Farhad Ghoddousi, Research Associate, Brain Research and Imaging Neurosciences Research Division, Wayne State University School of Medicine, USA
Among the Shiʿi ḥadith corpora there is a unique and relatively long report in the form of a colloquy or admonition of God to Jesus. The most complete version of this report is survived in al-Kafi, the most important Shi’i Hadith collection of the 4th century, beginning with the title: “Hadith ʿIsa b. Maryam, fi ma waʿaz Allah bihi ʿIsa” (That With Which God Has Instructed or Counseled Jesus) with several chains of narrators in which Ali ibn Asbat (8th cent.) is the common link. He was a well-known and trusted Hadith narrator coming from a Christian background with a keen interest in Imami Shi’i reports about Jesus.
Previously, Mahmoud Ayoub identified this long text, consisting of nearly 80 subparts some of which could be traced in the Gospels, as a single Hadith Qudsi (Divine Utterance), attributed to Jesus as a whole with a single isnad, adding that “throughout this colloquy, God is the speaker, and Jesus asks one brief question towards the end.” However, a thorough examination of this report shows that it is composited out of pre-existing shorter components. Thanks to a few of these smaller parts which have been narrated independently, we were able to shed light upon the process of the compilation and production of this long report: ʿAli b. Asbat had a collection of several independent short sayings attributed to Jesus through different chains of narrators. At some later stage, another compiler combined all of these smaller narrations into a unified longer version. As a part of this process, the sayings of Jesus were changed to Divine utterances to Jesus, adding an introduction and possibly absorbing some other wisdom sayings attributed to Jesus while keeping the chain of narration through ʿAli b. Asbat.
This study, by focusing on the history of composition of this unique and one of the earliest collection of sayings of Jesus in Islam, also sheds some light on the more general question of the transmission and integration of biblically related material in Shiʿi and Islamic hadith collections.