Low lies the Syrian town behind the mountain
      Where Mary, meek and spotless, knelt that morn,
And saw the splendid Angel by the fountain,
      And heard his voice, "Lord Isa shall be born!"
                  ARNOLD'S Pearls of the Faith.

The Christ of post-Koranic tradition is far more life-like than the Christ of the Koran. The latter is a mere lay-figure, bedecked with honorific titles indeed, such as the "Spirit of God and a word proceeding from Him," and working miracles, but displaying no character. In the post-Koranic writers, on the other hand, we have His sinlessness, His return to judgment, His humility, His unworldliness, His sufferings, His doctrine of the New Birth, topics upon which the Koran is entirely silent. — C. H. A. FIELD in the C. M. S. Review.


THE account of the life of Jesus Christ given in this and the next chapter is a connected summary of all that is given by leading commentators and orthodox tradition on the Koran passages of Chapter II. as collected by Imam Abu Ishak Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Ibrahim Eth-Thalabi.[1] My reasons for using the account of Eth-Thalabi have already been given in the Introduction. There are other accounts, but they are largely parallel, and Eth-Thalabi, who was himself a commentator on the Koran of some reputation, based his work on traditions which are universally acknowledged as authoritative by most Moslems. The translation given is as far as possible literal, although some few passages are omitted because characterised by the crude indecency which so often occurs in Moslem literature. I have also omitted the long preliminary account found in Kusus-al-Anbiah on Zechariah and the family of Amran, as not strictly germane to our topic.

Although no footnotes are given, the authority for every statement and story can easily be found in Beidhawi, Zamakhshari, etc., under the appropriate Koran passages.

On the Birth of Jesus (upon whom be peace) and on Mary’s Conception of Jesus (on both of them be peace).[2]

Said God Most High, and it is recorded in the Book "that Mary when she separated from her people, went to an eastward place." In explanation of this the learned say that when three days had passed since Mary conceived Jesus, — and she was at that time a girl of fifteen years old, and some say thirteen years old, — she dwelt in a mosque; and there was with her in the mosque her cousin, named Joseph the carpenter, and he was a sweet-tempered man, who earned his living by his trade. And Joseph and Mary were also servants of the mosque as water-carriers, and when Mary had emptied her water-jar and Joseph his, each of them took the jar and went to a cave where the water-spring was, to draw water. And then they returned to the Mosque.

And when the day came on which Gabriel (upon whom be peace) encountered her, it was the longest day of the year and the hottest. She, when her water-jar was emptied, said, "Will you not go with me, O Joseph, and we will draw water?" He said, "I still have abundance of water sufficient until to-morrow;" but she said, "But as for me, by God, I have no water." So she took her jar and went away alone until she entered the cave. And she found there with her Gabriel (upon whom be peace), and God had made him resemble a beautiful young man. And he said to her, "O Mary, truly God hath sent me to you that I may give you a pious child." Said she, "I take refuge with the merciful One from you if you are an honest person," that is, a true believer, obedient to God.

‘Ali bin Abi Talib[3] says (may God be gracious to his countenance) she knew that the pious person was merciful and modest, and she considered him a man of the sons of Adam.[4]

Akrima says that Gabriel appeared to her in the form of a beautiful young man of fine countenance, with curly hair and an erect form. And the learned say that God sent Gabriel in the form of a human being that Mary might have confidence in him and be able to hear his words, for if he had come down in his angel form, she would have been terrified and have fled from him and not been able to hear his message.

And when Mary said, "I take refuge from you," he said unto her, "Verily I am the apostle of thy Lord to give you a pious child." Said she, "Shall there be to me a child, and no one has touched me, and I have committed no folly?" Said he, "That is true, but thy Lord finds a miracle easy;" and when he said that, she submitted to the decree of God. And he breathed in the opening of her chemise; and she had taken it off; and when he departed from her, Mary put it on, and so she conceived Jesus, on whom be peace. Then she filled her water-jar and went back to the mosque.

