Jesus & Mary in the Quran & in the Gospels
H. Abdul Al-Dahir
A Brief History of the Semitic Peoples
Modern man lives in a world which he manipulates primarily through scientific methods, with a nominal nod to the spiritual world which he attempts to manipulate thru rituals, prayers, sacrifices etc. The benefit of the spiritual manipulation is most often for material gains.
Ancient Semitic people lived in a world which they manipulated thru scientific methods they applied to agriculture, husbandry, mining, building, etc., but with a much greater emphasis on spiritual manipulation thru prayer, rituals, magic, sacrifice etc. Again the spiritual manipulation was mostly directed to material benefits.
These Semitic people are often divided into 2 groups: Hebrews and Arabs. However, all Hebrews were Arabs, but not all Arabs were Hebrews. Both were a Semitic people who originated in the Arabian Peninsula.
The Hebrews and the Arabs shared: 1) a common genetic origin which has been identified as the J1c3d haplotype, which is shared by the Jewish Cohanim (priests), the tribe of the Prophet Mohammed, the Quraysh, and the Yemense 2) a common geographical origin which was the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant 3) a common mode of commerce which was trade thru caravans 4) a common tribal structure 5) common tribal law governing marriage, hospitality, warfare, civil matters 7) common urban centers located on trade routes 8) common religious practices which included the worship of gods & goddesses, belief in good and evil spirits, spells, curses, shamans, priests, soothsayers, prophets, magic, sacrifice, pilgrimages etc., and a 8) common Semitic language based on a triconsonantal root system.
A Brief History of the Hebrews
Although the Hebrews & Arabs had much in common, the history of the first Century Hebrews affected their spiritual expectations & expressions in a way that did not impact the Arabs. The Hebrews had a very long history of occupation and domination by foreign powers which included the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans. The Hebrews absorbed the traditions and the cultures of their neighbors and their conquerors. They also warred with these same people as well as with their fellow tribesman. Religious traditionalists were often at odds with their fellows in faith over what they saw as the adulteration of their religion and their fellow tribesmen’s collaboration with the occupiers.
First Century Hebrew history celebrated a defeat of foreign occupiers under the Macabees: Mattathias, his son, Judah and his 4 brothers. These heroes and their army successfully revolted against their Greek (Seleucid) oppressors and their Hellenized Jewish collaborators aka the Jerusalem Temple Cult. They were able to establish a semi-independent monarchy called the Hasmoneans that lasted for about 100 years until 63 BCE. The First Century Hebrews were under Roman occupation with a similar revolt taking place against the Romans and their Jewish collaborators aka the Jerusalem Temple Cult. The revolt was started by Judas the Galilean and his sons James & Simon who called themselves Zealots. This revolt led to the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE and the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem in 131 CE.
The historically interminable occupation of Palestine and the failure to establish a viable independent state led to messianic expectations of a hero from the line of King David who would return and lead the Hebrews to a final victory and an independent kingdom. These hopes were dashed under the failed Zealot revolt which precipitated the Roman Jewish wars that resulted in a Roman victory and expulsion from Palestine for the Hebrews as well as the razing of their Jerusalem temple. Given the utter devastation of the Hebrews and their culture, messianic expectations were changed from a leader who would establish an earthly kingdom to one who would establish a spiritual kingdom. The birth of this latter messiah is described in the Gospels of Matthew & Luke.
Gospel of Matthew
The nativity of Jesus the Messiah appears in chapters 1 and 2 of the Gospel of Matthew. Following the betrothal of Joseph and Mary in this Gospel, Joseph became troubled because Mary was pregnant. However, Joseph had 3 dreams in which an angel assured him not be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because her child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
In Matthew 2:1-12 a star revealed the birth of Jesus to a number of Magi, or “wise man” who traveled to Jerusalem from an unspecified country “in the east”. They set out from the east in order to locate the infant and bring him gifts. The Magi visited Herod the Great and asked where they might find the one born “King of the Jews”. Herod consulted his advisers about where the Messiah was to be born. They answered Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David. Herod informed the Magi to go to Bethlehem and to report back to him when they had found the child.
As the Magi traveled to Bethlehem, the star “went before” them and led them to a house where they found and adored Jesus. They presented Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In a dream, the Magi received a divine warning of Herod’s intent to kill the infant, whom he saw as a rival. Consequently, they returned to their own country without telling Herod where to find Jesus. An angel told Joseph to flee with his family to Egypt. Meanwhile, Herod ordered the massacre of every male child in Bethlehem under the age of two. After Herod’s death, the family returned from Egypt, but they were afraid to return to Bethlehem because Herod’s son ruled Judea. Instead they moved to Galilee and settled in Nazareth.
