|Is The Source Of Qur'an 18:60-65 The Alexander Romances?|
|Written by mquran.org|
|Monday, 20 November 2006|
Western scholars have claimed that Qur'an 18:60-65 is dependent upon stories from the Alexander Romances. Perhaps the most influential theory regarding the character of Qur'an 18:60-65 is that of Arent Wensinck's article "Al-Khadir" in the Encyclopaedia Of Islam. This article has been printed in both the first (1927, Volume II) and the second (1978) editions of the Encyclopaedia Of Islam without any changes.2. The Qur'an 18:60-65 & Alexander Romances
According to Wensinck and most of the subsequent scholarship, Qur'an 18:60-65 depends on elements of Alexander Romances. The primary reason for associating the Qur'anic story with Alexander is the identification of the fish in Qur'an 18:61 and 18:63 with the dried fish in certain versions of the Alexander stories, which comes to life when Alexander's cook washes it in the "spring of life". One of the first people to link the Alexander stories and Qur'an 18:60-82 were Lidzbarski and Dyroff in 1892. The link was subsequently developed by Vollers, Hartmann and Friedländer.
Before Friedländer's work, the association of the Alexander stories with Qur'an 18:60-82 was based on the presence of "al-Khidr" in the Arabic, Ethiopic, and Persian versions of the Alexander stories. The basis of interpretation of Qur'an 18:60-65 was in the light of identification of the "servant of God" with al-Khidr in Qur'an 18:60-65 and thus the association of al-Khidr with Alexander. These scholars did not perceive that the Arabic, Ethiopic, and Persian versions of Alexander stories which feature al-Khidr are not the sources of Qur'an 18:60-65; they are rather based upon the early Islamic commentator's identification of the "servant of God" in the Qur'an 18:65 with al-Khidr. In other words, the Arabic, Ethiopic, and Persian versions of Alexander stories came about after the advent of Islam.
The Syriac version of the Alexander stories has been dated from between the sixth and the tenth centuries. Budge had argued for the Syriac version to be dated roughly between the seventh and ninth centuries. On the basis of the spelling of proper names and vocabulary, Wright had argued that the Syriac translation was made from an Arabic original and places it in the tenth century. Nöldeke dated the Syriac version to the late sixth century. He argued that the spelling and vocabulary indicate not an Arabic but a Pahlavi origin. This dating was based on the assumption that the bulk of Pahlavi literature appeared in the fifth and sixth centuries. This appears to be the most accepted dating of the Syriac version. Aside from the issues of dating, it is important to recognize that the fish episode, which is a key point in both Friedländer and Wensinck's argument that Qur'an 18:60-65 was derived from Alexander stories, does not occur in the Syriac version. The Syriac version is, in fact,
The origin of the fish episode, according to Friedländer, is a passage from the sermon on Alexander by Jacob of Serugh dated to early part of the sixth century; the dating is based on Jacob of Serugh's death in 521 CE. Lines 170-197 describe how an old man tells Alexander to command his cook to take the salted fish and wash it at every spring of water he finds. When the fish comes to life, the old man explains, the cook will have found the water of life. The sermon then continues by mentioning how the cook was washing the fish in the spring when it comes to life and swims away. The cook, fearing Alexander may want the fish back, jumps into the water to retrieve the fish and gains immortality himself. A close parallel to the fish episode is to be found in the Greek versions of the Alexander stories. The story, not found in recension a, occurs in recension b. The latter is dated to sometime between recensions a and recension l and L, identified as a later manuscript of recension b. Let us summarize the issues surrounding the fish episode in various Greek recensions.
In all the Greek recensions, the cook finds the spring of life by accident in contrast with Alexander's instructions in Jacob of Serug's sermon that the cook used the fish as an indication that he had found the spring of life.3. The Case Against The Alexander Romances And The Sermon Of Jacob Of Serugh
Friedländer takes the position that the entire story of Moses and al-Khidr in the commentaries on the Qur'an 18:60-65 is taken from Alexander Romance. According to him the character identified as Moses in the Qur'an is Alexander. Alexander's cook is made into two different characters, both the servant of Moses of Qur'an 18:61-65 and the mysterious servant of God of Qur'an 18:65. Friedländer opines that the commentaries' identification of the servant of God with al-Khidr is an attempt to explain the third character of the story.
