How did Jabir narrate 70,000 ahadith?


Jabir ibn Yazid al-Ju’fi was a close and trustworthy companion of Imams al-Baqir and al-Sadiq. One of his statements - attributed to him in both Sunni & Shi’i sources is that he narrated 70,000 ahadith from Imam al-Baqir. 

Some have denounced Jabir as a liar, citing the physical impossibility of hearing and writing down this massive number of ahadith.

I will discuss whether or not this idea - Jabir narrating 70,000 ahadith from al-Baqir - is logically possible in today’s article.

It may interest the reader to know that Jabir’s legacy has allowed us to reconstruct evidence of the historicity of key concepts of the Shi’i conception of Imamate, from the earliest non-Shi’i sources - this can be viewed in my book “History of Nass Imamate”.

  • Shaykh al-Tusi says: 

“It has been reported that he (Jabir) has narrated 70,000 ahadith from al-Baqir, and 140,000 ahadith total”

وقال الشيخله (أصل).

وروي أنه روى سبعين ألف حديث عن الباقر عليه السلام، وروى مائة وأربعين ألف حديث.

  • How is this possible?

  1. Firstly, Jabir ibn Yazid was the Bab of Imam al-Baqir. (Tarikh al-A’imah by Ibn Abi al-Thalj, a companion of our imams, page 33)

محمد بن علي عليهما السلام بابه جابر بن يزيد الجعفي

Being the Imam’s “Bab” means you represent the Imam in word, action, and are his ambassador to the Shi’a. You are also awarded with secrets (supernatural and otherwise) that none but you will gain.

This is clarified in the following hadith:

(Rijal al-Kashi) 

Jabir said:

Abu Jaafar [al-Baqir] told me ninety thousand hadiths that I have never narrated to anyone, nor will I narrate to anyone at all. 

Jabir said: So I said to Abu Jaafar (peace be upon him): May I be your ransom, you have carried me with great reverence for what you told me of your secrets that I will never tell anyone about, for it may swell in my chest until an almost madness takes me from it.

رجال الكشيعنه قالحدثني أبو جعفر (عليه السلامتسعين ألف حديث لم أحدث بها أحدا قط ولا أحدث بها أحدا أبداقال جابرفقلتلأبي جعفر (عليه السلام): جعلت فداك، إنك قد حملتني وقرا عظيما بما حدثتني به من سركم الذي لا أحدث به أحدا، فربما جاش في صدريحتى يأخذني منه شبه الجنون

  1. Secondly, one does not need to write down a hadith to narrate it. 

He could simply be given a book containing ahadith, in order to be permitted to narrate it from its author. 

(Al-Kafi, vol 1, page 52)

“I told Abi al-Hasan al-Ridha: 

A man from our companions gives me a book and doesn’t say: ‘Narrate it from me.’

Is it permissible to narrate it from him?” 

The Imam said: 

“If you knew the book is his, narrate it from him.”

6 - عنه، بإسناده عن أحمد بن عمر الحلال قالقلت لأبي الحسن الرضا عليه السلام:

الرجل من أصحابنا يعطيني الكتاب ولا يقولاروه عني يجوز لي أن أرويه عنه؟

قالفقالإذا علمت أن الكتاب له فاروه عنه.

Accordingly, Imam al-Baqir would give Jabir his secret ahadith by handing him his books (i.e, the Imam’s books). The number of secret ahadith totaled 70,000 - 90,000 narrated from Imam al-Baqir as Jabir said.

Thus, the narration of 70,000 ahadith did not happen by Jabir directly writing down ahadith from the Imam. But rather, the Imam giving Jabir books containing his ahadith and permitting him to narrate them from the Imam to other people in some cases.

The following hadith highlights this:

(Rijal al-Kashi)

Jabir said: I entered upon Abu Jaafar (al-Baqir) when I was a young man and he said: Who are you?

I said: I am fom the people of Kufa, I came to you to seek knowledge. 

So he gave me a book and said to me: 

If you narrated it before the Banu Umayyah perish, then you receive my curse and the curse of my fathers, and if you concealed anything from it after the destruction of the Umayyads, then you receive my curse and the curse of my fathers.

Then he gave me another book, then said: Here is this, if you ever narrate any of it - then upon you is my curse and the curse of my fathers (3).”

رجال الكشيعنه قالدخلت على أبي جعفر (عليه السلاموأنا شاب فقالمن أنت؟

فقلتمن أهل الكوفة، جئتك لطلب العلمفدفع إلي كتابا وقال ليإن أنت حدثت به حتى تهلك بنو أمية فعليك لعنتي ولعنة آبائي، وإن أنتكتمت منه شيئا بعد هلاك بني أمية، فعليك لعنتي ولعنة آبائيثم دفع إلي كتابا آخر، ثم قالوهاك هذا، فإن حدثت بشئ منه أبدافعليكلعنتي ولعنة آبائي (3).

  1. Is it logically possible for the Imam to give Jabir books containing 70,000 ahadith?

Given that Jabir was Imam al-Baqir’s Bab, it is possible that Imam al-Baqir gave Jabir volumes of his books totaling 70,000 - 90,000 ahadith. 

This can be possible as a supernatural phenomenon, which defies logic. Considering Jabir’s persona was highly associated with supernatural encounters and ahadith from our Imams.

Similar to how Imam al-Baqir made Jabir witness other supernatural phenomenon, such as the Imam creating an elephant out of clay and flying with it to Mecca and back to Medina.

(Dala’il al-Imamah)

“Jabir ibn Yazid Al-Ju’fi said to me: I saw my master Al-Baqir - peace be upon him - and he made an elephant out of clay, so he rode it and flew in the air until he went to Mecca and then returned.

I did not believe that from him until I saw Al-Baqir - peace be upon him and I said to him: Jabir told me about you such-and-such? (So ​​he made the same and rode (the elephant), carrying me with him to Mecca and brought me back.”

2 / 6 - أبو جعفر محمد بن جرير الطبريقالحدثنا أحمد ابن منصور الزيادي (1) قالحدثنا شاذان بن عمر قالحدثنا مرة بن قبيصةبن عبد الحميد قالقال لي جابر بن يزيد الجعفيرأيت مولاي الباقر - عليه السلام - (و) (2) قد صنع فيلا من طين، فركبه وطار في الهواءحتى ذهب إلى مكة ورجع عليه (3)، فلم أصدق ذلك منه حتى رأيت الباقر - عليه السلام - فقلت لهأخبرني جابر عنك بكذا وكذا؟ (فصنعمثله) (4) فركب وحملني معه إلى مكة وردني (5

Wa Allahu A’lam