Sunday, 25 November 2018


Fragment of Scroll of Antiochus with translation by R. Saadia Gaon, as found in the Cairo Geniza.


While the public reading of the Megillah on Purim is well-known and widespread – there is another Megillah; the Megillah of Chanukah which is hardly known at all and relatively little attention is paid to it.

This scroll – not to be confused with the Book of the Maccabees[1] – is known as Megillat Antiochus[2] or Megillat Chanukah. It is a relatively short scroll consisting of only seventy-four verses.

It tells the story of the victory of the Maccabees or Chashmonaim, over the Seleucid Empire (a Hellenistic state which ruled between 312 BCE to 63 BCE[3]) - which took place during the second century BCE, and resulted in the establishment of a Hasmonean kingdom in Jerusalem.


One of the reasons why not much is known about Megillat Chanukah is that there was a concerted effort on behalf of the Babylonian Talmud to emphasize the miracle of the lights over the miracle of the military victory of the Maccabees. Although the Megillah does end with a very overt reference to the miracle of one day’s supply of oil burning for a full eight days - nevertheless it does speak more openly about the ‘fight’ rather than the ‘light’.

It references Yochanan, the High Priest, making “a sword with a double blade. It was two cubits long and one zeret wide. And he concealed it under his clothing.” And Nikanor, the Commander-in-Chief of King Antiochus, said to Yochanan: “You are one of the rebels who rebelled against the king and doesn’t want peace in the kingdom.” Yochanan then kills Nikanor with his concealed sword and puts up a pillar in Jerusalem which states: “Maccabee Memit Chazakim” or “The Maccabean has killed the powerful.”

According to the story, the Maccabees delayed the destruction of Jerusalem by 200 years.

These are very nuanced references in a greater debate concerning how the Chanukah story was later framed in Talmudic and post Talmudic times: - Was it the ‘fight’ or the ‘light’ that was essentially commemorated? [See here for more on this matter.]

According to R. Binyamin Lau, there was "a conscious attempt to suppress the record altogether. In this context, the claim is made that during the period of the Mishna's compilation, after the Bar Kokhba revolt, there was an attempt to pacify the Roman Empire by rewriting Jewish history. They were effectively saying: 'We are not a rebellious nation. We do not seek political freedom. We despise wars.' 

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi...the redactor of the Mishna, 'concealed' the rebellion in an effort to appease...

And so a new miracle story emerged, one which posed no threat to any empire, and which allowed us to remember and perpetuate the memory of Hanukka without any disturbance." [20]


Another reason why Megilllat Chanukah may have been neglected was because of the tarnished legacy of the Maccabees.

According to Moshe Gaster (1856-1939)[4]:

The Makkabean princes, the descendants of Matitya, soon became unlike their great ancestor. They committed first the sin to assume the title of kings, and to sit on the throne which tradition and religious feeling kept for the descendants of David alone. The Hasmonaeans were priests, and had, as such, no right upon the royal position...`

To this the Makkabaeans added another sin, no less heinous in the eyes of the orthodox, strict observers of the law. In the strife of parties which arose soon afterwards, they side with the Sadducaeans, persecuted the Pharisaeans, the orthodox upholders of the law...

Considering that the Pharisaeans represented the popular party, and that the legal prescriptions, liturgical forms and ceremonies are mostly fixed by them, one part of the mystery is cleared up. The staunch upholders of the law would not canonise...or introduce the name and memory of the Makkabaeans, as they called themselves, in the history or in the liturgy of the nation.

That explains also to a certain extent why the allusions to the Makkabaeans are so scarce in the Talmud and Midrash. This literature is that of the Pharisaeans, and the Makkabaeans were their bitterest foes.”[5]

To back this up, the Babylonian Talmud speaks of Yochanan the High Priest who served for eighty years and then became a Sadducee.[6]

According to Alan Segal, the Maccabees were "...a group of 'reformers' within Israelite society. But it is hard to know whether Antiochus and the reform group's interests were 'religious' or merely 'political'. [19]

Megillat Antiochus - the Scroll of Chanukah


Early texts of Megillat Chanukah still exist and are in both Hebrew and Aramaic, but it appears as if the original text was in Western Middle Aramaic. This suggests it was probably written in Eretz Yisrael as opposed to Babylonia. The style is very similar to that of Targum Onkelos. An original version is found in Baladi Yemenite siddurim dating back to the 1600s.

