Sources for The Quran

Scholars have been able to point out several pre-existing sources for the Quran. Some scholars have calculated that one third of the Quran has pre-Islamic Christian origins.[1] The most famous pre-Islamic source for the Quran is the Bible, which predates the Quran by several centuries. Quran contains references to more than 50 people in the Bible, and while the stories told in each book are generally comparable, important differences sometimes emerge. Other sources that have been identified, are various Apocryphal writings, like the various infancy gospels,[2] Protoevangelium of James,[3] Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew,[3] Syriac Infancy Gospel, as well as several circulating Jewish myths, which were built upon the Hebrew Bible. This reliance on so many pre-existing sources is sometimes used to argue against the Muslim doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Quran. Critics like Norman Geisler view the reliance on these pre-Islamic sources as one evidence that Quran is of purely human origins.[4] Comparisons between Mormonism and Islam have also been made.

Quran is viewed as a sacred book of Muslims.

Specific examples

Bible

Payrus of Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, which describes early Gnostic beliefs about Jesus’ death which influenced Islam.[5]


Main article: Biblical and Quranic narratives, Islamic views on Jesus’ death

Quran contains references to more than 50 people in the Bible, which predates it by several centuries. Stories related in the Quran usually focus more on the spiritual significance of events than details.[6] The stories are generally comparable, but there are differences. One of the most famous differences, is the Islamic view of Jesus’ crucifixion. Quran maintains that Jesus was not actually crucified and did not die on the cross. The general Islamic view supporting the denial of crucifixion was probably influenced by Manichaenism (Docetism), which holds that someone else was crucified instead of Jesus, while concluding that Jesus will return during the end-times.[7]

That they said (in boast), “We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah”;- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise;-

— Qur’an, sura 4 (An-Nisa) ayat 157–158[8]

Despite these views, scholars have maintained, that the Crucifixion of Jesus is a fact of history and not disputed.[9]

The view that Jesus only appeared to be crucified and did not actually die predates Islam, and is found in several apocryphal gospels.[10]

Irenaeus in his book Against Heresies describes Gnostic beliefs that bear remarkable resemblance with the Islamic view:

He did not himself suffer death, but Simon, a certain man of Cyrene, being compelled, bore the cross in his stead; so that this latter being transfigured by him, that he might be thought to be Jesus, was crucified, through ignorance and error, while Jesus himself received the form of Simon, and, standing by, laughed at them. For since he was an incorporeal power, and the Nous (mind) of the unborn father, he transfigured himself as he pleased, and thus ascended to him who had sent him, deriding them, inasmuch as he could not be laid hold of, and was invisible to all.-

— Against Heresies, Book I, Chapter 24, Section 40

Irenaeus mentions this view again:

He appeared on earth as a man and performed miracles. Thus he himself did not suffer. Rather, a certain Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry his cross for him. It was he who was ignorantly and erroneously crucified, being transfigured by him, so that he might be thought to be Jesus. Moreover, Jesus assumed the form of Simon, and stood by laughing at them.[11][12] Irenaeus, Against Heresies.[13]

Another Gnostic writing, found in the Nag Hammadi library, Second Treatise of the Great Seth has a similar view of Jesus’ death:

I was not afflicted at all, yet I did not die in solid reality but in what appears, in order that I not be put to shame by them

and also:

Another, their father, was the one who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. Another was the one who lifted up the cross on his shoulder, who was Simon. Another was the one on whom they put the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over all the riches of the archons and the offspring of their error and their conceit, and I was laughing at their ignorance

Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, likewise, reveals the same views of Jesus’ death:

I saw him (Jesus) seemingly being seized by them. And I said ‘What do I see, O Lord? That it is you yourself whom they take, and that you are grasping me? Or who is this one, glad and laughing on the tree? And is it another one whose feet and hands they are striking?’ The Savior said to me, ‘He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me.’ But I, when I had looked, said ‘Lord, no one is looking at you. Let us flee this place.’ But he said to me, ‘I have told you, ‘Leave the blind alone!’. And you, see how they do not know what they are saying. For the son of their glory instead of my servant, they have put to shame.’ And I saw someone about to approach us resembling him, even him who was laughing on the tree. And he was with a Holy Spirit, and he is the Savior. And there was a great, ineffable light around them, and the multitude of ineffable and invisible angels blessing them. And when I looked at him, the one who gives praise was revealed.

