Parallelism Between the Qur'an and Judeo-Christian Scriptures
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The similarities between the Qur'an and previous scriptures have been noted since the advent of Islam. The Judeo-Christian tales and their Qur'anic doppelgangers, however, rarely match perfectly. A claim found in the Qur'an and other Islamic literature is that the Jews and Christians deliberately changed their scriptures to obscure the truth of the Qur'an. There is no documentary evidence in the textual traditions of those religions to support this claim, and since it would require a conspiracy of people across centuries and empires, speaking different languages and holding radically different beliefs, the claim itself is generally not taken seriously by modern scholars.
The more accepted theory is that the Qur'an borrows stories from the ancient milieu in which it arose--Christianity and Judaism of the late antique period in the near east. Contrary to the Islamic tradition, most scholars today agree that the Qur'an must have been composed in an environment in which Christian and Jewish stories were very familiar, both to the person(people) writing the Qur'an and to the audience. As such borrowings are to be expected, and in a semi-literate culture before the advent of the printing press different versions of the same story as well as mistakes in transmission from one medium to the other are also to be expected.
In such an environment it is also unsurprising that many of the stories one finds in the Qur'an do not come from the canonical books of the Christian or Jewish bibles, but often from secondary apocryphal literature which played a huge role in the spiritual life of believers in that time.
Charges of Borrowing from Within the Tradition
The Qur'an records that doubts claim of its verses that they are "tales of the ancients." According to the Islamic tradition itself these verses are all found in the Meccan Qur'an, despite the fact that some of these verses have been inserted into Medinan suras, such as Sura al-Anfal 8. The tradition indicates that the unbelievers, who spoke of the fairy-tales of the ancients in the Qur'an, were of the people of Mecca. None adopted this opinion in Medina after the migration.
A check of Maududi’s commentary confirms this. Maududi: Surah 6 - last year of the Holy Prophet's life at Makkah; Surah 8 - in 2 A. H. after the Battle of Badr; Surahs 23 & 27 - the middle stage of Prophethood at Makkah; Surah 25 - during the third stage of Prophethood at Makkah; Surah 46 - towards the end of the 10th year or in the early part of the 11th year of the Prophethood; Surah 68 - one of the earliest surahs to be revealed at Makkah; Surah 83 - in the earliest stage at Makkah.
One verse has unbelievers accussing the Qur'an of “making ancient tales written” (i.e. iktatabaha) that were recited (i.e. dictated) to him Quran 25:5. Thus, the Qur'an itself alludes to the charge of ‘borrowing’ of Biblical tales against Muhammad even in the earliest days of Islam.
The evidence that at least some of these tales of the ancients were Judeo-Christian tales and not that of the fanciful Quranic “Arabic/Arabized” fairy-tales of Jinns, Houris and the like is the context of these verses, particularly those relating to the Resurrection, and the charge that another nation had supplied these tales (meaning the Jews and possibly also Sabeans and Christians--nations such as the Byzantine Empire at the time were associated with certain religions such as Chalcedonian Christianity).
There is a sahih hadith that seems to indicate that the Arabs had heard the Judeo-Christian tales from the Jews. The implication of the hadith is that these tales were common-place from the phrase, ‘used to explain…’, so much so as to warrant Muhammad’s warning to the Muslims to both disbelieve and believe the Jews.
The following sahih hadith strongly suggests Muhammad was susceptible to ‘absorbing’ Jewish tales:
Note how Aisha noticed Muhammad vigorously adopting the Jewish belief of ‘punishment in the grave’ only after she had told him the tale. Before she told him she never saw this belief in him.
Possible channels for intertextuality
There is strong evidence from the sahih hadiths that Muhammad learned at least some of them from Zaid bin 'Amr bin Nufail. These hadiths show that Zaid told the then still-pagan Muhammad about Allah and the religion of Abraham. Also of note is how Zaid claimed before the Ka'aba that he was the only one of the Quraysh who followed the religion of Abraham which he learned from a Jew and a Christian:
Narrated Ibn 'Umar: Zaid bin 'Amr bin Nufail went to Sham, inquiring about a true religion to follow. He met a Jewish religious scholar and asked him about their religion. He said, "I intend to embrace your religion, so tell me some thing about it." The Jew said, "You will not embrace our religion unless you receive your share of Allah's Anger." Zaid said, "'I do not run except from Allah's Anger, and I will never bear a bit of it if I have the power to avoid it. Can you tell me of some other religion?" He said, "I do not know any other religion except the Hanif." Zaid enquired, "What is Hanif?" He said, "Hanif is the religion of (the prophet) Abraham who was neither a Jew nor a Christian, and he used to worship None but Allah (Alone)" Then Zaid went out and met a Christian religious scholar and told him the same as before. The Christian said, "You will not embrace our religion unless you get a share of Allah's Curse." Zaid replied, "I do not run except from Allah's Curse, and I will never bear any of Allah's Curse and His Anger if I have the power to avoid them. Will you tell me of some other religion?" He replied, "I do not know any other religion except Hanif." Zaid enquired, "What is Hanif?" He replied, Hanif is the religion of (the prophet) Abraham who was neither a Jew nor a Christian and he used to worship None but Allah (Alone)" When Zaid heard their Statement about (the religion of) Abraham, he left that place, and when he came out, he raised both his hands and said, "O Allah! I make You my Witness that I am on the religion of Abraham."Narrated Asma bint Abi Bakr: I saw Zaid bin Amr bin Nufail standing with his back against the Ka'ba and saying, "O people of Quraish! By Allah, none amongst you is on (sic: of ?) the religion of Abraham except me." He used to preserve the lives of little girls: If somebody wanted to kill his daughter he would say to him, "Do not kill her for I will feed her on your behalf." So he would take her, and when she grew up nicely, he would say to her father, "Now if you want her, I will give her to you, and if you wish, I will feed her on your behalf."
