Journeys in Holy Lands: The Evolution of the Abraham-Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis

By Reuven Firestone | Go to book overview
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Chapter 6

BEERSHEBA

The Beersheba story is a minor tale that parallels the story of Genesis 21:25-31 and occurs only five times in our sources. Because it has no direct connection to any qur'ānic reference, it is not played out in the Qur'ān commentaries and occurs in only half of the histories or story collections that cover Abraham's adventures in Syria. 1 Four renditions consist of full narratives. Ibn Sa'd gives another in the form of a simple reference: 2 "Abraham returned to Syria and stayed at Saba', a land in the vicinity of Jerusalem 3 and Palestine. There he dug a well and built a place of prayer (masjid). But some of the inhabitants wronged him so he withdrew from them and settled in a place between Ramle and Jerusalem."

The narrative renditions of al-Ṭabarī, al-Tha'labī, and Ibn al-Athīr are identical in all essentials. That of Mujīr al-Dīn follows the same plot but adds more detail. None of the renditions are attributed to any traditionist or carry a chain of authorities (isnād).

According to the legend, Abraham settles in al-Saba', which is in the land of Palestine. He digs a well there, builds a place of prayer, and finds the water of the well is good and pure. But the people of al-Saba' wrong him in some unspecified manner, so he leaves them and moves to Qit or Qat, also in Palestine.

As soon as Abraham departs, the water of the well dries up. The residents of al-Saba' pursue him and repent of their wrong, asking him to return and live with them again, but Abraham refuses and notes that he will not return to a place from which he was expelled. The people then complain that the well has gone dry. Abraham thereupon takes seven goats and gives them to the people, explaining that when the seven goats are brought to the well, plenty of fresh water will appear for them and everyone will be able to use it. But they must not allow any menstruating woman to draw near or ladle water from the well.

The people do as Abraham instructs them, and abundant water appears when the goats are brough near. The system works well until a menstruating

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