Author Topic: Peculiar Death of Sulaiman  (Read 3397 times)

Anoushirvan

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Re: Peculiar Death of Sulaiman
« Reply #10 on: August 01, 2020, 11:24:44 AM »
Salam,

Of course, if one tries to take this story of verse 34.14 in its literal meaning, this is simply absurd and ridiculous.
But as verse 3.7 says, if you tries to seek the proper meaning of "mutashabbih" ayat, you are lost and miss the point.

Anyway, the passage is so allusive that when it was disclosed for the first time somewhere in the 7th CE, it would have obviously spoken to people who already had some pre-existing background in mind.

This story of Solomon in verse 34.14 looks like a midrash in the pure style of the Jewish tradition.

As I said somewhere else in this forum, a midrash works as a machine that produces new stories in order to expound one or several points of the Law or God will, from other stories, by allusion of verses, wordplay and metaphors.

Here, a hint could be given by the pseudepigraphical text called the Testament of Solomon, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Testament_of_Solomon for a presentation, and http://www.esotericarchives.com/solomon/testamen.htm for an English translation.
It is difficult to state whether this text to Qur'an or not.
But at least, it gives indication of views about Solomon that were commonly shared.

In this text, we read this passage:
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122. And I said to him: "By what angel art thou frustrated?" And he answered: "By the only-ruling God, that hath authority over me even to be heard. He that is to be born of a virgin and crucified by the Jews on a cross. Whom the angels and archangels worship. He doth frustrate me, and enfeeble me of my great strength, which has been given me by my father the devil." And I said to him: "What canst thou do?'' And he answered: ''I am able to remove mountains, to overthrow the oaths of kings. I wither trees and make their leaves to fall off." And I said to him: "Canst thou raise this stone, and lay it for the beginning of this corner which exists in the fair plan of the Temple?'' And he said: "Not only raise this, O king; but also, with the help of the demon who presides over the Red Sea, I will bring up the pillar of air, and will stand it where thou wilt in Jerusalem.''

 123. Saying this, I laid stress on him, and the flask became as if depleted of air. And I placed it under the stone, and (the spirit) girded himself up, and lifted it up top of the flask. And the flask went up the steps, carrying the stone, and laid it down at the end of the entrance of the Temple. And I Solomon, beholding the stone raised aloft and placed on a foundation, said: "Truly the Scripture is fulfilled, which says: 'The stone which the builders rejected on trial, that same is become the head of the corner.' For this it is not mine to grant, but God's, that the demon should be strong enough to lift up so great a stone and deposit it in the place I wished."

124. And Ephippas led the demon of the Red Sea with the column. And they both took the column and raised it aloft from the earth. And I outwitted these two spirits, so that they could not shake the entire earth in a moment of time. And then I sealed round with my ring on this side and that, and said: "Watch." And the spirits have remained upholding it until this day, for proof of the wisdom vouchsafed to me. And there the pillar was hanging of enormous size, in mid air, supported by the winds. And thus the spirits appeared underneath, like air, supporting it. And if one looks fixedly, the pillar is a little oblique, being supported by the spirits; and it is so to day.

125. And I Solomon questioned the other spirit which came up with the pillar from the depth of the Red Sea. And I said to him: "Who art thou, and what calls thee? And what is thy business? For I hear many things about thee.'' And the demon answered: "I, O King Solomon, am called Abezithibod. I am a descendant of the archangel. Once as I sat in the first heaven, of which the name is Ameleouth -- I then am a fierce spirit and winged, and with a single wing, plotting against every spirit under heaven. I was present when Moses went in before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and I hardened his heart. I am he whom Iannes and Iambres invoked homing with Moses in Egypt. I am he who fought against Moses with wonders with signs."

 126. I said therefore to him: "How wast thou found in the Red Sea?" And he answered: "In the exodus of the sons of Israel I hardened the heart of Pharaoh. And I excited his heart and that of his ministers. And I caused them to pursue after the children of Israel. And Pharaoh followed with (me) and all the Egyptians. Then I was present there, and we followed together. And we all came up upon the Red Sea. And it came to pass when the children of Israel had crossed over, the water returned and hid all the host of the Egyptians and all their might. And I remained in the sea, being kept under this pillar. But when Ephippas came, being sent by thee, shut up in the vessel of a flask, he fetched me up to thee."

