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Imam al-Rida's (a) Debate with Jathaliq

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This article is an introduction to the Imam al-Rida's (a) Debate with Jathaliq; to read its text see text:Imam al-Rida's (a) Debate with Jathaliq.

Imam al-Rida’s (a) debate with Jathaliq Nasrani (Nasrani Catholicos) is a theological debate in which topics such as the prophethood of the Prophet of Islam (s) and the human nature of Jesus (a) were discussed. This conversation took place in a meeting in which, at the request of al-Ma'mun the Abbasid caliph, Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian and Sabean scholars debated with Imam al-Rida (a).

The narration of this debate was first mentioned in the books of Tawhid and Uyun Akhbar al-Rida (a), written by al-Shaykh al-Saduq. According to the narration of Hasan b. Muhammad Nufili, the narrator of this hadith, Imam al-Rida (a) based on the Bible, argued for the prophethood of Prophet Mohammad (s). He (a) also quoted from the Bible as saying that Jesus (a) was not god but human. According to this narration, Jathaliq failed in this debate and did not find an answer to Imam al-Rida’s (a) challenges.


Imam al-Rida’s (a) debate with Jathaliq is mentioned in a narration in which he (a) debated with Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian and Sabean scholars. According to Hasan b. Muhammad Nufili, the narrator of this hadith, the debate was formed at the request of Ma’mun, the Abbasid caliph. When Imam al-Rida (a) went to al-Ma'mun from Medina to Merv, al-Ma'mun asked the scholars and theologians of different religions to gather and have a theological debate with Imam al-Rida (a). Nufili stated that al-Ma'mun’s goal was to test Imam al-Rida (a).

Jathaliq (catholicos, the chief of Christians), was the first person to debate with Imam al-Rida (a) in this meeting. Besides him, Ras al-Jalut (exilarch, the chief of the Jews), the elders of the Sabeans, Hirbidh (Herbad, the chief of the Zoroastrians) and ‘Imran Sabi’i were also present at the meeting and debated with Imam (a).

Imam al-Rida’s (a) Method

At the beginning of the debate, Jathaliq tells al-Ma'mun, who asks him to begin the debate. Jathaliq says, “how can I debate with him, while I do not accept your religious book and prophet?” Imam al-Rida (a) replies that in the discussion with him, he (a) will refer to the Bible, the religious book of Christians, and Jathaliq agrees not to reject it in this case. Thus, in this conversation, Imam al-Rida (a), in many cases, cites the Bible to prove his words.


In the conversation between Imam al-Rida (a) and Jathaliq, the discussion is mainly about two issues: one is proving the prophethood of the Prophet Muhammad (s) and the other is the question if Jesus (a) is god or man. Between the two debates, issues such as the number of Jesus’ (a) apostles and the loss of the original Bible are also discussed.

To prove the prophethood of the Prophet of Islam, Imam al-Rida (a) quotes phrases from the Bible and the Torah in which the coming of a prophet with the signs of the Prophet Muhammad (s) is announced. Among other things, he (a) says that it is mentioned in the Bible that John of Dailam said that, “Christ informed me of the religion of Muhammad the Arab and gave good news that he (a) would come after him, and I also gave good news to the apostles and they believed in him.” And that Jesus (a) also said in the Bible, “I will go to your God and to my God, and paraclete will come.” He (a) brings two arguments in response to the Christian belief that Jesus (a) is god: One is that if Jesus (a) was god, he (a) should not have prayed or fasted; because, the worship of Jesus (a) raises the question of who he as god was praying to or fasting for.

The second argument relates to Jathaliq, who said that Jesus (a) was god because he (a) raised the dead and healed the blind and those who had vitiligo. Imam al-Rida (a) rejects his idea saying that other prophets (a) have done the same. Therefore, they (a) should also be considered as god; while, Christians do not consider them to be god. Elisha (a), for example, raised the dead and healed the blind and those who had vitiligo. The prophet Ezekiel (a) also resurrected 35,000 people sixty years after their deaths.


According to the narrator of the hadith, in several places in this conversation, Jathaliq does not find an answer to the challenges of Imam al-Rida (a) and remains silent. For example, where Imam al-Rida (a) asks if Jesus (a) was god, for whom did he (a) pray and fast? Jathaliq remains silent and does not answer. Also, when Imam al-Rida (a) brings evidence from the Bible about the prophethood of the Prophet of Islam (s) and the human nature of Jesus (a), Jathaliq asks him for permission not to respond. At the end of the debate, Jathaliq says to Imam al-Rida (a) that he did not think that there was anyone like Imam al-Rida (a) among Muslim scholars.

Sources of the Hadith

The text of the debate has been narrated for the first time in the books of Tawhid and 'Uyun akhbar al-Rida (a), written by al-Shaykh al-Saduq (305-385 AH). In al-Ihtijaj, by Ahmad b. Ali al-Tabrisi (lived in 6th century AH), the summary of the hadith is mentioned. Also al-Allama al-Majlisi narrated the hadith from two books of al-Shaykh al-Saduq in Bihar al-anwar.

Validity of the Hadith’s Chain of Narration

Rijal scholars disagree about the order of the narrators of this hadith. Some have considered all of its narrators thiqa (trustworthy) and some others have considered some of them non-thiqa (unreliable). In addition, the hadith’s chain of narration is mursal; meaning that, some people in the chain of its narrators are not mentioned. Therefore, the hadith is considered weak in terms of the chain of narration. Nevertheless, some believe that this hadith is weak but acceptable; meaning that, despite the weakness in the chain of narration, it is admissible; because a reputable scholar such as al-Shaykh al-Saduq has narrated it and he narrated only narrations that he trusted as being issued by the Infallibles (a).