[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).
The Deaths of Moses and Aaron
Accordingly, on the following morning, the two brothers, accompanied by their sons, set off on an expedition to the spot. By the time they reached it, they were glad to shelter from the sun in an artificial cave they found there. On entering, they were much surprised to see a handsome couch to which was attached an inscription stating that it was intended for the use of the person whose stature it would fit. The bedstead was tried in succession by all of the party, and when Harûn came to lie there, it exactly suited him.
While he was yet on the bed, a stranger entered the cavern, and, respectfully saluting those present, introduced himself as Azrael, the Angel of Death, and stated that he had been specially sent by Allah to receive the soul of Harûn. The venerable high-priest, though submissive to the Almighty Will, wept much as he took leave of his brother, sons, and nephews, commended his family to the care of Mûsa, and bade him give his blessing to the people.
Azrael then begged the others to leave the cave a minute. When he allowed them to return, the high-priest lay dead upon the couch. They then carried out the body, washed and prepared it for burial, and, having offered up prayers over it, took it back and laid it on the bed. Then, having carefully closed up the mouth of the sepulchre, they returned sorrowfully to the camp and told the people that Harûn was dead.
The children of Israel, who were fond of Harûn, on hearing these words accused Mûsa of having murdered his brother. To clear His servant of this accusation, Allah caused angels to carry the couch with Harûn's dead body through the air and hover with it over the camp in the sight of all Israel, and, at the same time, to proclaim that Allah had taken the soul of Harûn and that Mûsa was innocent of his death.
Of the death of the great Lawgiver himself there are two different accounts. The first briefly relates how Allah, having informed Mûsa that the time of his decease was at hand, the latter spent the few days of life left him in exhorting Israel to abide in the fear of Allah and keep His commandments. Then, having solemnly appointed Joshua his successor and laid down the government, Mûsa died while studying the Law.
The other legend, which is the more common, runs as follows. Mûsa, on whom be peace, had, like Ibrahìm el Khalìl, received a promise that he was not to die until he, of his own free-will, laid himself down in the grave.
Feeling himself to be secure in that promise, the prophet simply refused to die when the Angel of Death informed him that his hour had come. He was so angry with Azrael that the latter, affrighted, returned to his Maker, and complained of the prophet's conduct. The angel was sent back to expostulate and make certain alluring promises: for instance, that Mûsa's grave should be annually visited in pilgrimage by believers, and that the very stones of the place should be fit for fuel. Azrael also reminded Mûsa of all the favour which, during his long life, he had received from Allah, and told of yet greater honours in store for him in Paradise. All in vain. The prophet turned a deaf ear to every argument, and at length, disgusted with the dread angel's persistency, he told him to be off, and himself left the encampment and wandered forth over the hillsides to the west of the Dead Sea.
Here he came across the shepherd to whom the charge of Sho’aib's and Mûsa's own flock had been entrusted when the latter was sent on his mission to deliver Israel out of Egypt, and he entered into conversation. The man was surprised to see the Lawgiver and inquired what reason he had for leaving the haunts of men. When Mûsa told him, the shepherd, to his great displeasure, took the part of Azrael and suggested that, seeing the prophet was simply going to exchange the burdens, toils, and sorrows of this life for unending joys at Allah's right hand, he ought to greet the announcement of his approaching change with joy.
"I myself," continued the shepherd, "greatly fear death, but that is only natural, seeing that I am only a poor sinful being, but you, who are so high in Allah's favour, ought to rejoice at the prospect."
On being thus admonished, Mûsa lost his temper, saying: "Well, then, as you say that you are afraid of death, may you never die!"
"Amen," replied the man to this wish, little guessing it was a curse.
When the shepherd had lived out his days, he swooned away, and his friends, supposing him dead, buried him in the place where his grave is still shown, not far from the shrine of Neby Mûsa. But he is not dead, for in consequence of Mûsa's words, "May you never die," he cannot find rest in death, but is still alive and wanders about, pasturing the ibex. He is sometimes seen by wandering Bedû and hunters of the wild goats in the district around the Dead Sea, and in the wadis on the west of the Jordan valley, as far north as the Sea of Tiberias. He is sometimes mistaken for El Khudr. He has been seen in the act of casting himself from a precipitous cliff, attempting suicide in his despair, but in vain. He is described as a very tall old man, covered with white hair, his beard and nails exceeding long. He always takes to flight if one tries to approach him.
To return to Mûsa. On leaving the shepherd, the prophet wandered further along the chalky hillsides till he unexpectedly came upon a group of stone-cutters who were excavating a chamber in a wall of rock. Having greeted them, Mûsa inquired what they were about and was told that the king of the country had a very precious treasure which he wished to hide carefully from human sight,and that therefore he had commanded them to hollow out a rock-chamber in this lonely spot in the wilderness. It was now midday, and very hot.
Feeling tired, and as there seemed to be no shade anywhere else, the Lawgiver asked permission to enter the cave and rest there. Permission was courteously granted. The weary prophet was not in the least aware that he had asked leave to rest in his own predestined sepulchre. Hardly had he assumed a recumbent posture when the leader of the gang of workmen, who was the Angel of Death in disguise, offered him an apple. Mûsa, having accepted and smelt at it, expired immediately.
His funeral rites were then performed by the supposed workmen, who were in fact angels expressly sent for the purpose.