Sacred Texts Timeline

Sacred Texts Timeline

This is a timeline which gives the history of sacred texts, as well as a few other relevant events. Of course, not all of the dates in this timeline are accurate; some are entirely conjectural. I have included a few dates, events and documents which are or may be entirely fictional. Links on this page are to resources at this site, not to external sites. I welcome feedback about any errors of fact in this timeline.

For space reasons, I have used the abbreviations listed at the end of this file.


Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Baha’i.

Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism.

Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto.


5000 BCE +

4004 (Sunday 23 October) Bishop Usshers’ (1581-1656) date for Biblical creation of the world based on O.T. Chronology. According to Ussher, Adam and Eve were driven from Paradise on Monday 10 November 4004 BC. Ussher was Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College in Dublin [chr].

According to John Lightfoot (1602-1675), Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University and a contemporary of Ussher, man was created on “October 23, 4004 B.C., at nine o’clock in the morning” [chr].

4,320,000,000 Creation of Universe by Brahma (Modern Hindu). The Rig-Veda has three hymns on the subject of Creation. See Rig-Veda 10:cxxix, Rig-Veda 10:cxxx, and Rig-Veda 10:cxc. [hin].

14,000,000,000 Big Bang.

14,000,000,000 -300,000 yrs. after the Big Bang, protons and electrons separate.

14,000,000,000 -? yrs. The universe cools unevenly

5,000,000,000: Sun forms.

3,000,000,000 Earth cools and life on Earth begins.

70,000,000 Dinosaurs die out.

2,000,000 Australopithecines emerge in Southern Africa.

70,000 Ice age begins.

55,000 First inhabitants of Australia.

15,000 Paleolithic cave paintings.

10,000 Paleo-Indians enter America.

9,500 Ice age ends, catastrophic worldwide sea level rise (100 meters?). Black Sea floods, thought to be origin of Ancient Near East Flood story.

9500 Plato’s date for the sinking of Atlantis.

8500-6300 Domestication of sheep, cattle, pigs and goats.

6000+ Mother Goddess worshipped in Europe, Near East. [wic].

5000 Beginning of agriculture in Near East.

4000 (trad.) Overthrow of Matriarchy [wic].

4000 BCE

3760 start of Jewish year count.

3201 Beginning of Kali Yuga, the current (and most evil) age [hin].

o.c. I Ching [cfu].

3100 o.c. Pyramid Texts [egy].

3000 BCE

2953-2838 Chinese Emperor Fu Hsi, produced first w.v. of I Ching [cfu].

2300-1000 Period described in Shu Ching (Book of History) [cfu].

2494-2345 Pyramid Texts [egy].

2000 BCE

2000-1900 Abraham, b. in Ur, according to Bible lived to age of 175.

1500-1350 Moses, trad. founder of Judaism; the Exodus from Egypt.

1500 Zoroaster/Zarathustra, o.c. Gathas, Avesta [zor].

1491 (trad.) According to Bishop Ussher, the date of the Biblical flood. The Ark touched down on Mt. Ararat on 5 May 1491 BC (a Wednesday) [chr].

1200 Origin of Judaism, o.c. of O.T., starting with the Torah (the first 5 books).

1750 Collapse of Indus Valley Civilization.

1500 Indo-Europeans invade India. Vedic Culture. [hin].

1550-1450 o.c. Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda and Yajur-Veda [hin].

1143 w.v. of I Ching by King Wen and Duke of Chou. [cfu]

1800 Enuma Elish, Bablyonian Creation Myth. [ane]

1792 Hammurabi ruler in Bablyon, auth. of Code of Hammurabi, earliest legal codex.

1760 Gilgamesh Epic.[ane]

1600 Orig. Egyptian Book of the Dead. (Book of Coming Forth by Day).

1500 (ca.) Volcanic destruction of Thera, thought to be the origin of Atlantis story.

1194 Fall of Troy (events described in Iliad/Odyssey).

1100 (ca.) Rise of Mayan culture.

1000 BCE

990-922 King Solomon.

950 o.c. Torah/Pentateuch, Song of Songs.

1000 o.c. Atharva Veda [hin].

1000-500 Shih Ching (Book of Odes) [cfu].

800 BCE

740 O.T. Book of Isaiah.

800-700 Brihad-Aranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads [hin].

800-400 Aranyakas, Brahmanas and Upanishads [hin].

800 or 700 Homer (?): Illiad and Odyssey.

800: Hesiod: Works and Days, Theogony

700 BCE

700 Books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Samuel. (O.T.)

628-551 Zarathustra/Zoroaster

600 Babylonian Exile [jud]

700 o.c. Ramayana [hin].

600 w.v. Rig Veda [hin]

650 o.c. Tao te Ching.

664-525 Rev. Egyptian Book of the Dead

600 BCE

520 Books of Zechariah, Isaiah. (O.T.)

599-527 (trad.) Mahavira, founder Jainism.

563-483 Buddha (b. April 8, 563 BCE).

540 w.v. Mahabharata [hin].

540-468 (hist.) Mahavira, founder Jainism.

500 o.c. Angas [jai].

580-500 (trad.) Lao-tzu, founder of Taoism.

551-479 Confucius (K’ung tzu), founder of Confucianism.

520 (trad.) Tao-te Ching [tao].

610-570 Sappho.

500 BCE

w.v. Gensis, Exodus, Numbers. (O.T.)

480-390 (alt.) Lao tzu.

409 w.v. Confucian Canon.

400 BCE

Books of Proverbs, Job (O.T.)

350 w.v. Song of Songs (O.T.).

330 Alexander destroys old Avesta. [zor]

300 w.v. Mahabharata, Bhagavad-Gita. [hin]

371-289 Mencius (Meng-tzu). [cfu]

369-286 Chuang-tzu. [tao]

350 (hist.) Tao-te Ching. [tao].

340 Writings of Chuang-tzu. [tao]

360 Critias by Plato: contains story of Atlantis.

300 BCE

Book of Jonah (O.T.)

285 Septuagint, first Greek trans. of the O.T.

250 Abhidharma, part of the Tripitaka. [bud]

240 Dhammapada canonized by Asoka. [bud]

200 w.v. Atharva Veda. [hin]

250 w.v. Tao te Ching. [tao]

213 Emperor Ch’in Shih burns books, including Confucian, Taoist texts and the Five Classics. [cfu]

200 BCE

200-120 early Mishnah [jud].

164 Book of Daniel (O.T.).

160 O.T. Apocrypha: Tobit, 1 Esdras, Enoch, others.

150 Early Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls).

150 Yoga Sutras of Patanajali. [hin]

I Ching commentaries, Rev. Chinese Classics. [cfu]

100 BCE

5-7 (ca.) b. of Jesus, founder of Christianity.

Ramayana of Valmiki. [hin]

Ceylonese Tipitaka [bud].

86 Rev. Shu Ching (Book of History), Shih Ching (Book of Odes). [cfu]

47 First burning of the Library of Alexandria (by Romans). including works of Sappho, and possibly ancient manuscripts and maps from unknown Ice Age civilizations.

1 CE

1-33 (trad.) Jesus. Events described in the first four N.T. books.

33 (trad.) either April 3, 30 CE or April 7, 33 CE: the Crucifixion.

30-96 New Testament.

50-63 (N.T.) Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, Philippians.

60-80 (N.T.) Acts of the Apostles.

68 Destruction of Qumran community. (Dead Sea Scrolls).

70 (N.T.) Gospel of Mark.

80 (N.T.) Gospel of Matthew.

80 (N.T.) Gospel of Luke.

90 (N.T.) Gospel of John.

81-96 o.c. Revelation of St. John.

Diamond Sutra, Heart Sutra. [bud]

65 Entry of Buddhism into China.

o.c. Kojiki, Nihongi. [shi]

100 CE

o.c. Nag Hammadi Scriptures.

100 Synod of Jamnia, Can. of O.T. [chr]

150 N.T. Apocrypha. [chr]


o.c. Sepher ha Zohar [jud].

166 Buddhism formally established in China.

Lotus Sutra, Buddha-Charita of Ashvagosha. [bud]

150 w.v. Shu Ching (Book of History). Shih Ching (Book of Odes). [cfu]

200 CE

Can. of Tao te Ching. [tao]

Mayan Classical Phase (to 900 CE), o.c. Popul Vuh.

300 CE

Denkart in Pahlavi.

(to 14th Cent.) comp. of Midrash.

300-400 w.v. Nag Hammadi Scriptures in Coptic.

350 w.v. Avesta in Pahlavi.

350 Jewish Talmund and Gemara.

325 Council of Nicea, Can. of Christian Bible.

(to 13th Cent.) Puranas [hin].

365-408 Burning of Sibylline Books.

391 Second burning of library at Alexandria (by Christians).

400 CE

Babylonian Talmund [jud].

401 Confessions of St. Augustine. [chr]

404 Cod. of the Vulgate (Latin Bible).

w.v. Angas in Prakrit [jai].

400-450 Cod. of the Abhidharma (Tripitaka) [bud].

500 CE.

550-950 Bundahishn. [zor]

570-632 Muhammed, founder of Islam.

538-552 Buddhism reaches Japan.

550 Last temple to Isis (at Phiae) closes.

(to 7th Cent.) o.c. Eddas.

600 C.E.

610 w.v. Qur’an. [isl]

630 First Hadith. [isl]

644-656 Can. of Qur’an. [isl]

(to 9th Cent.) o.c. Welsh Mabinogion.

642 Third (and final) destruction of Library of Alexandria (by Moslems).

700 C.E.

760 o.c of Bardo Thödol (Tibetean Book of the Dead). [tib]

712 w.v. Kojiki. [shi]

720 w.v. Nihongi. [shi]

742 Can. of Writings of Chuang-tzu.

800 C.E.

Sepher Yetzirah [jud].

Can. of Hadith [isl].

Shikand Gumani Vazar [zor].

868 Diamond Sutra is first book printed in China [bud].

w.v. Poetic Edda

900 C.E.

Bundahishn. [zor]

Agamas [hin].

946 Start of Tibetan calendar, Kalachakra Tantra [tib].

927 Yengiski [shi].

950 (trad.) Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred.

1000 C.E.

1054 Schism between East and West Church [chr].

1016-1100 Naropa [tib]

1039-1123 Milarepa [tib]

1100 C.E.

1150 Kuo-an Shih yuan’s Ten Pictures of the Ox. [bud]

1175-1120 compilation of Confucian Canon by Chu Hsi.

1179-1241 Snorri Sturlson (auth. Prose Edda, Heimskringla).

1200 C.E.

1270-1300 w.v. of Sepher ha Zohar by Moses de Leon.

1222-1282 Nichiren [bud].

1236 Dogen, founds Soto School of Zen [bud].

1220 Prose Edda.

1300 C.E.

1306-21 Divine Comedy by Dante.

1397-1468 Johannes Gutenberg. patron saint of etexts.

o.c. Key of Solomon.

1300-1325 w.v. White Book of Rhydderch (Mabinogion).

1375-1425 Author of Red Book of Hergest (Mabinongion).

1400 C.E.

1456 First p.v. Vulgate Bible by Gutenberg.

1463 first Latin translation of Corpus Hermeticum.

1483-1546 Martin Luther chr. reformer.

1440-1518 Kabir, Isl. Mystic.

1469-1538 Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism.

1486 Malleus Malificarum: textbook for witch-hunters.

1500 C.E.

1517 M. Luther’s 95 Theses.

1522 N.T. Translated into German by M. Luther.

1525 N.T. Translated into Englsh by W. Tyndale (1494-1536).

1534 p.v. entire Bible in German by M. Luther.

1535 p.v. Bible in English by Miles Coverdale (1488-1569).

1546 O.T. Apocrypha Can. by Catholic Church.

1560 Foxe’s Book of Martyrs [chr].

1539 (5th) Guru Arjan [skh].

1503-1566 Nostradamus.

1554-1558 w.v. Popul Vuh.

1527-1608. Calls of Enoch, by J. Dee.

1600 C.E.

1618-9 Synod of Dordrecht. [chr]

1629 O.T. Apocrypha removed from Protestant Bible.

1674 Westminster Shorter Catechism.

1677 Paradise Lost/Regained by J. Milton.

1678 Pilgrim’s Progress by J. Bunyan.

Janam Sakhis [skh].

Final version of Adi Granth [skh]

1614 Rosicrucian Fama Fraternitatis.

1700 C.E

1789 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

1793 Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason.

Mahanirvana Tantra [bud].

1708 death of last Sikh guru.

1750 Walam Olum.

1800 C.E

1805-1849 Joseph Smith, founder Mormonism.

1817-1892 Baha’u’llah, (Mirza Husayn-‘Ali), founder Baha’i, auth. Kitab-i-Iqan. [bhi]

1819-1850 the Bab (Mirza ‘Ali-Muhammad) [bhi].

1823 Book of Mormon tr. Joseph Smith.

1859 Darwins’ Origin of Species.

1871 Darwins’ Descent of Man.

1891 Baltimore Catechism.

1879-1910 Publication of the Sacred Books of the East by Max Müller, 50 volumes of English translations of primary texts of Eastern religions. [hin][bud][zor][cfu][isl]

1882 Kojiki trans. into English by R.H. Chamberlain.[shi]

1896 The Nihongi trans. into English by W.G. Ashton.[shi]

1802-1884 Elias Lönnrot (auth. Kalevala).

1812-1820 English trans. of Walam Olum.

1835-1849 Kalevala, national epic of Finland, by Lönnrot.

1880 The Book of Oahspe.

1882 Atlantis, the Antediluvian World. by Donnelly.

1885 p.v. Walam Olum (Brinton).

1888 The Secret Doctrine by H.P. Blatavsky.

1890-1922 The Golden Bough by Frazer.

1899 Aradia, Gospel of the Witches, by C. Leland. [wic]

1900 CE.

1909 Darwins’ Voyage of the Beagle.

1934 Declaration of Barmen by K. Barth condems Hitler [chr].

1945 Discovery of Nag Hammadi Scriptures.

1947-56 Discovery of Qumran (Dead sea) scrolls.

1992 Dead Sea Scrolls published on microfiche.

1921 The Witch Cult in Western Europe by M. Murray. [wic]

1922 Last year books unambigiously entered public domain in U.S., per the ‘Digital Millenium’ Copyright Act of 1998.

1933 God of the Witches by M. Murray. [wic]

1948 The White Goddess by R. Graves. [wic]

1949-61 Gardnerian Book of Shadows [wic].

1968 Principia Discordia.

1985 TAZ by Hakim Bey.

80s and early 90s: Internet Book of Shadows.

3/9/1999 After three years of research, goes live.

2000 CE.





Key to Abbreviations

auth. = author.

b. = born

ca. = circa

Can. = Canonicalization

Cent.= century.

Cod. = Codification

comp. = composition.

d. = died

hist.= accepted historical date

o.c= date of original (typically, although not necessarily oral) composition.

Orig. = original

O.T. = Old Testament.

p.v. = printed version

Rev. = Revised.

trad. = traditional date

trans. = translation

w.v. = written version

[bhi] Baha’i

[bud] Buddhism

[tib] Tibetan Buddhism

[chr] Christianity

[cfu] Confucianism

[hin] Hinduism

[isl] Islam

[jai] Jainism

[jud] Judaism

[shi] Shinto

[skh] Sikhism

[tao] Taoism

[wic] Wicca

[zor] Zoroastrianism

[egy] Egypt

[ane] Ancient Near East


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Collection copyright © 1997-2001 J.B. Hare. HTML markup Copyright © 1997-2001 J.B. Hare except where noted. All files at this site named index.htm or index.html are Copyright © 1997-2001 J.B. Hare except where noted. All graphics Copyright © 1997-2001 J.B. Hare, all rights reserved (except where noted).


History Of Writing By Wiki

History of Writing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The history of writing records the development of expressing language by letters or other marks.[1] In the history of how systems of representation of language through graphic means have evolved in different human civilizations, more complete writing systems were preceded by proto-writing, systems of ideographic and/or early mnemonic symbol. True writing, in which the entire content of a linguistic utterance is encoded so that another reader can reconstruct, with a fair degree of accuracy, the exact utterance written down, is a later development, and is distinguished from proto-writing in that the latter typically avoids encoding grammatical words and affixes, making it difficult or impossible to confidently reconstruct the exact meaning intended by the writer unless a great deal of context is already known in advance.

Invention of writing

Writing numbers for record keeping began long before the writing of language. See History of writing ancient numbers for how the writing of numbers began.

It is generally agreed that true writing of language (not only numbers) was invented independently in at least two places: Mesopotamia (specifically, ancient Sumer) around 3200 BC and Mesoamerica around 600 BC. Twelve Mesoamerican scripts are known, the oldest from the Olmec or Zapotec of Mexico.

It is debated whether writing was developed completely independently in Egypt around 3200 BC and China around 1200 BC, or whether the appearance of writing in either or both places was due to cultural diffusion (i.e. the concept of representing language using writing, if not the specifics of how such a system worked, was brought by traders from an already-literate civilization).

Chinese characters are most probably an independent invention, because there is no evidence of contact between China and the literate civilizations of the Near East,[citation needed] and because of the distinct differences between the Mesopotamian and Chinese approaches to logography and phonetic representation. Egyptian script is dissimilar from Mesopotamian cuneiform, but similarities in concepts and in earliest attestation suggest that the idea of writing may have come to Egypt from Mesopotamia.[2] In 1999, Archaeology Magazine reported that the earliest Egyptian glyphs date back to 3400 BCE which “…challenge the commonly held belief that early logographs, pictographic symbols representing a specific place, object, or quantity, first evolved into more complex phonetic symbols in Mesopotamia.”[3]

Similar debate surrounds the Indus script of the Bronze Age Indus Valley civilization in Ancient India 2200 BC, with the additional provisos that the script is still undeciphered and that there is debate over whether the script is true writing at all, or some kind of proto-writing or non-linguistic sign system.

An additional possibility is the undeciphered rongorongo script of Easter Island. However, it is debated whether this system is true writing at all, and if it is, whether it is yet another case of cultural diffusion of writing. The oldest example is from 1851, 139 years after their first contact with Europeans. The most probable explanation is that the script was inspired by Spain’s written annexation proclamation in 1770.[4]

Various other known cases of cultural diffusion of writing exist, where the general concept of writing was transmitted from one culture to another but the specifics of the system were independently developed. Recent examples are the Cherokee syllabary, invented by Sequoyah, and the Pahawh Hmong system for writing the Hmong language.

Writing systems

Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that one must usually understand something of the associated spoken language to comprehend the text. By contrast, other possible symbolic systems such as information signs, painting, maps, and mathematics often do not require prior knowledge of a spoken language. Every human community possesses language, a feature regarded by many as an innate and defining condition of mankind (see Origin of language). However the development of writing systems, and the process by which they have supplanted traditional oral systems of communication has been sporadic, uneven and slow. Once established, writing systems on the whole change more slowly than their spoken counterparts, and often preserve features and expressions which are no longer current in the spoken language. The great benefit of writing systems is their ability to maintain a persistent record of information expressed in a language, which can be retrieved independently of the initial act of formulation.

