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The Sources of the Quran

Updated: Mar 12


Most often the religious debate between Christians and Muslims revolves around each claiming to have the holy book from God/Allah, and it just depends on your faith as to which you will believe is the trustworthy book. What if it were shown that one of the books showed signs of not being inspired by God/Allah? Wouldn’t that help the discussion be decided by something more objective than simply which beliefs one holds? The more one studies the Quran, the more one comes to realize that many of the stories found within it are echoes from other eras, cultures, and religions. The evidence seems to bring the Quran further away from the category of divine inspiration, and closer to a situation where Muhammad created the Quran from a pool of oral traditions from many varying sources. If this is true, it would seem as though, instead of being a word from Allah, the Quran was simply an amalgamation of oral traditions molded into a common theme, for the purpose of creating a new religion out of the old ones.

1. How the Quran Started

1.1 Muslim View of the Text

Muslims believe that the archangel Gabriel came from heaven and gave Muhammad the Quran directly through revelations, which were received from 609-632ad.[1] Islam teaches that the Quran is an eternal book, located in heaven, which was then given to Muhammad in the Arabic language. They believe it is completely without error, and inscribed on an imperishable tablet.[2] A common apologetic among Muslims is that the Quran is so perfect and beautiful that only Allah could have produced it. This is shown most prominently by Surah 6:93 where there is a challenge and a threat to produce anything like the Quran. G. Y. Halliday comments on this verse by saying, “While on the one hand they were challenged to produce verses like those of the Quran, on the other those who should make the attempt were bitterly denounced; and it looks as if the severe threats [of the passage] were expressly calculated to deter any who might otherwise try to rival the Suras.”[3] While this passage is commonly thought to be in reference to the style and rhetoric, it seems quite possible that Muhammad was referring to the content, which was monotheistic theology. In regards to this possibility, Edward Sell wrote, “They could not produce a book, showing as the Quran did the unity of God, for as pagans they did not believe in such a dogma.”[4]

1.2 Oral Tradition of the Era

While the common belief is that Muhammad produced the Quran by writing down his revelations, the evidence appears to point more towards an oral tradition for the beginning of the text. Alan Dundes studies orally transmitted fables, and writes that the Quran has many of the trademarks of an oral text, including internal rhymes, metrics, assonance, and enjambment, among others. In his opinion, “The high formulaic density of the Qur’an also suggests that Muhammad (or Allah or archangel Gabriel) was seemingly well versed in the techniques of folkloristic oral transmission.”[5] In addition to Dundes claims, from an academic point of view, it helps to come at much of the Quran from the perspective that it was an oral tradition, considering the poetry, repetitions, formulaic phrases, and use of stock imagery and themes which are a part of the nature of poems.[6]

1.3 Problems With an Oral Text

Considering much of the Quran came much later than the Bible, and looks very similar to it, it would seem likely that Muhammad had the Bible in hand. However, “It is almost certainly incorrect to imagine the Prophet Muhammad simply sitting down to write the Quran one day with a pen in one hand and a copy of the text of the Bible in another.”[7] More likely it is the case that the Bible was dispersed throughout Arabia orally, rather than in physical texts.

There are typically inconsistencies that come about if a text is dispersed orally, and these seem to be quite prevalent in the Quran. In Surah 2:249 there is a story where Saul makes his army drink from a stream, which he then uses as a test, by the instruction of Allah, to see which men he should take into battle. Many failed the test, so there were very few men left, but they declared that Allah could win the battle, even though their numbers were small. This then leads to a victory where David slays Goliath. This story is strikingly similar to one found in Judges 7:5-7, except that it was Gideon’s army, not Saul’s. The Quranic version seems to get the story of Gideon and the story of David and Goliath mixed together.

The story of Jacob working for Laban to acquire Rachel as a wife is found in the Quran in Surah 28:27, which claims Jacob worked eight pilgrimages (years) for one of Laban’s daughters. The same story, found in the Bible in Genesis 29:20, says Jacob worked seven years for one of the daughters.

