Bible,Quran & Sc. 1
Bible,Quran & Sc. 2
Bible,Quran & Sc. 3
Bible,Quran & Sc. 4
Bible, The Qur'an and Science
Dr. Maurice Bucaille
4: Qur'anic and Biblical Narrations
number of subjects dealt with in the Bible are also found in the Qur'an.
Firstly, there are narrations referring to the Prophets; Noah, Abraham,
Joseph, Elias, Jonah, Job and Moses; the Kings of Israel; Saul, David,
Solomon-to name just some of the main narrations they share in common. There
then follow more specific accounts of great events in the course of which
the supernatural has intervened, e.g. the Creation of the Earth and Heavens,
the Creation of Man, the Flood, the Exodus. Finally, there is all that has
to do with Jesus and His mother Mary as far as it concerns the New
reflections do the subjects dealt with in the two Scriptures provoke when
viewed in the light of our modern knowledge of them from extra-Scriptural
Parallel: Qur'an/Gospel and Modem Knowledge.
regard to the parallel of Qur'an/Gospels, one must first note that none of
the subjects referred to in the Gospels, which were criticized from a
scientific point of view (see Part Two of this book), is quoted in the
referred to many times in the Qur' an, e.g. Mary's annunciation of the
nativity to his father, the annunciation of the miraculous nativity to Mary,
Jesus's stature as a Prophet of the highest order, His role as a Messiah,
the Revelation He directs to Man which confirms and modifies the Torah, His
preachings, His disciples and apostles, the miracles, His Ascension to God,
His role in the Last Judgment, etc.
and 19 of the Qur'an (the second of which bears Mary's name) devote long
passages to Jesus's family. They describe His mother Mary's nativity, her
youth and the annunciation of her miraculous motherhood. Jesus is always
called 'Son of Mary'. His ancestry is exclusively given with regard to His
mother's side, which is quite logical since Jesus had no biological father.
Here the Qur'an differs from Matthew's and Luke's Gospels: as we have
already seen, they give the paternal genealogies of Jesus which are,
moreover, different from each other.
Qur'an, Jesus is placed according to His maternal genealogy in the line of
Noah, Abraham, and Mary's father (Imran in the Qur'an):
verses 33 and 34:
"God chose Adam, Noah, the family of Abraham and the family of Imran above
all His creatures, as descendants one from another."
is descended from Noah and Abraham on His mother Mary's side, and from her
father Imran. The errors made in the naming of the 'ancestors of Jesus'
found in the Gospels are not present in the Qur'an, nor are the
impossibilities in the genealogies contained in the Old Testament of
Abraham's ancestry, both of which were examined in the first and second
parts of this book.
again, this fact must be noted if one is to be objective, and yet again its
great importance appears very clearly in the face of the unfounded
statements which are made claiming that Muhammad, the author of the Qur'an,
largely copied the Bible. One wonders in that case who or what reason
compelled him to avoid copying the passages the Bible contains on Jesus's
ancestry, and to insert at this point in the Qur'an the corrections that put
his text above any criticism from modern knowledge. The Gospels and Old
Testament texts are quite the opposite; from this point of view they are
Parallel: Qur'an/ Old Testament and Modem Knowledge.
case of the Old Testament, certain aspects of this parallel have already
been dealt with. The Creation of the world, for example, was the subject of
a critical study made in the Old Testament section of this book. The same
subject was examined with regard to the Qur'anic Revelation. Comparisons
were made and there is no need to cover this ground again.
that historical knowledge is too vague and archaeological data too scarce
for parallels to be established in the light of modern knowledge on problems
concerning the Kings of Israel, who form the subject of narrations in both
the Qur'an and the Bible.
or not one can tackle the problem of the Prophets in the light of modern
data depends on the extent to which the events described have left traces
which may or may not have come down to us.
however two subjects dealt with in both the Qur'an and the Bible which
should command our attention and which need to be examined in the light of
modern knowledge. They are as follows:
first because it has not left traces in the history of civilization which
support the Biblical narration, whereas modern data do not permit us to
criticize the narration contained in the Qur'an.
--The second because the Biblical and Qur'anic narrations evidently
complement each other in their broad outlines, and modern data seem to
provide both of them with remarkable historical support.
Biblical Narration of the Flood and the Criticism Leveled at It- A Reminder.
examination of the Old Testament description of the Flood in the first part
of this book led to the following observations:
There is not just one description of the Flood, but two, written at
Yahvist version which dates from the Ninth century B.C.
Sacerdotal version dating from the Sixth century B.C., so called because it
was the work of priests of the time.
narrations are not juxtaposed, but interwoven so that part of one is fitted
in-between parts of the other, i.e. paragraphs from one source alternate
with passage from the other.
commentary to the translation of Genesis by Father de Vaux, a professor at
the Biblical School of Jerusalem, shows very clearly how the paragraphs are
distributed between the two sources. The narration begins and ends with a
Yahvist passage. There are ten Yahvist paragraphs altogether and between
each one a Sacerdotal passage has been inserted (there are a total of nine
Sacerdotal paragraphs). This mosaic of texts is only coherent when read from
a point of view which takes the succession of episodes into account, since
there are blatant contradictions between the two sources. Father de Vaux
describes them as "two accounts of the Flood, in which the cataclysm is
caused by different agents and lasts different lengths of time, and where
Noah receives into the Ark a different number of animals."
in the light of modern knowledge, the Biblical description of the Flood as a
whole is unacceptable for the following reasons:
Old Testament ascribes to it the character of a universal cataclysm.
Whereas the paragraphs from the Yahvist text do not date the Flood, the
Sacerdotal text situates it at a point in time where a cataclysm of this
kind could not have occurred.
following are arguments supporting this opinion:
The Sacerdotal narration states quite precisely that the Flood took place
when Noah was 600 years old. According to the genealogies in chapter 5 of
Genesis (also taken from the Sacerdotal text and quoted in the first part of
this book), we know that Noah is said to have been born 1,056 years after
Adam. Consequently, the Flood would have taken place 1,655 years after the
creation of Adam. The genealogical table of Abraham moreover, taken from the
same text and given in Genesis (11, 10-32), allows us to estimate that
Abraham was born 292 years after the Flood. As we know that (according to
the Bible) Abraham was alive in roughly 1850 B.C., the Flood would therefore
be situated in the Twenty-first or Twenty-second century B.C. This
calculation is in strict keeping with the information in old editions of the
Bible which figures prominently at the head of the Biblical text.
at a time when the lack of human knowledge on the subject was such that the
chronological data contained in the Bible were accepted without question by
its readers-for want of any arguments to the contrary.
[ Now that certain notions
concerning the chronology of ancient times have been established, and the
imaginary dates given by the authors of the Sacerdotal text of the Old
Testament are no longer credible, those dates have quickly been suppressed
in Bibles. In the case of those genealogies that have been preserved, modern
commentators of books intended for mass publication fail to draw the
readers' attention to the errors they contain.]
How is it
possible to conceive today of a universal cataclysm in the Twenty-first or
Twenty-second century B.C. which destroyed life on all the earth's surface
(except for the people and animals in the Ark)? By this time, civilizations
had flourished in several parts of the globe, and their vestiges have now
come down to posterity. In Egypt at this time, for example, the Intermediate
Period followed the end of the Old Kingdom and preceded the beginning of the
Middle Kingdom. In view of our knowledge of the history of this period, it
would be absurd to maintain that the Flood had destroyed all civilization at
may be affirmed from a historical point of view that the narration of the
Flood as it is presented in the Bible is in evident contradiction with
modern knowledge. The formal proof of man's manipulation of the Scriptures
is the existence of the two texts.
The Narration of the Flood Contained in the Qur'an.
Qur'an gives a general version which is different from that contained in the
Bible and does not give rise to any criticisms from a historical point of
not provide a continuous narration of the Flood. Numerous suras talk of the
punishment inflicted upon Noah's people. The most complete account of this
is in sura 11, verses 25 to 49. Sura 71, which bears Noah's name, describes
above all Noah's preachings, as do verses 105 to 115, sura 26. Before going
into the actual course taken by events, we must consider the Flood as
described in the Qur' an by relating it to the general context of the
punishment God inflicted on communities guilty of gravely infringing His
the Bible describes a universal Flood intended to punish ungodly humanity as
a whole, the Qur'an, in contrast, mentions several punishments inflicted on
certain specifically defined communities.
be seen in verses 35 to 39, sura 25:
"We gave Moses the Scripture and appointed his brother Aaron with him as
vizier. We said: Go to the people who have denied Our signs. We destroyed
them completely. When the people of Noah denied the Messengers, We drowned
them and We made of them a sign for mankind. (We destroyed the tribes) of Âd
and Tamud, the companions of Rass and many generations between them. We
warned each of them by examples and We annihilated them completely."
verses 59 to 93 contains a reminder of the punishments brought upon Noah's
people, the Âd, the Tamud, Lot (Sodom) and Madian respectively.