Recorded history

Scholars make a reasonable distinction between prehistory and history of early writing,[5] but have disagreed concerning when prehistory becomes history and when proto-writing became “true writing”. The definition is largely subjective.[6] Writing, in its most general terms, is a method of recording information and is composed of glyphs [7] (also known as graphemes).

The emergence of writing in a given area is usually followed by several centuries of fragmentary inscriptions. With the presence of coherent texts (from the various writing systems and the systems’ associated literature), historians mark the “historicity” of that culture.[5]

The invention of writing was not a one-time event, but a long evolution preceded by the appearance of symbols, possibly first for cultic purposes. Canadian researchers from the University of Victoria suggest that symbolism was used by cave painters of the Neolithic Age. “…von Petzinger and Nowell were surprised by the clear patterning of the symbols across space and time – some of which remained continually in use for over 20,000 years. The 26 specific signs may provide the first glimmers of proof that a graphic code was being used by these ancient humans shortly after their arrival in Europe from Africa, or they may have even brought this practice with them. If correct, these findings will contribute to the growing body of evidence that the “creative explosion” occurred tens of thousands of years earlier than scholars once thought.”,[8][9]

Developmental stages

A conventional “proto-writing to true writing” system follows a general series of developmental stages:[10]

  • Picture writing system: glyphs directly represent objects and ideas or objective and ideational situations. In connection with this the following substages may be distinguished:
  1. The mnemonic: glyphs primarily a reminder;
  2. The pictographic (pictography): glyphs represent directly an object or an objective situation such as (A) chronological, (B) notices, (C) communications, (D) totems, titles, and names, (E) religious, (F) customs, (G) historical, and (H) biographical;
  3. The ideographic (ideography): glyphs represent directly an idea or an ideational situation.

Transitional system: glyphs refer not only to the object or idea which it represents but to its name as well. Phonetic system: glyphs refer to sounds or spoken symbols irrespective of their meanings. This resolves itself into the following substages:

  1. The verbal: glyph (logogram) represents a whole word;
  2. The syllabic: glyph represent a syllable;
  3. The alphabetic: glyph represent an elementary sound.

The best known picture writing system of ideographic and/or early mnemonic symbols are:

In the Old World, true writing systems developed from neolithic writing in the Early Bronze Age (4th millennium BC). The Sumerian archaic cuneiform script and the Egyptian hieroglyphs are generally considered the earliest true writing systems, both emerging out of their ancestral proto-literate symbol systems from 3400–3200 BC with earliest coherent texts from about 2600 BC.

Literature and writing

Literature and writing, though obviously connected, are not synonymous. The very first writings from ancient Sumer by any reasonable definition do not constitute literature – the same is true of some of the early Egyptian hieroglyphics or the thousands of logs from ancient Chinese regimes. The history of literature begins with the history of writing and the notion of “literature” has different meanings depending on who is using it. Scholars have disagreed concerning when written record-keeping became more like literature than anything else and is largely subjective. It could be applied broadly to mean any symbolic record, encompassing everything from images and sculptures to letters. The oldest literary texts that have come down to us date to a full millennium after the invention of writing, to the late 3rd millennium BC. The earliest literary authors known by name are Ptahhotep and Enheduanna, dating to ca. the 24th and 23rd centuries BC, respectively. In the early literate societies, as much as 600 years passed from the first inscriptions to the first coherent textual sources (ca. 3200 to 2600 BC).

Locations and timeframes



Example of the Jiahu symbols, a writing-like markings, found on tortoise shells were dated around 6000 BC.[12]

The first writing systems of the Early Bronze Age were not a sudden invention. Rather, they were a development based on earlier traditions of symbol systems that cannot be classified as writing proper, but have many characteristics strikingly similar to writing. These systems may be described as proto-writing. They used ideographic and/or early mnemonic symbols to convey information yet were probably devoid of direct linguistic content. These systems emerged in the early Neolithic period, as early as the 7th millennium BC.

The Vinča signs show an evolution of simple symbols beginning in the 7th millennium BCE, gradually increasing in complexity throughout the 6th millennium and culminating in the Tărtăria tablets of ca. 5300 BC[11] with their rows of symbols carefully aligned, evoking the impression of a “text”.

The Dispilio Tablet of the late 6th millennium is similar. The hieroglyphic scripts of the Ancient Near East (Egyptian, Sumerian proto-Cuneiform and Cretan) seamlessly emerge from such symbol systems, so that it is difficult to say at what point precisely writing emerges from proto-writing. Adding to this difficulty is the fact that very little is known about the symbols’ meanings.

In 2003, tortoise shells were found in 24 Neolithic graves excavated at Jiahu, Henan province, northern China, with radiocarbon dates from the 7th millennium BC. According to some archaeologists, the symbols carved on the shells had similarities to the late 2nd millennium BC oracle bone script.[13] Others have dismissed this claim as insufficiently substantiated, claiming that simple geometric designs such as those found on the Jiahu shells cannot be linked to early writing.[14]

Even after the Neolithic, several cultures have gone through a period of using systems of proto-writing as an intermediate stage before the adoption of writing proper. The “Slavic runes” (7th/8th century) mentioned by a few medieval authors may have been such a system. The Quipu of the Incas (15th century), sometimes called “talking knots”, may have been of a similar nature. Another example is the system of pictographs invented by Uyaquk before the development of the Yugtun syllabary (ca. 1900).

Bronze Age writing

Writing emerged in a variety of different cultures in the Bronze age. Examples include the cuneiform writing of the Sumerians, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Chinese logographs, and the Olmec script of Mesoamerica. The Chinese script likely developed independently of the Middle Eastern scripts, around 1600 BC. The pre-Columbian Mesoamerican writing systems (including among others Olmec and Maya scripts) are also generally believed to have had independent origins. It is thought that the first true alphabetic writing was developed around 2000 BC for Semitic workers in the Sinai by giving mostly Egyptian hieratic glyphs Semitic values(see History of the alphabet Proto-Sinaitic alphabet). The Ge’ez writing system of Ethiopia is considered Semitic. It is likely to be of semi-independent origin, having roots in the Meroitic Sudanese ideogram system.[15] Most other alphabets in the world today either descended from this one innovation, many via the Phoenician alphabet, or were directly inspired by its design. In the case of Italy, about 500 years passed from the early Old Italic alphabet to Plautus (750 to 250 BC), and in the case of the Germanic peoples, the corresponding time span is again similar, from the first Elder Futhark inscriptions to early texts like the Abrogans (ca. 200 to 750 CE).

Cuneiform script


Middle Babylonian legal tablet from Alalah in its envelope

The original Sumerian writing system derives from a system of clay tokens used to represent commodities. By the end of the 4th millennium BC, this had evolved into a method of keeping accounts, using a round-shaped stylus impressed into soft clay at different angles for recording numbers. This was gradually augmented with pictographic writing using a sharp stylus to indicate what was being counted. Round-stylus and sharp-stylus writing were gradually replaced around 2700-2500 BC by writing using a wedge-shaped stylus (hence the term cuneiform), at first only for logograms, but developed to include phonetic elements by the 29th century BC. About 2600 BC cuneiform began to represent syllables of the Sumerian language. Finally, cuneiform writing became a general purpose writing system for logograms, syllables, and numbers. From the 26th century BC, this script was adapted to the Akkadian language, and from there to others such as Hurrian, and Hittite. Scripts similar in appearance to this writing system include those for Ugaritic and Old Persian.

Egyptian hieroglyphs

Writing was very important in maintaining the Egyptian empire, and literacy was concentrated among an educated elite of scribes. Only people from certain backgrounds were allowed to train to become scribes, in the service of temple, pharisaic, and military authorities. The hieroglyph system was always difficult to learn, but in later centuries may have been intentionally made even more difficult, as this preserved the scribes’ position.

Various scholars believe that Egyptian hieroglyphs “came into existence a little after Sumerian script, and … probably [were]… invented under the influence of the latter …”,[16] although it is pointed out and held that “the evidence for such direct influence remains flimsy” and that “a very credible argument can also be made for the independent development of writing in Egypt…”[17] (See further Egyptian hieroglyphs).

Elamite scripts

The undeciphered Proto-Elamite script emerges from as early as 3200 BC and evolves into Linear Elamite by the later 3rd millennium, which is then replaced by Elamite Cuneiform adopted from Akkadian.

Indus scripts


Sequence of ten Indus signs discovered near the northern gate of the Indus site Dholavira

The Middle Bronze Age Indus script which dates back to the early Harappan phase of around 3000 BC in ancient north western India and what is now Pakistan, has not yet been deciphered.[18] It is unclear whether it should be considered an example of proto-writing (a system of symbols or similar), or if it is actual writing of the logographic-syllabic type of the other Bronze Age writing systems. Mortimer Wheeler recognises the style of writing as boustrophedon, where “this stability suggests a precarious maturity”.

Anatolian hieroglyphs

Anatolian hieroglyphs are an indigenous hieroglyphic script native to western Anatolia first appearing on Luwian royal seals from the 14th century BC, used to record the Hieroglyphic Luwian language.

Cretan and Greek scripts

Cretan hieroglyphs are found on artifacts of Crete (early-to-mid-2nd millennium BC, MM I to MM III, overlapping with Linear A from MM IIA at the earliest). Linear B, the writing system of the Mycenaean Greeks,[19] has been deciphered while Linear A has yet to be deciphered. The sequence and the geographical spread of the three overlapping, but distinct writing systems can be summarized as follows:[19]

Writing system

Geographical area

Time span[A 1]

Cretan Hieroglyphic


ca. 1625−1500 BC

Linear A

Aegean islands (Kea, Kythera, Melos, Thera), and Greek mainland (Laconia)

ca. 18th century−1450 BC

Linear B

Crete (Knossos), and mainland (Pylos, Mycenae, Thebes, Tiryns)

ca. 1375−1200 BC

Early Semitic alphabets

The first pure alphabets (properly, “abjads“, mapping single symbols to single phonemes, but not necessarily each phoneme to a symbol) emerged around 1800 BC in Ancient Egypt, as a representation of language developed by Semitic workers in Egypt, but by then alphabetic principles had a slight possibility of being inculcated into Egyptian hieroglyphs for upwards of a millennium. These early abjads remained of marginal importance for several centuries, and it is only towards the end of the Bronze Age that the Proto-Sinaitic script splits into the Proto-Canaanite alphabet (ca. 1400 BC) Byblos syllabary and the South Arabian alphabet (ca. 1200 BC). The Proto-Canaanite was probably somehow influenced by the undeciphered Byblos syllabary and in turn inspired the Ugaritic alphabet (ca. 1300 BC).

Chinese writing

In China, historians have learned much about the early Chinese dynasties from the written documents left behind. From the Shang Dynasty most of this writing has survived on bones or on bronze. Markings on turtle shells, or jiaguwen, are attested from the late Shang (1200–1050 BC).[20][21][22] The writings from the Shang Dynasty are the direct ancestor of modern Chinese characters used throughout East Asia.


A stone slab with 3,000-year-old writing was discovered in the Mexican state of Veracruz, and is an example of the oldest script in the Western Hemisphere preceding the oldest Zapotec writing dated to about 500 BC.[23][24][25]

Of several pre-Columbian scripts in Mesoamerica, the one that appears to have been best developed, and fully deciphered, is the Maya script. The earliest inscriptions which are identifiably Maya date to the 3rd century BC, and writing was in continuous use until shortly after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century AD. Maya writing used logograms complemented by a set of syllabic glyphs, somewhat similar in function to modern Japanese writing.

Iron Age writing

The Phoenician alphabet is simply the Proto-Canaanite alphabet as it was continued into the Iron Age (conventionally taken from a cut-off date of 1050 BC). This alphabet gave rise to the Aramaic and Greek, as well as, likely via Greek transmission, to various Anatolian and Old Italic (including the Latin) alphabets in the 8th century BC. The Greek alphabet for the first time introduces vowel signs.[26] The Brahmic family of India originated independently. The Greek and Latin alphabets in the early centuries of the Common Era gave rise to several European scripts such as the Runes and the Gothic and Cyrillic alphabets while the Aramaic alphabet evolved into the Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic abjads and the South Arabian alphabet gave rise to the Ge’ez abugida.

Writing in antiquity


Early Greek alphabet on pottery in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens

In history of the Greek alphabet, the Greeks borrowed the Phoenician alphabet and adapted it to their own language.[27] The letters of the Greek alphabet are the same as those of the Phoenician alphabet, and both alphabets are arranged in the same order.[27] The adapter of the Phoenician system also added three letters to the end of the series, called the “supplementals.” Several varieties of the Greek alphabet developed. One, known as Western Greek or Chalcidian, was used west of Athens and in southern Italy. The other variation, known as Eastern Greek, was used in present-day Turkey and by the Athenians, and eventually the rest of the world that spoke Greek adopted this variation. After first writing right to left, the Greeks eventually chose to write from left to right, unlike the Phoenicians who wrote from right to left. Greek is in turn the source for all the modern scripts of Europe.

A tribe known as the Latins, who became known as the Romans, also lived in the Italian peninsula like the Western Greeks. From the Etruscans, a tribe living in the first millennium BCE in central Italy, and the Western Greeks, the Latins adopted writing in about the 5th century. Previously using their native Anglo-Saxon runes, the Anglo-Saxons began using Roman letters to write Old English as they Christianized from Anglo-Saxon paganism following Augustine of Canterbury’s mission to Britain in the 6th century.

Medieval writing

A “Renaissance” of classical education would appear in Carolingian Empire in the 8th century.

Modern writing

The nature of writing has been constantly evolving, particularly due to the development of new technologies over the centuries. The pen, the printing press, the computer and the mobile phone are all technological developments which have altered what is written, and the medium through which the written word is produced. Particularly with the advent of digital technologies, namely the computer and the mobile phone, characters can be formed by the press of a button, rather than making the physical motion with the hand.

The nature of the written word had evolved over time to make way for an informal, colloquial written style, where an everyday conversation can occur through writing rather than speaking. Written communication can also be delivered with minimal time delay (e-mail, SMS), and in some cases, with an imperceptible time delay (instant messaging). Socially, writing is seen as an authoritative means of communication, from legal documentation, law and the media all produced through the medium. The growth of multimedia literacy can be seen as the first steps toward a postliterate society.

Materials of writing

There is no very definite statement as to the material which was in most common use for the purposes of writing at start of the early writing systems.[28] In all ages it has been customary to engrave on stone or metal, or other durable material, with the view of securing the permanency of the record; and accordingly, in the very commencement of the national history of Israel, it is read of the two tables of the law written in stone, and of a subsequent writing of the law on stone. In the latter case there is this peculiarity, that plaster (sic, lime or gypsum) was used along with stone, a combination of materials which is illustrated by comparison of the practice of the Egyptian engravers, who, having first carefully smoothed the stone, filled up the faulty places with gypsum or cement, in order to obtain a perfectly uniform surface on which to execute their engravings.[28] Metals, such as stamped coins, are mentioned as a material of writing; they include lead,[29] brass, and gold. To the engraving of gems there is reference also, such as with seals or signets.[28]

The common materials of writing were the tablet and the roll, the former probably having a Chaldean origin, the latter an Egyptian. The tablets of the Chaldeans are among the most remarkable of their remains. There are small pieces of clay, somewhat rudely shaped into a form resembling a pillow, and thickly inscribed with cuneiform characters.[30] Similar use has been seen in hollow cylinders, or prisms of six or eight sides, formed of fine terra cotta, sometimes glazed, on which the characters were traced with a small stylus, in some specimens so minutely as to be capable of decipherment only with the aid of a magnifying-glass.[28]

In Egypt the principal writing material was quite of a different sort. Wooden tablets are indeed found pictured on the monuments; but the material which was in common use, even from very ancient times, was the papyrus. This reed, found chiefly in Lower Egypt, had various economic means for writing, the pith was taken out, and divided by a pointed instrument into the thin pieces of which it is composed; it was then flattened by pressure, and the strips glued together, other strips being placed at right angles to them, so that a roll of any length might be manufactured. Writing seems to have become more widespread with the invention of papyrus in Egypt. That this material was in use in Egypt from a very early period is evidenced by still existing papyrus of the earliest Theban dynasties. As the papyrus, being in great demand, and exported to all parts of the world, became very costly, other materials were often used instead of it, among which is mentioned leather, a few leather mills of an early period having been found in the tombs.[28] Parchment, using sheepskins left after the wool was removed for cloth, was sometimes cheaper than papyrus, which had to be imported outside Egypt. With the invention of wood-pulp paper, the cost of writing material began a steady decline.


1.       ^ Peter T. Daniels, “The Study of Writing Systems”, in The World’s Writing Systems, ed. Bright and Daniels, p.3

2.       ^ Peter T. Daniels, “The First Civilizations”, in The World’s Writing Systems, ed. Bright and Daniels, p.24

3.       ^ Mitchell, Larkin. “Earliest Egyptian Glyphs”. Archaeology. Archaeological Institute of America. Retrieved 29 February 2012.

4.       ^ Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel, page 231

5.       ^ a b Shotwell, James Thomson. An Introduction to the History of History. Records of civilization, sources and studies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1922.

6.       ^ Smail, Daniel Lord. On Deep History and the Brain. An Ahmanson foundation book in the humanities. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

7.       ^ Bricker, Victoria Reifler, and Patricia A. Andrews. Epigraphy. Supplement to the Handbook of Middle American Indians, v. 5. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.

8.       ^ New Analysis Of “Cave Signs” Shows Prehistoric Language Use

9.       ^ [Geometric Signs – A New Understanding]

10.    ^ Smith (1922).

11.    ^ a b Haarmann, Harald: “Geschichte der Schrift”, C.H. Beck, 2002, ISBN 3-406-47998-7, p. 20

12.    ^ Helen R. Pilcher ‘Earliest handwriting found? Chinese relics hint at Neolithic rituals’, Nature (30 April 2003), doi:10.1038/news030428-7 “Symbols carved into tortoise shells more than 8,000 years ago […] unearthed at a mass-burial site at Jiahu in the Henan Province of western China”. Li, X., Harbottle, G., Zhang, J. & Wang, C. ‘The earliest writing? Sign use in the seventh millennium BC at Jiahu, Henan Province, China’. Antiquity, 77, 31 – 44, (2003).

13.    ^ “Archaeologists Rewrite History”. China Daily. 12 June 2003. .

14.    ^ Houston, Stephen D. (2004). The First Writing: Script Invention as History and Process. Cambridge University Press. pp. 245–6. ISBN 978-0-521-83861-0.

15.    ^ “Meroitic Writing System”. 2004-04-04. Retrieved 2010-01-31.

