The sı-ra texts that relate the story of Muh.ammad’s life in the period from his birth c. 570 CE to his first revelatory visit from the Archangel Gabriel some 40 years later reveal a dual storyline – one mundane, the other supernatural. The first depicts Muh.ammad as an orphan from a clan with little power or wealth who gains a reputation for honesty, marries a wealthy widow, and becomes a respected businessman. There is nothing unusual about this aspect of Muh.ammad’s life, and certainly nothing that would signify his role as founder of a world religion. It is the second storyline – which mirrors the first – that contains reports of numerous supernatural events intended to show Muh.ammad as marked by God even before receiving the Revelation. In these reports, rocks, trees, Christian monks, Jewish soothsayers, pagan idols, and angels all reveal Muh.ammad’s future importance.1 And yet, Muh.ammad himself is unaware of most of these events. He rarely speaks – his only dialogue coming from reports of later events in which he tells someone about his early life.2 Instead, he is portrayed simply as a passive receptor of God’s signs – things happen to him or for him rather than because of his actions. One of the earliest examples of the supernatural in the life of Muh. ammad

is the story of the light that was briefly visible in the face of his father, ʿAbd Alla-h b. ʿAbd al-Mut.t.alib. The light disappears after he engages in sexual intercourse with his wife, A

- mina, and she conceives Muh. ammad, signifying

that the light of prophecy has been handed on to the couple’s unborn son. While this is neither the most significant nor best-known story from this period, it is the only story in which both al-T.abarı-and Ibn Kathı-r incorporate language from the Qurʾa-n, thus permitting a comparative analysis of their treatment of this event in their works of sı-ra and tafsı-r. Ibn Kathı-r achieves this through a direct quotation from the Qurʾa-n, but al-T.abarı-does not directly cite the Qurʾa-n at all in his sı-ra in this period of Muh. ammad’s life. In the story of Muh.ammad’s conception, however, both authors include a report that relates seemingly Qurʾa-nic text in the words of a Jewish soothsayer who witnesses the light and recognizes its significance.3