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Qur’an Reveals Lost Knowledge About Prophet Abraham.

Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him, is an important figure in the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While there is a lot of overlap in the stories about Abraham in the Qur’an and Bible, both Scriptures also contain unique incidents. This article is going to focus on a particular story about Abraham that is only found in the Qur’an and how 20th century archaeological discoveries affirm the historical claims found in the Qur’an.


Jewish, Christian and Islamic sources all place Abraham’s birthplace in ancient Babylonia, the region where we find modern-day Iraq. This region worshipped a multitude of gods and goddesses. Of particular prominence in the pantheon were celestial bodies such as the stars and planets. Since the end of the 3rd millennium, Mesopotamians observed the sky, thinking that what happens in the sky was reflected on the earth. Between the numerous heavenly bodies that cross the sky, the Moon, the Sun and Venus were the first and the most important ones that were identified as gods [1]. The Moon god Nanna, symbolised by the crescent, was worshipped at cities such as Ur and Haran. Here is the Ziggurat of Ur, a giant complex built in around 2100 BCE dedicated to the worship of Nanna, the principle deity of the city [2]:

Ziggarut built by King Ur-Nammu who dedicated it in honour of Nanna, c. 2000 BC.

The prominence of Nanna is also reflected in literature discovered at Ur. Sir Leonard Woolley discovered clay tablets in a hoard in a house at Ur [3]. The texts deal with the construction of some object for Nanna by the King Iddin-Dagan (1975-1954 BCE) which invoke Nanna as the “foremost one of the gods” to “put in order the ground plan of Ur”:

The god Nanna, foremost one of the Anuna gods, trusted one of the Ekur, whose mes [decrees of the gods] embrace heaven and earth (and) are those which no storm can disperse, the lord who alone is a god, who shines forth, first-born son of the god Enlil in order to restore the ancient mes (and) to put in order the ground plan of Ur, the princely son (Nanna) brought forth the best mes from the Enkur. (Poem of Iddin-Dagan 1-12)

According to historians, the Moon god Nanna has been symbolically represented as a crescent since the end of the 3rd millennium BCE [4]. Here is the cylinder seal of Hashamer, dated to around 2100 BCE. This relic depicts Ur-Nammu, the King of Ur, and the Moon god Nanna in the form of a crescent:

Impression of the cylinder seal at Ur. c. 2100 BC.

Archaeological excavations have found that the people of this region also worshipped additional gods and goddesses alongside the Moon, including the Sun. Shamash, god of the Sun, represented by the solar disc, was worshipped at Larsa and Sippar. According to historians, Shamash has been symbolically represented as the Sun since at least the late 3rd millennium BCE [5]. Here is the famous Stele of Ur-Nammu, dated to 2112 – 2095 BCE. This relic is one the treasures of Mesopotamian art because it provides rare pictorial representations of the King of Ur’s relations to the divine world. Very few pieces of sculpture have survived from this period or from any early period of Mesopotamian history as most were smashed by invading enemies. It depicts the King of Ur and his priests engaged in sacrificial rituals to the Moon and Sun. You can see Nanna and the Sun god, Shamash, joined together at the top in the form of a crescent and star (notice the rays emerging from the star):


Together with the Moon and Sun, the people of Ur also worshipped the planet Venus. This bronze figure represents Ur-Nammu, the ruler of Ur. It’s from Uruk, southern Iraq, Third Dynasty of Ur, 2100 – 2000 BCE. The inscription around and over the king’s body states that Ur-Nammu dedicated the figure to the goddess Ishtar [6]:


According to historians, Ishtar is personified as the planet Venus throughout Mesopotamian literature, at least since the beginning of the second millennium BCE, and perhaps even as far back as the third millennium BCE [7]. We can see this in the writings of Enheduanna (2285 – 2250 BCE), a high priestess of the Moon god Nanna in the city of Ur [8]. She became the most important religious figure of her day, and her evocative prayers, stories, and incantations, which were devoted to the goddess Ishtar, were highly influential [9]. Although she was the priestess of Nanna, Enheduanna’s most famous work is her Nin-me-sharra, or “Exaltation of Inanna”. She refers to Ishtar as “great lady of the horizon and zenith of the heavens”, an allusion to her astral aspect as the planet Venus:

