Historical Errors in the Koran

Historical errors in the Koran

I have a few Muslim friends. In many ways, I seem to have much more in common with their cultural and ethical worldviews – the strong familial structure; strong traditions, and rich heritage; the basic outlook on life, than those of Western ancestry. And yet I disagree with the overarching Islamic worldview for numerous reasons, namely the historical errors in the Koran. Good people can disagree, and when their claims are mutually exclusive, only one of those people can be correct in his worldview. Many years ago, while still an agnostic, I considered whether or not Islam could be the correct worldview and reached the conclusion that the Bible is a far more reliable narrative and source of inspiration than the Koran. One of these reasons (certainly not the only one) is that the Qu’ran has quite a few historical errors. Here I will list just a few to provide leverage.

The Koran is Wrong About the Crucifixion of Jesus

With the exception of only a handful of fringe historians (we’re talking about one or two people here), based on the facts of history, virtually all secular historians agree that the Jesus of Nazareth spoken of in the Bible was a real person born in the 1st century AD who was crucified by the orders of Pontius Pilate between AD 30-33.

However, the most mainstream interpretation of the relevant verses of the Koran indicates that Jesus was not crucified and did not die:

“And for their [people of Scripture] saying, “We have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the Messenger of God.” In fact, they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it appeared to them as if they did. Indeed, those who differ about him are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it, except the following of assumptions. Certainly, they did not kill him.” IKoran 4:157

The Biblical Text Confirms that Jesus was Crucified

Many people discount the biblical record as a reliable record of the life and times of Jesus (among other people, places, events) but there are no good reasons to do so. Objecting to the historical narratives of the biblical text on grounds that it is a “religious” book is wrongheaded. The supernatural content usually tends to be in addition to the strong natural content. And while the supernatural content may not be verifiable, the natural content certainly can be. The biblical text is crystal clear that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed born in the first century and crucified by the orders of Pontius Pilate.

Ancient Antagonistic Historians Confirm that Jesus was Crucified

Perhaps the greatest historian of ancient Rome, Cornelius Tacitus (c. AD 55-120) wrote two significant pieces, Annals (covering AD 14–68) and Histories (covering AD 68–96). Writing of Caesar Nero’s reign, Tacitus alludes to Christ and to the existence of Christians in Rome,

“But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, avail to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punishment with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated but through the city of Rome also.” IITacitus, Cornelius, Annals, XV, 44.

A Greek satirist of the latter half of the second century, Lucian, wrote about Christ and Christians with contempt. Though his writings bleed with skepticism and mockery, he writes of Christ and Christians, plainly never doubting their existence,

“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account…” IIILucian of Samosata, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13.

Unfortunately, many of the ancient writings have not made it to us completely intact. This is the case with the writings of Thallus, one of the first secular writers to mention Jesus. In AD 52, Thallus wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean from the Trojan War to his own time. His work is known to us in fragments preserved through citations by other writers. Julius Africanus, writing around AD 221, references an interesting comment made by Thallus about the darkness that enveloped the land during the late afternoon hours on the day when Jesus was crucified:

“Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun-unreasonably as it seems to me (unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died).” IVJulius Africanus, Chronography, 18.1.

This is a very interesting reference, which echoes the biblical account of the darkness that fell upon the land during Christ’s crucifixion. Apparently, Thallus did not doubt Christ’s crucifixion or the unusual darkness at noon.

Josephus ben Mattathias (c. AD 37–100) was a Romanized Jewish historian who sided with the Flavian emperors. Later known as Flavius Josephus, taking on the emperor’s name, he penned Jewish Antiquities. Though some part of the writings are considered to have been later alterations (and thus excluded here) by early Christians, the portions that are not debated give us good insight, corroborating other historical sources,

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principle men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct to this day.VJosephus, Flavius, Antiquities, XVIII, 33.

In the Babylonian Talmud, we read,

“It has been taught: On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu. And an announcer went out, in front of him, for forty days (saying): ‘He is going to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and enticed and let Israel astray. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and plead in his behalf.’ But not having found anything in his favor, they hanged him on the eve of Passover.VIBabylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a.

The Aramaic “Yeshu” translates to “Jesus” in English, and to add further weight to the exactitude of the person, another version of this document actually uses the term, “Yeshu the Nazarene.” Since the Jewish legal system had no crucifixion, they generally used the term “hang” to refer to crucifixion. The timing described to be the “eve of Passover” also finds agreement with John 19:14.

This valuable reference clearly shows us that Jesus was a historical figure; attempts to explain the miracles Jesus performed as “sorcery,” which is said to be partly the reason for His crucifixion; tells us that He was leading Israel away from its religiosity and affirms that the Jewish authorities were involved in His sentencing, all the while corroborating the facts and nuances of the biblical record.

The Koran is in Disagreement About the Birth Narrative of Jesus

The biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus includes Joseph, a long trip to Bethlehem, a manger, etc. The account from the Koran is quite different. It includes none of these things.

“The labor-pains came upon her, by the trunk of a palm-tree.” VIIKoran 19:23

Notice how the two different accounts cannot possibly be reconciled. It either happened how the Bible said it happened or it happened how the Koran said it happened.

The Koran Confuses Jesus’ Mother with Aaron’s Sister

Throughout the Koran, it is mentioned that Mary is the sister of Moses and Aaron and also that she is the daughter of Imran. Both Jesus’ mother and Aaron’s sister are named Mary. However, there are centuries that divide these two people. The Koran states that Mary (Jesus’ mother) had a brother named Aaron (Koran 19:28) and a father named Imran (Koran 66:12). Since the mother of Mary and Aaron was called “the wife of Imran” (Koran 3:35), it’s clear that the Koran is trying to tell us that this person named Mary who was Jesus’ mother is claimed to be the same Mary of the Old Testament – the sister of Aaron. This would, in effect, mean that Mary, Jesus’ mother was more than 1500 years old. This is an obvious gaffe. Though attempts have been made by Muslim scholars to argue for a non-literal interpretation, those attempts appear to be grasping at straws as the text of the Koran is crystal clear in communicating nothing but a literal relationship.

