Parallelism Between the Qur'an and Judeo-Christian Scriptures

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The similarities between the Qur'an and previous scriptures have been noted since the advent of Islam. The Judeo-Christian tales and their Qur'anic doppelgangers, however, rarely match perfectly. A claim found in the Qur'an and other Islamic literature is that the Jews and Christians deliberately changed their scriptures to obscure the truth of the Qur'an. There is no documentary evidence in the textual traditions of those religions to support this claim, and since it would require a conspiracy of people across centuries and empires, speaking different languages and holding radically different beliefs, the claim itself is generally not taken seriously by modern scholars.

The more accepted theory is that the Qur'an borrows stories from the ancient milieu in which it arose--Christianity and Judaism of the late antique period in the near east. Contrary to the Islamic tradition, most scholars today agree that the Qur'an must have been composed in an environment in which Christian and Jewish stories were very familiar, both to the person(people) writing the Qur'an and to the audience. As such borrowings are to be expected, and in a semi-literate culture before the advent of the printing press different versions of the same story as well as mistakes in transmission from one medium to the other are also to be expected.

In such an environment it is also unsurprising that many of the stories one finds in the Qur'an do not come from the canonical books of the Christian or Jewish bibles, but often from secondary apocryphal literature which played a huge role in the spiritual life of believers in that time.

Charges of Borrowing from Within the Tradition

The Qur'an records that doubts claim of its verses that they are "tales of the ancients." According to the Islamic tradition itself these verses are all found in the Meccan Qur'an, despite the fact that some of these verses have been inserted into Medinan suras, such as Sura al-Anfal 8. The tradition indicates that the unbelievers, who spoke of the fairy-tales of the ancients in the Qur'an, were of the people of Mecca. None adopted this opinion in Medina after the migration.[1]

A check of Maududi’s commentary confirms this. Maududi: Surah 6 - last year of the Holy Prophet's life at Makkah; Surah 8 - in 2 A. H. after the Battle of Badr; Surahs 23 & 27 - the middle stage of Prophethood at Makkah; Surah 25 - during the third stage of Prophethood at Makkah; Surah 46 - towards the end of the 10th year or in the early part of the 11th year of the Prophethood; Surah 68 - one of the earliest surahs to be revealed at Makkah; Surah 83 - in the earliest stage at Makkah.

One verse has unbelievers accussing the Qur'an of “making ancient tales written” (i.e. iktatabaha) that were recited (i.e. dictated) to him Quran 25:5. Thus, the Qur'an itself alludes to the charge of ‘borrowing’ of Biblical tales against Muhammad even in the earliest days of Islam.

Some of them listen to you. But We have cast veils over their hearts lest they understand it and in their ears heaviness; and if they see every sign they do not believe in it. When they come to you they argue, the unbelievers say: 'This is nothing but the tales of the ancient ones.'
Whenever Our verses are recited to them, they say: 'We have heard them, if we wished, we could speak its like. They are but tales of the ancients'.
'When we are dead and become dust and bones shall we be resurrected? We and our fathers have been promised this before. It is but of the ancients' fictitious tales.'
The unbelievers say: 'This is but a falsehood he has forged – another nation has helped him. ' So they have come with wrong and falsehood. They say: 'He has written tales of the ancients, they are recited to him at dawn and at the evening.' Say: 'It was sent down by Him who knows the secrets of heavens and earth. He is Forgiving, the Most Merciful.
The unbelievers say: 'When we and our fathers are turned to dust, shall we be brought forth? We were promised this before, and so were our fathers. It is but the fictitious story of the ancients.'
But he who says to his father and his mother, 'Fie on you! Do you promise me that I shall be brought forth, when entire generations have passed away before me?' Yet they supplicate to Allah for help 'Woe to you! Believe, surely the promise of Allah is true.' Then he says: 'This is nothing but fairytales of the ancients'.
When Our verses are recited to him, he says: 'They are but fairytales of the ancients!'
When Our verses are recited to him, he says: 'Fictitious tales of the ancients!'

The evidence that at least some of these tales of the ancients were Judeo-Christian tales and not that of the fanciful Quranic “Arabic/Arabized” fairy-tales of Jinns, Houris and the like is the context of these verses, particularly those relating to the Resurrection, and the charge that another nation had supplied these tales (meaning the Jews and possibly also Sabeans and Christians--nations such as the Byzantine Empire at the time were associated with certain religions such as Chalcedonian Christianity).

There is a sahih hadith that seems to indicate that the Arabs had heard the Judeo-Christian tales from the Jews. The implication of the hadith is that these tales were common-place from the phrase, ‘used to explain…’, so much so as to warrant Muhammad’s warning to the Muslims to both disbelieve and believe the Jews.

Narrated Abu Huraira: The people of the Scripture (Jews) used to recite the Torah in Hebrew and they used to explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. On that Allah's Apostle said, "Do not believe the people of the Scripture or disbelieve them, but say:-- "We believe in Allah and what is revealed to us." (2.136, also 3:84) [repeated in Bukhari 9.92.460 & 9.93.632]

The following sahih hadith strongly suggests Muhammad was susceptible to ‘absorbing’ Jewish tales:

Narrated 'Aisha: Two old ladies from among the Jewish ladies entered upon me and said, "The dead are punished in their graves," but I thought they were telling a lie and did not believe them in the beginning. When they went away and the Prophet entered upon me, I said, "O Allah's Apostle! Two old ladies.." and told him the whole story. He said, "They told the truth; the dead are really punished, to the extent that all the animals hear (the sound resulting from) their punishment." Since then I always saw him seeking refuge with Allah from the punishment of the grave in his prayers.

Note how Aisha noticed Muhammad vigorously adopting the Jewish belief of ‘punishment in the grave’ only after she had told him the tale. Before she told him she never saw this belief in him.

Possible channels for intertextuality

There is strong evidence from the sahih hadiths that Muhammad learned at least some of them from Zaid bin 'Amr bin Nufail. These hadiths show that Zaid told the then still-pagan Muhammad about Allah and the religion of Abraham. Also of note is how Zaid claimed before the Ka'aba that he was the only one of the Quraysh who followed the religion of Abraham which he learned from a Jew and a Christian:

Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Umar: The Prophet met Zaid bin 'Amr bin Nufail in the bottom of (the valley of) Baldah before any Divine Inspiration came to the Prophet. A meal was presented to the Prophet but he refused to eat from it. (Then it was presented to Zaid) who said, "I do not eat anything which you slaughter in the name of your stone idols. I eat none but those things on which Allah's Name has been mentioned at the time of slaughtering." Zaid bin 'Amr used to criticize the way Quraish used to slaughter their animals, and used to say, "Allah has created the sheep and He has sent the water for it from the sky, and He has grown the grass for it from the earth; yet you slaughter it in other than the Name of Allah. He used to say so, for he rejected that practice and considered it as something abominable.

Narrated Ibn 'Umar: Zaid bin 'Amr bin Nufail went to Sham, inquiring about a true religion to follow. He met a Jewish religious scholar and asked him about their religion. He said, "I intend to embrace your religion, so tell me some thing about it." The Jew said, "You will not embrace our religion unless you receive your share of Allah's Anger." Zaid said, "'I do not run except from Allah's Anger, and I will never bear a bit of it if I have the power to avoid it. Can you tell me of some other religion?" He said, "I do not know any other religion except the Hanif." Zaid enquired, "What is Hanif?" He said, "Hanif is the religion of (the prophet) Abraham who was neither a Jew nor a Christian, and he used to worship None but Allah (Alone)" Then Zaid went out and met a Christian religious scholar and told him the same as before. The Christian said, "You will not embrace our religion unless you get a share of Allah's Curse." Zaid replied, "I do not run except from Allah's Curse, and I will never bear any of Allah's Curse and His Anger if I have the power to avoid them. Will you tell me of some other religion?" He replied, "I do not know any other religion except Hanif." Zaid enquired, "What is Hanif?" He replied, Hanif is the religion of (the prophet) Abraham who was neither a Jew nor a Christian and he used to worship None but Allah (Alone)" When Zaid heard their Statement about (the religion of) Abraham, he left that place, and when he came out, he raised both his hands and said, "O Allah! I make You my Witness that I am on the religion of Abraham."

Narrated Asma bint Abi Bakr: I saw Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail standing with his back against the Ka'ba and saying, "O people of Quraish! By Allah, none amongst you is on (sic: of ?) the religion of Abraham except me." He used to preserve the lives of little girls: If somebody wanted to kill his daughter he would say to him, "Do not kill her for I will feed her on your behalf." So he would take her, and when she grew up nicely, he would say to her father, "Now if you want her, I will give her to you, and if you wish, I will feed her on your behalf."
Narrated 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said that he met Zaid bin 'Amr Nufail at a place near Baldah and this had happened before Allah's Apostle received the Divine Inspiration. Allah's Apostle presented a dish of meat (that had been offered to him by the pagans) to Zaid bin 'Amr, but Zaid refused to eat of it and then said (to the pagans), "I do not eat of what you slaughter on your stonealtars (Ansabs) nor do I eat except that on which Allah's Name has been mentioned on slaughtering."

Even the prohibition of female infanticide was inspired by Zaid according to the tradition. How often did Muhammad hear these stories from Zaid? The hadiths do not tell. However, one notes that the sirah recounts Zaid’s withdrawal from Meccan society (where he was allegedly persecuted) to a cave in Mount Hira. Muhammad apparently visited the same cave at Ramadan on a yearly basis, an act his wife Khadijah said was the custom of his tribe as an act of penance.[2]

Thus, it can be seen that there was ample opportunity for Muhammad to learn from Zaid long before the first revelation in 610 AD. Some accounts state Muhammad first went to Mt Hira when he was around 35, i.e. around 605 AD. It is possible that Muhammad first visited Mt Hira when he was 33, when the “first unseen secrets” revealed themselves to him. Zaid died around 607 AD. The cave in Mt Hira is very small, measuring 4 yards long and 1.75 yard wide – there seems no way Zaid and Muhammad could have avoided each other if this cave is truly where they went. Clearly they knew each other; the sahih hadiths make that apparent, and we also know that Muhammad spent weeks and months in that cave which Zaid was reputed to have lived.

Zaid’s religious principles adopted by Muhammad

  1. the prohibition of killing infant daughters by burying them alive, according to the cruel custom of the Arabs of the time.
  2. the acknowledgment of the Unity of God.
  3. the rejection of idolatry and the worship of Al-Lat, AI-'Uzza' and the other deities of the people.
  4. the promise of future happiness in Paradise or the "Garden".
  5. the warning of the punishment reserved in hell for the wicked.
  6. the denunciation of God's wrath upon the "Unbelievers".
  7. And also, the application of the titles Ar Rahman (the Merciful), Ar Rabb (the Lord), and Al Ghafur (the Forgiving) to God.

Moreover, Zaid and all the other reformers (Hanifs) claimed to be searching for the "Religion of Abraham." Besides all this, the Qur'an repeatedly, though indirectly, speaks of Abraham as a Hanif, the chosen title of Zaid and his friends.[3]

Answering-islam above references Ibn Ishaq’s Siratu’Rasul. The main thrust of Zaid’s story in the sira conforms to the reported meeting with Muhammad, and Zaid’s anti-female infanticide stance, in the sahih hadiths of Bukhari .

Even the Muslim method of prayer may have originated from Zaid, as Ibn Ishaq (pg. 99-100) wrote that he prayed by prostration on the palm of his hands.[4]

Another possible source of Judeo-Christian stories is Umm Habiba bint Abu Sufyan, Muhammad’s eighth wife. Her former husband Ubaydullah b. Jahsh was a Christian who converted to Islam and migrated with other Muslims to Abyssinia, there to reconvert to Christianity. However, this is admittedly mere conjecture. Yet another vector for the influence of Christian narratives on Muhammad may have been Mariah the Copt, but the evidence is against her being the source of Muhammad’s Judeo-Christian borrowings as she was presented to Muhammad when he was residing in Medinah, long after he included the Judeo-Christian tales in his revelations, according to the Sira and the Hadith.

The Qur'an itself refers to influence by a foreign "tongue."

