Companions of the Cave (Sources)

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This page contains the Qur'anic story of the "Companions of the Cave" and its original source; a 5th century Syrian legend called the "Seven Sleepers of Ephesus".[1]

Full Texts

Syrian Legend

The following text is taken from "The Golden Legend: Volume IV", compiled by Jacobus de Voragine.

The seven sleepers were born in the city of Ephesus. And when Decius the emperor came into Ephesus for the persecution of christian men, he commanded to edify the temples in the middle of the city, so that all should come with him to do sacrifice to the idols, and did do seek all the christian people, and bind them for to make them to do sacrifice, or else to put them to death; in such wise that every man was afeard of the pains that he promised, that the friend forsook his friend, and the son renied his father, and the father the son. And then in this city were founden seven christian men, that is to wit, Maximian, Malchus, Marcianus, Denis, John, Serapion, and Constantine. And when they saw this, they had much sorrow, and because they were the first in the palace that despised the sacrifices, they hid them in their houses, and were in fastings and in prayers. And then they were accused tofore Decius, and came thither, and were found very christian men. Then was given to them space for to repent them, unto the coming again of Decius. And in the meanwhile they dispended their patrimony in alms to the poor people; and assembled them together, and took counsel, and went to the mount of Celion, and there ordained to be more secretly, and there hid them long time. And one of them administered and served them always. And when he went into the city, he clothed him in the habit of a beggar.

When Decius was come again, he commanded that they should be fetched, and then Malchus, which was their servant and ministered to them meat and drink, returned in great dread to his fellows, and told and showed to them the great fury and woodness of them, and then were they sore afraid. And Malchus set tofore them the loaves of bread that he had brought, so that they were comforted of the meat, and were more strong for to suffer torments. And when they had taken their refection and sat in weeping and wailings, suddenly, as God would, they slept, and when it came on the morn they were sought and could not be found. Wherefore Decius was sorrowful because he had lost such young men. And then they were accused that they were hid in the mount of Celion, and had given their goods to poor men, and yet abode in their purpose. And then commanded Decius that their kindred should come to him, and menaced them to the death if they said not of them all that they knew. And they accused them, and complained that they had dispended all their riches. Then Decius thought what he should do with them, and, as our Lord would, he enclosed the mouth of the cave wherein they were with stones, to the end that they should die therein for hunger and fault of meat. Then the ministers and two christian men, Theodorus and Rufinus, wrote their martyrdom and laid it subtlely among the stones. And when Decius was dead, and all that generation, three hundred and sixty-two years after, and the thirtieth year of Theodosius the emperor, when the heresy was of them that denied the resurrection of dead bodies, and began to grow; Theodosius, then the most christian emperor, being sorrowful that the faith of our Lord was so felonously demened, for anger and heaviness he clad him in hair and wept every day in a secret place, and led a full holy life, which God, merciful and piteous, seeing, would comfort them that were sorrowful and weeping, and give to them esperance and hope of the resurrection of dead men, and opened the precious treasure of his pity, and raised the foresaid martyrs in this manner following.