16.    ^ Geoffrey Sampson, Writing Systems: a Linguistic Introduction, Stanford University Press, 1990, p. 78.

17.    ^ Simson Najovits, Egypt, Trunk of the Tree: A Modern Survey of an Ancient Land, Algora Publishing, 2004, pp. 55–56.

18.    ^ Whitehouse, David (1999) ‘Earliest writing’ found BBC

19.    ^ a b Olivier 1986, pp. 377f.

20.    ^ William G. Boltz, Early Chinese Writing, World Archaeology, Vol. 17, No. 3, Early Writing Systems. (Feb., 1986), pp. 420–436 (436).

21.    ^ David N. Keightley, “Art, Ancestors, and the Origins of Writing in China”, Representations, No. 56, Special Issue: The New Erudition. (Autumn, 1996), pp.68–95 (68).

22.    ^ John DeFrancis: Visible Speech. The Diverse Oneness of Writing Systems: Chinese

23.    ^ “Writing May Be Oldest in Western Hemisphere.”. New York Times. 2006-09-15. Retrieved 2008-03-30. “A stone slab bearing 3,000-year-old writing previously unknown to scholars has been found in the Mexican state of Veracruz, and archaeologists say it is an example of the oldest script ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere.”

24.    ^ “‘Oldest’ New World writing found”. BBC. 2006-09-14. Retrieved 2008-03-30. “Ancient civilisations in Mexico developed a writing system as early as 900 BC, new evidence suggests.”

25.    ^ “Oldest Writing in the New World”. Science. Retrieved 2008-03-30. “A block with a hitherto unknown system of writing has been found in the Olmec heartland of Veracruz, Mexico. Stylistic and other dating of the block places it in the early first millennium before the common era, the oldest writing in the New World, with features that firmly assign this pivotal development to the Olmec civilization of Mesoamerica.”

26.    ^ Millard 1986, p. 396

27.    ^ a b McCarter, P. Kyle. “The Early Diffusion of the Alphabet”, The Biblical Archaeologist 37, No. 3 (Sep., 1974): 54-68. page 62.

28.    ^ a b c d e McClintock, J., & Strong, J. (1885). Cyclopedia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature: Supplement. New York: Harper. Pages 990–997.

29.    ^ though whether to writing on lead, or filling up the hollow of the letters with lead, is not certain.

30.    ^ These documents have been in general enveloped, after they were baked, in a cover of moist clay, upon which their contents have been again inscribed, so as to present externally a duplicate of the writing within; and the tablet in its cover has then been baked afresh. The same material was largely used by the Assyrians, and many of their clay tablets still remain. They are of various sizes, ranging from nine inches long by six and a half wide, to an inch and a half by an inch wide, and even less. Some thousands of these have been recovered; many are historical, some linguistic, some geographical, some astronomical.


  1. ^ Beginning date refers to first attestations, the assumed origins of all scripts lie further back in the past.


Jewish Religious Texts


Ten CommandmentsThe importance of Judaism’s sacred texts extends far beyond their religious significance. These ancient documents embody not only Judaism’s religious precepts, but also the historical, cultural and social heritage of the Jewish people. In Israel, where attitudes towards tradition range from the ultra-orthodox to the secular, sacred texts carry a variety of meanings – from a spiritual, moral and practical guide to everyday life, to a historical and cultural wealth which is critically examined and studied.

The stories, ideas and philosophies of the sacred texts, encompassing millennia of Jewish study and thought, are evident in much of Israel’s modern culture, which draws on the legacies of the past even as it gives voice to the issues and concerns of the present.

Jewish Philosophy

The following is a basic, structured list of the central works of Jewish practice and thought.

Rabbinical Judaism

Ø  The Torah (teachings)

o    What Is the Torah?

o    Weekly Torah readings

o    Torah Database

Ø  Nevi’im (prophets)

Ø  Ketuvim (writings)

Ø  Tanakh (Hebrew Bible)

Ø  Shema Yisrael

Ø  Zohar

Ø  Rabbinic literature

·        Mesorah

·        Targum

·        Jewish Biblical exegesis (also see Midrash below)

Works of the Talmudic Era (Classic Rabbinic Literature)

Ø Mishnah (the “Oral Torah“)

Ø Tosefta

Ø Gemara

Ø Talmud:

o   The Babylonian Talmud and commentaries

o   Jerusalem Talmud and commentaries


Ø Halakhic Midrash

Ø Aggadic Midrash

Halakhic literature (Halakha)

Ø Mishneh Torah

o   Arba’ah Turim

o   Shulchan Aruch

Ø Responsa literature

Jewish Thought and Ethics

Ø Jewish philosophy

Ø Kabbalah

Ø Hasidic works

Ø Musar literature

Ø Jewish ethics


Jewish liturgy

Piyyut (Classical Jewish poetry)


ü  The Bible, the Qur’an and Science “La Bible, le Coran et la Science”

The Holy Scriptures Examined in The Light Of Modern Knowledge, By Dr. Maurice Bucaille


30-General Conclusions To The Book

General Conclusions

At the end of this study, a fact that stands forth very clearly is that the predominant opinion held in the West on the texts of the Holy Scriptures we possess today is hardly very realistic. We have seen the conditions, times and ways in which the elements constituting the Old Testament, the Gospels and the Qur’an were collected and written down: the circumstances attendant upon the birth of the Scriptures for these three Revelations differed widely in each case, a fact which had extremely important consequences concerning the authenticity of the texts and certain aspects of their contents.

The Old Testament represents a vast number of literary works written over a period of roughly nine hundred years. It forms a highly disparate mosaic whose pieces have, in the course of centuries, been changed by man. Some parts were added to what already existed, so that today it is sometimes very difficult indeed to identify where they came from originally.

Through an account of Jesus’s words and deeds, the Gospels were intended to make known to men the teachings he wished to leave them on completion of his earthly mission. Unfortunately, the authors of the Gospels were not eyewitnesses of the data they recorded. They were spokesmen who expressed data that were quite simply the information that had been preserved by the various Judeo-Christian communities on Jesus’s public life, passed down by oral traditions or writings which no longer exist today, and which constituted an intermediate stage between the oral tradition and the definitive texts.

This is the light in which the Judeo-Christian Scriptures should be viewed today, and to be objective-one should abandon the classic concepts held by experts in exegesis.

The inevitable result of the multiplicity of sources is the existence of contradictions and oppositions: many examples have been given of these. The authors of the Gospels had (when talking of Jesus) the same tendency to magnify certain facts as the poets of French Medieval literature in their narrative poems. The consequence of this was that events were presented from each individual narrator’s point of view and the authenticity of the facts reported in many cases proved to be extremely dubious. In view of this, the few statements contained in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures which may have something to do with modern knowledge should always be examined with the circumspection that the questionable nature of their authenticity demands.

Contradictions, improbabilities and incompatibilities with modern scientific data may be easily explained in terms of what has just been said above. Christians are nevertheless very surprised when they realize this, so great have been the continuous and far-reaching efforts made until now by many official commentators to camouflage the very obvious results of modern studies, under cunning dialectical acrobatics orchestrated by apologetic lyricism. A case in point are the genealogies of Jesus given in Matthew and Luke, which were contradictory and scientifically unacceptable. Examples have been provided which reveal this attitude very clearly. John’s Gospel has been given special attention because there are very important differences between it and the other three Gospels, especially with regard to the fact that his Gospel does not describe the institution of the Eucharist: this is not generally known.

The Qur’anic Revelation has a history which is fundamentally different from the other two. It spanned a period of some twenty years and, as soon as it was transmitted to Muhammad by Archangel Gabriel, Believers learned it by heart. It. was also written down during Muhammad’s life. The last recensions of the Qur’an were effected under Caliph Uthman starting some twelve years after the Prophet’s death and finishing twenty-four years after it. They had the advantage of being checked by people who already knew the text by heart, for they had learned it at the time of the Revelation itself and had subsequently recited it constantly. Since then, we know that the text has been scrupulously preserved. It does not give rise to any problems of authenticity.

The Qur’an follows on from the two Revelations that preceded it and is not only free from contradictions in its narrations, the sign of the various human manipulations to be found in the Gospels, but provides a quality all of its own for those who examine it objectively and in the light of science i.e. its complete agreement with modern scientific data. What is more, statements are to be found in it (as has been shown) that are connected with science: and yet it is unthinkable that a man of Muhammad’s time could have been the author of them. Modern scientific knowledge therefore allows us to understand certain verses of the Qur’an which, until now, it has been impossible to interpret.

The comparison of several Biblical and Qur’anic narrations of the same subject shows the existence of fundamental differences between statements in the former, which are scientifically unacceptable, and declarations in the latter which are in perfect agreement with modern data: this was the case of the Creation and the Flood, for example. An extremely important complement to the Bible was found in the text of the Qur’an on the subject of the history of the Exodus, where the two texts were very much in agreement with archaeological findings, in the dating of the time of Moses. Besides, there are major differences between the Qur’an and the Bible on the other subjects: they serve to disprove all that has been maintained-without a scrap of evidence-concerning the allegation that Muhammad is supposed to have copied the Bible to produce the text of the Qur’an.

When a comparative study is made between the statements connected with science to be found in the collection of hadiths, which are attributed to Muhammad but are often of dubious authenticity (although they reflect the beliefs of the period), and the data of a similar kind in the Qur’an, the disparity becomes so obvious that any notion of a common origin is ruled out.

In view of the level of knowledge in Muhammad’s day, it is inconceivable that many of the statements In the Qur’an which are connected with science could have been the work of a man. It is, moreover, perfectly legitimate, not only to regard the Qur’an as the expression of a Revelation, but also to award it a very special place, on account of the guarantee of authenticity it provides and the presence in it of scientific statements which, when studied today, appear as a challenge to explanation in human terms.

28-The Exodus

The Exodus

With the Exodus from Egypt of Moses and his followers, (the first stage of their move to Canaan), we come to an event of great importance. It is an established historical event which appears in a known context, in spite of occasional allegations one finds which tend to attribute to it a largely legendary character.

In the Old Testament, the Exodus forms the second book of the Pentateuch or Torah, along with a narration of the journey through the wilderness and the alliance (covenant) concluded with God on Mount Sinai. It is natural for the Qur’an to devote a great deal of space to it too: an account of the dealings Moses and his brother Aaron had with the Pharaoh and of the exit from Egypt is found in more than ten Suras containing long descriptions, e.g. Suras, 7, 10, 20 and 26, along with more abridged versions and even simple reminders. The name of Pharaoh, the main character on the Egyptian side, is repeated (to the best of my knowledge) seventy-four times in the Qur’an in 27 Suras.

A study of both the Qur’anic and Biblical narrations is especially interesting here because, in contrast to what has been noted in the case of the Flood (for example), in the main, the two narrations have many points in common. There are certainly divergences, but the Biblical narration has considerable historical value, as we shall see. This is because it helps to identify the Pharaoh, or rather the two pharaohs in question. This hypothesis, which starts with the Bible, is complemented by the information contained in the Qur’an. Modern data are added to these two Scriptural sources and it is thus possible, through a confrontation between the Bible, the Qur’an and today’s knowledge, to situate this episode from the Holy Scriptures in a historical context.

The Exodus According to the Bible

The Biblical narration begins with a reminder of the Jews’ entry into Egypt with Jacob, who joined Joseph there. Later on, according to Exodus 1, 8: “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” The period of oppression followed; the Pharaoh ordered the Jews to build the cities of Pithom and Ramesses (to use the names given to them in the Bible) (Exodus I, 11). To avoid a population explosion among the Hebrews, Pharaoh ordered each new-born son to be thrown into the river. Moses was nevertheless preserved by his mother for the first three months of his life before she finally decided to put him in a rush basket on the river’s edge. The Pharaoh’s daughter discovered him, rescued him and gave him to a nurse, none other than his own mother. This was because Moses’s sister had watched to see who would find the baby, had pretended not to recognize him and then recommended to the Princess a nurse who was really the child’s mother. He was treated as one of the Pharaoh’s sons and given the name ‘Moses’.

As a young man, Moses left for a country called Midian where he married and lived for a long time. We read an important detail in Exodus 2, 23: “In the course of those many days the king of Egypt died.” God ordered Moses to go and find the Pharaoh and lead his brothers out of Egypt (the description of this order is given in the episode of the Burning Bush). Aaron, Moses’s brother, helped him in this task. This is why Moses, once he had returned to Egypt, went with his brother to visit the Pharaoh who was the successor of the king under whose reign he had long ago been born.

The Pharaoh refused to allow the Jews in Moses’s group to leave Egypt. God revealed Himself to Moses once again and ordered him to repeat his request to Pharaoh. According to the Bible, Moses was eighty years old at this time. Through magic, Moses showed the Pharaoh that he had supernatural powers. This was not enough however. God sent the famous plagues down upon Egypt. The rivers were changed into blood, there were invasions of frogs, gnats and swarms of flies, the cattle died, boils appeared on men and animals, there was hail and plagues of locusts, darkness and the death of the first-born. Nevertheless, the Pharaoh still did not allow the Hebrews to leave.

They therefore broke out of the city of Rameses, 600,000 of them[82] “besides women and children” (Exodus 12, 37). At this point Pharaoh “made ready his chariot and took his army .With him, and took six hundred picked charioteers and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them . . . Pharaoh, king of Egypt, pursued the people of Israel as they went forth defiantly.” (Exodus 14, 6 and 8). The Egyptians caught up with Moses’s party beside the sea. Moses raised his staff, the sea parted before him and his followers walked across it without wetting their feet. “The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.” (Exodus 14, 23) “The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not so much as one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.” (Exodus 14, 28-29).

The text of Exodus is quite clear: Pharaoh was at the head of the pursuers. He perished because the text of Exodus notes that “not so much as one of them remained.” The Bible repeats this detail moreover in the Psalms: Psalm 106, verse 11 and Psalm 136 verses 13 and 15 which are an act of thanks to God “Who divided the sea of Rushes[83] in sunder . . . and made Israel pass through the midst of it . . . but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the sea of Rushes.” There can be no doubt therefore, that according to the Bible, the Pharaoh of the Exodus perished in the sea. The Bible does not record what became of his body.

The Exodus According to the Qur’an

In its broad outlines, the narration of the Exodus contained in the Qur’an is similar to that of the Bible. It has to be reconstituted, however, because it is made up of passages dispersed throughout the Book. The Qur’an does not provide a name which enables us to identify who the reigning Pharaoh was at the time of Exodus, any more than the Bible does. All that is known is that one of his counsellors was called Haman. He is referred to six times in the Qur’an (Sura 28, verses 6, 8 and 38, Sura 29, verse 39 and Sura 40, verses 24 and 36).

The Pharaoh is the Jews’ oppressor:

Sura 14, verse 6:

“When Moses said to his people: Remember the favor of God to you when He delivered you from Pharaoh’s folk who imposed upon you a dreadful torment, slaughtered your sons and spared your women.” The oppression is recalled in the same terms in verse 141, Sura 7. The Qur’an does not however mention the names of the cities built by the Jews in subjection, as does the Bible.

The episode where Moses is left by the riverside is recorded in Sura 20 verses 39-40 and Sura 28, verses 7 to 13. In the version contained in the Qur’an, Moses is taken in by Pharaoh’s family. We find this in verses 8 and 9, Sura 28: “The family of Pharaoh took him up. (It was intended) that (Moses) should be to them an adversary and a cause of sorrow. Pharaoh, Haman and their hosts were sinners. Pharaoh’s wife said: (He will be) a joy to the eye for me and you. Don’t kill him. He may be of use to us or we may take him as a son. They did not sense (what was to come).”

Muslim tradition has it that it was Pharaoh’s wife Asiya who took care of Moses. In the Qur’an, it was not the Pharaoh’s wife who found him, but members of his household.

Moses’s youth, his stay in Midian and marriage are described in Sura 28, verses 13 to 28. In particular, the episode of the Burning Bush is found in the first part of Sura 20, and in Sura 28, verses 30 to 35.

The Qur’an does not describe the ten plagues sent down upon Egypt as a divine chastisement (unlike the long description in the Bible), but simply mentions five plagues very briefly (Sura 7, verse 133): flooding, locusts, lice, frogs, and blood.

The flight from Egypt is described in the Qur’an, but without any of the geographical data given in the Bible, nor the incredible numbers of people mentioned in the latter. It is difficult to imagine how 600,000 men plus their families could have stayed in the desert for a long time, as the Bible would have us believe.

This is how the death of Pharaoh pursuing the Hebrews is described: Sura 20, verse 78:

“Pharaoh pursued them with his hosts and the sea covered them.”

The Jews escaped. Pharaoh perished, but his body was found: a very important detail not mentioned in the Biblical narration.

Sura 10, verses 90 to 92. God is speaking:

“We took the Children of Israel across the sea. Pharaoh with his hosts pursued them in rebellion and hostility till, when the fact of his drowning overtook him, he said: I believe there is no God except the God in whom the Children of Israel believe. I am of those who submit themselves to Him. “God said: ‘What? Now !. Thou has rebelled and caused depravity. This day We save thee in thy body so that thou mayest be a sign for those who come after thee.’ But verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our signs.”

This passage requires two points to be explained:

a) The spirit of rebellion and hostility referred to is to be understood in terms of Moses’s attempt to persuade the Pharaoh.

b) The rescue of the Pharaoh refers to his corpse because it is stated quite clearly in verse 98, Sura 11, that Pharaoh and his followers have been condemned to damnation:

Sura 11, verse 98

“Pharaoh will go before his people on the Day of Resurrection and will lead them to the fire.”

For those facts which can be checked with historical, geographical and archaeological data therefore, it should be noted that the Qur’anic and Biblical narrations differ on the following points:

–The absence in the Qur’an of place names, both of the cities built by the Hebrews in

Moses’s group, and on the route taken by the Exodus.

–The absence of any reference to the death of a Pharaoh during Moses’s stay in Midian.

–The absence in the Qur’an of details concerning Moses’s age when he addressed his request to the Pharaoh.

–The absence in the Qur’an of the numbering of Moses’s followers. These figures are openly exaggerated in the Bible to incredible proportions (said to have been 600,000 men plus their families forming a community of more than two million inhabitants.)

–The absence of any mention in the Bible of the rescue of the Pharaoh’s body after his death. For our present purposes, the points to be noted because they are shared by both narrations are as follows:

–The confirmation contained in the Qur’an of Pharaoh’s oppression of the Jews in

Moses’s group.

–The absence from both narrations of any mention of the King of Egypt’s name.

–The confirmation contained in the Qur’an of the Pharaoh’s death during the Exodus.

Confrontation between Scriptural Data and Modern Knowledge

The narrations contained in the Bible and the Qur’an on the time spent by the sons of Israel in Egypt, and the way they left, give rise to data which may constitute matter for a confrontation with modern knowledge. In fact, the balance is very uneven because some data pose many problems while others hardly provide subject for discussion.

