Q: Was Mohammed Prophesied in the Bible?

By Clark Moghadam

I came across the claim that Muhammad and other religious people like Buddha were referenced in the Bible, and I was hoping you could give me your thoughts. I compiled all the reasons why they believe this. I am not theologically knowledgeable enough to comprehend this, but it has been bugging me.

The Bible mentions Muhammad as the “offspring of Ishmael,” “sons of Dumah,” or “Machmad.” In Song of Solomon 5:16, the word “lovely” is said to be mentioning Muhammad. The reason for this is that the Hebrew word that’s translated into English as “lovely” is “Mahmad.” This is a description of a man, and he is said to be delightful at the end of the description.

Another Bible reference allegedly about Muhammad is Nebaioth or Nebajoth, who is mentioned at least five times in the Bible. He was the firstborn son of Ishmael. And the name appears as the name of one of the wilderness tribes mentioned in Genesis 25:13 and in Isaiah 60:7. Ishmael was Abraham’s son whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s handmaid, bore unto Abraham. Nebaioth is portrayed as the brother of Mahalath, one of Esau’s wives in Genesis 28:8-9. The identification of the Arabs as Ishmaelites has also been expressed by Apollonius Molon and Origen and was later adopted by Eusebius and Jerome. Classical Arabian historians sometimes name Nebaioth as an ancestor of Muhammad. However, the majority of traditions point to Kedar, another son of Ishmael, as his ancestor.

Some say Buddha and Zoroaster are also mentioned in the Bible. Zoroaster is Zarathustra or Zerubbabel in scripture. Buddha is mentioned in Gnostic Manichaean scripture from Mani. Buddha is also mentioned in The Essene Gospel of Peace, Nag Hammadi (Gospel of Thomas in India), The Urantia, The Keys of Enoch, The Aquarian Gospel, The Life of Saint Issa, The Nazarene Acts of The Apostles (Brahmans’), and The Sealed Portion Final.

The answer below was written by Clark Moghadam. Clark is studying biology and philosophy at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Clark’s father is Iranian and was raised in a Muslim and atheist household before he found Christ. Clark loves theology, history, and philosophy.

First, I want to thank you for asking such a detailed question. I can tell you really care about reasoning through claims you hear which are made about the Bible. Figuring out how to navigate questions like these can be tough and confusing, so hopefully my answer can give a little bit of clarity!

Muslims have been very strong defenders of the claim that Ishmael was the ancestor or progenitor of the Arab peoples. As you pointed out, there are many Muslim claims that talk about how the Bible actually references the Arab peoples, even by name in several places. Starting with the verse you brought up from Song of Solomon 5:16, I want to offer my thoughts on why I believe the claims made about religious figures, particularly Muslims, in the Bible are not very strong claims. The verse that Muslims bring up in support of their theory is Song of Solomon 5:16: “His mouth is most sweet and he is altogether desirable [מַחֲמַדִּ֑ים], This is my Beloved and this is my Friend, Oh Daughters of Jerusalem.” Muslims are right in claiming that the Hebrew word for “desirable” or “lovely” sounds like “maḥămaddîm.” Claiming that this verse refers to the prophet Mohammed is false for several reasons, one of which is that the verbal root from which the Arabic name “Mohammed” originates is completely different from the Hebrew root and pronunciation of “mahamaddim.” The name “Mohammed” in Arabic can be translated as “praiseworthy” and comes from the Arabic verb root “hammada” which means “to praise.” Not only that, but when the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book, references Mohammed’s name as “more praiseworthy,” it is written as “Ahmad.” Qur’an chapter 61 verse 6 illustrates the stark contrast between Mohammed’s name and the Hebrew word for “desirable” or “lovely.” It would be an error on the part of Muslims to claim that “mahamaddim” is related and connected to the person of Mohammed who comes over 1,500 years after Song of Solomon was written.

One other issue with that claim is that Song of Solomon is a form of Hebrew love poetry which describes a figure [traditionally Solomon] who praises his first bride and is being praised by her. If you notice in Song of Solomon 5:16, “O Daughters of Jerusalem” is a phrase used to refer to young and unmarried women who lived in Jerusalem at the time Solomon was writing. Muslims who try and connect words and verses in the Bible with Mohammed and the Arabs often ignore the fact that the Arab peoples are very different from Jews. Given the fact that Jerusalem was originally set up and occupied by the Jewish nation, it is odd to make the claim that a biblical book of Jewish love poetry that was written by Solomon would use one Hebrew word to indirectly refer to an Arabic figure who would be born 1,500 years later. Not only that, but the definition of “praiseworthy” does not match the definition of “desirable” or “lovely” in the Hebrew. Hebrew vocabulary uses two different words to describe “praiseworthy” and “desirable” or “lovely,” so it isn’t accurate to say that “Mohammed” is referenced by the Hebrew word used in Song of Solomon.

