Parallelism: The Raven and the Burial of Abel
This article or section is being renovated.
For the full article with many more examples than are included in this series, see
The Qur'an tells the story of how Allah sent a raven to show Cain how to bury Abel.
This story of the raven and the burial of Abel has led many scholars to the conclusion that the Qur'an integrated Jewish folklore because this account is not in the Old Testament or the Torah, though there is uncertainty. It used to be supposed that a Jewish source known as Pirke de-Rabbi Elizer was a precursor to the story (there, it is Adam who learns from the raven how to bury his son). As Witztum notes however, Pirke de-Rabbi Elizer has been demonstrated to be a post-Islamic midrash, sometimes reflecting Islamic tradition so that it is not clear which tradition influenced the other. A more likely antecendent for the Quranic story which is supported by many scholars is the Midrash Tanhuma, particularly the Tanhuma Yelammedenu, which existed in some form by the sixth century CE. There, it is Cain who learns how to bury his brother, like in the Quranic version, although from two birds instead of one raven (Tanhuma Bereshit 10).
Wiztum comments that "Since the bird tradition is found in several rabbinic sources and versions it is hard to deny the possibility that ultimately its origin is indeed Jewish." Nevertheless, he argues that the Quranic version is earlier than those we find in Jewish sources, including the Tanhuma which most probably continued evolving long after the Quran appeared. While the story is present in the Tanhuma-Yelammedenu version of the Midrash Tanhuma, it is absent in its parallel version, the Buber Tanhuma. The details in the Quranic version are also simpler, and the extra details in the Tanhuma may reflect similar considerations as occured to Quranic commentators. Witztum concludes, "Is it possible that the midrashic sources reflect tafsir traditons in this instance? Perhaps."
- Joseph Witztum (2011) The Syriac milieu of the Quran: The recasting of Biblical narratives, PhD Thesis, Princeton University, p. 116
- Myron B. Lerner, "The works of Aggadic Midrash and Esther Midrashim" in Eds. Sefrai et. al. (2006) The literature of the Sages: Second Part Netherlands: Royal van Gorcum and Fortress Press, p.150
- Joseph Witztum, Syriac Millieu pp. 117-122