Qur'an presents the cataclysm of the Flood as a punishment specifically
intended for Noah's people: this is the first basic difference between the
second fundamental difference is that the Qur'an, in contrast to the Bible,
does not date the Flood in time and gives no indication as to the duration
of the cataclysm itself.
causes of the flooding are roughly the same in both narrations. The
Sacerdotal description in the Bible (Genesis 7, 11) cites two causes which
occurred simultaneously. "On that day all the fountains of the great deep
burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened." The Qur'an records
the following in verses 11 and 12, sura 54:
opened the Gates of Heaven with pouring water. And We caused the ground to
gush forth springs, so the waters met according to the decree which has been
Qur'an is very precise about the contents of the Ark. The order God gave to
Noah was faithfully executed and it was to do the following:
11, verse 40:
"(In the Ark) load a pair of every kind, thy family, save this one against
whom the word has already gone forth, and those who believe. But only a few
had believed with him."
person excluded from the family is an outcast son of Noah. We learn (sura
11, verses 45 and 46) how Noah's supplications on this person's behalf to
God were unable to make Him alter His decision. Apart from Noah's family
(minus the outcast son), the Qur'an refers to the few other passengers on
board the Ark who had believed in God.
does not mention the latter among the occupants of the Ark. In fact, it
provides us with three different versions of the Ark's contents:
--according to the Yahvist version, a distinction is made between 'pure'
animals and birds, and 'impure' animals (seven
[ Surely 'seven' here indicates
'many', as it often does in the Semitic languages of the time.]
pairs, i.e. seven males and seven females, of each 'pure' species, was taken
into the Ark and only one pair of each 'impure' species).
-according to a modified Yahvist verse (Genesis 7, 8) there was only one
pair of each species, whether 'pure' or 'impure'. -according to the
Sacerdotal version, there was Noah, his family (with no exceptions) and a
pair taken from each species.
narration in the Qur'an of the flooding itself is contained in sura 11,
verses 25 to 49 and in sura 23, verses 23 to 30. The Biblical narrative does
not present any important differences.
Bible, the place where the Ark comes to rest is in the Ararat Mountains
(Genesis 8, 4) and for the Qur'an it is the Judi (sura 11, verse 44.)
This mountain is said to be the highest of the Ararat range in Armenia, but
nothing proves that the names were not changed by man to tally with the two
narratives. This is confirmed by R. Blachère: according to him there is a
peak in Arabia named Judi. The agreement of names may well be artificial.
conclusion, it is possible to state categorically what major differences
exist here between the Biblical and Qur'anic narrations. Some of them escape
critical examination because objective data are lacking. When, however, it
is possible to check the statements in the Scriptures in the light of the
established data, the incompatibility between the Biblical narration-i.e.
the information given on its place in time and geographical extent-and the
discoveries that have contributed to modern knowledge is all too clear. In
contrast to this, the narration contained in the Qur'an is free from
anything which might give rise to objective criticism. One might ask if it
is possible that, between the time of the Biblical narration and the one
contained in the Qur'an, man could have acquired knowledge that shed light
on this event. The answer is no, because from the time of the Old Testament
to the Qur'an, the only document man possessed on this ancient story was the
Bible itself. If human factors are unable to account for the changes in the
narrations which affected their meaning with regard to modern knowledge,
another explanation has to be accepted, i.e. a Revelation which came after
the one contained in the Bible.
Exodus from Egypt of Moses and his followers, (the first stage of their move
to Canaan), we come to an event of great importance. It is an established
historical event which appears in a known context, in spite of occasional
allegations one finds which tend to attribute to it a largely legendary
Old Testament, the Exodus forms the second book of the Pentateuch or Torah,
along with a narration of the journey through the wilderness and the
alliance (covenant) concluded with God on Mount Sinai. It is natural for the
Qur'an to devote a great deal of space to it too: an account of the dealings
Moses and his brother Aaron had with the Pharaoh and of the exit from Egypt
is found in more than ten suras containing long descriptions, e.g. suras, 7,
10, 20 and 26, along with more abridged versions and even simple reminders.
The name of Pharaoh, the main character on the Egyptian side, is repeated
(to the best of my knowledge) seventy-four times in the Qur'an in 27 suras.
of both the Qur'anic and Biblical narrations is especially interesting here
because, in contrast to what has been noted in the case of the Flood (for
example), in the main, the two narrations have many points in common. There
are certainly divergences, but the Biblical narration has considerable
historical value, as we shall see. This is because it helps to identify the
Pharaoh, or rather the two pharaohs in question. This hypothesis, which
starts with the Bible, is complemented by the information contained in the
Qur'an. Modern data are added to these two Scriptural sources and it is thus
possible, through a confrontation between the Bible, the Qur'an and today's
knowledge, to situate this episode from the Holy Scriptures in a historical
EXODUS ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE
Biblical narration begins with a reminder of the Jews' entry into Egypt with
Jacob, who joined Joseph there. Later on, according to Exodus 1, 8:
"Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph."
period of oppression followed; the Pharaoh ordered the Jews to build the
cities of Pithom and Ramesses (to use the names given to them in the Bible)
(Exodus I, 11). To avoid a population explosion among the Hebrews, Pharaoh
ordered each new-born son to be thrown into the river. Moses was
nevertheless preserved by his mother for the first three months of his life
before she finally decided to put him in a rush basket on the river's edge.
The Pharaoh's daughter discovered him, rescued him and gave him to a nurse,
none other than his own mother. This was because Moses's sister had watched
to see who would find the baby, had pretended not to recognize him and then
recommended to the Princess a nurse who was really the child's mother. He
was treated as one of the Pharaoh's sons and given the name 'Moses'.
young man, Moses left for a country called Midian where he married and lived
for a long time. We read an important detail in Exodus 2, 23:
"In the course of those many days the king of Egypt died."
ordered Moses to go and find the Pharaoh and lead his brothers out of Egypt
(the description of this order is given in the episode of the Burning Bush).
Aaron, Moses's brother, helped him in this task. This is why Moses, once he
had returned to Egypt, went with his brother to visit the Pharaoh who was
the successor of the king under whose reign he had long ago been born.
Pharaoh refused to allow the Jews in Moses's group to leave Egypt. God
revealed Himself to Moses once again and ordered him to repeat his request
to Pharaoh. According to the Bible, Moses was eighty years old at this time.
Through magic, Moses showed the Pharaoh that he had supernatural powers.
This was not enough however. God sent the famous plagues down upon Egypt.
The rivers were changed into blood, there were invasions of frogs, gnats and
swarms of flies, the cattle died, boils appeared on men and animals, there
was hail and plagues of locusts, darkness and the death of the first-born.
Nevertheless, the Pharaoh still did not allow the Hebrews to leave.
therefore broke out of the city of Rameses, 600,000 of them
[ We shall later see that the
figure has been grossly exaggerated.]
"besides women and children" (Exodus 12, 37). At this point Pharaoh "made
ready his chariot and took his army .With him, and took six hundred picked
charioteers and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of
them . . . Pharaoh, king of Egypt, pursued the people of Israel as they went
forth defiantly." (Exodus 14, 6 and 8). The Egyptians caught up with Moses's
party beside the sea. Moses raised his staff, the sea parted before him and
his followers walked across it without wetting their feet. "The Egyptians
pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh's
horses, his chariots, and his horsemen." (Exodus 14, 23) "The waters
returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of
Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not so much as one of them
remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the
waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left." (Exodus
of Exodus is quite clear: Pharaoh was at the head of the pursuers. He
perished because the text of Exodus notes that "not so much as one of them
remained." The Bible repeats this detail moreover in the Psalms: Psalm 106,
verse 11 and Psalm 136 verses 13 and 15 which are an act of thanks to God
"Who divided the sea of Rushes
[ In Hebrew 'yam souf'.]
in sunder . . . and made Israel pass through the midst of it . . . but
overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the sea of Rushes." There can be no doubt
therefore, that according to the Bible, the Pharaoh of the Exodus perished
in the sea. The Bible does not record what became of his body.
EXODUS ACCORDING TO THE QUR'AN
broad outlines, the narration of the Exodus contained in the Qur'an is
similar to that of the Bible. It has to be reconstituted, however, because
it is made up of passages dispersed throughout the Book.
Qur'an does not provide a name which enables us to identify who the reigning
Pharaoh was at the time of Exodus, any more than the Bible does. All that is
known is that one of his counsellors was called Haman. He is referred
to six times in the Qur'an (sura 28, verses 6, 8 and 38, sura 29, verse 39
and sura 40, verses 24 and 36).
