Syntipas (Sinbad) Legends – and Koran’s Lokman – Borrowed from Middle Eastern Sage Ahikar



Taken from:




We pass on, in the next place, to point out that the legend of Ahikar was known to Mohammed, and that he has used it in a certain Sura of the Koran.

There is nothing a priori improbable in this, for the Koran is full of Jewish Haggada and Christian legends, and where such sources are not expressly mentioned, they may often be detected by consulting the commentaries upon the Koran in obscure passages. For example, the story of Abimelech and the basket

of figs, which appears in the Last Words of Baruch, is carried over into the Koran, as we have shown in our preface to the Apocryphon in question. It will be interesting if we can add another volume to Mohammed’s library, or to the library of the teacher from whom he derived so many of his legends.

The 31st Sura of the Koran is entitled Lokman (Luqman) and it contains the following account of a sage of that name.

* We heretofore bestowed wisdom on Lokman and commanded him, saying, Be thou thankful unto God : for whoever is thankful, shall be thankful to the advantage of his own soul : and if any shall be unthankful, verily God is self-sufficient and worthy to be praised. And remember when Lokman said unto his son, as he admonished him.


O my son, Give not a partner unto God, for polytheism is a great impiety.

♦ ♦♦♦♦♦

O my son, verily every matter, whether good or bad, though it be of the weight of a grain of mustard-seed, and be hidden in a rock, or in the heavens, God will bring the same to light: for God is clear-sighted and knowing.

O my son, be constant at prayer, and command that which is just, and forbid that which is evil, and be patient under the afflictions that shall befall thee: for this is a duty absolutely incumbent upon all men.

♦ ♦♦#♦♦

And be moderate in thy pace, and lower thy voice, for the most ungrateful of all voices surely is the voice of asses.’

♦ ♦♦#♦♦

Now concerning this Lokman, the commentators and the critics have diligently thrown their brains about. The former have disputed whether Lokman was an inspired prophet or merely a philosopher and have decided against his inspiration: and they have given him a noble lineage, some saying that he was sister’s son to Job, and others that he was nephew to Abraham, and lived until the time of Jonah. Others have said that he was an African: slave. It will not escape the reader’s notice that the term sister’s son to Job, to which should be added nephew of Abraham, is the proper equivalent of the … by which Nadan and Ahikar are described in the Tobit legends.

Job, moreover, is singularly like Tobit.

[According to the AMAIC, Job was actually the son of Tobit, Tobias]

That he lived till the time of Jonah reminds one of the destruction of Nineveh as

described in the book of Tobit, in accordance with Jonah’s prophecy. Finally the African slave is singularly like Aesop … who is a black man and a slave in the Aesop legends. From all of which it appears as if the Arabic Commentators were identifying Lokman with Ahikar on the one hand and with Aesop on the other ; i.e. with two characters whom we have already shown to be identical.

The identification with Aesop is confirmed by the fact that many of the fables ascribed to Aesop in the west are referred to Lokman in the east: thus Sale says: —

‘The Commentators mention several quick repartees of Luqman which agree so well with what Maximus Planudes has written of Aesop, that from thence and from the fables attributed to Luqman by the Orientals, the latter has been generally thought to be no other than the Aesop of the Greeks. However that may be (for I think the matter may bear a dispute) I am of opinion that Planudes borrowed a great part of his life of Aesop from the traditions he met with in the east concerning Luqman, concluding them to have been the same person, &c.*

These remarks of Sale are confirmed by our observation that the Aesop story is largely a modification of the Ahikar legend, taken with the suggestion which we derive from the Mohammedan commentators, who seem to connect Lokman with Tobit on the one hand and with Aesop on the other.

Now let us turn to the Sura of the Koran which bears the name Lokman, and examine it internally: we remark (i) that he bears the name of sage, precisely as Ahikar does : (ii) that he is a teacher of ethics to his son, using Ahikar’s formula ‘ ya bani ‘ in teaching him : (iii) although at first sight the matter quoted by Mohammed does not appear to be taken from Ahikar, there are curious traces of dependence. We may especially compare the following from Ahikar : ‘ O my son, bend thy head low and soften thy voice and be courteous and walk in the straight path and be not foolish And raise not thy voice when thou laughest,

for were it by a loud voice that a house was built, the ass would build many houses every day.’

