When it comes to historical claims, what are the qualities that one would expect to find in a genuine revelation from God? Since our Creator is perfect and has knowledge of all things, we would expect His true revelation to be historically accurate and free of error. Anything less than this can only lead to one conclusion: we are dealing with the imperfect words of man and not the divine. This article is going to compare the Qur’an and Bible in light of their historical accuracy.
1. The Night of the Living Dead Saints.
In the Gospel of Matthew we are told that something extraordinary, perhaps miraculous, happened after Jesus was crucified:
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. [Matthew 27:51-53]
Now, none of the other Gospels mention this astonishing incident of the walking dead, only Matthew reports it. Its absence is made all the more strange when one considers that the Synoptic Gospels include many of the same stories, often in the same sequence, and similar wording.
Compare the accounts of Matthew and Mark regarding the events surrounding the Crucifixion (please click on picture to enlarge):
Notice that even though Mark’s account of the Crucifixion is virtually identical to that of Matthew, Mark does not mention the rising of the dead saints. If such a miraculous event really happened, then there would be no rational reason for Mark to omit it from his Gospel. Therefore we must conclude that Matthew embellished/exaggerated the Crucifixion narrative by inventing the story about the rising of the dead saints (you can read more about the literary dependence between the Gospels here).
In fact none of the other Gospels contain this story, it is unique to Matthew. Bizarrely, when it comes to relatively mundane events like Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, all four Gospels corroborate one another (“On a donkey and a colt” [Matthew 21:5-7], “on a colt” [Mark 11:7]; [Luke 19:35], “on a young donkey” [John 12:14]).
The Book of Acts – which focuses on the history of the earliest church in Jerusalem – fails to mention the multiple resurrections. The historian Josephus, a contemporary of Jesus from Jerusalem who wrote much about his city, also fails to mention this most public of miracles.
Even conservative Christian scholarship rejects the historicity of this event:
- The evangelical apologist and New Testament scholar Mike Licona stated that the resurrection of the saints narrative in Matthew 27:51-54 is “a weird residual fragment”  and a “strange report” . He called it “poetical,” a “legend,” an “embellishment,” and literary “special effects” . He claims that Matthew is using a Greco-Roman literary genre which is a “flexible genre” in which “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” .
- The New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg said, “All kinds of historical questions remain unanswered about both events [the splitting of the temple curtain and the resurrection of the saints]” .
- William Lane Craig, an American Christian apologist, theologian and analytic philosopher, stated that Matthew added this story to Mark’s account and did not take it literally. Although he claims to believe it, Craig concluded that there are “probably only a few [contemporary] conservative scholars who would treat the story as historical” .
Note that these are not liberal or atheist scholars but rather conservative, Bible believing Christians!
To put it into modern terms that are easy to appreciate, this is like a graveyard full of dead people in London suddenly coming back to life, with these zombies mingling with Londoners and only a single newspaper reporting the event. It is simply inconceivable that such a miraculous event wouldn’t be reported by masses of people.
Christian apologists may try to argue that the other Gospel authors chose not to mention the walking dead because the story didn’t interest them or that it wasn’t deemed to be theologically significant. Another argument sometimes put forward by Christian apologists is that early Church fathers such as Ignatius (CE 70-115) and Irenaeus (CE 120-200) testified to the historicity of the event and so it must be historically reliable.
Both of these arguments are refuted by the writings of the apostle Paul. Consider that Paul had the perfect opportunity to cite this story when he was preaching to an audience that were sceptical about life after death:
“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” [1 Corinthians 15:12]
Why didn’t Paul just cite Matthew’s report about the many resurrections that took place at Jesus’ death? It appears Paul never knew anything about Matthew’s dead saints either! Moreover Paul was contemporary to Jesus which makes him earlier than the Church fathers. Thus we have to conclude that the Church Fathers were merely repeating what they had come across in Matthew, a theological stance, rather than recounting historical fact.
Such inventions are a consequence of the nature of the creation and transmission of the New Testament. Each Gospel account represents the testimony of a lone witness and so we shouldn’t be surprised that they were able to freely invent such stories. Moreover changes easily crept in after the Gospels were written. This is because the spread of these Gospels was a slow and painstaking process, with copies having to be made manually by hand on expensive materials such as leather. Combine this with the fact that there were few scribes (literacy was rare) which created opportunities for them to make changes to the original author’s words as they copied the written text. These changes easily made their way into the standard text and were “accepted as Gospel” by the illiterate masses who were unable to detect such corruption (for numerous examples of corruption to the text you can read this article here).
