The Quran and Judeo-Christian Pseudepigrapha (Part 5, Finale): The Quran on the Crucifixion and Trinity

We have seen enough examples to demonstrate that some extra-biblical materials in the Quran ultimately derived from Judeo-Christian writings, whether commentaries or creative fictional works. There are other examples one may cite, such as how a raven taught Cain to bury his murdered brother, Jesus talking as an infant, Joseph’s torn tunic (establishing his innocence with Potiphar’s wife), and Jinn being created from fire. These all derived from Jewish exegetical works. These observations undermine certain critical Islamic beliefs.

First, the idea that the Quran is a perfect revelation from God given to restore corrupted biblical materials or details is undercut. Muslims typically believe this idea not because there is such evidence of corruption in the Bible but because the Quran says so, and they believe the Quran. (At this point, the typical Muslim reader thinks of differing details in the original Biblical manuscripts as evidence of corruption. Yes, “corruption” they are, but not the kinds that help the Quran’s narrative. Furthermore, Quranic manuscripts also show differing details as well. The simple, verifiable fact is that scribes made mistakes during copying.) Second, the extra-biblical details that the Quran features are from known fictional sources. As we shall see soon, the Quran preserves evidence of seventh-century critics pointing out to Muhammed that his stories were not original but adaptations of old sayings. In light of all we have said, let us now look into the Quran’s position on two Christian doctrines: the crucifixion of Jesus and the Trinity.

                           The Quran on the Crucifixion

One of the best-known teachings of the Quran is its emphatic denial of the death of Jesus. On historical grounds, a witness 600 years later than the event would ordinarily not be taken seriously. But the Quran is, according to Muslims, no ordinary book. It is the perfect revelation of the all-knowing God. Here is Quran 4:157,

Surah An-Nisa, Verse 157:
وَقَوْلِهِمْ إِنَّا قَتَلْنَا الْمَسِيحَ عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ وَمَا صَلَبُوهُ وَلَٰكِن شُبِّهَ لَهُمْ وَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ لَفِي شَكٍّ مِّنْهُ مَا لَهُم بِهِ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِلَّا اتِّبَاعَ الظَّنِّ وَمَا قَتَلُوهُ يَقِينًا

And their saying: Surely we have killed the Messiah, Isa son of Marium, the apostle of Allah; and they did not kill him nor did they crucify him, but it appeared to them so (like Isa) and most surely those who differ therein are only in a doubt about it; they have no knowledge respecting it, but only follow a conjecture, and they killed him not for sure.

In context, the Quran is berating Jews for unbelief and godlessness, like how prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel did. It even goes as far back as portraying the Jews as disloyal from the days of Moses (4:153) and rejoicing in killing God’s prophets (4:155). Jesus, Isa, was one such prophet they rejoiced over killing. However, in verse 157, the Quran says, “They did not kill him nor did they crucify him, but it appeared to them so (like Isa)”. So, though the Jews thought they had killed Jesus in the first century, 600 years later, the Quran denies the killing and offers an explanation: whoever they thought they killed was a look-alike of Jesus. How does one make sense of this?

The Quran does not tell a detailed story surrounding the crucifixion event, so one must do one’s best to fill in the gaps somewhat. A tafseer (an exegetical commentary) on the chapter by Abul Ala Maududi says,

“As a result of a comparative study of the Qur’anic and Biblical versions we are persuaded that, so far as the trial at the court of Pilate is concerned, it was probably Jesus who was tried. Pilate sentenced him to death after the Jews showed their deep hostility to Truth and righteousness by openly declaring that, in their view, the life of a thief was of higher value than that of a man with such a pure soul as Jesus. It was then that God raised Jesus up to heaven.”

