Did the Qurʾān borrow from the Syriac Legend of Alexander?

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In 2007, an article appeared in Gabriel Said Reynold’s ‘The Qurʾān in its Historical Context’ titled ‘The Alexander Legend in the Qurʾān 18:83-102’, authored by Kevin Van Bladel. This article has proven to be a substantial contribution to understanding the background of the Dhū-lQarnayn pericope in sūrat al-Kahf, or ‘The Cave’. The primary thesis of Van Bladel’s paper is that the story of Dhū-lQarnayn essentially depends on the ‘Neṣḥānā d-Aleksandrūs’, otherwise referred to as the “Syriac Legend of Alexander1” in contemporary scholarship.

The Syriac Legend dates approximately to 630 A.D2, and was brought to light by the orientalist E.A Wallis Budge in 1889, apparently being a work appended to the Syriac edition of Pseudo-Callisthenes. In his book titled “The History of Alexander the Great, being the Syriac version of Pseudo-Callisthenes,” Budge provided a critical edition of the Legend with an accompanying English translation, drawing on 5 existing manuscripts3.

Van Bladel is apparently the first scholar who has paid attention to the relationship between the Qurʾānic Dhū-lQarnayn story and the Alexander Legend in recent times. His work is interesting, and he demonstrates that there certainly exists some relationship between these two texts. However, Van Bladel consistently lets his comparisons go too far and often misreads the source texts in trying to find points of commonality between the Qurʾān and the Legend. This, in turn, causes his thesis, that the Qurʾānic account is essentially derived from the Neṣḥānā, appear stronger than it actually is.

The purpose of this essay is to argue that the Syriac Legend is not the source text for the Qurʾānic story, and in doing so, is primarily intended as a reply to Van Bladel’s paper. The structure of this essay is as follows. The first section analyse differences between the two texts at point where Van Bladel has in fact posited a similarity4, and discusses to what degree this difference is. At times this study will explore some tangential issues pertaining to the Legend that shall be relevant later, such as the precise geography of Alexander’s travels. A subsection is devoted to paying closer attention to some linguistic similarities noticed by Van Bladel between the two texts.

The second part of this article shall comment on some of the reasons offered by Van Bladel and others for believing that the Qurʾān derives from the Legend. Subsequently, an alternative hypothesis shall be argued for on the basis of some novel arguments.

I shall attempt to refer to Budge’s English translation of the Syriac Legend where possible5, taking recourse to the Syriac text only where relevant. In referencing the Qurʾān, the Sahih International translation will be referred to, unless a modification is deemed appropriate, or a linguistic point needs to be discussed. As this essay is largely interacting with Van Bladel’s paper, it is assumed that readers are at least partially familiar with the arguments found therein.

A comparison of the narratives

The bulk of Van Bladel’s comparisons between the two texts and his reasoning, where given, for positing similarities may be found on pp. 177- 182 of his article, and we shall consistently refer to it in this section.

Travel to the Fetid waters

The first precise correspondence between the Legend and the Dhū-lQarnayn narrative is the respective protagonists’ travels to the “fetid waters”. In the Legend, Alexander wishes to travel to the ends of the earth to see “upon what the heavens are fixed”6, and so he summons his officials, who inform him that this is impossible, given that the “Fetid Sea,” or the “Okeyanos (Ocean), which surrounds all creation” would stop him, as it is fatal to all who touch it.

The corresponding section in the Qurʾānic account is Dhū-lQarnayn’s initial west-ward travel7 to an ʿayn ḥamiʾa, variously “muddy”, or “murky” spring. Strictly speaking, Van Bladel does not explicate this to be an exact similarity in the paper, though translates ḥamiʾa as “fetid” rather than the conventional “muddy”, presumably in keeping with the Legend8. He also refers to the muddy spring as “fetid water” in his comparison9, so it is clear he considers this to be a similarity between the two tales.

It is obvious, however, that the Qurʾān omits the Okeyanos altogether. It is not entirely unreasonable to say that the Syriac saryā could be equivocated to the Arabic ḥamiʾa, but reading ʿayn, “spring”, as the creation-encompassing Okeyanos is a difficult stretch to make. This fact seems to have been glossed over entirely, even though this omission by the Qurʾān is significant from a cosmological standpoint in particular. Even outside the Dhū-lQarnayn narrative, there is simply no creation-encompassing “Okeyanos” to be found in the Qurʾān, though both texts belong to Late Antiquity. Tabataba’i and Mirsadri observe that Qurʾānic cosmology simply precludes the idea of any sort of an earth “surrounded by waters” in the “biblical and Mesopotamian” sense10. As such, this omission of the Fetid Sea is quite possibly intentional11.

Furthermore, since the “fetid” nature of the water in the Legend is essentially bound to the fact that this water is the Okeyanos, that the Qurʾān deliberately avoids the Okeyanos indicates that one does not need to necessarily read ḥamiʾa as “fetid” in the same sense as the deadly waters of the Legend either. Thus, the conventional interpretation of “muddy spring” is certainly still plausible.

The cosmological differences go deeper. Why did Alexander wish to travel to the ends of the earth? We see the following passage in the Legend:

As to the thing, my lord, which thy majesty desires to go and see, namely, upon what the heavens rest, and what surrounds the earth, the terrible seas which surround the earth will not give thee a passage12

The cosmology of the Legend features heavens which are domed in shape. Contrarily, Tabataba’i and Mirsadri have produced fairly convincing evidence that the Qurʾān intends flat shaped heavens13, and so it follows that they would not meet the Earth at any one point. Furthermore, though the Qurʾān does mention supports for the heavens, they are said to be invisible (Q 13:2). This omission of the creation-encompassing waters in the Dhū-lQarnayn story makes complete sense – not only is this notion in itself absent from elsewhere in the Qurʾān, its absence implies that Dhū-lQarnayn’s motivation to travel is not to find the place “upon which the heavens rest”. This entirely undercuts the premise of the Legend.

The Direction of the Journeys

The first journey taken by Dhū-lQarnayn in the Qurʾān is towards the setting of the sun (maghrib al-shams), or the west. Van Bladel writes that “Alexander’s journeys west and east match Q 18:85-91”. Here, he has committed a major oversight and has not read the Legend carefully. The direction of Alexander’s journey to the Fetid Sea is in fact towards the east, and not the west. The narration of details pertaining to Alexander’s initial itinerary are as follows: After having consulted his officials in Alexandria14 and determining to satisfy his curiosities, he marched until he “came to mount Sinai,” and then “crossed over to Meṣrên [Egypt]”. There, he took seven thousand Egyptian metalworkers from the king Sarnāqōs15. After this stage, he finally set sail to the Fetid Sea, journeying for “four months and twelve days.”

Where is this sea situated? The text does not provide an explicit answer, but after having reached the Fetid Sea and tested it with the lives of the convicts16, Alexander sets his sight “towards the west” to “the great Musas”, or Mount Ararat17. Clearly, if Alexander were looking west-ward to Mount Ararat (located in modern day Armenia), the author envisioned him to have travelled east from Egypt to reach the Fetid Sea.

Confirmation of this is hinted in the length of Alexander and his troops’ journey — “four months and twelve days”. A similar tradition is recorded in the so-called Syriac Alexander Poem18, where it is stated that Alexander travelled to the Fetid Sea for “four months”19, paralleling the Legend. In the Poem, the Fetid Sea is towards India, and therefore to the east. Even if the Poem is a retelling of the Legend, it is a rather early one, post-dating the Legend by less than a decade. We may deduce that the four month journey was already associated with Alexander’s travel to India to the audience, and therefore necessarily east-ward.

It follows then, that the Qurʾān is in opposition to the Legend here, and this difference extends to the next leg of Dhū-lQarnayn’s journey. Under the impression that Alexander first headed west-ward, Van Bladel continues that Alexander later “follows the sun through its course to the east during the night”20. Naturally, if the Fetid Sea is east-ward, then Alexander must have travelled back to the west, and not east, to Mount Ararat, contra Van Bladel. Meanwhile, Dhū-lQarnayn, after having reached the muddy spring, journeys towards the east (maṭliʿ al-shams), where he meets a people whom God had not “given a shield” (Q 18:90).

It shall later prove worthwhile to pursue a tangent at this point. The Legend features an ambiguity concerning the initial location of Alexander. It is not clear why Alexander and his army, beginning in Alexandria, went forth to Mt. Sinai, then sailed to Egypt, apparently tracking backwards. Why would this be necessary? Czégledy21 remarks that “the author hardly realised that Alexandria was in Egypt,” yet there is a more convincing explanation. It is probable that the author wished to place Alexander not in the Alexandria of Egypt, but Alexandria near Issus, which would have been familiar enough to the Syriac author, being a place of some import to Byzantine Christianity in late antiquity22 and geographically close to centres of Syriac Christianity such as Edessa. To assign cardinal directions to the Legend’s journey, Alexander goes south to Mt. Sinai, then slightly west to Egypt, then vaguely east to the Fetid Sea, and then west or northwest to Armenia, and then finally west once more to his home. Van Bladel writes that Alexander “makes his journey west, then east, then north, then return south”, which he takes to be an intentional symbol of the cross employed by the author of the Legend23. This seems extremely unlikely in light of the itinerary I have presented here24.

Punishing the “Wrong-doers”

After having reached the muddy spring to the west, Dhū-lQarnayn is prompted by God to either “punish” the natives of the land or treat them with “goodness” (Q 18:86). He declares in reply that “whoever has wronged, we shall punish them, then they shall return to their Lord, and He shall punish them with a terrible punishment. But as for one who believes and does righteousness, he will have a reward of Paradise, and we will speak to him from our command with ease (Q 18:87-88)”.

Van Bladel believes this to be exactly identical to the Legend25, but it is not clear why. In the Legend, Alexander wishes to investigate whether the water is lethal just as his officials have warned him. To accomplish this, he decides it is best to test it with the lives of prisoners already condemned to death. These prisoners are not the natives of the land, but rather prisoners from his own army camp26. This is unambiguous: Alexander and his troops first “encamp”, then Alexander requests prisoners from the governor who was in the “camp”27. The word Budge translates as “camp”, mashrīta, also means a troop or retinue28.

The numerous differences are apparent. Dhū-lQarnayn deals with the natives of the land, and is apparently given a choice by God, perhaps as a test of his justice, on whom he ought to punish. His reply is a very typical maxim expressed in characteristic Qurʾānic language, where the “evildoers” are relegated to a “punishment”, “adhāb”, in this life and the hereafter (cf. Q 68:33). Contrarily, those who “believe and do good”29 shall receive a “good reward”. This moral episode does not occur in the Legend, not the least because there are no natives present for Alexander to interact with. Van Bladel mistakes what the Legend is actually saying, and is under the impression that “Alexander asks the people there if they have any prisoners”30, but as just illustrated, both the context and language make it clear that the governor and the prisoners he speaks to are from his own army.

Further, the motives of Alexander and Dhū-lQarnayn are different in dealing with the “evil-doers31”. Alexander intends to merely test the fatality of the fetid sea and investigate whether it is possible to traverse. Contrarily, Dhū-lQarnayn is concerned with general Qurʾānic justice relating to faith and the afterlife32.

The Heavenly Cords

Van Bladel’s most original contribution in collecting the similarities between the Dhū-lQarnayn story and the Neṣḥānā is the heroes’ travels through the so-called “heavenly cords”, apparently conduits or pathways through the skies. Van Bladel has argued at length in another one of his essays33 that the variously mentioned sabab (ways) in Q 18:83-99 taken by Dhū-lQarnayn are in fact references to these heavenly paths. Van Bladel believes this detail to be a key similarity between the Qurʾān and the Alexander Legend34, as Dhū-lQarnayn’s travel through the asbāb exactly match Alexander travelling through the “window of heaven (kawwteh da-šmayyâ)35” after having reached the Fetid Sea.

Unfortunately, there are serious flaws with Van Bladel’s understanding of the Syriac text. Alexander simply does not enter the “window of heaven”. The following is the Syriac critical text provided by Budge36, including vowel diacritics where supplied:

ܘܡܸܚܕܐ ܕܥܵܙܠ ܫܡܫܐ ܒܟܵܘܬܗ ܕܫܡܝܐ ܡܬܓܗܸܢ ܘܣܵܓܕ ܩܕܵܡ ܐܠܗܐ ܒܵܪܘܿܝܗ. ܘܪܵܕܹܐ ܘܢܵܚܹܬ ܟܠܗ ܠܠܝܐ ܒܗܘܿܢ ܒܫܡܝܐ. ܥܕܡܐ ܕܐܵܙܠ ܡܫܬܟܲܚ ܐܝܟܐ ܕܕܵܢܲܚ. ܘܚ݂ܙܐ ܐܠܟܣܢܕܪܘܿܣ ܒܝܬ ܡܥܲܪܵܒ̈ܲܝ ܫܡܫܐ. ܘܐܫܟܚ ܛܘܼܪܐ ܚܕ ܕܢܲܚܹܬ. ܘܫܡܗ ܡܘܼܣܵܣ ܪܒܿܐ. ܘܢܚܬܘ ܥܡܗ ܘܐܬܘ. ܘܢܦܼܩܘ ܠܩܠܵܘܕܝ݂ܼܵܐ

Below is the translation that Budge offers, and I have inserted square brackets indicating the verbs and participles employed, as this shall help comprehend the text more fully:

“And when the sun enters [participle] the window of heaven, he straightway bows down [participle] and makes obeisance [participle] before God his Creator; and he travels [participle] and descends [participle] the whole night through the heavens, until at length he finds [participle] himself where it rises.

And Alexander looked [perfect] towards the west, and he found [perfect] a mountain that descends [participle], and its name was ‘The Great Musas’; and (the troops) descended it [perfect] and came out [perfect] upon Mount Klaudia”37

Van Bladel characterises this translation as “nonsensical”, but does not labour to explain why. He instead offers the following translation38:

“And when the sun entered the window of heaven, he (Alexander) immediately bowed down and made obeisance before God his Creator, and he traveled and descended the whole night in the heavens, until at length he came and found himself where it (the sun) rises. He saw the land of the setting sun and found a mountain where he descended, named Great Mûsas, and they (the troops) descended and arrived with him. And they went forth to Mount Qlawdiyâ (Claudia).”

Van Bladel would this have us believe that the agent of the nightly travel is Alexander, and not the sun. However, this reading is so unnatural to the text, it is puzzling as to how he came to derive it. The Syriac gives no indication that there is a shift in the agent to Alexander after “when the sun enters the window of heaven…”. Why ought we to believe that the text begins speaking of Alexander at this point when his name is not even mentioned? Van Bladel labours instead to supply this in parentheses in his translation. His reading becomes almost impossible when paying close attention to the verb forms and participles used in this passage. When speaking of the sun, the Syriac text consistently uses participles39 (denoting a repetitive or continuous action), rather than the perfect tense, which would seem more appropriate if the text were speaking of Alexander40. Where the passage describes Alexander’s actions, it regularly and clearly employs the masculine perfect form of verb. Note that when the passage mentions the “Great Musas”, there is an abrupt switch back to the participle form, implying that the mountain — and not Alexander and the troops — are being characterised as “descending”. Budge’s translation makes the most sense of this sensitive usage of the perfect and participle forms found in the Syriac passage41.

This ought to be enough to dispel any precise similarity between the Legend and the Dhū-lQarnayn narrative concerning how the two characters travelled, and it is not strictly necessary to examine Van Bladel’s argument that the Qurʾānic story speaks of “heavenly cords”. Nevertheless, some comments may be made, the first of which is that Van Bladel’s interpreting “sabab” as “heavenly course” relies upon Alexander’s heavenly travel in the Legend being the underlying source of Dhū-lQarnayn taking the heavenly asbāb. Since it has been shown that this is not even found in the Legend to begin with, the basis for its appearance in the Dhū-lQarnayn account becomes weaker, following Van Bladel’s own logic. The second issue is that consistently reading “sabab” as “heavenly cord” is simply awkward even within Q 18:83-102, regardless of how the word is used elsewhere in the Qurʾān. Even if one grants Van Bladel’s incorrect interpretation of the Legend and accepts that Alexander followed the path of the sun through its setting point, we should note that this would have to occur immediately after the killing of the prisoners. This would have to conform with Q 18:89, if the Qurʾān is indeed retelling the Legend. The recurrence of “atbaʿa sabab” therefore remains unexplained in Q 18:85 and Q 18:92, and by Van Bladel’s own logic it would not be referring to a heavenly course because of the lack of parallels between these two Qurʾānic verses and the Legend itself. This raises a problem — these verses are identical to Q 18:89, so we are faced with an awkward reading where Dhū-lQarnayn “follows a sabab”, meaning a generic terrestrial pathway in two places in the legend, but somehow where the exact phrase occurs in Q 18:89, the meaning is entirely anomalous in that Dhū-lQarnayn instead follows a “heavenly cord”42.

The Burning Sun

Dhū-lQarnayn, after reaching the muddy spring to the west, journeys to the opposite ends of the earth. There he meets a people whom God had “not given any cover” against the sun (Q 18:90). The Legend also speaks of a group of people who live close to the rising of the sun in the east43

“The place of [the sun’s] rising is over the sea, and the people who dwell there, when he is about to rise, flee away and hide themselves in the sea, that they be not burnt by his rays; and he passes through the midst of the heavens to the place where he enters the window of heaven; and wherever he passes there are terrible mountains, and those who dwell there have caves hollowed out in the rocks, and as soon as they see the sun passing [over them], men and birds flee away from before him and hide in the caves, for rocks are rent by his blazing heat and fall down, and whether they be men or beasts, as soon as the stones touch them they are consumed.”

Van Bladel holds that “it is only this Syriac text that explains the meaning of Q 18:90, where the otherwise unknown eastern people who have no cover from the sun are mentioned”44. There are actually numerous differences in detail between the two episodes which complicates the issue. Dhū-lQarnayn actually meets these sun-stricken natives, while Alexander does not. In the Legend, they are spoken of in the context of the daily journey of the sun. It is the sun that comes to them, and not Alexander45.