When We exchange a verse for another and Allah knows best what He is sending down they say: 'You are but a forger. 'No, most of them do not know. Say: 'The Holy Spirit (Gabriel) brought it down from your Lord in truth to confirm those who believe, and to give guidance and glad tidings to those who surrender. 'We know very well that they say: 'A mortal teaches him. 'The tongue of him at whom they hint is a nonArab; and this is a clear Arabic tongue. Those who disbelieve in the verses of Allah, Allah does not guide them for them is a painful punishment.

This non-Arab who influenced the Qur'an is not mentioned by name, but there are many candidates in the sira including Salman the Persian (who was a Christian) or Bahira the disgraced Nestorian.

There is other evidence for the influence on Muhammad of a Christian from within the tradition itself:

"Husain the commentator says on this passage that the Prophet was in the habit of going every evening to a Christian to hear the Taurat and Injil."[5]
Hughes' Dictionary of Islam, p. 30, quoting Tafsir-i-Husaini

Islamic sources report that Muhammad, already at the age of nine to twelve, made his first journey with a trade caravan to Syria where he came in contact with Christians. According to these same sources, on a second visit to Syria he showed great interest in the Judaism and Christianity he encountered there. He spent some time during that period with a Nestorian Christian monk named Bahirah. [6]

The evidence, however, is not convincing that it is Bahira that told Muhammad the Judeo-Christian stories.

Perhaps the strongest evidence of the ‘foreigner’s’ identity comes from the Sira:

"According to my information the apostle used often to sit at al-Marwa at the booth of a young Christian called Jabr, a slave of B. al-Hadrami and they used to say "The one who teaches Muhammad most of what he brings is Jabr the Christian, slave of the B. al-Hadrami." Then God revealed in reference to their words "We well know that they say, "Only a mortal teaches him"." The tongue of him at whom they hint is foreign, and this is a clear Arabic tongue.[7]
Ibn Ishaq page 180

This source specifically names the foreigner to be Jabr, slave of B. al-Hadrami.

Then there is this sahih hadith that specifically informs us that Muhammad learned from a Christian:

Narrated Anas: There was a Christian who embraced Islam and read Surat-al-Baqara and Al-Imran, and he used to write (the revelations) for the Prophet. Later on he returned to Christianity again and he used to say: "Muhammad knows nothing but what I have written for him." …

This Christian who taught Muhammad is not named in the sahih hadiths. However, Ibn Warraq, citing Waqidi, names him as ibn Qumta.

Waqidi [d. 207 AH D/823 CE] who says that a Christian slave named Ibn Qumta was the amanuensis of the prophet, along with a certain ‘Abdallah b. Sa‘ad b. Abi Sarh, who reported that "It was only a Christian slave who was teaching him [Mohammed]; I used to write to him and change whatever I wanted."[8]

Regardless who this foreigner who taught Muhammad was, it is clear that this highly specific charge was leveled against the Qur'an, and the aforementioned verse is intended to answer this very specific objection. That this foreigner existed is real: the Qur'an itself alluded to him by saying, ‘the tongue of him at whom they hint is a non-Arab’. Again, this strongly indicates that there was in fact such a foreigner who influenced the "clear Arabic tongue" of the Qur'an.

That this foreigner taught Muhammad the Judeo-Christian tales is alluded to when one follows the apologetic against this complaint in Surah 16. What follows Quran 16:103 is a discussion of how Allah revealed the religion of Abraham, the Resurrection, the Everlasting Life, Judgment Day, prohibition of meat of swine and non-halal slaughter, and other practices given to the Jews.

In short, verse Quran 16:103-104 is nothing more than the Qur'an's attempt to answer the charge that he learned the Jewish/Christian religion from a foreigner (very possibly Jabr). He was the Muslim who first came up with the excuse that the similarities between the Judeo-Christian religion and the Qur'an are due to the three scriptures sharing the same source, which he named as Allah.

Thus it is evident that Muhammad heard Judeo-Christian tales from various sources, beginning with Zaid bin 'Amr bin Nufail and from Waraqa bin Naufal bin Asad bin 'Abdul 'Uzza, to Jabr and the un-named Christian of Sahih Bukhari 4:56:814

Muslim Views

In apologetic and theological literature, Muslim scholars generally follow the Qur'an in denying that Muhammad was influenced by the "legends of the ancients", citing some of the following points:

1. There were no Arabic copies of the Judeo-Christian scriptures available to Muhammad.

This argument ignores the Qur'an itself. which claims the charges were that Muhammad heard what was recited to him Quran 25:4-6 or that he learned them from a foreigner Quran 16:103-104. Thus, the existence or otherwise of Arabic translations in Muhammad’s time is an irrelevancy. Moreover, epigraphic and historical evidence from the the time points to an Arabia which was awash in Greek and Syriac literature, and in which knowledge of both the Syriac and Greek alphabets were widespread, and both of these were used to write Arabic along with the Hismaetic and Safaitic scripts [9].

2. There was no center of Judaism and/or Christianity in Mecca or the Hijaz in Muhammad’s time.

As the Islamic literature itself shows Muhammad learnt the ‘tales of the ancients’ from individual Jews and Christians, some of whom we know by name, there is no need for Muhammad to learn from centers of Judaism or Christianity. Whether or not there were any Christian proselytizing in Mecca, is irrelevant: all it takes is one Christian individual (as in Sahih Bukhari 4:56:814) for Muhammad to learn from. Moreover, modern scholarship has shown through inscriptions inter alia that the Arabian peninsula at the time of the prophet was thoroughly Christianized.

3. There is no evidence that Muhammad borrowed these tales even though there were Jews and Christians in the region.

The evidence is laid out on this page amongst many others. The charges of borrowing are in the Qur'an and they are easily proven. The evidence of borrowing is to be found in the hadiths and sirah in addition to the Qur'an itself: even according to the Islamic tradition itself, individuals who taught Muhammad the Judeo-Christian tales were named.

4. The Jews were in Medinah and the Christians were in Najran and Yemen.

This does not seem to be the case. Jews and Christians were certainly present in Mecca, for instance Jabr the Christian slave. Waraqa, Khadijah’s cousin also lived in Mecca, and so did the Hanif Zaid bin ‘Amr. We also know from Ibn Sa'd, that contact with Christian people was not unusual:

"..... (Muhammad's father) passed by a woman of the Kath'am (tribe) whose name was Fatimah Bint Murr and who was the prettiest of all women, in the full bloom of her youth and the most pious and had studied the scriptures;..."
Ibn Sa'd's "Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir", page 104

It is even possible that the Ka’ba contained a biblical quote:

"Layth Abu Sulaym alleged that they found a stone in the Kaba forty years before the prophet's mission, if what they say is true, containing the inscription "He that soweth good shall reap joy; he that soweth evil shall reap sorrow; can you do evil and be rewarded with good? Nay, as grapes cannot be gathered from thorns"[10]
Ibn Ishaq (d. 768); Ibn Hisham (d. 833), A. Guillaume, ed, The Life of Muhammad [Sirat Rasul Allah], Oxford UP, p. 86, ISBN 0-19-636033-1, 1955, 

It seem to be the case that, in actuality, there were Jews elsewhere outside of Yathrib and surrounding areas of Northern Hijaz. It is possible that the Ka’aba contained pictures of Abraham and Mary. While not evidence of Jewish presence, it is certainly strongly suggestive of it.

Narrated Ibn Abbas: The Prophet entered the Ka'ba and found in it the pictures of (Prophet) Abraham and Mary. On that he said' "What is the matter with them ( i.e. Quraish)? They have already heard that angels do not enter a house in which there are pictures; yet this is the picture of Abraham. And why is he depicted as practicing divination by arrows?"
Narrated Ibn Abbas: When the Prophet saw pictures in the Ka'ba, he did not enter it till he ordered them to be erased. When he saw (the pictures of Abraham and Ishmael carrying the arrows of divination, he said, "May Allah curse them (i.e. the Quraish)! By Allah, neither Abraham nor Ishmael practiced divination by arrows."

The sirah of Ibn Ishaq provides evidence that, while there was no major Jewish community, there were certainly Jews present in Mecca. It is said that when the Quraysh rebuilt the Ka’aba they found a Syriac inscription they were unable to read; a Jew read it for them. [11][12]

5. The Qur'an contains stories absent in the Judeo-Christian scriptures, thus the charge of borrowing is erroneous.

The presence of such extra-biblical stories doesn't really say much about the material which does have parallels with earlier Judeao-Christian history.

Corruption of the Previous Scriptures

Similarities between the Qur'an and previous Abrahamic scriptures have been noticed since the inception of Islam. These Quranic narratives, however, often do not always follow their Judeo-Christian forebearers. Three possible explanations are usually offered for this:

  1. The original Judeo-Christian scriptures have been corrupted (common Muslim apologetic claim).
  2. The Qur'an imperfectly borrowed from the Judeo-Christian scriptures.
  3. The Qur'an was corrupted.

None of the early Christian texts support the Muslim contention of corruption of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, as there arguments fail to distinguish between apocryphal and canonical works. They fail to see the difference between mainstream texts and cultic/Gnostic texts. There don't exist any earlier Christian texts which accord with the orthodox Sunni Muslim view of Jesus and early Christianity. The next possibility is to examine the extra-scriptural writings of the early Rabbis and early Church fathers. The variations found in the Qur'an do not tend to show up here either.

The charge of a scheme to corrupt the Christian and Jewish scriptures in just such a way as to render the Qur'an seemingly inaccurate would have required a conspiracy of hundreds of different individuals working across immense distances of time and space in different linguistic and religious traditions; it can be dismissed prima facia as a groundless conspiracy theory.

The parallelism however, between the Qur'an and the Judeo-Christian scriptures is undeniable. Many parallelisms have been mentioned in this article; others such as the seven sleepers in the cave Quran 18:8-26 (as per the seven sleepers of Ephesus); the story of the angels Harut and Marut Quran 2:102 (as per Midrash Yalkut chapter 44 with the angels Shamhazai and Azael: for further details, click here); and God holding Mt Sinai over the Israelites Quran 7:171 (as per the second century Jewish apocrypha Abodah Sarah) are not yet covered.

Robert Morey has also listed some other interesting parallelisms (for further details, click here.)

These parallelisms are either apocryphal, heretical, commentaries by religious figures, or mere folk tales. Or, in the case of the Trinity, a clear misunderstanding of Christian doctrine.

Now, one must stress that the charge is not that the Qur'an copied from previous scripture, but that it incorporated stories which were overheard from other people. The Muslim tradition itself mentions a Christian slave in Sahih Bukhari 4:56:814, whom Ibn Ishaq named as Jabr, who may have been the origin of Quran 16:101-104 . Waqidi names this Christian as Ibn Qumta. Ibn Ishaq also recounts the story of how three Christians, Abu Haritha Ibn `Alqama, Al-`Aqib `Abdul-Masih and Al-Ayham al-Sa`id, spoke to Muhammad regarding such Christian subjects as the Trinity, Jesus speaking in infancy, and Jesus animating clay birds. Ibn Ishaq also claimed that as a result of these discussions, the Qur'an was revealed addressing all these arguments – perhaps indicating that Muhammad incorporated Judeo-Christian tales he had heard from other people.

As such, just on the basis of evidence in the Islamic tradition itself, the parallelisms between the Qur'an and Judeao-Christian seem to stem not from divine revelation, but from mundane religious contact.

Talking Baby Jesus

The story of the baby Jesus speaking found in Suras 19:29-31 and 3:46 parallels that in the apocryphal works:

But she pointed to him. They said: How should we speak to one who is a child in the cradle? He said: I am indeed a servant of Allah. He has given me the Book and made me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I may be, and He has enjoined on me prayer and poor-rate so long as I live:
And he will speak to the people when in the cradle and when of old age, and (he will be) one of the good ones.

The following is the relevant excerpt taken from the Arabic Infancy Gospel:

1. “We find what follows in the book of Joseph the high priest, who lived in the time of Christ. Some say that he is Caiaphas. He has said that Jesus spoke, and, indeed, when He was lying in His cradle said to Mary His mother: I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom thou hast brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to thee; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world.”

