THE recent discovery of the medieval Arabic manuscript written by Abdal - Jabbar (which means "the servant of the Mighty One") of the tenth century in the archives of Istanbul, Turkey, is not only of great interest to scholars but to all students of the Spirit of Prophecy. What makes this 600-page manuscript (mention of which appears in the July 15, 1966, issue of Time, page 64) of unique interest to church historians is that Abdal-Jabbar included in his text about 140 pages of an Arabic translation of a Syriac account of Nazarene beliefs. This Syriac account is believed to be dating from the fifth century or before the birth of Mohammed, the prophet of Islam. The fact that Abdal-Jabbar wrote in Arabic is indeed an advantage, since the Arabic language is a living language, and its type of writing presents no deciphering problems as may be encountered in, say, the cuneiform or hieroglyphic. It was indeed interesting to note that Prof. David Flusser was reported to have said about this discovery that it is "as important for the story of the first Christians as the Dead Sea Scrolls were for understanding the pre-Christian background."
Not only will this manuscript be of interest to church historians but it may give us an insight into doctrinal beliefs that were prevalent in Syria and other neighboring countries in the fifth century. Beliefs that according to the Spirit of Prophecy were promulgated since the time of the resurrection of Christ and that must have survived in different places up till the time of the prophet of Islam, who was born on or about the twentieth day of August in A.D. 570, and through Islam till our present day.
Saint Jerome (c. 340-420), Epiphanius (c. 315-403), and Augustine mention the Nazarenes. Their comments not only help us to know some doctrinal beliefs that they held but they give us an idea about their origin, speaking of them as a group of people represented by the Christians who fled to Pella at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. Through them we also know that the Nazarenes existed in Coele-Syria, Decapolis (Pella), and Basanitis. All this makes it very interesting to the Arabic-speaking people of today. This is because the Moslems hold a great many beliefs that are common with all Christians. They also hold some beliefs that seem to be in common with the Nazarenes. Of course, we know that Biblical and extra-Biblical references abound to show the continuous intermingling between the Jews, the Christians, and the Arabs. We also know that Mohammed himself came in contact with both Christians and Jews. In fact, one of his wives was a Christian. We further know that Mohammed made several trips to Syria, some of them with his uncle Abu Talib, and he must have had a good knowledge of the different and contradicting Christian doctrines that prevailed at that time.
Although we do not here intend to go into all the Biblical references about the Arabs who are the children of Abraham through Ishmael, or even discuss the Arabic language that must have been spoken by the disciples from the day of Pentecost on (see Acts 2:11 and The Acts of the Apostles, pages 39, 40), and may even have been understood by Paul who lived three years in Arabia (Gal. 1:17), we do want to emphasize one or two Spirit of Prophecy items of interest with reference to the recent discovery.
But before we quote from the Koran and from Nazarene beliefs it is important to mention that Ellen G. White often discussed places and customs that exist, even to the present day, in Bible lands, and that with amazing accuracy and insight. In fact, when recently my wife and I had the unparalleled privilege of editing twelve Arabic volumes of Mrs. White's translated writings, we were astounded to know how she, in discussing customs and in describing different Biblical sights, speaks as if she had been born and raised in these lands. In fact, missionaries and overseas men who live in the Bible lands for years could never understand the basic and intrinsic thoughts of the natives. These seem to have been thoroughly understood by Mrs. White. As to her description of Biblical places, my wife and I, who only once had the privilege of making the rather hazardous trip to Mount Sinai, never cease to wonder at her most accurate description of the journey of the Israelites as given in her book Patriarchs and Prophets, page 301. Having made the trip and lived the experience, we often wonder how one who never made it could be so precise and accurate in her descriptions. Indeed, this same amazing knowledge of the Eastern thoughts as well as her understanding of the basic philosophy behind the customs of the people prevail in all her writings and especially in the Conflict of the Ages Series. This is most fascinating to a Middle Easterner. She not only grips the reader with her true eloquence and simplicity but with her inspired accuracy.
