In what Languages were the Books of the Bible written?

The word Bible literally means ‘Books’.  We see it today as one Book and we often refer to it as ‘a Book’.  This is why the Qur’an calls it ‘al kitab’.  But it really is a collection of Books written by more than 40 prophets who lived through a time span of over 1600 years.  These prophets had very different backgrounds.  Daniel (whose tomb is in modern-day Iran) was a prime minister in Babylonian (Iraq) and Persian (Iran) Empires.  Nehemiah was an attendant to the Persian Emperor Artaxerxes.  Ezekiel was a Priest.  Dawood (David) was King of Ancient Israel as was his son Suleiman (Solomon), and so on.  Thus you can really think of the Bible (or al Kitab) as more like a library, in one volume, that has 66 books.

To help us better ‘see’ the prophets and their books through history I have placed some (not all because there is not enough room) on a historical timeline.  What stands out is the very long period of human history this timeline covers.  The ticks (or units) of time in this timeline measure centuries (years by the 100’s)!  The green horizontal bars show the  lifespan of that particular prophet.  You can see that Ibrahim (Abraham) and Musa (Moses) lived many years!

Timeline for Prophets of Bible
Bible Prophets in Timeline – When these Prophets lived in human History

Because these prophets lived in different time periods, different countries (or empires) and in different social levels (i.e. some were with rulers and others with peasants) the languages used varied.  The Taurat (books of Moses/Musa – PBUH) was originally written in Hebrew.  The books of David/Dawood (PBUH) and Solomon/Suleiman (PBUH) in the Zabur were also in Hebrew.  Other books in Zabur (parts of Daniel and Nehemiah – PBUH) were originally written in Aramaic.  The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) would have spoken in Aramaic and perhaps Hebrew.  The books of the Injil (they are not shown on this timeline) were originally written in Greek.

What is most interesting for us is that these original languages are preserved, accessible and even used to this very day.  It is just that these languages, not being European, are not used by Westerners so they do not get the attention that, say, English gets.  You can see the Taurat in Hebrew online by clicking here.  You will note that it reads right to left like Arabic.  You can see and hear a prayer of Isa in original Aramaic here.  You can also see the original Greek of the books of the Injil here.  Actually it is from these originals that scholars translate the books of the Bible into modern-day languages like English, French, Thai etc, similar to how scholars translate the Qur’an from Arabic into the many languages of today.

The Sign of Qabil & Habil

In the previous article we had looked at the sign of Adam and Eve.  They had two sons who violently confronted each other.  It is the story of the first murder in human history.  But we also want to learn universal principles from this story to gain understanding from their Sign.  So let us read and learn. (Click Here to open the passages in another window).

Cain & Abel (Qabil and Habil): Two sons with Two sacrifices

In the Taurat the two sons of Adam & Eve are named Cain and Abel.  In the Qur’an they are not named, but are known as Qabil and Habil in Islamic tradition.  They each brought sacrifices to Allah but only the sacrifice of Abel was accepted while that of Cain was not.  In his jealousy Cain murdered his brother but he could not hide the shame of his crime from Allah.  The important question from this account is why the sacrifice of Abel was accepted while that of Cain was not.  Many assume that it lay in a difference between the two brothers.  But a careful reading of the account will lead us to think otherwise.  The Taurat clarifies that there was a difference in the sacrifices brought.  Cain brought ‘fruits of the soil’ (ie fruits and vegetables) while Abel brought ‘fat portions from the firstborn of his flock’.  This means that Abel had sacrificed an animal, like a sheep or a goat, from his flock.

Here we see a parallel to the sign of Adam.  Adam tried to cover his shame with leafs, but it took the skins of an animal (and thus its death) to give an effective covering.  Leafs, fruits and vegetables do not have blood and thus do not have the same kind of life like that of people and animals.  The covering of bloodless leafs was not sufficient for Adam and similarly the sacrifice of bloodless fruits and vegetables from Cain was not acceptable.  Abel’s sacrifice of ‘fat portions’ meant that the blood of that animal was shed and drained, just like that of the animal that originally clothed Adam & Eve.

