To the Sources 

LogoThe motto of the Renaissance was 'ad fontes,' to the source! While the study of the literary remains of classical antiquity was no novelty, the medieval scholastics had not cared much whether they encountered a philosopher's thoughts in an Arabic commentary. . .even if the Greek philosopher had never set foot in the desert. The Renaissance wanted to know where things came from. The student of the Koran might also be interested to know where some of this stuff comes from.

The Koran denies that the Koran has sources:

  • "We also know that they say, 'Surely a certain person teacheth him.' But the tongue of him at whom they hint is foreign, while this Koran is in the plain Arabic.
  • "As for those who believe not in the signs of God, God will not guide them, and a sore torment doth await them.
  • "Surely they invent a lie who believe not in the signs of God — and they are the liars."
  • (Sura 16:105-107).

  • "And the infidels say, ‘This Koran is a mere fraud of his own devising, and others have helped him with it, who had come hither by outrage and lie.’ And they say, ‘Tales of the ancients that he hath put in writing! and they were dictated to him morn and even.’
  • (Sura 25:5-6).

  • "And they turned their backs on him, and said, 'Taught by others, possessed?'"
  • (Sura 44:13).

LogoPay no attention to that man behind the curtain! Mohammed indignantly denies that he is the author of the Koran:

"Do they say, 'This Koran is of his own devising?' Say: On me be my own guilt, if I have devised it, but I am clear of that whereof ye are guilty." (Koran, Sura 11:37).

'Compiler' might be a more accurate word than 'author,' as we shall see. The hadith, the traditions of Mohammed and his early followers, follow the same pattern, recording accusations that Mohammed learned his tales from others: "Narrated Anas: There was a Christian who embraced Islam and read Surat-al-Baqara and Al-Imran, and he used to write (the revelations) for the Prophet. Later on he returned to Christianity again and he used to say: 'Muhammad knows nothing but what I have written for him.' Then Allah caused him to die, and the people buried him, but in the morning they saw that the earth had thrown his body out." (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 814). In the Muslim sources, the truth of these attributions is indignantly confuted, often on grounds that the individuals named as informants were not native Arabic-speakers. What does the evidence say? Is the Koran an original work, or stitched together from overheard stories?:

Fiery Furnace In the Cradle
They are All Dead Abraham's Apologetic
Hatchet Job Falling Rocks
Seven Portals of Hell Moses in the Bulrushes
Satan's Fall Solomon's Throne
Air Mail Quoth the Raven
Seven Sleepers In the Sanctuary
Life-Giving Rain God Prays
Seven Heavens

LogoFiery Furnace

The Christian reader upon first encountering the Koran discovers a familiar cast of characters, but sometimes what they are doing is unfamiliar. For example, did you know the idolaters wanted to throw Abraham into the fire?:

  • “So they turned their thoughts upon themselves, and said, 'Ye truly are the impious persons:' Then became headstrong in their former error and exclaimed, 'Thou knowest that these speak not.'
  • "He said, 'What! do ye then worship, instead of God, that which doth not profit you at all, nor injure you? Fie on you and on that ye worship instead of God! What! do ye not then understand?'
  • "They said: 'Burn him, and come to the succor of your gods: If ye will do anything at all.'
  • "We said, 'O fire! be thou cold, and to Abraham a safety!;
  • "And they sought to lay a plot against him, but we made them the sufferers."
  • (Sura 21:65-70).

LogoWho ever tried to burn Abraham? And how were they made the sufferers instead? Like when did any of this ever happen? It's in the Jewish sources; you could read about it in the Midrash Rabba, Chapter XVII, commenting on Genesis XV. 7: "Abraham went down into the furnace of fire and was delivered." And the story undergoes all manner of expansion, as tends to happen to made-up stories. How did Nimrod get in on the act? He turns up in the Jewish legends, anachronistically enough. Well, you see, it's like this:

  • “While Noah was still alive, the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth appointed princes over each of the three groups — Nimrod for the descendants of Ham, Joktan for the descendants of Shem, and Phenech for the descendants of Japheth. Ten years before Noah's death, the number of those subject to the three princes amounted to millions. . .
  • “All agreed to this proposal, with the exception of twelve pious men, Abraham among them. They refused to join the others. . .
  • “Nimrod and Phenech flew into such a passion over the twelve men that they resolved to throw them into the fire. . .
  • “In vain Joktan endeavored to persuade Abraham to flee. He persisted in his refusal. He remained behind alone in the prison house, while the other eleven made their escape. At the expiration of the set term, when the people returned and demanded the death of the twelve captives, Joktan could produce only Abraham. His excuse was that the rest had broken loose during the night. The people were about to throw themselves upon Abraham and cast him into the lime kiln. Suddenly an earthquake was felt, the fire darted from the furnace, and all who were standing round about, eighty four thousand of the people, were consumed, while Abraham remained untouched.”
  • (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 1, Kindle location 1997).

