The road to Shur, the origin of the zamzam well? (Rabbi Sa’adiah ben Yosef Gaon)

In the story about the wife of patriach Abraham, Hagar, and his firstbon son, Ishmael, in  the Torah  in Genesis/Bereishit 16:7 it was mentioned about a place named Shur שֽׁוּר.

וַֽיִּמְצָאָ֞הּ מַלְאַ֧ךְ יְהוָ֛ה עַל־עֵ֥ין הַמַּ֖יִם בַּמִּדְבָּ֑ר עַל־הָעַ֖יִן בְּדֶ֥רֶךְ שֽׁוּר

An angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the road to Shur  (JPS 1985)

According to jewish and christian interpretation Shur was the desert between the south of Canaan, where Hebron was situated, and Egypt.

Interestingly, Rabbi Saadia Gaon ben Yosef (882-942)  or  Saʻīd bin Yūsuf al-Fayyūmi in Arabic also known by the acronym “Rasag” (who is considered one of the greatest Jewish sage from the geonic era. An intellectual tower in the field of biblical exegesis, Jewish philosophy, Hebrew language, prayer, and Halakha)  in his magnus opus arabic translation of the Torah Attarjamah Al’arabiyyah Attawrah الترجمة العربية للتوراة rendered Genesis 16:7 as follows:

genesis-16-7

فو جدها مالك اللّٰه على عين ماء في البرية على على التي في طريق الحجاز

My literal translation : “The Angel of Allah found her on a spring of water in the wilderness on the way in the Hijaz (Al Hijaz)”

To me this is remarkable discovery. Rasag did not mention Shur but Al Hijaz, he seemed to confirm the origin of the zamzam well, a miraculously generated source of water from God, which according to traditional Islamic report began when Hagar and her infant son Ishmael was wandering in the wilderness thirsty and desperately need for water. It was then God sending his angel, Gabriel to help Hagar. Later then Ishmael and his father Abraham rebuilt the Bayt Allah (“House of God”) called the Kaaba, a landmark building which Muslims around the world visit and face in prayer.  The place which Rasag mention as  Al-Hijaz  is the region in the west of present-day Saudi Arabia where  the holy city of Mecca in which the Kaaba is situated.

Hejaz-English.jpg

Rasag originally wrote his original Torah translation using Hebrew scripts not Arabic (Judeo-arabic scripts). This also has been bolstered by the fact that no texts of the Arabic script have been found in any of the Genizah collections. As Muslims at his time could not read Hebrew or Hebrew characters this clearly indicates that Rasag wrote his translation of the Torah with a Jewish audience in mind, an assumption supported by Rasag own description of his work. So There is little possibility that Rasag deliberately choose the wording in order to fit Islamic audience as later  jewish commentator such as 12th century  Abraham Ibn Ezra had been speculating.

Update:

it comes to my attention by brother Abdullah in his comment, more support that Rasag himself chose to refer to the Al -Hijaz region in his Torah translation can be found in his rendering of Genesis/Bereishit 10:30, in which he translates the locations Mesha  מֵשָׁ֑א  and Sephar סְפָ֖רָ as Mecca مكة and Medina المدينة.

Please refer to Rasag tarjamah text below:

genesis-10-30-saadia

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Categories: Bible, Judaism

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52 replies

  1. Fascinating.

    So a rabbi in the 10th century CE had no qualms in believing Hagar and Ismael lived in an area in Arabia yet for polemical value some of our Christian friends are unwilling to accept this (and the notion of Abraham visiting the region).

    Goes to show what can be possible when one leaves their anti-Islam biases at the door.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Why are you promoting the very thing your Koran condemns, I.e A sect of the Jews distorting their text?

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    • Obviously you dont know Judaism. Rabbi Saadia Gaon was not a cultic leader but such an authority in Judaism until today. He is most famous Gaonic sage, a great Talmudic scholar and philosopher. He laid foundation on Hebrew language and his works are still refered by the jews until today.

      He was also famous for debating the Karaites, a Jewish sect which denied the authority of the Talmud, believing only in the TaNaKH.

      Liked by 2 people

    • The Rabbi distorted a distortion.

      I used to research this topic a long time ago so I am not really fresh on it. But I remember that I came across the theories of Kamal Salibi which are interesting from the Islamic perspective but also from a historical one. The existence of the Israelite tribe in ancient Egypt is not supported by any evidence. According to Salibi the kingdom of Egypt/Masr was in fact a kingdom in Arabia.

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    • And the story of Abraham is also located in Arabia by Salibi.