The parallelism between the Arabic Infancy Gospel and verse 19:29-31 and 3:46 is plainly evident. There are three possible logical reasons behind this:

  1. The Qur'an has ‘corrected the omission’ of the talking baby Jesus tale from the New Testament.
  2. The Qur'an has ‘corrected the consigning of the tale to the apocrypha,’ and that the Arabic Infancy Gospel should be included in the canonical New Testament.
  3. Muhammad heard the story and mistakenly included it in the Qur'an, thinking it to be canonical and not apocryphal.

The Arabic Infancy Gospel is widely regarded as apocryphal. It is believed to be a seventh century invention and was quite popular among the Syrian Nestorians. The talking baby Jesus miracle was recorded in the sirah as one of the topics discussed by three Christians with Muhammad just before he revealed the relevant verses. Thus, it doesn't seem at all strange that the Qur'an should contain what is clearly an apocryphal story.

Sanhedrin 37A

The Qur'an parallels a passage in the Talmud, specifically a rabbinical commentary in the Book of Sanhedrin.

Talmudic Mishnah

For thus we find in the case of Cain, who killed his brother, that it is written: the bloods of thy brother cry unto me: not the blood of thy brother, but the bloods of thy brother, is said — i.e., his blood and the blood of his [potential] descendants. (alternatively, the bloods of thy brother, teaches that his blood was splashed over trees and stones.) For this reason was man created alone, to teach thee that whosoever destroys a single soul of israel, scripture imputes [guilt] to him as though he had destroyed a complete world; and whosoever preserves a single soul of israel, scripture ascribes [merit] to him as though he had preserved a complete world. Furthermore, [he was created alone] for the sake of peace among men, that one might not say to his fellow, 'my father was greater than thine, and that the minim might not say, there are many ruling powers in heaven;

Qur'anic Verse

“Because of this, we decreed for the Children of Israel that anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. And anyone who spares a life, it shall be as if he spared the lives of all the people.

The salient points are:

  • a. The Qur'an itself admits to Judeao-Christian origin of this story with the phrase, 'We decreed (katabnā) for the Children of Israel…’

    This word katabnā كَتَبْنَا is from the same Arabic root as kitāb, meaning book, as in 'People of the Book', and the verb kataba literally means he wrote. It is used a few verses later (wakatabnā) in Quran 5:45 regarding some things that are certainly in the written Torah, and in another example Quran 7:145 it is used for Allah writing on the stone tablets. Lane's Lexicon includes 'prescribed', 'ordained' among its definitions for this verb [13], though it is likely that this usage arose from royal decrees and legal rulings being written down. In some other verses exactly the same word is translated 'We have written'. It is quite obvious that the author believed that this 'decree' was in the law book of the Jews, the written Torah.

  • b. The Sanhedrin parallel is not in the Torah as it is merely a rabbinical commentary on Cain’s murder of Abel, derived from the use of the plural, "bloods", in Genesis 4:10. It is a Mishnayot – a teaching of a Jewish sage, and not from the biblical tradition as such but rather an extension of it.
  • c. The Qur'anic verse relates to the story of Cain's murder of Abel Quran 5:27-31, as does the Sanhedrin parallel.

Muslim Objections

Some Muslims (e.g. Dr Saifullah) claim that the parallelism is inexact, as the Sanhedrin 37a should be limited to ‘whoever destroys a single soul of Israel’. They claim that since the Qur'an lacks this reference to the 'single soul of Israel' but instead, generalizes the injunction to any soul, then the charge of parallelism has failed.

Problems with this argument

  1. Dr Saifullah's argument that the two stories are not exact copies doesn't hold water, since stories usually change in transmission.
  2. "of Israel" is absent in some manuscripts of this passage in the Babylonian Talmud, and we don't know which version Muhammad might have heard.
  3. The commentary also appears in the Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4/5, which omits the phrase, ‘of Israel’. There is no evidence that Muhammad had to rely on the Babylonian Talmud and not the Jerusalem Talmud, even though the former is considered more authoritative.

Prima facie - this is a clear-cut case of the Qur'an taking a story from apocryphal literature as scripture, since Sanhedrin 37a is from the "oral" Torah and therefore not part of the original biblical canon. There is no other explanation for the phrase, ‘We decreed / have written’ (katabna) in the verse-- it appears the Qur'an considers this apocryphal tradition to be on the same level as the biblical canon. The claim that it is lost because the Torah is corrupted stretches credulity because the parallelism exists in the Talmud, and it is unlikely that something lost from the Torah should find its way almost unchanged into the Talmud as a commentary of a narrative (i.e. a mishnayot). If the Rabbi had in mind a verse in the Torah that has since been lost, he would not have quoted verbatim from Genesis 4:10 ('it is written...'), but then when making his main point not quoted directly this hypothetical lost verse. It is not a law, despite being in the Talmud (Oral Law) but a commentary by a Jewish sage, who explains his reasoning.

Thus the use of the word "katabna" / decreed / ordain / prescribe / write something was used for a commentary written by a Jewish Rabbi. The conclusion seems to be that the Qur'an sees this tradition as being on the same level as the Bible, or else is not aware that it does not in fact stem from the Bible.

The Raven and the Burial of Abel

Qur'anic Account

The Qur'an tells the story of how Allah sent a raven to show Cain how to bury Abel.

Then Allah sent a crow scratching the ground to show him how to cover the dead body of his brother. He said: Woe is me! Am I not able to be as this crow and cover the dead body of my brother? So he became of those who regret.

Jewish Folklore

This story of the raven and the burial of Abel has led scholars to the conclusion that the Qur'an borrowed Jewish folklore because this account is not in the Old Testament or the Torah. In the Jewish folklore it was Adam who noticed the raven burying a dead bird and that gave him the idea to bury Abel. Thus, the parallelism isn’t with the person who did the burying but with the raven providing the idea of burial in the ground.

Four sources of this Jewish folklore usually cited:

  • the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel
  • the Targum Yerushalmi I (aka Targum Jonathan or the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan)
  • the Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer
  • the Midrash Tanhuma.

Only two are true. The Targums do not carry this story and the claim that they do is a misreading of Tisdall.

It would be more correct to claim that the raven burial story in the Qur'an find its predecessor in Jewish folklore, which has also been preserved in the Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer, and the Midrash Tanhuma. This is because there is no evidence that the Qur'an copies from these texts as such, but rather takes the broad outlines of the story

"Adam and his help mate were sitting weeping and lamenting over him [Abel], and they did not know what to do with Abel, for they were not acquainted with burial. A raven, one of whose companions had died, came. He took him and dug in the earth and buried him before his eyes. Adam said, 'I shall do as this raven.' Immediately, he took Abel's corpse and dug in the earth and buried it."
Jewish legend related by Pirqey Rabbi Eliezer, chapter XXI, quoted by Abdiyah Akbar Adul-Haqq, Sharing Your Faith with a Muslim.

Tisdall quotes from the same source in a slightly different translation:

"So also in the book Pirke Rabbi Eleazer, we find the source of the burying of Abel as described in the Coran, there being no difference excepting that the raven indicates the mode to Adam instead of to Cain, as follows:- Adam and Eve, sitting by the corpse, wept not knowing what to do, for they had as yet no knowledge of burial. A raven coming up, took the dead body of its fellow, and having scratched up the earth, buried it thus before their eyes. Adam said, Let us follow the example of the raven, and so taking up Abel's body buried it at once.[14]

Muslim Objection

  • Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer

Saifullah, Ahmed and Karim of Islamic-Awareness claim that Jewish scholars have known for quite some time that Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer is post-Islamic and that it cannot possibly be attributed to Rabbi Eliezer, quoting as evidence:

“The Jewish Encyclopedia published in 1905 (same year as the publication of Tisdall's book) under "Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer" informs us that: Josh was the first to point out that in the thirtieth chapter, in which at the end the author distinctly alludes to the three stages of the Mohammadan conquest, that of Arabia, of Spain, and of Rome, the names of Fatima and Ayesha occur beside that of Ishamel, leading to the conclusion that the book originated in the time when Islam was predominant in Asia Minor. As in ch. xxxvi, two brother reigning simultaneously are mentioned, after whose reign the Messiah shall come, the work might be ascribed to the beginning of the nineth century, for about that time the two sons of Harun al-Rasid, El-Amin and El-Mamun, were ruling over Islamic realm.... In no case this work be ascribed to R. Eliezer (80-118 CE), since he was a tanna, while the book itself the Pirke Abot is quoted.”[15]

They claim that since the final redaction occurred after the advent of Islam, it cannot be the source of the raven burial story. There are two difficulties with this claim:

  • final redaction does not mean the stories contained in the Pirke were composed after the advent of Islam. Redaction means ‘making something suitable for publication – including editing, compilation etc.’ or the act of putting something in writing (i.e. that had already existed prior to the writing);
  • new evidence suggests the original dating of the Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer is erroneous.

According to Andrew Vargo of answering-islam:

“They (i.e. Saifullah and co) also omitted a point that was made in another response to "Islamic Awareness" - that there are at least two ancient manuscripts of the Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer. The ancient Vienna manuscript, which has only in recent years been translated into English, shows every evidence of being pre-Islamic.”[16]

Midrash Tanhuma

The general scholastic view is that Midrash Tanhuma is also known as Tanhuma Yelamdenu, although some scholars believe they are different manuscripts.

In an effort to discredit the Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer, the Islamic-awareness team cites the work of Norman A. Stillman, published in the Journal Of Semitic Studies, 1974, Volume 19. However, Stillman still supports the midrashic origin hypothesis:

Sidersky has rightly pointed out that the qur'anic version should be traced back to Midrash Tamhuma which reads: "When Cain killed Abel, the latter's body lay cast aside for Cain did not know what to do. Then the Holy One (Blessed be He) sent him two pure birds, and one of them killed the other. Then he dug with his claws and buried him, and from him Cain learned. So he dug and buried Abel."[17]

Saifullah and co then challenged the dating of a version of the Midrash Tanhuma known as the Buber’s recension:

"There are a number of serious problems with the theory that Midrash Tanhuma is the source of the Qur'anic Cain and Abel narration. There is a much uncertainty concerning the first half of Midrash Tanhuma (which includes the story of Cain and Abel) coupled with the late date of its compilation in post-Islamic times (ninth century CE).

Are we to believe that a problematic text of the ninth century is the source of Qur'anic story? Such a theory is untenable. It may very well be the case that the Qur'anic story is the source of the Cain and Abel story in Midrash Tanhuma. Perhaps Stillman himself put it best:

Our chronology of rabbinic literature is better today than in Geiger's, and many more texts - Muslim, Jewish, and Christian - have since being published. In the light of this we know now that in some instances what was thought to be a Jewish haggadic influence in an Islamic text might well be quite the reverse.”

The recension date is not the same as the composition date. The contents of Midrash Tanhuma seem to pre-date Islam:

“The Midrash Tanhuma exists in several recensions, the most famous of which was edited by Shelomo Buber (grandfather of Martin Buber) in 1885. The date and provenance of this commentary on the Torah remains a mystery, though rabbinic authorities cited therein are mostly fourth century or earlier, and in general the scholarly community locates this compilation in southern Italy around the mid-eighth century.”[18]

Vargo introduced the fact that there are versions of the Midrash Tanhuma older than the Buber recension.

From Meyer Waxman in “A History of Jewish Literature”:

“Besides the cycle of Rabba, i.e. Large Midrashim on the Pentateuch, there exists another Midrashic cycle on these books known as the Tanhuma-Yelamdenu-Midrashim. The first name given to it because of the numerous homiletic interpretations of verses quoted in the name of Tanhuma, the son of Abba, a famous Palestinian Agadist who lived towards the end of the fourth century. The second name of this cycle arises from the fact that a very large number of homilies open with the formula Yelamdénu Rabénu i.e. may our master teach us. It begins with a question in Halakah, and while the Halakic matter is dispensed with in a few words, the discussion turns to Agada and homiletic interpretation. Of this kind of Midrashim, we have several versions: (1) An older Midrash which was known to the early scholars of Italy and France by the name Yelamdénu, but which is now practically lost except for a few fragments; (2) the printed Tanhuma; (3) the manuscript Tanhuma which was edited and published in 1883 by the late Solomon Buber. All three belong to one Midrashic cycle, and the Yelamdénu seems to have been the earliest, as collections of such homilies where the Halakah was joined to the Agada, inasmuch as the preacher was a teacher of both, existed in large numbers. It is these collections which served as the background and source books for the late Midrashim, the compilers of which drew upon them in abundance. For this reason, we find the homilies beginning with the formula, "May our master teach us," scattered through all Midrashic cycles such as the Tanhuma, Pesiktu (Sec. 84) and in the books of the Rabba (Sec. 82). The date of the Yelamdénu collection is, therefore, an early one and is probably contemporaneous with the Genesis Rabba, about the beginning of the sixth century C.E., and the place of origin, Palestine.”