1. Examination of Certain Details Contained in the Narrations the Hebrews in Egypt

It is, apparently, quite possible to say (and without running much risk of being wrong) that the Hebrews remained in Egypt for 400 or 430 years, according to the Bible (Genesis 15, 13 and Exodus 12, 40). In spite of this discrepancy between Genesis and Exodus, which is of minor importance, the period may be said to have begun long after Abraham, when Joseph, son of Jacob, moved with his brothers to Egypt. With the exception of the Bible, which gives the data just quoted, and the Qur’an which refers to the move to Egypt, but does not give any indication as to the dates involved, we do not possess any other document which is able to illuminate us on this point.

Present-day commentators, ranging from P. Montet to Daniel Rops, think that, in all probability, the arrival of Joseph and his brothers coincided with the movement of the Hyksos towards Egypt in the Seventeenth century B.C. and that a Hyksos sovereign probably received them hospitably at Avaris in the Nile Delta.

There can be no doubt that this guess is in obvious contradiction to what is contained in the Bible (Kings I, 6, 1) which puts the Exodus from Egypt at 480 years before the construction of Solomon’s Temple (circa 971 B.C.). This estimation would therefore put the Exodus at roughly 1450 B.C. and would consequently situate the entry into Egypt at circa

1880-1850 B.C. This is precisely the time, however, that Abraham is supposed to have lived, and other data contained in the Bible tell us that there were 250 years separating him from Joseph. This passage from Kings I in the Bible is therefore unacceptable from a chronological point of view.[84] We shall see how the theory put forward here has only this objection, taken from Kings I, to be leveled against it. The very obvious inaccuracy of these chronological data effectively deprives this objection of any value.

Aside from the Holy Scriptures, the traces left by the Hebrews of their stay in Egypt are very faint. There are however several hieroglyphic documents which refer to the existence in Egypt of a category of workers called the ‘Apiru, Hapiru or Habiru, who have been identified (rightly or wrongly) with the Hebrews. In this category were construction workers, agricultural labourers, harvesters, etc. But where did they come from? It is very difficult to find an answer to this. Father de Vaux has written the following about them: “They are not members of the local population, they do not identify themselves with a class in society, they do not all share the same occupation or status.”

Under Tuthmosis III, they are referred to in a papyrus as ‘workers in the stables’. It is known how Amenophis II, in the Fifteenth century B.C., brought in 3,600 of these people as prisoners from Canaan, because, as Father. de Vaux notes, they constituted a considerable percentage of the Syrio-Palestinian population. Under Sethos I, in circa 1300 B.C., the ‘Apiru created considerable disturbances in the Beth-Shean region of Canaan, and under Ramesses II some of them were employed in the quarries or for transporting piles used in the works of the Pharaoh (e.g. the Great Pylon of Ramesses Miamon). We know from the Bible that the Hebrews, under Ramesses II, were to build the northern capital, the City of Ramesses. In Egyptian writings the ‘Apiru are mentioned once again in the Twelfth century B.C. and for the last time under Ramesses III.

The ‘Apiru are not just mentioned in Egypt however, so did the term therefore apply solely to the Hebrews? It is perhaps wise to recall that the word could initially have been used to signify ‘forced labourers’, without regard to their origins, and that it subsequently became an adjective indicating a person’s profession. We might perhaps draw an analogy with the word ‘suisse’ (Swiss) which has several different meanings in French. It can mean an inhabitant of Switzerland, a mercenary soldier of the old French monarchy who was of Swiss extraction, a Vatican guard, or an employee of a Christian church . . .

However, this may be, under Ramesses II, the Hebrews (according to the Bible) or the ‘Apiru (according to the hieroglyphic texts) took part in the great works ordered by the Pharaoh, which were indeed ‘forced labour’. There can be no doubt that Ramesses II was the Jews’ oppressor: the cities of Ramesses and Pithom, mentioned in Exodus, are situated at the eastern part of the Nile Delta. Today’s Tanis and Qantir, which are roughly 15 miles apart, are in the same region as these two cities. The northern capital constructed by Ramesses II was situated there. Ramesses II is the Pharaoh of the oppression.

Moses was to be born in this environment. The circumstances pertaining to his rescue from the waters of the river have al- ready been outlined above. He has an Egyptian name: P. Montet has clearly shown in his book Egypt and the Bible (L’Egypte et la Bible)[85] that the names Mesw or Mesy are on the list of personal names in the dictionary of the hieroglyphic language by Ranke. Musa is the transliteration used in the Qur’an.

The Plagues of Egypt

Under this title the Bible refers to ten punishments inflicted by God, and provides many details concerning each of these ‘plagues’. Many have supernatural dimensions or characteristics. The Qur’an only lists five plagues, which, for the most part, are merely an exaggeration of natural phenomena: flooding, locusts, lice, frogs and blood.

The rapid multiplication of locusts and frogs is described in the Bible. It speaks of river water changed to blood which floods all the land (sic); the Qur’an refers to blood, but without giving any complementary details. It is possible to invent all kinds of hypotheses on the subject of this reference to blood.

The other plagues described in the Bible (gnats, swarms of flies, boils, hail, darkness, death of the first-born and of cattle) have various origins, as was the case of the Flood, and are constituted by the juxtaposition of passages from many different sources.

The Route Taken by the Exodus

No indication of this is given in the Qur’an, whereas the Bible refers to it in great detail. Father de Vaux and P. Montet have both reopened studies into it. The starting point was probably the Tanis-Qantir region, but no traces have been found of the rest of the route taken which could confirm the Biblical narration; nor is it possible to say at exactly what point the waters parted to allow the passage of Moses and his followers.

The Miraculous Parting of the Waters

Some commentators have imagined a tide-race, due perhaps to astronomic causes or seismic conditions connected to the distant eruption of a volcano. The Hebrews could have taken advantage of the receding sea, and the Egyptians, following in hot pursuit, could have been wiped out by the returning tide. All this is pure hypothesis however.

2. The Point Occupied by the Exodus in the History of the Pharaohs

It is possible to arrive at much more positive evidence in the case of the point the Exodus occupies in time.

For a very long time Merneptah, the successor to Ramesses II, was held to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Maspero, the famous Egyptologist of the beginning of this century did, after all, write in his Visitor’s Guide to the Cairo Museum (Guide du visiteur du Musée du Caire), 1900, that Merneptah “was probably, according to the Alexandrian tradition, the Pharaoh of the Exodus who is said to have perished in the Red Sea.” I have been unable to find the documents on which Maspero based this assertion, but the eminence of this commentator requires us to attach the greatest importance to what he claims.

Apart from P. Montet, there are very few Egyptologists or specialists in Biblical exegesis who have researched into the arguments for or against this hypothesis. In the last few decades however, there has been a spate of different hypotheses which seem to have as their sole purpose the justification of an agreement with one single detail in the Scriptural narrations, although the inventors of these hypotheses do not bother with the other aspects of the Scriptures. Thus it is possible for a hypothesis to suddenly appear which seems to agree with one aspect of a narration, although its inventor has not taken the trouble to compare it with all the other data contained in the Scriptures (and consequently not just with the Bible), plus all the data provided by history, archaeology, etc.

One of the strangest hypotheses yet to come to light is by J. de Miceli (1960) who claims to have pinpointed the date of the Exodus to within one day, i.e. the 9th of April, 1495 B.C. He relies for his information entirely on calculations made from calendars and claims that Tuthmosis II was reigning in Egypt at that time, and was therefore the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The confirmation of the hypothesis is supposed to reside in the fact that lesions of the skin are to be observed on the mummy of Tuthmosis II. This commentator informs us (without explaining why) that they are due to leprosy, and that one of the plagues of Egypt described in the Bible consisted in skin boils. This staggering construction takes no account of the other facts contained in the Biblical narration, especially the Bible’s mention of the City of Ramesses which rules out any hypothesis dating the Exodus before a ‘Ramesses’ had reigned.

As to the skin lesions of Tuthmosis II, these do not swing the argument in favour of the theory which designates this King of Egypt as the Pharaoh of the Exodus. This is because his son, Tuthmosis III, and his grandson Amenophis II also show signs of skin tumors[86], so that some commentators have suggested the hypothesis of a disease which ran in the family. The Tuthmosis II theory is not therefore tenable.

The same is true for Daniel-Rops’s theory in his book. The People of the Bible (Le Peuple de la Bible)[87]. He ascribes the role of the Pharaoh of the Exodus to Amenophis II. It does not seem to be any better-founded than the preceding hypothesis. Using the pretext that Amenophis II’s father (Tuthmosis III) was very nationalistic, Daniel-Rops proclaims Amenophis II the persecutor of the Hebrews, while his step-mother, the famous Queen Hatshepsut, is cast in the role of the person who took Moses in (although we never discover why).

Father de Vaux’s theory, that it was Ramesses II, rests on slightly more solid foundations. He expands on them in his book, The Ancient History of Israel (Histoire ancienne d’Israël)[88]. Even if his theory does not agree with the Biblical narration on every point, at least it has the advantage of putting forward one very important piece of evidence: the construction of the cities of Ramesses and Pithom built under Ramesses II referred to in the Biblical text. It is not possible therefore to maintain that the Exodus took place before the accession of Ramesses II. This is situated in the year 1301 B.C., according to Drioton and Vandier’s chronology, and in 1290 B.C. according to Rowton’s. The two other hypotheses outlined above are untenable because of the following imperative fact: Ramesses II is the Pharaoh of the oppression referred to in the Bible.

Father de Vaux considers the Exodus to have taken place during the first half or towards the middle of Ramesses II’s reign. Thus his dating of this event is imprecise: he suggests this period to allow Moses and his followers time, as it were, to settle in Canaan, and Ramesses II’s successor, Pharaoh Mernaptah who is said to have pacified the frontiers after his father’s death, to bring the Children of Israel into line, as depicted on a stele of the Fifth year of his reign.

Two arguments may be levelled at this theory:

a) The Bible shows (Exodus 2, 23) that the King of Egypt died during the period when Moses was in Midian. This King of Egypt is described in the Book of Exodus as the King who made the Hebrews build the cities of Ramesses and Pithom by forced labour. This King was Ramesses II. The Exodus could only have taken place under the latter’s successor. Father de Vaux claims however to doubt the Biblical sources of verse 23, chapter 2 of Exodus.

b) What is more astounding is that Father de Vaux, as director of the Biblical School of Jerusalem, does not refer in his theory of the Exodus to two essential passages in the Bible, both of which bear witness to the fact that the King died during the pursuit of the fleeing Hebrews. This detail makes it impossible for the Exodus to have taken place at any other time than at the end of a reign.

It must be repeated that there can be little doubt that the Pharaoh lost his life as a result of it. Chapters 13 and 14 of Exodus are quite specific on this point: “So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him . . .” (Exodus 14,6). (Pharaoh king of Egypt) “pursued the people of Israel as they went forth defiantly” (Exodus 14,8). “The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not so much as one of them remained.” (Exodus 14,28 and 29). In addition to these verses, Psalm 136 confirms Pharaoh’s death and refers to Yahweh who “overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Sea of Rushes” (Psalms 136,15).

Thus, during Moses’s lifetime, one Pharaoh died when Moses was in Midian and another during the Exodus. There were not one, but two Pharaohs at the time of Moses: one during the oppression and the other during the Exodus from Egypt. The theory of a single Pharaoh (Ramesses II) put forward by Father de Vaux is unsatisfactory because it does not account for everything. The following observations are further arguments against his theory.

3. Rameses II, Pharaoh of the Oppression Merneptah, Pharaoh of the Exodus

P. Montet has very discerningly resumed the original Alexandrian [89] tradition mentioned by Maspero. It is found much later in the Islamic tradition as well as in the classic Christian tradition.[90] This theory is set out in Montet’s book Egypt and the Bible (L’Egypte et le Bible)[91] and is supported by additional arguments, based in particular on the narrative contained in the Qur’an, to which the famous archaeologist did not refer. Before examining them however, we shall first return to the Bible. The Book of Exodus contains a reference to the word ‘Ramesses’ although the Pharaoh’s name is not mentioned. In the Bible ‘Ramesses’ is the name of one of the cities built by the forced labour of the Hebrews. Today we know that these cities form part of the Tanis-Qantir region, in the eastern Nile Delta. In the area where Ramesses II built his northern capital, there were other constructions prior to his, but it was Ramesses II who made it into an important site, as the archeological excavations undertaken in the last few decades have amply shown. To build it, he used the labour of the enslaved Hebrews.

When one reads the word ‘Ramesses’ in the Bible today, one is not particularly struck by it: the word has become very common to us since Champollion discovered the key to hieroglyphics 150 years ago, by examining the characters that expressed this very word. We are therefore used to reading and pronouncing it today and know what it means. One has to remember however that the meaning of hieroglyphics had been lost in circa the Third century B.C. and that Ramesses’ name had hardly been preserved anywhere except in the Bible and a few books written in Greek and Latin which had deformed it to a lesser or greater extent. It is for this reason that Tacitus in his Annals talks of ‘Rhamsis’. The Bible had however preserved the name intact: it is referred to four times in the Pentateuch or Torah (Genesis 47,11; Exodus 1,11 and 12,37. Numbers 33,3 and 33,5).

The Hebrew word for ‘Ramesses’ is written in two ways in the Bible: ‘Râ(e) mss’ or ‘Râeâmss'[92]. In the Greek version of the Bible, called the Septuagint, it is ‘Râmessê’. In the Latin version (Vulgate) it is written ‘Ramesses’. In the Clementine version of the Bible in French (1st edition, 1621) the word is the same, ‘Ramesses’. The French edition was in circulation at the time of Champollion’s work in this field. In his Summary of the Hièroglyphic System of the Ancient Egyptians (Precis du systeme hiéroglyphique des anciens Egyptiens) (2nd edition, 1828, page 276), Champollion alludes to the Biblical spelling of the word.

Thus the Bible had miraculously preserved Ramesses’s name in its Hebrew, Greek and Latin versions.[93]

The preceding data alone are enough to establish the following:

a) There can be no question of the Exodus before a ‘Ramesses’ had come to the throne in Egypt (11 Kings of Egypt had this name).

b) Moses was born during the reign of the Pharaoh who built the cities of Ramesses and Pithom, i.e. Ramesses II.

c) When Moses was in Midian, the reigning Pharaoh (i.e. Ramesses II) died. The continuation of Moses’s story took place during the reign of Ramesses II’s successor, Merneptah.

What is more, the Bible adds other highly important data which help to situate the Exodus in the history of the Pharaohs. It is the statement that Moses was eighty years old when, under God’s orders, he tried to persuade Pharaoh to free his brothers: “Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh.” (Exodus 7,7). Elsewhere however, the Bible tells us (Exodus 2,23) that the Pharaoh reigning at the time of the birth of Moses died when the latter was in Midian, although the Biblical narration continues without mentioning any change in the sovereign’s name. These two passages in the Bible imply that the total number of years spanning the reigns of the two Pharaohs ruling at the time when Moses was living in Egypt must have been eighty years at least.

It is known that Ramesses II reigned for 67 years (1301-1235 B.C. according to Drioton and Vandier’s chronology, 1290-1224 B.C. according to Rowton). For Merneptah, his successor, the Egyptologists are unable, however, to provide the exact dates of his reign. Nevertheless, it lasted for at least ten years because, as Father de Vaux points out, documents bear witness to the tenth year of his reign. Drioton and Vandier give two possibilities for Merneptah: either a ten-year reign, 1234-1224 B.C., or a twenty-year reign 1224-1204 B.C. Egyptologists have no precise indications whatsoever on how Merneptah’s reign came to an end: all that can be said is that after his death, Egypt went through a period of serious internal upheavals lasting nearly 25 years.

Even though the chronological data on these reigns are not very precise, there was no other period during the New Kingdom concordant with the Biblical narration when two successive reigns (apart from Ramesses II-Merneptah) amounted to or surpassed eighty years. The Biblical data concerning Moses’s age when he undertook the liberation of his brothers can only come from a time during the successive reigns of Ramesses II and Merneptah[94]. All the evidence points towards the fact that Moses was born at the beginning of Ramesses II’s reign, was living in Midian when Ramesses II died after a sixty- seven year reign, and subsequently became the spokesman for the cause of the Hebrews living in Egypt to Merneptah, Ramesses II’s son and successor. This episode may have happened in the second half of Merneptah’s reign, assuming he reigned twenty years or nearly twenty years. Rowton believes the supposition to be quite feasible. Moses would then have led the Exodus at the end of Merneptah’s reign. It could hardly have been otherwise because both the Bible and the Qur’an tell us that Pharaoh perished during the pursuit of the Hebrews leaving the country.

This plan agrees perfectly with the account contained in the Scriptures of Moses’s infancy and of the way he was taken into the Pharaoh’s family. It is a known fact that Ramesses II was very old when he died: it is said that he was ninety to a hundred years old. According to this theory, he would have been twenty three to thirty-three years old at the beginning of his reign which lasted sixty-seven years. He could have been married at that age and there is nothing to contradict the discovery of Moses by ‘a member of Pharaoh’s household’ (according to the Qur’an), or the fact that Pharaoh’s wife asked him if he would keep the newly-born child she had found on the bank of the Nile. The Bible claims that the child was found by Pharaoh’s daughter. In view of Ramesses II’s age at the beginning of his reign it would have been perfectly possible for him to have had a daughter old enough to discover the abandoned child. The Qur’anic and Biblical narrations do not contradict each other in any way on this point.

The theory given here is in absolute agreement with the Qur’an and is moreover at odds with only one single statement in the Bible which occurs (as we have seen) in Kings I 6,1 (N.B. this book is not included in the Torah). This passage is the subject of much debate and Father de Vaux rejects the historical data contained in this part of the Old Testament, which dates the Exodus in relation to the construction of Solomon’s temple. The fact that it is subject to doubt makes it impossible to retain it as a conclusive argument against the theory outlined here.

The Problem of the Stele Dating from the Fifth Year of Merneptah’s Reign

In the text of the famous stele dating from the fifth year of Merneptah’s reign critics think they have found an objection to the theory set out here, in which the pursuit of the Jews constituted the last act of his reign.

The stele is of great interest because it represents the only known document in hieroglyphics which contains the word ‘Israel’.[95] The inscription which dates from the first part of Merneptah’s reign was discovered in Thebes in the Pharaoh’s Funeral Temple. It refers to a series of victories he won over Egypt’s neighbouring states, in particular a victory mentioned at the end of the document over a “devastated Israel which has no more seed . . “ From this fact it has been held that the existence of the word ‘Israel’ implied that the Jews must already have settled in Canaan by the fifth year of Merneptah’s reign, and that in consequence, the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt had already taken place.