Wensinck adopts a position similar to that of Friedländer but he rejects that notion that the two servants are the same character and the exclusive identification of Alexander's cook with al-Khidr. Wensinck accepts the identification of Alexander's cook with Moses' servant along with the fish from the two sources. In order to support his viewpoint, Wensinck says that the Arabic term "fatā", as used for Moses' servant, is more consistent with an appellation for Alexander's cook. For Wensinck, this shows that Qur'an 18:60-65 is dependent on the Alexander romance rather than Ibn Shahin's story of Joshua b. Levi from which Qur'an 18:60-65 is allegedly derived. It should also be added that Wensinck denies the connection which Friedländer makes between the water of life and the meeting place of the two waters.
Brannon Wheeler, who has discussed this issue of "borrowing" as adduced by Friedländer and Wensinck in great detail, says that:
Further he adds that:
Wheeler, then discusses al-Tabari's commentary concerning how saraban describes the fish's escape. Al-Tabari lists three explanations of how saraban describes the fish's escape. The first explanation says that the fish made it way through a rock or water passage which Moses later discovered and followed to reach al-Khidr. The second says that wherever the fish swam the water became solid like rock, and Moses was able to walk over the water to an island on which he met al-Khidr. The third explanation states that the fish made it way across dry land only until it reached the water. In all the three explanations, it is assumed that the word saraban relates to the fish's escape via dry land. Hence there were variety of interpretations given to Qur'an 18:60-65 in the early Muslim exegesis. Wheeler adds that:
Wheeler points out that in later commentaries, overtime, the fish episode in the Qur'an 18:60-65 became increasing identified with the fish episode in the Alexander stories. It is likely that by the twelfth or possibly as early as eleventh century, based on the Persian recensions of the Alexander stories, commentators understood the Qur'an 18:60-65 to be an allusion of the Alexander stories.
Apart from these issues, there are many theories concerning the reconstruction of the history of the Alexander stories' recensions; many of them based on mere assumptions. It is uncertain that the Syriac Pseudo-Callithenes was not written as late as the ninth century, even if we assume it was taken from a Pahlavi original as Nöldeke claims. Even if it was taken from a Pahlavi original, it would be incumbent to show from where the Pahlavi recension is derived. The most obvious possibilities would be some of the later manuscripts of recension b or recension l, which contain roughly the same material. It should be noted that, however, that the usual reconstruction of the history of the Alexander stories' recensions make b and l independent of the Syriac recension, which derives from a hypothetical d recension. Keeping these possibilities in mind Wheeler says:
Based on the extensive studies concerning the influence by Syriac Pseudo-Callisthenes on Qur'an 18:60-102, Wheeler's conclusion can be shown in the following form:
Thus, the story in Qur'an 18:60-65, although later identified as the fish episode from the Alexander stories, does not resemble the earlier stories and is independent of the Alexander stories.3.1 Dating The Christian Legend Attributed To Jacob Of Serugh
Leaving aside the above discussion on the untenability of the sermon of Jacob of Serugh being the source of Qur'an 18:60-65, just based on the dates suggested above for the composition of Jacob of Serugh's sermon, it can be said that this was the source of the fish story in the Qur'an. Nöldeke ascribed the Christian Legend Concerning Alexander to Jacob of Serugh, who died in 521 CE, and dates its composition 514-515 CE. According to Nöldeke, the Legend reflected the invasion of Sabirian Huns in 515 CE, and that it was composed soon thereafter. He implied that the theme of the Christian Legend was one which was created anew out of Alexander Pseudo-Callisthenes. This dating was Nöldeke was accepted with minor reservations.
However, it was pointed out by Hunnius that the Legend contain an ex eventu (i.e., prophesy after the fact) knowledge of the Khazar invasion of Armenia (as the allies of Emperor Herakleios) in 628 CE. Hunnius has convincingly argued against Nöldeke's 6th century dating of Christian Legend. Czeglédy, using Kmoskó's thesis, has also argued that the dating the Christian Legend of Jacob of Serugh to 628 CE is conclusive.
The identification only gives us the date 628 CE as terminus a quo (a point of origin or a first limiting point in time). The text of the poem gives no date by which to fix the terminus ad quem (a final limiting point in time). Similarly Gero says:
Sir Budge indicated a long time ago that the Christian Legend has been re-worked and is burdened with additions and that this work is that of Jacob of Serugh is improbable.
It is perhaps best to conclude using Wheeler's study on the alleged sources of the Qur'an 18:60-102; that includes the story of Moses and al-Khidr as well as Dhul-Qarnayn.
