Parallelism: The Story of Abraham and the Idols

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Parallelism Between the Qur'an
and Judeo-Christian Scriptures
By: Julian Charteris
Talking Baby Jesus
Sanhedrin 37a
The Raven & the Burial of Abel
The Quranic Version of Trinity‎
Jesus Christ & the Clay Birds
Mary & Zachariah
Mary, Jesus & the Palm Tree
Satan & His Refusal to Prostrate
The Queen of Sheba
Abraham & the Idols
The Wealth of Korah

The parallel between the Qur'an and the Midrash is given below.

Midrash Account

And Haran died in front of Terach his father. R. Hiyya the grandson of R. Ada of Yafo [said]: Terach was an idolater. One day he went out somewhere, and put Avraham in charge of selling [the idols]. When a man would come who wanted to purchase, he would say to him: “How old are you”? [The customer] would answer: “Fifty or sixty years old”. [Avraham] would say: “Woe to the man who is sixty years old And desires to worship something one day old.” [The customer] would be ashamed and leave. One day a woman came, carrying in her hand a basket of fine flour. She said: “Here, offer it before them.” Abraham siezed a stick, And smashed all the idols, And placed the stick in the hand of the biggest of them. When his father came, he said to him: “Who did this to them”? [Avraham] said:, “Would I hide anything from my father? a woman came, carrying in her hand a basket of fine flour. She said: “Here, offer it before them.” When I offered it, one god said: “I will eat first,” And another said, “No, I will eat first.” Then the biggest of them rose up and smashed all the others. [His father] said:, “Are you making fun of me? Do they know anything?” [Avraham] answered: Shall your ears not hear what your mouth is saying? He took [Avraham] and handed him over to Nimrod. [Nimrod] said to him: “Let us worship the fire”. [Avraham said to him: “If so, let us worship the water which extinguishes the fire.” [Nimrod] said to him: “Let us worship the water”. [Avraham said to him: “If so, let us worship the clouds which bear the water.” [Nimrod] said to him: “Let us worship the clouds”. [Avraham said to him: “If so, let us worship the wind which scatters the clouds.” [Nimrod] said to him: “Let us worship the wind”. [Avraham said to him: “If so, let us worship man who withstands the wind.” [Nimrod] said to him: “You are speaking nonsense; I only bow to the fire. “I will throw you into it. “Let the G-d to Whom you bow come and save you from it.” Haran was there. He said [to himself] Either way; If Avraham is successful, I will say that I am with Avraham; If Nimrod is successful, I will say that I am with Nimrod. Once Avraham went into the furnace and was saved, They asked [Haran]: “With which one are you [allied]”? He said to them: “I am with Avraham.” They took him and threw him into the fire and his bowels were burned out. He came out and died in front of Terach his father. This is the meaning of the verse: And Haran died in front of Terach.
Midrash B'reishit Rabbah 38:13:

Qur'anic Account

Before that, we granted Abraham his guidance and understanding, for we were fully aware of him. He said to his father and his people, "What are these statues to which you are devoting yourselves?" They said, "We found our parents worshipping them." He said, "Indeed, you and your parents have gone totally astray." They said, "Are you telling us the truth, or are you playing?" He said, "Your only Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, who created them. This is the testimony to which I bear witness. "I swear by GOD, I have a plan to deal with your statues, as soon as you leave." He broke them into pieces, except for a big one, that they may refer to it. They said, "Whoever did this to our gods is really a transgressor." They said, "We heard a youth threaten them; he is called Abraham." They said, "Bring him before the eyes of all the people, that they may bear witness." They said, "Did you do this to our gods, O Abraham?" He said, "It is that big one who did it. Go ask them, if they can speak." They were taken aback, and said to themselves, "Indeed, you are the ones who have been transgressing." Yet, they reverted to their old ideas: "You know full well that these cannot speak." He said, "Do you then worship beside GOD what possesses no power to benefit you or harm you? "You have incurred shame by worshipping idols beside GOD. Do you not understand?" They said, "Burn him and support your gods, if this is what you decide to do." We said, "O fire, be cool and safe for Abraham." Thus, they schemed against him, but we made them the losers.

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 Quran 6:74 where Abraham is quoted as saying "Takest thou idols for gods?" and this theme is then expanded in Sura Quran 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.”[1]

Analysis and Refutations to Muslim Objections

Dr Saifullah and the Islamic-awareness team have sought to disparage the above evidence, and these objections have been addressed by the freethoughtmecca team.[2][3]

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.


  1. Abraham and the Idols
  2. M S M Saifullah - The Story Of Abraham And Idols In The Qur'an And Midrash Genesis Rabbah
  3. sayfallaah freethoughtmecca

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