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The Name of Allah prior to Islam

Reader comment on item: Is Allah God? - Continued
in response to reader comment: Allah is not God

Submitted by Albert Gabran (United States), Jan 29, 2011 at 12:47

The Name of Allah prior to Islam

Bruno Violet (1901) published a fragment of Psalm 78 (77 in LXX), discovered in Damascus, in which the Greek text is in one column and the parallel column contains an Arabic translation in Greek characters. Michael Macdonald, a paleographer and an expert on Ancient Arabic, makes the following evaluation of this text (2004: 50):

Following a detailed study of this text I am convinced that it is pre-Islamic. This is the most valuable text in Old Arabic so far discovered since the Greek transliteration seems to have been made with great care and consistency from an oral source, and thus is uncomplicated by the orthographic conventions of another script.

In this fragment, the Greek term for God, ho theos, is found in verses 22, 31, and 59. It is translated there into Arabic as αλλαυ = Arabic اللهallâh - (where the Arabic /h/ has been transliterated with a Greek upsilon, as is the custom in this manuscript). This provides further evidence that pre-Islamic Arab Christians were using allâh الله to refer to God. One also notes that the Greek letter lambda is doubled; this demonstrates that the Arabic letter lām must have been pronounced double by this time as well. Given the practice in ancient Arabic of not writing doubled letters twice or an internal /ā/ vowel at all (Macdonald 1999b: 271), this Greek evidence provides further support for Winnett's claim (1938) that 'lh in the epigraphic evidence was pronounced as allâh.

The New Testament or parts of it were translated many times into Arabic. Kachouh (2006; personal correspondence) has compared 210 different ancient and medieval translations, and he discerns among them 22 different translation traditions. The extant manuscripts date from the post-Islamic period, but there is evidence for pre-Islamic translations of the Gospel, although scholars disagree on the matter It is said that Waraqah ibn Nawfal , ورقة ابن نوفل translated the Gospel and other portions of the Bible into Arabic in Mecca in the sixth century, which is well before John of Sedra (Hadith Sahih al-Bukhari صحيح البخاري , volume 9, book 87, number 111) and Aghani الأغانيstate that Waraqah ibn Nawfal, was the cousin of Muhammad's wife Khadija, was a Christian who studied the Bible and who translated parts of one or more Gospels into Arabic. Even if it was an apocryphal الأبوكريفية Gospel that he translated, like the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, (which has parallels with some Qur'anic stories of Jesus), such an activity would suggest that Muhammad had access to Christian Arabic terms for God. There is no evidence that Waraqah ever became a Muslim,.

Ibn Isḥāq ابن اسحق (died 761) wrote that in 570 AD one of the stones of the Ka'ba الكعبة was found to have writing on it, and the words he quotes are clearly taken from Matthew 7:16 : Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

مِنْ ثِمَارِهِمْ تَعْرِفُونَهُمْ. هَلْ يَجْتَنُونَ مِنَ الشَّوْكِ عِنَبًا، أَوْ مِنَ الْحَسَكِ تِينًا؟

(Guillaume & Ibn Ishaq 2002 [1955]: 86). Irfan Shahid (1971: 249–250) presents evidence that before 520 AD the Christians of Najran had the Gospel in their language, meaning their dialect of Arabic, written in Musnad script. Trimingham (1979: 225) cites Michael the Syrian's 12th century Chronicle to the effect that John of Sedra, Patriarch of Antioch, arranged in the early 7th century for "the first translation of the four Gospels" into Arabic for use by Muslim scholars. The Patriarch's translation does not survive, except perhaps, for a passage from John that is "quoted" by Ibn Isḥāq.

Many translations were lost, largely due to the destruction of monasteries, but copies of many translations have survived and can be viewed in various libraries and museums. The following chart lists the principal ancient and medieval Arabic translations that I have examined, showing the dates of the surviving manuscripts and the evident origin and source language of each translation The translations that appear to be earliest in origin are presented first:

Submitting....

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