Isrā'īliyyāt ("Israelitica"), Islamo-Biblica, Abrahamica : Definitions, Articles, Miscellany...
Stephen N. Lambden
2007-8 + In progress, revision and updating, April 2004.
The Bible or Islamo-biblical tradition in early Islam
Neither the Arabic language nor the region of Arabia are abstracted from the biblical text or from biblical and post-biblical religious history. With good philological reasoning it has been proposed that the biblical Book of Job might have originally been written or orally transmitted (6th->4th cent BCE?) in (Old) Arabic (Edomite?) and it is explicitly stated in the New Testament that Paul (Saul) of Tarsus (d. c. 64 CE), after his conversion from Pharisaic Judaism to the nascent Jesus movement that became Christianity (c. 33 CE), sojourned in the desert of Arabia east of the river Jordon for several “mysterious years” (Gal. 1:17) (Greenstein, 2003: 651f and Ayoub, 2004: 313). In a recent discussion of Christian-Muslim Dialogue Mahmoud Ayoub continues the latter observation about Paul by noting that “from the Syrian Desert, Christianity was carried into South Arabia, perhaps by wandering monks, where it played a significant role in the rise of a rich civilization. From there, Christianity came to Northern Arabia, where it helped prepare the moral and spiritual grounds for Islam” (Ayoub 2004: 313).
During the centuries surrounding the onset of the Common Era diverse groups of Samaritans, Jews (Essenes, Pharisees, etc) Jewish-Christians (Ebionites, Nazoreans, etc) Christians (e.g Nestorians, Monophysites) and related groups such as Gnostics, Mandaeans and Manichaeans became established in Arabia and adjacent countries including Palestine, Syria, Ethiopia, Iraq and Persia. Members of these groups often revered, translated, studied and commented upon portions or varieties of the Biblical text.
The evolution, history and transmission of the Arabic Bible remains inadequately known and a complex and somewhat neglected area of academic research. It is today likely though uncertain whether an Arabic Bible was available in the Middle East by the 7th-8th centuries CE. Patristic and other traditions about pre-Islamic times mention Arabic, Middle Persian and other Bible translations though little trace of them exists. Origen (d. 254 CE), the erudite compiler of the (largely lost) Hexapla (“Sixfold parallel Bible”), mentions his having consulted “Chaldean” (Syriac) and Arabic Bible versions. This is especially interesting in the light of his debating Christian doctrines with Beryllus of Bostra (Jordan) and the Arabian bishop Heraclides (Beeston, CHAL 1:22). While the one time Patriarch of Constantinople, John Chrysostom (d. 407 CE) in his Homily on John, stated that the doctrines of Christ had been translated into the “languages of the Persians” (Pat. Graec. LIX col. 32), Moses Maimonides (d. 1204 CE) held that the Pentateuch was translated into ancient Persian hundreds of years before Muhammad (Toy and Gottheil, JE).
It is thus not clear whether Muhammad (d. 632 CE) had direct or indirect access to an Arabic Bible version or another Bible version such as the Syriac, Greek, Coptic, Ge`ez- Ethiopic versions. Most scholars in this area affirm his considerable awareness of oral channels of biblical and post-biblical religious tradition but hold back from affirming the contemporary availability of an Arabic Bible. It is intriguing, however, that there exist certain Islamic ḥadīth which are highly suggestive in this respect. ADD
If Muhammad knew the Bible directly it was largely bypassed in the Qur’ān which sacred book claims to legitimate, abrogate, confirm and clarify the three or four bodies of pre‑Islamic revelation to which it refers. Key Israelite-Jewish figures and concepts (e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, the Mishnah-Talmud) as well as Christian doctrines (e.g. Jesus’ resurrection and Paul) are not mentioned in the Qur'an. Muhammad largely bypassed he intricacies of the Rabbinic discussions and the potentially divisive Christological and related speculations of the patristic era. Muhammad aligned himself with Abrahamic monotheism which was neither exactly Jewish nor Christian.
The terms Islamo-biblica / Islamo-biblical would seem to be appropriate terms to indicate biblical texts or biblically rooted data as variously cited, assimilated and expounded within varieties of Islamic literatures or expressions of an Islamic `universe of discourse'.