In the Quran, Surah 3:40-41 says that Zachariah, John the Baptists’ father, was made to not speak for three days as a sign to prove the statements of the angel that visited him. In the Bible, Luke 1:20 says that Zachariah was mute until the day John the Baptist was born, and it was because of his unbelief in the statements of the angel. These subtle changes imply the original story was passed on to the Arab communities through oral tradition, and then suffered slight changes.

In Surah 7:123-124 the Pharaoh of Egypt (during the time of Moses) threatened to crucify his sorcerers because they converted to Islam after the signs of Moses. Firstly, in the Bible there is no mention of the sorcerers leaving their pagan religion. Secondly, there is not only no mention of crucifixion in this story, but crucifixion had not yet been thought of at this point. Crucifixion was a method invented by the Romans, centuries after this.

The plagues of Moses to the Egyptians are listed in Surah 27:12, and in Exodus 7-11. In the Quran there are nine signs, one of which being the leprous hand, and in the Bible there are ten plagues, not including the leprous hand.

The Quran gives a story in Surah 28:38, and 40:36-37, of the Pharaoh asking a man named Haman to build him a tower, or palace, that reaches to the heavens. The purpose of this was so that the Pharaoh could reach heaven, and look upon the God of Moses, because he considered Moses a liar. This story seems like a mixture of a few biblical stories. Firstly, Esther 5:14 tells of Haman building a tall tower (or gallows) to hang his enemy on. Second is the story of Moses and the Pharaoh. Thirdly, the Tower of Babel, in Genesis 11:1-9, is a story where the people of the earth wish to reach heaven, so they build a giant tower. It seems fairly obvious that these three stories have been confused into one in the Quran.

In Surah 28:9 the wife of Pharaoh tells her husband that they should adopt Moses. In Exodus 2:10 it says that Pharaoh’s daughter takes Moses for her son.

The creation story in Surah 41:9-12 states that Allah created the earth in two days, firm hills in four days, and made seven heavens in two days. This is a total of eight days for the creation. In Exodus 20:11 it says that God created the heavens and earth in six days.

These are some of the differences found in the Quranic telling of biblical stories, which, when observed, can be used as evidence to show that Muhammad heard the stories through oral tradition, and then passed them on to others by memory. This easily accounts for the mixing up of stories, the mistakes in numbers, and the errors in the specifics of the accounts.

Another interesting point is that many of the stories in the Quran contain far less information than their Biblical counterparts (names, dates, places), and the stories also seem to end at the ascension of Jesus. “It is quite remarkable that there is no reference to, and apparently no acquaintance with, the period of Christian history subsequent to the ascension of Christ, or the work and writings of the Apostles.”[8] This can be used to argue that Muhammad was not only retelling stories he had heard, but also that he only heard stories up to a certain point in history, and further that he did not have access to the Biblical text. Clair Tisdall contends that there is no evidence that the New Testament had been translated into Arabic by Muhammad’s time, so it would be even less likely that he was using a non-oral source for his writings. Furthermore, the oral Gospel that did reach his area was a polluted type, which focused more upon mysticism and saint worship. Considering Muhammad looked down upon idolatry, this may very well have caused Muhammad to develop a very anti-Christian theology in the Quran.[9]

1.4 Muslim Response to Problems

When faced with the difficulties above, there is really only one possible rebuttal, and it is used often. Muslims believe that the Bible, rather than the Quran, has been severely polluted. Because of this belief, they see no problem with there being numerous differences between the Quran and the Bible. In their view, the Quran is perfect, and is bringing the Christians and Jews back to the truth, cleansing the pollution that has occurred. However, there are two problems with this view. First of all, it is ad hoc, meaning, there is no evidence for the claim, it is simply being claimed solely as a remedy for the view, and has no merit in and of itself. Secondly, the sources of the New Testament are so powerful it would be next to impossible to claim it had been polluted. The New Testament was written by eyewitnesses, within a single generation of the events that occurred. While it might be possible the texts became polluted over time, there is less than a century of time between the dates the originals were written, and the copies that are located in museums. Additionally, there are roughly 5600 ancient manuscripts of the New Testament.[10] This would mean the pollution would have had to occur immediately after the texts were written, it would have to have been excessively widespread, and everyone who was there for the events would have had to keep their mouths shut as to the pollution occurring in the texts. This seems to be a very exaggerated conspiracy theory claim. Also, considering there are no texts that say what the Quran attempts to claim, and no evidence of tampering in the biblical texts, the claim of pollution is not only very unlikely, but also lacks any good rationality what so ever. Another rebuttal to the Muslim defense is that the claim in the Quran that the Pharaoh threatened people with crucifixion, when the torture had not been invented yet, is devastating to the Quran, regardless of the pollution of texts.