This objection does not seem tenable because it implies that there could have been no Jews living in Canaan all the while there were Jews in Egypt-a proposition it is impossible to accept. Father de Vaux however, in spite of the fact that he is a supporter of the theory which makes Ramesses II the Pharaoh of the Exodus, notes [96] the following about the settling of the Jews in Canaan: “In the South, the time when communities related to the Israelites settled in the Kadesh region is unclear and dates from before the Exodus.” He therefore allows for the possibility that certain groups may have left Egypt at a time different from that of Moses and his followers. The ‘Apiru or Habiru who have sometimes been identified with the Israelites were already in Syria-Palestine long before Ramesses II and the Exodus: we have documentary evidence which proves that Amenophis II brought back 8,600 prisoners to work as forced labourers in Egypt. Others were to be found in Canaan under Sethos I where they caused unrest in the Beth-Shean region: P. Montet reminds us of this in his book Egypt and the Bible (L’Egypte et la Bible). It is quite plausible to suppose therefore that Merneptah was obliged to deal severely with these rebellious elements on his borders while inside them were those who were later to rally around Moses to flee the country. The existence of the stele dating from the fifth year of Merneptah’s reign does not in any way detract from the present theory.

Moreover, the fact that the word ‘Israel’ figures in the history of the Jewish people is totally unconnected with the notion that Moses and his followers settled in Canaan.

The origin of the word is as follows:

According to Genesis (32,29), Israel is the second name given to Jacob, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. The commentators of the Ecumenical Translation of the Bible-Old Testament (Traduction oecuménique de la Bible-Ancien Testament), 1975, think that its meaning is probably that ‘God shows Himself in His Strength’. Since it has been given to a single man, it is not surprising that it was given to a community or group of people in memory of a distinguished ancestor.

The name ‘Israel’, therefore appeared well before Moses: several hundred years before to be exact. It is not surprising consequently to see it cited in a stele from the reign of the Pharaoh Merneptah. The fact that it is cited does not at all constitute an argument in favour of a theory which dates the Exodus before the fifth year of Merneptah’s reign.

What it does do is refer to a group which it calls ‘Israel’, but Merneptah’s stele cannot be alluding to a politically established collectivity because the inscription dates from the end of the Thirteenth century B.C. and the Kingdom of Israel was not formed until the Tenth century  B.C.  It  must  therefore  refer  to  a  human  community  of  more  modest proportions.[97]

Nowadays, we know that the entry of ‘Israel’ into history was preceded by a long formatory period of eight or nine centuries. This period was distinguished by the settling of many semi-Nomadic groups, especially the Amorites and the Arameans all over the region. In the same period, Patriarchs began to appear in their communities among whom were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-Israel. The second name of this last Patriarch was used to designate the original group, the nucleus of a future political entity which was to appear long after Merneptah’s reign, since the Kingdom of Israel lasted from 931 or 930 to 721 B.C.

4. The Description Contained in the Holy Scriptures of the Pharaoh’s Death during the Exodus

This event marks a very important point in the narrations contained in the Bible and the Qur’an. It stands forth very clearly in the texts. It is referred to in the Bible, not only in the Pentateuch or Torah, but also in the Psalms: the references have already been given.

It is very strange to find that Christian commentators have completely ignored it. Thus, Father de Vaux maintains the theory that the Exodus from Egypt took place in the first half or the middle of Ramesses II’s reign. His theory takes no account of the fact that the Pharaoh perished during the Exodus, a fact which should make all hypotheses place the event at the end of a reign. In his Ancient History of Israel (Histoire ancienne d’Israël) , the Head of the Biblical School of Jerusalem does not seem to be at all troubled by the contradiction between the theory he maintains and the data contained in the two Books of the Bible: the Torah and Psalms.

In his book, Egypt and the Bible (L’Egypte et la Bible), P. Montet places the Exodus during Merneptah’s reign, but says nothing about the death of the Pharaoh who was at the head of the army following the fleeing Hebrews.

This highly surprising attitude contrasts with the Jews’ outlook: Psalm 136, verse 15 gives thanks to God who “overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Sea of Rushes” and is often recited in their liturgy. They know of the agreement between this verse and the passage in Exodus (14,28-29): “The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not so much as one of them remained.” There is no shadow of a doubt for them that the Pharaoh and his troups were wiped out. These same texts are present in Christian Bibles.

Christian commentators quite deliberately, and in contradiction to all the evidence, brush aside the Pharaoh’s death. What is more however, some of them mention the reference made to it in the Qur’an and encourage their readers to make very strange comparisons. In the translation of the Bible directed by the Biblical School of Jerusalem[98] we find the following commentary on the Pharaoh’s death by Father Couroyer.

“The Koran refers to this (Pharaoh’s death) (Sura 10, verses 90-92), and popular tradition has it that the Pharaoh who was drowned with his army (an event which is not mentioned in the Holy Text[99]) lives beneath the ocean where he rules over the men of the sea, i.e. the seals”.

It is obvious that the uninformed reader of the Qur’an is bound to establish a connection between a statement in it which -for the commentator- contradicts the Biblical text and this absurd legend which comes from a so-called popular tradition mentioned in the commentary after the reference to the Qur’an.

The real meaning of the statement in the Qur’an on this has nothing to do with what this commentator suggests: verses 90 to 92, Sura 10 inform us that the Children of Israel crossed the sea while the Pharaoh and his troops were pursuing them and that it was only when the Pharaoh was about to be drowned that he cried: “I believe there is no God except the God in which the Children of Israel believe. I am of those who submit themselves to Him.” God replied: “What? Now! Thou hast rebelled and caused depravity. This day W e save thee in thy body so that thou mayest be a Sign for those who will come after thee.”

This is all that the Sura contains on the Pharaoh’s death. There is no question of the phantasms recorded by the Biblical commentator either here or anywhere else in the Qur’an. The text of the Qur’an merely states very clearly that the Pharaoh’s body will be saved: that is the important piece of information.

When the Qur’an was transmitted to man by the Prophet, the bodies of all the Pharaohs who are today considered (rightly or wrongly) to have something to do with the Exodus were in their tombs of the Necropolis of Thebes, on the opposite side of the Nile from Luxor. At the time however, absolutely nothing was known of this fact, and it was not until the end of the Nineteenth century that they were discovered there. As the Qur’an states, the body of the Pharaoh of the Exodus was in fact rescued: whichever of the Pharaohs it was, visitors may see him in the Royal Mummies Room of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. The truth is therefore very different from the ludicrous legend that Father Couroyer has attached to the Qur’an.

5. Pharaoh Merneptah’s Mummy

The mummified body of Merneptah, son of Ramesses II and Pharaoh of the Exodusall the evidence points to this-was discovered by Loret in 1898 at Thebes in the Kings’ Valley whence it was transported to Cairo. Elliot Smith removed its wrappings on the 8th of July, 1907: he gives a detailed description of this operation and the examination of the body in his book The Royal Mummies (1912). At that time the mummy was in a satisfactory state of preservation, in spite of deterioration in several parts. Since then, the mummy has been on show to visitors at the Cairo Museum, with his head and neck uncovered and the rest of body concealed under a cloth. It is so well hidden indeed, that until very recently, the only general photographs of the mummy that the Museum possessed were those taken by E. Smith in 1912.

In June 1975, the Egyptian high authorities very kindly allowed me to examine the parts of the Pharaoh’s body that had been covered until then. They also allowed me to take photographs. When the mummy’s present state was compared to the condition it was in over sixty years ago, it was abundantly clear that it had deteriorated and fragments had disappeared. The mummified tissues had suffered greatly, at the hand of man in some places and through the passage of time in others.

This natural deterioration is easily explained by the changes in the conditions of conservation from the time in the late Nineteenth century when it was discovered. Its discovery took place in the tomb of the Necropolis of Thebes where the mummy had lain for over three thousand years. Today, the mummy is displayed in a simple glass case which does not afford hermetic insulation from the outside, nor does it offer protection from pollution by micro-organisms. The mummy is exposed to fluctuations in temperature and seasonal changes in humidity: it is very far from the conditions which enabled it to remain protected from any source of deterioration for approximately three thousand years. It has lost the protection afforded by its wrappings and the advantage of remaining in the closed environment of the tomb where the temperature was more constant and the air less humid than it is in Cairo at certain times of the year. Of course, while it was in the Necropolis itself, the mummy had to withstand the visits of grave plunderers (probably very early on) and rodents: they caused a certain amount of damage, but the conditions were nevertheless (it seems) much more favourable for it to stand the test of time than they are today.

At my suggestion, special investigations were made during this examination of the mummy in June 1975. An excellent radiographic study was made by Doctors El Meligy and Ramsiys, and the examination of the interior of the thorax, through a gap in the thoracic wall, was carried out by Doctor Mustapha Manialawiy in addition to an investigation of the abdomen. This was the first example of endoscopy being applied to a mummy. This technique enabled us to see and photograph some very important details inside the body. Professor Ceccaldi performed a general medico-legal study which will be completed by an examination under the microscope of some small fragments that spontaneously fell from the mummy’s body: this examination will be carried out by Professor Mignot and Doctor Durigon. I regret to say that definitive pronouncements cannot be made by the time this book goes to print.[100]

What may already be derived from this examination is the discovery of multiple lesions of the bones with broad lacunae, some of which may have been mortal although it is not yet possible to ascertain whether some of them occurred before or after the Pharaoh’s death. He most probably died either from drowning, according to the Scriptural narrations, or from very violent shocks preceding the moment when he was drowned-or both at once.

The connection of these lesions with the deterioration whose sources have been mentioned above renders the correct preservation of the mummy of the Pharaoh somewhat problematical, unless precautionary and restorative measures are not taken very soon. These measures should ensure that the only concrete evidence which we still possess today concerning the death of the Pharaoh of the Exodus and the rescue of his body, willed by God, does not disappear with the passage of time.

It is always desirable for man to apply himself to the preservation of relics of his history, but here we have something which goes beyond that: it is the material presence of the mummified body of the man who knew Moses, resisted his pleas, pursued him as he took flight, lost his life in the process. His earthly remains were saved by the Will of God from destruction to become a sign to man, as it is written in the Qur’an.[101]

Those who seek among modern data for proof of the veracity of the Holy Scriptures will find a magnificent illustration of the verses of the Qur’an dealing with the Pharaoh’s body by visiting the Royal Mummies Room of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo!

Translators’ Note:

The results of these medical studies carried out in Cairo, 1976, were read by the author before several French learned societies, including the ‘Académie Nationale de Médecine’ (National Academy of Medecine), during the first part of 1976. The knowledge of these results led the Egyptian Authorities to take the decision to transport the mummy of Ramesses II to France. Thus it arrived for treatment in Paris on the 26th September 1976.

82. We shall later see that the figure has been grossly exaggerated.

83. In Hebrew ‘yam souf’.

84. We shall return to this subject later, when we call upon Father de Vaux’s help in examining this reference in Kings I.

85. Pub. Delachaux and Niestlé, Neufchatel, 1959.

86. The skin lesions are clearly visible on the mummies of these Pharaohs preserved in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.

87. Pub. Desclée de Brouwer, 1970, Paris.

88. Pub. J. Gabalda and Co., 1971, Paris.

89. There can be no doubt that in the Golden Age of the ptolemies, historical documents on Antiquity were preserved at Alexandria, only to be destroyed at the time of the Roman conquest; a loss which is keenly felt today.

90. In the Holy Histories of the early 20th century, as in the History by Abbe H. Lesetre, intended for religious instruction, the Exodus is mentioned as having taken place during Merneptah’s reign in Egypt.

91. Pub. Delachaux and Niestlé, Neuchatel, 1959.

92. The letter ‘e’ figures as the ayin in Hebrew.

93. It is strange to note moreover, that in old editions of the Bible, commentators did not understand the meaning of the word at all. In the French edition of the Clementine Bible, 1621, for example, an interpretation of the word ‘Ramesses’ is given which makes total nonsense: ‘Thunder of Vermin’ (sic).

94. The period spanning the two reigns Sethos I-Ramesses II, which is said to have lasted roughly eighty years, is out of the question: Sethos I’s reign-which was too short for this- does not square with the very long stay in Midian which Moses made as an adult and which took place during the reign of the first of the two Pharaohs he was to know.

95. The word is followed by a generic determinative which leaves no doubt as to the fact that this term signifies a ‘human community or group’.

96. In his book ‘The Ancient History of Israel’ (Histoire ancienne d’Israël)

97. “The name ‘Israel’ (in the stele) is accompanied by the generic determinative ‘people’ instead of the determinative ‘country’, as is the case for the other proper names in the stele” writes Father B. Couroyer, Professor at the Biblical School of Jerusalem, in his commentary to the translation of the Book of Exodus (Pub. Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1968, page 12).

98. L’Exode (Exodus), 1968, page 73, Pub. Les Editions du Cerf, Paris.

99. There can be no doubt that this commentator is referring to the Bible.

100.November, 1975 for the First French edition.

101. The mummy of Ramesses II, who was another witness to Moses’s story, has been the subject of a study comparable to the one carried out on the mummy of Merneptah; the same restoration work is required for it.

29-The Qur’an, Hadiths And Modern Science

The Qur’an, Hadiths and Modern Science

The Qur’an does not constitute the sole source of doctrine and legislation in Islam. During Muhammad’s life and after his death, complementary information of a legislative nature was indeed sought in the study of the words and deeds of the Prophet.

Although writing was used in the transmission of hadith from the very beginning, a lot of this came also from the oral tradition. Those who undertook to assemble them in collections made the kind of enquiries which are always very taxing before recording accounts of past events. They nevertheless had a great regard for accuracy in their arduous task of collecting information. This is illustrated by the fact that for all of the Prophet’s sayings, the most venerable collections always bear the names of those responsible for the account, going right back to the person who first collected the information from members of Muhammad’s family or his companions.

A very large number of collections of the Prophet’s words and deeds thus appeared under the title of Hadiths. The exact meaning of the word is ‘utterances’, but it is also customary to use it to mean the narration of his deeds.

Some of the collections were made public in the decades following Muhammad’s death. Just over two hundred years were to pass before some of the most important collections appeared. The most authentic record of the facts is in the collections of Al Bukhari and Muslim, which date from over two hundred years after Muhammad and which provide a wider trustworthy account. In recent years, a bilingual Arabic/English edition has been provided by Doctor Muhammed Muhsin Khan, of the Islamic University of Madina.[102] Al Bukhari’s work is generally regarded as the most authentic after the Qur’an and was translated into French (1903-1914) by Houdas and Marcais under the title Les Traditions Islamiques (Islamic Traditions). The Hadiths are therefore accessible to those who do not speak Arabic. One must, however, be wary of certain translations made by Europeans, including the French translation, because they contain inaccuracies and untruths which are often more of interpretation than of actual translation. Sometimes, they considerably change the real meaning of a hadith, to such an extent indeed that they attribute a sense to it which it does not contain.

As regards their origins, some of the hadiths and Gospels have one point in common which is that neither of them was compiled by an author who was an eyewitness of the events he describes. Nor were they compiled until sometime after the events recorded. The hadiths, like the Gospels, have not all been accepted as authentic. Only a small number of them receive the quasi-unanimous approval of specialists in Muslim Tradition so that, except al-Muwatta, Sahih Muslim and Sahih al-Bukhari, one finds in the same book, hadiths presumed to be authentic side by side with ones which are either dubious, or should be rejected outright.

In contrast to Canonic Gospels which though questioned by some modern scholars but which have never been contested by Christian high authorities, even those hadiths that are most worthy to be considered as authentic have been the subject of criticism. Very early in the history of Islam, masters in Islamic thought exercised a thorough criticism of the hadiths, although the basic book (The Qur’an) remained the book of reference and was not to be questioned.

I thought it of interest to delve into the literature of the hadiths to find out how Muhammad is said to have expressed himself, outside the context of written Revelation, on subjects that were to be explained by scientific progress in following centuries. Al-though Sahih Muslim is also an authentic collection, in this study 1 have strictly limited myself to the texts of the hadiths which are generally considered to be the most authentic, i.e. those of Al Bukhari. I have always tried to bear in mind the fact that these texts were compiled by men according to data received from a tradition which was partially oral and that they record certain facts with a greater or lesser degree of accuracy, depending on the individual errors made by those who transmitted the narrations. These texts are different from other hadiths which were transmitted by very large number of people and are unquestionably authentic.[103]

I have compared the findings made during an examination of the hadiths with those already set out in the section on the Qur’an and modern science. The results of this comparison speak for themselves. The difference is in fact quite staggering between the accuracy of the data contained in the Qur’an, when compared with modern scientific knowledge, and the highly questionable character of certain statements in the hadiths on subjects whose tenor is essentially scientific. These are the only hadiths to have been dealt with in this study.

Hadiths which have as their subject the interpretation of certain verses of the Qur’an sometimes lead to commentaries which are hardly acceptable today.

We have already seen the great significance of one verse (Sura 36, verse 36) dealing with the Sun which “runs its course to a settled place”. Here is the interpretation given of it in a hadith: “At sunset, the sun . . . prostrates itself underneath the Throne, and takes permission to rise again, and it is permitted and then (a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself . . . it will ask permission to go on its course . . . it will be ordered to return whence it has come and so it will rise in the West . . .” (Sahih Al Bukhari). The original text (The Book of the Beginning of the Creation, Vol. IV page 283, part 54, chapter IV, number 421) is obscure and difficult to translate. This passage nevertheless contains an allegory which implies the notion of a course the Sun runs in relation to the Earth: science has shown the contrary to be the case. The authenticity of this hadith is doubtful (Zanni).

Another passage from the same work (The Book of the Beginning of the Creation, vol. IV page 283, part 54, chapter 6, number 430) estimates the initial stages in the development of the embryo very strangely in time: a forty-day period for the grouping of the elements which are to constitute the human being, another forty days during which the embryo is represented as ‘something which clings’, and a third forty-day period when the embryo is designated by the term ‘chewed flesh’. Once the angels have intervened to define what this individual’s future is to be, a soul is breathed into him. This description of embryonic evolution does not agree with modern data.

Whereas the Qur’an gives absolutely no practical advice on the remedial arts, except for a single comment (Sura 16, verse 69) on the possibility of using honey as a therapeutic aid (without indicating the illness involved), the hadiths devote a great deal of space to these subjects. A whole section of Al Bukhari’s collection (part 76) is concerned with medicine. In the French translation by Houdas and Marcais it goes from page 62 to 91 of volume 4, and in Doctor Muhammad Muhsin Khan’s bilingual Arabic/English edition from page 395 to 452, of volume VII. There can be no doubt that these pages contain some hadiths which are conjectural (Zanni), but they are interesting as a whole because they provide an outline of the opinions on various medical subjects that it was possible to hold at the time. One might add to them several hadiths inserted in other parts of Al Bukhari’s collection which have a medical tenor.

