[Notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Holy Land Folklore unit. Story source: Folk-lore of the Holy Land: Moslem, Christian and Jewish by J. E. Hanauer (1907).
Abraham and Nimrod
One day, he entered the idol temple and, finding nobody present, he broke up all the images except the largest with an axe, which he then laid on the lap of that which he had spared. When the priests entered the temple, they were very angry, and, seeing Ibrahìm, accused him of sacrilege. He told them there had been a quarrel amongst the gods, and that the greater one had destroyed those who had provoked him. When they answered that this could not be, he showed them from their own mouths the folly of their idolatrous belief.
Hereupon they accused him to Nimrûd, who had a great furnace built, filled with fuel and set on fire. He then ordered Ibrahìm to be thrown into the fire. The heat, however, was so great that nobody dared venture near enough to carry out the command. Then Iblìs showed Nimrûd how to construct a machine by means of which the young martyr, bound hand and foot, was hurled into the flames. But Allah preserved him, and the furnace was to him as cool and pleasant as a rose-garden watered by fountains. He came out of the fire unhurt.
Nimrûd then declared that he must either see this God of Ibrahìm's or kill Him. He therefore had a lofty tower built, from the top of which he hoped to get into heaven. When the tower had reached the height of seventy stories, each story being seventy dra’as high, Allah confounded the speech of the workmen, Seventy-three languages were thus suddenly spoken all at one and the same time and in the same place, causing great babbling, wherefore the tower was called Babel. Pilgrims from Mosûl and Baghdad declare that its ruins exist in their country to this day.
Foiled in this attempt, Nimrûd constructed a flying-machine, as simple as it was ingenious. It was a box with one lid at the top and another at the bottom. Four eagles which had been specially trained, and had attained their full size and strength, were tied one to each of the four corners of the box; then an upright pole was fixed on to the chest, and to this pole a large piece of raw meat was fastened. The birds flew upwards in order to get at the meat and, in so doing, carried the box, into which Nimrûd and an attendant archer had entered, with them. The harnessed eagles could not get at the meat, and so the flying-machine rose higher and higher.
When it had ascended so high that the earth could hardly be seen, the giant ordered his companion to shoot an arrow heavenwards. Before ascending, Nimrûd had taken the precaution to dip the tips of the arrows in blood. Arrow after arrow was shot heavenwards, and, when the quiver was emptied, the pole with the meat on it was taken down and thrust through the opening in the bottom of the box. On finding themselves thus baulked of their food, the wearied eagles of course began to descend and, on reaching the earth, Nimrûd pointed to the arrows which had fallen back to the earth as a proof that he had wounded Allah, while the latter, as he boasted, had not been able to do him the least harm.
This blasphemy completely deceived the people, whose confidence in Nimrûd had been rudely shaken by Ibrahìm's deliverance from the fiery furnace, and they again began to worship the cunning giant. Allah, however, did not let his wickedness go unpunished. The more clearly to show the greatness of His power, the Almighty employed the smallest of His creatures in order to humble the most arrogant. A sand-fly was sent to enter the giant's nostrils and make its way to his brain, where for two hundred years it tormented Nimrûd day and night until he died. Towards the end his agony was so intense that he could only get relief by employing a man to strike him constantly on the head with an iron hammer.
In the meantime, however, when Nimrûd found that he could do no harm to Ibrahìm and that many people were being converted to his faith, he banished the prophet from his dominions. But hardly had he taken this step ere he regretted it and sent a troop of soldiers, mounted on the mules which had been used to carry fuel to the furnace, in order to recapture him. When the Patriarch, who was riding a donkey, saw the soldiers at a distance, he realised that, unless he abandoned his beast and found some hiding-place, there was no hope for him. So he got off and took to his heels.
After running for some time he came across a flock of goats and asked them to protect him. They refused, and he was obliged to run on. At last he saw a flock of sheep, which, at the same request, at once agreed to hide him. They made him lie flat on the ground and huddled together so closely that his enemies passed him by. As a reward for the sheep, Ibrahìm asked Allah to give them the broad and fat tails for which Eastern sheep are remarkable, and, to punish the goats, he procured for them little upright tails, too short for decency, while the mules, which till then had been capable of bearing young, were now made barren because they willingly carried fuel to the furnace and bore the soldiers of Nimrûd swiftly in pursuit of El-Khalìl.