In numerous Islamic sources Isrā’īliyyāt has a long, disparate and not yet fully articulated semantic history. There is no standard, clear cut or universally agreed upon Islamic or modern academic definition of Isrā’īliyyāt. The early Islamic and contemporary senses and implications of the Arabic plural Isrā’īliyyāt (loosely but literally “Israelitica”) have been variously sketched in contemporary Islamic scholarship. Modern scholarly attempts to define Isrā’īliyyāt have largely been paraphrases of such oral and literary materials as are thought to have been indicated by this term. As early as the 2nd cent CE Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. c. 110/728 or 114/732) appears to have composed a work entitled Isrā’īliyyāt though this may have been an alternative title for his Kitāb al-mubtadā’ wa qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā’ (“Book of Beginnings and the Stories of the Prophets”) (so Khoury, Wahb, 227ff; `Wahb b. Munabbih, Abū `Abd Allāh’ EI2 XI:34a).
The Arabic plural إِسْراَئيليات Isrā’īliyyāt (loosely, Israelitica) is derived from the Hebrew proper name יִשְׂרָאֵל (yisrā’êl, lit. `contender with God’), namely (Ar.) إِسْرَائِيل Isrā’īl, the Arabic designation of the biblical and qur’anic figure Israel (fl. mid. 2nd millennium BCE.,?), the renamed Jacob, who was the father of the twelve tribes (Gen. 32:28, 35:10; cf. Qur’ān 3:87 etc). In use from the first Islamic centuries in Tafsir (qur’anic exegetical) and other connections,  this term is indicative of data and traditions thought to have been transmitted by or derived from Jews or (Ar.) banī Isrā’īl (“children of Israel”) although its use in a multitude of Islamic sources presupposes that it can indicate a wider range of Abrahamic and associated scriptural legands and traditions. The word Isrā’īliyyāt has been in use since the early Islamic centuries when it initially had purely descriptive and neutral connotations (Adang, 1996:9 fn. 49). In some circles in later centuries this word came to be used pejoratively though this negative use of Isrā’īliyyāt was not and never has been adopted universally in the Muslim world. 
Islamic Isrā’īliyyāt traditions may to a greater or lesser extent be Biblical or biblically related materials which are in some way expressive of Islamic perspectives or “Islamicate”, “Islamified” or Islamo‑biblical. This in the sense of having been doctrinally assimilated within Islam or having been creatively and exegetically-eisegetically reinterpreted by Muslims. A good deal of Isrā’īliyyāt consists of biblically or extra-biblically related texts, legends and traditions etc., often echoed or found in a very wide range of diverse Jewish and/ or Christian literatures.
Modern Muslims generally use to word Isrā’iliyyāt negatively or derisively of Biblical, Jewish and other pre-Islamic Abrahamic traditions. Isrā’īliyyāt has been literally translated “Israelitica”. It has been given many and varied modern definitions in diverse academic sources. Examples of include ....
Select Bibliography for Isrā'īliyyāt ("Israelitica"), Islamo-Biblica, Abrahamica.
Abū Shahibah, Muhammad ibn Muhammad
- al‑Isrā’īliyyāt wa’l‑mawḍū`āt fī kutub al‑tafsīr. Cairo: Maktabat al-Sunnah, 1393/1973; 4th rep. 1408/ 1987-8
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- al-Isrā’īliyyāt wa'al-mawḍu‘at fī kutub al-tafsīir ... Beirut: Dar al-Jil, 1413/1992. (347pp.). *
- 2000 Qur'anic narrative and Isra'iliyyat in Western scholarship and in classical exegesis. Univ. of Leeds. 2000
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Brinner, Wiliam, M.
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Būjnūrdī, Kāẓim Mūsāvī.
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The recent, Shī`ī centered and bulky Persian Dā’irat al‑ma`ārif‑i buzurg‑i Islamī (`Great Islamic Encyclopedia’, Tehran, 1998) contains an entry `Isra’īlliyyāt’ which includes a thorough consideration of Isrā’īliyyat seen as a techincal term in the realm of tafsīr and ḥadīth studies (vol. 8:290‑4).
