Skip to content

Islamo-Biblica - Sirah +

The Prophet Muhammad receives revelations at Mount Hira, al-Darir, Siyer-i Nebi (The Biography of the Prophet), Istanbul, Ottoman lands, 1595-1596.

Islamo-biblica in Islamic Sirah (Biographical) and related Literatures.

Bibliographical Notes and Studies

Stephan Lambden 1980s + 2016 - UNDER REVISION

In progress - last updated 09-03-2016

Listed below in a very loose chronological order are various Arabic, Persian and Turkish Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā' (Stories of the Prophets) primary sources as well as related academic and other articles. I am now in the process of correcting, updating and supplementing this very provisional list of pertinent sources. For an erudite and selective overview of early Islamic Sirah literatures see the important article of M. J. Kister constituting Ch. 17, `The Sirah Literature,' in `Arabic Literature to the Enbd of the Umayyad Period', (Beeston et al., eds., The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature Volume 1 (Cambridge: CUP : 1983), esp. pp. 352‑57).

The rise of Sirah or biographical literature had its genesis very early on in the evolution of Islam and was based upon the example of the Arabian prophet Muhammad.  Inspired by the person and times of Muhammad, Sīrah (Biographical) literature quickly became popular from the 2nd century AH (Sezgin I:275‑302; Donner 1998:297‑306). It was influenced by Jewich and Christian biblical and extra biblical motifs, typologies and traditions often indebted to varieties of pre‑Islamic prophetological materials.  The impact of Islamo-Biblica or Isrā’īliyyāt traditions is evident as are Islamicate apologetic and hagiographical concerns (Rubin,1995). Wahb b. Munabbih wrote one of the earliest, largely lost Sira   compilations. Kister has stated that his work "contains an unusual amount of miraculous stories as attested by the fragments of the papyri" (CHAL 1:357). These early biographies drew heavily and creatively on biblical legends and motifs and registered Islamized qiṣaṣ al‑anbiyā’   traditions which eventually formed bodies of Islamic literature in their own right (see Ch. 3.2).

Wahb ibn Munabbih, Abū `Abd-Allāh Wahb b. Munabbih (b. Sana c. 34 / 654-5 - d. c. 110 / 728  or 114 / 732?).

Wahb ibn Munabbih was probably a Yemenite Jew of Persian descent. He was an important  early Islamic authority on Abrahamic scripture and legend, especially South Arabian lore. Though perhaps another name for part of his K. al-mubtadāī (Book of Creationī), K. al-Isrā’īliyyāt is the title of one of his several lost books (Duri, 1983:128f). It appears to have been a work whose contents were acquired from Yemenite Jewish hakhamim and Christians (Hirschberg, EJ16:241-2). These works of Wahb b. Munabbih are attested as early as 229/843-4 (Rosenthal, 1968:335 fn.2) and in even earlier streams of the Tafsīr tradition. Other works evidence his wide interest in Isrā’īliyyāt as Abrahamic fables, folklore and history. Among works ascribed to him is a Ḥikmat ("Wisdom book") associated with the sage Luqmān, a version of the Zabūr (Psalter) entitled Mazāmīr Dāwūd (Psalms of David) and a Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā’ (Stories of the Prophets) work.
Also attributed to Wahb b. Munabbih is a Tafsīr (Q. commentary) and a Sīrat al-nabī (Treatise on the Life of the Prophet), a Maghāzī Rasūl Allāh (Account of military expeditions of the Messenger of God) and a compilation entitled K. al-qadr (Book of Destiny). A recension of his K. al-Mulūk .. min Ḥimyar... (The Book of the Himyarite Kings...) by Ibn Hishām, known as the K. al-Tijān fī mulūk al-Ḥimyar (The Book of the Crowned Kings of the Himyarites) has been described as "a rich mine of Arabian fable, legend and garbled chronicles" in which may be seen "the powerful influence of Rabbinical, Syriac and Persian lore in both poetry and prose." (Norris, CHAL 1:385). Muhammad is said to have stated that God bestowed ḥikma (wisdom) upon Wahb b. Munabbih (Ibn Sa`d, Tabaqāt, V:395). Numerous respected Muslim authorities, including Ibn Isḥāq, al-Ṭabarī and al-Kisāī cite him approvingly though some modern Muslim anti-Isrā’īliyyāt authorities regard him as unreliable. Adang has recently referred to Wahb b. Munabbih as the "foremost transmitter of biblical narratives" (1996:10).

Aside from his largely lost Kitab al-Isrā’īliyyāt (Book of Isrealitica) and a Qiṣaṣ al‑anbiyā’ (Stories of the [Pre-Islamic] Prophets) work, Wahb ibn Munabbih wrote a founbdational Sirah work, a biography of the Prophet Muhammmad which is extant in scattered fragments. In his article`The Sirah Literature," (in Beeston et al., eds., CHAL 1:  352‑57; see above), M. J. Kister refers to the Sira of Wahb ibn Munabbih as "the earliest Sirah compilation" noting that "it contains an unusual amount of miraculous stories as attested by the fragments of the papyri" (fn. 9. Khoury, Wahb ibn Munasbbih, 118-75).

See Wahb b. Munabbih, K. al-Tijān ; Norris, CHAL 8:381. On Wahb see GAL. Sup.1:101-2+ refs. ; Sezgin, GAL I:306-7; Horowitz, EI IV:1084-5; Guillaume, 1955:xv, xviii; Khoury, 1972; Abbott, 1977; Hirschberg, EJ 16:241-2 [CD]; Schwartzbaum, 1982: 58-61; Duri, 1983:30-32+ index; Brinner EAL2:801-2; Adang,1996:10-12; Donner, 1998 [index]).