127. I, therefore, Solomon, having heard this, glorified God and adjured the demons not to disobey me, but to remain supporting the pillar. And they both sware, saying: "The Lord thy God liveth, we will not let go this pillar until the world's end. But on whatever day this stone fall, then shall be the end of the world."


This link https://genies.fandom.com/wiki/Ephippas explains rather nicely, so I quote its explanation of the passage, then I will make the connection with Qur'an.

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"Ephippas and the Demon of the Red Sea bring the Great Pillar to Solomon" by H.J. Ford from Old Testament Legends.

Ephippas was an Arabian wind demon captured by King Solomon.

In the Testament of Solomon, Adarkes, the king of Arabia, asks Solomon for his help against a vicious wind demon. The demon appears every morning when a fresh wind starts and blows until the third hour. It kills man and beast and cannot be contained. Adarkes asks Solomon to send someone who can control the demon. Solomon, however, forgets about the request until he has a problem with the construction of the Temple of Jerusalem. The stone that he wishes for a cornerstone is so heavy that all the artisans and demon laborers cannot move it. Solomon sends a servant out into the Arabian desert to capture the wind demon in a leather flask. The servant places Solomon’s magic ring at the neck of the flask, which is a wineskin. When the demon blows into it and fills it up, the servant seals it closed with the ring. The local Arabs do not believe that the boy has actually contained the demon, but when the wind does not blow for three days, they become convinced. The boy presents the flask to Solomon inside the temple. Solomon is astonished when the flask has the ability to move about on its own and takes seven steps, and then falls on its neck. Speaking from inside, the demon gives his name as Ephippas.

Ephippas tells Solomon that he has the ability to move mountains, carry houses from place to place, and overthrow kings. Solomon bids him to move the cornerstone. The demon says not only will he do that, but he will also raise up the pillar of air from the Red Sea and place it wherever the king wants. Ephippas inserts the cornerstone at the entrance of the temple. Solomon takes this as a profound sign according to Scripture: Psalm 118:22 says, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner.”

Ephippas goes out with the demon of the Red Sea, Abezethibou, to raise up the pillar. They have been outwitted by Solomon, who binds them to the pillar so that they remain suspended in air holding it up until the end of time. The pillar of air may be the same as the “pillar of cloud” referred to in the Old Testament and may mean the Milky Way.



Here certainly the "minsat" of Solomon in verse 34.14 has some reminiscence to the pillar of the Testament of Solomon, even though it is not exactly the same story. In any case, verse 34.14 is either connected somehow to the Testament of Solomon, or to a similar story that was already known to the audience of the Qur'an preacher.


It seems that starting from the 2nd century BC, Solomon was increasingly tied within Jewish traditions to sorcery, spell and demon hunt.
The Testament of Solomon exactly features that with a long list of magic formulas to cast out demons.

And linking Solomon with magic is exactly what Qur'an complains about:

2:102    And they followed what the devils recited regarding the kingship of Solomon. Solomon did not "reject", but it was the devils who rejected; teaching people magic and what was sent down on the two angels in Babylon: Haroot and Maroot. (...)


Among people who "alladhina kafaru" according to Qur'an we find in good place those who practice magic.

Magic has also something to do with the "unseen" world, the al Ghayba in Qur'an.
The division between the apparent world and the invisible world was actually the main feature of Gnostic beliefs, see http://www.gnosis.org/gnintro.htm

The understanding of Gnosticism uncovers strong indications that Qur'an actually stemmed from a Gnostic milieu, in reaction to some Gnostic beliefs, while still incorporating a Gnostic background and way of thinking.

Here are some quotes of the gnosis introduction that I just mentioned:

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GNOSTICISM IS THE TEACHING based on Gnosis, the knowledge of transcendence arrived at by way of interior, intuitive means.
(...)
It is nearer the truth to say that Gnosticism expresses a specific religious experience, an experience that does not lend itself to the language of theology or philosophy, but which is instead closely affinitized to, and expresses itself through, the medium of myth. Indeed, one finds that most Gnostic scriptures take the forms of myths. The term “myth” should not here be taken to mean “stories that are not true”, but rather, that the truths embodied in these myths are of a different order from the dogmas of theology or the statements of philosophy.

With the story of Solomon we are discussing and verse 3.7 about mutashabbih ayat, we are right in there.
Qur'an tries to express some truths through the medium of myths and actually a huge number of them.