Here follows an indecent explanation at considerable length. Its character may be indicated in a footnote from another source.[5]

Then she went to an eastward place, because it was in the winter, the shortest day of the year. Hasan says in relation to this tradition that therefore the Christians worship toward the east, because Mary went to an Eastward place when she met Gabriel. And there was with her at the time, they say, a relative of her's, called Joseph the carpenter, and they were employed in the mosque which was near Mount Zion; and this mosque at that time was one of the largest of their places of worship, and Mary and Joseph did service there which was of great reward, namely, keeping it in order and purifying it. And there were not known at that time people who were more diligent or more worshipful than these two.

And the first one who doubted her because she had conceived a son was her relative and friend, Joseph the carpenter. And when he marvelled and was surprised, and did not know what to do in regard to her, he spoke to her concerning the matter.[6] Said El Kelbi: Joseph the carpenter afterwards took Mary and Jesus to a cave, and caused them to enter, and she lived there for forty days. Then after she had brought forth her child, she left the cave and walked on the road; and Jesus spake to her and said, "O my mother, all hail to thee! because I am the servant of God and His Messiah." And when she came to her people, and the young child was with her, they wept and were sorrowful, because they were pious folk, saying, "O Mary! you have done great wickedness and abomination, O sister of Aaron." Katada said that Aaron was a pious man, of the upright of the children of Israel, and this was not Aaron the brother of Moses. And it is related that he followed the funeral on a certain day when 40,000 of the children of Israel died, all of whom were named Aaron! But Wahab said that Aaron was one of the most corrupt of the children of Israel and taught them corrupt practices, and that is why they compared Mary to Aaron, saying, "Your father Amran was not wicked, and your mother was not a transgressor nor impure; whence, then, is there come to you this child?"

Then Mary told them to talk to Jesus, and they grew angry and said, "How can we speak to him who is in the cradle, a little child?" Wahab says that then Zachariah came to her, when she showed herself to the Jews, and said to Jesus, "Speak up, and give us your argument if you are so commanded." And at that instant Jesus (upon Him be peace), and He was only forty days old, said, "Verily, I am the servant of God to whom He has given a wonderful Book." And by saying this He confessed that He worshipped God and proved that Christians are liars, and established His argument against them. Amru bin Maimun said that when Mary came to her people with Jesus, they took up stones and tried to stone her, but when Jesus spake, they left her alone. It is also said that after this Jesus did not speak again until He was of the ordinary age of children who begin to talk. And God knows best.

On the Departure of Mary to Egypt. — Said God Most High in the Koran: We have made the son of Mary and His mother a sign, and given them refuge for a time and a resting-place appointed. They say that the birth of Jesus took place forty-two years after the beginning of the reign of Augustus, and fifty-one years had passed of the Kingdom of the Ashkanin, the kings of the tribes. And the kingdom at that time was in the hands of the kings of these tribes, and the sovereignty of Syria and its provinces was to Cæsar, the king of Rome. And the ruler of the provinces on behalf of Cæsar was Herod. And when Herod the king heard the news of Christ, he desired to kill Him, and it was because they had looked at a star, and they knew by their reckonings to what this referred, from a book which they had. Then God sent an angel to Joseph the carpenter, and told him what Herod desired to do, and commanded him to flee with the young child and His mother into Egypt; and God revealed also to Mary that she should go to Egypt: "For if Herod gets hold of your son, he will kill him, but when Herod dies, return then to your country." Then Joseph put Mary and his son upon a donkey which he had, until they came to Egypt, and this was the place which God spoke of in His Book. ‘Abdullah bin Salaam said that the place where they took refuge was Damascus; Abu Huraira says it was Ramleh; and Kitada says it was Jerusalem. Kaab says it was that part of the world which is nearest heaven, and Abu Zaid says it was Egypt; Dhahak said it was the plain of Damascus, etc. etc.

