al-Tabari

al-Tabari's History vols. 1 to 4
November 2007 version

al-Tabari (pronounced TA-ba-ree) was an early Muslim historian who lived from 839 A.D. to February 17, 923 A.D. According to the preface of the History of al-Tabari, it "is by common consent the most important universal history produced in the world of Islam." Tabari's title is ta'rikh al-rusul wa'l-muluk, which means the history of prophets and kings. These 38 volumes tells facts and legends of the history of the world from Adam and Eve down to 915 A.D.

The first four volumes copy many things that are found in the Bible. The first four volumes can be considered a unit, because al-Tabari goes into a detailed history of the Persians starting in chapter 5.

Background on the Author

Tabari was his nickname, since he came from Tabaristan, which is in Iran, south of Tehran. While some Hanbalite Sunni Muslims have accused him of having Shi'ite tendencies, there is no basis for that except that he was Iranian. Tabari's credibility as a historian would be rather high, if it were not for these first three volumes. He appears to be so much into factual detail that where there is none he readily makes it up, or repeats what others have made up without any qualifications. Do we really know the names of Adam and Eve's daughters? Do we really know that Eve always had twins? Do we really know that Eve was pregnant with Cain and his twin before being expelled from the Garden?

Tabari knew the Qur'an by heart when he was 7 years old. al-Tabari vol.1 p.15. He went on a pilgrimage. al-Tabari vol.1 p.19. Tabari had a great memory. al-Tabari according to vol.1 p.19

Al-Tabari's Islam

Al-Tabari was a Sunni Muslim from Iran. Hanbalites claim that he had Shi'ite tendencies, but there is nothing to indicate that except the land of his birth. Tabari was first a Shafi'ite. Later he founded his own school. al-Tabari vol.1 p.62. There was discord between different schools al-Tabari vol.1 p.66. The Hanbalites would use violence to intimidate Muslims belonging to other schools. al-Tabari vol.1 p.71

Tabari was instructed on the variant readings of the Qur'an. al-Tabari vol.1 p.23

There is only one doctrinal pecularity that stands out in al-Tabari. He felt that slave girls should not be allowed to have any money of their own. al-Tabari vol.1 p.21-22

Tabari had a cosmological "proof" of God. al-Tabari vol.1 p.194-195

The first thing created was a pen for writing what was predestined. al-Tabari vol.1 p.198-201,218,219

 

Al-Tabari and Science

Al-Tabari would accept details from others, without always asking how it was they knew that. For example, Tabari concluded God created the world on Sunday, because early Muslim scholars agreed on this. al-Tabari vol.1 p.212

There are seven heavens. al-Tabari vol.1 p.213

Stars guard against Satan. al-Tabari vol.1 p.223

I asked the Messenger of God [Mohammed]" Where does it [the sun] set? He replied: It sets in the heaven and is then raised from heaven to heaven until it is raised to the highest, seventh heaven. Eventually, when it is underneath the Throne, it falls down and prostrates itself, and the angels who are in charge of it prostrate themselves together with it. The sun then says, My Lord, whence do you command me to rise, from where I set or from where I rise? He continue. This is (meant by) God's word: 'And the sun: It runs to a place where it is to reside (at night)' where it is held underneath the Throne - 'That is decreed by One Mighty and Knowing' by 'this' is meant the procedure of the mighty' Lord in His royal authority, the Lord Who is 'knowing' about His creation. He continued. Gabriel brings to the sun a garment of luminosity from the light of the Throne, according to the measure of the hours of the day. It is longer in the summer and shorter in the winter, and of intermediate length in the autumn and spring. [spring, fall, and winter fashions!] He continued. The sun puts on that garment, as one of you here puts on his garment. Then, it is set free to roam in the air of heaven until it rises whence it does. ... The same course is followed by the moon in its rising ... But Gabriel brings it a garment from the light of the Footstool. This is (meant by) God word 'He made the sun a luminosity and the moon a light.'" al-Tabari vol.1 p.231

Mohammed said that God originally made two suns, but Gabriel dragged his wing over one, reducing its brightness and leaving black marks, and it became the moon. p.233

The sun sets in a muddy spring. al-Tabari vol.1 p.234, which Muslims belief based on Sura 18.

Al-Tabari held to the view that dhul Qarnain was Alexander of Macedon. al-Tabari vol.1 p.37, and that he was a believer in God. al-Tabari vol.2 p.109. Alexander was actually a polytheistic pagan, whom people later worshipped as a God.

al-Tabari vol.1 p.234 also mentions that the sun sets in a muddy spring. The word "muddy" is hami'ah, meaning mean black clay, but hamiyah is a similar word that can mean hot. (See footnote 442 p.234)

Furthermore, the earth itself sits on a big fish. al-Tabari vol.1 p.220

Angels and Satan

al-Tabari was quick to supply details where they were lacking. For example, we can learn from al-Tabari that Allah created the Ka'abah before creating the rest of the world. al-Tabari vol.1 p.216.