The first published version of the text was in 1557, in Mantua, Italy. It then appeared in a printed siddur from Salonica in 1568.

In 1868 the Megillat Chanukah was included in the Ashkenazi siddur, Avodat haShem, with the following ironic introduction:

It should be known that this scroll, the Scroll of Antiochus, was also translated into German and published in Venice in 1548, and reached the hands of Rabbi Behr Frank of Pressburg, who knew nothing of its existence in Hebrew or in Aramaic.   He therefore saw fit to translate the German into the Holy Tongue (Hebrew) and bring it to press in 1806.”[7]

Thus the original Aramaic got translated into Hebrew, which later got translated into German, which again got translated back to Hebrew. It would be interesting to compare both of those Hebrew translations.


According to some scholars, the original scroll is dated from around 100 to 400 CE. Sefaria suggests 100-700CE.

Either way, it is first mentioned in the 700s by Shimon Kiara[8] who, also known as the Bahag, in his Baal Halachot Gedolot.[9] He claims it was written by the elders of Beit Shammai and Hillel, which would place it around the first century. It is also suggested that this Megillah will only be elevated to its proper status and be read on Chanukah ‘when there is a Cohen with the Urim and Tumim’ (i.e. during the messianic era).

Another view is from Rav Saadia Gaon (882-942) who confirms it was first composed in Aramaic, under the title Ketav Beit Chashmonai. He then translated it into Arabic.

Rav Saadia wrote in his introduction that just as we read Megillat Ester on Purim: “I saw fit to append...the story of what occurred in the time of the Greeks, the Levites [the Hasmoneans were Levites[10]] being charged with rescuing the people from what had befallen them.” [11]

Rav Saadia believed that the original Aramaic scroll was written by the Maccabees themselves, and “that the Hasmonean sons Judah, Simeon, Johanan, Jonathan and Eliezer, sons of Mattathias, wrote a book about what they had experienced”.[12]

R. Yosef Kapach (1917-2000) the great Yemenite scholar, published Megillat Antiochus together with Rav Saadia Gaon’s Arabic translation. He based his publication on old manuscripts which he found in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Gaster points out that the Festival’s name, ‘Chanukah’ is not mentioned at all in the scroll “though the feast is known from very ancient times under that name...This ignorance of the official name goes a long way to prove the antiquity of the chronicle.”[13]


According to Jewish Encyclopaedia, however, it is based on ‘unhistorical sources’, although it does acknowledge that it is a major source for dating the building of the Second Temple.
"At any rate, it may be asserted that the Megillat Antiochus was written at a time when even the vaguest recollection of the Maccabeans had disappeared."

Similarly, according to R. Benjamin Zvieli: “...there is still great doubt and the Scroll of Antiochus which we have today is still far from being considered an ancient scroll beyond doubt, attesting to the history of those great days.”


Megillat Chanukah was read in Italian synagogues on Chanukah, just as Megillat Ester was read on Purim.

According to the Kaffa rite of Crimean Jews from around the 1700s, Megillat Antiochus was read during Mincha on the Shabbat of Chanukah.

The Baladi Yemenites also have a similar custom of reading the scroll on Chanukah.
Isaiah (Yitzchak?) di Trani also records the custom of reading this Megillah in synagogues on Chanukah.[14]

Even Chayyim Nahman Bialik comments on Megillat Chanukah:  
“...the Bible lacks one precious and most wonderful book. Why was that book condemned to oblivion? The book that tells the history of the greatest victory, the victory of the spirit and the might of the Jewish people – the Book of the Hasmoneans [he was not referring to the Book of Maccabees but to Megillat Chanukah][15].
Interestingly, Bialik by carefully selecting the words 'spirit' and 'might' - seems to accept the legitimacy of both the 'light' and the 'fight' as equal components which ultimately determine the story of the Jewish people: 



King Antiochus, who has already conquered many countries, decides in the 23rd year of his reign to destroy the Jewish people, because it adheres to another law and other customs and secretly dreams of dominating the world.

