Parallelism: Sanhedrin 37a
This article or section is being renovated.
For the full article with many more examples than are included in this series, see
The Qur'an parallels a passage in the Talmud, specifically a rabbinical commentary in the Book of Sanhedrin.
The salient points are:
a. The Qur'an itself admits to Judeao-Christian origin of this story with the phrase, 'We decreed (katabnā) for the Children of Israel…’
This word katabnā كَتَبْنَا is from the same Arabic root as kitāb, meaning book, as in 'People of the Book', and the verb kataba literally means he wrote. It is used a few verses later (wakatabnā) in Quran 5:45 regarding some things that are certainly in the written Torah, and in another example Quran 7:145 it is used for Allah writing on the stone tablets. Lane's Lexicon includes 'prescribed', 'ordained' among its definitions for this verb , though it is likely that this usage arose from royal decrees and legal rulings being written down. In some other verses exactly the same word is translated 'We have written'. It is quite obvious that the author believed that this 'decree' was in the law book of the Jews, the written Torah.
- b. The Sanhedrin parallel is not in the Torah as it is merely a rabbinical commentary on Cain’s murder of Abel, derived from the use of the plural, "bloods", in Genesis 4:10. It is a Mishnayot – a teaching of a Jewish sage, and not from the biblical tradition as such but rather an extension of it.
- c. The Qur'anic verse relates to the story of Cain's murder of Abel Quran 5:27-31, as does the Sanhedrin parallel.
Some Muslims (e.g. Dr Saifullah) claim that the parallelism is inexact, as the Sanhedrin 37a should be limited to ‘whoever destroys a single soul of Israel’. They claim that since the Qur'an lacks this reference to the 'single soul of Israel' but instead, generalizes the injunction to any soul, then the charge of parallelism has failed.
Problems with this argument
- Dr Saifullah's argument that the two stories are not exact copies doesn't hold water, since stories usually change in transmission.
- "of Israel" is absent in some manuscripts of this passage in the Babylonian Talmud, and we don't know which version Muhammad might have heard.
- The commentary also appears in the Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4/5, which omits the phrase, ‘of Israel’. There is no evidence that Muhammad had to rely on the Babylonian Talmud and not the Jerusalem Talmud, even though the former is considered more authoritative. Joseph Witztum is even more emphatic that "of Israel" is merely a secondary reading.
Prima facie - this is a clear-cut case of the Qur'an taking a story from apocryphal literature as scripture, since Sanhedrin 37a is from the "oral" Torah and therefore not part of the original biblical canon. There is no other explanation for the phrase, ‘We decreed / have written’ (katabna) in the verse-- it appears the Qur'an considers this apocryphal tradition to be on the same level as the biblical canon. The claim that it is lost because the Torah is corrupted stretches credulity because the parallelism exists in the Talmud, and it is unlikely that something lost from the Torah should find its way almost unchanged into the Talmud as a commentary of a narrative (i.e. a mishnayot). If the Rabbi had in mind a verse in the Torah that has since been lost, he would not have quoted verbatim from Genesis 4:10 ('it is written...'), but then when making his main point not quoted directly this hypothetical lost verse. It is not a law, despite being in the Talmud (Oral Law) but a commentary by a Jewish sage, who explains his reasoning.
Thus the use of the word "katabna" / decreed / ordain / prescribe / write something was used for a commentary written by a Jewish Rabbi. The conclusion seems to be that the Qur'an sees this tradition as being on the same level as the Bible, or else is not aware that it does not in fact stem from the Bible.
- katabā Lane's Lexicon book 1 page 2590
- Joseph Witztum (2011) The Syriac milieu of the Quran: The recasting of Biblical narratives, PhD Thesis, Princeton University footnote on p. 123