Perhaps we can summarize this sign with the expression I learned as a boy: ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’.  That expression seems to fit Cain.  He believed in Allah and showed this by coming to worship Him with a sacrifice.  But Allah did not accept the sacrifice and thus did not accept him.  But why?  Did he have a bad attitude?  It does not say that he did in the beginning.  It could be that he may have had even the best of intentions and attitudes.  The sign of Adam, his father, gives us a clue.  When Allah judged Adam and Eve he made them mortal.  Thus death was a payment for their sin.  And then Allah gave them the sign – the raiment (skins) from the animal that covered their nakedness.  But that meant that the animal in question had to die.  An animal died and blood was drained to cover Adam and Eve’s shame.  And now their sons brought sacrifices but only the sacrifice of Abel (‘fat portions from flocks’) would require death and shedding & draining of blood of the sacrifice.  The ‘fruits of the soil’ could not die since it was not ‘alive’ in the same way and had no blood to drain.

The Sign for us: Shedding & Draining of Blood

Allah is teaching us a lesson here.  It is not up to us to decide how we approach Allah.  He sets the standard and we decide whether we submit to it or not.  And the standard here is that there is a sacrifice that dies, sheds and drains its blood.  I perhaps would prefer any other requirement because then I could give it from my own resources.  I can give time, energy, money, prayers and dedication but not life.  But that – a sacrifice of blood – is precisely what Allah required.  Anything else would not be sufficient.  It will be interesting to see in succeeding prophetic signs if this pattern of sacrifice continues.

The Sign of Adam

Adam and his wife Eve are unique since they were directly created by Allah and they lived in the Paradise of Eden.  So they have important signs for us to learn.  There are two passages in the Qur’an that talk about Adam, and one from the Taurat. (Click Here to read them).

These accounts are very similar.  In both accounts the characters are identical (Adam, Eve, Shaytan (Iblis), Allah); the place is the same in both accounts (the Garden); in both accounts Shaytan (Iblis) lies and tricks Adam and Eve; in both accounts Adam & Eve put on leafs to hide the shame of their nakedness; in both accounts Allah then comes and speaks to give judgment; in both of the accounts Allah shows mercy by providing raiments (i.e. clothing) to cover ‘the shame’ of their nakedness.  The Qur’an says this is ‘sign of Allah’ for the ‘Children of Adam’ – which is us.  So this is not just a history lesson about sacred events in the past. We can learn from the account of Adam.

Adam’s Warning to us

Adam & Eve only committed one sin of disobedience before Allah judged.  There are not, for example, ten sins of disobedience with Allah giving nine warnings and then finally judging.  Allah judged from only one act of disobedience.  Many people believe that Allah will only judge them after they have committed many sins. They think that if they have ‘less sins’ than most others, or if their good deeds outnumber their bad actions then (perhaps) God will not judge.  Adam & Eve’s experience warns us that this is not so.  Allah will judge even one sin of disobedience.

This makes sense if we compare disobedience to Allah with breaking the law of a nation.  In Canada where I live, if I broke just one law (e.g. I stole something) the country can judge me.  I cannot plead that I have only broken one law and have not broken laws for murder and kidnapping.  I only need to break one law to face Canada’s judgment.  It is the same with Allah.

When they clothed themselves with leafs we see that they experienced shame and tried to cover their nakedness.  Likewise, when I do things that makes me feel shame then I try to cover up and hide it from others.  But Adam’s efforts were futile before God.  Allah could see their failure and He then both Acted and Spoke.

The Actions of Allah in Judgment – but also in Mercy

We can see three actions:

  1. Allah makes them mortal – they will now die.
  2. Allah expels them from the Garden.  They must now live a much more difficult life on Earth.
  3. Allah gives them clothes of skins.

It is fascinating that all of us even to this day still are affected by these.  Everyone dies; no one – prophet or otherwise – has ever returned to the Garden; and everyone continues to wear clothes.  In fact these three things are so ‘normal’ that we almost miss noticing that what Allah did to Adam & Eve is still being felt by us thousands of years later.  The consequences of what happened that day still seem to be in effect.

