From (Bob Kirk)
Newsgroups: soc.religion.islam
Subject: The Fellows of the Cave
Date: Sat Oct 05 10:22:41 EDT 1996
Organization: Lambton College, Sarnia, CANADA

The cave would be a nasty place to spend a night, not to mention a few
hundred or more years. If the Lord commanded me to do so however, I would,
as I am sure all those who seek to do His will would.  Some background:
Decius and Theodosius were both Emperors of Imperial Rome, reigning
between the periods of 249-251AD, and 379-395AD respectively. Though they
held the same position over the Roman Empire, they were, in terms of
conviction of faith, at opposite ends of the spectrum. Decius was brutal
towards Christians, and his persecutions, and idol-temples attest to this
historical fact. Many people suffered at his hands because of their faith
in Christ. Theodosius on the other hand, was a Christian emperor, governed
by the words and teachings of Jesus the Christ.

From the Qur'an, Sura 18, one can find the description of the 'Fellows of
the Cave'. Here are the ayas which make for the most part, the essence of
the story: 

18:9 'Or, do you think that the fellows of the cave and the inscription
were of our wonderful signs?' 
18:10 'When the youths sought refuge in the cave, they said: "Our Lord!
grant us mercy from Thee, and provide for us a right course in our
18:11 'So We prevented them from hearing in the cave for a number of
18:12 'Then We raised them up that We might know which of the two parties
was best able to compute the time for which they remained.' 
18:13 'We relate to you their story with the truth; surely they were
youths who believed in their Lord and We increased them in guidance.' 
18:14 'And We strengthened their hearts with patience, when they stood up
and said: Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth; we will by 
no means call upon any god besides Him, for then indeed we should have 
said an extravagant thing.' 
18:15 'These our people have taken gods besides Him; why do they not 
produce any clear authority in their support? Who is then more unjust 
that he who forges a lie against Allah?' 
18:16 'And when you forsake them and what they worship save Allah, betake
yourselves for refuge to the cave; your Lord will extend to you largely 
of His mercy and provide for you a profitable course in your affair.' 
18:17 'And you might see the sun when it rose, decline from their cave
towards the right hand, and when it set, leave behind on the left while
they were in a wide space thereof. This is of the signs of Allah;
whomsoever Allah guides, he is the rightly guided one, and whomsoever 
He causes to err, you shall not find for him any friend to lead (him) 

The commentary continues through ayas 18-24. 

18:25 'And they remained in their cave three hundred years and (some) 
add (another) nine.' 
18:26 'Say: Allah knows best how long they remained; to Him are (known)
the unseen things of the heavens and the earth; how clear His sight and
how clear His hearing! There is none to be gaurdian for them besides Him,
and He does not make any one His associate in His Judgement.'

It is also important to make mention of aya 4 in this same chapter, as it
provides insight as to the underlying theme for the story, as aya 26 above
alludes to: 18:4 'And warn those who say: Allah has taken a son.' After
reading this account, one is left with a number of questions, and an
overall bad taste for the poor narration and story flow/meaning of the
work. Not only is the account haphazard and difficult to follow, but it
seems to miss the purpose that it states it attempts to fulfill, namely,
provide guidance for the youths amidst the underlying theme of their
people assigning a son to god. The Qur'an appears to be attempting to tell
a story that its reader might be expected to be somewhat familiar with
already. I would say many who read this account today though, do not have
the same familiarity with what then may have been common knowledge of
local/regional history/folklore. 

I came across (in the footnotes of the Qur'an I have itself!) a reference
to compare this story to something recorded in Edward Gibbon's 
'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'. I spent hours combing 
the index-less copy of Gibbon I had, with no luck. By the miracle of  
technology, on the WWW, I came across a single relation of an Eastern
(Christian) Othodox folktale known as the 'Seven Sleepers of Ephesus',
which is strikingly similar. Here is a summary of that story: 

In the days of Decius' reign over Rome, in the city of Ephesus, temples
are erected to non-Christian dieties. The inhabitants are to worship and
sacrifice at these places, and turn from their faiths previously held.
Seven high ranking Christians lock them selves in their homes, and are
then arrested and brought before the Emperor. Leaving the city to perform
some function or duty, the Emperor gives them a temporary reprieve until
he returns. The seven give all their possessions to the poor, and flee 
to a cave on Mt. Celion. Each day, one of the seven go back to town (in
disguise) to buy food etc. One day, the particluar buyer dicovers (while
in town) that the seven are being sought after again. Back at the cave
after relating the situation, the seven weep and pray. God makes them fall
asleep. The emperor through others discovers their hiding place, and has
it bricked up to seal them in. Two christians are able to hide a witness'
report between the rocks. Long afterwards, when the Christian emperor
Theodosius is ruling, he laments that he and his subjects are beginning to
disbelieve in the resurrection of the dead. God decides to help him, and
gives a resident of Ephesus the idea to build a stable on Mt. Celion. Of
course, he find the blocked up cave, and it is reopened, and the sleepers
awake like nothing had happened. They emerge, and to their surprise, there
are crosses on buildings everywhere. They pay for purchases in town with
their old coins, and the witness' account in the rocks is found. The story
spreads, and Theodosius comes to meet these men. He believes in the
resurrection of the dead, and they die, resting on the earth until the day
of resurrection. 

