Embryology: The Bible Plagiarises Ancient Greek Literature

Elias Karîm

© Islamic Awareness, All Rights Reserved.

Last Updated: 23 June 1999


Assalamu-alaikum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu:

The Christian Missionary Charge of Plagiarism

This is the first article in a series of articles which proposes to examine the Christian missionary paper Embryology in the Qur'ân. The Christian author is described as a "practising medical doctor in the United Kingdom" who wishes to remain anonymous. Writing under the secretive internet e-mail alias of Lactantius, the missionary writes:

However, the most convincing explanation, and the most worrying for those who maintain that the Qur'an is God's eternal Word, untampered with and free from any human interference, is that the Qur'an is using the enormously influential Greek physician Galen's teachings that the second stage of foetal development is a vascular mass, in which case not only is the Qur'an wrong, but it also plagiarises ancient Greek literature!

According to the missionary, the Qur'ân plagiarises ancient Greek Literature, and as a result, it should be rejected as a divinely revealed or inspired scripture. This short paper proposes to examine the Christian charge of plagiarism, and using their own methodology apply their argument to the Bible.

Proof Demanded

To plagiarise something is to commit literary theft by appropriating and passing off the ideas or words of another as one's own. The missionary accuses the Prophet Muhammad(P)[1] of plagiarism and charges him with stealing and passing off the ideas of Galen as his own :

the Qur'an is using the enormously influential Greek physician Galen's teachings... it also plagiarises ancient Greek literature!

This is a serious charge and one would expect the missionary to have provided sufficient evidence in order to "prove beyond reasonable doubt" that Muhammad(P) is indeed the plagiariser and liar that Christian missionaries consider him to be. [2]

Yet the missionary provides no evidence, no proof whatsoever to substantiate this claim of plagiarism. The missionary cites neither the original Greek text of Galen nor the Arabic of the Qur'ân; nor does he provide a sufficiently thorough analysis of the two accounts in order to substantiate his claim. And neither does the missionary cite any hadith or eye-witnesses accounts to prove that the Prophet(P) plagiarised ancient Greek literature. Where then is the proof that Muhammad(P) plagiarised the Galenic stages of development?

We are not asking the missionary to provide evidence of Greek influence on the Qur'ân (a subject of a forth coming paper), but proof that the Prophet Muhammad(P) consciously and knowingly stole and passed off the ideas of Galen (notably Galen's second stage of foetal development) as his own. If the missionary is unable to prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that Muhammad(P) plagiarised the Galenic stages of development then why make such an accusation in the first place?! If the missionary is unable to prove his case "beyond reasonable doubt" then this material should be removed and an apology printed. It is very easy for Christian missionaries to make such accusations, and it is even easier to make them while hiding behind fictitious e-mail accounts and aliases. It seems that this missionary wishes to remain anonymous so that he may continue to befriend (attempt to convert) Muslims in public, while slandering their religion and Prophet(P) in private.

The Bible Plagiarises Ancient Greek Literature

To summarise, the Christian Missionary says that:

and as a result, it should be rejected as a divinely revealed or inspired scripture. Furthermore, by implication, the Prophet Muhammad(P) could not be a true Prophet of God as he plagiarised ancient Greek literature by consciously and knowingly stealing the ideas of Galen and claiming them to be his own.

What if we were to apply this method of reasoning to the Bible itself? What if we were to apply the same standards against the Bible? If we were to find the Bible plagiarising ancient Greek Literature, then it too should also be rejected as a divinely revealed or inspired scripture -- according to the missionary's own testimony, according to his own standards of reasoning and evidence.

So, what does the Bible say concerning Embryology? In this section we cite embryological references to be found in Bible using the same source as used by the missionary, A History of Embryology[3] by Joseph Needham. It would seem that the missionary has deliberately failed to cite some vital pieces of information concerning Embryology in Antiquity which we aim to supply here.

Embryology in Antiquity

During the period when the biological school of Alexandria was at its height, that city became an important Jewish centre. Two centuries later it was to produce Philo, but now the Alexandrian Jews were writing that part of the modern Bible known as the Wisdom Literature. In books such as the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Proverbs, etc. the typical Hellenic exclusion of the action of gods in natural phenomena is clearly to be seen. There are two passages of embryological importance. Firstly, in the Book of Job (10:10), Job is made to say,

"Remember, I beseech thee, that thou hast fashioned me as clay; and wilt thou bring me into the dust again! Hast thou not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese? Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews."