Dehkhodā, Alī Akbar Qazvīnī, (1879-1956)
Born. Tehran c. 1297/1879 d. Tehran 7th Esfand 1334 Sh. / 26th February 1956. His Persian [Shī`ī] Encyclopedic Dictionary, the Lughat-Nāmih contains the entry
- `Isrā’īliyyāt’ Vol. 2:1924.
The largely unchanged 1993 2nd edition of the Lughat‑Namih of Dekhoda incudes a very basic, only slightly dismissive definition of `Isrā’īliyyāt’ (vol. 2:1924),
al‑Dhahabī, Muḥammad Husayn
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Dhahabī, Muḥammad Husayn.
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Lambden, Stephen N.
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Maghiniyya, Muhammad Jawad
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McAuliffe, Jane Dammen
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Table of Contents: Foreword D. Madigan. Notes on Contributors. List of Images. Map: Locations Cited in the Present Volume. Abbreviations. Introduction: Qur'anic Studies and its Controversies G.S. Reynolds Part 1: Linguistic and Historical Evidence 1. The Qur'an in Recent Scholarship - Challenges and Desiderata F. Donner 2. Epigraphy and the Linguistic Background to the Qur'an R. Hoyland 3. Reconstructing the Qur'an: Emerging Insights G. Böwering 4. Reconsidering the Authorship of the Qur'an. Is the Qur'an Partly the Fruit of a Progressive and Collective Work? C. Gilliot 5. Christian Lore and the Arabic Qur'an: The "Companions of the Cave" in Surat al-Kahf and in Syriac Christian Tradition S. Griffith Part 2: The Religious Context of the Late Antique Near East 6. The Theological Christian Influence on the Qur'an: A Reflection S.K. Samir 7. Mary in the Qur'an: A Reexamination of Her Presentation S.A. Mourad 8. The Legend of Alexander the Great in the Qur'an 18:83-102 K. van Bladel 9. Beyond Single Words: ma'ida - Shaytan - jibt and taghut. Mechanisms of Translating the Bible into Ethiopic (Ga'az) Bible and of Transmission into the Qur'anic Text M. Kropp 10. Nascent Islam in the 7th Century Syriac Sources A. Saadi Part 3: Critical Study of the Qur'an and the Muslim Exegetical Tradition 11. Notes on Medieval and Modern Emendations of the Qur'an D. Stewart 12. Syriac in the Qur'an: Classical Muslim Theories A. Rippin. Bibliography. Index of Biblical Verses. Index of Qur'anic Verses. Index of People, Places and Subjects".
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Like other late medieval commentators and historians al‑Sakhāwī (d.902/1497) was one ill‑disposed towards fanciful Isrā’īliyyāt communicated by over imaginative storytellers or derived from the `people of the Book’ . refer I`lān bi’l‑tawbīḥ.. trans. Rosenthal, 1968: 335. (cf. Vajda, `Isrā’īliyyāt’, EI2 IV:211f.)
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Wahb Ibn Munabbih, `Abd `Abd-Allah (d. c. 110/728 or 114/732) is seen by many Muslim and other scholars as an early fountainhead of Isrā’īliyyāt
- Sirat al-Nabi (Life of the Prophet) [lost]
- Kitab al-Isra‘iliyyat [largely lost]
- Maghazi Rasul Allah (The Military Expeditions of the Prophet of God)
- Kitab al-Qadr (The Book of Destiny)
- Kitab al-muluk … min Himyar (The Book of the Himyarite Kings…) extant in the recension of Ibn Hisham known as Kitab al-Tijan fi muluk al-Himyar (The Book of the crowned Kings of the Himyarites)
Ibn Ḥishām / Wahb b. Munabbih
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There can no longer be any doubt about the books attributed to Wahb b. Munabbih. Their contents were transmitted orally, taught or set down in writing, partly at least in his own lifetime, and later by particular members of his family. A literature belonging generally to the biblical heritage as disseminated by Jewish and Christian scholarship (in Yemen and Ḥidjāz, and, especially, in Medina) was formed quite early. It was called biblical but was within Islam. It was disseminated by the philosophers and by others from the same Jewish/Christian milieux chiefly in Arabia, and then supplemented by posterity.
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