1803‑65).  A notable response to his polemic focused upon the issue of biblical taḥrīf    was publicly argued in Agra (India)  in 1854 CE  and subsequently written down by the learned, universally respected Indian Shī`ī Muslim writer Raḥmat‑Allāh ibn Khalīl al‑`Uthmānī al‑Kairānawī [al‑Hindī] (d. Mecca, 1308/1891). He  sought to underline the magnitude of biblical taḥrīf   through his widely circulated  Iẓhār al‑ḥaqq  ("The Appearance of the Truth", Ar. 2 vols. Istanbul 1284/1867; Turkish 1876‑7; Eng. tr. 4 vols.1410/1989) (Schirrmacher, 1999:270ff).  His detailed critique of biblical texts  took some account of the "folly" of the ancient and pre‑modern ideas about the biblical text (Powell, 1976:53).  It had a very wide sphere of influence (Powell, 1993:295‑6) being known and responded to in the Shī`ī world. It was very probably known to  AB* as evident in certain of his statements about the biblical text and "higher criticism".2

Like Sayyid Aḥmad `Alawī and others during the Safavid period,  Shī`ī Muslims of nineteenth century Iran  came to respond to the missionary endeavours  and the translation activity of   various western missionaries. Among them the English  evangelical Henry Martyn (d.1812)  who spent eleven months in Shīrāz and Bushire (1811‑1812) a few years before the Bāb (who was 25 + years old) in these two cities from 1819‑‑1844 (+ esp. 1845‑6). Henry Martyn did much to prompt Persian mullas and mujtahids to adopt a Shī`ī,  anti‑Christian stance. Many came to condemn Christian missionary activity and some pointed out the taḥrīf   limitations and "corruption" of the Bible. Among these Shī`ī apologists was Mullā Muhammad Ridā’ Hamadānī [Tabrīzī] (d. 1830s??). In his Miftāḥ al‑nubuwwah   (The Keys of Prophethood) he raised taḥrīf   issues in great detail in the course of responding to the evangelical tracts of Henry Martyn (Lee 1824: 161‑450; QU:129‑30; Wolff: MJ3:156 No.1). Even the Oxford Semitic scholar Samuel Lee (d.1852) was moved to write a defense of this Shī`ī charge of biblical taḥrīf   ("falsification") in his Controversial Tracts  (Lee, CT:451‑584).

 Muslim accusations centering upon allegations of biblical   taḥrīf    to some extent made it irrelevant, unnecessary, even foolish for Muslims to become learned about and cite the Bible. Yet, when assembling prophecies anticipating the truth of Muhammad and Islam this was often viewed as a necessary task. Apart, however,  from those entering Islam from an Abrahamic religious background, relatively few Muslims acquired a detailed knowledge of the Bible. Many, if not most, remained ignorant of its contents. Muslim commentaries upon canonical biblical books were, until very recent times, unknown. The Mohomedan  Commentary on the Holy Bible  (2 pts., 1862, 65) by the Indo‑Muslim "modernist"  Sayyid Aḥmad Khan (d.1898) remains more or less unique (Rippin, 1990).

 For Muslims the miraculous, inimitable superiority (I`jāz) and abbrogatory nature of the Q. along with the existence of "sound" supplementary ḥadīth/ akhbar , all but rendered biblical learning alien and superfluous.  Many Muslims understood taḥrīf   in ways which negated the veracity of existing Abrahamic scripture. It is ironic today that while a large number of Muslims view the bible as "corrupt" a very considerable number  give fantastic importance to the obviously forged pseudo‑Gospel  of Barnabas, often regarding it as the only extant "true" Injīl / Gospel (Ragg, 1907; Sox.1984).

 For apologetic or polemical reasons biblical knowledge was distinctly advantageous. for  Muslims. From the early Islamic centuries a number cited the bible including, for example, Abū al‑Rabī` Muhammad b. al‑Laith (fl. late 8th cent. CE), `Alī b. Rabbān al‑Ṭabarī (d. 241/855), Ibn Qutayba (d. 276/889), al‑Birūnī (d.c [after]. 442/1050), al‑Ghazālī (d.505/1111) 3  and the very linguistically equipped Safavid sage Aḥmad  al‑Alawī (d. c. 1060/1650). It was largely after the 15th century due to western printing and missionary activity, that the Bible became better known and more accurately cited by Muslim scholars.

