The road to Shur, the origin of the zamzam well? (Rabbi Sa’adiah ben Yosef Gaon)

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In the story about the wife of patriach Abraham, Hagar, and his firstbon son, Ishmael, in  the Torah  in Genesis/Bereishit 16:7 it was mentioned about a place named Shur שֽׁוּר.

וַֽיִּמְצָאָ֞הּ מַלְאַ֧ךְ יְהוָ֛ה עַל־עֵ֥ין הַמַּ֖יִם בַּמִּדְבָּ֑ר עַל־הָעַ֖יִן בְּדֶ֥רֶךְ שֽׁוּר

An angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the road to Shur  (JPS 1985)

According to jewish and christian interpretation Shur was the desert between the south of Canaan, where Hebron was situated, and Egypt.

Interestingly, Rabbi Saadia Gaon ben Yosef (882-942)  or  Saʻīd bin Yūsuf al-Fayyūmi in Arabic also known by the acronym “Rasag” (who is considered one of the greatest Jewish sage from the geonic era. An intellectual tower in the field of biblical exegesis, Jewish philosophy, Hebrew language, prayer, and Halakha)  in his magnus opus arabic translation of the Torah Attarjamah Al’arabiyyah Attawrah الترجمة العربية للتوراة rendered Genesis 16:7 as follows:


فو جدها مالك اللّٰه على عين ماء في البرية على على التي في طريق الحجاز

My literal translation : “The Angel of Allah found her on a spring of water in the wilderness on the way in the Hijaz (Al Hijaz)”

To me this is remarkable discovery. Rasag did not mention Shur but Al Hijaz, he seemed to confirm the origin of the zamzam well, a miraculously generated source of water from God, which according to traditional Islamic report began when Hagar and her infant son Ishmael was wandering in the wilderness thirsty and desperately need for water. It was then God sending his angel, Gabriel to help Hagar. Later then Ishmael and his father Abraham rebuilt the Bayt Allah (“House of God”) called the Kaaba, a landmark building which Muslims around the world visit and face in prayer.  The place which Rasag mention as  Al-Hijaz  is the region in the west of present-day Saudi Arabia where  the holy city of Mecca in which the Kaaba is situated.


Rasag originally wrote his original Torah translation using Hebrew scripts not Arabic (Judeo-arabic scripts). This also has been bolstered by the fact that no texts of the Arabic script have been found in any of the Genizah collections. As Muslims at his time could not read Hebrew or Hebrew characters this clearly indicates that Rasag wrote his translation of the Torah with a Jewish audience in mind, an assumption supported by Rasag own description of his work. So There is little possibility that Rasag deliberately choose the wording in order to fit Islamic audience as later  jewish commentator such as 12th century  Abraham Ibn Ezra had been speculating.

More support that Rasag himself chose to refer to the Al -Hijaz region in his Torah translation can be found in his rendering of Genesis/Bereishit 10:30, in which he translates the locations Mesha  מֵשָׁ֑א  and Sephar סְפָ֖רָ as Mecca مكة and Medina المدينة.

Please refer to Rasag tarjamah text below:


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Categorised in: Christianity, Islam

5 Responses »

  1. Assalamu Alaykum

    Where did you get the copy of the Rasag’s Arabic translation from? I am trying to find a PDF of it on the internet and I have not had any luck.


    • Waa’alaikum salaam, I don think that it is available online, the one Im using the printed edition Morocco edition “مدخل الى دراسة التوراة ونقدها مع ترجمتها العربية لسعديا كؤون الفيومي تأليف الدكتور إدريس اعبيزة” An Introduction to the Study of the Torah and its Criticism with Arabic Translation of Sa’dia Al-Fayoumi by Dr. Idris Ibayzeh”
      There you can find the complete Rasag Torah translation in arabic. although his original work was in judeo arabic ( arabic using hebrew scripts)

  2. Assalamu Alaykum… Thank you for your reply, I was able to find a copy online at this link:

    Click to access artorah.pdf

    Was this arabic translation done by a Muslim or by an Arab Jew? I am asking this because some might argue that the translator (if he is Muslim) might have deliberately used words like Hijaz or Makkah/Madinah, to give the translation a more “islam friendly” tone.


  1. – Baseera Project

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