Mary & the Birth of Jesus Clarified
H. Abdul Al-Dahir
It has become popular among Biblical scholars to assign the virgin birth of Jesus to a pagan origin. There were many historical and mythical figures as Plato and Mithras who were assigned a miraculous conception by ancient authors. Many scholars view Jesus as an historical person whose unusual conception early Christians invented to gain converts. Among these imaginative authors are listed the authors of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, who described scenes of heavenly wonder at Jesus’ nativity as well as acknowledgment of his special status by foreign sages who gave him expensive and symbolic gifts. Although the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke are cited as the source of the virgin birth narratives, the first hint that the unusual conception of Jesus was not derived from myths, but was known among his fellow town folks, can be found in the Gospel of Mark. Since the Gospel of Mark does not contain the nativity narrative, the Muslim will find the narrative in the Quran to be explicit and sufficient.
The Quran portrays Mary, the mother of the Prophet Jesus, as divinely chosen to become impregnated with Jesus without male assistance. Quran 19:16-33 states:
[19:16] Mention in the scripture Mary. She isolated herself from her family, into an eastern location.[19:17] While a barrier separated her from them, we sent to her our Spirit. He went to her in the form of a human being.[19:18] She said, “I seek refuge in the Most Gracious, that you may be righteous.”[19:19] He said, “I am the messenger of your Lord, to grant you a pure son.”[19:20] She said, “How can I have a son, when no man has touched me; I have never been unchaste.”[19:21] He said, “Thus said your Lord, ‘It is easy for Me. We will render him a sign for the people, and mercy from us. This is a predestined matter.'”[19:22] When she bore him, she isolated herself to a faraway place.[19:23] The birth process came to her by the trunk of a palm tree. She said, “I wish I were dead before this happened, and completely forgotten.”[19:24] However, a call from beneath her, said, “Do not grieve. Your Lord has provided you with a stream.[19:25] “If you shake the trunk of this palm tree, it will drop ripe dates for you.[19:26] “Eat and drink, and be happy. When you see anyone, say, ‘I have made a vow of silence; I am not talking today to anyone.'”[19:27] She came to her family, carrying him. They said, “O Mary, you have committed something that is totally unexpected.[19:28] “O descendant of Aaron, your father was not a bad man, nor was your mother unchaste.”[19:29] She pointed to him. They said, “How can we talk with an infant in the crib?”[19:30] (The infant spoke and) said, “I am a servant of God. He has given me the scripture, and has appointed me a prophet.[19:31] “He made me blessed wherever I go, and enjoined me to observe the Prayers (Salat) and the obligatory charity (Zakat) for as long as I live.[19:32] “I am to honor my mother; He did not make me a disobedient rebel.[19:33] “And peace be upon me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I get resurrected.”
The above verses are clear that Mary introduced her son to her town folk when he was an infant. The town folk’s accusations to this unmarried mother were interrupted when the infant Jesus spoke to them and defended her. The majority of the town folk accepted the miracle and the message. However, according to the Quran 4:156, there were those who refused to acknowledge the miracle and circulated calumnious rumors about Mary: “And because of their disbelief and of their speaking against Mary a tremendous calumny.”
The Jewish accusation that Mary was unchaste and produced an illegitimate son was a popular Jewish belief even in medieval times. The medieval book, Toledot Jeshu (Book of the Life of Jesus), is a Hebrew book that belittles Jesus by ascribing to him illegitimate birth, magic, witchcraft, and a shameful death. The main point of the Toledot is that Jesus is a deceiver and a heretic who was crucified by the Jews after which his disciples stole his body and deceived others by proclaiming his resurrection. All the Toledot Jeshu editions declared Jesus Christ to be a bastard. His mother, Mary, is portrayed in the Toledot as a woman who conceived Jesus as a result of rape by a Roman soldier, Joseph Pandera.
This essay seeks to demonstrate that the Quran’s version of Jesus’ nativity is accurate. The Quran addressed the Jewish and Christian tribes in Arabia whose ‘qasas’ or tribal lore was derived from various sources which included the ‘Desposyni’ who were Jesus’ relatives that headed the the Jewish followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. These followers became known as the Ebionites whose doctrines affirmed that Jesus was a wholly human prophet who was the son of a virgin named Mary. Jesus’ family was forcefully evicted from Jerusalem by Pope Sylvester I. They then fled into Persia and the Arabian Peninsula bringing with them their family history regarding their famous relative, Jesus son of Mary. These stories or ‘qasas’ are reported in the Quran as the above story which portrays the birth of Jesus. This essay will also demonstrate that there is in the Gospel of Mark evidence that Jesus was a miraculously conceived Prophet and that this fact was known and not kept secret as the gospels of Matthew and Luke contend. According to the Quran, this evidence began with Jesus’ introduction as an infant to his town folk.