One may draw further comparison, though admittedly at the risk of splitting hairs. Strictly speaking, the Qurʾānic people whom God “had not given a cover” from the sun does not quite exactly describe a people forced to escape to the sea to gain shelter from the sun’s heat, as in the Legend. An unconventional shelter in the sea is shelter nonetheless. One could simply respond and say that this verse is a reasonable gloss of the Legend: taking shelter in the sea may as well just be not having a cover from the sun at all. But the Qurʾān does not even intend that these natives be “sea people” that have a sea to escape to: Dhū-lQarnayn encounters these natives after he has travelled away from the “muddy spring” which is the closest analogy to the eastern sea shore of the Legend, where the sun rises and in which the people must take shelter.

Additionally, in the Qurʾān, the people not having any cover from the sun lack it because God did not give them whatever is required to protect themselves46, the implication being that there potentially is some form of adequate protection that could be given – perhaps by way of construction material. This does not reflect the Neṣḥana precisely.

The Mountain People

The final portion of the Qurʾānic journey describes Dhū-lQarnayn’s travel to a people between “two mountains” who could “barely understand speech”. They request his protection from the Gog and Magog, asking to build a barrier in exchange for a levy (Q 18:93-94). He characteristically declines the fee, but informs them that he shall regardless build a barrier, and that they should aid him in its construction.

Van Bladel sees this as paralleling the Legend, where Alexander also builds a barrier. However, its commissioning diverges from the Qurʾān in its details. After hearing of the plight of the natives due to the devastation wrought by the Huns, Alexander then turns to his troops and commands that they build a door. The construction is then set in motion with the help of the brass and iron workers brought from Egypt earlier in the story47.

No mention is made of any offer of payment, unlike the Qurʾān. Witztum48 summarises this well, writing:

“The tribute and its rejection have no precedent in the Syriac Alexander Legend, but seem to reflect the common Quranic theme that prophets generally, and Muhammad especially, ask for no reward in return for their services. Interestingly, the only other occurrence of the word kharj in the Quran is with regard to the Prophet: ‘Or do you ask them for any tribute (kharjan)? But the tribute of your Lord is better and He is the best of providers’ (Q 23:72)”

While Van Bladel does not say that there is any sort of “tribute” to be found in the Legend, he does instead argue that, just like Dhū-lQarnayn, Alexander “asks the locals if they want a favor, and they answer that they would follow his command… together, they accomplish [building the barrier] with the help of the Egyptian metalworkers (2007a, p. 179)”. But the Legend nowhere involves the natives in the building of the wall. Rather, it is his army that Alexander requests help from, and they agree to comply. This is very clear from the Syriac text49, which Budge has translated accurately.

Van Bladel has simply misread the details of these episodes, resulting in some exaggeration on his part. He further says that the presence of the Egyptian metalworkers in the Legend explains “Dhū-lQarnayn’s ability to build a wall of iron and brass”, yet the metalworkers, too, are omitted from the Qurʾān. That Dhū-lQarnayn co-operates with the natives in building the wall provides enough explanation as to how exactly he was able to accomplish the construction. Hence, we see him clearly commanding the natives to “bring [him] sheets of iron”, among other instructions (Q 18:96). Were Van Bladel’s assessment correct, these commands would not have been so explicitly directed at the native people.

At the risk of making some premature remarks, one notes an interesting trend throughout the Qurʾānic account. The natives of the various places that Dhū-lQarnayn visits are consistently more prominent in each episode relative to the corresponding nations discussed in the Alexander Legend. In the first travel of the journey, Dhū-lQarnayn is given the option to “punish” or “deal justly” with the natives, unlike the comparable account in the Legend, where no natives are mentioned at all. Alexander instead uses his own camp’s prisoners to test the water. In the second segment of his journey, Dhū-lQarnayn actually meets the people with no protection from the sun, while in the Alexander Legend they are relegated to a passing comment on sun’s path through the heavens. Finally, in this third episode, we see the natives threatened by Gog and Magog to be actively building the wall, while in the Legend, it is Alexander’s own army.

Assuming that the Qurʾān is alluding to the Legend here, why would the natives replace Alexander’s own army in the case of the punishment and barrier building episodes? One may say that the Qurʾānic account is attempting to simplify the story of the Legend. If Alexander’s troops are not mentioned, then the story becomes simpler, with less parts to account for. But if this is the case, why the need for Dhū-lQarnayn to then request the natives for help in Q 18:95-96? Merely saying that Dhū-lQarnayn built the barrier after declining payment would be enough, and it would be assumed that someone helped him build it – presumably, his army, because of the allusion to the Legend. This would be a better simplification, if indeed the Legend is assumed to be filling in the gaps here.

This concludes the discussion on the key content-level similarities between the Qurʾān and the Syriac Legend, barring the prophecies of the respective protagonists after the building of the barrier. That episode in particular is especially significant in understanding the link between the two stories, and shall be discussed later.

Linguistic Similarities

Broadly speaking, the Arabic language of the Dhū-lQarnayn narrative is very much exclusive to it, with no singular words borrowed from the Syriac of the Legend50. Van Bladel does, however, draw two linguistic similarities pertaining to specific turns of phrase found in the Legend which apparently are also found in the Q 18:9951.

The first of these is where God, speaking of the nations beyond the wall, says that He shall “leave them on that day surging one upon another(wa-taraknā baʿduhum yawmaʾidhin yamūju fī baʿdin), echoing the Legend where Alexander prophecies that “kingdoms will fall one upon another” (wa naplan malkwatha ḥda ʿal ḥda) after the great door has fallen. Van Bladel notes that the formula ‘baʿduhum… fī baʿdin’ in particular very closely accords with the Syriac ‘ḥda ʿal ḥda’, both meaning “one upon another”.

The problem with Van Bladel’s observation pertains to the textual transmission of the Legend. The Syriac phrase in question, with its wider context, occurs in Budge’s critical edition as follows52:

ܢܐܬܝ̈ܢ ܡܠܟܘ̈ܬܐ ܡܢ ܣܘ̈ܦܝ ܫܡܝܐ ܕܗܘܢܝܐ ܘܕܦܪ̈ܣܝܐ ܘܕܛܝܝ̈ܐ. ܥܣܪܝܢ ܘܐܪܒܥ ܡܠܟܘ̈ܬܐ ܕܟܬܝ̈ܒܢ ܒܣܦܪܐ ܗܢܐ. ܘܢܦ̈ܠܢ ܡܠܟܘܬܐ ܚܕܐ ܥܠ ܚܕܐ. ܘܬܡܣܐ ܐܪܥܐ ܒܕܡܐ ܘܦܪܬܐ ܕܒܢܝܢܫܐ.

This is roughly understood to mean “the kingdoms of the Greeks and the Persians and the Arabs shall come from the ends of the heavens, [and] the 24 kingdoms that are written in this book. And the kingdoms shall fall one upon another. And the earth shall wasten in the blood and dung of men.”

Crucially, Budge footnotes the passage with a textual comment, writing that in manuscripts A,B,D and E, temse (shall run) immediately follows naplan (shall fall). This means that from four of the five manuscripts that Budge drew from, the phrase ‘ḥda ʿal ḥda’, ‘one upon another’ does not occur. Thus, the above passage, according to the majority of the manuscripts, would read:

The kingdoms of the Greeks and the Persians and the Arabs shall come from the ends of the heavens, [and] the 24 kingdoms that are written in this book. And they shall fall. And the earth shall wasten in the blood and dung of men.

This is still a perfectly coherent reading, and one that does not share any formulas in common with Q 18:99. Unless Van Bladel can provide evidence that the reading of manuscript C is the original reading against the majority, the comparison drawn by him is brought to question.

The second example that Van Bladel supplies also pertains to the prophecy. In the Legend, Alexander prophesies that “the Lord will gather together the kings and their hosts”53, which according to Van Bladel finds a “nearly perfect match”54 in Q 18:99, where God says that “the horn shall be blown and We shall gather them together.” However, in the Neṣḥānā this “gathering” refers to the assembly of the nations behind the gate before its destruction, while in the Qurʾān, the “gathering” comes about after God levels the wall55. In fact, Q 18:99, unlike the Legend, is speaking of the general gathering of the nations after the day of judgement signified by blowing of the horn (nufikha fī-ṣūr). This very exact combination is found commonly in the Qurʾān, such as in Q 36:51, “The horn shall be blown and they will rush out to their Lord from their graves” and Q 78:18, “The day the horn shall be blown, and you will come in multitudes.”

This Qurʾānic formula is so regular that there is no need to derive it from the Legend, and the fact that it does not even occur in the same sequence in the Qurʾān as in the Legend makes Van Bladel’s correspondence here simply unconvincing. This phrase could easily have come about organically in a Qurʾānic context, especially given the distinct order of the events that Q 18:99 describes.

There are various other similarities pertaining to terminology that Van Bladel finds in common between the two texts, such as the “fetid” nature of the water (previously discussed), and a possible correspondence between “dhikr” (remembrance) in Q 18:83 and the title given to the Legend, “Neṣḥānā” or “glorious deeds”, though this seems rather tenuous, especially given that dhikr also elsewhere introduces a narrative in the Qurʾān (see Q 19:2)56. Van Bladel also mentions the concurrence on the materials of the respective barriers: “iron and brass”; though this could be used as evidence for linguistic dissimilarity, as shall be discussed.

The relationship between the two texts

Thus far, many of Van Bladel’s examples of “exact” concordances between the Dhū-lQarnayn narrative and the Syriac Legend of Alexander have been brought under closer examination. There are differences between them, not just in the details, but also at a broader level. There is no denying that the two stories are very similar in places, but the results of the present inquiry forces a closer look at Van Bladel’s position that the Qurʾān is essentially derived from the Legend.

The specific argument made by Van Bladel for placing the Neṣḥāna as the parent text of the Dhū-lQarnayn story hinges on the original purpose of the prophecy made by Alexander on the fall of the barrier and the subsequent invasion of the Huns. Van Bladel takes the prophecy to have been tailored specifically for the purposes of Heraclean propaganda57. The link between Alexander’s prognostication on the fall of the gate and contemporary events is summarised by Van Bladel to be the following:

As already stated, in his final campaigns against the Persians, Alexander’s former enemies, Heraclius actually did enlist the help of Inner Asian peoples, the Kök Türks, in his war against the Persians (626–7) – they are called variously in the sources Türks and Khazars, being perhaps Khazars under Kök Türk rule, though the specific tribal or ethnic identity of these invaders is a subject of very long debate – and afterward these Türks fiercely raided Caucasian Albania, Georgia, and Armenia until 630. One wonders whether Heraclius or his supporters promoted the idea that his Türk allies, summoned from the north, were the people of Gog and Magog come to punish the Persians. The Türk invasions are known from the Greek chronicle of Theophanes and in some detail from a compilatory seventh-century source used by the Armenian History of the Caucasian Albanians (Patmut’iwn Ałuanic’) by Movses Dasxuranc‘i.

The prophecy could thus be seen as specifically serving Heraclius’s own geopolitical aims. The Huns, in the words of the Legend, were a “punishment” brought about by the “anger of God”58. The raiding of Persian lands by the Byzantine-allied Kök Türks would surely have been the intended fulfilment of the Legend’s Alexandrian prophecy as Van Bladel succinctly explains. This does not, however, entail that this prophecy was specifically invented for the purposes of the Legend. It seems more likely that the Legend was tailoring preexisting oracular material, precisely because The Neṣḥānā portrays the breaking of the Huns through the wall as a catastrophe. It is not just the Persians that are troubled by their raids; it is prophesied that the Huns would “ravage the land of the Romans”59 as well. That the incursions of the Huns are so negatively portrayed in the Legend60 indicates that the author is adapting earlier apocalyptic material, else one would expect a far more positive portrayal of Heraclius’ alliance with the Kok Türks – something more readily useful as propaganda.

Czégledy61 further mentions an earlier prophecy already in circulation in the 6th century. Tesei, making reference to Czégledy, writes that John of Ephesus (d. 586 ca.) “reports about a revelation (gelyānā) predicting the arrival of the Huns.” Tesei concludes that “the possibility that in the middle of the 6th century the prophecy on the Huns was already set in the framework of the story of Alexander’s wall is a concrete one.” We may add that it is significant that the Qurʾānic prophecy expresses general apocalyptic motifs rather than propaganda specifically suited to the Byzantine state. Though it is possible the Qurʾān is modifying the prophecy of the Neṣḥānā to suit its own message, it is also possible that the Qurʾān is alluding to an earlier, more general apocalyptic prophecy already in existence, to which the author of the Legend has independently introduced an additional propagandistic layer.

In summary, the association of Alexander’s prophecy with the construction of the iron gates in the Syriac Legend and the Dhū-lQarnayn narrative is not decisive evidence for the latter being dependent on the former. Tesei, however, provides a further argument to elaborate on Van Bladel’s original thesis62. He posits that the original tradition underlying the Legend relates Alexander attempting to travel to Paradise, and not to the ends of the Earth. Tesei appeals to Van Bladel’s explanation on this itinerary — the author of the Legend intends the travels of Alexander to resemble a cross, a veritable symbol of Christendom and possibly even prefiguring Heraclius’ restoration of the True Cross to Jerusalem63. Thus, to Tesei, because this conscious editorial choice is also found in the Qurʾān (where apparently Dhū-lQarnayn takes the same journey as Alexander in the Legend), this is evidence that the Qurʾān is dependent on the Neṣḥānā rather than some earlier form of the narrative where the protagonist presumably attempts to travel to paradise.

This argument is extremely problematic for reasons that should be clear at this point. I have already treated the issue of Alexander’s actual itinerary according to the Legend in detail in this paper. To repeat — It is simply not the case that Alexander’s travel forms any sort of “cross”. In addition to this, the Qurʾānic journey is unlike the Legend’s journey in its trajectory. These two reasons make it difficult to admit Tesei’s argument.

What, then, is the precise relationship between the Legend and the Dhū-lQarnayn narrative? We shall argue that both these stories are utilising common traditions, rather than one text being dependent on the other. At least some of the force of evidence behind this hypothesis lies on the sheer number of differences between the two texts. These seem to have been completely ignored by Van Bladel and scholars in agreement with him. We have already discussed many of the points of divergence that Van Bladel has overlooked in the present paper, and yet many more may be found through any close reading of both texts congruently.

What is the exact nature of these differences, and how do they clarify the relationship between the Neṣḥānā and the Qurʾān? One may categorise them into two types. Let us suppose that the Qurʾān is indeed drawing on the Neṣḥānā. Thus, one category of difference is that which is brought about through the process of the Qurʾān consciously editing and curating the Neṣḥānā material in keeping with its own worldview. Obvious examples of this include significant differences between the cosmologies expressed by the two texts as discussed earlier. Since the Qurʾān does not feature dome shaped heavens or a creation-surrounding Fetid Sea, it would make sense that this be omitted from the Qurʾān in staying true to its own cosmological model. Another example would be the absence of the high christology featured in the Legend, which would no doubt be offensive to the Qurʾān’s theological notions, and so it is to be excluded. The Qurʾānic author would also avoid the heavily laden Byzantine propaganda of a world-empire for obvious reasons.

The second category of differences is less straightforward, and cannot be explained as a conscious editing of the Neṣḥānā material. This category includes the trajectory of travel in the Legend and the Qurʾān being essentially reversed, the roles of Alexanders host being replaced by the locals in several places of the Dhū-lQarnayn story, and Dhū-lQarnayn meeting natives who could “scarcely understand a word”, which finds no counterpart in the Legend. Minor differences in this category are also many, and examples of these include such as the fact that Dhū-lQarnayn actually meets the people with no protection from the sun while Alexander does not, and how the Qurʾān features a “barrier” or a “dam” while the Legend consistently uses “door” (tarʿā), the precise nature of the dilemma of the people exposed to the sun, and how the method of construction of this barrier in the Qurʾānic account does not actually find any counterpart in the Syriac legend64.

Doubtless, some of these differences are possibly the result of an oral transmission between the Legend and the Qurʾān, but it is difficult to attribute them wholly to this process. Can we really expect that essential details such as the actual direction of Alexander’s travel be garbled in transmission before entering the Qurʾān, despite the travel of the fetid sea being so essential to premise of the Legend? Why does the Qurʾān replace the “gates” of the Legend with a generic “barrier”, though these “gates” must have been understood by the audience to be some existing structure65? I do not believe this is decisive evidence, but it is certainly an obstacle against any theory that places the Legend as an antecedent to the Qurʾānic account. There is, however, further linguistic evidence which makes the matter easier to decide.

We have already addressed many of Van Bladel’s arguments for a linguistic similarity between the two texts. While the examples he provides are essentially flawed, he is right in collecting possible linguistic similarities to determine the origins of Qurʾānic story. But what about linguistic dissimilarity? Can we provide a meaningful linguistic argument against a direct dependence of the Qurʾān on the Neṣḥānā? The answer is affirmative. As Arabic and Syriac are related languages sharing many cognates between them, one would expect some overlap in the language of the Dhū-lQarnayn narrative and the Legend. More precisely, if a Syriac word occurring in a specific context within the Legend has an Arabic cognate with the same meaning, one would expect the Arabic cognate to also occur in the corresponding context in the narrative of Q 18:83-99. For example, we notice that Alexander describes himself as being given “horns”, qarne. This cognate is found in a similar context in the Dhū-lQarnayn narrative in the very name of the protagonist. One would expect that a small amount of linguistic similarity may come about in each text independently, especially if the overlapping cognates are commonly used in both languages66. On the other hand, a high frequency of shared cognates would indicate a direct relationship between the two texts, while an absence of such would be evidence against a direct relationship. It is the latter scenario that is exhibited when reading these two texts carefully.

