Historical Errors in the Quran

From WikiIslam, the online resource on Islam
Jump to navigation Jump to search

One of the major criticisms brought to bear against the Quran, as well as the Hadith, by both serious scholars and critics is that it reinforces historical misconceptions common among the Arab contemporaries of its 7th century author. While much effort has been exerted by modern Islamic scholars towards reconciling what appear to modern readers as blatant historical errors with the Islamic belief in the inerrancy of the Quran, their arguments have not yet won any assent outside their circles and are generally regarded as lacking rigor. It is important to note that modern Islamic scholars are not the first to note the contradictions between historical statements found in the Quran and the views of contemporary historians — in fact, even some classical Islamic scholars noted that there were certain historical claims in the Quran and hadith which, taken literally (as Islamic orthodoxy holds they should be), could not easily be reconciled with what they held to be basic and incontrovertible facts about history.

Regarding ancient religious doctrine

Mary as part of the Trinity

Mainstream Christian doctrine has never held Mary to be a part of the Trinity. The Qur'an, however, apparently implies as much, leading some to conclude that Muhammad misunderstood Christian doctrine.

And behold! Allah will say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah'?" He will say: "Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden

This alternative formulation of the trinity is present even more clearly in Quran 5:72-75, which makes no mention of the holy spirit and takes measure to disprove the divinity of Jesus and his mother by pointing out that they, like normal human beings, also ate food.

They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. The Messiah (himself) said: O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. Lo! whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah, for him Allah hath forbidden paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evil-doers there will be no helpers. They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three; when there is no Allah save the One Allah. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve. Will they not rather turn unto Allah and seek forgiveness of Him? For Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. The Messiah, son of Mary, was no other than a messenger, messengers (the like of whom) had passed away before him. And his mother was a saintly woman. And they both used to eat (earthly) food. See how We make the revelations clear for them, and see how they are turned away!

A common interpretation advocated by Muslim scholars today is that this refers to a fringe Arab Christian sect known as the Collyridians. However, this sect were only mentioned in a 4th century CE book on heresies. The most plausible alternative interpretation proposed so far relates these verses to a Byzantine theological dispute and contemporary war propaganda (for details, see the Qur'anic Trinity section of the article Parallels Between the Qur'an and Late Antique Judeo-Christian Literature).

Mary as Miriam

Mary the mother of Jesus was born in the first century BCE and was not related to Moses and his family whose story is set 1500 years earlier. Miriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron and daughter of Amram (Imran). The Quran appears to confuse these two characters, as it describes Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the "Sister of Aaron" and her mother as the "wife of Imran" in context where the "Imran" being discussed is evidently Miriam's father. A possible source of this confusion is the fact that both Miriam and Mary had the same name in Arabic, or were at least similar enough sounding for the original distinction to have been lost or neglected (the word used in either case in the Quran is the same and is pronounced maryam).

Then she brought him to her own folk, carrying him. They said: O Mary! Thou hast come with an amazing thing. O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot.
And Mary, daughter of 'Imran, whose body was chaste, therefor We breathed therein something of Our Spirit. And she put faith in the words of her Lord and His scriptures, and was of the obedient.
Lo! Allah preferred Adam and Noah and the Family of Abraham and the Family of 'Imran above (all His) creatures. They were descendants one of another. Allah is Hearer, Knower. (Remember) when the wife of 'Imran said: My Lord! I have vowed unto Thee that which is in my belly as a consecrated (offering). Accept it from me. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower! And when she was delivered she said: My Lord! Lo! I am delivered of a female - Allah knew best of what she was delivered - the male is not as the female; and lo! I have named her Mary, and lo! I crave Thy protection for her and for her offspring from Satan the outcast.

Some modern academic scholars cite evidence that this could be a case of typology (deliberate literary allusion between characters - see main article). This may be the best explanation, although the verses would still be misleading as historical statements. Sahih Muslim 25:5326 seeks to explain the coincidence based on alleged customary forms of address (to explain "sister of Aaron") or naming customs (to explain why Imran named his daughter Mary), depending on interpretation of the hadith. Either interpretation only reduces part of the coincidence. Even if a naming custom could increase the odds that this father-daughter pair would share names with some earlier biblical family, a further coincidence would still be required if her father happened to be named the same as the father (Imran) in the particular biblical family alluded to when his daughter is addressed as "sister of Aaron". Another attempted explanation is that simply by coincidence this Imran actually had a son called Aaron as well as a daughter named Mary.

Ezra as the son of God in Jewish doctrine

Historically, Judaism has been a strict form of monotheism. The Quran, by contrast, describes the Jews as practitioners of polytheism by stating that they hold Uzair (Ezra) to be the son of God. This is compared directly with the Christian doctrine which hold Jesus to be the son of God. This appears to be a confusion resulting from conflating the alternative senses in which Jewish and Christian theologians have employed and understood the word "son".

The Jews call 'Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!

The afterlife in the Torah

The Quran states that the warnings of hell are in the most ancient of scriptures, listing Moses's (elsewhere listed as the Torah, e.g. Quran 5:44) and the prophet Abraham's.

So remind, if the reminder is useful! He who fears God will take heed but the wretched one will turn away from it, the one who will roast in the great fire. There he will neither die nor live. Blessed be the one who purifies himself and recall the name of his Lord and prays. But you prefer the life of this world, while the world to come is better and more permanent. This is in the most ancient scriptures, the scriptures of Abraham and Moses.

However, despite the 'warning' being essentially the most important point of the scriptures, alongside worship of one God, and is mentioned many times in the Quran - the Torah itself contains no references to hell (or heaven). Instead a highly ambiguous vision of the afterlife in 'Sheol' is provided that includes both Jews and non-Jews, that does not come close to matching any Islamic description.[1] While apologists argue the Torah has been corrupted, this corruption would have been enormous, happening across many different people in the community and different time periods to change such a fundamental aspect of the religion, with no clear reason as to why.

This apologetic view also goes against scholarly consensus that ideas of rewards for the good and punishment for the evil only developed during Second-Temple Judaism, found in scriptures written centuries post the torah; particularly due to its interactions with the Hellenistic Greeks, and the theological problems of it's righteous members (Jews) dying and facing oppression for their belief for no reward.[2] As Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman, who wrote a book on the subject Journeys to Heaven and Hell,[3] stated in an article for Time Magazine.

And so, traditional Israelites did not believe in life after death, only death after death. That is what made death so mournful: nothing could make an afterlife existence sweet, since there was no life at all, and thus no family, friends, conversations, food, drink – no communion even with God. God would forget the person and the person could not even worship. The most one could hope for was a good and particularly long life here and now. But Jews began to change their view over time, although it too never involved imagining a heaven or hell. About two hundred years before Jesus, Jewish thinkers began to believe that there had to be something beyond death—a kind of justice to come.

There is also no known scripture given to Abraham.

Regarding general history

Massive wall of iron

See: Dhul-Qarnayn and the Alexander Romance

The Qur'an presents a version of the Syrian legend of Alexander the Great as a great king who helps a tribe of people build a massive wall of iron between two mountains. The Quran then states, along with the hadith, that this wall and the tribes it traps will remain in place until the Day of Judgement. Modern satellites and near comprehensive exploration of the Earth's surface, however, have yet to reveal any trace of such massive structure.

Bring me pieces of iron!’ When he had levelled up between the flanks, he said, ‘Blow!’ When he had turned it into fire, he said, ‘Bring me molten copper to pour over it.’

So they could neither scale it, nor could they make a hole in it. He said, ‘This is a mercy from my Lord. But when the promise of my Lord is fulfilled, He will level it; and my Lord’s promise is true.’ That day We shall let them surge over one another, the Trumpet will be blown, and We shall gather them all, and on that day We shall bring hell into view visibly for the faithless.