So, this mufassir (author) takes as accurate the extant biblical narrative surrounding the death of Jesus up to Pilate’s sentencing. The Bible, according to the mufassir, gets it wrong afterwards. The point this verse seems to make is that whoever it was that the Roman authorities crucified was, in fact, not Jesus (Isa). Notice the following implications. First, the Quran presupposes that there was a crucifixion that day. Second, everyone there present – Jesus’s family members, especially his grieving mom, the disciples, Roman authorities, opposing Jewish leaders, and Roman soldiers – all believed it was Jesus. But the testimony of this verse is that all these heavily invested people were mistaken.

Now, this raises a few problems. If this verse is true, it severely undermines the reliability of human cognitive faculties. If all those different groups (including a mother) with different interests, in Jesus’ case, could not trust their mental faculties, this ramps up the philosophical problem of skepticism to another God-sanctioned level. It means a spouse cannot be sure of who they are sharing the bed with, you cannot be sure that you are reading this piece now, those children you think are yours may not be the same ones you put to bed yesterday, and your understanding/memory of the Quran is unreliable. Why? God may have performed an unverifiable miracle as you blinked!

Someone might say, “No, it is not that human cognition is untrustworthy, but Allah performed a miracle to rescue his faithful prophet that day.” The result is the same. If Allah did a miracle that no one knew about for 600 years, the practical effect is still that the cognition of the people involved was massively unreliable. For instance, according to the extant biblical story, Jesus’ mom died believing that her son was killed (and resurrected). His friends also died, some of them gruesomely, because they believed Jesus was killed (and resurrected). Indeed, they even started a worldwide movement on the belief that Jesus was killed. Six hundred years later, we learn the truth about a miracle! As Descartes painfully learned, such a world of skepticism is not livable.

We should confidently dismiss the testimony of the Quran on historical grounds and reject the rewriting of history in the name of God. The crucifixion of Jesus is one of those historical events that historians of various metaphysical persuasions agree on. We also reject the skepticism accompanying the universe the Quran portrays. If a nursing mother cannot be sure that the infant is the same one she birthed recently, we may as well all be brains in some evil genius’ vat.

                             The Quran on the Trinity

The Quranic teaching on a Trinitarian conception of God is another well-known case. Quran 5 has a few things to say:

Surah Al-Maeda, Verse 17:
لَّقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ قُلْ فَمَن يَمْلِكُ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا إِنْ أَرَادَ أَن يُهْلِكَ الْمَسِيحَ ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ وَأُمَّهُ وَمَن فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا وَلِلَّهِ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا يَخْلُقُ مَا يَشَاءُ وَاللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ

Certainly they disbelieve who say: Surely, Allah– He is the Messiah, son of Marium. Say: Who then could control anything as against Allah when He wished to destroy the Messiah son of Marium and his mother and all those on the earth? And Allah’s is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and what is between them; He creates what He pleases; and Allah has power over all things,

Surah Al-Maeda, Verse 72:
لَقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ وَقَالَ الْمَسِيحُ يَا بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ رَبِّي وَرَبَّكُمْ إِنَّهُ مَن يُشْرِكْ بِاللَّهِ فَقَدْ حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ الْجَنَّةَ وَمَأْوَاهُ النَّارُ وَمَا لِلظَّالِمِينَ مِنْ أَنصَارٍ

Certainly they disbelieve who say: Surely Allah, He is the Messiah, son of Marium; and the Messiah said: O Children of Israel! serve Allah, my Lord and your Lord. Surely whoever associates (others) with Allah, then Allah has forbidden to him the garden, and his abode is the fire; and there shall be no helpers for the unjust.

Surah Al-Maeda, Verse 73:
لَّقَدْ كَفَرَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ ثَالِثُ ثَلَاثَةٍ وَمَا مِنْ إِلَٰهٍ إِلَّا إِلَٰهٌ وَاحِدٌ وَإِن لَّمْ يَنتَهُوا عَمَّا يَقُولُونَ لَيَمَسَّنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ

Certainly they disbelieve who say: Surely Allah is the third (person) of the three; and there is no god but the one Allah, and if they desist not from what they say, a painful chastisement shall befall those among them who disbelieve.