In the construction of the gate, Alexander uses brass and iron. We see that the Syriac word for brass is nḥāshā, which would be the direct cognate to nuḥās (as in Q 55:35), yet here the Dhū-lQarnayn narrative employs qiṭr instead, though the appropriate cognate is already attested to elsewhere in the Qurʾān67. The Syriac text speaks of “mountains”, ṭūre, when speaking of the final part of Alexander’s journey, and then again when describing the local geography of the place where he builds his gates. This would accord with ṭūr (pl. aṭwār) as used in various verses of the Qurʾān, yet two uncommon words, saddayn and ṣadafayn, are instead employed in Q 18:93 and Q 18:96 respectively. The Qurʾān uses qawm for the various natives that Dhū-lQarnayn meets, though nās in the indefinite would have been close to the consistent usage of nāshā in the same context in the Legend68. The body of water featured in the Legend is the sea, yamā, a word whose cognate al-yamm occurs frequently in the Qurʾān, and it is surprising that instead ʿayn is opted for69. In the final prophecy of the end times, Alexander inscribes that the gate will finally be “destroyed”, methgem, at the behest of God. Here the Qurʾān uses the phrase jaʿalahū dakkāʾ in place of various forms of the cognate roots h-j-m or h-d-m, such as hadamahū, or haddamahū (He shall destroy it), or that the barrier shall collapse (tahaddama, or inhajama). Finally, God is said to have “established” Dhū-lQarnayn (makkannā lahu), in the land. This does not have an exact counterpart to the Legend, though may be correlate with Alexander’s address to God where he praises him as one who establishes (mqīm) kings, and exalting Alexander himself among them. The arabic verb qayyamnā, “we establishedwould have mirrored the Syriac text. Van Bladel draws a different parallel between Q 18:84 and the Legend, instead positing it to be connected to when Alexander prayed for “power”, “ḥayla”, but even here the Arabic ḥawla could have featured in the Qurʾān.

For a text so short, it is significant that we see as many as seven instances where the Dhū-lQarnayn narrative could have used a cognate matching the Syriac text but did not. This is in line with the general dissimilarity of language between the two texts, which even Van Bladel admits70. Zadeh71 rightly notes that there is “significant divergence” between the language of the Qurʾānic text and the Syriac Legend, and concludes that it is “rather tenuous to attempt to historicize the Quranic account using material that may have not been a direct intertext for the Quran”.

The very close dating of the Qurʾān and the Neṣḥānā only compounds on the evidence presented here. A full study of the precise dating of sūrat al-Kahf, and perhaps even the pericope of Dhū-lQarnayn, may decide the matter entirely, though such research would probably require extensive stylometric analysis and study of Muslim tradition pertaining to the dating of this story as found in the Qurʾān. We should note that even Van Bladel accepts the dating to be a challenge, however believes his own arguments for the Qurʾān’s dependence on the Nesḥānā to be so effective as to overcome this issue72.


The Syriac Legend of Alexander and the Qurʾānic account of Dhū-lQarnayn do not share a direct relationship between them, but instead independently draw upon a shared tradition found in the Late Antique Near East. Evidences against Van Bladel’s thesis, that the Qurʾān is essentially retelling the Neṣḥānā, are several. Firstly, one sees that the Syriac account and the Qurʾānic one are different in many places, even pertaining to specific events, descriptions and turns of phrase that Van Bladel has previously posited as a similarity. These differences point against a direct Qurʾānic borrowing of the Neṣḥānā. Similarly, the language of the two texts provide additional reasons to believe that the two texts do not rely upon each other. Finally, the dating of the two texts make a direct dependence of one story upon the other especially difficult. These facts, in addition to the lack of demonstrative evidence provided by both Van Bladel’s and Tesei’s arguments for the Qurʾān drawing on the Syriac account, forces one to consider the possibility that the Qurʾān and the Neṣḥānā are independent witnesses to a common tradition.


Budge, E.A.T.W. ed., 1889. The History of Alexander the Great, being the Syriac version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes. The University Press.

Czégledy, K., 1957. The syriac legend Concerning alexander the great. Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 7(2/3), pp.231-249.

Dumper, M., 2007. Cities of the Middle East and North Africa: a historical encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO.

Kaegi, W.E, 2003. Heraclius, emperor of Byzantium. Cambridge University Press.

Kardaras, G., 2018. Byzantium and the Avars, 6th-9th c. AD: Political, diplomatic and cultural relations. Brill.

Monferrer-Sala, J.P., 2011. Chapter Three. Alexander The Great In The Syriac Literary Tradition. In A Companion to Alexander Literature in the Middle Ages (pp. 41-72). BRILL.

Reeves, J.C. ed., 2004. Bible and Qurʼān: Essays in scriptural intertextuality (Vol. 24). Brill.

Reinink, G.J, 2002. Heraclius, the New Alexander. Apocaliptic Prophecies during the Reign of Heraclius. The Reign of Heraclius (610-641). Crisis and Confrontation, III. Louven-Paris-Dudley: Peeters.

Smith, P. and Dictionary, R.C.S., 1903. J. Payne Smith. A Compendious Syriac Dictionary.

Stepanov, T., 2019. Waiting for the End of the World: European Dimensions, 950–1200. Brill.

Tabatabaʾi, M.A. and Mirsadri, S., 2016. The Qurʾānic Cosmology, as an Identity in Itself. Arabica, 63(3-4), pp.201-234.

Tesei, T., 2013. The Prophecy of Ḏū-l-Qarnayn (Q 18: 83-102) and the Origins of the Qur’ānic Corpus. Miscellanea Arabica, 2014, pp.273-290.

Tesei, T., 2015. Some Cosmological Notions from Late Antiquity in Q 18: 60–65: The Quran in Light of Its Cultural Context. Journal of American Oriental Society, 135(1), pp.19-32.

Van Bladel, K., 2007a. The Alexander Legend in the Qur’an 18: 83–102. In The Qur’an in its Historical Context (pp. 191-219). Routledge.

Van Bladel, K., 2007b. Heavenly cords and prophetic authority in the Quran and its Late Antique context. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 70(2), pp.223-246.

Van Donzel, E.J. and Schmidt, A., 2010. Gog and Magog in early eastern Christian and Islamic sources: Sallam’s quest for Alexander’s wall. Brill.

Witztum, Joseph Benzion. 2011. The Syriac Milieu of the Quran: The Recasting of Biblical Narratives. Doctoral dissertation, Princeton University.

Zadeh, T., 2015. Quranic studies and the literary turn. Journal of American Oriental Society, 135(2), pp.329-342.


1 This shall be variously referred to as the “Legend” or the “Neṣḥānā” throughout this paper.
2 Reinink, GJ, 2002, p. 84. See footnote 24. Reinink has contributed substantially understanding the context, authorship and purpose of the Legend.
3 Budge 1889, pp. xv – xvii.
4 Since we mostly pay attention to details related to differences in parts of both texts that are posited to be similar by Van Bladel, many of the obvious differences that he does not discuss are ignored. Any cursory reading of the texts side by side will reveal many of these.
5 The English and Syriac texts are respectively are found on pp. 144- 158 and pp. 255- 275 of Budge’s ‘The History’. See bibliography for full title. This work belongs to Public Domain, and we encourage readers to refer to it.
6 Budge 1889, p. 145.
7 Each leg of the Qurʾānic journey is marked by the phrase atbaʿa sababan, “he followed a way”, see Q 18: 85, 89 and 92. The exact meaning of these verses shall be discussed.
8 Van Bladel 2007a, p. 177.
9 Ibid, p. 181. One sees the same gloss by Tesei (2013, p. 277), though his equivocation is less implicit.
10 Tabataba’i and Mirsadri 2016, p. 213.
11 This obviously does not preclude the Qurʾān relying on the Legend, and in fact may be taken to be an example of how the Qurʾān consciously moulds existing tradition. The sort of divergence from the Neṣḥānā that does imply that the Qurʾān is not dependent on it shall be discussed in the following section.
12 Budge 1889, p. 145. For the Syriac text, see p. 256.
13 See Tabataba’i and Mirsadri, 2016. They appeal to a range of evidences, examples being that the heavens are constantly being “extended wide” (p. 220, cf. Q 51:47), the requirement of pillars (Q 31:10) which would be absent were the heavens dome shaped, and the flat-shaped roofs exhibited by structures in the geographical milieu of the Qurʾān.
14 Budge 1889, p. 146.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid, p. 148.
17 See Van Bladel, 2007a, footnote 12.
18 This discourse is thought to have been authored shortly after the Legend itself (van Donzel and Schmidt, 2009, p. 22), and contains some of the same traditions, including Alexander’s travel to the Fetid Sea. An English translation of the Poem has also been provided by Budge in his ‘A History’, based on the Syriac text of Knӧs’s ‘Crestomathia Syriaca’.
19 Budge 1889, p. 168.
20 Van Bladel 2007a, p. 179.
21 1957, p. 245.
22 Dumper, 2007, p. 175.
23 Van Bladel 2007a, p. 185.
24 As the Fetid Sea is to the east, there is no protracted “journey west” in the way Van Bladel would have us believe. A west-ward travel occurs at least twice in the Legend, first to Egypt, and then towards the Great Musas. If the Legend intends to have Alexander’s itinerary resemble a cross, why the redundancy? Even if Van Bladel is correct in interpreting the direction of Alexander’s travels, the existence of this “cross” motif seems too speculative to accept without decisive evidence.
25 He writes that “When Alexander came to the people in the west, he tested the efficacy of the deadly, fetid waters with the lives of convicts. This passage helps to explain the option given, for no apparent reason, by God to Dhu l-Qarnayn in the Qur’an: either to punish the people or to do them a kindness.” See Van Bladel 2007a, p. 181.
26 Budge 1889, p. 147. For Syriac, p. 259.
27 In Syriac: hegmōna dʾayth b-mashrīta.
28 See article for ܡܫܪܝܬܐ in Payne Smith, 1903.
29 In the Qurʾānic text: “man āmana wa ʿamila ṣāliḥan” (cf. Q 28:80).
30 Van Bladel 2007a, p. 179.
31 For the lack of a better term. The Qurʾān speaks of “those who do wrong” (man ẓalama) in the sense of disbelievers who are worthy of hell, while in the Legend, the “evil-doers” (abday bīshe) are simply prisoners.
32 The geographical curiosities of Alexander would not make sense in the context of the Qurʾānic narrative. As discussed previously, the notion of the Fetid Sea does not belong in Qurʾānic cosmology.
33 Refer to Van Bladel, 2007b.
34 Ibid, p. 227. See also Van Bladel 2007a, p. 182.
35 Van Bladel 2007a, p. 182.
36 See 1889, p. 260.
37 Budge 1889, p. 148.
38 2007a, p. 198.
39 The participle may be familiar to the Arabic reader as the fāʿil form, which has a more permanent sense than the perfect form, or the fiʿl māḍi. Similarly, in Syriac, participles denote a more permanent action than perfect verbs.
40 All five manuscripts consulted by Budge are dotted, and so all participles and perfect tense verbs are readily distinguishable. Even without dotting, certain participles are still distinguishable from their perfect tense forms in this passage, such as meshtakaḥ (participle – “[the sun] found [itself where it rises]”), and ʾeshtakaḥ (perfect – “[Alexander] found [the great Musas]”).
41 A similar point is made by Witztum (2011, p. 60) in passing – “That [Budge’s] is a more accurate translation is suggested both by the position of the nouns “sun” and “Alexander” as well as by the use of participles indicating a recurring action to describe the journey through the window of heaven.”
42 Van Bladel seems to recognise this as problematic, but says that “one may excuse the Arabic as following the pattern of the earlier journeys (2007a, p. 182). Here he is only referring to Q 18:92, but this problem extends to Q 18:84 and Q 18:85 as well, which would have no direct parallel in the Neṣḥānā were they referring to “heavenly courses”.
43 Budge 1889, p.148.
44 2007a, p. 181.
45 The course of the story may have been different had Alexander also taken this journey with the sun, as Van Bladel holds.
46 Lam najʿal lahum min dūnihā sitran, Q 18:90. The Legend also speaks of cave dwellers who take shelter in their caves to seek protection from the sun’s rays, just as the sea people do (Budge 1889, p. 148). The Legend depicts plight of the cave men and the sea people identically, but one would find it difficult to describe caves – which are a form of dwelling in the Qurʾān (Q 15:82) – as inadequate sun shelter.
47 Ibid, p. 147.
48 Witztum 2011, p. 61.
49 See Syriac Text in Budge, 1889, p. 267. The Syriac reads : waʾmar Aleksandrōs l-ḥaylwatheh, “Alexander said to his troops”.
50 Van Bladel, 2007a, p. 194. Linguistic dissimilarity shall be useful in specifying the link between the Legend and the Qurʾān later.
51 Ibid, p. 181.
52 Budge 1889, p. 270.
53 Budge 1889, p. 154
54 2007a, p. 181.
55 In Arabic; jaʿalahu dakkāʾ.
56 For this reason, Van Bladel admits this to be inconclusive (see 2007a, p. 182).
57 He writes that “if Alexander’s prophecy was composed just for this purpose at this time, then the correspondence between the Syriac and the Arabic, which contains the same prophecy reworded, cannot be due to an earlier, shared source. Put differently, the only way to posit a common source is to assume that everything held in common between the Qur’anic account and the Syriac Alexander Legend could have been written for and would have made sense in an earlier context.” See Van Bladel 2007a, p. 189-190.
58 Budge 1889, p. 151.
59 Budge 1889, p. 152.
60 The Byzantium was troubled by incursions of northern raiders such as the Avars even from the time of Justinian in the 6th century, long preceding the Legend itself, as Peter Crawford in his ‘The War of Three Gods’ elucidates. In fact, Theodore the Synkellos, writing on the siege of Constantinople in 626AD, identified them with Gog and Magog only a few years prior to the Neṣḥānā (see Stepanov 2019, p. 130). Van Bladel discusses various similar interpretations.
61 Czégledy1957, p. 240.
62 Tesei 2013, p 286.
63 Van Bladel 2007a, pp. 185-186.
64 The Qurʾān mentions “sheets of iron”, “blowing” and “pouring copper”. While these seem like specific descriptions detailing some understood process, it is curious that there is no mention of any of these three actions exactly in the Legend, despite it explaining the construction of the gate in some detail.
65 Van Bladel 2007a, p. 186.
66 This would seem to be the case for “qarn”, horn, and “shams”, sun, which are found to be in common between the two texts.
67 Nuḥās has been variously translated as “smoke” and “copper” or “brass” in Q 55:35, and Lane’s Lexicon lists all these meanings, mentioning qiṭr as a synonym.
68 While the Qurʾānic usage of “nās” is usually in the definite and typically means “mankind” rather than a particular “nation” or “people”, it does not always have to be so, as in Q 2:102. Admittedly, the indefinite usage would be a better synonym to “nāshā” in the Syriac Legend (see Lane’s Lexicon entry for nās). Still, would not have been impossible that the Qurʾān use the indefinite “nās” here were it drawing from the language of the Syriac text.
69 Earlier on the possibility of the the Qurʾān editing the Legend’s cosmology was mentioned. This does not necessarily negate my point here, since the Qurʾānic author could have expressed disagreement with the cosmology of the Syriac Legend in other ways (or simply outside of Q18:83-99), while also employing the matching cognate.
70 Van Baldel 2007a, pp. 194-195.
71 Zadeh 2015, p. 333.
72 See Van Baldel 2007a, p. 190. Even in the face of the chronological problems, he writes that the dependence of the Qurʾān on the Neṣḥānā “seems to be the only real possibility because the others are invalid,” due to the perceived efficacy of his presented arguments.

209 thoughts on “Did the Qurʾān borrow from the Syriac Legend of Alexander?

  1. Very interesting article Taha. So my question is I believe you ade a strong case for both stories commenting on an earlier text, so do you have any possible candidates?


    • The best way to explain the horn motive in both texts is to look at the Book of Daniel, whereas different passages are refered to, respectively.

      Neshana -> 4th beast, Daniel 7 (multiple horns, crushing the empires)

      Quran -> the 2 horned ram, Daniel 8 (representing the Achaemenid Empire)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Akhi I need your help once more. There are those who use 46:7-12, 74:24, 25 & 28:48, 49 to prove that the Torah is preserved and is as eloquent as the Qur’an. The pagans call both the Torah and the Qur’an as two sorceries supporting each other. The link below is a response to an article in answering-Islam but when one reads it the brother didn’t effectively respond to the argument nor did he directly handle it head on. Please read it first.


        I really need help. Unfortunately a lot had apostated due to this

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t unterstand the problem. Where does it say that the genuine relevation to Moses is still available?

        There’s the claim that Moses got a scripture, now it’s the Quran, they deny all of it.

        Challenge: produce something similair to them; it is sufficent if only one scripture is available. That’s it.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Salamualakum wa rahma tu lahi wa barakatu

    I wrote an article refuting the most common ones used:


    These ayah presented are new but still incorrect.

    Long story short, show them the chart I created and explain to them that the Bible is NOT the Torah nor the Gospel and this is a common mistake people make. The Bible is a text created by the Jewish King Josiah in the 7th century BCE.

    Liked by 1 person

      • @ Amirul Afiq

        Might not even need to. The simplest rebuttal is to tell them to read the challenge again slowly, bismiAllah:

        2:23. If any are in doubt about what I have sent down upon My servant, then compose a chapter that is anything like this and call on any of the experts or supporters that you have EXCEPT FOR GOD, if you’re telling the truth.

        10:38. Or is this the case that they’re claiming: “He has made it all up?” Tell them: “Then compose just one chapter like it, and call on anyone you like to help you EXCEPT GOD if you’re telling the truth.”

        11:13. Or are they claiming: “He has made all this up?” Tell them: “Then bring ten chapters like it that you’ve made up, and call whoever you want ˹to help you˺ EXCEPT FOR GOD if you’re telling the truth.”

