Was the Quran copied from other sources?
During the time of Muhammad, lots of stories were circulating in Arabia. Some of these stories were true and some were false. Historians can often separate true stories from false stories by examining the evidence. They use the Historical Method. They ask what are our earliest sources for this story, do we have multiple sources or just one, how reliable are these sources, things like that. But Muhammad didn’t know anything about historical investigation and so he just couldn’t tell the difference between true stories and false stories. Let me give you a few examples to show you what I mean.
In Surah 18 Allah tells us that Alexander the Great traveled so far west, he found the place where the sun sets. Not only can I guarantee you that Alexander the Great never found the place where the sun sets, we know that this story was a popular story during Muhammad’s lifetime. The story was even circulating in a Syriac work titled the Glorious Deeds of Alexander towards the end of Muhammad’s life.
Earlier in Surah 18, we read about the companions of the cave, a group of people who supposedly went to sleep in a cave and woke up 300 years later. This myth goes back to Bishop Steven of Ephesus around the middle of the 5th Century. According to Surah 19, Jesus began preaching as soon as he came out of Mary’s womb. The story comes from the 6th Century Arabic infancy gospel. The story of a bird teaching Cain how to bury his brother in Surah 5 comes from Mishnah Sanhedrin. The legend of Mary giving birth under a palm tree in Surah 19 comes from an apocryphal work called The History of the Nativity of Mary and the Savior’s Infancy written in the early 600s. The account of Jesus giving life to clay birds in Surah 5 comes from a second century work called the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.
Seems that Muhammad simply took the stories that were popular during his lifetime, gave them an Islamic twist and included them in the Quran. What’s interesting is that even the pagans of Mecca were better at recognizing fiction than Muhammad was. Surah 6:25 of the Quran says “When they come to you to argue with you, the unbelievers say these are nothing but fables of the men of old…” So according to the Quran itself, pagans were telling Muhammad that the stories in the Quran were known fables. They were myths, they were fairy tales.