Gospel of Luke
In the Gospel of Luke, Mary, learned from the angel Gabriel that she would conceive and bear a child called Jesus. When she asked how this could be, since she was a virgin, he told her that the Holy Spirit would “come upon her” and that “nothing would be impossible with God”. She responded: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Later Mary visited her relative Elizabeth, a daughter of Aaron married to a priest of Abiah, (in other words, a Levite) who was pregnant with John the Baptist. John leapt in his mother’s womb, recognizing the presence of Jesus, the Messiah.
When Mary was due to give birth, she and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Joseph’s ancestral home in Bethlehem to register in the “first enrollment” in the census of Quirinius. Mary gave birth to Jesus and, having found no place for themselves in the inn, placed the newborn in a manger in a stable.
An angel of the Lord visited the shepherds and brought them “good news of great joy” saying, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” The angel told the shepherds that they would find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. The angel was joined by a “heavenly host” who declared: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” The shepherds hurried to the stable in Bethlehem where they found Jesus with Mary and Joseph. They repeated what they had been told by the angel and then they returned to their flocks. Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to be circumcised, before returning to their home in Nazareth.
A Brief History of 7th Century Arabia
The 7th Century Arabs did not experience the same historical drama of occupation and revolt as the First Century Hebrews. The Quran is not concerned with revolution against an occupier or messianic expectations. Instead the Quran focuses on societal reforms and tribal unification in a desert society which was dominated by idol worshiping tribes as well as Jewish and Christian tribes. The Christian tribes were divided into various Gnostic and Trinitarian sects. The tribes formed alliances and engaged in inter-tribal war mostly based on ownership of caravan routes and centers of trade. The Quran addresses the various religious practices of these Pagan, Christian and Jewish tribes.
The Arabian Christian and Jewish tribal scriptures were at variance with the scriptural versions canonized by Rome, which adapted this Near Eastern religion to their pagan Roman beliefs. The Christian nativity stories addressed in the Quran confirm a portion of the biographical narratives that appear in the Christian scriptures of the Near East and North Africa. The scriptures of these sects were lost except for a few survivors. It is to some of the biographical facts regarding Jesus and his mother, which appear in these lost scriptures, to which Surah Imran Aya 30 refers when it states: “He (Allah) has revealed unto you (Muhammad) the Scripture (Quran) with truth, confirming that which was (revealed) before it, even as He revealed the Torah and the Gospel.” And: Surah Ankabut Aya 48: And you (Muhammad) were not a reader of any scripture before it, nor did you write it with your right hand, for then might those have doubted, who follow falsehood.
The Extra Canonical Gospels Sacred to Arabian Christians
The surviving scriptures include the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Protevangelion of James. These 2 Gospels do not contain the exact narrative of the history of Mary and the nativity stories of Jesus that appear in the Quran. However, they do make references to the beliefs contained in the lost scriptures to which the Quran refers.
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas contains only one reference to a Jesus narrative referred to in the Quran and that is the reference to Jesus fashioning birds from clay and then commanding them to fly: “This little child Jesus when he was 5 years old was playing at the ford of a brook: and he gathered together the waters that flowed there into pools, and made them straightway clean, and commanded them by his word alone. And having made soft clay he fashioned thereof twelve sparrows. And it was the Sabbath when he did these things. And there were also many other little children playing with him.” The Quran version differs from this as we shall see.
The Protevangelium of James
The Protevangelium of James begins with an account of the birth of Mary to Joachim and Anna in their old age, when they had given up all hope of having children. Like the infant Samuel in the Old Testament, Mary was dedicated by her grateful mother to the service of God in the temple, and there she was placed in [the] charge of the priest Zechariah. When she was twelve years old she was betrothed by her guardians to Joseph. The story of the angelic annunciation and virginal conception follows the nativity narratives of Luke and Matthew, with various embellishments: Mary’s chastity was vindicated, for example, by the ‘ordeal of jealousy’ prescribed in Numbers 5.11-28. In a cave near Bethlehem Mary gives birth to Jesus, Salome acting as midwife. When Herod fails to find the infant, after the visit of the wise men from the east, he tries to lay hands on the child John (later the Baptist), but when he too is not to be found (having been hidden with his mother Elizabeth in a hollow mountain) Herod has his father Zechariah put to death in the temple court.