Regarding the second point you mentioned, it is important to understand that the Bible, namely the Old Testament, makes mention of many different peoples and tribes which scattered across the world and grew in number. If we take the Bible literally, we understand that every people group descended from Noah and scattered across the regions of the East. It should be no surprise to us, then, that Arab nations are mentioned as descending from Ishmael or his son, Nabaoth. This does not mean, however, that the Arab religions or Islam is credible and true. God actually promised in Genesis 16:12 that Ishmael would be a “wild donkey of a man” who would “live in hostility with his brothers.” However, Genesis 21:17-18 mentions that Ishmael will also give rise to a “great nation.” I believe these two prophecies fit the history of many Arab peoples well, but it would be a bit of an assumption to say that the Bible specifically connects Mohammed’s ancestry to one particular branch or tribe listed in Genesis. There is some truth, I think, to the belief that Ishmael’s descendants gave rise to some of the Arab peoples. Ishmael’s descendants lived in Havilah, which is part of the Northern Arabian Peninsula. Isaiah 60:7 does mention descendants of Kedar and Nabaoth as being people who scatter and raise flocks. Even the word “Arab” means nomad. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that there are many historical traditions and Bible passages that talk about how Arabs from South Arabia might have originated from Keturah, concubine of the patriarch Abraham. Keturah gave birth to six sons, who are listed in 1 Chronicles 1:32-33. Some of Esau’s descendants have also been traditionally identified as Arabic peoples, among them are the Amalekites (Genesis 36:12). Genesis 37 mentions the Midianites as caravan traders, and Midian was a son of Abraham and Keturah. Another thing to keep in mind with all of this history is that it makes it very hard to identify one particular tribe or people as being an ancestor of Mohammed. Not only that, but Arab history is complex and difficult to navigate, with historians pointing out that different Arab peoples occupied and migrated from the Arabian Peninsula at various times in history.

I think you may find this last point about Mohammed interesting. There may actually be more historical evidence that Mohammed’s ancestors actually aren’t listed in the Bible. According to Qusayy Bin Kilab, who was the fifth ancestor of Mohammed, the family of Mohammed originated from the region of Saba-Yemen. Many Yemen families in the 5th century AD came together to form the powerful “Quraysh” tribe, which Mohammed’s family was a part of. According to Arabic historians, Ishmaelites, especially ones descending from the tribe of Nabaoth, actually disappeared after the 7th century BC after occupying deserts around the region of Sinai. Keep in mind that the Arabs were a very nomadic people and many clans and tribes from Arabia often were conquered, enslaved, or scattered because of their tendency to migrate and branch out instead of occupying a large territory and building a civilization like the Babylonians or Egyptians. Historians like Bin Kilab note that Mohammed’s family didn’t even leave Yemen until the 5th century AD, which is about 1,100 years after the Ishmaelites disappeared. In about AD 770 Muslim scholar Ibn Ishak popularized the belief that Mohammed descended from Ishmael, but even Muslim scholars who lived in Mohammed’s time pointed out that those genealogies were “forged” in order to connect Mohammed to the biblical figure of Ishmael. In my analysis of Arab history and archaeology, there seems to be scant evidence that the Arab tribe from which Mohammed came actually did descend from Ishmael, although there does seem to be a case for at least some Arab peoples descending from Ishmael and migrating outwards until the 7th century BC.  

In the end, many Muslim claims about Mohammed or his ancestry being referenced in the Bible are often devoid of historical accuracy. As you hopefully saw in my historical summary, the history of the Arab peoples, including Mohammed’s tribe, is complex and worth exploring. But it doesn’t seem to clearly connect any religious figure with one particular tribe or clan mentioned in the Bible. Regarding other religious figures like “Zoroaster” being in Scripture, oftentimes people make those claims solely on the basis that a similar name is found in some sacred writing written either around the time the Bible was written or after. Many of the books that you listed near the end of your question are not books found in the Christian Bible. Rather, they are sacred writings attributed to Jews, Pagans, or various groups that split off from Christianity who wanted to take their teachings and attribute them to either Christianity or Judaism even though those religions teach nothing remotely close to the Christian Bible. It is important to keep in mind that aside from the Bible, there are thousands of books and writings that claim to be from God. It is no surprise that other texts written around the time of the Bible would make reference to religious figures who claim to be enlightened, prophetic, or inspired by God. Never take what these other texts say as truth until you examine the evidence and figure out if what they are saying is actually from God. Based on our study, the only books that have strong evidence they’re really from God are the 66 books of the Christian Bible.

Regarding Zerubbabel, which is a name in Scripture, he was a grandson of the second-to-last king of Judah and thought to have been a Babylonian Jew who grew up in exile. He ruled Israel during the time of King Cyrus II of Persia but was not at all a Persian himself. On the other hand, Zoroaster (sometimes called Zarathustra) was an ancient Persian religious leader whose birthdate is unknown to scholars. It is unclear as to whether he was born around 1500 BC, 1000 BC, or sometime even later. What is generally accepted is that he was most likely born far earlier than the biblical Zerubbabel. Zoroaster was a monotheist who did believe in the existence of one supreme God. However, Zoroaster also taught that there are two eternal forces that battle each other: good and evil. Evil has always existed with the Zoroastrian god. In Zoroastrian thought, these two forces will always oppose each other unless every single person on the planet chooses, in their free will, goodness. Zoroastrianism as a religion is not built on the idea of any God choosing a people for Himself and being involved in a personal relationship with them. For these reasons, I believe the idea that Zoroaster is in the Bible is a claim that is not only unhistorical but also incoherent given what we know about the Jewish faith from the Hebrew Bible and Zoroaster himself.

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