Pharaoh is the Jews' oppressor:
14, verse 6:
"When Moses said to his people: Remember the favor of God to you when He
delivered you from Pharaoh's folk who imposed upon you a dreadful torment,
slaughtered your sons and spared your women."
oppression is recalled in the same terms in verse 141, sura 7. The Qur'an
does not however mention the names of the cities built by the Jews in
subjection, as does the Bible.
episode where Moses is left by the riverside is recorded in sura 20 verses
39-40 and sura 28, verses 7 to 13. In the version contained in the Qur'an,
Moses is taken in by Pharaoh's family. We find this in verses 8 and 9, sura
"The family of Pharaoh took him up. (It was intended) that (Moses) should be
to them an adversary and a cause of sorrow. Pharaoh, Haman and their hosts
were sinners. Pharaoh's wife said: (He will be) a joy to the eye for me and
you. Don't kill him. He may be of use to us or we may take him as a son.
They did not sense (what was to come)."
tradition has it that it was Pharaoh's wife Asiya who took care of Moses. In
the Qur'an, it was not the Pharaoh's wife who found him, but members of his
youth, his stay in Midian and marriage are described in sura 28, verses 13
particular, the episode of the Burning Bush is found in the first part of
sura 20, and in sura 28, verses 30 to 35.
Qur'an does not describe the ten plagues sent down upon Egypt as a divine
chastisement (unlike the long description in the Bible), but simply mentions
five plagues very briefly (sura 7, verse 133): flooding, locusts, lice,
frogs, and blood.
flight from Egypt is described in the Qur'an, but without any of the
geographical data given in the Bible, nor the incredible numbers of people
mentioned in the latter. It is difficult to imagine how 600,000 men plus
their families could have stayed in the desert for a long time, as the Bible
would have us believe.
how the death of Pharaoh pursuing the Hebrews is described:
20, verse 78:
"Pharaoh pursued them with his hosts and the sea covered them."
escaped. Pharaoh perished, but his body was found: a very important detail
not mentioned in the Biblical narration.
10, verses 90 to 92. God is speaking:
"We took the Children of Israel across the sea. Pharaoh with his hosts
pursued them in rebellion and hostility till, when the fact of his drowning
overtook him, he said: I believe there is no God except the God in whom the
Children of Israel believe. I am of those who submit themselves to Him.
said: 'What? Now !. Thou has rebelled and caused depravity. This day We save
thee in thy body so that thou mayest be a sign for those who come after
thee.' But verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our signs."
passage requires two points to be explained:
a) The spirit of rebellion and hostility referred to is to be understood in
terms of Moses's attempt to persuade the Pharaoh.
rescue of the Pharaoh refers to his corpse because it is stated quite
clearly in verse 98, sura 11, that Pharaoh and his followers have been
condemned to damnation:
11, verse 98 "Pharaoh will go before his people on the Day of Resurrection
and will lead them to the fire." For those facts which can be checked with
historical, geographical and archaeological data therefore, it should be
noted that the Qur'anic and Biblical narrations differ on the following
absence in the Qur'an of place names, both of the cities built by the
Hebrews in Moses's group, and on the route taken by the Exodus.
absence of any reference to the death of a Pharaoh during Moses's stay in
absence in the Qur'an of details concerning Moses's age when he addressed
his request to the Pharaoh.
absence in the Qur'an of the numbering of Moses's followers. These figures
are openly exaggerated in the Bible to incredible proportions (said to have
been 600,000 men plus their families forming a community of more than two
absence of any mention in the Bible of the rescue of the Pharaoh's body
after his death.
present purposes, the points to be noted because they are shared by both
narrations are as follows:
--the confirmation contained in the Qur'an of Pharaoh's oppression of the
Jews in Moses's group.
absence from both narrations of any mention of the King of Egypt's name.
confirmation contained in the Qur'an of the Pharaoh's death during the
CONFRONTATION BETWEEN SCRIPTURAL DATA AND MODERN KNOWLEDGE
narrations contained in the Bible and the Qur'an on the time spent by the
sons of Israel in Egypt, and the way they left, give rise to data which may
constitute matter for a confrontation with modern knowledge. In fact, the
balance is very uneven because some data pose many problems while others
hardly provide subject for discussion.
1. Examination of Certain Details Contained in the Narrations The Hebrews
apparently, quite possible to say (and without running much risk of being
wrong) that the Hebrews remained in Egypt for 400 or 430 years, according to
the Bible (Genesis 15, 13 and Exodus 12, 40). In spite of this discrepancy
between Genesis and Exodus, which is of minor importance, the period may be
said to have begun long after Abraham, when Joseph, son of Jacob, moved with
his brothers to Egypt. With the exception of the Bible, which gives the data
just quoted, and the Qur'an which refers to the move to Egypt, but does not
give any indication as to the dates involved, we do not possess any other
document which is able to illuminate us on this point.
Present-day commentators, ranging from P. Montet to Daniel Rops, think that,
in all probability, the arrival of Joseph and his brothers coincided with
the movement of the Hyksos towards Egypt in the Seventeenth century B.C. and
that a Hyksos sovereign probably received them hospitably at Avaris in the
be no doubt that this guess is in obvious contradiction to what is contained
in the Bible (Kings I, 6, 1) which puts the Exodus from Egypt at 480 years
before the construction of Solomon's Temple (circa 971 B.C.). This
estimation would therefore put the Exodus at roughly 1450 B.C. and would
consequently situate the entry into Egypt at circa 1880-1850 B.C. This is
precisely the time, however, that Abraham is supposed to have lived, and
other data contained in the Bible tell us that there were 250 years
separating him from Joseph. This passage from Kings I in the Bible is
therefore unacceptable from a chronological point of view.
[ We shall return to this
subject later, when we call upon Father de Vaux's help in
examining this reference in Kings I.]
We shall see how the theory put forward here has only this objection, taken
from Kings I, to be levelled against it. The very obvious inaccuracy of
these chronological data effectively deprives this objection of any value.
from the Holy Scriptures, the traces left by the Hebrews of their stay in
Egypt are very faint. There are however several hieroglyphic documents which
refer to the existence in Egypt of a category of workers called the 'Apiru,
Hapiru or Habiru, who have been identified (rightly or wrongly) with the
Hebrews. In this category were construction workers, agricultural labourers,
harvesters, etc. But where did they come from? It is very difficult to find
an answer to this. Father de Vaux has written the following about them:
"They are not members of the local population, they do not identify
themselves with a class in society, they do not all share the same
occupation or status."
Tuthmosis III, they are referred to in a papyrus as 'workers in the
stables'. It is known how Amenophis II, in the Fifteenth century B.C.,
brought in 3,600 of these people as prisoners from Canaan, because, as
Father. de Vaux notes, they constituted a considerable percentage of the
Syrio-Palestinian population. Under Sethos I, in circa 1300 B.C., the 'Apiru
created considerable disturbances in the Beth-Shean region of Canaan, and
under Ramesses II some of them were employed in the quarries or for
transporting piles used in the works of the Pharaoh (e.g. the Great Pylon of
Ramesses Miamon). We know from the Bible that the Hebrews, under Ramesses
II, were to build the northern capital, the City of Ramesses. In Egyptian
writings the 'Apiru are mentioned once again in the Twelfth century
B.C. and for the last time under Ramesses III.
are not just mentioned in Egypt however, so did the term therefore apply
solely to the Hebrews? It is perhaps wise to recall that the word could
initially have been used to signify 'forced labourers', without regard to
their origins, and that it subsequently became an adjective indicating a
person's profession. We might perhaps draw an analogy with the word 'suisse'
(Swiss) which has several different meanings in French. It can mean an
inhabitant of Switzerland, a mercenary soldier of the old French monarchy
who was of Swiss extraction, a Vatican guard, or an employee of a Christian
church . . . However, this may be, under Ramesses II, the Hebrews (according
to the Bible) or the 'Apiru (according to the hieroglyphic texts)
took part in the great works ordered by the Pharaoh, which were indeed
'forced labour'. There can be no doubt that Ramesses II was the Jews'
oppressor: the cities of Ramesses and Pithom, mentioned in Exodus, are
situated at the eastern part of the Nile Delta. Today's Tanis and Qantir,
which are roughly 15 miles apart, are in the same region as these two
cities. The northern capital constructed by Ramesses II was situated there.
Ramesses II is the Pharaoh of the oppression.
to be born in this environment. The circumstances pertaining to his rescue
from the waters of the river have al- ready been outlined above. He has an
Egyptian name: P. Montet has clearly shown in his book Egypt and the
Bible (L'Egypte et la Bible)
[ Pub. Delachaux and Niestlé,
Neufchatel, 1959.] that
the names Mesw or Mesy are on the list of personal names in the dictionary
of the hieroglyphic language by Ranke. Musa is the transliteration
used in the Qur'an.
The Plagues of Egypt
this title the Bible refers to ten punishments inflicted by God, and
provides many details concerning each of these 'plagues'. Many have
supernatural dimensions or characteristics. The Qur'an only lists five
plagues, which, for the most part, are merely an exaggeration of natural
phenomena: flooding, locusts, lice, frogs and blood.
multiplication of locusts and frogs is described in the Bible. It speaks of
river water changed to blood which floods all the land (sic); the Qur'an
refers to blood, but without giving any complementary details. It is
possible to invent all kinds of hypotheses on the subject of this reference
plagues described in the Bible (gnats, swarms of flies, boils, hail,
darkness, death of the first-born and of cattle) have various origins, as
was the case of the Flood, and are constituted by the juxtaposition of
passages from many different sources.