Chapters in the Protevangelion which are pertinent to the Quran story are: Chapter 4:1: And Anna said: As the Lord my God liveth, if I bring forth either male or female, I will bring it for a gift unto the Lord my God, and it shall be ministering unto him all the days of its life.
Protevangelion: 7:1 & 3: And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as a dove that is nurtured: and she received food from the hand of an angel….Zacharias go forth and assemble them that are widowers of the people, and let them bring every man a rod, and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be.
And at that season Zacharias became dumb, and Samuel was in his stead until the time when Zacharias spake again.
Parallels to the Protevangelion of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas are apparent in the stories concerning Mary & Jesus in the Quran.
Quran stories of Mary & the Nativity:
Surah Miriam (19)
1. Kaf- Ha-Ya-‘Ain-Sad.
[These letters are one of the miracles of the Qur’an, and none but Allah (Alone) knows their meanings].
2. (This is) a mention of the mercy of your Lord to His slave Zakariya (Zachariah).
3. When he called out his Lord (Allah) a call in secret,
4. Saying: “My Lord! Indeed my bones have grown feeble, and grey hair has spread on my head, And I have never been unblest in my invocation to You, O my Lord!
5. “And Verily! I fear my relatives after me, since my wife is barren. So give me from Yourself an heir,
6. “Who shall inherit me, and inherit (also) the posterity of Ya’qub (Jacob) (inheritance of the religious knowledge and Prophethood, not the wealth, etc.). And make him, my Lord, one with whom You are Well-pleased!”.
7. (Allah said) “O Zakariya (Zachariah)! Verily, We give you the glad tidings of a son, His name will be Yahya (John). We have given that name to none before (him).”
8. He said: “My Lord! How can I have a son, when my wife is barren, and I have reached the extreme old age.”
9. He said: “So (it will be). Your Lord says; It is easy for Me. Certainly I have created you before, when you had been nothing!”
10. [Zakariya (Zachariah)] said: “My Lord! Appoint for me a sign.” He said: “Your sign is that you shall not speak unto mankind for three nights, though having no bodily defect.”
11. Then he came out to his people from Al-Mihrab (a praying place or a private room, etc.), he told them by signs to glorify Allah’s Praises in the morning and in the afternoon.
12. (It was said to his son): “O Yahya (John)! Hold fast the Scripture [the Taurat (Torah)].” And We gave him wisdom while yet a child.
13. And (made him) sympathetic to men as a mercy (or a grant) from Us, and pure from sins [i.e. Yahya (John)] and he was righteous,
14. And dutiful towards his parents, and he was neither an arrogant nor disobedient (to Allah or to his parents).
15. And Salamun (peace) be on him the day he was born, the day he dies, and the day he will be raised up to life (again)!
16. And mention in the Book (the Qur’an, O Muhammad the story of) Maryam (Mary), when she withdrew in seclusion from her family to a place facing east.
17. She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them; then We sent to her Our Ruh [angel Jibrael (Gabriel)], and he appeared before her in the form of a man in all respects.
18. She said: “Verily! I seek refuge with the Most Beneficent (Allah) from you, if you do fear Allah.”
19. (The angel) said: “I am only a Messenger from your Lord, (to announce) to you the gift of a righteous son.”
20. She said: “How can I have a son, when no man has touched me, nor am I unchaste?”
21. He said: “So (it will be), your Lord said: ‘That is easy for Me (Allah): And (We wish) to appoint him as a sign to mankind and a mercy from Us (Allah), and it is a matter (already) decreed, (by Allah).’ ”
22. So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a far place.
23. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a date-palm. She said: “Would that I had died before this, and had been forgotten and out of sight!”
24. Then [the babe ‘Iesa (Jesus) or Jibrael (Gabriel)] cried unto her from below her, saying: “Grieve not! Your Lord has provided a water stream under you;
25. “And shake the trunk of date-palm towards you, it will let fall fresh ripe-dates upon you.”
26. “So eat and drink and be glad, and if you see any human being, say: ‘Verily! I have vowed a fast unto the Most Beneficent (Allah) so I shall not speak to any human being this day.'”
27. Then she brought him (the baby) to her people, carrying him. They said: “O Mary! Indeed you have brought a thing Fariya (an unheard mighty thing).
