Was it compatible with Muhammad's plan to borrow from Judaism?
We must consider this question from two sides. First, it might have appeared to Muhammad as inadvisable to borrow from the system of any other religious body lest he should be accused of want of individuality; and secondly, there might have been something in the very fact of adopting from Judaism which would militate against his other plans. On closer examination, however, we find that neither was the case. In general he was in favour of borrowing from earlier religions. He desired no peculiarity, no new religion which should oppose all that had gone before; he sought rather to establish one founded on the ancient creeds purified from later changes and additions, one which should adopt this or that new idea, and which
should above all things acknowledge him as a divinely commissioned prophet. He let all that was already established stand good, as is seen from the lists of the prophets quoted above; and he counts it as a point in favour of his Quran that it is1 in accord with the earlier writings recognised by him as revelations. Another time he even says that the Quran is similar to tho earlier religious writings, that it is only a repetition of them, i.e., if I am not mistaken in forsaking the general interpretation and translating the passage Sura XXXIX. 24 2 as follows God hath sent down the most excellent tidings3 a writing like unto others, a repetition." If this is not the meaning, it is incomprehensible how Muhammad could try to prove the superiority of his Quran by pointing to its continual and almost wearisome repetitions. But if his assertion were true, he might gain some advantage by being in accord with earlier revealed writings, and by restoring to their proper position those of them which had been spoiled by additions and perversions, and those which had been too little accounted of. He claims for himself only the same honour which is paid to the other givers of revealed law;4 with this distinction however that he, as the last of the
prophets, is to be considered as the seal of the prophets,1 and therefore as the most perfect among them, because his book is so clear2 that no disputes or misunderstandings can arise about it, and, therefore, no apostle would be needed after himself. Thus it is clear that a borrowing from other religions was quite compatible with Muhammad's general aim. Consideration for his Arab followers, i.e,, the fear of being called a mere compiler, a reproach which he did not altogether escape, did not hinder him, from such borrowing, partly, because he believed that he might rely on their ignorance; partly, because he had only to prove the harmony which must necessarily exist between the various revelations of the same God. Muhammad maintained that it was all revelation, that he derived nothing from Jew or Christian, but that God Himself revealed to him the contents of earlier Scriptures, and the historical facts concerning them. With regard to Judaism in particular Muhammad found no special difficulty. We have already observed that much in it accorded with the Prophet's poetic spirit, and who can now assert that any objection to an agreement with Judaism would have been raised by Muhammad's contemporaries? In those days people had not reached such a pitch of so-called enlightenment, as to consider the followers of one creed only as in the right, and to regard everything belonging to another belief as worthless; to restrict to Christians the elements common to humanity, and to condemn Judaism as crafty and lifeless. Thus it was possible for Muhammad to lay before the Jews the points of union between his religion and their own, carefully avoiding the while those points in his doctrine which would be unacceptable to them.
It is clear in itself that he could not adopt the whole of
Judaism into his system, but parts only and even these he was obliged to alter and rearrange. In bringing the Jews to his opinion he had to be careful not to alienate others; he could not, therefore, adopt from them such points as stood in complete contradiction to the views of other religious bodies; and so, while he totally excluded some things, he was obliged to elaborate and alter other things with which he could not dispense, in order that they might still be more strong than his own position. Of this he either became aware himself, or others reproached him with it, so that he was forced to assert1 that the Quran is not a new invented fiction. He could not maintain with the Jews that their Law was immutable, for that would have been fatal to his system of religious syncretism; nor could he with them expect a Messiah, because if there were another prophet yet to come, he Muhammad could no longer claim to be the seal of the prophets. This last point was carried so far that the Arabs later on confounded the doctrine of a Dajjal or deceiver, which they had borrowed from the Christians, with the doctrine of the expected Messiah of the later Jews; and the saying existed2 "The name of Dajjal among the Jews is Messiah the son of David." Much in confirmation of what has been stated above will be brought forward in the Second Section of the Second Division, and also in the Appendix.
While this investigation has for the most part consisted in enquiring into what was, or might well have been, in Muhammad's mind, it is by no means to be imagined that we regard him as a deceiver who deceived intentionally, and with a well-weighed consideration of each step as to whether or no it would help him towards his aim of deluding others. Wuhl regards him in this light. On the
contrary, we must guard ourselves carefully against such an opinion, and look upon it as a sign of persistent prejudice and total misunderstanding of the human heart. Muhammad seems rather to have been a genuine enthusiast, who was himself convinced of his divine mission, and to whom the union of all religions appeared necessary to the welfare of mankind. He so fully worked himself into this idea in thought, in feeling and in action, that every event seemed to him a divine inspiration. Every thing necessary to the attainment of his aim stood out clearly before him, just because this one idea ruled him. He could think of nothing but what fitted in with it, could feel nothing but what harmonised with it, could do nothing but what was demanded by it. There is no question here of design, for this one idea so possessed his spirit, heart and will as to become the sole thought of his mind, so that every thing which entered his mind was shared by this idea. Of course, in the most fanatical minds there are occasional lucid intervals, and during these Muhammad certainly deceived himself and others; it is also undeniable that at times ambition and love of power were the incentives to his actions, but even so the harsh judgment generally passed upon him is unjustifiable.
We may say, as a result of this investigation, that it would be very remarkable if there were not much to be found in the Quran which is clearly in harmony with Judaism. It is evident that Muhammad sought to gain the Jews to his side, and this could best be done by approximating to their religions views; it is also evident that he had ample means of acquainting himself with these Views; and lastly, that other considerations favoured rather than hindered such a borrowing from Judaism. And now the chief work remains to be done, and that is, to demonstrate by careful reference to the Quran that borrowing from Judaism has actually taken place.
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