al-Harith bin Kalada - a response to Hamza Tzortzis article published on Islamic Papers

Al-Harith bin KaladahAn analysis of Hamza Tzortzis’ refutation of the suggestion that  al-Harith bin Kalada was the source of the Prophet’s medical knowledge
The similarities between ancient Greek theories concerning the various stages of the developing human embryo and what we read in the Qur’an are very striking. (see here for details) It has led many to suggest that this is further evidence that Mohammad, rather than God/Allah, was the author of the Qur’an and to look for ways in which he might have encountered these theories. It is not surprising, then, that the famous centre of learning at Gundishapur in ancient Persia has been put forward as one of the possible sources, since there is convincing evidence to suggest that the learning of the ancient Hellenes was translated, transmitted and discussed there, where coincidentally one of Mohammad’s most trusted followers also studied.
Hamza starts his refutation of this theory thus: some historians and commentators believe the Prophet Muhammad plagiarised Aristotle’s and Galen’s accounts of the developing human embryo via bin Kalada, and sought medical advice from him.[3] This is unfounded for various reasons. He continues: Claiming the Prophet sought medical advice from bin Kalada neither implies nor stipulates the fact that he copied bin Kalada’s work. The onus of proof is on the one who is making the claim. From a historical perspective there is no direct and explicit evidence that indicates the Prophet manufactured his views on embryology via bin Kalada.
Surely if Mohammad’s close companion is known to have studied at Gundishapur where Greek theories about embryology were discussed, and then those same theories appear in the Qur’an, it does indicate at least a connection and one worth considering as a possible source.
Hamza’s next point is dubious to say the least. Early historical sources on the Prophet’s life illustrate and emphasise the integrity of his character. He was not a liar and to assert as much is indefensible. The presumption that he copied bin Kalada, while maintaining the Qur’an to be the word of God, is therefore inconceivable. He was known even by the enemies to his message as the “Trustworthy”. [..]The Prophet rejected all worldly aspirations […]he rejected riches and power.
Hamza is right in his assertion that there is much evidence to suggest that Mohammad was regarded as honest in his dealings with others and this may indeed make it less likely than otherwise that he should have copied Greek theories, but it certainly does not make it “inconceivable”.  Many apparently honest and trustworthy men have been tempted to behave disgracefully throughout history – why should Mohammad be any different? And to suggest that the Prophet rejected riches and power contradicts huge swathes of evidence from the ahadith and Qur’an itself: “Soon will your Lord give you so much you shall be well pleased.... Did He not find you poor and made you rich?" 93:4...
The next point in Hamza’s refutation seems at first glance more difficult to counter:  the existence of such a school (Gundishapur) has recently been questioned by a number of leading historians. He goes on to quote from David C Lindberg’s book, The Beginnings of Western Science: We have no persuasive evidence for the existence of a medical school or a hospital at Gondeshapur, although, there seems to have been a theological school and perhaps an attached infirmary. No doubt Gondeshapur was the scene of serious intellectual endeavour and a certain amount of medical practice. So the scale and nature of the school at Gundishapur is being questioned, but not its existence. It was, to quote Hamza’s own evidence, “the scene of serious intellectual endeavour”. Hamza then goes on to quote from Roy Porter’s, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity: Jundishapur was certainly a meeting place for Arab, Greek, Syriac and Jewish intellectuals. So the best evidence Hamza can come up with to prove that Gundishapur could not have been the source of Mohammad’s Greek embryology knowledge, admits to the fact that there was a centre of learning there where “where serious intellectual endeavour” took place and where Arabs and Greeks and Jewish intellectuals met. And let us not forget that Hamza was presumably choosing his evidence very carefully to throw the best possible light on his argument.
Hamza’s next point bizarrely asks us to question the very existence of al-Harith bin Kalada, suggesting that he may have been a “legendary” figure or a “fictitious creation”: Historians such as Manfred Ullman and Franz Rosenthal are skeptical about the material referring to bin Kalada. They refer to him as a legendary figure,[10] which has literary allusions to characters of fictitious creation. I find it surprising, to say the least, that Hamza seems to question the existence of a Companion of the Prophet who is actually quoted in the hadith:  “Another doctor, Al-Harith ibn Kalada said: That which has killed mankind is the introduction of food on top of food before it has been digested”
Indeed, it seems that Hamza can’t quite decide whether bin Kalada’s non-existence is worth pursuing or not, since a few lines on we read this: There are historical reports stating that bin Kalada converted to Islam and was considered a companion of the Prophet. Ah – so he did exist, after all… Hamza then quotes someone called Abubakr Asadullah who, confusingly, seems to think bin Kalada was a physician,  and whom he calls a graduate of that non-existent medical school… “According to nearly all traditional sources, the first known Arab physician was al-Harith ibn Kalada, a graduate of Junishapur and a Jewish convert to Islam, a contemporary of Prophet Mohammad.
To confuse matters still further, Hamza then uses the fact that bin Kalada was an “educated physician” and close Companion of the Prophet in his next argument: In light of this, the Prophet copying bin Kalada is highly improbable as it is irrational to assert that an educated physician would convert to Islam […] had he known or suspected the Prophet of copying his work on embryology.
Hamza leaves his best argument ‘til last. He suggests that since Mohammad didn’t come into contact with bin Kalada until after the verses relating to embryology had been revealed, it is impossible that he could have copied from him: Bin Kalada was from al-Ta’if, a town which came into contact with Islam only in the 8th year of the Islamic calendar, and it was during this period that Islamic historical sources first mention the phycisian. Therefore, it would be impossible to suggest the Prophet Muhammad copied Bin Kalada’s views on the developing human because chapter 23 of the Qur’an and its verses referring to embryology had already been revealed by the time Bin Kalada met the Prophet Muhammad. Now this looks convincing until we examine more closely the claim that bin Kalada did not meet the Prophet until after Mohammad had received the ayats relating to embryology. Apart from the fact that the most damning ayat (86:6-7) supposedly comes from the Medinan period (“damning”in that it contains the infamous information about sperm emanating from between the backbone and the ribs – the same mistake the Greeks made)  and therefore after bin Kalada supposedly met Mohammad, the dating of surah is notoriously difficult. For example, Theodor Noldeke dated surah 23 to after the Hijra and therefore also from the Medinan and not the Meccan period, and therefore it is quite possible that all the verses relating to embryology come from when after bin Kalada was the physician to the Prophet.
In conclusion, Hamza Tzortzis has failed to dismiss the possibility that the source of the information in the Qur’an on embryology that is so suspiciously similar to ancient Greek theories was his  companion and physician, al-Harith bin Kalada.