1.5 Quran Defeats the Muslim Apologetic

A further problem with the Muslim response to textual criticism comes from the Muslim’s own text. The apologetic used by Muslims is that verses like Surah 3:78; 4:46; and 5:13-15 claims that the Jews and Christians have changed the words within the Bible, in order to spread false doctrines. The most important of these doctrines that the Quran rejects are the divinity of Jesus Christ (Surah 5:72), and His death and resurrection (4:157-158). In order to maintain the internal logical coherence of the Quran, the Muslim must claim the Bible is perverted, so as to prevent the Quran being proven to be false. The problem comes in when one takes a closer look at the passages in the Quran that Muslims use to claim the biblical text has been altered.

Surah 3:78 claims that there were some people that, while reading the Bible, would distort the book “with their tongues as they read” in order to make the audience believe certain things were in the Bible, when they in fact were not. First, this is only mentioning a flaw in oral transmission, not the text itself. Second, considering Muhammad could not read the Bible (or any book for that matter), and did not even have access to the New Testament in Arabic, it would be odd for him to claim that a person reading the Bible was adding in false stories. Next, in Surah 4:46, there is another claim that the Jews displace words “with a twist of their tongues” so as to give a false message, and claim it to be biblical. Once again there is only reference to oral transmission, which is what would be expected, considering Muhammad came from an oral tradition. Another verse used is Surah 5:13-15. This passage claims that the Jews changed the words, and forgot much of what Allah sent them, and that they began new deceits. It also claims that Christians also forgot a good part of the message that had been given to them from Allah. It then summarizes by saying that the Quran will reveal much of what they have hidden from the Bible. While this does not specifically mention a limitation to only oral transmission, it also does not specify that the written text is what was distorted. Considering the other verses specify oral transmission, it would not be uncharitable to assume that for this verse as well. Also, this passage focuses more on content that had been omitted from the texts, rather than false doctrines that had been added to them. Another point worth mentioning is that it does not claim the Christians added false doctrines into their text, only the Jews with the Old Testament.

Considering Muhammad did not read the Bible, it is peculiar that he would claim that what the reader was saying was not actually the content of the book. Since Muhammad had his own religion in mind, and considered the Bible to be a holy book, it would make sense that he would reject those doctrines that were at odds with his religious mindset, and claim the readers of the book to be perverting what they read. Furthermore, there is no inclination in these passages that the actual words of the original text had been perverted; only the oral transmission of the text had been altered. This is quite important, considering there are ancient copies of these texts, which far predate Muhammad’s time, that include the stories that contradict the theology of Islam. On this issue, Edward Sell comments that the Quran never claims the books themselves were distorted, only that the Jews and Christians were concealing the truth while reading the texts.[11]