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  2. Interesting!
    I do not know where I read that Saaid mentioned Mecca & Medina by names as well, but I’m not sure.
    Also, I want to point out to the places’ names regarding the centricity of Hijaz which is very important IMO.
    For example, Sham( levant) and Yemen. They were named based on the location of Mecca. Sham means “land of the left hand”, referring to the fact that for someone in the Hejaz facing east, north is to the left (so the name Yemen correspondingly means “land of the right hand”.

    It seems Arabic Language plays a big role even in the bible as we see with Dr Ataie when he addressed the mysterious name of god in jewish scripture YHWH although I’ve lot of questions and thoghts about that lecture.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Its so nice to see Scholarly discussion based on actual sources in our hands and no speculation or a thread full of spiteful apologists trying to tell about our own evidences.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. To be honest: That’s not very convincing. He lived in an Islamic society, so that I its more likely that he was heavenly influenced by Muslims regarding this topic. Jewish and Christian authors started to mention Abraham (as) and Ishmael (as) together with Mecca only during and after the Islamic conquest, thus just repeating what the conquerers have claimed. Before that, scriptures like the Talmud etc. dont mention this at all, except maybe one : The Asathir, The secret scrolls of Moses. Its a Samaritan work, and actually, there are no real evidences for interpolations and the language is Pre-Islamic. There it mentions Ishmael building the Kaaba in Mecca. Scholars sometimes disagree with the composition date due to this passage, but their arguments in general remain weak. God knows best.

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    • He was not forced to do so.
      Kabba is built by my fathers Abraham and Ishmael. Arab knew that before Islam even.

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    • I didn’t say he was forced, he was influenced. That’s a difference. As I said before, we only have the Asathir as possible evidence. Beside this, there’s no hint in any work of a chruch father or Rabbinic writings. Mecca is quite absent in Pre-Islamic pagan works, too. Maybe it’s the Macoraba from Ptolemy’s work (see Michail Bukharin for convincing arguments), while the often quoted Diodorus referred to a temple in Northern Arabia instead. Arabia Deserta was not a terra incognita, rather it was just not so popular and ignored by the most; Arabia Petrea and Arabia Felix were more interesting for them. Again: God knows best.

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    • He was influenced by muslims?
      Ok, why do you think a claim made by muslims would convince a significant Rabbi ?

      ===========
      I don’t get the centricity of greek works.
      For example, if its written by Greek fellow, it’s called history. If it’s written by a muslim or said by arabs’ poems, it’s called legendary.
      Arab have been obsessed by their genealogy. When the prophet called to monotheism, he didn’t spend any time to convince people that Kabba was built by Abraham and Ishmael or to say that they are children of Abraham. It’s already known for them.
      Mecca till now has significant signs. One of them is ( Maqam Ibrahim) .

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    • I just want to show that the common Jewish mainstream (Rabbis,Pharisees etc.) didn’t have any knowledge about Mecca and the Kaaba. It was forgotten over time, we just have some possible relicts in the Bible like isaiah 41 or the valley of Bacca in the Psalms (its location is thought to be near Jerusalem, though theres no evidence for this and its ethymology is unclear). There may were indeed some minor groups who gave some interest for Mecca and recognized it as Abarahms (as) build temple (minority!). By the way: Of course Greek works are not always reliable, be it Herodot or soeone else. They just didnt pay real attention to Hijaz.

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  5. “My literal translation : “The Angel of Allah found her on a spring of water in the wilderness on the way in the Hijaz (Al Hijaz)”

    To me this is remarkable discovery. Rasag did not mention Shur but Al Hijaz, he seemed to confirm the origin of the zamzam well, a miraculously generated source of water from God,”

    The translation according to you affirms the OT version of the story, not the borrowed apocryphal fables of later islamic speculation. It says, the angel of the lord (who may have been jesus) found Hagar at the spring. Clearly, the spring was already there – that is as clear as day.

    Also, Hejaz merely means “barrier”, so he was probably referring to any geographically isolated place.

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  6. If Jesus was the ‘Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament then he’s responsible for doing this:

    That night the Angel of the Lord went out and put to death one hundred and eighty five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning there were dead bodies. 2 Kings 19:35

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    • Lover Of Truth

      God owns creation and all that is in it. He administers justice according to his will and judgement.

      As a christian,I am not commanded to kill in his name – not once does jesus command christians to kill for him. Judgement is his and his alone.

      Muslism on the other hand, are very much commanded to kill for allah and mohammed. You are commanded to sacrifice apostates to appease allah, you are commanded to murder adulterers in one of the most brutal and savage ways possible. And you are commanded to spread your cancerous faith through war.