Angels performed the pilgrimmage 2,000 years prior to Adam. al-Tabari vol.1 p.295

Iblis was an angelic jinn. al-Tabari vol.1 p.250, who was also named 'Azazil. al-Tabari vol.1 p.254. He entered into the mouth of a snake. al-Tabari vol.1 p.275-279

Adam, and Eve

People were not directly created by Allah, but by the angel of death. al-Tabari vol.1 p.256

Eve was created from Adam's rib. al-Tabari vol.1 p.273. Eve was originally intelligent, Allah made her [but not Adam] stupid after the fall of Adam and Eve. al-Tabari vol.1 p.280,281. Even Eve had a veil al-Tabari vol.1 p.294

Adam disobeyed God. al-Tabari vol.1 p.275. Adam shared responsibility for every soul that is wrongfully killed. al-Tabari vol.1 p.315

Adam was a prophet. al-Tabari vol.1 p.303

Even Adam went on a pilgrimmage to the place of Mecca. al-Tabari vol.1 p.295

Adam brushed his head against heaven, and that is why he became bald. al-Tabari vol.1 p.297

After Adam and Eve

All sin every day. al-Tabari vol.3 p.147

Mention of the land of Nudh [Nod] al-Tabari vol.1 p.295

Cain (Qabil) killed his brother Abel (Habil) al-Tabari vol.1 p.307

Some say Cain killed Abel over a woman. They married their sisters. al-Tabari vol.1 p.308

Al Tabari claimed to know the names of Adam's daughters. al-Tabari vol.1 p.317

The black stone was originally a white jewel, but it turned black because so many menstruating women touched it prior to Islam. al-Tabari vol.1 p.303

Enoch practiced Jihad al-Tabari vol.1 p.346

Noah's Ark

Noah's ark al-Tabari vol.1 p.348

Noah had 10 people in the ark. He had a fourth son, Yami, who did not believe in him and did not go in the ark. al-Tabari vol.1 p.360

Satan needed to get in the ark to survive too. He got in by tricking Noah. al-Tabari vol.1 p.360

Noah became a Muslim. al-Tabari vol.1 p.360

Noah's children became Muslims. al-Tabari vol.2 p.12

One reason for the tower of Babel was so that a flood would not get them again. al-Tabari vol.2 p.27

Between Noah and Abraham, there were no messengers [prophets] of Allah except Hud [to Ad] and Salih [to Thamud] al-Tabari vol.2 p.50

Abraham

Abram said a star and the moon were his lord. He changed his mind later though. al-Tabari vol.2 p.51

The star Abram said was his lord was Jupiter. al-Tabari vol.2 p.54

Jewish Apocryphal story of Abraham saying the largest idol broke the smaller ones. al-Tabari vol.2 p.56

It was a Kurd who advised the people to burn Abraham to death. al-Tabari vol.2 p.58

Pharaoh liked Sarah and Abram lied to Pharaoh saying she was his sister. al-Tabari vol.2 p.62

Abram only told three lies. al-Tabari vol.2 p.63

Sarah performed female circumcision on Hagar. al-Tabari vol.2 p.72

Four million people lived in Sodom. al-Tabari vol.2 p.124

Nimrod imprisoned Abram for seven years. al-Tabari vol.2 p.128

God miraculously changed Abraham's language from Syriac to Hebrew. al-Tabari vol.2 p.128

Isaac [not Ishmael] was seven when he was almost sacrificed. al-Tabari vol.2 p.68

The Qur'an does not say which son Abraham almost sacrificed. Tabari says some 16 authorities say Isaac, 23 authorities say Ishmael, and he gives arguments for both. al-Tabari vol.2 p.82-97

Nothing in the Qur'an says the sacrifice was on the 10th day which commemorates Abraham and his son. al-Tabari vol.2 p.96 footnote 241

Isaac was Abraham's son who was almost sacrificed. al-Tabari vol.2 p.175

Moses and the Exodus

Al-Khidr in Sura 18:60-62 is very similar to a Jewish tale: R. Joshua bin Levi and the Strange Actions of Elijah in William M. Brinner (translator) of Nissim bin Jacob bin Shahin An Elegant Composition Concerning Relief After Adversity, Yale Judaica Series vol.20 1977. Relief II, 13-16; J. Obermann, Two Elijah Stories in Judeo-Arabic Transmission. Hebrew Union College Annual 23, no.1 (1950-1951 p.387-404. al-Tabari vol.2 p.387-404 footnote 493.

620,000 Israelite men left Egypt. al-Tabari vol.3 p.63

Al-Samiri means Samaritan (footnote). The footnote says that al-Tabari in his Tafsir [commentary] says that al-Samari was a prominent Israelite that Moses forbade Israelites to have contact with him, and that is why the Israelites were separated from the Samaritans. al-Tabari vol.3 p.72.