The Route Taken by the Exodus
indication of this is given in the Qur'an, whereas the Bible refers to it in
great detail. Father de Vaux and P. Montet have both reopened studies into
it. The starting-point was probably the Tanis-Qantir region, but no traces
have been found of the rest of the route taken which could confirm the
Biblical narration; nor is it possible to say at exactly what point the
waters parted to allow the passage of Moses and his followers.
The Miraculous Parting of the Waters
commentators have imagined a tide-race, due perhaps to astronomic causes or
seismic conditions connected to the distant eruption of a volcano. The
Hebrews could have taken advantage of the receding sea, and the Egyptians,
following in hot pursuit, could have been wiped out by the returning tide.
All this is pure hypothesis however.
2. The Point Occupied by the Exodus in the History of the Pharaohs
possible to arrive at much more positive evidence in the case of the point
the Exodus occupies in time.
very long time Merneptah, the successor to Ramesses II, was held to be the
Pharaoh of the Exodus. Maspero, the famous Egyptologist of the beginning of
this century did, after all, write in his Visitor's Guide to the Cairo
Museum (Guide du visiteur du Musée du Caire), 1900, that Merneptah "was
probably, according to the Alexandrian tradition, the Pharaoh of the Exodus
who is said to have perished in the Red Sea." I have been unable to find the
documents on which Maspero based this assertion, but the eminence of this
commentator requires us to attach the greatest importance to what he claims.
from P. Montet, there are very few Egyptologists or specialists in Biblical
exegesis who have researched into the arguments for or against this
hypothesis. In the last few decades however, there has been a spate of
different hypotheses which seem to have as their sole purpose the
justification of an agreement with one single detail in the Scriptural
narrations, although the inventors of these hypotheses do not bother with
the other aspects of the Scriptures. Thus it is possible for a hypothesis to
suddenly appear which seems to agree with one aspect of a narration,
although its inventor has not taken the trouble to compare it with all the
other data contained in the Scriptures (and consequently not just with the
Bible), plus all the data provided by history, archaeology, etc.
the strangest hypotheses yet to come to light is by J. de Miceli (1960) who
claims to have pinpointed the date of the Exodus to within one day, i.e. the
9th of April, 1495 B.C. He relies for his information entirely on
calculations made from calendars and claims that Tuthmosis II was reigning
in Egypt at that time, and was therefore the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The
confirmation of the hypothesis is supposed to reside in the fact that
lesions of the skin are to be observed on the mummy of Tuthmosis II. This
commentator informs us (without explaining why) that they are due to
leprosy, and that one of the plagues of Egypt described in the Bible
consisted in skin boils. This staggering construction takes no account of
the other facts contained in the Biblical narration, especially the Bible's
mention of the City of Ramesses which rules out any hypothesis dating the
Exodus before a 'Ramesses' had reigned.
As to the
skin lesions of Tuthmosis II, these do not swing the argument in favour of
the theory which designates this King of Egypt as the Pharaoh of the Exodus.
This is because his son, Tuthmosis III, and his grandson Amenophis II also
show signs of skin tumors
[ The skin lesions are clearly
visible on the mummies of these Pharaohs preserved in the Egyptian Museum,
Cairo.], so that some
commentators have suggested the hypothesis of a disease which ran in the
family. The Tuthmosis II theory is not therefore tenable.
is true for Daniel-Rops's theory in his book. The People of the Bible
(Le Peuple de la Bible) [
Pub. Desclée de Brouwer, 1970, Paris.].
He ascribes the role of the Pharaoh of the Exodus to Amenophis II. It does
not seem to be any better-founded than the preceding hypothesis. Using the
pretext that Amenophis II's father (Tuthmosis III) was very nationalistic,
Daniel-Rops proclaims Amenophis II the persecutor of the Hebrews, while his
step-mother, the famous Queen Hatshepsut, is cast in the role of the person
who took Moses in (although we never discover why).
Vaux's theory, that it was Ramesses II, rests on slightly more solid
foundations. He expands on them in his book, The Ancient History of
Israel (Histoire ancienne d'Israël)
[ Pub. J. Gabalda and Co., 1971,
Paris.]. Even if his
theory does not agree with the Biblical narration on every point, at least
it has the advantage of putting forward one very important piece of
evidence: the construction of the cities of Ramesses and Pithom built under
Ramesses II referred to in the Biblical text. It is not possible therefore
to maintain that the Exodus took place before the accession of
Ramesses II. This is situated in the year 1301 B.C., according to Drioton
and Vandier's chronology, and in 1290 B.C. according to Rowton's. The two
other hypotheses outlined above are untenable because of the following
imperative fact: Ramesses II is the Pharaoh of the oppression referred to in
Vaux considers the Exodus to have taken place during the first half or
towards the middle of Ramesses II's reign.
dating of this event is imprecise: he suggests this period to allow Moses
and his followers time, as it were, to settle in Canaan, and Ramesses II's
successor, Pharaoh Mernaptah who is said to have pacified the frontiers
after his father's death, to bring the Children of Israel into line, as
depicted on a stele of the Fifth year of his reign.
arguments may be levelled at this theory:
a) The Bible shows (Exodus 2, 23) that the King of Egypt died during the
period when Moses was in Midian. This King of Egypt is described in the Book
of Exodus as the King who made the Hebrews build the cities of Ramesses and
Pithom by forced labour. This King was Ramesses II. The Exodus could only
have taken place under the latter's successor. Father de Vaux claims however
to doubt the Biblical sources of verse 23, chapter 2 of Exodus.
is more astounding is that Father de Vaux, as director of the Biblical
School of Jerusalem, does not refer in his theory of the Exodus to two
essential passages in the Bible, both of which bear witness to the fact that
the King died during the pursuit of the fleeing Hebrews. This detail makes
it impossible for the Exodus to have taken place at any other time than at
the end of a reign.
be repeated that there can be little doubt that the Pharaoh lost his life as
a result of it. Chapters 13 and 14 of Exodus are quite specific on this
point: "So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him . . ."
(Exodus 14,6). (Pharaoh king of Egypt) "pursued the people of Israel as they
went forth defiantly" (Exodus 14,8) . . . "The waters returned and covered
the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that had followed
them into the sea; not so much as one of them remained." (Exodus 14,28 and
29). In addition to these verses, Psalm 136 confirms Pharaoh's death and
refers to Yahweh who "overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Sea of Rushes"
during Moses's lifetime, one Pharaoh died when Moses was in Midian and
another during the Exodus. There were not one, but two Pharaohs at the
time of Moses: one during the oppression and the other during the Exodus
from Egypt. The theory of a single Pharaoh (Ramesses II) put forward by
Father de Vaux is unsatisfactory because it does not account for everything.
The following observations are further arguments against his theory.
3. Rameses II, Pharaoh of the Oppression Merneptah, Pharaoh of the Exodus
has very discerningly resumed the original Alexandrian
[ There can be no doubt that in
the Golden Age of the ptolemies, historical documents on Antiquity were
preserved at Alexandria, only to be destroyed at the time of the Roman
conquest; a loss which is keenly felt today.]
tradition mentioned by Maspero. It is found much later in the Islamic
tradition as well as in the classic Christian tradition.
[ In the Holy Histories of the
early 20th century, as in the History by Abbe H. Lesetre, intended for
religious instruction, the Exodus is mentioned as having taken place during
Merneptah's reign in Egypt.]
This theory is set out in Montet's book Egypt and the Bible (L'Egypte
et le Bible) [ Pub.
Delachaux and Niestlé, Neuchatel, 1959.]
and is supported by additional arguments, based in particular on the
narrative contained in the Qur'an, to which the famous archaeologist did not
refer. Before examining them however, we shall first return to the Bible.
of Exodus contains a reference to the word 'Ramesses' although the Pharaoh's
name is not mentioned. In the Bible 'Ramesses' is the name of one of the
cities built by the forced labour of the Hebrews. Today we know that these
cities form part of the Tanis-Qantir region, in the eastern Nile Delta. In
the area where Ramesses II built his northern capital, there were other
constructions prior to his, but it was Ramesses II who made it into an
important site, as the archeological excavations undertaken in the last few
decades have amply shown. To build it, he used the labour of the enslaved
reads the word 'Ramesses' in the Bible today, one is not particularly struck
by it: the word has become very common to us since Champollion discovered
the key to hieroglyphics 150 years ago, by examining the characters that
expressed this very word. We are therefore used to reading and pronouncing
it today and know what it means. One has to remember however that the
meaning of hieroglyphics had been lost in circa the Third century B.C. and
that Ramesses' name had hardly been preserved anywhere except in the Bible
and a few books written in Greek and Latin which had deformed it to a lesser
or greater extent. It is for this reason that Tacitus in his Annals
talks of 'Rhamsis'. The Bible had however preserved the name intact: it is
referred to four times in the Pentateuch or Torah (Genesis 47,11; Exodus
1,11 and 12,37. Numbers 33,3 and 33,5).