The sincere truth seeker has to wonder, how then can we trust what’s in the Gospels today? If the rising of dead saints, which amounts to multiple resurrections, can be completely invented, then why can’t the rising from the dead of a single person, Jesus, also be? This incident casts doubt on the entire Resurrection narrative in the Gospels, which is disastrous for the Christian faith as Paul himself concedes:
“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” [1 Corinthians 15:14]
If we compare this situation to the Qur’an then it is like comparing night and day. Such changes to the Qur’an are impossible when we consider the nature of its revelation and transmission. Unlike the New Testament, the verses of the Qur’an were witnessed by multitudes of Prophet Muhammad’s companions at their first point of revelation, so we have mass eyewitness testimony. Moreover the entire Qur’an was memorised by a large number of companions during Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime and then rapidly transmitted far and wide. This oral tradition of memorisation facilitated the rapid transmission of the Qur’an because anyone can memorise and so (unlike the New Testament) the illiteracy of the masses did not hinder its preservation.
It is therefore literally impossible for anyone who transmitted the Qur’an to invent stories like Matthew’s dead saints and for those fabrications to then go on to become part of the accepted Qur’an because they would immediately be caught out by the other memorisers. Moreover its transmission was on such a large scale by people whose opinions and concerns are so different that it would have been impossible for them to collude on corrupting the Qur’an. You can read more about the perfect preservation of the Qur’an here and here.
2. An Unlikely Exodus.
The Bible makes a claim about the number of Israelites that escaped Egypt with Moses (known as the “Exodus”):
The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds. [Exodus 12:37-38]
The Bible also states that the Israelites were important to the Egyptians because as slaves they were the workforce of Egypt:
When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” [Exodus 14:5]
This would mean that at the Exodus, ancient Egypt suffered a catastrophic loss of most, if not all, of its labour workforce. According to the Bible there were 600,000 Israelite men that came out of Egypt. If you factor in women and children that figure would be closer to a few million. The problem is that there is absolutely no evidence of this historical event. There are no ancient Egyptian records of the sudden disappearance of millions of their people. There is also no physical evidence of settlements out in the desert where all these people and livestock encamped. From a purely practical point of view, how did Moses wake up and mobilise millions people in the middle of the night without being detected by the Egyptians?
The Qur’an’s account of this event is far more historically accurate and realistic as it says that it was actually only a small group of Israelites that escaped from Egypt:
And We inspired to Moses, “Travel by night with My servants; indeed, you will be pursued.” Then Pharaoh sent among the cities gatherers [And said], “Indeed, those are but a small band” [Chapter 26, verses 52-54]
This is in line with what modern historians say, if there was an exodus then it couldn’t have happened on the massive scale that the Bible claims. This is why one of the names of the Qur’an is ‘Al Furqan’, meaning “the Criterion between truth and falsehood”:
“And We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth…” [Chapter 5, verse 48]
You can read about more ways that the Qur’an corrects the Bible here.
3. Pharaoh or King?
The Bible uses the term “Pharaoh” to refer to the ruler of Egypt in the stories of Moses, Joseph and Abraham:
During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. [Exodus 12:31]
Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. [Genesis 41:14]
So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? [Genesis 12:18]
Advances in our knowledge of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs have revealed that the word ‘Pharaoh’ is a title that originates from the Egyptian term ‘per-aa’, literally “great house”, describing the royal palace. Historically, however, “Pharaoh” only started being used as a title for the king much later in Egyptian history, during the New Kingdom period:
This means that the Bible gets it wrong historically, it is incorrect to use the word “Pharaoh” as a title in reference to the Egyptian ruler in the stories of Joseph and Abraham, as the word only took on this meaning much later in history, at the time of Moses. What this demonstrates is the anachronistic nature of the Old Testament, the writers of these accounts penned the stories long after the events took place, superimposing their contemporary understanding of history on these past events. These are not accounts from Moses but rather that of much later authors.
Like the Bible, the Qur’an refers to the sovereign ruler of ancient Egypt throughout its chapters. However unlike the Bible, the Qur’an’s usage of “Pharaoh” respects what we know historically about the changing meaning of the word:
– With regard to the Egyptian ruler who was a contemporary of Joseph, the Qur’an uses the title “King”; he is never once labelled as Pharaoh.
– As for the Egyptian ruler during the time of Moses, the Qur’an repeatedly calls him “Pharaoh” and never calls him “King”.
Amazingly, these historical facts were unknown at the time of the Qur’anic Revelation in the 7th century, as our knowledge of Egyptian hieroglyphs had long been lost. Knowledge of the old Egyptian hieroglyphs had been totally forgotten until they were finally deciphered in the 19th century CE with the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, over 1,000 years after the revelation of the Qur’an. Not only does this rubbish the claims that the author of the Qur’an plagiarised these stories from the Bible, for when one copies they do so blindly and don’t correct mistakes, but also shows that the author of the Qur’an cannot be man because the author reveals knowledge of the unseen, a quality of God:
That is from the news of the unseen which We reveal to you, [O Muhammad]. You knew it not, neither you nor your people, before this. So be patient; indeed, the [best] outcome is for the righteous. [Chapter 11, verse 49]
You can learn more about hieroglyphs and the Qur’an here.