      Jesus commands christians to go against their savage and debased human natures, ISlam permits and indulges savage and debased human behaviour.

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    • Where is the evidence for your claim?

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    • Eric

      “Al-Bukhaari (6922) narrated that Ibn ‘Abbaas said: The Messenger of Allaah said: “Whoever changes his religion, put him to death.”

      Al-Bukhaari (6484) and Muslim (1676) narrated that ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Mas’ood said: The Messenger of Allaah said: “It is not permissible to shed the blood of a Muslim who bears witness that there is no god except Allaah and that I am the Messenger of Allaah, except in one of three cases: a soul for a soul (i.e., in the case of murder); a previously-married person who commits zina; and one who leaves his religion and separates from the main body of the Muslims.”

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    • With the name of Allah

      The killing for apostasy applies only for their act of treason those who fight against Allah and His Messenger NOT those who leave Islam out of their will. Because God said very clearly: There

      is NO COMPULSION in religion”

      When Prophet Muhamad was still alive there were some who apostatize and the prophet knew it but they left unharmed even remain close to muslim community.

      You also have very odd claim, you said “Muslism on the other hand, are very much commanded to kill for allah and mohammed.

      I have been a muslim all my life and study scripture down to the letter , this is news to me. Where do you got this information from? No muslims commanded to kill for joy, on the contrary God commanded us


      if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.

      While your god (i.e. jesus according trinitarian understanding) has committed and ordered genocide including smashing innocent baby skulls and animals and plants.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Eric

      You are basically appealing to the quran as the final authority on Muslim practice.

      Unfortunately,if you do that then you would have to question salat positions, wudu, prayer 5 times a day, circling the kaaba, kissing the black stone, the shahada (the quran says that those who say they follow the prophet are hypocrites), going to mecca for the pilgrimage, and so on.

      In fact, sharia is not even given in any detail whatsoever in the quran.

      So you are arguing that sharia is not valid.

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    • No, I appeal to both. Nowhere they commanded to kill for joy like for your god (jesus) ordered to smash baby skulls for no apparent reason. Also killing apostates apply for those committing act of treason against the Islamic state.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Eric

      “While your god (i.e. jesus according trinitarian understanding) has committed and ordered genocide including smashing innocent baby skulls and animals and plants.”

      Obtuse.

      Nothing happens that allah does not will – genocide is willed by allah.

      You are trying to conflate explicit commands to muslims to kill, with god’s divine judgement. I christianity only god judges, in islam, allah commands muslims to take life.

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    • Divine judgemet for commanding to smash baby skulls and exterminate innocent life even animal and plants?!?

      Liked by 1 person

    • Eric

      So you are denying that nothing happens that allah does not will?

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    • I dont believe that “god” ever command to murder innocent lives brutally like smashing baby skulls into the rocks.

      Liked by 1 person

    • God Knows everything that happens but surely ordering genocide of innocent lives is not His Will.

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    • Eric

      Nothing happens without allah willing it.

      You may have to re-evaluate your faith foundations.

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    • Our faith dont lie its foundation that God will ever do UnGodly or UnHoly acts such as ordering genocide (that’s Satan Will not God) because He is the Most Holy.

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    • Eric

      Your faith is based on the belief in the omnipotence of allah. Nothing happens that he does not will – your holy books say so.

      You are denying this.

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    • God omnipotence is nothing to do with committing cruelty like ordering to smash infants head into the rocks. What a strange faith you believe in.

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    • It is only by allah’s will that anything happens – this is your religion, not mine. I babies heads get smashed in, it is because allah willed it.

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    • Of course If God wills anything can happen but His Will is never like ordering to smash infants head into the rocks and then praise who did that nor that God Will to “became” a man or a mouse.

      That’s not my religion.

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    • Okay, I understand. You decide what god does and does not do.

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    • No, God Himself told us, He is the One which is Holy and Good. So His Will will never be cruel (like smashing infants head into the rocks) nor absurd (like incarnating into impotent being like man or cow)

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  7. Graham you hypocrite the Bible allows and commands aggressive warfare that extends to genocide. You cannot face the implications of what 2 Kings 19:35 says in the light of Trinitarian doctrine so you desperately launch an attack on Islam, The Quran doesn’t say to stone adulterers but only lash them, it applies the same word that can also mean adultery, not just fornication. The Quran doesn’t explicitly say to spread the religion through war, it says Invite all to the way of thy Lord with beautiful preaching and wisdom (16:125). Centuries ago jihad through conquest was the primary means to spread religion. This is completely obsolete today because the world and circumstances have changed. But the main objective wasn’t spreading the religion but establishing the security of the Muslims against both the Persian and Byzantine empires. Jihad also extended to conveying Islam without force, but conquest and expansion is obsolete, the foremost jihad is against the devil.