There is convincing evidence that the town folk were aware of Jesus’ conception by divine decree and that they were divided into 2 groups; those who rejected him and his mother and those who accepted the miracle as originating from Allah. The earliest evidence of this split in opinion is recorded in Greek in the Gospel of Mark, the first gospel of the synoptic gospels to be written. In chapter 6 of this gospel, Jesus returned to his hometown in Galilee to speak in the synagogues when his town folk accosted him. According to verse 3, the townsfolk addressed Jesus by saying:
“Is not this the carpenter (tekton), the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.”
What is striking in this passage is that Jesus is addressed as “the son of Mary” and not the son of Joseph. According to the classic.net bible.org, addressing a child by his mother’s name was an insult for it implied that the child was a bastard. Politeness demanded that the child be addressed by the father’s name.
“2 sn The reference to Jesus as the carpenter is probably derogatory, indicating that they knew Jesus only as a common laborer like themselves. The reference to him as the son of Mary … appears to be somewhat derogatory, for a man was not regarded as his mother’s son in Jewish usage unless an insult was intended (cf. Judg 11:1-2; John 6:42; 8:41; 9:29).”
Judges 11:1-2 reads:
“Jdg 11:1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a harlot. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. Jdg 11:2 And Gilead’s wife also bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they thrust Jephthah out, and said to him, “You shall not inherit in our father’s house; for you are the son of another woman.”
While the title ‘son of Mary’ ascribed to Jesus by his town folk is derogatory in the context of Mark 6:3, this very title has become to Muslims one of honor and an acknowledgment of his conception by divine decree. However, Jesus’ town folk take the accusation one step further by calling Jesus a ‘tekton’ which is a Greek substitute for the Aramaic word ‘tachan’.
In Mark 6:3, the Greek word for carpenter is ‘tekton’. However, the language of Jesus was not Greek, but Aramaic; and Aramaic words do appear in this gospel. The original word may not have been the Greek ‘tekton’, but the Aramaic word ‘tachan’. A later editor seems to have changed the Aramaic word to a like sounding Greek word. The Aramaic word for carpenter is nagara and bears no resemblance to the Greek ‘tekton’. According to Strong’s Hebrew & Greek Dictionary, the word tachan is defined as “a primitive root; to grind meal; hence, to be a concubine (that being their employment):–grind(-er).”
The above reference bolsters the proposal that the Greek word ‘tekton’ (carpenter) is a substitution for the Hebrew/Aramaic word ‘tachan’ which means ‘grinder of grain’ or ‘miller’ as well as concubine; concubine in the sense of prostitute. Hebrew masters often prostituted their concubines for favors and/or wealth. ‘Tachan’ not only meant concubine/prostitute, but also male prostitute. The word appears in this derogatory sense in the Bible, especially in the story of Samson who was sexually humiliated by his Philistine captors. Judges 16:21 states:
“So the Philistines captured him (Samson) and gouged out his eyes. They took him to Gaza, where he was bound with bronze chains and he did grind (twchan) in the prison.”
Samson’s ‘grinding’ (twchan) is a euphemism for him being the victim of repeated sodomy by his captors.
A similar scene appears in Lamentations 5:11-13 which describes the humiliation of Jerusalem. The women are raped and the young men are sodomized, i.e., they are compelled to grind or commit sodomy (tachwn). The rape of the male youth is a parallel statement to the rape of the women. This parallelism confirms the interpretation that the phrase ‘compelled to grind’ is a euphemism for the youths’ subjugation to forced sodomy.
“Our enemies rape the women in Jerusalem and the young girls in all the towns of Judah. Our princes are being hanged by their thumbs, and our elders are treated with contempt. They (the Babylonians) took the young men to be sodomized (tachwn) and boys stagger under loads of wood.”
The use of sodomy to humiliate males is fully described in Isaiah 47:2 which portrays the wrath God will visit on Babylon where he will treat the city as a male prostitute:
“Take the millstones and grind (wtachani) flour, put off your veil, strip off your robe, uncover your legs, pass through the rivers. Your nakedness shall be uncovered, yes, your shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet you as a man.”