28. “O sister of Harun (Aaron) [Mary was a descendant of Aaron.]. Your father was not a man who used to commit adultery, nor was your mother an unchaste woman.”
29. Then she pointed to him. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?”
30. “He [‘Iesa (Jesus)] said: Verily! I am a slave of Allah, He has given me the Scripture and made me a Prophet;”
31. “And He has made me blessed wheresoever I be, and has enjoined on me Salat (prayer), and Zakat (alms giving), as long as I live.”
32. “And made me dutiful to my mother, and made me not arrogant, unblest.
33. “And Salam (peace) be upon me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive!”
34. Such is ‘Iesa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary). (it is) a statement of truth, about which they doubt (or dispute).
35. It befits not (the Majesty of) Allah that He should beget a son [this refers to the slander of Christians against Allah, by saying that ‘Iesa (Jesus) is the son of Allah]. Glorified (and Exalted be He above all that they associate with Him). When He decrees a thing, He only says to it, “Be!” and it is.
36. [‘Iesa (Jesus) said]: “And verily Allah is my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him (Alone). That is the Straight Path (Allah’s Religion of Islamic Monotheism which He did ordain for all of His Prophets).” [Tafsir At-Tabari]
37. Then the sects differed [i.e. the Christians about ‘Iesa (Jesus)], so woe unto the disbelievers [those who gave false witness by saying that ‘Iesa (Jesus) is the son of Allah] from the meeting of a great Day (i.e. the Day of Resurrection, when they will be thrown in the blazing Fire).
Surah Imran (3)
35. (Remember) when the wife of ‘Imran said: “O my Lord! I have vowed to You what (the child that) is in my womb to be dedicated for Your services (free from all worldly work; to serve Your Place of worship), so accept this, from me. Verily, You are the All-Hearer, the All-Knowing.”
36. Then when she delivered her [child Maryam (Mary)], she said: “O my Lord! I have delivered a female child,” – and Allah knew better what she delivered, – “And the male is not like the female, and I have named her Maryam (Mary), and I seek refuge with You (Allah) for her and for her offspring from Shaitan (Satan), the outcast.”
37. So her Lord (Allah) accepted her with goodly acceptance. He made her grow in a good manner and put her under the care of Zakariya (Zachariah). Every time he entered Al-Mihrab to (visit) her , he found her supplied with sustenance. He said: “O Maryam (Mary)! From where have you got this?” She said, “This is from Allah.” Verily, Allah provides sustenance to whom He wills, without limit.”
38. At that time Zakariya (Zachariah) invoked his Lord, saying: “O my Lord! Grant me from You, a good offspring. You are indeed the All-Hearer of invocation.”
39. Then the angels called him, while he was standing in prayer in Al-Mihrab (a praying place or a private room), (saying): “Allah gives you glad tidings of Yahya (John), confirming (believing in) the Word from Allah [i.e. the creation of ‘Iesa (Jesus), the Word from Allah (“Be!” – and he was!)], noble, keeping away from sexual relations with women, a Prophet, from among the righteous.”
40. He said: “O my Lord! How can I have a son when I am very old, and my wife is barren?” Allah said: “Thus Allah does what He wills.”
41. He said: “O my Lord! Make a sign for me.” Allah said: “Your sign is that you shall not speak to mankind for three days except with signals. And remember your Lord much (by praising Him again and again), and glorify (Him) in the afternoon and in the morning.”
42. And (remember) when the angels said: “O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allah has chosen you, purified you (from polytheism and disbelief), and chosen you above the women of the Alamin (mankind and jinns) (of her lifetime).”
43. O Mary! “Submit yourself with obedience to your Lord (Allah, by worshipping none but Him Alone) and prostrate yourself, and Irka’i (bow down etc.) along with Ar-Raki’un (those who bow down etc.).”
44. This is a part of the news of the Ghaib (unseen, i.e. the news of the past nations of which you have no knowledge) which We inspire you with (O Muhammad ). You were not with them, when they cast lots with their pens as to which of them should be charged with the care of Maryam (Mary); nor were you with them when they disputed.
45. (Remember) when the angels said: “O Maryam (Mary)! Verily, Allah gives you the glad tidings of a Word [“Be!” – and he was! i.e. ‘Iesa (Jesus) the son of Maryam (Mary)] from Him, his name will be the Messiah ‘Iesa (Jesus), the son of Maryam (Mary), held in honour in this world and in the Hereafter, and will be one of those who are near to Allah.”
