There are strong parallels between the popular description of Muḥammad’s first revelation in the Sīra of Ibn Isḥāq and a depiction of a seventh-century Northumbrian monk Cædmon in the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum by Bede Venerabilis. There has been some debate about whether these parallels are more or less coincidental, but very good arguments for a relation between the two texts have been put forward. This article adds to this line of research by providing a concrete model of how a Middle Eastern Vorlage might have traveled to Bede Venerabilis. It is argued that the archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus (d. 690), played a key role in this transfer. His biography puts into focus the transposition of Greek-Palestinian and -Egyptian monk congregations including relics and texts to Italy and especially Rome during the seventh century. The relevance of the surviving texts from the school of Canterbury for the study of seventh-century Middle Eastern history is then further illustrated with a version of the so-called legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesos recorded in Theodore’s biblical exegesis. Theodore’s specific version of that legend overlaps significantly with the version contained in the Qurʾān in Sura 18 (al-Kahf, “The cave”). It has always been clear that Sūrat al-Kahf refers to the Christian Seven Sleepers legend. However, since all other hitherto known versions of the story differed significantly from the Qurʾān version, the connection between the versions was usually imagined within a model of “oral transmission.” The version recorded from Theodore’s seventh century teaching sessions now allow us to draw a more nuanced picture in which this specific version of the legend can be situated in seventh-century Palestine. Possibly it was linked to the veneration of Lot in that region, drawing a parallel between Lot’s wife, who had supposedly been transformed into a pillar of salt, but was apparently thought to not have died, and the unnaturally long sleep of the Seven Sleepers over centuries.
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