Halakhah of Shammai in the Qur'an

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William Saint. Clair Tisdall (1859-1928) was a British historian and philologist who served as the Secretary of the Church of England's Missionary Society in Isfahan, Persia. He was fluent in several Middle Eastern languages including Arabic and spent much time researching the sources of Islam and the Qur'an in the original languages.

One of William Saint. Clair Tisdall's studies are included in Origins of the Koran|The Origins of The Koran: Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book edited by Ibn Warraq. Chapter III include a section on Influence of Sabian and Jewish Ideas and Practices.

While this work is dated and strongly reflects 19th century prejudices, much of the information is still valid,and deserves to be updated with more recent research.


At the period when Mohammed was using the utmost endeavor to turn his people from idolatry to the Faith of Abraham, the Arabs had no religious writings acknowledged in common by them all, so that it was a matter of extreme difficulty to make them see the evils of their native faiths. There were three religions in the Peninsula - the Sabaean[1], Jewish, and Christian - each of which, as we hope to show, helped to nurse Islam, which at the first lay like an infant in its cradle.

Jewish Sources

We turn to the Jews. Of Course it is known to all how numerous and powerful the race was in Arabia at the time of Mohammed, and especially before the Hijra. Amongst their chief tribes were the Beni Coreitza, Cainucaa, and Nadhir, having their three villages in the vicinity of Medina.

When it became manifest that the Jews would in no wise recognize the prophetic office of Mohammed, he fought several severe battles with them and, not without difficulty, either took them prisoners and slew them with the sword, or at last expelled them from the land. Now, although these Jews were an ignorant people, yet they possessed and carefully preserved the Torah, the Psalms, etc., and were called (as also the Christians) The People of the Book. Though the nation at large knew little or nothing of Hebrew, yet (like the Jews we see in Persia at the present day) they were familiar with the stories of the Talmud and the foolish tales which had come down from their ancestors, and which, being ignorant of their own Sacred books, they regarded as holy and divine.

The ignorant Arabs of the day looked upon their neighbors the Jews with honor and respect as being of the seed of Abraham, and possessed of the Word of God. Hence when the Prophet turned aside from idols as hateful to the Almighty, and sought to bring his people back to the faith of Abraham, he betook himself with the utmost care to learn in what the teaching, customs, and obligations of that Faith consisted. Comparing these with the Koran and Tradition, we find the closest similarity between the two. Thus the Koran throughout bears witness to the faith of Abraham, to the truth of the Jewish religion, and the heavenly origin of their divine books. The following passages will be found to that effect:- Dispute not with the People of the Book, but in the mildest way, excepting such as behave injuriously; and say, We believe in that which has been revealed unto us, and in that which has been revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and to Him we are resigned. And again:- Say, We believe in God, and in that which has been sent down unto us, and and in that which was sent down unto Abraham and Ishmael, and Isaac and Jacob, and the Tribes; and in that which was delivered unto Moses and Jesus, and in that which was delivered to the Prophets from the Lord. We make no distinction between any of them; and to Him we are resigned. At this period, also, Mohammed made the Holy House (Jerusalem) the Qibla of his followers, being then, (as it has since remained) the Qibla of the Jews.

To this it might be objected that Mohammed, as the "illiterate prophet,"[2] must have been unable to read, and how then could he have gained all this knowledge from Jewish literature? But even admitting it to have been so, it must still have been easy enough for him to have learned all about their beliefs and customs and tales from his companions, such as Abdullah, Waraca, or even himself from his Jewish friends. For these people, though they had but an imperfect knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures, yet well knew the foolish tales current amongst the Jewish nation.

Comparison of Qur'an to Aggadah in the Talmud

And now, if we compare the Koran with the tales in the Talmud and other books still current among the Jews, it becomes evident that although the Koran speaks of Abraham and many others of whom we read in the Torah, still all the wild stories it tells us are taken from Jewish traditional Sources. And we shall now give a few specimens to prove that it is so.

Cain and Abel.

In Surah v. 30-35 we have the following passage:-

And tell them the story truly of the two sons of Adam. When they offered up their sacrifice, and it was accepted from one of them, and not accepted from the other, Cain said, "I will kill thee." Abel answered, "God accepteth (offerings) of the pious alone. If thou stretchest forth thine hand against me to kill me, I will not stretch forth my hand to kill thee; for I fear God, the Lord of all worlds. I desire that thou shouldest bear my sin and thine own sin, and become a dweller in the Fire, for that is the punishment of the oppressor." But the soul of Cain inclined him to slay his brother, and he slew him; then he became one of the destroyed. And God sent a raven which scratched the earth to shew him how he should hide his brother's body. He said, "Woe is me! I am not able to belike the raven"; and he became one of those that repent (v. 35). For this cause we wrote unto the children of Israel that he who slayeth a soul, -- without having slain a soul or committed wickedness in the earth, - shall be as if he had slain all mankind; and whosoever saveth a soul alive, shall be as if he had saved all mankind.

Now this conversation and affair of Cain and Abel, as given above in the Koran, has been told us in a variety of ways by the Jews. Thus when Cain, according to them, said there was no punishment for sin and no reward for virtue, Abel, holding just exactly the reverse, was killed by Cain with a stone. So also in the book Pirke Rabbi Eleazer, we find the Source of the burying of Abel as described in the Coran, there being no difference excepting that the raven indicates the mode to Adam instead of to Cain, as follows:-Adam and Eve, sitting by the corpse, wept not knowing what to do, for they had as yet no knowledge of burial. A raven coming up, took the dead body of its fellow, and having scratched up the earth, buried it thus before their eyes. Adam said, Let us follow the example of the raven, and so taking up Abel's body buried it at once.[3]

If the Reader will look at the last verse (35) in the quotation above from Surah v. of the Koran, he will see that it has no connection with the one preceding. The relation is explained thus in the Mishnah Sanhedrin, where in quoting from Genesis the verse, - The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground,[4] - the Commentator writes as follows:- "As regards Cain who killed his brother, the Lord addressing him does not say, 'The voice of thy brother's blood crieth out,' but 'the voice of his Bloods'; - meaning not his blood alone, but that of his descendants; and this to shew that since Adam was created alone, so he that kills an Israelite is, by the plural here used, counted as if he had killed the world at large; and he who saves a single Israelite is counted as if he had saved the whole world." Now, if we look at the thirty-fifth verse of the text above quoted, it will be found almost exactly the same as these last words of this old Jewish commentary. But we see that only part is given in the Koran, and the other part omitted. And this omitted part is the connecting link between the two passages in the Koran, without which they are unintelligible.

