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The Islamo-Biblica in Islamic Tārīkh I




The Islamo-Biblica in Islamic Tārīkh,  historical works I.

Historical, or pseudo‑historical, material centering around biblical events and personalities gained the right of entry into Islam through the Qur’ān and its interpretation... the biblical tradition occupies a special place in the history of Muslim historiography . It provides Muslim historical writing with some of its most significant elements (Rosenthal, 1962:40,43).

 From the earliest Islamic centuries folkloristic and (quasi‑) historical writing informed by Isrā’īliyyāt were important factors in the emergence of Islamic piety and historiography.  A need was felt to place the piecemeal qur’ānic salvation history in a wider, more structured historical context. The meagre qiṣaṣ al‑anbiyā’   elements in the Q. were expounded, contextualized and supplemented.  For apologetic purposes the advent of the prophet Muhammad had to be shaped on biblical lines and be seen to fulfill Abrahamic religious expectations.  The conviction that Muhammad delivered the Q. at the apex of a predestined chain of prophets had to be inspiringly set forth (Rubin,1995).

  Early Islamic historical writing was fuelled by Arab genealogical, poetic and other  interests. It was also a result of the Muslim interaction and dialogue with Jewish, Zoroastrian Christian and other converts (the ahl al‑dhimma, Duri, 1984; Humphreys, 1989; Khalidi, 1994). Hagiographically oriented biography writing and associated literary activities were indulged in by converts from the Abrahamic religions traditions. They contributed significantly to emergent Muslim historiography.  (Sezgen, GALS, 247ff; Donner,  1998, App. 297ff).

Among the earliest, now lost examples of Islamic history writing are a number of works detailing the lives of pre‑Islamic prophet figures.  In various ways they were seen as typologically anticipating and predicting the advent of Muhammad and Islam. Attributed to Ka`b al‑Aḥbār (see below Ch.1.1), for example, are an early  Book of Adam and Eve,  a Wafāt  Mūsā  (Passing of Moses) and a Sīrat al‑Iskandar  (Life of Alexander). Wahb b. Munabbih and others produced similar works (see 1.1; Donner, 1998:299‑306 [= App.])  Early sagas about the Ḥimyarī kings mixed with tales of pre‑Islamic biblical and other figures including Abraham, Noah, Luqmān son of `Ād, Khiḍr, and Bilqīs (the Queen of Sheba) are apparent in Wahb’s K. Al‑mulūk  wa’l‑akhbār al‑māḍīn  (Wahb, K. Tījān, 1347/1928) as extant in the recension of Ibn Hīshām  (d. 213/828) entitled K. al‑Tījān fī mulūk Ḥimyār  (The Book of the Crowned Kings of Ḥimyār). Norris has referred to this work as a "rich mine of Arabian fable, legend and garbled chronicles" in which can be seen "the influence of Rabbinical, Syriac and Persian lore in both poetry and prose" (CHAL 1:385).

∎ 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).

∎ Abū Ḥanīfa al‑Dīnawarī (d. c. 281/894) and his The K. al‑akhbār al‑ṭiwāl  (Book of the Long Narratives).

 The K. al‑akhbār al‑ṭiwāl  (Book of the Long Narratives) of Abū Ḥanīfa al‑Dīnawarī (d. c. 281/894) is the oldest extant (Arabic)  history written from a Persian point of view. Rosenthal, at the outset of his coverage of `World Histories’, aptly describes this work as `a synchronized presentation of Biblical, Persian and pre‑Islamic Arab history, followed by an early Islamic history..." (1968:133). Its opening section, `From Adam until the Islamic conquests (al‑futūḥāt al‑islāmiyya)’ has nine subdivisions the first three of which are entitled `The rulers of the earth (mulūk al‑arḍ)  from Adam until the reign of Darius’ (7‑27); `Narratives of the Reign of Darius and Alexander‘ (28‑39)  and `Narratives of the Kings of Yemen and the commissioning of Jesus’ (40‑46). Brief notices are included about many pre‑Islamic prophets and Persian figures including Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Solomon, `Aristotle and Alexander’, `Gog and Magog ’,   Zoroaster and Jesus (Dīnawarī, al‑akhbār  7ff; Bosworth, EIr. I:715‑6; Pellat, EIr. VII:417).