It is likely that the raven burial story in the Midrash Tanhuma (or the Tanhuma Yelamdenu) pre-date the advent of Islam. Buber’s version of the Midrash Tanhuma, although compiled in the mid-eighth century is generally believed to have sourced material from the fourth-century or earlier, while the Tanhuma Yelamdenu dates to the beginning of the sixth century. Thus the pre-Islamic Jewish folklore of the raven burial story is paralleled in the Qur'an and is likely its source.

The Qur'anic Trinity

God, Jesus and Mary: The Trinity?

The Qur'an has its own version of the Christian Trinity:

And when Allah will say: O Jesus, son of Mary, didst thou say to men, Take me and my mother for two gods besides Allah? He will say: Glory be to Thee! it was not for me to say what I had no right to (say). If I had said it, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I know not what is in Thy mind. Surely Thou art the great Knower of the unseen.

This seeming mistake about the Christian trinity, well established for centuries by this point, is one of the great riddles of the Qur'an. Note how this strange verse does not mention the Trinity, but has Allah asking Jesus whether he told the people to take him and Mary for gods beside Allah. To which, Jesus replied 'no, I did not; if I did you would have known about it anyway'.

Why did Allah ask Jesus something he already knew Jesus did not do? Did Allah ask simply for the fun of it? Or was he testing him? If this was a test, why perform it at all, when one already knows the result? Even from an orthodox Muslim perspective this verse begs many questions.

Analysis of Muslim Apologetics

Orthodox Muslim scholars have many explanations for verse 5:116, along the following lines:

1 - The heretical Christian sect of the Collyridians may have existed in Muhammad’s time and the Quran was specifically addressing their understanding of the Trinity.

The Collyridians are known chiefly through the work of 4th-century Christian arch-heresy hunter and defender of Christian orthodoxy Epiphanius of Salamis (a saint in both the Nicaean Orthodox churches and the Catholic Church). This is what he has to say about them:

1,1 < Another > sect has come to public notice after this, and I have already mentioned a few things about it in the Sect preceding, in the letter about Mary which I wrote to Arabia. (2) This one, again, was also brought to Arabia from Thrace and upper Scythia, and word of it has reached me; it too is ridiculous and, in the opinion of the wise, wholly absurd...For as, long ago, those who, from an insolent attitude towards Mary, have seen fit to suspect these things were sowing damaging suspicions in people’s minds, so these persons who lean in the other direction are guilty of doing the worst sort of harm. In them too the maxim of certain pagan philosophers, “Extremes are equal,” will be exemplified. (5) For the harm done by both of these sects is equal, since one belittles the holy Virgin while the other, in its turn, glorifies her to excess. For certain women decorate a barber’s chair or a square seat, spread a cloth on it, set out bread and offer it in Mary’s name on a certain day of the year, and all partake of the bread–as I partially discussed in my same letter to Arabia. Now, however, I shall speak plainly of it and, with prayer to God, give the best refutations of it that I can, so as to grub out the roots of this idolatrous sect and with God’s help, be able to cure certain people of this madness...As Maker and Master of the thing [to be made] he formed himself from a virgin as though from earth—God come from heaven, the Word who had assumed flesh from a holy Virgin. But certainly not from a virgin who is worshiped, or to make her God, or to have us make offerings in her name, or, again, to make women priestesses after so many generations. (3) It was not God’s pleasure that this be done with Salome, or with Mary herself. He did not permit her to administer baptism or bless disciples, or tell her to rule on earth, but only to be a sacred shrine and be deemed worthy of his kingdom. (4) He did not order the woman called the mother of Rufus to advance < to* > this rank22 or the women who followed Christ from Galilee, or Martha the sister of Lazarus and [her sister] Mary, or any of the holy women who were privileged to be saved by his advent < and > who assisted him with their own possessions—or the woman of Canaan, or the woman who was healed of the issue of blood, or any woman on earth.

According to Epiphanius, the Collyridians seem to merge pagan goddess-worship with Christian Mariolatry. They had female priests and, interestingly for purposes of this study, seem to have been found in Arabia. It's important to remember that this is one of dozens of heresies mentioned by Epiphanius, and this is the only mention extant of them. Epiphanius doesn't give any indication of how many people actually followed this heresy, and it's not possible to know how long after his time they lasted exactly. It's also not possible for us to know how accurately this section actually describes their beliefs, since we have no extant writings from them; it is possible that Epiphanius is exaggerating here and they did not actually worship Mary as a god.

Edward Gibbon in 'the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' [Chapter 50] states that they were still in existence in the seventh century (without providing any corroborating evidence). One explanation is that Gibbon's simply took the clear parallelism of verse 5:116 with Collyridianism to mean they were present during Muhammad’s day.

Thus, there is clear parallelism between the Qur'an’s version of the Trinity and the Collyridian belief.

As previously stated, Muslim apologists often claim that this verse was alluding to the belief of some Christians at the time of Muhammad. This is not how the Qur'an presents the material, though; the Qur'an here seems to state that the belief was around during Jesus' own time and he personally refuted it. Since the Collyridians are post-Jesus (probably originating in the late fourth century, as reported by Epiphanius) the parallelism with the Collyridians is anachronistic, as with many of the polemics put by the Qur'an into the mouths of biblical prophets.

As to the purpose of verse 5:116, the most plausible explanation is clearly that it was a polemic against real or imagined Christian belief in the trinity. Whether or not the Collyridians still existed at Muhammad's time or before is not knowable from the extant evidence, but either by mistake or over-generalization the Qur'an does seem to apply this polemic to all Christians as a whole, whereas at most this belief was marginal within Chrisitanity.

2 - Some Muslims such as Dr Saifullah of Islamic-awareness claim that it is unreasonable to point out the clear parallelism with Collyridianism as something erroneous as early Christians did not believe in the Trinity.

“…there is no point calling the modern day Trinitarian Christianity as 'true' Christianity and all others as 'false' since the evolution of this doctrine itself is very late. The early Christianity had bizarre beliefs about their doctrine as well as their Scriptures. Moreover the Jesus(P) and early Church Fathers were utterly unaware of this doctrine and they never practiced it. Would then the modern day 'true' Christianity brand them as heretics?”[19]

While Dr Saifullah is on good grounds when he remarks that delineating "true" Trinitarian Christianity from "false" Trinitarian Christianity is not the place of the scholar, it must be remarked that in presenting this version of the Trinity the Qur'an is presenting a highly inaccurate view of the beliefs of Christians and at the very least should be called "inaccurate" for this claim. Moreover, the interesting point to the scholar is the possibility that (A) the author of this verse was for some reason very familiar with the Collyridian heresy which otherwise escaped remark for 3 centuries, to the point of assuming that all Christian follow it, or (B) that the author just has a skewed and inaccurate view of Christian theology, which is noteworthy in and of itself.

3 - Modern Christians also believe Mary as the Mother of God and prayers are sent to her.

Neither in the New Testament nor the Qur'an does Jesus claim Mary to be a co-divinity with God. Meanwhile, the Qur'an is specific in Jesus’ denial of this charge. Orthodox Christians such as the Catholics do venerate Mary as a saint and the Mother of Jesus, but are very clear in not ascribing divinity on the same level as Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God the Father to her.

Praying to saints is an Orthodox/Catholic practice. It does not mean that the object of prayer is divine. Catholics do not solely pray to Mary, but to all manner of saints who have passed-away without ascribing divine status on any of them. Thus, from the perspective of analyzing the merits of the Qur'an's claims vis-à-vis reality, to suggest that Catholic and Orthodox/eastern Christian prayers to Mary absolves the Qur'an from its error about her divinity does not suffice. As a simple matter of fact, the Qur'an must be analyzed as highly disingenuous at best and badly mistaken at worst on this point.

The parallelism between verse 5:116 and the belief of Mary’s divinity by the Collyridians has laid open the charge that Muhammad was mistaken in his understanding of the Trinity. The Qur'an is anachronistic as the doctrine of the Trinity post-dates Jesus. While the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E laid the groundwork by asserting that Christ is the same substance as God, it was the Council of Constantinople in 381 C.E. that laid down the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, Jesus could not have promulgated the idea of the Trinity to the people as it was conceived almost four centuries after his death.

Secondly, the Qur'an’s understanding of the Trinity as three gods is erroneous (see Quran 5:73) Thirdly, the Muslim explanation that verse 5:116 was alluding to the Collyridians is erroneous as Jesus could never have been in contact with any Collyridians. Fourthly, Jesus never claimed his mother to be a co-divinity with God, and one wonders why Allah should ask Jesus something he already knew Jesus did not do.

Considering all that has been discussed, it is reasonable to suggest that Muhammad heard of the Collyridian version of the Trinity and assumed that it were the standard Christian belief taught by Jesus himself. It probably didn’t occur to him that the Trinity was a doctrinal development of the early church or that the worship of Mary as a divinity long post-dated Jesus himself.

Jesus Christ and the Clay Birds

Qur'anic Account

According to the Qur'an, Jesus Christ (with the permission of Allah) created a clay bird which he blew into and brought to life.

And (make him) a messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I determine for you out of dust the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird with Allah’s permission, and I heal the blind and the leprous, and bring the dead to life with Allah’s permission; and I inform you of what you should eat and what you should store in your houses. Surely there is a sign in this for you, if you are believers.
When Allah will say: O Jesus, son of Mary, remember My favour to thee and to thy mother, when I strengthened thee with the Holy Spirit; thou spokest to people in the cradle and in old age, and when I taught thee the Book and the Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel, and when thou didst determine out of clay a thing like the form of a bird by My permission, then thou didst breathe into it and it became a bird by My permission; and thou didst heal the blind and the leprous by My permission; and when thou didst raise the dead by My permission; and when I withheld the Children of Israel from thee when thou camest to them with clear arguments -- but those of them who disbelieved said: This is nothing but clear enchantment.

Apocryphal Account

This story has clear parallelisms with the two apocrypha, which are as follows:

The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ

This is also known as The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Saviour, and was written around 400 CE.[20]

1. “And when the Lord Jesus was seven years of age, he was on a certain day with other boys his companions about the same age. 2. Who at play made clay into several shapes, namely, asses, oxen, birds, and other figures. 3. Each boasting of his work and endeavoring to exceed the rest. 4. Then the Lord Jesus said to the boys, I will command these figures which I have made to walk. 5. And immediately they moved, and when he commanded them to return, they returned. 6. He had also made the figures of birds and sparrows, which, when he commanded to fly, did fly, and when he commanded to stand still, did stand still; and if he gave them meat and drink, they did eat and drink. 7. When at length the boys went away and related these things to their parents, their fathers said to them, Take heed, children, for the future, of his company, for he is a sorcerer; shun and avoid him, and from now on never play with him.”

The Second Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ

This is also known as The Infancy Gospel of Thomas – probably a fragment of the Gospel of Thomas, and was written around 140 CE.[21]

1. “I, Thomas, an Israelite, judged it necessary to make known to our brethren among the Gentiles, the actions and miracles of Christ in his childhood, which our Lord and God Jesus Christ wrought after his birth in Bethlehem in our country, at which I myself was astonished; the beginning of which was as follows. 2. When the child Jesus was five years of age and there had been a shower of rain that was now over, Jesus was playing with other Hebrew boys by a running stream, and the waters ran over the banks and stood in little lakes; 3. But the water instantly became clear and useful again; they readily obeyed him after he touched them only by his word. 4. Then he took from the bank of the stream some soft clay and formed out of it twelve sparrows; and there were other boys playing with him. 5. But a certain Jew seeing the things which he was doing, namely, his forming clay into the figures of sparrows on the Sabbath day, went presently away and told his father Joseph, 6. Behold, your boy is playing by the river side, and has taken clay and formed it into twelve sparrows, and profanes the Sabbath. 7. Then Joseph came to the place where he was, and when he saw him, called to him, and said, Why do you that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath day? 8. Then Jesus clapping together the palms of his hands, called to the sparrows, and said to them: Go, fly away; and while you live remember me. 9. So the sparrows fled away, making a noise. 10. The Jews seeing this, were astonished and went away and told their chief persons what a strange miracle they had seen wrought by Jesus.”

