Legends and the Quran

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

This article considers the relationship between events in the Qur'an, the central religious text of Islam, and the same events in pre-Islamic writings (Talmud, midrash, some gospels and apocryphal Jewish works).

Early in Islamic history, debates over the role of Jewish mythology, as well as Christian Biblical apocrypha references in the Qur'an, the sacred text of Islam, existed. "Myths are narratives that serve to explain and describe the experienced world by laying bare its archetypal patterns; they are often staged in a cosmic or supernatural framework so as to manifest binding truths, to generate meaning and provide guidance. Legends, raising no such universal claim, may be understood as narratives of pious imagination celebrating an exemplary figure."[1]

However, the acknowledgment of Qur'an's incorporation of myths and legends is not widely accepted in the Islamic community and remains a sensitive and controversial topic as it is often used to threaten the Qur'an as the word of God. Instead, Islamic scholars point out that differences between the Qur'anic accounts and that of Jewish mythology and Christian Biblical apocrypha serve to correct the legends, thus rendering them more credible and reliable.

The Qur'an's response[edit]

During Muhammad's lifetime, non-Muslims accused Muhammad of borrowing from "tales of the ancients" to compose the Qur'an. Because Muslims believe that the Qur'an was not revealed all at once, the Qur'an quotes these critics.

Satan and Adam[edit]

When God creates Adam, he commands all the angels to bow to him. Satan refuses to bow to Adam and is therefore rebuked by God. The apocryphal Jewish work Life of Adam and Eve also contains this narrative.


The Life of Adam and Eve

Adam and the Angels[edit]

Adam possesses more knowledge than angels.


Killing all Mankind[edit]

The Qur'an relates a Talmudic parable about the value of human life in its account of the murder of Abel by Cain.


The Qur'an does not mention Abel and Cain by name, but refers to them as the two sons of Adam, " Recite to them the truth of the story of the two sons of Adam" [Quran 5:27] --Translated by Yusuf Ali.


The raven and the burial of Abel[edit]


The Qur'an does not mention Abel and Cain by name, but refers to them as the two sons of Adam, " Recite to them the truth of the story of the two sons of Adam" [Quran 5:27] --Translated by Yusuf Ali.

Haggadah of Pesach folklore

Abraham – idol wrecker[edit]

A Jewish depiction of Abraham smashing the idols

Abraham smashing idols contained in Midrash Bereishit 38:13 and Surah 21 in the Qur'an. Abraham's father was an idolater while Abraham is a devout monotheist. Abraham breaks many idols and the people try to burn him until God rescues Abraham.

Qur'an surah and verse Qur'an quote Midrash
21.51 "What are these images, to which ye are (so assiduously) devoted?" "Then why do you pray to them and worship them?"[4]
21.57 "after ye go away and turn your backs" "the woman rushed out into the street"[4]
21.58 So he broke them to pieces, (all) but the biggest of them "he broke them all except the largest"[4]
21.62 They said, "Art thou the one that did this with our gods, O Abraham?" "'What hast thou done?' they demanded, angrily."[5]
21.63 He said: "Nay, this was done by - this is their biggest one! ask them, if they can speak intelligently!" "I? Nothing," answered Abraham. "See, the largest idol . . . It seems to me that he has been angry and has killed all the others. Ask him why he did this."[5]
21.65 "Thou knowest full well that these (idols) do not speak!" "'They cannot speak,' said Terah."[4]
21.68 They said, "Burn him and protect your gods, Let them be bound and cast into the furnace[6]
21.69 We said, "O Fire! be thou cool, and (a means of) safety for Abraham! "Abraham walked unharmed in the flames"[6]
21.70 We made them the ones that lost most! "Twelve men in all perished . . . Haran was burned to ashes at once"[6]

The Qur'an does not elaborate on the meaning behind the idolaters losing more than Abraham as the Midrash does. The Midrash account is accepted by Jews as non-historical but as a lesson created by Jews to warn against following the Greek gods[citation needed]. Elements of the story suggest to have roots in the Apocalypse of Abraham and the Book of Jubilees. Abraham's father's name is Azar in the Qur'an and Terah in the Midrash and Bible

Early Muslims differed on whether Azar was an alternate name for Terah, as Israel was for Jacob.[8] Many of the commentators of the Qur'an (both Sunni and Shia) have also cited an opinion that Azar was the father of Abraham.[9]

Moses' milk[edit]

God creates a way so that Moses' birth mother is able to nurse him.



