Parallelism: Satan and His Refusal to Prostrate

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Parallelism Between the Qur'an
and Judeo-Christian Scriptures
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

For the full article with many more examples than are included in this series, see

Qur'anic Account

The Qur'anic story that Satan was expelled from Heaven for defying Allah’s command that the angels prostrate to Adam has an antecedent in a pre-Islamic Jewish tale which itself was an elaboration of a Rabbinic exegesis. The Quran is closest to the Syriac Christian versions from which it takes numerous details. The Bible does not contain this tale.

And We have certainly created you, [O Mankind], and given you [human] form. Then We said to the angels, "Prostrate to Adam"; so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He was not of those who prostrated.

‏[Allah] said, "What prevented you from prostrating when I commanded you?" [Satan] said, "I am better than him. You created me from fire and created him from clay." [Allah] said, "Descend from Paradise, for it is not for you to be arrogant therein. So get out; indeed, you are of the debased. [Satan] said, "Reprieve me until the Day they are resurrected." [Allah] said, "Indeed, you are of those reprieved." [Satan] said, "Because You have put me in error, I will surely sit in wait for them on Your straight path. Then I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left, and You will not find most of them grateful [to You]."

[Allah] said, "Get out of Paradise, reproached and expelled. Whoever follows you among them - I will surely fill Hell with you, all together."

This story recurs several times in the Qur'an, for instance:

And [mention] when We said to the angels, "Prostrate before Adam"; so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He refused and was arrogant and became of the disbelievers. And We said, "O Adam, dwell, you and your wife, in Paradise and eat therefrom in [ease and] abundance from wherever you will. But do not approach this tree, lest you be among the wrongdoers." But Satan caused them to slip out of it and removed them from that [condition] in which they had been. And We said, "Go down, [all of you], as enemies to one another, and you will have upon the earth a place of settlement and provision for a time.
Remember when your Lord said to the angels, "I am going to create a man (Adam) from sounding clay of altered black smooth mud. So when I have fashioned him completely and breathed into him (Adam) the soul which I created for him then fall you down prostrating yourselves unto him." SO the angels prostrated themselves all of them together, except Iblis, he refused to be among the prostrators. Allah said: "O Iblis! What is your reason for not being among the prostrators?" Iblis said: "I am not the one to prostrate myself to a human being, whom You created from sounding clay of altered black smooth mud." Allah said: "Then get out from here for verily you are Rajim (an outcast or cursed one). Verily the curse shall be upon you till Day of Recompense (Day of Resurrection).
"Shall I prostrate to one whom You created from clay?" Iblis said: "See? those whom You have honored above me, if You give me respite (keep me alive) to the Day of Resurrection, I will surely seize and mislead his offspring (by sending them astray) all but a few!"
Remember when your Lord said to the angels: "Truly I am going to create man from clay. So when I have fashioned him and breathed into him (his) soul created by me, then you fall down prostrate to him." So the angels prostrated themselves all of them; except Iblis, he was proud and was one of the disbelievers. Allah said: "The truth is, and the truth I say, that I will fill Hell with you and those of them (mankind) that follow you together."

Apocryphal Account

Regarding Quran 7:11-12, Gabriel Said Reynolds in his 2018 academic commentary on the Quran comments that the story of angels prostrating before Adam, which is not in the Bible, emerged from Rabbinic speculation on Psalms 8:4-6 ("what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet"). He cites as an example the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 38b:[1]

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: When the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to create man, He [first] created a company of ministering angels and said to them: Is it your desire that we make a man in our image? They answered: Sovereign of the Universe, what will be his deeds? Such and such will be his deeds, He replied. Thereupon they exclaimed: Sovereign of the Universe, What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou thinkest of him?

The story of Satan refusing to prostate/worship (sajada) Adam is found in the apocryphal ‘Life of Adam and Eve’, a first to fourth century Jewish Hellenistic work. Some authorities date it to the first century CE based on the absence of the Christian concept of original sin and the influence of the story on the Ebionites.[2]

“And with a heavy sigh, the devil spake: ‘O Adam! all my hostility, envy, and sorrow is for thee, since it is for thee that I have been expelled from my glory, which I possessed in the heavens in the midst of the angels and for thee was I cast out in the earth.’ Adam answered, ‘What dost thou tell me? What have I done to thee or what is my fault against thee? Seeing that thou hast received no harm or injury from us, why dost thou pursue us?’