Muslim Apologetics

This parallelism has never been explained by Muslim apologists except to use it to perversely claim that the Bible is corrupted. They argue that the original Bible contained the apocryphal story of Jesus making and animating clay birds, and that the Qur'an was merely correcting a wrongful exclusion of these apocrypha from the canon.[22]

This is erroneous as the sirah itself tells how Muhammad, far from receiving these stories from Allah (via the angel Jibreel/Gabriel), heard it from three Christians. Saifullah & Azmy of Islamic-awareness write more on this here.

“[Those who talked to Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, were Abu Haritha Ibn `Alqama, Al-`Aqib `Abdul-Masih and Al-Ayham al-Sa`id.] They were Christians according to the faith of the king with differences between them; they say: He is Allah, and say: He is Son of Allah, and say: He is the third of three [i.e., part of Trinity] and these are the claims of Christianity. [They use as evidence for their claim that He is Allah the argument that] he used to raise the dead, cure the sick, create from clay bird-like structure then breathe into it to make it a [living] bird. All this was by the leave of Allah, the Praiseworthy the Exalted {to appoint him as a sign for men} (Maryam:21). They also argue for saying that he is Son of Allah by saying he had no known father and spoke in infancy which is something never done by any human being. They use as evidence for their claim that He is the third of three [i.e., part of Trinity] the argument that Allah says: We did, We commanded, We created and We judged [i.e., by using the plural for Himself], and whereas if He was one, He would say: I did, I judged, I commanded and I created; but it is He, Jesus and Maryam. The Qur'an was revealed addressing all these arguments.”
Abu Muhammad `Abd al-Malik Ibn Hisham al-Ma`afiri, Al-Sirah Al-Nabawiyyah, 1998, Volume II, Dar al-Hadith: Cairo (Egypt), p 181-182.
“The names of the fourteen principal men among the sixty riders were: `Abdul-Masih the `Aqib, al-Ayham the Sayyid; Abu Haritha b. `Alqama brother of B. Bakr b. Wa`il; Aus; al-Harith; Zayd; Qays; Yazid; Nubayh; Khuwaylid; `Amr; Khalid; `Abdullah; Johannes; of these the first three named above spoke to the Apostle. They were Christians according to the Byzantine rite, though they differed among themselves in some points, saying He is God; and He is the son of God; and He is the third person of the Trinity, which is the doctrine of Christianity. They argue that he is God because he used to raise the dead, and heal the sick, and declare the unseen; and make clay birds and then breathe into them so that they flew away; and all this was by the command of God Almighty, 'We will make him a sign to men.' They argue that he is the son of God in that they say he had no known father; and he spoke in the cradle and this is something that no child of Adam has ever done. They argue that he is the third of the three in that God says: We have done, We have commanded, We have created and We have decreed, and they say, If He were one he would have said I have done, I have created, and soon, but He is He and Jesus and Mary. Concerning all these assertions the Qur'an came down.”
A. Guillaume, The Life Of Muhammad: A Translation Of Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, 1998, Oxford University Press: Karachi (Pakistan), p 271-272.

The parallelism between the Qur'an’s ‘Jesus animating clay birds’ verses and the apocryphal infancy gospels is strong, suggesting a very mundane and earthly source of the Qur'an's revelation here. As to the reliability of these documents themselves, there are various reasons why these apocryphal gospels are not included in the canon; the First Gospel of the Infancy is a comparatively late work while the Second Gospel of the Infancy (actually a fragment of the Gospel of Thomas) is a famous forgery. Both these apocrypha contain verses that contradict the canonical Gospels and their late date reveals itself both in style and substance.

According to the sira, the purported sources of the story are three Christians who spoke to Muhammad. These Christians were either heretics or they were unsure of doctrine as their errancies were then repeated in the Qur'an. These errancies include Jesus animating clay birds, the talking baby Jesus, and the Trinity comprising God, Jesus and Mary (Father, Son and Mother).

Mary and Zechariah

Qur'anic Account

The Bible, unlike the Qur'an, is silent on Mary’s birth, upbringing and relationship with Zachariah. The following is what one finds in the Qur'an:

When a woman of Amran said: My Lord, I vow to Thee what is in my womb, to be devoted (to Thy service), so accept (it) from me; surely Thou, only Thou, art the Hearing, the Knowing.

‏So when she brought it forth, she said: My Lord, I have brought it forth a female -- and Allah knew best what she brought forth -- and the male is not like the female, and I have named it Mary, and I commend her and her offspring into Thy protection from the accursed devil.

‏ So her Lord accepted her with a goodly acceptance and made her grow up a goodly growing, and gave her into the charge of Zacharias. Whenever Zacharias entered the sanctuary to (see) her, he found food with her. He said: O Mary, whence comes this to thee? She said: It is from Allah. Surely Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure.

‏There did Zacharias pray to his Lord. He said: My Lord, grant me from Thee goodly offspring; surely Thou art the Hearer of prayer.

‏So the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: Allah gives thee the good news of John, verifying a word from Allah, and honourable and chaste and a prophet from among the good ones.

‏He said: My Lord, how can I have a son when old age has already come upon me, and my wife is barren? He said: Even thus does Allah do what He pleases.

‏He said: My Lord, appoint a sign for me. Said He: Thy sign is that thou speak not to men for three days except by signs. And remember thy Lord much and glorify (Him) in the evenings and early morning.

This is of the tidings of things unseen which We reveal to thee. And thou wast not with them when they cast their pens (to decide) which of them should have Mary in his charge, and thou wast not with them when they contended one with another.

The salient points are:

  • The child Mary was given into Zachariah’s care by her mother, and kept in a sanctuary (possibly in dedication to God).
  • Zachariah was astonished that she did not need human help in feeding herself. Some supernatural occurrence explained her daily sustenance.
  • Zachariah speaks to God who told him of John. Zachariah is incredulous due to the physical condition of him and his wife.
  • Mary’s husband was decided by the drawing of lots.

Apocryphal Accounts

The Qur'anic verses parallel the apocryphal Protevangelium of James and the Gospel of the Birth of Mary. Both apocrypha were probably written in the middle of the second century.[23]

Other apocrypha carrying the same story are:

1 - The Coptic History of the Virgin, which may be the Gospel of the Birth of Mary.[24]
2 - The Arabic apocryphal work, History of our holy Father the Aged, the Carpenter (Joseph), also gives an account of Mary’s upbringing in the Temple and the choice of Joseph by lot.[25][26] The dating of this apocrypha, also known as the History of Joseph the Carpenter, is the fourth or fifth century.[27]
3 - The Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus and Mary.[28]

This apocrypha is also known as the Pseudo-Matthew or ‘The Book About the Origin of the Blessed Mary and the Childhood of the Savior’. The dating is uncertain. Most scholars date it to the fourth or fifth century, although some date it later to the eighth or ninth century. However it may have been included in the list of apocryphal works in the fifth century ‘'Decretum Gelasianum De Libris Recipiendis Et Non Recipiendis' as ‘the book of the nativity of the saviour and of Mary or the midwife’.[29]

The Decretum is said to have been issued by Pope Gelasius I (492-496 AD) in 494 AD although some scholars claim it was wrongly attributed to Gelasius I and believe it was written in the sixth century.[30]

Excerpts from the Protevangelium of James

1. And unto the child her months were added: and the child became two years old. And Ioacim said: Let us bring her up to the temple of the Lord that we may pay the promise which we promised; lest the Lord require it of us (lit. send unto us), and our gift become unacceptable. And Anna said: Let us wait until the third year, that the child may not long after her father or mother. And Ioacim said: Let us wait.

2. And the child became three years old, and Ioacim said: Call for the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take every one a lamp, and let them be burning, that the child turn not backward and her heart be taken captive away from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they were gone up into the temple of the Lord.

And the priest received her and kissed her and blessed her and said: The Lord hath magnified thy name among all generations: in thee in the latter days shall the Lord make manifest his redemption unto the children of Israel.
1. And her parents sat them down marveling, and praising the Lord God because the child was not turned away backward. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as a dove that is nurtured: and she received food from the hand of an angel.
1. And her parents sat them down marveling, and praising the Lord God because the child was not turned away backward.

And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as a dove that is nurtured: and she received food from the hand of an angel.

2. And when she was twelve years old, there was a council of the priests, saying: Behold Mary is become twelve years old in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her? lest she pollute the sanctuary of the Lord. And they said unto the high priest: Thou standest over the altar of the Lord. Enter in and pray concerning her: And whatsoever the Lord shall reveal to thee, that let us do.

3. And the high priest took the vestment with the twelve bells and went in unto the Holy of Holies and prayed concerning her. And lo, an angel of the Lord appeared saying unto him: Zacharias, Zacharias, go forth and assemble them that are widowers of the people, and let them bring every man a rod, and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. And the heralds went forth over all the country round about Judaea, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all men ran thereto.
1. And Joseph cast down his adze and ran to meet them, and when they were gathered together they went to the high priest and took their rods with them. And he took the rods of them all and went into the temple and prayed. And when he had finished the prayer he took the rods and went forth and gave them back to them: and there was no sign upon them. But Joseph received the last rod: and lo, a dove came forth of the rod and flew upon the head of Joseph. And the priest said unto Joseph: Unto thee hath it fallen to take the virgin of the Lord and keep her for thyself.”[31]

The story of Mary’s upbringing in the Temple under the supervision of the High Priest Zachariah, and the choice of Joseph as Mary’s husband by the drawing of lots, is not told in the Bible but in various apocrypha. The Qur'an’s parallelism of this story casts suspicion as to its provenance. These apocrypha are clearly later Christian writings pre-dating Islam, and the oldest, the pseudepigraphal Protevangelium, dates to about 130 CE. On stylistic and theological grounds, the Protevangelium has long been considered apocrypha. Thus, these details of the Qur'anic story should not be taken as historical detail but rather as Christian legend which, by merit of its wide circulation, entered into the Qur'an as though it were actual, canonized Christian scripture.

Jesus, Mary, and the Palm Tree

Qur'anic Account

The Bible canon does not contain the episode of Mary, Jesus and the palm tree, it is included in the apocrypha. However, the Qur'an does contain this story.

Then she conceived him; and withdrew with him to a remote place. ‏And the throes of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree. She said: Oh, would that I had died before this, and had been a thing quite forgotten! ‏So a voice came to her from beneath her: Grieve not, surely thy Lord has provided a stream beneath thee. ‏ And shake towards thee the trunk of the palm-tree, it will drop on thee fresh ripe dates. ‏So eat and drink and cool the eye. Then if thou seest any mortal, say: Surely I have vowed a fast to the Beneficent, so I will not speak to any man to-day.

Gospel of Pseudo-Mathew

Quranic verse 19:22-26 is a clear parallel of the account found in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. In this account Jesus has already been born, but he is still a baby during the flight to Egypt. The family are hungry and thirsty, resting under a palm tree. As in the Quran, Jesus performs the miracles of making the palm tree drop fruit and a stream appear beneath it.