Two Imāmī  Shī`ī  historians,  al‑Ya`qūbī (d.c. 292/905)  and  al‑Mas`ūdī (d. 345/956)

 The Shī`īte historian al‑Ya`qūbī has recently been called the "first historian of world culture in Islam" (Khalidi, 1994:2). In presenting a "culturally and intellectually oriented tableau of pre‑Islamic nations" (Humphreys, `Ta’rīkh’ EI 2 X: 272) he drew on the Bible and other non‑Islamic sources not holding to any theory of the whole scale taḥrīf   (corruption) of the biblical text. The first volume of  Ya`qūbī’s two volume Ta`rīkh  (Chronicle) deals with the pre‑Islamic era devoting over seventy pages to the period from  the first couple till the time of Jesus (Tā`rīkh 1:5‑80). In addition to the Bible, Ya`qūbī was influenced by various extra‑biblical sources such as the originally Syriac (+ Arabic) apocryphal and sometimes genealogical Me’ârath Gazzê  (Book of the Cave of Treasures, 4th cent CE?).  This to some degree bolstered  Ya`qūbī’s  Shī`ī interest in issues of waṣiyya  (successorship) (Refer Bezold,1883‑8; Budge, 1927; Adang 1996:38 ; Ebied &  Wickham, 1970; Ferrê, 1977).

 Ya`qūbī evidently had a considerable regard for the integrity of biblical scripture. He taught that king Zerubbabel rescued the Hebrew bible from a well into which Nebuchadnezzar had cast it and considered the NT a trustworthy source (Adang, 1996:226‑7). For him the Gospels have it that after traveling to Jerusalem, Jesus communicated to his disciples a distinctly messianic, Paraclete promise:

The hour has come at which the Son of Man (ibn al‑bashar  = Jesus) must withdraw unto his Father ... [then] there will come unto you the Paraclete (al‑fāraqlīṭ) who will be with you as a prophet (nabī)... " (Tā’rīkh  1: 72)

∎ al‑Mas`ūdī (d. 345/956)

 A one time student of al‑Ṭabarī in Baghdad (see below), the amazingly prolific al‑Mas`ūdī  did not wholly share his teachers’ negative views regarding pre‑Islamic scripture. He was much travelled and had frequent  dialogue with Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians and the Sabeans of Harran. Most probably a Shī`ī Muslim like Ya`qūbī  he authored several highly influential historical works replete with detailed accounts of pre‑Islamic history and rich by Isrā’īliyyāt traditions (Shboul1979 Ch.IV). Notable in this respect are his two digests of larger works, the Murūj al‑dhahab wa ma`ādīn al‑jawhar  (Meadows of Gold and Mines of Jewels) and the  K. al‑Tanbīh wa’l‑ishrāf  (The Book of Indication and the General View) which are "both part of a series of seven works in which al‑Mas`ūdī combined history, geography, astronomy, ethnography and religion" (Adang, 1993:46 ;  Shboul, 1979:68ff). 

 The abovementioned works of al‑Mas`ūdī both draw heavily on biblical history and several times give an account of the fate of the Torah, a book which al‑Mas`ūdī claimed to have directly consulted (Murūj  I:45, Praries I:32 Adang 1996:124). Shboul thought that  al‑Mas`ūdī was familiar with several Arabic translations of the Torah and aware of the Greek, Septuagint (LXX) version as well as the existence of the targumic tradition (Shboul, 1979:288). He certainly had an impressive knowledge of  Christianity though he held back from giving NT citations. As he saw the matter, neither the Q. nor the Prophet had explicitly confirmed  the Gospel narratives (Shboul, 1979:290f; Adang, 1996: 44‑48, 122‑126; Pulcini, 1998:32‑35).

The Tārīkh   of  al‑Ṭabarī  and its Persian  recreation by Bal`amī (d. c. 387/997) . 