        17:88. Tell them: “If every human being and jinn worked together, they could not produce something like this Qur’an. Even if some acted as backup for the others, collaborating as best they could.”

        52:33. Or are they saying: “He’s just made this all up?” No, rather the fact is they simply do not want to believe.
        52:34. Let THEM then produce a speech like this, if their claim has truth to it.

        Since God is the author of the Torah and the Quran they did not bring “something like it”. Also, by arguing this they just said God is not the author of their text. If you think I need to do something more such as explaining those ayah quoted in their proper context I can as well but that should be sufficient to counter their Torah/Quran argument.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s just that the pagans claiming that the Torah is magical implies that they’ve heard its recitation by the Jews. If it’s the case and they made the same claim towards the Qur’an then Torah is still preserved and is as eloquent as the former. This is where the confusion arose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If it’s not preserved and the Torah is written by man based on the original revelation then this means that people have met the Qur’anic challenge. This is really problematic. Please read the arguments put forward by the missionaries carefully. Osama Abdallah to me is a poor debater and polemic. He’s more interested in proving “scientific” miracles (which are nothing more than forced projections and interpretations) then dealing with their arguments head on.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Brother, I don’t think it is correct to say that Jews are pagans. Because, they also believe in Allah Azawajel. The only differences between us and then is that they follow Torah which in Arabic is Tawrat. And I don’t think it’s appropriate to say this, because it only attracts hate and problems. Also, Christians are not pagans, they just are confused people, because they think that what Bible teach is monotheism when I see it is oximoron teachings. Because, I simply cannot understand Bible, if Christians think they can understand Bible, then they will have to explain to us before we judge them. Remember that Christians and Jews are Ahlul Kitab.


  4. @ Amirul Afiq

    I personally am not a fan either but respect that he tried. However back to the points:

    1. The pagans reaction

    For one some of these ayahs might not even be referring to the Torah and Quran (which again Shamoun “conveniently” forgot to quote when quoting Ibn Kathir) For example, Surah Qasas is more than likely talking about Musa’s(as) signs, not its eloquence, first off:

    28:48. Even now when My Truth has come to them, they say: “Why hasn’t he been given SIGNS LIKE THOSE GIVEN to Moses?…”

    If they felt the Torah (which I have to emphasize again is gone btw) is as eloquent as the Quran why would they say the above statement? If that was the case then Muhammad(saw) WAS given a sign like Musa(as). Next, Allah says:

    “…Didn’t they deny the Truth when it was given to Moses before?”

    Some muffassireen (and this is my position as well) is that Allah is now quoting the kuffar of Firawn not Quraysh:

    “They said: “These are two types of magic, helping each other, so we refuse to believe in either of them!”

    Notice two types of “magic” are helping one another. Remember what Firawn said when Musa(as) won against the magicians:

    20:70. The magicians threw themselves down bowing on their faces. They said: “We believe in the Lord of Aaron and Moses!”
    20:71. The Pharaoh said: “You believe in him before I have given you permission? This must be your leader, who TAUGHT YOU YOUR MAGIC!…

    26:45. Moses then threw his staff and it quickly swallowed their scam.
    26:46. And the magicians fell down bowing on their face,
    26:47. exclaiming: “We believe in the Lord of the realms!”
    26:48. “The Lord of Moses and Aaron!”
    26:49. The Pharaoh said: “You believe in him before I gave you permission? He must be your leader who TAUGHT YOU YOUR MAGIC!…

    Ibn Kathir also states;

    “This was also the view of Sa`id bin Jubayr and Abu Razin that the phrase “two kinds of magic” referred to Musa and Harun.” This is a good suggestion. And Allah knows best.”

    Finally, look at what Allah tells the Prophet(saw) to say

    28:49. So tell them: “Then produce a book from God that is a better GUIDE than these two and I myself will follow it, if you’re telling the truth.”

    Nothing to do with its eloquence the pagans straight up don’t have a Scripture which is why they always had an inferiority complex to the Jews. Which is why Allah takes a dig at this when He next says:

    28:50. And if they don’t respond to you, you will then know that they follow ONLY THEIR OWN DESIRES. And who is further lost than the one who follows their own desires with NO GUIDANCE from God because God doesn’t guide those who do wrong?
    28:51. I’ve now conveyed the Word and connected it seamlessly so that they might remember.
    28:52. Those who I gave the Scripture before believe in this,

    Like I said inshaAllah give me a little bit to do some more research and I’ll give a formal response.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you read from verse 44 it is clear that the context refers to the Torah since the verses mention Moses AS receiving the Book on Mount Sinai. Verse 49
      however is even more clear that it refers to the Torah and not the miracles performed by the Prophet AS bcuz it actually explains verse 48. The statement “bring a Book that is more guiding than EITHER OF THEM” explains the “TWO sorceries” statement.

      Liked by 1 person

      • @ Amirul Afiq

        To begin just to show I understand the premise:

        “The Quran challenges mankind to bring something like it. The Torah is like it therefore the challenge has been answered. Furthermore, because the Torah is like the Quran it must be perfectly preserved otherwise how could human additions be confused by the pagan Arabs as magic?”

        The initial skeleton of my reply:

        1. What God tells Muhammad(saw) to say:

        The verse says:

        “…Then produce a book from God that is a better GUIDE than these two…”

        This has nothing to do with “eloquence”, “preservation” or “comparing” It says these Scriptures guide people to the way of worshipping God. Now one might say “well then what is the comparison for the pagan Arabs to make if the Torah is gone?” Easy, that an All-Powerful singular God cares enough about our lives to give us rules on how to conduct ourselves which is why the verse says “a better guide than these two”. As the article of Chabad.og explains (emphasis mine):

        “Moses then writes down the experience of Mount Sinai along with a set of rules for a new society, which eventually becomes Parshat Mishpatim—the section written in the Exodus story dealing principally with civil law.

        Is everything in Parshat Mishpatim new? I doubt it. Just as I doubt there was anything at all new in the Ten Commandments. THE NOVELTY WAS NOT THE CONTENT. IT WAS THE IDEA THAT THE SAME G-D WHO TRANSCENDS ALL NATURE AND IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE VERY GROUND OF EXISTENCE IS REALLY WRAPPED UP IN HOW WE LIVE DOWN HERE. That was revolutionary. It was totally out of synch with so-called enlightened thinking of the times. People thought only little gods could get involved in this kind of thing—and they were easy to bribe. In Egypt, they called that “mata”–something like “karma” to the Hindus. They knew of some essential oneness at the core level of reality—but they thought it preposterous to consider that this G‑d could be engaged in anyone’s daily life. Never mind in the daily lives of the masses…”

        The pagan Arabs couldn’t fathom this concept which is why God told the Prophet to tell them to produce a better text to guide them. It is through divine guidance God sent the Torah and turned a bunch of slaves into a kingdom and sent the Quran and turned a bunch of illiterate nomads into a continent-spanning empire. A very powerful thought if one contemplates on the concept. This inferiority complex of the pagan Arabs to the Jews who have these texts, elaborate rituals etc is why God then jabs at this in the next verse:

        28:50. And if they don’t respond to you, you will then know that they follow only their OWN DESIRES. And who is further lost than the one who follows their own desires with NO GUIDANCE from God because God doesn’t guide those who do wrong?
        28:51. I’ve now conveyed the Word and connected it seamlessly so that they might remember.
        28:52. Those who I gave the Scripture before believe in this,
        28:53. and, when it’s read to them, say: “We believe in it because this really is the Truth from our Lord! And even before it came we had already surrendered ourselves to Him.”

        This theme repeats in the Surah:

        28:62. The Day I call them I will say: “Where are My ‘partners’ you had so much baseless confidence in?”
        28:63. And those that the Word will come true on will say: “Our Lord, these are the ones we led astray. We led them astray because we ourselves were lost, but now we disown them before You, they didn’t really worship us!”
        28:64. It will then be said to them: “Call those whom you worshipped as partners,” and they will call out to them but receive no answer. Then they will see the suffering, if only they had followed guidance…

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Okay then why did the pagans compared it to magic? Remember they called the Qur’an being magical bcuz of its eloquence. This is the reason why they were challenged to produce a surah or ten surahs like those in the Qur’an. What’s the connection if not beauty and eloquence?

    Liked by 1 person

    • @ Amirul Afiq

      Isa(as) is called a magician as well does that mean its because of the Injil’s eloquence? No.

      The text does not say anything about eloquence. Here are their statements:

      46:11. Those who’ve disbelieved say about those who’ve believed: “If it had been any good to believe in this Book, they wouldn’t have believed in it before we did.” And when they refused to be guided by it, claim: “This is just the same lie from ancient times.”

      (So we gotta lie)

      74:24. and said: “This is sorcery passed down from the past.”
      74:25. “This is nothing but the speech of a mere mortal!”

      (This verse we don’t even know if the Torah is being referred to as there is nothing in the Surah to indicate it. This surah doesn’t even mention Musa(as) for that matter.)

      28:48. Even now when My Truth has come to them, they say: “Why hasn’t he been given signs like those given to Moses?” Didn’t they deny the Truth when it was given to Moses before? They said: “These are two types of magic, helping each other, so we refuse to believe in either of them!”
      28:49. So tell them: “Then produce a book from God that is a better guide than these two and I myself will follow it, if you’re telling the truth.”

      (Ambiguous statement talking about being a guide not imitation. Note I still favor the two magics is Musa(as) and the magicians)

      The ayah itself refutes the idea of it being eloquence, I’ll recopy my point from the verse quoted:

      28:48. Even now when My Truth has come to them, they say: “Why hasn’t he been given SIGNS LIKE THOSE GIVEN to Moses?…”

      If they felt the Torah is as eloquent as the Quran why would they say the above statement? If it was a case of supernatural eloquence they would not ask why Muhammad(saw) was not given signs like Moses(as) because he would have been. They must think the Torah is magic for another reason. The only thing that makes sense is a transcendent deity talking to a man.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think the meaning of, “Why hasn’t he been given SIGNS LIKE THOSE GIVEN to Moses?…” is the pagans demanding a scripture being brought down physically from heaven like the stone tablets Moses AS received. I mentioned that the Prophet AS received it for the first time on Mount Sinai as per the context. Hence they argued that the Torah is not similar to the Qur’an in terms of the Prophets receiving them respectedly but they argued that both scriptures are still similar in terms of eloquence.


    • @ Amirul Afiq

      1. That’s an interesting way to look at the ayah and I would ALMOST give it to you if Allah didn’t just get done listing Musa’s(as) miracles earlier in the Surah and then Sinai. And their statement is why hasn’t he been given signs in the plural.

      2. As I thought about this more, another issue is how would they know its eloquent if the Torah is in Hebrew and not Arabic? They wouldn’t even be able to understand it to determine its eloquence.


      • Can you reiterate the meaning of “magic” in this verse. I just need to make sure that I understand. What did the pagans thought about the Torah and Qur’an being similar and magical in verse 48?

        Liked by 1 person

  7. The whole point of the verse was exposing the pagans’ hypocrisy. They demanded a book being physically brought down from heaven like the way the stone tablets were brought down so that they could believe in the Qur’an. But they earlier on claimed that both were magical i.e. they were similar already so they had no leg to stand on when they demand a physical book from heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

    • @ Amirul Afiq

      That’s assuming nit what the ayah says:

      1. Allah doesn’t say anything about this demand or refutes it like how He does in other spots.

      2. I agree both are similar but that doesn’t necessitate it’s because of eloquence (even though I would assume it was) For example, we have nothing from Firawn talking about eloquence nor from a common sense perspective how would the pagan Arabs been able to understand Hebrew to call it eloquent to begin with.


      • That’s bcuz the Torah was sent solely to the Israelites. Like I said Moses AS received for the first time on Mount Sinai. Long after the drowning of the Pharaoh.


      • @ Amirul Afiq

        There’s nothing to go on. We have 3 ambiguous statements

        1. Has no mention of the Torah or Musa(as) and probably has nothing to do with the argument.

        2. Says its the same lie being told and they do not mention magic or eloquence (we would have to assume its referring to the content of the texts like Ressurection and a human prophet as this is a recurring argument of the disbelievers in the Quran)

        3. Two magics supporting one another (which has a disputed meaning) and furthermore Allah does NOT say “bring a Surah like the Quran or Torah” He says “bring a GUIDE better than these two” with again no mention of eloquence.

        The closest evidence I can think of to strengthen your argument is 17:93 but Allah handles it there:

        17:89. I’ve set out all kinds of examples and metaphors for people in this Qur’an. People are just stuck in disbelief and refuse to accept any other alternative.
        17:90. They say: “We will not accept what you’re saying until you make a bubbling spring explode out of the ground for us.”
        17:91. “Or until you own a garden full of palms trees and grapes, and make rivers burst out right in the middle of it.”
        17:92. “Or make the sky fall on us in pieces, as you claimed will happen; or how about you bring God and the angels before us to meet them face to face?”
        17:93. “Or maybe you have a home that’s made of gold? Or maybe you can float up into the sky? Even then, we wouldn’t believe in your ascension unless you sent a book down for us to read…” Tell them: “SuhanAllah! Am I anything but a mortal being that happens to be a Messenger?”
        17:94. The only thing that’s really stopped people from believing, when the guidance came to them, was that they said: “How could God have sent a human being as a Messenger to guide us?”
        17:95. Tell them had the earth been filled with angels strolling around then I would’ve sent an angel from heaven as a Messenger.
        17:96. Tell them: “God is enough as a witness between you and I. He knows and sees His servants quite well.”

        They just straight-up never ask for a miracle like Sinai in the Quran to the best of my knowledge. They are clearly demanding the Prophet(saw) to perform a miracle as it says throughout the Quran. The theme of Surah Qasa which is the basis of the argument is something to do with guidance and its results, not the Scripture’s eloquence I just can’t quite put my finger just on it. This still forming position in my head reconciles their argument but I am absolutely positive the rhetoric has nothing to do with eloquence.


  8. I still don’t get it. What’s the connection with magic here? Why did the pagans called both as being magical if it’s not about eloquence? I don’t understand.


  9. I believe a more thorough and comprehensive refutation is needed. I haven’t seen any Muslim article that deals with this very issue. I really think an article on this would be adequate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The attitude of the Qur’an towards previous scripture does need a very detailed article. Not sure if anyone is working on it / or whether I’ll be able to visit it. It has been discussed only somewhat in academia, but not thoroughly. The only scholars I see that advance that “the Qur’an got it wrong” are typically Christians with a missionary bent, but others would argue that the Qur’an consciously modifies biblical stories, and one can understand its attitude towards prior scripture through that. As for extra-Qur’anic evidence, I think only Bassam Zawadi has written anything in detail.

      But yes you are right, this deserve a thorough treatment.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Verses specifically 28:48-49 and 46:7-12 really require attention. One must first read and understand the missionary argument. They call the verses themselves as the “final nail to the coffin”.


      • @ Amirul Afiq

        I haven’t figured it out but the text simply doesn’t support “eloquence”. What’s in my head is the concept of revelation but inshaAllah I’m going to attempt to do some more research to see if there’s anything else that can be used.


  10. @ Taha

    I STRONGLY disagree with your statement:

    “…the Qur’an consciously modifies biblical stories…”

    That implies Allah lied when He says:

    38:83. …”This is the Truth, and the Truth is all I say,”

    After researching the fanfiction that is their text I’m not even semi worried about it. Regarding the Quran’s views I have been writing an article on it but haven’t finished. Allah says quite clear their text is corrupt in Surah An Nisa:

    5:12. God had taken a Covenant from the Children of Israel…
    5:13. But they broke their promise, so I cursed them and made their hearts hard. They changed the words from their original places and have forgotten a large portion of what they were told repeatedly to remember, so you will continue to find treachery against you or cheats from a few of them. Overlook this and forgive them because God loves those who excel in doing good.
    5:14. I had also took a Covenant from those who say: “We’re Christians,” but they too forgot part of what they were told to remember. So I released animosity and hatred among themselves until the Day of Judgement, when God will tell them what they used to manufacture.
    5:15. People of the Scripture! My Messenger has come to you; clarifying what you used to keep hidden of the Scripture and who overlooks much ˹of what you changed˺. A light has now come to you from God, along with a Scripture making things clear,
    5:16. which God uses to guide to the ways of peace, all who are looking to follow what pleases Him. Leading them from their various shades of darkness into the Light, by His will, and onto one straight path.

    And we KNOW for a fact nowadays it is (simple examples the ending of Mark, the lady taken in adultery, etc) So it’s not even really a point of debate.


    • I mean that the Qur’an corrects earlier stories in the NT and OT, and contradicts them, thereby implying that these two books as they existed were thought to be inauthentic from the Qur’anic perspective. Since the correction is conscious, we know that the Qur’anic author probably knew and disagreed with the stories of the old testament (as an example). This is how you get to tahrif

      Liked by 1 person

      • @ Taha

        Ahhhhhh…okay I got you now. My bad I thought you were saying it like they had the true story and the Quran “modified” the story to fit its point or theme.


      • “I mean that the Qur’an corrects earlier stories in the NT and OT, and contradicts them,”

        Based on what evidence does the Qur’an ‘correct’ earlier stories? For instance, the Quranic story about Satan refusing to bow down for Adam has been widely recognized as drawing upon earlier Jewish and Christian legends. I have never heard of any scholar who believes that story has any historical basis (leaving aside the question whether Adam was a historical figure at all). Isn’t this based on considering the Qur’an to be free from error, and then everywhere it disagrees with the Biblical account it ‘corrects’ it.


      • So, whether or not the Qurʾān is accurate in doing so is another topic. The point is, editing and consciously disagreeing with the biblical text provides some insight to the Qur’anic attitude towards earlier scripture.


