Parallelism: The Story of Abraham and the Idols
The parallel between the Qur'an and the Midrash is given below.
Examination of both Accounts
The claim is that this parallelism originated from the Midrash as an invention of a Rabbi:
“It will no doubt come as a shock for some to discover that the Qur'an which claims to be "divine revelation" contains one such Jewish legend and presents it as being an historical fact concerning the life of Abraham. However this story is a well known illustration invented by Rabbi Hiyya in the 2nd century CE; it is recorded in the Midrash Rabbah Genesis and all authorities agree that it was never mean't to be considered historical.
The Quranic account of Abraham and the idols commences in Qur'an 6:74 where Abraham is quoted as saying "Takest thou idols for gods?" and this theme is then expanded in Sura Qur'an 21:51-71 . It is exactly the same theme of the Midrashic legend where Abraham takes issue over the idols of his father.
The Shared Themes in the Midrashic Account
The Midrashic account is given here and the Qur'anic equivalent can be found in the ayats in the brackets:
- Abraham's father accused of being an idolater: "Terah (Abraham's father) was a manufacturer of idols" ie. He was an idolater. (52)
- "He once went away somewhere and left Abraham..." (57)
- Abraham breaks all the idols except the biggest: "So he took a stick, broke them, (the idols) and put the the stick in the hand of the largest." (58)
- "When his father returned he demanded, 'What have you done to them?'" (59) (In the Quranic account this demand is made by his father and the people.)
- Abraham claims: "Thereupon the largest arose, took the stick, and broke them." (63)
- Abraham is seized and delivered up for judgement: "Thereupon he seized him and delivered him to Nimrod." (64) (The Quran does not mention by name who was to punish Abraham.)
- Abraham is saved from the fire: "When Abram descended into the fiery furnace and was saved..." (69)
All the above points are unique both to the Qur'anic and mythical midrashic accounts. They do not appear in the Scriptures of the Jews and Christians.”
Analysis and Refutations to Muslim Objections
Objection 1: Additions (i.e. in the parashiyyot) and alterations may have been made to the text of the Bereshit Rabbah (i.e. Genesis Rabbah) after its redaction in the sixth century CE.
- Redaction does not mean the date of origin of the text. The Abraham and the idols story is not in the parashiyyot but the Noach. This story is not in the list of texts added or edited.
Objection 2: The existing manuscripts of the Bereshit Rabbah post-date the origin of the Quran.
- Historical evidence from various sources evidence a pre-Islamic date for the Bereshit Rabbah. For example, St Jerome mentions the Jewish interpretation of Genesis 11:28 in respect to Abraham refusal to worship fire and his consumption by fire. Also, the Book of Jubilees mention Abraham’s dislike of idol worship, and the Babylonian Talmud mentions Nimrod casting Abraham into the fire.
Objection 3: The text is unstable due to flexibility of copying and therefore it cannot be ascertained that the compared texts are similar.
- It is not asserted that Muhammad copied from the Bereshit Rabbah, rather he heard this Judeo-Christian story from others, possibly Jews and Christians. The Bereshit Rabbah is merely evidence to date this particular Judeo-Christian story. There are other Judeo-Christian sources as listed above.
Objection 4: Judeo-Christian sources of the same story are different, thus the original paralleled story cannot be ascertained.
- Again, the charge is not that Muhammad referred to any particular text, although the Bereshit Rabbah’s version comes closest to the Quranic version.
It is clear the story of Abraham disdaining idol worship, destroying idols, and being thrown into the fire pre-dates Islam in various Judeo-Christian sources. It is not the contention that Muhammad copied from these texts, but that he heard this story or variants thereof from other people, probably Jews and Christians. The Judeo-Christian sources used as evidence are merely evidence of the antiquity of this story.
One is forced to wonder how a story invented by Rabbi Hiyya in the 2nd century CE managed to find its way into a source purported to be of divine origin. Allah seems prone to co-invention of many Judeo-Christian stories not believed to be of direct revelation by Yahweh or Jehovah to any pre-Islamic prophets.
- Abraham and the Idols answering-islam.org.
- M S M Saifullah - The Story Of Abraham And Idols In The Qur'an And Midrash Genesis Rabbah islamic-awareness.org
- sayfallaah freethoughtmecca