He put in the will of a burgess of Ephesus that he would make in that mountain, which was desert and aspre, a stable for his pasturers and herdmen. And it happed that of adventure the masons, that made the said stable, opened this cave. And then these holy saints, that were within, awoke and were raised and intersalued each other, and had supposed verily that they had slept but one night only, and remembered of the heaviness that they had the day tofore. And then Malchus, which ministered to them, said what Decius had ordained of them, for he said: We have been sought, like as I said to you yesterday, for to do sacrifice to the idols, that is it that the emperor desireth of us. And then Maximian answered: God our Lord knoweth that we shall never sacrifice, and comforted his fellows. He commanded to Malchus to go and buy bread in the city, and bade him bring more than he did yesterday, and also to enquire and demand what the emperor had commanded to do. And then Malchus took five shillings, and issued out of the cave, and when he saw the masons and the stones tofore the cave, he began to bless him, and was much amarvelled. But he thought little on the stones, for he thought on other things. Then came he all doubtful to the gates of the city, and was all amarvelled. For he saw the sign of the cross about the gate, and then, without tarrying, he went to that other gate of the city, and found there also the sign of the cross thereon, and then he had great marvel, for upon every gate he saw set up the sign of the cross; and therewith the city was garnished. And then he blessed him and returned to the first gate, and weened he had dreamed; and after he advised and comforted himself and covered his visage and entered into the city. And when he came to the sellers of bread, and heard the men speak of God, yet then was he more abashed, and said: What is this, that no man yesterday durst name Jesu Christ, and now every man confesseth him to be christian? I trow this is not the city of Ephesus, for it is all otherwise builded. It is some other city, I wot not what. And when he demanded and heard verily that it was Ephesus, he supposed that he had erred, and thought verily to go again to his fellows, and then went to them that sold bread. And when he showed his money the sellers marvelled, and said that one to that other, that this young man had found some old treasure. And when Malchus saw them talk together, he doubted not that they would lead him to the emperor, and was sore afeard, and prayed them to let him go, and keep both money and bread, but they held him, and said to him: Of whence art thou? For thou hast found treasure of old emperors, show it to us, and we shall be fellows with thee and keep it secret. And Malchus was so afeard that he wist not what to say to them for dread. And when they saw that he spake not they put a cord about his neck, and drew him through the city unto the middle thereof. And tidings were had all about in the city that a young man had found ancient treasure, in such wise that all they of the city assembled about him, and he confessed there that he had found no treasure. And he beheld them all, but he could know no man there of his kindred ne lineage, which he had verily supposed that they had lived, but found none, wherefore he stood as he had been from himself, in the middle of the city. And when S. Martin the bishop, and Antipater the consul, which were new come into this city, heard of this thing they sent for him, that they should bring him wisely to them, and his money with him. And when he was brought to the church he weened well he should have been led to the Emperor Decius. And then the bishop and the consul marvelled of the money, and they demanded him where he had found this treasure unknown. And he answered that he had nothing founden, but it was come to him of his kindred and patrimony, and they demanded of him of what city he was. I wot well that I am of this city, if this be the city of Ephesus. And the judge said to him: Let thy kindred come and witness for thee. And he named them, but none knew them. And they said that he feigned, for to escape from them in some manner. And then said the judge: How may we believe thee that this money is come to thee of thy friends, when it appeareth in the scripture that it is more than three hundred and seventy-two years sith it was made and forged, and is of the first days of Decius the emperor, and it resembleth nothing to our money; and how may it come from thy lineage so long since, and thou art young and wouldst deceive the wise and ancient men of this city of Ephesus? And therefore I command that thou be demened after the law till thou hast confessed where thou hast found this money. Then Malchus kneeled down tofore them and said: For God's sake, lords, say ye to me that I shall demand you, and I shall tell to you all that I have in my heart. Decius the emperor that was in this city, where is he? And the bishop said to him there is no such at this day in the world that is named Decius, he was emperor many years since. And Malchus said: Sire, hereof I am greatly abashed and no man believeth me, for I wot well that we fled for fear of Decius the emperor, and I saw him, that yesterday he entered into this city, if this be the city of Ephesus. Then the bishop thought in himself, and said to the judge that, this is a vision that our Lord will have showed by this young man. Then said the young man: Follow ye me, and I shall show to you my fellows which be in the mount of Celion, and believe ye them. This know I well, that we fled from the face of the Emperor Decius. And then they went with him, and a great multitude of the people of the city with them. And Malchus entered first into the cave to his fellows, and the bishop next after him. And there found they among the stones the letters sealed with two seals of silver. And then the bishop called them that were come thither, and read them tofore them all, so that they that heard it were all abashed and amarvelled. And they saw the saints sitting in the cave, and their visages like unto roses flowering, and they, kneeling down, glorified God. And anon the bishop and the judge sent to Theodosius the emperor, praying him that he would come anon for to see the marvels of our Lord that he had late showed. And anon he arose up from the ground, and took off the sack in which he wept, and glorified our Lord. And came from Constantinople to Ephesus, and all they came against him, and ascended in to the mountain with him together, unto the saints in to the cave.