LogoThese are legendary embellishments of the Bible story, but they are not original to Mohammed. There are, as always, many different versions; the Talmud says that Abraham was in prison for ten years: "R. Hanan b. Raba further stated in the name of Rab: Abraham our father was imprisoned for ten years." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Bathra, 91a). Of course there are multiple attempts, etc.:

"Nimrod, however, was not to be turned aside from his purpose, to make Abraham suffer death by fire. One of the princes was dispatched to fetch him forth. But scarcely did the messenger set about the task of throwing him into the fire, when the flame leapt forth from the furnace and consumed him. Many more attempts were made to cast Abraham into the furnace, but always with the same success — whoever seized him to pitch him in was himself burnt, and a large number lost their lives." (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 1, Kindle location 2216).

I'm not suggesting that Mohammed could read Hebrew, or could read at all, nor that he had access to a volume of the Talmud, or similar compilations of this material, but some of his informants had likely been instructed by people who had been instructed by people who had. The expanded and improved versions of the story were in circulation before Mohammed ever incorporated them into his Koran; they are not original.

Thriceholy Radio

LogoIn the Cradle

In the Koran, Baby Jesus speaks in the cradle:

  • “And she made a sign to them, pointing towards the babe.  They said, 'How shall we speak with him who is in the cradle, an infant?
  • “It said, 'Verily, I am the servant of God; He hath given me the Book, and He hath made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wherever I may be, and hath enjoined me prayer and almsgiving so long as I shall live; And to be duteous to her that bare me: and he hath not made me proud, depraved.
  • “And the peace of God was on me the day I was born, and will be the day I shall die, and the day I shall be raised to life.' This is Jesus, the son of Mary; this is a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt.”
  • (Sura 19:30-35).

Logo Where does this story come from? From the circle of the apostles who had walked with Jesus through the hills and vales of Galilee? Well, no:

LogoThey Are All Dead

Sura 2:52-53 contains the perplexing information that the thunderbolt destroyed the children of Israel at Sinai, but they were then raised to life. Like, when did this happen?:

  • "And when ye said, 'O Moses! we will not believe thee until we see God plainly;' the thunderbolt fell upon you while ye were looking on:
  • "Then we raised you to life after ye had been dead, that haply ye might give thanks. . ."
  • (Koran Sura 2:52-53)

LogoIt was at Sinai, while God was giving them the Law:

"R. Joshua b. Levi also said: At every word which went forth from the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He, the souls of Israel departed, for it is said, My soul went forth when he spake. But since their souls departed at the first word, how could they receive the second word? — He brought down the dew with which He will resurrect the dead and revived them, as it is said, Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, Thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath 88b).

  • “When the first commandment had come out of the mouth of God thunder and lightning proceeded from His mouth, a torch was at His right, and a torch at His left, and His voice flew through the air, saying: 'My people, My people, House of Israel! I am the Eternal, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.' When Israel heard the awful voice, they flew back in their horror twelve miles, until their souls fled from them. Upon this the Torah turned to God, saying: 'Lord of the world! Hast Thou given me to the living, or to the dead?' God said: 'To the living.' The Torah: 'But they are all dead.' God: 'For thy sake will I restore them to life' Hereupon He let fall upon them the dew that will hereafter revive the dead, and they returned to life.”
  • (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 3, Kindle location 1107).

The Young Cicero Reading, Vincenzo Foppa, 1464

LogoAbraham's Apologetic

The Bible does not give us much of Abraham's apologetic against the idolaters. It stands to reason that a man who late in life leaves his home on religious grounds must have had more than a few arguments on the topic of religion, but they are not recorded. No sweat, the Koran gives us all the missing detail:

  • "And thus did we show Abraham the kingdom of the Heavens and of the Earth, that he might be stablished in knowledge.
  • "And when the night overshadowed him, he beheld a star. ‘This,’ said he, ‘is my Lord:’ but when it set, he said, ‘I love not gods which set.’
  • "And when he beheld the moon uprising, ‘This,’ said he, ‘is my Lord:’ but when it set, he said, ‘Surely, if my Lord guide me not, I shall surely be of those who go astray.’
  • "And when he beheld the sun uprise, he said, ‘This is my Lord; this is greatest.’ But when it set, he said, ‘O my people! I share not with you the guilt of joining gods with God;
  • "I turn my face to him who hath created the Heavens and the Earth, following the right religion: I am not one of those who add gods to God.’
  • (Koran Sura 6:74-79)

LogoNot entirely novel to the student of Jewish folklore. Only think, had Abraham figured out that the earth is round, he could have remained a polytheist! The sun does not actually go out when it sets:

  • “But also the earth I call not god, because it is dried out by the sun, and I call the sun more venerable than the earth, because he illumines the whole world with his rays. But also the sun I call not god, because his light is obscured when darkness cometh up. Nor do I call the moon and the stars gods, because their light, too, is extinguished when their time to shine is past. But hearken unto this, my father Terah, which I will declare unto thee, the God who hath created all things is the true God, He hath empurpled the heavens, and gilded the sun, and given radiance to the moon and also the stars, and He drieth out the earth in the midst of many waters, and also thee hath He put upon the earth, and me hath He sought out in the confusion of my thoughts.”
  • (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 1, Kindle location 2363).

LogoThe stories go back a ways; the Book of Jubilees gives us Abraham the apologist, arguing with Terah: "Why do ye worship things that have no spirit in them. For they are the works of (men's) hands, and on your shoulders do ye bear them, and ye have no help from them. . ." (Book of Jubilees, Chapter 12, Section 5, Kindle location 849).