Mary remained in Egypt twelve years, spinning cotton and gleaning after the reapers. And she was gleaning after the reapers, and when she gleaned, she carried Jesus on one of her shoulders and her gleaning basket on the other till He was twelve years old. And it is related that Mohammed the son of Ali el Bakir said: When Jesus was born and He was a day old, it was as though He was a month old; and when He was nine months old, His mother took Him by the hand and led Him to the school and placed Him between the hands of the teacher; and the teacher said to Him, "Say, Bismillah er-rahman er rahim" Then Jesus said it. The teacher said, "Say Abjad."[7] Then Jesus (upon whom be peace) lifted up His head and said to him, "Do you know what Abjad means?" Then the teacher lifted up his rod to strike Him, and Jesus said, "O teacher! do not strike me if you know; if you do not know, ask me, so that I can explain it to you." When the teacher said, "Explain it to me." And Jesus said, "Alif means that there is no God but God; the ba stands for the glory of God; the jim for the majesty of God, and the dal for the religion of God. Hawwaz: Ha stands for hell, and the waw stands for woe to the people of the fire, and the za stands for their groanings in hell. Hatta signifies that their sins can never be forgiven. Kalman signifies the Word of God Uncreated and Unchangeable. Safas signifies measure for measure and part for part. Karshat signifies that God will collect them at the time of the resurrection." Then the teacher said to His mother, "O Woman, take thy child, for He knows everything and does not need a teacher."

According to another tradition it is related that the prophet of God said: Verily, Jesus, when His mother sent Him to be taught, and the teacher said to Him, "Say Bismillah," replied, "What is Bismillah?" and the teacher said, "I do not know." Jesus said, "The ba is the Glory of God, and the sin is the sublimity of God, and the mim is the kingdom of God Most High and Exalted," etc. etc.

On the Form and Figure of Jesus (upon Him be peace). — Said Kaab: Jesus, the son of Mary, was a ruddy man, inclining towards white. His hair was not lank, and He never oiled it. He went bare-footed; and He never owned a place, or a change of garments, or property or vesture or provisions, except His daily bread. And whenever the sun began to set, He would kneel and pray until the morning. He was in the habit of healing the sick and the lepers, and raising the dead by the will of God. He could tell those about Him what they ate in their houses, and what they laid up against the morrow. He walked on the face of the water on the sea. He had dishevelled hair, and His face was small. He was an ascetic in this world and greatly desirous of the world to come; diligent in serving God. And He was a wanderer in the earth till the Jews sought Him and desired to kill Him. Then God lifted Him up to heaven, and God knows best.

Concerning the signs and wonders which were manifested by the hand of Jesus in His youth until He became a prophet. — Wahab said that the first miracle of Jesus which people saw was as follows: His mother was living in the house of the ruler in Egypt where Joseph the carpenter left her, and this was the house where the poor congregated. Money was stolen from the treasury of the ruler, and the poor did not care. And Mary was grieved by this occurrence. Now when Jesus saw the sorrow of His mother at what had happened to their host, He said, "O my mother! do you wish that I should show him where his property is?" And she said, "Yes, my son." He said to her, "Say to him that he gather together all the poor in his courtyard." So Mary told the ruler to gather the poor together; and when they were collected Jesus pointed out two men. One of them was blind and the other was lame. He put the lame man upon the back of the blind man and said to him, "Get up!" and the blind man said, "I am too weak to do it." Then Jesus said to him, "How were you able to do it yesterday?" And when they heard that, they struck the blind man till he got up. And when he got up, the lame man showed him the way to the treasure house. And Jesus said to the ruler, "Thus they played the trick upon the owner of the property yesterday; because the blind man helped with his strength and the lame man with his eyes." Then the blind man and the lame man said, "He speaks the truth, by God"; and they returned his property to the ruler, and he received it and put it in the treasury; and said, "O Mary! take half of it." And she said, "I am not poor enough for that." Then said the ruler, "Give it to your son"; and she said, "He is greater in dignity than I am."

