11. FABLE - A PARABLE TEACHING A MORAL? OR AN IMAGINARY MYTH?
A discussion of "fables" may seem out of place in a chapter on science, but it is placed in this section because "accurate history" as recorded in either the Bible or the Qur'an relates to the word "science" in its broadest sense.
Dr. Bucaille asserts that the Bible, especially the Torah-Old Testament, is not valid history, but really fables and the product of men's imagination. On page 4 under the title ORIGINS OF THE BIBLE he writes,
"Before it became a collection of books, it was a folk tradition that relied entirely upon human memory, originally the only means of passing on ideas...
"E. Jacobs notes that these words (laws and records) were either passed down from family to family or channeled through the sanctuaries in the form of an account of the history of God's chosen people.
"History quickly turned into fable, as in the Fable of Jotham (Judges 9:7-21) where "the trees went forth to anoint a king over them; and they asked in turn the olive tree, the fig tree, the vine and the bramble",
"which allows E. Jacob to note, "animated by the need to tell a good story, the narration was not perturbed by subjects or times whose history was not well known..."
To say that the Book of Judges came, not by revelation, but "by the need to tell a good story" is a very strong statement. For Christians who believe that it is revelation, the Book of Judges, where the above mentioned "fable" is found, describes real events which took place in the 12th century BC following the Exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan.
According to E. Jacob, this was a time when there was no writing and "history quickly turned to fable". However, the reader may remember that when we studied this question in Chapter I of Section Three, we found that writing had been known in the area from at least 2300 BC, and that in the 13th Century BC, 100 years before the Book of Judges, there were five different scripts in use in Canaan. Clearly the specialist E. Jacob is wrong on this point.
Now let us look at this so-called "fable", including all the necessary context so that every reader can make his own judgement.
According to Judges Chapter 6, God ordered a man named Gideon, son of Joash, to tear down the altar which his father had built to a false god called Baal. Then he was to build an altar to the Eternal One, Yahweh Elohim.
Gideon did this and the next day the men of the town said to Gideon's father,
"Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal's altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it." "But the father replied.., "Are you going to plead Baal's cause?.. If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.' "So that day they called Gideon `Jerub-Baal', saying, `Let Baal contend with him.'" Judges 6:30b-32a.
Chapters 7 and 8 tell how God used Gideon and only three hundred men to put such fear into a Midianite army of more than 100,000 men that these Midianites rushed out in the middle of the night and killed each other.
After this great victory Gideon went back to his home in Ophrah and lived there forty years. He had seventy sons from his wives and one son, Abimelech, by a concubine, who lived in the neighboring town of Shechem.
After Gideon's death, Chapter 9 tells us that Abimelech said to the people of shechem,
"Which is better for you? To have all seventy of Jerub-Baal's sons rule over you, or just one man?" Remember, I am your flesh and blood." Judges 9:2.
When the people of Shechem heard this they decided to follow Abimelech. With this support on his side,
"He went to his father's home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal (Gideon); but Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal, escaped by hiding. Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered ... to crown Abimelech king. Judges 9:5-6.
"When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, `Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you. `One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, "Be our king". `But the olive tree answered, "should I give up my oil, by which both gods and men are honored, to go waving over the trees?" `Next the trees said to the fig tree, "Come and be our king." `But the fig tree replied, "Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to go waving over the trees?" `Then the trees said to the vine, "come and be our king." `But the vine answered, "Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and men, to go waving over the trees?" `Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, "Come and be our king." `The thornbush said to the trees, "If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!" `Now if you have acted honorably and in good faith when you made Abimelech king, and if you have been fair to Jerub-Baal and his family, and if you have treated him as he deserves - and to think that my father fought for you, risked his life to rescue you from the hand of Midian ... If then if you have acted honorably ... May Abimelech be your joy, and may you be his, too! But if you have not, let fire come out from Abimelech and consume you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and let fire come out from you, citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo, and consume Abimelech!' "Then Jotham fled, escaping to Beer, and he lived there because he was afraid of his brother Abimelech." Judges 9:7-21.
Chapter 9 then goes on to tell how three years later, Abimelech killed the men of Shechem, "destroyed the city, and scattered salt over it". A few days later, Abimelech himself was killed when a woman threw a millstone down from a wall and mortally wounded him. Judges 9:45-57. Now is this a fable in the sense of "history turned fable"?
The dictionary Larousse defines a fable as
a. apologue, allegorical narrative, usually in verse, which hides a moral under the cover of fiction;
b. a false account, imaginary.