Those whose eyes were blind to My remembrance and who could not hear.

The trumpet blowing in Quran 18:99 is referred to many other times in the Qur'an as happening on judgement day (see Quran 27:87, Quran 69:13 and Quran 39:68). Another passage confirms that this wall was supposedly still intact and that its future opening will be associated with other apocalyptic events.

But there is a ban on any population which We have destroyed: that they shall not return,

Until the Gog and Magog (people) are let through (their barrier), and they swiftly swarm from every hill.

Then will the true promise draw nigh (of fulfilment): then behold! the eyes of the Unbelievers will fixedly stare in horror: "Ah! Woe to us! we were indeed heedless of this; nay, we truly did wrong!"

David invented coats of mail

Historians commonly credited the invention of coat mail (not to be confused with scale armor) to the Celts in the 3rd century BCE.[4]. Mail has also been found in a 5th century BCE Scythian grave, and there is a cumbersome Etruscan pattern mail artifact from the 4th century BCE.[5] The nature of coat mail is such that it should persist for several millennia, and such advantageous military technologies would spread rapidly, so it is unlikely that coat mail would have originated much earlier, undiscovered by archaeologists. While, older translations of the Bible mention Goliath and David wearing a "coat of mail" in 1 Samuel 17:5 and 17:38 respectively, this is a well known mistranslation for a word meaning armor in general.

In the Qur'an, by contrast, David in the 10th century BCE is taught by Allah how to make long coats of mail (sabighatin سَٰبِغَٰتٍ[6]) after Allah made the iron (al hadid ٱلْحَدِيدَ) malleable for him and told him to measure the chainmail links (as-sardi ٱلسَّرْدِ) thereof.[7] A second passage adds that people should be thankful for this knowledge which has been passed down since David and protects them today.

And assuredly We gave David grace from Us, (saying): O ye hills and birds, echo his psalms of praise! And We made the iron supple unto him, Saying: Make thou long coats of mail and measure the links (thereof). And do ye right. Lo! I am Seer of what ye do.
And We made Solomon to understand (the case); and unto each of them We gave judgment and knowledge. And we subdued the hills and the birds to hymn (His) praise along with David. We were the doers (thereof). And We taught him the art of making garments (of mail) to protect you in your daring. Are ye then thankful?

Chainmail seems to have been familiar to the early Muslims. Muhammad is narrated as using a metaphor of two coats of iron (junnataani min hadeedin جُنَّتَانِ مِنْ حَدِيدٍ), one owned by a generous person and the other by a miser in whose coat every ring (halqat حَلْقَةٍ[8]) becomes close together (Sahih Muslim 5:2229). Ibn Kathir in his tafsir for 34:11 has narrations in which Mujahid and Ibn Abbas use that same arabic word meaning rings (الحلقة) to explain the Quranic verse[9].

Crucifixions in ancient Egypt

The first historical reference to crucifixion as a method of execution is from 500 BCE, when the technique began being used in several middle eastern cultures. The Qur'an, by contrast, tells of crucifixions at the time of Moses (approximately 1500 BCE) as well as Joseph (approximately 2000 BCE).

O two companions of prison, as for one of you, he will give drink to his master of wine; but as for the other, he will be crucified, and the birds will eat from his head. The matter has been decreed about which you both inquire."
(Pharaoh) said: Ye put faith in him before I give you leave. Lo! he is your chief who taught you magic. Now surely I shall cut off your hands and your feet alternately, and I shall crucify you on the trunks of palm trees, and ye shall know for certain which of us hath sterner and more lasting punishment.

Ancient Egypt has been subjected to extensive study by archaeologists. While there exists hieroglyphic evidence of people impaled through upright stakes in ancient Egypt, this remains distinct from the palm-tree crucifixions described in the Quran, as palm trees are of too great girth to be used to vertically impale an individual.

The same verb for crucifixion is used in Quran 4:157 regarding Jesus. Two other verses, Quran 38:12 and Quran 89:8, use another word to call Pharaoh "owner of the pegs" or "stakes". Sometimes this is claimed to refer to impalement and even mistranslated as such. However, the context in Quran 89:6-11 shows that it refers to unspecified rock-hewn monuments (most likely columned temples, obelisks or possibly even the pyramids).

Moreover, there is no ancient Egyptian evidence of cross amputation (punitive removal of a single hand and foot on alternate sides). It seems that here again a contemporary punitive practice has been transferred in the Quran to ancient Egypt. A parallel using the same Arabic words occurs in Quran 5:33, which commands crucifixion or cross amputation among a range of punishment options (both of which became part of Islamic jurisprudence). In the exceptionally cruel combination of both punishments put in the mouth of Pharaoh (see also Quran 7:124 and Quran 26:49), the victim would need to be fastened to the palm tree and / or nailed through the remaining two extremities.

Samarians in ancient Egypt

The Qu'ran states that Moses dealt with a Samarian during his time. However the Samarians did not exist until well over half a millennium after Moses is supposed to have existed.

Oxford Bibliographies (an academic website) says the following:

Samaria (Hebrew: Shomron) is mentioned in the Bible in 1 Kings 16:24 as the name of the mountain on which Omri, ruler of the northern Israelite kingdom in the 9th century BCE, built his capital, naming it also Samaria. After the conquest of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians in 722/721 BCE, the district surrounding the city was likewise called Samaria (Assyrian: Samerina). The Bible presents an etiology or folk etymology when it claims that the city was named after Shemer, the original owner from whom Omri bought the hill. It is more likely that the name is derived from the root šmr, to “watch, to guard”; that is, the hill was a point from which particularly the north–south route could be watched and guarded.

The likely root of the Quranic confusion is the story in the Bible, Hosea 8:5-8 or 1 Kings 12:25-29 where there is mentioned a golden calf (or two of them) created in Samaria after the time of Solomon. One modern perspective holds that the Qur'an might be referring to Zimri, son of Salu (Numbers 25:14). However, the Quranic character is referred to three times in Quran 20:85-88 as l-sāmiriyu with the definite article, "the Samiri", so this is a descriptive title rather than a proper name.

“( Allah) said; ‘We have tested thy people in thy absence: the Samiri has led them astray’.”
“( Moses) said, ‘What then is thy case, O Samiri?’”

The singular Pharaoh

Geographically, the Coptic land of Egypt is adjacent to Arabia. Thus, most Arabs were aware of the preservation method applied by the ancient Egyptian to their pharaohs. Pharaohs were preserved intact using methods such as salt to dry the body (hence, salt in the body of Ramesses II does not suggest that he drowned in the dead sea). There were many pharaohs from numerous dynasties who were preserved in this way. The Qur'an, by contrast, only speaks of "Pharaoh" (Firaun) singularly, as a proper noun without the definite article, suggesting that its author was unaware of the multiplicity of pharaohs.

This day shall We save thee in the body, that thou mayest be a sign to those who come after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!"

Nabatean rock tombs at al-Hijr as homes and palaces from before the time of Pharaoh

The Qur'an frequently lists destroyed peoples of the past, particularly the peoples of Noah, Lot, Pharaoh's army, Midian, Aad and its successor, Thamud. The destruction of Thamud after they disbelieved their prophet Salih is mentioned many times, either by an earthquake Quran 7:78 or a thunderous blast (for example Quran 54:31).

Its destruction is also alluded to by a believer from the family of Pharaoh:

And a believing man from the family of Pharaoh who concealed his faith said [...] And he who believed said, "O my people, indeed I fear for you [a fate] like the day of the companies - Like the custom of the people of Noah and of 'Aad and Thamud and those after them. And Allah wants no injustice for [His] servants.

The companies / factions (l-aḥzābu) is a term used collectively for the list of destroyed cities also in Quran 38:12-14.