Abraham saved from Nimrod's fire

The story is scattered over various passages of the Koran, chiefly in those noted below.[5] Now whoever will read these, as well as the Traditional Records of the Moslems,[6] will at once perceive that the tale as there told has been taken from one of the ancient Jewish books called Midrash Rabbhh. To bring this clearly to view, we must first shew the history as given in the Koran and Moslem writings, and then compare it with the Jewish tale in the above book.

In a work of Abdul Feda we have the Moslem story as follows.[7] ‘Azar, Abraham's father used to construct idols, and hand them over to his son to sell Abraham would go about crying, "Who will buy that which will hurt and not benefit him?" Then when God Almighty commanded him to call his people to the Divine unity, his father refused the call, and so did his people. Thus the matter spread abroad till it reached Nimrod, son of Cush, king over the country who took Father Abraham, and cast him into a fierce fire; but the fire grew cool and pleasant unto Abraham, who came out of it after some days. And thereupon his people believed in him.[8]

Again, in the Araish al Majalis we read: Before this, when Abraham one night came up out of his cave and saw the stars before the moon arose, he said: This is my Preserver. (Surah 6:76) And when the night overshadowed him, he saw a star, and said, This is my Lord; and when it set, he said, ! love not those that · set. And when he saw the moon rising, he said, This is my Lord; but when it set, he said, Verily if my Lord direct me not, I shall be of those that go astray. And when he saw the sun rising, he said, This is my Lord; this is the greatest. But when it set, he said, O my people! Verily I am clear of that which ye associate together with God. Verily I direct my face unto him who hath created the heavens and the earth. I am orthodox, and not one of the idolaters.

They say that Abraham's father used to make idol images and give them to Abraham to sell. So Abraham taking them about would cry: "These will neither hurt nor help him that buys," so that no one bought from him. And when it was not sold, he took an image to the stream, and striking its head, would say, Drink, my poor one! in derision, - for his people and the heathen around him to hear. So when his people objected, he said, Ah! do ye dispute with me concerning God, and verily God hath directed me….And this Is our argument wherewith We furnished Abraham for his people. We raise the dignity of whom we wish, for thy Lord is wise and knowing. (Surah 6: 80-85) And so in the end Abraham overcame his, People by such arguments. Then he called his father Azar to the true faith, and said: O my father, wherefore dost thou worship that which , neither hears nor sees, nor yet doth profit thee in any way and so on to the end of the story. (Surah 19:40) But his rather refused that to which Abraham called him; whereupon Abraham cried aloud to his, people that he was free from what they worshipped and thus made known his faith to them. He said, what think ye? That which ye worship, and your forefathers also, are mine enemies, excepting only the lord of the worlds (Surah 26:75-77) " They said, Whom then dost thou worship? He answered, "The Lord of all worlds." "Dost thou mean Nimrod?" "Nay, but he that created me and guideth me," and so on. The thing then spread abroad among the people, till it reached the ears of the tyrant Nimrod, Who sent for him, and said: "O Abraham! Dost thou hold him to be thy god that hath Sent thee; dost thou call to his worship and speak of his power to those that worship other than him? Who is he?" Abraham replied. "My Lord, he that giveth life, and giveth death." (surah 2:260) Nimrod answered . "I give life, and cause to die." A. "How dost thou make alive, and cause to die?" N. "I take two men Who at my hands deserve death, one I kiII, who thus dies; the other I forgive. who thus is made alive." Whereupon Abraham answered, "l/erily God bringeth the sun from the East, now do thou bring him from the West."(Surah 2:260) Thereupon Nimrod was confounded, and returned him no reply. The people then went away to celebrate their Eed, and Abraham, taking the opportunity, broke all the idols but the biggest, and then the story proceeds as follows: When they had prepared food, they set It before their gods and said, "When the time comes we shall return, and the gods having blessed the meat we shall eat thereof." So when Abraham looked upon the gods, and what was set before them, he said derisively. "Ah! ye are not eating", and when no answer came, "What aileth you, that ye do not speak?" and he turned upon them and smote them with his right hand.(Surah 37:90) And he kept striking tht:m with a hatchet in his hand. until there remained none but the biggest of thenl. and upon Its neck he hung the axe.(Surah 21:59) ) He broke them all in pieces except the biggest, that they might lay the blame on it Now when the People returned from their Eed to the house of their gods, and saw it in such a Stafe, they said, Who hath done this to our gods? Verily he is a wicked one. They answered, We heard a young man speaking of them They call him Abraham. He it is, we think, who hath done it. When this reached the tyrant Nimrod and his chief men, They said, Bring him before the eyes of the people; perhaps they will bear witness that he hath donethis thing. And they were afraid to seize him without evidence.[9] So they brought him and said: Hast thou done this unto our gods, O Abraham? He answered, Nay but that big one hath done it; he was angry that ye worshipped along with him these little idols, and he so much bigger than all; and he brake the whole of them in pieces. Now ask them if they can speak.[10] When he had said this, they turned their backs, and said (among themselves), "Verily it is ye that are the transgressors.. We have never seen him but telling us that we transgress, having those little idols and this great one." So they broke the heads of them all, and were amazed that they neither spake nor made any opposition. Then they said (to Abraham), Certainly thou knowest that they speak not. Thus when the affair with Abraham was ended, he said to them: Ah! do ye indeed worship, besides God, that which cannot profit you at all, nor can it injure you. Fie on you, and on that which ye worship besides God! Ah, do ye not understand?

