Was Haman an Egyptian or a Persian?

Haman is portrayed as a close aide of the Pharaoh in the Qur’an. Below are the relevant verses:

ونمكن لهم في الارض ونري فرعون وهامان وجنودهما منهم ماكانوا يحذرون

And establish them in the land and show Pharaoh and [his minister] Haman and their soldiers through them that which they had feared. [Q.28:6]

فَالْتَقَطَهُ ءَالُ فِرْعَوْنَ لِيَكُونَ لَهُمْ عَدُوّاً وَحَزَناً إِنَّ فِرْعَوْنَ وَهَـمَـنَ وَجُنُودَهُمَا كَانُواْ خَـطِئِينَ

And the family of Pharaoh picked him up [out of the river] so that he would become to them an enemy and a [cause of] grief. Indeed, Pharaoh and Haman and their soldiers were deliberate sinners. [Q.28:8]

وَقَالَ فِرْعَوْنُ يأَيُّهَا الْملأ مَا عَلِمْتُ لَكُمْ مِّنْ إِلَـهٍ غَيْرِى فَأَوْقِدْ لِى يَهَـمَـنُ عَلَى الطِّينِ فَاجْعَل لِّى صَرْحاً لَّعَلِّى أَطَّلِعُ إِلَى إِلَـهِ مُوسَى وَإِنِّى لأَظُنُّهُ مِنَ الْكَـذِبِينَ

And Pharaoh said, “O eminent ones, I have not known you to have a god other than me. Then ignite for me, O Haman, [a fire] upon the clay and make for me a tower that I may look at the God of Moses. And indeed, I do think he is among the liars.” [Q.28:38]

وَقَـرُونَ وَفِرْعَوْنَ وَهَـمَـنَ وَلَقَدْ جَآءَهُمْ مُّوسَى بِالْبَيِّنَـتِ فَاسْتَكْبَرُواْ فِى الاٌّرْضِ وَمَا كَانُواْ سَـبِقِينَ

And [I destroyed] Qarūn and Pharaoh and Haman. And Moses had already come to them with clear evidences, and they were arrogant in the land, but they were not outrunners [of My punishment]. [Q.29:39]

إِلَى فِرْعَوْنَ وَهَـمَـنَ وَقَـشرُونَ فَقَالُواْ سَـحِرٌ كَـذَّابٌ

Q.40:24: To Pharaoh, Haman and Qarūn; but they said, “[He is] a magician and a liar.”

وَقَالَ فَرْعَوْنُ يهَـمَـنُ ابْنِ لِى صَرْحاً لَّعَـلِّى أَبْلُغُ الاٌّسْبَـبَ

And Pharaoh said, “O Haman, construct for me a tower that I might reach the ways [Q.40:36]

The Bible in the Book of Esther (usually dated to the 4th century BCE) declares Haman to be an aide to the Persian king many centuries later whereas the Qur’an states that Haman was an aide to the Pharaoh in Egypt.

There are a number of possibilities here:

  • Assuming that the Bible is correct and is an actual work of history

With this assumption, we would have two further sub-possibilities. One is as eloquently summarized by Muhammad Asad in his commentary of the Qur’an:

This Haman, who is mentioned several times in the Qur’an as Pharaoh’s chief adviser, is not to be confused with the Persian Haman of the Old Testament (The Book of Esther iii ff.). Most probably, the word “Haman” as used in the Qur’an is not a proper name at all but the Arabicized echo of the compound designation Ha-Amen given to every high priest of the Egyptian god Amon. Since at the time in question the cult of Amon was paramount in Egypt, his high priest held a rank second only to that of the reigning Pharaoh. The assumption that the person spoken of in the Qur’an as Haman was indeed the high priest of the cult of Amon is strengthened by Pharaoh’s demand (mentioned in verse 38 of this surah as well as in 40:36-37) that Haman erect for him “a lofty tower” from which he could “have a look at [or “ascend to”] the god of Moses”: which may be, among other things, an allusion to the hieratic purpose of the great pyramids of Egypt and to the function of the high priest as their chief architect.

The other possibility is that both the Haman are two different people in two different eras and that there is neither mix-up nor contradiction. One may ask how this is possible – here is how:

Book of Esther describes Haman as Agagite. Biblical scholars are divided over what this may actually mean with some going with the idea that Haman was a literal descendant of Agag, king of Amalekites while others opting for a figurative approach.

In order to understand better, we would need to understand who the Amalekites are. Amalek appears in the genealogy of Esau (Gen. 36:12; 1 Chr. 1:36) who was the chief of an Edomite tribe (Gen. 36:16).

