The Haman Hoax
The similarities between Haman in the Bible and Haman in the Qur’an
1. The Name
In this series, we have seen that various apologists for Islam have attempted to identify the quranic Haman with a certain person, whose name “hmn-h” was found on an Egyptian grave inscription. Having examined these claims it turned out that these two names agree in only two consonants, m and n (see here).
Against this background, it is noteworthy to observe that the name of Haman in the book of Esther (הָמָן) and the name Haman in the Qur’an (هامان) do not only have “some” letters in common, but they are identical in pronunciation, having the same consonants1 and the same vowels. The reader can easily look these letters up on Wikipedia in the entries for the Arabic alphabet (*) and the phonology for Biblical Hebrew (1, 2).2
It is also significant that this name is singular in both Hebrew and Arabic. It is a foreign name in both languages.3 Neither the Hebrew nor the Arabic languages have words with root consonants “h-m-n”. Moreover, in Arabic Bible translations the name Haman in the book of Esther is written just like the name Haman in the Qur’an.
2. The Position
Regarding his position or role in government, we read about Haman in the book of Esther:
After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. (Esther 3:1, NIV)
Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. (Esther 5:11, NIV)
This matches the position of Haman in the Qur’an, who is also recognized as the second in authority after Pharaoh, see Appendix 1: Who was Haman according to the Qur’an?
Interesting side note: When we compare the Wikipedia entries of Haman in the Bible and in Islam, we (currently4) find this as the first sentence in each:
In the Qur'an, Haman was the chief minister of Pharaoh at the time of Moses. (Source; 20 September 2009)
Haman (or Haman the Agagite המן האגגי) is the main antagonist in the Book of Esther, who, according to Old Testament tradition, was a 5th Century BC Persian noble and vizier of the empire under Persian King Ahasuerus, traditionally identified as Artaxerxes II (most scholars identify him as Xerxes I). (Source; 20 September 2009)
3. The Character and the action taken by Haman
In the book of Esther, Haman is a sinister, evil person. He plots against the Jews and plans a systematic genocide against them (Esther 3:5-15). It is Haman who approaches king Xerxes on how to take action against the Jews and to eliminate them. In the Qur’an, Haman is said to be “ever sinning” (S. 28:8) and his great sinfulness is again emphasized in S. 29:40. Comparing S. 7:127 with the passages that mention his name, it may well have been Haman who is (partly?) responsible for suggesting / commanding5 to slay the sons of the Israelites, although the Quran is confusing, ascribing this plan of action variously to different people.6 Nevertheless, it is significant to observe that together with the person of Haman, the idea of killing Jews (or their sons) is introduced into the story of the confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh.7 In the Bible, the response of Pharaoh was to implement a heavy increase in the workload of the enslaved Israelites, but not the killing of them.
Though probably a minor issue, note that Haman is not only the “vizier” of Xerxes, the top official at the imperial court, he also receives the advice to build a high gallows for hanging Mordecai, the Jew, on it (Esther 5:14), while in the Qur’an he receives the command to build a high tower as part of Pharaoh’s strategy to oppose Moses’ message. The reason for Haman’s rage against Mordecai was the latter’s refusal to bow to Haman and pay him homage (Esther 3:1-7), which he clearly refused because of his Jewish faith. As such, his Jewish faith led to the confrontation with the powerful Haman and implicitly with the society and religion of the country in which Mordecai lived in exile. Similarly, when the religion of Pharaoh was challenged by Moses, Pharaoh commanded Haman to build a tower that reaches into heaven to determine whether or not the God of Moses really existed.
Nevertheless, even though the above detail is interesting and may have supported the adaptation of Haman into the Qur’an, the motive of the high tower reaching heaven was most likely imported from another story, the tower of Babel (Genesis 11), which is explicitly said to have been built from burned bricks and for the purpose of reaching heaven.
The above outlined similarities strongly support the understanding that the person of Haman in the Qur’an is actually the Haman of the book of Esther who was transferred into another story by the author of the Qur’an.8 Whether this happened due to ignorance and confusion on the side of the author or it was done deliberately9, that is another topic.
