Muslim scholars say that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), the Psalms, and the gospel message found in the New Testament are from God. But there’s a catch: By their account, these writings have been corrupted, so the Koran is necessary to set the record straight.[i] One big “problem” with the Christian Bible is that is declares Jesus to be the Son of God. Another is that those “treacherous” Jews have deleted Old Testament passages predicting Mohammed’s appearance, an offense suggested in a Koranic passage which reads, “Who is more unjust than those who conceal the testimony they have from Allah?” (2:140)
However, in their haste to scrub the Torah clean of Mohammed-anticipating passages, the Jews somehow overlooked Deuteronomy 2:18-15, which reads “The Lord said to [Moses]: “… I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command Him.” Though Christians have correctly taken this to refer to Jesus, the Muslims are confident it points to Mohammed. Of course, their confidence is based on “eisegesis” (reading what you want into the text) instead of “exegesis” (unpacking what’s in the text, in its true context).
Furthermore, Muslims who speak expansively of Bible corruption have no idea what they’re getting into, for there is no more exacting discipline among Christian scholars than “textual criticism.” Centuries of painstaking and fastidious research have gone into establishing which manuscripts – whether on papyrus, vellum, parchment, or paper; whether in scroll or codex (book) form – are truer to the “original autographs” (the first handwritten versions) of the various biblical passages.
Consider, for instance, the “critical apparatus” (footnotes) for the above-mentioned Deuteronomy 18:15-18, as found in the standard Hebrew text, Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia.[ii] Examination reveals careful comparisons of the printed Hebrew with such ancient sources as a 13th-century AD parchment in the British Museum;[iii] Origen’s 3rd-century AD construal of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, begun in the third century BC; and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Old Testament parchment manuscripts copied by the Jewish Essene sect over a century before Jesus’ birth. The discovery of these scrolls between 1947 and 1956 showed a near-perfect match with the historic Masoretic text of the Old Testament, prepared roughly a thousand years later.
The literature on textual variants comes down to adjudicating between such differences as a Hebrew manuscript which construes Genesis 1:28 to say, “over the cattle, and over all the earth” and a Syriac (Aramaic) manuscript, which reads, “over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth.” And again, between a Hebrew version of Isaiah 2:12 (“against all that is lifted up and low”) and a Greek version (“against all that is high and towering, and they shall be brought low”).[iv] In short, those familiar with the rigor of such scholarship are disinclined to think that uncomfortably-pro-Muslim passages have been deleted without wide detection and opposition within the professorial community.
Furthermore, if Jewish scholars were about the business of erasing troublesome passages, why did they leave in the awkward talk of a brutalized Messiah in Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 (passages which “play into Christian hands”) and embarrassing descriptions of Noah’s post-Flood drunkenness and Abraham’s mendacity in Egyptian and Philistine courts? And if the deletions were supposed to have occurred before Mohammed’s appearance, how could the rabbis have sufficiently anticipated “The Prophet” to launch a pre-emptive strike against him? Such problems make claims of anti-Muslim editing untenable – and underscore the integrity of traditional biblical scholarship, which strives to let the Bible speak without interference from those who would tinker with the text to serve their agendas.
[i] A standard reference for Muslims accusing the Bible of corruption is the work by the French convert to Islam, Dr. Maurice Bucaille, The Bible, The Qur’an and Science (American Trust Publications, 1977). A full pdf version is available online at http://ia600504.us.archive.org/18/items/TheBibletheQuranScienceByDr.mauriceBucaille/
TheBibletheQuranScienceByDr.mauriceBucaille.pdf (accessed April 13, 2013). See also a video posted on YouTube entitled “100% Proof That Bible Is Corrupted in a Minute!” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnlLVCMI5bU (accessed April 13, 2013), and the Kairos Journal booklet, Israel and Legitimacy: Modern Achievement vs. Islamic Prejudice, p. 4-5.
[ii] Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, edited by A. Alt, O. Eissfeldt, P. Kahle, and R. Kittel (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1976), 319.
[iii] “Number 107” from 18th-century Hebraist Benjamin Kennicott’s collection
[iv] Anthony Campbell, “Preparatory Issues in Approaching Bible Texts,” The Blackwell Companion to the Bible (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 6.