Unmasking maskh: The transformation of jews into “apes, driven away” (qurʾĀn 7: 166) in near eastern context

Adam Silverstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This article seeks to contribute to our understanding of the Qurʾānic idea that a group of Jews were punished for desecrating the Sabbath by being turned into apes and driven-away (Qurʾān 7:166). First, I survey and engage critically with recent studies that treat this topic. Following this, I attempt to broaden the framework of enquiry considerably by showing that for Near Eastern monotheists on the eve of Islam, the divine transformation of sinners into “driven away animals” resonated loudly. A selection of Near Eastern materials that have not hitherto been drawn on in this context is introduced, including The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Prayer of Nabonidus, the Biblical Book of Daniel (both the Masoretic Text and Greek versions thereof), Midrashic of the Biblical Book of Esther, and Jacob of Serug's Homily on Daniel 4. Taken together, these sources allow us to demonstrate that on the eve of Islam, Jews and Christians were well aware of the idea that God can punish the disobedient by animalizing and banishing them. It is within this broad context that Qurʾān 7:166 is to be understood.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)177-216
Number of pages40
JournalJerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam
Issue number49
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Max Schloessinger Memorial Foundation, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. All rights reserved.


  • Animalization
  • Banishment
  • Daniel 4
  • Jews
  • Monkeys
  • Nebuchadnezzar
  • Qurʾān


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