Muslims believe in the gospel of the followers of James the Just, the brother of Jesus and leader of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem. This gospel is revealed in the Quran. Christians believe in the biblical gospels which are reflective of the Greco-Roman philosophy and mythology that pervaded 1st Century Roman occupied Palestine. According to Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 67, the Palestinian Jews, who opposed the hellenization of their scriptures, accused the hellenized authors of the gospels of modeling the birth story of Jesus on that of Perseus. According to Greek mythology, Perseus was born of the virgin, Danae, upon who Zeus sired Perseus. The Palestinian Jews who opposed this story are currently known as Ebionites, or the Poor ones. The Ebionite gospel was destroyed by the trinitarian Christians who viewed this gospel as heretical. Fragments of this gospel survive in the writings of Epiphanius of Salamis, a Greek bishop.
The Ebionites were Jewish Christians who followed the law of Moses and believed Jesus to be a prophet who was the fully human son of Mary, a Levite, and Joseph, a Judean from the tribe of Judah. The Gospel that the Ebionites followed is a revelation found in the Quran. In order to understand this particular revelation, one must understand the history of the Ebionites in the Arabian Peninsula.
The Ebionites were forced to flee Palestine after the Roman Jewish wars and after the failure of the Bar Kochba revolt. The Romans did not distinguish between the hellenized Jews and the conservative Jews. Both were forced to flee Jerusalem, the temple was burned to the ground, the Bar Kokhba revolt failed, the Romans banned all Jews from Jerusalem and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina. A portion of the exiled Jews fled to Mesopotamia and another faction fled into the Arabian Peninsula. It appears that Muhammad was descended from the Ebionites who settled in Arabia.
Muhammad’s great grandmother, Salma bint Amr, was from the Jewish clan of Banu Najjar meaning ‘the clan of the Carpenter.’ This clan was located in Medina and is listed under the Jewish clan of Banu Awf in the Constitution of Medina. She married Muhammad’s great grandfather, Amr Al Ula who changed his name to Hashim after he married Salma bint Amr. He is reported to have changed his name because Hashem was the Jewish name for God.
Hashim was a Hanif. He and Salma were the parents Abd Al Muttalib whose birth name was Shayba al Hamd (the white streak of Praise) who, as the grandfather of Muhammd, named his grandson Muhammad meaning the ‘the Praised One’. Both Shayba and Muhammad were raised in Mecca. Muhammad was also a Hanif (monotheist). It might be that that Salma bint Amr was a descendant of the Ebionites who fled the Roman Jewish wars and settled in the Arabian Peninsula. Her clan’s association with the Ebionites is retained in the name Najjar, the Carpenter, after Jesus association with that profession (Mark 6:3). This would certainly explain the Ebionite view of Jesus in the Quran. According to Wiki: “The 12th century Muslim historian Muhammad al-Shahrastani mentions Jews living in nearby Medina and Hejaz who accepted Jesus as a prophetic figure and followed traditional Judaism, rejecting mainstream Christian views. Some scholars argue that they contributed to the development of the Islamic view of Jesus due to exchanges of Ebionite remnants with the first Muslims.”
To understand Jesus’ birth story in the Quran, one must consult previous gospel narratives especially the story found in the gospel of Mark, Chapter 6 and its relation to the angel’s annunciation to Mary that appears in Luke, the Protevangelium of James and the Quran. Here are the relevant verses in Mark 6: “Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.”
Question: Why would Jesus’ town folk repudiate him when they were ‘amazed’ at his wisdom and miracles? The answer lies in verse 3: “Isn’t this the carpenter (najjar)? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” Notice that the only parent of Mary’s entire brood of 5 sons and multiple daughters is Mary herself. None of the children, including Jesus, is mentioned as the offspring of a paternal parent. The entire family was publicly insulted as lacking an acknowledged paternity by the entire community. This means that Mary’s marriage was not recognized as legitimate by her community. Why? The answer can be found in the annunciation stories which are based in the lore of the followers of James the Just. The lore included the Mary’s tribal affiliation with the Levitical priesthood descended from Aaron, her dedication to the temple as a nazarite and her marriage to an outsider; a carpenter from the tribe of Judah.
Mary was from the line of Aaron according to the Ebionite story repeated in the Quran and according to the Gospel of Luke. Females could be married as young as the age of 3 according to the Talmud. According to the Quran and the PEJ, Mary, as sister of Aaron according to the Quran, was dedicated to temple service as a nazarite, perhaps to protect her maiden status and to groom her to marry within her priestly caste. Dedication of females as temple nazarites was not an uncommon practice in 1st Century Palestine. The temple accommodated female nazarates in an area, the Court of Women, where post menopausal nazarites cared for their prepubescent charges.
It was common practice in 1st Century Palestine that females of Levitical clans were destined as brides for fellow clansmen. A marriage outside the Levitical priestly caste for such a temple dedicated maid would have been seriously rejected by her clan who would have refused to acknowledge her husband and her children as ‘legitimate’ offspring. Add to this the claim that she had married outside her priestly caste because she was told by an angel that her son was the messiah, one can understand why her clan publicly humiliated her and her offspring. They simply didn’t believe her story but they could not condemn her as an immoral woman either. It was a tradition and a recommendation that females of the priestly caste marry within their caste. It was not a law. (Their reaction to an unapproved marriage is not unusual even today.).
Although Mark does not give the specifics of the circumstances regarding Mary’s marriage to a Judean, the reaction of her community in this gospel is consistent with stories regarding the angel’s annunciation to Mary that she would be the mother of the messiah. The story also appears to have been a story circulated among the followers of James the Just. This gospel story also appears in the Quran.
The Quran confirms that Mary was married but had not yet cohabited with her husband in Quran 3:45 which says: ” [And mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah].” Here Gabriel is telling Mary that she was to be the mother of the messiah. According to the Bible, the Book of 2 Samuel, Chapter 7, the messiah was to be a patrilineal descendant of David, who was from the tribe of Judah. Quran says that Mary was from the tribe of Levi, a sister of Aaron, as does the Gospel of Luke which states that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, was from the daughters of Aaron. So, the Quran declares through the annunciation of the messiah, that Mary, a Levite, was married to a man from the tribe of Judah, who was one of the many descendants of David. Jesus would not have fulfilled the requirements of the messiah unless his mother was married to a descendant of David who would be his biological father. Quran is always correct and precise.