Tahrif ("scriptural falsification") and Tanzil ("divine revelation"):
Some aspects of divine guidance through sacred Scripture

By Stephen Lambden

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #60
Bosch Bahá'í School: Santa Cruz, California, USA
May 26–29, 2005
(see list of papers from #60)

    One of the major features of the age-old polemical interaction between major Abrahamic peoples and religions of the Book has been the question of the sacredness, veracity and inspired or revealed nature of specific scriptures in the form of a sacred Book or collection of books. Jews accused their Samaritan ("Israelite-Judaic") neighbors and various Christian groups of tampering with sacred writ and both these and other groups reciprocated similarly. Following a few qur'anic verses primarily directed towards Jews (Q. 2:75b; 4:46a; 5:13a; 5:41b) it was from very early on in the evolution of Islam (2nd-3rd cent AH), that Muslim writers condemned both Jews and Christians for indulging in the (Ar.) tahríf ("scriptural falsification") and tabdíll ("textual alternation") of the Bible. Many Muslims came to regard the Bible as largely or wholly "corrupted" and repeated versions of a tradition interdicting qur'anic-Islamic exposition through biblically related traditions of the bani Isra'il ("children of Israel") known as Isra'iliyyat ("Israelitica").

    The anti-biblical / Isra'iliyyat position was trenchantly and most famously voiced, for example, by the prolific Andalusian theologian, jurist and ultimately ?ahiri ("literalist"-"fundamentalist") Sunni writer Ibn Hazm (d. 456/1064) as well as by many others. A considerable number of post 3rd cent AH /10th century CE Muslim thinkers in both the Sunni and Shi`i worlds regarded the Bible as "corrupted" alwa? (scriptural Tablets) of the Edirne (Adrianople; 1863-1868) and Acre (`Akka') or West Galilean periods (1868-1892).

    Bahá'u'lláh's eldest son `Abdu'l-Bahá elaborated his father's perspectives regarding the Bible and the Qur'an denying concrete tahríf of both these sacred books while condemning scriptural literalism and restrictive, non-spiritual fundamentalism. Bahá'u'lláh's great-grandson Shoghi Effendi (d. 1957) clarified further the Bahái attitude towards Abrahamic and other sacred books exhorting Bahá'ís to study and expound both the Bible and the Qur'an in the light of Bahá'í perspectives.

    In this paper aspects of the history of tahríf and related concepts in biblical and Islamic history will be surveyed along with the Bábí-Bahá'í attitude towards them. It will be seen that the Bahá'í attitude towards the Bible and Qur'an is accepting and unitative of Jewish-Christian and Islamic perspectives. Both Bible and Qur'an are seen to complement each other and contain valid levels of inspiration and guidance.

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