Clearly Mohammed has been using Ahikar, and apparently from memory, unless we like to assume that the passage in the Koran is the primitive form for Ahikar, rather than the very forcible figure in our published texts. Mohammed has also mixed up Ahikar’s teaching with his own, for some of the sentences which he attributes to Lokman appear elsewhere in the Koran. But this does not disturb the argument. From all sides tradition advises us to equate Lokman with Aesop and Ahikar, and the Koran confirms the equation. The real difficulty is to determine the derivation of the names of Lokman and Aesop from Ahikar^

Some of the Moslem traditions referred to above may be found in Al Masudi c. 4 : ‘ There was in the country of Ailah and Midian a sage named Lokman, who was the son of Auka, the son of Mezid, the son of Sar


Another curious point in connexion with the Moslem traditions is the discussion whether Loqman was or was not a prophet.

This discussion cannot have been borrowed from a Greek source, for the idea which is involved in the debate is a Semitic idea.

But it is a discussion which was almost certain to arise, whether Lokman of whom Mohammed writes so approvingly had any special … as a prophet, because Mohammed is the seal of the prophets.

And it seems from what Sale says on the subject, that the Moslem doctors decided the question in the negative; Lokman * received from God wisdom and eloquence in a high degree, which some pretend were given him in a vision, on his making choice of wisdom preferably to the gift of prophecy, either of which was offered him.’ Thus the Moslem verdict was that Lokman was a sage and not a prophet.

On the other hand it should be noticed that there are reasons for believing that he was regarded in some circles and probably from the earliest times as a prophet. The fact of his teaching in aphorisms is of no weight against this classification: for the Hebrew Bible has two striking instances of exactly similar character, in both of which the sage appears as prophet. Thus Frov. XXX. begins :

* The words of Agur the son of Jakeh, even the prophecy*

and Prov. xxxi begins :

*The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.’

Both of these collections appear to be taken from popular tales*, and they are strikingly like to the sentences of Ahikar.


The legend of Ahikar has also had an influence upon other books of a similar type, where story-telling and the enforcement of ethical maxims are combined. Such a case is the Story of Syntipas the Philosopher, a late Greek translation of a Syriac text, of which the date of composition is uncertain, as also whether it was primitively composed in Syriac or in some other language^

There was an Arabic form of this story extant as early as 956 A.D., and the diffusion of the collection of tales is phenomenal in later times.

The opening of the story is as follows :

‘There was once a king whose name was Cyrus. He had seven wives; but had become old and had no son. Then He arose and prayed, and vowed a vow and anointed himself.

And it pleased God to give him a son. The boy grew and shot up like a cedar …. Then he gave him over to learn wisdom and he was three years with his teacher, without however learning anything.’

The opening of the story is common matter to an Eastern novelist, but there are allusions which betray the use of a model of composition. To put Ahikar into the form Cyrus was not difficult in view of the Slavonic Akyrios for the same name; ‘seven wives’ is the modification of a later age on the original * sixty wives ‘ of Ahikar ; but what is conclusive for the use of the earlier legend is the remark that the king’s son ‘ shot up like a cedar.’ Thus we have in the Arabic version, ‘Nadan grew big and walked, shooting up like a tall cedar,’ and in the final re-proaches of the sage, ‘ My boy ! I brought thee up with the best upbringing and trained thee like a tall cedar.’ So that Ahikar is as truly a model for Syntipas as he was for Tobit [sic].

At the conclusion of the Syntipas legends, when the young man is solving all the hard ethical problems that his father proposes to him, we again find a trace of Ahikar, for he speaks of the ‘ insatiate eye which as long as it sees wealth is so ardent after it that he regards not God, until in death the earth covers his eyes.’ And amongst the sayings of Ahikar we find one to the effect that * the eye of man is as a fountain, and it will never be satisfied with wealth until it is filled with dust.’ Dr Dillon points out that this is one of the famous sayings of Mohammed, and if that be so, we have one more loan from Ahikar in the Koran.

Cf Sura 102, ‘The emulous desire of multiplying [riches and children] employeth you, until ye visit the graves.’



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