The implication in the phrase, “I will not meet you as a man” is that the Hebrew god, YHWH, will treat the city as a woman meaning a male prostitute.
Jesus was addressed as ‘tachan’; a reference to the rumor that he was a bastard. Jesus’ town folk are in effect telling him that as a bastard he bore the same status as a male ‘grinder of grain’ or male prostitute. Since, it was well known that addressing a male as ‘tachan’ was tantamount to accusing him of prostitution, later editors of Mark changed the Aramaic ‘tachan’ to the Greek ‘tekton’ meaning carpenter. Jesus responded to this insult by saying in Mark 6:4:
Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”
The word ‘family’ applies to Jesus’ extended family or his clan. Jesus’ brother, James, became the leader of the community in Jerusalem, so the foregoing accusation of disrespect did not apply to Jesus’ immediate family.
If the above proposal is accurate, Mark’s gospel is the earliest record that Jesus’ father was unknown to his town folk and that at least some of these folk cast aspersions on his and his mother’s reputations. Thus, we can conclude that the story of the virgin birth was in early circulation. Furthermore, according to Mark 6, Mary married Joseph and produced sons and daughters. She did not suffer the punishment of a fornicator (Lev 21:9) and her son was not excluded from the community (Deut 23:2). Instead he was educated as a teacher or rabbi. Such an education indicates that Mary was from a priestly family, perhaps of the Samaritan sect. Her family must have believed the virgin birth story and protected her from the consequences of producing a son out of wedlock.
Although, there appears to have been 2 versions of Jesus’ birth in early circulation; one that his mother was impregnated by divine decree (indicated in Matthew & Luke) and the other that his mother was unchaste and her son was illegitimate (indicated in Mark), the fact that Jesus was a student of the Torah and preached in the synagogues argues that his miraculous birth was either well-known and accepted or that the circumstances of his birth were kept secret. The fact that Mark describes Jesus’ town folk as addressing him as the ‘son of Mary’ argues that the story of his conception by divine decree was well known and accepted by some and rejected by others; otherwise he would have been banned from studying the Torah and from preaching in the synagogues. According to Deu 23:2: “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.”
The fact that Jesus was a student of the Torah and a rabbi argues against the idea that Jesus’ father was a carpenter; a fact that is elaborated upon in Jhn 3:2 which states: “The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” Jesus’ education and his acceptance in the synagogues as a rabbi; a title, which according to the Gospel of John, was used to address Jesus, is an indication that Jesus was a Levite and that Mary may have been, like her cousin Elizabeth, a daughter of Aaron (meaning from the priestly caste of Aaron) as is indicated in Luke.
The upshot of all of this indicates that there were two concurrent and opposing versions of Jesus’ paternity; one that he was conceived by divine decree and the other that he was the son of a ‘tachan.’ Both of these stories issued from the lore of First Century Palestine as indicated by their repetition in Matthew and in Luke. Both Matthew and Luke greatly embellished the divine decree origin of Jesus by stating that foreign sages bearing costly gifts visited him as an infant and that a star indicated the location of his birth while the angels announced his nativity to shepherds in the field.
Since Mark is the oldest and the source gospel for Matthew, Luke and John, the author of Matthew seems to have latched on to the Greek substitute word ‘tekton’, which made Joseph a carpenter. However, the idea that Jesus’ father was a carpenter is contradictory to Jesus’ education as a rabbi and a preacher of the Torah in the synagogues. It is consistent with his status as a rabbi that Jesus’ miraculous birth story was accepted by the clergy in Galilee, who may have educated Jesus in the Torah. Nevertheless, the circumstances of his birth were rejected by at least some of his fellow town folk as is indicated in the Quran and in the Gospel of Mark.