And as soon as the blessed saints of our Lord saw the emperor come, their visages shone like to the sun. And the emperor entered then, and glorified our Lord and embraced them, weeping upon each of them, and said: I see you now like as I should see our Lord raising Lazarus. And then Maximian said to him: Believe us, for forsooth our Lord hath raised us tofore the day of the great resurrection. And to the end that thou believe firmly the resurrection of the dead people, verily we be raised as ye here see, and live. And in like wise as the child is in the womb of his mother without feeling harm or hurt, in the same wise we have been living and sleeping in Iying here without feeling of anything. And when they had said all this, they inclined their heads to the earth, and rendered their spirits at the command of our Lord Jesu Christ, and so died. Then the emperor arose, and fell on them, weeping strongly, and embraced them, and kissed them debonairly. And then he commanded to make precious sepulchres of gold and silver, and to bury their bodies therein. And in the same night they appeared to the emperor, and said to him that he should suffer them to lie on the earth like as they bad lain tofore till that time that our Lord had raised them, unto the time that they should rise again. Then commanded the emperor that the place should be adorned nobly and richly with precious stones, and all the bishops that would confess the resurrection should be assoiled. It is in doubt of that which is said that they slept three hundred and sixty-two years, for they were raised the year of our Lord four hundred and seventy-eight, and Decius reigned but one year and three months, and that was in the year of our Lord two hundred and seventy, and so they slept but two hundred and eight years.[2]

Qur'anic Version

The following text is taken from the Yusuf Ali translation of the 18th surah of the Qur'an, al-Kahf (the Cave).

Praise be to Allah, Who hath sent to His Servant the Book, and hath allowed therein no crookedness:

(He hath made it) Straight (and Clear) in order that He may warn (the godless) of a terrible Punishment from Him, and that He may give Glad Tidings to the Believers who work righteous deeds, that they shall have a goodly Reward,

Wherein they shall remain for ever:

Further, that He may warn those (also) who say, "(Allah) hath begotten a son":

No knowledge have they of such a thing, nor had their fathers. It is a grievous thing that issues from their mouths as a saying what they say is nothing but falsehood!

Thou wouldst only, perchance, fret thyself to death, following after them, in grief, if they believe not in this Message.

That which is on earth we have made but as a glittering show for the earth, in order that We may test them - as to which of them are best in conduct.

Verily what is on earth we shall make but as dust and dry soil (without growth or herbage).

Or dost thou reflect that the Companions of the Cave and of the Inscription were wonders among Our Sign?

Behold, the youths betook themselves to the Cave: they said, "Our Lord! bestow on us Mercy from Thyself, and dispose of our affair for us in the right way!"

Then We draw (a veil) over their ears, for a number of years, in the Cave, (so that they heard not):

Then We roused them, in order to test which of the two parties was best at calculating the term of years they had tarried!

We relate to thee their story in truth: they were youths who believed in their Lord, and We advanced them in guidance:

We gave strength to their hearts: Behold, they stood up and said: "Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and of the earth: never shall we call upon any god other than Him; if we did, we should indeed have uttered an enormity!

"These our people have taken for worship, gods other than Him: why do they not bring forward an authority clear (and convincing) for what they do? Who doth more wrong than such as invent a falsehood against Allah?

"When ye turn away from them and the things they worship other than Allah, betake yourselves to the Cave: Your Lord will shower His mercies on you and disposes of your affair towards comfort and ease."

