Qur'an Difficulty

Was Pharaoh Drowned or Saved?

In Sura 10:92, Allah speaks to Pharaoh who ferociously chased the Children of Israel, "But this day We save you in your body, that you may be a portent for those after you." Although this verse makes it clear that Allah saved Pharaoh from drowning, Suras 28:40, 17:103, and 43:55 contradict this, stating that Pharaoh was drowned: "Therefore We seized him and his hosts and abandoned them unto the sea ... But We drowned him and those with him, all together ... And [We] drowned them, everyone."

My response has two parts, a lingustic question and a historical information.

When the Qur'an says "But this day We save you in your body, ..." what exactly does this mean? Today Muslims want us to believe that this means "We will preserve your body for posterity", but why doesn't then the Arabic say "We will save your body" (but not your life)? Why does it use the preposition "in" (Arabic: bi) when it says "save you IN your body (nunajjeeka BI-badanika)"? The "you" is distinguished from "your body" and what is saved is not "the body" but the "you". The text clearly refers to the saving of the life of Pharaoh [you in your body, i.e. you will stay alive in this body] not "you will die but your body will be preserved for those after you."

Also, it was well known that the Egyptians were embalming their Pharaohs and all through the centuries there have been grave robberies and people have been rediscovering those bodies. Maybe it is the background knowledge of this "general truth" of embalmed Pharaohs that Muhammad then applied it specifically to this Pharaoh without any special knowledge about him. (Just like all Pharaohs are embalmed, so you will be preserved also and people will remember what mighty sign God did on you because of your disobedience when Moses brought you the message of God. Then this would not be a prophecy of any special impact even if it is true.) If it is a special prophecy about this specific Pharaoh, then the next information below will maybe spell more trouble for the Qur'an instead of being a great vindication of the Qur'an as many Muslims believe this "prophecy" to be.

This last point was argued a bit more detailed but similar by another Muslim on the Islamic newsgroup:

Some comments: Others don't have so high an opinion of Dr. Bucaille. This book is incredibly biased in its presentation and frequently plain wrong. For details please see Dr. Campbell's rebuttal to Dr. Bucaille's book "The Bible, the Qur'an and Science".

I don't think Dr. Campbell touches on the issue with the Pharaoh, but since Dr. Campbell wrote his book even more things have come to the attention of the scientific community.

Maurice Bucaille wrote his book in the early seventies, long before the current reconstruction of Egyptian history. If indeed this body is of Merneptah as both of the above Muslims confirm just as it is the claim of Dr. Bucaille, then it is most probably not the body of the Pharaoh of Moses' time. New research during the last 5 years or so tells a different story.

For details please see the review of David Rohl's new Egyptian chronology.

By the way, David Rohl who is putting forth this research is not a Bible believer (to my knowledge). The fact that all his research dovetails very well with the Biblical account was a surprise to him.

Furthermore, a careful investigation of the text on Merneptah's Stela mentioned above is contrary to the presented claim since there is a strong indication that Merneptah is not the Pharaoh of the Exodus. You will easily be able to conclude this after reading the following article on the Menerptah stela.

Mysteries of the Bible: Another Series on Egyptian and Biblical Chronology.

Dr. Bucaille's chapter on Menerptah's Mummy

And one last thought. Much of the old knowledge has been lost. Maybe it was still known at the time of Muhammad that this particular Pharaoh was preserved and he just used the information he had and put it into the Qur'an. This wouldn't qualify as prophecy since prophecy is about something that will happen in the future, but as a historical fact which he was aware of and which he then couched in words of a prophecy spoken to the Pharaoh. Let us look at the Qur'anic text to see what we can observe there. Sura Yunus, 10:90-93 reads in Yusuf Ali's translation:

   (10:90) 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 Islam)." 

   (10:91) (It was said to him): 
   "Ah now! - But a little while before, wast thou in rebellion! -
   and thou didst mischief (and violence)!

   (10:92) 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!" 
   (10:93) We settled the Children of Israel in a beautiful dwelling-place, 
   and provided for them sustenance of the best: 
   it was after knowledge had been granted to them, 
   that they fell into schisms. Verily Allah will judge between them 
   as to the schisms amongst them, on the Day of Judgment. 

"At length, when overwhelmed with the flood" tells me that he is already (nearly) drowning, at least the water is rushing at him. On the other hand the children of Israel were securely on the other side across the sea as the Qur'an says in verse 90. Who then told Pharaoh the words of verses 91 and 92? Was there another prophet with him other than Moses who drowned with him? Was the Pharaoh a prophet himself that God would speak to him directly? But it doesn't say "we said to him", it only gives the content of what was (supposedly) said to him. There is only Yusuf Ali's interpolation "it was said to him" (which isn't in the Arabic at all). Who said this to the Pharaoh?

This very much looks like it is something "made up" that was put in the Qur'an only by its author for his own reasons (it has a meaning, a message for the listener), but it is hardly possible to think this was actually said to the Pharaoh himself while he was drowning.

As such, Muhammad certainly being aware of the ancient practice of the Egyptians to embalm their Pharaohs he might just have taken up this general fact and worded it as a prophecy applying it to this Pharaoh who chased Moses. Even if he knew of this particular Pharaoh being preserved in his tomb it is still not a prophecy about what WILL happen in the future. These details may well have been common knowledge in Muhammad's time and what we see in the Qur'an is then merely a projection back of what HAD already happened and putting that into the mouth of some person (whom?) telling (Pharaoh) about the future. The Qur'an itself only came into existence (or at least into an accessible state) 2000 years after Moses at a time when the preservation of this body was already a fact. Hence this is no prophecy at all.

All this, obviously, is assuming this particular mummy is actually the right Pharaoh. This is not at all clear as we noted above.

Finally, there seems to be some support that Pharaoh having been saved may have been common knowledge to Muhammad and his contemporaries. The Bible implies that Pharaoh's dead body lay prone after he had drowned:

"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

The next reference leads us to infer that one of these dead Egyptians was the Pharaoh:

"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 even find the rabbis claiming that God saved Pharaoh because the latter had repented in the face of drowning. For instance, T. P Hughes in the Dictionary of Islam stated:

"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 Syed Abu-Ala' Maududi concedes the fact that the Quranic story of the drowning of the Pharaoh at S. 10:90-91 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, n. 91; bold emphasis ours)

Since Muhammad had lots of interaction with Jews it is quite possible, in fact highly probable, that he got the idea of Pharaoh being saved in his body from them. At the very least, this shows that Pharaoh's body being preserved was already known since the Bible already alluded to it, with the rabbis contradicting the Bible with their claim that the Pharaoh hadn't drowned at all. Hence, the rabbis contradicted the Bible much like Muhammad contradicted himself in the Quran!

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