Surah Al-Maeda, Verse 75:
مَّا الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ إِلَّا رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ وَأُمُّهُ صِدِّيقَةٌ كَانَا يَأْكُلَانِ الطَّعَامَ انظُرْ كَيْفَ نُبَيِّنُ لَهُمُ الْآيَاتِ ثُمَّ انظُرْ أَنَّىٰ يُؤْفَكُونَ

The Messiah, son of Marium is but an apostle; apostles before him have indeed passed away; and his mother was a truthful woman; they both used to eat food. See how We make the communications clear to them, then behold, how they are turned away.

Surah Al-Maeda, Verse 116:
وَإِذْ قَالَ اللَّهُ يَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ أَأَنتَ قُلْتَ لِلنَّاسِ اتَّخِذُونِي وَأُمِّيَ إِلَٰهَيْنِ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ قَالَ سُبْحَانَكَ مَا يَكُونُ لِي أَنْ أَقُولَ مَا لَيْسَ لِي بِحَقٍّ إِن كُنتُ قُلْتُهُ فَقَدْ عَلِمْتَهُ تَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِي وَلَا أَعْلَمُ مَا فِي نَفْسِكَ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ عَلَّامُ الْغُيُوبِ

And when Allah will say: O Isa son of Marium! did you say to men, Take me and my mother for two gods besides Allah he will say: Glory be to Thee, it did not befit me that I should say what I had no right to (say); if I had said it, Thou wouldst indeed have known it; Thou knowest what is in my mind, and I do not know what is in Thy mind, surely Thou art the great Knower of the unseen things.

So, this chapter depicts Allah as being all-powerful and able to destroy whoever he wants, including Mary and Jesus, if he so wished. He is not to be compared to mortals. Even the Messiah himself, a term with a completely different meaning in the Quran, from heaven perhaps, implores his Jewish people to worship Allah. Verse 73 recognizes a trinity and immediately rejects such a thing by informing readers that only one Allah exists. We are then told in verse 75 that Jesus was as human as it gets. He was merely one of many human apostles – and he ate food like humans all do. The idea here is that Allah would not need to eat, and since Jesus did eat food, as did his mother, he could not be Allah. Indeed, verse 116 claims Jesus will deny ever saying to people that he (and his mother, Mary) were Gods besides Allah.

The first point to be revisited shortly is that the Quran here shows awareness of beliefs contrary to what it teaches. In other words, whatever theory of revelation a Muslim might affirm, it must account for the easily verifiable fact that the Quran interacted with the ideas of the time. Furthermore, while verse 73 strongly rejects any trinitarian conception of God, the Quran is off-target about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. This is a significant blow to the divine origin theory. By the days of Muhammed, the Trinitarian conception had been around for some 500 years – since the Gospels were written. Even if we were to accept the widespread but erroneous idea that a church council made Jesus God, that council’s pronouncement went forth 300 years before Muhammed, and it never included Mary in the Trinity. So, it appears that Muhammad (or redactors) only knew, from contacts with some people groups, about a trinity consisting of Mary, Jesus, and God. Historians have identified people groups who seemed to have thought very highly of Mary and, perhaps, even worshiped her. But this never was a mainstream Christian practice.

So, though the Quran rejects a Trinitarian conception of God, it knows nothing about the Christian Trinitarian conception. Hence, we may count the ideas in the Quran 5 verses above as non-threatening to a Trinitarian conception of God. Of course, this does not mean that such a conception is true – one must yet show how that is the case. It only means we may move past the objections of the Quran.

I have blogged in the past on the doctrine of the Trinity. Knowing that Muslims generally assert that the Bible nowhere claims that Jesus is God except in Pauline writings, I wrote the defense of the doctrine intentionally leaving out Pauline corpus. The simple fact is that the New Testament authors did not invent the idea of a plurality in the Godhead. The Hebrew Bible started it all. New Testament writers merely put flesh on an existing skeleton.

