Did Muhammad Quote Paul?

Reading along in a late medieval Persian history, I came across the Arabic quotation “ما لا عين رأت ولا اذن سمعت” (“What eye has not seen, nor ear heard”).  Most such Arabic quotations in this work are taken from the Qur’an or the hadith, and the editor has identified all the Qur’anic citations, but not those from the hadith.  But since I am skimming this history not for religious themes but for political events, I generally skip the quotations.  This one was different: I had seen that phrase before, in another language.  The apostle Paul had written in 1 Corinthians 2:9: ἃ ὀφθαλμὸς οὐκ εἶδεν καὶ οὗς οὐκ ἢκουσεν καὶ ἐπὶ καρδίαν ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἀνέβη, ἃ ἡτοίμασεν ὁ θεὸς τοῖς ἀγαπῶσιν αὐτόν (“The things that eye has not seen and ear has not heard and have not come up upon a person’s heart, are the things that God has prepared for those who love him”; NA27).  Could it be that a late medieval Persian author was quoting the New Testament?  That would be very surprising.

So I did what all self-respecting scholars do in such a situation: I googled the Arabic phrase, to see if it occurred elsewhere, apart from the New Testament.  And it turns out that there is a hadith which uses the phrase, found in the Ṣaḥīḥ of al-Bukhārī (d. 256/870).  Here it is in Arabic:

حدثنا الحميدي حدثنا سفيان حدثنا أبو الزناد عن الأعرج عن أبي هريرة … قال: قال رسول الله … قال “الله أعددت لعبادي الصالحين ما لا عين رأت ولا أذن سمعت ولا خطر على قلب بشر فاقرءوا إن شئتم فلا تعلم نفس ما أخفي لهم من قرة أعين.”

In English, taken from an online translation:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah’s Apostle said, “Allah said, “I have prepared for My Pious slaves things which have never been seen by an eye, or heard by an ear, or imagined by a human being.” If you wish, you can recite this Verse from the Holy Quran:–“No soul knows what is kept hidden for them, of joy as a reward for what they used to do.” (32.17)

I would quibble with this translation: the Arabic here rendered “imagined by a human being” is somewhat closer in the Greek than the English is.  I might woodenly translate it “occurred upon a human’s heart.”  This means that the hadith is even closer to the Greek than is the Persian reference which I stumbled across.

But it gets even more complicated, as Paul identified his words as a scriptural quotation (καθὼς γέγραπται, “as it is written”).  It seems to be closest to a line in Isaiah 64:3 (64:4 in most English versions, here given from the BHS):

וּמֵעוֹלָ֥ם לֹא־שָׁמְע֖וּ לֹ֣א הֶאֱזִ֑ינוּ

עַ֣יִן לֹֽא־רָאָ֗תָה אֱלֹהִים֙ זוּלָ֣תְךָ֔ יַעֲשֶׂ֖ה לִמְחַכֵּה־לֽוֹ

In English, I would translate it, “And from forever ago, they have not heard, they have not listened, eye has not seen gods apart from you, who acts for the one who waits for him.”  It is clear that Paul has paraphrased the passage in Isaiah rather than quoting it verbatim.  (Paul’s version also does not match the Septuagint, which is an added wrinkle which I neglect here.)

So it is clear that the version in al-Bukhārī’s hadith collection is closer to Paul’s Greek than to the Hebrew of Isaiah.  Indeed, the hadith simply (1) moves the statement about God preparing for his people from the end of the quotation to the beginning, and (2) changes the characterization of the beneficiaries from Paul’s “love” to “pious” (Arabic صالح).  And (3) it changes Paul’s assertion that this is written (and hence authoritative) to spoken by God (and hence authoritative), with the accompanying shift from the third to the first person. But otherwise it mirrors Paul’s Greek very closely in both content and sequence, allowing us to say that the hadith clearly depends upon the Greek letter rather than some other reception of the original Hebrew prophetic book, even though the apostle Paul is not explicitly cited.

In summary, al-Bukhārī depicts Muhammad as quoting God, but in a form which clearly depends upon Paul’s paraphrase of a passage in Isaiah.  Of course, before we could say that Muhammad quoted Paul, we would need to address the authenticity question of the hadith (did Muhammad say this).  It is not contentious to say that many such ahadith (plural of hadith) were forged – medieval Muslim religious thinkers said as much many times – but it is contentious to say that any of the forged ahadith made it into a collection such as al-Bukhārī’s Ṣaḥīḥ.  But whether it was Muhammad or someone else, at least one early Muslim was willing to quote Paul’s letter 1 Corinthians, with only three mild adjustments, and prefix the whole sentence with “Allah said”!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s