The Haman Hoax
Who was Haman according to the Qur’an?
The name Haman occurs six times in the Qur'an (28:6, 8, 38; 29:39; 40:24, 36). What does the Qur’an say about the duties and the position of Haman, particularly about his relationship to Pharaoh and his position in the government of Egypt? The apologists for Islam, whose claims are examined in this series (starting here), have focussed only on the statements that connect him to building a tower for Pharaoh, but that does not do justice to the importance the Qur’an ascribes to Haman.
This Haman does not appear in the Bible, while he is mentioned six times in the Qur’an: sura 28, verses 6, 8 and 38; sura 29, verse 39; and sura 40, verses 24 and 36. He was very close to the Pharaoh who, boastful and mocking, said: “O Haman, build for me a tower that haply I may reach the roads... of the heavens and may look upon the God of Moses, though verily I think him a liar.” (sura 40, verses 36-37) Undoubtedly, Haman was a master of constructions. (Source)
Islamic Awareness cites S. 28:38 and 40:36-37 and then concludes:
The above ayahs portray Haman as someone close to Pharaoh, who was also in charge of building projects, otherwise the Pharaoh would have directed someone else. (Source)
Harun Yahya formulates it this way:
This discovery brought to light a truly astonishing fact. Haman was, contrary to what those who opposed the Qur'an claimed, really a man who had lived in Egypt during the Prophet Moses' (as) time and furthermore, just as stated in the Qur'an, he was close to the Pharaoh and dealt with construction of sorts.
As a matter of fact, the Qur'anic verse that conveys how the Pharaoh requested Haman to build a tower is in perfect unison with this archaeological finding: … (Source)
However, the Haman in the Qur’an is much more than “close to the Pharaoh” (in what capacity?) and somehow “involved in building projects”.
This is what the Qur’an says about Haman:
Lo! Pharaoh exalted himself in the earth and made its people castes. A tribe among them he oppressed, killing their sons and sparing their women. Lo! he was of those who work corruption. And We desired to show favour unto those who were oppressed in the earth, and to make them examples and to make them the inheritors, And to establish them in the earth, and to show Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts that which they feared from them. And We inspired the mother of Moses, saying: Suckle him and, when thou fearest for him, then cast him into the river and fear not nor grieve. Lo! We shall bring him back unto thee and shall make him (one) of Our messengers. And the family of Pharaoh took him up, that he might become for them an enemy and a sorrow, Lo! Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts were ever sinning. S. 28:4-8 Pickthall
Apart from singling out Haman as a sinner by name (S. 28:8, the Pharaoh is not mentioned by his personal name), the most important aspect in this passage is that the “hosts” of Egypt are twice said to be the hosts of Pharaoh and Haman. These two are in command. The Arabic term translated “hosts” is junood, meaning the soldiers, the military, or even the armies in the plural. Egypt was the economic and military superpower of the day. Haman cannot be thought of as being merely one of many advisors or ministers in Pharaoh’s imperial government. The fact that the armies of Egypt are their hosts, i.e. Pharoah’s and Haman’s hosts, can only be understood in the way that Haman was the second man of Egypt, whether we want to call him a proxy ruler, or the vizier or chancellor or prime minister of the Pharaoh. In any case, he must have had the authority over the military, perhaps holding the rank of the top general.
And verily We sent Moses with Our revelations and a clear warrant unto Pharaoh and Haman and Korah, but they said: A lying sorcerer! And when he brought them the Truth from Our presence, they said: Slay the sons of those who believe with him, and spare their women. But the plot of disbelievers is in naught but error. And Pharaoh said: Suffer me to kill Moses, and let him cry unto his Lord. Lo! I fear that he will alter your religion or that he will cause confusion in the land. S. 40:23-26 Pickthall
Moses was specifically sent to the Pharaoh and Haman (and Korah1), in that sequence. This is a further indication that Haman is understood to be the second in command / authority in Egypt.
Moreover, Haman’s counsel is asked for in the question of how Egypt should respond to the challenge of Moses’ message. At least initially, this has nothing to do with constructing a building. Haman’s opinion is relevant in the matter of a religious challenge to the state, i.e. in matters of state security, as a challenge of the religion of the state is also a challenge to the stability of the state (at least in the understanding of Islam). He is named as being responsible (together with Pharaoh and Korah) for recommending or even commanding genocide against the Israelites by killing their newborn boys. So, he is the top advisor of Pharaoh’s government, not just a military man.