Does the Quran Gaslight its Seventh-Century Critics?

Thus far, we have looked, at considerable length, at some of the Quran’s extra-biblical details, which ultimately derived from non-canonical Judeo-Christian writings. For instance, we considered such stories as Abraham’s conversion away from paganism/polytheism after he gave thought to some celestial bodies (we didn’t look at how he subsequently preached against paganism to his father, but even this story derived from Jewish writings), Jesus animating a clay bird and commanding, as an infant, a date tree to supply fruits and water to his parents, some angels accepting the legitimacy of Adam’s creation after he showed off his knowledge (though, it is more like showing off inside information prior provided to him but not the angels), Satan refusing to bow and accept Adam’s creation and being subsequently banished, and so on. In the cases we considered, we observed that some of these stories or their recognizable variants, since stories tend to morph over space and time, were known at least 200 years before Muhammad was born. In many other cases, the stories existed 500 years before the Quran.

A rather remarkable observation is that the Quran itself, in what might be a textual equivalent of a Freudian slip, shows awareness of the fact that some of the stories it tells were known beforehand by critics. The stories were not original. Here are some verses:

Surah An-Nahl, Verse 24:
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُم مَّاذَا أَنزَلَ رَبُّكُمْ قَالُوا أَسَاطِيرُ الْأَوَّلِينَ

And when it is said to them, what is it that your Lord has revealed? They say: Stories of the ancients;

Surah Ash-Shuara, Verse 137:
إِنْ هَٰذَا إِلَّا خُلُقُ الْأَوَّلِينَ

This is naught but a custom of the ancients;

Surah Al-Qalam, Verse 15:
إِذَا تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِ آيَاتُنَا قَالَ أَسَاطِيرُ الْأَوَّلِينَ

When Our communications are recited to him, he says: Stories of those of yore.

Surah Al-Furqan, Verse 4:
وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا إِنْ هَٰذَا إِلَّا إِفْكٌ افْتَرَاهُ وَأَعَانَهُ عَلَيْهِ قَوْمٌ آخَرُونَ فَقَدْ جَاءُوا ظُلْمًا وَزُورًا

And those who disbelieve say: This is nothing but a lie which he has forged, and other people have helped him at it; so indeed they have done injustice and (uttered) a falsehood.

Surah Al-Furqan, Verse 5:
وَقَالُوا أَسَاطِيرُ الْأَوَّلِينَ اكْتَتَبَهَا فَهِيَ تُمْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلًا

And they say: The stories of the ancients– he has got them written– so these are read out to him morning and evening.

Surah Al-Furqan, Verse 6:
قُلْ أَنزَلَهُ الَّذِي يَعْلَمُ السِّرَّ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ إِنَّهُ كَانَ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا

Say: He has revealed it. Who knows the secret in the heavens and the earth; surely He is ever Forgiving, Merciful.

Surah Al-Anfal, Verse 31:
وَإِذَا تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُنَا قَالُوا قَدْ سَمِعْنَا لَوْ نَشَاءُ لَقُلْنَا مِثْلَ هَٰذَا إِنْ هَٰذَا إِلَّا أَسَاطِيرُ الْأَوَّلِينَ

And when Our communications are recited to them, they say: We have heard indeed; if we pleased we could say the like of it; this is nothing but the stories of the ancients.

These verses, and others, have critics in Muhammad’s lifetime recognizing some of the things he was telling. Notice that the critics in Quran 8:31 claim they could provide variants of the stories Muhammed told them because they are “nothing but the stories of the ancients.”
The Quran consistently denies the critics’ claims, saying that the all-knowing God had revealed its contents. Considering all we have addressed in prior entries, one’s sympathies must be with the critics. They appear gaslit by the prophet. They were undoubtedly correct in their observations that these were tales of the ancients. True, the contents of the Quran could be fresh revelations to Muhammad, but that does not invalidate the critics’ claims when they said they could recognize some of the tales as being ancient – and, indeed, the all-knowing Allah must know that.

