The books of the contemporary New Testament offer very little substance with regard to the background of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The only readily available information can be seen in Luke, where Mary is said to have been a relative of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and where it is stated that Mary spent three months of her pregnancy in the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.20 In contrast, the Qur’an offers a great deal of information regarding Mary.
Behold! a woman of ‘Imran said: “Oh my Lord! I do dedicate unto Thee what is in my womb for Thy special service: so accept this of me: for Thou hearest and and knowest all things.” When she was delivered, she said: “O my Lord! Behold! I am delivered of a female child!” – And Allah knew best what she brought forth – “And no wise is the male like the female. I have named her Mary, and I commend her and her offspring to Thy protection from the evil one, the rejected.” Right graciously did her Lord accept her: He made her grow in purity and beauty; to the care of Zakariya was she assigned. Every time that he entered (her) chamber to see her, he found her supplied with sustenance. He said: “O Mary! Whence (comes) this to you?” She said: ” From Allah: for Allah provides sustenance to whom He pleases , without measure.”21
Three points emerge from the foregoing Qur’anic quote. First, the reference to “a woman of ‘Imran’ appears to be a statement that the lineage of Mary’s mother traced back to the Biblical Amram, the son of Kohath, a member of the Levite tribe of Israel, and the father of Moses.22 As there was a pronounced tendency among the Israelites to marry within their own clan/tribe, in all probabilities, Mary was of the Levite tribe. Second, the quotation specifically states that Mary was miraculously “supplied with sustenance” from Allah. Third, the same passage from the Qur’an distinctly says that Mary was placed in the care of Zechariah, while Luke merely says that Mary visited Zechariah and Elizabeth for three months during her pregnancy. As an additional fourth point, and referring back to a previously quoted passage from the Qur’an, it is noted that several individuals cast lots with arrows to see who would be entrusted with the care of Mary.23
The above four points find specific support in the so-called New Testament apocrypha. The Gospel of the Birth of Mary, preserved in a reference given by Faustus, the Bishop of Riez in Provence, directly states that Mary was a Levite.24 Further, a passage from the New Testament apocrypha says that angels fed Mary during her stay at the Temple in Jerusalem.25 Third, regarding Mary being entrusted into Zechariah’s care, the New Testament apocrypha provides support, by noting that Zechariah petitioned the High Priest about Mary.26 Further, two passages in the New Testament apocrypha provide evidence for such an event, with Joseph being the one who was chosen to succeed Zechariah in taking care of Mary.27
Jesus Speaks in Infancy
In a moving passage, the Qur’an describes the reaction of people to Mary having given birth to Jesus. Apparently, they were all too ready to think the worst about this righteous young woman, her pregnancy, and her subsequent child. To all of them, Mary said noting in defense, but pointed to her infant child. Thereupon, the infant Jesus spoke, defending his mother’s honor and preaching to the onlookers.
When she brought the infant Jesus to her people, they reacted sharply: “O Mary! Truly an amazing thing hast thou brought! O sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a man of evil, nor was thy mother a woman unchaste!” But she pointed to the babe. They said: ” How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” He said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelations and made me a prophet; and He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live: (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable;..”28
The foregoing account of the birth of Jesus does not appear in the current New Testament. However, the story of Jesus speaking while still an infant in the cradle is preserved in the New Testament apocrypha. 29
Jesus and the clay pigeons
Two different passages in the Qur’an refer to Jesus fashioning a clay bird, and then, by Allah’s will, making it come alive.
She said: “O my Lord! How shall I have a son when no man hath touched me?” He said: “Even so: Allah createth what He willeth: when He hath decreed a plan, He but saith to it, ‘Be’, and it is ! And Allah will teach him the book and wisdom, the law and the gospel, and (appoint him) a messenger to the children of Israel, (with this message): ‘I have come to you, with a sign from your Lord, in that I make 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 those born blind, and the lepers, and I quicken the dead, by Allah’s leave; and I declare to you what ye eat, and what ye store in your houses. Surely, therein is a sign for you if ye did believe;..’ ” 30
Then will Allah say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! recount My favor to thee and to thy mother. Behold ! I strengthened thee with the holy spirit, so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught thee the book and wisdom, the law and the gospel. And behold! Thou makest out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and thou breathest into it, and it becometh a bird by My leave, and thou healest those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold! Thou bringest forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the children of Israel from (violence to) thee when thou didst show them the clear signs, and the unbelievers among them said: “This is nothing but evident magic.”31
The story of Jesus causing, by the will of Allah, a clay bird to come to life is not found in the contemporary New Testament. But, this story in the Qur’an can be found in the New Testament apocrypha.32
Summary and Conclusions
Taken together the Bible and the New Testament apocrypha offer dramatic parallels to many passages in the Qur’an. Such parallels suggest that Christians are well advised to explore the substantial interface between Islam and Christianity. With this vary view, the chapters in this book are presented.
Excerpted from the book “the cross & the crescent” by Dr. Jerald F. Dirks
20. Luke 1:35, 39 -56
21. Qur’an 3:35-37.
22. Exodus 6:16-20.
23. Qur’an 3:44.
24. The Gospel of the Birth of Mary. In Platt RH, Brett JA.
25 The Protevangelion of James 8:2. In Platt RH, Brett JA.
26. The Protevangelion of James 8:3-4 In Platt RH, Brett JA.
27. The Gospel of the Birth of Mary 5:4 – 6:7 and The Protevangelion of James 8:6 – 16. In Platt RH, Brett JA.
28. Qur’an 19:27 – 32.
29. The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ 1:2 In Platt RH, Brett JA.
30. Qur’an 3:47 – 49.
31. Qur’an 5:110.
32. The First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ 15:6. In Platt RH, Brett JA.