A Jew named Sami [Samaritan?] al-Tabari vol.4 p.77

God had many commandments for the Israelites, but he took away 6/7ths of them, leaving only the ones they received. al-Tabari vol.3 p.78

David and Solomon

King David married Uriah's wife while Uriah was still alive. He sinned in sending Uriah to his death. It was two angels [not Nathan] who told David the story of the two men and the little ewe. al-Tabari vol.3 p.145,148-149

King David's hands were stained with blood. al-Tabari vol.3 p.151

Solomon was warlike. al-Tabari vol.3 p.153

Satan assumed Solomon's form to steal Solomon's signet ring. Solomon was unrecognized and lost his authority until Satan threw it into the sea, a fish swallowed it, a fisherman caught it, and Solomon got it back. al-Tabari vol.3 p.169

Other Things in Old Testament Times

Job was a prophet. al-Tabari vol.2 p.143. He was allegedly ordered to beat his wife. al-Tabari vol.2 p.140

After Joseph was released, he was given Potiphar's position, Potiphar died, and Joseph married Potiphar's wife, who before had wrongly accused him. al-Tabari vol.2 p.166

The Israelites allegedly raped Canaanite women according to al-Tabari vol.3 p.97

The good Israelite king Asa had women veiled in shabby clothing. al-Tabari vol.4 p.25

The army of Zerah the Indian [Ethiopian] was 1.1 million al-Tabari vol.4 p.28

al-Tabari confused two Zechariahs al-Tabari vol.4 p.37

Jonah defied the Lord al-Tabari vol.4 p.161

Jonah's whale swam up the Euphrates River until it came to Ninevah. al-Tabari vol.4 p.161

Sennacherib's army was destroyed miraculously al-Tabari vol.4 p.38

The good king Josiah al-Tabari vol.4 p.40

The prophet Jeremiah al-Tabari vol.4 p.44

Jeremiah slept for 70 years al-Tabari vol.4 p.45

The sleepers and the donkey in the Qur'an al-Tabari vol.4 p.46

Belshazzar's madness al-Tabari vol.4 p.49

Esther and Mordecai al-Tabari vol.4 p.50-51

The Jews considered Ezra a son of God al-Tabari vol.4 p.65

John the Baptist

An anachronism of Antiochus the king of Babylon slew many Jews for the murder of John the Baptist. al-Tabari vol.4 p.97

Even Muslims agree that John the Baptist was killed al-Tabari vol.4 p.97

John the Baptist and Nebuchadnezzar (anachronism) al-Tabari vol.4 p.54

It was reported that the Romans helped Nebuchadnezzar destroy the Temple in Jerusalem because the Israelites had killed John the Baptist. al-Tabari vol.4 p.106. However, the report the Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple because the Israelites had killed John the Baptist is erroneous al-Tabari vol.4 p.107

Jesus

Gives a genealogy of both Mary and Joseph. They are the same until Joram and the Uzziah / Ahaziah. al-Tabari vol.4 p.103.

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary as an attractive man. He breathed on the opening of her garment and that is how Mary conceived. al-Tabari vol.4 p.112-113

Mary was surrounded by angels, so Iblis [Satan] could not touch Jesus like he touched everyone else. al-Tabari vol.4 p.115

Nativity star when Jesus was born. That night a group set out, and they were discussing the signs of the Messiah, as indicated in the book of Daniel. al-Tabari vol.4 p.116

They only crucified a likeness of Jesus. al-Tabari vol.4 p.122

According to Ibn Humayd - Ibn Ishaq, an impeccable authority - Wahb bin Munabbih al-Yamani: God allowed Jesus the son of Mary, to die at three o-clock in the day; then He took him unto Himself." al-Tabari vol.4 p.112

Observations

al-Tabari wrote a comprehensive history, not a religious text of collections of hadiths. Yet there is significant overlap of historical material with both the hadiths and the Bible. Nobody, either Muslim nor non-Muslim, claims al-Tabari was perfectly correct, but he is in general considered a reliable historian; and other sources usually corroborate his writing. Sometimes he tried to discern the accuracy of his sources, and in some cases deliberately put in conflicting sources, one after the other, to alert the reader that there was a difference of opinion on an issue.

That being said, sometimes he was too uncritical in accepting what a source would say. Even though al-Tabari did not find any conflicting sources, how would we still know the names of Adam's daughters, if God did not reveal them? People in general, not just al-Tabari, have a "quest for certainty" that when there are gaps in information, desires to fill in the gaps with whatever information they have, without asking how sure they are of the accuracy of the information. Sometimes the very best answer to give is "we do not have the information."

al-Tabari is important for three reasons. First, he gave a very detailed history that is generally quite reliable for the time just preceding when he lived. Second, even al-Tabari's mistakes, especially on the earlier history, still reflect what many Muslims thought at that time. His history gives us a wide window into the practice of Islam at the time of Mohammed and shortly after. Third, many Muslims thought certain things at that time because of the influence of al-Tabari's history.

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