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Birth of Jesus in the Gospels and in the Qur’ān


The birth of Jesus (sws) is one of the very important events in the history but there is no independent historical record of his birth or life other than the Gospels, the earliest of which were written no less than hundred years after his birth. About five hundred years after the Gospel’s account, the Qur’ān mentioned it. Out of the four canonical Gospels, the birth of Jesus is mentioned in two: Matthew (1:18) and Luke (1: 27-38), while the other two (Mark and John) are completely silent about it. Matthew and Luke both agree that Jesus (sws) was born of the virgin Mary (sws) and that it was a miraculous event but in details the two accounts differ greatly. The Qur’ān mentions the birth in two sūrahs: A^li ‘Imrān (3:42-49) and Maryam (19:16-35). The Qur’ān agrees, adds, differs, corrects or criticizes the Gospels’ account. Following is a description of events as mentioned in the Gospels and in the Qur’ān.

1. The Angel’s visit

Luke says that the angel Gabriel was sent from God to the virgin Mary (sws). The angel came to her and said:

Hail thou art a highly favoured woman. And when she saw him she was troubled at his saying and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the Angel said unto her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. And behold, thou shall conceive in thy womb and bring forth a son and shall call his name Jesus…Then said Mary unto the Angel: How shall this be seeing I know not a man? And the Angel answered: With God nothing shall be impossible. (1: 26-39)

The description in the Qur’ān is no different than this.

When the angels said: O Mary! Allah has chosen you and made you pure and has preferred you above the women of creation. O Mary! Allah gives you good news of a Word from Him. His name will be the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, held in honour in this world and in the Hereafter and shall be one of those who are nearest to Allah. She said: My Lord! How can I have a child when no man has touched me? He said: Even so. Allah creates what He wills. When He has decreed something, He says to it only: Be, and it happens. (3:42-45)

However, the Qur’ān adds some details to the Gospels’ account. It says that Mary (sws) had secluded herself into the eastern part of the temple for prayer and devotion to Allah. It was in this state of purity that the angel Gabriel appeared before her in the form of a man. Seeing a man in her privacy, she became frightened (rather than being tempted towards a handsome man) and said:

I seek refuge from you to [Allah] Most Gracious: [come not near] if you do fear Allah. (19:18)

At this point angel introduced himself by saying:

I am only a messenger from your Lord to [announce] to you the gift of a righteous son. (19:19)

2. Place of Birth

Luke and Matthew agree that Jesus (sws) was born in Bethlehem (Hebron). The Qur’ān says that his mother Mary (sws) went to a “distant area” away from Jerusalem and it was there that Jesus (sws) was born. The name of this “distant area” is not mentioned, but many Qur’ānic scholars say that it could be Bethlehem.

3. Events at Birth

In the Gospels, the events of Jesus’s birth are only mentioned in Luke who says that Mary (sws) and Joseph found shelter in a stable. Jesus (sws) was born there and Mary (sws) made a cradle for him in a manger. The shepherds near Bethlehem saw angels in the sky, singing the glory of the Lord. 

The Qur’ān says that when the pains of childbirth started, Mary (sws) went to a palm tree in a deserted area. Jesus (sws) was born there. In the moments of her anguish and grief, the angel spoke to her. By a miracle, a water stream came out around her and fresh ripe dates fell close to her.

4. Date of Birth

(i)Was Jesus (sws) born on Dec 25?

Neither the date 25th Dec. nor any other date on Jesus's birth is mentioned in the Bible. It was not until the year 530 CE that a monk, Dionysus Exigus, fixed the date of Jesus's birth on Dec. 25th. “He wrongly dated the birth of Christ according to the Roman system (i.e., 754 years after the founding of Rome) as Dec. 25, 753". (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1998 ed.) This date was chosen in keeping with the holidays already indoctrinated into pagan’s beliefs.

Roman pagans celebrated Dec. 25th as the birth of their god of light, Mithra. "In the 2nd century AD it (Mithraism) was more general in the Roman Empire than Christianity, to which it bore many similarities" (The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, 1995 ed.)

Other pagan gods born on Dec. 25th are: Hercules the son of Zeus (Greeks); Bacchus, god of wine (Romans); Adonis, god of Greeks, and god Freyr of Greek-Roman pagans.

(ii) Is the Year of Birth Known?

