Parallelism: Mary, Jesus and the Palm Tree
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The Bible canon does not contain the episode of Mary, Jesus and the palm tree, which first appears in the apocrypha and later in the Qur'an.
Gospel of Pseudo-Mathew
Quranic verse 19:22-26 is a clear parallel of the account found in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. In this account Jesus has already been born, but he is still a baby during the flight to Egypt. The family are hungry and thirsty, resting under a palm tree. As in the Quran, Jesus performs the miracles of making the palm tree drop fruit and a stream appear beneath it.
Dating issues and an earlier Syriac source
The dating of this Latin apocrypha is of uncertain date, with the oldest surving manuscript dating to around 820 CE. In 2011, Michael Berthold identified that one of its sources is the Pseudo-Ambrosian Life of Saint Agnes, which is used by another work around 690 CE so this source is earlier than that. St. Agnes is thought to have lived some time from the 5th to 7th century. Other more speculative arguments suggest an earliest date of the mid sixth century for Pseudo Matthew. Considering all these insights from other scholars, Brandon Hawk gives it a date range of 550 - 800 CE.
Fortunately, Stephen Shoemaker has identified a precursor of the Mary palm tree story in a set of early 5th century CE texts (at the latest) known as the Dormition of the Virgin, for which we have later fifth century CE Syriac manuscript fragments as the earliest textual witnesses. This version was widespread throughout the Byzantine Near East by the end of the sixth century CE. In this version, the infant Jesus commands the palm tree to bow down and provide fruit, as in Pseudo-Matthew, but it is already located by a stream rather than the stream being a second miracle as in Pseudo-Matthew and the Quran. Nevertheless, this is proof enough that the story was developing in the region well before the 7th century CE.
Leto in Greek mythology
Suleiman Mourad has traced the development of this story in the Qur'an and Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew through Greek and Latin literature. He writes:
It is nevertheless unlikely that the myth of Leto was the direct source for sura Maryam. As was aforementioned, the concise version found in the latter has two parts: Mary's labor and delivery, and the miracle. We might therefore suspect that there was a stage when Leto's myth was borrowed and applied to Mary.
- Brandon Hawk, 2020 The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Nativity of Mary Cambridge, UK: James Clark & Co, pp.25-26
- Stephen Shoemaker, Christmas in the Qur’an: the Qur’anic Account of Jesus’ Nativity and Palestinian Local Tradition Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 28, 11-39 (2003) pp. 19-21
- Suleiman Mourad, “Mary in the Qur'an″, in The Qur’ān in Its Historical Context, Ed. Gabriel Said Reynolds, p.169, New York: Routledge, 2007