Thamud is a term used by experts for a people or peoples of a particular region over a number of centuries (8th century BCE to the 4th century CE), but the Qur'an speaks only of a particular destruction of Thamud after the warnings of their prophet Salih went unheeded. It describes them as the builders of well known palaces and homes, skillfully carved from the mountains, clarified in the Quran and hadith as a place in Arabia known as al Hijr (the rocky tract), or Mada'in Salih today.

The errors in the Quran here are two-fold: It is now known that these were actually elaborately carved tombs, not homes or palaces, and that they were made by the Nabateans from the 2nd century BCE to the 2nd century AD, not before the time of the Pharaohs[10]. Petra in Jordan was the Nabateans' more famous city before al Hijr. There are over 100 tombs at al-Hijr, some very large, and many of them small, believed even by a 14th Century CE Arab traveller to contain the bones of the people of Thamud in their houses.[11]. Nabatean inscriptions forbid opening the tombs, reusing them or moving the bodies. The town of al-Hegra where the people lived some distance from the surrounding rock tombs was built of mud-brick and stone.[12]

The Quran says Thamud carved palaces from its plains, and homes from its mountains:

And to the Thamud [We sent] their brother Salih. He said, "O my people, worship Allah; you have no deity other than Him. There has come to you clear evidence from your Lord. This is the she-camel of Allah [sent] to you as a sign. So leave her to eat within Allah 's land and do not touch her with harm, lest there seize you a painful punishment. And remember when He made you successors after the 'Aad and settled you in the land, [and] you take for yourselves palaces from its plains and carve from the mountains, homes [ buyūtan بُيُوتًا [13]]. Then remember the favors of Allah and do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption."
And you carve out of the mountains, homes [ buyūtan بُيُوتًا ], with skill.

These ruins were well known to Muhammad's listeners:

And [We destroyed] 'Aad and Thamud, and it has become clear to you from their [ruined] dwellings [ masākinihim مَّسَٰكِنِهِمْ [14]]. And Satan had made pleasing to them their deeds and averted them from the path, and they were endowed with perception.
And [with] Thamud, who carved out the rocks in the valley?

Al-Hijr is widely accepted as this location. It is also mentioned once by name in Quran 15:80-83 ("the companions of al-Hijr") and its description and destruction matches that for Thamud.

And certainly did the companions of Thamud [ al-Hijr ٱلْحِجْرِ ] deny the messengers. And We gave them Our signs, but from them they were turning away. And they used to carve from the mountains, houses [ buyūtan بُيُوتًا ], feeling secure. But the shriek seized them at early morning.

Al-Hijr is also identified in hadiths as the "al Hijr, land of Thamud" (al hijr ardi Thamudi الْحِجْرِ أَرْضِ ثَمُودَ):

Narrated `Abdullah bin `Umar: The people landed at the land of Thamud called Al-Hijr along with Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) and they took water from its well for drinking and kneading the dough with it as well. (When Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) heard about it) he ordered them to pour out the water they had taken from its wells and feed the camels with the dough, and ordered them to take water from the well whence the she-camel (of Prophet Salih) used to drink.

Countable currency in ancient Egypt

Surah Yusuf mentions that the caravan that rescued the eponymous prophet from the pit sold him to an Egyptian "for a low price, a few dirhams". Leaving aside the fact that dirham coins did not exist in ancient Egypt, a more fundamental problem is that the price is indicated as having been some kind of discreetly countable currency: darāhima maʿdūdatin ("dirhams counted"). The word maʿdūdatin occurs throughout the Quran denoting something discreetly numbered, for example "[Fasting for] a limited number of days" in Quran 2:184. Thus, it is not describing a weight of valuable material, but a countable currency. Such a thing did not exist in ancient Egypt. Rather, there were stone weights, particularly the denben, for measuring amounts of precious metals and to price other goods that could be barter traded, but not itself nor units of metal used as a means of exchange.[15]

And they sold him for a reduced price - a few dirhams - and they were, concerning him, of those content with little.

The Children of Israel in Egypt

In various passages the Quran narrates at length the story of Moses and the plagues striking Egypt, the captivity of the children of Israel, and their escape in the Exodus. There is even a glorious pre-history alluded to such that they were kings (mulūkan, compare with mulūka in Quran 27:34) and had extraordinary possessions (Quran 5:20). Historians consider that there is no historical evidence in support of the Exodus events as described, though some theorize that a historical kernal of the Egyptian control over Canaan in the late Bronze age and early Iron age served as an inspiration for the stories. The academic view on the history of ancient Israel and Judah is converging on their emergence within the central hill country of Canaan in the early Iron age, a time of small settlements and lacking signs of violent takeover, but rather a revolution in lifestyle.

Remember Moses said to his people: "O my people! Call in remembrance the favour of Allah unto you, when He produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave you what He had not given to any other among the peoples.
We recite to you from the news of Moses and Pharaoh in truth for a people who believe.

Noah's worldwide flood

The Quran contains a version of the worldwide-flood story widespread in ancient near-Eastern mythology and most famously found in the Bible. Since geological evidence suggests such a flood never took place,[16] some modern Muslim scholars have reinterpreted the account in the Quran as referring to a more limited, local flood. Key elements in the tale, however, militate against this rereading. Elsewhere in the Quran whenever the heavens and earth are mentioned together, it means in their entirety. In this story waters are released from both of them.

Another such detail is the storage of "two of each kind" of animal aboard the ship, since it is not clear what purpose this would serve if the flood were local. Similarly, the purpose of the boat itself appears unclear in this reading - as with the ample warning time that Noah was given, he and his family could have simply evacuated the area that was to be flooded. The relevant passage also states plainly that nothing, not even a tall mountain, could save an individual from drowning on that day except for Allah - this seems to contradict the idea that individuals and animals could have escaped the flood simply by evacuating the flooded area. Noah is recorded praying to God, "O my Lord! Leave not of the Unbelievers [kuffar], a single one on Earth!" - the flood is an answer to this prayer, which likewise suggests that the flood described is a global flood that drowns all those not chosen by Allah to persist aboard the ark.

Not to mention all major traditional Islamic scholars, who dedicated their lives to studying the meaning of the Quran, unanimously took the language in these verses to mean referring to a global flood.[17]

Then opened We the gates of heaven with pouring water And caused the earth to gush forth springs, so that the waters met for a predestined purpose.
At length, behold! there came Our command, and the fountains of the earth gushed forth! We said: "Embark therein, of each kind two, male and female, and your family - except those against whom the word has already gone forth,- and the Believers." but only a few believed with him.
And it sailed along with them amid waves [rising] like mountains. Noah called out to his son, who stood aloof, ‘O my son! ‘Board with us, and do not be with the faithless!’
The son replied: "I will betake myself to some mountain: it will save me from the water." Noah said: "This day nothing can save, from the command of Allah, any but those on whom He hath mercy! "And the waves came between them, and the son was among those overwhelmed in the Flood.
Then it was said, ‘O earth, swallow your water! O sky, leave off!’ The waters receded; the edict was carried out, and it settled on [Mount] Judi. Then it was said, ‘Away with the wrongdoing lot!’
And Noah, said: "O my Lord! Leave not of the Unbelievers, a single one on earth!
Noah called to Us; and how excellent were the Answerers!

And We delivered him and his people from the great distress,

and We made his seed the survivors,

and left for him among the later folk

'Peace be upon Noah among all beings!'

Even so We recompense the good-doers;

he was among Our believing servants.

Then afterwards We drowned the rest.
And We gave him Isaac and Jacob and guided them, as We had guided Noah before them, and of his descendants, David and Solomon and Job and Joseph and Moses and Aaron. Thus We reward those who are upright and do good.