Even the prohibition of female infanticide was inspired by Zaid according to the tradition. How often did Muhammad hear these stories from Zaid? The hadiths do not tell. However, one notes that the sirah recounts Zaid’s withdrawal from Meccan society (where he was allegedly persecuted) to a cave in Mount Hira. Muhammad apparently visited the same cave at Ramadan on a yearly basis, an act his wife Khadijah said was the custom of his tribe as an act of penance.
Thus, it can be seen that there was ample opportunity for Muhammad to learn from Zaid long before the first revelation in 610 AD. Some accounts state Muhammad first went to Mt Hira when he was around 35, i.e. around 605 AD. It is possible that Muhammad first visited Mt Hira when he was 33, when the “first unseen secrets” revealed themselves to him. Zaid died around 607 AD. The cave in Mt Hira is very small, measuring 4 yards long and 1.75 yard wide – there seems no way Zaid and Muhammad could have avoided each other if this cave is truly where they went. Clearly they knew each other; the sahih hadiths make that apparent, and we also know that Muhammad spent weeks and months in that cave which Zaid was reputed to have lived.
Zaid’s religious principles adopted by Muhammad
- the prohibition of killing infant daughters by burying them alive, according to the cruel custom of the Arabs of the time.
- the acknowledgment of the Unity of God.
- the rejection of idolatry and the worship of Al-Lat, AI-'Uzza' and the other deities of the people.
- the promise of future happiness in Paradise or the "Garden".
- the warning of the punishment reserved in hell for the wicked.
- the denunciation of God's wrath upon the "Unbelievers".
- And also, the application of the titles Ar Rahman (the Merciful), Ar Rabb (the Lord), and Al Ghafur (the Forgiving) to God.
Moreover, Zaid and all the other reformers (Hanifs) claimed to be searching for the "Religion of Abraham." Besides all this, the Qur'an repeatedly, though indirectly, speaks of Abraham as a Hanif, the chosen title of Zaid and his friends.
Answering-islam above references Ibn Ishaq’s Siratu’Rasul. The main thrust of Zaid’s story in the sira conforms to the reported meeting with Muhammad, and Zaid’s anti-female infanticide stance, in the sahih hadiths of Bukhari .
Even the Muslim method of prayer may have originated from Zaid, as Ibn Ishaq (pg. 99-100) wrote that he prayed by prostration on the palm of his hands.
Another possible source of Judeo-Christian stories is Umm Habiba bint Abu Sufyan, Muhammad’s eighth wife. Her former husband Ubaydullah b. Jahsh was a Christian who converted to Islam and migrated with other Muslims to Abyssinia, there to reconvert to Christianity. However, this is admittedly mere conjecture. Yet another vector for the influence of Christian narratives on Muhammad may have been Mariah the Copt, but the evidence is against her being the source of Muhammad’s Judeo-Christian borrowings as she was presented to Muhammad when he was residing in Medinah, long after he included the Judeo-Christian tales in his revelations, according to the Sira and the Hadith.
The Qur'an itself refers to influence by a foreign "tongue."
This non-Arab who influenced the Qur'an is not mentioned by name, but there are many candidates in the sira including Salman the Persian (who was a Christian) or Bahira the disgraced Nestorian.
There is other evidence for the influence on Muhammad of a Christian from within the tradition itself:
Islamic sources report that Muhammad, already at the age of nine to twelve, made his first journey with a trade caravan to Syria where he came in contact with Christians. According to these same sources, on a second visit to Syria he showed great interest in the Judaism and Christianity he encountered there. He spent some time during that period with a Nestorian Christian monk named Bahirah. 
The evidence, however, is not convincing that it is Bahira that told Muhammad the Judeo-Christian stories.
Perhaps the strongest evidence of the ‘foreigner’s’ identity comes from the Sira:
This source specifically names the foreigner to be Jabr, slave of B. al-Hadrami.
Then there is this sahih hadith that specifically informs us that Muhammad learned from a Christian:
This Christian who taught Muhammad is not named in the sahih hadiths. However, Ibn Warraq, citing Waqidi, names him as ibn Qumta.
Waqidi [d. 207 AH D/823 CE] who says that a Christian slave named Ibn Qumta was the amanuensis of the prophet, along with a certain ‘Abdallah b. Sa‘ad b. Abi Sarh, who reported that "It was only a Christian slave who was teaching him [Mohammed]; I used to write to him and change whatever I wanted."
Regardless who this foreigner who taught Muhammad was, it is clear that this highly specific charge was leveled against the Qur'an, and the aforementioned verse is intended to answer this very specific objection. That this foreigner existed is real: the Qur'an itself alluded to him by saying, ‘the tongue of him at whom they hint is a non-Arab’. Again, this strongly indicates that there was in fact such a foreigner who influenced the "clear Arabic tongue" of the Qur'an.
That this foreigner taught Muhammad the Judeo-Christian tales is alluded to when one follows the apologetic against this complaint in Surah 16. What follows Quran 16:103 is a discussion of how Allah revealed the religion of Abraham, the Resurrection, the Everlasting Life, Judgment Day, prohibition of meat of swine and non-halal slaughter, and other practices given to the Jews.
In short, verse Quran 16:103-104 is nothing more than the Qur'an's attempt to answer the charge that he learned the Jewish/Christian religion from a foreigner (very possibly Jabr). He was the Muslim who first came up with the excuse that the similarities between the Judeo-Christian religion and the Qur'an are due to the three scriptures sharing the same source, which he named as Allah.
