It is a common claim among Muslims, although an apparently recent one, that the name Mohammed occurs in the Hebrew scriptures. Today, let us briefly examine the basis of this claim, which is that Mohammed appears in Song of Solomon 5:16. This is an interesting claim, interesting not only because of the specific book, but because of the way in which it demonstrates a particular mindset and use of the scriptures that can lead to highly dubious conclusions and therefore ought to be avoided by believers and those with a desire to gain genuine insights from the scriptures. Let us therefore examine this particular verse in some detail as well as engage in some textual analysis of why Muslims point to this verse, and why it amounts to grasping at straws in order to show a relevance that does not truly exist.
First, let us look at the text, Song of Solomon 5:16, which is admittedly an unlikely place to find the mention of someone like Mohammed. Here it is in Hebrew :
“חִכּוֹ, מַמְתַקִּים, וְכֻלּוֹ, מַחֲמַדִּים; זֶה דוֹדִי וְזֶה רֵעִי, בְּנוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִָם.”
Translated into English, this roughly means: “His mouth is most sweet; yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.” At first glance, this is the sort of thing that I would want to hear from a particularly lovely young lady. How do people read Mohammed in this text? The word in question is מַחֲמַדִּים, which is transliterated mHmdym, a word which means lovely or delightful. Of course, Muslims see in this word a cognate for Mohammed. In one sense, they are right, but not for the right reasons. It is, of course, highly ironic that they would find the name of Mohammed in a book that Muslims particularly abhor, but life is full of ironies.
It should not be a surprise to know that I am a fan of the Song of Solomon, given the material it contains and my generally amorous personality, or that I have written several times about the Song of Solomon , including a short play that was one of my earliest dramatic efforts as a teenager. It is more surprising that Muslims are a fan of it, given that Muslims as a whole find the frankly erotic language of the Song of Solomon to be beneath the dignity of a holy text, frequently wondering why it should be found in holy scriptures at all . The fact that God highly praises erotic language and behavior within the confines of a godly marriage between a man and wife does not seem to cross their minds, any more than it does those prudish of other faiths who find in the Song of Solomon only allegories between the love of God and either physical or spiritual Israel (which are an important secondary meaning of the text) without praising or appreciating the literal reading of the text or its implications. That said, the fact that Muslims can claim that a text is unworthy of being in the Bible while also praising its supposed containing of the name of Mohammed is more than a little hypocritical.
Let us comment a bit about the textual commentary of the word mHmdym, translated as lovely or delightful in English. This word is a cognate for Mohammed, mainly because as fellow Semitic languages, Hebrew and Arabic share a lot of common sounds. To give a personal example, my own name Nathan also comes from the Hebrew, but reading a verse like Isaiah 8:18, which reads in Hebrew :
“הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי, וְהַיְלָדִים אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לִי יְהוָה, לְאֹתוֹת וּלְמוֹפְתִים, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל–מֵעִם יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת, הַשֹּׁכֵן בְּהַר צִיּוֹן.”
The fact that I can find my own name present in this verse (Nathan), in a verse that means: “Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me shall be for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwelleth in mount Zion” does not make this verse a prophecy to me simply because it has the Hebrew verb “to give,” which happens to have the same root as my personal name. While I believe that I was appropriately named given my own inclinations to give and to serve, the presence of that Hebrew word is no more a prophecy about me personally (however much it may apply to my life) than the presence of the word “lovely” is a prophecy about anyone named Mohammed. While it is always a lovely thing to find one’s name written in the pages of scripture, to ponder and reflect on the similarities between ourselves and that which we are named after, that similarity does not mean that the text was written specifically for and about us.
Let us note, specifically, that the Hebrew root Hmd, which is shared with Arabic, is the source of a lot of other words that are vastly less desirable, relating to the lusts and evil desires that we must struggle against. Given the fact that Mohammed is known from the historical record as a man whose limitations on the abilities of others to marry more than four women did not apply to him personally (since he married about a dozen women himself, starting with an older and wealthier woman and including a young child among them ), we might be on firmer ground to connect the name Mohammed to biblical references to covetousness or lustfullness, while recognizing that none of us (certainly not I!) are immune from such sins ourselves. In that sense, perhaps finding the name Mohammed in a book about erotic and romantic love is not too surprising, except to find it expressed in an ode that strictly condemns even the awakening of sexual desire before one is able to enjoy it in marriage, and one that highly praises monogamy and faithfulness (which is ironic when one considers the life of both Solomon and Mohammed).
Let us appreciate the meaning of Song of Solomon 5:16, and to the fact that God is not a prude and does not hate desire, merely commanding that it be kept within its proper boundaries and confines, a task which is challenging for all of us. We do better when seeking to take the biblical texts and understand them and apply them to ourselves without seeking to find ourselves (or others) mentioned obliquely within them. In that sense, Bible commentaries and helps as well as sound instruction from the scriptures are of far more use than attempts to see in the Bible coded references to others, in that it distracts our attention from the aim of scripture to inform us as to the truths of our own character and our need for grace and forgiveness and places it instead on intellectual games that seek to puff us up as being knowledgeable about some hidden or minor aspect of scripture. Given that Mohammed was a man who like the rest of us struggled (often unsuccessfully) against his lusts and desires, which have caused much warring in the world between his followers and others (and among themselves), let us examine ourselves by the standard of scripture rather than being so quick to read names into texts where they do not belong.