Not long after the ruler desired to have the marriage of his son take place, so he made a feast and collected all the people of Egypt and fed them for two months. And when it was finished, certain people from Syria came to see him, and he did not know of their coming until they came down upon him. And on that day he had no drink for them. And when Jesus saw his anxiety on this account, He entered some of the chambers of the ruler in which there were rows of jars, and He passed by them one by one, touching them with His hand; and every time He touched one it was filled with drink until He came to the last one. And He was at that time twelve years old.

Es Sadi said concerning another miracle of Jesus (upon Him be peace): When He was in school with His playmates, He told them what their fathers were eating. He would say, for example, to one of the boys, "Go home, for your people are doing thus and thus; and they are eating so and so; or, they have prepared for you this and this." Then the boy would run home to his people and cry until they gave him what they had been eating. Then they said to him, "Who told you of it?" and he said, "Jesus." So they kept their boys away from Him, and said, "Do not play with this sorcerer." And when they were gathered together in a house, Jesus came seeking them. And they said, "They are not here;" and He said, "What is there in this house?" They said, "Swine;" said He, "Let it be so." And when they opened the door the boys had turned into swine. And when this was noised abroad the children of Israel understood that He was a prophet. And when His mother was afraid for His life, she put Him upon a donkey and carried Him up to Egypt.

Another miracle: said Es Sadi, When Jesus and His mother went out on their wanderings throughout the earth, they came to the land of Israel and alighted in a village at the house of a man who entertained them as his guests and was kind to them. The king at that time was a mighty man and an oppressor. So one day their host came in greatly worried and sorrowful, and he entered his house, and Mary was then sitting with his wife. So she said to her, "What is the matter with your husband, for I see him sad of countenance?" and she said, "Do not ask me." And Mary said, "Tell me, for perhaps by my hand his sorrow will be lightened." And she said, "We have a king who puts a burden upon every man of us in his turn, because he compels us to feed and to give wine to him and his soldiers on a certain day; and if he does not do it, he punishes him. To-day it is our turn, and we have no sufficiency." Said Mary, "Say to him, ‘Do not be anxious at all, for he has been kind to us, and I will command my son that He make supplication for him, and it will suffice him.‘" Then Mary told Jesus. And Jesus said, "If I do it, evil will befall." Mary said, "We do not care, because he was kind to us and honoured us." Said Jesus, "Then say to him that he bring together and fill up all his vessels and pots with water, and then come and tell me." So he did so, and called Jesus. Then the water in the vessels was changed into meat and gravy, and the water in the pots was changed into wine such as men had never tasted before. So when the king came, he ate and drank and asked, "Whence is this wine?" And they said to him, "From such and such a country." Said the king, "My wine comes from the same country, but it is not as good as this." Then they mentioned another country, and when this again was a mistake and the king became suspicious, he said, "Tell me the truth"; and he said, "I will tell you. There is with me a young man who never asks God for anything but He gives it to Him. He asked God Most High, and He made the water, wine."

Now this king had a son whom he desired to be his successor; and he had died some days previous, and the king loved him more than anyone else. So he said, "If there is a man who can ask God to make water into wine, let him make intercession so that my son may live again." So they called Jesus and spoke to Him concerning this. And Jesus said to him "Do not do it, because if he lives again, evil will befall you." The king said "I do not care, if only I can see him." And Jesus said to him, "If I make him live for you, will you allow me and my mother to go where we please?" And He said, "Yes." So Jesus called upon God, and the young man came to life. And when the people of the kingdom saw that his son was alive, they got together their weapons and said, "This one has devoured us, and now when his death is near, he desires to have his son rule over us, who will also devour us as his father did." So they killed them, but Jesus and his mother went away.