The Koran’s Prochronism of Samaritans

According to the biblical account, when Moses was on Mount Sinai, at the behest of the Israelites, Aaron took over the efforts to create the golden calf VIIIExodus 32:1. The Koran, however, claims that someone who helped mold the golden calf was a Samaritan (Samarian) IXKoran 20:85-88. Besides Koran’s obvious incompatibility with the Bible, there is one glaring historical problem – the problem of historical prochronism. Even with the most liberal range for the dating of the exodus, Samaria did not even exist at that time in history. If the people group did not exist at that time, how could one of them have helped forge the calf? The historically accurate timeline actually has Samaritans coming on the scene after the Babylonian captivity, which took place long after (centuries) the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.

The Koran’s Prochronism of Muhammad’s Visit to al-Aqsa Mosque

According to the Koran, Allah took Muhammad to al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem (Koran 17:1). This is interesting but when we take a closer look at the dating of these events and places, we find yet another prochronism.

The Muslim army conquered Jerusalem in AD 637. The al-Aqsa mosque was completed in AD 705. The glaringly obvious problem with both is that Muhammad died in AD 632 – 73 years before al-Aqsa mosque was built. Given the timing of these events, it would have been impossible for Muhammad to have visited al-Aqsa mosque.

The Koran’s Inconsistency of Haman’s Life

The Koran claims that Haman was the pharaoh’s prime minister (Koran 40:36-37). However, as the biblical text states, Haman had no such title. Haman actually lived more than a thousand years later and not in Egypt but Babylon. This is yet another chronological error.

The Koran Makes Questionable Moral Judgements

In the Koran, we read of “Dhul-Qarnayn” (the two-horned one) whom both traditional and modern scholars have generally identified as Alexander the Great. The Koran makes mention of Alexander the Great, stating,

“And they ask you about Zul-Qarnain. Say, “I will tell you something about him.” We established him on earth, and gave him all kinds of means. He pursued a certain course. Until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it setting in a murky spring, and found a people in its vicinity. We said, “O Zul-Qarnain, you may either inflict a penalty, or else treat them kindly.” He said, “As for him who does wrong, we will penalize him, then he will be returned to his Lord, and He will punish him with an unheard-of torment. “But as for him who believes and acts righteously, he will have the finest reward, and We will speak to him of Our command with ease.” Then he pursued a course. Until, when he reached the rising of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom We had provided no shelter from it. And so it was. We had full knowledge of what he had. Then he pursued a course. Until, when he reached the point separating the two barriers, he found beside them a people who could barely understand what is said. They said, “O Zul-Qarnain, the Gog and Magog are spreading chaos in the land. Can we pay you, to build between us and them a wall?” He said, “What my Lord has empowered me with is better. But assist me with strength, and I will build between you and them a dam.” “Bring me blocks of iron.” So that, when he had leveled up between the two cliffs, he said, “Blow.” And having turned it into a fire, he said, “Bring me tar to pour over it.” So they were unable to climb it, and they could not penetrate it. He said, “This is a mercy from my Lord. But when the promise of my Lord comes true, He will turn it into rubble, and the promise of my Lord is always true.” On that Day, We will leave them surging upon one another. And the Trumpet will be blown, and We will gather them together. On that Day, We will present the disbelievers to Hell, all displayed. Those whose eyes were screened to My message, and were unable to hear.” XKoran 18:83-101

Here Alexander the great is described in such a positive light, one may be inclined to think the passage is speaking about some great moral teacher. God supposedly assisted Alexander in his conquest of the world, guided him and removed all obstacles from his path allowing him to fulfill all of his desires. God supposedly gave him the option to torment them, to kill them or to take captive some people he came across.

Alexander the Great is claimed to be a righteous man and a teacher. Ironically what we know of Alexander the Great from history makes that a questionable moral claim. Alexander was an idolatrous and power-hungry military leader and the self-proclaimed son of Amun, the God of Egypt.

This neither sound at all like the God revealed in the Bible nor is it a fitting description of any notable moral excellence to be praised the way Alexander is praised in the Koran.

The Incompatibility of the Bible and the Koran

Religions that fall under the umbrella of Theism share some basic claims. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are all in agreement that the world was created by God, that God is a personal being – the greatest conceivable being. However, apart from some general similarities, they also have many enormous differences that are mutually exclusive. In other words, they cannot all possibly be true. Here I’ve listed a few errors and inconsistencies that make Islam impossible to reconcile with Christianity and factually faulty. It’s a shame that, while family, culture, and tradition may be great things, they are also the same reasons why people tend to stick with what they know – teachings are ingrained and difficult from which to break away. However, those interested in trying to know reality as best as possible should do so regardless of the level of difficulty or familiarity. The errors of the Koran and its inconsistencies with the Bible are just one example of unreconcilable differences between the Muslim and Christian worldviews. Yes, I love my Muslim friends, but our claims cannot both be true as they are mutually exclusive.

References   [ + ]

I. Koran 4:157
II. Tacitus, Cornelius, Annals, XV, 44.
III. Lucian of Samosata, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13.
IV. Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18.1.
V. Josephus, Flavius, Antiquities, XVIII, 33.
VI. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a.
VII. Koran 19:23
VIII. Exodus 32:1
IX. Koran 20:85-88
X. Koran 18:83-101
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