Finally, Haman is connected with a building project in the Qur’an in these two passages:
And Pharaoh said: O chiefs! I know not that ye have a god other than me, so kindle for me (a fire), O Haman, to bake the mud; and set up for me a lofty tower in order that I may survey the God of Moses; and lo! I deem him of the liars. S. 28:38 Pickthall
And Pharaoh said: O Haman! Build for me a tower that haply I may reach the roads, The roads of the heavens, and may look upon the God of Moses, though verily I think him a liar. Thus was the evil that he did made fairseeming unto Pharaoh, and he was debarred from the (right) way. The plot of Pharaoh ended but in ruin. S. 40:36-37 Pickthall
After Pharaoh is confronted by Moses, and resists his message, he calls on Haman as a top government official to get a tower built. If these two passages had been the only ones to mention the name Haman, it would perhaps have been justified to conclude that this Haman may have been the “state secretary of public building” or “minister of construction” in the government of Pharaoh.
However, given the other passages and the duties and position mentioned there, this interpretation is unlikely. Haman clearly is more than that. He is Pharaoh’s right hand; he initiates or organizes whatever the Pharaoh wants to be done. Certainly, Haman would not personally “kindle the fire” (even though that is Pharaoh’s command to him) or “form the mud bricks” or “bake the mud” or “place brick upon brick” to build that tower. He would have had others to do that.2 Similarly, given the many vastly different tasks which Haman was involved in according to the Qur’an (top military duties, advisor on religious affairs and state security), he would not be the architect or overseer of the construction of this high tower, i.e. not the person who is present on the building site to oversee the work.3 He would initiate the building of the tower by giving the commands to the relevant construction companies, but Haman would continue to be in the presence of Pharaoh as his top advisor and official.
Giving Haman the title of a “master of construction” falls way short of his true role. Bucaille and the Muslim propagandists following his lead have not understood the Qur’an. Even the rank of a “minister of public building” would be diminishing his actual role according to the Quran.
When we recognize the importance of Haman in the Qur’an, it will be obvious that a person having merely a title like “overseer of the stone-masons of Amun” was certainly not the same person as the Haman of the Qur’an. In a grave inscription, the highest title and position achieved by the deceased would be used. This title and rank of the person whom Maurice Bucaille and certain Muslim missionaries and propagandists for Islam want to identify with the quranic Haman is far too low to be attributed to a person who reached the position that Haman held according to the Qur’an.
The description of Haman in the Qur’an looks much more like what is known of the Vizier Ramose at the time of Amenophis III and his successor Amenophis IV (see the article The tomb of Ramose). Ramose prepared a monumental grave for himself. The door post of Hemen-hetep (whom Muslims try to identify with the Haman of the Qur’an) is much shorter than what we see in the grave of Ramose, and it certainly belonged to a much smaller grave of a much less important person (cf. Appendix 3 presenting the full inscription on the door post from Hemen-hetep’s grave).
At first glance, among the six references to Haman in the Qur’an, S. 29:39 does not seem to contribute much to our understanding since it is merely a list of names of sinful people to whom Moses was sent. However, there is one detail that makes it not so irrelevant after all. S. 29:39-40 states:
And Korah, Pharaoh and Haman! Moses came unto them with clear proofs (of Allah's Sovereignty), but they were boastful in the land. And they were not winners (in the race). So We took each one in his sin; of them was he on whom We sent a hurricane, and of them was he who was overtaken by the (Awful) Cry, and of them was he whom We caused the earth to swallow, and of them was he whom We drowned. It was not for Allah to wrong them, but they wronged themselves. (Pickthall)
(Remember also) Qarun, Pharaoh, and Haman: there came to them Moses with Clear Signs, but they behaved with insolence on the earth; yet they could not overreach (Us). Each one of them We seized for his crime: of them, against some We sent a violent tornado (with showers of stones); some were caught by a (mighty) Blast; some We caused the earth to swallow up; and some We drowned (in the waters): It was not Allah Who injured (or oppressed) them: They injured (and oppressed) their own souls. (Yusuf Ali)
The quranic claim is that Haman (and Pharaoh and Korah) died a sudden violent death. However, there is no evidence that the person whom Bucaille and others want to identify with the Haman of the Qur’an died any kind of unusual death. The grave inscription4 consists of very common standard formulations that give no indication that anything unusual happened to the deceased.
