JĀBER JOʿFI, ABU ʿABD-ALLĀH (or Abu Mo-ḥammad b. Yazid b. Ḥāreṯ), a Kufan traditionist and companion of the fifth and sixth Shiʿite Imams, Moḥammad al-Bāqer and Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq. Jāber belonged to the to the first generation of Muslims after Moḥammed, likely dying in 128/745-46 (other reports date his death in 127/744-45 or 132/749-50; Moḥsen al-Amin, p. 158). He is well-known in both Sunni and Shiʿite circles, but, while his transmissions are considered reliable by some, others have suspected their accuracy or have rejected them altogether. A number of prominent Sunni traditionists, including Sofyān Ṯawri, considered Jāber honest (ṣaduq), a highly scrupulous traditionist, and related traditions on his authority (Ḏahabi, 1987, VIII, pp. 59-60; Ebn Ḥajar, II, p. 47; Ṭusi, p. 196), but others (e.g., Yaḥyā b. Maʿin, Abu Ḥanifa, Ebn Ḥanbal) denounced him as a liar and an extremist Shiʿite who believed in the doctrine of rajʿa (return of the Mahdi; see Ebn Ḥajar, II, pp. 48-50; Ḏahabi, 1987, I, pp. 379-84; Ebn Qotayba, p. 480; Moḥsen al-Amin, pp. 158-59).
Among Shiʿites, his reputation is equally mixed. He was clearly a close companion of Imam Moḥammad al-Bāqer (q.v.), from whom he narrates most of his traditions. Other Shiʿites, however, reportedly questioned Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq (q.v.) about him. Imam al-Ṣādeq generally endorsed him as a sound transmitter from the Imams (Mofid, p. 216; Ṭusi, p. 192; Moḥsen al-Amin, p. 158), but a report from Jāber’s contemporary, Zorāra b. Aʿyān, casts doubt on Jāber’s claims of proximity to the Imams (Ṭusi, p. 191). According to Ḥasan Nawbaḵti, ʿAbd-Allāh b. Ḥāreṯ, the leader of the followers of the Talebid rebel ʿAbd-Allāh b. Moʿāwia (q.v.), propagated such extremist ideas as metempsychosis (tanāsokò) and cyclical history (dawr) and attributed them to Jāber (Nawbaḵti, p. 47, tr. p. 59), while other reports suggest that the Imam did not wish the Hadith Jāber transmitted to reach the spiritually unqualified, lest they be misunderstood (Ṭusi, pp. 192, 193). Sunni heresiographies connect him with the executed extremist Shiʿite Moḡira b. Saʿid, who had acknowledged Imam al-Bāqer’s imamate (Ašʿari, p. 8; Ebn Ḥazm, pp. 118-19), but at least one Shiʿite Hadith explicitly separates Jāber from Moḡira (Mofid, p. 204; Ṭusi, p. 192).
Works attributed to Jāber include a book of Qurʾān commentary (Ketāb al-tafsir), likely a redaction of Imam al-Bāqer’s tafsir known from other sources; books on the events of the First Civil War (Ketāb al-Jamal, Ketāb Ṣeffin, Ketāb al-Nahrawān); books on the deaths of Imam ʿAli (Ketāb al-maqtal Amir-al-Moʾmenin) and Imam Ḥosayn (Ketāb al-Ḥosayn); and other collections of praise traditions and rare Hadith or “nawāder” (Najāši, pp. 93-94; see Modarressi, I, pp. 94-103, for a list of extant material from these works that survive in other sources). Prominent themes among his traditions include Qurʾānic commentary, the virtues of the believers, and the esoteric nature of the Imams’ knowledge. He is a primary transmitter of the well known Hadith that the Imams’ traditions are difficult, and that only prophets, archangels, and true believers can comprehend them (Ṭusi, p. 193; Kolayni, I, p. 466). He also reportedly heard tens of thousands of traditions from the Imams that he related to no one (Ṭūsi, p. 194; Ebn Ḥajar, II, p. 48; Tostari, II, pp. 535, 542), apparently implying that they were too esoteric in nature to be shared with others; he also reportedly complained to Imam al-Bāqer that the burden of these secrets would make him appear mad (Mofid, pp. 66-67; Ṭusi, p. 194). In other accounts, Jāber is reported to have displayed public madness, with most traditions suggesting that he feigned insanity to avoid arrest by the Umayyads (Ṭusi, pp. 192, 194-95; Tostari, II, pp. 538-39, 541). A number of material and epistemological miracles are also attributed to him, undoubtedly from extremist sources (Ṭusi, pp. 195-98; Tostari, pp. 535-41).
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Originally Published: December 15, 2007
Last Updated: April 5, 2012
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Vol. XIV, Fas.c 3, pp. 312-313