The Quran is described as mutishabihaat (allegorical or with many layers of meaning) in Quran 3:7. The Quran addresses the many and varied beliefs and stories (qsas) of the 7th Century Jewish, Christian and Pagan tribes in the 7th Century Arabian Peninsula. Some of these beliefs are contained in their oral traditions and others in their scriptures. These 7th Century scriptures differ in many respects from the scriptures available today. For instance, the Talmud, according to Jewish belief, is revealed oral tradition that Jews received at the foot of Mount Sinai. Allah (swt) addresses many of these beliefs in the Quran. The Prophet (saws) could not have known about any of these stories and allegories. So, repeating these religious beliefs to those who held these beliefs and kept them secret for themselves, was proof for those who held the belief that the Quran was revealed. The Christian and Jewish beliefs addressed in the Quran include the Mandaean (Sabian in the Quran) belief that John the Baptist had a secret name that only the Mandaeans knew. The secret name was Yahia Yahuna or Yahyah in the Quran. Again, Allah (swt) proved to the Mandaeans that the Quran was revelation from Him and that nothing was hidden from Him. Other stories unknown to the Prophet and are common to the Quran and the Bible are the stories of Joseph and Moses and the exodus.

This essay is an opinion drawn from 2 sources, Greek ruled Ptolemaic Egypt and 7th Century Arabia. These 2 sources present 2 different versions of the exodus as seen by the hellenized LXX authors and the Jewish rabbis in 7th Century Arabia as reported in the Quran. The LXX (Septuagint Bible) & the MT (Hebrew Bible) present an exodus circa the time of the Rameside pharaohs (19th Dynasty-1292-1203 BCE). The Quran presents an exodus under Khufu & his vizier, Haman aka Hemiunu (4th Dynasty-2500 BCE). The source for both versions can be traced to the Ptolemaic Famine Stela carved in the 3rd Century BCE in Egypt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty. According to Wiki: “The story told on the stela is set in the 18th year of the reign of Djoser. The text describes how the king is upset and worried as the land has been in the grip of a drought and famine for seven years, during which time the Nile has not flooded the farmlands. The text also describes how the Egyptians are suffering as a result of the drought and that they are desperate and breaking the laws of the land. Djoser asks the priest staff under the supervision of high lector priest Imhotep for help. The king wants to know where the god of the Nile, Hapi, is born, and which god resides at this place….”

The Ptolemaic Famine Stela was carved at the time the LXX (Greek Bible) authors were writing/editing their texts in Alexandria Egypt in the 3rd-1st Centuries BCE. These LXX authors modeled their story of Joseph and Pharaoh on that of Djoser and Imhotep (3rd Dynasty-2670-2613 BCE). Parallels between the biblical tale and that of the Famine Stela are obvious. So, considering that Djoser preceded Khufu, it was a simple matter to use Khufu as the model for the cruel Pharaoh of the Exodus. According to BBC history: “The idea that Khufu used slaves to build the pyramid comes from Greek historian Herodotus. He also describes Khufu as a cruel and wicked leader who prostituted his daughter when he ran short of money. But the Westcar Papyrus describes Khufu as a traditional oriental monarch: good-natured, amiable to his inferiors and interested in the nature of human existence and magic.” The Ptolemaic pharaohs were loyal to their Greek cultural icons, so Herodotus’ view was the accepted version of this pharaoh. The Jewish tribes in Arabia adopted this  version of the pharaoh of the exodus, so the event was placed under Khufu and his vizier, Hemiunu (Haman in the Quran).

The story of Djoser and Imhotep was pleasing to the LXX authors, so the use of these Egyptian figures as models for Joseph and his pharaoh was retained in both the Bible and the Quran even though the events described dated to the Old Kingdom according to the Famine Stela. The biblical pharaoh of the Exodus is also described in the same terms in which Herodotus described Khufu and this is where begins the story of the Hebrews being used as slaves to build the cities and monuments of a cruel pharaoh. (The Quran also retains this description.). However, the LXX authors realized that the dating of the Old Kingdom pre-dated by more than 2,000 years the founding of the Kingdom of Israel (circa 900 BCE) so they surmised that Khufu could not have been the pharaoh of the Exodus. The use of Khufu as a model was retained, however, and the LXX authors substituted Rameses II or III as a more appropriate fit for their dating.

The Rameside pharaohs had occupied the copper mines at Timna and Punon and used the locals as miners and smiths, so there was no love lost on these Egyptian monarchs. Of course, dating a mass exodus out of Egypt under the Rameside pharaohs became problematic because there was no mass exodus under the Rameside pharaohs. The faithful, however, were willing to overlook this problem and accept the LXX authors’ conclusion that the exodus occurred under Rameses. The only ‘mass’ exodus was that of the Hyksos which occurred under Ahmose I (16th Century BCE), which of course contradicts the Rameside version in the Bible. And biblical scholars have been searching for an historical solution to this problem when the only solution to this problem is literary. The biblical famine event and the characters of Joseph, Joseph’s pharaoh, and Moses’ pharaoh were modeled on Egyptian history and Egyptian cultural heroes and villains known to the very, very hellenized LXX authors living in Alexandria Egypt. Looking for an historical solution is fruitless because there is not historical solution. There is a literary solution and a moral lesson to be learned from these narratives. The moral lesson is the point of the narrative and not the impossibly confused history presented in biblical texts. The moral lesson was the point and it was meant to be sufficient for inclusion into this religious literature. 

There are many, many stories like these and these stories (qsas) and allegories (mutishabihat) also demonstrate the method all Muslims must employ when addressing the beliefs of non Muslims. Always, always present their beliefs accurately and then correct them in a manner that would not offend the non Muslim (Q 16:125).

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