Kister, M. J.

  • 1972  `Haddithu 'an israila we‑la haraja: a Study of an Early Tradition,` IOS 2: 215‑39. *
  • 1988 `Legends in Tafsīr and Hadīth Literature: the Creation of Adam and Related Stories,’ in Rippin, ed., Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Qur'an, 82‑114. * 
  • 1974 `On the Papyrus of Wahb b. Munabbih,’  BSOAS 37:  545‑71.*

The  Mubtadā- Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā’, the Sīrah of Ibn Isḥāq (d. 150 /767)

The well‑known sīrat al‑nabī  (Biography  of the Prophet [Muhammad]) of  Ibn Isḥāq (d. 150 /767) as redacted in the epitome of  Ibn Hishām (d.828/233?) [1] contains many points of interest (Montgomery Watt 1962:23‑34) including an attempt to show how Muhammad was predicted in the Bible by means of a very early (pre‑151/767) citation rooted in Jn. 15:23‑16:11 Muhammad is the expected prophet as "the Munaḥḥemana ("Comforter")’ which in Syriac is Muhammad… in Greek Baraqlīṭis  (Paraclete)" ( Ibn Ishaq tr. 03‑4; Griffith, 1992 [I] 138‑141) Probably originally known as  al‑Mubtadā’  (The Beginning)  the first part of  this Sīra  of Ibn Isḥāq has recently been reconstructed  by Newby (1989)  from citations found in  al‑Ṭabarī and others. It contained `Stories of the Prophets’ ranging from the first couple (Adam and Eve) till the supposed martyr [St.] Geoge Megalomayrtos (d. early 5th Cent. CE) pictured as a prophet of destruction sent to a disbelieving people (1989:231‑241). [2]

[1]The Egyptian philologist Ibn Ḥishām was, as noted, not only responsible for one of the surviving recensions  of the  Sīra  of  Ibn Isḥāq but also the K. Al‑Tijān fī muluk Ḥimyar  which derives from Wahb b. Munabbih.

[2] Cited by later Muslim writers including Ibn Ishāq the earlier possibly historical sage and antiquary `Abīd [`Ubayd] b. Sharya al‑Jurhumī, (fl. 2nd cent. AH)  is said to have had his quasi‑historical narrations about ancient Arab, Persian and biblical history recorded at the order of the `Umayyad Caliph al‑Mu`awiya (Rosenthal, EI2 III:937; Sezgin, Geschichte I:260; Abbott, Studies  I:9ff).

∎ Khalīfah Ibn Khayyāt al‑`Uṣfurī (d. 241/855). 

The earliest extant tārīkh (Annalistic History), is the work of the chronicler, genealogist and  ḥadīth  specialist  Khalīfah Ibn Khayyāt al‑`Uṣfurī (d. 241/855).  He saw tārīkh (history) as something ever before humankind from the time of  "the fall of Adam from paradise" up to his own day  around  the middle of the 9th cent. CE. For him the pivot of  pre‑Islamic (biblical) and later history was the ḥijra  (flight) of the Prophet (622 CE) which served  as the fulcrum for his annalistic Tārīkh (al‑`Uṣufī,  Tārīkh,  23‑25; Zakkār, `Ibn Khayyāt al‑`Uṣfurī’ EI2 III:838; cf. Rosenthal, 1968:71‑2). Other  Muslim historians set out pre‑Islamic history dealing with the creation, biblical history, prophetology, Persian history  and more besides.

Ibn Sa’d (d. Baghdad, 230/845) and his K.  al‑ṭabaqāt  al‑kabīr  (Great book of the Classes)

The early biographical compilation of  Ibn Sa’d (d. Baghdad, 230/845)  entitled K.  al‑ṭabaqāt  al‑kabīr  (Great book of the Classes) includes a biography of the Prophet with an almost  fifty page account of the  pre‑Islamic era (Ṭabaqāt 1:5‑54). Like other early Sīra  works that of Ibn Sa`d  opens with genealogical data relating to Adam then traced through Abraham, Ishmael and others from whom Muhammad was believed to have descended. The biblically rooted genealogical notices were supplemented by those configured according to Iranian, Zoroastrian and Shī`ī expectations aspects of which lie behind later Safavid and Bābī‑Bahā’ī genealogical notices and charts. The Bāb as the Mahdī was linked to the family of the Muhammad (via Fāṭima and the Twelver Imams) and BA* with Zoroaster and Yezdigird III as well as Abraham’s third wife Keturah.

Abū Muhammad  Ibn Qutayba (276/889), his Kitāb al‑ma`ārif   (The Book of Knowledge)  and other writings.  

An important  historical manual and survey of  world history by Abū Muhammad  Ibn Qutayba (276/889) entitled  Kitāb al‑ma`ārif   (The Book of Knowledge)  "enjoyed tremendous popularity" (Rosenthal, EIr. VIII:47). Like Ibn Qurayba’s Ta`wīl mukhtalif  al‑ḥadīth  and `Uyūn al‑akhbār  it contains accurate bible quotations from the Torah as well as the Gospels. Passages cited include verses from several chapters of Genesis (1:2‑8; 9‑13, 14‑19, 20‑23, 26‑31, etc) and many from the Gospel of Matthew (Matt.1:17‑21; 2:22‑3, etc) (Lecomte,1958; Vajda, 1935; Lazarus‑Yafeh 1992:79f; Adang 1996:30‑36).