The clothing from Allah was a gift of mercy – their shame was now covered.  Yes He judged – but he also provided mercy – which He did not have to do.  Adam & Eve did not earn the clothing through good behaviour that gave ‘merit’ against their disobedient act.  Adam & Eve could only receive Allah’s gift without meriting or deserving it. But someone did pay for it.  The Taurat tells us that the clothing was ‘skins’.  Thus they came from an animal.  Up until this point there was no death, but now an animal with skin suitable as a covering of clothes did pay – with its life.  An animal died so that Adam & Eve could receive Mercy from Allah.

The Qur’an tells us that this clothing did cover their shame, but the covering that they really needed was ‘righteousness’, and that in some way the clothing that they did have (the skins) was a sign of this righteousness, and a sign for us.

“O you Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover your shame, as well as to be an adornment to you.  But the raiment of righteousness – that is the best.  Such are among the signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition” [Surat 7:26 (The Heights)]

A good question is: how do we get this ‘raiment of righteousness’?  Later prophets will show the answer to this very important question.

The Words of Allah in Judgment and in Mercy

Allah not only does these three things for Adam & Eve and us (their children), but he also speaks His Word.  In both accounts Allah speaks of ‘enmity’ but in the Taurat it adds that this ‘enmity’ will be between the woman and the serpent (Shaytan).  This specific message is given again below.  I have just inserted with () the persons referred to.  Allah speaks:

“And I (Allah) will put enmity
between you (Shaytan) and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he (offspring of woman) will crush your (Shaytan) head,
and you (Shaytan) will strike his (offspring of woman) heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

This is a riddle – but it is understandable. Reading carefully you will see that there are five different characters mentioned AND that this is prophetic in that it is looking forward-in-time (seen by the repeated use of ‘will’ in future tense). The characters are:

  1. God (or Allah)
  2. Shaytan (or Iblis)
  3. The woman
  4. The offspring of the woman
  5. The offspring of Shaytan

And the riddle maps out how these characters will relate to each other in the future. This is shown below.

The characters and their relationships in the Promise of Allah given in Paradise
The characters and their relationships in the Promise of Allah given in Paradise

It does not say who the woman is.  But Allah speaks of an ‘offspring’ of Shaytan (Satan) and an ‘offspring’ of the woman.  This is mysterious but we know one thing about this offspring of the woman.  Because the ‘offspring’ is called a ‘he’ and a ‘him’ we know that this offspring is a single male human.  With that knowledge we can discard some possible interpretations.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is not a ‘she’ and thus cannot be a woman – but ‘he’ comes from a woman.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is not a ‘they’ (i.e. it is not plural).  Thus the offspring referred to is NOT a group of people whether that refers to a national identity or a group of a certain religion.  As a ‘he’ the offspring is not an ‘it’ (the offspring is a person).  Though this may seem obvious it eliminates the possibility that the offspring is a particular philosophy or teaching or religion.  So the offspring is NOT (for example) Christianity or Islam because then it would be referred to as an ‘it’, nor is it a group of people as in the Jews or the Christians or the Muslims because then it would be referred to as a ‘they’.  Even though there remains mystery about who the ‘offspring’ is we have eliminated many possibilities that might naturally come to our mind.

We see from the future tense of this promise that a plan with a purposed outcome is in the Mind of Allah.  This ‘offspring’ will crush the head of Shaytan (i.e. destroy him) while at the same time Shaytan will ‘strike his heel’.  The mystery of what this means is not clarified at this point.  But we know that a plan of God is going to unfold.

Notice now what Allah does NOT say to Adam.  He does not promise the man a specific offspring like he promises the woman.  This is quite extraordinary especially given the emphasis of sons coming through fathers in the Taurat, Zabur & Injil. The genealogies given in the Taurat, Zabur and Injil almost exclusively record only the sons that come from the fathers.  But in this promise in the Garden it is different – there is no promise of an offspring (a ‘he’) coming from a man.  The Taurat says only that there will be an offspring coming from woman – without mentioning a man.