“The devil replied, ‘Adam, what dost thou tell me? It is for thy sake that I have been hurled from that place. When thou wast formed, I was hurled out of the presence of God and banished from the company of angels. When God blew into thee the breath of life and thy face and likeness was made in the image of God, Michael also brought thee and made (us) worship thee in the sight of God; and God the Lord spake: “Here is Adam. I have made him in our image and likeness.”

“‘And Michael went out and called all the angels saying: “Worship the image of God as the Lord hath commanded.”

“‘And Michael himself worshipped first; then he called me and said: “Worship the image of God the Lord.” And I answered, “I have no (need) to worship Adam.” And since Michael kept urging me to worship, I said to him, “Why dost thou urge me? I will not worship an inferior and younger being (than I). I am his senior in the Creation, before he was made was I already made. It is his duty to worship me.”

“‘When the angels, who were under me, heard this, they refused to worship him. And Michael saith, “Worship the image of God, but if thou wilt not worship him, the Lord God will be wroth with thee.” And I said, “If He be wroth with me, I will set my seat above the stars of heaven and will be like the Highest.”

“‘And God the Lord was wroth with me and banished me and my angels from our glory; and on thy account were we expelled from our abodes into this world and hurled n the earth. And straightway we were overcome with grief, since we had been spoiled of so great glory. And we were grieved when we saw thee in such joy and luxury. And with guile I cheated thy wife and caused thee to be expelled through her (doing) from thy joy and luxury, as I have been driven out of my glory.’

“When Adam heard the devil say this, he cried out and wept and spake: ‘O Lord my God, my life is in thy hands. Banish this Adversary far from me, who seeketh to destroy my soul, and give me his glory which he himself hath lost.’ And at that moment, the devil vanished before him. But Adam endured in his penance, standing for forty days (on end) in the water of Jordan.”

Reynolds notes that Satan's desire to plot against Adam in the above passage is because he was cast out for refusing to worship him. Reynolds cites a parallel in Quran 2:34-36, though a stronger parallel is Quran 7:13-18 (especially v. 16 where Satan expresses his motivation).[3]

Regarding Quran 7:23-25 where Adam pleads for forgiveness and mercy, Reynolds comments on another parallel with this apocryphal work: "The idea that God forgave Adam is found in the Life of Adam and Eve". He cites Life of Adam and Eve Armenian version, trans. Anderson and Stone, 28:2-4. Note that in Quran 2:37 and Quran 20:122 it is clearer that Allah forgives Adam after his plea.

28.2 Adam said again to God, 'My Lord, I beseech you, give me of the tree of life, so that I may eat before I shall have gone forth from the Garden'.

28.3 God said to Adam, 'You cannot take of it in your lifetime, because I have given an order to the Seraphs to guard it round about with weapons because of you, lest you should eat more of it and become immortal and say, 'Behold, I shall not die"; and you will be boastful of it and be victorious in the war which the enemy has made with you.

28.4 Rather, when you go out of the Garden, guard yourself from slander, from harlotry, from adultery, from sorcery, from the love of money, from avarice and from all sins. Then, you shall arise from death, in the resurrection which is going to take place. At that time, I will give you of the tree of life and you will be eternally undying'.

Another important set of parallels is found in the Cave of treasures, dating to the sixth century CE.[4][5] It was written in Syriac by Christians from earlier Jewish sources and contains another version of the prostration story which is even closer to the Quranic version. The sequence of events in the Quran and many details are as found in this work.

Reynolds observes: "In the Syriac Christian work Cave of Treasures - as in the Qurʾān (v. 12) - the angels prostrate before Adam, but the devil refuses to do so, with the explanation that he is made from fire while Adam is made from dirt". Reynolds here cites "Cave of Treasures [Oc.], 2:12-13, 22-25, and 3:1-2". Reynolds notes in one of his other books that this "marks a distinct development in the narrative of the devil's rebellion. According to the Life of Adam and Eve, the devil's excuse for not worshipping Adam is that he was created first. In the Cave of Treasures, however, the devil's excuse is that he was created from fire, while Adam was created from dirt. It is this tradition that is reflected in the Qurʾān: 'I am better than he is. You created me from fire. You created him from clay.' (Q 7.12; cf. 15.33; 17.61; 38.76)."[6]|

God formed Adam in his holy hands, in His image and in His likeness. When the angels saw the image and the glorious appearance of Adam, they trembled at the beauty of his figure...Moreover, the angels and celestial powers heard the voice of God saying to Adam, "See, I have made you a king, priest and prophet, Lord, leader and director of all those made and created. To you alone have I given these and I give to you authority over everything I have created." When the angels and archangels, the thrones and dominions, the cherubims and seraphins, that is when all of the celestial powers heard this voice, all of the orders bent their knees and prostrated before him.


