Noah’s Lost Son in the Qurʾān

In: Arabica
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  • 1 University of Notre Dame

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In Kor 11 (Hūd), 42-47 the Qurʾān has Noah address one of his sons and plead with him to enter the ark. Noah’s son refuses to do so, explaining that he plans to seek refuge from the flood on a mountain. When the son is lost in the flood, Noah turns to God in order to ask that his son be forgiven. In the present article, I discuss the relationship of this Qurʾānic episode with larger themes in the Qurʾān—seen also in the material on Abraham and his father—regarding the believer’s proper disposition towards unbelievers, and unbelieving family members in particular. After a study of earlier theories about this passage, I propose that the account of Noah’s lost son (not found in the Bible) has a particular relationship to Ezekiel 14, a passage which speaks hypothetically of an unrighteous son of Noah. In conclusion, I argue that this passage is an important example of how the Qurʾān applies, and transforms, earlier traditions in order to advance its particular religious arguments.

Dans le verset coranique 11 (Hūd), 42-47, Noah s’adresse à l’un de ses fils et le prie d’entrer dans l’Arche. Le fils de Noé refuse de s’exécuter, arguant qu’il a l’intention de trouver refuge dans une montagne contre le Déluge. Quand son fils est perdu dans le Déluge, Noé se tourne vers Dieu afin de Lui demander de pardonner à son fils. Dans le présent article, nous examinerons la relation de cet épisode coranique avec des thèmes plus importants du Coran—que l’on peut également voir dans les récits sur Abraham et son père—concernant la disposition du croyant envers les incroyants et, plus particulièrement, les membres de la famille. Après une étude des théories antérieures à propos de ce passage, nous avancerons que le récit du fils perdu de Noé (qui ne se trouve pas dans la Bible) est particulièrement lié à Ezéchiel 14, un passage qui traite, en toute hypothèse, d’un fils indigne de Noé. En conclusion, nous soutenons que ce passage est un exemple important de la façon dont le Coran emploie et transforme des traditions antérieures afin d’avancer ses propres arguments religieux.

This article is in English.

  • 7

    David Marshall, God, Muhammad and the Unbelievers, Surrey, Curzon, 1999, p. 98.

  • 10

    Marshall, God, Muhammad and the Unbelievers, p. 101. To this end Marshall also (p. 98-99) quotes Gordon Newby (whose study of the account of Noah’s lost son I will address further below): “Insofar as we can understand the account of Noah as an account parallel to that of Muhammad, and I would argue that we can, the compassion of Noah tells us of Muhammad’s concern for those who would not heed his message”. Gordon Newby, “The Drowned Son: Midrash and Midrash Making in the Qurʾan and Tafsīr”, in Studies in Islamic and Judaic Traditions: Papers Presented at the Institute for Islamic Judaic Studies, eds William Brinner and Stephen Rick, Atlanta, Scholars Press (“Brown Judaic studies”, 111, 178), 1986, p. 29.

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  • 11

    Angelika Neuwirth, Der Koran als Text der Spätantike: Ein europäischer Zugang, Berlin, Verlag der Weltreligionen, 2010, p. 630. Neuwirth refers to Kor 29, 8: “We have enjoined man to be good to his parents. But if they urge you to ascribe to Me as partner that of which you have no knowledge, then do not obey them. To Me will be your return, whereat I will inform you concerning that which you used to do” (one might compare Kor 31, 14-15).

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  • 16

    Gabriel Said Reynolds, “Le problème de la chronologie du Coran”, Arabica, 58 (2011), p. 477-502.

  • 28

    On this point see Segovia, The Quranic Noah, p. 11 ff.

  • 35

    Speyer, Die Biblischen Erzählungen im Qoran, p. 105.

  • 36

    See Howard Kee, “Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs”, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James Charlesworth, Garden City, Doubleday, 1983, i, p. 765-778.

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  • 40

    Speyer, Die Biblischen Erzählungen im Qoran, p. 106.

  • 41

    Newby, “The Drowned Son”. On Noah in the Qurʾān see also Erica Martin, “The Literary Presentation of Noah in the Qur’ān”, in Noah and His Book(s), ed. Michael Edward Stone, Aryeh Amilhay and Vered Hillel, Leiden-Atlanta, Brill-Society of Biblical Literature (“Early Judaism and its literature”, 28), 2010, p. 253-275. Martin, however, does not seek to explain the presence of Noah’s lost son in the Qurʾān.

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  • 44

    Transl. Wintermute, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2, 69. For the Ethiopic see The Book of Jubilees: A Critical Text, ed. James C. Vanderkam, Leuven, E. Peeters (“Corpus scriptorum christianorum Orientalium”, 510; “Scriptores aethiopici”, 87), 1989, p. 44.

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  • 46

    See Neuwirth, Der Koran als Text der Spätantike, p. 629-631.

  • 47

    Ibid., p. 630.

  • 48

    Segovia, The Quranic Noah, p. 87. Another, less convincing, attempt to explain Noah’s lost son in the Qurʾān is offered by Brian Brown, Noah’s Other Son: Bridging the Gap between the Bible and the Qurʾan, New York, Continuum, 2007. Brown argues that the Qurʾān preserves an ancient tradition—a tradition not recorded in the Bible—according to which Noah had four sons: Ham, Japheth, Shem, and Canaan. The youngest of these, Canaan, died in the Flood, and Ham decided to name his son after his dead brother (hence the appearance of a grandson of Noah named Canaan in Genesis). He writes: “In the Bible, Ham, another son of Noah, named his son Canaan, no doubt after his lost brother, so the name is not entirely unfamiliar to Jews and Christians” (p. 51).

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  • 53

    On this, see Dieter Luhrmann, “Noah und Lot (Lk 17:26-29): ein Nachtrag”, Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, 63 (1972), p. 130-132.

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