Thou wouldst have seen the sun, when it rose, declining to the right from their Cave, and when it set, turning away from them to the left, while they lay in the open space in the midst of the Cave. Such are among the Signs of Allah. He whom Allah, guides is rightly guided; but he whom Allah leaves to stray, for him wilt thou find no protector to lead him to the Right Way.

Thou wouldst have deemed them awake, whilst they were asleep, and We turned them on their right and on their left sides: their dog stretching forth his two fore-legs on the threshold: if thou hadst come up on to them, thou wouldst have certainly turned back from them in flight, and wouldst certainly have been filled with terror of them.

Such (being their state), we raised them up (from sleep), that they might question each other. Said one of them, "How long have ye stayed (here)?" They said, "We have stayed (perhaps) a day, or part of a day." (At length) they (all) said, "(Allah) (alone) knows best how long ye have stayed here... Now send ye then one of you with this money of yours to the town: let him find out which is the best food (to be had) and bring some to you, that (ye may) satisfy your hunger therewith: And let him behave with care and courtesy, and let him not inform any one about you.

"For if they should come upon you, they would stone you or force you to return to their cult, and in that case ye would never attain prosperity."

Thus did We make their case known to the people, that they might know that the promise of Allah is true, and that there can be no doubt about the Hour of Judgment. Behold, they dispute among themselves as to their affair. (Some) said, "Construct a building over them": Their Lord knows best about them: those who prevailed over their affair said, "Let us surely build a place of worship over them."

(Some) say they were three, the dog being the fourth among them; (others) say they were five, the dog being the sixth,- doubtfully guessing at the unknown; (yet others) say they were seven, the dog being the eighth. Say thou: "My Lord knoweth best their number; It is but few that know their (real case)." Enter not, therefore, into controversies concerning them, except on a matter that is clear, nor consult any of them about (the affair of) the Sleepers.

Nor say of anything, "I shall be sure to do so and so tomorrow"

Without adding, "So please Allah." and call thy Lord to mind when thou forgettest, and say, "I hope that my Lord will guide me ever closer (even) than this to the right road."

So they stayed in their Cave three hundred years, and (some) add nine (more)

Say: "(Allah) knows best how long they stayed: with Him is (the knowledge of) the secrets of the heavens and the earth: how clearly He sees, how finely He hears (everything)! They have no protector other than Him; nor does He share His Command with any person whatsoever.E

And recite (and teach) what has been revealed to thee of the Book of thy Lord: none can change His Words, and none wilt thou find as a refuge other than Him.

And keep thy soul content with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, seeking His Face; and let not thine eyes pass beyond them, seeking the pomp and glitter of this Life; nor obey any whose heart We have permitted to neglect the remembrance of Us, one who follows his own desires, whose case has gone beyond all bounds.

Say, "The truth is from your Lord": Let him who will believe, and let him who will, reject (it): for the wrong-doers We have prepared a Fire whose (smoke and flames), like the walls and roof of a tent, will hem them in: if they implore relief they will be granted water like melted brass, that will scald their faces, how dreadful the drink! How uncomfortable a couch to recline on!

As to those who believe and work righteousness, verily We shall not suffer to perish the reward of any who do a (single) righteous deed.

For them will be Gardens of Eternity; beneath them rivers will flow; they will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and they will wear green garments of fine silk and heavy brocade: They will recline therein on raised thrones. How good the recompense! How beautiful a couch to recline on![3]

See Also

  • Library - WikiIslam's online library of books
  • Companions of the Cave - A hub page that leads to other articles related to the Companions of the Cave

References

  1. Reynolds, Gabriel Said. "Seven Sleepers" in Medieval Islamic Civilization, ed Josef W. Meri, Routledge, 2004, p. 720, ISBN 9780415966900
  2. Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275 First Edition Published 1470. "Seven Sleepers" in The Golden Legend: Volume IV (archived).
  3. Yusuf Ali (trans.), "Al-Kahf (The Cave): 1-31", USC-MSA, Compendium of Muslim Texts, accessed December 7, 2013