Sell also claims that Muhammad’s own testimony negates the apologetic used by Muslims today.[12] The Quran considers both the Old and New Testaments to be a word from Allah. The Quran also claims that the word of Allah is preserved by Allah (Surah 6:115), and thus cannot be perverted. The Quran calls the Old Testament a guidance and light (5:44). It also claims that the Muslim should believe the Old and New Testaments (5:69), and that those people who have been reading the Bible for years can be counted on to provide guidance when reading the Quran (10:94). The Quran refers to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a revelation from Allah (5:66). Considering the Quran says in Surah 6:115 that the word of Allah cannot be changed, it would appear as though there is a major problem here for the Muslim. To make matters worse, the Bible that was available in Muhammad’s time would have definitely included the doctrines that the Quran rejects. There are thousands of manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments that predate Muhammad’s time by hundreds of years. This means that even if it were assumed that Muhammad was inspired by a divine source, he would still be without excuse for claiming the biblical texts to be a word from Allah, and then contradict the doctrines of the Bible in what he wrote in the Quran. The Quran and the Bible make opposing claims (divinity and death of Jesus Christ), also, the Quran claims the New Testament to be a word from Allah and that a word from Allah cannot be changed. It then follows that to claim both the Quran and the Bible are true words from Allah (which is what the Muslim who believes the Quran must claim) is a direct contradiction.

2. Where the Quran Came From

Excusing the inaccuracy of the stories, it would not be harmful at all for Islam to admit that the Quran contains many stories from the Abrahamic religions. Another problem comes in when it becomes obvious that the Quran contains stories from obviously false sources, and from within pagan religions.

2.1 Foreign Sources

There is a great deal of foreign language in the Quran, which scholars can link back to Syriac sources. The more one studies Syriac writings from this period, the more the person will realize the amount of Syriac terminology and concepts found within the Quran.[13] The Christianity that was known to the Arabs during Muhammad’s time was a Syriac version. This is odd, considering the passages against Christianity located in the Quran (if inspired) would only really have application to a small sect of Christianity during a specific point in history, and would have little application beyond that.

Another interesting group that comes up when discussing the source of the Quran is the Sabians. The Quran refers to the Sabians three times, each time appearing along side the Jews and Christians as “People of the Book”. This seems to imply possible candidacy for salvation for the Sabians in Islam, considering this is true of Jews and Christians. This has been discussed widely, but most Muslims scholars have little to say about the group.[14]

The Sabians had seven fixed times of prayer (five correspond with Muslim practice), they would pray over the dead without bowing or prostrating oneself (also within Islam), they would fast thirty days, and a festival would break the fast at the end of the month (very similar to the Muslim celebration of Ramadan). They would fast only until sunset, which is also a part of Muslim fasting practices. It is possible that these practices were adopted by Muhammad’s tribe, the Quraish. Either way, it seems as though Muhammad has incorporated the practices of the Sabians into the Quran. The Sabians are also considered to be a semi-Christian sect, and are sometimes identified as Mandaeans (which is a strange medley of Gnosticism and ancient Babylonian heathenism, with aspects form Zoroastrianism). The closely-knit relationship between the Sabians and Islam is “confirmed by the fact that, when Banu Jadhimah of Taif and Mecca announced to Khalid their conversion to Muhammadanism, they did so by crying out, ‘We have become Sabians.’[15]

2.2 Abrahamic Sources

The stories found within the Quran will sometimes mirror biblical stories, sometimes Abrahamic styled fables, and sometimes even pagan tales. The Abrahamic styled fables come from many sources, and have almost completely been thought of as false, except for Muslims who find the same stories in the Quran.

Iblis and Adam

The story of Iblis and Adam (Iblis being the Muslim name for Satan) is found in seven different places in the Quran.[16] Some scholars take the route of showing the discrepancies among the passages themselves, to show the inconsistency within the Quran, however, there is another aspect to this story that is quite illuminating. A very brief summary of the story is as follows: Allah made Lucifer first, out of fire. He then made man out of clay. Then Allah commanded his angels to worship the man, but Lucifer refused, claiming that the man should worship him. Allah became angry because of Lucifer’s refusal, and sent him out of heaven. The interesting thing about this story is that it is located in “The Life of Adam and Eve” from 2 Enoch, which was written no later than 400ad.[17] Going further back, the earliest account of a story like this is found in the “Vita Adae et Evae”, 13:1-16:3, which is most likely from roughly 100bc.[18] This is interesting because these books have largely been considered not inspired, and that they were simply religious texts written by men to convey a point. While the authors and the original audience would most likely have not considered these texts to be anything more than a good story, as they were passed down through the oral traditions of the Arabs, they were adopted as truth, and then included in the Quran.