Further, he adds:
As for the Christian Legend, terminus a quo for its composition is 628 CE. In conclusion, it is not only important to know the dates of composition of the individual works that are used to establish the theories of borrowing, but also to understand the difference between the Qur'an and the Qur'anic commentaries.
References & Notes
 "Al-Khadir", Encyclopaedia Of Islam, 1978, Volume IV, E. J. Brill (Leiden) & Luzac & Co. (London), pp. 902-903.
 A. Jeffery, The Koran: Selected Suras, 1958, The Heritage Press: New York (NY), p. 220, n. 6; C. C. Torrey, The Jewish Foundation Of Islam, 1967, Ktav Publishing House, Inc.: New York, pp. 123-125; Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not A Muslim, 1995, Prometheus Books: Amherst (NY), pp. 60-61; N. A. Newman, Muhammad, The Qur'an & Islam, 1996, Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute: Hatfield (PA), p. 377. A very confusing view is presented by Newman. It is not clear from Newman's writings what exactly is the alleged source of the Qur'anic story.
 M. Lidzbarski, "Wer Ist Chadhir?", Zeitschrift Für Assyriologie Und Verwandte Gebiete, 1892, Volume 7, pp. 104-106.
 K. Dyroff, "Wer Ist Chadhir?", Zeitschrift Für Assyriologie Und Verwandte Gebiete, 1892, Volume 7, pp. 319-327.
 K. Vollers, "Chidher?", Archiv Für Religionswissenschaft, 1909, Volume 12, pp. 234-284.
 R. Hartmann, "Zur Erklärung Von Süre 18, 59 ff", Zeitschrift Für Assyriologie Und Verwandte Gebiete, 1910, Volume 24, pp. 307-315.
 I. Friedländer, "Zur Geschichte Der Chadhirlegende", Archiv Für Religionswissenschaft, 1910, Volume 13, pp. 92-110; I. Friedländer, "Alexanders Zug Nach Dem Lebensquell Und Die Chadhirlegende", Archiv Für Religionswissenschaft, 1910, Volume 13, pp. 161-246; Much of the argument from these two articles is in I. Friedländer's, Die Chadhirlegende Und Der Alexanderroman, 1913, Druck Und Verlag Von B. G. Teubner: Leipzig.
 For Persian Alexander Romances see M. S. Southgate, Iskandarnamah: A Persian Medieval Alexander Romance, 1978, Columbia University Press: New York, pp. 167-185. Southgate has depicted the origins of various Alexander romances pictorially on p. 185; For Ethiopic versions see E. A. W. Budge, The Life And Exploits Of Alexander The Great: Being A Series Of Translations Of The Ethiopic Histories Of Alexander By The Pseudo-Callisthenes And Other Writers, 1896, London; A good overview of some of the versions of Alexander stories is in E. A. W. Budge, The History Of Alexander The Great Being The Syriac Version Of The Pseudo-Callisthenes, 1889, Cambridge: At The University Press, pp. lii-cxi.
 E. A. W. Budge, The History Of Alexander The Great Being The Syriac Version Of The Pseudo-Callisthenes, 1889, op cit., p. lx.
 Th. Nöldeke, "Beiträge Zur Geschichte Des Alexanderroman", Denkschriften Der Kaiserlichen Akademie Der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische Classe, 1890, Volume 37, pp. 30-32.
 S. Gero, "The Legend Of Alexander The Great In The Christian Orient", Bulletin Of The John Rylands University Library Of Manchester, 1993, Volume 75, p. 5.
 E. A. W. Budge, The History Of Alexander The Great Being The Syriac Version Of The Pseudo-Callisthenes, 1889, op cit., lines 170-197 on pp. 172-175 describe the fish episode in the sermon on Alexander by Jacob of Serug.
 I. Friedländer, "Alexanders Zug Nach Dem Lebensquell Und Die Chadhirlegende", Archiv Für Religionswissenschaft, 1910, op cit., pp. 210-221 for in-depth discussion.
 The list is derived from the discussion by B. M. Wheeler in "Moses Or Alexander? Early Islamic Exegesis Of Qur'an 18:60-65", Journal Of Near Eastern Studies, 1998, Volume 57, pp. 194-195.