And it came to pass on the third day of their journey, while they were walking, that the blessed Mary was fatigued by the excessive heat of the sun in the desert; and seeing a palm tree, she said to Joseph: Let me rest a little under the shade of this tree. Joseph therefore made haste, and led her to the palm, and made her come down from her beast. And as the blessed Mary was sitting there, she looked up to the foliage of the palm, and saw it full of fruit, and said to Joseph: I wish it were possible to get some of the fruit of this palm. And Joseph said to her: I wonder that thou sayest this, when thou seest how high the palm tree is; and that thou thinkest of eating of its fruit. I am thinking more of the want of water, because the skins are now empty, and we have none wherewith to refresh ourselves and our cattle. Then the child Jesus, with a joyful countenance, reposing in the bosom of His mother, said to the palm: O tree, bend thy branches, and refresh my mother with thy fruit. And immediately at these words the palm bent its top down to the very feet of the blessed Mary; and they gathered from it fruit, with which they were all refreshed. And after they had gathered all its fruit, it remained bent down, waiting the order to rise from Him who bad commanded it to stoop. Then Jesus said to it: Raise thyself, O palm tree, and be strong, and be the companion of my trees, which are in the paradise of my Father; and open from thy roots a vein of water which has been hid in the earth, and let the waters flow, so that we may be satisfied from thee. And it rose up immediately, and at its root there began to come forth a spring of water exceedingly clear and cool and sparkling. And when they saw the spring of water, they rejoiced with great joy, and were satisfied, themselves and all their cattle and their beasts. Wherefore they gave thanks to God.”

Dating issues

The dating of this Latin apocrypha is of uncertain date, with the oldest surving manuscript dating to around 820 CE. In 2011, Michael Berthold identified that one of its sources is the Pseudo-Ambrosian Life of Saint Agnes, which is used by another work around 690 CE so this source is earlier than that. St. Agnes is thought to have lived some time from the 5th to 7th century. Other more speculative arguments suggest an earliest date of the mid sixth century for Pseudo Matthew. Considering all these insights from other scholars, Brandon Hawk gives it a date range of 550 - 800 CE.[32]

Fortunately, Stephen Shoemaker has identified a precursor of the Mary palm tree story in a set of early 5th century CE texts (at the latest) known as the Dormition of the Virgin, for which we have later fifth century Syriac manuscript fragments as the earliest textual witnesses[33] In this version, the infant Jesus commands the palm tree to bow down and provide fruit, as in Pseudo-Matthew, but it is already located by a stream rather than the stream being a second miracle as in Pseudo-Matthew and the Quran.[34] Nevertheless, this is proof enough that the story was developing in the region well before the 7th century CE.

Leto in Greek mythology

Suleiman Mourad has traced the development of this story in the Qur'an and Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew through Greek and Latin literature. He writes:

All the various Hellenistic and Latin variants of the original myth of Leto giving birth to Apollo by a palm tree reflect the borrowing and adaptation by groups who reshaped it for their own objectives and needs. Appropriations of ancient myths were common in the ancient world, and the early Christians were no exception. The palm-tree story that found its way to sura Maryam is a reworking of Leto's labor. It is about a distressed pregnant woman (Leto/Mary) who seeks an isolated place (Delos/a remote spot), sits by the trunk of a palm tree next to a stream (Inopos/a brook), and delivers a holy child (Apollo/Jesus).
‏It is nevertheless unlikely that the myth of Leto was the direct source for sura Maryam. As was aforementioned, the concise version found in the latter has two parts: Mary's labor and delivery, and the miracle. We might therefore suspect that there was a stage when Leto's myth was borrowed and applied to Mary.[35]

The parallel between the Qur'an and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew suggests a non-divine source for the Qur'an. This story, in which Jesus was still in the womb during the flight to Egypt, is clearly at odds with the canonical gospels which suggest that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1,5-6,8,16; Luke 2:4,15; John 7:42) and the flight to Egypt occurred only after his birth at Bethlehem.

And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt.

Christians believe that Jesus was prophesized to be born at Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). The presence of this narrative in the Qur'an indicates that the author (and the audience) was deeply familiar with the apocryphal tradition of Marian literature, which more or less rules out a pagan Mecca as the milieu for these verses.

Iblis and his refusal to prostrate

Qur'anic Account

The Qur'anic story that Satan was expelled from Heaven for defying Allah’s command to prostrate to Adam seems to have antecedents in pre-Islamic Jewish tales. The Bible does not contain this tale.

And We indeed created you, then We fashioned you, then We said to the angels: Make submission to Adam. So they submitted, except Iblis; he was not of those who submitted.

‏He said: What hindered thee that thou didst not submit when I commanded thee? He said: I am better than he; thou hast created me of fire while him Thou didst create of dust. He said: Then get forth from this (state), for it is not for thee to behave proudly therein. Go forth; therefore, surely thou art of the abject ones.

‏He said: Get out of it, despised, driven away. Whoever of them will follow thee; I will certainly fill hell with you all.

This story recurs several times in the Qur'an, for instance:

Remember when your Lord said to the angels, "I am going to create a man (Adam) from sounding clay of altered black smooth mud. So when I have fashioned him completely and breathed into him (Adam) the soul which I created for him then fall you down prostrating yourselves unto him." SO the angels prostrated themselves all of them together, except Iblis, he refused to be among the prostrators. Allah said: "O Iblis! What is your reason for not being among the prostrators?" Iblis said: "I am not the one to prostrate myself to a human being, whom You created from sounding clay of altered black smooth mud." Allah said: "Then get out from here for verily you are Rajim (an outcast or cursed one). Verily the curse shall be upon you till Day of Recompense (Day of Resurrection).
"Shall I prostrate to one whom You created from clay?" Iblis said: "See? those whom You have honored above me, if You give me respite (keep me alive) to the Day of Resurrection, I will surely seize and mislead his offspring (by sending them astray) all but a few!"
Remember when your Lord said to the angels: "Truly I am going to create man from clay. So when I have fashioned him and breathed into him (his) soul created by me, then you fall down prostrate to him." So the angels prostrated themselves all of them; except Iblis, he was proud and was one of the disbelievers. Allah said: "The truth is, and the truth I say, that I will fill Hell with you and those of them (mankind) that follow you together."

Apocryphal Account

Apparently, the story of Satan refusing to prostate/worship (sajada) Adam is found in the apocryphal ‘Life of Adam and Eve’, a first to fourth century Jewish Hellenistic work. Some authorities date it to the first century CE based on the absence of the Christian concept of original sin and the influence of the story on the Ebionites.[36]

Another version of this in Syriac, The Cave of Treasure, appeared in the sixth century. There were also other earlier versions in Arabic, Ethiopic, and Armenian, which indicate the early spread of the story regarding the worship of Adam by the angels.[37]

“And with a heavy sigh, the devil spake: ‘O Adam! all my hostility, envy, and sorrow is for thee, since it is for thee that I have been expelled from my glory, which I possessed in the heavens in the midst of the angels and for thee was I cast out in the earth.’ Adam answered, ‘What dost thou tell me? What have I done to thee or what is my fault against thee? Seeing that thou hast received no harm or injury from us, why dost thou pursue us?’

“The devil replied, ‘Adam, what dost thou tell me? It is for thy sake that I have been hurled from that place. When thou wast formed, I was hurled out of the presence of God and banished from the company of angels. When God blew into thee the breath of life and thy face and likeness was made in the image of God, Michael also brought thee and made (us) worship thee in the sight of God; and God the Lord spake: “Here is Adam. I have made him in our image and likeness.”

“‘And Michael went out and called all the angels saying: “Worship the image of God as the Lord hath commanded.”

“‘And Michael himself worshipped first; then he called me and said: “Worship the image of God the Lord.” And I answered, “I have no (need) to worship Adam.” And since Michael kept urging me to worship, I said to him, “Why dost thou urge me? I will not worship an inferior and younger being (than I). I am his senior in the Creation, before he was made was I already made. It is his duty to worship me.”

“‘When the angels, who were under me, heard this, they refused to worship him. And Michael saith, “Worship the image of God, but if thou wilt not worship him, the Lord God will be wroth with thee.” And I said, “If He be wroth with me, I will set my seat above the stars of heaven and will be like the Highest.”

“‘And God the Lord was wroth with me and banished me and my angels from our glory; and on thy account were we expelled from our abodes into this world and hurled n the earth. And straightway we were overcome with grief, since we had been spoiled of so great glory. And we were grieved when we saw thee in such joy and luxury. And with guile I cheated thy wife and caused thee to be expelled through her (doing) from thy joy and luxury, as I have been driven out of my glory.’

“When Adam heard the devil say this, he cried out and wept and spake: ‘O Lord my God, my life is in thy hands. Banish this Adversary far from me, who seeketh to destroy my soul, and give me his glory which he himself hath lost.’ And at that moment, the devil vanished before him. But Adam endured in his penance, standing for forty days (on end) in the water of Jordan.”

The story is also found in the Talmud, namely the Genesis Rabba (or Bereshith Rabba – compiled in the fourth or fifth century CE, some say sixth century CE) and the Pirke Rabbi De Eliezer. The Cave of Treasure, an anonymous work, which dates from the sixth century, puts a Christian twist on the fable:

“When the angels saw his splendid appearance, they were moved by the fairness of his aspect. And God gave him there the dominion over all creatures, and all the wild beasts and the cattle and the birds, and they came before Adam and he gave them names, and they bowed their heads before him and worshipped him, and all their natures worshipped and served him. And the angels and powers heard the voice of God, who said to him, ‘O Adam, behold I have made thee king, priest, prophet, lord, head and leader of all creatures and they serve thee and are thine. And I have given thee dominion over all I have created.’ And when the angels heard this word, they all bent their knees and worshipped him. “And when the head of the lower order saw that greatness had been given to Adam, he envied him thenceforth, refused to worship him and said to his powers: ‘Worship him not and praise him not with the angels. It befits him to worship me, not me to worship dust, formed out of a grain of dust.’ Such things the rebel had uttered and was disobedient and by his own free will became separated from God. And he was felled and he fell, he and his whole band. On the sixth day in the second hour, he fell from heaven, and they were stripped of the robes of their glory, and his name was called Satana, because he had turned away from God, and Sheda, because he had been cast down, and Daiva, because he had lost the robe of his glory. And look, from that same day and until today, he and all his armies are stripped and naked and ugly to look on. And after Satan had been cast from Heaven, Adam was exalted so that he ascended to Paradise.”

The Qur'anic story of Satan refusing to worship or prostate before Adam seems to have distinct antecedents in pre-Islamic Jewish and Christian sources. It would appear that this post-biblical legend has been borrowed wholesale into the Islamic scriptures, without an apparent understanding of its origin.

The Queen of Sheba

Qur'anic Account

The story of the Queen of Sheba is an ancient one, dating back to the Old Testament (1 Kgs. 10:1-10 and 2 Chr. 9:1-12). Josephus also makes mention of the Queen of Sheba, as does the Qur'an, which interestingly embellishes the Old Testament account with the episodes of the hoopoe and the Queen of Sheba exposing her legs.