Hebrew word for 'Ramesses' is written in two ways in the Bible: 'Râ(e) mss'
or 'Râeâmss' [ The letter
'e' figures as the ayin in Hebrew.].
In the Greek version of the Bible, called the Septuagint, it is 'Râmessê'.
In the Latin version (Vulgate) it is written 'Ramesses'. In the Clementine
version of the Bible in French (1st edition, 1621) the word is the same, 'Ramesses'.
The French edition was in circulation at the time of Champollion's work in
this field. In his Summary of the Hièroglyphic System of the Ancient
Egyptians (Precis du systeme hiéroglyphique des anciens Egyptiens) (2nd
edition, 1828, page 276), Champollion alludes to the Biblical spelling of
Bible had miraculously preserved Ramesses's name in its Hebrew, Greek and
Latin versions. [ It is
strange to note moreover, that in old editions of the Bible, commentators
did not understand the meaning of the word at all. In the French edition of
the Clementine Bible, 1621, for example, an interpretation of the word 'Ramesses'
is given which makes total nonsense: 'Thunder of Vermin' (sic).]
preceding data alone are enough to establish the following:
a) There can be no question of the Exodus before a 'Ramesses' had come to
the throne in Egypt (11 Kings of Egypt had this name).
was born during the reign of the Pharaoh who built the cities of Ramesses
and Pithom, i.e. Ramesses II.
Moses was in Midian, the reigning Pharaoh (i.e. Ramesses II) died. The
continuation of Moses's story took place during the reign of Ramesses II's
more, the Bible adds other highly important data which help to situate the
Exodus in the history of the Pharaohs. It is the statement that Moses was
eighty years old when, under God's orders, he tried to persuade Pharaoh to
free his brothers: "Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three
years years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh." (Exodus 7,7). Elsewhere
however, the Bible tells us (Exodus 2,23) that the Pharaoh reigning at the
time of the birth of Moses died when the latter was in Midian, although the
Biblical narration continues without mentioning any change in the
sovereign's name. These two passages in the Bible imply that the total
number of years spanning the reigns of the two Pharaohs ruling at the time
when Moses was living in Egypt must have been eighty years at least.
known that Ramesses II reigned for 67 years (1301-1235 B.C. according to
Drioton and Vandier's chronology, 1290-1224 B.C. according to Rowton). For
Merneptah, his successor, the Egyptologists are unable, however, to provide
the exact dates of his reign. Nevertheless, it lasted for at least ten years
because, as Father de Vaux points out, documents bear witness to the tenth
year of his reign. Drioton and Vandier give two possibilities for Merneptah:
either a ten-year reign, 1234-1224 B.C., or a twenty-year reign 1224-1204
B.C. Egyptologists have no precise indications whatsoever on how Merneptah's
reign came to an end: all that can be said is that after his death, Egypt
went through a period of serious internal upheavals lasting nearly 25 years.
though the chronological data on these reigns are not very precise, there
was no other period during the New Kingdom concordant with the Biblical
narration when two successive reigns (apart from Ramesses II-Merneptah)
amounted to or surpassed eighty years. The Biblical data concerning Moses's
age when he undertook the liberation of his brothers can only come from a
time during the successive reigns of Ramesses II and Merneptah
[ The period spanning the two
reigns Sethos I-Ramesses II, which is said to have lasted roughly eighty
years, is out of the question: Sethos I's reign-which was too short for
this-does not square with the very long stay in Midian which Moses made as
an adult and which took place during the reign of the first of the two
Pharaohs he was to know.].
All the evidence points towards the fact that Moses was born at the
beginning of Ramesses II's reign, was living in Midian when Ramesses II died
after a sixty-seven year reign, and subsequently became the spokesman for
the cause of the Hebrews living in Egypt to Merneptah, Ramesses II's son and
successor. This episode may have happened in the second half of Merneptah's
reign, assuming he reigned twenty years or nearly twenty years. Rowton
believes the supposition to be quite feasible. Moses would then have led the
Exodus at the end of Merneptah's reign. It could hardly have been otherwise
because both the Bible and the Qur'an tell us that Pharaoh perished during
the pursuit of the Hebrews leaving the country.
agrees perfectly with the account contained in the Scriptures of Moses's
infancy and of the way he was taken into the Pharaoh's family. It is a known
fact that Ramesses II was very old when he died: it is said that he was
ninety to a hundred years old. According to this theory, he would have been
twentythree to thirty-three years old at the beginning of his reign which
lasted sixty-seven years. He could have been married at that age and there
is nothing to contradict the discovery of Moses by 'a member of Pharaoh's
household' (according to the Qur'an), or the fact that Pharaoh's wife asked
him if he would keep the newly-born child she had found on the bank of the
Nile. The Bible claims that the child was found by Pharaoh's daughter. In
view of Ramesses II's age at the beginning of his reign it would have been
perfectly possible for him to have had a daughter old enough to discover the
abandoned child. The Qur'anic and Biblical narrations do not contradict each
other in any way on this point.
theory given here is in absolute agreement with the Qur'an and is moreover
at odds with only one single statement in the Bible which occurs (as we have
seen) in Kings I 6,1 (N.B. this book is not included in the Torah). This
passage is the subject of much debate and Father de Vaux rejects the
historical data contained in this part of the Old Testament, which dates the
Exodus in relation to the construction of Solomon's temple. The fact that it
is subject to doubt makes it impossible to retain it as a conclusive
argument against the theory outlined here.
The Problem of the Stele Dating from the Fifth Year of Merneptah's Reign
text of the famous stele dating from the fifth year of Merneptah's reign
critics think they have found an objection to the theory set out here, in
which the pursuit of the Jews constituted the last act of his reign.
is of great interest because it represents the only known document in
hieroglyphics which contains the word 'Israel'.
[ The word is followed by a
generic determinative which leaves no doubt as to the fact that this term
signifies a 'human community or group'.]
The inscription which dates from the first part of Merneptah's reign was
discovered in Thebes in the Pharaoh's Funeral Temple. It refers to a series
of victories he won over Egypt's neighbouring states, in particular a
victory mentioned at the end of the document over a "devastated Israel which
has no more seed . . " From this fact it has been held that the existence of
the word 'Israel' implied that the Jews must already have settled in Canaan
by the fifth year of Merneptah's reign, and that in consequence, the Exodus
of the Hebrews from Egypt had already taken place.
objection does not seem tenable because it implies that there could have
been no Jews living in Canaan all the while there were Jews in Egypt-a
proposition it is impossible to accept. Father de Vaux however, in spite of
the fact that he is a supporter of the theory which makes Ramesses II the
Pharaoh of the Exodus, notes
[ In his book 'The Ancient
History of Israel' (Histoire ancienne d'Israël)]
the following about the settling of the Jews in Canaan: "In the South, the
time when communities related to the Israelites settled in the Kadesh region
is unclear and dates from before the Exodus." He therefore allows for the
possibility that certain groups may have left Egypt at a time different from
that of Moses and his followers. The 'Apiru or Habiru who have
sometimes been identified with the Israelites were already in
Syria-Palestine long before Ramesses II and the Exodus: we have documentary
evidence which proves that Amenophis II brought back 8,600 prisoners to work
as forced labourers in Egypt. Others were to be found in Canaan under Sethos
I where they caused unrest in the Beth-Shean region: P. Montet reminds us of
this in his book Egypt and the Bible (L'Egypte et la Bible). It is
quite plausible to suppose therefore that Merneptah was obliged to deal
severely with these rebellious elements on his borders while inside them
were those who were later to rally around Moses to flee the country. The
existence of the stele dating from the fifth year of Merneptah's reign does
not in any way detract from the present theory.
the fact that the word 'Israel' figures in the history of the Jewish
people is totally unconnected with the notion that Moses and his followers
settled in Canaan. The origin of the word is as follows:
to Genesis (32,29), Israel is the second name given to Jacob, son of Isaac
and grandson of Abraham. The commentators of the Ecumenical Translation
of the Bible-Old Testament (Traduction oecuménique de la Bible-Ancien
Testament), 1975, think that its meaning is probably that 'God shows Himself
in His Strength'. Since it has been given to a single man, it is not
surprising that it was given to a community or group of people in memory of
a distinguished ancestor.
'Israel', therefore appeared well before Moses: several hundred years before
to be exact. It is not surprising consequently to see it cited in a stele
from the reign of the Pharaoh Merneptah. The fact that it is cited does not
at all constitute an argument in favour of a theory which dates the Exodus
before the fifth year of Merneptah's reign.
does do is refer to a group which it calls 'Israel', but Merneptah's stele
cannot be alluding to a politically established collectivity because the
inscription dates from the end of the Thirteenth century B.C. and the
Kingdom of Israel was not formed until the Tenth century B.C. It must
therefore refer to a human community of more modest proportions.
