Deconstructing the dual Torah: a Jewish response to the Muslim model of Scripture

Meira Polliack*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Unlike Christianity, Judaism privileged the original Hebrew text of the Bible. Nonetheless, as discussed in Chapter 3, Jewish Bible translations were composed since antiquity, some quite influential (e.g., the Greek Septuagint) and even achieving quasi-canonical status (the Aramaic Targumim). The current chapter considers the implications of a third major Jewish Bible translation movement - into Arabic in the tenth century - which brought with it a transformation of the very conception of sacred scripture among some Jewish thinkers in the Muslim orbit. Here we witness not only the rendering of the Hebrew Bible into another tongue, but also the adoption by Jews of the idioms of another faith, with which they were otherwise engaged intellectually, politically, and culturally. Jews who thought and wrote about the Hebrew Bible in Arabic - and at times even read the sacred text in that language - inevitably took Muslim conceptions of sacred scripture into account. Furthermore, Muslim claims regarding the inaccuracy and inauthenticity of the Hebrew Bible required responses that informed the encounters of Arabic-speaking Jews with their own sacred text. [Ed.] The notion that the Oral Torah was given to Moses on Mount Sinai alongside the Written Torah was entrenched in Jewish tradition since late antiquity. With time, the term “Written Torah” (Torah she-bi-khtav) came to signify the entire Hebrew Bible, and “Oral Torah” (Torah she-be-‘al-peh) the traditions preserved in the Mishnah and Talmud. In medieval Jewish thought and jurisprudence (halakhah) the latter became a necessary accompaniment to the Bible, paramount for the understanding and interpretation of its laws. Yet the conception of a dual Torah was increasingly challenged as Jews became aware of the Muslim model of a singular scripture, the Qur’an, and the value of the written word and literacy in general that it inspired. In this model, the Qur’an alone was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad as an earthly replica of a Divine book (umm al-kitāb), and its status as revealed scripture was uncontested. Although ḥadīth literature came to embody a Muslim oral tradition, it did not have the same religious status as the Qur’an and its claim to revelation was not presented together with it in a dual structure.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInterpreting Scriptures in Judaism, Christianity and Islam
Subtitle of host publicationOverlapping Inquiries
EditorsMordechai Z. Cohen, Adele Berlin
Place of PublicationCambridge, United Kingdom
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781107588554
ISBN (Print)9781107065680
StatePublished - 2016

RAMBI Publications

  • rambi
  • Islam -- Influence
  • Judaism -- Relations -- Islam -- History
  • Karaites -- Attitudes
  • Transmission of texts


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