The Dead Sea Scrolls are greatly significant to Qur'anic
studies. Yet the Muslim Ummah knows little about this "ayat" of Allah. The word
"ayat" as used in the Quran literally means a sign. The 6, 236 ayat of the
Qur'an, for example, have been communicated to us by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
The other set of ayat or signs of Allah are spread throughout the universe.
Different aspects of nature evident in the physical universe, like the creation
of the sun, moon, stars and the earth in the rain changes of seasons, in the
growing of the trees, in differences in the colors of the human race. The
archaeological monuments and the ruins of the part which tell the stories of
those who lived in the land are yet another set of ayat.
The Nag Hammadi Scrolls
In 1945 and 1947 ayat of greatest significance were
brought to our notice by Allah. This can be regarded as the most important
manuscript discovery ever made in the field of Biblical studies, having a direct
bearing on Aur;anic studies. The Nag Hammadi Scrolls were found on the west bank
of the Nile in upper Egypt in 1945. This is a collection of 13 codices of
Gnostic scriptures and commentaries written in the second or the third century,
though the codices are 4th century copies.
These were Biblical texts in Aramaic and Hebrew. As soon
as they were discovered, Biblical scholars realized how dangerous they could be
to the present reliability of the Bible, both from the point of view of the Jews
and the Christians. By 1948, they had all been purchased by the Cario Coptic
Museum. There was, initially, an attempt by French Catholic scholars to
establish a monopoly over the material. As a result, work on them was delayed
until 1966. The scrolls were then turned over to an international team of
scholars for translation and publication. The head of the team of scholars was
James M. Robinson of California. He and his team moved with swiftly and within
three years a number of draft transcriptions and translations were being made
available to scholars. By 1973 the entire Nag Hammadi Library was in draft
English translation and being circulated freely among interested scholars. In
1977, the complete body of Nag Hammadi codices was published, in facsimile - a
total of 46 books plus some unidentified fragments was brought out in popular
The Gospel of Thomas was discovered in these scrolls. It
was written closer to Jesus' so-called crucifixion than the Gospel of Mark,
which is officially considered as the earliest. After this discovery it was
found that 82% of the parables, aphorisms, etc. put into Jesus' mouth by the New
Testament scribes were never uttered by him.
Moreover, according to this fresh evidence the divinity of
Jesus was now being challenged. The idea that Jesus was just a man poses various
doctrinal problems for the Christians as they view the central figure of
Christianity as divine. The Jesus of Islam as depicted in the Qur'an was just a
man and a messenger of Allah.
The Qumran Scrolls
Two years later, in 1947, Bedouin shepherds found a vast
library of over 800 texts. The texts were in the shape of scrolls of leather
wrapped in linen and hidden in earthen jars in a series of caves in Qumran.
Qumran is a village at the northwestern end of the Dead Sea, 16 Kilometers east
The scrolls had been written in Aramaic and Hebrew between
250 BC and 100 AD by members of a hitherto little known Jewish brotherhood, the
Essenes. The Dead Sea scrolls can be divided into two distinct groups: Biblical
and non-Biblical texts. Between 20 and 25 percent of the documents are
classified as Biblical. The Biblical texts can be regarded as the oldest known
copies of the Old Testament, as well as long lost originals of several books of
the Apocrypha. These texts are 1000 years older than the oldest known
traditional Hebrew text of Taurat, which is the basis of the English translation
of the Old Testament. Everybody of the Hebrew Bible is represented except the
Book of Esther. Two of the oldest known copies of the Book of Isaiah are also
found. The most interesting point is that in respect to some of the Books of the
Bible, the original Aramaic or the Hebrew texts were not available. As such
these books were translated from the available Greek translations. Now that the
Aramaic and the Hebrew texts are available, the present text of the Bible needs
correction. This is a disturbing factor for both the Jews and the Christians who
again have differences among themselves.
It is a Christian belief to take everything in the present
Bible literally and to consider it as most authentic. It is regarded as one of
the fundamentals of faith. After the discovery of the earliest, and therefore
more reliable, text the very reliability of the present Bible is questioned.
The Qumran brotherhood, i.e. the Essenes, lived at the
same time and in the same region as John the Baptist, who was himself a
harbinger of subsequent Christian ideas. The scrolls provide a background to the
missions of John the Baptist and Jesus. There are also secular documents,
including military dispatches and legal writs in several languages including
Arabic writings can be of special importance for Qur'anic
studies. Pre-Islamic Arabic poetry provided a mine of information on diction and
our commentators have taken advantage of it, to elucidate the meanings of the
Qur'anic words. The scrolls provide specimen of the earliest Arabic and
therefore can be very valuable. The scrolls offer no parallels to the Christian
doctrines of Trinity, incarnations, i.e. God existing in human form in the
person of Jesus, atonement (expiation of sin through the suffering and death of
Jesus Christ on behalf of the sinners) and redemption through the cross. It is
obvious that these doctrines are later fabrications introduced by Paul.
The Muslims accept Taurat, Injil and all the earlier Books
as divine revelations, a part of their "iman" (belief). The Qur'an has clearly
declared that it is not the first revelations: "Nothing is said to you which has
not been said to other messengers before you." (41:43) The Qur'an also claims
that its verses are similar to verses of the earlier scriptures. "He has sent
down to you the Book containing the truth and fulfilling that which precedes,
it, and He has sent down the Taurat and the Injil before this, as a guidance to
the people and He has now sent down the Furqan." (3:3-4)
When these ayat were revealed the question arose among the
Muslims in general, and the converts from Judaism and Christianity, with
leanings towards the scriptures of their earlier religions in particular, that
if the Taurat, Zubur and the Injil were all accepted by the Qur'an as divine
scriptures, why not continue to follow them?
The Qur'an has exposed the corruptions made deliberately
in the earlier scriptures. This explains the interesting position of the
Muslims with regard to all earlier scriptures. Although they accept the divine
origin of the earlier scriptures, they maintain that all the earlier scriptures
as they exist today are not to be followed.
The scrolls confront us with a challenge. We Muslims
regard the Jews and the Christians as the people of the Book and we have
profound respect and regard for their Books and their Prophets whom we regard
as our own Prophets. But unfortunately - unfortunately both for them and for us
the Jews and the Christians we incimical towards Islam and the Muslims. In the
name of scholarship and critical studies the oriental scholars try to prove
that the Qur'an has borrowed "themes" and "diction" from the Bible. If we are
alert to the situation now (that the authenticity of the present Bible itself is
being questioned) we can disprove their motivated contentions.
What we require today is a team of young scholars of the
Aramaic and Hebrew languages to study the scrolls. On the one hand we can show
how and where the tahrif (alteration) has occurred in the text of the Bible. On
the other hand we can defend ourselves: although the Qur'an has used words from
Aramaic and Hebrew it has maintained its own terminology, which is far superior
to the concepts found in the Aramaic or Hebrew texts of the present Bible or the
texts now discovered.