When thus overthrown and unable to make any answer, they called out, Burn him, and avenge your gods if ye do it. Abdallah tells us that the man who cried thus was a Kurd called Zeinun; and.the Lord caused the earth to open under him, and there he lies buried till the day of Judgment. When Nimrod and his people were thus gathered together to burn Abraham, they imprisoned him in a house, and built for him a great pile, as we read in Surah Saffat: They said, Build a pile for him and cast him into the glowing fire. Then they gathered together quantities of wood and stuff to burn; and so, by the grace of God, Abraham came out of the fire safe and sound, with the words on his lips, - God is sufficient for me (Surah 39;39); and He is the best Supporter (Surah 3. 37). For the Lord said, O Fire! be thou cool and pleasant unto Abraham.[11]

Now, let us compare the story of Abraham as current amongst the Jews, with the same story in Koran and Tradition as given above, and see how they differ or agree. The following is from the Midrash Rabbah on Abraham brought out of Ur (Gen. xv. 7).

Midrash Rabbah:

Terah used to make images. Going out one day, he told his son Abraham to sell them. When a man came to buy, Abraham asked him how old he was. Fifty or sixty years, he replied. Strange, said the other, that a man sixty years of age should worship things hardly a few days old! On hearing which the man, ashamed, passed on. Then a woman carrying in her hand a cup of wheaten flour said, Place this before the idols. On which, Abraham, getting up, took his staff in his hand, and having broken the idols with it, placed the staff in the hand of the biggest. His father coming up, cried, "Who hath done all this?" Abraham said, "What can be concealed from thee? A woman carrying a cup of wheaten flour asked me to place it before the gods; I took and placed it before them; one said, I will eat it first, and another, I will eat first. Then the big one took the staff, and broke them all in pieces." His father: "Why do you tell such a foolish tale to me? Do these know anything?" He answered, "Does thine ear hear what thy mouths speaks?" On this his father seized and made him over to Nimrod, who bade him worship Fire. Abraham: "Rather worship Water that putteth out Fire." N. "Then worship Water." A. "Rather worship that which bringeth Water." N. "Then worship the Cloud." A. "in such case, let ua worship Wind that drives away the Cloud." N. "Then worship Wind." A. "Rather let us worship Man that standeth against the wind." On this Nimrod closed: - "If thou arguest with me about things which I am unable to worship other than Fire, into it I will cast thee; then, let the God thou worshippest deliver thee there from." So Abraham went down into the flames, and remained there safe and unhurt.

Comparing, now, this Jewish story with what we saw of it in the Koran, little difference will be found; and what there is no doubt arose from Mohammed hearing of it by the ear from the Jews. What makes this the more likely is that Abraham's father is in the Koran called Azar,(Surah 6.74) while both in the Midrash and Torah he is called Terah. But the Prophet probably heard the name in Syria (where, as we learn from Eusebius, the name had somewhat of a similar sound), and so remembered it.

The Moslems, of course, hold that their Prophet gained the tale of Abraham's being cast into the fire neither from Jews nol Christians, but through Gabriel from on high; and as the Jews, being children of Abraham, so accepted it, the Koran, they say, must be right. But it could only have been the common folk among the Jews who believed it so; for those who had any knowledge of its origin must have known its puerility.

The origin of the whole story will be found in Genesis 15:7: I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees. Now Ur in Babylonish means a "city" as In Ur-Shalim (Jerusalem), "the City of Peace." And the Chaldaean Ur1 was the residence of Abraham. This name Ur closely resembles in speech another word, Or signifying light or fire. And so ages after, a Jewish Commentator[12] ignorant of Babylonish, when translating the Scripture into Chaldean, put the above verse from Genesis, as follows: Im the Lord that delivered thee out of the Chaldean fiery oven. The Same Ignorant writer has also the following comment on Genesis 11:27: "Now this happened at the time when Nimrod cast Abraham into the oven of fire, because he would not worship the idols, that leave was withheld from the fire to hurt him - a strange confusion of words, - Ur the city, for Or light and fire. It is as if a Persian seeing notice of the departure of the English post, should put in his diary that an Englishman had lost his skin, - not knowing that the same word for skin in Persian means the Post in English. No wonder then that an ignorant Jew should have mistaken a word like this, and made it the foundation whereon to build the grand tale of Abraham's fiery Oven. But it is somewhat difficult to understand how a Prophet like Mohammed could have given credence to such a fable, and entered it in a revelation held to have come down from heaven. And yet the evidence of it all is complete, as quoted above from the Jewish writer. Apart from this we know from Genesis that Nimrod lived not in the days of Abraham but ages before his birth. The name indeed is not in the Coran, though freely given in the Moslem Commentaries and Tradition. As if a historian should tell us that Alexander the Great cast Nadir Shah into the fire, not knowing the ages that elapsed between the two, or that Nadir never was so thrown.

Visit of the Queen of Saba (Sheba) to Solomon

The story of Balkis, Queen of Saba, as told at length in the Koran, corresponds so closely with what we find in the II. Targum of the Book of Esther, that it was evidently taken from it, as heard by Mohammed from some Jewish source. The following is from the

Surah of the Ant (27.17et seq):