The massive Ta’rīkh al‑rusūl wa’l‑mulūk (The history of prophets and kings) of the famous Q. commentator al‑Ṭabarī (d. 310/ 923) is universally recognized as an extremely important Arabic  historical source. Drawing  on numerous earlier sources  it  covers Israelite and Persian pre‑Islamic history  in considerable detail  (800+ Arabic pages) -this work is exactly 811 pages in the Ar. Leiden edition (Brill, 14 vols. + index, 1879‑1901). The English  translation of this portion fills vols.1‑4 of  the Yarshater (ed) translation (see bib.). Though a certain amount of biblical data informs this seminal work, Ṭabarī "ostensibly relied on the traditional Muslim material" (Rosenthal, 1962:42). In both his Ta`rīkh  and his Tafsīr   Ṭabarī  was of the opinion that Jewish leaders willfully distorted the Hebrew Bible (trans. Cooper, 1987, 403ff; Adang, 1993:2983,107; Pilcini, 1998:29‑32). 

∎ The recreated Persian Histoiry of al-Ṭararī  of Abū Alī Muhammad, Bal`amī

 al‑Ṭabarī’s Arabic history was early freely translated into new Persian (c. 963 CE) by Abū Alī Muhammad, Bal`amī for the Samānid ruler Manṣūr b. Nūḥ (d. 365/976). More a transformation of the Arabic than a translation, it amplifies, reworks and sometimes `corrects’ Ṭabarī’s original text at times in line with Samānid legitimacy and the incorporation of Judaeo‑Christian material  (Meisami, 1999:23ff). The Persian Ṭabarī is best viewed as an independent literary entity (Daniel, 1990). Following the Persian preface in the introductory section, Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions about the age of the world are registered (Tārīkh  [Per.]).

 The Persian Ṭabarī expands, alters and to some extent Persianizes  aspects of the Arabic legend of the Aṣḥāb al‑kahf  (Companions of the Cave). In line with Islamic tradition al‑Ṭabarī  held that the  sleepers  entered and left  the "cave" at the time of Jesus (al‑Ṭabarī, Tārīkh,  trans. Perlman, IV: 156‑7). The Bal`amī version holds that this happened after the time of Dhū’l‑Qarnayn (= Alexander the Great) though prior to that of Ardishīr [I] b. Bābak, the founder of the Sassanian dynasty (?‑242 CE; see Ṭabarī, Tārīkh (Per.) I:179‑80; cf. trans. Zotenburg, II:39‑40). 

∎ The Shī`I historianal‑Maqdisī (fl. 10th cent. CE.)  and his  K. al‑bad` wa’l‑tārīkh

 The aforementioned Shī`I historianal‑Maqdisī (fl. 10th cent. CE.) authored his wide‑ranging  K. al‑bad` wa’l‑tārīkh    for a Samānid prince around 355/966. Basically a universal history it incorporates much pre‑Islamic data in its twenty‑six sections (in the published edition).  Subjects covered include God and the creation, prophecy, Adam, the prophets (II:74‑132+III:1ff), the Persian kings and the end of the world (Morony, EIr. III:352). The Tā’rīkh‑I Maqdisī  is a richly detailed book widely read in eastern Islamic countries. It includes important  information about Iranian religion and history and cites copiously from Jewish,  Christian and other sources (Maqdisī, K. al‑Bad`;  Goitein, 1968:142‑3; Morony, `al‑Bad` wa’l‑Tarīkh’ EIr. IV:352).


Mujmal al-tawarikh wa'l-qiṣaṣ. (written c. 520/1126).

  • Mujmal al-tawarikh wa'l-qiṣaṣ.  ed. Mahmoud Omidsalar and Iraj Ashar. Tehran: 2005. Composed c. 520/1126 (so M. Qazvini). A world history from creation until the year 520/1126. Facsimile reproduction of a mss. copied in 751/1350-1 and in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Orìentabteilung (HS or 2371)

"Persian Manuscripts in Facsimile NO.1 In Memory of M.Taqi Bahār MUJMAL AL-TAWARIKH WA-'LQISAS Composed circa 520 AH (1126 AD), copied in 751 AH (1350 AD) Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin ֊ Preussischer Kulturbesitz. Orìentabteilung (HS or 2371) Funding by Society for Promotion of Persian Culture (S. P. P. C), Indiana.  Editors Mahmoud Omidsalar JFK Memorial Library California State University, Los Angeles.  Iraj Atshar Tehran University (Emeritus)".

  • Other mss. of this work are found, for example, [1] in Paris - Bibliotheque Nation  (Ancien fonds Persan, 62) dating to 813/1410; [2] in Dublin - Chester Beaty Lib. dated 823/1420 and [3] in Germany - the Heldelberg Library  dated 906/1500 CE.