  11. @Amirul Afiq

    I have read and understood the argument. Neutrally 46:7-12 does nothing to help their argument they are doing what’s called a “reading between the lines” fallacy. The entire argument they’ve presented lies entirely on 28:48-49 which is ambiguous on the “magic” and has multiple meanings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • @ Amirul Afiq

      Sorry for the spam. Another reason it has to do something with the revelation and its results is the beginning of the Surah:

      28:5. But I wish to favor those who are oppressed in the land and make them leaders, the ones to succeed.

      Obviously we have a parallel to the situation of the oppression in Mecca to that the Jews went through with Musa(as)

      Also looking at the Surah it goes over Musa’s(as) signs and doesn’t mention Sinai among them:

      28:35. I told him: “I will strengthen your arm through your brother; and I will give you both power so that they will not harm you. With My signs you and those who follow, you will triumph.”
      28:36. But when Moses came to them with My clear signs, they responded: “These are the mere conjuring of tricks! We never heard about any of this from our ancestors!”

      So their argument is clearly miracles.

      Liked by 1 person

      • 46:7-12 is still relevant since verse 10 explicitly state that an individual from the Children of Israel possibly Abdullah ibn Salam testified that the Torah IS LIKE the Qur’an.

        The context of verses 28:48-49 begins with verse 43 and they unambiguously relate the event of when Moses AS received the Torah tablets on Mount Sinai. Verses 43 & 44 are as follows :

        And We gave Moses THE SCRIPTURE, after We had destroyed the former generations, as enlightenment for the people and guidance and mercy that they might be reminded

        And you, [O Muhammad], were not ON THE WESTERN SIDE [OF THE MOUNT] WHEN WE REVEALED TO MOSES THE COMMAND, and you were not among the witnesses [to that].

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I went through all their arguments in the Quran and the good news is alhamdulillah I think I found out why they claimed the Torah is “magic”. Simple answer when reading it all together is it’s referring to resurrection and judgement. Look at what the kuffar of Quraysh say in various spots:

    11:7. It’s He who created the heavens and the earth in six eons, and His Throne was over water, in order to test which of you does better in their actions. Yet, if you tell them: “You’re going to be raised back up after death has come.” The disbelievers are sure to answer: “This is clearly nothing but magic.”

    37:12. But you’re amazed, while they mock,
    37:13. and when they’re reminded, they pay no attention,
    37:14. when they see a sign from God, they find a reason to make fun of it.
    37:15. They say: “This is obviously nothing more than magic.”
    37:16. “When we’re dead and gone, we’re then going to be resurrected,”
    37:17. “along with our ancestors?”

    52:11. The deniers are damned that Day.
    52:12. The same ones playing around in pointless activities.
    52:13. The Day they will be ruthlessly cast into the Fire,
    52:14. it will be said: “This is the Fire, which you used to constantly deny.”
    52:15. So is this magic? Or can you still not see?
    52:16. “Now burn in it! Whether you bear it patiently or don’t, it’s all the same for you. You’re only being rewarded for what you used to do.”

    They keep calling the concept of being raised back to life for judgement “magic”. This position is further strengthened because of Surah Saba:

    34:2. He knows all that GOES INTO THE EARTH AND ALL THAT COMES OUT OF IT. He knows all that comes down from the heavens and all that goes up to them. And He is the Forever Merciful and the Most Forgiving.
    34:3. But still, the disbelievers say: “The Hour will never come to us.” Tell them: “Yes, I swear on my Lord, it will, by Him who knows all that’s in the Beyond.” Not even a particle in the heavens or earth escapes His knowledge, nor anything smaller or larger. It’s all recorded in a clear Record,
    34:4. so that He can REWARD THOSE WHO BELIEVE AND DO GOOD. And they will have forgiveness and a generous arrangement.
    34:5. But as for those who WORK AGAINST MY REVELATIONS (or signs), seeking to undermine them, there will be a suffering of intense disturbance.
    34:6. Those who’ve been given knowledge can see that what’s been sent to you from your Lord is the Truth, and that it leads to the path of the Almighty, the One who is praised due to His very existence.
    34:7. But the disbelievers mock: “Would you like us to show you a man who will tell you that, when you’ve been SHREDDED INTO PIECES, you will be created again good as new?”
    34:8. Has he made up lies about God? Has he gone mad? No! Rather it’s those who don’t believe in the life to come who will suffer punishment and are in utter MISGUIDANCE.

    Note they are mocking the concept of being resurrected but the end of the passage speaks about misguidance. Now, let’s bring it back to Qasas:

    28:85. Have no doubts, He who has made the Qur’an binding on you will bring you back from where you came. So say: “My Lord knows best who brings true GUIDANCE and who’s blatantly lost.”

    So yeah I’m like 70% sure this is referring to the resurrection when we combine other ayah together for commentary.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. @ Afiq

    And alhamdulillah you just “put the nail in the coffin” to what I said:

    46:5. Who’s more lost than the one who calls on, instead of God, those who will never respond to them until the DAY OF RESSURECTION; who’s unaware of their prayers,
    46:6. And will deny their worship becoming their greatest enemies, when MANKIND IS GATHERED?
    46:7. When My verses are recited to them as clear evidences, those who disbelieve say about the Truth when it comes to them: “This is clearly JUST MAGIC.”
    46:8. Or do they say: “He has made all this up?” Tell them: “If I have made all this up, you won’t be able to do anything to save me from GOD’S PUNISHMENT. God knows whatever you utter about it and He is enough to act as a witness between you and I because He is the Most Forgiving and Merciful.”
    46:9. Tell them: “I am not something new among God’s Messengers, nor do I know what will be done with you or I. I only follow what’s revealed to me, ˹and˺ My duty is only to clearly WARN YOU.”
    46:10. Ask them: “Have you thought about this? What if the Qur’an was from God, and you reject it, even though a witness from among the Children of Israel has already testified to something similar, and believed while you were too arrogant?” God doesn’t guide the people that do evil.
    46:11. Those who’ve disbelieved say about those who’ve believed: “If it had been any good to believe in this Book, they wouldn’t have believed in it before we did.” And when they refused to be guided by it, claim: “This is just the same lie from ancient times.”
    46:12. Before this was the Book of Moses as a guide and mercy, and this is a Book verifying it in the Arabic tongue to warn those who do evil as well as congratulate those who do good.
    46:13. Have no doubt, those who say: “Our Lord is God” and then stay firm, will have no fear, nor will they know any long lasting sorrow.
    46:14. They are the PEOPLE OF THE GARDEN, there to stay forever as A REWARD for what they used to do.

    Yep Ressurection.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. You write:

    “The cosmology of the Legend features heavens which are domed in shape. Contrarily, Tabataba’i and Mirsadri have produced fairly convincing evidence that the Qurʾān intends flat shaped heavens13, and so it follows that they would not meet the Earth at any one point. Furthermore, though the Qurʾān does mention supports for the heavens, they are said to be invisible (Q 13:2).”

    Doesn’t this show that the author of the Qur’an didn’t know what the universe looked like. In fact, the very same article states that “since the solidity and flatness of the earth are the common motifs among the scientifically naïve people, the Qurʾān also takes the same pattern for granted”.


    • I think the only takeaway here is that the heavens do not meet the earth. A muslim would simply say that the universe comprises of the “lowest heaven’ (due to several ḥadith on the topic and a few Qurʾānic verses), ultimately one cannot know what the ‘heavens’ look like.

      As for the flatness of the earth, I am partial to Neal Robinson’s treatment of the topic.


      • “I think the only takeaway here is that the heavens do not meet the earth. A muslim would simply say that the universe comprises of the “lowest heaven’ (due to several ḥadith on the topic and a few Qurʾānic verses), ultimately one cannot know what the ‘heavens’ look like.”

        But Tabataba’i and Mirsadri say that the Qur’an describes the lowest heaven as a solid roof. This was a common idea at the time, but in reality of course the universe is not some solid roof. In fact, the heavens aren’t solid at all, and the universe surrounds the earth. It’s not simply above the earth, whether shaped like a doom or roof.

        “As for the flatness of the earth, I am partial to Neal Robinson’s treatment of the topic. ”
        I’m not familiar with his view on this topic unfortunately. Could you elaborate a bit?


      • I don’t wholly endorse their view, I think they make some good points on the overall shape of the heavens. I would not say that affirming a solid firmament is necessary, given that the Qurʾān describes it as having been smoke and then being raised up. Regardless, we ourselves do not know the shape

        Describing cosmology in a 7th century text while still being relevant to the audience is difficult. I’m content with the Qurʾān providing vague descriptions as long as nothing obviously incorrect is said, hence why you see a divergence from typical Late Antique cosmology in the Qurʾān at some points. My particular view is that the Qurʾān is typically phenomenological in its descriptions of the earth, or instead describing its nature with respect to whatever benefit it brings to people. Neal Robinson provides a fairly convincing explanation that what the Qur’an intends to do is describe the earth in these terms, I would recommend you have a look at his Discovering the Qurʾān.


  15. “So, whether or not the Qurʾān is accurate in doing so is another topic. The point is, editing and consciously disagreeing with the biblical text provides some insight to the Qur’anic attitude towards earlier scripture.”

    The fact that the Qur’an disagrees with the Biblical narrative does not mean it necessarily rejects it. I see no evidence that the author of the Qur’an actually knew that for instance the story of Satan bowing down wasn’t in the Bible. It seems to me that he mixes up Biblical and extrabiblical material, which is what we would expect from a seventh century author who has never directly read the Bible.
    Qur’an 7:157 implies that the Torah and Injil (Gospel) are still around. We know what the Jews and Christians of Muhammad’s time regarded as scripture. Do you think their Bible was the Torah and Injil talked about by the author of the Qur’an?


    • Yeah, I really don’t think that follows. In several cases we have a close awareness of the biblical text. Infact, the intertext of 7:157 is actually Isaiah (see my Isaiah 42 essay elsewhere on this website, I have a few paragraphs on the specific links which cannot be a coincidence). This is one example of how the Qurʾān is well aware of biblical contents (others may include literal hebrew wordplay found in Surah al-baqara, also another post here). One does not need to say that the author had access to the physical texts, if the Qurʾān can show enough awareness of these traditions it’s not likely that the author did not know that he contradicts them in places, or where even these stories came from. Since surah al-baqara literally speaks about *textual* corruption of the bible (as opposed to the Prophet’s opponents hiding the meaning), this is probably something the prophet had to negotiate.

      I tend to hold a popular Muslim position; There is strong evidence of the position of taḥrīf in the Qurʾān but that does not entail the existing scripture is entirely corrupt. So one may see how the Qurʾān modifies these stories, an example would be how the blame is shifted away from Aaron in the golden calf episode.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I really don’t think that follows. In several cases we have a close awareness of the biblical text. Infact, the intertext of 7:157 is actually Isaiah (see my Isaiah 42 essay elsewhere on this website, I have a few paragraphs on the specific links which cannot be a coincidence).

        Briefly skimming your article, you write that in your conclusion that “Qurʾān appeals to Isaiah 42”. Yet you nowhere demonstrate the Qur’an directly does this, because you quote a hadith and the biography of Ibn Hisham, written much later. The parallels you point out are also not very convincing, hence why Christians and Jews can read it completely difficulty


        “This is one example of how the Qurʾān is well aware of biblical contents (others may include literal hebrew wordplay found in Surah al-baqara, also another post here). One does not need to say that the author had access to the physical texts, if the Qurʾān can show enough awareness of these traditions it’s not likely that the author did not know that he contradicts them in places, or where even these stories came from. Since surah al-baqara literally speaks about *textual* corruption of the bible (as opposed to the Prophet’s opponents hiding the meaning), this is probably something the prophet had to negotiate. “

        From my perspective, there’s a lot of evidence that the author didn’t know. Hence his confusion of biblical and extrabiblical material. I’m not convinced by your argument about Isaiah 42.


        “I tend to hold a popular Muslim position; There is strong evidence of the position of taḥrīf in the Qurʾān but that does not entail the existing scripture is entirely corrupt. So one may see how the Qurʾān modifies these stories, an example would be how the blame is shifted away from Aaron in the golden calf episode.”

        I know it’s popular, but to me this is really bad theology. It allows to consider everything that agrees with the Qur’an to be considered authentic and everything that disagrees inauthentic. Using that standard, I could write my own book and do exactly the same thing.
        Going even further, I don’t think you can argue that the historical Jesus had the same view of the Bible as you have, and there can be no question as to what constituted the Bible in his time.


      • “Briefly skimming your article, you write that in your conclusion that “Qurʾān appeals to Isaiah 42”. Yet you nowhere demonstrate the Qur’an directly does this, because you quote a hadith and the biography of Ibn Hisham, written much later. The parallels you point out are also not very convincing, hence why Christians and Jews can read it completely difficulty”

        You did not read far enough, I discuss the parallels between the passage and the Qurʾānic verse. The historical traditions was for completeness. I don’t think the opinion of Christians and Jews is really relevant here.

        “From my perspective, there’s a lot of evidence that the author didn’t know. Hence his confusion of biblical and extrabiblical material. I’m not convinced by your argument about Isaiah 42.”

        That’s great you take that opinion, I don’t agree. You could engage with some of the posts I’ve made, or read further on the topic.

        “I know it’s popular, but to me this is really bad theology. It allows to consider everything that agrees with the Qur’an to be considered authentic and everything that disagrees inauthentic. Using that standard, I could write my own book and do exactly the same thing.
        Going even further, I don’t think you can argue that the historical Jesus had the same view of the Bible as you have, and there can be no question as to what constituted the Bible in his time.”

        I’m not asking you to take my word for it, I’m saying that this is my conclusion after a fair bit of study on this topic. I would recommend Louay Fatoohi’s book on the exodus, I think he gives a fairly reasonable argument to this effect, taking the story of the Exodus and comparing the historicity of the Qurʾānic account to the biblical one.

        Personally, I don’t have an issue with Jesus engaging with the old testament as if it were authentic (he does modify and contradict it in places, implying some sort of abrogation or some level of agnosticism on the specifics).

        Liked by 1 person

      • There are many secular scholars of early Islam (eg Dye) who want to place the origins of the Quran outside of the Hijaz because they think there’s most probably no way that someone from this place could have been so knowledgable about the biblical stuff including apocryphes. Just saying.

        Liked by 3 people

  16. @ FH Sanders

    Several things here:

    1. How would ANY story of Adam(as) have a “historical basis”? That is just a strange statement and appears to be said just to be argumentative.

    2. How does the Quran correct earlier stories?
    LOTS of ways just a couple off the top of my head:




    C.Joseph (read comments)

    3. I see no evidence that the author doesn’t know blank is in the Bible
    Yeah the onus is on you to prove that

    4. 7:157 implies the Bible is good

    Yeah, you’ve clearly never read the Quran to have stated this and are just regurgitating from AnsweringIslam.com’s mistake. Let’s pull up the context of the passage becaus this is a story about a conversation between GOD AND MOSES not what is in Muhammad’s(saw) time:

    7:155. Moses chose from his people seventy men for their meeting with Me when a violent earthquake seized them. Moses said: “Oh Lord, if You had wanted you would’ve destroyed them way before this as well as me. Are you destroying us because of what the idiots among us did? …HE (GOD) RESPONDED: “I target with My punishment whoever I wish and My Mercy extends to all things. I will give My Mercy to those who are god fearing, purifying themselves by giving what is due in charity and truly believing in My revelations.”
    7:157. “Who follow the Messenger, the illiterate prophet they find described in the Torah that is with them, and in the Gospel. He will order them to what is good and forbid to them what is evil; and make things allowed for them that are pure, forbid to them all the things that are filthy and remove the chains and burdens around their necks that used to be on them. Those who will believe in him, obey him out of respect and help him, following the light sent down with him and they are the successful ones…”

    5. What is the Torah and the Gospel?
    Two scriptures given to Moses(as) and Jesus(as) to make this easy to understand please see my article where I explain and drew a graph to see what the Quran and Muslims are talking about and how the Bible is not it:


    6. Facts are apparently “bad theology”

    We know for a fact the Biblical text has corruptions in it (examples ending of Mark and the lady taken in adultery) This is a point for Islam not against it.

    7. “I don’t think you can argue that the historical Jesus had the same view of the Bible as you have…”

    I don’t think you should make empty assertions without research. Ebionites (who are generally considered to be branches off the Jerusalem church and closest to what Jesus(as) preached) believed the Hebrew texts were corrupted:

    “It is also important to recognize that the Ebionites would have thought that Jesus’ teaching role in relation to the law was especially important as they contended that the writings of the Pentateuch had been corrupted and did not represent the true law of God; he would restore the forgotten laws received on Mount Sinai for God’s people.” (Can’t link paper is “The Ebionites: Eccentric or Essential Early Christians? By William J. Cook, Jr)

    “Rejection of the “doctrines and traditions” of men, which they believed had been added to the pure Torah of Moses, including scribal alterations of the texts of Scripture (Jeremiah 8:8).”

    8.”There can be no question of what constituted the Bible at his time:”

    Uhhh they didn’t even have a canonical text until 100 years later what are you talking about?

    “It was not until a century or so after Jesus that most Jews agreed on virtually all the books of what we now think of as the Hebrew Bible – but Jesus and his followers would have accepted most of them.”

    Not to mention these little missing numbers:


    Finally, Jesus (as) himself is alleged to have quoted “extra-Biblical material” and straight-up quotes verses that do not exist in the Bible (ex. Luke 11:49):

    Click to access jews%20as%20killers%20of%20the%20prophets%20final.pdf

    So we’re very much in this. And breathe.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. It seems you misunderstood. I fail to see the relevance of that link. My question is that the institution of a hierarchy in ancient Egypt was there since its inception. BUT THE VERSE 28:4 SEEMS TO IMPLY THAT THE PHARAOH OF MOSES’S TIME WAS THE FIRST TO IMPLEMENT IT. Understandably the commenter pointed out that this is false. Moses AS existed during the 14th and 15th centuries before the common era. The Egyptian hierarchy was around thousands of years prior.


