In his massive biographical encyclopedia, Imam al-Dhahabi mentioned the following quote in his entry on the great commentator on the Qur’an, Muhammad ibn Jareer al-Tabari:
وقال الخطيب محمد بن جرير بن يزيد بن كثير بن غالب : كان أحد أئمة العلماء ، يحكم بقوله ، ويرجع إلى رأيه لمعرفته وفضله ، وكان قد جمع من العلوم ما لم يشاركه فيه أحد من أهل عصره ، فكان حافظا لكتاب الله ، عارفا بالقراءات ، بصيرا بالمعاني ، فقيها في أحكام القرآن ، عالما بالسنن وطرقها ، صحيحها وسقيمها ، وناسخها ومنسوخها ، عارفا بأقوال الصحابة والتابعين ، عارفا بأيام الناس وأخبارهم ، وله الكتاب المشهور في [ ص: 270 ] ” أخبار الأمم وتاريخهم ” ، وله كتاب : ” التفسير ” لم يصنف مثله ، وكتاب سماه : ” تهذيب الآثار ” لم أر سواه في معناه ، لكن لم يتمه ، وله في أصول الفقه وفروعه كتب كثيرة واختيار من أقاويل الفقهاء ، وتفرد بمسائل حفظت عنه .ـ
Muhammad ibn Jareer ibn Yazeed ibn Katheer ibn Ghaalib – He was one of the leaders of the scholars. His position carried authority, and his opinions were referred back to due to his knowledge and virtue.
He has amassed such a great amount of knowledge that none of his contemporaries matched him in that, for he had memorized the Qur’an, was well-acquainted with its various recitations, insightful into its meanings, expertly versed in the legal rulings of the Qur’an, knowledgeable of the sunnah and their chains of narration – whether they be authentic or otherwise, abrogating or abrogated -, familiar with the positions of the Sahabah and the Tabi’oon, and well-informed of historical facts and biographies.
He wrote the famous book “The News of the Nations and Their Histories”, as well as his Tafsir – the likes of which have not been replicated -, and also his work entitled, “Tahdheeb al-Aathaar” – which I have not seen anything like it in terms of its contents, however he did not complete it. He also had many written works in the fields of the fundamentals of Fiqh and its subsidiary branches in which he would sometimes select the opinions of other scholars and sometimes provide his own independent positions, and those opinions of his were later adopted by others.
قلت : كان ثقة ، صادقا ، حافظا ، رأسا في التفسير ، إماما في الفقه والإجماع والاختلاف ، علامة في التاريخ وأيام الناس ، عارفا بالقراءات وباللغة ، وغير ذلك . ـ
I [al-Dhahabi] say: He was a reliable and trustworthy narrator with an excellent memory. He was a leader in the field of Tafsir as well as in Fiqh and knowing where there was ijmaa’ and differing among the scholars. He was a tremendous scholar in the field of history, and well-versed in the qiraa’aat, linguistic matters, and other fields as well.
[Siyar al-‘Alaam al-Nubalaa’ 14/270]
Learn more about al-Tabari and his tafsir here: Mufassir Profile for ibn Jarir al-Tabari
See also: Ibn Taymiyah on the Books of Tafsir