Clearly this parable given by Jotham has a moral teaching, so it IS a fable if we are using the first definition. But it IS NOT "history turned to fable". The fable is in the middle of the history, but distinct from the history.
However, when Dr. Bucaille uses the word, quoting E. Jacob and comparing the Torah-Old Testament with the Song of Roland, he is using the second meaning for the word "fable". He is claiming that these accounts have practically no historical value. He can only do this because in Europe so few readers have a Bible at hand with which to check up on him. But with the story in front of us, it is clear that Jotham, the remaining son, made a parable promising that those who destroyed his brothers would destroy each other. To call this a "fable" as myth is gross error.
The truth of the historical part of the account has even been confirmed by archaeology. Dr. Siegfried H. Horn, Professor of Archaeology at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan wrote in 1968,
"I want to inject a personal note about the discoveries at Shechem, for I participated in its excavation. Our 1960 work at Shechem revealed that the city and its great temple of Baal were destroyed in the twelfth century B.C. That is exactly the time indicated in the Bible for the destruction of Shechem by Abimelech, the ... son of the judge Gideon.
"The archaeological evidence - broken pieces of pottery - sets the date at about 1150 B.C. The agreement between he two dates, one obtained from Biblical evidence and the other from archaeological data, could hardly have been closer."
From the Middle Meccan Sura of the Ant (Al-Naml) 27:15-44, we read,
And We verily gave knowledge unto David and Solomon, and they said: "Praise be to God, Who has preferred us above many of His believing slaves!" And Solomon was David's heir, and he said, "O mankind! Lo, we have been taught the language of birds, and have been given some of all things. This is indeed evident favor." And there were gathered together unto Solomon his armies of the jinns and humans and birds, and they were set in battle order; until when they reached the valley of the ants, an ant said, "O ants! Enter your homes lest Solomon and his armies crush you, without noticing", Solomon smiled at the ant and said, "O Lord! May I do that which is right and well pleasing to You, so that You introduce me among Your servants the righteous." And he took muster of the birds and said, "why is it that I see not the Hoopoe? Is he among the absent? Truly I will punish him with a severe penalty, or execute him, unless he brings me a clear excuse." But he was not long in coming, and said, "I have found out that which you have not found out and I have come to you from Saba' with certain news. "I found a woman ruling over them, surrounded with every kind of possession, and having a magnificent throne. I found her and her people worshiping the sun apart from God. Satan has made their deeds pleasant unto them and has turned them aside from the right way, and they are not rightly directed, so that they do not worship God Who brings forth the hidden in the heavens and the earth, and knows what you hide and what you proclaim. God, there is no god but He! Lord of the magnificent throne!" And (Solomon) said, "We shall see whether you are telling the truth or are from among the liars. Go with this my letter, and having delivered it to them turn aside, and see what answer they return." (The queen) said, "O nobles! an honorable letter has been delivered to me. it is from Solomon. it is in the name of the Most Merciful God. (He says), `Be not arrogant against me, but come to me in submission.'" She said, "O nobles! Advise me in my affair. No affair have I decided except in your presence." They said, "We are lords of might and lords of great prowess, but it is for you to command, so consider what you will command." She said, "Kings, when they enter a country ruin it and make the noblest of its people the abased, and thus they will do. But I am going to send a present and we will see with what my messengers return." So when (the envoy) came to Solomon, he said, "Will you give me wealth? Verily that which God has given me is better than that which He has given you. No, it is you who rejoice in your gift. "Go back to them and be sure we shall come to them with such hosts as they will never be able to meet. We shall expel them from there in disgrace, and they will feel humbled." He said (to his own leaders), "O nobles, which of you will bring me her throne, before they come submissive to me." An `Ifrit (devil or giant) of the Jinns said, "I will bring it to you before you rise from your place, for I am strong and trustworthy." One, who had knowledge of the book said, "I will bring it to you before the twinkling of your eye". And when (Solomon) saw it placed before him he said, "This is a favor of my Lord, that He may try me whether I am grateful or ungrateful..." And he said, "Alter her throne, that we may see whether she will receive guidance or is from those who will not receive guidance." So when she arrived she was asked, "Is this your throne?" She said, "It was just like this." And (Solomon said), "We were given knowledge before her, and we surrendered. But that which she worshiped besides had turned her aside, for she was of an unbelieving people." It was said to her, "Enter the palace." And when she saw it, she imagined that it was a great surface of water, and she uncovered her legs. (Solomon) said, "Verily it is a palace paved with glass." She said, "My Lord (God), I have wronged myself. I submit (in Islam) to the Lord of the Worlds."