46. “He will speak to the people in the cradle and in manhood, and he will be one of the righteous.”
47. She said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man has touched me.” He said: “So (it will be) for Allah creates what He wills. When He has decreed something, He says to it only: “Be!” and it is.
48. And He (Allah) will teach him [‘Iesa (Jesus)] the Book and Al-Hikmah (i.e. the Sunnah, the faultless speech of the Prophets, wisdom, etc.), (and) the Taurat (Torah) and the Injeel (Gospel).
49. And will make him [‘Iesa (Jesus)] a Messenger to the Children of Israel (saying): “I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, that I design for you out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, and breathe into it, and it becomes a bird by Allah’s Leave; and I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I bring the dead to life by Allah’s Leave. And I inform you of what you eat, and what you store in your houses. Surely, therein is a sign for you, if you believe.
50. And I have come confirming that which was before me of the Taurat (Torah), and to make lawful to you part of what was forbidden to you, and I have come to you with a proof from your Lord. So fear Allah and obey me.
51. Truly! Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him (Alone). This is the Straight Path.
52. Then when ‘Iesa (Jesus) came to know of their disbelief, he said: “Who will be my helpers in Allah’s Cause?” Al-Hawariun (the disciples) said: “We are the helpers of Allah; we believe in Allah, and bear witness that we are Muslims (i.e. we submit to Allah).”
53. Our Lord! We believe in what You have sent down, and we follow the Messenger [‘Iesa (Jesus)]; so write us down among those who bear witness (to the truth i.e. La ilaha ill-Allah – none has the right to be worshipped but Allah).
54. And they (disbelievers) plotted [to kill ‘Iesa (Jesus)], and Allah planned too. And Allah is the Best of the planners.
55. And (remember) when Allah said: “O ‘Iesa (Jesus)! I will take you and raise you to Myself and clear you [of the forged statement that ‘Iesa (Jesus) is Allah’s son] of those who disbelieve, and I will make those who follow you (Monotheists, who worship none but Allah) superior to those who disbelieve [in the Oneness of Allah, or disbelieve in some of His Messengers, e.g. Muhammad , ‘Iesa (Jesus), Musa (Moses), etc., or in His Holy Books, e.g. the Taurat (Torah), the Injeel (Gospel), the Qur’an] till the Day of Resurrection. Then you will return to Me and I will judge between you in the matters in which you used to dispute.”
56. “As to those who disbelieve, I will punish them with a severe torment in this world and in the Hereafter, and they will have no helpers.”
57. And as for those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah) and do righteous good deeds, Allah will pay them their reward in full. And Allah does not like the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers).
58. This is what We recite to you (O Muhammad ) of the Verses and the Wise Reminder (i.e. the Qur’an).
59. Verily, the likeness of ‘Iesa (Jesus) before Allah is the likeness of Adam. He created him from dust, then (He) said to him: “Be!” – and he was.
60. (This is) the truth from your Lord, so be not of those who doubt.
61. Then whoever disputes with you concerning him [‘Iesa (Jesus)] after (all this) knowledge that has come to you, [i.e. ‘Iesa (Jesus)] being a slave of Allah, and having no share in Divinity) say: (O Muhammad ) “Come, let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves – then we pray and invoke (sincerely) the Curse of Allah upon those who lie.”
62. Verily! This is the true narrative [about the story of ‘Iesa (Jesus)], and, La ilaha ill-Allah (none has the right to be worshipped but Allah, the One and the Only True God, Who has neither a wife nor a son). And indeed, Allah is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.
The above Quran narratives confirm that at least a portion of the extra canonical gospel narratives were known in the Peninsula and that these narratives were held as the true biographies of Jesus and Mary by those Christian tribes who held these scriptures as true revelations. The Quran story of Jesus’ birth and his infant defense of his mother to her clansmen make it clear that important tribal members accepted the miracle that saved Jesus and his mother from the punishments demanded in Hebrew law for bastardy and fornication. Mary, according to the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 6, married and produced brothers and sisters for Jesus, some of whom became loyal disciples and leaders of those who followed Jesus’ gospel. The Gospel of Mark: 6:3, also demonstrates that not all of Jesus’ clansmen accepted the miracle of his birth. For further elucidation of Mark 6:3, refer to the essay on this site, Mary & the Birth of Jesus Clarified.