On the Koran

From ZDMG 67 (1913): 630-34.

The divine name ar-rahmdn is generally translated as "the merciful one" and regarded as a Jewish-Aramaic foreign word. But how it was formed does not seem at all clear. If the word means "merciful" it cannot derive from the Pecal, I the meaning of which is "to love." Also, the ending an for the nomen agentis does not occur in the Peal. Rather is it the case that: rahman = merahman (Hebrew).

In Syriac the prefix me of the nomen agentis is absent only from roots with four sounds, except for [rahman] itself. But in Palestinian-JewishAramaic, it is surely also missing from those with three sounds, which are really equivalent in the Peal to those with four. For instance, nahman (Hebrew), "comforter" [Menahem; Christian-Palestinian: mnhmn' (Syriac), 7LapaxA,rltioS (Greek)], [par§an (Hebrew), "expositor"; gaddekan (Hebrew), "marriage broker," which German Jews distort to "schadchen" used as a neuter. There is also ganne'an (Hebrew) = zealot, ~11XcoTi; (Greek). In the New Testament, qn'n' (Hebrew) has become xavaavaioS (Greek) Canaanean; likewise per.. d' (Hebrew), I apu aio; (Pharisee). These are the only examples I have at hand, but probably more can be found.

In the al-Asma'iyyat, ed. Ahlwardt2 No. 20, there is a poem ascribed to the Jew Samaual, and its relation to the Koran deserves attention. I translate it here, adding a few comments in brackets:

(i) I originated in my time as a drop of semen. It was given a destiny, and I grew in it.

(ii) God preserved it in a secret place (the mother's body); and its place is hidden, if I were hidden (?).3

(iii) I am dead in that (drop?), then alive, then after life (again) dead, in order to be awakened.

(iv) If my understanding leaves me, then consider, 0 woman, that I am old and defective.

(v) Make, 0 God, for my upkeep, what of acquisitions is permissible, and make purity my innermost substance, for all my life.

(vi) Make my conscience tight against deception. May penury never impel me to grasp at goods entrusted to me, so long as I am preserved.

(vii) I have heard much abuse in silence, have not demurred at much that is improper, and have rested content in the face of it.

(viii) If only I knew-when in due course it will be said, "Read the inscription," and I read it-

(ix) whether the surplus is in my favor or goes against me (i.e., whether I have a plus or minus) when I am called to account. My lord is empowered to call me to account.

(x) I was dead for an eternity, then I entered into life, but my life stands surety for the fact that I will die.

(xi) And tidings have reached me that, after death, when my bones have rotted, I am to be awakened.

(xii) Shall I say ... when my mind ... and collapses upon me, that I am surprised,

(xiii) either with grace and kindness from the heavenly king, or with a burden of guilt, which I have sent before me and for which I now pay the price?

(xv4) And tidings have reached me of the Kingdom of David, and this pleases and delights me.

(xiv) Permitted, limited sustenance is profitable, but not so the sustenance that is abundant and shameful.

(xvi) The rich man does not obtain too much, nor the poor and lonely one too little.

(xvii) Rather everyone allotted what is his due, even if the greedy man toils excessively.

I cannot understand the second half of verse 2, nor really the end of verse 17 (cf. Noldeke, Bietrage, p. 72). I cannot translate the words omitted in verse 12 even literally, Sura XXVII.68 notwithstanding. For '-nn-y (9), I read, following a suggestion in the Lisan,5 r-bb-y, Verses 4 and 15 stand isolated. The latter breaks the the connection between 14 and 16, 17, and comes as a parallel to 11, with the same introduction. The theme of 1-3 recurs in 10-13, and that of 5-7 reappears in 14, 16, 17.