You can understand what the people who made these stories up were thinking. As a monotheist, Abraham was self-taught; what could he have learned from Terah? Idolatry? Astrology? "So that a man may very properly say, that the written laws are nothing more than a memorial of the life of the ancients, tracing back in an antiquarian spirit, the actions and reasonings which they adopted; for these first men, without ever having been followers or pupils of any one, and without ever having been taught by preceptors what they ought to do or say. . .did in reality spend their whole lives in making laws, never of deliberate purpose doing anything open to reproach. . ." (Philo, On Abraham, Chapter 1). So what was the process of reasoning which he followed? One can speculate, but that's all it is. These stories are fictional.

LogoHatchet Job

The Koran gives us Abraham the iconoclast, destroying his father's idols:

  • "And truly, of his faith was Abraham, When he brought to his Lord a perfect heart, When he said to his father and to his people, ‘What is this ye worship? Prefer ye with falsehood gods to God?. . .
  • "He went aside to their gods and said, ‘Do ye not eat? What aileth you that ye do not speak?’
  • "He broke out upon them, with the right hand striking: When his tribesmen came back to him with hasty steps — He said, ‘Worship ye what ye carve, When God hath created you, and that ye make?’
  • "They said, ‘Build up a pyre for him and cast him into the glowing flame.’"
  • (Koran Sura 37:81-95)

LogoAbraham destroyed the idols: "So, he broke them all in pieces, except the chief of them, that to it they might return, inquiring." (Koran Sura 21:59). In the by now familiar pattern, this incident is unfamiliar to the Bible reader, but familiar to those who follow Rabbinic legend:

  • “But the gods remained mute and without motion before the second offering of excellent savory meat as before the first offering, and the spirit of God came over Abraham, and he cried out, and said: 'Woe unto my father and his wicked generation, whose hearts are all inclined to vanity, who serve these idols of wood and stone, which cannot eat, nor smell, nor hear, nor speak, which have mouths without speech, eyes without sight, ears without ears without hearing, hands without feeling, and legs without motion!'

    “Abraham then took a hatchet in his hand, and broke all his father's gods, and when he had done breaking them he placed the hatchet in the hand of the biggest god among them all, and he went out. Terah, having heard the crash of the hatchet on the stone, ran to the room of the idols, and he reached it at the moment when Abraham was leaving it, and when he saw what had happened, he hastened after Abraham, and he said to him, 'What is this mischief thou hast done to my gods?'”
  • (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 1, Kindle location 2380).

LogoHere the Book of Jubilees gives us Abraham the arsonist: "Abram arose by night, and burned the house of the idols, and he burned all that was in the house and no man knew it. And they arose in the night and sought to save their gods from the midst of the fire." (Book of Jubilees, Chapter 12, Section 12, Kindle location 862).

The idea that Abraham was a pioneer and leading theologian of monotheism is deeply embedded in Judaism: "For Abraham was the first to teach the Unity of God, to establish the faith (in Him), to cause it to remain among coming generations, and to win his fellow-men for his doctrine; as Scripture says of him: 'I know him, that he will command,' etc. (Gen. xviii. 19)." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, p. 349). It must puzzle Muslims that Christians don't know these things about Abraham, but they are imaginative expansions of the Bible account rather than things attested.

LogoFalling Rocks

Another perplexing episode connected with the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai involved the inversion of the mountain, with the intent of giving Israel an offer they could not refuse:

  • "Call to mind also when we entered into a covenant with you, and lifted up the mountain over you: — 'Take hold,' said we, 'on what we have revealed to you, with resolution, and remember what is therein, that ye may fear. . ."
  • (Koran Sura 2:60).

  • "And we uplifted the mountain  over them when we made a covenant with them, and we said to them, 'Enter the gate adoring:' and we said to them, 'Transgress not on the Sabbath,' and we received from them a strict covenant."
  • (Sura 4:153)

  • "And when we shook the mount over them as if it had been a shadow, and they thought it falling upon them, . . .'Receive, said we, with steadfastness what we have brought you, and remember what is therein, to the end that ye may fear God.'"
  • (Koran Sura 7:170).

LogoUnlike the familiar Bible stories Mohammed retells, this incident does not ring a bell, at least to the Christian reader. When did that ever happen? It was at Sinai, while God was giving them the Law:

  • “And they stood under the mount: R. Abdimi b. Hama b. Hasa said: This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, overturned the mountain upon them like an [inverted] cask, and said to them,'If ye accept the Torah, 'tis well; if not, there shall be your burial.' R. Aha b. Jacob observed: This furnishes a strong protest against the Torah.”
  • (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath, 88a).

  • “This, then, will be their contention: 'Lord of the Universe, didst Thou suspend the mountain over us like a vault as Thou hast done unto Israel and did we still decline to accept it?' For in commenting on the verse: And they stood at the netherpart of the mountain. R. Dimi b. Hama said: This teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, suspended the mountain over Israel like a vault, and said unto them: 'If ye accept the Torah, it will be well with you, but if not, there will ye find your grave.')”
  • (Babylonian Talmud, Abodah Zara 2b).