Companions of the Cave

Another story is found in Surah 18:8-25, called “The Companions of the Cave”. In this story, a group of youths are trapped within a cave for roughly 300 years, and then someone stumbles upon them, finding the youths to be not only alive, but also just as young as the day they entered. The Quran says that this story is given to Muhammad as a way for Allah to prove to Muhammad that he can trust in the revelation of the Quran.[19] This story is elsewhere called “The Seven Sleepers”, and is often thought to be a story to convey the truth of the resurrection of the dead.[20] Within the Quran’s telling, the people are questioning Muhammad as to how many youths there were in the cave (as a way of testing his claim to be a prophet), to which Muhammad says he will tell them the following day. After a few days Muhammad gives his response, telling his questioners that Allah has told him that he must not make promises without adding, “Allah willing”. He also says that only Allah knows the number of youths in the cave. This is seen by Muslims as a sign of Muhammad’s sincerity and humility, which is odd considering this seems to be a test of his right as prophet, which he fails.[21]

The story of “The Companions in the Cave” is also found in the writings of the Syrian Jacob of Sarug, in his “Acta Sanctorum”. He died in 521ad, over a century before the Quran was written. Other Syriac forms of the story have been found as well, most often with the title “Seven Sleepers”. One Syriac story from the sixth century claims there were eight sleepers, which may be where the confusion came about during Muhammad’s time. The earliest account of this story is found in the writings of Gregory of Tours, who tells the story as happening during the reign of Emperor Decius (249-251ad). He claims that it was Christian youths who fled, and it was because of persecution. They were locked up in the cave they fled to, and 196 years later they were found. When one of the men went out, he discovered that Christianity had spread everywhere. This is often considered a story to convey how fast Christianity spread across the world.[22] The problems come when Muhammad appears unable to say how many youths there were (even though it’s almost exclusively been seven, dating back to the earliest account), and also when he said they were asleep 309 years, when the story told before the Quran says they were asleep 196 years. Once again, it appears obvious that Muhammad did not have access to the text, that he had simply heard the story orally, and was reciting it orally to the best of his memory.

Virgin Mary Confusion

Examining the story and character of Mary is another way of looking into where Muhammad received his inspiration for the Quran. Firstly, Muhammad’s understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity was that it was God, Jesus, and Mary (Surah 5:116). This is most likely because Muhammad was influenced by Eutychian and Jacobite partisanship, which involved a zeal of worshipping Mary, and was interpreted as including her in the Trinity. The fact that Muhammad considered Mary part of the Trinity could very well be why he writes such strong rebukes against the doctrine of the Trinity.[23] Once again, it would be odd, if Muhammad were inspired to write the Quran, that Allah would wish to comment on a false and heretical version of Christianity, and condemn the whole doctrine of the Trinity, all upon this false understanding.

There is another aspect of Mary that shines some light on the Quran. The story of Mary in the Quran calls Mary the “sister of Aaron” in Surah 19, and “the daughter of Imran” in Surah 56. Imran is Arabic for Amram, who in the Pentateuch is called the father of Aaron, Moses, and their sister Miriam. The title of “sister of Aaron” is given to Miriam in Exodus 15. In Arabic, both Mary and Miriam have the same translation, which is “Maryam”.[24] At this point the story seems very confusing, because Moses and Aaron’s father was Amram, and now the Quran is claiming that Mary’s brother was Aaron, and father was Amram. Considering there is over 1500 years between the stories of Moses and Jesus, it would be grave indeed if Muhammad had confused these two stories together, making Miriam and Mary the same person, simply because Arabic only has one name for the two. Muslim scholars will account for this by saying that these passages are either general or metaphorical, or that they refer simply to a family lineage, rather than direct relation of father and daughter. Another explanation is that this is referring only to a spiritual affinity between them. However, this seems to be quite a stretch, considering the Quran gives Maryam the name of “sister of Aaron”, as well as “daughter of Imran”. If it were a metaphor, what is the metaphor attempting to do? If it was referring to lineage, then why not refer to lineage directly, rather than giving her a confusing name? If it was spiritual, then why is there no other example of this kind of “spiritual daughterhood” in any other Arabic writing during this time? These explanations seem to be entirely ad hoc, as a means of saving the text, when the clear answer is that Muhammad confused Mary with Miriam, because he knew them both as “Maryam”.