Below is the Quranic account of the story as translated by Hilali & Khan:

He inspected the birds, and said: "What is the matter that I see not the hoopoe? Or is he among the absentees?" I will surely punish him with a severe torment, or slaughter him, unless he brings me a clear reason." But the hoopoe stayed not long, he (came up and) said: "I have grasped (the knowledge of a thing) which you have not grasped and I have come to you from Saba (Sheba) with true news." I found a woman ruling over them, and she has been given all things that could be possessed by any ruler of the earth, and she has a great throne." I found her and her people worshipping the sun instead of Allah, and Shaitan has made their deeds fair-seeming to them, and has barred them from (Allahs) Way, so they have no guidance," Al-La (this word has two interpretations) (A) (As Shaitan has barred them from Allahs Way) so that they do not worship (prostrate before) Allah, or (B) So that they may worship (prostrate before) Allah, Who brings to light what is hidden in the heavens and the earth, and knows what you conceal and what you reveal. (Tafsir At-Tabaree, Vol. 19, Page 149)Allah, La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), the Lord of the Supreme Throne! Sulaiman said: "We shall see whether you speak the truth or you are (one) of the liars." Go you with this letter of mine, and deliver it to them, then draw back from them, and see what (answer) they return." She said: "O chiefs! Verily! Here is delivered to me a noble letter,"Verily! It is from Sulaiman, and verily! It (reads): In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful;" Be you not exalted against me, but come to me as Muslims (true believers who submit to Allah with full submission) "She said: "O chiefs! Advise me in (this) case of mine. I decide no case till you are present with me." They said: "We have great strength, and great ability for war, but it is for you to command; so think over what you will command." She said: "Verily! Kings, when they enter a town (country), they despoil it, and make the most honourable amongst its people low. And thus they do." But verily! I am going to send him a present, and see with what (answer) the messengers return." So when (the messengers with the present) came to Sulaiman, he said: "Will you help me in wealth? What Allah has given me is better than that which He has given you! Nay, you rejoice in your gift!"(Then Sulaiman said to the chief of her messengers who brought the present): "Go back to them. We verily shall come to them with hosts that they cannot resist, and we shall drive them out from there in disgrace, and they will be abased. "He said: "O chiefs! Which of you can bring me her throne before they come to me surrendering themselves in obedience?" An Ifreet (strong) from the jinns said: "I will bring it to you before you rise from your place (council). And verily, I am indeed strong, and trustworthy for such work." One with whom was knowledge of the Scripture said: "I will bring it to you within the twinkling of an eye!" then when Sulaiman saw it placed before him, he said: "This is by the Grace of my Lord to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! And whoever is grateful, truly, his gratitude is for (the good of) his ownself, and whoever is ungrateful, (he is ungrateful only for the loss of his ownself). Certainly! My Lord is Rich (Free of all wants), Bountiful." He said: "Disguise her throne for her that we may see whether she will be guided (to recognise her throne), or she will be one of those not guided." So when she came, it was said (to her): "Is your throne like this?" She said: "(It is) as though it were the very same." And (Sulaiman said): "Knowledge was bestowed on us before her, and we were submitted to Allah (in Islam as Muslims before her)."And that which she used to worship besides Allah has prevented her (from Islam), for she was of a disbelieving people. It was said to her: "Enter As-Sarh" ((a glass surface with water underneath it) or a palace), but when she saw it, she thought it was a pool, and she (tucked up her clothes) uncovering her legs, Sulaiman said: "Verily, it is Sarh ((a glass surface with water underneath it) or a palace) paved smooth with slab of glass." She said: "My Lord! Verily, I have wronged myself, and I submit (in Islam, together with Sulaiman, to Allah, the Lord of the Alameen (mankind, jinns and all that exists)."

Targum Sheni

This story parallels that which is found in the Second Targum of Esther, or Targum Sheni, and is taken as evidence of the Qur'an’s non-divine source:

“At another time, when the heart of Solomon was gladdened with wine, he gave orders for the beasts of the land, the birds of the air, the creeping things of the earth, the demons from above and the Genii, to be brought, that they might dance around him, in order that all the kings waiting upon him might behold his grandeur. And all the royal scribes summoned by their names before him; in fact, all were there except the captives and prisoners and those in charge of them. Just then the Red-cock, enjoying itself, could not be found; and King Solomon said that they should seize and bring it by force, and indeed he sought to kill it. But just then the cock appeared in presence of the King, and said: O Lord, King of the earth! having applied thine ear, listen to my words. It is hardly three months since I made a firm resolution within me that I would not eat a crumb of bread, nor drink a drop of water until I had seen the whole world, and over it make my flight, saying to myself, I must know the city and the kingdom which is not subject to thee, my Lord King. Then I found the fortified city Qîtôr in the Eastern lands, and around it are stones of gold and silver in the streets plentiful as rubbish, and trees planted from the beginning of the world, and rivers to water it, flowing out of the garden of Eden. Many men are there wearing garlands from the garden close by. They shoot arrows, but cannot use the bow. They are ruled by a woman, called Queen of Sheba. Now if it please my Lord King, thy servant, having bound up my girdle, will set out for the fort Qîtôr in Sheba; and having "bound their Kings with chains and their Nobles with links of iron," will bring them into thy presence. The proposal pleased the King, and the scribes prepared a despatch, which was placed under the bird's wing, and away it flew high up in the sky. It grew strong surrounded by a crowd of birds, and reached the Fort of Sheba. By chance the Queen of Sheba was out in the morning worshipping the sea; and the air being darkened by the multitude of birds, she became so alarmed as to rend her clothes in trouble and distress. Just then the Cock alighted by her, and she seeing the letter under its wing opened and read it as follows: "King Solomon sendeth to thee his salaam, and saith, The high and holy One hath set me over the beasts of the field, etc.; and the kings of the four Quarters send to ask after my welfare. Now if it please thee to come and ask after my welfare, I will set thee high above them all. But if it please thee not, I will send kings and armies against thee; — the beasts of the field are my people, the birds of the air my riders, the demons and genii thine enemies, — to imprison you, to slay and to feed upon you." When the Queen of Sheba heard it, she again rent her garments, and sending for her Nobles asked their advice. They knew not Solomon, but advised her to send vessels by the sea, full of beautiful ornaments and gems, together with 6000 boys and girls in purple garments, who had all been born at the same moment; also to send a letter promising to visit him by the end of the year. It was a journey of seven years but she promised to come in three. When at last she came, Solomon sent a messenger shining in brilliant attire, like the morning dawn, to meet her. As they came together, she stepped from her carriage. "Why dost thou thus?" he asked. "Art thou not Solomon?" she said. "Nay, I am but a servant that standeth in his presence." The queen at once addressed a parable to her followers in compliment to him, and then was led by him to the Court. Solomon hearing she had come, arose and sat down in the Palace of glass. When the Queen of Sheba saw it, she thought that the glass floor was water, and so in crossing over lifted up her garments. When Solomon seeing the hair about her legs, cried out to her: Thy beauty is the beauty of women, but thy hair is as the hair of men; hair is good in man, but in woman it is not becoming. On this she said: My Lord, I have three enigmas to put to thee. If thou canst answer them, I shall know that thou art a wise man: but if not thou art like all around thee. When he had answered all three, she replied, astonished: Blessed be the Lord thy God, who hath placed thee on the throne that thou mightest rule with right and justice. And she gave to Solomon much gold and silver; and he to her whatsoever she desired.”[38][39][40]

Muslim Objections

A counter argument to the idea (raised by the sources referenced above) that Muhammad derived the story from Jewish sources, is produced by Dr Saifullah and the Islamic-Awareness team, which you can find here

The crux of the argument lies with the dating of the Targum of Sheni. It is commonly believed that this targum dates to around the seventh to ninth century, thus making it too late to account for the parallelism with the Qur'an.

According to Saifullah, quoting the Jewish Encyclopedia:

“Targum Sheni (the second [Targum]: date about 800), containing material not germane to the Esther story. This may be characterized as a genuine and exuberant midrash. In the case of the Targum Sheni, the internal evidence is used to date the final redaction which is put in end of the seventh century or the beginning of the eighth century:”
Dr Saifullah

[Note that the dating is only of the final redaction of the Targum, not of the Midrash enclose therein.]

Saifullah goes on to report, citing Encyclopaedia Judaica:

“The date of the work cannot be determined exactly. The view of S. Gelbhaus that it belongs to the amoraic period, in the fourth century, is disproved by the fact that it contains later material. P. Cassel dates it in the sixth century and explains its mention of Edom to be the rule of Justinian (527-565). However, this view of Edom can also apply to other periods. A basis for dating was also found among the accusations made by Haman: "They come to the synagogue... and curse our king and our ministers." This statement is regarded as an allusion to the suspicion that Jews combine a curse with the prayer said in the synagogue for the welfare of the kingdom. Since this prayer is thought to have been composed in the eighth century it is conjectured that the Targum Sheni postdates that century. L. Munk puts its date still later, in the 11th century, but he gives no proof. It seems that the most acceptable view is that which places its composition at the end of the seventh or the beginning of the eighth century, a view that is strengthened by its relationship to the Pirkei de-R. Eliezer. Regarding its relationship to the Targum Rishon, there are features common to both Targums, but there are also many differences, and there are many aggadot in the Targum Rishon not included in the Targum Sheni. The view of P. Churgin may be accepted that they are two independent compositions.”
Dr Saifullah

Analysis of Muslim Objections

The date of final redaction and of original composition are different, as answering-islam team points out.

The Targum of Esther is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud and cited in the Tractrate Sopherim (Xlll:6). Thus its existence is in at least Amoraic times. (i.e. 4th Century)

In another place in his introduction Professor Grossfeld states in connection with the origin of the Targum that it: Must have begun before the Christian era.

On the same subject the Jewish Encyclopedia 1925 edition by Funk & Wagnalls Company, Vol 12, p 63 states:

In the Masseket Soferim (lc) a quotation from the Targum Sheni to Esther lll is introduced by the words "Tirgem Tab Yosef" (Rabbi Joseph translation)

So the Targum, having been quoted in the Jerusalem Talmud, must have had existence at least before the time the Jerusalem Talmud was finally concluded.

On the subject of the dates of the Jerusalem Talmud the Encyclopedea Judaica 1996 edition, Vol 15, p 772, states:

Jerusalem Talmud was compiled about a century before the Babylonian in 500CE. Its close was entirely due to the situation which prevailed in (Erez) Israel. The activities of the main school, that of Tiberius, came to an end in 421 (CE)

This again supports the claim that the Targum existed in pre-Islamic times and at least early enough for the legend of the Queen of Sheba to have travelled to wherever the Jewish community had dispersed throughout Arabia.”

There is also evidence that the story of the Queen of Sheba’s hairy legs was an ancient Arabian tale:

“Concerning the legend of the queen's hair on her legs, Ginsberg (legends Vol VI p289 n41) links it with an ancient Arabic legend about the story.”[41]

One cannot be too dogmatic about this parallelism, as the dating of Targum Sheni is not beyond doubt. Nevertheless, it is likely that the story of the Queen of Sheba pre-dates the Qur'an as the Targum is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud. It is also clear that the post-Quranic dates often ascribed to Targum Sheni are that of the final redaction and not that of the Queen of Sheba myths.

Abraham and the Idols

The parallel between the Qur'an and the Midrash is given below.

Qur'anic Account

Before that, we granted Abraham his guidance and understanding, for we were fully aware of him. He said to his father and his people, "What are these statues to which you are devoting yourselves?" They said, "We found our parents worshipping them." He said, "Indeed, you and your parents have gone totally astray." They said, "Are you telling us the truth, or are you playing?" He said, "Your only Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, who created them. This is the testimony to which I bear witness. "I swear by GOD, I have a plan to deal with your statues, as soon as you leave." He broke them into pieces, except for a big one, that they may refer to it. They said, "Whoever did this to our gods is really a transgressor." They said, "We heard a youth threaten them; he is called Abraham." They said, "Bring him before the eyes of all the people, that they may bear witness." They said, "Did you do this to our gods, O Abraham?" He said, "It is that big one who did it. Go ask them, if they can speak." They were taken aback, and said to themselves, "Indeed, you are the ones who have been transgressing." Yet, they reverted to their old ideas: "You know full well that these cannot speak." He said, "Do you then worship beside GOD what possesses no power to benefit you or harm you? "You have incurred shame by worshipping idols beside GOD. Do you not understand?" They said, "Burn him and support your gods, if this is what you decide to do." We said, "O fire, be cool and safe for Abraham." Thus, they schemed against him, but we made them the losers.