    Also, the Prophet was judging the Jews according to their own Torah when passing the sentence. You must believe Jesus revealed the Torah to the Israelites which is more harsher than Islamic Law and approved the same Law in Matthew’s gospel, it was Paul who abolished the Torah without divine authority to attract the Jews. The Torah also contains laws against apostate and harsh punishments for rebellious children. The same Torah revealed by Jesus says the daughter of a priest who plays the whole must be burned with fire. 2. Chronic 15:13 says anyone who refused the Lord must be executed. The violence of the Bible is genocidal and inspired the Crusades when Christians literally followed 1Sam 15:3 and Psalm 137:9 by killing women children, and babies. The Quran only commands war and fighting against combatants, the Quran says “Fight those who fight against you and DO NOT TRANSGRESS THE LIMITS” (2:190) which clearly refers to defensive warfare. You say we are commanded to kill for Allah? The Bible describes God as a MAN OF WAR (Ex. 15:3) and his arrows are drunk with blood (Deut 32:42) who commanded genocide (1Sam 15:3), so don’t care bring up that nonsense that Islam has some monopoly over violence. Violence has been part of the human condition since the very beginning, it enlarged and amplified by the Bible’s grotesque forms of warfare and unjustified violence.
    You must also believe if your Trinitarian that Jesus is behind the massive violence in the Old Testament. In contrast, the Quran follows a restrictive warfare that limits fighting only in self defense (22:39-40) while the Bible’s violence is clearly genocidial. Christianity is not a nonviolent religion because it keeps the Old Testament part of their scripture.

    Not every scholar agrees that the punishment for adultery is stoning, the Quran says the punishment is lashing, not stoning, the Arabic word zina can also mean adultery, so the Quran means the punishment for both fornication and adultery is lashing. This is almost impossible to prove because you need four witnesses who can also testify consistently without error, so the warning stands as a preventive measure to stop people from illegal sexual intercourse. Did the Prophet execute apostate? No, that Hadith you cited for sale talking about treason, one who departs the community and fights against it, not for simply leaving the faith. When the Prophet said “Whoever changes his region, kill him” is referring to the hypocrites who worked as spies who pretended to be Muslim for some days and then escaped back to the enemy side with precious military secrets, so the Prophet wanted to stop this abuse by laying down a strict punishment. The Quran mentions apostacy in many places but nowhere says to kill him. The punishment is upon those who depart the community, the Prophet never executed anyone for simply leaving Islam. The classical ruling of killing apostate was time conditioned for that particular environment when Islam was growing and expanding and couldn’t afford to lose any followers who might depart the community and join the enemy. They sought to punish them before they could do that, it was a completely binary world.

    The Bible is more violent than the Quran, that is why Christian history is more violent than Islamic history. They had no guidance about how to behave in combat until the Western just watched theory developed over centuries, but a just and limited warranty was already enshrined in the Quran 1400 years ago.

    You didn’t resolve the problem that Jesus, being the Angel of the Lord, was responsible for the killings. Are you a Mennonite? If not, do you agree with the militant interpretations of the Dominists? If not, be consistent because mainstream Muslims reject the extremist interpretations of the Khawarij. I encourage you to read the articles written by Danios at Loonwatch that explains how the Bible contains open ended and prescriptive verses to commit violence. I also recommend reading Islam:Silencing the Critics written by Zia Sheikh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lover of tuth

      “The Quran doesn’t say to stone adulterers but only lash them, it applies the same word that can also mean adultery, not just fornication. ”

      There’s a lot that the quran doesn’t tell muslims to do but they do it anyway – 5 prayers, precise wudu ritual instructions, salat positions, circling the kaaba 7 times, going to mecca or the hajj – the list goes on. Are you a quranist?

      All of this aside, there is no command for christians to kill for their god – so, no the bible does not allow or command aggressive warfare, it merely records these things. Tell me where in the bible it commands christians to spread the faith by invasion and war.

      You are a lying hypocrite.

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    • Thats not true. Not only that jesus command violences with the words like “attack” and “destroy” , the attackers did with cruelty and savagery beyond imagination. Those who obeyed and did jesus command were shockingly praised for doing so.

      Thats why christendom butchered good 70 millions people in recent times whereas Muslims casualties are no more than 2 million (mainly victims in the Middle East Wars and Afghanistan, of which christendom colonialist powerr provoked) . More evil, christendom were guilty for industrializing warfare, and they had the freedom to attack anytime they like.

      Like

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