[ "The name 'Israel' (in the
stele) is accompanied by the generic determinative 'people' instead of the
determinative 'country', as is the case for the other proper names in the
stele" writes Father B. Couroyer, Professor at the Biblical School of
Jerusalem, in his commentary to the translation of the Book of Exodus (Pub.
Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1968, page 12).]
we know that the entry of 'Israel' into history was preceded by a long
formatory period of eight or nine centuries. This period was distinguished
by the settling of many semi-Nomadic groups, especially the Amorites and the
Arameans all over the region. In the same period, Patriarchs began to appear
in their communities among whom were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-Israel. The
second name of this last Patriarch was used to designate the original group,
the nucleus of a future political entity which was to appear long after
Merneptah's reign, since the Kingdom of Israel lasted from 931 or 930 to 721
4. The Description Contained in the Holy Scriptures of the Pharaoh's
Death During the Exodus.
event marks a very important point in the narrations contained in the Bible
and the Qur'an. It stands forth very clearly in the texts. It is referred to
in the Bible, not only in the Pentateuch or Torah, but also in the Psalms:
the references have already been given.
very strange to find that Christian commentators have completely ignored it.
Thus, Father de Vaux maintains the theory that the Exodus from Egypt took
place in the first half or the middle of Ramesses II's reign. His theory
takes no account of the fact that the Pharaoh perished during the Exodus, a
fact which should make all hypotheses place the event at the end of a reign.
In his Ancient History of Israel (Histoire ancienne d'Israël) , the
Head of the Biblical School of Jerusalem does not seem to be at all troubled
by the contradiction between the theory he maintains and the data contained
in the two Books of the Bible: the Torah and Psalms.
book, Egypt and the Bible (L'Egypte et la Bible), P. Montet places
the Exodus during Merneptah's reign, but says nothing about the death of the
Pharaoh who was at the head of the army following the fleeing Hebrews.
highly surprising attitude contrasts with the Jews' outlook: Psalm 136,
verse 15 gives thanks to God who "overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Sea
of Rushes" and is often recited in their liturgy. They know of the agreement
between this verse and the passage in Exodus (14,28-29): "The waters
returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of
Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not so much as one of them
remained." There is no shadow of a doubt for them that the Pharaoh and his
troups were wiped out. These same texts are present in Christian Bibles.
commentators quite deliberately, and in contradiction to all the evidence,
brush aside the Pharaoh's death. What is more however, some of them mention
the reference made to it in the Qur'an and encourage their readers to make
very strange comparisons. In the translation of the Bible directed by the
Biblical School of Jerusalem
[ L'Exode (Exodus), 1968, page
73, Pub. Les Editions du Cerf, Paris.]
we find the following commentary on the Pharaoh's death by Father Couroyer.
Koran refers to this (Pharaoh's death) (sura 10, verses 90-92), and popular
tradition has it that the Pharaoh who was drowned with his army (an event
which is not mentioned in the Holy Text
[ There can be no doubt that
this commentator is referring to the Bible.])
lives beneath the ocean where he rules over the men of the sea, i.e. the
obvious that the uninformed reader of the Qur'an is bound to establish a
connection between a statement in it which-for the commentator-contradicts
the Biblical text and this absurd legend which comes from a so-called
popular tradition mentioned in the commentary after the reference to the
meaning of the statement in the Qur'an on this has nothing to do with what
this commentator suggests: verses 90 to 92, sura 10 inform us that the
Children of Israel crossed the sea while the Pharaoh and his troops were
pursuing them and that it was only when the Pharaoh was about to be drowned
that he cried: "I believe there is no God except the God in which the
Chilldren of Israel believe. I am of those who submit themselves to Him."
God replied: "What? Now! Thou bast rebelled and caused depravity. This day W
e save thee in thy body so that thou mayest be a Sign for those who will
come after thee."
all that the sura contains on the Pharaoh's death. There is no question of
the phantasms recorded by the Biblical commentator either here or anywhere
else in the Qur'an. The text of the Qur'an merely states very clearly that
the Pharaoh's body will be saved: that is the important piece of
Qur'an was transmitted to man by the Prophet, the bodies of all the Pharaohs
who are today considered (rightly or wrongly) to have something to do with
the Exodus were in their tombs of the Necropolis of Thebes, on the opposite
side of the Nile from Luxor. At the time however, absolutely nothing was
known of this fact, and it was not until the end of the Nineteenth century
that they were discovered there. As the Qur'an states, the body of the
Pharaoh of the Exodus was in fact rescued: whichever of the Pharaohs it was,
visitors may see him in the Royal Mummies Room- of the Egyptian Museum,
Cairo. The truth is therefore very different from the ludicrous legend that
Father Couroyer has attached to the Qur'an.
5. Pharaoh Merneptah's Mummy
mummified body of Merneptah, son of Ramesses II and Pharaoh of the
Exodus-all the evidence points to this-was discovered by Loret in 1898 at
Thebes in the Kings' Valley whence it was transported to Cairo. Elliot Smith
removed its wrappings on the 8th of July, 1907: he gives a detailed
description of this operation and the examination of the body in his book
The Royal Mummies (1912). At that time the mummy was in a satisfactory
state of preservation, in spite of deterioration in several parts. Since
then, the mummy has been on show to visitors at the Cairo Museum, with his
head and neck uncovered and the rest of body concealed under a cloth. It is
so well hidden indeed, that until very recently, the only general
photographs of the mummy that the Museum possessed were those taken by E.
Smith in 1912.
1975, the Egyptian high authorities very kindly allowed me to examine the
parts of the Pharaoh's body that had been covered until then. They also
allowed me to take photographs. When the mummy's present state was compared
to the condition it was in over sixty years ago, it was abundantly clear
that it had deteriorated and fragments had disappeared. The mummified
tissues had suffered greatly, at the hand of man in some places and through
the passage of time in others.
natural deterioration is easily explained by the changes in the conditions
of conservation from the time in the late Nineteenth century when it was
discovered. Its discovery took place in the tomb of the Necropolis of Thebes
where the mummy had lain for over three thousand years. Today, the mummy is
displayed in a simple glass case which does not afford hermetic insulation
from the outside, nor does it offer protection from pollution by
micro-organisms. The mummy is exposed to fluctuations in temperature and
seasonal changes in humidity: it is very far from the conditions which
enabled it to remain protected from any source of deterioration for
approximately three thousand years. It has lost the protection afforded by
its wrappings and the advantage of remaining in the closed environment of
the tomb where the temperature was more constant and the air less humid than
it is in Cairo at certain times of the year. Of course, while it was in the
Necropolis itself, the mummy had to withstand the visits of grave plunderers
(probably very early on) and rodents: they caused a certain amount of
damage, but the conditions were nevertheless (it seems) much more favourable
for it to stand the test of time than they are today.
suggestion, special investigations were made during this examination of the
mummy in June 1975. An excellent radiographic study was made by Doctors El
Meligy and Ramsiys, and the examination of the interior of the thorax,
through a gap in the thoracic wall, was carried out by Doctor Mustapha
Manialawiy in addition to an investigation of the abdomen. This was the
first example of endoscopy being applied to a mummy. This technique enabled
us to see and photograph some very important details inside the body.
Professor Ceccaldi performed a general medico-legal study which will be
completed by an examination under the microscope of some small fragments
that spontaneously fell from the mummy's body: this examination will be
carried out by Professor Mignot and Doctor Durigon. I regret to say that
definitive pronouncements cannot be made by the time this book goes to
print. [ November, 1975
for the First French edition.]
already be derived from this examination is the discovery of multiple
lesions of the bones with broad lacunae, some of which may have been
mortal-although it is not yet possible to ascertain whether some of them
occurred before or after the Pharaoh's death. He most probably died either
from drowning, according to the Scriptural narrations, or from very violent
shocks preceding the moment when he was drowned-or both at once.
connection of these lesions with the deterioration whose sources have been
mentioned above renders the correct preservation of the mummy of the Pharaoh
somewhat problematical, unless precautionary and restorative measures are
not taken very soon. These measures should ensure that the only concrete
evidence which we still possess today concerning the death of the Pharaoh of
the Exodus and the rescue of his body, willed by God, does not disappear
with the passage of time.
always desirable for man to apply himself to the preservation of relics of
his history, but here we have something which goes beyond that: it is the
material presence of the mummified body of the man who knew Moses, resisted
his pleas, pursued him as he took flight, lost his life in the process. His
earthly remains were saved by the Will of God from destruction to become a
sign to man, as it is written in the Qur'an.
