Parallelism: Mary and Zachariah
The Bible, unlike the Qur'an, is silent on Mary’s birth, upbringing and relationship with Zachariah. The following is what we find in the Qur'an:
So when she brought it forth, she said: My Lord, I have brought it forth a female -- and Allah knew best what she brought forth -- and the male is not like the female, and I have named it Mary, and I commend her and her offspring into Thy protection from the accursed devil.
So her Lord accepted her with a goodly acceptance and made her grow up a goodly growing, and gave her into the charge of Zacharias. Whenever Zacharias entered the sanctuary to (see) her, he found food with her. He said: O Mary, whence comes this to thee? She said: It is from Allah. Surely Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure.
There did Zacharias pray to his Lord. He said: My Lord, grant me from Thee goodly offspring; surely Thou art the Hearer of prayer.
So the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: Allah gives thee the good news of John, verifying a word from Allah, and honourable and chaste and a prophet from among the good ones.
He said: My Lord, how can I have a son when old age has already come upon me, and my wife is barren? He said: Even thus does Allah do what He pleases.
He said: My Lord, appoint a sign for me. Said He: Thy sign is that thou speak not to men for three days except by signs. And remember thy Lord much and glorify (Him) in the evenings and early morning.This is of the tidings of things unseen which We reveal to thee. And thou wast not with them when they cast their pens (to decide) which of them should have Mary in his charge, and thou wast not with them when they contended one with another.
The salient points are:
- The child Mary was given into Zachariah’s care by her mother, and kept in a sanctuary (possibly in dedication to God).
- Zachariah was astonished that she did not need human help in feeding herself. Some supernatural occurrence explained her daily sustenance.
- Zachariah speaks to God who told him of John. Zachariah is incredulous due to the physical condition of him and his wife.
- Mary’s husband was decided by the drawing of lots.
The Qur'anic verses parallel the apocryphal Protevangelium of James and the Gospel of the Birth of Mary. Both apocrypha were probably written in the middle of the second century.
Other apocrypha carrying the same story are:
- 1 - The Coptic History of the Virgin, which may be the Gospel of the Birth of Mary.
- 2 - The Arabic apocryphal work, History of our holy Father the Aged, the Carpenter (Joseph), also gives an account of Mary’s upbringing in the Temple and the choice of Joseph by lot. The dating of this apocrypha, also known as the History of Joseph the Carpenter, is the fourth or fifth century.
- 3 - The Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus and Mary.
This apocrypha is also known as the Pseudo-Matthew or ‘The Book About the Origin of the Blessed Mary and the Childhood of the Savior’. The dating is uncertain. Most scholars date it to the fourth or fifth century, although some date it later to the eighth or ninth century. However it may have been included in the list of apocryphal works in the fifth century ‘'Decretum Gelasianum De Libris Recipiendis Et Non Recipiendis' as ‘the book of the nativity of the saviour and of Mary or the midwife’.
The Decretum is said to have been issued by Pope Gelasius I (492-496 AD) in 494 AD although some scholars claim it was wrongly attributed to Gelasius I and believe it was written in the sixth century.
Excerpts from the Protevangelium of James:
2. And the child became three years old, and Ioacim said: Call for the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take every one a lamp, and let them be burning, that the child turn not backward and her heart be taken captive away from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they were gone up into the temple of the Lord.And the priest received her and kissed her and blessed her and said: The Lord hath magnified thy name among all generations: in thee in the latter days shall the Lord make manifest his redemption unto the children of Israel.
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.
2. And when she was twelve years old, there was a council of the priests, saying: Behold Mary is become twelve years old in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her? lest she pollute the sanctuary of the Lord. And they said unto the high priest: Thou standest over the altar of the Lord. Enter in and pray concerning her: And whatsoever the Lord shall reveal to thee, that let us do.3. And the high priest took the vestment with the twelve bells and went in unto the Holy of Holies and prayed concerning her. And lo, an angel of the Lord appeared saying unto him: Zacharias, 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 the heralds went forth over all the country round about Judaea, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all men ran thereto.
The story of Mary’s upbringing in the Temple under the supervision of the High Priest Zachariah, and the choice of Joseph as Mary’s husband by the drawing of lots, is not told in the Bible but in various apocrypha. The Qur'an’s parallelism of this story casts suspicion as to its provenance. These apocrypha are clearly later Christian writings pre-dating Islam, and the oldest, the pseudepigraphal Protevangelium, dates to about 130 CE. On stylistic and theological grounds, the Protevangelium has long been considered apocrypha. Thus, one wonders how these fictional accounts written about the early life of Mary ended up in the Qur'an.
- The Canon of Scripture blueletterbible.org
- John Gilchrist - The Quran: The Scripture of Islam Chapter 4: The Origins and Sources of the Quranic truthnet.org
- W. St. Clair-Tisdall - Sources of the Quran: Heretical Christian Sects Chapter 4 truthnet
- the history of joseph the carpenter interfaith.org
- Swami Nirmalananda Giri – The Unknown Lives of Jesus and Mary atmajyoti.org
- THE 'DECRETUM GELASIANUM DE LIBRIS RECIPIENDIS ET NON RECIPIENDIS' tertullian.org
- Catholic Encyclopedia – Collections of Ancient Canons newadvent.org
- Translated by M.R. James - 1924 The Protevangelium of James mb-soft.com