Flood waters boiled from an oven

The Qur'an further describes the flood waters as boiling from an oven. There is no scientific nor historical evidence for a large flood of this nature. This element is not found even in more ancient versions of the story (Epic of Gilgamesh, Atra hasis, and Ziusudra). Its ultimate origin appears to be a highly tenuous rabbinical exegesis in the Babylonian Talmud, based on a word in an unrelated verse that means heat or wrath.[18]

The Gemara answers: Even according to Rabbi Eliezer a change was made, in accordance with the statement of Rav Ḥisda, as Rav Ḥisda said: They sinned with boiling heat, and they were punished with boiling heat; they sinned with the boiling heat of the sin of forbidden sexual relations, and they were punished with the boiling heat of scalding waters. This is derived from a verbal analogy. It is written here, with regard to the flood: “And the waters abated” (Genesis 8:1), and it is written elsewhere, with regard to King Ahasuerus: “And the heated anger of the king abated” (Esther 7:10), which implies that the word “abated” means cooled. This indicates that at first the waters of the flood had been scalding hot.

Note that in his translation, Yusuf Ali mistranslates the Aramaic loan word for the oven (alttannooru ٱلتَّنُّورُ)[19] as "fountains". The Arabic verb translated "gushed forth" (fara فَارَ) means "boiled" in the context of water in a cooking pot[20], as well as in the other verse where it is used, Quran 67:7.

(Thus it was) till, when Our commandment came to pass and the oven gushed forth water, We said: Load therein two of every kind, a pair (the male and female), and thy household, save him against whom the word hath gone forth already, and those who believe. And but a few were they who believed with him.
Then We inspired in him, saying: Make the ship under Our eyes and Our inspiration. Then, when Our command cometh and the oven gusheth water, introduce therein of every (kind) two spouses, and thy household save him thereof against whom the Word hath already gone forth. And plead not with Me on behalf of those who have done wrong. Lo! they will be drowned.

Noah's ark holding every species

Part of the legend of Noah's Ark is that a pair of every living species was stored on board. Modern science has revealed, however, that there are over a hundred thousand species of animals including penguins, polar bears, koala bears, and kangaroos that live spread across the entire planet and each of which require different climates, habitats, and diets. These discoveries appear to render the idea that all animals could have been kept on board a single ship impossible.

(Thus it was) till, when Our commandment came to pass and the oven gushed forth water, We said: Load therein two of every kind, a pair (the male and female), and thy household, save him against whom the word hath gone forth already, and those who believe. And but a few were they who believed with him.

Arabian idols from the time of Noah

Five gods from the time of Noah are mentioned in one verse. Strangely, according to Ibn Abbas these happened to be idols worshipped by Arab tribes at the time of Muhammad. It is far fetched even on the Quran's own terms to place Arab idols back in the time of Noah, not least since all the disbelievers of Noah's time were supposedly destroyed by the flood.

Noah said, "My Lord, indeed they have disobeyed me and followed him whose wealth and children will not increase him except in loss. And they conspired an immense conspiracy. And said, 'Never leave your gods and never leave Wadd or Suwa' or Yaghuth and Ya'uq and Nasr.
Narrated Ibn `Abbas: All the idols which were worshiped by the people of Noah were worshiped by the Arabs later on. As for the idol Wadd, it was worshiped by the tribe of Kalb at Daumat-al-Jandal; Suwa` was the idol of (the tribe of) Hudhail; Yaghouth was worshiped by (the tribe of) Murad and then by Bani Ghutaif at Al-Jurf near Saba; Ya`uq was the idol of Hamdan, and Nasr was the idol of Himyar, the branch of Dhi-al-Kala`. The names (of the idols) formerly belonged to some pious men of the people of Noah, and when they died Satan inspired their people to (prepare and place idols at the places where they used to sit, and to call those idols by their names. The people did so, but the idols were not worshiped till those people (who initiated them) had died and the origin of the idols had become obscure, whereupon people began worshiping them.

John the Baptist's original name

The name "John" comes from the Hebrew name Yohanan. Several figures in the Old Testament bore this name. The name has also appeared throughout history. There existed a high priest named Johanan in the 3rd century BCE and a ruler named John Hyrcanus who died in 104 BC. These people existed before John the Baptist, who was a contemporary of Jesus. The Qur'an, by contrast, asserts that nobody before John the Baptist (Yahya in Arabic) bore his name.

(It was said unto him): O Zachariah! Lo! We bring thee tidings of a son whose name is John; we have given the same name to none before (him).

The Quranic verse seems to be a distorted echo of the naming of John the Baptist in the New Testament:

They said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who has that name."

Supernatural destruction of cities

The Quran state that outside the vicinity of Arabia there existed cities and tribes destroyed by Allah for rejecting his messengers and Islam. In each specific example presented in the Qur'an (the people of A'ad, Thamud, Midian, Lut (Lot), and the Pharoah's army), the destruction of the disbelievers is sudden and total. Archaeological research, by contrast, has revealed that historical cities and tribes were only gradually ruined by natural disasters, famine, wars, migration, or neglect, often taking years or decades to unfold. In this respect, the Quran appears to have adopted and adapted contemporary Arabian myths regarding the destruction of neighboring cities, some of which may not have existed.

In the Qur'an, the people of Thamud are killed instantly by an earthquake Quran 7:78 or thunderous blast Quran 11:67, Quran 41:13-17, Quran 51:44, Quran 69:5. The people of A'ad are killed by a fierce wind that blew for 7 days Quran 41:13-16,Quran 46:24-35,Quran 51:41, Quran 69:6-7. The people of Midian (Midyan) are killed overnight by an earthquake Quran 7:91, Quran 29:36. The towns of Lot (Lut) are destroyed by a storm of stones from the sky Quran 54:32, Quran 29:34. The actual locations of these towns or tribes is unknown. Midian in particular was a wide geographical desert region rather than a particular location or city, which makes archaeological investigation difficult.

Critics have also asked why it is that various other polytheistic cultures worldwide did not encounter similar fates as those outlined in the Quran, especially if there is 'no change in the way of Allah' (Quran 33:62)

And how many a township have We destroyed because it had been immersed in evildoing - and now they [all] lie deserted, with their roofs caved in! And how many a well lies abandoned, and how many a castle that [once] stood high!

The suddenness of Allah's punishment is stressed repeatedly in Surah al-A'raf:

How many a township have We destroyed! As a raid by night, or while they slept at noon, Our terror came unto them.
And every nation hath its term, and when its term cometh, they cannot put it off an hour nor yet advance (it).
Are the people of the townships then secure from the coming of Our wrath upon them as a night-raid while they sleep? Or are the people of the townships then secure from the coming of Our wrath upon them in the daytime while they play?

Humans lived for hundreds of years

The oldest verified human life was a little over 120 years. Based on fossil records and testing on human remains, anthropologists have concluded that human life spans are increasing rather than decreasing in both the long- and short- run. By contrast, the Qur'an states that Noah lived for almost 1,000 years. The idea of humans living for hundreds of years in the past is accompanied by the many hadiths, including accounts in Sahih Bukhari, which describe Adam as being 90 feet tall. The general doctrine appears to be that ancient humans were both gigantic as well as long-living.

We (once) sent Noah to his people, and he tarried among them a thousand years less fifty: but the Deluge overwhelmed them while they (persisted in) sin.

Ancient Mosque in Jerusalem

Muslim scholars maintain that a long extant, ancient mosque was present in Jerusalem during Muhammad's life time. Historical research has, however, found this not to be the case.

Glory to (Allah) Who did take His servant for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless,- in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things).

Haman in ancient Egypt

The Quran places a man called Haman as an enemy of the jews being a court official, military commander, and high priest of the Pharoah in ancient Egypt in the time of Moses. A man also called Haman and similar characteristics, also appears in the biblical Book of Esther where Haman is a counsellor of Ahasuerus, king of the Achaemenid Persian Empire and an enemy of the Jews, more than a millennia apart in different parts of the world. He appears alongside another character Qorah who also rebels against Moses at a different time in the bible:

Unto Pharaoh and Haman and Qorah, but they said: A lying sorcerer!