[ The mummy of Ramesses II, who
was another witness to Moses's story, has been the subject of a study
comparable to the one carried out on the mummy of Merneptah; the same
restoration work is required for it.]
seek among modern data for proof of the veracity of the Holy Scriptures will
find a magnificent illustration of the verses of the Qur'an dealing with the
Pharaoh's body by visiting the Royal Mummies Room of the Egyptian Museum,
results of these medical studies carried out in Cairo, 1976, were read by
the author before several French learned societies, including the 'Académie
Nationale de Médecine' (National Academy of Medecine), during the first part
of 1976. The knowledge of these results led the Egyptian Authorities to take
the decision to transport the mummy of Ramesses II to France. Thus it
arrived for treatment in Paris on the 26th September 1976.
Qur'an, Hadith and Modern Science
Qur'an does not constitute the sole source of doctrine and legislation in
Islam. During Muhammad's life and after his death, complementary information
of a legislative nature was indeed sought in the study of the words and
deeds of the Prophet.
writing was used in the transmission of hadith from the very beginning, a
lot of this came also from the oral tradition. Those who undertook to
assemble them in collections made the kind of enquiries which are always
very taxing before recording accounts of past events. They nevertheless had
a great regard for accuracy in their arduous task of collecting information.
This is illustrated by the fact that for all of the Prophet's sayings, the
most venerable collections always bear the names of those responsible for
the account, going right back to the person who first collected the
information from members of Muhammad's family or his companions.
large number of collections of the Prophet's words and deeds thus appeared
under the title of Hadiths. The exact meaning of the word is 'utterances',
but it is also customary to use it to mean the narration of his deeds.
the collections were made public in the decades following Muhammad's death.
Just over two hundred years were to pass before some of the most important
collections appeared. The most authentic record of the facts is in the
collections of Al Bukhari and Muslim, which date from over two hundred years
after Muhammad and which provide a wider trustworthy account. In recent
years, a bilingual Arabic/English edition has been provided by Doctor
Muhammed Muhsin Khan, of the Islamic University of Madina.
[ Pub. Sethi Straw Board Mills
(Conversion) Ltd and Taleem-ul-Qur'an Trust, Gujranwala, Cantt. Pakistan.
1st edition 1971, for Sahih Al Bukhari.]
Al Bukhari's work is generally regarded as the most authentic after the
Qur'an and was translated into French (1903-1914) by Houdas and Marcais
under the title Les Traditions Islamiques (Islamic Traditions). The
Hadiths are therefore accessible to those who do not speak Arabic. One must,
however, be wary of certain translations made by Europeans, including the
French translation, because they contain inaccuracies and untruths which are
often more of interpretation than of actual translation. Sometimes, they
considerably change the real meaning of a hadith, to such an extent indeed
that they attribute a sense to it which it does not contain.
regards their origins, some of the hadiths and Gospels have one point in
common which is that neither of them was compiled by an author who was an
eyewitness of the events he describes. Nor were they compiled until some
time after the events recorded. The hadiths, like the Gospels, have not all
been accepted as authentic. Only a small number of them receive the
quasi-unanimous approval of specialists in Muslim Tradition so that, except
al-Muwatta, Sahih Muslim and Sahih al-Bukhari, one finds in the same book,
hadiths presumed to be authentic side by side with ones which are either
dubious, or should be rejected outright.
contrast to Canonic Gospels which though questioned by some modern scholars
but which have never been contested by Christian high authorities, even
those hadiths that are most worthy to be considered as authentic have been
the subject of criticism. Very early in the history of Islam, masters in
Islamic thought exercised a thorough criticism of the hadiths, although the
basic book (The Qur'an) remained the book of reference and was not to be
it of interest to delve into the literature of the hadiths to find out how
Muhammad is said to have expressed himself, outside the context of written
Revelation, on subjects that were to be explained by scientific progress in
following centuries. Al-though Sahih Muslim is also an authentic collection,
in this study 1 have strictly limited myself to the texts of the hadiths
which are generally considered to be the most authentic, i.e. those of Al
Bukhari. I have always tried to bear in mind the fact that these texts were
compiled by men according to data received from a tradition which was
partially oral and that they record certain facts with a greater or lesser
degree of accuracy, depending on the individual errors made by those who
transmitted the narrations. These texts are different from other hadiths
which were transmitted by a very large number of people and are
[ Muslim specialists designate
the first by the word Zanni and the second by the word Qat'i.]
compared the findings made during an examination of the hadiths with those
already set out in the section on the Qur'an and modern science. The results
of this comparison speak for themselves. The difference is in fact quite
staggering between the accuracy of the data contained in the Qur'an, when
compared with modern scientific knowledge, and the highly questionable
character of certain statements in the hadiths on subjects whose tenor is
essentially scientific. These are the only hadiths to have been dealt with
in this study.
which have as their subject the interpretation of certain verses of the
Qur'an sometimes lead to commentaries which are hardly acceptable today.
already seen the great significance of one verse (sura 36, verse 36) dealing
with the Sun which "runs its course to a settled place". Here is the
interpretation given of it in a hadith: "At sunset, the sun . . . prostrates
itself underneath the Throne, and takes permission to rise again, and it is
permitted and then (a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate
itself . . . it will ask permission to go on its course . . . it will be
ordered to return whence it has come and so it will rise in the West . . ."
(Sahih Al Bukhari). The original text (The Book of the Beginning of the
Creation, Vol. IV page 283, part 54, chapter IV, number 421) is obscure and
difficult to translate. This passage nevertheless contains an allegory which
implies the notion of a course the Sun runs in relation to the Earth:
science has shown the contrary to be the case. The authenticity of this
hadith is doubtful (Zanni).
passage from the same work (The Book of the Beginning of the Creation, vol.
IV page 283, part 54, chapter 6, number 430) estimates the initial stages in
the development of the embryo very strangely in time: a forty-day period for
the grouping of the elements which are to constitute the human being,
another forty days during which the embryo is represented as 'something
which clings', and a third forty-day period when the embryo is designated by
the term 'chewed flesh'. Once the angels have intervened to define what this
individual's future is to be, a soul is breathed into him. This description
of embryonic evolution does not agree with modern data.
the Qur'an gives absolutely no practical advice on the remedial arts, except
for a single comment (sura 16, verse 69) on the possibility of using honey
as a therapeutic aid (without indicating the illness involved), the hadiths
devote a great deal of space to these subjects. A whole section of Al
Bukhari's collection (part 76) is concerned with medicine. In the French
translation by Houdas and Marcais it goes from page 62 to 91 of volume 4,
and in Doctor Muhammad Muhsin Khan's bilingual Arabic/English edition from
page 395 to 452, of volume VII. There can be no doubt that these pages
contain some hadiths which are conjectural (Zanni), but they are
interesting as a whole because they provide an outline of the opinions on
various medical subjects that it was possible to hold at the time. One might
add to them several hadiths inserted in other parts of Al Bukhari's
collection which have a medical tenor.
how we come to find statements in them on the harms caused by the Evil Eye,
witchcraft and the possibility of exorcism; although a certain restriction
is imposed on the paid use of the Qur'an for this purpose. There is a hadith
which stresses that certain kinds of date may serve as protection against
the effects of magic, and magic may be used against poisonous snakebites.
not be surprised however to find that at a time when there were limited
possibilities for the scientific use of drugs, people were advised to rely
on simple practices; natural treatments such as blood-letting, cupping, and
cauterization, head-shaving against lice, the use of camel's milk and
certain seeds such as black cumin, and plants such as indian Qust. It was
also recommended to burn a mat made of palm-tree leaves and put the ash from
it into a wound to stop bleeding. In emergencies, all available means that
might genuinely be of use had to be employed. It does not seem-a priori-to
be a very good idea, however, to suggest that people drink camel's urine.
difficult today to subscribe to certain explanations of subjects related to
various illnesses. Among them, the following might be mentioned:
--the origins of a fever. there are four statements bearing witness to the
fact that "fever is from the heat of hell" (Al Bukhari, The Book of
Medicine, vol. VII, chapter 28, page 416).
existence of a remedy for every illness: "No disease God created, but He
created its treatment" (Ibid. chapter 1, page 396). This concept is
illustrated by the Hadith of the Fly. "If a fly falls into the vessel of any
of you, let him dip all of it (into the vessel) and then throw it away, for
in one of its wings there is a disease and in the other there is healing
(antidote for it). i.e. the treatment for that disease" (Ibid. chapter
15-16, pages 462-463, also The Book of the Beginning of Creation part 54,
chapters 15 & 16.)
--abortion provoked by the sight of a snake (which can also blind). This is
mentioned in The Book of the Beginning of Creation, Vol. IV(chapter 13 and
14, pages 330 & 334).
--haemorrhages between periods. The Book of Menses (Menstrual Periods) Vol.
VI, part 6, pages 490 & 495 contains two hadiths on the cause of
haemorrhages between periods (chapters 21 & 28). They refer to two women: in
the case of the first, there is a description (undetailed) of the symptoms,
with a statement that the haemorrhage comes from a blood vessel; in the
second, the woman had experienced haemorrhages between periods for seven
years, and the same vascular origin is stated. One might suggest hypotheses
as to the real causes of the above, but it is not easy to see what arguments
could have been produced at the time to support this diagnosis. This could
nevertheless have been quite accurate.
statement that diseases are not contagious. Al Bukhari's collection of
hadiths refers in several places (chapters 19, 25, 30, 31, 53 and 54, Vol.