Thus it is evident that Muhammad heard Judeo-Christian tales from various sources, beginning with Zaid bin 'Amr bin Nufail and from Waraqa bin Naufal bin Asad bin 'Abdul 'Uzza, to Jabr and the un-named Christian of Sahih Bukhari 4:56:814
In apologetic and theological literature, Muslim scholars generally follow the Qur'an in denying that Muhammad was influenced by the "legends of the ancients", citing some of the following points:
1. There were no Arabic copies of the Judeo-Christian scriptures available to Muhammad.
This argument ignores the Qur'an itself. which claims the charges were that Muhammad heard what was recited to him Quran 25:4-6 or that he learned them from a foreigner Quran 16:103-104. Thus, the existence or otherwise of Arabic translations in Muhammad’s time is an irrelevancy. Moreover, epigraphic and historical evidence from the the time points to an Arabia which was awash in Greek and Syriac literature, and in which knowledge of both the Syriac and Greek alphabets were widespread, and both of these were used to write Arabic along with the Hismaetic and Safaitic scripts .
2. There was no center of Judaism and/or Christianity in Mecca or the Hijaz in Muhammad’s time.
As the Islamic literature itself shows Muhammad learnt the ‘tales of the ancients’ from individual Jews and Christians, some of whom we know by name, there is no need for Muhammad to learn from centers of Judaism or Christianity. Whether or not there were any Christian proselytizing in Mecca, is irrelevant: all it takes is one Christian individual (as in Sahih Bukhari 4:56:814) for Muhammad to learn from. Moreover, modern scholarship has shown through inscriptions inter alia that the Arabian peninsula at the time of the prophet was thoroughly Christianized.
3. There is no evidence that Muhammad borrowed these tales even though there were Jews and Christians in the region.
The evidence is laid out on this page amongst many others. The charges of borrowing are in the Qur'an and they are easily proven. The evidence of borrowing is to be found in the hadiths and sirah in addition to the Qur'an itself: even according to the Islamic tradition itself, individuals who taught Muhammad the Judeo-Christian tales were named.
4. The Jews were in Medinah and the Christians were in Najran and Yemen.
This does not seem to be the case. Jews and Christians were certainly present in Mecca, for instance Jabr the Christian slave. Waraqa, Khadijah’s cousin also lived in Mecca, and so did the Hanif Zaid bin ‘Amr. We also know from Ibn Sa'd, that contact with Christian people was not unusual:
It is even possible that the Ka’ba contained a biblical quote:
It seem to be the case that, in actuality, there were Jews elsewhere outside of Yathrib and surrounding areas of Northern Hijaz. It is possible that the Ka’aba contained pictures of Abraham and Mary. While not evidence of Jewish presence, it is certainly strongly suggestive of it.
The sirah of Ibn Ishaq provides evidence that, while there was no major Jewish community, there were certainly Jews present in Mecca. It is said that when the Quraysh rebuilt the Ka’aba they found a Syriac inscription they were unable to read; a Jew read it for them. 
5. The Qur'an contains stories absent in the Judeo-Christian scriptures, thus the charge of borrowing is erroneous.
The presence of such extra-biblical stories doesn't really say much about the material which does have parallels with earlier Judeao-Christian history.
Corruption of the Previous Scriptures
Similarities between the Qur'an and previous Abrahamic scriptures have been noticed since the inception of Islam. These Quranic narratives, however, often do not always follow their Judeo-Christian forebearers. Three possible explanations are usually offered for this:
- The original Judeo-Christian scriptures have been corrupted (common Muslim apologetic claim).
- The Qur'an imperfectly borrowed from the Judeo-Christian scriptures.
- The Qur'an was corrupted.
None of the early Christian texts support the Muslim contention of corruption of the Judeo-Christian scriptures, as there arguments fail to distinguish between apocryphal and canonical works. They fail to see the difference between mainstream texts and cultic/Gnostic texts. There don't exist any earlier Christian texts which accord with the orthodox Sunni Muslim view of Jesus and early Christianity. The next possibility is to examine the extra-scriptural writings of the early Rabbis and early Church fathers. The variations found in the Qur'an do not tend to show up here either.
The charge of a scheme to corrupt the Christian and Jewish scriptures in just such a way as to render the Qur'an seemingly inaccurate would have required a conspiracy of hundreds of different individuals working across immense distances of time and space in different linguistic and religious traditions; it can be dismissed prima facia as a groundless conspiracy theory.
The parallelism however, between the Qur'an and the Judeo-Christian scriptures is undeniable. Many parallelisms have been mentioned in this article; others such as the seven sleepers in the cave Quran 18:8-26 (as per the seven sleepers of Ephesus); the story of the angels Harut and Marut Quran 2:102 (as per Midrash Yalkut chapter 44 with the angels Shamhazai and Azael: for further details, click here); and God holding Mt Sinai over the Israelites Quran 7:171 (as per the second century Jewish apocrypha Abodah Sarah) are not yet covered.
Robert Morey has also listed some other interesting parallelisms (for further details, click here.)
These parallelisms are either apocryphal, heretical, commentaries by religious figures, or mere folk tales. Or, in the case of the Trinity, a clear misunderstanding of Christian doctrine.
Now, one must stress that the charge is not that the Qur'an copied from previous scripture, but that it incorporated stories which were overheard from other people. The Muslim tradition itself mentions a Christian slave in Sahih Bukhari 4:56:814, whom Ibn Ishaq named as Jabr, who may have been the origin of Quran 16:101-104 . Waqidi names this Christian as Ibn Qumta. Ibn Ishaq also recounts the story of how three Christians, Abu Haritha Ibn `Alqama, Al-`Aqib `Abdul-Masih and Al-Ayham al-Sa`id, spoke to Muhammad regarding such Christian subjects as the Trinity, Jesus speaking in infancy, and Jesus animating clay birds. Ibn Ishaq also claimed that as a result of these discussions, the Qur'an was revealed addressing all these arguments – perhaps indicating that Muhammad incorporated Judeo-Christian tales he had heard from other people.
As such, just on the basis of evidence in the Islamic tradition itself, the parallelisms between the Qur'an and Judeao-Christian seem to stem not from divine revelation, but from mundane religious contact.