LogoMoses in the Bulrushes

When the Hebrews were groaning under Egyptian oppression, a baby boy was born, under Pharaoh's decree that all the male children of that race should be killed. His mother entrusted him to the waters, setting him out in an ark, and his sister waited to see what would become of him. The Bible text credits the idea of a Hebrew nurse to Moses' sister:

"And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it. And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children. Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother." (Exodus 2:5-8).

Mohammed has the child refusing Egyptian nurses:

  • "She said to his sister, 'Follow him.' And she watched him from afar: and they perceived it not.
  • "And we caused him to refuse the nurses, until his sister came and said, Shall I point out to you the family of a house that will rear him for you, and will be careful of him?
  • "So we restored him to his mother, to be the joy of her eyes, and that she might not fret, and that she might know that the promise of God was true. But most men knew it not."
  • (Koran Sura 28:10-12)

LogoIs this original? No; not much of this material is. We discover that Moses rejected the Egyptian nurses because they were unclean:

  • “Then said his sister to Pharaoh's daughter, Shall I go and call thee a nurse of the Hebrew women? Why just 'of the Hebrew women'? — It teaches that they handed Moses about to all the Egyptian women but he would not suck. He said: Shall a mouth which will speak with the Shechinah suck what is unclean!”
  • (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sotah, 12b).

LogoSeven Portals of Hell

In the Koran, Hell has seven portals:

  • "And verily, Hell is the promise for them one and all.
  • "It hath seven Portals; at each Portal is a separate band of them;
  • "But ’mid gardens and fountains shall the pious dwell:. . ."
  • (Koran Sura 15:43-45)

LogoWhy seven? Perhaps mirroring the seven heavens, which pertain to the number of planets? But it was the Rabbis who first computed that number. David is said in the Talmud to have rescued Absalom from the seven dwellings of Hell:

"And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, thus he said: O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son. And the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom my son, my son. Why is 'my son' repeated eight times? Seven to raise him from the seven divisions of Gehinnom; and as for the last, some say to unite his [severed] head to his body and others say to bring him into the World to Come." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sotah, 10b.).

Here's the list:

  • “Hell has seven divisions, one beneath the other. They are called Sheol, Abaddon, Beer Shahat, Tit ha-Yawen, Sha'are Mawet, Sha'are Zalmawet, and Gehenna. It requires three hundred years to traverse the height, or the width, or the depth of each division, and it would take six thousand three hundred years to go over a tract of land equal in extent to the seven divisions.”
  • (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 1, Kindle location 264).

LogoSatan's Fall

There are bits and pieces of the Koranic account of Satan's fall presented in the Bible, but the puzzle does not come together into this complete conformation:

  • "Remember when thy Lord said to the Angels, ‘I create man of dried clay, of dark loam moulded:
  • "And when I shall have fashioned him and breathed of my spirit into him, then fall ye down and worship him.’
  • "And the Angels bowed down in worship, all of them, all of together,
  • "Save Eblis: he refused to be with those who bowed in worship.
  • "‘O Eblis,’ said God, ‘wherefore art thou not with those who bow down in worship?’
  • "He said, ‘It beseemeth not me to bow in worship to man whom thou hast created of clay, of moulded loam.’
  • "He said, ‘Begone then hence; thou art a stoned one,’
  • "And the curse shall be on thee till the day of reckoning.’"
  • (Koran Sura 15:28-35)

  • "And when we said to the angels, 'Bow down and worhsip Adam,' then worshipped they all, save Eblis. He refused and swelled with pride, and became one of the unbelievers."
  • (Sura 2:32)

  • "We created you; then fashioned you; then said we to the angels, 'Prostrate yourselves unto Adam: and they prostrated them all in worship, save Eblis: He was not among those who prostrated themselves. To him said God: 'What hath hindered thee from prostrating thyself in worship at my bidding?' He said, 'Nobler am I than he: me hast thou created of fire; of clay hast thou created him.'
  • (Sura 7:10-11).

LogoWhere does it come from? "Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n." (John Milton, Paradise Lost). Or maybe Jewish legend:

  • “In particular, Satan was jealous of the first man, and his evil thoughts finally led to his fall. After Adam had been endowed with a soul, God invited all the angels to come and pay him reverence and homage. Satan, the greatest of the angels in heaven, with twelve wings, instead of six like all the others, refused to pay heed to the behest of God, saying, 'Thou didst create us angels from the splendor of the Shekinah, and now Thou dost command us to cast ourselves down before the creature which Thou didst fashion out of the dust of the ground!'. . .At once God flung Satan and his host out of heaven, down to the earth, and from that moment dates the enmity between Satan and man.'”
  • (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 1, Kindle location 790).

LogoThere is an apocryphal work, called 'The Life of Adam and Eve' or in some versions, 'The Apocalypse of Moses,' which tells a similar story. Satan is the speaker:

"Having gone forth Michael called all the angels saying: 'Worship the image of the Lord God, just as the Lord God has commanded.' Michael himself worshipped first then he called me and said: 'Worship the image of God Jehovah.' I answered: 'I do not have it within me to worship Adam.'" (Life of Adam and Eve, 14.1-3).

