ABSTRACT: 'Sūrat Yūsuf (XII) and Some of Its Possible Jewish Sources'

Alberdina Houtman, Marcel Poorthuis and Tamar Kadari (eds.), Stories and Traditions in Transformation, Leiden: Brill, 2016, pp. 189-210  Meir Bar-Ilan


For more than a century there is a debate concerning the Jewish sources of Quran Surat Yusuf (XII). This Surah is based on the Biblical story of Joseph and his brothers combined with episodes that are neither in the Bible nor in the Talmud. The relevant question relates to these episodes: did the Jews take them from the Quran, or vice versa, or maybe, was it a common heritage of the 'Children of Abraham'?

Three of the episodes in the narrative are discussed according their respective different weight of evidence. 1) It will be shown that the story about the women's-feast of Potiphar's wife comes from an Aramaic song from the Byzantine era (4-5th centuries). The episode will be explained anew, with the help of two Quran commentators (al-Mardawi and al-Kartabi), as an erotic scene. 2) The episode of Joseph's trial is evident not only in the Quran but in Sefer HaYashar as well as two other Jewish sources (Midrash Aggadah and Midrash Abkir). The parallels lead to the assumption that both, Jewish and Islamic sources, are rooted in former Jewish stories (similar to the former Aramaic song) that were not preserved. 3) The wolf appears in short in the Quran but has a much developed role in Sefer HaYashar and later Arab traditions. It is assumed that the post-Quranic composer of Sefer HaYashar did not take the grain of the story from the Quran and developed it but rather, like in the former cases, both sources are based on former Jewish folk-stories, unknown in other Talmudic sources.

The transformation of the story from one culture to another, in three languages (Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic) led to additions and omissions that caused a loss of some of the original (erotic) meaning of the story. Being aware of Tradition and Transmission methodology helps to understand the process the story went through in post-Biblical times.

Key-words: Quran ● Jewish legends ● Targum ● Joseph narrative ● tradition and transmission