History of Embryology

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This timeline shows how Islamic embryology, or even the more vague (nevertheless incorrect) Qur'anic embryology,
introduced nothing new to science and was simply a copy of previous theories

Date Source Text
1416 BC Garbha Upinandas (Hindu text) "From the conjugation of blood and semen the embryo comes into existence. During the period favorable to conception, after the sexual intercourse, (it) becomes a Kalada (one-day-old embryo). After remaining seven nights it becomes a vesicle. After a fortnight it becomes a sperical mass. After a month it becomes a firm mass".[1]
1000 BC Book of Job (Judeo-Christian text) "Your hands formed me and made me - will you now absorb me? Remember that you formed me as if with clay - will you return me to dust? You poured me out like milk, and pulled me together like cheese. You clothed me with skin and flesh, and [inside me] did you interweave bones and sinews."[2]
500 BC Psalms (Judeo-Christian text) "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."[3]
460-370 BC Hippocrates 1st stage: "Sperm is a product which comes from the whole body of each parent, weak sperm coming from the weak parts, and strong sperm from the strong parts."[4]

2nd stage: "The seed (embryo), then, is contained in a membrane ... Moreover, it grows because of its mother's blood, which descends to the womb. For once a woman conceives, she ceases to menstruate..."[5] 3rd stage: "At this stage, with the descent and coagulation of the mother's blood, flesh begins to be formed, with the umbilicus."[6]
4th stage: "As the flesh grows it is formed into distinct members by breath ... The bones grow hard ... moreover they send out branches like a tree ..."[7]

384-322 BC Aristotle "When the material secreted by the female in the uterus has been fixed by the semen of the male...the more solid part comes together, the liquid is separated off from it, and as the earthy parts solidify membranes form all around it...Some of these are called membranes and others choria..."[8] "So nature has first designed the two blood vessels from the heart, and from these smaller vessels branch off to the uterus, forming what is called the umbilicus...Round these is a skin-like integument, because the weakness of the vessels needs protection and shelter. The vessels join to the uterus like the roots of plants, and through them the embryo receives its nourishment".[9]
240-180 BC Diocles of Carystus "on the ninth day a few points of blood, on the eighteenth beating of the heart, on the twenty-seventh traces of the spinal cord and head"[10]
129-210 AD Claudius Galenus "let us divide the creation of the foetus overall into four periods of time.
The first is that in which. as is seen both in abortions and in dissection, the form of the semen prevails [Arabic nutfah]. At this time, Hippocrates too, the all-marvelous, does not yet call the conformation of the animal a foetus; as we heard just now in the case of semen voided in the sixth day, he still calls it semen. But when it has been filled with blood [Arabic alaqa], and heart, brain and liver are still unarticulated and unshaped yet have by now a certain solidarity and considerable size,
this is the second period; the substance of the foetus has the form of flesh and no longer the form of semen. Accordingly you would find that Hippocrates too no longer calls such a form semen but, as was said, foetus.
The third period follows on this, when, as was said, it is possible to see the three ruling parts clearly and a kind of outline, a silhouette, as it were, of all the other parts [Arabic mudghah]. You will see the conformation of the three ruling parts more clearly, that of the parts of the stomach more dimly, and much more still, that of the limbs. Later on they form "twigs", as Hippocrates expressed it, indicating by the term their similarity to branches.
The fourth and final period is at the stage when all the parts in the limbs have been differentiated; and at this part Hippocrates the marvelous no longer calls the foetus an embryo only, but already a child, too when he says that it jerks and moves as an animal now fully formed."[11]

"... The time has come for nature to articulate the organs precisely and to bring all the parts to completion. Thus it caused flesh to grow on and around all the bones, and at the same time ... it made at the ends of the bones ligaments that bind them to each other, and along their entire length it placed around them on all sides thin membranes, called periosteal, on which it caused flesh to grow."[12]

ca. 200 AD Talmud (Jewish text) The embryo was called peri habbetten (fruit of the body) and develops as:

1. golem (formless, rolled-up thing);
2. shefir meruqqam (embroidered foetus - shefir means amniotic sac);
3. 'ubbar (something carried); v'alad (child); v'alad shel qayama (noble or viable child) and
4. ben she-kallu chadashav (child whose months have been completed).[13]

571-632 AD Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullāh “Allah's Apostle, the true and truly inspired said, "(The matter of the Creation of) a human being is put together in the womb of the mother in forty days, and then he becomes a clot of thick blood for a similar period, and then a piece of flesh for a similar period.”[14]

“The Prophet said, "Allah puts an angel in charge of the uterus and the angel says, 'O Lord, (it is) semen! O Lord, (it is now) a clot! O Lord, (it is now) a piece of flesh.' And then, if Allah wishes to complete its creation, the angel asks, 'O Lord, (will it be) a male or a female?”[15]
"Verily We created man from a product of wet earth; Then placed him as a drop (of seed) in a safe lodging; Then fashioned We the drop a clot, then fashioned We the clot a little lump, then fashioned We the little lump bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced it as another creation. So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators!"[16]

In conclusion there is not a single statement contained within the Qur'an or hadith literature relating to modern embryology that was not well known through direct observation by the ancient Greek and Indian physicians many centuries before the Qur'an was ever revealed. Moreover, much of what the Qur'an actually does contain pertaining to embryology is scientifically inaccurate.

See Also

  • Timelines - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Timelines
  • Embryology - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Embryology


  1. Journal of Mammalian Ova Research - History of the Egg in Embryology - 26(1):2-9. 2009 doi: 10.1274/jmor.26.2
  2. Job 10:8-11 - BibleGateway
  3. Psalms 139:13-16 - BibleGateway
  4. Section 8, p 321
  5. Section 14, p. 326
  6. Section 14, p. 326
  7. Section 17, p. 328
  8. Aristotle, De Generatione Animalium, Book II, 739b20-739b30, as per Jonathan Barnes (ed.), The Complete Works of Aristotle, (Princeton, 1985), Vol 1, p. 1148.
  9. Aristotle, De Generatione Animalium, Book II, 740a28-740a35, as per Barnes, opere citato, p. 1149
  10. Joseph Needham M. A., Ph.D. - Chemical embryology - New York: The Macmillan Company, Cambridge England, at the University Press, 1931
  11. Corpus Medicorum Graecorum: Galeni de Semine (Galen: On Semen) (Greek text with English trans. Phillip de Lacy, Akademic Verlag, 1992) section I:9:1-10 pp. 92-95, 101
  12. Corpus Medicorum Graecorum: Galeni de Semine (Galen: On Semen) (Greek text with English trans. Phillip de Lacy, Akademic Verlag, 1992) section I:9:1-10 pp. 92-95, 101
  13. Samuel ha-Yehudi
  14. Sahih Bukhari 4:54:430
  15. Sahih Bukhari 8:77:594
  16. Qur'an 23:12-14