Most precious lady, beloved by An, your holy heart is great; may it be assuaged on my behalf! Beloved spouse of Ušumgal-ana, you are the great lady of the horizon and zenith of the heavens. The Anuna have submitted to you. From birth you were the junior queen: how supreme you are now over the Anuna, the great gods! The Anuna kiss the ground with their lips before you. But my own trial is not yet concluded, although a hostile verdict encloses me as if it were my own verdict. I did not reach out my hands to [the] flowered bed. I did not reveal the pronouncements of Ningal to anybody. My lady beloved of An, may your heart be calmed towards me, the brilliant en priestess of Nanna! (Nin-me-sharra 109-121)

In fact some Sumerian hymns are much more explicit about Ishtar’s connection with Venus. For example in a poem of praise to the King Iddin-Dagan (1975-1954 BCE) and Inanna, which is the Sumerian equivalent of the name Ishtar, she is invoked as the planet Venus:

To the great [lady] of heaven, Inanna, I would say: ‘Hail!’ To the holy torch who fills the heaven, to the light, to her who shines like daylight… Of the holy torch who fills the heaven, of her stance in heaven, like the moon and the sun… In heaven she surely stands, the good wild cow of An… With An she takes her seat upon the great throne… Upon them [the people, described as ‘black heads’] my lady looks in a friendly way from the midst of heaven… At evening, the radiant star, the great light which fills the heaven… She comes forth like the moon at night. She comes forth like bright daylight in the heat of noon… The lady, the amazement of the land, the solitary star, the Venus-star… [10]

Here, as so often in Mesopotamian literature, Ishtar/Inanna is referred to as Venus and is said to stand alongside the celestial gods of the Moon and the Sun.


According to Mesopotamian mythology, these three celestial bodies – the Sun, the Moon, and Venus – were believed to be genealogically related to each other and formed an astral triad. The goddess of Venus, Ishtar/Inanna, and the Sun god Shamash, were said to be siblings and both the offspring of the Moon god Nanna [11]. This relationship between the Moon, Sun and Venus is reflected throughout Sumerian literature. For example, “Inanna and Ebih” is another famous composition by the high priestess of Ur, Enheduanna, depicting Ishtar/Inanna as the daughter of Sin/Suen:

For destroying Ebih, great child of Suen, maiden Inana, be praised. (Inanna and Ebih 182-183)

According to historians, Sin/Suen is the Akkadian equivalent of the Sumerian name Nanna. The earliest writings of both names are roughly contemporary, and occur interchangeably [12].

Here Enheduanna calls on Nanna/Sin/Suen and Ishtar/Inanna for help because she has been dislodged from her position by a rebelling Sumerian king, Lugal-Ane, who, she complains, did not show proper respect for the gods and has desecrated a temple at Uruk:

Sin, tell An about Lugal-ane and my fate!… En-hedu-ana will recite a prayer to you. To you, holy Inanna I shall give free vent to my tears like sweet beer!… Lugal-ane has altered everything and has stripped An of the E-ana (temple). He has not stood in awe of the greatest deity. He has turned that temple, whose attractions were inexhaustible, whose beauty was endless, into a desolation. (Nin-me-sharra 74-90)

Nanna, Ningal (Nanna’s wife), the Sun god Utu (the Sumerian equivalent of the name Shamash) and Ishtar/Inanna are mentioned together in a clay tablet discovered by Sir Leonard Woolley at Ur [13]. The text invokes these gods and goddesses as part of a curse:

Whether he be a king, an en priest, or an ordinary human being, may that man not get a name or beget any descendants. May the god Nanna, my lord, (and) the goddess Ningal, my lady, curse him, (and) may the god Utu and the goddess Inanna forever be its (the curse’s) evil spirit who cannot be countermanded. (Poem of Iddin-Dagan 32-41)

The composition “Inanna’s descent into underworld” was excavated at Nippur. It is dated to the first half of the second millennium (2000 – 1500 BCE). It mentions Ishtar/Inanna’s relation to her brother, the Sun god Shamash/Utu, through her husband, Dumuzid, who is Shamash/Utu’s brother in law:

Dumuzid let out a wail and turned very pale. The lad raised his hands to heaven, to Utu: “Utu, you are my brother-in-law. I am your relation by marriage. I brought butter to your mother’s house. I brought milk to Ningal’s house. Turn my hands into snake’s hands and turn my feet into snake’s feet, so I can escape my demons, let them not keep hold of me. (Inanna’s descent into underworld 368-375)

Based on these Sumerian writings, it’s possible to depict the relationship between the Sun, Moon, and Venus in a diagram:

