Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Quran on the Preservation of Pharaoh’s Body

Sam Shamoun

Certain Muslims think that the Quran foretold the preservation of the body of the Pharaoh of the Exodus as a sign for those who come afterwards:

“We took the Children of Israel across the sea: Pharaoh and his hosts followed them in insolence and spite. At length, when overwhelmed with the flood, he said: ‘I believe that there is no god except Him Whom the Children of Israel believe in: I am of those who submit (to Allah in Islám).’ (It was said to him): 'Ah now!- But a little while before, wast thou in rebellion!- and thou didst mischief (and violence)! This day shall We save thee in thy body, that thou mayest be a sign to those who come after thee! But verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!’” S. 10:90-92

The Muslims take this passage as an indication that Allah would use the discovery of the Pharaoh’s body to prove to others that the Islamic scripture is divine in origin.

These dawagandists then cite Dr. Maurice Bucaille’s assertion that Loret discovered Pharaoh’s body in 1898 at Thebes in the Kings’ Valley (cf. The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 238).

There are several major problems with this claim. First, scholars are in disagreement over the exact identity of the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Some scholars are of the opinion that the Exodus took pace in the 19th dynasty period of Egypt, making Seti I and Rameses II the Pharaohs of the Israelite oppression and their subsequent Exodus from Egypt. Others, citing 1 Kings 6:1 as evidence, believe that the Exodus took place in 1446 BC. This is due primarily to the statement in 1 Kings that Israel's deliverance from Egypt took place 430 years before “The fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel,” which means 430 years before 966 BC. This would then make Thutmose III and his son Amunhotep II the Pharaohs of that period.

This is a fact with which at least one Muslim commentator agrees:

Lit. 'We shall save thee in thy body': Probably an allusion to the ancient Egyptian custom of embalming the bodies of their kings and nobles and thus preserving them for posterity. Some Egyptologists assume that the 'evil Pharaoh' of the Quran and the Bible was Ramses II (about 1324-1258 B.C.), while others identify him with his unlucky predecessor, Tut-ankh-amen, or even with Thotmes (or Thutmosis) III, who lived in the 15th century B.C. However, all these 'identifications' are purely speculative and have no definitive historical value. In this connection it should be remembered that the designation 'Pharaoh' (fir'awn in Arabic) is not a proper name but a title born by all the kings of ancient Egypt.' (Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur'an [Dar Al-Andalus Limited, 3 Library Ramp, Gibraltar; rpt. 1993], p. 306, fn. 112; bold emphasis ours)

Since there is scholarly debate over the exact time of the Exodus, this means that Muslims cannot be certain that the Pharaoh whose body was discovered in 1898 was actually the same one who confronted Moses.

Second, the story of Pharaoh's repentance at the face of destruction, along with the preservation of his body, was not a new revelation. Both the Holy Bible and the Jewish Talmud documented this story long before the Quran was ever compiled:

“The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen - the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw THE EGYPTIANS LYING DEAD ON THE SHORE. And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” Exodus 14:28-30

That this included Pharaoh can be seen from the following passage:

"To him who divided the Red Sea asunder His love endures forever. And brought Israel through the midst of it, His love endures forever. But swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea; His love endures forever." Psalm 136:13-15

We are further told in the Talmud:

“Perceive the great power of repentance! Pharaoh, king of Egypt, uttered very wicked words — ‘Who is the god whose voice I shall obey?’ (Exod. 5:2). Yet as he repented, saying, ‘Who is like unto thee among the gods?’ (Exod. 15:2). God saved him from death; for it saith; Almost had I stretched out my hands and destroyed; but God let him live, that he might declare his power and strength.” (Pirke Rabbi Elieser, xliii; Midrash Yalkut, ccxxxviii, as cited in T.P. Hughes, Dictionary of Islam [Kazi Publications Inc., Chicago Il. 1994], p. 241; bold emphasis ours)

The late Muslim scholar Syed Abu-Ala' Maududi concedes the fact that the Quranic story of the drowning of the Pharaoh in Q. 10:90-92 actually finds parallels in the Talmud:

“… Though this is not mentioned in the Bible, it is explicitly recorded in the Talmud in the following words: 'Who is like Thee, O Lord, among the gods?’” (Towards Understanding the Qur'an - Volume IV, Surahs 10-16, an English translation of Tafhim al-Qur'an by Zafar Ishaq, assisted by A.R. Kidwai [The Islamic Foundation (printed and bound in Great Britain by the Cromwell Press), rpt. 1999], p. 63, fn. 91; bold emphasis ours)

Hence, Muhammadan logic would force us to conclude that God revealed the Talmud to the rabbis since they knew of Pharaoh's body being preserved even before the Quran was written!

Third, according to Muslim commentators Allah preserved Pharaoh's body as a sign for the Israelites, not for future generations. Ibn Kathir stated:

<So this day We shall deliver your (dead) body (out from the sea) that you may be a sign to those who come after you!>

Ibn 'Abbas and others from among the Salaf have said: “Some of the Children of Israel doubted the death of Fir'awn so Allah commanded the sea to throw his body- whole, without a soul- with his known armor plate. The body was thrown to a high place on the land so that the Children of Israel could confirm his death and destruction.” That is why Allah said,

<"So this day We shall deliver your.."> meaning we will put your body on a high place on the earth. Mujahid said,

<your (dead) body> means, “your physical body.”

<that you may be a sign to those who come after you!> meaning, so that might be a proof of your death and destruction for the Children of Israel. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, Abridged, Volume 4, Surat Al-A'raf to the end of Surah Yunus, abridged by a group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri [Darussalam Distributors & Publishers Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore; first edition, May 2000], pp. 653-654; bold emphasis ours)

Thus, Pharaoh’s preservation has nothing to do with proving the Quran’s alleged divine origin to those who would come after these events took place.

Finally, these verses introduce a major contradiction. According to this passage, Allah saved Pharaoh IN his body:

But this day We save THEE IN thy body that thou mayst be a portent for those after thee. Lo! most of mankind are heedless of Our portents. S. 10:92 Pickthall

“This day shall We save THEE IN the body, that thou mayest be a sign to those who come after thee! but verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our Signs!” Y. Ali

This obviously means that Allah saved more than the body of Pharaoh. He also saved what was in it, i.e. his soul, meaning that the Pharaoh didn’t die by drowning. However, the following text says that Pharaoh did drown!

And Fir'aun (Pharaoh) proclaimed among his people, saying: "O my people! Is not mine the dominion of Egypt, and these rivers flowing underneath me. See you not then? "Am I not better than this one [Musa (Moses)], who is Mahin [has no honour nor any respect, and is weak and despicable] and can scarcely express himself clearly? "Why then are not golden bracelets bestowed on him, or angels sent along with him?" Thus he [Fir'aun (Pharaoh)] befooled and misled his people, and they obeyed him. Verily, they were ever a people who were Fasiqun (rebellious, disobedient to Allah). So when they angered Us, We punished them, and drowned them all. And We made them a precedent (as a lesson for those coming after them), and an example to later generations. S. 43:51-56 Hilali-Khan

So, when they angered Us, We punished them and drowned them every one. S. 43:55 Pickthall

So much for this being alleged evidence for the Quran's inspiration.

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