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In the Gnostic view, there is a true, ultimate and transcendent God, who is beyond all created universes and who never created anything in the sense in which the word “create” is ordinarily understood. While this True God did not fashion or create anything, He (or, It) “emanated” or brought forth from within Himself the substance of all there is in all the worlds, visible and invisible. In a certain sense, it may therefore be true to say that all is God, for all consists of the substance of God.


Looking by this kind of topic and alike: https://free-minds.org/forum/index.php?topic=9611102.0 (Do you think God is separate from us?), we are right in there too, except that in my opinion, Qur'an doesn't give a clear view about the nature of God.

Nevertheless, Qur'an emphasizes in a lot of verse that Allah is the Creator of heaven and Earth and everything, but also that He is the best of the creators (see verses 23.14, 37.125), which suggests that the initial Gnostic belief that creation was due to some intermediate entities was not completely eliminated.

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The basic Gnostic myth has many variations, but all of these refer to Aeons, intermediate deific beings who exist between the ultimate, True God and ourselves. They, together with the True God, comprise the realm of Fullness (Pleroma) wherein the potency of divinity operates fully. The Fullness stands in contrast to our existential state, which in comparison may be called emptiness.

Believing that the potency of divinity fully operates through the association of the so-called Aeons, i.e. angels or jinns, and the ultimate True God is exactly what Qur'an calls "shirk" in first place.


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Humans are generally ignorant of the divine spark resident within them. This ignorance is fostered in human nature by the influence of the false creator and his Archons, who together are intent upon keeping men and women ignorant of their true nature and destiny. Anything that causes us to remain attached to earthly things serves to keep us in enslavement to these lower cosmic rulers. Death releases the divine spark from its lowly prison, but if there has not been a substantial work of Gnosis undertaken by the soul prior to death, it becomes likely that the divine spark will be hurled back into, and then re-embodied within, the pangs and slavery of the physical world.

It sounds like in Gnosticism, punishment after death for remaining ignorant of the heavenly nature is to remain in lowly life of the physical world through successive reincarnations.
This could shed a light on various verses like these:

40:11    They will say: "Our Lord, You have made us die twice, and You have given us life twice. Now we have confessed our sins. Is there any way out of this state?"
44:56    They do not taste death therein except for the first death, and He has spared them the retribution of Hell.


On the other hand, as I explained somewhere else in this forum, I believe that this two-deaths / two-lives scheme is also alluding to the two successive destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, so that Qur'an could present those two successive destruction in a Gnostic way.


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Gnostics do not look to salvation from sin (original or other), but rather from the ignorance of which sin is a consequence. Ignorance -- whereby is meant ignorance of spiritual realities -- is dispelled only by Gnosis, and the decisive revelation of Gnosis is brought by the Messengers of Light, especially by Christ, the Logos of the True God. It is not by His suffering and death but by His life of teaching and His establishing of mysteries that Christ has performed His work of salvation.
(...)
This stimulation is supplied by Messengers of Light who, in addition to their teachings, establish salvific mysteries (sacraments) which can be administered by apostles of the Messengers and their successors.

There are some similarities here between these Gnostics beliefs and Qur'an, when for example, Qur'an denies the suffering and death of Christ.
But the divergence of Qur'an from Gnosis is that Qur'an says that the Messengers are not there to teach the mysteries of the unseen world, like:

6:50    Say: "I do not say to you that I possess the treasures of God, nor do I know the unseen (ghayba), nor do I say to you that I am an angel. I merely follow what is inspired to me." Say: "Are the blind and the seer the same? Do you not think?"
6:59    And with Him are the keys of the unseen, none know them except He. And He knows what is in the land and in the sea; and not a leaf falls except He knows of it; nor a seed in the darkness of the earth; nor anything moist or anything dry; all in a clear record.
7:188    Say: "I do not possess for myself any benefit or harm, except what God wills. And if I could know the unseen (ghayba), then I would have increased my good fortune, and no harm would have come to me. I am but a warner and a bearer of good news to a people who believe."


Instead messengers in Qur'an are warners and bear of good news. The word "bashir" for bearer of good news is a calk of Hebrew bessorah with same meaning, which is a messianic attribute.


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If the words “ethics” or “morality” are taken to mean a system of rules, then Gnosticism is opposed to them both. Such systems usually originate with the Demiurge and are covertly designed to serve his purposes. If, on the other hand, morality is said to consist of an inner integrity arising from the illumination of the indwelling spark, then the Gnostic will embrace this spiritually informed existential ethic as ideal.