LogoSolomon's Throne

The Koran incorporates elements of the legendary expansion of Solomon's throne found in Jewish folklore:

  • "And to Solomon we subjected the strongly blowing wind: it sped at his bidding to the land we had blessed; for we know all things:. . ."
  • (Koran Sura 21:81)

  • "And in knowledge Solomon was David’s heir. And he said, ‘O men, we have been taught the speech of birds, and are endued with everything. This is indeed a clear boon from God.’
  • :And to Solomon were gathered his hosts of Djinn and men and birds, and they were marched on in bands,
  • "Till they reached the Valley of Ants. Said AN ANT, ‘O ye ants, enter your dwellings, lest Solomon and his army crush you and know it not.’
  • "Then smiled Solomon, laughing at her words, and he said, ‘Stir me up, O Lord, to be thankful for thy favor which thou hast showed upon me and upon my parents, and to do righteousness that shall be well pleasing to thee, and bring me in, by thy mercy, among thy servants the righteous.’"
  • (Koran Sura 27:16-19)

  • "And unto Solomon did we subject the wind, which travelled in the morning a month’s journey, and a month’s journey in the evening. And we made a fountain of molten brass to flow for him. And of the Djinn were some who worked in his presence, by the will of his Lord; and such of them as swerved from our bidding will we cause to taste the torment of the flame.
  • "They made for him whatever he pleased, of lofty halls, and images, and dishes large as tanks for watering camels, and cooking pots that stood firmly. ‘Work,’ said we, ‘O family of David with thanksgiving:’ But few of my servants are the thankful!"
  • (Koran Sura 34:11-12)

  • "We also made trial of Solomon, and placed a phantom on his throne: whereupon he returned to Us (in penitence).
  • "He said, O my Lord! pardon me, and give me a dominion that may not be to any one beside me, for thou art the liberal giver.
  • "So we subjected the wind to him; it ran softly at his bidding, whithersoever he directed it:
  • "And the Satans — every builder and diver —
  • "And others bound in chains:
  • "‘This,’ said we, ‘is our gift: be bounteous then, or withhold thy favors; no account shalt thou render.’
  • "And his rank also is high with Us, and an excellent retreat."
  • (Koran Sura 38:33-39)

Logo. . .you get the idea. The "phantom" is Asmodeus, by the way. This idea, of the birds, winds and demons being subject to Solomon along with the human beings over whom he governed, is actually found in the Talmud:

  • “Resh Lakish said: At first, Solomon reigned over the higher beings, as it is written, Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king; [1 Chron. XXIX, 23.] afterwards, [having sinned,] he reigned [only] over the lower, as it is written, For he had dominion over all the region on this side the river, from Tifsah even to Gaza.
  • “. . .Did he regain his first power, or not? Rab and Samuel [differ]: One maintains that he did; the other, that he did not. The one who says that he did not, agrees with the view that Solomon was first a king and then a commoner; the other, who says that he did, agrees with the view that he was first king, then commoner and finally king again.”
  • (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 20b).

LogoNot only the inhabitants of the nation-state of Israel, but the whole natural realm, physical and spiritual, is subject to his reign: "Solomon, it must be remembered, bore rule not only over men, but also over the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, demons, spirits, and the spectres of the night. He knew the language of all of them and they understood his language." (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 4, Kindle location 1433). Like many of the odd ideas of the Rabbis, this one starts from a toe-hold in scripture. We begin with a hyper-literal interpretation of 1 Chronicles 29:23, unconstrained by common sense: "Then Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD [הוהי] as king instead of David his father, and prospered; and all Israel obeyed him." Common sense grows flustered: 'but it doesn't mean that.' Realizing that common sense is just the set of misconceptions about the world one has absorbed by the age of eighteen, let's discard it. What cannot be literally true of Solomon, a mere man and a fallible one at that, is literally true of his greater descendant and heir, the Messiah. Nature is subject to Him, as it cannot have been to Solomon or any other mere man, like the song says:

"Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the son, Thee will I cherish,
Thee will I honor, Thou, my soul's glory, joy, and crown.

"Fair are the meadows, Fairer still the woodlands,
Robed in the blooming garb of spring: Jesus is fairer,
Jesus is purer, Who makes the woeful heart to sing."
      (Fairest Lord Jesus, Anonymous in Munster Gesanguch, 1677).

The beautiful pictures of nature are painted with Jesus's brush, because He is the Word through Whom God made the world. Muslims accuse Christians of excess, although no amount of praise and honor could be excessive when offered to God incarnate. Whatever we have said to this point, we are just getting started, we are just warming up. But certainly it is excess to ascribe sovereignty over nature to Solomon, a mere man and a deeply compromised one at that. It is downright silly. The winds and the rains did not spring up in obedience to Solomon's command; the Koran is repeating childish fables. Muslims scoff at the intercession of Jesus, but live in the forlorn hope of intercession by a child molester and camel thief. Combine a little of what they say, excessively, about Mohammed ibn Abdallah, and a little of what they say, excessively, about Solomon the king, and you have a starting point for talking about Jesus, not excessively but soberly and scripturally.

