The Seven

In the third century, according to legend, seven young Christian men from Ephesus refused the Roman Emperor Decius’s command to sacrifice to idols. They had to flee the city and ended up hiding in a cave. Then, like the disciples in the garden, they fell asleep while praying. Having tracked the renegades down, Decius had the cave sealed.

More than three hundred years later, a local shepherd discovered the cave. Upon entering it, God awakened the youths, who thought they had slept for just a single night. One soon went into Ephesus to buy bread, but quickly discovered something significant had changed: Crosses now dotted the city. When he tried to pay for the bread with coins from the time of Decius, people in the marketplace took him to the bishop and then to the emperor. After recounting their tale, the boys again fell asleep, this time in death.

The Eighteenth Sura (chapter) of the Qur’an tells of a similar happening. Titled al-kahf, “The Cave,” it contains almost twenty verses about the Sleepers. While the outline of the story is the same, there are notable variations: no historical context is provided; the youths have a dog that serves as guardian outside the cave; and they are morally perfected in their sleep, after which God presents them as proof that the Hour (of judgment and resurrection) is determined by God alone. The passage reminds the reader that resurrection is...

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About the Author

Christian S. Krokus is a PhD candidate in systematic and comparative theology at Boston College.