Talking Baby Jesus
The story of the baby Jesus speaking found in Suras 19:29-31 and 3:46 parallels that in the apocryphal works:
The following is the relevant excerpt taken from the Arabic Infancy Gospel:
The parallelism between the Arabic Infancy Gospel and verse 19:29-31 and 3:46 is plainly evident. There are three possible logical reasons behind this:
- The Qur'an has ‘corrected the omission’ of the talking baby Jesus tale from the New Testament.
- The Qur'an has ‘corrected the consigning of the tale to the apocrypha,’ and that the Arabic Infancy Gospel should be included in the canonical New Testament.
- Muhammad heard the story and mistakenly included it in the Qur'an, thinking it to be canonical and not apocryphal.
The Arabic Infancy Gospel is widely regarded as apocryphal. It is believed to be a seventh century invention and was quite popular among the Syrian Nestorians. The talking baby Jesus miracle was recorded in the sirah as one of the topics discussed by three Christians with Muhammad just before he revealed the relevant verses. Thus, it doesn't seem at all strange that the Qur'an should contain what is clearly an apocryphal story.
The Qur'an parallels a passage in the Talmud, specifically a rabbinical commentary in the Book of Sanhedrin.
The salient points are:
a. The Qur'an itself admits to Judeao-Christian origin of this story with the phrase, 'We decreed (katabnā) for the Children of Israel…’
This word katabnā كَتَبْنَا is from the same Arabic root as kitāb, meaning book, as in 'People of the Book', and the verb kataba literally means he wrote. It is used a few verses later (wakatabnā) in Quran 5:45 regarding some things that are certainly in the written Torah, and in another example Quran 7:145 it is used for Allah writing on the stone tablets. Lane's Lexicon includes 'prescribed', 'ordained' among its definitions for this verb , though it is likely that this usage arose from royal decrees and legal rulings being written down. In some other verses exactly the same word is translated 'We have written'. It is quite obvious that the author believed that this 'decree' was in the law book of the Jews, the written Torah.
- b. The Sanhedrin parallel is not in the Torah as it is merely a rabbinical commentary on Cain’s murder of Abel, derived from the use of the plural, "bloods", in Genesis 4:10. It is a Mishnayot – a teaching of a Jewish sage, and not from the biblical tradition as such but rather an extension of it.
- c. The Qur'anic verse relates to the story of Cain's murder of Abel Quran 5:27-31, as does the Sanhedrin parallel.
Some Muslims (e.g. Dr Saifullah) claim that the parallelism is inexact, as the Sanhedrin 37a should be limited to ‘whoever destroys a single soul of Israel’. They claim that since the Qur'an lacks this reference to the 'single soul of Israel' but instead, generalizes the injunction to any soul, then the charge of parallelism has failed.
Problems with this argument
- Dr Saifullah's argument that the two stories are not exact copies doesn't hold water, since stories usually change in transmission.
- "of Israel" is absent in some manuscripts of this passage in the Babylonian Talmud, and we don't know which version Muhammad might have heard.
- The commentary also appears in the Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4/5, which omits the phrase, ‘of Israel’. There is no evidence that Muhammad had to rely on the Babylonian Talmud and not the Jerusalem Talmud, even though the former is considered more authoritative.
Prima facie - this is a clear-cut case of the Qur'an taking a story from apocryphal literature as scripture, since Sanhedrin 37a is from the "oral" Torah and therefore not part of the original biblical canon. There is no other explanation for the phrase, ‘We decreed / have written’ (katabna) in the verse-- it appears the Qur'an considers this apocryphal tradition to be on the same level as the biblical canon. The claim that it is lost because the Torah is corrupted stretches credulity because the parallelism exists in the Talmud, and it is unlikely that something lost from the Torah should find its way almost unchanged into the Talmud as a commentary of a narrative (i.e. a mishnayot). If the Rabbi had in mind a verse in the Torah that has since been lost, he would not have quoted verbatim from Genesis 4:10 ('it is written...'), but then when making his main point not quoted directly this hypothetical lost verse. It is not a law, despite being in the Talmud (Oral Law) but a commentary by a Jewish sage, who explains his reasoning.
Thus the use of the word "katabna" / decreed / ordain / prescribe / write something was used for a commentary written by a Jewish Rabbi. The conclusion seems to be that the Qur'an sees this tradition as being on the same level as the Bible, or else is not aware that it does not in fact stem from the Bible.
The Raven and the Burial of Abel
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 scholars to the conclusion that the Qur'an borrowed Jewish folklore because this account is not in the Old Testament or the Torah. In the Jewish folklore it was Adam who noticed the raven burying a dead bird and that gave him the idea to bury Abel. Thus, the parallelism isn’t with the person who did the burying but with the raven providing the idea of burial in the ground.
Four sources of this Jewish folklore usually cited:
- the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel
- the Targum Yerushalmi I (aka Targum Jonathan or the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan)
- the Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer
- the Midrash Tanhuma.
Only two are true. The Targums do not carry this story and the claim that they do is a misreading of Tisdall.
It would be more correct to claim that the raven burial story in the Qur'an find its predecessor in Jewish folklore, which has also been preserved in the Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer, and the Midrash Tanhuma. This is because there is no evidence that the Qur'an copies from these texts as such, but rather takes the broad outlines of the story
Tisdall quotes from the same source in a slightly different translation:
- Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer
Saifullah, Ahmed and Karim of Islamic-Awareness claim that Jewish scholars have known for quite some time that Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer is post-Islamic and that it cannot possibly be attributed to Rabbi Eliezer, quoting as evidence:
They claim that since the final redaction occurred after the advent of Islam, it cannot be the source of the raven burial story. There are two difficulties with this claim:
- final redaction does not mean the stories contained in the Pirke were composed after the advent of Islam. Redaction means ‘making something suitable for publication – including editing, compilation etc.’ or the act of putting something in writing (i.e. that had already existed prior to the writing);
- new evidence suggests the original dating of the Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer is erroneous.