This may have been done for literary/storytelling purposes:

The pairing of Qorah and Haman, if not in line with the Biblical account, is hardly unreasonable in literary terms. Both acted as the nemesis of God’s servant (Qorah of Moses, Haman of Mordecai). Qorah was extremely wealthy. Haman was extremely powerful. The argument that the is somehow wrong or confused by placing Haman and Qorah in Egypt (or, for that matter, that the Talmud is wrong by placing Jethro, Balaam, and Job there) seems to me essentially irrelevant. The concern is not simply to record Biblical information but to shape that information for its own purposes. The more interesting question is therefore why the connects Haman and Qorah with the story of Pharaoh. The answer, it seems, is that the Pharaoh story is to the a central trope about human conceit and rebelliousness, on the one hand, and divine punishment, on the other. Accordingly the characters of Haman and Qorah, and the legend of the Tower of Babel, find their way into the account of Pharaoh. Thereby the connects this account to its lessons elsewhere on the mastery of God over creation.
Reynolds, Gabriel Said. The Qur'an and its Biblical Subtext (Routledge Studies in the Qur'an) (pp. 212-213). Taylor and Francis.

Mecca as a safe sanctuary

The Quran references Mecca as a safe haven while swearing an oath.

By the fig and the olive, and Mount Sinai, and by this city (of Makkah), a haven of peace

While it may have appeared to have been secured at the time, the city has seen many violent events, such as the 683 and 692 Sieges of Mecca, when Ibn al-Zubayr rebelled against the Umayyad caliphate rulers. And more recently the Grand Mosque Seizure attack - making this description redundant.

Every people had a Muslim warner/prophet

We are told that every 'umma' أمة (people/nation) was sent a messenger.

And We certainly sent into every nation a messenger, [saying], "Worship Allah and avoid ṭāghūt. [false objects of worship]." And among them were those whom Allah guided, and among them were those upon whom error was [deservedly] decreed. So proceed through the earth and observe how was the end of the deniers.
Surely We have sent you with the truth as a bearer of good news and a warner; and there is not a people but a warner has gone among them.

The word for people/nation 'umma' (أمة) is generally interchangeable with words town/city ('madeena' مدينة), and village ('qarya' قرية) in the context of warner's being sent in the Quran.[21] They generally mean a group of people residing in a particular place, so people/nation is used for that as well rather than as how we might interpret a nation/people in modern times. For example in Q28:23.

And when he came to the well of Madyan, he found there a crowd of people (umma) watering [their flocks], and he found aside from them two women driving back [their flocks]. He said, "What is your circumstance?" They said, "We do not water until the shepherds dispatch [their flocks]; and our father is an old man."

Some people sometimes get more than one messenger.

When We sent to them two but they denied them, so We strengthened them with a third, and they said, "Indeed, we are messengers to you."

We see this too with the Jews having many prophets (though many classical commentaries have interpreted the other prophets in the previous verse (Quran 36:14) as being Jesus's followers, who is also a Jewish prophet),[22] and the Arabs with Abraham coming before Muhammad (Quran 3.96 - 3.97). Some of these messengers are extremely powerful kings such as Suliman, who were are told a kingdom like his will not be given to anyone else (Quran 38:35), and Dhul Qarnayn (Quran 18:84), who is given authority over the earth and rides to the rising and setting of the sun.

Despite these prophets supposedly visiting all pre-Islamic people and some ruling mighty empires, there is no trace of their monotheistic mission in any society (the two rulers mentioned only appear in biblical writings[23] and separate Christian literature (see: Dhul-Qarnayn and the Alexander Romance) written centuries after the events supposedly happened; and are absent from contemporary writings and archaeological evidence). This is extremely odd that the entire administration of the empires (or surrounding one's) had not a left a trace of a monotheistic religion or their message as a warner - which assumingly they would as prophethood became the rulers life's purpose.

In fact, we see the opposite, with pretty much all ancient societies being polytheistic, henotheistic, animistic, manistic (ancestor worship), shamanistic, pantheistic, heliolithic, folk religion or a combination thereof. This includes all major empires from the ancient world such as, but not limited to, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, African, Americas, European, Greek, Nordic, Roman, Chinese, Indian etc. Essentially all ancient cultures were polytheistic, with the idea of monotheism only gradually and slowly appearing as an innovation,[24] (rather than appearing and reappearing constantly).

This also begs the question on how societies for most of human history are to be judged if the message seemingly got lost before anyone ever recorded it, if the sole purpose of man (and jinn) is to worship Allah specifically (Quran 51:56).

Interestingly, all of the stories told in the Quran are of well-known Jewish-Christian prophets (see: Parallels Between the Qur'an and Late Antique Judeo-Christian Literature) and three local Arabian prophets Hud, Salih, and Shu'aib. There are none mentioned outside the Near-East and Arabia of antiquity, and nothing about the entire hunter-gather section of humanity which lasted most of the 300,000 years humans have existed,[25] with the stories taking place in towns that match contemporary one's to Muhammad's time.

Critics argue this missed opportunity to explain the history of the world and what happened elsewhere with the prophets (i.e. the Quran only recalls local tales like a human with knowledge limited to the vicinity would, where it would have looked to someone in living in Arabia at the time, that monotheism was all over the world as the surrounding Byzantine (Roman), Sasanian (Persian) Empires in the North and Himyarite Kingdom in the South were (See: Pre-Islamic Arab Religion in Islam#General Judeo-Christian Monotheism in Arabia)), along with the lack of historical evidence of these other messengers where we would expect it, is damning.

Suliman's missing kingdom

The Quran tells us of a powerful prophet 'Suliman' (Suliman is the Arabised version of king Solomon in the Hebrew bible. He is also the son of David (Dawood) Quran 27:16), who was granted a kingdom the likes of which would never be seen after.

He said, 'My Lord, forgive me, and give me a kingdom such as may not befall anyone after me; surely Thou art the All-giver.'

He is said to have controlled many jinn who created buildings/structures (Quran 34:12-13), and had army of birds (and jinn) he could speak to (Quran 27:16), and travelled to other nearby kingdoms (notably the Queen of Sheba in Yemen) which he could travel in 'the blink of an eye', and get under his control (Quran 27:38-40).

Despite these claims in the Quran (as well as hadith and commentaries) of an extremely powerful and at least somewhat imperialistic kingdom in the Near-east/Israel/Palestine region built with supernatural abilities, of which we would expect to see an exceptionally large and unique kingdom in the archaeological record, material evidence for Solomon’s reign, as for that of his father, is scant.[26] There are also no known writings or stories from surrounding kingdoms in the Near-East and beyond about his reign, of which there were many thriving civilizations across e.g. Egypt, Arabia, Persia and Mesopotamia.

Instead the closest and main source of information about comes from the bible, with primarily in the First Book of Kings and the Second Book of Chronicles,[27] with the former believed to be written around (c. 550 BC)[28] and the latter around 350–300 BC.[29] The other sources are rabbinic commentaries composed many centuries after that (see: Parallels Between the Qur'an and Late Antique Judeo-Christian Literature#Jinn help Solomon build temples).

Solomon is supposed to have lived around 1000BC, when there bible which most sources of his life come from,[30] making these sources extremely late, so that only bible literalists, rather than official academics, hold this kingdom's descriptions to be literally true. For a brief summary of scholars in this area, this Smithsonian magazine article: An Archaeological Dig Reignites the Debate Over the Old Testament’s Historical Accuracy where it is made clear remains do not match these descriptions, with the lack of structures being found making many doubt the existence of any kingdom at all during this time period, and the previous time period it seems Egyptians ruled over the area in discussion. And despite the promising title of the Smithsonian article, the society in question is suggested to be a more complex nomadic one in the area likely belonging to the Edomites (put forward by Israeli archaeologist Erez Ben-Yosef at Tel-Aviv University), that may have inspired the biblical stories, rather than one corresponding to the supernaturally build vast Islamic structures and wide reaching monotheistic rule.

