Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 21

XXI.

THE PROPHET EBER.

"Unto Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born.

"The children of Shem;—Elam, and Asshur, and Arphaxad, and Lud, and Aram.

"And the children of Aram;—Uz, and Hul, and Gether, and Mash.

"And Arphaxad begat Salah; and Salah begat Eber."[1]

According to some Mussulman writers, Oudh (Lud), the son of Shem, had a son named Ad; but, according to others, Ad was the son of Aram, son of Shem.

The tribes of Ad and Thamud lived near one another in the desert of Hedjaz, in the south of Arabia. The land of the people of Ad was nearer Mecca than the valley of Hidjr, and the valley of Hidjr is situated at the extremity of the desert on the road to Syria.

Never in all the world were there such great and mighty men as the Adites. Each of them was twelve cubits high, and they were so strong that if any of them stamped on the ground he sank up to his knees.

The Adites raised great monuments in the land which they inhabited. Wherever these Cyclopean edifices exist, they are called by the Arabs the constructions of the Adites.

God ordered the prophet Hud (Eber) to go to the Adites and preach to them the One true God, and turn them from idolatry. But the Adites would not hearken to his words, and when he offered them the promises of God, they said, "What better dwellings can He give us than those which we have made?" And when he spoke to them of God's threatenings, they mocked and said, "Who can resist us who are so strong?"

For fifty years did the prophet Hud speak to the Adites, and their reply to his exhortations is preserved in the Koran, "O Hud, you produce no evidence of what you advance; we will not abandon our gods because of your preaching. We mistrust your mission. We believe that one of our gods bears a hatred against you."

Hud replied, "I take God to witness, and you also be witnesses, that I am innocent of your polytheism."[2]

The words of the Adites, "We believe that one of our gods bears a hatred against thee," signified that they believed one of their gods had driven him mad.

During the fifty years that Hud's mission lasted, the Adites believed neither in God nor in the prophet, with the exception of a very few, who believed in secret.

At the end of that time God withheld the rain from heaven, and afflicted the Adites with drought. All the cattle of Ad died, and the Adites fainted for lack of water. For three years no rain fell.

Hud said to the Adites, "Believe in God, and He will give you rain."

They replied, "Thou art mad." But they chose three men to send to Mecca with victims; for the infidels believe in the sanctity of Mecca, though they believe not in the One true God.

But Eber said, "Your sacrifices will be unavailing, unless you first believe."

The three deputies started for Mecca with many camels, oxen, and sheep, as sacrifices. And when they reached Mecca they made friends with the inhabitants of that city, and were received with hospitality. They passed their days and nights in eating and drinking wine, and in their drunkenness they forgot their people, and the mission on which they had been sent. The inhabitants of Mecca ordered musicians to sing the afflictions of the Adites, to recall to the envoys the purpose of their visit. Then Lokman and Morthed, two of the deputies, declared to Qaïl, the third, that they believed in Allah; and they added, "If our people had believed the words of the prophet Hud, they would not have suffered from drought," and Lokman and Morthed were not drunk when they said these words.

Qaïl replied, "You do not partake in the affliction of our nation. I will go myself and will offer the victims."

He went and led the beasts to the top of a mountain to sacrifice them, and turning his face to heaven, he said, "O God of heaven, hearken unto my prayer, and send rain on my poor afflicted people."

Instantly there appeared three clouds in the blue sky: one was red, one was black, the third was white; and a voice issued from the clouds, saying, "Choose which shall descend upon thy people."

Then Qaïl said within himself, "The white cloud, if it hung all day over my nation, would not burst in rain; the red cloud, if it hung over them night and day, would not drop a shower; but the black cloud is heavy with water." So he chose the black cloud.

And a voice cried, "It is gone to fall upon thy people."

Qaïl returned full of joy, thinking he had obtained rain; but that cloud was big with the judgments of God. Qaïl told what he had done to his companions, Lokman and Morthed, but they laughed at him.

Now the cloud, when it arrived over the land of Ad, was accompanied by a wind. And the Adites looked up rejoicing, and cried, "The rain, the rain is coming!"

Then the cloud gaped, and a dry whirlwind rolled out from it, and swept up all the cattle that were in the land, and raised them in the air, spun them about, and dashed them lifeless on the ground.

But the Adites said, "Fear not; first comes wind, then comes rain." And they rushed out of their houses into the fields. Hud thought they were coming forth to ask his assistance; but they sought him not. Then the whirlwind caught them up and cast them down again. Now each of these men was like a palm-tree in stature, and they lay shattered and lifeless on the sand.