He sends to Jerusalem his commander in chief Nicanor, who instigates a massacre there, sets up an idol in the Temple and defiles the entrance hall with pigs' blood.

On the pretext of being willing to submit to Antiochus' commands, *Jonathan [or Yochanan][16], a son of the high priest Mattathias, gains a secret audience with Nicanor, and kills him with a sword concealed under his robe; he then attacks Nicanor's army, which is now without a leader, and only a few of the soldiers succeed in escaping and returning by ship to Antiochus.

In commemoration of the victory, Jonathan has a pillar erected in the town, bearing the inscription "The Maccabean has killed strong men."

Antiochus then sends to Jerusalem a second commander, Bagris[17]; he metes out a terrible revenge upon the town and upon those Jews who have returned to the faith (here the scroll includes the story related in I Macc. 5:37–40 and II Macc. 6:16 of the devout people in the cave who were killed on the Sabbath because they would not fight to defend themselves).

Jonathan and his four brothers defeat Bagris, who escapes and returns to Antiochus. He is equipped with a new army and armored elephants and then makes an attack on Judea.

Judah Maccabee now appears in the story for the first time; and Jonathan, the third son of Mattathias, henceforth remains in the background. At the news of Bagris' approach, Judah proclaims a fast and calls for prayers in Mizpah (cf. I Macc. 3:46ff.); the army then goes into battle and wins several victories, though it pays for them with the death of its leader.

Now old Mattathias himself assumes command of the Jewish soldiers; the enemy is decisively defeated, and Bagris is taken prisoner and burned. When Antiochus is told the news, he boards a ship and tries to find refuge in some coastal town; but wherever he arrives he is greeted with the scornful cry: "See the runaway!" so that finally he becomes desperate and throws himself into the sea.

At this same time, the Jews are reconsecrating their Temple; while searching for pure oil for the lamp, they find a vessel bearing the seal of the high priest and dating back to the time of the prophet Samuel. By a miracle the oil, which is sufficient in quantity for only one day, burns in the lamp for a full eight days; and this is why Ḥanukkah, the festival commemorating the reconsecration of the Temple, is celebrated for eight days.[18]


For a full translation of the entire text see the TORAHLAB and the translation of Megillat Antiochus by R. David Sedley here.       For a version with Hebrew vowels and English translation, see Sefaria here.        

[1] The Book of the Maccabees, was part of the Apocrypha literature which was not formally accepted into the Biblical canon. It was originally written in Hebrew but only survived in Greek translation. It discusses the history of the Maccabees (175BCE to 134BCE).
[2] Also known as Megillat Antiochus, Megillat Yavanit, Megillat Chashmonaim, Megillat Chanukah, Megillat Matityahu, Ketav Benei Chashmonai, Sefer Beit Chashmonai.
[3] The Seleucid Empire became a major centre of  Hellenistic culture – it maintained the pre-eminence of  Greek customs where a Greek political elite dominated, mostly in the urban areas. See here with reference to cosmopolitan Machoza (Baghdad) and more rural Pumpedita (Fallujah).
[4] Moshe Gaster was a Romanian-born scholar who became the Chacham (Rabbi) of the Spanish community of London. He was a collector of, and an expert in, manuscripts, particularly Megillat Chanukah.
[5] Transactions of the Ninth International Congress of Orientalists 1893, Moshe Gaster.
[6] Berachot 29a.
[7] See The Scroll of Antiochus, by Rabbi Benjamin Zvieli. (Bar Ilan University)
[8] Although he lived during the Gaonic Period, was never appointed as a Gaon, hence the title Gaon is absent from his name.
[9]According to R. Moshe miKotzi, a thirteenth-century French Tosafist, who wrote the Semag (SeferMitzvot Gadol), it was Yehudai Gaon who authored Halachot Gedolot, a key source for the Semag. If indeed it was Yehudai Gaon who wrote Halachot Gedolot, then it may be possible to infer that Megillat Chanukah was targeted as a Palestinian/Maccabean work which did not serve the Babylonian political agenda of Yehudai Gaon, the aggressive marketer of the Bavli (see link for more details). That may be why it relegates the scroll to only be read when there is a "Cohen and Urim and Tumim".
[10] I do not know why Rav Saadia refers to the Maccabees as Levites when they appear to have been Cohanim – including the Cohen Gadol.
[11] Ibid. The Scroll of Antiochus.
[12] Ibid. The Scroll of Antiochus.
[13] Ibid. Moshe Gaster.
[14] See his additions to Sukkot 44b.
[15] Parenthesis mine. See Zvieli who comes to this conclusion.
[16] Parenthesis mine.
[17] Bagris only appears in the scroll of Antiochus and not in any other literature on this subject. (Sedley).
[18] Jewish Virtual Library.
[19]Rebbecca's Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World, by Alan F. Segal, p.30.
[20] The Sages - Character, Context and Creativity, Volume 1, Maggid Books 2007, p. 166.

