Sunday, November 14, 2004

MORE ON DHUL QARNAYN (and Moses' horns make a cameo appearance):
WORD FOR WORD: Zulqarnain � Alexander or Cyrus? �Khaled Ahmed (Pakistan Daily Times)

Alexander is a curious word. The �ander� part in it means �man� and comes from �aner� through a grammatical change. We know that �nar� in Persian and Sanskrit means �man�. Name Andrew means �manly�. Alexander means �he who saves men�. Alex is a negative of �leg� meaning �to join�. Root �lg� appears in �lex� (law) and �religion�

We all believe that there was once a good king called Zulqarnain whom Allah made powerful on earth. The Quran says (18:83-94) he travelled to where he sun set in a muddy well, after which he went east where the sun rises. He then went north where he built a wall to protect the world against Yajuj-Majuj or Gog and Magog.

Zulqarnian is another transliteration of Arabic dhul qarnayn. They are the same phrase, which means "one (masc. sing.) who possesses two horns".

Zulqarnain means man with two horns. Although old tradition says Moses had two horns, Muslims have largely identified him with Alexander the Great. In Rome, the statue of Moses has two horns.


Archaeological discovery showed that Cyrus was the great king who rescued the Jews from their exile in Babylon. The king with two horns is mentioned by prophet Daniel. He wore the two horns to indicate his control of two countries: Pars and Medea.

But Alexander was the "he-goat from the west" in this vision. I take it that Khaled Ahmed is proposing that the Qur'an means Cyrus here, which I suppose is possible. I don't know whether there is any precedent for this idea in the early Muslim commentators. The "ram with two horns" is interpreted in Daniel 8:20 as follows: "As for the ram which you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia," so the original meaning is clearly the Persian Empire rather than a specific king.

A bit later we read:
The �qrn� root is curious. It appears in Greek as �kr� and in Latin as �krn�, which makes me think that it is one and the same thing. The origin of the word must be Syriac from where many words have radiated to the Semitic and Indo-European group of languages.

Greek �kr� became �sr� since Latin had no �k� sound. So we have rhinoceros meaning horn on the nose. The mythical horse unicorn has one horn because corn here means horn. (Note the transformation of Latin corn into horn in English.)

This is a little confused. The Greek word for horn is keras and rhinoceros is a Greek derivative meaning "horned-nose." What Ahmed means to say, I think, is that the Greek word was adopted into Latin (whose "c" was pronounced as "k" in antiquity), but the Latin "c" is generally pronounces as "s" in English. Hence the pronunciation "rhinoseros" rather than "rhinokeros." [Note: I have corrected the Greek word for "horn," for which I gave the wrong form originally.]

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