 Washington Irving 
Mohammed and
His Successors

LogoReza Aslan is a Muslim revert who has revived some of Reimarus' conjectures about Jesus, and the purported failure of His mission. Here is one Muslim who is certain Jesus really was crucified. Whether because of his own cultural biases or for some other reason, he looks down upon people who make a living through humble pursuits, although many of the Rabbis did so: "Rabbi Kahana was so needy that he had to support himself by peddling with household utensils." (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 4, Kindle location 2056):

Reserved for Sedition Conspiracy Theory
Reimarus Name That Zealot
The Messiah Mythology
Ancient Literacy Prophecy Impossible
Apollonius of Tyana Sic et Non
Judge Judy The Census
The Vineyard The Third Day
Contradictions: Bible vs. Koran

LogoAir Mail

How did Solomon communicate with the Queen of Sheba? Via air mail, of course:

  • “And he reviewed the birds, and said, ‘How is it that I see not the lapwing? Is it one of the absent?
  • “Surely, with a severe chastisement will I chastise it, or I will certainly slaughter it, unless it bring me a clear excuse.’
  • “Nor tarried it long ere it came and said, ‘I have gained the knowledge that thou knowest not, and with sure tidings have I come to thee from Saba: I found a woman reigning over them, gifted with everything, and she hath a splendid throne; and I found her and her people worshipping the sun instead of God; and Satan hath made their works fair seeming to them, so that he hath turned them from the Way: wherefore they are not guided, to the worship of God, who bringeth to light the secret things of heaven and earth, and knoweth what men conceal and what they manifest: God! there is no god but He! the lord of the glorious throne!’
  • “He said, ‘We shall see whether thou hast spoken truth, or whether thou art of them that lie.
  • “Go with this my letter and throw it down to them: then turn away from them and await their answer.’
  • “She said, ‘O my nobles! an honorable letter hath been thrown down to me: It is from Solomon; and it is this: “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful! Set not yourselves against me, but come to me submitting (Muslims).”’”
  • (Koran Sura 27:20-31)

LogoIs this fable original to the unlettered Arabian prophet? No more so than usual, although the call to Islam is a personal touch:

  • “Solomon, it must be remembered, bore rule not only over men, but also over the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, demons, spirits, and the spectres of the night. He knew the language of all of them and they understood his language.
  • “When Solomon was of good cheer by reason of wine, he summoned the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the creeping reptiles, the shades, the spectres, and the ghosts, to perform their dances before the kings, his neighbors, whom he invited to witness his power and greatness. The king's scribes called the animals and the spirits by name, one by one, and they all assembled of their own accord, without fetters or bonds, with no human hand to guide them.
  • “On one occasion the hoopoe was missed from among the birds. He could not be found anywhere. The king, full of wrath, ordered him to be produced and chastised for his tardiness. The hoopoe appeared and said: "O lord, king of the world, incline thine ear and hearken to my words. Three months have gone by since I began to take counsel with myself and resolve upon a course of action. I have eaten no food and drunk no water, in order to fly about in the whole world and see whether there is a domain anywhere which is not subject to my lord the king. and I found a city, the city of Kitor, in the East. Dust is more valuable than gold there, and silver is like the mud of the streets. Its trees are from the beginning of all time, and they suck up water that flows from the Garden of Eden. The city is crowded with men. . .Their ruler is a woman, she is called the Queen of Sheba. If, now, it please thee, O lord and king, I shall gird my loins like a hero, and journey to the city of Kitor in the land of Sheba. Its kings I shall fetter with chains and its rulers with iron bands, and bring them all before my lord the king.'
  • “The hoopoe's speech pleased the king. The clerks of his land were summoned, and they wrote a letter and bound it to the hoopoe's wing. The bird rose skyward, uttered his cry, and flew away, followed by all the other birds.
  • “And they came to Kitor in the land of Sheba. It was morning, and the queen had gone forth to pay worship to the sun. Suddenly the birds darkened his light. The queen raised her hand, and rent her garment, and was sore astonished. Then the hoopoe alighted near her. Seeing that a letter was tied to his wing, she loosed it and read it. And what was written in the letter? 'From me, King Solomon! Peace be with thee, peace with the nobles of thy realm! Know that God has appointed me king over the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the demons, the spirits, and the spectres. All the kings of the East and the West come to bring me greetings. If thou wilt come and salute me, I shall show thee great honor, more than to any of the kings that attend me.”
  • (Ginzberg, Louis (2011-03-30). The Legends of the Jews — Volume 4 (Kindle Locations 1433-1452)).

LogoQuoth the Raven

Mohammed explains who taught Cain to bury his brother's corpse:

  • "And his passion led him to slay his brother: and he slew him; and he became one of those who perish.
  • "And God sent a raven which scratched upon the ground, to show him how he might hide his brother’s wrong. He said: ‘O woe is me! am I too weak to become like this raven, and to hide away my brother’s wrong?’ And he became one of the repentant. . . ."
  • (Koran Sura 5:33-34)

LogoThere is with this one a modification, because the original Jewish legend has Adam and Eve burying the body of Abel, taught by the raven, not the murderer himself:

  • “Nature was modified also by the burial of the corpse of Abel. For a long time it lay there exposed, above ground, because Adam and Eve knew not what to do with it. They sat beside it and wept, while the faithful dog of Abel kept guard that birds and beasts did it no harm. On a sudden, the mourning parents observed how a raven scratched the earth away in one spot, and then hid a dead bird of his own kind in the ground. Adam, following the example of the raven, buried the body of Abel, and the raven was rewarded by God.”
  • (Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Volume 1, Kindle location 1316-1319).