Moreover, examining the Qur’an in detail, one can conclude that Haman must have become extremely old and still be the top government official (see A Pharaoh who forgot to die in time). Apart from the generic improbability, this stands in some tension to the above indicated violent death; and, again, there is no indication in this particular grave inscription that this person became unusually old.
Finally, there is an additional aspect about Pharaoh’s command to build a tower. The Qur’an nowhere says that Haman began or completed the construction of a tower for Pharaoh. This may be an indication that Pharaoh’s command for the construction of a tower should be taken metaphorically, i.e. building a lofty place to reach the skies stood for Pharaoh’s haughtiness and insolence. If the Pharaoh was not serious when he asked for the construction of a tower, then his command only indicates his arrogance and mockery of Moses’ claims.5 S. 28:39 strengthens this possibility.
Pharaoh said: "O Chiefs! no god do I know for you but myself: therefore, O Haman! light me a (kiln to bake bricks) out of clay, and build me a lofty palace, that I may mount up to the god of Moses: but as far as I am concerned, I think (Moses) is a liar!" And he was arrogant and insolent in the land, beyond reason, - He and his hosts: they thought that they would not have to return to Us! S. 28:38-39 Yusuf Ali
The verse after the command continues to speak only about the arrogance and injustice of Pharaoh (and Haman?) but there is not even a hint that this building project was actually begun. However, if that command was only a statement of mockery without a genuine intention to have that tower built in reality, then there is no longer any necessity to assume that Haman was in any way skilled or knowledgeable in regard to construction work. In that case, Pharaoh could have given such a mock command to any one of his people, and that person understood it was not serious, so that we have no longer any basis at all to conclude that “Haman was a master of constructions” (Maurice Bucaille), that he was “also in charge of building projects” (Islamic Awareness), or “dealt with construction of sorts” (Harun Yahya).
Further reading: The similarities between Haman in the Bible and Haman in the Qur’an
Why is Haman found in the quranic version of the Exodus story?
In my understanding, the Qur’an is not an accurate historical record of these events. Telling the truth needs no additional motivation, but if a story is wrong (whether fabricated or corrupted or confused), it is important to investigate also the question of how this confusion could have arisen or what could have been factors leading to this particular (re)arrangement of the story.
What are possible reasons for the inclusion of Haman in the story of Moses and Pharaoh?
As already mentioned in the introduction (*), it may well have been an important point of similarity between Pharaoh and Haman which led Muhammad to group these two villains together either due to ignorance and confusion or deliberately for some literary purpose which we do not yet fully understand.
Pharaoh and Haman were two of the most dangerous figures in the history of the Jews. Both of these men attempted genocide against the Israelites. Pharaoh gave the command to kill all male newborn babies (cf. Exodus 1) and Haman plotted to have all Jews killed who were living in exile in Persia (cf. Esther 3). Their common trait of both having tried to exterminate the Israelites could have created the occasion of Muhammad overhearing Jews referring to both of these two evil men “in the same breath”.
Then there are a couple of possible “literary” reasons to place (evil) Haman at the side of (evil) Pharaoh.
Haman serves as the (evil) equivalent or counter figure of the (good) chief named “Al-Aziz” in Surah 12, where we read the story of the (good) king of Egypt in the time of Joseph. (Interestingly, there is another contrasting element: the good chief Al-Aziz at the time of Moses has an evil wife making Joseph’s life difficult, while the evil Pharaoh at the time of Moses has a wife who believes in Moses and his message.)6
Haman may have been inserted into the Qur’an so as to sharpen the similarities and contrasts between Pharaoh and Moses. As Aaron (Harun in Arabic) was Moses’ assistant, Haman was placed at the side of Pharaoh as his assistant. Haman’s role is to support Pharaoh in the story whereas Aaron’s mission was to support Moses. As an additional bonus, the names Haman and Harun sound somewhat similar.
Further reading: Haman as the vizier of Pharaoh in Moses’ time
A detailed investitgation into the literary background and potential sources for the appearance of Haman in the Qur’an is presented by Masud Masihiyyen in the series “Esther’s Loss and Haman’s Time Travel” (Part 1A, Part 1B, Part 2).