Out of all the men that have ever existed, only two have never had a human father. The first was Adam, created directly by God. The second was Isa al Masih (Jesus – PBUH) who was born of a virgin – thus no human father. This fits with the observation that the offspring is a ‘he’, not a ‘she’, ‘they’ or ‘it’. Isa al Masih (PBUH) is an offspring from a woman. But who is his enemy, the ‘offspring’ of Shaytan? Though we do not have space here to trace it out in detail, the Books speak of a ‘Son of Destruction’, ‘Son of Satan’ and other titles that depict a coming human ruler who will oppose ‘the Christ’ (Masih). Also known as Dajjal, the later Books speak of a coming clash between this ‘Anti-Christ’ and the Christ (or Masih). But it is first mentioned in embryo-like form here, at the very beginning of history.

The climax of history, the conclusion of a struggle between Shaytan and Allah, started long ago in the Garden is prophesied at that same beginning – in the first Book. Many questions remain and more have been raised.  Continuing from here and learning from the successive Messengers will help us better answer our questions and understand the times we are in. We continue with their sons of Adam and Eve – Qabil and Habil.

The Injil Corrupted! What do the Hadiths say?

We have seen what that the Qur’an says that the Taurat, Zabur & Injil of the Bible (al kitab) are not corrupted.  The Qur’an states clearly that the followers of Injil still possessed the message from Allah at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), around 600 AD – so it was not corrupted before that date. The Qur’an declares that the original message in the Injil were Allah’s Words, and that His Words can never be changed.  If both of these statements are true it means that it is impossible for people to corrupt the Words of al kitab (Taurat, Zabur and Injil = Bible)

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and the Bible

Here we study what the hadiths and sunnah say on this topic.  Notice how the following hadiths affirm the existence and use of the Taurat and Injil in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

“Khadija [his wife] then accompanied him [The Prophet – PBUH] to her cousin Waraqa …, who, during the PreIslamic Period became a Christian and used to write the writing with Hebrew letters. He would write from the Gospel in Hebrew as much as Allah wished him to write.” Al-Bukhari Vol 1, Book 1, No 3

Narrated Abu Huraira: ..The people of the Scripture used to read the Torah in Hebrew and explain it to the Muslims in Arabic. Then Allah’s Apostle said, “Do not believe the people of the Scripture, and do not disbelieve them, but say, ‘We believe in Allah and whatever has been revealed…’  Al-Bukhari Vol 9, Book 93, No. 632

The Jews came to Allah’s Apostle and told him that a man and a woman from amongst them had committed illegal sexual intercourse. Allah’s Apostle said to them, “What do you find in the Torah about the legal punishment of Ar-Rajm (stoning)?” They replied, “(But) we announce their crime and lash them.” Abdullah bin Salam said, “You are telling a lie; Torah contains the order of Rajm.” … the Verse of Rajm was written there. They said, “Muhammad has told the truth; the Torah has the Verse of Rajm.  Al-Bukhari Vol. 4, Book 56, No. 829:

Narrated Abdullah Ibn Umar: ..A group of Jews came and invited the Apostle of Allah (PBUH) to Quff. …  They said: ‘AbulQasim, one of our men has committed fornication with a woman; so pronounce judgment upon them’. They placed a cushion for the Apostle of Allah (PBUH) who sat on it and said: “Bring the Torah”. It was then brought. He then withdrew the cushion from beneath him and placed the Torah on it saying: “I believed in thee and in Him Who revealed thee.”  Sunan Abu Dawud Book 38, No. 4434:

Narrated AbuHurayrah: The Apostle of Allah (PBUH) said: The best day on which the sun has risen is Friday; on it Adam was created, …. Ka’b said: That is one day every year. So I said: It is on every Friday. Ka’b read the Torah and said: The Apostle of Allah (PBUH) has spoken the truth.  Sunan Abu Dawud Book 3, No. 1041