Ancient relics depict Nanna/Sin/Suen as a crescent, Shamash/Utu as a solar disk and Ishtar/Inanna as an eight-pointed star as follows [14]:

Recent archaeological discoveries depict the special relationship between these deities. The “Kudurru of King Melishipak I”, discovered at Susa, shows the astral triad in full:

The “Kudurru of Nebuchadnezzar I”, discovered at Sippar, also shows the astral triad in full. Note the numerous Mesopotamian gods in segmented registers on the stone. We can see that the astral triad of the Sun. Moon, and Venus take their place at the top of the pantheon of gods, signifying their prominence:

The “Stele of Nabonidus”, discovered at Haran, also shows the astral triad in full:

The wide geographic distribution of these artefacts indicates that this astral triad of the Sun, Moon, and Venus was a prominent cult throughout the region.


The Qur’an informs us about some very specific details with regards to the idols that Abraham’s people worshipped:

And thus did We show Abraham the realm of the heavens and the earth that he would be among the certain [in faith]

So when the night covered him [with darkness], he saw a star. He said, “This is my lord.” But when it set, he said, “I like not those that disappear.”

And when he saw the moon rising, he said, “This is my lord.” But when it set, he said, “Unless my Lord guides me, I will surely be among the people gone astray.”

And when he saw the sun rising, he said, “This is my lord; this is greater.” But when it set, he said, “O my people, indeed I am free from what you associate with Allah.

Indeed, I have turned my face toward He who created the heavens and the earth, inclining toward truth, and I am not of those who associate others with Allah.” [Chapter 6, verses 75-79]

We can see from this story how Abraham debated with his people, explaining to them the error of their way in worshipping false gods. We can see the Qur’an draws our attention to their worship of the Sun, Moon and a third idol. Note the details provided about the third idol:

When the night grew dark over him he saw a star and said, ‘This is my Lord,’ but when it set, he said, ‘I do not like things that disappear…’

The word translated here as “star” is the Arabic word “kawkab”, which carries the meaning of celestial object and can be used to refer to a star or planet. Notice the words of the verse, “I like not those that disappear”. The Qur’an tells us that at the onset of nightfall this celestial object appeared for only a brief amount of time. This description of the third idol matches the characteristics of the goddess Ishtar/Inanna. One of her names was “the Evening Star” because she personified Venus, a planet that is visible for only a short amount of time in the evening just after sunset. We find support for this interpretation of Venus in the works of several classical scholars who wrote books explaining the meaning of the Qur’an. For example, the 14th century scholar Ismail ibn Kathir in his work Tafsir Ibn Kathir: “Abraham, may God’s peace and blessings be on him, first proved that Venus is not worthy of being worshipped…” Also the 15th century scholar Jalal ad-Din al-Mahalli in his work Tafsir al-Jalalayn: “When night descended, [when] it darkened, upon him he saw a star — said to have been Venus…”.

In summary, we can see that the Qur’an’s claims about the idolatry of Abraham’s people is accurate in light of what we know historically about the cult of the astral triad.


Historians typically date Abraham to 2100 BCE – 1550 BCE. His chronology is tied directly to the date of the Exodus of Moses. The two major proposals for the date of the Exodus are the 15th and 13th centuries BCE, hence the variation of the chronology of Abraham [15]. Knowledge of ancient Babylonian religion had been lost for thousands of years until their re-discovery and excavation starting in the 20th century. It was recorded at temple sites such as the famous “Ziggurat of Ur” in the city of Ur which was founded around 4000 BCE and was the capital of the Sumerian civilisation and once a great harbour city on the banks of the Euphrates River. The city started to decline from around 550 BC and was no longer inhabited after about 500 BC. Eventually the city fell into ruin and the area was buried beneath the desert sands [16]. The British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley conducted an excavation of the city of Ur in the early 20th century for the British Museum. He was forced to dig a vast hole over 40 feet deep to uncover the lowest levels of the city. His findings enabled scholars to trace the history of the city from its final days during the 4th century BCE back to its prehistoric beginnings. Before the 20th century, written history had told the world very little about Ur. Thanks to Woolley’s findings we now know much about everyday life, art, architecture, literature, government, and religion in what has come to be called “the cradle of civilization” [17]. Even the Sumerian language that these ancient artefacts were written in, was unknown. This language was spoken at the time of Abraham and continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary and scientific language in Mesopotamia until the first century CE [18]. Then it was forgotten until the mid-19th century, when Assyriologists such as George Smith (1840-1876 CE) and Henry Rawlinson (1810-1895 CE) began deciphering the excavated inscriptions and tablets and translated them into English.

