Does Song of Solomon Mention Muhammad?
Islamic apologists have attempted to bolster the credibility of their beliefs by claiming that the Bible, itself, makes reference to the coming of the prophet Muhammad. Ironically, this claim comes even in the face of the prevailing Islamic contention that the Bible has been corrupted, and thus cannot be relied upon as an accurate record of God’s Word. Nevertheless, Muslim polemicist Zakir Naik claims that Muhammad is mentioned by name in the Hebrew text of Song of Solomon 5:16. The reader is urged to weigh this claim in light of the exegetical evidence surrounding the passage.
In English, the verse reads: “His mouth is most sweet, yes, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem!” (NKJV). A phonetic transliteration of the underlying Hebrew text reads: Kheeco mahm-tah-keem vuh-coollo ma-kha-madeem zeh dodee veh-tseh ray-ee beh-note yerushalayim. Muslims claim that the bolded word, though translated “altogether lovely,” is the name of Muhammad (Naik, n.d.). Consider six linguistic evidences that dispute Naik’s claim:
The second syllable (kha) utilizes the Hebrew letter heth which has a hard initial sound like the “ch” in the Scottish word “loch.” It is to be distinguished from the Hebrew letter he which is the same as the English letter “h.” If Muhammad was being referred to, the simple “h” would have been more linguistically appropriate.
Muslims claim that the eem (or im) in ma-kha-madeem in the Hebrew language was “added for respect” (Naik). This claim is untrue and unsubstantiated. The letters constitute the standard form for changing a singular to a plural—like adding “s” or “es” in English (cf. Weingreen, 1959, pp. 35ff.). As the eminent Emil Rödiger (who was professor for oriental languages at the University of Halle and the student of the well-known German Orientalist, H.F.W. Gesenius) noted in his editorial comment in the prestigious Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar: “The use of the plural as a form of respectful address is quite foreign to Hebrew” (Gesenius, 1898, p. 418).
The meaning of the Hebrew ma-kha-madeem is different from the meaning of the word “Muhammad” in Arabic. According to Sheikh Abd al-Azîz, Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, the word “Muhammad” is derived from the Arabic root word hamd meaning “praise.” It is the emphatic passive participle of that root and can be translated as “the Oft-Praised One” (n.d.). However, the Hebrew term (makh-mahd) in the passage under consideration has a completely different meaning. It refers to “grace, beauty” (Gesenius, 1847, p. 464), “a desirable thing, delightfulness” (Brown, et al., 1906, pp. 326-327), “a pleasant thing” (Payne, 1980, 1:295), or “precious” (Holladay, 1988, p. 190). English translations render the term “altogether lovely” (NKJV, NIV), “wholly desirable” (NASB), and “altogether desirable” (ESV, RSV). No reputable English translation would render the underlying Hebrew as “praised one,” let alone as “Muhammad.” All Muslims have done is happen upon a Hebrew word that phonetically sounds somewhat like “Muhammad” and have erroneously concluded the word must be referring to him. Such handling of linguistic data is irresponsible—if not deceptive.
Further, the claim that Muhammad is intended in the verse completely disregards the context and message of the book of Song of Solomon. The book consists of a dialogue between Solomon, his Shulamite bride-to-be, and the “daughters of Jerusalem,” with perhaps even God interjecting His comment (5:1b), as well as the Shulamite’s brothers (8:8-9). The term used in 5:16 that Muslims claim refers to Muhammad is also used in 2:3 to refer to the Shulamite’s beloved—“Like an apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down in his shade with great delight.” “Great delight” is the Hebrew word also used in 5:16; in both cases the words of the Shulamite refer to her beloved—not Muhammad.
Forms of the same Hebrew word are used elsewhere in the Old Testament, yet Muslims do not claim that those passages refer to Muhammad. Rightly so, since those verses cannot be forced to fit the notion that Muhammad is under consideration. For example, Isaiah 64:11 mourns the destruction of Jerusalem: “Our holy and beautiful temple, where our fathers praised You, is burned up with fire; and all our pleasant things are laid waste.” “Pleasant things” is a form of the same word in Song of Solomon 5:16. Would the Muslim contend that Muhammad was “laid waste” in Jerusalem? Additional occurrences of the same word—which dispel the misuse of the term by Muslims—are seen in 1 Kings 20:6; 2 Chronicles 36:19; Lamentations 1:10,11; Ezekiel 24:16,21,25; Hosea 9:9,16; Joel 3:5; et al. (Wigram, 1890, p. 687).
Even if the Hebrew word “lovely/desirable” in Song of Solomon were the Hebrew equivalent of the Arabic word “praised one” (which it is not), it still would not follow that Muhammad is being referred to in the Bible. Instead, it would simply be an indication that the underlying word stands on its own as a term used for other applications. For example, the Hebrew word for “bitter” is mah-rah. It is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to the concept of bitter. Yet, due to her unpleasant circumstances in life, Naomi (whose name means “pleasant”) requested that her name be changed to “bitter” (mah-rah) to reflect her bitter predicament. It does not follow, however, that when the Hebrew word “bitter” appears in the Old Testament, it refers to Naomi. If parents today were to name their child John, it would not follow that they intended to reflect an association with others in history who have worn the name John—nor would references to John in the Bible constitute prophecies pointing to their son. Muslims have the cart before the horse. Their claim is equivalent to parents naming their child “wonderful” or “special”—and then claiming that an ancient writer had their child in mind when the writer used the word “wonderful” or “special” in referring to another person contemporary to the writer.
The truth of the matter is that the Bible nowhere refers to Muhammad. All other biblical passages purported to do so may likewise be shown to be misinterpreted and misapplied (Miller, 2003). The Bible contains within itself evidence that all non-Christian religions are false and contrary to the will of the God of the Universe (for more, see Miller, 2005).
Al-Azîz, Sheikh Abd (no date), “The Meaning of the Prophet’s names ‘Muhammad’ and ‘Ahmad,’” Islam Today, http://en.islamtoday.net/quesshow-14-738.htm.
Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs (1906), The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000 reprint).
Gesenius, William (1847), Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979 reprint).
Gesenius, William (1898), Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzsch (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
Holladay, William (1988), A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Miller, Dave (2003), “Is Muhammad Mentioned in the Bible?” Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=8&article=88&topic=46.
Miller, Dave (2005), The Quran Unveiled (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
Naik, Zakir (no date), “Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the Bible,” Islam 101, http://www.islam101.com/religions/christianity/mBible.htm.
Payne, J. Barton (1980), hamad in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason Archer, Jr. and Bruce Waltke (Chicago, IL: Moody).
Weingreen, J. (1959), A Practical Grammar for Classical Hebrew (Oxford: Clarenden Press), second edition.
Wigram, George W. (1890), The Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980 reprint).