Responses to Islamic Awareness

Pseudo-Callisthenes, Dhul-Qarnayn & Alexander The Great

Dr. Saifullah begins this article with his usual tirade of name-calling and insults, which are most inappropriate for a man of his education and purported dedication to God. He then makes an interesting accusation:

We will be using book of E A W Budge, inshallah, to prove the methodology of Jochen et al. and expose the shoddy and irresponsible scholarship.

The purpose of this particular "Islamic Awareness" article is to wiggle the Qur'an out of the accusation that Muhammad borrowed the Qur'an's tale of Dhul-Qarnayn (Alexander the Great) from the Pseudo-Callisthenes.

Alexander the Great, Hieroglyphic Language, and a Fallacy of Irrelevance

Dr. Saifullah provides us with a quote from E. A. W. Budge (who he will cite throughout his article) in an attempt to save the Qur'an from the issue of borrowing:

The first book of the history of Alexander according to Pseudo-Callisthenes is certainly of Egyptian origin, and its birthplace was Alexandria. Colonel Yule places the composition of the work as far as back as 200 AD, but there is no doubt that the legends which contained in it were current some hundreds of years before; indeed some of them must have been known within a few years of Alexander's death.

The next step is to "prove" that Muhammad could not have had access to this information. Dr. Saifullah cites the following quote:

Amen-sept-hennuti(?): Amen with the ready horns; Sept-hennuti is probably the original of a title of Alexander the Great, Dhu'l-Karnen.[3]

and concludes:

It is well known that during the time of Prophet Muhammad(P) the deciphering of Hieroglyphic language was impossible. So, one can conveniently eliminate this as a source.

This is an argument of irrelevance. Dr. Saifullah and the "Islamic Awareness" team are constantly searching for historical anachronisms, yet he falls into his own trap. The Hieroglyphic language was already extinct by AD 200 when the Egyptian Pseudo-Callisthenes was, according to Colonel Yule, composed.

During the Ptolemic dynasty, Egyptian and Greek languages were used simultaneously. During the Roman Governorship only Latin was used and occasionally Greek. Within a hundred years the Egyptian hieroglyphics were no longer used or understood by anyone and even the Roman authors of the time suggested that hieroglyphics was not even a language. In the truest sense this is now a dead language. (Source)

The title Sept-hennuti was most likely translated into the languages current in those days, becoming the Dhu'l-Karnen of Muhammad's Qur'an.

Pseudo-Callisthenes (Greek) Version:

Dr. Saifullah tells us:

The author states that:

The work upon which all the legendary compositions relating to the history of Alexander are based is that of Pseudo-Callisthenes, which is thought to have been written in Greek about 200 AD.

Dr. Saifullah give us his own sanitized paraphrase claiming:

The manuscript here consist of three version, the first one is very corrupt, but as a whole it represents the original legend. In the second the differences between the legend and history are made to be less marked, and the authorship of the composition is attributed to Pseudo-Callisthenes.

So, does this mean that the "corrupt" manuscripts excuse the Qur'an from the accusation of borrowing? Dr. Saifullah attempts to use the poisoned-well fallacy, that is, if there is a problem with one portion of a work, than the entire work must be thrown out and the Qur'an, which he would never hold up to the same standard of scrutiny, wins by default. In spite of this logical fallacy, the "Islamic Awareness" article does not quote Budge accurately, but is another "quote-mining" expedition which relies on partial/selective quotations and quotations taken out of context. Some might call this "shoddy and irresponsible scholarship"!

Budge's work is not an apology for the Qur'an, but is a serious scholarly attempt to understand the original form of this tale. On the next page (page liii), we are told:

It is improbable that any Greek text known to us represents the Alexander story as it was first written, but a study of the Syriac and Armenian versions and of the Latin translation of Pseudo-Callisthenes by Julius Valerius, which was made in the fourth century, will, in all probability, help us to restore it in many passages. M. Meyer thinks that, with the help of these versions, it can be restored to its form in the third century, for their variations represent Greek readings older than any we have.

I wonder why Dr. Saifullah did not share these facts with us?

For the coup de grace, Saifullah tells us:

In the book Islamic Theology and Philosophy by W M Watt, it is stated that most of the works in Greek were translated into Arabic several (hundred) years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad(P) (see for example the chapters on the first and second Hellenistic wave). So, one can conveniently eliminate this possibility too.

We certainly cannot conveniently eliminate this possibility!

Apparently, Arabs were at least familiar with some of the Alexander legends before Muhammad arrived on the scene. In fact, the Qur'an clearly tells us, in Sura 18:83, that this fable was known, by at least some Meccans, who were attempting to test Muhammad:

They will ask thee of Dhu'l-Qarneyn. Say: I shall recite unto you a remembrance of him.

Latin Version Of Pseudo-Callisthenes:

Dr. Saifullah does his best to downplay the date of the Latin version:

The earliest known work of unknown authorship was composed at about 340-345 AD.

The oldest manuscript of the work is preserved at Turin, and was written about the end of the 7th century or the beginning of the eighth century.[5]

This was the work of Juluis Valerius.