This is how we come to find statements in them on the harms caused by the Evil Eye, witchcraft and the possibility of exorcism; although a certain restriction is imposed on the paid use of the Qur’an for this purpose. There is a hadith which stresses that certain kinds of date may serve as protection against the effects of magic, and magic may be used against poisonous snakebites.

We should not be surprised however to find that at a time when there were limited possibilities for the scientific use of drugs, people were advised to rely on simple practices; natural treatments such as blood-letting, cupping, and cauterization, head shaving against lice, the use of camel’s milk and certain seeds such as black cumin, and plants such as Indian Qust. It was also recommended to burn a mat made of palm tree leaves and put the ash from it into a wound to stop bleeding. In emergencies, all available means that might genuinely be of use had to be employed. It does not seema priori-to be a very good idea, however, to suggest that people drink camel’s urine.

It is difficult today to subscribe to certain explanations of subjects related to various illnesses. Among them, the following might be mentioned:

–the origins of a fever. there are four statements bearing witness to the fact that “fever is from the heat of hell” (Al Bukhari, The Book of Medicine, vol. VII, chapter 28, page 416).

–the existence of a remedy for every illness: “No disease God created, but He created its treatment” (Ibid. chapter 1, page 396). This concept is illustrated by the Hadith of the Fly. “If a fly falls into the vessel of any of you, let him dip all of it (into the vessel) and then throw it away, for in one of its wings there is a disease and in the other there is healing (antidote for it). i.e. the treatment for that disease” (Ibid. chapter 15-16, pages 462-463, also The Book of the Beginning of Creation part 54, chapters 15 & 16.)

–abortion provoked by the sight of a snake (which can also blind). This is mentioned in The

Book of the Beginning of Creation, Vol. IV(chapter 13 and 14, pages 330 & 334).

–haemorrhages between periods. The Book of Menses (Menstrual Periods) Vol. VI, part 6, pages 490 & 495 contains two hadiths on the cause of haemorrhages between periods (chapters 21 & 28). They refer to two women: in the case of the first, there is a description (undetailed) of the symptoms, with a statement that the haemorrhage comes from a blood vessel; in the second, the woman had experienced haemorrhages between periods for seven years, and the same vascular origin is stated. One might suggest hypotheses as to the real causes of the above, but it is not easy to see what arguments could have been produced at the time to support this diagnosis. This could nevertheless have been quite accurate.

–the statement that diseases are not contagious. Al Bukhari’s collection of hadiths refers in several places (chapters 19, 25, 30, 31, 53 and 54, Vol. VII, part 76, of the Book of Medicine) to certain special cases, e.g. leprosy (page 408), plague (pages 418 & 422), camel’s scabies (page 447), and also provides general statements. The latter are however placed side by side with glaringly contradictory remarks: it is recommended, for example, not to go to areas where there is plague, and to stay away from lepers.

Consequently, it is possible to conclude that certain hadiths exist which are scientifically unacceptable. There is a doubt surrounding their authenticity. The purpose of reference to them lies solely in the comparison that they occasion with the verses of the Qur’an mentioned above: these do not contain a single inaccurate statement. This observation clearly has considerable importance.

One must indeed remember that at the Prophet’s death, the teachings that were received from this fell into two groups:

–firstly, a large number of Believers knew the Qur’an by heart because, like the Prophet, they had recited it many, many times; transcriptions of the text of the Qur’an already existed moreover, which were made at the time of the Prophet and even before the Hegira[104].

-secondly, the members of his following who were closest to him and the Believers who had witnessed his words and deeds had remembered them and relied on them for support, in addition to the Qur’an, when defining a nascent doctrine and legislation.

In the years that were to follow the Prophet’s death, texts were to be compiled which recorded the two groups of teachings he had left. The first gathering of hadiths was performed roughly forty years after the Hegira, but a first collection of Qur’anic texts had been made beforehand under Caliph Abu Bakr, and in particular Caliph Uthman, the second of whom published a definitive text during his Caliphate, i.e. between the twelfth and twenty-fourth years following Muhammad’s death.

What must be heavily stressed is the disparity between these two groups of texts, both from a literary point of view and as regards their contents. It would indeed be unthinkable to compare the style of the Qur’an with that of the hadiths. What is more, when the contents of the two texts are compared in the light of modern scientific data, one is struck by the oppositions between them. I hope I have succeeded in showing what follows:

–on the one hand, statements in the Qur’an which often appear to be commonplace, but which conceal data that science was later to bring to light.

–on the other hand, certain statements in the hadiths which are shown to be in absolute agreement with the ideas of their times but which contain opinions that are deemed scientifically unacceptable today. These occur in an aggregate of statements concerning Islamic doctrine and legislation, whose authenticity is unquestioningly acknowledged.

Finally, it must be pointed out that Muhammad’s own attitude was quite different towards the Qur’an from what it was towards his personal sayings. The Qur’an was proclaimed by him to be a divine Revelation. Over a period of twenty years, the Prophet classified its sections with the greatest of care, as we have seen. The Qur’an represented what had to be written down during his own lifetime and learned by heart to become part of the liturgy of prayers. The hadiths are said, in principle, to provide an account of his deeds and personal reflections, but he left it to others to find an example in them for their own behaviour and to make them public however they liked: he did not give any instructions.

In view of the fact that only a limited number of hadiths may be considered to express the Prophet’s thoughts with certainty, the others must contain the thoughts of the men of his time, in particular with regard to the subjects referred to here. When these dubious or inauthentic hadiths are compared to the text of the Qur’an, we can measure the extent to which they differ. This comparison highlights (as if there were still any need to) the striking difference between the writings of this period, which are riddled with scientific inaccurate statements, and the Qur’an, the Book of Written Revelation, that is free from errors of this kind.[105]

102.Pub. Sethi Straw Board Mills (Conversion) Ltd and Taleem-ul-Qur’an Trust, Gujranwala, Cantt. Pakistan. 1st edition 1971, for Sahih Al Bukhari.

103.Muslim specialists designate the first by the word Zanni and the second by the word Qat’i.

104.The Hegira was in 622, ten years before Muhammad’s death.

105.The truth of the hadiths, from a religious point of view, is beyond question. When they deal, however, with earthly affairs there is no difference between the Prophet and other humans. One hadith gives an account of an utterance of the Prophet: “Whenever I command you to do something related to Religion do obey, and if I command you something according to my own opinion (do remember this) I am a human being”. Al Saraksi in his ‘Principles’ (Al Usul) transmitted this statement as follows: “If I bring something to you on your religion, do act according to it, and if I bring you something related to this world, then you have a better knowledge of your own earthly affairs”.

27-The Flood

The Flood

The Biblical Narration of the Flood and the Criticism Leveled at It- A Reminder

The examination of the Old Testament description of the Flood in the first part of this book led to the following observations:

There is not just one description of the Flood, but two, written at different times;

–the Yahvist version which dates from the Ninth century B.C.

–the Sacerdotal version dating from the Sixth century B.C., so called because it was the work of priests of the time.

These two narrations are not juxtaposed, but interwoven so that part of one is fitted in between parts of the other, i.e. paragraphs from one source alternate with passage from the other. The commentary to the translation of Genesis by Father de Vaux, a professor at the Biblical School of Jerusalem, shows very clearly how the paragraphs are distributed between the two sources. The narration begins and ends with a Yahvist passage. There are ten Yahvist paragraphs altogether and between each one a Sacerdotal passage has been inserted (there are a total of nine Sacerdotal paragraphs). This mosaic of texts is only coherent when read from a point of view which takes the succession of episodes into account, since there are blatant contradictions between the two sources. Father de Vaux describes them as “two accounts of the Flood, in which the cataclysm is caused by different agents and lasts different lengths of time, and where Noah receives into the Ark a different number of animals.”

When seen in the light of modern knowledge, the Biblical description of the Flood as a whole is unacceptable for the following reasons:

a) The Old Testament ascribes to it the character of a universal cataclysm.

b) Whereas the paragraphs from the Yahvist text do not date the Flood, the Sacerdotal text situates it at a point in time where a cataclysm of this kind could not have occurred.

The following are arguments supporting this opinion:

The Sacerdotal narration states quite precisely that the Flood took place when Noah was 600 years old. According to the genealogies in chapter 5 of Genesis (also taken from the Sacerdotal text and quoted in the first part of this book), we know that Noah is said to have been born 1,056 years after Adam. Consequently, the Flood would have taken place 1,655 years after the creation of Adam. The genealogical table of Abraham moreover, taken from the same text and given in Genesis (11, 10-32), allows us to estimate that Abraham was born 292 years after the Flood. As we know that (according to the Bible) Abraham was alive in roughly 1850 B.C., the Flood would therefore be situated in the Twenty-first or Twenty- second century B.C. This calculation is in strict keeping with the information in old editions of the Bible which figures prominently at the head of the Biblical text.

This was at a time when the lack of human knowledge on the subject was such that the chronological data contained in the Bible were accepted without question by its readers-for want of any arguments to the contrary.[80]

How is it possible to conceive today of a universal cataclysm in the Twenty-first or Twenty-second century B.C. which destroyed life on all the earth’s surface (except for the people and animals in the Ark)? By this time, civilizations had flourished in several parts of the globe, and their vestiges have now come down to posterity. In Egypt at this time, for example, the Intermediate Period followed the end of the Old Kingdom and preceded the beginning of the Middle Kingdom. In view of our knowledge of the history of this period, it would be absurd to maintain that the Flood had destroyed all civilization at this time.

Thus It may be affirmed from a historical point of view that the narration of the Flood as it is presented in the Bible is in evident contradiction with modern knowledge. The formal proof of man’s manipulation of the Scriptures is the existence of the two texts.


The Narration of the Flood Contained in the Qur’an.

The Qur’an gives a general version which is different from that contained in the Bible and does not give rise to any criticisms from a historical point of view.

It does not provide a continuous narration of the Flood. Numerous Suras talk of the punishment inflicted upon Noah’s people. The most complete account of this is in Sura 11, verses 25 to 49. Sura 71, which bears Noah’s name, describes above all Noah’s preachings, as do verses 105 to 115, Sura 26. Before going into the actual course taken by events, we must consider the Flood as described in the Qur’an by relating it to the general context of the punishment God inflicted on communities guilty of gravely infringing His Commandments.

Whereas the Bible describes a universal Flood intended to punish ungodly humanity as a whole, the Qur’an, in contrast, mentions several punishments inflicted on certain specifically defined communities.

This may be seen in verses 35 to 39, Sura 25:

“We gave Moses the Scripture and appointed his brother Aaron with him as vizier. We said: Go to the people who have denied Our signs. We destroyed them completely. When the people of Noah denied the Messengers, We drowned them and We made of them a sign for mankind. (We destroyed the tribes) of Âd and Tamud, the companions of Rass and many generations between them. We warned each of them by examples and We annihilated them completely.”

Sura 7, verses 59 to 93 contains a reminder of the punishments brought upon Noah’s people, the Âd, the Tamud, Lot (Sodom) and Madian respectively. Thus the Qur’an presents the cataclysm of the Flood as a punishment specifically intended for Noah’s people: this is the first basic difference between the two narrations.

The second fundamental difference is that the Qur’an, in contrast to the Bible, does not date the Flood in time and gives no indication as to the duration of the cataclysm itself. The causes of the flooding are roughly the same in both narrations. The Sacerdotal description in the Bible (Genesis 7, 11) cites two causes which occurred simultaneously. “On that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.” The Qur’an records the following in verses 11 and 12, Sura 54:

“We opened the Gates of Heaven with pouring water. And We caused the ground to gush forth springs, so the waters met according to the decree which has been ordained.”

The Qur’an is very precise about the contents of the Ark. The order God gave to Noah was faithfully executed and it was to do the following:

Sura 11, verse 40:

“(In the Ark) load a pair of every kind, thy family, save this one against whom the word has already gone forth, and those who believe. But only a few had believed with him.”

The person excluded from the family is an outcast son of Noah. We learn (Sura 11, verses 45 and 46) how Noah’s supplications on this person’s behalf to God were unable to make Him alter His decision. Apart from Noah’s family (minus the outcast son), the Qur’an refers to the few other passengers on board the Ark who had believed in God.

The Bible does not mention the latter among the occupants of the Ark. In fact, it provides us with three different versions of the Ark’s contents:

–according to the Yahvist version, a distinction is made between ‘pure’ animals and birds, and ‘impure’ animals (seven[81] pairs, i.e. seven males and seven females, of each ‘pure’ species, was taken into the Ark and only one pair of each ‘impure’ species).

-according to a modified Yahvist verse (Genesis 7, 8) there was only one pair of each species, whether ‘pure’ or ‘impure’. -according to the Sacerdotal version, there was Noah, his family (with no exceptions) and a pair taken from each species.

The narration in the Qur’an of the flooding itself is contained in Sura 11, verses 25 to 49 and in Sura 23, verses 23 to 30. The Biblical narrative does not present any important differences.

In the Bible, the place where the Ark comes to rest is in the Ararat Mountains (Genesis 8, 4) and for the Qur’an it is the Judi (Sura 11, verse 44.) This mountain is said to be the highest of the Ararat range in Armenia, but nothing proves that the names were not changed by man to tally with the two narratives. This is confirmed by R. Blachère: according to him there is a peak in Arabia named Judi. The agreement of names may well be artificial.

In conclusion, it is possible to state categorically what major differences exist here between the Biblical and Qur’anic narrations. Some of them escape critical examination because objective data are lacking. When, however, it is possible to check the statements in the Scriptures in the light of the established data, the incompatibility between the Biblical narration -i.e. the information given on its place in time and geographical extent- and the discoveries that have contributed to modern knowledge is all too clear. In contrast to this, the narration contained in the Qur’an is free from anything which might give rise to objective criticism. One might ask if it is possible that, between the time of the Biblical narration and the one contained in the Qur’an, man could have acquired knowledge that shed light on this event. The answer is no, because from the time of the Old Testament to the Qur’an, the only document man possessed on this ancient story was the Bible itself. If human factors are unable to account for the changes in the narrations which affected their meaning with regard to modern knowledge, another explanation has to be accepted, i.e. a Revelation which came after the one contained in the Bible.

80. Now that certain notions concerning the chronology of ancient times have been established, and the imaginary dates given by the authors of the Sacerdotal text of the Old Testament are no longer credible, those dates have quickly been suppressed in Bibles. In the case of those genealogies that have been preserved, modern commentators of books intended for mass publication fail to draw the readers’ attention to the errors they contain.

81. Surely ‘seven’ here indicates ‘many’, as it often does in the Semitic languages of the time.

26-Qur’anic And Biblical Narrations-General Outlines

Qur’anic and Biblical Narrations

General Outlines

A large number of subjects dealt with in the Bible are also found in the Qur’an.

Firstly, there are narrations referring to the Prophets; Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Elias, Jonah, Job and Moses; the Kings of Israel; Saul, David, Solomon-to name just some of the main narrations they share in common. There then follow more specific accounts of great events in the course of which the supernatural has intervened, e.g. the Creation of the Earth and Heavens, the Creation of Man, the Flood, the Exodus. Finally, there is all that has to do with Jesus and His mother Mary as far as it concerns the New Testament.

What reflections do the subjects dealt with in the two Scriptures provoke when viewed in the light of our modern knowledge of them from extra-Scriptural sources?

Parallel: Qur’an/Gospel and Modem Knowledge.

With regard to the parallel of Qur’an/Gospels, one must first note that none of the subjects referred to in the Gospels, which were criticized from a scientific point of view (see Part Two of this book), is quoted in the Qur’an. Jesus is referred to many times in the Qur’ an, e.g. Mary’s annunciation of the nativity to his father, the annunciation of the miraculous nativity to Mary, Jesus’s stature a s a Prophet of the highest order, His role as a Messiah, the Revelation He directs to Man which confirms and modifies the Torah, His preachings, His disciples and apostles, the miracles, His Ascension to God, His role in the Last Judgment, etc. Suras 3 and 19 of the Qur’an (the second of which bears Mary’s name) devote long passages to Jesus’s family. They describe His mother Mary’s nativity, her youth and the annunciation of her miraculous motherhood. Jesus is always called ‘Son of Mary’. His ancestry is exclusively given with regard to His mother’s side, which is quite logical since Jesus had no biological father. Here the Qur’an differs from Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels: as we have already seen, they give the paternal genealogies of Jesus which are, moreover, different from each other. In the Qur’an, Jesus is placed according to His maternal genealogy in the line of Noah, Abraham, and Mary’s father (Imran in the Qur’an):

Sura 3, verses 33 and 34:

“God chose Adam, Noah, the family of Abraham and the family of Imran above all His creatures, as descendants one from another.”

So Jesus is descended from Noah and Abraham on His mother Mary’s side, and from her father Imran. The errors made in the naming of the ‘ancestors of Jesus’ found in the Gospels are not present in the Qur’an, nor are the impossibilities in the genealogies contained in the Old Testament of Abraham’s ancestry, both of which were examined in the first and second parts of this book.

Once again, this fact must be noted if one is to be objective, and yet again its great importance appears very clearly in the face of the unfounded statements which are made claiming that Muhammad, the author of the Qur’an, largely copied the Bible.

One wonders in that case who or what reason compelled him to avoid copying the passages the Bible contains on Jesus’s ancestry, and to insert at this point in the Qur’an the corrections that put his text above any criticism from modern knowledge. The Gospels and Old Testament texts are quite the opposite; from this point of view they are totally unacceptable.

Parallel: Qur’an/ Old Testament and Modem Knowledge.

In the case of the Old Testament, certain aspects of this parallel have already been dealt with. The Creation of the world, for example, was the subject of a critical study made in the Old Testament section of this book. The same subject was examined with regard to the Qur’anic Revelation. Comparisons were made and there is no need to cover this ground again.

It seems that historical knowledge is too vague and archaeological data too scarce for parallels to be established in the light of modern knowledge on problems concerning the Kings of Israel, who form the subject of narrations in both the Qur’an and the Bible.

Whether or not one can tackle the problem of the Prophets in the light of modern data depends on the extent to which the events described have left traces which may or may not have come down to us.

There are however two subjects dealt with in both the Qur’an and the Bible which should command our attention and which need to be examined in the light of modern knowledge. They are as follows:

–the Flood,


–the Exodus.

–The first because it has not left traces in the history of civilization which support the Biblical narration, whereas modern data do not permit us to criticize the narration contained in the Qur’an.

–The second because the Biblical and Qur’anic narrations evidently complement each other in their broad outlines, and modern data seem to provide both of them with remarkable historical support.

25-Human Reproduction

Human Reproduction

From the moment ancient human writings enter into detail (however slight) on the subject of reproduction, they inevitably make statements that are inaccurate. In the Middle Ages-and even in more recent time-reproduction was surrounded by all sorts of myths and superstitions. How could it have been otherwise, considering the fact that to understand its complex mechanisms, man first had to possess a knowledge of anatomy, the discovery of the microscope had to be made, and the so-called basic sciences had to be founded which were to nurture physiology, embryology, obstetrics, etc.