Sunday, 18 November 2018


Tafsir Rasag - Arabic Translation (in Hebrew script) of the Torah by Rav Saadia Gaon.

In this article we are going to look at the fascinating, if not surprising, notion of Rav Saadia Gaon (882[1]-942) using some Islamic sources for his translation of the Torah into Arabic. Sometimes he changes the meaning of the text to conform to his own personal opinions and other times even to certain Islamic principles!
I have drawn primarily from Professor David M. Freidenreich’s scholarly work in this field, and this article is largely based on one of his research papers.[2]
We will examine just “why on several occasions the gaon [i.e Rav Saadia Gaon[3]] prefers Islamic interpretations over the existing rabbinic and biblical alternatives.”
Rav Saadia ben Yosef al-Fayumi[4] lived during the Abbasid Caliphate[5] and was one of the first rabbis to write in Arabic (not to be confused with Aramaic). He was an outspoken opponent of Karaite Judaism and hence a firm supporter of Rabbinical Judaism. His major work, Emunot veDeot was an early attempt to synchronize belief in Divine Revelation (emunot) with rational observation (deot).
He was appointed Gaon over Sura which was very unusual as that city only elected its own natives as its leaders.[6] In those times, each major centre was controlled by a Gaon and a Reish Galuta (or Exilarch). The Gaon was theoretically in charge of religious affairs while the Reish Galuta controlled the politics and administration. Unfortunately, his appointment to head the Sura Academy in 928 - by David ben Zakkai, the Reish Galuta himself - did not end well. This was because Rav Saadia refused to sign the ruling of the Reish Galutu regarding a certain inheritance case, despite the fact that it was signed in the rival city of Pumpedita.
The Reish Galuta’s son then threatened Rav Saadia, and Rav Saadia’s assistant retaliated. Soon the Gaon and Reish Galuta simultaneously excommunicated each other – and each appointed another candidate in place of the other.
R. Saadia’s translation of the Torah into Arabic is known as the Tafsir, which means ‘interpretation’ (or more accurately ‘interpretation; usually of the Qur’an’).
His Tafsir is not the first Arabic translation of the Torah but was the most authoritative. It was largely accepted and endorsed by rabbinic Judaism, is still considered, to this day, as the official Arabic translation of the Torah.
An interesting detail about Rav Saadia’s translation is that he completely eliminates anthropomorphic references to G-d. So, for example, during the creation narrative, he doesn’t use the expression “And G-d said” – instead he translates it as “And G-d willed”.
Also, the expression “And G-d descended” (upon Mt Sinai) is rendered as “And G-d revealed Himself”.
In the Hebrew text of the Torah, each day of creation has a concluding sentence, such as: “And it was morning and it was evening, Day One.” In R. Saadia's Tafsir, the order is switched to accommodate a more literary style with that sentence serving rather as an introduction to the next day. The paragraph is redesigned to start: “After the evening and morning of the first day...” and continues with a narrative of Day Two, and so on.
R. Saadia employed great latitude in his translations and often brought the text more in line with Halachic and rabbinic thinking. Thus, instead of “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s milk” becomes a far simpler: “Do not eat milk and meat together”.
R. Saadia Gaon frequently, and apparently glibly, gave Arabic names for places and animals. This prompted R. Avraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1167), who was a severe critic of R. Saadia Gaon’s Arabic translation, to openly challenge him quite scathingly:
Freidenreich translates Ibn Ezra as follows:
 “[Saadia gave Arabic names][7] to families, cities, animals, birds, and rocks. Maybe he saw this in a dream. And he certainly erred in some cases...
Because he translated the Torah in the language of Ishmael [i.e. Arabic] and in their script, [he translated unknown Hebrew words] so that they will not say that the Torah contains words[8] which [the Jews] do not understand.”
[As an aside, see: Ibn Ezra Quotes Karaite Sources Several Hundred Times. - Did Rav Saadia’s known opposition to Karaites have anything to do with Ibn Ezra’s attack on him?]