Said Wahab: While Jesus was playing with his playmates, one of them jumped upon another and kicked him with his feet till he died. So they threw him between the arms of Jesus, and He was covered with blood; and when the people came upon them, they took notice of it and carried Him to the Kadi of Egypt, and said to him, "This boy has killed the other." So the Kadi asked Him, and Jesus said, "I do not know who killed him, and I am not his companion." They desired to fall upon Jesus (upon Him be peace), and He said to them, "Bring me the boy who was killed"; and they said, "What do you wish to do with him?" He said, "I wish to ask him who killed him." Said they, "How can he speak to you when he is dead?" They took Jesus and brought Him to the place where the boy was killed; and when Jesus offered a prayer, God raised him from the dead, and Jesus said to him, "Who killed you?" The boy said, "So and so." Then the children of Israel said, "Who is this?" and he said, "This is Jesus, the son of Mary." And they said, "Who is that with Him?" and he said, "The judge of the children of Israel." Immediately he died again. Then Jesus back with His mother, and a great multitude followed Him. And His mother said, "Shall I defend you from them? And he said, "God will keep us, and He is the Most Merciful."

Another miracle. Said ‘Atta: When Mary took Jesus, after He left school, to various workmen to learn His trade, the last to whom she gave Him were dyers. And she put Him with the chief dyer to learn the trade. So he brought together different coloured garments. Then he said to Jesus, "Now you have learned this part of your trade, and I am going out on a journey. I will not return for ten days. These garments are a different colour, and you have learned how each is to be dyed. When I come back, I hope the work will be finished." So Jesus (upon whom be peace) prepared one kind of dye, and put all the garments in it, and said to them, "By the permission of God Most High, be ye as I order." And when the dyer came back and found all the garments in one vessel, he said to Jesus, "What have you done?" He said, "I have finished the work." The dyer replied, "Where?" He said, "In this vessel." Said the dyer, "All of them?" Jesus said, "Yes." "How is it possible for them all to be in one vessel? You have spoiled the garments." Said Jesus, "Rise and see." So he arose; and Jesus pulled out a yellow garment, a green garment, a red garment, etc., according to the desire of the dyer. And he was astonished, and knew it was from God most great and glorious; and he said to the people, "Come and see what Jesus has done." So he and his friends believed in Him, and these his friends became the apostles. And God knows best.[8]

Concerning the return of Mary and Jesus (upon them be peace) to their own country after the death of Herod. — Wahab said that when Herod the king died twelve years after the birth of Jesus (upon Him be peace), God Most High revealed to Mary the news of the death of Herod and commanded her to return with her cousin Joseph the carpenter to Syria. So Jesus and His mother (upon them be peace) returned and dwelt in the mountains of Galilee, in the village of Nazareth. From this the Nasara (Christians) get their name. And Jesus used to learn in one hour the knowledge of a day, and in a day the knowledge of a month, and in a month the knowledge of a year. And when He had completed his thirtieth year, God revealed to Him that He must manifest Himself before men and call them to God; and speak parables to them, and heal their sick and palsied and their blind; and should tame and subdue those possessed of devils, and they died for fear of Him. So He did what was commanded Him; and men loved Him, and turned to Him and were pleased with Him; and the number of those that followed Him increased, and His reputation became great, and perchance there collected around Him of the sick and palsied in one hour, fifty thousand. And every one who could get to Him, went to Him, and whosoever was not able, Jesus went to them. And He healed them by prayer on condition of faith. And the prayer by which He healed the sick and raised the dead is as follows: O God! Thou art the God who art in heaven and the God who art on earth. There is no God in them save Thee; and Thou art the Strong One in the heavens and the Strong One upon earth, and there is no Strong One save Thee. And Thou art the King of all who are in heaven and the King of those who are on earth, and there is no king in them save Thee. Thou art the Ruler in heaven and the Ruler upon earth, and there is no Ruler in them save Thee. Thy power on earth is as Thy power in heaven, and Thy authority in heaven is as Thy authority on earth. I ask Thee by Thy names most gracious, for Thou art all-powerful.[9]


1 The work of Thalabi was made the thesis for his doctoral degree by Lidzbarski. He investigated the sources of all the legends found in it, and gives special references. His work is entitled De Propheticis ... legendis Arabicis. Leipzig, Drugulin, 1893.