4. Insight into Abraham.
There is nothing remarkable about the Biblical accounts of Abraham. The stories about him provide basic information such as his birth place and family life. Sadly this is not what one would expect, there should at least be some historical insight if the stories really were penned thousands of years ago as Jews and Christians claim.
While there is a lot of overlap in the stories about Abraham in the Qur’an and Bible, there is a particular story about Abraham that is only found in the Qur’an:
And thus did We show Abraham the realm of the heavens and the earth that he would be among the certain [in faith]
So when the night covered him [with darkness], he saw a star. He said, “This is my lord.” But when it set, he said, “I like not those that disappear.”
And when he saw the moon rising, he said, “This is my lord.” But when it set, he said, “Unless my Lord guides me, I will surely be among the people gone astray.”
And when he saw the sun rising, he said, “This is my lord; this is greater.” But when it set, he said, “O my people, indeed I am free from what you associate with Allah.
Indeed, I have turned my face toward He who created the heavens and the earth, inclining toward truth, and I am not of those who associate others with Allah.” [Chapter 6, verses 75-79]
So the Qur’an makes the historical claim that Abraham’s people worshipped three celestial gods: the Sun, the Moon and Venus. You must be wondering, does archaeology support the Qur’an’s claims? Abraham’s city, known as Ur, was founded around 4000 BC and was the capital of the Sumerian civilisation and once a great harbour city on the banks of the Euphrates River. The city started to decline from around 550 BC and was no longer inhabited after about 500 BC. Eventually the city fell into ruin and the area was buried beneath the desert sands . Before the 20th century, written history had told the world very little about Ur. Beyond the Bible’s brief references to it as the home of Abraham, almost nothing was known. The British Museum commenced excavations in Ur under the direction of archaeologists in 1918. They were forced to dig a vast hole over 40ft deep to uncover the lowest levels of the city. Their findings revealed much about everyday life, art, architecture, literature, government, and religion in what has come to be called “the cradle of civilization” . Here is a boundary stone, a relic that portrays numerous Mesopotamian gods graphically in segmented registers on the stone. Notice how the astral triad of Venus, the Moon and the Sun take their place at the top of the pantheon of gods, signifying their prominence:
What is remarkable is that this knowledge had been lost for thousands of years at the time of the Qur’an’s revelation in the 7th century. These historical claims that have been mentioned in the Qur’an about the deities worshipped by Prophet Abraham’s people – the astral triad of the Sun, Moon and Venus – couldn’t have been known to Prophet Muhammad. Knowledge of Sumerian religion (especially the birthplace of Abraham, the city of Ur) had been lost for thousands of years until their rediscovery and excavation in the 20th century.
The only realistic source of knowledge about Prophet Abraham available to Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them both, would have been the Bible based stories in circulation. As we have seen however, the story of Prophet Abraham in the Bible is silent on the details of the religious beliefs of his people. Some may claim that the author of the Qur’an merely luckily guessed the gods and goddesses that were worshipped by Abraham’s people. This is highly unlikely given the fact that the people across this region worshipped thousands of deities. They had gods for everything from brick making to brewing, even including a Lord of Livestock Pens . This fact, coupled with the other examples we’ve covered such as the Qur’an’s accurate insight into Pharaoh and the Exodus, prove that blindly guessing such facts is out of the question. From where, then, did Prophet Muhammad obtain his information? The Qur’an answers:
Your Companion is neither astray nor being misled. Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him. He was taught by one mighty in Power. [Chapter 53, verses 2-5]
You can read more about the Qur’an revealing lost knowledge about Abraham here.
What should we make of the Qur’an, a book that has achieved the inhuman feat of providing detailed insight into historical events that span different times and places? As we’ve seen, it is only the Qur’an that demonstrates consistent insight into history. Whether it’s correcting the historical mistakes in the Bible or revealing knowledge of the unseen, these are exactly the qualities that one would expect to find in the Qur’an were its author God Almighty. Such information is not present for the sake of our entertainment, rather there is a grander and more meaningful purpose behind it. These are signs for mankind that the Qur’an is from our Creator:
“This is the Scripture in which there is no doubt, containing guidance for those who are mindful of God…” [2:2]
Muslims don’t just believe that the Qur’an is from God based on blind faith. The Qur’an is a living miracle, one that we can all experience just by opening it up and reading it. I invite the reader to investigate the Qur’an for themselves. You can download an excellent English translation here (PDF file):
Alternatively, order your free copy here:
1. The Resurrection of Jesus, p. 527.
2. Ibid., p. 530.
3. Ibid., p. 306, 548, 552 and 553.
4. Ibid., p. 34.
5. Matthew, electronic ed., 2001 Logos Library System; the New American Commentary . Broadman and Holman, vol. 22.
6 – From Craig’s comments in Paul Copan, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?, Baker, 1998.
7 – British Museum website (valid as of 27/06/2015):
8 – Pennsylvania Museum website (valid as of 27/06/2015):
9 – Robert Wright, The Evolution of God.