Now we need to understand the identities of both Amalekites and Edomites. Biblical narratives are detailed on this and it is very easy for one to confuse them. They state that Amalekites were existent at the time of Abraham (Genesis 14:7) while they also state (Genesis 36) that the grandson of Esau (who was the grandson of Abraham) was named Amalek. This Amalek, grandson of Esau, is different from the Amalekites already existent much before.

Now coming to Edomites, we know that they are the descendants of Esau; hence, every later Amalekite would be an Edomite but not every Edomite would be a later Amalekite. By later Amalekite I mean the descendants of Amalek, the grandson of Esau.

Amalekites are different from the Canaanites (Numbers 14:45), Moabites (Judges 3:13) and the Midianites (Judges 6:3). Since Amalekites are different from the Canaanites, they cannot be from present-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine/Israel. Hence, if we eliminate these possibilities, we come to the conclusion that Amalekites were people residing in or around Egypt and the most likely candidates would be the Berber tribes.

Edomites, from Biblical sources, are known as nomadic tribes in or around Egypt (Deuteronomy 25:17–19) while some sources consider them Palestinian. What may be possible is that the original Amalekites, before the time of Abraham, may be the Berber tribes while the later Amalekites may be the original inhabitants of Palestine.

Some Muslim historians state that the Amalekites who fought Joshua were descendants of the inhabitants of North Africa. Hence, the Biblical Haman, in Persia, was a descendant of either a Palestinian or a Berber/North African.

The Haman, mentioned in the Qur’an, may have been a Berber and there are evidences of Berber Pharaohs and high ranking officials such as Input II, Osorkon III, and General Wendjebauendjed among others. Ancient Egyptians were a nation of many ethnic groups and if the Biblical narrative is to be relied upon, the Qur’anic Haman may have been a Berber and there may have been another Haman, descended from him or his people, much later in Persia.

  • Going with the view that the Biblical narratives are not facts but more of historical novella

The first stance reconciles between the Islamic and the Biblical narratives whereas this position dismisses the Biblical narrative as historical novella which could have confused some events.

Scholars question the historicity of the book of Esther [*]. According to many sources, it is a historical novella, written to explain the origin of the Jewish holiday of Purim.

In her article “The Book of Esther and Ancient Storytelling”, biblical scholar Adele Berlin discusses the reasoning behind scholarly concern about the historicity of Esther. Much of this debate relates to the importance of distinguishing history and fiction within biblical texts, as Berlin argues, in order to gain a more accurate understanding of the history of the Israelite people. Berlin quotes a series of scholars who suggest that the author of Esther did not mean for the book to be considered as a historical writing, but intentionally wrote it to be a historical novella. The genre of novellas under which Esther falls was common during both the Persian and Hellenistic periods to which scholars have dated the book of Esther. [*]

According to Biblical scholars, considerable historical inaccuracies remain throughout the text, supporting the view that the book of Esther is to be read as a historical novella which tells a story describing historical events but is not necessarily historical fact.

If this is so, then the Jewish writers may have confused and copied this name from Egypt to their narratives surrounding Persia.

Map

The Biblical narrative so casually transferred a man from the North African region to thousands of miles to the east and casually placed a person of Berber/Palestinian descent in Persia without bothering to explain the oddity. The old times were not similar to modern ones and a Berber or a Palestinian in Persia would most certainly have been an oddity; however, this oddity is casual in the Biblical narrative. On the other hand, the Qur’an places the man in the right location.

Whatever the case may be, we know for sure that the close aide of Pharaoh was Haman and there is nothing that contradicts this.

Related reading: Biblical Haman » Qur’ānic Hāmān: A Case Of Straightforward Literary Transition?

Allah knows best.

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2 thoughts on “Was Haman an Egyptian or a Persian?

  1. as-salamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu, I really appreciate your articles, brother. Please don’t stop writing articles. I also would be very happy, if I could contact you…

    Recently, there is a claim made by islamophobes concerning Hadiths, in which the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) orders Hassan bin Thabit to “lampoon” the poets. They claim that this shows that Islam allows insulting others. I would be happy if you could clarify this, but really just if you want to…

    May Allah grant you Paradise, my dear brother.

    • Wa’alaykumusSalaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu,

      I’m at your service and haven’t stopped writing. If you require anything specific to be written, you may leave a comment (in the about section) or email me (email provided there as well).

      I’ll write on your request and publish it shortly in-sha-Allah.

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