In light of these facts, how could Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, have accessed such knowledge, given that he lived in the seventh century? We’ve seen that the historical claims that have been mentioned in the Qur’an about the deities worshipped by Abraham’s people – the triad of the Sun, Moon, and Venus – is remarkably accurate. The only sources about Abraham that would be readily available to Muhammad in the 7th century would have been the Bible-based stories and Jewish legends in circulation. If we examine the Bible, we find that it is silent on such details:

“Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods” [Joshua 24:2]

We can see that the story of Abraham in the Bible is silent on the details of the religious beliefs of his people. There is no mention of specific idols that were worshipped, they are simply referred to as “other gods”. Regarding the Jewish legends that pre-date the Qur’an, the Rabbi Louis Ginzberg identified six different versions of stories about Abraham that are similar to the Qur’anic narrative [19]. Although these bear some resemblance, they are in fact much more general in nature and they do not contain the same level of detail that is present in the Qur’an. For example one of the stories found in Jewish legend is that Abraham observed the sky in order to find a sign that would foretell the rains for the year. While doing so he had a spiritual experience:

And he was sitting alone making observations and a voice came into his heart saying, “All the signs of the stars and the signs of the sun and the moon are all under the Lord’s control. Why am I seeking [them out]?” If He wishes, He will make it rain morning and evening, and if He desires He will not make it fall, for everything under His control.” [20]

Notice that the Jewish legend only provides a general description of “stars”; it lacks the level of detail that is found in the Qur’an which, as we’ve seen, pinpoints the specific planet Venus. In another Jewish legend, Abraham mentions the elements of fire, water and earth alongside the Sun, Moon and stars as gods that are worshipped by his people:

“Behold, the fire is more worthy of honour than all things formed because even that which is not subjected is subjected unto it, and things easily perishable are mocked by its flames. But even more worthy of honour is the water, because it conquereth the fire and satisfieth the earth. But even it I do not call God, because it is subjected to the earth under which the water inclineth. But I call the earth much more worthy of honour, because it overpowereth the nature (and the fulness) of the water. Even it [the earth], however, I do not call God, [because] it, too, is dried up by the sun, [and] is apportioned to man to be tilled. [I call the sun more worthy of honour than the earth,] because it with its rays illumineth the whole world and the different atmospheres. [But] even it I do not call God, because at night and by clouds its course is obscured. Nor, again, do I call the moon or the stars God, because they also in their season obscure [their] light at night. [21]

Nowhere does the Qur’an mention that Abraham’s people worshipped the elements fire, water and earth. Now if the Qur’an were copying from Jewish legend, then it would have included the mention of these elements. We can see from these examples that Jewish legends were also not used as sources by Muhammad. Now, it’s important to point out that some of the deities did spread outside the region of Babylonia. For example, the goddess of Venus, Ishtar, was also worshipped in Arabia. However, she took on very different characteristics. She became the male deity Athtar, representing the god of thunderstorms, symbolised as an antelope. In Egypt she was Astarte, the goddess of war, symbolised by a horse and chariot. These incarnations are radically different to their Babylonian counterpart, Ishtar the evening star. We can see that Ishtar had a chameleon-like quality, her identity was constantly evolving with her attributes, symbolism and even gender differing from region to region. This would have made it difficult for Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, to accurately pinpoint her identity in the context of Abraham.


The Qur’an is filled with stories about past nations. It wants us to reflect on  history which facilitates humility and  discourages arrogance of one’s own civilisation. Power comes and goes, and we must be humble as we will not last forever. Another benefit of focusing on history is that we learn from the mistakes of others. We have seen how in discussing the story of Abraham, the Qur’an demonstrates an accurate insight into lost history. The Qur’an proclaims that it reveals knowledge of the unseen:

That is from the news of the unseen which We reveal to you, [O Muḥammad]. You knew it not, neither you nor your people before this [11:49]

The author of the Qur’an consistently demonstrates knowledge of the unseen, of different times and places in history. This is not a quality of human beings but rather God Almighty.

Learn more

To learn more about the miracles of the Qur’an you can order and download the free book “The Eternal Challenge: A Journey Through The Miraculous Qur’an” from the One Reason website (click on the image below):



1 – Sara Pizzimenti, The Astral Family in Kassite Kudurrus Reliefs, p. 151.