Midrash Account

And Haran died in front of Terach his father. R. Hiyya the grandson of R. Ada of Yafo [said]: Terach was an idolater. One day he went out somewhere, and put Avraham in charge of selling [the idols]. When a man would come who wanted to purchase, he would say to him: “How old are you”? [The customer] would answer: “Fifty or sixty years old”. [Avraham] would say: “Woe to the man who is sixty years old And desires to worship something one day old.” [The customer] would be ashamed and leave. One day a woman came, carrying in her hand a basket of fine flour. She said: “Here, offer it before them.” Abraham siezed a stick, And smashed all the idols, And placed the stick in the hand of the biggest of them. When his father came, he said to him: “Who did this to them”? [Avraham] said:, “Would I hide anything from my father? a woman came, carrying in her hand a basket of fine flour. She said: “Here, offer it before them.” When I offered it, one god said: “I will eat first,” And another said, “No, I will eat first.” Then the biggest of them rose up and smashed all the others. [His father] said:, “Are you making fun of me? Do they know anything?” [Avraham] answered: Shall your ears not hear what your mouth is saying? He took [Avraham] and handed him over to Nimrod. [Nimrod] said to him: “Let us worship the fire”. [Avraham said to him: “If so, let us worship the water which extinguishes the fire.” [Nimrod] said to him: “Let us worship the water”. [Avraham said to him: “If so, let us worship the clouds which bear the water.” [Nimrod] said to him: “Let us worship the clouds”. [Avraham said to him: “If so, let us worship the wind which scatters the clouds.” [Nimrod] said to him: “Let us worship the wind”. [Avraham said to him: “If so, let us worship man who withstands the wind.” [Nimrod] said to him: “You are speaking nonsense; I only bow to the fire. “I will throw you into it. “Let the G-d to Whom you bow come and save you from it.” Haran was there. He said [to himself] Either way; If Avraham is successful, I will say that I am with Avraham; If Nimrod is successful, I will say that I am with Nimrod. Once Avraham went into the furnace and was saved, They asked [Haran]: “With which one are you [allied]”? He said to them: “I am with Avraham.” They took him and threw him into the fire and his bowels were burned out. He came out and died in front of Terach his father. This is the meaning of the verse: And Haran died in front of Terach.
Midrash B'reishit Rabbah 38:13:

Examination of both Accounts

The claim is that this parallelism originated from the Midrash as an invention of a Rabbi:

From the perspective of a believing Muslim, it seems shocking that a Jewish legend about Abraham, created thousands of years after the event it purports to relate, made its way into the unerring Qur'an. For the secular scholar studying the Qur'an as a historical document of its time and place, the ancient near east, this is not at all surprising given the wide range of religious literature which was read and spread in the ancient near east. This story is a well known illustration invented by Rabbi Hiyya in the 2nd century CE; it is recorded in the Midrash Rabbah Genesis and all authorities agree that it was never meant to be considered historical, even by the audience for whom it was composed.

The Quranic account of Abraham and the idols commences in Quran 6:74 where Abraham is quoted as saying "Takest thou idols for gods?" and this theme is then expanded in Sura Quran 21:51-71 . It is exactly the same theme of the Midrashic legend where Abraham takes issue over the idols of his father.

The Shared Themes in the Midrashic Account

The Midrashic account is given here and the Qur'anic equivalent can be found in the ayats in the brackets:

  • Abraham's father accused of being an idolater: "Terah (Abraham's father) was a manufacturer of idols" ie. He was an idolater. (52)
  • "He once went away somewhere and left Abraham..." (57)
  • Abraham breaks all the idols except the biggest: "So he took a stick, broke them, (the idols) and put the the stick in the hand of the largest." (58)
  • "When his father returned he demanded, 'What have you done to them?'" (59) (In the Quranic account this demand is made by his father and the people.)
  • Abraham claims: "Thereupon the largest arose, took the stick, and broke them." (63)
  • Abraham is seized and delivered up for judgement: "Thereupon he seized him and delivered him to Nimrod." (64) (The Quran does not mention by name who was to punish Abraham.)
  • Abraham is saved from the fire: "When Abram descended into the fiery furnace and was saved..." (69)

All the above points are unique both to the Qur'anic and mythical midrashic accounts. They do not appear in the Scriptures of the Jews and Christians.”[42]

Muslim Objections

Dr Saifullah and the Islamic-awareness team have sought to disparage the above evidence, and these objections have been addressed by the freethoughtmecca team.[43][44]

Objection 1: Additions (i.e. in the parashiyyot) and alterations may have been made to the text of the Bereshit Rabbah (i.e. Genesis Rabbah) after its redaction in the sixth century CE.

Redaction does not mean the date of origin of the text. The Abraham and the idols story is not in the parashiyyot but the Noach. This story is not in the list of texts added or edited.

Objection 2: The existing manuscripts of the Bereshit Rabbah post-date the origin of the Quran.

Historical evidence from various sources evidence a pre-Islamic date for the Bereshit Rabbah. For example, St Jerome mentions the Jewish interpretation of Genesis 11:28 in respect to Abraham refusal to worship fire and his consumption by fire. Also, the Book of Jubilees mention Abraham’s dislike of idol worship, and the Babylonian Talmud mentions Nimrod casting Abraham into the fire.

Objection 3: The text is unstable due to flexibility of copying and therefore it cannot be ascertained that the compared texts are similar.

It is not asserted that the Qur'an copied from the Bereshit Rabbah, rather he heard this Judeo-Christian story from others, possibly Jews and Christians. The Bereshit Rabbah is merely evidence to date this particular Judeo-Christian story. There are other Judeo-Christian sources as listed above, so a different text may or may not have been the source of the parallel.

Objection 4: Judeo-Christian sources of the same story are different, thus the original paralleled story cannot be ascertained.

Again, the charge is not that Muhammad referred to any particular text, although the Bereshit Rabbah’s version comes closest to the Quranic version.

It is clear the story of Abraham disdaining idol worship, destroying idols, and being thrown into the fire pre-dates Islam in various Judeo-Christian sources. It is not necessary to come to the conclusion that the Qur'an copies out of these texts, but rather that it draws from sources with similar narrativbes. The Judeo-Christian sources listed are merely evidence of the antiquity of this story.

One is forced to wonder how a story invented by Rabbi Hiyya in the 2nd century CE managed to find its way into a source purported to be of divine origin. Rather than divine revelation, these parallels point to a very human origin of the Qur'an.

The Wealth of Korah

Qur'anic Verse

The Torah and Mishnah tells the story of Korah (or Korach) and his rebellion against Moses (Numbers 16:1-35). This story is also replicated in the Qur'an where Korah is transliterated to Qaaroon.

Korah was surely of the people of Moses, but he oppressed them, and We gave him treasures, so much so that his hoards of wealth would weight down a body of strong men. When his people said to him: Exult not; surely Allah loves not the exultant.

The parallelism between the Qur'an and the Gemara has not escaped noticed, for instance, this site

“Well, those certainly sound like some heavy keys! As it turns out, this tale about Korah's heavy keys is not found in the Bible, but it is mentioned in Talmud Bavli. The story is found in both Sanhedrin 110a and Pesachim 119a, with only minor differences. Let us take a look at the version in tractate Sanhedrin:

V'amar Rabi Levi: "masoi sh'lsh me'ot pardot l'vanot hayu maftchot shel beyt g'nazaiv shel Qorach, V'khulhu aqlidei v'qilfei d'ghilda."

And Rabbi Levi said: "The keys to Korah's treasure house was a load for 300 white mules and the keys and locks were leather."

It is clear that the Islamic literature, be it the Qur'an or the extracanonical traditions and commentaries, show a great deal of Judeo-Christian influence.”

Talmudic Verse

A check of Tractate Sanhedrin 110a shows this to be indeed the case:

“Riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt: Resh Lakish said: This refers to Korah's wealth. And all the substance that was at their feet: R. Eleazar said: This refers to a man's wealth, which puts him on his feet. R. Levi said: The keys of Korah's treasure house were a load for three hundred white mules, though all the keys and locks were of leather. R. Hama son of R. Hanina said: Three treasures did Joseph hide in Egypt: one was revealed to Korah; one to Antoninus the son of Severus, and the third is stored up for the righteous for the future time.”

Jewish scholars have noted that the story of Korah’s wealth is not told in the Torah or Mishnah but by sages. Professor Avigdor Shenan says that the Sages present Korach, among others things, as an extremely wealthy man and the phrase “as wealthy as Korach” is used even today.

Professor Shenan also noted that the Jewish sages had two theories about how Korah acquired his wealth.

“According to the first: “Joseph hid three treasures in Egypt. One was revealed to Korach, one was revealed to Antoninus son of Asviros, and one is hidden away for the righteous in the end of days” (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 119a).

Joseph’s great wealth, from when he gathered “all the money which was in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan” (Bereishit 47:14)”

“According to the other opinion, Pharaoh’s wealth reached Korach since he was Pharaoh’s finance minister, “and he had in his hands the keys to his treasures” (Bamidbar Rabba 18:15).”

Here is Professor Shenan’s conclusion about the wealthy Korah story:

“Why do the Sages wish to present Korach as extremely wealthy? It is difficult to find a basis for this in the biblical story. There it is written that the mouth of the earth opened in order to swallow Korach and his followers, their homes “and every man that was for Korach and all the property” (Bamidbar 16:32) and there is not enough in these words to find a basis for the assertion that he was extremely wealthy.”[45]

Thus, it can be seen that there is little or no basis in the Bible for Korah to be assumed a wealthy man, especially since he fled with Moses during the Exodus. It is unlikely, although Jewish tradition has it, that the Hebrews would have fled in haste from a vengeful Pharaoh and his army carrying a load of treasure.

So where did Muhammad get his idea about Korah being so wealthy that the keys to his treasure house themselves were so heavy that they required the strength of a body of strong men?

Apparently, Rabbi Levi; a third century Haggadist who lived in Palestine and who also made up the story of Korah’s keys, was actually none other than Allah in the flesh.

See Also

  1. Ignorance and illiteracy - A Struggle that Led to Conversion
  2. Siratu' Rasul, vol. i, p. 79.
  4. Abul Kasem - Who Authored the Qur’an?—an Enquiry mukto-mona
  5. Hughes' Dictionary of Islam, p. 30, quoting Tafsir-i-Husaini, Sale p. 223 and Muir's Life of Mahomet, p. 72
  6. The Holy Qur`ân, Ali, p.7, note
  7. Muhammad the borrower – Debate 2 with Saifullah
  8. Summary by Sharon Morad, Leeds - The Origins of The Koran: Classic Essays on Islam's Holy Book, edited by Ibn Warraq (Prometheus Books: Amherst, New York. 1998)
  9. Al-Jallad. 2020. The Linguistic Landscape of pre-Islamic Arabia pages 117-124
  10. Muhammad the borrower – Debate 2 with Saifullah
  11. Sirat Rasoul Allah - Introduction -
  13. katabā Lane's Lexicon book 1 page 2590
  14. CAIN AND ABEL - Answering Islam
  15. M S M Saifullah, Mansur Ahmed & Elias Karim - On The Sources Of The Story Of Cain & Abel In The Qur'an - Islamic Awareness
  16. Andrew Vargo - Responses to Islamic Awareness - Answering Islam
  17. Andrew Vargo - Responses to Islamic Awareness - Answering Islam
  18. Culbertson, Philip - Midrash Tanhuma
  19. Mustafa Ahmed & M S M Saifullah - Mary(P) & Tri-unity Islamic Awareness
  20. The Canon of Scripture
  21. The Canon of Scripture
  22. M S M Saifullah & Hesham Azmy - Is The Bible In Our Hands The Same As During The Time Of Muhammad(P)? Islamic Awareness
  23. The Canon of Scripture
  24. John Gilchrist - The Quran: The Scripture of Islam Chapter 4: The Origins and Sources of the Quranic
  25. W. St. Clair-Tisdall - Sources of the Quran: Heretical Christian Sects Chapter 4 truthnet
  26. the history of joseph the carpenter
  28. Swami Nirmalananda Giri – The Unknown Lives of Jesus and Mary
  30. Catholic Encyclopedia – Collections of Ancient Canons
  31. Translated by M.R. James - 1924 The Protevangelium of James
  32. Brandon Hawk, 2020 The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Nativity of Mary Cambridge, UK: James Clark & Co, pp.25-26
  33. Ibid. p. 16
  34. Stephen Shoemaker, Christmas in the Qur’an: the Qur’anic Account of Jesus’ Nativity and Palestinian Local Tradition Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 28, 11-39 (2003)
  35. Suleiman Mourad, “Mary in the Qur'an″, in The Qur’ān in Its Historical Context, Ed. Gabriel Said Reynolds, p.169, New York: Routledge, 2007
  36. Encyclopædia Britannica - biblical literature
  37. Samuel M. Zwemer - Studies in Popular Islam: The Worship of Adam by Angels
  38. Jameel - King Solomon & the Queen of Sheba: A comparison between Targum and Qur'an
  39. Jameel - Is The Qur'an's Story Of Solomon & Sheba From The Jewish Targum?
  40. Sam Shamoun - Response to Zakir Naik's Claims for the Quran 2
  41. Sam Shamoun - Response to Zakir Naik's Claims for the Quran 2
  42. Abraham and the Idols
  43. M S M Saifullah - The Story Of Abraham And Idols In The Qur'an And Midrash Genesis Rabbah
  44. sayfallaah freethoughtmecca
  45. The Jewish Agency for Israel - Nehar Deah: The Sages’ Korach