His armies were gathered together unto Solomon, consisting of Genii, men and birds, and they were kept back...Solomon smiled at the ant and said: O I,ord! may I do that which is right and well pleasing unto thee, so that thou introduce me amongst thy servants the righteous. And he viewed the birds and said, Why is it that I see not the Hudhud (Lapwing)? Is she among the absent ones? Truly I will chastise her with a severe chastisement, or will put her to death unless she bring a just excuse. Hut she did not wait long, and said, I have viewed a country that thou hast not seen: and I come unto thee from Saba with certain news. I found a female ruling over them, surrounded with every kind of possession, and having a magnificent Throne. I found her and her people worshipping the Sun apart from God. Satan hath made their deeds pleasant unto them, and hath turned them aside from the right way, and they are not rightly directed, -- lest they should worship God who manifesteth that which is in heaven and earth, and knoweth what they conceal and what they discover. God! there is no God but he, the Lord of the great Throne! Solomon said: We shall see whether thou tellest the truth or art amongst the liars. Go with this my letter, and having delivered it to them turn aside, and see what answer they return. The Queen having received it, said: O ye Nobles! verily an honourable letter hath been delivered unto me. It is from Solomon. It is in the name of the Most Merciful God; "Rise not up against me; but come ye submissive unto me." She said: O ye Nobles! advise me in the affair; I will not resolve upon it, until ye be witnesses thereof. They said: We are men of strength and of great prowess; but the matter belongeth unto thee: see therefore what thou wilt command. She said: Verily kings when they enter a city waste it, and abuse its most powerful inhabitants; and so will they do. But I will send gifts unto them, and wait to see what the messengers will return with. So when they went to Solomon, he said: Ah! do ye present me with wealth? Verily that which God hath given unto me is better than that which he hath given you, but ye do rejoice in your gifts. Return unto them; we will surely come unto them with an army which they cannot withstand, and we shall drive them thence humbled and contemptible. O ye Nobles (he continued), which of you will bring me her Throne, before they come submissive unto me? A giant of the Genii cried, I will bring it unto thee before thou gettest up from thy place, for I am strong in this, and to be trusted. And one who had knowledge of the Scriptures: I will bring it unto thee before the twinkling of thine eye. Now when (Solomon) saw it placed before him he said: This is a favour of my Lord, that he may try me whether I am grateful or ungrateful; he that Is grateful is grateful for his own benefit but he that is ungrateful, verily the Lord is rich and beneficent. And (Solomon) said: Alter her throne, that we may see whether she be rightly directed, or be amongst those who are not rightly directed. And when she came, it was said, Is this thy throne? She said, It is as if it were; and knowledge hath been bestowed upon us before this, and we are resigned (Unto God). But that which she worshipped besides had turned her aside, for she Was of an unbelieving people. It was said to her, Enter the Palace. And when she saw it, she imagined that it was a great surface of water, and she uncovered her legs, when (Solomon) Said, Verily it is a palace floored with glass. And she said, Truly I have done injury to my own soul, and I resign myself, along with Solomon, unto God, the Lord of all creatures. (Surah 27. 20-45).

Such is the account the Koran gives us of Queen Of Saba. What it tells us of the Throne differs but little from the Targum, where it is said to have belonged to Solomon, and to have had no other like it in any land. There were six Steps of gold to ascend, and on each twelve golden Lions, while twelve eagles of gold were Perched around. Four-and-twenty other eagles cast their shadow from above upon the King, and when he wished to move anywhere, these powerful eagles descending would lift the Throne and carry it wherever he wished. Thus they performed, according to the Targum, the same duty the Koran tells us the Genii did. But otherwise inrespect of Queen Of Saba, her visit to Solomon, the letter sent by him to her, etc., there is a marvellous resemblance between the two, excepting this, indeed, that in place of the Lapwing of the Koran, the Targum Speaks of a Red-cock, - Not a very vital difference after all! The whole story is told in the Targum as follows:-

II TARGUM of Ester

At another time, when the heart of Solomon was gladdened with wine, he gave orders for the beasts of the land, the birds of the air, the creeping things of the earth, the demons from above and the Genii, to be brought, that they might dance around him, in order that all the kings waiting upon him might behold his grandeur. And all the royal scribes summoned by their names before him; in fact, all were there except the captives and prisoners and those in charge of them. Just then the Red-cock, enjoying itself, could not be found; and King Solomon said that they should seize and bring it by force, and indeed he sought to kill it. But just then the cock appeared in presence of the King, and said: O Lord, King of the earth! having applied thine ear, listen to my words. It is hardly three months since I made a firm resolution within me that I would not eat a crumb of bread, nor drink a drop of water until I had seen the whole world, and over it make my flight, saying to myself, I must know the city and the kingdom which is not subject to thee, my Lord King. Then I found the fortified city Qitor in the Eastern lands, and around it are stones of gold and silver in the streets plentiful as rubbish, and trees planted from the beginning of the world, and rivers to water it, flowing out of the garden of Eden. Many men are there wearing garlands from the garden close by. They shoot arrows, but cannot use the bow. They are ruled by a woman, called Queen of Sheba. Now if it please my Lord King, thy servant, having bound up my girdle, will set out for the fort Qitor in Sheba; and having "bound their Kings with chains and their Nobles with links of iron," will bring them into thy presence. The proposal pleased the King, and the scribes prepared a dispatch, which was placed under the bird's wing, and away it flew high up in the sky. It grew strong surrounded by a crowd of birds, and reached the Fort of Sheba. By chance the Queen of Sheba was out in the morning worshipping the sea; and the air being darkened by the multitude of birds, she became so alarmed as to rend her clothes in trouble and distress. Just then the Cock alighted by her, and she seeing the letter under its wing opened and read it as follows: "King Solomon sendeth to thee his salaam, and saith, The high and holy One hath set me over the beasts of the field, etc.; and the kings of the four Quarters send to ask after my welfare. Now if it please thee to come and ask after my welfare, I will set thee high above them all. But if it please thee not, I will send kings and armies against thee; - the beasts of the field are my people, the birds of the air my riders, the demons and genii thine enemies, -- to imprison you, to slay and to feed upon you." When the Queen of Sheba heard it, she again rent her garments, and sending for her Nobles asked their advice. They knew not Solomon, but advised her to send vessels by the sea, full of beautiful ornaments and gems, together with 6000 boys and girls in purple garments, who had all been born at the same moment; also to send a letter promising to visit him by the end of the year. It was a journey of seven years but she promised to come in three. When at last she came, Solomon sent a messenger shining in brilliant attire, like the morning dawn, to meet her. As they came together, she stepped from her carriage. "Why dost thou thus?" he asked. "Art thou not Solomon?" she said. "Nay, I am but a servant that standeth in his presence." The queen at once addressed a parable to her followers in compliment to him, and then was led by him to the Court. Solomon hearing she had come, arose and sat down in the Palace of glass. When the Queen of Sheba saw it, she thought that the glass floor was water, and so in crossing over lifted up her garments. When Solomon seeing the hair about her legs, cried out to her: Thy beauty is the beauty of women, but thy hair is as the hair of men; hair is good in man, but in wonian It is not becoming. On this she said: My Lord, I have three enigmas to put to thee. If thou canst answer them, I shall know that thou art a wise man: but if not thou art like all around thee. When he had answered all three, she replied, astonished: Blessed be the Lord thy God, who hath placed thee on the throne that thou mightest rule with right and justice. And she gave to Solomon much gold and silver; and he to her whatsoever she desired.