These are undisputed hadiths that tell us of the attitude of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to the Bible as it existed in his day. The first hadith informs us that the Injil existed and was available when he first received his call.  The second hadith tells us that the Jews read the Taurat in Hebrew to the early Muslim community.  The Prophet (PBUH) did not dispute their text, but was indifferent (neither confirming nor denying) to their Arabic interpretation of it. The next two hadiths tell us that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) used the Taurat as it existed in his day to arbitrate decisions.  The last hadith shows us that the Taurat, as it existed in that day, was used to verify a statement from Prophet Muhammad about the day of creation of man (it was on a Friday).  In this case, the Taurat was used to check the teaching of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself, so it must have been authentic for such use.  In none of these hadiths, do we see any hint that the text of the Bible is treated as corrupted or changed.

Earliest manuscripts of Injil (New Testament)

I own a book about the earliest New Testament (Injil) documents.  It starts with:

“This book provides transcriptions of 69 of the earliest New Testament manuscripts…dated from early 2nd century to beginning of the 4th (100-300AD) … containing about 2/3 of the new Testament text”(P. Comfort, “The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts”. Preface p. 17. 2001 ).

This is significant since these manuscripts come before Roman Emperor Constantine (ca 325 AD) who some have thought might have altered the text of the Bible.  If Constantine had corrupted it we would know it by comparing the texts before his time (since we have them) with the texts that come after him.  But there are no differences.

Similarly, these and other Bible copies were made long before the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  These and other thousands of manuscripts all from before 600 AD come from around the world.  Since the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in 600 A.D. used the Bible in his time as authentic, and we have many Bible copies today made hundreds of years before the Prophet lived – and they are the same as today’s Bible, then the Bible certainly has not changed.

Even the idea of Christians changing these texts makes no sense.  It would not have been possible for the scattered people to agree on the changes to be made. Even if those in Arabia had made changes, the difference between their copies and those of their brothers, let us say in Syria and Europe, would become obvious.  But the manuscript copies are the same across the world, and back in time.  Since the Qur’an and hadiths both clearly support the Biblical text as it existed in 600 AD, and since the Bible is based on manuscripts that come long before this time, then the Bible of today is not corrupted.  The timeline below illustrates this, showing how the text base of the Bible pre-dates 600 AD.

The earliest manuscipts copies of the Taurat and Zabur date from even earlier.  Collections of scrolls, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, were found in 1948 by the Dead Sea.  These scrolls make up the entire Taurat and Zabur and they date from 200-100 BC.  This means that we have copies of the Taurat that date even before both prophets Isa al Masih (PBUH) and Muhammad (PBUH).  Since they both publicly used and approved the Taurat and Zabur that they had we have assurance that these first books of the prophets were also not corrupted.  I explore what all this means about the reliability (or unchangedness) of al kitab from a scientific point-of-view in my article here.

The testimony of the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) in the hadiths, along with background knowledge of the manuscripts of the Bible, point to the same conclusion as the testimony in the Qur’an – the text of the Bible has not been corrupted or changed.

Manuscripts of Today's Bible (al kitab) - from long ago
Manuscripts of Today’s Bible (al kitab) – from long ago

The Injil Corrupted! What does the Qur’an say?

I have many Muslim friends. And because I am also a believer in Allah (God), and a follower of the Injil (Gospel) I usually have regular conversations with my Muslim friends about beliefs and faith. In a real sense there is so much we have in common. Yet almost without exception in my conversations I hear the claim that the Injil (and zabur and Taurat which make up al kitab = Bible) is corrupted, or has been changed, so that the message we read today is degraded and full of errors from what was first inspired and written by the prophets and disciples of Allah. Now this is an important complaint, since it would mean that we cannot trust the Bible as read today to reveal Allah’s truth. I read and study both the Bible (al kitab) and the English translation of the Holy Qur’an, and have started to study the Sunnah. What I find startling is that this attitude against the Bible, though so common today, I do not find it in al Qur’an. In fact, it startled me how seriously the Holy Qur’an takes the Bible. I want to briefly show what I mean. (In English I use Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Holy Qu’ran)

What the Qur’an says about the Bible (al Kitab)