    • I haven’t been following the comments here, but جعل doesn’t need to mean an unprecedented action, e.g. the Qur’an often says the pagans made (جعلوا) partners for God (13:16, 43:15 etc), but also acknowledges that this was something they learned from their forefathers.

      Liked by 1 person

    • @ Amirul Afiq

      I understood it just fine you just didn’t get the connection due to your background. A method tyrants use to control people (especially slaves) is to create divisions among them (which is what Willie Lynch was pointing out to the slave owners in the letter and this is also the most infamous example) I’ll now quote from his letter:

      “I HAVE OUTLINED A NUMBER OF DIFFERENCES AMONG THE SLAVES; AND I TAKE THESE DIFFERENCES AND MAKE THEM BIGGER. I USE FEAR, DISTRUST AND ENVY FOR CONTROL PURPOSES. These methods have worked on my modest plantation in the West Indies and it will work throughout the South. Take this simple little list of differences and think about them. On top of my list is “AGE,” but it’s there only because it starts with an “a.” The second is “COLOR” or shade. There is INTELLIGENCE, SIZE, SEX, SIZES OF PLANTATIONS, STATUS on plantations, ATTITUDE of owners, whether the slaves live in the valley, on a hill, East, West, North, South, have fine hair, course hair, or is tall or short. Now that you have a list of differences… Don’t forget, you must pitch the OLD black male vs. the YOUNG black male, and the YOUNG black male against the OLD black male. You must use the DARK skin slaves vs. the LIGHT skin slaves, and the LIGHT skin slaves vs. the DARK skin slaves. You must use the FEMALE vs. the MALE, and the MALE vs. the FEMALE…

      This is what Firawn did. This is why for example, you have Korah who is a Jew who is a slave but also a richman. What Firawn did is he pointed out differences in Bani Israel and used them as a means to divide and control them. This has NOTHING to do with “Egyptian hierarchy” and the commentator who thought so is retarded. If you show this verse to any black person on earth they will recognize the “Willie Lynch syndrome” being used.


  18. My question is regarding the commenter’s understandable point that the verse is an historical error. Let’s read the verse :

    Indeed, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and MADE its people into factions, oppressing a sector among them, slaughtering their [newborn] sons and keeping their females alive. Indeed, he was of the corrupters.

    I need help.


  19. Do you think قطر means brass/copper? Looking at the root I think “melting substance (eg metal)” is more plausible (Q 34:12). Even more: copper/brass might have been an exegetical product influenced by the Syriac source. People forget that an iron-brass/copper alloy is pretty much unusual.


  20. Like

    • Yeah, I saw that. I would like him to elaborate, he is (obviously) a scholar and I am in the end, a layman. But, to be honest, I found that Tesei (whos paper I actually liked) and especially Van Bladel treated this topic with a lack of care.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Asalamualaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatahu,

        I had written some of the stuff I’m going to bring up before, but I just saw your response to Ben Adam and was wondering if you could answer a few questions (for some reason i am not able to reply n ear those comments, so I will reply here).

        -Andrew Runni Anderson, argued that the caspian gates associated with alexander originally referred to a pass which Alexander the Great walked through in pursuit of Bessus, do you disagree with his conclusion

        – According to Andrew Rumi Anderson, this was likely a fortification erected by the Parthians or achmaneids but attributed to Josephus by later historians, would you also disagree with this as well.

        -Andrew Rumi Anderson argues that Josephus and other 1rst century historians made topographical mistakes that ended up placing the caspian gates near the darial pass, while the original location was near Tehran, do you disagree with this conclusion as well.

        Wouldn’t the parthians or achmaneid king provide a better case for a monotheistic king, as well as the persians having favourable interactions with the jews?


      • Asalamualaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatahu,

        I know I wrote this to you before,(if you plan to discuss this when you post your next article let me know). But I was wondering if you agreed with the notion that Josephus was making a geographic error by attributing the Alexander Gates in the Caucus mountains near the darial pass because ancient historians assumed Hindu Kush mountain range was connected to the Caucus mountain range, and so he ended up attributing it to the western range of the Caucus mountains a range that never existed along with other historians who made this mistake which both Pliny and Strabo noted, and hence the correct identification is with the modern city of Ray in iran.


        The red portion highlights the place which originally was suppose to be the location of the caspian gates according to modern scholar.


        This explains how Josephus ended up making topographical error in his attribution of Alexander Gates to the west Caucus, a place he never set foot on.

        If so wouldn’t this suggest that the Capsian Gates were already constructed prior to Alexander, and hence were likely constructed by the Achmaneids.


      • This is really interesting. I’ll look into it. Truth be told, I don’t really care who build the wall. I’m just interested in seeing whether the Qur’an necessitates that it was Alexander.


      • Jazakallah khair.

        So would you disagree with their conclusion that the Caspian Gates were originally an achmaneid or Parthian series of Gates constructed against the Scythians but were fancifully attributed to Alexander. Or do you still believe that someone from Seluecids likely constructed the wall.

        The greeks were very fond of the Achamneids, and Alexander claimed to be a sucessor to their legacy. Do you think this evidence might suggest, that the story of Alexander constructing a wall could be an episode of ahcmaneid origin, but gradually got attributed to Alexander. (I understand that the identity of Dhul Qurnayn is probably not of interest to you), but would the paper above not suggest this is the most likely option.


      • Also do you find it intresting that the original location of the caspian gates matches much more geographically speaking to qu’ranic narrative than the syriac narrative. (I.e the Qu’ran says that Dhul Qarnayn travelled West, then East and North and the original Caspian gates are located at the northeast, while in the Syriac Legend Alexander travels East then West, and then north to construct the barrier resulting in the barrier being in the northwest resuliting in people attributing the gates of derbent or darial pass to Alexander).


      • I’m still not sure the location is that different. To be عين حمئة (murky lake/spring) could be (seems to be?) referring to the black sea; since this body of water is located in the west in the Qurʾān. And I think whether or not Josephus got the location wrong doesn’t change too much either, since the Qur’an is interacting with the Syriac story regardless. I think it comes down to how much you want to depart from the SLA

        Liked by 1 person

      • Does the Qu’r’an say the wall was constructed at عين حمئة, as far as I’m aware the Qu’ran only alludes to Dhul Qurnayn finding a people there, where he has to decide between punishing them or adopting a good way with them, and then it mentions he went eastwards from the عين حمئة to find people with little protection from sunlight, and then he journeyed northwards towards a people of the mountains. Why should we assume that the location of the عين حمئة is the location of the wall, given that DQ journeys to the far east, and then north after journeying towards the Black Sea.


      • Well as I said, I’m opting for this location because this is where the legend places it, and the Qur’an is interacting with the Legend. It really depends on how much you want to depart from the story.


      • Intresting, but don’t you think that the Qu’ran is suggesting that the wall of DQ is located in the northeastern direction, since after travelling westward and reaching the black sea, DQ then travels to the far east (surah 18:90) and only after travellng eastward doing so follows another path (likely north) until he reaches a pass between mountains.

        Wouldn’t it’d be odd for Dhul Qurnayn to initally travel to the west (18:86), near the black sea, to then travel to the far east (surah 18:90), and then on his third direction travel back near the black sea to construct a wall?


      • But where do you get the notion that the final travel is north? That’s a detail in the Legend.

        I’m not sure it would be odd. He’s just travelling between the Caspian and Black Sea, that doesn’t mean he’s taking the exact same route. If he’s based in that general area it wouldn’t be surprising.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well in the asbab al nuzl the jews inquire about a man who traveled in three directions so that seems to heavily suggest the person travel in three directions (west, east and north) (of course the context of the revelation could be inauthentic I’m not too sure about this).

        Also in surah 18:93, describes the third group as not being able to speak, while it doesn’t mention the first group in surah 18:86(the first group near the black sea) as having any speech issue. It would be odd for one group near the black sea to be able to speak a language DQ can understand while the third group have a language so remote that he could not understand.

        Also what do you make of the original Caspian gates by scholars being near the Caspian sea instead of the black sea, but due to certain geographical errors and topographical errors it got attributed near the black sea?


      • So how would you respond to scholars who argue that Josephus conflated the hindu kush mountainous region also called the caucus region which is near Rhage, with the western caucaus mountains located near the black sea.

        (I apologize if I wrote this comment before , I just can’t seem to find it)


      • “And I think whether or not Josephus got the location wrong doesn’t change too much either, ”

        Granted I forgot to mention this but the article hints at the fact that the original Caspian Gates were originally a set of Gates that were passed by Alexander the Great in pursuit of Darius the III, wouldn’t this suggest, that the Caspian gates precede Alexander, and hence a character who lived afteralexander the great could not have constructed it?

        “The name Caspian Gates originally applied to the narrow region at the southeast corner of the Caspian Sea, through which Alexander actually marched in the pursuit of Bessus, although he did not stop to fortify it. It was transferred to the passes through the Caucasus, on the other side of the Caspian, by the more fanciful historians of Alexander.”



  21. Salam,

    Great work ya Taha.

    There is a point that I think might have been overlooked on the subject.

    In the legend it says : “And when the Huns have gone forth,
    as God has commanded, the kingdoms of the Huns and
    the Persians and the Arabs, the twenty-four kingdoms that
    are written in this book, shall come from the ends of the
    heavens and shall fall upon one another, and the earth shall
    melt through the blood and dung of men. Then the kingdom
    of the Greeks shall move itself, and shall come and take a
    hammer of iron in its right hand, and a hammer of brass
    in its left, and the kingdom of Greece shall smite the hammers
    one upon the other, and as iron which is melted by fire, and
    as brass which boils in the flame, so shall the power of the
    kingdoms melt away before the might of the kingdom of
    the Greeks which is that of the Romans. And the kingdoms
    of the Huns and of the Persians shall be desolated the one by
    the other
    only a few of them shall escape who shall flee to
    their country”

    The Fact that the author of The Alexander legend mentions “the kingdom of the Arabs” as an infamous entity along with the Persians and the Huns indicates a common knowledge in the authors milieu which associates those peoples as enemies with an alarming reputation. We know that the Huns and the Persians have had war/conflict with Byzantium which makes their mention reasonable. However this is not the case for the Arabs. The only period where the Arabs would arise a to a reputation of such caliber to be compared with the Huns or the Persians is after the rise of Islam. This fact along with dating calculation based on the mentioned prophesy to 628/629 constitutes IMO a strong evidence for a dating after the Arabs acquired this reputation. Probably around the time of the beginning of Islamic conquest of the Levant 634. I say beginning as the Legend only portrays the Arabs in an early view which is starting to develop. This view can be seen as undergoing further development until we have the view portrayed in a later work which is Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius. This later dating suggests that the author of the Alexander Legend did have an influence from the Quran.

    As for the identity of DQ. I think that the Quran might be referring to Alexander. However This is how the people at the time thought about DQ and not necessarily what the Quran presents DQ as. The Quran commonly incorporates stories and figures known at the time but gives different insight and reshapes the narratives. in simple terms it says : So this a story that is known , here is what really happened. in the case of DQ, the Prophet is asked about a known figure. perhaps with multiple stories, legends and versions around him. Revelation comes and as the Quran commonly does , the story is told and “true” history is given. The Quran using cryptic terms such as DQ with an original concise narrative absent from exotic tales and legendary motifs like the version in the Syriac legend and poem (or like the previous Egyptian/Greek versions) of Alexander is intriguing. The Quran identifies Biblical figures and affirms their historicity albeit changes it as I mentioned before. Using cryptic terms and a content void of specifics in DQ’s case is difficult to understand purely historically. Alex is a famous figure and has been associated with religious themes long before the Quran. So why would the Quran refrain from naming him or giving details if it’s merely copying from lore and only rephrasing a common legend. Or why would it not give new aspects and details to serve its own agenda?

    The coherent answer to this issue I believe is only by Theology. The Quran is providing history as it happened. Naming DQ as Alexander would be wrong due to him being a pagan king and this popular account of him is legendary not historical . Also, giving details prone to error which can be put under clear scrutiny like giving names and dates is fitting for a man writing in specific time for a specific purpose. This is not the case for divine revelation. Stories tend to develop and change as they are adapted. The Quranic trend of allusion and avoidance of details and specifics of content which can be examined historically goes against human authorship due to the difficulty of the author ( writing in late antiquity) being conscious about this. The Quran in places hints at the different versions a story has or the status of it being of non certainty but rather of different interpretations speculation. This is found in 18:22 ( سَيَقُولُونَ ثَلَاثَةٌ رَابِعُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ وَيَقُولُونَ خَمْسَةٌ سَادِسُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ رَجْمًا بِالْغَيْبِ ۖ وَيَقُولُونَ سَبْعَةٌ وَثَامِنُهُمْ كَلْبُهُمْ ۚ قُلْ رَبِّي أَعْلَمُ بِعِدَّتِهِمْ مَا يَعْلَمُهُمْ إِلَّا قَلِيلٌ ) and 4:157 : ( وَقَوْلِهِمْ إِنَّا قَتَلْنَا الْمَسِيحَ عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ وَمَا صَلَبُوهُ وَلَٰكِن شُبِّهَ لَهُمْ ۚ وَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ لَفِي شَكٍّ مِّنْهُ ۚ مَا لَهُم بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِلَّا اتِّبَاعَ الظَّنِّ ۚ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ يَقِينًا ) .

    The legend around DQ nevertheless in the Quran’s view does contain historical materials. it’s just not Alexander and not how its is commonly known. instead it was wrongly attributed to him via transmission and legendary tradition. Associating Alexander with erecting barriers can be traced to early Hellenistic period of the first century. Josephus mentions him doing so. Josephus also uses the themes of Gog and Magog in reference to ravaging enemies but does not associate Alex with them as it is seen in later Christian sources. The elements found in the Quran DQ pericope of a righteous believing king with strong influence and vast travels , having horns , facing Gog & Magog ( figure of dangerous enemies with apocalyptic motif ) and building walls to protect from them are all present in previous sources and traditions with different views and presentations. The Quran takes that and retells as it happened rather than how it changed and developed through out time in the minds and lore of people.

    I hope I was able to give my thoughts clearly. Excuse my poor English.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree in principle with all your points, you are right in that the Legend might be dated to during the early Muslim conquest but, in the end, even if Reinink’s dating is correct, I think it’s unlikely either story drew from the other.

      As for the identity of DQ, I would say that the Qurʾān is ‘displacing’ Alexander in the story (there are 1, possible 2, examples of this particular thing in the Qur’an), plus some further circumstantial evidence we can use to support that. I might share that evidence at one point .


      • I agree that there is a shared tradition to some degree. IMO it’s probably nothing more than the motif of Alexander with Gog & Mgog. Which perhaps was in the original tradition which John of Ephesus was referring to. There are other things to say but one I would like to point for those who are researching the subject. It is the notion of spread-ability of the Quran. While Van Bladel dismissed the possibility of the Quran influencing the Alexander Legend based on logistical grounds. A closer examination reveals that it is actually the Quran which is more probable to reach and affect the Syriac tradition rather than the other way around.

        The Quran as text was highly regarded, widely spread and known in the community of the prophet. Not only in written form but even more so as memorized oral tradition recited and used daily for prayer and other religious practices. With the proselytizing nature of Islam and its early expansive history along with the practices of oral tradition among the Arabs, it is quite natural to think that the DQ story as it is in the Quran has reached Syriac circles in the North and was adapted by the author of the the Syriac Legend for his own agenda ( as van Bladel has noted, Gasshaind Arabs could have been the medium although he thought of it in favor of the Syriac Legend which is far less likely). Also, when geographical proximity (Medina-Levant) and close time frame (630-36) is considered, Quranic influence is even more plausible. The the Syriac Legend definitely falls behind the Q in its ability to spread and reach.


      • However, in the Qur’an the Prophet is being told that he is being asked about this story.

        The fact that the Prophet is being asked about the story implies that those asking him about it have heard the story.

        And it is reasonable to assume that the reason they are asking the Prophet about it since they don’t think the Prophet knows it or that he would not be able to reproduce the story which would then undermine his (the Prophet’s) claim that he is receiving revelations about the ghaib (the unseen such as the past).

        Liked by 1 person

      • I just find it highly unlikely for either story to have affected the other just due to the dating and the divergence at places. The Legend is quite elaborate and it seems that to some extent the Qur’anic version presupposes a background tradition (such as what you stated). I would entertain the idea that later additions to the Legend came from Qur’anic influences though, given the wide gulf between original time of writing and our earliest manuscripts of the Legend itself.

        Liked by 1 person

  22. Taha,

    Could this story to have been actually to do with Cyrus since he was a good person and Daniel in the Bible I think was referring to him when talking of the horns but wrongly appropriated by others to Alexander?

    Even if the book of Daniel is not dated to be at time of Cyrus, it is thought that Daniel was at the time of Cyrus.

    Taking a different approach….

    Could the same echoes in the Qur’an to such material be explained by the Qur’anic verse in 3:7 that some of the verses are literal and some are allegorical?

    And can the presence of non-literal verses explicitly mentioned in 3:7 mean that they are not historically true but they are teaching an allegory?

    And I recall the verse in the Qur’an that God sends revelation in the language that people can understand.

    Could the idea of language be expanded to include that God sends revelation so the people with that mythology can benefit from it rather than use it in a wrong way?

    And I also recall the Qur’anic verse in Surah Zumar to take the best reading of the Qur’an to possibly mean to extract benefit and not to expect a literal reading every time?


    • I don’t have much to say about the Cyrus theory, it’s possible but we need to show how that is preferrable to Alexander. As for the view of allegory, again I’m not against that view either. Infact, you could take the hermeneutical approach that DQ / Alexander a ‘righteous unbeliever’ – in the same sense that those who exiled the jews were called ʿibādinā (Our servants) in surah al-isra. So the Qur’an is using a story about Alexander as a vehicle for its own message. Personally, I think there’s good evidence (possibly forthcoming) that it’s not Alexander so I don’t like this view, but I think theoretically it’s possible. I have a tendency to prefer historical readings.