According to Andrew Vargo of answering-islam:
The general scholastic view is that Midrash Tanhuma is also known as Tanhuma Yelamdenu, although some scholars believe they are different manuscripts.
In an effort to discredit the Pirke De-Rabbi Eli'ezer, the Islamic-awareness team cites the work of Norman A. Stillman, published in the Journal Of Semitic Studies, 1974, Volume 19. However, Stillman still supports the midrashic origin hypothesis:
Saifullah and co then challenged the dating of a version of the Midrash Tanhuma known as the Buber’s recension:
Are we to believe that a problematic text of the ninth century is the source of Qur'anic story? Such a theory is untenable. It may very well be the case that the Qur'anic story is the source of the Cain and Abel story in Midrash Tanhuma. Perhaps Stillman himself put it best:Our chronology of rabbinic literature is better today than in Geiger's, and many more texts - Muslim, Jewish, and Christian - have since being published. In the light of this we know now that in some instances what was thought to be a Jewish haggadic influence in an Islamic text might well be quite the reverse.”
The recension date is not the same as the composition date. The contents of Midrash Tanhuma seem to pre-date Islam:
Vargo introduced the fact that there are versions of the Midrash Tanhuma older than the Buber recension.
From Meyer Waxman in “A History of Jewish Literature”:
It is likely that the raven burial story in the Midrash Tanhuma (or the Tanhuma Yelamdenu) pre-date the advent of Islam. Buber’s version of the Midrash Tanhuma, although compiled in the mid-eighth century is generally believed to have sourced material from the fourth-century or earlier, while the Tanhuma Yelamdenu dates to the beginning of the sixth century. Thus the pre-Islamic Jewish folklore of the raven burial story is paralleled in the Qur'an and is likely its source.
The Qur'anic Trinity
God, Jesus and Mary: The Trinity?
The Qur'an has its own version of the Christian Trinity:
This seeming mistake about the Christian trinity, well established for centuries by this point, is one of the great riddles of the Qur'an. Note how this strange verse does not mention the Trinity, but has Allah asking Jesus whether he told the people to take him and Mary for gods beside Allah. To which, Jesus replied 'no, I did not; if I did you would have known about it anyway'.
Why did Allah ask Jesus something he already knew Jesus did not do? Did Allah ask simply for the fun of it? Or was he testing him? If this was a test, why perform it at all, when one already knows the result? Even from an orthodox Muslim perspective this verse begs many questions.
Analysis of Muslim Apologetics
Orthodox Muslim scholars have many explanations for verse 5:116, along the following lines:
1 - The heretical Christian sect of the Collyridians may have existed in Muhammad’s time and the Quran was specifically addressing their understanding of the Trinity.
The Collyridians are known chiefly through the work of 4th-century Christian arch-heresy hunter and defender of Christian orthodoxy Epiphanius of Salamis (a saint in both the Nicaean Orthodox churches and the Catholic Church). This is what he has to say about them:
According to Epiphanius, the Collyridians seem to merge pagan goddess-worship with Christian Mariolatry. They had female priests and, interestingly for purposes of this study, seem to have been found in Arabia. It's important to remember that this is one of dozens of heresies mentioned by Epiphanius, and this is the only mention extant of them. Epiphanius doesn't give any indication of how many people actually followed this heresy, and it's not possible to know how long after his time they lasted exactly. It's also not possible for us to know how accurately this section actually describes their beliefs, since we have no extant writings from them; it is possible that Epiphanius is exaggerating here and they did not actually worship Mary as a god.
Edward Gibbon in 'the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' [Chapter 50] states that they were still in existence in the seventh century (without providing any corroborating evidence). One explanation is that Gibbon's simply took the clear parallelism of verse 5:116 with Collyridianism to mean they were present during Muhammad’s day.
Thus, there is clear parallelism between the Qur'an’s version of the Trinity and the Collyridian belief.
As previously stated, Muslim apologists often claim that this verse was alluding to the belief of some Christians at the time of Muhammad. This is not how the Qur'an presents the material, though; the Qur'an here seems to state that the belief was around during Jesus' own time and he personally refuted it. Since the Collyridians are post-Jesus (probably originating in the late fourth century, as reported by Epiphanius) the parallelism with the Collyridians is anachronistic, as with many of the polemics put by the Qur'an into the mouths of biblical prophets.
As to the purpose of verse 5:116, the most plausible explanation is clearly that it was a polemic against real or imagined Christian belief in the trinity. Whether or not the Collyridians still existed at Muhammad's time or before is not knowable from the extant evidence, but either by mistake or over-generalization the Qur'an does seem to apply this polemic to all Christians as a whole, whereas at most this belief was marginal within Chrisitanity.
2 - Some Muslims such as Dr Saifullah of Islamic-awareness claim that it is unreasonable to point out the clear parallelism with Collyridianism as something erroneous as early Christians did not believe in the Trinity.
While Dr Saifullah is on good grounds when he remarks that delineating "true" Trinitarian Christianity from "false" Trinitarian Christianity is not the place of the scholar, it must be remarked that in presenting this version of the Trinity the Qur'an is presenting a highly inaccurate view of the beliefs of Christians and at the very least should be called "inaccurate" for this claim. Moreover, the interesting point to the scholar is the possibility that (A) the author of this verse was for some reason very familiar with the Collyridian heresy which otherwise escaped remark for 3 centuries, to the point of assuming that all Christian follow it, or (B) that the author just has a skewed and inaccurate view of Christian theology, which is noteworthy in and of itself.
3 - Modern Christians also believe Mary as the Mother of God and prayers are sent to her.
Neither in the New Testament nor the Qur'an does Jesus claim Mary to be a co-divinity with God. Meanwhile, the Qur'an is specific in Jesus’ denial of this charge. Orthodox Christians such as the Catholics do venerate Mary as a saint and the Mother of Jesus, but are very clear in not ascribing divinity on the same level as Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God the Father to her.