What shall we say of this account filled with talking birds, talking ants, giants of the jinns, and the throne brought in the "twinkling of an eye"?
Hamidullah has a note with these verses defining the word `ifrit as, "a type of evil devil which one encounters in many fabulous stories." (Unlike the noun, the French adjective "fabuleux" which I translated as "fabulous" has only one meaning: make-believe, imaginary, mythical, extraordinary.)
What does the Bible actually say about Solomon and animals and birds? Three sentences which read,
"He (Solomon) described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom." I Kings 4:33-34a.
Yet Dr. Bucaille can write in L'Homme, D'Ou Vient-il?,
"In addition, I have not found in the text of the Qur'an any allusion to the myths and superstitions from the period of its communication to men, like those one finds in the Bible by the pen of authors speaking the language of their epoch."
The Muslim reader may wish to place this account in class (a), i.e., a fable containing a moral teaching, but it does not seem to be presented as such in the Qur'an. It is true that there is some moral teaching, but the conversations and facts, both in the story and in the Quranic accounts before and after the story, seem to be presented as true history.
The account of Moses at the "burning bush", which comes just before the account of Solomon and the Queen of Saba', is presented in this Sura and elsewhere in the Qur'an as true history.
The accounts of Salih going to the Thamud, and Lot speaking to his people, stories which immediately follow the account of Solomon and the Queen, are each presented as true history, both here and in other Suras.
In addition verses 59-66 give many appeals to nature as proof of God's greatness; including the "barrier" between two types of water which Dr. Bucaille and Dr. Torki are so keen to present as Quranic foreknowledge of modern science.
In the account of Jotham which we read above, there is a clear change between the historical material telling of the death of his 70 brothers, and Jotham's parable of the trees. He knew and his listeners knew that he was saying a parable with a moral meaning, but this story of Solomon, is found in the middle of historical material without any indication of change.
Furthermore, since Dr. Bucaille has been so careful to search for sources for Biblical stories, it must be asked why he has not taken the same care in relation to the Qur'an. He would find much useful material in books such as The Sources of Islam by W. St. Clair-Tisdall, who shows that this story was repeated among the Jews and is recorded in the II. Targum of the book of Esther. The account in the Targum includes the fact that the queen's legs had hair like a man. This fact, not found in the Qur'an, is however included in the Muslim traditions in the Araish al Majalis.
Another passage which needs to be considered here is the account of Solomon's death as found in the Early Meccan Sura of Saba' (Saba') 34:12-14, which reads,
"And unto Solomon...We caused the fount of copper to gush forth for him, and there were of the jinns that worked in front of him (bain yadaihi), by the leave of his Lord, and if any one of them turned aside from Our command, We made him taste of the penalty of the blazing fire.
They worked for him as he desired ... then when We decreed death upon (Solomon), nothing showed them his death except a little creeping creature of the earth, which gnawed away his staff. And when he fell the jinns saw clearly how, if they had known the unseen, they would not have continued in the humiliating penalty (of work)."
Here we have the great King Solomon, leaning on his staff and watching over the jinns, like any overseer that one sees managing a few workers repairing a road. He dies propped up on his staff. Not one of his servants who prepare his food, not one of his generals who come to him for orders, not one of his nobles, and not even the hoopoe bird notices or pays the least bit of attention, until a worm slowly eats away at his staff and he finally falls to the floor!?!?
What words would Dr. Bucaille use for this story if it were in the Bible? He would talk about "l'invraisemblance" - the unlikelihood - of the passage. He would call it a "phantasmagoria". For any reader who does not have a dictionary close at hand that means "a shifting series of illusions or deceptive appearances, as in a dream or as created by the imagination."
Again we must ask, "What does the Bible really say about this?"
In I Kings 5:15-16 we read,
"Solomon had seventy thousand carriers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hills, as well as thirty-three hundred foremen who supervised the project and directed the workmen."
The biggest problem, though, is the picture it gives of God. Does God Almighty, Creator of the Heavens and Earth and all that is in them, keep the Jinns working by fooling them?
It is the same type of question that comes to mind about Jesus' crucifixion. Why should the great and mighty God who is called "The Truth" make it "seem as though" Jesus was crucified, if he wasn't?
In the Sura of the Family of `Imran (Ali `Imran) 3:52-53 from 2 or 3 AH it says that Jesus' disciples believed in him.
Then it goes on in verse 54 to say,
"And they (the Jews who didn't believe in Jesus) schemed (makaru), and Allah schemed (makara) and Allah is the best of schemers (khair al-makirin)."
