Parallelism: Mary and Zachariah

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Parallelism Between the Qur'an
and Judeo-Christian Scriptures
Talking Baby Jesus
Sanhedrin 37a
The Raven & the Burial of Abel
The Quranic Version of Trinity‎
Jesus Christ & the Clay Birds
Mary & Zachariah
Mary, Jesus & the Palm Tree
Satan & His Refusal to Prostrate
The Queen of Sheba
Abraham & the Idols
The Wealth of Korah

For the full article with many more examples than are included in this series, see

Qur'anic Account

The Bible, unlike the Qur'an, is silent on Mary’s birth, upbringing and relationship with Zachariah. The following is what one finds in the Qur'an:

[Mention, O Muhammad], when the wife of 'Imran said, "My Lord, indeed I have pledged to You what is in my womb, consecrated [for Your service], so accept this from me. Indeed, You are the Hearing, the Knowing."

‏But when she delivered her, she said, "My Lord, I have delivered a female." And Allah was most knowing of what she delivered, "And the male is not like the female. And I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan, the expelled [from the mercy of Allah]."

So her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow in a good manner and put her in the care of Zechariah. Every time Zechariah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision. He said, "O Mary, from where is this [coming] to you?" She said, "It is from Allah. Indeed, Allah provides for whom He wills without account."

‏At that, Zechariah called upon his Lord, saying, "My Lord, grant me from Yourself a good offspring. Indeed, You are the Hearer of supplication."

‏So the angels called him while he was standing in prayer in the chamber, "Indeed, Allah gives you good tidings of John, confirming a word from Allah and [who will be] honorable, abstaining [from women], and a prophet from among the righteous."

‏He said, "My Lord, how will I have a boy when I have reached old age and my wife is barren?" The angel said, "Such is Allah; He does what He wills."

‏He said, "My Lord, make for me a sign." He Said, "Your sign is that you will not [be able to] speak to the people for three days except by gesture. And remember your Lord much and exalt [Him with praise] in the evening and the morning."

And [mention] when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds.

O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow [in prayer]."

That is from the news of the unseen which We reveal to you, [O Muhammad]. And you were not with them when they cast their pens as to which of them should be responsible for Mary. Nor were you with them when they disputed.

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.

Apocryphal Accounts

Gabriel Said Reynolds in his 2018 academic commentary on the Quran observes, "The Qurʾān follows closely here the Protoevangelium of James, a Greek Christian work written in the late second century and translated into Syriac in the fifth century". He further notes, "The manner in which the Qurʾān has Mary's mother commend Mary and her 'descendents' (i.e. Jesus) to God's protection from the devil may allude to the Christian doctrine that Mary and Jesus were free from sin."[1] Regarding verse 37 in which Mary has a miraculous source of food, Reynolds notes that the Qurʾān also here follows a tradition found in the Protoevangelium of James 7:2 to 8:1.[2].

Regarding verse 44 in which things were cast to determine who would look after Mary, Reynolds notes that Islamic tradition related this as casting pens (Quills). However, citing the Protoevangelium 9:1, Reynolds remarks, "In fact the Qurʾān is following the chronology of Mary's life as found in the Protoevangelium. The contest is over who will marry Mary, and it involves not pens but rods, or reeds. The Arabic aqlām comes from the Greek kalamos (and it is a kalamos, "reed," that soldiers put in the right hand of Christ in Mat 27:29"[3]

Various later apocrypha partly based on the Protoevangelium also contain the relevant story elements.[4]

Excerpts from the Protevangelium of James

(1) She cared for the child for months. When the child turned two years old, Joachim said, "Let's take her to the temple of the Lord so we can relate the message we were given." (2) And Anna said, "Let's wait until the third year, so that she will not seek her father or mother." (3) And Joachim said, "Let's wait." [...]
(1) And her parents went down, marveling at and praising and glorifying the Lord God because the child had not turned back to look at them. (2) While Mary was in the temple of the Lord, she was fed like a dove and received food from the hand of an angel. (3) When she turned twelve, a group of priests took counsel together, saying, "Look, Mary has been in the temple of the Lord twelve years. (4) What should we do about her now, so that she does not defile the sanctuary of the Lord our God?" (5) And they said to the high priest, "You have stood at the altar of the Lord. Go in and pray about her. And if the Lord God reveals anything to you, we will do it." (6) And the priest went in taking the vestment with twelve bells into the holy of holies and prayed about her. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before him, saying, "Zachariah, Zachariah, depart from here and gather the widowers of the people

and let each one carry a staff. (8) And the one whom the Lord God points out with a sign, she will be his wife." (9) So the heralds went out to the

whole surrounding area of Judea and the trumpet of the Lord rang out and all the men rushed in.
(1) Throwing down his ax, Joseph went out to meet them. (2) And after they had gathered together with their rods, they went to the high priest. (3) After receiving everyone's rod, the high priest went into the temple and prayed. (4) When he was finished with the prayer, he took the rods and went out and gave them to each man, (5) but there was no sign among them. Finally, Joseph took his rod. (6) Suddenly, a dove came out of the rod and stood on Joseph's head. (7) And the high priest said, "Joseph! Joseph! You have been chosen by lot to take the virgin into your own keeping. [...]"

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 the second century CE. On stylistic and theological grounds, the Protevangelium has long been considered apocrypha. Thus, these details of the Qur'anic story should not be taken as historical detail but rather as Christian legend which, by merit of its wide circulation, entered into the Qur'an.


  1. Gabriel Said Reynolds, "The Quran and Bible:Text and Commentary", New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018, p. 115
  2. Gabriel Said Reynolds (2018) The Qurʾān and Bible: Text and Commentary p. 116
  3. Gabriel Said Reynolds (2018) The Qurʾān and Bible: Text and Commentary p. 119
  4. These include The History of Joseph the Carpenter (probably composed in Byzantine Egypt in Greek in the late sixth or early seventh centuries), and The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (its date is uncertain, as discussed elsewhere in the article about Jesus, Mary and the Palm Tree in this series).

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