Praying to saints is an Orthodox/Catholic practice. It does not mean that the object of prayer is divine. Catholics do not solely pray to Mary, but to all manner of saints who have passed-away without ascribing divine status on any of them. Thus, from the perspective of analyzing the merits of the Qur'an's claims vis-à-vis reality, to suggest that Catholic and Orthodox/eastern Christian prayers to Mary absolves the Qur'an from its error about her divinity does not suffice. As a simple matter of fact, the Qur'an must be analyzed as highly disingenuous at best and badly mistaken at worst on this point.
The parallelism between verse 5:116 and the belief of Mary’s divinity by the Collyridians has laid open the charge that Muhammad was mistaken in his understanding of the Trinity. The Qur'an is anachronistic as the doctrine of the Trinity post-dates Jesus. While the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E laid the groundwork by asserting that Christ is the same substance as God, it was the Council of Constantinople in 381 C.E. that laid down the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, Jesus could not have promulgated the idea of the Trinity to the people as it was conceived almost four centuries after his death.
Secondly, the Qur'an’s understanding of the Trinity as three gods is erroneous (see Quran 5:73) Thirdly, the Muslim explanation that verse 5:116 was alluding to the Collyridians is erroneous as Jesus could never have been in contact with any Collyridians. Fourthly, Jesus never claimed his mother to be a co-divinity with God, and one wonders why Allah should ask Jesus something he already knew Jesus did not do.
Considering all that has been discussed, it is reasonable to suggest that Muhammad heard of the Collyridian version of the Trinity and assumed that it were the standard Christian belief taught by Jesus himself. It probably didn’t occur to him that the Trinity was a doctrinal development of the early church or that the worship of Mary as a divinity long post-dated Jesus himself.
Jesus Christ and the Clay Birds
According to the Qur'an, Jesus Christ (with the permission of Allah) created a clay bird which he blew into and brought to life.
This story has clear parallelisms with the two apocrypha, which are as follows:
The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ
This is also known as The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Saviour, and was written around 400 CE.
The Second Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ
This is also known as The Infancy Gospel of Thomas – probably a fragment of the Gospel of Thomas, and was written around 140 CE.
This parallelism has never been explained by Muslim apologists except to use it to perversely claim that the Bible is corrupted. They argue that the original Bible contained the apocryphal story of Jesus making and animating clay birds, and that the Qur'an was merely correcting a wrongful exclusion of these apocrypha from the canon.
This is erroneous as the sirah itself tells how Muhammad, far from receiving these stories from Allah (via the angel Jibreel/Gabriel), heard it from three Christians. Saifullah & Azmy of Islamic-awareness write more on this here.
The parallelism between the Qur'an’s ‘Jesus animating clay birds’ verses and the apocryphal infancy gospels is strong, suggesting a very mundane and earthly source of the Qur'an's revelation here. As to the reliability of these documents themselves, there are various reasons why these apocryphal gospels are not included in the canon; the First Gospel of the Infancy is a comparatively late work while the Second Gospel of the Infancy (actually a fragment of the Gospel of Thomas) is a famous forgery. Both these apocrypha contain verses that contradict the canonical Gospels and their late date reveals itself both in style and substance.
According to the sira, the purported sources of the story are three Christians who spoke to Muhammad. These Christians were either heretics or they were unsure of doctrine as their errancies were then repeated in the Qur'an. These errancies include Jesus animating clay birds, the talking baby Jesus, and the Trinity comprising God, Jesus and Mary (Father, Son and Mother).
Mary and Zechariah
The Bible, unlike the Qur'an, is silent on Mary’s birth, upbringing and relationship with Zachariah. The following is what one finds in the Qur'an:
So when she brought it forth, she said: My Lord, I have brought it forth a female -- and Allah knew best what she brought forth -- and the male is not like the female, and I have named it Mary, and I commend her and her offspring into Thy protection from the accursed devil.
So her Lord accepted her with a goodly acceptance and made her grow up a goodly growing, and gave her into the charge of Zacharias. Whenever Zacharias entered the sanctuary to (see) her, he found food with her. He said: O Mary, whence comes this to thee? She said: It is from Allah. Surely Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure.
There did Zacharias pray to his Lord. He said: My Lord, grant me from Thee goodly offspring; surely Thou art the Hearer of prayer.
So the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: Allah gives thee the good news of John, verifying a word from Allah, and honourable and chaste and a prophet from among the good ones.
He said: My Lord, how can I have a son when old age has already come upon me, and my wife is barren? He said: Even thus does Allah do what He pleases.
He said: My Lord, appoint a sign for me. Said He: Thy sign is that thou speak not to men for three days except by signs. And remember thy Lord much and glorify (Him) in the evenings and early morning.This is of the tidings of things unseen which We reveal to thee. And thou wast not with them when they cast their pens (to decide) which of them should have Mary in his charge, and thou wast not with them when they contended one with another.
The salient points are:
- The child Mary was given into Zachariah’s care by her mother, and kept in a sanctuary (possibly in dedication to God).
- Zachariah was astonished that she did not need human help in feeding herself. Some supernatural occurrence explained her daily sustenance.
- Zachariah speaks to God who told him of John. Zachariah is incredulous due to the physical condition of him and his wife.
- Mary’s husband was decided by the drawing of lots.
The Qur'anic verses parallel the apocryphal Protevangelium of James and the Gospel of the Birth of Mary. Both apocrypha were probably written in the middle of the second century.
Other apocrypha carrying the same story are:
- 1 - The Coptic History of the Virgin, which may be the Gospel of the Birth of Mary.
- 2 - The Arabic apocryphal work, History of our holy Father the Aged, the Carpenter (Joseph), also gives an account of Mary’s upbringing in the Temple and the choice of Joseph by lot. The dating of this apocrypha, also known as the History of Joseph the Carpenter, is the fourth or fifth century.