In 19th century Persia and elsewhere relatively few Muslims adopted  a positive attitude towards  pre‑Islamic scripture. In the course of attempting to prove the truth of the mission of the Sayyid `Ali Muhammad Shirazi, the Bāb  (d. 1850 CE) to Muslims in the early 1860s, Mirza Husayn `Ali Nuri Baha'-Allah (d. 1892 CE) found it necessary to cite the NT and reassert the occasional and largely forgotten earlier Islamic acceptance of the Bible. He radically modified  the largely negative  Islamic concept of biblical taḥrīf. ("falsification").


1 On similar though even more focussed lines is the Iẓḥār tabdīl al‑yahūd wa’l‑nasārā  (Exposition on  the Alternation [of the Torah and Gospel] by the Jews and the Christians). According to Pulcini, Ibn Ḥazm’s numerous Arabic biblical quotations which sometimes differ significantly from the Masoretic text and the Greek LXX are derived from a complete Christian produced Arabic Bible fundamentally based upon a Latin Vorlage  (source document) (Pulcini, 185).

2 See for example, the details contained in the Tablet of AB* to Rosenburg cited in Weinburg, Ethel Jenner Rosenburg, 78‑81.

3 The Iḥyā `ulūm al‑dīn (The Revival of Religious Sciences) of al‑Ghazalī cites numerous often quasi or non‑biblical sayings of Jesu (see Khalidi, 2000). ,


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al-Shahrastanī, Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Karīm (b. c. 469 [479]-542 = c. 1086-1153).

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Other writings

  • Kitāb al-Milal wa'l-nihal ("The Book of Religious and Philosophical Communities") [written 1127 CE]*
  • Nihayat al-`iqdam ("The Culmination of Demonstration in Scholastic Philosophy").
  • al-Milal wa'l-Nihal. Edited by Muhammad Sayyid Kīlānī. 1st ed.; Cairo, Mustafa al-Bābī al-Halabï, 1381/1961;
  • 2nd ed. [actually reprint]; Beirut, Dar al-Ma'rifa, 1975.

Shah Wali-Allah Dehlavi (               ).

  •  "Alfouz al- kabir fi usul a- tafsir,"  reckons that  "tahrif" refers to the Jews misquoting or mistranslating the Torah not corruption of the original.


Journal of Near Eastern Studies, vol. 57, No. 4. (Oct., 1998), pp. 292-293

Abu Dawnd al-Sijistani,

  • al-Masahif.

Sweetman, J. Windrow

  • 1937/1955. Islam and Christian Theology. Parts 1–2. Missionary Research Series no. 22. London: Lutterworth Press. Thomas, Bertram. 1937.
  • Islam and Christian Theology, A Study of the Interpretation of Theological Ideas in the Two Religions. Part Two, Volume One . Lutterworth Library, Vol. XLV, Missionary Research Series, No. 22.
  • Islam and Christian Theology, A Study of the Interpretation of Theological Ideas in the Two Religions. Part One, Volume II
  • Islam and Christian theology, London-Redhill, 3 vols. (i, 1945)
  • IIslam and Christian Theology, A Study of the Interpretation of Theological Ideas in the Two Religions. Rep.   JAMES CLARKE & CO LTD. ISBN: 0227172019 Pbk. 1st September 2002

Watt,  W. Montgomery-

  • ADD
  • ADD
  • ADD
  • ADD

Stock, Eugene.

  • "The C.M.S. Missions to Mohammedans." The Muslim World 2 (1912), pp. 122-132.
  • The History of the Church Missionary Society: Its Environment, Its Men and Its Work. 3 vols. London: Church Missionary Society, 1899-1916.

Stichel, Rainer.

  • "Bemerkungen żum Barnabás-Evangélium." Byzantinoslavica 43 (1982): 189-201.

