The Ka’b al-Ahbar Legends among Muslims, Christians, and Jews


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Judaic Studies, Yale University, USA

In his book from 1995, Between Muslim and Jew: The Problem of Symbiosis under Early Islam, Steven M. Wasserstrom provided a sketch of the first Jewish convert to Islam according to the biography of the Prophet Muḥammad, ‘Abd Allāh b. Salām (d. 663/4), demonstrating his role in the acknowledgment of Jews in the prophethood of Muḥammad, and mentioning, briefly, the legends surrounding this figure in Judaism and Christianity. It is the purpose of my paper to trace the legends regarding another Jewish convert to Islam, Ka‘b al-Aḥbār, and discuss their circulation among Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Ka‘b (d. ca. 652), a Yemenite Jew who adopted Islam in the age of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, is recognized as an authority in the transmission of Jewish materials (Isrāʼīliyyāt) into Islam, and his activity attracted the attention of Muslims throughout the generations, some approving his knowledge and considering him to be a great scholar in Jewish matters, while others condemned his influence over Islamic tradition and accused him for “Judaizing” scriptural exegesis (tafsīr). On the other hand, Christians and Jews adopted Ka‘b into their legends on the emergence of Islam, wishing to refute the credibility of the Qur’ān by referring to Jewish converts such as Ka‘b as those who corrupted Muḥammad’s scripture from within.


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