Hud was saved, along with those who had believed his word.

Now when the envoys at Mecca heard what had befallen their people, they went all three to the summit of the mountain, and Lokman and Morthed said to Qaïl, "Believe." But he answered, raising his face and hands to heaven: "O God of heaven, if thou hast destroyed my people, slay me also."

Then the whirlwind came, and rushed on him, and caught him up and cast him down, and he was dead.

But Lokman and Morthed offered their sacrifice, and a voice from heaven said, "What is your petition?"

Lokman answered: "O Lord, grant me a long life, that I may outlive seven vultures." Now a vulture is the longest-lived of all birds; it lives five hundred years.

And the voice replied, "However long thy life may be, death will close it."

Lokman said, "I know; that is true."

Then his prayer was granted. And Lokman took a young vulture and fed it for five hundred years, and it died; then he took a second, and at the expiration of five hundred years it died also; and so on till he had reached the age of three thousand five hundred years, and then he died also.

Morthed made his request, and it was, "O Lord, give me wheat bread," for hitherto in Ad he had eaten only barley bread. So Allah gave Morthed so much wheat, that he was able to make bread thereof all the rest of his life.

Hud lived fifty years with the faithful who had received his doctrine, and his life in all was one hundred and fifty years. The prophet Saleh appeared five hundred years after Hud; he was sent to the Thamudites.[3]

But there is another version of the story given by Weil.

Hud promised Schaddad, king of the Adites, a glorious city in the heavens, if he would turn to the true God. But the king said, "I need no other city than that I have built. My palace rests on a thousand pillars of rubies and emeralds; the streets and walls are of gold, and pearl, and carbuncle, and topaz; and each pillar in my house is a hundred ells long."

Then, at Hud's word, God let the city and palace of Schaddad fade away like a dream of the night, and storm and rain descended, and night fell, and the king was without home in the desert.[4]

Of Lokman we must relate something more. He was a great prophet; some say he was nephew of Job, whose sister was his mother; others relate that he was the son of Beor, the son of Nahor, the son of Terah.

One day, whilst he was reposing in the heat of the day, the angels entered his room and saluted him, but did not show themselves. Lokman heard their voices, but saw not their persons. Then the angels said to him,—

"We are messengers of God, thy Creator and ours; He has sent us unto thee to announce to thee that thou shalt be a great monarch."

Lokman replied, "If God desires what you say, His will can accomplish all things, and doubtless He will give me what is necessary for executing my duty in that position in which He will place me. But if He would suffer me to choose a state of life, I should prefer that in which I now am,"—now Lokman was a slave,—"and above all would I ask Him to enable me never to offend Him; without which all earthly grandeur would be to me a burden."

This reply of Lokman was so pleasing to Allah, that He gave him the gift of wisdom to such a degree of excellence, that he became capable of instructing all men; and this he did by means of a great multitude of maxims, sentences, and parables to the number of ten thousand, each of which is more valuable than the whole world.[5]

When Lokman did not know anything with which others were acquainted, he held his tongue, and did not ask questions and thus divulge his ignorance.

As he lived to a great age, he was alive in the days of King David. Now David made a coat of mail, and showed it to Lokman. The sage had seen nothing like it before, and did not know what purpose it was to serve, but he looked knowing and nodded his head. Presently David put the armour upon him, and marched, and said, "It is serviceable in war." Then Lokman understood its object; so his mouth became unsealed and he talked about it.

Lokman used to say, "Silence is wisdom, but few practise it."[6]

Thalebi relates, in his Commentary on the Koran, that Lokman was a slave, and that having been sent along with other slaves into the country to gather fruit, his fellow-slaves ate them, and charged Lokman with having done so. Lokman, to justify himself, said to his master, "Let every one of us slaves be given warm water to drink, and you will soon see who has been the thief."

The expedient succeeded; the slaves who had eaten the fruit vomited it, and Lokman threw up only warm water.

The same story precisely is told of Æsop.

Lokman is always spoken of as black, with thick lips. He is regarded by the Arabs much as is Bidpay by the Indians, and Æsop by the Europeans, as the Father of Fable.

  1. Gen. x. 21-24.
  2. Koran, Sura xi. verse 57.
  3. Tabari, i. c. xliv.; Abulfeda, Hist. Ante Islamica, pp. 19-21.
  4. Weil, pp. 47, 48.
  5. Herbelot, Biblioth. Orientale, s. v, Lokman.
  6. Tabari, i. p. 432.