R. Saadia Gaon openly acknowledges his taking of textual liberties from time to time.
However, he stresses that the purpose of his Tafsir is “solely a translation of the plain text of the Torah...And if it is possible for me to insert a certain word or letter through which the meaning and intention will be revealed to one for whom an allusion is more satisfactory than a statement, I have done this.”[9]
Freidenreich explains that some scholars believe that “Saadiah, breaking with the universal Rabbinite practice of using Hebrew characters, wrote the Tafsir in Arabic script for an Islamic audience.
By ‘script’ we are referring only to the script and not to the language, which all agree was in Arabic.
However, others (including Freidenreich himself) argue that he wrote his Arabic translation in Hebrew script for a Jewish audience. This view is corroborated by the fact that to date, no Arabic script texts have been found in any of the Genizahs. In fact, an 11th century Tafsir in Hebrew script has been discovered which strongly supports the latter view.
Freidenreich writes: “As Muslims at that time could not read Hebrew or Hebrew characters, this clearly indicates that Saadiah wrote his translation of the Torah with a Jewish audience in mind...”
Freidenreich then drops an ideological bombshell:
“It is my contention that Saadiah deliberately and selectively relied on Islamic sources...Saadiah’s Tafsir shows evidence of conscious attention by the author to the stylistic expectations of his assimilated audience and of his use of specifically Islamic terms, traditions, and sources to provide more detailed or more rationally acceptable interpretations of certain biblical passages.”
Then he adds in a footnote:
“Saadiah is the first rabbinic commentator to base his biblical interpretation on philological [the study of texts][10] and rational principles, as was standard in qur’anic interpretation of his day.”
‘NUR ALLAH’:        
Rav Saadia Gaon was not reluctant to use the term Allah for G-d.
When referring to G-d‘s presence he uses the expression ‘nur Allah’ or Light of G-d.
When R. Saadia comes to the word Kohen, he translates it as ‘Imam’.
Amazingly, Aharon haCohen become Aharan the Imam – this despite the fact that R. Saadia could have used another Arabic word Kahin for Cohen!
The reason could be that Kahin has astrological connotations. Either way, we still see R. Saadia’s open usage of highly nuanced terms from the dominant religion of his day.
R. Saadia Gaon also had no qualms about using the expression ‘rassul Allah’, or messenger of G-d, to refer to Moshe Rabbenu.
Other medieval rabbis also used that same expression to refer to Moshe, possibly to emphasize that Moshe was no “less worthy of divine revelation than Muhammad.” This would have been quite an assertive expression to use at that time especially under Moslem domination, although the Qur’an itself uses that same turn of phrase ‘rassul Allah’ to refer to Moshe as well.[11]
Lest one think that R. Saadia Gaon was an apologist or an assimilationist, Freidenreich quotes Eliezer Schlossberg who argues that in some of R. Saadia’s commentary, he in fact attacks Islam because the poor manner in which they treated the Jews.
However, Freidenreich argues that that would apply more to R. Saadia’s other writings, but not specifically to the Arabic translation of Torah known as the Tafsir.
Freidenreich cites Moshe Zucker who calculated that there are 350 instances where R. Saadia makes the text conform to rabbinic law, such as in the abovementioned case of ‘do not eat milk and meat together’.
By the same token, he also found forty-five instances where R. Saadia appears to offer translations that run counter to the rabbinic grain:
In the following example, R. Saadia contradicts a Babylonian Talmudic practice of ‘temporary marriages’. (Incidentally, this practice was rejected by the Talmud Yerushalmi.):
 The notion of a ‘temporary marriage’ was quite common amongst Babylonian rabbis (see here).
We find[12] that when Rav went to Darshish and when R. Nachman went to Shechantsiv, they asked; “Who will be my [wife] for a day?” This was also a common practice amongst the Persian societies where the Babylonian Talmud was incubated.