The situation is quite different in the Qur’an. The Book mentions precise mechanisms in many places and describes clearly-defined stages in reproduction, without providing a single statement marred by inaccuracy. Everything in the Qur’an is explained in simple terms which are easily understandable to man and in strict accordance with what was to be discovered much later on.

Human reproduction is referred to in several dozen verses of the Qur’an, in various contexts. It is explained through statements which deal with one or more specific points. They must be assembled to give a general idea of the verses as a whole, and here, as for the other subjects already examined, the commentary is in this way made easier.

Reminder of Certain Basic Concepts

It is imperative to recall certain basic concepts which were unknown at the time of the Qur’anic Revelation and the centuries that followed.

Human reproduction is effected by a series of processes which we share in common with mammals. The starting point is the fertilization of an ovule which has detached itself from the ovary. It takes place in the Fallopian tubes half-way through the menstrual cycle. The fertilizing agent is the male sperm, or more exactly, the spermatozoon, a single fertilizing cell being all that is needed. To ensure fertilization therefore, an infinitely small quantity of spermatic liquid containing a large number of spermatozoons (tens of millions at a time) is .required. This liquid is produced by the testicles and temporarily stored in a system of reservoirs and canals that finally lead into the urinary tract; other glands are situated along the latter which contribute their own additional secretions to the sperm itself.

The implantation of the egg fertilized by this process takes place at a precise spot in the female reproductive system: it descends into the uterus via a Fallopian tube and lodges in the body of the uterus where it soon literally implants itself by insertion into the thickness of the mucosa and of the muscle, once the placenta has been formed and with the aid of the latter. If the implantation of the fertilized egg takes place, for example, in the Fallopian tubes instead of in the uterus, pregnancy will be interrupted.

Once the embryo begins to be observable to the naked eye, it looks like a small mass of flesh at the centre of which the appearance of a human being is at first indistinguishable. It grows there in progressive stages which are very well known today; they lead to the bone structure, the muscles, the nervous system, the circulation, and the viscerae, etc.

These notions will serve as the terms of reference against which the statements in the Qur’an on reproduction are to be compared.

Human Reproduction in the Qur’an

It is not easy to gain an idea of what the Qur’an contains on this subject. The first difficulty arises from the fact already mentioned, i.e. that the statements dealing with this subject are scattered throughout the Book. This is not however a major difficulty. What is more likely to mislead the inquiring reader is, once again, the problem of vocabulary.

In fact there are still many translations and commentaries in circulation today that can give a completely false idea of the Qur’anic Revelation on this subject to the scientist who reads them. The majority of translations describe, for example, man’s formation from a

‘blood clot’ or an ‘adhesion’. A statement of this kind is totally unacceptable to scientists specializing in this field. In the paragraph dealing with the implantation of the egg in the maternal uterus, we shall see the reasons why distinguished Arabists who lack a scientific background have made such blunders.

This observation implies how great the importance of an association between linguistic and scientific knowledge is when it comes to grasping the meaning of Qur’anic statements on reproduction.

The Qur’an sets out by stressing the successive transformations the embryo undergoes before reaching its destination in the maternal uterus.

Sura 82, verses 6 to 8:

“O Man! Who deceives you about your Lord the Noble, Who created you and fashioned you in due proportion and gave you any form He willed.”

Sura 71, verse 14:

“(God) fashioned you in (different) stages.”

Along with this very general observation, the text of the Qur’an draws attention to several points concerning reproduction which might be listed as follows:

1) fertilization is performed by only a very small volume of liquid.

2) the constituents of the fertilizing liquid.

3) the implantation of the fertilized egg.

4) the evolution of the embryo.

1. Fertilization is performed by Only a Very Small Volume of Liquid.

The Qur’an repeats this concept eleven times using the following expression: Sura 16, verse 4:

“(God) fashioned man from a small quantity (of sperm).”

The Arabic word nutfa has been translated by the words ‘small quantity (of sperm)’ because we do not have the terms that are strictly appropriate. This word comes from a verb signifying ‘to dribble, to trickle’; it is used to describe what remains at the bottom of a bucket that has been emptied out. It therefore indicates a very small quantity of liquid. Here it is sperm because the word is associated in another verse with the word sperm.

Sura 75, verse 37:

“Was (man) not a small quantity of sperm which has been poured out?” Here the Arabic word mani signifies sperm. Another verse indicates that the small quantity in question is put in a ‘firmly established lodging’ (qarar) which obviously means the genital organs.

Sura 23, verse 13. God is speaking:

“Then We placed (man) as a small quantity (of sperm) in a safe lodging firmly established.” It must be added that the adjective which in this text refers to the ‘firmly established lodging’ makin is, I think, hardly translatable. It expresses the idea of a firmly established and respected place. However this may be, it refers to the spot where man grows in the maternal organism. It IS important to stress the concept of a very small quantity of liquid needed in the fertilization process, which is strictly in agreement with what we know on this subject today.

2. The Constituents of the Fertilizing Liquid.

The Qur’an describes the liquid enabling fertilization to take place in terms which it is interesting to examine:

a) ‘sperm’, as has been stated precisely (Sura 75, verse 37)

b) ‘a liquid poured out’. “Man was fashioned from a liquid poured out” (Sura 86, verse 6)

c) ‘a despised liquid’ (Sura 32, verse 8 and Sura 77, verse 20)

The adjective ‘despised’ (mahin) would, it seems, be interpreted not so much on account of the nature of the liquid itself, as more the fact that it is emitted through the outlet of the urinary tract, using the channels that are employed for passing urine.

d) ‘Mixtures’ or ‘mingled liquids’ (amsaj): “Verily, we fashioned man from a small quantity of mingled liquids” (Sura 76, verse 2)

Many commentators, like professor Hamidullah, consider these liquids to be the male and female agents. The same view was shared by older commentators, who could not have had any idea of the physiology of fertilization, especially its biological conditions in the case of the woman. They thought that the word simply meant the unification of the two elements.

Modern authors however, like the commentator of the Muntakab edited by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Cairo, have corrected this view and note here that the ‘small quantity of sperm’ is made up of various component parts. The commentator in the Muntakab does not go into detail, but in my opinion it is a very judicious observation.

What are the components parts of sperm?

Spermatic liquid is formed by various secretions which come from the following glands:

a) The testicles: The secretion of the male genital gland contains spermatozoons, which are elongated cells with a long flagellum; they are bathed in a sero-fluid liquid.

b) The seminal vesicles. These organs are reservoirs of spermatozoons and are placed near the prostate gland; they also secrete their own liquid but it does not contain any fertilizing agents.

c) The prostate gland: This secretes a liquid which gives the sperm its creamy texture and characteristic odour.

d) the glands annexed to the urinary tract: Cooper’s or Méry’s glands secrete a stringy liquid and Littré’s glands give off mucous. These are the origins of the ‘mingled liquids’ which the Qur’an would appear to refer to.

There is, however, more to be said on this subject. When the Qur’an talks of a fertilizing liquid composed of different components, it also informs us that man’s progeny will be maintained by something which may be extracted from this liquid. This is the meaning of verse 8, Sura 32: “(God) made his progeny from the quintessence of a despised liquid.”

The Arabic word, translated here by the word ‘quintessence’, is sulala. It signifies ‘something which is extracted, the issue of something else, the best part of a thing’. In whatever way it is translated, it refers to a part of a whole. Fertilization of the egg and reproduction are produced by a cell that is very elongated: its dimensions are measured in ten thousandths of a millimetre. In normal conditions [77], only one single cell among several tens of millions produced by a man will actually penetrate the ovule; a large number of them are left behind and never complete the journey which leads from the vagina to the ovule, passing through the uterus and Fallopian tubes. It is therefore an infinitesimally small part of the extract from a liquid whose composition is highly complex which actually fulfills its function.

In consequence, it is difficult not to be struck by the agreement between the text of the Qur’an and the scientific knowledge we possess today of these phenomena.

3. The Implantation of the Egg in the Female Genital Organs

Once the egg has been fertilized in the Fallopian tube it descends to lodge inside the uterus; this is called the ‘implantation of the egg’. The Qur’an names the lodging of the fertilized egg womb:

-Sura 22, verse 5:

“We cause whom We[78] will to rest in the womb for an appointed term.”

The implantation of the egg in the uterus (womb) is the result of the development of villosities, veritable elongations of the egg, which, like roots in the soil, draw nourishment from the thickness of the uterus necessary to the egg’s growth. These formations make the egg literally cling to the uterus. This is a discovery of modern times.

The act of clinging is described five different times in the Qur’an. Firstly in verses 1 and

2 of Sura 96: “Read, in the name of thy Lord Who fashioned, Who fashioned man from something which clings.”

‘Something which clings’ is the translation of the word ‘alaq. It is the original meaning of the word. A meaning derived from it, ‘blood clot’, often figures in translation; it is a mistake against which one should guard: man has never passed through the stage of being a ‘blood clot’. The same is true for another translation of this term, ‘adhesion’ which is equally inappropriate. The original sense of ‘something which clings’ corresponds exactly to today’s firmly established reality.

This concept is recalled in four other verses which describe successive transformations from the small quantity of sperm through to the end:

Sura 22, verse 5:

“We have fashioned you from . . . something which clings.”

Sura 23, verse 14:

“We have fashioned the small quantity (of sperm) into something which clings.”

Sura 40, verse 67:

“(God) fashioned you from a small quantity (of sperm), from something which clings.”

Sura 75, verse 37-38:

“Was (man) not a small quantity of sperm which has been poured out? After that he was something which clings; then God fashioned him in due proportion.”

The organ which harbours the pregnancy is qualified in the Qur’an by a word which, as we have seen, is still used in Arabic to signify the uterus. In some Suras, it is called a ‘lodging firmly established’ (Sura 23, verse 13, quoted above and Sura 77, verse 21)[79].

4. Evolution of the Embryo inside the Uterus.

The Qur’anic description of certain stages in the development of the embryo corresponds exactly to what we today know about it, and the Qur’an does not contain a single statement that is open to criticism from modern science. After ‘the thing which clings’ (an expression which is well-founded, as we have seen) the Qur’an informs us that the embryo passes through the stage of ‘chewed flesh’, then osseous tissue appears and is clad in flesh (defined by a different word from the preceding which signifies ‘intact flesh’).

Sura 23, verse 14:

“We fashioned the thing which clings into a chewed lump of flesh and We fashioned the chewed flesh into bones and We clothed the bones with intact flesh.” ‘Chewed flesh’ is the translation of the word mudga; ‘intact flesh’ is lahm. This distinction needs to be stressed. The embryo is initially a small mass. At a certain stage in its development, it looks to the naked eye like chewed flesh. The bone structure develops inside this mass in what is called the mesenchyma. The bones that are formed are covered in muscle; the word lahm applies to them. Another verse which requires extremely delicate interpretation is the following: Sura

39, verse 6: “(God) fashions you inside the bodies of your mothers, formation after formation, in three (veils of) darkness.” (zulumat) Modern intrepreters of the Qur’an see in this verse the three anatomical layers that protect the infant during gestation: the abdominal wall, the uterus itself, and the surroundings of the foetus (placenta, embryonic membranes, amniotic fluid). I am obliged to quote this verse for the sake of completeness; the terpretation given here does not seem to me to be disputable from an anatomical point of view but is this what the text of the Qur’an really means?

It is known how certain parts appear to be completely out of proportion during embryonic development with what is later to become the individual, while others remain in proportion.

This is surely the meaning of the word mukallaq which signifies ‘shaped in proportion’ as used in verse 5, Sura 22 to describe this phenomenon. “We fashioned . . . into something which clings . . . into a lump of flesh in proportion and out of proportion.”

The Qur’an also describes the appearance of the senses and the viscerae:

Sura 32, verse 9:

“(God) appointed for you the sense of hearing, sight and the viscerae.” It refers to the formation of the sexual organs:

Sura 53, verses 45-46:

“(God) fashioned the two of a pair, the male and the female, from a small quantity (of sperm) when it is poured out.” The formation of the sexual organs is described in two Sura of the Qur’an:

Sura 35, verse 11:

“God created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then He made you pairs (the male and female).”

Sura 75, verse 39:

“And, (God) made of him a pair, the male and female.”

As has already been noted, all statements in the Qur’an must be compared with today’s firmly established concepts: the agreement between them is very clear. It is however very important to compare them with the general beliefs On this subject that were held at the time of the Qur’anic Revelation in order to realize just how far people were in those days from having views on these problems similar to those expressed here in the Qur’an. There can be no doubt that they would have been unable to interpret the Revelation in the way we can today because we are helped by the data modern knowledge affords us. It was, in fact, only during the Nineteenth century that people had a slightly clearer view of this question.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the most diversified doctrines originated in unfounded myths and speculations: they persisted for several centuries after this period. The most fundamental stage in the history of embryology was Harvey’s statement (1651) that “all life initially comes from an egg”. At this time however, when nascent science had nevertheless benefited greatly (for the subject in hand) from the invention of the microscope, people were still talking about the respective roles of the egg and the spermatozoon. Buffon, the great naturalist, was one of those in favor of the egg theory, but Bonnet supported the theory of the seeds being ‘packed together’. The ovaries of Eve, the mother of the human race, were supposed to have contained the seeds of all human beings, packed together one inside the other. This hypothesis came into favor in the Eighteenth century.

More than a thousand years before our time, at a period when whimsical doctrines still prevailed, men had a knowledge of the Qur’an. The statements it contains express in simple terms truths of primordial importance which man has taken centuries to discover.

The Qur’an and Sex Education

Our epoch believes that it has made manifold discoveries in all possible fields. It is thought that great innovations have been made in the field of sex education, and the knowledge of the facts of life which has been opened up to young people is regarded as an achievement of the modern world. Previous centuries were noted for their deliberate obscurity on this point and many people say that religion-without stating which religion-is the cause of it.

The information set out above is proof however that fourteen centuries ago theoretical questions (as it were) on human reproduction were brought to man’s attention. This was done as far as was possible, taking into account the fact that the anatomical and physiological data needed for further explanations were lacking. One should also remember that, to be understood, it was necessary to use simple language suited to the level of comprehension of those who listened to the Preaching. Practical considerations have not been silently ignored. There are many details in the Qur’an on the practical side of life in general, and the way man should behave in the many situations of his existence. His sex life is no exception.

Two verses in the Qur’an deal with sexual relations themselves. They are described in terms which unite the need for precision with that of decency. When translations and explanatory commentaries are consulted however, one is struck by the divergences between them. I have pondered for a long time on the translation of such verses, and am indebted to Doctor A. K. Giraud, Former Professor at the Faculty of Medicine, Beirut, for the following:

Sura 86, verse 6 and 7:

“(Man) was fashioned from a liquid poured out. It issued (as a result) of the conjunction of the sexual area of the man and the sexual area of the woman.”

The sexual area of the man is indicated in the text of the Qur’an by the world sulb (singular). The sexual areas of the woman are designated in the Qur’an by the word tara’ib (plural).

This is the translation which appears to be most satisfactory. It is different from the one that is often given by English and French translators, i.e. “(Man) has been created by a liquid poured out which issues from between the vertebral column and the bones of the breast.” This would seem more to be an interpretation than a translation. It is hardly comprehensible.

The behavior of a man in his intimate relationships with his wife is stated explicitly. There is the order concerning the menstruation period contained in verses 222 and 223, Sura 2; God gives the following command to the Prophet:

Sura 2, verses 222 and 223:

“They (the Believers) question thee concerning menstruation. Say: This is an evil. Keep away from women during menstruation and do not approach them until they are clean. When they have purified themselves, go to them, as God ordered it to you. “Verily, God loves the repentants and loves those who purified themselves. “Your wives are a tilth. Go to your tilth as you will. Do (some good act) for your souls beforehand.”

The beginning of this passage is very clear in meaning: it formally forbids a man to have sexual contact with a woman who has her period. The second part describes the process of tilling which the sower performs before sowing the seed which is to germinate and produce a new plant. Through this image therefore, stress is indirectly laid on the importance of bearing in mind the final purpose of sexual contact, i.e. reproduction. The translation of the final phrase is by R. Blachère: it contains an order which seems to refer to the preliminaries before sexual contact.

The orders given here are of a very general kind. The problem of contraception has been raised with regard to these verses: neither here, nor anywhere else, is reference made to this subject.

Nor is provoked abortion referred to. The numerous passages quoted above on the successive transformations of the embryo make it quite clear, however, that man is considered to be constituted as of the stage described by the existence of ‘something which clings’. This being so, the absolute respect of the individual human being, which is referred to so often in the Qur’an, brings with it a total condemnation of provoked abortion. This attitude is today shared by all monotheistic religions.

Sexual relations are permitted at night during the Fast in the month of Ramadan. The verse concerning Ramadan is as follows:

Sura 2, verse 187:

“Permitted to you, on the night of the fast, is to break chastity with your wives. They are a garment for you and you are a garment for them. So hold intercourse with them and seek what God has ordained for you.” In contrast to this, no exception to the rule is made for pilgrims in Makka during the celebration days of the Pilgrimage.

Sura 2, verse 197:

“For whom undertakes (the duty of) the Pilgrimage in its time, no wooing and no license.”

This prohibition is formal, as is the fact that other activities are forbidden, e.g. hunting, fighting, etc.

Menstruation is again mentioned in the Qur’an in connection with divorce. The Book contains the following verse:

Sura 65, verse 4:

“For your wives who despair of menstruation, if you doubt about them, their period of waiting will be three months. For those who never have their monthly periods and those who are pregnant their period will be until they lay down their burden.”

The waiting period referred to here is the time between the announcement of the divorce and the time it comes into effect. Those women of whom it is said ‘they despair of menstruation’ have reached the menopause. A precautionary period of three months is envisaged for them. Once this period is completed, divorced women who have reached the menopause may remarry.

For those who have not yet menstruated, the pregnancy period has to be awaited. For pregnant women, divorce only comes into effect once the child is born.

All these laws are in perfect agreement with physiological data. One can, furthermore, find in the Qur’an the same judicious legal provision in the texts dealing with widowhood.

Thus, the theoretical statements dealing with reproduction, and the practical instructions on the sex life of couples, do not contradict and cannot be placed in opposition to the data we have from modern knowledge, nor with anything that can be logically derived from it.

77. It is estimated that in one cubic centinletre of sperm there are 25 million spermatozoons with, under normal conditions, an ejaculation of several cubic centimetres.

78. God is speaking

79. In another verse (Sura 6, verse 98) a place of sojourn is mentioned. It is expressed in a term very similar to the preceding one and would also seem to signify the maternal uterus. Personally, I believe this to be the meaning of the verse, but a detailed interpretation would involve much lengthier explanation which is beyond the scope of this book.