- 3 - The Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus and Mary.
This apocrypha is also known as the Pseudo-Matthew or ‘The Book About the Origin of the Blessed Mary and the Childhood of the Savior’. The dating is uncertain. Most scholars date it to the fourth or fifth century, although some date it later to the eighth or ninth century. However it may have been included in the list of apocryphal works in the fifth century ‘'Decretum Gelasianum De Libris Recipiendis Et Non Recipiendis' as ‘the book of the nativity of the saviour and of Mary or the midwife’.
The Decretum is said to have been issued by Pope Gelasius I (492-496 AD) in 494 AD although some scholars claim it was wrongly attributed to Gelasius I and believe it was written in the sixth century.
Excerpts from the Protevangelium of James
2. And the child became three years old, and Ioacim said: Call for the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take every one a lamp, and let them be burning, that the child turn not backward and her heart be taken captive away from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they were gone up into the temple of the Lord.And the priest received her and kissed her and blessed her and said: The Lord hath magnified thy name among all generations: in thee in the latter days shall the Lord make manifest his redemption unto the children of Israel.
And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as a dove that is nurtured: and she received food from the hand of an angel.
2. And when she was twelve years old, there was a council of the priests, saying: Behold Mary is become twelve years old in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her? lest she pollute the sanctuary of the Lord. And they said unto the high priest: Thou standest over the altar of the Lord. Enter in and pray concerning her: And whatsoever the Lord shall reveal to thee, that let us do.3. And the high priest took the vestment with the twelve bells and went in unto the Holy of Holies and prayed concerning her. And lo, an angel of the Lord appeared saying unto him: Zacharias, Zacharias, go forth and assemble them that are widowers of the people, and let them bring every man a rod, and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. And the heralds went forth over all the country round about Judaea, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all men ran thereto.
The story of Mary’s upbringing in the Temple under the supervision of the High Priest Zachariah, and the choice of Joseph as Mary’s husband by the drawing of lots, is not told in the Bible but in various apocrypha. The Qur'an’s parallelism of this story casts suspicion as to its provenance. These apocrypha are clearly later Christian writings pre-dating Islam, and the oldest, the pseudepigraphal Protevangelium, dates to about 130 CE. On stylistic and theological grounds, the Protevangelium has long been considered apocrypha. Thus, these details of the Qur'anic story should not be taken as historical detail but rather as Christian legend which, by merit of its wide circulation, entered into the Qur'an as though it were actual, canonized Christian scripture.
Jesus, Mary, and the Palm Tree
The Bible canon does not contain the episode of Mary, Jesus and the palm tree, it is included in the apocrypha. However, the Qur'an does contain this story.
Gospel of Pseudo-Mathew
Quranic verse 19:22-26 is a clear parallel of the account found in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. In this account Jesus has already been born, but he is still a baby during the flight to Egypt. The family are hungry and thirsty, resting under a palm tree. As in the Quran, Jesus performs the miracles of making the palm tree drop fruit and a stream appear beneath it.
The dating of this Latin apocrypha is of uncertain date, with the oldest surving manuscript dating to around 820 CE. In 2011, Michael Berthold identified that one of its sources is the Pseudo-Ambrosian Life of Saint Agnes, which is used by another work around 690 CE so this source is earlier than that. St. Agnes is thought to have lived some time from the 5th to 7th century. Other more speculative arguments suggest an earliest date of the mid sixth century for Pseudo Matthew. Considering all these insights from other scholars, Brandon Hawk gives it a date range of 550 - 800 CE.
Fortunately, Stephen Shoemaker has identified a precursor of the Mary palm tree story in a set of early 5th century CE texts (at the latest) known as the Dormition of the Virgin, for which we have later fifth century Syriac manuscript fragments as the earliest textual witnesses In this version, the infant Jesus commands the palm tree to bow down and provide fruit, as in Pseudo-Matthew, but it is already located by a stream rather than the stream being a second miracle as in Pseudo-Matthew and the Quran. Nevertheless, this is proof enough that the story was developing in the region well before the 7th century CE.
Leto in Greek mythology
Suleiman Mourad has traced the development of this story in the Qur'an and Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew through Greek and Latin literature. He writes:
It is nevertheless unlikely that the myth of Leto was the direct source for sura Maryam. As was aforementioned, the concise version found in the latter has two parts: Mary's labor and delivery, and the miracle. We might therefore suspect that there was a stage when Leto's myth was borrowed and applied to Mary.
The parallel between the Qur'an and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew suggests a non-divine source for the Qur'an. This story, in which Jesus was still in the womb during the flight to Egypt, is clearly at odds with the canonical gospels which suggest that Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1,5-6,8,16; Luke 2:4,15; John 7:42) and the flight to Egypt occurred only after his birth at Bethlehem.
Christians believe that Jesus was prophesized to be born at Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). The presence of this narrative in the Qur'an indicates that the author (and the audience) was deeply familiar with the apocryphal tradition of Marian literature, which more or less rules out a pagan Mecca as the milieu for these verses.
Iblis and his refusal to prostrate
The Qur'anic story that Satan was expelled from Heaven for defying Allah’s command to prostrate to Adam seems to have antecedents in pre-Islamic Jewish tales. The Bible does not contain this tale.
He said: What hindered thee that thou didst not submit when I commanded thee? He said: I am better than he; thou hast created me of fire while him Thou didst create of dust. He said: Then get forth from this (state), for it is not for thee to behave proudly therein. Go forth; therefore, surely thou art of the abject ones.He said: Get out of it, despised, driven away. Whoever of them will follow thee; I will certainly fill hell with you all.
This story recurs several times in the Qur'an, for instance:
Apparently, 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.
Another version of this in Syriac, The Cave of Treasure, appeared in the sixth century. There were also other earlier versions in Arabic, Ethiopic, and Armenian, which indicate the early spread of the story regarding the worship of Adam by the angels.