The reason why the poem is ascribed to Samaual lies in verse 6, where it is said "May I never grasp at goods entrusted to me." That seemed to point to the famous Samaual of Taima, memory of whom was linked with his faithful preservation of the weapons given by him by the prince of poets, Imru' al-Kays.6 But the statement in verse 6 is worded quite generally and timelessly, and our poem certainly does not come from the Samaual whose poem stands as no. 49 in the Hamasa.7 From this latter it differs both in form and content: in form because of q-r-y-t (8) instead of q-r-'- t; and because of m-b-,-w-t, kh-b-y-t (11, 14), instead of m-b-c-w-th, kh-b-y-th (see Abu Zaid, Nawadir 104). These Aramaisms are admittedly preserved only in the rhymes, whereas the interior of the verse now has the correct Arabic pronunciation '-q-r-' (8) and b -th, th-mm, (4). As to its material, our poem differs from that other one because of its striking contacts with the Koran: Thus b -th (awaken from death, 4, 11), mugat: (empowered 9; Sura IV.87), t-d-'-r-k hil-m-y (12; Sura XXVII.68); further, the equating of the first procreation leading to earthly life with the second leading to the future life (1-3, 10), the sending on into eternity of good and evil actions (13), and, in particular, the note that is handed to the resurrected person and which allocates him his place in heaven or hell (8; Sura LXIX.19; cf. Revelation 2:17). However, this latter idea differs, in its externals, quite markedly from the corresponding one, in the Koran, and so is not taken from it. Altogether, the poem ascribed to Samaual in the Asmaliyyat is too original to be regarded as a Muslim forgery based on the Koran. Rather, does it stem from the same tradition from which Muhammad also drew. The Kingdom of David (15) also seems to be Jewish. It cannot be understood as the historical Kingdom of David, but only as the future one; that is, the messianic kingdom. Admittedly, such a late Jewish writer might not be expected, as is the case in some passages, to regard the resurrection not as an established doctrine, but only as a secret hope, of which he has tidings (1 l , 15).

A propos of Sura LV.46-78, Noldeke8 observes: "The normal form of the words, and even their sense is at times changed for the sake of the rhyme. For instance, in Sura LV. there is mention of two heavenly gardens, each with two springs and two types of fruit, and additionally of two other similar gardens; and it is clear that here these duals have been used for the sake of the rhyme."

Surely strangest of all are two other similar gardens (LV.62-77) that follow the first two (LV.46-61) and have the same dual in the rhyme both in their described features and in the refrain repeated as a stereotype after each individual feature. Also in the contents, the individual features described in 46-61 are repeated in almost the same sequence in the description of 62-77, as indicated below:

46.62 two gardens,

48.64 two overhanging branches, with deep green foliage;

50.66 with two murmuring springs,

52.68 with different types of fruit,

54.76 with cushions on which one lies,

56-58.70-74 with beautiful girls.

This doubling of the double paradise can hardly be the original conception. Rather, it is the clearest example of two variants of the same revelation, which came to be regarded as different and were then placed the one after the other. To make this sequence possible, an editor has inserted wa min dunihima into verse 62 and thereby effected what is at least an external, spatial differentiation of the two really identical descriptions of paradise.

The word buhtan, which occurs in the Koran in what is called the homage formula of the woman (LX.12), is strange. It is supposed to mean "slander" and occurs in this sense also in Aghani XV, 118, 1,9 again in qawmun buhtun Ibn Hisham, 353, 1310 and also in Kamil 685, 2.11 Then it has nothing to do with the genuine Arabic b-h-t, for that means "suddenly attack" or "make frightened," like Hebrew b -1-t and Arabic b-gh-t (e.g., Aghani, II. 28, 20.12 Tabari, I. 877, 12. 3182, 11. III, 821, 5.). On the other hand, it can readily be linked with Aramaic b-h-t = Hebrew b-w-s (as r-h-t = r-w-s), for which there is no Arabic equivalent. The idea of slander would then be traceable to that of what is disgraceful.

That buhtan in Arabic is a loan word is shown also by its form. Admittedly, fu'lan as an infinitive is surely genuinely Arabic, as is also rudwan. But the correct nouns of this form are not. There are not very many of them. The origin of `unwan is obscure. Burhan derives from the Abyssinian; sultan, tufan, furgan, qurban, from Aramaic. The vocable buhtan cannot, it is true, be found in extant Aramaic literature; but it will nevertheless surely be Aramaic, if the verb form which it derives is also Aramaic. One then has to assume that it was used by Arabic Jews or Christians whose ancient mother tongue was Aramaic; or perhaps that it was newly constructed from the type which very frequently occurs in Aramaic.

