Redactions and Adaptations: The use of the four gospels in the Qur’an commentary of al-Biqa’i (d.1480/885AH)

Michael McCoy
DPhil Candidate, Wolfson College, University of Oxford

The Gospel, or al-injīl (Q 3:3), remains an indispensable part of the Muslim tradition as a scripture with which the Qurʾān is in close dialogue. From the earliest period of qurʾānic interpretation, questions concerning the exact nature of the four canonical Gospels and their relationship to the Injīl of the Qurʾān have provoked Muslim scholars to either defend the text or condemn it for the sake of their own sacred book and prophet. Others within the tradition of Muslim discourse over the Bible have sought more neutral ground to stand on. This gave rise to the formulation of various categories for assessing the biblical text in an effort to salvage the Injīl as mentioned in the Qurʾān for good or ill. In Abū l-Ḥasan al-Biqāʿī’s (d. 885/1480) Qurʾān commentary (tafsīr), Naẓm al-durar fī tanasūb al-ayat wa’l-suwar (The String of Pearls: Concerning the Interrelatedness of the Verses and Chapters), such an attempt is made with extensive quotations from the four Gospels.

The following paper will first introduce al-Biqāʿī in the context of fifteenth-century Cairo as both scholar and controversialist. Then a brief overview of the arguments from his treatise, al-Aqwāl, will be given; this is where he provides the theoretical basis and defense for quoting the Bible in his tafsīr. The focus for the remainder of the paper will be on the way in which he appropriates the Gospels in his exegesis of the Qurʾān. One question that will be in the forefront of the analysis is whether or not al-Biqāʿī acts as the final redactor of the Gospels by modifying the biblical text when it contradicts the Qurʾān.