“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.”
The story is also found in the Talmud, namely the Genesis Rabba (or Bereshith Rabba – compiled in the fourth or fifth century CE, some say sixth century CE) and the Pirke Rabbi De Eliezer. The Cave of Treasure, an anonymous work, which dates from the sixth century, puts a Christian twist on the fable:
The Qur'anic story of Satan refusing to worship or prostate before Adam seems to have distinct antecedents in pre-Islamic Jewish and Christian sources. It would appear that this post-biblical legend has been borrowed wholesale into the Islamic scriptures, without an apparent understanding of its origin.
The Queen of Sheba
The story of the Queen of Sheba is an ancient one, dating back to the Old Testament (1 Kgs. 10:1-10 and 2 Chr. 9:1-12). Josephus also makes mention of the Queen of Sheba, as does the Qur'an, which interestingly embellishes the Old Testament account with the episodes of the hoopoe and the Queen of Sheba exposing her legs.
Below is the Quranic account of the story as translated by Hilali & Khan:
This story parallels that which is found in the Second Targum of Esther, or Targum Sheni, and is taken as evidence of the Qur'an’s non-divine source:
A counter argument to the idea (raised by the sources referenced above) that Muhammad derived the story from Jewish sources, is produced by Dr Saifullah and the Islamic-Awareness team, which you can find here
The crux of the argument lies with the dating of the Targum of Sheni. It is commonly believed that this targum dates to around the seventh to ninth century, thus making it too late to account for the parallelism with the Qur'an.
According to Saifullah, quoting the Jewish Encyclopedia:
[Note that the dating is only of the final redaction of the Targum, not of the Midrash enclose therein.]
Saifullah goes on to report, citing Encyclopaedia Judaica:
Analysis of Muslim Objections
The date of final redaction and of original composition are different, as answering-islam team points out.
In another place in his introduction Professor Grossfeld states in connection with the origin of the Targum that it: Must have begun before the Christian era.
On the same subject the Jewish Encyclopedia 1925 edition by Funk & Wagnalls Company, Vol 12, p 63 states:
So the Targum, having been quoted in the Jerusalem Talmud, must have had existence at least before the time the Jerusalem Talmud was finally concluded.
On the subject of the dates of the Jerusalem Talmud the Encyclopedea Judaica 1996 edition, Vol 15, p 772, states:
This again supports the claim that the Targum existed in pre-Islamic times and at least early enough for the legend of the Queen of Sheba to have travelled to wherever the Jewish community had dispersed throughout Arabia.”
There is also evidence that the story of the Queen of Sheba’s hairy legs was an ancient Arabian tale:
One cannot be too dogmatic about this parallelism, as the dating of Targum Sheni is not beyond doubt. Nevertheless, it is likely that the story of the Queen of Sheba pre-dates the Qur'an as the Targum is mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud. It is also clear that the post-Quranic dates often ascribed to Targum Sheni are that of the final redaction and not that of the Queen of Sheba myths.
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:
From the perspective of a believing Muslim, it seems shocking that a Jewish legend about Abraham, created thousands of years after the event it purports to relate, made its way into the unerring Qur'an. For the secular scholar studying the Qur'an as a historical document of its time and place, the ancient near east, this is not at all surprising given the wide range of religious literature which was read and spread in the ancient near east. 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 meant to be considered historical, even by the audience for whom it was composed.
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.”
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 the Qur'an 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, so a different text may or may not have been the source of the parallel.
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 necessary to come to the conclusion that the Qur'an copies out of these texts, but rather that it draws from sources with similar narrativbes. The Judeo-Christian sources listed 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. Rather than divine revelation, these parallels point to a very human origin of the Qur'an.
The Wealth of Korah
The Torah and Mishnah tells the story of Korah (or Korach) and his rebellion against Moses (Numbers 16:1-35). This story is also replicated in the Qur'an where Korah is transliterated to Qaaroon.
The parallelism between the Qur'an and the Gemara has not escaped noticed, for instance, this site
V'amar Rabi Levi: "masoi sh'lsh me'ot pardot l'vanot hayu maftchot shel beyt g'nazaiv shel Qorach, V'khulhu aqlidei v'qilfei d'ghilda."
And Rabbi Levi said: "The keys to Korah's treasure house was a load for 300 white mules and the keys and locks were leather."It is clear that the Islamic literature, be it the Qur'an or the extracanonical traditions and commentaries, show a great deal of Judeo-Christian influence.”
A check of Tractate Sanhedrin 110a shows this to be indeed the case:
Jewish scholars have noted that the story of Korah’s wealth is not told in the Torah or Mishnah but by sages. Professor Avigdor Shenan says that the Sages present Korach, among others things, as an extremely wealthy man and the phrase “as wealthy as Korach” is used even today.
Professor Shenan also noted that the Jewish sages had two theories about how Korah acquired his wealth.
Joseph’s great wealth, from when he gathered “all the money which was in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan” (Bereishit 47:14)”“According to the other opinion, Pharaoh’s wealth reached Korach since he was Pharaoh’s finance minister, “and he had in his hands the keys to his treasures” (Bamidbar Rabba 18:15).”
Here is Professor Shenan’s conclusion about the wealthy Korah story:
Thus, it can be seen that there is little or no basis in the Bible for Korah to be assumed a wealthy man, especially since he fled with Moses during the Exodus. It is unlikely, although Jewish tradition has it, that the Hebrews would have fled in haste from a vengeful Pharaoh and his army carrying a load of treasure.
So where did Muhammad get his idea about Korah being so wealthy that the keys to his treasure house themselves were so heavy that they required the strength of a body of strong men?
Apparently, Rabbi Levi; a third century Haggadist who lived in Palestine and who also made up the story of Korah’s keys, was actually none other than Allah in the flesh.
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