Essays on Judaism

...and thoughts on Torah life

Boruch Clinton

Playing With the Book

It's not for nothing that the Jews are called the "People of the Book." In each generation since Sinai there have been thousands and often tens of thousands of our people could claim vast expertise in both the written and oral components of our Torah. Which Jewish city today doesn't have at least a few men who have been publicly reciting the Torah weekly (and finishing it annually) for decades and can quote for you almost any passage on the spot? And there are many indeed who have comparable knowledge of the vast Talmud (I've known a few myself).
So now, picture this: your favorite animal is the rabbit and you don't like the bad press it has received by being included among the "unclean" species in the Bible. Thinking to right the injustice, you set about spreading the word that our editions got it all wrong and that the rabbit is actually the most beloved and pure of all God’s creatures. What are your chances of success? And yet, they still try...

I have been corresponding with a Muslim and he sent me some material which had references to the Torah. It basically suggests that Muhammed is specifically named prophetically in the Torah. Since I am not knowledgeable in this area, can you shed some light on this subject. [...] Here is an excerpt from their literature:
"In those books, the name of Muhammed is given in Syriac form, such Mushafah, Munhammanna, Himyata, and names meaning Muhammed in Hebrew. otherwise the name of Muhammed is explicity mentioned only in a few places, which were also altered by the jealous Jews. A verse from the Psalms of David states: O David! A prophet will appear after you, named Ahmed Muhammed; he will be truthful, and he will be a chief, and his Community will be forgiven. Another verse from the Torah: Muhammed is God's Messenger, his brithplace is Mecca, he will emigrate to Tayba, his rule will be in Damascus, and his Community will constantly praise God. In thsi verse, a Syriac word meaning Muhammed is mentioned for the word Muhammed."

Where they get these verses, I don't know. But they claim that the Torah had been corrupted. Can you give any comments on this; and what is good evidence for the Torah text not being corrupted.

I can certainly appreciate your reluctance to accept these passages at face value. I have never seen any verses like them nor to they strike me as stylistically similar to any of the books of the Old Testament (of course, that's not an absolute proof, but it's at least an indication). You could, if you're interested, always ask them for the precise sources and send me any that come along...[none ever did]. The Hebrew pronunciation for Mohammed, by the way, is "Mechmad" which is close to one conjugation of the Hebrew word "pleasure," but I still don't see how that would fit any of the "proofs" you've quoted above.

Now, as to the issue of the Torah having been corrupted, the Five Books undeniably existed in their present form at the time they were translated into Greek at the command of the Egyptian/Greek king, Ptolemy (approximately 300 BCE - some 1000 years before the birth of Mohammed!). Of course, for the translators to have had a standardized and publicly accepted text with which to work, the Torah in its current manifestation must have been at least a few centuries older than that (otherwise the Jews of Ptolemy's generation would have cried "fraud"). So, obviously, the text could never have been adjusted with Islam in mind - it was simply too well-known and widely spread.

Just think about how one would go about changing it now: even if you published a corrupted version in, say, English, there are probably (literally) billions of pre-existing editions in hundreds of languages all over the planet...who would even notice your changes (much less reproduce them)? I don't think that, from a qualitative perspective, things were all that different 1400 years ago (at the time of Mohammed). Or, in other words, our text is pretty darn good.