Although the Babylonian Talmud generally discouraged taking different wives in different places for fear that children born of these unions may unwittingly one day marry each other – exceptions were made for the great sages, who because of their importance, would rely on the likelihood of the mothers telling their children who their fathers were.
Interestingly, the practice of ‘temporary marriages’ was also debated in Islamic law: The Qur’an may have permitted ‘temporary marriages’, and Shi’is still practice it although it is outlawed by Sunnis.
R. Saadia Gaon was strongly opposed to such practices.
Thus we find that when the Torah warned; ‘There shall not be a promiscuous woman among the daughters of Israel’[13] – he changed the meaning entirely by substituting ‘one who enters a temporary marriage’ (mumta’a) for ‘promiscuous woman’ (kedeisha). 

He similarly translates the word ‘zonah’ (prostitute) in the Yehudah and Tamar story, as mumta’a (temporary marriage).[14]
Thus R. Saadia “effectively creates an unprecedented biblical prohibition against temporary marriage...”  This, he may have done do discourage Jews from following the then common cultural practice of ‘temporary marriage’ as a legalized form of prostitution. Remember, R. Saadia lived “in an environment dominated by Sunni norms and therefore internalized the strong Sunni condemnation of the practice of temporary marriage.”
 In Parashat Lech Lecha[15], the Torah describes how the angel of G-d meets Hagar after Sarah sent her away, and announces the imminent birth of Yishmael who was to have many descendants.
This event takes place ‘on the road to Shur’.
According to the Torah itself (Shemot 15:22), Shur is to the west of the Sea of Reeds, which places it on the Sinai Peninsula which is close to Egypt.
However, R. Saadia translates Shur (in the Hagar and Yishmael story) as hajr al-hijaz or the Rock of the Hijaz, which refers to the Black Rock of the Kaaba in Mecca!

Here we have an instance where R. Saadia Gaon intentionally ignores the biblical description of Shur as being in the Sinai. Instead, he changes it to refer to Mecca – which is where, as it happens according to Islamic tradition, Abraham took Ishmael and Hagar after they were expelled by Sarah and where Abraham built the Kaaba!
This is clearly an Islamic influence as no other Jewish tradition refers to the Hijaz region of Arabia as a place of historical or spiritual significance.
Although in this instance there are textual variants based on different manuscripts, R. Saadia again refers to Mecca in his translation of another verse[16] where Meisha and Sefara become Mecca and Medina respectively:

Interestingly, another Torah commentator, R. Avraham Ibn Ezra also refers to an Islamic reference regarding the spring where the angel meets Hagar, which is “associated with the Islamic pilgrimage.”
Another example of possible Islamic influence on the Tafsir of Rav Saadia Gaon, can be seen in how he translates Joseph’s ‘begged’ or garment which Potiphar’s wife ‘caught hold of him by’.[17]
Throughout the rest of the Tafsir, R. Saadia translates the Hebrew word ‘begged’ as ‘thawb’ in Arabic. However, in the story of Joseph, he suddenly translates that ‘begged’ as ‘qamis’ which specifically means ‘shirt’, and not just a garment.
This may parallel the version of the story of Joseph as recorded in the Qur’an[18] where ‘qamis’ is used to describe the ‘shirt’ (or coat) which Joseph wore. No Jewish sources specify that it was a shirt, only that it was a garment.
Another example of possible Islamic influence on the Tafsir, can be found in the story of the Parah Adumah or Red Heifer, whose ashes the Torah says has are to be used to purify those who have become impure from contact with the dead.