Say: “O People of the Book! ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord.” It is the revelation that cometh to thee from thy Lord, that increaseth in most of them their obstinate rebellion and blasphemy. Surah 5:68 Maida (The Table) (See also 4:136)

If thou art in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee: the Truth hath indeed come to thee from thy Lord: so be in no wise of those in doubt. Surah 10:94 Yunus (Jonah)

I note that this declares that the revelation given to the ‘People of the Book’ (Christians and Jews) came from Allah. Now my Muslim friends say this applies only to the original revelation given, but since the original has been corrupted it does not apply to the scriptures of today. But the 2nd ayah talks about those who ‘have been reading’ (in the present tense not past tense as in ‘had read’) the Bible. It is not talking about the original revelation, but the scriptures from the time when al Qur’an was revealed. This was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) over a period of years around 600 A.D. So this passage approves the Bible (Taurat, Zabur and Injil) as it existed in 600 A.D. Other passages are similar. Consider:

And before thee also the apostles We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspiration: if ye realise this not, ask of those who possess the Message. Surah 16:43 An-Nahl (the Bee)

Before thee, also, the apostles We sent were but men, to whom We granted inspiration: If ye realise this not, ask of those who possess the Message. Surah 21:7 Al-Anbiya’ (The Prophets)

These speak of the apostles that preceded the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). But, crucially, they affirm that the messages given by God to these apostles/prophets were still in possession (at 600 AD ) by their followers. The revelation as originally given had not been corrupted by the Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) time.

The Holy Quran says that Allah’s Words cannot be changed

But in a stronger sense, even the possibility of al kitab’s corruption/change is not supported by the Holy Quran. Keep in mind Maida 5:68 (The Law …The Gospel … is revelation that has come from the LORD), and consider the following:

Rejected were the apostles before thee: with patience and constancy they bore their rejection and their wrongs, until Our aid did reach them: there is none that can alter the words (and decrees) of Allah. Already hast thou received some account of those apostles. Surah 6:34 Al-An‘am (Cattle)

The word of thy Lord doth find its fulfilment in truth and in justice: None can change His words: for He is the one who heareth and knoweth all. Surah 6:115 Al-An‘am (Cattle)

For them are glad tidings, in the life of the present and in the Hereafter; no change can there be in the words of Allah. This is indeed the supreme felicity. Surah 10:64 Yunus (Jonah)

And recite (and teach) what has been revealed to thee of the Book of thy Lord: none can change His Words, Surah 18:27 Al-Kahf (The Cave)

So, if we agree that the prophets preceding Muhammad (PBUH) were given revelation by Allah (as Maida 5:68-69 said), and since these passages, many times over, say very clearly that no one can change Allah’s Words, how then can one believe that the words of Taurat, Zabur and Injil (i.e. al kitab = the Bible) was corrupted or changed by men?  It would require a denial of the Qur’an itself to believe that the Bible has been corrupted or changed.

As a matter of fact, this idea of judging various kinds of revelation from God as better or worse than others, though widely believed, is not supported in the Qur’an.

Say ye: “We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma’il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah (in Islam).” Surah 2:136 Al-Baqara (The Cow)    (See also 2:285).

So there should be no difference in how we treat all the revelations.  This would have to include our study of them.  In other words, we should study all the Books.  In fact I urge Christians to study the Qur’an as I urge Muslims to study the Bible.

To study these books takes time and courage.  Lots of questions will be raised.  Surely though this is a worthwhile use of our time here on earth – to learn from all the books which the prophets have revealed.  I know that for me, though it has taken time and courage for me to study all the Holy Books, and it has raised many questions in my mind, it has been a rewarding experience and I have felt Allah’s blessing on me in it.  I hope you will continue to explore some of the articles and lessons on this website.  Perhaps a good place to start is the article on what the haddiths and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) thought about and used the Taurat, Zabur and Injil (the books that make up al kitab = the Bible).  The link to this article is here.  If you have a scientific interest in how the reliability of all ancient books are determined, and whether the Bible is considered reliable or corrupted from this scientific point-of-view see the article here.

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