Pharaoh's magicians[edit]

Pharaoh's magicians later accept Moses as a prophet and convert. This Qur'anic account also appears in Ambrosiaster, a 4th-century biblical commentary.[11]



Korah's keys[edit]

The Qur'an describes Korah as exceedingly wealthy in the same way as the Talmud.



Flying mountain[edit]

Both the Qur'an and the Talmud tell the story of God raising a mountain over the Israelites



(Exodus 19:17).

The Hebrew phrase used here (be-tahtit ha-har) evidently means that they encamped at the foot of the mountain. However, looked at with a more narrow literalism, it can be understood as "they stood underneath the mountain"


The Cave[edit]

The Quran confirms the story of men protected by sleeping in a cave that is amongst the many Jewish holy stories, according to Muhammad Asad, though was understood by the earliest Islamic scholars as a Christian legend.

Mary and Zechariah[edit]

Several elements of Mary's childhood under Zechariah are depicted in the Qur'an and Gospel of James. The oldest manuscript of the Gospel of James is the 4th century Papyrus Bodmer V[16]

God cares for Mary[edit]

Mary the mother of Jesus at a young age was fed by supernatural means.


Gospel of James

Casting lots to care for Mary[edit]


Gospel of James

Mary and the miracle of the Palm Tree[edit]

The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew describes Mary sitting below a palm tree with Jesus, Jesus talking to Mary when he is a baby and baby Jesus performing miracles to nourish Mary with dates from a palm tree and a stream of water. The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew is believed to date back to the 6th century.[18]


Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew chapter 20

Jesus creates birds[edit]

Jesus forms birds out of clay.


This parallels an episode in the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas where he does the same:[20]

Infancy Gospel of Thomas

The Injilu 't Tufuliyyah, also known as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ, was written in the middle of the 2nd century.[22]

Jesus speaks in the cradle[edit]

The 2nd century's Injilu 't Tufuliyyah or the Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ, contains an Arabic translation of the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and additional narratives. This contains a narrative of Jesus speaking while an infant, also contained in the Qur'an.[22]


"He relates that Jesus spake even when he was in the cradle and he said to his mother, "Mary, I am Jesus the son of God, that word which thou didst bring forth according to the celebration of the angel Gabriel to thee, my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world." -Syriac Infancy Gospel 1:2-3

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, myth, legends and the Qur'an
  2. ^ chapter 4 The Johns Hopkins University Press: 1998.
  3. ^ Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
  4. ^ a b c d Gertrude Landa. Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends. 1919. p94
  5. ^ a b Gertrude Landa. Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends. 1919. p95
  6. ^ a b c Gertrude Landa. Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends. 1919. p97
  7. ^ Abraham. Jewish Encyclopedia
  8. ^ See for example Tafsir al-Tabari for 6:74 (Arabic).
  9. ^ From the Sunnis, see Tafsir ruh al-ma`ani, and from the Shia al-Tusi's Tafsir.
  10. ^ Shemot Rabbah 1:25
  11. ^ Lunn-Rockliffe, Sophia. "Ambrosiaster's Political Theology", page 2. Oxford University Press, USA. 2007.
  12. ^ The Apocryphon of Jannes and Jambres the Magicians, E.J. Brill, 1994 p. 30
  13. ^ Sanhedrin 110a. See also Pesachim 119a
  14. ^ Avodah Zarah 2b
  15. ^ Muhammad Asad. The Message of the Qur'an. The Book Foundation: 2003. Footnote on 18.7
  16. ^ Hock, Ronald F.:"The Infancy Gospels of James and Thomas," page 4. Polebridge Press, 1996.
  17. ^ Gospel of James 8:6 online source
  18. ^ Smith-Christopher, Daniel L.; Spignesi, Stephen. "Lost Books of the Bible for Dummies", page 179. For Dummies, 2008.
  19. ^ Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew chapter 20 online source
  20. ^ Rev. W. St. Clair-Tisdall, The Sources of Islam: A Persian Treatise, translated and abridged by Sir William Muir, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, Scotland. 1901
  21. ^ Robert J. Miller, ed., The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version (Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press 1992), pp. 363-372. or online [1]
  22. ^ a b Davis, Steven. "The Infancy Gospels of Jesus: Apocryphal Tales from the Childhoods of Mary and Jesus," page 112. Skylight Paths Publishing, 2009.

External links[edit]