The noun qur'an will likewise go back to Arabic Jews or Christians. It seems to come from giving a slight Arabic twist to gerydna; cf. Schwally in his edition of Noldeke's Geschichte des Koran, 133.34. Also the verb gara'a in the sense of "read aloud, recite" (e.g., the greetings formula) is not genuinely Arabic. The Arabs have other expressions for "to call," from which "to read" derives. Perhaps `unwan is also connected with linyana.


1. [Peal = "Most verbs in Syriac have three consonants. These root consonants appear in a number of patterns or stems. The basic pattern is called the simple stem of the verb. This simple stem of the verb is described as peal on the basis of the set of root letters p`l: Syriac [p`l being the 3rd masc.singular of the root in this stem)." J. Healey, First Studies in Syriac (Birmingham, 1994), p. 27. Cf. Arabic stem fa'ala.]

2. Al-Asma`i, "al-Asmaliyyat," in Sammlungen alter arabischer Dichter, ed. Ahlwardt (Berlin, 1902). This anthology by the Basran philologist Al-Asma`i (died 213/828) contained seventy-two fragments attributed to pre-Islamic poets, or those who lived in the first half of seventh century. Poem number 23 (according to the EI2 article "al-Samaw'al," though Wellhausen says it is number 20) is attributed to al-Samaw'al b. 'Adiya, a Jew, who lived in the middle of the sixth century. This poem "contains reflections on birth, death and the Day of Judgment which may be ... references to Aggadic literature ... thus pointing to the Jewish religion of its poet. The authenticity of the poem was defended by J. W. Hirschberg (Der Diwan as as-Samau'al ibn 'Adija, Cracow, 1931) against Noldeke's negative verdict (T. Noldeke, Beitraege zur Kenntnis de Poesie der Alien Araber, Hanover 1864, pp. 52-86). Levi Della Vida ("A proposito di as- Samaw'al," in RSO 13 (1931): 53-72) drew up the very probable hypothesis that the poem was in fact created by one of al-Samaw'al's descendants, who had already converted to Islam but still was acquainted with Jewish tradition." T. Bauer, "al-Samaw'al b. 'Adiya," EI2.

3. [It is indeed Wellhausen's question mark in brackets.]

4. [Wellhausen does give 15 before 14 in the original.]

5. Lisdn al-'Arab, Arabic Lexicon of Ibn Manzur, 20 vols. (Cairo, 1308).

6. [Here is the story of Imru' al-Qays: The poet and Kinda Prince Imru' alQays entrusted his arms to al-Samaw'al. When the Ghassanid phylarch al -Harith b. Jabala heard about this, he set out against al-Samaw'al, who dug in inside his castle. al -Harith managed to kidnap al-Samaw'al's son, threatening to kill him unless the father handed over the consigned weapons. Al-Samaw'al remained faithful to his promise, preferring to see his son killed than to betray his friend.]

7. [Diwan al-hamasa (Book of Valor) was an anthology of texts compiled by Abu Tammam (died 231/846). It includes mainly pre-Islamic and early Islamic poets, though also some from the `Abbasid period.]

8. T. Noldeke, Geschichte des Korans, 1st ed., p. 30 = 2d ed., p. 40.

9. Abu'1-Faraj 'Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Isbahani, Kitab al-aghani, 20 vols. (Cairo, 1285).

10. Abu Muhammad 'Abd al-Malik Ibn Hisham, Sirat Rasul Allah, ed. F. Wustenfeld, 2 vols. (Gottingen, 1858-1860).

11. The Kamil of al-Mubarrad, ed. W. Wright (Leipzig, 1864-1892).

12. Abu Jalfar Muhammad al-Tabari, Ta'rikh al-rusul wa'l-muluk, ed. M. J. de Goeje et al., 15 vols. (Leiden, 1879-1901).

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