2.3 Non-Abrahamic Sources

Solomon Speaks to Animals

“The Ant” in Surah 27:17-19 is a story where king Solomon claims to have the ability to speak the language of the birds (and presumably other animals as well). He is leading his troops into a valley, and he overhears an ant yell out to the other ants that they should seek shelter in order to not be trampled by Solomon’s forces. Solomon overhears this and laughs to himself. This type of story is quite popular in many traditions. The earliest account is a Buddhist story from the third century. In it, a king rescues the daughter of a dragon-king, and is granted a wish. Since he has many possessions already, he asks to speak the language of animals. He is granted his wish, but told he must not tell anyone of his ability. At dinner one day the king overhears a married butterfly couple arguing, to which he laughs. His wife then asks him why he is laughing, because she is confused. Another version is Indic, and dates several centuries before the Quran. This story is even more similar. In this rendition, the king drops some crumbs on the floor, and then overhears an ant yelling to his comrades to come join him in feasting upon the crumbs. The king then laughs, and his wife is left wondering why he is laughing. Still another story is Annamese (Vietnamese) in origin. In this story the queen is walking over to an area of the room where there are ants, and the king overhears an ant yelling to his comrades to climb up high, so as to avoid being stepped on. Once again, the king laughs at what the ant says.[25] The similarity does not need to be pointed out, but something worthy of note is that these stories are not coming from Abrahamic traditions, but what would be called pagan or infidel traditions. It would be near impossible to claim that the ancient pagan stories of kings speaking to animals were in fact accurate historical accounts, and not a myths. It would be equally odd to claim the ancient pagan stories were myths, but the Quranic version of the exact same stories is a real account.

Jesus Speaks as a Baby

The Quran speaks of Jesus talking even while He was yet in the cradle in Surah 19:29-31. This story is also found within the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, which is considered to have been written in the sixth century (about a century before the Quran). In this earlier version of the story, Jesus spoke, and part of what He said was a declaration to be the Son of God. Considering Muhammad adamantly denied the Trinity, and the divinity of Jesus, this part of the story did not make it into the Quran. The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy is written in what scholars deem to be quite terrible Arabic, and was most likely originally written in Coptic, or at the very least translated from Coptic. During his life, Muhammad was given a Coptic concubine from the Christian governor of Egypt. This could very well explain how he came to hear the story, but it’s also possible he heard it from another source. This example shows that a source of the material within the Quran comes from a text that has, what the Muslim would deem, blasphemous content.

The problem with having sources like these is not only that they were written centuries after the events (which would imply myth rather than fact), but also that they were never considered historically reliable until people who were not familiar with the composition attributed old age and accuracy to the documents. The reason this was done was, once again, for ad hoc reasons because of their faith, rather than objective and historical reasons.[26] In order to gain perspective on this, one can look to the Antilegomena, which was a collection of texts deemed “disputed” by church fathers like Eusebius. The infancy gospel where this story originates from was not considered canonical, and was even considered worse than a disputed text, considering its lack of being present in the Antilegomena. This would guarantee that Eusebius and others like him either did not have access to the infancy gospel account in question, or that they did have access to it, and considered it to be so flawed that it was not even up for the possibility of being true. Most likely it was because they did not have access to it, considering most scholars date the text to the sixth century. Considering the lack of reliability of the text, and the fact that what would be considered blasphemy is found within it, it’s quite odd that we find the story within the Quran.

