The People of the Cave and the Inscriptions

Quran 18:9:

Or have you thought that the companions of the cave and the inscription were, among Our signs, a wonder?

The following excerpt is taken from “The Holy Quran in Today’s English” by Yahiya Emerick under the commentary of the above verse note # 1317:

Who were the Companions of the Cave?  Most of the classical commentators usually say this story refers to the Christian legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, and they take all the details from early Christian sources and repeat them. (Basically a group of Christian young men fled persecution from Roman pagans in approximately the year 250 CE and slept in a cave in some kind of a coma until sometime in the fifth century, when they awoke to find their religion was now the law of the land.)  Other commentators offer a whole host of supernatural “sleeper” events from Spain to Iraq, and they include convoluted and very suspect narratives culled from unreliable sources.  A handful of more discerning commentators suggest that this story is really about an earlier group of Jews who fled persecution under Roman rule, and this is what Ibn Kathir postulates in his commentary on verse 13.  Is there a possible identification for this earlier episode?  During the years 66-70 CE, a faction of puritanical Jews in Palestine rose up in revolt against the Roman occupation.  It was a foolish gamble, and the Jews were all but routed.  As the Romans were near achieving total victory, a group of these purists (sometimes known as Essenes and other times known as the renegade sons of the priest Zadok, who were banished by the Greek rulers of Jerusalem) fled to the desert and stowed their holy writings away in some caves at Qumran, even as they lived in them for a time.  This group, which labeled itself as the ‘Sons of Light’ or ‘Men of Holiness,’ was faithful to the Torah and refused to compromise with the assimilated rabbis of the cities who allowed elements of pagan superstition to seep into their religion.  This group of Jews remained apart from society for a number of years – completely isolated – and later left their caves and rejoined their countrymen when open persecution had ended.  The writings they left behind were discovered only in 1947 and are known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Those who favor the opinion that a group of these purists were the Companions of the Cave offer as evidence the fact that the challenge to the Prophet on this topic came from the Jews, who would seemingly have had no interest in maintaining or circulating Christian legends whose locus was hundreds of miles away in the Greek speaking Anatolian Peninsula.  In addition, the Arabic term ar-raqeem that is used here means ‘inscribed writings,’ which could be a reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written between 200 BCE and 68 CE.  (They have been called the most spectacular discovery of ancient manuscripts in history – perhaps a wondrous sign of God.)  For these reasons it just may be that the story in this chapter is referring to a righteous group of Jewish young men of a puritanical sect.  This view is further strengthened by this description of the Essenes (or the sons of Rabbi Zadok, who was a spiritual leader from David’s time) left by an early Church father named Hippolytus (d.  235).  He wrote, “These (purists) practice a more devotional life (than the Pharisees and Sadducees), being filled with mutual love…they turn away from every act of inordinate desire…they renounce matrimony, but they take the boys of others, (to raise as their own).  They lead these adoptive children into an observance of their own peculiar customs…they despise wealth, and do not turn away from sharing their goods with those that are destitute.  When an individual joins the sect he must sell his possessions and present the proceeds to the community…the head of the order distributes it to all (members) according to their needs.”  (As quoted in Vol. V of The Anti-Nicene Fathers, ed. by Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson.  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 1951.)  In this Qur’anic telling of the story, it is teenage boys, seemingly unconnected to any parents, who flee as a group.  They are deeply religious, an obvious sign of sustained indoctrination. indoctrination.  They take only coins with them, a sign of the habit of their sect to distribute coins to all members.  Finally, their leader freely distributes the coins to the one charged with finding food for them all.

Emerick, Yahiya. The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an in Today’s English (p. 827). Unknown. Kindle Edition.