There is a contested Islamic tradition that teaches that Muhammad, like pre-Islamic Arab people, was illiterate. Muslims persuaded by that tradition may attempt to avoid the force of the argument above by saying the Quran is confirmed as God’s revelation to the unlettered Muhammed because there was no way an illiterate man could have known those ancient tales. However, such an attempt does not work. First, one does not need to be illiterate, assuming that Muhammad was indeed illiterate, to appropriate well-known stories. You only need knowledge of the stories. Second, and more serious, while Muhammed may claim ignorance of the ancient tales, Allah cannot because he is all-knowing. So, the revelations in the Quran given by an all-knowing deity should have acknowledged the correct claims of Muhammed’s critics. In denying the critics’ claims, one (or both) Allah and Muhammed lied.

So, if we accept the divine origin theory of the Quran, we must hasten to add that, at least in many instances, it was a waste of divine energy, a reinventing of the wheel, since some of the revelations were knowable by natural means and were known by many people. If we further add the observation that these extra-biblical stories were fictions – or, in any case, not Scriptural as we already noted – in their originating sources, the divine origin theory becomes severely undermined.

                                   Work Cited

Maududi, Sayyid Abul Ala. The Meaning of the Quran: English Version of Tafhim al-Qur’an.

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The Quran and Judeo-Christian Pseudepigrapha (Part 4): Quran 3:35-44 and the Protevangelium of James

John the Baptist was a weird but essential figure in the ministry of Jesus. The Gospels suggest that the men are cousins through their mothers. John’s parents were Zechariah and Elizabeth. Jesus’ parents need no introduction. The Gospels, especially Matthew and Luke, only go as far back in their stories as when Joseph and Mary were already betrothed. Hence, we have no biblical records of the birth of Mary.

The Quran, on the other hand, has quite a bit to say about the birth of Mary, her childhood, and, as I will explain, how Joseph was chosen for her as a husband. We find this story in Quran 3:35-44,

Surah Aal-e-Imran, Verse 35:
إِذْ قَالَتِ امْرَأَتُ عِمْرَانَ رَبِّ إِنِّي نَذَرْتُ لَكَ مَا فِي بَطْنِي مُحَرَّرًا فَتَقَبَّلْ مِنِّي إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ

When a woman of Imran said: My Lord! Surely I vow to Thee what is in my womb, to be devoted (to Thy service); accept therefore from me, surely Thou art the Hearing, the Knowing.

Surah Aal-e-Imran, Verse 36:
فَلَمَّا وَضَعَتْهَا قَالَتْ رَبِّ إِنِّي وَضَعْتُهَا أُنثَىٰ وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا وَضَعَتْ وَلَيْسَ الذَّكَرُ كَالْأُنثَىٰ وَإِنِّي سَمَّيْتُهَا مَرْيَمَ وَإِنِّي أُعِيذُهَا بِكَ وَذُرِّيَّتَهَا مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ الرَّجِيمِ

So when she brought forth, she said: My Lord! Surely I have brought it forth a female — and Allah knew best what she brought forth– and the male is not like the female, and I have named it Marium, and I commend her and her offspring into Thy protection from the accursed Shaitan.

Surah Aal-e-Imran, Verse 37:
فَتَقَبَّلَهَا رَبُّهَا بِقَبُولٍ حَسَنٍ وَأَنبَتَهَا نَبَاتًا حَسَنًا وَكَفَّلَهَا زَكَرِيَّا كُلَّمَا دَخَلَ عَلَيْهَا زَكَرِيَّا الْمِحْرَابَ وَجَدَ عِندَهَا رِزْقًا قَالَ يَا مَرْيَمُ أَنَّىٰ لَكِ هَٰذَا قَالَتْ هُوَ مِنْ عِندِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاءُ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ

So her Lord accepted her with a good acceptance and made her grow up a good growing, and gave her into the charge of Zakariya; whenever Zakariya entered the sanctuary to (see) her, he found with her food. He said: O Marium! whence comes this to you? She said: It is from Allah. Surely Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure.