The date of Jesus’s (sws) birth is not known exactly. “Many sources estimate the year of birth as 7-6BC”(Encyclopaedia Britannica), but biblical researchers have proposed as far as 12BC to as early as 4BC as the possible year of birth. The evidence is mainly based on an account of a census mentioned in Luke and viewing of “Star of Bethlehem” in Matthew.

(iii) Is there any clue in the Qur’ān?

There are two possible clues in the Qur’ān:

a. The Qur’ān says that at the time of birth, fresh ripe dates fell from a palm tree close to Mary (sws) indicating that Jesus (sws) was born between the end of July to the beginning of October (the months in which dates are ripe).

b. The Qur’ān has mentioned that Jesus (sws) would reach a mature age (The Qur’ānic word used is Kahl meaning a mature age). Given that, some Qur’ānic Scholars (Islāhī in his “Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān”) argued that Jesus reached a mature age before the alleged crucifixion which biblical scholars says happened at 27-28 AD. This could means that the year of birth was much early.

5. Events shortly after Birth

Matthew and to some extent Luke say that news of Jesus’s (sws) birth spread in somewhat these words “King of the Jews has been born; a promised Messiah who will restore the kingdom of Israel”. Such news disturbed King Herod, who was the Roman ruler at that time; so he ordered all boys of two or below the age of two to be killed. According to Matthew, King Herod found out about Jesus by one magi who studied stars and had come from the east to see the newborn Messiah. They first asked about him at Herod’s court in Jerusalem and then they followed the light of a star to Bethlehem. The star went ahead of the magi and "stopped over the place where the child was": (seems to be pure romantic literature, as one critic puts it, as no scientific contortions will deal with the behavior of this star except if one is willing to believe in retrograde planetary motion). There they found Jesus and gave him gifts of gold.

The Qur’ān says that after his birth Mary (sws) carried Jesus (sws) in her arms, and returned back to her own people. According to Qur’ān:

They said: O Mary! Indeed you have brought a thing that is mighty unheard of. O sister of Aaron, Your father was not a man who used to commit adultery nor your mother was an unchaste woman. Then she pointed to him. They said how could we talk to one who is child in cradle. He (Jesus) said: Verily I am a slave of Allah, He has given me the scriptures and made me a prophet. And He made me blessed where so ever I be, and has enjoined on me prayer, and charity as long as I live. (19:27-31)

It was probably this miracle, Jesus (sws), speaking in the cradle, which spread as the news that a “Saviour” of Israel has been born. This could have urged Herod to search for the baby and that ultimately led to flight of Mary (sws) with Jesus (sws) to Nazareth.

6. Contradictions in the Gospel’s Account

(i) Places

Luke and Matthew differ greatly as to where Mary (sws) used to live when she conceived Jesus (sws) and where she went after the birth. Luke says that when the angel came to Mary (sws) she was living in Nazareth (a town in Galilee). She and Joseph then went to Bethlehem (a town in Judaea); Jesus (sws) was born in Bethlehem, and after the birth they went to Jerusalem and then back to Nazareth. Matthew says that Mary (sws) and Joseph used to live in Bethlehem, Jesus was (sws) born in Bethlehem; they then went to Egypt and from Egypt to Nazareth.

(ii) Genealogy of Jesus

Although Luke and Matthew say that Jesus (sws) was born without human intervention but then contradict themselves by giving a human genealogy to Jesus. This was an attempt to prove that Jesus (sws) was the same Messiah who, according to Biblical traditions, would have been a descendent of David (sws). Luke and Matthew showed Mary (sws) as married to a person, named Joseph. They call him as father of Jesus and then portray Joseph as a descendent of David (sws). While formulating this genealogy they again differed. Matthew gave names of twenty-six persons between Adam (sws) and Jesus (sws), while Luke gave names of forty-two persons of the same period.

The Qur’ān says that Mary (sws) was told that the Jesus (sws) would be the Messiah but always calls Jesus (sws) as son of Mary (sws). Human genealogy of Jesus (sws), Dividic descents of Jesus or Mary (sws) marrying to Joseph are the concepts, which the Qur’ān contradicts.

7. Doctrine of Divine Sonship

The early Christian theologians didn’t relate the birth of Jesus (sws) with his divinity. But later it was connected with the doctrine of Divine Sonship. The usual argument is; since he had no father so his father must be God.

The Qur’ān answers that birth of Adam (sws) was also a miracle as he was born not only without a father but without a mother also. Both were created by words of God. The Qur’ān says:

The likeness of Jesus before Allah is that of Adam. He created him with dust, then He said to him: Be! And he was. (3:59)

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