In the Jewish statement, we see that the Queen put several enigmas for Solomon to solve; and though this is not mentioned in the Koran, it is In the Moslem traditions. And so with the story of her legs; for in the Aiaish al Majalis we find the following: - When the Queen was about to enter the Palace, she fancied the glass floor to be a sheet of water, and so She uncovered her legs, that is, to pass over to Solomon; and lo her legs and felt were covered with hair; which when Solomon saw, he turned his sight from her, and called out, The floor is plain glass.

Here we would ask whether there is any reality whatever in all this story. There is indeed so much as we find in the First Book of Kings, 10: 1-11 (also see 2 Chronicles 9 1-9) which is as follows:-

And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to prove him with hard questions. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart. And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not any thing hid from the king, which he told her not. And when the queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon's wisdom, and the house that he had built, and the meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel, and his cupbearers, and his ascent by which he went up unto the house of the Lord; there was no more spirit in her. And she said to the king, It was a true report that I heard in mine own land of thy acts and of thy wisdom. Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard. Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom. Blessed be the Lord thy God, which delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel: because the I,ord loved Israel for ever, therefore made he thee king, to do judgment and justice. And she gave the king an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones: there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to king Solomon. I Kings 10:1-11

Now these are the facts of the Queen's visit, and all beyond mere fiction. The Jews themselves admit it to be so, - excepting, indeed, Solomon's magnificent Throne, though not its being carried aloft. The Koran account of Solomon ruling over Demons, Genii, etc., is in entire accord with what we have cited from the Targum; and it is curious to find, as learned Jews tell us, that the origin of the notion lay in the similarity of two Hebrew words[13], with two kindred words signifying demons and genii, and the ignorant Commentator confounding them together led to the strange error.

In concluding our notice of the fanciful tale which we have given from the Jewish Targum, we might say that it reminds one of such stories as we find in the "Arabian Nights." But strange that the Prophet could not have seen it so. Having heard it from his Jewish friends, he evidently fancied that it had been read by them in their inspired Scriptures, and as such introduced it, as we find, into the Koran.

Harat and Marut

There are many other stories in the Koran taken from the fanciful details of Jewish writers; but we shall content ourselves with this one other before entering on more general questions. We shall first recite the tale of those two Spirits as given in the Koran and Tradition, and then compare it with the same as told by Jewish writers. The passage in the Coran is this:-- Solomon was not an unbeliever; but the Devils believed not. They taught men sorcery, and that which was sent down to the two angels at Babel, - Harat and Marut. Yet these taught no man until they had said, - Verily we are a temptation, therefore be not an unbeliever. (Surah 2:96)

The following is from the Araish al Majalis:-

The Commentators say that when the angels saw the evil doings of mankind ascending up to heaven (and that was in the days of Idris), they were distressed and complained thus against them: Thou hast chosen these to be the rulers upon earth, and lo they sin against thee. Then said the Almighty: If I should send you upon the earth, and treat you as I have treated them, ye would do just as they do They said, O our Lord, it would not become us to sin against thee. Then said the Lord, Choose two angels from the best of you, and I will send them down unto the earth. So they chose Harut and Marut; who were among the best and most pious amongst them.

Al Kalby's version:-- The Almighty said: Choose ye three: so they chose (Azz, i.e) Harut, and (Azabi, i.e.) Marut, and Azrael; and the Lord[14]changed the names of the two when they fell into sin, as he changed the name of the Devil, which was AzaziI. And God placed in their heart the same fleshly lust as in the sons of Adam; and sending them down to the earth, bade them to rule righteously amongst mankind, to avoid idolatry, not to kill but for a just cause, and to keep free from fornication and strong drink. Now when Azrael felt lust in his heart, he prayed the Lord to relieve him, and was taken up to heaven, and for forty years wan unable to raise his head for shame before his Maker. But the other two remained steadfast, judging the people during the day, and when night came ascending to the heavens, worshipping the name of the Almighty. Catada tells us that before a month had passed they fell into temptation; for Zohra. one of the most beautiful of women (whom Aly tells us was queen of a city in Persia), had a suit before them, and when they saw her they fell in love with her, and sought to have her, but she refused and went away. The second day she came again, and they did the same; but she said, Nay, unless ye worship what I worship, and bow down to this idol, or kill a soul, or drink wine. They replied, It is impossible for us to do these things, which God hath forbidden; and she departed. The third day again she came holdIng a cup of wine, and her heart inclined towards them; so when they desired her, she said the same as yesterday, but they replied, To pray to other than God is a serious thing, and so is the killing of anyone; the easiest of the three is to drink wine: so they drank the wine, and becoming intoxicated Fell upon her and committed adultery: and one saw it, and they slew him. And it is said that they worshipped an idol, and the Lord changed Zohra into a star. Aly and others tell us that she said, Come not near me till you teach me that by which ye can ascend to the heavens They said, We ascend by the name of the great God. Again she said, Come not near me till ye teach me what that is. So they taught her; and forthwith she, repeating it, ascended to the skies, and the Lord changed her Into a star.

Turning now to the Jews, the same account is given In two or three places of the Talmud, especially in this extract from the Midrash Yalkut: (Capp 44)

Rabbi Joseph being asked by his disciples about Azael, told them as follows:-- After the Flood, idolatrous worship prevailing, the Holy One Was angry. Then two angels, Shamhazai and Azael arose and addressing him Said, O Lord of the Universe, when thou createdst the world, did we not say to thee, What is man that thou art mindful of him? and now we are anxious about him. The Lord replied: I well know that if ye be sent to rule over the earth, your evil passions will have possession of you, and ye will become tyrants over mankind. They answered: If thou wilt give us leave, and we shall dwell amongst them, thou shalt see in what wise we shall sanctify thy name. Go then, he said, and dwell amongst them.