Surah Aal-e-Imran, Verse 38:
هُنَالِكَ دَعَا زَكَرِيَّا رَبَّهُ قَالَ رَبِّ هَبْ لِي مِن لَّدُنكَ ذُرِّيَّةً طَيِّبَةً إِنَّكَ سَمِيعُ الدُّعَاءِ

There did Zakariya pray to his Lord; he said: My Lord! grant me from Thee good offspring; surely Thou art the Hearer of prayer.

Surah Aal-e-Imran, Verse 39:
فَنَادَتْهُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَهُوَ قَائِمٌ يُصَلِّي فِي الْمِحْرَابِ أَنَّ اللَّهَ يُبَشِّرُكَ بِيَحْيَىٰ مُصَدِّقًا بِكَلِمَةٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ وَسَيِّدًا وَحَصُورًا وَنَبِيًّا مِّنَ الصَّالِحِينَ

Then the angels called to him as he stood praying in the sanctuary: That Allah gives you the good news of Yahya verifying a Word from Allah, and honorable and chaste and a prophet from among the good ones.

Surah Aal-e-Imran, Verse 40:
قَالَ رَبِّ أَنَّىٰ يَكُونُ لِي غُلَامٌ وَقَدْ بَلَغَنِيَ الْكِبَرُ وَامْرَأَتِي عَاقِرٌ قَالَ كَذَٰلِكَ اللَّهُ يَفْعَلُ مَا يَشَاءُ

He said: My Lord! when shall there be a son (born) to me, and old age has already come upon me, and my wife is barren? He said: even thus does Allah what He pleases.

Surah Aal-e-Imran, Verse 41:
قَالَ رَبِّ اجْعَل لِّي آيَةً قَالَ آيَتُكَ أَلَّا تُكَلِّمَ النَّاسَ ثَلَاثَةَ أَيَّامٍ إِلَّا رَمْزًا وَاذْكُر رَّبَّكَ كَثِيرًا وَسَبِّحْ بِالْعَشِيِّ وَالْإِبْكَارِ

He said: My Lord! appoint a sign for me. Said He: Your sign is that you should not speak to men for three days except by signs; and remember your Lord much and glorify Him in the evening and the morning.

Surah Aal-e-Imran, Verse 42:
وَإِذْ قَالَتِ الْمَلَائِكَةُ يَا مَرْيَمُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ اصْطَفَاكِ وَطَهَّرَكِ وَاصْطَفَاكِ عَلَىٰ نِسَاءِ الْعَالَمِينَ

And when the angels said: O Marium! surely Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the world.

Surah Aal-e-Imran, Verse 43:
يَا مَرْيَمُ اقْنُتِي لِرَبِّكِ وَاسْجُدِي وَارْكَعِي مَعَ الرَّاكِعِينَ

O Marium! keep to obedience to your Lord and humble yourself, and bow down with those who bow.

Surah Aal-e-Imran, Verse 44:
ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ أَنبَاءِ الْغَيْبِ نُوحِيهِ إِلَيْكَ وَمَا كُنتَ لَدَيْهِمْ إِذْ يُلْقُونَ أَقْلَامَهُمْ أَيُّهُمْ يَكْفُلُ مَرْيَمَ وَمَا كُنتَ لَدَيْهِمْ إِذْ يَخْتَصِمُونَ

This is of the announcements relating to the unseen which We reveal to you; and you were not with them when they cast their pens (to decide) which of them should have Marium in his charge, and you were not with them when they contended one with another.