This comparison of embryogeny with the making of cheese is interesting in view of the fact that precisely the same comparison occurs in Aristotle's book On the Generation of Animals, as we have already seen.[4]

We now discover that:

and as a result, the Bible should be rejected as a divinely revealed or inspired scripture -- according to the missionary's own testimony, according to his own standards of reasoning and evidence!

Another embryological reference occurs in the Wisdom of Solomon which also copies (plagiarises) an Aristotelian theory:

Still more extraordinary, the only other embryological reference in the Wisdom Literature, which occurs in the Wisdom of Solomon (vii. 2), also copies an Aristotelian theory, namely, that the embryo is formed from (menstrual) blood. There the speaker says,

"In the womb of a mother was I moulded into flesh in the time of ten months, being compacted with blood of the seed of man and the pleasure that accompanieth sleep."

Needham concludes that both references in the Bible can be traced back to Aristotle and even Hippocrates:

Perhaps it is no coincidence that both these citations can be referred back to Aristotle, and in the second case even to Hippocrates; perhaps the Alexandrian Jews of the third century B.C. were studying Aristotle as attentively as Philo Judaeus studied Plato a couple of hundred years later.[5]

Conclusions

The Christian missionary is now left with several difficulties. The missionary needs to explain to the Muslim:

  1. Why the Bible uses the enormously influential teachings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle?

  2. Why the Bible plagiarises ancient Greek Literature?

  3. Why other non-Christian scriptures (e.g. the Qur'ân) would be rejected as a divinely revealed or inspired scripture if they used (or were influenced by) the writings of ancient Greek scientists - but the Bible would not?

  4. Why other non-Christian scriptures (e.g. the Qur'ân) would be charged with plagiarism if they used  (or were influenced by) the writings of ancient Greek scientists - but the Bible would not?

  5. Why the Prophet Muhammad(P) is charged with plagiarism but the authors of Job and the Wisdom of Solomon are not?[6]

  6. Why Christian missionaries continue to charge the Prophet Muhammad(P) with plagiarism of the Galenic stages of development even though they have failed to prove their case?

    And more controversially,

  7. Why do these missionaries reject the Wisdom of Solomon as a divinely inspired scripture when majority of the world's Christians accept it as the word of God?

Concerning the Wisdom of Solomon the Encyclopaedia Britannica informs us that it is:

... an example of the "wisdom" genre of religious literature, which commends a life of introspection and reflection on human existence, especially from an ethical perspective. It is an apocryphal work (noncanonical for Jews and Protestants) but is included in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) and was accepted into the Roman canon.[7]

Thus the Wisdom of Solomon is accepted as a divinely inspired book by Roman Catholics and is included in Roman Catholic Bibles.

The Roman Catholics in the world outnumber all other Christians combined.[8]

The Protestants however, have rejected the book and only include it as part of the Apocrypha even though fragments of it were discovered in the Essene library, at Qumran, in Palestine.[9]

For a discussion concerning the Biblical Canon see Church Tradition & The Textual Integrity Of The Bible and Textual Reliability Of The New Testament.

Modifying the Missionary's own words we conclude:

However, the most convincing explanation, and the most worrying for those who maintain that the Bible is God's eternal Word, untampered with and free from any human interference, is that the Bible is using the enormously influential Greek philosopher Aristotle's  teachings for the stages of foetal development, in which case not only is the Bible wrong, but it also plagiarises ancient Greek literature!

   Islamic Awareness Qur'ân Science Embryology The Bible Plagiarises Ancient Greek Literature


References

[1] The missionaries believe the Prophet Muhammad(P) to have been the author of the Qur'ân, who "plagiarised" Biblical stories and Rabbinic legends in order to compose the Qur'ân. See the Refutation Of The Bible Borrowing Theories.

[2] See the Refutation Of The Bible Borrowing Theories.

[3] Joseph Needham, A History of Embryology, Cambridge University Press, 1959.

[4] Ibid, pp. 64-65.

[5] Ibid, p. 65.

[6] For an interesting example of copying or "plagiarism" within the Bible compare II Kings 19 with Isaiah 37 which are word for word 100% identical yet are attributed to two different authors! According to the Revised Standard Version (William Collins Sons & Co, 1952) the author of II Kings is unknown (RSV, Simple Helps and Visual Aids to the Understanding of the Bible, p. 13) while the book of Isaiah is

mainly credited to Isaiah. Parts may have been written by others. (Ibid, p. 15).

[7] "Solomon, Wisdom of," Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 99 Standard Edition © 1994-1999 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

[8] "Christianity: Roman Catholicism", Encyclopaedia Britannica, CD 99 Standard Edition © 1994-1999 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

[9] Ibid.

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