Apocryphal legends

Mary shaking the palm tree for dates is a legend derived from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.


When looking at the narratives of Jesus found in the Quran, some themes are found in pre-Islamic sources such as the Infancy Gospels about Christ.[2] Much of the qur’anic material about the selection and upbringing of Mary parallels much of the Protovangelium of James,[3] with the miracle of the palm tree and the stream of water being found in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.[3] In Pseudo-Matthew, the flight to Egypt is narrated similarly to how it is found in Islamic lore,[3] with Syriac translations of the Protoevangelium of James and The Infancy Story of Thomas being found in pre-Islamic sources.[3]John Wansbrough believes that the Quran is a redaction in part of other sacred scriptures, in particular the Judaeo-Christian scriptures.[14][15] There are also Quranic parallels with the Syriac Infancy Gospel, particularly about Jesus talking as a baby in the cradle. The Syriac infancy gospel contains this story:

He has said that Jesus spoke, and, indeed, when He was lying in His cradle said to Mary His mother: I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom thou hast brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to thee; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world.

and the Quranic parallel is found in Surah 19:29-34

“But she pointed to the babe. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” He said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)”! Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute.”[16]

Jewish legends

Quran shows influence from Jewish literature, like the Midrash Tanchuma


Several narratives rely on Jewish Midrash Tanhuma legends, like the narrative of Cain learning to bury the body of Abel in Surah 5:31.[17][18] Surah 5:32, when discussing the legal and moral applications to the story of Cain and Abel, relies heavily on the Jewish Mishnah tradition, and quotes from Sanhedrin 4:5:[19]

Sanhedrin 4:5 …if any man has caused a single life to perish from Israel, he is deemed by Scripture as if he had caused a whole world to perish; and anyone who saves a single soul from Israel, he is deemed by Scripture as if he had saved a whole world. [20]

Surah 5:32 Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel: that whoever kills a person—unless it is for murder or corruption on earth—it is as if he killed the whole of mankind; and whoever saves it, it is as if he saved the whole of mankind. Our messengers came to them with clarifications, but even after that, many of them continue to commit excesses in the land.[21]

Alexander the Great legends

Silver tetradrachm of Alexander the Great shown wearing the horns of the ram-god Zeus-Ammon.


Main article: Alexander the Great in the Quran, Dhul-Qarnayn

Quran also employs popular legends about Alexander the Great called Dhul-Qarnayn (“he of the two horns”) in the Quran. The story of Dhul-Qarnayn has its origins in legends of Alexander the Great current in the Middle East in the early years of the Christian era. According to these the Scythians, the descendants of Gog and Magog, once defeated one of Alexander’s generals, upon which Alexander built a wall in the Caucasus mountains to keep them out of civilised lands (the basic elements are found in Flavius Josephus). The legend went through much further elaboration in subsequent centuries before eventually finding its way into the Quran through a Syrian version.[22]

The reasons behind the name “Two-Horned” are somewhat obscure: the scholar al-Tabari (839-923 CE) held it was because he went from one extremity (“horn”) of the world to the other,[23] but it may ultimately derive from the image of Alexander wearing the horns of the ram-god Zeus-Ammon, as popularised on coins throughout the Hellenistic Near East.[24] The wall Dhul-Qarnayn builds on his northern journey may have reflected a distant knowledge of the Great Wall of China (the 12th century scholar al-Idrisi drew a map for Roger of Sicily showing the “Land of Gog and Magog” in Mongolia), or of various Sassanid Persian walls built in the Caspian area against the northern barbarians, or a conflation of the two.[25]

Dhul-Qarneyn also journeys to the western and eastern extremities (“qarns”, tips) of the Earth.[26] In the west he finds the sun setting in a “muddy spring”, equivalent to the “poisonous sea” which Alexander found in the Syriac legend. [27] In the Syriac original Alexander tested the sea by sending condemned prisoners into it, but the Quran changes this into a general administration of justice.[27] In the east both the Syrian legend and the Quran have Alexander/Dhul-Qarneyn find a people who live so close to the rising sun that they have no protection from its heat.[27]