So, the Quran here begins with Mary’s conception. Mary’s mother, following the birth of her baby, says an unusual prayer: that God will protect the newborn AND its future offspring, apparently referencing Jesus. (The comment that a male child is not like a female child is probably a relic of the sexism of the time.) Verse 37 then says that Mary was given over to Zechariah to raise. (This is reminiscent of the ancient practice that the boy Samuel experienced. After being weaned, he was left with a priest, Eli, to grow up and serve in the temple.) Like Samuel, God was with the little girl Mary as he supernaturally provided for her.

The following verses up to 41 tell the story of Zechariah, in old age, asking for the blessing of a child. This story is covered in the Canonical Gospels, which, of course, predate the Quran by some 600 years. Then, the story turns back to Mary. In verse 42, Mary is no longer an infant or a little girl, and Allah subsequently charges her to be loyal.

Verse 44 is a bit unclear. We know there was no competition regarding who would raise Mary. As verse 37 says, “Her Lord accepted her with a good acceptance and made her grow up a good growing, and gave her into the charge of Zakariya.” As it will soon be made clear, this verse talks about choosing a husband for Mary in a lots-casting procedure. The Quran says they cast pens (that is, quills) – a slight modification of an older source.

Much of this story is found in the Apocryphal work, Protevangelium of James, dated to the second century – that is, 500 years before the Quran. Better known as the Gospel of James, this work is another infancy Gospel detailing the conception of Mary, upbringing, and marriage to Joseph. It is an influential material for Mariology, the study of Mary. Here is an excerpt:


(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.”

(4) When the child turned three, Joachim said,
“Let’s call the pure women of the Hebrews. (5)
Let them take up lamps and light them so that the
child will not turn back and her heart will never be
led away from the temple of the Lord.” (6) And
they did these things until they went up to the
temple of the Lord.

(7) And the priest welcomed her. Kissing her, he
blessed her and said, “The Lord God has
magnified your name for all generations; (8)
through you the Lord will reveal deliverance to the
children of Israel in the last days.”

(9) And he set her down on the third step of the
altar and the Lord God poured grace upon her.
(10) She danced triumphantly with her drinks and
every house in Israel loved her.

(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.”

Notice that Chapter 9 says they cast rods to determine who Mary should marry. In his book, The Quran and Bible, Gabriel Reynolds observes that the Arabic word for quills, “aqlaam” derives from the Greek “kalamos” which means “Reeds” or rods (Reynolds, 119). So, the Quranic story of pens-casting recalls this fuller rod-casting that eventually revealed Joseph as the divinely chosen husband for Mary.

It is worth stressing again. The claim is not that the Quran directly derived its story from the Infancy Gospel of James. On the contrary, the claim is that such stories as found in this pseudogospel were bound to morph as they traveled through space and time. In any case, the relationship between this gospel and the Quranic account above is crystal clear. The Infancy Gospel of James was recognized as being fictional some 200 years before the Quran.

                                     Works Cited                

“Protevangelium of James.” Translated by Peter Kirby. Early Christian Writings. Early Christian

Reynolds, Gabriel Said. The Qurʾān and the Bible: Text and Commentary. Yale University Press, 2018.

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The Quran and Judeo-Christian Pseudepigrapha (Part 3): Quran 2, Genesis Rabbah, and the Apocalypse of Moses

Page 2 of the Bible tells the story of the creation of Adam. Of all the details given, nothing is said about how angels felt about the creation of humans. In fact, if one does not have other later biblical information to go by, one wouldn’t even know that angels existed.

The Quran, on the other hand, has much to say about how angels felt about God’s intent to create humans. All of them, at first, were opposed to the creation of humans. But after Adam demonstrated his superior knowledge, many angels changed their minds. Satan, however, never accepted the idea. In fact, the Quran teaches that Satan was cast away from heaven because he would not accept God’s sovereign choice to create humans.