With these thoughts in mind, let us note one quotation in the book The Desire of Ages, page 772:
After the resurrection the priests and rulers circulated the report that Christ did not die upon the cross, that He merely fainted, and was afterward revived. Another report affirmed that it was not a real body of flesh and bone, but the likeness of a body, that was laid in the tomb. (Italics supplied.)
From this we understand that since the time of the cross there were those who advocated that Christ never died on the cross or that it was not a real body but a likeness of a body that was laid in the tomb.
The terminology in this quotation is very similar to that found in the Moslem scriptures. Discussing the crucifixion of Christ, the Koran says:
Verily we have slain Christ Jesus the son of Man, the apostle of God; yet they slew him not, neither crucified him but he was represented by one in his likeness; and verily they who disagreed concerning him were in a doubt as to this matter and had no sure knowledge thereof, but followed only an uncertain opinion.—The Koran, translation by George Sale, chapter entitled "Women," verse 165. (Italics supplied.)
The recently discovered Arabic manuscript again discusses these same doctrines. Time magazine reported: "The text also gives two versions of Christ's Passion, which differ from those in the canonical Gospels. One of these accounts suggests that Judas tricked the Jews by delivering to them another man in the place of Jesus. This unknown victim denied explicitly before Herod and Pilate that he was the Messiah, as his accusers charged."—July 15, 1966, p. 64.
These beliefs are exactly what were perpetuated for many centuries by Moslem commentators who tried to explain the Koranic verses that refer to the death of Jesus. So striking are the similarities that one cannot help believing that they must have had access to doctrinal beliefs such as are portrayed in Abdal-Jabbar's manuscript.
Commenting on a verse from the Koran that discusses the death of Jesus, and interpreting who the one in His likeness might have been, Moslem commentators that lived close to the time of Mohammed, such as Al Baidawi and Al Thalabi, et cetera, said what is strikingly similar to what appeared in the Istanbul manuscript. George Sale, who translated the Koran into English, presented their comments in his translation. He said:
This stratagem of God's was the taking of Jesus up into heaven, and stamping his likeness on another person, who was apprehended and crucified in his stead. For it is the constant doctrine of the Mohammedans that it was not Jesus himself who underwent that ignominious death, but somebody else in his shape and resemblance. The person crucified some will have to be a spy that was sent to entrap him; others that it was one Titian, who by the direction of Judas entered in at a window of the house where Jesus was, to kill him; and others that it was Judas himself, who agreed with the rulers of the Jews to betray him for thirty pieces of silver, and led those who were sent to take him.—Koran note on verse 53 of the chapter entitled "The Family of Imran." (Italics supplied.)
The similarity even to the use of the very terminology may seem a matter of little consequence to an English reader but not so to those who live in Arab lands today. Without any question, there is no verse from the Koran that affected the beliefs of one seventh of the world's population today as to whether it was Christ or His likeness that died and was buried, more than the one verse quoted above. Indeed, no word is more emphasized than the word "likeness" to prove that Christ was never crucified.
All these similarities are very striking and make the Arabic manuscript of great value. But it must be remembered that the Nazarenes practice circumcision, abstain from eating forbidden foods, such as pigs, and observe the Sabbath on Saturday instead of Sunday. Many of their beliefs are not only practiced by Moslems but are of vital interest to Adventists. Some of these beliefs are even practiced by Adventists, and some may wonder whether this recent discovery may shed some light on such Koranic verses as, for example, the one that mentions the Sabbath and says: "The Sabbath was only appointed unto those who differed from their prophet concerning it."—Koran, chapter entitled "The Bee," verse 123.
But these remarks about the Arabic manuscript should not close without pointing out one vital lesson concerning the far-reaching effect that our influence has on others. None of the priests and rulers at the time of Christ could ever have been able to foresee that the report they circulated after Christ's resurrection would survive for almost two millenniums and would today affect the beliefs of one out of every seven inhabitants of the world. They could have never imagined that one day they will have to give an account for so much, because of what they may have thought at the time to be so little. Indeed, "Our words, our acts, our dress, our deportment, even the expression of the countenance, has an influence. Upon the impression thus made there hang results for good or evil which no man can measure. Every impulse thus imparted is seed sown which will produce its harvest. It is a link in the long chain of human events, extending we know not whither."—Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 339, 340.