Soon after, Shamhazai saw a beautiful maiden called Esther, and turning his eyes upon her to come and be with him, she said, I cannot surrender myself to thee until thou teach me that great name by which thou canst ascend to the heavens above. He told her, and she having spoken it, ascended upwards undefiled. ~Then said the Holy One, -- Since she hath kept herself clear from defilement, she shall be raised aloft amid the Seven Stars, there to give praise unto the Lord. Forthwith the two went forth and consorted with the beautiful daughters of men, and children were born unto them. And Azael adorned the women he was inclined to with all kinds of beautiful ornaments.

(Azrael is the same as in the Talmud is called Azael)

Now anyone comparing the two stories together, must see that they agree, excepting that in the Moslem one the angels are called Harut and Marut, and in the Jewish, Shamhazai and Azael. But if we search whence the names in the Koran and Tradition came, it will be seen that Harut and Marut were two idols worshipped far back in Armenia. For in writers of that country they are so spoken of, as in the following passage from one of them:

Certainly Horot and Morot, tutelary deities of mount Ararat, and Aminabegh, and perhaps others now not known, were Assistants to the female goddess Aspandaramlt. These aidedher, and were excellent on the earth.

In this extract, Aspandaramlt is the name of the goddess worshipped of old in Iran also; for we are told that the Zoroastrians regarded her as the Spirit of the Earth, and held that all the good products of the earth arise from her. Aminabegh also was held by the Armenians to be the god of vineyards, and they named Horot and Morot the assistants of the Spirit of the Earth, seeing that they held them as spirits who had control over the wind so as to make it bring rain. They sat on the top of the lofty mountain Ararat, and sent down showers that fertilized the earth; the two were thus rulers of the wind.

When also it is said that the two angels came down to propagate mankind, the meaning is that they caused the earth to bring forth its produce for that end. Zohra in Hebrew reads as Ishtar or Esther, the same as of old was worshipped in Babylon and Syria as the goddess over the birth of children and promoter of passion and desire. In proof of all this, we find in the ruins between the Tigris and Euphrates the name Ishtar on the primeval tiles. The story of one Gilgamlsh, with whom Ishtar fell in love but was rejected, has been decyphered in ancient Babylonian character upon these tiles. Ishtar came to him having the crown upon her head and asked him to kiss her, and with many loving words and gifts to be her husband, when he would in her Palace have a quiet and happy life. Gilgamish in derision rejected her offer, whereupon she ascended to the sky and appeared before the God of the heavens.[15] It is remarkable that the idolators of Babylon are shown in this primeval story to have held that Ishtar, that is Zohra, ascended on high, - exactly as is told us in Moslem tradition, as also in the Jewish commentaries.

Now if we search for the Source of the above tale, we shall no doubt find it in what the Talmud says of the angels associating with women, in its commentary on the two verses in Genesis quoted below.1. Speaking of the second verse, a Jewish commentator gives us the following interpretation: - "It was Shamhazai and Uzziel who in those days came down from heaven." Hence we see that the whole imaginative tale has come out of the mistake of this and other ignorant commentators. For the word giant, as shown below, was misconstrued by them to signify not those who tyrannically "fell" on the poor people around them, but angels who "came down, or fell, from heaven."[16] And this unhappy mistake has led to the spread of the strange idol-worship just narrated. Nor was there any apparent reason for the mistake; since in the Targum we find the name (Nefilim) explained in its right and natural sense as "giants." But by and by the Jews came to love the wild tales that spread abroad; and so in a counterfeit book ascribed to Enoch, we are told that 200 angels under Samyaza (i.e. Shamhazai) came down from the heavens to commit adultery on the earth, as we read:-

The angels of heaven having seen the daughters of men, fell in love with them, and said to one another, Let us take for ourselves these women, the daughters of mankind, and beget children for ourselves. And Samyaza, who was their chief, said....Azaziel taught men to make swords, daggers, and shields, and taught them to wear breastplates. And for the women they made ornaments of kinds, bracelets, jewels, collyrium to beautify their eyelids, lovely stones of great pice, dresses of beautiful colours, and current money.

Let it be remembered also that we have mention of this in the Koran:- Men learned from these two (Harut and Marut) that by which to cause a division between a man and his wife; but they did not injure any one thereby excepting by leave of God; and they learned that which would hurt them and not profit them. (Surah 2:96) This is similar to what we have seen above in the Midrash Yalkut, where we are told that Azael

1. The origin of the name is traced still fllrther East to the ancient Sanskrit wind-gods the Maruls.

But enough has been said to show that the story of Harut and Marut, as we find it in the Coran and Moslem books, has been derived from Jewish sources.

Sinai overhead

A few other things taken by Islam from the Jews. - If time permitted, we could easily tell of many other narratives in the Koran, not in our Scriptures but taken from foolish tales of the Jews, about Joseph, David, Saul, etc-.; but space will not permit, excepting for a few. Here, for example, is the account of "Sinai overhead" as we have it in Surah 7. 172: And when we raised the mountain over them, as though it had been a canopy, and they imagined that it was falling upon them, (we said) Receive that which we have sent unto you with reverence, and remember that which is therein, if may be that ye take heed; and we have two other passages (vv. 60 and 87) in Surah Bekr to the same effect; -- the meaning being that when the Jews held back from accepting the Torah, the Lord lifted Mount Sinai over their heads to force their reception of it. The same tale is given by a Hebrew writer thus: "I raised the mount to be a covering over you, as it were a lid."[17] It need hardly be said that there is nothing of the kind in the Torah. The tale, however, may have arisen (Exodus 32:19) from the fact that when Moses returning from Mount Sinai, saw his people worshipping the calf, "his anger waxed hot and he cast the tables (of the Law) out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount." The words "beneath the mount," simply mean that he cast the tables down at the foot of Mount Sinai. And hence all this wild fiction of the mountain being lifted over their heads! We can only compare it to a like Hindoo tale of a mountain similarly lifted over the people's heads, very much resembling what we have in the Koran.