To the Gnostic, commandments and rules are not salvific; they are not substantially conducive to salvation. Rules of conduct may serve numerous ends, including the structuring of an ordered and peaceful society, and the maintenance of harmonious relations within social groups. Rules, however, are not relevant to salvation; that is brought about only by Gnosis.

This Gnostics tenet opposing to a system of rules is clearly in contradiction with Qur'an.
While in Gnosis, commandments and rules are not conducive salvation, the purpose of Qur'an is exactly to state the opposite.
For example, we have this verse:

2:53    And We gave Moses the Book and the Criterion "Furqan", perhaps you would be guided.

I believe this Free-Mind translation like other Qur'an translation is not correct: Furqan is not "Criterion" and has nothing to do with discerning false from truth or something like this.
Furqan in this context is not a pure Arabic word and comes from Syriac Paroqa which means "to redeem", so Furqan as Redemption much better fits the textual context of this verse, after the episode of the Calf.
So verse 2.53 is rather something like:

2:53    And We gave Moses the Book (Note: which contains the teaching of the Divine Law) and the Redemption, perhaps you would be guided.


With the above background of Gnosis, we can now approach the meaning of verse 34.14.

The eating of the minsat of Solomon is metaphorically both the destruction of the Temple and the end of this creation. It is the destruction of the Temple, because the minsat of Solomon echoes to the pillar of air that is part of the Temple according to the Testament of Solomon or other similar texts.
It is the end of this creation because in the Testament of Solomon, once the pillar falls, it will be the end of time.

Now, this verse, somehow echoes those ones:

2:30    And your Lord said to the angels: "I am placing a successor on the earth." They said: "Will You place in it he who would make corruption in it, and spill blood; while we glorify Your praise, and exalt to You?" He said: "I know what you do not know."
2:31    And He taught Adam the names of all things, then He displayed them to the angels and said: "Inform Me of the names of these if you are truthful."
2:32    They said: "Glory to You, we have no knowledge except that which You have taught us, You are the Knowledgeable, the Wise."
2:33    He said: "O Adam, inform them of their names," so when he informed them of their names, He said: "Did I not tell you that I know the unseen of the heavens and the earth, and that I know what you reveal and what you are hiding?"


By the way, this story of Adam in Qur'an is much closer than the one one can find in the midrash Genesis Rabba, rather than the version in the Torah.
The purpose of giving names to things is to give a posthumous life to someone especially in his sons, see https://biblehub.com/hebrew/8034.htm.
So giving name is a metaphorical way to speak of enabling the world to come, i.e. the salvation, which is exactly the job of the messenger.

So verses 2.30 to 2.33 say that the angels do not have access to knowledge the unseen world and thus are unable to provide salvation to humanity.
Those verses constitute a rejection of the Gnostics belief that knowledge of the unseen world, in particular through invocation of angels, will redeem humanity.

Verse 34.14 is an analogue of verses 2.30 to 2.33: the jinns are unable to get access to the knowledge of the unseen world, thus are unable to contribute to salvation of humanity.

During the time between his death and the eating of his minsat, Solomon appears alive to everyone while he is actually dead.
It is not the first time  that we can find in Qur'an stories where death or sleep appears like life and vice versa.
For example, we have this story in Surah 18, about the dwellers of the cave:

18:18    And you would think they are awake while they are asleep. And We turn them on the right-side and on the left-side, and their dog has his arms outstretched at the threshold. If you looked upon them you would have run away from them and you would have been filled with terror from them!


As death or sleep in the ancient Jewish thought usually symbolizes idolatry like the years of captivity during the Babylonian Exile are assimilated to death and sleep, the time between his death and the eating of his minsat could be understood as development of idolatry before the destruction of the Temple, i.e. the end of time.

Then, idolatry and wrong ethics took the apparence of the right religion, without anyone noticing that it went astray, deviating from the right path, until the destruction of this world.
The destruction of this world, the destruction of the Temple, that is symbolized by the eating of the minsat, was done by the Beast of Earth, who could figure pagan leaders who destroyed Israel and its Temple: Nebuchadnezzar II and Titus.

To sum up the meaning of verse 34.14, the people to which the Qur'an messenger opposed professed a religion they believed was the right path, while from the point of view of the Qur'an preacher, it was not, they failed to realize they were not correctly guided, thus living in idolatry without realizing it, they relied on Gnostics tenets for salvation, while those are deemed powerless by the Qur'an preacher to grant redemption, and they will realize it when it will be too late and when the pillar of their tenets will have been destroyed.