Except for particulars, the stories are impossible to separate. The
question then becomes, did Christians take an historical fact, related 
by Allah in the Qur'an and alter it to be a myth for themselves, or did
Muhammed simply adapt/incorporate what he thought was a true story into
the Qur'an to use it to argue against the idea of a son of God? The
answer to this question is difficult to come by through external means. I
was unable to locate any real quantity of material on these stories save
for one Encyclopedia of Christianity, which I will mention momentarily.
The only information one is left with to make an answer to this question
then, are the stories themselves. What do they say without saying? 

In the Qur'ans version, we see in the opening of this sura, the sentiment
expressed that god would not choose a son. The entire story however, has
nothing really to do with either proving or disproving that god could/would
or has taken a son. In verse 5 we read, (speaking of the people of that
time about assigning a son to god) 'They have no knowledge of it, nor had
their fathers; a grievous word it is that comes out of their mouths; they
speak nothing but a lie.' In the course of the story which follows it, the
only mention of the son of god, is in ayas 14-16, printed above. Verses
14, and 15 after the youths had awaken, and been made to compute the
number of years they were asleep(?), declare that their people speak a lie
by having taken other gods besides Allah. It is noteworthy that here as
well, the Qur'ans underlying inaccurate theme on the subject of the
Trinity is apparent, as the author interprets Christ as a separate god,
when Trinitarian Christianity does not believe this at all. Verse 16, is
gods command to the youths to forsake their peoples ways, and seek refuge
in the cave. That is the last and deepest that this story speaks of the
son of god, though the sura returns to speaking against the idea in aya 38.
What did having the youths retire to the cave to compute the length of
their sleep have to do with convincing them there is no son of god? That
is after all the presumed reason they went there, as they sought refuge in
aya 10. Why do they sleep for a long period of time, leaving people who
believed in the son of god, only to awaken back to the same people who
still believe in the son of god? There are further questions which must be
asked also: When did these youths live, and what scriptures did the youths
have that they 'knew' Allah did not have a son? The Torah and Jewish
prophets? They both attested to the coming Messiah, and that he would be
the SON! Since the youths story is told in past tense at the time of the
Qur'ans telling, and the author in aya 25 implies they were asleep for at
least 300 years, (assuming they awoke the day the Qur'an was compiled to
make them past tense), the latest they could have fallen asleep was about
350AD. The Qur'an certainly wasn't in existence then. The Old Testament,
and the New Testament of the Bible were however.
But if one steps further back for a moment, something about the overall
situations of the stories becomes apparent. The Qur'ans story is meant 
to disuade people from believing in a son of god. Why? This theme and 
the story as I have mentioned above, do not seem to have any connecting
reason or convincing argument to them when together. Why not relate 
the story of the 'Fellows of the Cave' with a Sura that shows 'true 
submission' like the suras concerning Abraham? It would certainly appear 
to be more appropriate there. The coincidence of the 'Sleepers' and
Christianity mentioned connectedly at all suggests an origin from the much
more detailed Christian folktale. But additionally, the Christian story,
if taken from the Qur'an, had no reason to change 'time periods', as the
Qur'anic sleepers both left and emerged from Christian societies, who
believed in a son of god. Why distort the story to the reign of Decius
from just pre-Theodosius? The story could have more effectively (and
easily) been alterred to fit real-time, and with the production of seven
'volunteers', would have been a most deceptive (but likely effective)
sign. Instead, we read of these 'events' of the third and fourth
centuries, which though referenced numerous times by late first millenium
Christians such as Jacobus de Voragine, are accepted as folklore even
then. In summary, I would like to present a paragraph from the 
'Encyclopedia of Christianity', page 140: 
'Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, according to a pious legend, stemming perhaps
from the 6th century, seven early Christian Ephesians who were walled up
in a cave near their city when taking refuge from the persecution of
Decius. Their names, with certain variations, were Maximian, Malchus,
Marcion, Denis, John, Serapion, and Constantine. To shield them from the
wrath of the Emperor, according to the story, God put them to sleep. Some
200 years later the seven Ephesians awakened and found that their city had
become Christian. Discovered by the astonished citizenry of Ephesus, the
seven sleepers promptly died and were venerated as saints. ... H. Thurston,
and D. Attwater describe it as a Christianization of a pagan or Jewish
legend closely akin to the tale of Rip Van Winkle (which would have
preceeded the sixth century (500-599AD), my comment).' It seems obvious
that the story was originally a myth or folktale, continually adapted by
the succeeding generations. How then is the story attributed by 'Allah' 
in the Qur'an as historical fact? How does one explain this?

Peace in Christ, 
Bob Kirk

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