The work of Leo the Archpresbyter appear for the first time in 11th century entitled historia alexandri magni regis macedoniae, de proeliss.[6]

First, the oldest preserved manuscript is not necessarily the original. Second, as is often the case with "Islamic Awareness" articles, the previous sentences of the text quoted were conveniently omitted:

The history of Pseudo-Callisthenes has been translated into Latin by Julius Valerius and Leo the Archpresbyter. Julius Valerius is supposed to have lived about the third or forth century A.D. His work was one of the sources of the Itinerarium Alexandri, a work of unknown authorship, which is composed about 340-345 A.D., and it was through this version that the peoples of the north-west and west of Europe became acquainted with the fabulous history of Alexander. A Christian Legend Concerning Alexander:

Dr. Saifullah turns to the Christian Legend of Alexander:

According to the author

This composition appears to be an abbreviated form of a legend the most complete form of which is known to us is that given in the metrical discourses on Alexander attributed to Jacob of Serugh.[11]

This manuscript was written in the 9th century.[12] The references that are quoted by Jochen and his buddies come from this section of the book.[13]

The book Iskandarnamah: A Persian Medieval Alexander Romance states the following:

The episode of the building of the gate against Gog and Magog is found in the Christian legend concerning Alexander, and in the poetic version of Jacob of Serugh which was written not later than A.D. 521. The Koran was written over a century after this version.[14]

The author Minoo Southgate believes that the Qur'ân came from the "Christian legends" because the legends themselves were written not later than 521AD (i.e., death of Jacob of Serugh). One has to show that the legends were written before his death. Actually, Minoo Southgate quotes[15] Budge's book as the source but the complete story is not mentioned. We assume that the author overlooked it.

I do not believe that Southgate was attempting to hide anything. I find it highly hypocritical for Dr. Saifullah to accuse anyone of not telling the "complete story"! Now Dr. Saifullah turns back to Budge to save the Qur'an:

This composition appears to be an abbreviated form of which known to us is that given in the metrical discourse on Alexander attributed to Jacob of Serugh; both these works, in turn are based upon chapters xxxvii-xxxix of the second book of Pseudo-Callisthenes according to Muller's greek MS. C. The Christian Legend has been burdened with many additions, evidently the work of the Christian redactor, which have no connexion whatever with the story. on the other hand many passages, as, for example, the account of his descent into the sea in a glass cage, have been entirely omitted. the names of the places which are given us freely in this legend seem to indicate that it was drawn up at a very late period; that it is the work of Jacob of Serugh is improbable.

Dr. Saifullah is talking about two different manuscripts discussed in the book by Budge: A Christian Legend Concerning Alexander and the Metrical Discourse upon Alexander by Jacob of Serugh - both available on this site.

What does Budge say about the Metrical Discourse? According to Dr. Saifullah:

The English translation of this discourse printed on page 163-200 is made chiefly from the very faulty text published by Knos in his Chrestomathia Syrica, pp. 66-107. Several of the passages are utterly corrupt, and when translated, make no sense; they have been generally corrected by the help of Brit. Mus. Add. MS. 14,624 [this MS was written in the 9th century]. Most of the misprints have been corrected in the notes at the foot of the English translation, and all the important variant readings and additions have been added.

Note that Budge used multiple sources and manuscripts to correct the text of his translation. In the second footnote on page 163, Budge says:

The edition of the text by Knös contains numerous misprints and the manuscript from which it was edited seems to be faulty. Dr. Zotenberg of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, has most kindly collated a large number of the faulty passages in the printed text with the original manuscript, and I have given the results of this collation, together with the corrections of some misprints, at the foot of the pages of the English translation which follows ...

In other words, Budge is attempting to construct an accurate translation of this legend, that is one of the purposes of this book. Believing that Budge has saved the Qur'an, Dr. Saifullah concludes:

Now we know that the Qur'ân was completed well before the end of 7th century and the sayings of the Prophet(P) (i.e., the hadîth) were in circulation as well as getting collected by various people after his death. From the present discussion, we also came to know that the Syriac version of the legend is placed between 7th and 9th century and that the work A Christian Legend Concerning Alexander is not from Jacob of Serugh. This work was drawn up at a very late period and burdened with many additions. Now if the story of the Dhul-Qarnayn runs in the similar lines to what is mentioned in the manuscripts then it can be concluded that A Christian Legend Concerning Alexander (manuscript written in 9th century) is based on Islamic sources with some extraneous additions. With all this information from the same book from where Jochen and his buddies claim that the Qur'ân is from "legends" quickly disappear in thin air.

This problem does not disappear! Budge's book does not claim that this legend post-dates Muhammad, and the poisoned-well fallacy does not work because Budge used various manuscripts to reconstruct the legend from the "corrupted" texts. Remember, according to Budge, the Latin version was composed between 340-345 A.D., long before the time of Muhammad.

Regardless of the source of the legend of Alexander the Great, the Qur'an tells us in Sura 18:83, that the Meccans will ask Muhammad about Dhu'l-Qarneyn. How did the Meccans know about this legend? If all of the versions, which Dr. Saifullah has attempted to discredit, were absent during the time of Muhammad, where did the Meccan's understanding of this legend originate? It is very clear that the Qur'an's account of the life and feats of Alexander the Great—Dhu'l-Qarneyn closely parallel the manuscripts presented by Budge. It is also clear that these legends are not Divine Revelation. Almighty God did not choose Alexander the Great as a Prophet (see this article), nor did He choose Muhammad.

Andrew Vargo

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