LogoSome of the borrowings recorded here are trivial. Some, however, are consequential and important. The Koranic doctrine that Jesus was not really crucified is not original to Mohammed ibn Abdallah. But this one he did not pinch from the Rabbis! Where did he get it from? From the Gnostics. Gnosticism is a major heresy that arose in the early Christian centuries, amounting to a compromise between Christian monotheism and existing pagan theological paradigms. If Muslims knew anything about it, they would have to agree it's a heresy! So how can it be the Gnostics who 'got it right' respecting the crucifixion?:

LogoSeven Sleepers

There are many more stories like this, which are already familiar to some readers of the Koran, and not to others. The 'Seven Sleepers' is one of my personal favorites; this Christian folk-tale, a Rip Van Winkle-type of story, made the cut even though at later stages of his career, disappointed of his earlier hopes of acceptance by them, Mohammed condemns the Christians to hell as idolaters.

  • "So we awaked them that they might question one another. Said one of them, 'How long have ye tarried here?' They said, 'We have tarried a day or part of a day.' They said, 'Your Lord knoweth best how long ye have tarried: Send now one of you with this your coin into the city, and let him mark who therein hath purest food, and from him let him bring you a supply: and let him be courteous,  and not discover you to any one.
  • "For they, if they find you out, will stone you or turn you back to their faith, and in that case it will fare ill with you for ever."
  • (Koran Sura 18:18-19)

LogoAs is clear from the original version of the story, these brave young men were Christians:

  • “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 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 inter-saluted each other, and had supposed verily that they had slept but one night only, and remembered of the heaviness that they had the day before. 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 before 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 Jesus Christ, and now every man confesseth him to be Christian?”
  • (The Golden Legend, The Seven Sleepers).

LogoWhat joy these honorable Christian men must have felt when they saw the sign of the cross set upon the city gate! Hallelujah!

LogoBible difficulties are as much beloved of Muslims apologists as of atheists:

LogoMohammed ibn Abdallah, like many caring and intelligent people, was troubled that what should unite all people into one,— the worship of God, — is more likely to divide them. And so, like many of those troubled by this problem, he resolved it by making darn sure they would all see it his way. He seems to have started out expecting both Christians and Jews to accept his prophetic mission: "And now have we caused our word to come unto them, that they may be warned: They to whom we gave the Scriptures before it, do in it believe." (Sura 28:51-52). Reading the early suras, such as the short ones at the back of the book (the current organization of the Koran is by length, not chronology), one can understand how members of both groups might have given him friendly encouragement. But when he grew elated and assigned himself the task of resolving their differences, without first taking the trouble to find out what they were, of course they grew less encouraging. Ultimately he and his followers settled for the silence of the grave in place of the hearty 'Amen' he had once expected. Then we hear: "Whoso desireth any other religion than Islam, that religion shall never be accepted from him, and in the next world he shall be among the lost." (Sura 3:79):

LogoIn the Sanctuary

In the Koran, Mohammed explains that little Mary (who seems to be conflated with Miriam of the Old Testament: she is the sister of Aaron and daughter of Imran) grew up in the sanctuary, with her food miraculously supplied:

  • "So with goodly acceptance did her Lord accept her, and with goodly growth did he make her grow. Zacharias reared her. So oft as Zacharias went in to Mary at the sanctuary, he found her supplied with food. ‘Oh, Mary!’ said he, ‘whence hast thou this?’ She said, ‘It is from God; for God supplieth whom He will, without reckoning!’"
  • (Koran Sura 3:32)

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation

LogoHave we heard of this before? You bet! The most popular source, and it remains popular to this day with the perpetual virginity crowd, is the Protevangelium of James. The sanctuary she grew up in is no less than the temple at Jerusalem, and indeed, she was raised in the Holy of Holies:

  • “She shall, according to your vow, be devoted to the Lord from her infancy, and be filled with the Holy Ghost from her mother's womb;
  • “She shall neither eat nor drink anything which is unclean, nor shall her conversation be without among the common people, but in the temple of the Lord; that so she may not fall under any slander or suspicion of what is bad.”
  • (The Gospel of the Birth of Mary, Chapter II, p. 19, The Lost Books of the Bible).

  • “"...And Joseph arose from off the sackcloth and called Mary and said unto her O thou that wast cared for by God, why hast thou done this?— thou hast forgotten the Lord thy God. Why hast thou humbled thy soul, thou that wast nourished up in the Holy of Holies and didst receive food at the hand of an angel?”
    (Protevangelium XIII:2).

  • "And the priest said: Mary, wherefore hast thou done this, and wherefore hast thou humbled thy soul and forgotten the Lord thy God, thou that wast nurtured in the Holy of Holies and didst receive food at the hand of an angel and didst hear the hymns and didst dance before the Lord, wherefore hast thou done this?”
    (Protevangelium XV:3).