The Talmud (Shekalim4:2) specifies that the cow must be completely red, it must be older than three years, it must be unblemished, it must never have worked and it must be purchased with Temple funds set aside specifically for its purpose.
In the Qur’an, a parallel to the ‘Red Heifer’ is described[19]: The Children of Israel ask Moses to clarify details of the cow to be sacrificed. Moses responds that it should be middle-aged, unblemished, never used for work and the pleasing colour of 'tsafra'yellow (not red).

Freidenreich writes:
“There is, however, one significant departure from the [Hebrew[20]] biblical text: according to every manuscript and edition of the Tafsir which I have been able to examine, the color of the cow is safra [yellow[21]], the qur’anic word used to describe the cow’s color. It appears that Saadiah considers the red heifer to be yellow.”

Bamidbar 19

Freidenreich concludes that:
“Saadiah certainly was not trying to syncretize Judaism with Islam or write an Islamicized translation of the Torah for the benefit of Muslims; had he so desired, he could easily have incorporated many more references to the Qur’an into his Tafsir.
The gaon was, however, willing to take from Islam those terms, traditions, and insights which he found to be valuable for his own purposes, and he was able to integrate them successfully into a work that remains quintessentially Jewish, so much so that his Tafsir came to be accepted as the authoritative rabbinic translation of the Torah into Arabic.”

Bringing all the above into some form of modern context:
It may be of value to relate R. Saadia’s Tafsir, to R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch’s German translation and commentary to the Torah. This also created a stir amongst the more traditionally conservative Jews of his era. Yet, when one understands the milieu, background and environment in which he wrote - his works take on very different, if not crucial, meaning.
The same may be said for ‘The Pentateuch and Haftorahs of Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Dr J.H. Hertz, which many too, have criticised for its more than occasional reference to non-Jewish commentators.
This is what Solomon Schechter wrote of Hertz in 1901:
 “[T]he new century does not open under very favourable auspices for Judaism…[O]ur Scriptures are the constant object of attack, our history is questioned, and its morality is declared to be an inferior sort…[T]he younger generation…if not directly hostile, are by dint of mere ignorance sadly indifferent to everything Jewish, and incapable of taking the place of their parents in the Synagogue…”
Schechter argued that an English commentary on the Five Books (and the rest of the Bible as well), written under Jewish auspices, was needed to respond to these challenges.[22]
Perhaps one must view the Tafsir of Rav Saadia Gaon in a similar manner.

[1] Some say 892.
[2] The Use of Islamic Sources in Saadiah Gaon’s Tafsir of the Torah, by David M. Freidenreich. (Columbia University).
[3] Parenthesis mine.
[4] Fayum was in Upper Egypt.
[5] The Abbasid Caliphate was the third Caliphate after Muhammad. The name comes from Muhammad’s uncle Abbas ibn Abdul-Muttalib (566-653CE). It was centred in Baghdad (established in 762) and succeeded the Umayyad Caliphate in the Abbasid Revolution in 750. ‘Persianate customs’ were adopted, and science, scholarship and art were encouraged in what was to become the Golden Age of Islam.
[6] Another ‘foreigner’ was Yehudai Gaon, about a century earlier, during the mid-700s, see here.
[7] Parenthesis mine.                          
[8] In some manuscripts ‘commandments’ (mitzvoth instead of milot).
[9] Translation by Freidenreich.
[10]Parenthesis mine.
[11] Qur’an 61:5.
[12] Yoma 18b, and Yevamot 37b.
[13] Devarim 23:18. “Lo tiheyeh kedeisha mi’bnot Yisrael
[14] Bereishit 38:15.
[15] Bereishit 16:7.
[16] Bereishit  10:30.
[17] Bereishit 39:12.
[18] Qur’an 12.
[19] Qur’an 2: 64-71.
[20] Parenthesis mine.         
[21] Parenthesis mine.
[22] The Story of the Hertz Chumash.