 This recension is found in a single complete manuscript. For other Greek manuscripts see Parisina Supplementum, Greci 689 in J. Trumpf's, "Eine Unbekannte Sammlung Von Auszügen Aus Dem Griechischen Alexanderroman", Classica Et Mediaevalia: Revue Danoise De Philologie Et D'Histoire, 1965, Volume 26, pp. 83-100; Codex Vaticano Greci 1700 in G. Ballaira's, "Frammenti Inediti Della Perduta Recensione d Del Romanzo Di Alessandro In Un Codice Vaticano", Bollettino Del Comitato Per La Preparazione Della Edizione Nazionale Dei Classici Greci E Latini (NS), 1965, Volume 13, pp. 27-59.
 More information about b recension in L. Bergson's, Der Griechische Alexanderroman Rezension b, 1965, Almqvist & Wiksell: Uppsala. For a brief discussion on the manuscripts that represent b recension see pp. v-viii.
 A good description of l recension is in H. van Thiel's, Die Rezension l Des Pseudo-Kallisthenes, 1959, Rudolph Habelt Verlag: Bonn. For various manuscripts of this recension see pp. 9-.
 For g recension see R. Merkelbach's, Die Quellen Des Griechischen Alexanderromans, 1954, C. H. Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung: München.
 "Al-Khadir", Encyclopaedia Of Islam, Volume IV, op cit., p. 904.
 ibid., p. 903.
 B. M. Wheeler "Moses Or Alexander? Early Islamic Exegesis Of Qur'an 18:60-65", Journal Of Near Eastern Studies, 1998, op cit., pp. 195-196.
 ibid., pp. 197-198.
 ibid., p. 198.
 ibid., p. 201. A brief and lucid introduction to various recensions can be found in R. Stoneman's The Greek Alexander Romance, 1991, Penguin Books, pp. 28-31; Also see G. Cary's The Medieval Alexander, 1956, Cambridge at the University Press, pp. 9-12.
 B. M. Wheeler "Moses Or Alexander? Early Islamic Exegesis Of Qur'an 18:60-65", Journal Of Near Eastern Studies, 1998, op cit., pp. 201-202.
 Th. Nöldeke, "Beiträge Zur Geschichte Des Alexanderroman", Denkschriften Der Kaiserlichen Akademie Der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische Classe, op cit., pp. 31.
 E. A. W. Budge, The History Of Alexander The Great Being The Syriac Version Of The Pseudo-Callisthenes, 1889, op cit., p. 154.
 See A. R. Anderson, "Alexander's Horns", Transactions And Proceedings Of The American Philological Association, 1927, Volume LVIII, pp. 110-111; A. R. Anderson, Alexander's Gate, Gog And Magog, And The Inclosed Nations, 1932, The Mediaeval Academy Of America: Cambridge, MA, pp. 29-30; M. S. Southgate, Iskandarnamah: A Persian Medieval Alexander Romance, 1978, Columbia University Press: New York, p. 201.
 C. Hunnius, Das Syrische Alexanderlied, 1905, Göttingen, pp. 21-24. Interestingly, Nöldeke was aware of this date of Khazar invasion and he holds it as a genuine vaticination. He even admits that the Khazars, as the allies of Emperor Herakleios, invaded Armenia, through the Caucasus in 627 CE. This however, argues Nöldeke, did not mean the beginning of a campaign, as the Legend would make us suppose, but rather the conclusion of a protracted Byzantine-Persian war. Therefore, in Nöldeke's opinion, the date 940 of Greek Era (= 629 CE) is purely arbitrary, as it should naturally be in the case of a genuine vaticination. For the text of Christian Legend see E. A. W. Budge, The History Of Alexander The Great Being The Syriac Version Of The Pseudo-Callisthenes, 1889, op cit., p. 154.
 K. Czeglédy, "The Syriac Legend Concerning Alexander The Great", Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 1957, Volume 7, pp. 246-247. Czeglédy also discusses Kmoskó's arguments concerning metrical discourse of Jacob of Serug in "Monographs On Syriac And Muhammadan Sources In The Literary Remains Of M. Kmoskó", Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 1954, Volume 4, pp. 35-36. For the discussion on the Syriac prose legend refer to pp. 31-34.
 S. Gero, "The Legend Of Alexander The Great In The Christian Orient", Bulletin Of The John Rylands University Library Of Manchester, op cit., p. 7.
 E. A. W. Budge, The History Of Alexander The Great Being The Syriac Version Of The Pseudo-Callisthenes, op cit., p. lxxvii.
 B. M. Wheeler "Moses Or Alexander? Early Islamic Exegesis Of Qur'an 18:60-65", Journal Of Near Eastern Studies, 1998, op cit., p. 214.
John D'Urso, M S M Saifullah & Elias Karim
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