  23. Salam Taha,

    Regarding Cyrus and Dhul Qarnain, here is are many points…


    I think it can be argued that Cyrus was a good person because he gave freedom back to the Jewish people to go back to their land.

    Regarding parable idea, there are a few or so places in the Qur’an where Allah tells the Prophet that he (the Prophet) was not there when such and such happened with this Prophet. Also, there are at least a couple of places regarding narrations or stories of a Prophet where Allah says that this (story or narration) is truth and that the Prophet did not know before. One time a verse says that even the people around him did not know of (all) the details or the story itself.

    The language above points more towards a real historical event(s).

    But as far as I remember, Allah (swt) chooses to not us such language in the Dhul Qarnain.

    Also, Dhul Qarnain is framed as a story that “They ask you about”…

    So the story is not framed as “Let me tell you of what I gave to such and such servant…”

    And Allah tells the audience (in Surah 5 I think but I forget where) to ask the Prophet what they want but to ask when he is receiving revelation.

    But it is instead formulated as a response to the Prophet’s detractors who thought he (the Prophet) may not know of this story which was not known like it was many hundreds of miles to the north.

    Moreover, the Qur’an lacks the style to go into minutia of history and to point out that such and such was historically true and that such and such was not but is more in teaching morals and lessons than in giving historical information.

    Furthermore, I think it would be awkward for the Qur’an to respond to a question posed by the audience to say that such and such widely known and widely believed narration was actually embellished or not true…the Qur’an does say that idols are mere names and made-up but does not wade into becoming a historical clearing house.

    I think it would be particularly awkward when the verse in the Qur’an explicitly tells people to ask the Prophet when he is receiving revelation anything they want.

    If the request from non-Muslims for the Prophet to give information as to such and such story was responded with a Quranic verse saying “Oh, this story was a false story,” then it would make people (who back then were not so knowledgeable about the problems of oral narrations and stories) think that this verse is just a cop-out …it is just evidence that the Prophet does not know and thus that he is not receiving revelation from God—and the Qur’an does not such an inference to be developed….Of course Allah knows best but from the Qur’an I gather that Allah wants the Qur’an to be a criterion between sincere people and insincere people but does not want people to discount Islam based on misunderstandings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make some fairly good points, but I’m curious as to what you would do with vv. 98 – 99:

      ٩٨ قَالَ هَٰذَا رَحْمَةٌ مِنْ رَبِّي ۖ فَإِذَا جَاءَ وَعْدُ رَبِّي جَعَلَهُ دَكَّاءَ ۖ وَكَانَ وَعْدُ رَبِّي حَقًّا
      98 He said, “This is a mercy from my Lord. But when the promise of my Lord comes true, He will turn it into rubble, and the promise of my Lord is always true.”

      ٩٩ وَتَرَكْنَا بَعْضَهُمْ يَوْمَئِذٍ يَمُوجُ فِي بَعْضٍ ۖ وَنُفِخَ فِي الصُّورِ فَجَمَعْنَاهُمْ جَمْعًا
      99 On that Day, We will leave them surging upon one another. And the Trumpet will be blown, and We will gather them together.

      This seems to imply that Dhul Qarnayn is prophesying about a real future event. Would you say that this would then indicate that the story, too, is real?


      • Hmmm.

        Yes, I think vv 98 and 99 are both problematic.

        I think 98 is less problematic because it can be what is said by Dhul Qarnain…in other words, this is what a good mythical leader would have said. And it would go well with the other verse in this Surah telling us to say “if God wills.”

        Verse 99 may be harder since it is not put as a quote of Dhul Qarnain but Allah says it directly.

        However, for verse 99, I think it can be said that regardless of the story of Dhul Qarnain, it is expected that the latter days would be a time of tumultuous difficulty and nations going after nations is something that can be expected and that it is not contingent on a very specific story of Dhul Qarnain.

        The verse does talk of specific people of Gog and Magog when it says “them” but God and Magog’s existence need not be contingent only on Dhul Qarnain’s story. After all, I recall reading that God and Magog are in the Bible and thus are in a holy text and not specific to Syriac literature (I don’t know if God and Magog are mentioned in the specific Syriac text that is in this article).

        Thank you for your complement for my points or for some of the points.


        Liked by 1 person

  24. I forgot to comment on the wider context of the Surah that it refers to the Prophet’s detractors asking for responses to three specific questions…about the spirit or Spirit, about the people of cave, and of the Dhul Qarnain. The people of the cave is also in the Syriac literature.

    The response regarding the spirit is not a detailed response but says that the spirit is a command of God and people know very little knowledge of spirit or the Spirit.

    Adding a nonresponse to other two questions or even to one other question would not go well together.

    If the responses to all three were “They ask you of the spirit, of the people of the cave, and of the two horned one, tell them that the spirit is a command from God, you know only little of it, the story of the cave and the story of two horned one are just made up stories”… again it would look awkward to the audience of the Prophet that the so-called revelation is not capable of giving responses even though in previous surahs, the Qur’an claims to be providing detailed knowledge of the past.

    Even if hypothetically we can verify that stories are not historically real which we can’t but even if we could, such a response from the Qur’an would sound awkward not just to the Prophet’s community but even to readers in later generation…even to our generation.

    I think interestingly Allah talks of the story of the people of the cave as if it was a real story….

    “It is We who relate to you, [O Muhammad], their story in truth. Indeed, they were youths who believed in their Lord, and We increased them in guidance.” (Surah Kahf: 13)

    But in response to the story of Dhul Qarnain, Allah does not attribute the story to Himself.

    Also, in contrast to the story of the People of the Cave, Allah does not use language saying that the story will be told to the Prophet “in truth.”

    “And they ask you, [O Muhammad], about Dhul-Qarnayn. Say, “I will recite to you about him a report (dhikran).” (Surah Kahf: 83)


    Liked by 1 person


    Narrated Abu Huraira:

    Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Whoever has oppressed another person concerning his reputation or anything else, he should beg him to forgive him before the Day of Resurrection when there will be no money (to compensate for wrong deeds), but if he has good deeds, those good deeds will be taken from him according to his oppression which he has done, and if he has no good deeds, the sins of the oppressed person will be loaded on him.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 2449 Book 46, Hadith 10; bold emphasis mine)

    I’m confused, is everyone accountable for his/her own sins or not? Isn’t this a contradiction that none will bear the burden of another?


    • I’m not the best person to answer about hadith or even theological questions, but I don’t see that as problematic. The oppressor is clearly being recompensed for the evil he has done, and the oppressed his having some of his sins taken away as compensation for the suffering he went through. The Qur’anic ayaat are obviously referring to sinners getting a ‘free pass’ in the next life. Here in the hadith people are just getting what they deserve.





      • The sinner is being recompensed for the oppression he enacted though. Substitutionary atonement (in the christian sense) means that the guilty dump their sins on the innocent. That’s not what’s happening here, this seems more like a fair exchange.


      • “Abel then told Cain that in murdering him, he would carry the weight not only of his sin but also of the sins of his victim.”

        long ago i read that the when it says “my sin,” then this in arabic balagha implies “my sin” = “you murdering me”

        so “my sin” = “cain murdering able” not that abel sins are put on cain.

        have you read anything about this ?


      • “long ago i read that the when it says “my sin,” then this in arabic balagha implies “my sin” = “you murdering me”

        the above sentence was incorrect due to faulty memory. here is what i read :

        Here is Ghamidi’s words:

        “ The Qur’ānic words used are: أَنْ تَبُوءَ بِإِثْمِي وَإِثْمِكَ. As per linguistic principles, a suppression of a governing noun (mudāf) has occurred here before both nouns. I have revealed this suppression in my translation. In other words, the implied meaning of Cain is that if while defending himself some harm comes to Abel, then only Abel will be responsible of this sin because he would its cause and not Cain. Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhī:

        … this is a reference to a principle of justice mentioned by the words فعلى البادي ما لم يعتد المظلوم in a hadīth (Muslim, no. 6683). It states that if the oppressed party has not inflicted any harm, then the sin of whatever he does to defend himself will rest with the person who takes the initiative. The wordبِإِثْمِي mentioned with وَإِثْمِكَ occur on the principle of similarity of words (mujānisah) which is so very common in Arabic. Some other examples include: دناهم كما دانوا and وَجَزَاء سَيِّئَةٍ سَيِّئَةٌ مِّثْلُهَا (42 :40). (Amīn Ahsan Islāhī, Tadabbur-i Qur’ān, vol. 2, 498)”

        Ghamidi’s translation is:

        “If you raise your hand to kill me, I [will not take the initiative] to raise my hand to kill you. I fear God, Lord of the worlds. I want that [if you have decided to kill me then] you bear the burden of your own sin and that of mine and be among the companions of Hell.”

        An example of Mujasinah in Arabic is “repaying and evil with an evil”, though the second “evil” isn’t really evil, it’s an act of retaliation for the wrong against another.

        So if somebody threatens to kill you and tries it, if you, in act of self-defense kill the person, you are not blameworthy and in fact, that action is ultimately the fault of the guy trying to kill you


  26. I would like to know who is the author and owner of this website? Is it Taha? Is there any way I can contact the author and the owner? Thanks.


  27. Salam,

    https://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/articles/publications/publications0128.pdf states regarding the earliest Jewish source to mention the women who cut themselves with knives upon seeing Yusuf (as): “…the Aramaic texts are full of Greek words, and there is no doubt that these poems come from the Byzantine era, around the fourth to sixth centuries”. This, the author argues, proves the Qur’an was influenced by this text and not the reverse. I’m trying to find answers to this and would love your insight?

    I’m also wondering why does Qur’an 71:15 imply that the people of Nuh (as) could actually see with the naked eye the seven heavens when, as shown by Isra wal Mi’raj, the lowest heaven is our universe only?


    Liked by 1 person

    • @Khaled Colwill,

      That author claims that this story is supposedly found in some ancient poetry. But where is it found? Can you point out?


      • It’s in the Cairo Genizah findings. https://brill.com/view/book/edcoll/9789004275126/B9789004275126-s010.xml says these poems are strictly 4th century.

        What I’ve been considering though is: if he’s implying this poem was regularly recited by Palestinian Jews for 300 years until a few of its details somehow floated into Arabia, then it’s equally possible that the poem had already been floating for at least 300 years until this particular 4th century manuscript. If this is the case then it originated in the first century and the parallel has a common source: Christ’s preaching via Injeel!

        Contrived theory I grant, but I can’t come up with an alternative lol


    • Regarding the first question, I would have to sit down and study the problem. I don’t have an answer, but thank you for bringing it to my attention.

      As for 71:15 — no, I don’t think that’s the case, since the verb رأى can also have the extended meaning like ‘consider’. For example, Q2:258 which uses ألم تر (do you not see…) then goes on to recount the story of Abraham which the Prophet obviously was not witness to.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for your reply. As I understand now the pile-up of the heavens (if not strictly seven) can be seen after all if we reconceptualise the six heavens as components of our cosmos (the lowest being our solar system and the first being Janna).


  28. Salam Taha and all,

    Is it possible we may need to take a big leap backwards and reassess the nature of revelation?
    I ask this in light of the increasing instances of antecedents predating the Qur’an of specific parts of stories that are in the Qur’an but not in the Bible nor in the biblical apocrypha.

    Could Allah (swt) be allowing fragmented intimations and visions from the unseen to exceptionally pious people that are seeking the nature of stories in light of the deficiencies that some may have sensed in the Taurat or other Hebrew scriptures during their times?

    And could a role of this allowance of antecedents that anticipate the Qur’an be so as to also give comfort to the would be followers of the Prophet to be reminded…to have remembrance of stories they have heard?

    I believe in the Qur’an due to the clear and consistent logical and moral strain throughout the Quran, and the miracles in all features that can be examined whether linguistic, literary, rhetorical, numerous scientific, numerous mathematical, prophecies within and prophecies of Islam and Prophet Muhammad in previous scriptures, no contradictions in the Qur’an, etc.

    I am trying to find an explanation for the few if not several or more than several instances of stories that are much too similar to the Qur’an to be considered to coincidental.
    I would appreciate if anyone can venture any explanations.

    Sorry, I did not post it correctly the first time.


    • Personally I would avoid positing revelation from an alternative source, because we simply have no evidence for it in authoritative literature.

      For the time being, I prefer a hybrid view. In the case of the Syriac Legend, I think it’s an instance where the Qurʾān is taking a story which may not be historical – and transforming it to one where we may affirm it to be. For example, why does the Qur’an leave out the “fetid sea”? It’s a pretty important feature of the Syriac Legend. For Muslims, we see could this as historicizing the story. I hope once a new article comes out we put forward such a view.

      For other parallels with rabbinic literature etc, I think what just needs to be demonstrated is that these parallels go back to the second temple period where prophecy was still active (I think this solves a few cases, for example, Adam and Eve). Others might be plausibly historical otherwise, or there is no way to falsify them (aṣhāb al-kahf, or Jesus giving life to a clay bird, as examples).

      All in all what needs to happen is to put forward a robust theory of Qurʾānic historicity *in lieu* of arguments for its miraculous nature (or the prophethood of the prophet).

      But before any of this happens, we would have to study each story case by case. It’s an area that needs a lot of work…


  29. Asalamualaiakum,

    I had originally written this to you through email, but I believe you said on this website you do not respond to your email because of various issues.

    Basically Tomasso Tesei claims that the purposes of the Syriac legend is to deprive the achamneids of the legacy of Cyrus the Great, and to project the legacy of Cyrus the Great onto Alexander and the rest of the byzantium empire.

    Would this not suggest that the syriac alexander legend’s was inspired from Achmaneid legacy and hence support the notion that the Syriac legend was depending on a pre-existing historical tradition of the original Dhul Qurnayn, and so the stories were not about alexander the great.

    Also according to Joseph Lumbard, the two horned epithet in syriac literature was given to Alexander because of Daniel 8:3-5, but we know Daniel 8:3-5 was originally about the Achmanied legacy not Alexander,so wouldn’t this support the notion that the syriac tradition took the pre existing two horned reference in the bible which actually reffeed to achamenids and attributed it to Alexander.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Salaam, yes I saw your email but I forgot to reply (apologies). I noted your observations and I think it is meaningful to see the two horned symbol as one that might link to Daniel. Having said that, I’m still not decided about who DQ could be. We have a “minimalist” theory which we will explain in an article.


      • Do you think you would be able to read up on the pre-islamic syriac literature on the two horned one mentioned before the alexander legend.

        I think that the earlier syriac works on the “two horned on” could give us an older and more primitive traditions and hence be closer to the dhul qurnayn mentioned in the quran and help in your research for your next article.

        Also i believe that the pre islamic lakhmi king imru al qays(544 ce) mentions gog and magog as well as the barrier, which might suggest that the barrier obstructing gog and magog could precede the syriac alexander legend and possibly have persian origins.( of course i do not know if the poem is authentic and goes back to imru al qays or if its forged, the lakhmi tribe were client tribes of the sassanid empire)


  30. Salam Ta Ha,

    I think I remember reading in some credible source (I forgot where) that there is an ancient archeological relief that depicts Cyrus with two horns…


  31. Asalamualaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatahu,

    I recently found a 7th syriac apocalypse of daniel, and  while it is composed after the Qu’ran Mathias Henze said there is material found in it that corresponds to very early jewish apcoalyptic beliefs. 

    It mentions that Darius met the prophet Daniel and that the prophet Daniel prophesied about Gog and Magog or the northern people in the darkness breaking the gates and raging havoc in the end of times.

    Matthias Henze the translator fo the work argues that the syriac apocalypse of daniel employs 2nd temple jewish traditions, as well as talmudic traditions and is heavily influenced by the deutrocanoncial books composed during the 2nd temple period.

    Would this support the notion that perhaps the motif of the gates and a righteous ruler constructing a berrier, could have originated during the 2nd temple period.

    Also assuming this apocalypse is convey histrocially accurate traditions wouldn’t this support the theory of Darius being Dhul Qurnayn as Daniel introduces King Darius to apocalyptic teachings on Gog and Magog, and prophecies of the wall being broken and Gog and Magog emerging which Dhul Qurnayn mentions himself in surah 18:98 (maybe Dhul Qurnayn was re-iterating a propehecy he had recied from daniel).


    • That’s an interesting observation. Also note that the antichrist has two horns in the story, and opens the gates of the north.

      Again, I have a minimalist view and I think the figure is someone in the proximity of Alexander (more on this later). If it were not for that I would entertain Cyrus or Darius. Remember that Josephus is our earliest historical source that mentions the gates and its purpose.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Do you think that many apocryphal books of daniel transmitting apocalyptic 2nd temple traditions in 1rst/2nd century CE, ended up making their way into the syriac apocalypses, hence the apocalytic notion of Gog and Magog and the barrier constrcuted, came from 2nd temple Jewish traditions or is it simply the reccording of secularg greek history.

        Intrestingly enough, Josephus mentions that the gates of Alexander were constructed at Medes. But Alexander the Great never had any contact with the Medes, while the achmaneid kings engaged in multiple expeditions at the region of Medes.

        Additonally Achmaneieds constructed various fortresses and walls against the scythians to protect the medians from the plundering of the Scythians.

        Wouldn’t these details in the writings of Josephus provide further evidence that Darius or Cyrus, since they fit the description of the actions done by the supposed “alexander” mentioned by josephus much better than the actual alexander.

        Liked by 1 person

      • @ Taha

        Wait you don’t hold the position of Cyrus and you believe it to be a contemporary of Alexander? Now, this is something you have to make an article on. I was heavily favoring Cyrus and the stories conflated but to have potentially found a solution to what I call the “Josephs problem” is a must-read.