2 A translation of the life of Jesus Christ from Kusus-al-Anbiah, by Imam Abu Ishak Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Ibrahim Eth-Thalabi. The account of the birth and life of Jesus Christ is found in this work on pp. 241-255, Cairo edition, 1325 A.H.

3 The reference to those who are authority for the various and sometimes contradictory traditions are introduced in Moslem literature by these words: "Ali bin Abi Talib said, Abu Huraira said, Katada said, etc." We have not thought it worth while to give a biographical note in every case. Those interested can consult Ibn Khallikan.

4 Cf. footnote on page 44.

5 As-Suhaili states that in "She guarded her farj," God intended by farj the opening of her shirt; that is to say, there was no suspicion attached to her dress, she being clean in her clothes. The openings (faruj) of a shirt are four, namely, the two sleeves and the upper and under parts. Do not let your thoughts take you to any other than this meaning, this being an excellent metaphor, for the Kur’an is too pure in meaning, too laconic in words, too delicate in suggestions, and too beautiful in expressions, to intend that to which the imagination of the ignorant may lead, especially as the breathing (into her) of the spirit of sanctity was by the order of the Holy One, so that sanctity joined with the Holy One, and the sanctified one (Mary) thus became free from any false thought and suspicion (about her). — AD-DAMIRI’S Hayat Al-Hayawan, p. 521.

6 We condense here again and quote from the French translation of Mirkhond's Rauzat-us-Safa, by Lamairesse: —
"Le charpentier Yusuf (Joseph), son cousin du côté maternel, s'aperçut le premier de la grossesse de Mariam. Il venait habituellement adorer dans le Ville Sainte et à l'occasion causait avec Marie. Fort affligé, il lui dit un jour: ‘J'ai sur ta piété et sur ta dévotion un soupçon dont je désire te faire part.’ ‘Soit,’ répondit Marie. Yusuf reprit: ‘A-t-on jamais obtenu récolte sans semence? A-t-on jamais eu une semence qui no provînt pas d'une moisson?’ Mariam réplique: ‘Si tu admets que Dieu a créé une moisson, elle est venue sans semence; si tu crois qu’il a créé une semence, celle-ci n'est pas parvenue d'une moisson; si tu admets que Dieu a créé en même temps la moisson et la semence, aucune des deux ne provient de l'autre.’ Yusuf demanda ensuite: ‘A-t-il jamais existé un enfant sans père?’ ‘Oui,’ répondit Marie, ‘et même sans une mère. Adam et Eve n'eurent ni père ni mère.’ Yusuf ne contesta pas, mais il ajouta: ‘Mes questions étaient purement philosophiques, maintenant, pardonne ma hardiesse et apprends-moi comment tu es devenue grosse.’ Marie repondit: ‘Allah m'a fait savoir qu’il enverrait au monde son Verbe, procedant de lui-même, le Messie Isa, fils de Miriam.’" — pp. 290-291.

7 Abjad, the first word in a mnemonic series containing the Arabic alphabet, following the ancient or numerical order, and used as numerals by the Arabs until superseded by later notation. Each word in the series is here interpreted fancifully with a play on the Arabic root.

8 Another miracle of the boyhood days of Jesus is given as follows: "While Jesus, the son of Mary, and John, the son of Zacharias, were once going together, they saw a wild she-goat (or ewe) in labour, upon which Jesus said to John, ‘Say these words, "Hanna (Hannah) gave birth to John, and Mary gave birth to Jesus; the earth calls thee, O young one, come forth, O young one!"’ Hammad b. Zaid states that if these words are uttered near any woman in labour in a tribe, she will not be long in delivering by the order of God. John (Yahya) was the first one to believe in Jesus; they were the sons of (each other's) maternal aunts, and the former was older than the latter by six months; John was killed before the translation of Jesus to heaven." — AD-DAMIRI’S Hayat-Al-Hayawan, p. 111.

9 All of the above is translated from the Arabic text of Eth-Thalabi.

The Moslem Christ
Answering Islam Home Page