that style has prevailed ever since. One of the most valuable collections is
the Commentary compiled by Soyuty as late as the tenth century.
The following is Sprenger's estimate of the value of the Commentaries, as
bearing on the biography of Mahomet:
We are concerned here, not with
the degree in which these writers illustrated the Coran, but with the
accounts they contain of Mahomet's life. The traditions of this nature which
they have preserved are so numerous and so detailed, that (excepting only
the two points of chronology and the campaigns) it were an easier task to
compile a life of Mahomet without the "Biographies," than without
the "Commentaries." Their statements, further, are somewhat more
trustworthy, for they were committed to writing at a much earlier period;
and if their prejudices were deeper and more numerous, still they were of a
different sort. They were also obliged to make mention of many incidents
because of allusions to them in the Coran, which the Biographers pass over
in silence. The Commentators, taken in conjunction with the Biographers,
even where both are untrue, often enable us to pierce deeper into the real
facts, or at least to detect untruthfulness. Moreover, although the
Commentaries may have been always taken advantage of by the Biographers, it
is not a sufficient reason for us to pass by the former, simply that the
latter may have taken from them as much as served their own purpose (iii. p.
The judgment of Sprenger is here, as elsewhere, tinged with prejudice against
the Biographers. The Commentators in fact, as guides, are singularly unsafe.
To illustrate allusions in the Coran they are ever ready with a story in
point: but unfortunately there are almost always several different tales, all
equally apposite to the same matter. The textual allusion, in fact, was often
the father of the story. What was originally perhaps a mere conjecture of
supposed events giving rise to an expression in the Coran, or a simple surmise
in explanation of some passage, by degrees assumed the garb of fact. Thus the
imaginary tradition and the facts which it professes to attest, often rest
without doubt on no better authority than that of the verse or passage itself.
Moreover, whatever really valuable traditional matter is to be found in the
Commentaries, was made use of by the Biographers. We can hardly point to a
single event in the life of the Prophet, which rests upon the independent,
evidence of the Commentators.