24-The Animal And Vegetable Kingdoms

The Animal and Vegetable Kingdoms

Numerous verses describing the origins of life have been assembled in this chapter, along with certain aspects of the vegetable kingdom and general or specific topics relating to the animal kingdom. The grouping of verses scattered throughout the Book affords a general view of the data the Qur’an contains on these subjects. In the case of the subject of this and the following chapter, the examination of the Qur’anic text has sometimes been particularly delicate on account of certain difficulties inherent in the vocabulary. These have only been overcome through the fact that scientific data which have a bearing on the subject have been taken into consideration. It is particularly so in the case of living beings, i.e. animal, vegetable and human, where a confrontation with the teachings of science is shown to be indispensable in the search for the meaning of certain statements on these topics contained in the Qur’an. It will become clear that numerous translations of these passages in the Qur’an, made by men of letters, must be deemed inaccurate by the scientist. The same holds true for commentaries made by those who do not possess the scientific knowledge necessary for an understanding of the text.

A. The Origins of Life

This question has always preoccupied man, both for himself and for the living things around him. It will be examined here from a general point of view. The case of man, whose appearance on Earth and reproduction processes are the subject of lengthy exposés, will be dealt with in the next chapter. When the Qur’an describes the origins of life on a very broad basis, it is extremely concise. It does so in a verse that also mentions the process of the formation of the Universe, already quoted and commented on:

Sura 21, verse 30:

“Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together, then We clove them asunder and We got every living thing out of the water. Will they then not believe?”

The notion of ‘getting something out of something’ does not give rise to any doubts. The phrase can equally mean that every living thing was made of water (as its essential component) or that every living thing originated in water. The two possible meanings are strictly in accordance with scientific data. Life is in fact of aquatic origin and water is the major component of all living cells. Without water, life is not possible. When the possibility of life on another planet is discussed, the first question is always: does it contain a sufficient quantity of water to support life?

Modern data lead us to think that the oldest living being must have belonged to the vegetable kingdom: algae have been found that date from the pre-Cambrian period, i.e. the time of the oldest known lands. Organisms belonging to the animal kingdom probably appeared slightly later. They too came from the sea.

What has been translated here by ‘water’ is the word ma’ which means both water in the sky and water in the sea, plus any kind of liquid. In the first meaning, water is the element necessary to all vegetable life:

Sura 20, verse 53.

“(God is the One Who) sent water down from the sky and thereby We brought forth pairs of plants each separate from the other.”

This is the first reference to the notion of a pair in the vegetable kingdom. We shall return to this later.

In the second meaning, a liquid without any further indication of what kind, the word is used in its indeterminate form to designate what is at the basis of the formation of all animal life:

-Sura 24, verse 45:

“God created every animal from water.” We shall see further on how this word may also be applied to seminal fluid[70].


Whether it deals therefore with the origins of life in general, or the element that gives birth to plants in the soil, or the seed of animals, all the statements contained in the Qur’an on the origin of life are strictly in accordance with modern scientific data. None of the myths on the origins of life that abounded at the time the Qur’an appeared are mentioned in the text.

B. The Vegetable Kingdom

It is not possible to quote in their entirety all the numerous passages in the Qur’an in which divine Beneficence is referred to concerning the salutary effect of the rain which makes vegetation grow. Here are just three verses on this subject:

Sura 16, verses 10 and 11:

“(God) is the One Who sends water down from the sky. For you this is a drink and out of it (grow) shrubs in which you let (cattle) graze freely. Therewith for you He makes sown fields, olives, palm-trees, vineyards and all kinds of fruit grow.”

Sura 6, verse 99:

“(God) is the One Who sent water down from the sky. Therewith We brought forth plants of all kinds and from them the verdure and We brought forth from it the clustered grains, and from the palm-tree its spathes with bunches of dates (hanging) low, the gardens of grapes, olives and pomegranates similar and different. Look at their fruit, when they bear it, and their ripening. Verily, in that there are signs for people who believe.”

Sura 50, verses 9-11:

“We sent down from the sky blessed water whereby We caused to grow gardens, grains for harvest, tall palm-trees with their spathes, piled one above the other sustenance for (Our) servants. Therewith We give (new) life to a dead land. So will be the emergence (from the tombs).” The Qur’an adds to these general data others that refer to more specialized subjects:

Balance in the Vegetable Kingdom

Sura 15, verse 19:

“The earth . . . We caused all kinds of things to grow therein in due balance.”

The Different Qualities of Various Foods

Sura 13, verse 4:

“On the earth are adjacent parts; vineyards, sown fields, palm-trees, similar and not similar, watered with the same water. We make some of them more excellent than others to eat and verily in this are signs for wise people.”

It is interesting to note the existence of these verses because they show the sober quality of the terms used, and the absence of any description that might highlight the beliefs of the times, rather than fundamental truths. What particularly attracts our attention however, are the statements in the Qur’an concerning reproduction in the vegetable kingdom.

Reproduction in the Vegetable Kingdom

One must bear in mind that there are two methods of reproduction in the vegetable kingdom: one sexual, the other asexual. It is only the first which in fact deserves the term ‘reproduction’, because this defines a biological process whose purpose is the appearance of a new individual identical to the one that gave it birth.

Asexual reproduction is quite simply multiplication. It is the result of the fragmentation of an organism which has separated from the main plant and developed in such a way as to resemble the plant from which it came. It is considered by Guilliermond and Mange not to be a ‘special case of growth’. A very simple example of this is the cutting. a cutting taken from a plant is placed in suitably watered soil and regenerated by the growth of new roots. Some plants have organs specially designed for this, while others give off spores that behave like seeds, as it were, (it should be remembered that seeds are the results of a process of sexual reproduction).

Sexual reproduction in the vegetable kingdom is carried out by the coupling of the male and female parts of the generic formations united on a same plant or located on separate plants. This is the only form that is mentioned in the Qur’an.

-Sura 20, verse 53:

“(God is the One Who) sent water down from the sky and thereby We brought forth pairs of plants each separate from the other.”

‘One of a pair’ is the translation of zauj (plural azwaj) whose original meaning is: ‘that which, in the company of another, forms a pair’; the word is used just as readily for a married couple as for a pair of shoes.

Sura 22, verse 5:

“Thou seest the grounds lifeless. When We send down water thereon it shakes and grows and puts forth every magnificent pair (of plants).”

Sura 31, verse 10:

“We caused to grow (on the earth) every noble pair (of plants).”

Sura 13, verse 3:

“Of all fruits (God) placed (on the earth) two of a pair.”

We know that fruit is the end-product of the reproduction process of superior plants which have the most highly developed and complex organization. The stage preceding fruit is the flower, which has male and female organs (stamens and ovules). The latter, once pollen has been carried to them, bear fruit which in turn matures and frees it seeds. All fruit therefore implies the existence of male and female organs. This is the meaning of the verse in the Qur’an.

It must be noted that for certain species, fruit can come from non-fertilized flowers (parthenocarpic fruit), e.g. bananas, certain types of pineapple, fig, orange, and vine. They can nevertheless also come from plants that have definite sexual characteristics.

The culmination of the reproductive process comes with the germination of the seed once its outside casing is opened (sometimes it is compacted into a fruit-stone). This opening allows roots to emerge which draw from the soil all that is necessary for the plant’s slowed-down life as a seed while it grows and produces a new plant. A verse in the Qur’an refers to this process of germination:

Sura 6, verse 95:

“Verily, God splits the grain and the fruit-stone.”

The Qur’an often restates the existence of these components of a pair in the vegetable kingdom and brings the notion of a couple into a more general context, without set limits:

Sura 36, Verse 36:

“Glory be to Him Who created the components of couples of every kind: of what the ground caused to grow, of themselves (human beings) and of what you do not know.”

One could form many hypotheses concerning the meaning of the ‘things men did not know’ in Muhammad’s day. Today we can distinguish structures or coupled functions for them, going from the infinitesimally small to the infinitely large, in the living as well as the non-living world. The point is to remember these clearly expressed ideas and note, once again, that they are in perfect agreement with modern science.

C. The Animal Kingdom

There are several questions in the Qur’an concerning the animal kingdom which are the subject of comments that call for a confrontation with modern scientific knowledge. Here again, however, one would gain an incomplete view of all that the Qur’an contains on this subject if one were to leave out a passage such as the extract which follows. In this passage, the creation of certain elements in the animal kingdom is described with the purpose of making man reflect upon the divine Beneficence extended to him. It is quoted basically to provide an example of the way in which the Qur’an describes the harmonious adaptation of Creation to man’s needs; it relates in particular the case of those people who live in a rural setting, since there is nothing that could be examined from a different point of view.

-Sura 16, verses 5 to 8:

“(God) created cattle for you and (you find) in them warmth, useful services and food, sense of beauty when you bring them home and when you take them to pasture. They bear your heavy loads to lands you could not reach except with great personal effort. Verily, your Lord is Compassionate and Merciful; (He created) horses, mules and donkeys for you to ride and for ornament. And He created what you do not know.” Alongside these general remarks, the Qur’an sets out certain data on highly diversified subjects:

–reproduction in the animal kingdom.

–references to the existence of animal communities. Statements concerning bees, spiders and birds.

–remarks on the source of constituents of animal milk.

1. Reproduction in the Animal Kingdom.

This is very summarily dealt with in verses 45 and 46, Sura 53:

“(God) fashioned the two of a pair, the male and the female, from a small quantity of liquid when it is poured out.” The ‘pair’ is the same expression that we have already encountered in the verses which deal with reproduction in the vegetable kingdom. Here, the sexes are given. The detail which is absolutely remarkable is the precision with which it is stated that a small quantity of liquid is required for reproduction. The word itself signifying ‘sperm’ is used. The relevance of this remark will be commented upon in the next chapter.


2. References to the Existence of Animal Communities.

Sura 6, Verse 38:

“There is no animal on earth, no bird which flies on wings, that (does not belong to) communities like you. We have not neglected anything in the Book (of Decrees). Then to their Lord they will be gathered.”

There are several points in this verse which require comment. Firstly, it would seem that there is a description of what happens to animals after their death: Islam does not apparently, have any doctrine on this point. Then there is predestination in general[71] which would seem to be mentioned here. It could be conceived as absolute predestination or relative, i.e. limited to structures and a functional organization that condition modes of behaviour: the animal acts upon various exterior impulses in terms of a particular conditioning.

Blachère states that an older commentator, such as Razi, thought that this verse only referred to instinctive actions whereby animals worship God. Sheik Si Boubakeur Hamza, in the commentary to his translation of the Koran, speaks of “the instinct which, according to Divine Wisdom, pushes all beings to group together, so that they demand that the work of each member serve the whole group.”

Animal behaviour has been closely investigated in recent decades, with the result that genuine animal communities have been shown to exist. Of course, for a long time now the results of a group or community’s work have been examined and this has led to the acceptance of a community organization. It has only been recently however, that the mechanisms which preside over this kind of organization have been discovered for certain species. The most studied and best known case is undoubtedly that of bees, to whose behaviour the name von Frisch is linked. Von Frisch, Lorenz and Tinbergen received the 1973 Nobel Prize for their work in this field.

3. Statements Concerning Bees, Spiders and Birds.

When specialists on the nervous system wish to provide striking examples of the prodigious organization directing animal behaviour, possibly the animals referred to most frequently are bees, spiders and birds (especially migratory birds). Whatever the case, there is no doubt that these three groups constitute a model of highly evolved organization.

The fact that the text of the Qur’an refers to this exemplary trio in the animal kingdom is in absolute keeping with the exceptionally interesting character that each of these animals has from a scientific point of view.


In the Qur’an, bees are the subject of the longest commentary: Sura 16, verses 68 and 69:[72]

“Thy Lord inspired the bees: Choose your dwelling in the hills, in the trees and in what (man) built. Eat of all fruit and follow the ways of your Lord in humility. From within their bodies comes a liquor of different colours where is a remedy for men.”

It is difficult to know what exactly is meant by the order to follow the ways of the Lord in humility, unless it is to be seen in general terms. All that may be said, with regard to the knowledge that has been gained of their behaviour, is that here-as in each of the three animal eases mentioned as examples in the Qur’an-there is a remarkable nervous organization supporting their behaviour. It is known that the pattern of a bee’s dance is a means of communication to other bees; in this way, bees are able to convey to their own species the direction and distance of flowers from which nectar is to be gathered. The famous experiment performed by von Frisch has shown the meaning of this insect’s movement which is intented to transmit information between worker bees.


Spiders are mentioned in the Qur’an to stress the flimsiness of their dwelling which is the most fragile of all. They have a refuge that is as precarious, according to the Qur’an, as the dwelling of those who have chosen masters other than God.

Sura 29, verse 41:

“Those who choose masters other than God are like the spider when it takes for itself a dwelling. Verily, the flimsiest dwelling is the dwelling of the spider. If they but knew.”

A spider’s web is indeed constituted of silken threads secreted by the animal’s glands and their calibre is infinitely fine. Its fragility cannot be imitated by man. Naturalists are intrigued by the extraordinary pattern of work recorded by the animal’s nervous cells, which allows it to produce a geometrically perfect web.


Birds are frequently mentioned in the Qur’an. They appear in episodes in the life of Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon and Jesus. These references do not however have any bearing on the subject in hand.

The verse concerning the existence of animal communities on the ground and bird communities in the sky has been noted above:

Sura 6 verse 38:

“There is no animal on the earth, no bird which flies on wings, that (does not belong to) communities like you. We have not neglected anything in the Book (of Decrees). Then to their Lord they will be gathered.”

Two other verses highlight the birds’ strict submission to God’s Power. Sura 16, verse 79:

“Do they not look at the birds subjected in the atmosphere of the sky? None can hold them up (in His Power) except God.”

Sura 67, verse 19:

“Have they not looked at the birds above them spreading their wings out and folding them? None can hold them up (in his Power) except the Beneficent.”

The translation of one single word in each of these verses is a very delicate matter. The translation given here expresses the idea that God holds the birds up in His Power. The Arabic verb in question is amsaka, whose original meaning is ‘to put one’s hand on, seize, hold, hold someone back’.

An illuminating comparison can be made between these verses, which stress the extremely close dependence of the birds’ behavior on divine order, to modern data showing the degree of perfection attained by certain species of bird with regard to the programming of their movements. It is only the existence of a migratory programme in the genetic code of birds that can account for the extremely long and complicated journeys which very young birds, without any prior experience and without any guide, are able to accomplish. This is in addition to their ability to return to their departure point on a prescribed date. Professor Hamburger in his book, Power and Fragility (La Puissance et la Fragilité)[73], gives as an example the well-known case of the ‘mutton-bird’ that lives in the Pacific, with its journey of over 16,500 miles in the shape of the figure 8[74]. It must be acknowledged that the highly complicated instructions for a journey of this kind simply have to be contained in the bird’s nervous cells. They are most definitely programmed, but who is the programmer?

4. The Source of the Constituents of Animal Milk.

This is defined in the Qur’an in strict accordance with the data of modern knowledge (Sura 16, verse 66). The translation and interpretation of this verse given here is my own because even modern translations habitually give it a meaning which is, in my opinion, hardly acceptable. Here are two examples:

–R. Blachère’s translation:[75]

“Verily, in your cattle there is a lesson for you! We give you a pure milk to drink, excellent for its drinkers; (it comes) from what, in their bellies, is between digested food and blood.”

–Professor Hamidullah’s translation:[76]

“Verily, there is food for thought in your cattle. From what is in their bellies, among their excrement and blood, We make you drink pure milk, easy for drinkers to imbibe.”

If these texts were shown to a physiologist, he would reply that they were extremely obscure, the reason being that there hardly appears to be much agreement between them and modern notions, even on a very elementary level. These translations are the work of highly eminent Arabists. It is a well known fact however, that a translator, even an expert, is liable to make mistakes in the translation of scientific statements, unless he happens to be a specialist in the discipline in question.

The most valid translation seems to me to be the following:

“Verily, in cattle there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of what is inside their bodies, coming from a conjunction between the contents of the intestine and the blood, a milk pure and pleasant for those who drink it.” (Sura 16, verse 66)

This interpretation is very close to the one given in the Muntakab, 1973, edited by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Cairo, which relies for its support on modern physiology.

From the point of view of its vocabulary, the proposed translation may be justified as follows: I have translated «inside their bodies’ and not, as R. Blachère and Professor Hamidullah have done, ‘inside their bellies’. This is because the word batn also means ‘middle’, «interior of something’, as well as ‘belly’. The word does not here have a meaning that is anatomically precise. ‘Inside their bodies’ seems to concur perfectly with the context.

The notion of a ‘primary origin’ of the constituents of milk is expressed by the word min (in English ‘from’) and the idea of a conjunction by the word baini. The latter not only signifies «among’ but also ‘between’ in the other translations quoted. It is however also used to express the idea that two things or two people are brought together.

From a scientific point of view, physiological notions must be called upon to grasp the meaning of this verse.

The substances that ensure the general nutrition of the body come from chemical transformations which occur along the length of the digestive tract. These substances come from the contents of the intestine. On arrival in the intestine at the appropriate stage of chemical transformation, they pass through its wall and towards the systemic circulation. This passage is effected in two ways: either directly, by what are called the ‘lymphatic vessels’, or indirectly, by the portal circulation. This conducts them first to the liver, where they undergo alterations, and from here they then emerge to join the systemic circulation. In this way everything passes through the bloodstream.

The constituents of milk are secreted by the mammary glands. These are nourished, as it were, by the product of food digestion brought to them via the bloodstream. Blood therefore plays the role of collector and conductor of what has been extracted from food, and it brings nutrition to the mammary glands, the producers of milk, as it does to any other organ.

Here the initial process which sets everything else in motion is the bringing together of the contents of the intestine and blood at the level of the intestinal wall itself. This very precise concept is the result of the discoveries made in the chemistry and physiology of the digestive system. It was totally unknown at the time of the Prophet Muhammad and has been understood only in recent times. The discovery of the circulation of the blood, was made by Harvey roughly ten centuries after the Qur’anic Revelation.

I consider that the existence in the Qur’an of the verse referring to these concepts can have no human explanation on account of the period in which they were formulated.

70. It is secreted by the reproductive glands and contains spermatozoons.

71. We saw in the Introduction to the third part of this book what one was expected to believe about predestination in its application to man himself.

72. One might note in passing, that this last verse is the only one in the Qur’an that refers to the possibility of a remedy for man. Honey can indeed be useful for certain diseases. Nowhere else in the Qur’an is a reference made to any remedial arts, contrary to what may have been said about this subject.

73. Pub. Flammarion, 1972, Paris.

74. It makes this journey over a period of six months, and comes back to its departure point with a maximum delay of one week.

75. Pub. G. P. Maisonneuve et Larose, 1966, Paris,

76. Pub. Club Français du Livre, 1971, Paris.