VII, part 76, of the Book of Medicine) to certain special cases, e.g.
leprosy (page 408), plague (pages 418 & 422), camel's scabies (page 447),
and also provides general statements. The latter are however placed side by
side with glaringly contradictory remarks: it is recommended, for example,
not to go to areas where there is plague, and to stay away from lepers.
Consequently, it is possible to conclude that certain hadiths exist which
are scientifically unacceptable. There is a doubt surrounding their
authenticity. The purpose of reference to them lies solely in the comparison
that they occasion with the verses of the Qur'an mentioned above: these do
not contain a single inaccurate statement. This observation clearly has
indeed remember that at the Prophet's death, the teachings that were
received from this fell into two groups:
--firstly, a large number of Believers knew the Qur'an by heart because,
like the Prophet, they had recited it many, many times; transcriptions of
the text of the Qur'an already existed moreover, which were made at the time
of the Prophet and even before the Hegira
[ The Hegira was in 622, ten
years before Muhammad's death.].
-secondly, the members of his following who were closest to him and the
Believers who had witnessed his words and deeds had remembered them and
relied on them for sUPport, in addition to the Qur'an, when defining a
nascent doctrine and legislation.
years that were to follow the Prophet's death, texts were to be compiled
which recorded the two groups of teachings he had left. The first gathering
of hadiths was performed roughly forty years after the Hegira, but a first
collection of Qur'anic texts had been made beforehand under Caliph Abu Bakr,
and in particular Caliph Uthman, the second of whom published a definitive
text during his Caliphate, i.e. between the twelfth and twenty-fourth years
following Muhammad's death.
be heavily stressed is the disparity between these two groups of texts, both
from a literary point of view and as regards their contents. It would indeed
be unthinkable to compare the style of the Qur'an with that of the hadiths.
What is more, when the contents of the two texts are compared in the light
of modern scientific data, one is struck by the oppositions between them. I
hope I have succeeded in showing what follows:
--on the one hand, statements in the Qur'an which often appear to be
commonplace, but which conceal data that science was later to bring to
other hand, certain statements in the hadiths which are shown to be in
absolute agreement with the ideas of their times but which contain opinions
that are deemed scientifically unacceptable today. These occur in an
aggregate of statements concerning Islamic doctrine and legislation, whose
authenticity is unquestioningly acknowledged.
it must be pointed out that Muhammad's own attitude was quitedifferent
towards the Qur'an from what it was towards his personal sayings. The Qur'an
was proclaimed by him to be a divine Revelation. Over a period of twenty
years, the Prophet classified its sections with the greatest of care, as we
have seen. The Qur'an represented what had to be written down during his own
lifetime and learned by heart to become part of the liturgy of prayers. The
hadiths are said, in principle, to provide an account of his deeds and
personal reflections, but he left it to others to find an example in them
for their own behaviour and to make them public however they liked: he did
not give any instructions.
of the fact that only a limited number of hadiths may be considered to
express the Prophet's thoughts with certainty, the others must contain the
thoughts of the men of his time, in particular with regard to the subjects
referred to here. When these dubious or inauthentic hadiths are compared to
the text of the Qur'an, we can measure the extent to which they differ. This
comparison highlights (as if there were still any need to) the striking
difference between the writings of this period, which are riddled with
scientific inaccurate statements, and the Qur'an, the Book of Written
Revelation, that is free from errors of this kind.
[ The truth of the hadiths, from
a religious point of view, is beyond question. When they deal, however, with
earthly affairs there is no difference between the Prophet and other humans.
One hadith gives an account of an utterance of the Prophet: "Whenever I
command you to do something related to Religion do obey, and if I command
you something according to my own opinion (do remember this) I am a human
being". Al Saraksi in his 'Principles' (Al Usul) transmitted this statement
as follows: "If I bring something to you on your religion, do act according
to it, and if I bring you something related to this world, then you have a
better knowledge of your own earthly affairs".]
end of this study, a fact that stands forth very clearly is that the
predominant opinion held in the West on the Texts of the Holy Scriptures we
possess today is hardly very realistic. We have seen the conditions, times
and ways in which the elements constituting the Old Testament, the Gospels
and the Qur'an were collected and written down: the circumstances attendant
upon the birth of the Scriptures for these three Revelations differed widely
in each case, a fact which had extremely important consequences concerning
the authenticity of the texts and certain aspects of their contents.
Testament represents a vast number of literary works written over a period
of roughly nine hundred years. It forms a highly disparate mosaic whose
pieces have, in the course of centuries, been changed by man. Some parts
were added to what already existed, so that today it is sometimes very
difficult indeed to identify where they came from originally.
an account of Jesus's words and deeds, the Gospels were intended to make
known to men the teachings he wished to leave them on completion of his
earthly mission. Unfortunately, the authors of the Gospels were not
eyewitnesses of the data they recorded. They were spokesmen who expressed
data that were quite simply the information that had been preserved by the
various Judeo-Christian communities on Jesus's public life, passed down by
oral traditions or writings which no longer exist today, and which
constituted an intermediate stage between the oral tradition and the
the light in which the Judeo-Christian Scriptures should be viewed today,
and-to be objective-one should abandon the classic concepts held by experts
inevitable result of the multiplicity of sources is the existence of
contradictions and oppositions: many examples have been given of these. The
authors of the Gospels had (when talking of Jesus) the same tendency to
magnify certain facts as the poets of French Medieval literature in their
narrative poems. The consequence of this was that events were presented from
each individual narrator's point of view and the authenticity of the facts
reported in many cases proved to be extremely dubious. In view of this, the
few statements contained in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures which may have
something to do with modern knowledge should always be examined with the
circumspection that the questionable nature of their authenticity demands.
Contradictions, improbabilities and incompatibilities with modern scientific
data may be easily explained in terms of what has just been said above.
Christians are nevertheless very surprised when they realize this, so great
have been the continuous and far-reaching efforts made until now by many
official commentators to camouflage the very obvious results of modern
studies, under cunning dialectical acrobatics orchestrated by apologetic
lyricism. A case in point are the genealogies of Jesus given in Matthew and
Luke, which were contradictory and scientifically unacceptable. Examples
have been provided which reveal this attitude very clearly. John's Gospel
has been given special attention because there are very important
differences between it and the other three Gospels, especially with regard
to the fact that his Gospel does not describe the institution of the
Eucharist: this is not generally known.
Qur'anic Revelation has a history which is fundamentally different from the
other two. It spanned a period of some twenty years and, as soon as it was
transmitted to Muhammad by Archangel Gabriel, Believers learned it by heart.
It. was also written down during Muhammad's life. The last recensions of the
Qur'an were effected under Caliph Uthman starting some twelve years after
the Prophet's death and finishing twenty-four years after it. They had the
advantage of being checked by people who already knew the text by heart, for
they had learned it at the time of the Revelation itself and had
subsequently recited it constantly. Since then, we know that the text has
been scrupulously preserved. It does not give rise to any problems of
Qur'an follows on from the two Revelations that preceded it and is not only
free from contradictions in its narrations, the sign of the various human
manipulations to be found in the Gospels, but provides a quality all of its
own for those who examine it objectively and in the light of science i.e.
its complete agreement with modern scientific data. What is more, statements
are to be found in it (as has been shown) that are connected with science:
and yet it is unthinkable that a man of Muhammad's time could have been the
author of them. Modern scientific knowledge therefore allows us to
understand certain verses of the Qur'an which, until now, it has been
impossible to interpret.
comparison of several Biblical and Qur'anic narrations of the same subject
shows the existence of fundamental differences between statements in the
former, which are scientifically unacceptable, and declarations in the
latter which are in perfect agreement with modern data: this was the case of
the Creation and the Flood, for example. An extremely important complement
to the Bible was found in the text of the Qur'an on the subject of the
history of the Exodus, where the two texts were very much in agreement with
archaeological findings, in the dating of the time of Moses. Besides, there
are major differences between the Qur'an and the Bible on the other
subjects: they serve to disprove all that has been maintained-without a
scrap of evidence-concerning the allegation that Muhammad is supposed to
have copied the Bible to produce the text of the Qur'an.
comparative study is made between the statements connected with science to
be found in the collection of hadiths, which are attributed to Muhammad but
are often of dubious authenticity (although they reflect the beliefs of the
period), and the data of a similar kind in the Qur'an, the disparity becomes
so obvious that any notion of a common origin is ruled out.
of the level of knowledge in Muhammad's day, it is inconceivable that many
of the statements In the Qur'an which are connected with science could have
been the work of a man. It is, moreover, perfectly legitimate, not only to
regard the Qur'an as the expression of a Revelation, but also to award it a
very special place, on account of the guarantee of authenticity it provides
and the presence in it of scientific statements which, when studied today,
appear as a challenge to explanation in human terms.