This word "schemer" (makir) is a very strong word which Wehr and Abdel-Nour define as sly, cunning, wily. The Arabic-Arabic Munjid defines it with "khuda`a" which means exactly the same thing.
According to the Gospel the leaders of the Jews did scheme to seize Jesus privately so that there wouldn't be a rebellion, but why should God allow them to think that they succeeded and then call Himself the Best of Schemers by taking up Jesus secretly? This leaves Jesus' closest followers also deceived - the very followers whom the Qur'an itself agrees believed in him. Is it really possible that the great God of Truth did this?
In his Chapter The Four Gospels, Sources and History Dr. Bucaille writes as follows on page 61,
"He (Matthew) inserts into his book descriptions which are quite literally incredible".
Let us look then, at one of these passages which have been called "incredible". From the Gospel of Matthew 27:50-53 we read,
"And when Jesus (from his place on the cross) had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. "At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people."
What are Dr. Bucaille's complaints about this? First of all it "has no corresponding passage in the other Gospels", i.e. it is only found one time. This is also true, of course, for the Quranic account saying that Jesus didn't die. It is found in only one Sura.
Secondly, he says, "It is difficult to see how the bodies of the saints in question could have been raised from the dead at the time of Jesus's death (on Friday) and only emerge from their tombs after his resurrection (on Sunday)."
What shall we say? I say that though the passage gives that impression, we must give the author the benefit of the doubt. I am sure that he did not intend us to understand that those raised from the dead sat in their cold tombs, shivering from Friday until Sunday morning.
I am sure that he intended the reader to understand that the tombs were split open on Friday, and that the bodies were raised from the dead on Sunday morning at the same time that Christ was raised from the dead; as part of his great victory over death.
In any case, compared to the account of Solomon with his talking birds and `ifrits of the jinns; or the story about his dead body propped up on a stick; this Biblical account is a pearl of 20th century precision, and it was unworthy of Dr. Bucaille to even mention it.
The truth is that although the revelation in the Torah-Old Testament and Gospel-New Testament is in terms of the cultures of the people who wrote and received it; Divine Inspiration by the Holy Spirit prevented the Old Testament prophets and the disciples of Jesus from including the grotesque mythological ideas and the polytheism of the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans.
We have seen all through this long chapter how Dr. Bucaille and others have used basic assumptions to reconcile differences in the Qur'an. Dr. Bucaille must allow the same freedom to those of us who love the Torah-Old Testament and the Gospel-New Testament.
When Christians propose that the genealogy in the Gospel according to Matthew is that of Joseph, and the genealogy in the Gospel according to Luke is that of Mary, every person is free to say that the evidence is not convincing. But it is not valid for Dr. Bucaille to accuse Christians of being stubbornly blind and using devious means when they make such a basic assumption to reconcile the problem. He has made many basic assumptions throughout his book.
Moreover to imply that Christians have not even been willing to admit that there is a problem is just not historically true. Eusebius, a Christian Bishop who lived in Palestine and wrote a history of the early church less than 200 years after Jesus ascended into heaven, noted the problem and suggested the solution mentioned above.
And when Dr. Bucaille makes a great point of the fact that he learned Arabic in order to read the Qur'an in the original, he must have read in the Sura of the Spider (Al-`Ankabut) 29:14 where it says,
"We sent Noah to his people, and he tarried among them a thousand years less fifty ..."
On what basis, then, does he write,
"One knows that these (Biblical) genealogies attribute to Abraham and to his 19 ancestors until Adam lives of unbelievable length, which reach 969 years for Methuselah..."
Surely, if "969 years" is unbelievable for the Bible, "950 years" is unbelievable for the Qur'an. If "950 years" is believable for the Qur'an then "969 years" is believable for the Bible. We must weigh both books in the same balance.
As the English proverb says,
"What is good for the goose is good for the gander."
That still leaves the problem of the genealogy going back to Adam, a problem to which no totally satisfactory solution has been proposed. In his Révélation des origines Henri Blocher spends three pages discussing four possible answers to this problem and then concludes, "They all have their inconveniences, so the problem remains before us".
But in view of all the archaeological confirmation to the history of the Torah and the Gospel, and the many miracles which Jesus did, and the fulfilled prophecies - which abundantly confirm the truth of the Gospel, it is prudent and possible to wait and see what future studies and discoveries will produce. In 1947 no one thought that in 1948 we would find fragments of Leviticus from the Torah of Moses - fragments which were copied more than 200 years before Jesus the Messiah walked the earth - fragments which are the same as the Torah which we have in our hand today, showing very clearly that the Torah has never been changed.
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