Did Jesus Foretell Ahmed?
Origin of the so-called Prophecy of Jesus concerning the coming of Mohammed.
"And when Jesus the son of Mary said, O children of Israel, verily I am the apostle of God sent unto you, confirming the law which was delivered before me, and bringing good tidings of an apostle who shall come after me, and whose name shall be Ahmed.""Suratu 's-Saff.
Two things are, however, to be kept distinct — (i) the proofs sought after by those who came after Mohammed, to justify and to authenticate his mission, of which we may say that all was grist that came to their mill; and (2) the idea which Mohammed himself had in bringing forth this supposed prophecy, for it must have been either a pure invention without the slightest foundation, or he must have heard of some supposed words of Jesus, which formed the basis of this so-called prophecy about himself.
He may have heard in some way or other about the words of Jesus referring to the Paraclete, and some one may have been ingenious enough to suggest, as do the commentators, that Paracletos is corrupted from Periclutos, illustrious, of which Ahmad might be considered a translation.
Neander says in his "Church History," — "Before the time of Mohammed, Mani gave himself out to be the Paraclete promised by Christ. Hereby he in no wise understood the Holy Ghost, but a human person, an enlightened teacher promised by Christ, who was further to develop the religion revealed by him, in agreement with his Spirit, and purifying it from the corruptions of Ahriman, especially from those which had sprung from its combination with Judaism."
But is there no other passage in the Gospels, which Mohammed may have heard read and translated into Arabic, and which with a little adaptation may have given him the idea of a prophecy referring to himself? It is true that "as early as the eighth century we find Mohammedan scholars quoting various passages of the New Testament, particularly the saying regarding the Paraclete in John's Gospel, which they understood of Mohammed. He himself, however, knew the Gospel narrative from oral tradition only." (Nestle, Textual Criticism of the Greek Testament.)
No doubt Mohammed supposed, as do the Moslems today, that the Gospel, after the manner of the Koran, contains the words of God given by the mouth of Jesus. No other would be the speaker in the Gospel but Jesus as the mouthpiece of God, unless Jesus himself referred to the words of a former prophet, as Mohammed is supposed to do here.
If then Mohammed heard read in Arabic, or translated into Arabic, the following testimony of John the Baptist concerning Jesus, as found in the Gospels, he may have considered them to be the words of Jesus, and have readily interpreted them as referring to himself.
Matt. 3:11. "He that cometh after me is mightier than I." Wa Idkini ^lladhi yatt bafdl huwa aqwd minnu
Mark i : 7. And he preached, saying, There cometh after me he that is mightier than I." Wa kdna yakrizu qd'ilan ya'tt bafdl man huwa aqwd minnt,
Luke 3: 16. "There cometh he that is mightier than I." Wa Idkin yati man huwa aqwd minnt.
John 1 : 26. "In the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not, even he that cometh after me." Wa Idkin ft wasatikum qaimuni 'lladhi lastum tarifunahu huwa 'lladhi ya'tt ba^di.
John 1 : 30. "This is he of whom I said, After me Cometh a man which is before me; for he was before me." Hddhd huwa ^lladht qultu ^anhu ya^tt ba^dt rajulun sdra qudddmi liannahu kdna qabll.
If to these verses we add the words of John the Baptist, in which he speaks of the coming one as greater and more glorious than himself in every respect, so that he is not worthy even to stoop down and unloose his sandals, we certainly get the idea, if not the word, of one who was Ahmad, more worthy of praise, honor or glory than him- self.
The chief reason that has led me to ask whether we have not here the ultimate origin of the Koranic verse is the fact that the very words ya'ti badl,ox^ which is the same thing, yati min bafdi, are employed here, as in the Koran; and further that they are followed by a comparative aqwd minni, ^^mightier than I," — Greek loxvporepos. Mohammcd may have heard it translated amjad, ahmad or afdal, or some term which would suggest to him the comparative form Ahmad, which might be taken as his name.
If he heard these words read, or if they or their equivalent were reported to him, he would most likely have considered them to be words pronounced by Jesus, and he had imagination and ingenuity enough to adapt them and interpret them as referring to himself. The Koranic verse would be the result of putting the supposed prophecy into the '^perspicuous Arabic tongue."
If he did not mistake the speaker of the words, it may still be possible that the words of John referring to Jesus were deliberately copied and put into the mouth of Jesus as referring to Mohammed. In either case there is a possibility that the words under consideration are the ultimate foundation of the supposed prophecy.
There is no Koranic reference to the special ministry of John the Baptist beyond that contained in the announcement of the angels to Zachariah — And the angels called to him while he stood praying in the sanctuary, saying, ^Verily God promiseth thee a son named John, who shall bear witness to the Word which cometh from God.' "
As to the question of Arabic versions of the New Testament, Nestle refers to F. C. Burkitt in Hastings' Bible Dictionary, i. 136-138. Burkitt thinks that the oldest monument of Arabic Christianity is the manuscript formerly belonging to the convent of Mar Saba, now known as Cod. Vac. Arab. 13, and numbered loi in Ti Gr. which is generally assigned to the eighth century. It originally contained the Psalter, Gospels, Acts and Epistles, and is derived from the Syriac. Fragments of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and of the Pauline Epistles are all that now remain. (Nestle: Textual Criticism of the Greek N. T., p. 143.) This oldest monument of Arabic Christianity may have had direct ancestors leading back to the time of Mohammed. At any rate he may have heard one of these verses read and translated from Syriac into Arabic. The nearest approach to the Koranic verse is that in Mark's Gospel —
wa kdna yakrizu qailan yatl badi man huiva aqwd minni (Koran)
mubashshiran bi rasulin yatl mm ba'dt 'smuhu Ahmadu
I make this suggestion as the possible ultimate origin of the Koranic verse, and should like to see if any further light can be thrown upon the subject by the exercise of critical acumen and fuller knowledge than mine.*
•Dr. Duncan B. Macdonald, of Hartford Theological Seminary, writes me in regard to my suggested solution of this question:
"Your point cannot, I fear, be proven,
but it is I think highly probable. I have nothing here to consult, Syriac version or otherwise, and I doubt if much light would be found there, for I think it is almost certain that the Syrian-Arabian Church used the system of oral translation in its services, that is, the early stage of 'targums.'
"As to your questions: (i) There is no evidence that Mohammed was ever called Ahmed; as names, the two words are quite distinct. (2) I have no doubt that the Quranic passage you quote refers to a real or supposed passage in Scripture. (3) I have no doubt that Mohammed had often been present at Christian services and had picked up and stored away in his memory recollections, often queerly distorted, of what he heard or supposed he heard. These came to the surface later in his automatic, semi-automatic, and quite conscious utterances.
"As to the connection of your passage with the Paraclete passages in John, remember that the Periclytos suggestion is due to Father Marracci, and reached the Mohammedan world only through Sale's version. I have no doubt that your view of Mohammed's idea of the Injil is correct. He would think of it all as divine utterances through 'Isa' — just like the Quran. And that is the attitude of Islam after him. It holds that our gospels are parallel to the traditions."