by Linda “iLham” Barto
All religions of light share consonant values of honesty, justice, charity, love, and kindness. Most of these religions have books or oral traditions that provide guidance and instruction. The book considered to be the best-selling book of all time is the Bible, or, more correctly said, the Bibles (plural). There is no single Bible but rather several Bibles with varying content. Different religious groups recognize different Biblical canons. These canons vary from the twenty-four books of the Jewish Bible to the eighty-one books of the Bible of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
The Jewish Bible is called the Tanakh, an acronym made from three Hebrew letter sounds. The sound ‘ta’ stands for the Torah, which is the first five books of the Bible and contain the teachings and laws revealed to Moses (peace upon him). The ‘na’ sound is for the Nevi’im, which means ‘prophets,’ and these books contain the stories of and revelations to the Jewish prophets (peace upon them). The Nevi’im is in two parts: Major Prophets and Minor Prophets. The ‘kh’ sound is for books referred to as the Ketuvim, or the ‘writings.’ The writings contain such literature as the psalms of David (peace upon him) and the story of Job (peace upon him).
Every Bible begins with the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. (The word ‘Torah’ is also used sometimes by the Jews in a general sense to refer to the entire Jewish Bible.) God’s revelation to Moses (peace upon him) was first handed down as oral tradition. When the Jews decided to put the Torah into writing, they discovered that the oral tradition had taken on four slightly different versions. They did not want to delete anything that may have been God’s original words, so they skillfully interwove the four versions together to become what we now call the Torah. Jews consider the Torah as the definition of Judaism, and, for that reason, Moses is considered the first Jew in a metaphorical sense.
The Protestant Christian Bible contains the books of the Jewish Bible, although the books of the prophets and the writings are in a different order. The Christians refer to these books as the Old Testament. The second part of the Christian Bible is called the New Testament, and it contains twenty-seven books: four gospel accounts, the Acts of the Apostles, twenty-one letters, and the Book of Revelations. The books included in the Christian Bible were carefully selected from a large assortment of writings. A final canon was agreed upon in 397 CE in Carthage, Tunisia.
Some of the rejected manuscripts may be read as the Lost Books of the Bible and contain some interesting information. One story lost from the canonized Bible is the story of Jesus (peace upon him) when he, as a child, fashioned a bird from clay and gave it life. Thankfully, that story is in the Qur’an, but it is important for Muslim scholars to review all such writings for more important links among Jewish, Christian, and Islamic literature.
The Catholic Christian Bible contains the same books of the Protestant Christian Bible plus books known as the Apocrypha, or ‘hidden books.’ Although these fifteen books are an important link between the Old and New Testaments, both Jews and Protestants reject them because they contain some inaccuracies in documenting history and contain no revelation from God.
Other Judaic writing was discovered between 1946 and 1956 and has become known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Other Christian literature, discovered in 1945, is contained in the Nag Hammadi Codices. All these discoveries have given us some amazing new perspectives to ponder.
The existence of all these canonized and extracanonical literature may also give us great cause to be thankful for a Qur’an that has been given as one, uninterrupted miracle that has been carefully preserved without error or deviation. We did not have to depend upon centuries of flawed oral traditions or have to find passages in a cave or chapters hidden in a wall. We don’t have to worry about the scribal additions and mistakes known to exist in the Bible. We do not have to wonder about canonized and extracanonical literature. The Qur’an is complete and pristine, and there is only one.
Even the Qur’an, however, makes a case for gleaning what truths still exist in the Bible. “O Believers, believe in Allah and His messenger and in the Scripture that He has sent to (Muhammed) and in the Scripture that He sent to earlier messengers. Anyone who denies Allah, His angels, His Books, His messengers, and the Day of Judgment has gone far off course” (inspired by Surah 4: 136). “Say, ‘We believe in Allah and in what has been bestowed upon us and in what was bestowed upon Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the [twelve Judaic] tribes, and in what was given to Moses, Jesus, and the [Judaic] prophets, from their Sovereign Lord. We do not prefer any above the others. To Allah we submit our wills’” (inspired by Surah 3: 84). Although we know that we no longer have the undiluted works given to the earlier messengers, what remains of these earlier works should be studied so that we can learn whatever truths may be there for us and so that we may make connections between the Bible and the Qur’an. Without knowledge of the Bible, Muslims are poorly equipped to tap into understanding and interfaith dialogue with Christians and Jews. Muslims should be interfaith people who have respect and appreciation for all religions and religious views. Knowledge of the Jewish and Christian Bibles may actually help us have more understanding of and appreciation for the Qur’an.
Some people read the Qur’an or the Bible with negativity in their minds, and they look for material on which to debate and criticize. My opinion is that such negativity is not helpful and that we should read all Scriptures with open minds and hearts so that Allah may reveal His truth to us. “Allow no coercion in religion. Truth is evident from error. Whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah has latched onto the most dependable grip that never breaks. And Allah hears and knows all” (inspired by Surah 2: 256). We must trust Allah enough to seek His truth even if His truth appears in the literature of religions outside our own faith. All truth is God’s truth, and He makes truth evident from error.
The Qur’an refers to the stories of prophets, but many of those stories are found only in the Bible. The Qur’an, for example, says to honor Job (38: 41), and it gives a brief version of his story (38: 41-44). For the full impact of Job’s trial, however, we should read the poetic tribute to Job in the Bible. The Qur’an adds to the story of Job that God instructed him, “Take just a little handful of grass and whisk [your wife] with it, so you will not fault on your vow” (inspired by Surah 38: 44). When we read the Biblical account, we find that Job’s wife had lost patience and said to Job, “Curse God and die” (inspired by Job 2: 9). Job vowed to punish her for her blasphemy, but after Job had recovered from his ills, God was forgiving and commanded Job to only make a gesture of punishment. I think every believer should read the account of Job in the Bible and also read the stories of other prophets (peace upon them all) and find the important links between the Bible and the Qur’an.
The New Testament differs from the Jewish Bible in that, except for words of Jesus (peace upon him), the writings do not come directly from God or prophets. In one place in the New Testament, Paul writes, “…. I do not have a revelation from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who, by the Lord’s mercy, is trustworthy” (inspired by 1 Corinthians 7: 25). Much of the New Testament is opinions, judgments, and expressions of faith by people who tried to live by God’s grace and mercy. We may not agree on everything they said, but we should read the New Testament with an attitude of trying to understand what the writers were trying to express to us during that part of Church history.
Jesus (peace upon him) spoke Aramaic, but his words were recorded in Greek long after his ascension. We don’t have Jesus’ actual words, but rather scribal interpretations of his words. The Qur’an corrects some of the misinterpretations. The best example of a need for correction is the King James Version of John 3: 16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The Qur’an clarifies that Jesus is not the begotten son of God. The Greek word falsely translated to ‘begotten’ is the word ‘monogenous,’ and it literally means ‘one of a kind,’ or it could be translated to ‘unique.’ We are all children of God in a metaphorical sense, but Jesus was unique as he was formed by special creation as God’s Word was spoken into the womb of Mary (peace upon her).
Reading the Bible is like panning for gold. Both gold and sand are scooped into the gold pan, and the sand is carefully washed away until only the gold is left. With prayer and guidance, anyone can read the Bible and find nuggets of truth and wisdom that will enhance one’s life.
For a more in depth introduction to the Bible, please get a copy of the book The Bible and the Qur’an at the Edge of Renaissance: A Judeo-Christian-Muslim Compass to a World of Peace by Linda “iLham” Barto. Autographed copies are available from www.Lit-by-Linda.com