“Qarn” also means “period” or “century”, and the name Dhul-Qarnayn therefore has a symbolic meaning as “He of the Two Ages”, the first being the mythological time when the wall is built and the second the age of the end of the world when Allah’s shariah, the divine law, is removed and Gog and Magog are to be set loose.[28] Modern Islamic apocalyptic writers, holding to a literal reading, put forward various explanations for the absence of the wall from the modern world, some saying that Gog and Magog were the Mongols and that the wall is now gone, others that both the wall and Gog and Magog are present but invisible.[29]

References

  1.  G. Luling asserts that a third of the Quran is of pre-Islamic Christian origins, see Uber den Urkoran, Erlangen, 1993, 1st Ed., 1973, p. 1.
  2.  Leirvik 2010, p. 33.
  3.  Leirvik 2010, pp. 33–34.
  4.  Geisler, N. L. (1999). In Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. Entry on Qur’an, Alleged Divine Origin of.
  5.  “Et gentibus ipsorum autem apparuisse eum in terra hominem, et virtutes perfecisse. Quapropter neque passsum eum, sed Simonem quendam Cyrenæum angariatum portasse crucem ejus pro eo: et hunc secundum ignorantiam et errorem crucifixum, transfiguratum ab eo, uti putaretur ipse esse Jesus: et ipsum autem Jesum Simonis accepisse formam, et stantem irrisisse eos.” Book 1, Chapter 19
  6.  e.g. Gerald Hawting, interviewed for The Religion Report, Radio National (Australia), 26 June 2002.
  7.  Joel L. Kraemer Israel Oriental Studies XII BRILL 1992 ISBN9789004095847 p. 41
  8.  Lawson, Todd (1 March 2009). The Crucifixion and the Quran: A Study in the History of Muslim Thought. Oneworld Publications. p. 12. ISBN1851686355.
  9.  Eddy, Paul Rhodes and Gregory A. Boyd (2007). The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker Academic. p. 172. ISBN0801031141. …if there is any fact of Jesus’ life that has been established by a broad consensus, it is the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion.
  10.  Joel L. Kraemer Israel Oriental Studies XII BRILL 1992 ISBN9789004095847 p. 41
  11.  Haer. 1.24.4
  12.  Kelhoffer, James A. (2014). Conceptions of “Gospel” and Legitimacy in Early Christianity. Mohr Siebeck. p. 80. ISBN9783161526367.
  13.  “Et gentibus ipsorum autem apparuisse eum in terra hominem, et virtutes perfecisse. Quapropter neque passsum eum, sed Simonem quendam Cyrenæum angariatum portasse crucem ejus pro eo: et hunc secundum ignorantiam et errorem crucifixum, transfiguratum ab eo, uti putaretur ipse esse Jesus: et ipsum autem Jesum Simonis accepisse formam, et stantem irrisisse eos.” Book 1, Chapter 19
  14.  Wansbrough, John (1977). Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation
  15.  Wansbrough, John (1978). The Sectarian Milieu: Content and Composition of Islamic Salvation History.
  16.  “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 2010-12-05. Retrieved 2010-11-13.
  17.  Samuel A. Berman, Midrash Tanhuma-Yelammedenu (KTAV Publishing house, 1996) 31-32
  18.  Gerald Friedlander, Pirḳe de-R. Eliezer, (The Bloch Publishing Company, 1916) 156
  19.  Herbert Danby, The Mishnah: Translated from the Hebrew with Introduction and Brief Notes (Hendrickson Publishing, 2011) 388
  20.  Sefaria: Sanhedrin 4:5
  21.  ClearQuran: Surah 5
  22.  Bietenholz 1994, p. 122-123.
  23.  Van Donzel & Schmidt 2010, p. 57 fn.3.
  24.  Pinault 1992, p. 181 fn.71.
  25.  Glassé & Smith 2003, p. 39.
  26.  Wheeler 2013, p. 96.
  27.  Ernst 2011, p. 133.
  28.  Glassé & Smith 2003, p. 38.
  29.  Cook 2005, p. 205-206.

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