      • @ huzeipha

        Walakum Salam wa rahma tu lahi wa barakatu

        May you please post a link or give the name of this work so I can read it?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well the text reads ܩܘܩܪܝܢ (no meaning) which is what he deems as difficult.

        He corrects it to ܩܪܢܢ , horns, based on the parallel passage in Vom Jungen Daniel (see p. 47). Unfortunately I can’t access that text (german).

        He also proposes the alternative ܩܘܪܩܪܐ “openings”. I assume he thinks horns is the more probable reading given the parallel passage and that it makes more sense.

        Seems plausible to me. Looks like the antichrist is an anti-thesis of sorts to Alexander.


      • Interesting. So there is some work in english on it! Sebastian brock has even published the Syriac and given a translation. Honestly both these works (Young Daniel and Syr. Apocalypse of Daniel )seem pretty intriguing.

        Also, if we can do away with the notion that the SLA is the first to combine the motif of the wall and the prophecy we can even put an earlier date on these texts. I wonder…🤔


      • Maybe their common source was a polemic against Heraclius. A recently found stele on Cyprus shows him with horns (Imitatio Alexandri).

        I admit that I’m not quite familiar with the religious groups among Syriac Christians. Does an anti-Heraclian stance make sense?


      • Could you please link the stele you’re speaking of?

        I think there were Syriac christians living in the persian empire that might have been opposed to the Byzantium. I distinctly remember reading this somewhere.


      • Van Bladel wrote:

        There are not many other surviving reports about these Türk invaders and their passage through the wall. That is why it is especially striking that one of the few other authors to mention it, the contemporary Frankish chronicler known as Fredegarius (wr. ca 660) describes the gates as having been built out of bronze (aereas) by Alexander propter inundacione gentium sevissemorum (sic), “on account of the surging wave of most savage nations.” Here again the invaders are described as a surging wave, an inundacio of nations, held back by the gates that, Fredegarius goes on immediately to say, Heraclius himself ordered to be opened: easdem portas Aeraglius aperire precipit (sic). 74 In light of the description of the Armenian 682 History, which was explicitly connected with the prophecies of Jesus, it seems likely that Fredegarius was drawing from a source that made a similar allusion to the waves of nations, paraphrasing Jesus’ prophecy in Luke 21:25. Moreover, this Latin chronicle’s association of Heraclius with the opening of the gates of Alexander that held back savages brings together most of the parts of the Alexander Legend.


      • Actually, you make a good point. Maybe it is polemic against Heraclius. He was accused to have opened the gates of the north to let the kok turks in.


      • Yeah I see. I still don’t think it changes much with regards to the Qur’anic story. We already know Alexander was portrayed with two horns in the 7th century because of the Syriac Legend.


      • Indeed. There was a little chance, though, that the horns (only unspecified plural in the Neshana) refered to the multiple-horned Danielic Beast.

        It’s still surprising that the Alexandrian horn motive suddenly pops up after a centuries long gap.

        Liked by 1 person

    • “I think the figure is someone in the proximity of Alexander (…) ”

      I didn’t see this post! Now I’m excited! Maybe one of the Diadochi? I’ll wait…


      • If you don’t mind my questions [without spoilers of course 🙂 ]

        -Does the new candidate have a monotheistic or monastic belief attested?

        -Did he visit places that match more or less the 3 quranic ones?


      • I haven’t really identified a candidate per se. It’s just built on a deduction based on a few premises—

        (1) The Qur’an is implicitly rejecting the character as being Alexander (replacing Alexander in the fish episode just prior, some early hadith which reflect lack of awareness of Alexander). There is also some textual evidence to suggest that DQ is not a king, but some official working for the king.

        (2) Alexander’s successor empires inducted Jews into their armies

        (3) The Seleucids settled Jews near the black sea

        (4) Josephus associates a fortress near that area to keep out northern invaders with the figure of Alexander.

        So you have some monotheistic figure at the right place at the right time. I’m not sure if it’s possible to be more specific than that, since I don’t have a candidate in mind. Having said that, I prefer this because it’s closest to josephus’s speculation on the origin of the wall.

        Liked by 1 person

  32. Salam Taha and all,

    Please see this thread https://twitter.com/DerMenschensohn/status/1300355909248528384



    Replying to
    There’s an even more unkown work that is closely related to the one above: The Young Daniel

    17 “The Young Daniel”: A Little Known Syriac Apocalyptic Text. Introduction and Translation
    “17 “The Young Daniel”: A Little Known Syriac Apocalyptic Text. Introduction and Translation” published on 01 Jan 2014 by Brill.




    Here the word clearly means “horns”. It’s seems like the 2 works have a common source.


  33. Asalmualaiakum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatahu,

    I was wondering if you agreed with Andrew Runni Anderson on his paper called “Alexander at the Caspian Gates”.

    He argued that there was a confusion between the Indian Caucus and the True Caucus, and that the River of Jaxartes (falsely called Tanais) was identified with the true European Tanais, and that the Sea of Aral(miscalled Maetois) with the sea of Azov (the true Maetois), resulting in the Alexander gates being misplaced at the Darial Pass by Josephus, and that the term originally applied to the passes southeast of Rhagae, located in modern tehran.

    If the original barrier was located in modern tehran and was constructed to block out the scythians, would this not support the notion that the barrier was constrcutrd by the persian kings, and hence support the theory that Dhul Qurnayn was Persian?

    Do you also believe Josephus passage of the medians who would be plundered by the scythians, and so Alexander erected a barrier corresponds to surah 18:94, where a group request Dhul Qurnayn to make a barrier to protect them from Gog and Magog.If so would this mean Gog and Magog are Scythians.

    Jazakallah khair

    Alexander at the Caspian Gates:https://www.jstor.org/stable/282983

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Asalamualaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatahu,

    I know the location of the wall as well who was responsible for construction is not essential in your next article, but given between these two possibilities which one do you think is more probable in explaining the origins of the gates constructed to block out Gog and Magog.

    a) The wall of dhul qurnayn was actually near the Caspian (not the black Sea) sea, near Rhagae (modern day Ray in Iran), as mentioned by Pliny who said they were iron gates erected against the tribes found in further asia.

    Because of some historical blunders by Josephus and other first century historians, (assuming the caucus region was one large mountainous range from Turkey to Pakistan, as well as conflating the river of Jaxartes as the European Tanais river), they had conflated the places that Alexander actually went which was near the hindu kush mountainous region, with the western Caucasus region, And so the original location of the wall of Dhul Qurnayn was shifted by Josephus and other fanciful historians to a different spot near the darial pass, which greek tradition gradually accepted, and hence was incorporated in the syriac romance.

    b) The wall of dhul qurnayn was actually near the Black Sea, near the identification that Josephus had picked. But Josephus and other first century historians had incorrectly attributed traditions about this original barrier to Alexander, because of assuming that Alexander the Great went through this region due to certain geographical misconceptions that I mentioned above.

    Also Tomasso Tessei talks about possible Achamaneid background involved in the Syriac Alexander Romance, I was wondering if you had any opinion on this, and how this can be fitted with the theory that this was reffering to someone in the proximity of Alexander.


  35. Asalamualaiakum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatahu,

    Why do you think Dhul Qurnayn being of achaemenid origin is not likely. Given that most fortifications near the black sea were constructed by achamaneids against the scythians, monotheism being prevalent in the kingdom along with jewish influence.

    1) I understand the jews were displaced near the black sea due to jewish diaspora, in the 2nd temple period, but where in the quranic text, or syriac legend does it suggest such a thing

    .It is the Cyrus who fought with Cythians & died in the war. The raid of medes by Cythians (Magog) happenned before Cyrus Kingdom. The story is narrated in Herodotus. The separation between Alex. & Josephus is 300 yrs and with Alex. Romance is 800 yrs. The personalities are mixed.

    2) You said that you have textual evidence that Dhul Qurnayn worked under someone, are you reffering to textul evidence from the Qu’ran/hadith or textual evidence from the syriac legend.

    This is a good evidence that the 2 personalities of Alexander & Cyrus are mixed in these stories & histories by Josephus or writers of Alex. Romance

    Alex. can have no contact with medes. Medes kingdom was absorbed into persian empire by Cyrus more than 200 years before Alex.

    3) Why do you think it makes more sense for Josephus to conflate a selucid offical with alexander than with an achamenid emperor, given there is already evidence of foreign ruler’s actions being attributed to Alexander by the greeks.


    • As I said, I think what you’re saying is plausible, I just don’t have much more to say as it doesn’t really concern me that much. I’m not really writing the article about who DQ really is, more about why an Alexander figure is not necessary. As I said before, I think it’s plausibly Cyrus because of the “two horned” mention.

      (1) Where is the evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah that it was Cyrus? Again there is nothing explicit on the topic. Any guess is good as another.

      (2) From the Qur’an.

      (3) Why not? I mean the Seleucid empire is one of the four Alexandrian successors, they deliberately tried to imitate Alexander, horned symbolism not the least.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well Tomasso Tessei said that the syriac legend was an attempt by Heraclius to deprive the sassanids of their achmaneid legacy, and that’s why the two horned epitheht is applied to alexander to make the byzantines the true sucessors to the achmaneids. If this is the case then wouldn’t it be more likely that DQ was an achmaneid figure who heraclius approrpriated for his propoganda.

        As far as I’m aware the two horned emblem was not common for selucid officals, but we do have evidence of the two horn symbolism being prominet in the sassanid kingdom for militiary officals. If DQ is a military offical, then it’d be more likely he’d be of achmaneid origin, given that the sassanid kingdom’s “two horn” emblem originated from achamaneid kingdom military usage.

        I think this might be an intresting articile for you to look at:



      • Issues:

        – The Legend existed before Heraclius, he used and modified it.

        – Alexander having two horns is a motif that exists before heraclius, same as above.

        – That’s not true, we definitely have two-horned symbols from the diadochi so…

        – How do you go from Sassanid to Cyrus?


      • 1. Ok. I’m not sure what he meant but he did say the intention of the two horns motif was to deprive the sassanids of their achmaneid legacy. Maybe the early legend was also a byzantine motif to engage with.


        2. But I don’t recall any of the officials under the diadochi having two horns used for military officials. As far as I’m aware they are mainly used for political figures as ceremonial headfigures. The sassanids employed the two horn symbolism for their military subjects.

        3. Basically the Sassanid empire’s two horn symbolism stems from the importance of the ram from the achmaneid empire. The sassanids intended to bring back the pure iranian, not polluted by parthian traditions and associted the arascid dynasty with the two horn symbolism, which was a mythical dynasty partially based on the achamendi dynasty. So this could suggest that their practice of designating militry officials with such titles comes from the ahcmaneid empire.


      • Well the association doesn’t have to be exact, like I said Sassanids are irrelevant here any way, unless you can prove that these symbols go back to real Achaemenid officials.

        For seleucus:


        In my mind, I’m not even sure if the horned symbols mean that much. If you look at the Syriac Legend, the way it uses ‘horns’, it’s kind of similar to Daniel in that they’re supposed to indicate power. Alexander is given ‘horns’ to wrestle with the world empires; these aren’t literal horns or horned helmets etc.


      • Fair enough, were subordinates or military officials also portrayed with two horns. As far as I can tell this was mainly for the diadochi general


      • Also what do you make the polytheists of mecca along with the jews of medina who inquired about the identity of of DQ. Now we know the polytheists of mecca were generally in favour of the sasanids and supported them as evidenced by Surah Rum where they favoured the victory of the sassanids.

        Al-Asha, Imru al-Qays al Lakhmi, were pre-islamic poets who mention DQ and were from the lakhmid empire which were clients of the sassanid empire, and while their poetry might not be authentic it certainly seems to suggest that DQ was known to meccan polytheists and jews through the sassanids. The fact that they inquired about his identity implied that DQ’s identity was subject to confusion and identification with mutliple induviduals, and so the sassanids could possibly have their own propogand on DQ, and so when the Qu’ran is reffering to DQ, it is affirming the identity of DQ as being of achamenid legacy and siding with the sassanids, in countering the byzanitne propoganda polemically.

        Did the scythians engage in plundering against the selucids? I know this was very common under the achmaneids and the achmaneids were the first to provide proper fortifications.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you I appreciate it. I apologize if this seems like I’m inquiring too much, but will you article adress whether the wall built by Gog and Magog is suppose to be standing until the day of judgment or do you side with the view that it has collapsed and Gog and Magog will appear at the end of times again.

        Liked by 1 person

      • This issue is very important to discuss, I think it’s relevant to the historicity of the story. Some recent traditionalists also take the latter view (even uncontroversial ones!). There are apparently some writings in Arabic about it. I have not yet read them, so I can’t take a position yet.


      • Also to add it could be argued that the directions travelled by dhul qurnayn match the expansion of the achmaneid empire (West to East), and were in stark contrast to the expansion of the empire by Heraclius (East to West), so perhaps the reversal of expansion is intended as a polemic motive.


    • I see no reason to assume that Cyrus could be DQ in any way.

      Was he depicted as a righteous ruler? Yes, but that’s it.

      Otherwise I don’t see how the relevant places (except India) can be found in Lydia (-> Aegaean coast) or Central Asia at all.


      • “Otherwise I don’t see how the relevant places (except India) can be found in Lydia (-> Aegaean coast) or Central Asia at all.”

        I don’t think it necessarily has to be Cyrus, it could be another official working under the achamenids.

        I’d argue that the Qu’ran is intentionally siding with the sassanids and changing details about alexander romance expansion to respond to byzantine propoganda and matching the details with achmaneid empire expansion to suggest that the Qu’ran is siding with the sassanid prespective on DQ.

        I’d argue that the pre-islamic arabian poets who mention DQ are of lakhmid and himyarite origins, and both of those kingdoms supported the sassanids and were clients of the sassanid empire against the byzantines. So when the jews of medina along with the polytheists asked muhamamd(SAW) on who DQ is, the polytheists and jews could have likely been introduced to this figure by the sassanids as well.The quesitioning of jews and polytheists on the identitify of DQ suggest that the figure DQ was identified by multiple induviduals and subject to confusion. And the Qu’ran by making the direction of travel opposite to the direction of byzantine expansion, as well as using the two horn motif (which as far as I know, in syriac romance, alexander simply prayed for horns in general not two horns in specific) in the bible could be seen as the Qu’ran polemically siding with sassanid identification.

        As far as I’m aware the darial gorge has been constructed multiple times by the achamneids near the location mentioned by Josephus(though I believe Josephus identification was incorrect to begin with due to historcial errors).


      • Place where sun sets, muddy and warm spring -> in the context of Cyrus the only candidate is Lydia, no really relation observable

        Place where sun rises -> India seems reasonable

        Mountain pass, people with exotic language -> I don’t see it with Massagetes, Caucasus fits perfectly, though

        I admit that unlike Alexander Cyrus doesn’t have much content out there, but with that that we have: we can more or less exclude him.

        I don’t think Cambyses, Xerxes and so on are better candidates either -given that the later kings became less and less monolotric in their faith- so…


      • “Place where sun sets, muddy and warm spring -> in the context of Cyrus the only candidate is Lydia, no really relation observable”

        Good point. But Selucid’s empire also stretched eastwards towards Lydia, so I don’t think the Selucid would be any different.

        “Mountain pass, people with exotic language -> I don’t see it with Massagetes, Caucasus fits perfectly, though”

        Fair enough but I think Josephus made a hisorical error and confused the caucus gates with the caspian gates. Most modern historians believe Josephus conflated the hindu kush mountains with the caucus mountains.

        The only empires I can think of which had the black sea bordering one size and india bordering another would be the median empire and the Parthian empire.



      • I did a drawing comparison, the black line would indicate the approximate location of darial gorge on the map of the selucid empire, it seem like the Darial Gorge was closer to the top of the black sea, while the most northern part of the selucid empire was barely reaching the bottom of the black sea.


      • I’m not affirming that it’s in the /exact/ place as understood by the 7th century. I just think it was a fortress in that general area… mainly because of who Gog and Magog were understood to be.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Fair enough what do you think of historians who claim Josephus made a historical blunder by associating the hindu kush mountain region (which was reffered to as caucus mountains), with the western caucaus mountains and hence the alexnader gates were shifted westward and would actually be located near Raghae or Ray in Iran.


      • Do you think the tradition about ‘Ali being compared to Dhul Qurnayn along with Ali’ ibn Abi Talib stating Dhul Qurnayn was not a king can be used as further evidence of Dhul Qurnayn of being an offical working under someone.


        “[…from Salamah bin abi al-Tufayl (The son of abi al-Tufayl), from `Ali bin abi Talib may Allah be pleased with him that the Prophet (SAWS) said: “O `Ali, you have a treasure in Jannah, and you will be its Dhu al-Qarnayn…]”

        ” `Ali was asked about Dhu-al-Qarnayn so he said: “He was neither a Prophet or a king, but he was a slave who believed in Allah and he rewarded him, so he called his folks to Islam and was hit”


  36. Salam Taha,

    I was seeing this interesting presentation by Professor Juan Cole.

    He contextualizes what he calls the allegory on Alexander.

    I think you will find the whole lecture very interesting and highly insightful. But please share if you have any particular reaction in your current first impression of the part on the allegory (allegedly) on Alexander.

    It starts at around 41:30 part of it (which I think is the last slide before the conclusion)

    I still think that there is a lot of evidence for the story in the Qur’an to refer to Cyrus.


    Liked by 1 person

  37. Also you mentioned that the jews were relocated near the black sea, so would you hypotethically that DQ learned monotheism from the jews near the black sea under the selucid era?


  38. Asalamualaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatahu,

    You said in the comments that the syriac Alexander Legend was originally a polemic against Heraclius, could this suggest anything of this polemical material being of sassanid origin, as they were the other major power fighting against the Byzantine?

    And do you agree with E.W Budge assesment that the material was originally translated from middle persian.

    Jazakallah khair


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