The Samaritans expected a taheb or restorer, who would restore the Torah to a temple on their holy mountain, Mount Gerizim. Their temple had been previously destroyed by John Hyrcanus, so they were expecting the taheb to restore this place of worship to their holy mountain. The Samaritan clergy, who likely educated Jesus while he was in Galilee, may have viewed Jesus as their expected taheb. That Jesus was most likely educated by Samaritan clergy would explain his conflict with the Pharisees and Sadducees in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem temple authorities were in conflict with the Samaritan clergy and openly opposed the re-establishment of their center of worship on Mount Gerizim. It would also explain the “Good Samaritan” parable in Luke (10:29-37) in which the Samaritans are portrayed in a favorable manner, which was contrary to the popular view in Judea. At that time, the Samaritans were labeled as Cutheans or of Assyrian ancestry. In other words, they were viewed as Jewish imposters who were not descendants of Abraham. Jesus as a Samaritan prophet would also explain the transfiguration vision in which Jesus appeared between Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor located in Galilee; an episode which appears in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. According to Mark 9:2-8:
“After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”
Elijah was sent as a prophet to Israel (Samaria in Jesus’ time) and the Samaritans were looking for the return of a Moses-like figure or taheb, which means restorer. The vision of Jesus appearing between these 2 great prophets is a confirmation that he was the Jewish Messiah as well as the Samaritan taheb who was sent to restore the temple on Mount Gerizim. It would also explain Jesus’ pre-arranged meeting with his disciples after his “crucifixion” in Mark 14:28: “But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee.” After Jesus was certain that the ruse succeeded, he fled and left a loyal follower to instruct the female disciples in Mar 16:7: “But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.”
The above plot to re-assemble in Galilee after the crucifixion indicates that the crucifixion was a ruse and that Jesus escaped safely to Galilee with his disciples (ref. Jesus & the Crucifixion Plot). It was in Galilee where he and his disciples made themselves ready for an attempt to “re-claim” Mount Gerizem with the blessing of the Samaritan clergy. Jesus and his disciples had previously instigated a temple revolt in Jerusalem, which appears in all 4 gospels: According to Mark 11:15-19:
“And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.”
In addition, the authors of the gospels knew of an insurrectionist named Jesus Bar Abba. This character appears beside Jesus, king of the Jews, in the judgement scene in front of Pilate. Bar Abba means ‘son of a father; a nickname for a bastard. It is evident that Jesus the prophet was Jesus Bar Abba as he is the only character in the gospels who attempted an insurrection against the temple authority and who was also known to lack a named paternal parent. This lack of a known paternal parent was used as a weapon against him in Jerusalem where he was addressed as Bar Abba by his Jewish enemies. The gospels chosen by the Roman church turned Jesus from an insurrectionist into a pacifist so that his followers would not be tempted to revolt against Rome and their collaborating temple authorities in Jerusalem as Jesus did when he invaded the temple. Jesus was emulating Judas Maccabeus who instigated a successful revolt in 164 BCE against the Seleucids who occupied Samaria and Judea. After his victory at the Battle of Emmaus, Judas cleansed the Jerusalem temple of its Hellenistic impurities and re-concentrated it to the law of Moses. Jesus temple revolt was an attempt to recreate a similar cleansing of the Jerusalem temple.
The Jerusalem temple revolt parallels the Samaritan Prophet’s attempted re-establishment of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim. This event took place in 36 CE or just 3 years after the crucifixion ruse. Jesus and his disciples may have used these 3 years to prepare for the laying of the temple corner stone on Mount Gerizem. The Mount Gerizem episode was viewed by the Romans as a revolt against their authority and was crushed by Pilate. The Mount Gerizim revolt may be evidence that Jesus was the un-named Samaritan Prophet referred to by Titus Flavius Josephus in his book, Jewish Antiquities 18.85-87.
Jesus was the Prophet from Galilee whose miraculous birth set off a controversy which is disputed by Christian and Jewish theologians even today. Muslims maintain the Quran’s position that Mary was a chaste virgin who was chosen by Allah to bear the Prophet Jesus in a miraculous manner that was consistent with his mission as a miracle working Prophet. According to Mark 6:3, one can conclude that the miracle of his birth was known to his town folk as is indicated in the Quran 19:16-33. His conception by divine decree was meant to proclaim him as the Messiah who would restore Palestine to the rule of Allah and to an important, centralized position in the religious world. The Jews in Jerusalem rejected Jesus’ mission and attempted to murder him. However, Jesus succeed in his prophetic mission to proclaim Allah’s message despite the tremendous opposition of his enemies and despite his apparent failure to occupy the Jerusalem temple and re-establish the Samaritan temple. It was not he who failed, but those who opposed his mission who failed. This rejection was the prelude to the appearance of the Arabian Prophet, Muhammad (pbuh) in Mecca 500 years after Jesus’ mission. May Allah bless his efforts to restore his people to the Torah and to restore their favor as a once chosen people. And Allah (swt) knows best.