When the leader of the lesser order saw the greatness given to Adam, he became jealous of him and did not want to prostrate before him with the angels. He said to his hosts, 'Do not worship him and do not praise him with the angels. It is proper that you should worship me, for I am fire and spirit, not that I worship something made from dirt.
Cave of Treasures (Western recension) 2:12-13, 22-25, and 3:1-2[7]

Witztum (crediting Beck) notes that Quran 7:13-18 has the same sequence of events as Cave of Treasures 3:3-9, with Adam and his mate placed in the garden and told not to approach the tree immediately after Iblis is banished.[8]).

Regarding Quran 7:19-22 where Adam and Eve eat from the tree, Reynolds notes that "Syriac texts including Cave of treasures and Ephrem's Hymns on Paradise (following Rev 12:9), and unlike most Jewish texts, puts Satan there" (in Jewish tradition, Satan is not identified with the serpent in Genesis[9]). Furthermore, "Like the Qurʾān , the 'Oriental' version of the Cave of Treasures makes no mention of the 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil' but rather connects the sin of Adam and Eve with the 'tree of life'. It does so to make a parallel between the one tree of life and the one cross of salvation (Cave of Treasures [Or], 4:2-5; on this see Witztum, Syriac Milieu, 81-83[...]"[10]

According to Reynolds, Allah's command to "Go down" in the Quranic verses "reflects the cosmological vistas of Syriac Christian sources in which paradise is on top of a cosmic mountain, above the earth, and thus has God cry out 'Go down'."[11] See also Tommaso Tesei's article Some Cosmological Notions from Late Antiquity in Q 18:60–65 for a probably more accurate interpretation of the cosmography, such that Syriac authors like Ephrem, who refers to paradise as being at a great height, had in mind that paradise was beyond the world-encircling ocean, and was the source of the great rivers on earth, as reflected also in for example Quran 88:10 and the common Quranic phrase "gardens from beneath which the rivers flow".[12]

The Qur'anic story of Satan refusing to worship or prostate before Adam has distinct antecedents in pre-Islamic Jewish and Christian sources including elements that were added in stages over the centuries. It would appear that this post-biblical legend has been extensively incorporated into the Islamic scriptures, without an apparent understanding of its origin.


  1. Gabriel Said Reynolds, "The Quran and Bible: Text and Commentary", New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018 pp. 251-2
  2. Encyclopædia Britannica - biblical literature
  3. Gabriel Said Reynolds (2018) The Qurʾān and Bible: Text and Commentary pp. 38-39
  4. Joseph Witztum says it has been dated to the fifth or sixth century: Joseph Witztum (2011) The Syriac milieu of the Quran: The recasting of Biblical narratives, PhD Thesis, Princeton University, pp. 80-81
  5. In a detailed analysis, Sergey Minov concludes that "the most likely date for this work's composition is the span of time between the middle of the sixth century and the first decades of the seventh century." Minov, S. (2017) Date and Provenance of the Syriac Cave of Treasures: A Reappraisal Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies 20:1 (2017), 129-229.
  6. Gabriel Said Reynolds, "The Qurʾān and its Biblical subtext", London and New York: Routledge, 2010, p.51, ISBN 9780415524247
  7. Gabriel Said Reynolds, "The Qurʾān and its Biblical subtext", p.50
  8. Joseph Witztum, Syriac Millieu p. 81
  9. Joseph Witztum, Syriac Millieu pp. 88-93
  10. Gabriel Said Reynolds (2018) The Qurʾān and Bible: Text and Commentary pp. 254-5
  11. Gabriel Said Reynolds (2018) The Qurʾān and Bible: Text and Commentary p. 256
  12. Tommaso Tesei (2015) Some Cosmological Notions from Late Antiquity in Q 18:60–65: The Quran in Light of Its Cultural Context Journal of the American Oriental Society 135.1

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