Even the authors of the article at Islamic Awareness testify involuntarily that these similarities cannot be accidental when they claim in their concluding section in regard to the Haman of the book of Esther:
… This unhistorical Haman is portrayed as the prime minister of Ahasuerus, King of Persia. The plot of the unhistorical Haman to annihilate the Jews in the Persian Empire in retaliation for Mordecai's refusal to bow to him, seems to be the corrupt version of the original event when Haman had a hand in suggesting and executing the second massacre of the Israelites newborn males, to demoralise the Israelites and discourage them from following Moses. … (Source; underline emphasis mine)
Non-Muslims usually see the figure of Haman in the Qur’an as being dependent on or derived from the person of Haman in the book of Esther. In principle, the Muslims could have argued that these are simply two unrelated stories. Names are usually not unique, so why should there not be two independent people bearing the name of Haman? This scenario would also mean that the truth of these unrelated stories would then have to be examined independently. The historical truth or fictitious nature of one story has no consequence for the credibility or veracity of the other. On the other hand, if there is a literary dependency between the stories, i.e. if one story is derived from the other by way of corrupting the original story (e.g. by transferring a person from one story into another), then this immediately implies that the derived version of the story is fictional, and it does not even matter whether the original story was history or fiction. The dependent story in its new setting is necessarily fictitious.10 The Muslim problem is that the later quranic version appears as a confusion or corruption of the earlier biblical story. Had the Muslims been able to successfully argue the independence of the two stories, the main problem would have been resolved.
Interestingly and significantly, the Islamic Awareness team did not even try to disconnect the two Hamans. Their conclusion can only mean that they agree that the similarities between the two characters by the name of Haman are too strong to claim that they are independent.
Their “creative” approach, however, to argue a reverse dependency, i.e. that the earlier story is a corrupted version of the later story, is a clear sign of desperation. It goes against every principle of literary analysis.11
In any case, it is highly significant that Islamic Awareness did not even attempt to disconnect the two stories but merely tried to shift the blame of corruption or fictitiousness from the Qur’an to the Bible.
This observation becomes even more significant when we see that Maurice Bucaille tried to disconnect them, but the Islamic Awareness team does not follow him in this attempt although much of their argument regarding the name Haman is based on the claims of Maurice Bucaille.
Recapitulating earlier attempts to explain the name Haman, Bucaille writes:
… One has been searching for consonances with the Egyptian god “Amun,” which would have been badly transliterated into the Arabic language. Other authors have suggested that through “Haman” there might have been an allusion to Aman, a counselor of Assuerus (biblical name of Xerxes) who was an enemy of the Jews: such a comparison does not take account of the historical chronology. … (Source)
Bucaille claims that the quranic Haman cannot be an allusion12 to (or dependent on) the biblical figure Haman because the two stories are placed in very different times. That is obviously a very weak argument. The observation that Haman was transposed into a different time and location is exactly the problem because in the Qur’an Haman appears in the wrong time and in the wrong place. Seeing the many strong similarities between the two Hamans that are discussed above, this is not sufficient to make the two stories independent.
There is, however, a deliberate manipulation of the linguistic facts in Bucaille’s attempt to separate the Haman of the Qur’an from the Haman of the Bible. There is absolutely no justification that he spells the two names differently in English, i.e. Haman and Aman, when they are identical in their original languages (see the first point above).13 Even though in French the letter “H” is silent, so that Haman and Aman still have the same pronunciation in French, it is nevertheless an attempt to deceive the reader about their equivalent spelling and identical pronunciation in Hebrew and Arabic by introducing an artificial difference on the visual level.
A detailed investitgation into the literary background and potential sources for the appearance of Haman in the Qur’an, as well as its combination with the story of the Tower of Babel, is presented by Masud Masihiyyen in the series “Esther’s Loss and Haman’s Time Travel” (Part 1A, Part 1B, Part 2).