Golden Calf which came out of the fire

Here are one or two other tales of Moses in the wilderness; and first, that of the Golden Calf which came out of the fire kindled by the people at Sinai. The Koran tells us that Sameri also cast (what he had into the fire) and brought out unto them a bodily calf which lowed.(Surah 20:9) The origin of this fiction we find in a Jewish writer.[18] as follows: "The calf having cried aloud, came forth, and the children of Israel saw it. Rabbi Yahuda says that Sammael from the inside of it made the cry of the calf in order to lead the Israelites astray." No doubt the Prophet in this matter got his information from the Jews; strange that he should have been led to adopt this baseless tale. But he has used the wrong name Al Sameri. The name of the people, of course, occurs often in the Bible, and the Jews regarded the Samaritans as their enemies; but as the city of Samaria did not arise till some four hundred years after Moses, it is difficult to imagine how it came to be entered in this story.[19] We also note that in this matter the Koran is in opposition to the Torah, which tells us that Aaron was the person who for fear of the Israelites around him, had the molten calf set up. Another story, given us twice in the Koran, (Surah 2:28, Surah 4:152) is that when the Israelites insisted on seeing the Lord, they were punished by death, but eventually restored to life again; and to add to the foolish tale we are told that it was the Torah which appealed for help and thus obtained their revival.

Chaldaean and Syrian words

A few other Jewish matters. - In the Koran are a number of Chaldaean and Syrian words which the Moslems have been unable rightly to explain, find it written of the Genii that "they listened behind the curtain" in order to gain knowledge of things to come.

In Surah 1. 29, we read:- On the day we shall say unto hell, Art thou full? and ii shall reply, Is there yet any more? Similarly in a Jewish author:-- "The Prince of Hell shall say, day by day, (;ive me food that I may be full."

In Surahs 11. 42 and 23. 27, it is said of the Flood, The oven boiled over; and in a Jewish work we have this: "The people of the Flood were punished with boiling water." These similarities are interesting as showing the close connection between the Koran and Jewish remarks; but enough has been given of them.

Religious usage’s of Islam taken from the Jews

There are many such, but it will suffice to mention two or three. We have seen that keeping the fast of Ramadan has been taken from the Sabaeans and not the Jews, still there is one point certainly coming from the latter, and that regards eating and drinking at night during the month. In Surah 2. 83, we read: Eat and drink until ye can distinguish a white thread from a black thread by the day-break, then fulfil the fast. In a Jewish book (Mishnah Berakhoth) we find it similarly laid down that "the beginning of the day is at the moment when one can but distinguish a blue thread from a white thread," - a striking coincidence.

Again, Moslems of all lands, at the fixed time of their five prayers, wherever they happen to be, whether in the house or in the street, perform their devotions on the spot, - especially at places where people are passing by. This strange practice is entirely confined to them, and would be seemly In no other religion. But in the days of the Prophet there were Jews in Arabia who used this habit; for many of them were descended from the Pharisees, of whom our Savior said:- "They love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men." (Matt. 6:5) Thus the Companions of Mohammed looking upon the Jews as the People of the Book and children of father Abraham, regarded such practices as having descended from him, and so adopted, and have continued them to the present day, as we see, unchanged, though they are no longer kept up by the Jews themselves.

Does it not seem strange to the Reader, that although the Koran repeatedly attests our Scriptures as the Word of God, yet but one quotation is taken from them; viz. Surah 21. 105, - Verily we have written in the Psalms after the mention (of the Law) that my servants the righteous shall inherit the earth; an evident reference to Psalm 37. 11; - "But the meek shall inherit the earth ."

Two other matters borrowed from the Jews. Every Moslem thinks the Koran to have been on the heavenly Table (Lauh) from before the creation of the world, as is mentioned in a passage already quoted:- Truly it is the glorious Koran, on a preserved Table. (Surah 85:21,22) Now before saying anything about this Table, one may ask, was the Book of the Psalms in existence before the Koran or not? For we have given above a verse in which is revealed the inheritance given by the Lord to his servants, as mentioned in the Psalms before the Koran was revealed. The Koran quotes from the Psalms: is it not clear, therefore, that the Psalms were before the Koran? How then could the Koran, produced so late in the world, have been placed on the heavenly Table?

Now let us hear what Tradition tells us about this Table:-

One tells us that the Throne is made out of a pearl, as is also the Preserved Table, the height of which is 700 years' journey, and its breadth 300. All around it is adorned with rubies. The Lord commanded that there should be written upon it what he had wrought in Creation, and onwards till the Day of Judgment:-- "In the name of the Lord, the Compassionate and Merciful. I am God and there is none else beside me. He that accepts my decree, is patient at my punishment, and thankful at my mercies, I will write and place him along with the righteous; he that doth not accept my decree, let him go forth from beneath my heaven," etc.' (Quissas al Anbia)

The Source of this tale is to be found in Jewish books, but vastly exaggerated by the Moslems. We find in the Torah that when God desired to give forth the Ten commandments, he thus addressed Moses, who has himself given the account in Deut. 10:1-5

At that time the Lord said unto me, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto me into the mount, and make thee an ark of wood. And I will write on the tables the words that were in the first tables which thou brakest, and thou shalt put them in the ark. And I made an ark of shittim wood, and hewed two tables of stone like unto the first, and went up into the mount, having the two tables in mine hand. And he wrote on the tables, according to the first writing, the ten commandments, which the Lord spake unto you in the mount our of the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly: and the Lord gave them unto me. And I turned myself and came down from the mount, and put the tables in the ark which had made; and there they be, as the Lord commanded me.

Elsewhere also we are told that the two Tables were preserved in the Ark of the Covenant, made by Moses at the Lord's command.' (Exodus 24:12, I Kings 8:9 Hebrews 9:3,4) But in course of time the Jews imagined that all the books of the Old Testament, nay the Talmud itself, were deposited in the Ark on the Tables, Mohammed hearing this of the Jewish Law and Scriptures, imagined the same of his own, and said (as we are told above) that the Koran also was placed on the Preserved Table; and his followers not understanding of what heavenly Table he spoke, swelled out the whole matter into the story given above. The following is from a Jewish writer, Rabbi Simeon:-

What is that which is written that the Lord said to Moses: Come up to me into the mount, and be there; and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them (Exodus 24:12) The tables are the Ten Commandments; and the Torah the Law which is read; and the Commandments also mean the Mishnah; and "that which I have written" means the Prophets, and the Holy Writings; and "that thou mayest teach them" points to the Gemara. And from this we learn that all these were delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai.