Logo What is wrong with this charming picture? For one thing, in real life, only the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies, not little children: ". . .no small enormities were committed about the temple itself, which, in former ages, had been inaccessible, and seen by none; for Pompey went into it, and not a few of those that were with him also, and saw all that which was unlawful for any other men to see, but only for the high priests. . ." (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XIV, Chapter IV, 4). Death is the penalty:

"Moreover, then the erection was in the dwelling-house of the governor; but they say, that which is now contemplated is to be in the inmost part of the temple, in the very holy of holies itself, into which, once in the year, the high priest enters, on the day called the great fast, to offer incense, and on no other day, being then about in accordance with our national law also to offer up prayers for a fertile and ample supply of blessings, and for peace to all mankind. And if any one else, I will not say of the Jews, but even of the priests, and those not of the lowest order, but even those who are in the rank next to the first, should go in there, either with him or after him, or even if the very high priest himself should enter in thither on two days in the year, or three or four times on the same day, he is subjected to inevitable death for his impiety, so great are the precautions taken by our lawgiver with respect to the holy of holies, as he determined to preserve it alone inaccessible to and untouched by any human being." (Agrippa, quoted in Embassy to Gaius, Philo Judaeus, XXXIX)

One human creature, once in a year: "And in the center was the temple itself, beautiful beyond all possible description, as one may conjecture from what is now seen around on the outside; for what is innermost is invisible to every human creature except the high priest alone, and even he is enjoined only to enter that holy place once in each year." (Philo Judaeus, On Monarchy, Book II, Chapter II). Only the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, and then not without blood: "Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance. . ." (Hebrews 9:6-7). Failure to observe these precautions was potentially deadly: ". . .and the LORD said to Moses: 'Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.'" (Leviticus 16:2).

Not only was the author of this pseudepigraphic work not James, he was not even Jewish. The reader can judge from this circumstance how likely it is that this composition contains credible historical information.

LogoLife-Giving Rain

That rain brings life is evident to the eyes of every desert-dweller. This routine miracle is open to inspection: "And God sendeth down water from Heaven, and by it giveth life to the Earth after it hath been dead; verily, in this a sign to those who hearken." (Sura 16:67, 25:50-51, 29:63, 30:18,23,47-49, 35:10, 41:39, 43:10, 50:9-11). There is a mightier rain coming:

  • "And He it is who sendeth forth the winds as the heralds of his compassion, until they bring up the laden clouds, which we drive along to some dead land and send down water thereon, by which we cause an upgrowth of all kinds of fruit.— Thus will we bring forth the dead. Haply ye will reflect."
  • (Koran Sura 7:55)

LogoWhile some of the ideas Mohammed got from the Rabbis, like Solomon talking to the ant, are basically just silly, here he's onto something. The Mishnah correlates the rain with the resurrection; the Rabbis speculated that God would raise the dead by means of the rain and dew:

  • GEMARA. THE MIRACLE OF THE RAINFALL etc. What is the reason? — R. Joseph said: Because it is put on a level with the resurrection of the dead, therefore it was inserted in the benediction of the resurrection.”
  • (Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 33a.).

LogoGod Prays

The Christian reader is perplexed to discover, in the Koran, that God prays:

  • “O Believers! remember God with frequent remembrance, and praise Him morning and evening.
  • “He blesseth you, and HIs angels intercede for you, that He may bring you forth out of darkness into light: and Merciful is He to the Believers.”
  • (Sura 33:41-42).

  • “Verily, God and His Angels bless the Prophet! Bless ye him, O Believers, and salute Him with salutations of Peace.”
  • (Sura 33:56).

LogoWhat is translated here as "He [God] blesseth you," is literally, 'He prays for you.' Realizing that this act of 'prayer' or 'blessing' is a corporate act, engaged in by men, angels, and God Himself, it is somewhat awkward that it must be translated differently depending upon which agent simultaneously engaged in this joint project the focus has fallen. This, too, is not original. As with so much else in the Koran, Mohammed learned it from his instructors, who learned it from their rabbis:

  • “R. Johanan says in the name of R. Jose: How do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers? Because it says: Even them will I bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer.1 It is not said, 'their prayer', but 'My prayer'; hence [you learn] that the Holy One, blessed be He, says prayers. What does He pray? — R. Zutra b. Tobi said in the name of Rab: 'May it be My will that My mercy may suppress My anger, and that My mercy may prevail over My [other] attributes, so that I may deal with My children in the attribute of mercy and, on their behalf, stop short of the limit of strict justice'. It was taught: R. Ishmael b. Elisha says: I once entered into the innermost part [of the Sanctuary] to offer incense and saw Akathriel Jah, the Lord of Hosts, seated upon a high and exalted throne. He said to me: Ishmael, My son, bless Me!”
  • (Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 7a.).

LogoAt best, Islam is a derivative religion. Everything that Mohammed knew, that was true, he learned from Christianity. At worst it is a debased derivative religion, which borrows from the worst and least credible latter-day productions of the 'people of the book,' or rather 'people of the book-of-the-month.' Muslims should ascend to the source and drink the pure water of the Bible, not gulp from a spigot far downstream tainted and mixed with impure human speculation.

LogoSeven Heavens

Mohammed ibn Abdallah numbers seven heavens:

“See ye not how God hath created the seven heavens one over the other? And He hath placed therein the moon as a light, and hath placed there the sun as a torch...” (Sura 71:14-15).

Where did he get that idea? The Christians? The Jews? Or a once-popular system of astronomy perfected by Claudio Ptolemy, but long obsolete?

Ptolemy's Astronomy
Rabbinic Adoption
Night Journey
Ezekiel Saw the Wheel