Taḥrīf (Arabic: تحريف "distortion, corruption, alteration") is an Arabic term used by Muslims with regard to irreparable alterations Islamic tradition supposes Jews and Christians to have made to Biblical manuscripts, specifically those that make up the Tawrat (or Torah), Zabur (or Psalms) and Injil (the New Testament).
Traditional Muslim scholars, based on Qur'anic and other traditions, maintain that Jews and Christians have changed the word of God. Therefore it is a presupposition of the final outcome of biblical Textual Criticism to be failure of the text. Based on the current textual criticism consensus, the most reliable editions of these documents available are:
▪ the Biblia Hebraica Quinta - the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), or Old Testament.
▪ the Novum Testamentum Graecae - the New Testament, a document either of or relating to the Injil.
These critical texts are continually drawing closer to the original texts. Before 1900, only 9 New Testament papyri manuscripts were known, in 1963 there were 76 papyri - while as of 2008 there are 124 papyri.
Origin of tahrif
Tahrif in the first centuries of Islam
According to Camilla Adang, early scholars known to support the lack of change of the Tawrat and Injil are Ibn al-Layth, Ibn Rabban, Ibn Qutayba, Al-Ya'qubi, Al-Tabari, Al-Baqillani, Al-Mas'udi.
The theme of tahrif found its first detailed elaboration in the writings of Ibn Hazm (10th century), who argued against Mosaic authorship and accused Ezra of writing the Torah. He also arranged systematically and in scholarly detail the arguments against the authenticity of the Biblical text in the first (Tanakh) and second part (New Testament) of his book: chronological and geographical inaccuracies and contradictions; theological impossibilities (anthropomorphic expressions, stories of fornication and whoredom, and the attributing of sins to prophets), as well as lack of reliable transmission (tawatur) of the text. He explains how the falsification of the Torah could have taken place while there existed only one copy of the Torah kept by the Aaronic priesthood of the Temple in Jerusalem. Ibn Hazm's impact on later Muslim polemics was great, and the themes which he raised with regard to tahrif and other polemical ideas were updated only slightly by some later authors.
Tahrif of the New Testament
In the Quran, the Injeel (good news or Gospel in English) is a revelation to Jesus as a prophet. It was not a revelation to Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter or any other person. It is believed among Muslims that Jesus' sayings in the Gospels are part of Jesus' revelation, that was never noted down.
Criticism of tahrif
At or before c. 33 AD
Muslims believe that holy revelations prior to the life of Jesus were contained in the Suhuf Ibrahim, the Tawrat and the Zabur. Muslims also believe that Jesus was taught and accepted the truth of the Tawrat and the Zabur during his lifetime. Therefore, any manuscripts of the Tawrat (Torah) or Zabur (Psalms) that can be dated prior to (or during) the life of Jesus are possibly without error.
From c. 33 AD to c. 700 AD
Sura 29:46 implies that up to the time of the Quranic revelation, the Bible was valid. "And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury); but say, 'We believe in the revelation which as come down to us and in that which came down to you; our God and your God is One; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).'
Therefore, it would have been impossible in the late 700s for Jews and Christians to have changed the text; they were spread all over the world. At the time of corruption, there would be too many copies in circulation to change—not to mention the diversity of language.
Qur'an and the claim of the distortion of the text itself
Canadian Professor Gary Miller a Muslim convert believes that the Qur'an criticizes the handling of scripture by some Jews and Christians rather than their holy books. According to Gary Miller, Qur'an only makes the following three accusations:
▪ "The Qur'an says some of the Jews and Christians pass over much of what is in their scriptures."
▪ "Some of them have changed the words, and this is the one that is misused by Muslims very often giving the impression that once there was a true bible and then somebody hid that one away, then they published a false one. The Qur'an doesn’t say that. What it criticizes is that people who have the proper words in front of them, but they don’t deliver that up to people. They mistranslate it, or misrepresent it, or they add to the meaning of it. They put a different slant on it."
▪ "Some people falsely attribute to God what is really written by men."
Among the earliest Christian documents on Islam in retrospect are the letter Maximus the Confessor wrote between the year 634 and 640 to Peter the Illustrious and the three writings of Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (d. 639) ranging from 634 till 637. Absent from these writings is any sense that the Arabs were spurred by a new religion.
The Melkites, those who had lost their empire, ascribed the success of the Muslims to Christian sins. The Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, written between 685 and 692 (Syriac version), state among other things that the Muslims were given to rule over the Christians for their punishment and purification.
The first Melkite example of doctrinal refutation is Anastasius of Sinai (d.c. 700).
The argument of tahrif is also refuted in an early polemical text attributed to the Byzantine Emperor Leo III with the statement that Jews and Christians share the same, widely-known divine text, and that Ezra, the covenantal architect of the Second Temple, was a pious, reliable person. The same arguments appear in later Jewish writings.
Further Modern Christian criticism
Modern Christian rejection of tahrif is based on five broad arguments:
1 There is little physical manuscript evidence of alteration to the Biblical texts. Also devotion of the Jewish people to the Torah and the meticulous copying of text by the Massoretes runs against Muslim charges. The oldest Dead Sea Scrolls versions c. 280 BCE – 68 CE match current usage with only minor variations.
2 There is no satisfactory answer to why Jews and Christians would change their text.
3 Jews and Christians were hostile to each other. Little agreement could have been achieved. For example in the first century St Paul was regularly attacked by the Jews (Acts 23v12) and anti-Jewish attacks were a regular occurrence by 372CE.
4 Differing new sects would have disagreed with mainline groups over changes. Thus no uniform set of alterations could be made as the Muslim claims.
5 Former Jews and Christians who became Muslims never mentioned any possibility of deliberate corruption—something we could definitely expect if it were true