As Aren Maeir (Israeli archaeologist and professor in the Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University) says assessing his work, "Because scholars have supposedly not paid enough attention to nomads and have over-emphasized architecture, that doesn’t mean the united kingdom of David and Solomon was a large kingdom—there’s simply no evidence of that on any level, not just the level of architecture.

And in The Bible Unearthed, a 2001 book by the Israeli archaeologist Israel Finkelstein, of Tel Aviv University, and the American scholar Neil Asher Silberman; Archaeology, the authors wrote, “has produced a stunning, almost encyclopedic knowledge of the material conditions, languages, societies, and historical developments of the centuries during which the traditions of ancient Israel gradually crystallized.” Armed with this interpretative power, archaeologists could now scientifically evaluate the truth of biblical stories. An organized kingdom such as David’s and Solomon’s would have left significant settlements and buildings—but in Judea at the relevant time, the authors wrote, there were no such buildings at all, or any evidence of writing. In fact, most of the saga contained in the Bible, including stories about the “glorious empire of David and Solomon,” was less a historical chronicle than “a brilliant product of the human imagination.

This makes the Quran's claim he had the greatest kingdom not to be bestowed on anyone after him extremely implausible. Especially in light of the much larger empires covering huge portions of the world that came after, such as the British Empire, French Empire, Mongol Empire, Umayyad Caliphate, Russian Empire, Qing Dynasty, Abbasid Caliphate, Spanish Empire, Ottoman Empire, etc. whom we have far more evidence for.

Regarding the Traditional Historical Account of the Quran's Origins

Modern Academic Scholarship has questioned the traditional Islamic account (from the sirah (biographies), tafsirs (commentaries) and hadith (sayings/traditions of the prophet), which were recorded far later than the time of revelation) of the Quran's creation to varying degrees. While these are heavily debated in academia, those scholars who propose the largest differences are roughly categorised as the Revisionist school of Islamic studies. While these are not typical historical errors in the sense of the Quran contradicting historical fact, they do undermine the reliability of both Sunni and Shia traditions on the interpretation of the Quran. Some of their issue's with the traditional account, particularly around the area of preaching are mentioned below.

Sodom and Gomorrah being located near Mecca and Medina

The prophet Lūṭ,/(Biblical 'Lot') is a Jewish prophet also mentioned in the Bible as well as the Qur'an, who warns the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (סְדֹם (Səḏōm) and עֲמֹרָה ('Ămōrā)) of imminent destruction if they do not repent their sinful ways, who do not and so are quickly destroyed by God (as well as Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar (Bela) in the Bible, making up the five "cities of the plain"). These are believed to be located in North-West Arabia[31] for example, near the "Lot's Wife" pillar of salt, on Mount Sodom, Israel (as in the biblical account his wife is turned into a pillar of salt), and placing Gomorrah located near the southern end of the Dead Sea, south of the peninsula of Al-Lisan.[32]

Traditional Islamic scholars have seemingly agreed with the placement in Northern Arabia too, as Patricia Crone notes in her 2008 article What do we actually know about Muhammad?'...the Qur'an twice describes its opponents as living in the site of a vanished nation, that is to say a town destroyed by God for its sins. There were many such ruined sites in northwest Arabia. The prophet frequently tells his opponents to consider their significance and on one occasion remarks, with reference to the remains of Lot's people, that "you pass by them in the morning and in the evening". This takes us to somewhere in the Dead Sea region. Respect for the traditional account has prevailed to such an extent among modern historians that the first two points have passed unnoticed until quite recently, while the third has been ignored. The exegetes said that the Quraysh passed by Lot's remains on their annual journeys to Syria, but the only way in which one can pass by a place in the morning and the evening is evidently by living somewhere in the vicinity.'[33]

and We made its topmost part its nethermost, and rained on them stones of shale.

There are indeed signs in that for the percipient. This (city) lies on a road that still survives,

and there is indeed a sign in that for the faithful.
And indeed, Lot was among the messengers.

[So mention] when We saved him and his family, all, Then We destroyed the others. And indeed, you pass by them in the morning And at night.

Then will you not use reason?

In relation to other cities

The following verse also mentions the destruction of other towns from previous prophets with Hūd who preached to ʿĀd and Ṣāliḥ to Thamūd. ʿĀd and Thamūd are associated with northern and mid- Arabia, but it is only (the ruins of) the people of Lūṭ (Lot), located much further near the Dead Sea, which are stated as being 'not far from you'. A simple reading of this would imply that ʿĀd and Thamūd (and therefore the Arabian peninsula), were further away than the Dead Sea from this verse's initial preaching/audience.

O my people, do not let your defiance toward me lead you to be visited by the like of what was visited on the people of Noah, or the people of Hūd, or the people of Ṣāliḥ, and the people of Lot are not distant from you.

So the claim is that for this to make sense to those being spoken to at the time of revelation, this would place at least part of Muhammad's preaching in that vicinity (as many in the Revisionist school of Islamic Studies do), rather than strictly in Mecca and Medina where orthodox Islamic views found in the biographies and hadith place him.

The Romans in a nearby land

The Quran claims that the Romans (Byzantines) have been defeated in the nearest (part of) the land.

The Byzantines have been defeated in the nearest land. But they, after their defeat, will overcome.

To be notable enough to have gained a mention in the Quran, this could refer to large scale defeats by the Persians at Jerusalem in 614 CE or Damascus in 613 CE, and many other battles in the Byzantine-Sasanian War of 602-628, which primarily took place in Northern Arabia/Africa/Mesopotamia. But neither of these locations can be considered to be “nearest” land to Mecca or Medina, which are both hundreds of miles away.[34] Leaving a site much further North the more fitting to this verse.

Destroyed towns nearby Mecca

In addition to Lot above, in a surah said to be revealed in Mecca in the traditional account,[35] a verse brings the attention of the audience to the destruction of the towns and people's around them.

Certainly We have destroyed the towns that were around you, and We have variously paraphrased the signs so that they may come back.

And as Patricia Crone mentioned in her 2008 article What do we actually know about Mohammed? 'There were many such ruined sites in northwest Arabia.', while they are not known to be around Mecca, though archaeological digs there are currently limited.[36]

The Battle of Badr

Muslim tradition expands upon vague mentions in the Quran to create an extremely important and detailed historical memory of the 'Battle of Badr', with 'Badr' being mentioned once by name in the Quran (Quran 3:123).

Certainly Allah helped you at Badr, when you were weak [in the enemy’s eyes]. So be wary of Allah so that you may give thanks.

According to Islamic Traditions:

Nearly two years after the Hijrah, in the middle of the month of Ramadan, a major raid was organized against a particularly wealthy caravan escorted by Abū Sufyān, head of the Umayyad clan of the Quraysh. According to the traditional accounts, when word of the caravan reached Muhammad, he arranged a raiding party of about 300, consisting of both muhājirūn and anṣār (Muhammad’s Medinese supporters), to be led by Muhammad himself. By filling the wells on the caravan route near Medina with sand, Muhammad’s army lured Abū Sufyān’s army into battle at Badr, near Medina. There the two parties clashed in traditional fashion: three men from each side were chosen to fight an initial skirmish, and then the armies charged toward one another for full combat. As his army charged forward, Muhammad threw a handful of dust, which flew into the eyes and noses of many of the opposing Meccans. Despite the superior numbers of the Meccan forces (about 1,000 men), Muhammad’s army scored a complete victory, and many prominent Meccans were killed.

Traditional exegetes commenting on this verse unanimously date the battle falling during Ramadan,[37] and link it to other verses such as Quran 8:41 (which it is not mentioned by name in). However, as British historian Tom Holland notes (citation 50: refencing Crone (1987a), pp. 226–30: The papyrus fragment is Text 71 in Grohmann), an earlier (than the Islamic historians/exegetes) manuscript mentions the Battle of Badr, but does not lists a date in Ramadan, which raises questions on the traditional interpretation of these verses.

Why, when the savage Northumbrians were capable of preserving the writings of a scholar such as Bede, do we have no Muslim records from the age of Muhammad? Why not a single Arab account of his life, nor of his followers’ conquests, nor of the progress of his religion, from the whole of the near two centuries that followed his death? Even the sole exception to the rule – a tiny shred of papyrus discovered in Palestine and dated to around AD 740 – serves only to compound the puzzle. Reading it is like overhearing a game of Chinese whispers. Over the course of only eight lines, it provides something truly startling: a date for the Battle of Badr that is not in the holy month of Ramadan. 50 Why should this come as a surprise? Because later Muslim scholars, writing their learned and definitive commentaries on the Qur’an, confidently identified Badr with an otherwise cryptic allusion to ‘the day the two armies clashed’ – a date that fell in Ramadan.51 Perhaps, then, on this one point, the scholars were wrong? Perhaps. But if so, then why should they have been right in anything else that they wrote? What if the entire account of the victory at Badr were nothing but a fiction, a dramatic just-so story, fashioned to explain allusions within the Qur’an that would otherwise have remained beyond explanation?
Holland, Tom. In The Shadow Of The Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World (pp. 39-40). Little, Brown Book Group.

Islamic Scholar Gerard Hawting also discusses these issues in his 2015 paper 'Qur’ān and sīra: the relationship between Sūrat al-Anfāl and muslim traditional accounts of the Battle of Badr'.[38]

Other scholars have noted parallels between the details from previous Judeo-Christians stories, e.g. Austrian orientalist Hans Mzik, notes the similarities in his 1915 paper 'The Gideon-Saul Legend and the Tradition of the Battle of Badr', which may have been used to shape the account, such as the number of fighters for Muhammad.

The number of Muslims in the Battle of Badr in the year 2 AH as it is handed down in Arab tradition varies. The smallest figure of 300 is to be found in the poems attributed to amza, the largest emerges from Ibn Sa‘d, who puts the number of Muammad's Meccan fighters at 863 and those of the Medina fighters as 238, giving a total of 324 combatants at Badr, without counting those undecided. In general, the sources speak of 313 or 314, or “310 and several more, and also of 307, 317, or 318 fighters at Badr. The details at first create the impression that we are dealing with a genuine historical account. We know, however, a tradition according to which the number of fighters at Badr is as great as the number of people of Jālūt (Gideon-Saul). According to a variant, the prophet is supposed to have said to his people on the day of Badr: “You are the same number as the people of Tālūt on the day that he clashed with Jālūt.”
Original title: Hans Mzik, “Die Gideon-Saul-Legende und die überlieferung der Schlacht bei Badr. Ein Beitrag zur ältesten Geschichte des Islam, in WZKM 29 (1915): 371–83. Quoted in Warraq, Ibn. Koranic Allusions: The Biblical, Qumranian, and Pre-Islamic Background to the Koran (pp 239 Hans von Mzik ). Prometheus.

The battle is introduced in a prophetic dream in reports with similar details and symbolism,[39] and other parallels are found in reports surrounding the battle.

Immediately before the battle, a crowd of Qurayshites approached until they came to the prophet's watering place. Among them was akīm ibn izām. Then the prophet spoke: “Let them [drink]! And no one drank at that time who would not be killed, except for akīm ibn izām, for he was not killed….”18 Wāqidī adds to this: “Twice akīm escaped ruin through God's mercy: once when Muammad, after the recitation of sura 36, threw dust at the heads of a number of Qurayshites that were hostile to him, among whom he was also to be found the second time at the Badr drinking place.” On its own, it is not possible to infer why simply “drinking” is supposed to have been wrong and entailed death. The reason originates from the ālūt legend: he who drank was an unbeliever, and the unbeliever deserved to die. In a further elaboration of this thought process, the “drinking ones” = the unbelievers, naturally had to be killed in the battle. The whole episode is nothing more than a reshaping and elaboration of Aswad ibn ‘Abd al-Asad al-Makhzūmī’s story corresponding to the prevailing mind-set, an event neutral in itself which is supposed to have taken place at the beginning of the Battle of Badr.
Original title: Hans Mzik, “Die Gideon-Saul-Legende und die überlieferung der Schlacht bei Badr. Ein Beitrag zur ältesten Geschichte des Islam, in WZKM 29 (1915): 371–83. Quoted in Warraq, Ibn. Koranic Allusions: The Biblical, Qumranian, and Pre-Islamic Background to the Koran (pp 241) Hans von Mzik. Prometheus.

Mismatches in law between the Quran and later Islamic texts

As Islamic scholar Michael Cook notes, there are many differences in religious law between the Quran and the later recorded biographies and 'sahih/authentic' traditions. For example, in regards to stoning adulterers (read the primary texts in: Qur'an, Hadith and Scholars:Stoning), where there are many recordings of the prophet ordering stoning as punishment, whilst the Quran only prescribes 100 lashes.

The main point in favour of a hypothesis in which the Koran is off the scene for several decades is that it also accounts for another set of puzzles thrown up by research into the early development of Islamic law. Each of these involves an aspect of Islamic law which in some very fundamental way seems to contradict or ignore the Koran. For example, it is notorious that Islam prescribes stoning as the standard penalty for proven adultery (zinā), and accredited traditions about the legal activity of the Prophet portray him as reluctantly implementing implementing this punishment. Yet if we turn to the Koran, this is what we read:

The fornicatress (al-zāniya) and the fornicator (al-zānī) – scourge each of them a hundred stripes. (Q24:2)

How this discrepancy could have arisen was a question to which the Muslim scholars had their answers, one of which we have already encountered in the shape of a hungry goat; but the solutions put forward were neither simple nor straightforward.
Cook, Michael. The Koran: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions Book 13) (p. 138). OUP Oxford.

Unknown words in the Quran

The traditional account contains an extremely detailed and comprehensive collection of oral tradition of biographical reports, hadith and other traditions, supposedly originating from the time of the prophet with unbroken isnads (chains of narrations), from the statement being said to being recorded in writing, to explain the Quran's meaning. However not only are there often contradictory explanations for verses among classical Islamic scholars, there are even unknown words in the Quran. Michael Cook notes that taking the traditional account as history, this should not have happened.

The strange thing about these words is that the student who goes on to make a scholarly career in Islamic studies will still not know what they mean decades later. We met similar obscurities in the verses on the Sabbath-breakers (Q7:163–6). They are typical of a whole cluster of linguistic puzzles in the text of the Koran, and translations can do no more than gloss over them by picking and choosing among a welter of competing guesses. These guesses are usually the work of the Muslim commentators, but Western scholars have not hesitated to contribute new ones of their own.

Sometimes, of course, the obscurity is in place. Sūra 101, as we have seen, begins: ‘The Clatterer! What is the Clatterer? And what shall teach thee what is the Clatterer?’ In such a context it would be presumptuous to rush in too quickly with an explanation; God is making the point that He knows something we don’t. There are also cases where the exigencies of rhyme must be borne in mind: abābīl, sijjīl, and ṣamad are cases in point.

But in other instances there are no such extenuating circumstances. The ‘tribute verse’, which is of fundamental legal importance for the Islamic state, lays down that the unbelievers in question are to pay the tribute ‘out of hand’ (‘an yadin, Q9:29); what this simple phrase intends remains as elusive to modern scholars as it was to the medieval commentators. Two long Medinan verses set out a complex law of inheritance (Q4:11–12), again a very practical matter. The second includes an account of what happens in the event that ‘a man is inherited from by kalāla’; this word, which also occurs in Q4:176, seems to have bothered the commentators from the earliest times, and remains obscure to this day. Something without any such practical significance, but very strange nonetheless, is the fact that about a quarter of the Sūras of the Koran begin with concatenations of mysterious letters to which no meaning can be attached. The first verse of Sūra 19, for example, is k-h-y-’ṣ (this is read by reciting the names of the Arabic letters).

Each such item is a puzzle. Somebody must once have known what it meant, and yet that knowledge did not reach the earliest commentators whose views have come down to us, let alone ourselves. It is only natural that modern scholars should continue to search for solutions.

But the larger puzzle is why obscurities of this kind should be so salient a feature of the Koran. It is not in general surprising that scriptures and classics should be like this. Often a long period separates the culture in which such a work originated from that of the oldest scholarly traditions which interpret its meaning for us. But on any conventional account of the early history of Islam, there should not have been such a gap in the case of the Koran.
Cook, Michael. The Koran: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions Book 13) (p. 136 - 137). OUP Oxford.

External Links


  1. Afterlife in Judaism (jewishvirtuallibrary.org) Sources used: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved; Joseph Telushkin. Jewish Literacy. NY: William Morrow and Co., 1991. Reprinted by permission of the author.
  2. This is a repository copy of Afterlives of the Afterlife: The Development of Hell in its Jewish and Christian Contexts. Finney, M.T. (2013) Afterlives of the Afterlife: The Development of Hell in its Jewish and Christian Contexts. In: Exum, J.C. and Clines, D.J.A., (eds.) Biblical Reception. Sheffield Phoenix Press , Sheffield . ISBN 978-1-907534-70-6 E.g. see the section: Second-Temple Judaism: Resurrection and the Myths of Israel
  3. Journeys to Heaven and Hell Tours of the Afterlife in the Early Christian Tradition. Bart D. Ehrman. Yale University Press. 2022.
  4. Richard A. Gabriel, The ancient world, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007 P.79
  5. Robinson, H. R., Oriental Armour, New York:Dover Publications, 1995, pp.10-12
  6. Lane's Lexicon p. 1298 سبغ
  7. Lane's Lexicon p. 1298 سَٰبِغَٰتٍ, Lane's Lexicon p. 1347 ٱلسَّرْدِ
  8. Lane's Lexicon p. 629 حلقة
  9. Tafsir of Ibn Kathir for 34:11 (Arabic)
  10. Hegra Archaeological Site (al-Hijr / Madā ͐ in Ṣāliḥ) - unesco.org (includes many photographs of the tombs)
  11. al-Hijr UNESCO nomination document p.36 (includes detailed site description)
  12. History and mystery of Al-Hijr, ancient capital of the Nabateans in Arabia - Arabnews.com
  13. Lane's Lexicon p. 280 بيوت
  14. Lane's Lexicon p. 1394 مسكن
  15. Trade in ancient Egypt - World History Encyclopedia
  16. E.g. see Twenty-one Reasons Noah’s Worldwide Flood Never Happened. Dr Lorence G. Collins. Professor emeritus of geological sciences at California State University, Northridge. While focused on the biblical account, the majority of the points apply to the Quranic version.
  17. For example on verse 37:77, with all stating that all humans are descended from Noah, with many listing the ancestors of different races. These comments indicating a global flood can be found on their commentary on many other verses.'Tafsir Al-Jalalayn on verse 37:77. Al-Jalalayn / Al-Mahalli and as-Suyuti. Published 1505CE. Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs on Verse 37:77. Attributed to Ibn Abbas but of unknown medieval scholar's origin. Tafsir Ibn Kathir on Verse 37:77. Ibn Kathir d. 1373CE. Jami' al-Bayan on verse 37:77. Al-Tabari d 923CE. Tafsir Muqatel on Verse 37:77. Muqatil ibn Sulayman d. 767CE. Tafsir Al-Kabir on Verse 37:77. Al-Razi. d. 1210CE. Tafsir Al-Qurtubi on Verse 37:77. Al-Qurtubi d. 1273CE.
  18. biblehub.com
  19. Lane's Lexicon p. 318 تَّنُّورُ
  20. Lane's Lexicon p. 2457 فور
  21. For example: in Quran 10:98, the town/village (قرية) of prophet Yunus is mentioned as having believed, implying prophets are sent to smaller areas than one per nation. And again in Quran 7:101 we are told of earlier 'towns' whose warner's were given miracles, and similarly 'towns' having warnings before their destruction in Quran 26:208.
  22. E.g. View the classical tafsirs on verse 36:14 on quranx.com
  23. When was the Bible written? Britannica Entry. www.britannica.com
  24. Denova, R. (Emeritus Lecturer in the Early History of Christianity, Department of Religious Studies, University of Pittsburgh) (2019, October 17). Monotheism in the Ancient World. Ancient History Encyclopaedia.
  25. Our Hunter-Gatherer Heritage and the Evolution of Human Nature. Part I - The Evolution of Human Ultrasociality. John M. Gowdy. Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 October 2021.
  26. Solomon Britannica Entry Cyrus H. Gordon. Matt Stefon. Michael Cardoza. Solomon | Sources, Meaning, Temple, & Facts | Britannica.
  27. Solomon Britannica Entry Cyrus H. Gordon. Matt Stefon. Michael Cardoza. Solomon | Sources, Meaning, Temple, & Facts | Britannica.
  28. Books of Kings Britannica Entry. Bible. History & Society. Scriptures. Philosophy & Religion. Britannica.com
  29. Books of the Chronicles Britannica Entry. Old Testament. History & Society. Scriptures. Philosophy & Religion. Britannica.com
  30. Solomon Britannica Entry Cyrus H. Gordon. Matt Stefon. Michael Cardoza. Solomon | Sources, Meaning, Temple, & Facts | Britannica.
  31. Sodom and Gomorrah. Britannica Entry. 2023.
  32. Gomorrah. The British Museum Entry.
  33. What do we actually know about Mohammed? Patricia Crone. 2008. opendemocracy.net
  34. Byzantine Empire. Historical empire, Eurasia. Geography & Travel. Britannica Entry (this page shows the map of the empire in Northern Arabia, where you can see the lowest border is hundreds of miles from Medina, and even more from Mecca)
  35. Traditional Revelation Order (Taken from The History of the Quran by Abu Abd Allah al-Zanjani). Tanzil Project. (Tanzil is an international Quranic project aimed at providing a highly verified precise Quran text in Unicode.)
  36. Schick, Robert, “Archaeology and the Qurʾān”, in: Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, General Editor: Johanna Pink, University of Freiburg. Consulted online on 09 March 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1875-3922_q3_EQSIM_00031>
  37. E.g. Tafsir Ibn Kathir Verse 3:123. Ibn Kathir d. 1373.
  38. Hawting, Gerald. “QUR’ĀN AND SĪRA: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SŪRAT AL-ANFĀL AND MUSLIM TRADITIONAL ACCOUNTS OF THE BATTLE OF BADR.” In Les Origines Du Coran, Le Coran Des Origines, edited by François Déroche, Christian Julien Robin, and Michel Zink, 75–92. Editions de Boccard, 2015. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvbtznq1.6.
  39. Original title: Hans Mzik, “Die Gideon-Saul-Legende und die überlieferung der Schlacht bei Badr. Ein Beitrag zur ältesten Geschichte des Islam, in WZKM 29 (1915): 371–83. Quoted in Warraq, Ibn. Koranic Allusions: The Biblical, Qumranian, and Pre-Islamic Background to the Koran (Chapter 2.1 The Gideon-Saul Legend and the Tradition of the Battle of Badr) A Contribution to Islam’s Oldest Story. Hans von Mzik. Prometheus.