To make matters worse for the story of Jesus speaking as an infant, the story dates even further back, and to pagan origins in Buddhism. Within the Lalita Viscera, in the Buddha-Capita, there is a Chinese Sanskrit work of the same story. Also, the words uttered by the baby Buddha are remarkably similar to the words uttered by Jesus, such as a claim to being the savior of the world.[27] Most likely this story was passed on, many years later, and adopted into Christianity in the fake text, the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, and then was orally passed down through the pagans in the Arab communities of Muhammad’s time. Muhammad would have been made aware of this story, accepted it as truth, without knowing where the story originated, and then included it in the Quran as fact.

Clay Birds Brought to Life

A more commonly known story found in the Quran that has questionable origins is the story of Jesus making birds out of clay and then bringing them to life. This story is found twice in the Quran[28], and is also located in the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, as well as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. As mentioned above, the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy is extremely questionable. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is considered false for much more embarrassing reasons. First of all, the story of Jesus bringing clay birds to life is actually considered to be a reason why the text shouldn’t be trusted, considering this would be an example of Jesus performing a miracle before the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. The second reason is because of the remarkably strange attitude of Jesus, where He speaks out against his teacher, making a mockery of him for trying to teach Jesus the alphabet. Once made a fool out of, the teacher is incredibly sorrowful, wishing to flee the area, and practically (if not actually) worships Jesus. Not only this, but the Infancy Gospel of Thomas also portrays Jesus as divine. This is a problem for the Quran. It would appear as though Muhammad was made aware of the story from these sources, but only through oral tradition. This is likely because if he had been able to read the actual texts, he would have thought them to be false, considering they claim Jesus was divine.

3. Critiquing the Quran

When made aware of the above stories and their sources, it would appear to be near impossible to claim that Muhammad’s only source was the angel Gabriel. Also, as Alan Dundes stated, if Muhammad were inspired by Allah, or given the Quran by Gabriel, then it would appear as though Allah/Gabriel had access to these texts, and took the accounts from them. The only other option here would be that these sources were in fact accurate. In this mindset, the reason the Quran includes stories like the clay birds, the companions of the cave, Iblis and Adam, and Solomon speaking to animals, is because these stories are real historical events. If this were true, that would mean that in most of these cases all of the documents including these accounts would in fact be flawed, with the Quran being the only true account of the story. Rather than Muhammad hearing a story, and then repeating it with a few errors, it would be the case that the real story had been polluted, and Muhammad was given the truth as a means of purifying the story.

In the cases of the textual variations between the stories found within the Bible and their Quranic counterparts, it would appear obvious that Muhammad was given an oral tradition of these stories. Either the oral traditions he was given had the facts wrong, or Muhammad repeated them incorrectly. If that were not the case, then this would mean that the Bible (including the thousands of copies dating numerous hundreds of years before the Quran) would be flawed, and the Quran was sent down from above to correct these perversions.

Considering that oral tradition was the norm before and after Muhammad’s time, and the Quran has all the markings of an oral text, the scholar would have to blind herself to the alleged problems in the Quran, which appear to be errors directly related to the oral transmission of the text. The readers can make their own judgment call as to which theory gives the best explanation given the evidence. However, given the bad quality of the sources of these stories, the markings of an oral tradition, and the constant flaws we see in the Quran, it would be hard to make a good case for a positive interpretation of the sources for the Quran.

The main way in which Muslims will respond to the criticisms above is that they will indeed claim the Quran to be the purification of the perverted texts. Also, the Quran contains many places where it deals with criticisms against the text. Apparently, before even being finished, people were already questioning the legitimacy of the Quran, claiming that it was only poetry, or the works of a soothsayer. In Surah 69:38-47, Muhammad denies these claims, and says that the Quran was sent down from Allah. He also claims that no one can write anything like it. Also, in Surah 52:33-34, and 41 Muhammad claims the Quran is not a forgery (which makes scholars think this criticism had been made already) and challenges anyone to write something like it, claiming it was definitely inspired by Allah. While this appears to be a defense, it does not sit well for the academic community. Considering the text contains within itself proof that people, even during the time of it’s conception, were doubting the Quran, and claiming it to be a forgery, it would make the case against the legitimacy of the Quran even worse.