2 – Encyclopaedia Britannica, see entry for “Ur Ancient city Iraq”. Accessed 28th February 2016:


3 – Douglas Frayne, Old Babylonian Period (2003-1595 BC), p. 23.

4 – Sara Pizzimenti, The Astral Family in Kassite Kudurrus Reliefs, p. 152.

5 – Sara Pizzimenti, The Astral Family in Kassite Kudurrus Reliefs, p. 152.

6 – British Museum website. Go to online collection viewer and search for “Foundation figure Ur-Nammu”. Accessed 28th February 2016:


Alternatively the Ancient History Encyclopedia website. Search for “Foundation figure Ur-Nammu”. Accessed 28th February 2016:


7 – Sara Pizzimenti, The Astral Family in Kassite Kudurrus Reliefs, p. 152.

8 – Gods, Demons, and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary by Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, p. 134 (entry “Nanna-Suen”).

9 – Hallo, William W. and Van Dijk, J.J.A. (1968). The Exaltation of Inanna. Yale University Press. p. 3.

10 – D. Reisman, Iddin-Dagan’s Sacred Marriage Hymn, 1973, pp. 186 – 191.

11 – Encyclopaedia Britannica, see entry for “Nanna Mesopotamian god”. Accessed 28th February 2016:


12 – Krebernik, Manfred, In Reallexikon der Assyriologie und vorderasiatischen Archäologie vol. 8, pp. 361-369.

13 – Douglas Frayne, Old Babylonian Period (2003-1595 BC), p. 24.

14 – Sara Pizzimenti, The Astral Family in Kassite Kudurrus Reliefs, p. 153.

15 – William H Shea, The Date of the Exodus, p. 236.

16 – Ancient History Encyclopedia, see entry for “Ur”. Accessed 28th February 2016:


17 – Encyclopaedia Britannica, see entry for “Sir Leonard Woolley British archaeologist”. Accessed 28th February 2016:


18 – The A.K. Grayson, Penguin Encyclopedia of Ancient Civilizations, ed. Arthur Cotterell, Penguin Books Ltd. 1980. p. 92

19 – The Legends of the Jews, Louis Ginzberg, vol. v, p. 210, see footnote 16.

20 – Jubilees 12:16-17.

21 – Apocalypse of Abraham, chapter 7.

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  • October 28, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    jazakallah khair

  • October 28, 2014 at 7:39 pm
    Mustafa Nava

    Good to know about history

  • October 29, 2014 at 12:39 pm
    Myra Wood


    • November 3, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      Jazakun Allahu khairan. Allihamdullilah! Allah help us all in learning more about Islam, the religion of peace.

  • October 29, 2014 at 5:07 pm
    Saad Mansoor


  • October 29, 2014 at 5:34 pm
    Begum Nusrat

    Alhamdulillah….the Truth will establish itself gradually.Why should we not adopt it wholeheartedly.Jazakallah for the valuable information.

  • July 6, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Here is a good blog as well, maybe you can do something together because the brother discusses history and linguistics, also philosopy, http://quranic-musings.blogspot.com.au/

  • April 5, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    Asalam Alaykum…
    I read a few of the articles about this historical facts in the Quran on the website. I was just thinking though… aren’t all of these points working on the assumption that the Old and New Testament are the same as the ones we have today? But we know that both have been changed over time. So couldn’t someone claim: Well these things may have been in the Old/New testament at the time of Muhammad and that’s where he got it from. But since then both books have changed to how we have them now.

    Not saying there’s any proof for this, but wouldn’t it detract from the fact that it’s a definitely a miracle?

    • mm
      April 6, 2017 at 12:36 pm
      Many Prophets One Message

      Wa alaykum as-salaam wrwb,

      In a general sense, yes, we know that the Old and New Testaments have been changed over time. However, when the claim is made that the Qur’an copied a specific verse or set of verses from the Bible, then the burden of proof is on the claimant to bring forth evidence of these original verses from the Bible. We have Old Testament manuscripts that pre-date Jesus, e.g. the Dead Sea Scrolls, and they don’t contain any of the insights that the Qur’an has into Abraham. Unless evidence can be provided then it’s pure speculation.

      Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say that there was a version of the Old Testament at the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) which contained similar claims about Abraham that we find in the Qur’an. This doesn’t diminish the Qur’an in any way, as how did the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) know to copy only those parts of the Old Testament that are accurate and do not contain historical mistakes? There are many mistaken claims made in the Old Testament that the Qur’an does not copy, and even places where the Qur’an corrects the Bible: