Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 22

XXII.

THE PROPHET SALEH.

THE prophet Saleh was the son of Ad, son of Aram, son of Shem, and is not to be confused with Saleh, son of Arphaxad.

The Mussulmans say that he was sent to convert the Thamudites.

The Thamudites were in size and strength like their brethren the Adites, but they inhabited the rocks, which they dug out into spacious mansions. They had in the midst of their land an unfailing supply of sweet and limpid water. They were idolaters. Saleh came armed with the command of Allah to these men, and he preached to them that they should turn from the worship of stocks and stones to that of the living God who made them.

Now Saleh had been born among the Thamudites, but he had never been an idolater. When he was young, the natives of the land had laughed at him. and said, "He is young and inexperienced; when he is old, and has grown wiser, he will adore our gods."

When Saleh grew old, he forbade the Thamudites to worship idols, and he spoke to them of the true and only God.

But they said, "What miracle can you work, to prove that your mission is from God?"[1]

Then he said, "Oh, my people, a she-camel that shall come from God shall be to you for a sign. Let her go and eat on the earth, and do her no injury, that a terrible retribution fall not upon you."[2]

Now Saleh had asked them what miracle they desired, and they had answered, "Bring out of the rock a camel with red hair, and a colt of a camel also with red hair; let them eat grass, and we will believe."

Saleh said to them, "What you ask is easy," and he prayed.

Then the rock groaned and clave asunder, and there came out a she-camel with her foal, and their hair was red, and they began to eat grass.

Then the Thamudites exclaimed, "He is a magician!" and they would not believe in him.

The camel went to the perpetual fountain, and she drank it up, so that from that day forward from their spring they could get no water, and they suffered from thirst.

The Thamudites went to Saleh and said, "We need water!"

Saleh replied, "The fountain shall flow one day for you, and one day for the camel."

So it was agreed that the camel should drink alternate days with the people of the land, and that alternate days each should be without water whilst the other was drinking.

Then Saleh said, for he saw that the people hated the camel and her foal, "Beware that you slay not these animals, for the day that they perish, great shall be your punishment."

The she-camel lived thirty years among the Thamudites, but God revealed to Saleh that they were bent on slaying the camel, and he said, "The slayer will be a child with red hair and blue eyes."

Now the Thamudites ordered ten midwives to attend on the women in their confinement, and if a child were born with the signs indicated by the prophet, it was to be destroyed instantly.

Nine children had thus been killed, and the parents conceived a deadly animosity against Saleh the prophet, and formed a design to slay him.

One of the chiefs among the Thamudites had a son born to him with red hair and blue eyes, and the nurses would have destroyed it, but the nine men spake to the father of the child, and they banded together, and saved the infant.

Now when this child had attained the age of eleven, he became great and handsome; and each of the parents whose children had been put to death, when he saw him, said, "Such an one would have been my son, had not he been slain at the instigation of Saleh." And they combined to put the prophet to death. They said among themselves, "We will kill him outside the city, and returning, say we were elsewhere when he was murdered."

Having formed this project, they left the city and placed themselves under a rock, awaiting his exit from the gates. But God commanded the rock, and it fell and crushed them all.

Next day their corpses were recovered, but the Thamudites were very wroth, and said, "Saleh has slain our children, and now he slays our men;" and they added, "We will be revenged on his camel."

But no one could be found to undertake the execution of this deed, save the red-haired child. He went to the fountain where the camel was drinking, and with one kick he knocked her over, and with another kick he despatched her.

But the foal, seeing the fate of her mother, ran away, and the boy with the red hair and blue eyes ran after her.

Saleh, seeing what had taken place, cried, "The judgment of God is about to fall."

The people were frightened, and asked, "What shall we do?"

"The judgment of God will not fall as long as the colt remains among you."

Hearing this, the whole population went in pursuit of the young camel. Now it had fled to the mountain whence it had sprung, and the red-haired boy was close on its heels. And when the young camel heard the shouting of the inhabitants of the city, and saw the multitude in pursuit, it stood before the rock, turned round, uttered three piercing cries, and vanished.

The Thamudites arrived and beat the rock, but they could not open it. Then said Saleh, "The judgment of God will fall; prepare to receive it. The first day your faces will become livid, the second day they will become black, and the third day red."

Things happened as Saleh had predicted. And when the signs befel them which Saleh had foretold, they knew that their end was near. The first day they became ash pale, the second day coal black, and the third day red as fire, and then there came a sound from heaven, and all fell dead on the earth, save Saleh and those who believed in him; these heard the sound, but did not perish.

By the will of God, when the people were destroyed, one man was absent at Mecca; the name of this man was Abou-Ghalib. When he knew what had befallen his nation, he took up his residence in Mecca; but all the rest perished, as it is written in the Koran, "In the morning they were found dead in their houses, stretched upon the ground, as though they had never dwelt there."

From Saleh to Abraham there was no prophet. At the time of that patriarch there was no king over all the earth. The sovereignty had passed to Canaan, the son of Cush, the son of Ham, who was the son of Noah.[3]

The camel of the prophet Saleh was placed by Mohammed in the heavens, together with the ass of Balaam, and other favoured animals.

Now wonderful as is this story, it is surpassed by that related by certain Arabic historians of the mission of Saleh. This we proceed to give.

Djundu Ibn Omar was king of the Thamudites, a people numbering seventy thousand fighting men. He had a palace cut out of the face of a rock, and his high priest, Kanuch Ibn Abid, had one likewise. The most magnificent building in the city was a temple which contained the idol worshipped by the people. This idol had the head of a man, the neck of a bull, the body of a lion, and the feet of a horse. It was fashioned out of pure gold, and was studded with jewels.

One day, as Kanuch, the high priest, was worshipping in the temple, he fell asleep, and heard a voice cry, "The truth will appear, and the madness will pass away." He started to his feet in alarm, and saw the idol prostrate on the floor, and its crown had fallen from its head.

Kanuch cried out for assistance, and fled to the king, who sent men to set up the image, and replace on its head the crown that had fallen from it.

But doubt took possession of the heart of Kanuch; he no longer addressed the image in prayer, and his enthusiasm was at an end. The king observed this, and sent two vizirs with orders to imprison and execute him. But Allah struck the vizirs with blindness, and he sent two angels to transport Kanuch to a well-shaded grotto, well supplied with all that could content the heart of man.

As Kanuch was nowhere to be found, the king appointed his kinsman Davud to be high priest. But on the third day he came to the king to announce to him that the idol was again prostrate.

The monarch set it up once more, and Eblis, entering the image, spoke through its mouth, exhorting all men to beware of novel doctrines which were about to be introduced.

Next feast-day Davud was about to sacrifice two oxen to the idol, when one of them opened its mouth, and thus addressed him:—

"Will you sacrifice creatures endued with life by the living God to a mass of lifeless metal? O God, do Thou destroy this sinful nation!" And the oxen broke their halters, and ran away.

Horsemen were deputed to pursue and capture them, but they escaped, for Allah screened them.

But God in His mercy resolved to give the Thamudites another chance of repenting of their idolatry.

Raghwah, Kanuch's wife, had shed incessant tears since the disappearance of her husband. Allah dispatched a bird out of Paradise to guide her to the grotto of Kanuch.

This bird was a raven; its head was white as snow, its back was green as emerald. Its feet were purple; its beak of heaven's blue. Its eyes were gems; only its body was black, for this bird did not fall under the curse of Noah, as it was in Paradise.

It was midnight when the raven entered Raghwah's dark chamber, where she lay weeping on a carpet; but the glory of its eyes illumined the whole room, as though the sun had suddenly flashed into it. Raghwah rose from her place, and gazed in wonder on the lovely bird, which opened its beak and said, "Arise and follow me! God has seen thy tears, and will reunite thee to thy husband."

Raghwah followed the raven, which flew before her, and with the light of its eyes turned the night into day. The morning star had not risen, when they stood before Kanuch's grot. Then cried the raven, "Kanuch, open to thy wife!" and so vanished.

Nine months after that Raghwah had rejoined her husband, she bore him a son, who was the image of Seth, and had on his brow the prophetic light; and Kanuch, in the hope of drawing him to the knowledge of the true God and to a pious life, gave him the name of Saleh (The Blessed).

Not long after Saleh's birth, Kanuch died; and the raven of Paradise returned to the grotto to lead back Saleh to his own people.

Saleh grew in beauty and strength, to the admiration of his mother and all who saw him.

A war was being waged between the descendants of Ham and the Thamudites, and the latter had lost many battles and a large portion of their army, when Saleh suddenly appeared in the battle-field at the head of a few friends, and, by his personal heroism, turned the tide of victory, and routed the enemy.

This success drew upon him the gratitude and love of the people, but the envy of the king was kindled, and he sought the life of the young prophet. But as often as assassins were sent by the king to take his life, their arms shrivelled up, and were only restored at the intercession of Saleh. These circumstances tended to increase and confirm the number of his adherents, so that he was able to build a mosque, and occupy with worshippers of the true God one whole quarter of the city.

But one day the king surrounded the mosque with his troops, and threatened Saleh and his followers with death if they would not work a miracle to prove their worship to be the true one.

Saleh prayed, and instantly the leaves of the date-tree that stood before the mosque were transformed into serpents and scorpions, which fell over the king and his soldiers; whilst two doves, which dwelt on the terrace of the mosque, sang aloud, "Believe in Saleh, he is a prophet and messenger of God!"

But Saleh was moved with compassion when he saw the anguish of those who had been bitten by the scorpions and vipers, and he prayed to God, and the noxious reptiles were transformed back again into date-leaves, and those who had been stung were made whole. Nevertheless the king hardened his heart, and continued to worship false gods.

When Saleh saw the impenitence of the Thamudites, he besought God to destroy them; but an angel appeared to him in a cave, and sent him to sleep for twenty years.

When he woke he betook himself towards the mosque he had built, never doubting that he had slept but a single night. The mosque was gone, his friends and adherents were dead or dispersed, a few remained, but they were old, and he hardly recognized them. Falling into despair, the angel Gabriel came to him and said,—

"Thou wert hasty in desiring the destruction of this people, therefore God hath withdrawn from thy life twenty years, which He has taken from thee in sleep. Now He sends thee precious relics wherewith to establish thy mission, to wit, Adam's shirt, Abel's sandals, Seth's overcoat, Enoch's seal ring, Noah's sword, and Hud's staff."

Next day, as the king Djundu with his brother Schihab, and the priests and the princes of the people, formed a procession to an idol temple near the town, Saleh ran before the procession, entered the temple, and stood in the door.

"Who art thou?" asked the king in astonishment: for he did not recognize Saleh, so greatly had God changed him in his sleep of twenty years.

He answered: "I am Saleh, the messenger of the only God, who preached to you twenty years ago, and showed to you many signs and wonders, but you would not believe. And now once more I appear unto you to give you a proof of my mission. Ask what miracle I shall perform and it shall be done."

Then the king said, "Bring me here out of the rock a camel one hundred ells long, of every colour under the sun, whose eyes are like lightning, and whose feet are swifter than the wind."

Saleh consented. Then said Davud, "Let its fore feet be golden and its hinder feet silver, its head of emerald and its ears of ruby. Let it bear on its hump a tent of silver, woven with gold threads and adorned with pearls, resting on four pillars of diamonds!"

When Saleh agreed to this also, the king added, "And let it bring with it a foal like to its mother, just born, and running by her side; then will I believe in Allah, and in thee as His prophet."

"And wilt thou believe too?" asked Saleh of the high priest.

"Yes," answered Davud, "if she give milk without being milked, cold in summer and warm in winter."

"And one thing more," threw in the king's brother, Schihab; "the milk must heal the sick, enrich the poor, and the camel must of its own accord go into every house, and fill the pails with milk."

"Be it according to your will," said Saleh. "But I warn you,—no one must injure the camel, deprive it of its food or drink, attempt to ride it, or use it for any other kind of labour."

When they consented, Saleh prayed to God, and the earth opened under his feet, and a well of fragrant water gushed up, and poured over the rock, and the rock was rent, and the camel started forth in every particular such as the king and his high priest had desired. So they cried, "There is no God but God, and Saleh is His prophet."

Then the angel Gabriel came down from heaven, having in his hand a flaming sword, wherewith he touched the camel, and she bore instantly a foal like her parent.

Then the king fell on Saleh's neck, and kissed him and believed. But his brother Schihab and Davud attributed all that had been done to magic, and they laboured to convince the people that the camel was the work of necromancy.

But as daily the camel gave her milk, and, whenever she drank, said her grace with formality, the number of true believers increased daily, and the high priest and all the chiefs of the infidels resolved on her destruction. Schihab, the king's brother, hoping to overturn the king and take his place, by adhering to the established religion and ignoring all novelties, was resolute in his resistance to the true religion. Therefore he promised his daughter Rajan in marriage to whosoever should kill the wondrous camel.

Now there was a young man of humble origin, named Kaddar, who had long loved the maiden, but had never ventured to show his passion; he armed himself with a great sword and attacked the camel as it was drinking, in the rear, and wounded it in the hock.

Instantly all nature uttered a piercing cry. Then the youth, filled with compunction, ran to the top of a mountain, and cried, "God's curse on you, ye sinful people!"

Saleh betook himself with the king, who would not be separated from him, into the town, and demanded the punishment of Kaddar and his accomplices. But Schihab, who in the meantime had seized on the throne, threatened them with death, and Saleh, obliged to fly to save his life, had only time to speak this threat, "Three days are given you for repentance; after that ye shall be slain."

Next day every man's face was yellow as the leaves in autumn, and wherever the wounded camel limped a spring of blood bubbled out of the soil.

On the second day the faces of all were blood-red, and on the third they were coal-black.

Towards evening the camel spread a pair of scarlet wing's and flew away, and then mountains of fire were rained from heaven on the city, by the hands of angels; and the keepers of the fire beneath the earth opened vents, and blew fire from below in the form of flaming camels.

When the sun went down, all that remained of the Thamudites was a heap of ashes.

Saleh alone, and the king Djundu, were saved.[4]

  1. Koran, Sura xxvl. v. 153.
  2. Ibid xi. v. 67.
  3. Tabari, i. c. xlv.
  4. Weil, pp. 48-61; Abulfeda, p. 21.