Considering the claim that the Quran is the perfection of what has been perverted, there’s another problem the Muslim needs to deal with. There is no documentation that shows what Islam teaches is the original content. We have many documents that show flaws in the Quran’s story, and no documents to aid the reliability of the Quran. It looks more like Muhammad was taking pagan and semi-Christian stories, and adapting them to his own new religion. If all these stories found in apocryphal texts, early manuscripts, pagan religious books, and the Bible are all polluted, then where is the proof of their pollution? The claim that the texts are polluted, and the Quran is the perfection, seems to be more of an excuse for why we don’t find any evidence in favor of the Quran, rather than a real explanation that makes sense of the evidence.


After observing many stories found within the Quran, with their textual parents found much earlier in history, it should help make the reader aware of truth behind how Muhammad received the Quran. Muhammad was not inspired by the archangel Gabriel to write down a copy of a text found within heaven from beyond eternity. The truth most likely is that Muhammad grew up hearing all sorts of religious stories that had been dispersed within his culture through oral tradition. He then reflected on these stories, recounted them by memory as best he could, and brought them all together to form a new religion that he could use to gain power. The many flaws found within the Quran, as well as the questionable sources of the Quran’s stories, all seem to make the theory that the Quran is the perfection of the perverted to be quite implausible. The best way to make sense of the evidence provided is that the Quran comes from a heavily flawed oral tradition.

Photo by Michael Burrows from Pexels

[1]           William Griffiths, “Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Gabriel in the Quran.” The Old and New Testament Student Vol. 12, No. 5 (May, 1891): 277.

[2]           Rick Richter, Comparing the Qur’an and the Bible. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 139.

[3]           G. Y. Halliday, Islam and Christianity: Or, The Quran and the Bible: a Letter to a Muslim Friend. (New York: American Tract Society, 1901), 118.

[4]           Edward Sell, The Historical Development of the Quran, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1905), 38.

[5]           Alan Dundes, Fables of the Ancients? Folklore in the Qur’an, (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003), 65.

[6]           Andrew Bannister, “Retelling the Tale: An Oral-Formulaic Study of the Qur’an” (Ph.D. dissertation, Brunel University, London School of Theology, 2011), 111.

[7]           Michael E. Pregill, “The Hebrew Bible and the Quran: The Problem of the Jewish ‘Influence’ on Islam.” Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 644-645.

[8]           D. Shepardson, “The Biblical Element in the Quran.” The Old and New Testament Student Vol. 10. No. 4 (Apr., 1890): 209.

[9]           Clair Tisdall, Original Sources of the Quran, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1911; reprint, London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1905), 140-141.

[10]         See Appendix A.

[11]         Sell, 104.

[12]         Sell, 107.

[13]         Sidney Griffith, Christian lore and the Arabic Qur’an: the “Companions of the Cave” in Surat al-Kahf and the Syriac Christian tradition, The Qur’an in its Historical Context, ed. Gabriel Said Reynolds (London: Routledge, 2008), 109-110.

[14]         Colin Turner, “Sabeans,” The Quran: An Encyclopedia, ed. Oliver Leaman (London: Routledge, 2006), 553.

[15]         Tisdall, 54.

[16]         Surah 2:30, 34; 7:11-18; 15:28-44; 17:61-64; 18:50; 20:116-117 and 38:71-85.

[17]         Andrew Ripping, “Devil,” Encyclopaedia of the Quran, ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe (Leiden: Brill, 2001-2006), 179-181.

[18]         Bannister, 7.

[19]         Griffith, 117.

[20]         Dundes, 55-56.

[21]         Tamara Sonn, “Companions of the Cave,” The Quran: An Encyclopedia, ed. Oliver Leaman (London: Routledge, 2006), 151-152.

[22]         Tisdall, 147.

[23]         Surah 5:73 says that it is blasphemy to say God is three in Trinity.

[24]         Tisdall, 139, 152-153.

[25]         Dundes, 62-64.

[26]         Tisdall, 169-172.

[27]         Tisdall, 172.

[28]         Surah 5:110; 3:49; 7:127.


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