No intelligent Moslem would for a moment credit this foolish story, knowing that the Mishna was not written till about the year 220 of the Christian era; the Gemara of Jerusalem in 430 A.D.; and the Gemara of Babylon about 530 A.D. But ignorant Moslems believing it all, added their own Koran to the rest, and so comes this wretched story. The Reader will not think it necessary, we are sure, that anything more of the above kind be added, excepting this, perhaps, that the Jews themselves hold the Tables to be of date beyond time; for one tells us they were made "at the creation of the world at the sunset before the Sabbath day."(Pirke Aboth, v. 6)

The Mount Calf

The origin of what the Moslems tell us about this mountain clearly originated from the Jews. Here is what the Tradition of the Moslems tell us:(2) (Araish al Majalis)

The Lord Almighty formed a great mountain from green chrysolite, - the greenness of the sky is from it, -- called Mount calf and surrounded the entire earth therewith, and it is that by which the Almighty swore, and called it Calf (see Surah 1.1).

And again:-

One day Abdallah asked the Prophet what formed the highest point of the earth. "Mount Calf," he said. "And what is Mount Calf made of?" "Of green emeralds," was the reply; "and from hence is the greenness of the sky." "Thou hast said the truth, O Prophet; and what is the height of Mount Calf?" "A journey of five hundred years.~~ "And round about it how far is it?" "Two thousand years' journey."

Now all these strange ideas are founded on the Jewish writing called Hagigah, where we meet with the following comment on the word thohu in Genesis 1:2 "Thohh is a green line (Cav or Calf which surrounds the whole world, and hence comes darkness." And so the Companions of the Prophet hearing this explanation of the word Cav, and not understanding what was meant, fancied it must be a mountain, or succession of great mountains, surrounding the world and making it dark. From all that has now been said, it must be clear tothe Reader that the Jewish writings, and specially the fanciful tales of the Talmud, formed one of the chief Sources of Islam. And now we must turn our attention to the similar influence on Islam exercised by the Christian religion, and especially by those foolishstories which in the Prophet's day the heretical sects, with their forged and got-up tales, spread abroad.

See Also


  1. The Sabaean have disappeared. No trace of them anywhere remains, and even of their history but little is known. We are told by Eastern authorities (what follows is from Abu Feda, who quotes from Abu Isa alMaghrabi) that they were the first of all peoples who inhabited Syria; that they derived their faith from Seth and Idris; and that they possessed a book called Pages of Seth, In which were inculcated righteousness, truth, bravery, care of the poor, and avoidance of evil. They had seven times for prayer, five of which were at the same hour as chosen by the Prophet. They prayed also for the dead, but without prostration; fasted thirty days from night to sunrise, and also if any new moon rose badly, for the remaining day of the month; observed Fed from the setting of their five stars; and venerated the Kaaba. Hence we see that the Sabaeans kept many observances still in force among the Moslems.
  2. Surah vii. 156. The word used for illiterate is Ommy. R. Geiger's view is that this word has an altogether different meaning -- viz. that Mohammed held he was of the Ommat or Arab people, and not an Ajemy or non-Arab, as a Jew would be held to be. But seeing that the word has been universally held to mean unlearned (and unable to read), I think we must accept that interpretation. It does not, however, much matter in the present argument.
  3. LTargum of Jonathan ben Uzziah; also the Targum of Jerusalem. In Arabic Cain is called Cabtl.
  4. Gen. iv. 10, "Bloods" in the margin for blood.
  5. Surah ii. 260, vi. 74-84, xxi. 52-72, xix. 42-50, xxvi. 69-79,xxix.15, 16, xxxvii. 81-95, xliii. 25-27, Ix. 4, and other passages
  6. Such as the Qissas al Anbia and ArPish al Majalis.
  7. Ancient History from the Mukhtasar fi Akhb~r ii Bashar.
  8. Surah vi. 76, etc.; all is from the Koran so far as in italics; and so also in the next two pages.
  9. Cotada and Al Sidy are quoted here; and it is added from Al Dzahhak, "Perhaps they may giveevidence as to what we should do, and punish him."
  10. A note is here added to the following purport:-- Mohammaed on this remarked that Abraham in all told three lies, all on behalf of the Lord, namely, "I am sick"; "the big one hath done this"; and what he said to the King regarding Sarah, "She is my sister."
  11. In the last few pages the quotations from the Koran are all from Surahs 21. and 37., and the verses being so numerous and detached are not numbered in detail; but they will be found in passages succeeding verse 52 of the former, and verse 84 of the latter Surah. The Koran passages are throughout printed in italics.
  12. The original Babylonish text is here given, as indeed the Author does in most of the Oriental quotations. A close translation is also given, but only the general purport is here attempted.
  13. The Armenians, - fancying that Morot came from Mor, genitive of Mair, "Mother," - formed Horot in the same way from Hair, "Father."
  14. Meaning "a lady and ladies" in Ecclesiastes 2:8
  15. Genesis 6:2-4 "The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and took them wives of all which they chose...There were giants in those days,...when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children unto them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown." The "sons of God," according to our Author, mean righteous men of the seed of Seth. The Commentator quoted is Jonathan son of Uzziel.There is a Sanskrit story of the similar ascent of two angels, and a Houry like Zohra, from which the Armenians may possibly have taken their tale; and from this idolatrous source the Jews no doubt received it; and from them, the Moslems embellished the daughters of men with ornaments to make them lovely and attractive.
  16. The term is Nefilim, i.e. persons who fell upon the helplessaround them and committed violence and oppression on the earth.
  17. From the Jewish story in the Abodah Sarah.
  18. Pirke Rabbi Eleazer.
  19. No. doubt the Prophet thought that the Jews said Sameri (Samaritan) when they said Sammael. They regarded Sammael as the angel of death.