Friday, December 19, 2008

Zuleika, The Wife Of Potifar, In The Koran and In Sefer HaYashar

In a discussion (on an earlier post) with Anonymous, something interesting arose. Various legends found in Sefer HaYashar find parallel in Muslim legends and in the Koran.

Thus, Zuleika is the wife of Potiphar, and so is it is Muslim tradition. And also many details of the Yosef and Eshes Potifar story match, concept for concept, in the Koran and in Sefer HaYashar. Thus, here is Sefer HaYashar (read for a few pages, until you get all the details mentioned in the list below) and here is the Koran. Here is a wikipedia page that mentions the parallel.

Parallel story points, which are not found elsewhere, such as in earlier midrashic works (as far as I can tell) include:
  1. The neighbors mocking her obsession with Yosef, and her response of inviting them over, giving them citrons which they peel with knives, and them cutting off their fingers in distraction where they see Yosef.
  2. An extremely young child miraculously speaking, and providing a defense for Yosef.
  3. The determination of his guilt of innocence (though Yosef is still jailed) is whether the clothing was torn from behind (in which case he was fleeing when it ripped) or whether from the front (in which case he was coming towards her when she ripped his clothing).
And the fact that Sefer HaYashar makes use of the name found in Muslim tradition while echoing all these parallels, and is later than the Koran, makes me suspicious.

What also troubles me is that as a general rule, midrashim don't just make up stories. There must always be some kind of basis in the Biblical text, where the text locally or elsewhere is being interpreted hyperliterally. There might be some derivation here, but none that I can readily see. If someone can show me how this comes from pesukim, I would view it as more of a legitimate midrash.

Also, the very young child talking gives me pause. We have slight parallel with Shmuel paskening halacha at a young age, then echoed in Luke (IIRC) as Jesus asking questions of the Jewish scholars at a very young age. But this detail seems very Koran-like. Earlier, the Koran has baby Jesus speaking up miraculously, to defend his mother of charges of infidelity. And this seems to be echoed here, as a Koran-internal theme. This detail is then echoed other works, such as the quasi-pornographic medieval work "The Alphabet of Ben Sirah," where an extremely young Ben Sirah speaks up to defend his mother (Yirmeyahu's daughter) of such accusations in his apparent virgin birth, where really she became pregnant from the mikveh while toveling for eating terumah, after her father Yirmeyahu was forced by evil people of Menashe to spill seed in the bathhouse. (This "midrash" is actually brought up as evidence in halachic sources, unfortunately.) And then echoed in the midst of Arthurian legends, where Merlin defends her mother, who was impregnated by a demon.

On the other hand, Anonymous cites this source which gives bases for midrashim in Sefer HaYashar and which makes no mention of the Koran as a source.
מקורותיו הם התלמוד, בראשית רבה, פרקי דר"א, דברי ימי משה, יוסיפון, מדרש אבכיר ואגדות ערביות. כנראה נערך הספר במאה התשיעית או העשירית. מה שכתוב בהקדמת הספר כי הספר הזה נמצא ע"י הגמוני טיטוס בירושלים, זו המצאת המו"ל בנאפולי, שם נדפס הספר בראשונה בשנת
But I think that it actually does mention the Koran, somewhat. What is meant by אגדות ערביות? I would guess this would include Arabic legends, by which they would include the Koran. We would really have to check to see if any of these other sources make mention of these details, but from a preliminary check, it seems as if this is the first Jewish source to make use of it.

Of course, Sefer HaYashar, being regarded as a legitimate midrash, is a channel for these to enter the general lore of Judaism. If I am not mistaken, I remember seeing the citron-peeling incident first in The Midrash Says. But of course at some point it pays to keep track of where each of these ideas are coming from.


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Maybe it's a semantical difference, but maybe אגדות ערביות are hadiths?

joshwaxman said...

I apologize. I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying that this is perhaps what the author of Encyclopedia Yehudit meant by אגדות ערביות? If so, certainly possible. I was translating the term in all ignorance. And that would certainly make sense.

(Though this particular set of stories is in the Koran rather than in a hadith.)

Did you also mean to imply an etymological relationship between "Aggadot" and Arabic Achadith (narratives, ), with the Chet and the gimel replacing one another? If so, that would indeed be an interesting correlation.

Kol Tuv,

Anonymous said...

I missed that reference my fault sorry.


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