Jalal al-Din al-Maḥallī (d. 864/1459) + Jalāl al-Dīn al-al-Suyūṭī  (d.911/1505),

  • Tafsīr al-Jalālayn, Damascus 1385/1965.

  • al-Itqan fi `ulum al-Qur'an

al-Ṭabāṭabāī,  Muhammad Ḥusayn (d. 1981).

  • Tafsīr al-Mīzān ...
  • al-Mizan fi tafsīr al-qur'ān, 20 vols. Beirut: Mu 'assat al-A'lami li al-Matbu'at, 1394.* al-Suyūṭī, Jalāl a-Dīn (d. 911/1505)
  • al-Qur'an fi al-Islam.

 al-Tehranī, Āqā Buzurg

  • al-Naqd al-latif fi nafy al-tahrif.

Toland, John (1670 - 1722).

 "John Toland, Christianity Not Mysterious (London 1696) had a rationalistic understanding of the miracles narrated in the New Testament. In his work Nazarenus he attributes at the same time a great probability to the Gospel of Barnabas going back to the very first centuries A.D.: John Toland, Nazarenus or Jewish, Gentile and Mahometan Christianity (London 1718). He defended the Gospel of Barnabas against the common charge from the Christian side as being a willful forgery of a renegade of the Middle Ages: "How great ... is the ignorance of those, who make this an original invention of the Mahometans." J. Toland, Nazarenus, p. 17. Or: "After this mature examination I could safely say, that this Gospel might in the main be the ancient Gospel of Barnabas." J. Toland, Tetradymus (London 1720), p. 148." (Schirmacher, in Wardenburg, 1999: 278).

  • Christianity Not Mysterious. London. 1696.
  • John Toland's Christianity Not Mysterious: Text, Associated Works and Critical Essays(Illustrated) Alan Harrison, John Toland, Richard Kearney, Philip McGuinness Hardcover / 339 pp. ,1997  = ISBN 187467597X
  • John Toland's Christianity Not Mysterious: Text, Associated Works and Critical Essays John Toland, Alan Harrison (Editor), Richard Kearney (Editor), Philip McGuinness (Editor) Paperback (339 pp.) / Lilliput Pr Ltd., 1998= ISBN  1874675953.
  • Nazarenus or Jewish, Gentile and Mahometan
  • Christianity. London, 1718.
  • Tetradymus. London, 1720.

Daniel, Stephen

  • John Toland: His Methods, Manners, and Mind l Hardcover / McGill Queens Univ Pr / June 1984 / 0773510079

Sullivan, Robert E.

  • John Toland the the Deist Controversy. Harvard Univ. Press, 1982 (355pp.).= ISBN=  0674480503

Justin Champion

  • Republican Learning: John Toland and the Crisis of Christian Culture, 1696-1722. Manchester Univ Pr., 2003 = ISBN  0719057140


The Theological & Philological Works of the Late Mr. John Toland. Pbk. = ISBN 1402161697

Evans,  Robert Rees

  • Pantheisticon: The Career of John Toland(Illustrated) (232 pp.) Peter Lang Pub Inc., 1991. ISBN =  082041414X
    List Price $40.95 /



Vander Werff, Lyle L.

  • Christian Mission to Muslims: The Record, Anglican and Reformed Approaches in India and the Near East, 1800-1938. South Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 1977.

Waardenburg, Jacques,

  • "World religions as seen in the light of Islam." In Islam: Past Influence and Present Challenge, ed. Alford T. Welch and Pierre Cachia. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1979, pp. 245-275.

Wherry, Elwood M.

  • The Mohammedan Controversy. London, 1905.

al-Zarkashī, (ADD/ ADD)

  •  Burhan fi 'ulum al-qur'ān, 4 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Jil, 1988. *


            Shi`i Islamic Aspects: Tahrif of Bible and Qur'an.

Babi-Baha'i Aspects

Lambden , Stephen

  • 2002 Some Aspects of Isra'iliyyat and the Emergence of the Babi-Baha'i Interpretation of the Bible. Ph.D Unpublished.


Miscellany Bible and Qur'ān