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The Quran and Judeo-Christian Pseudepigrapha (Part 2): Quran 6:74 – 79 and the Apocalypse of Abraham

In the Judeo-Christian worldview, Abraham is a big deal. Narratively, he is a type of Adam, the human who carries forward the tasks of Adam and initiates the process of undoing his errors. When humanity at Babel went south, God called Abraham out from his family to reboot the Humanity Project. Abraham was to be how God would achieve the goal of having worldwide humans loyal to him. However, the Bible does not say much about his prior life. We know he originated from the Ur of the Chaldeans, and we have his genealogy. That’s about it.

The Quran, on the other hand, has more to say about Abraham’s prior life. For instance, the Quran tells about Abraham turning away from paganism to embrace Allah in Quran 6, after contemplating on some heavenly bodies:

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The Quran and Judeo-Christian Pseudepigrapha (Part 1): Quran 3, 19, the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, and Childhood of the Saviour

It is an article of faith in Islam that the Quran is a perfect revelation of God delivered through the prophet Muhammad to humanity. It became necessary for God to send the Quran because of the corruptions of the Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity that came before it. (Strictly and properly speaking, Christianity is a sect of Judaism. It was one of many sects of Judaism in the first century AD.) In a restorative move, God provided Muhammed with fresh revelations. In some cases, the revelations are altogether missing from the Bible – which, in a typical Muslim’s mind, further confirms the corruption charges – or are present in the Bible in a modified form.

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The Gates of Hell in Matthew’s Gospel

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16)

Background: The Confession of Peter

The Confession of Peter is a famous passage in which Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of the living God. The Synoptic Gospels all record the event, but Matthew provides more details. In this piece, we shall mainly use Matthew’s account to explore the meaning of the event and Matthew’s literary use of the story in his Gospel.

Matthew’s Gospel is often described as the most Jewish of the canonical gospels. The claim is not without warrant. Matthew’s first step in his Gospel is to provide a genealogy that connects Jesus to both Abraham and David. That move is not trivial. The link to Abraham establishes Jesus as a legitimate, potential, promised “seed” candidate (Genesis 3:15, 22:18). Simultaneously, the connection to David evokes ideas of a messianic king – themes known to people familiar with the Jewish worldview. Matthew also portrays Jesus in ways reminiscent of Moses, the chief Apostle and Prophet of Judaism. Both Moses and Jesus escaped being killed as infants by the rulers of their times; Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount contrasts with Moses’ giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Also, both men serve as deliverers of their people and perform miracles in the liberation process. Even in our day, the Jewishness of Matthew continues to be appreciated. I have watched several stories of Messianic Israeli Jews who embraced Jesus after reading Matthew.

In popular understanding, the Confession of Peter is important because it conveys divine revelation of Jesus’ true identity as the promised Messiah. That much is undoubtedly true, but Matthew does more in his telling, given the extra details he provides. Besides, we should notice that Matthew has already dropped numerous hints about Jesus’ true identity before Peter’s confession in Chapter 16. Let us consider a few of these hints. 

Matthew’s Many Portrayal of Jesus as Yahweh

First, Matthew introduces John the Baptist as one preparing the way for Jesus in this way (3:3): “This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” ’ In the original Isaiah passage, “the Lord” was Yahweh. So, Matthew’s use of the passage ascribes the divine name to Jesus. In Matthew’s story, John the Baptist did not know at this point that Jesus was Yahweh. Still, a careful reader of Matthew’s work would have noticed this literary move. 

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Did Jesus Suffer Sexual Abuse?

Warning: This article may be triggering as it touches on the subjects of torture and sexual abuse.


Often, the prevailing imagery surrounding a distant event has since been distorted, deodorized, or cleaned up so that current beliefs about the event could be inaccurate or incomplete. We can find examples in several spheres of life, including church history. For example, what many churchgoers today believe about angels or what Jesus or even Satan looked like have been shaped more by other things along the way so that the beliefs, measured against what first-century Palestinians held, are dissimilar. The idea that angels, a term that is popularly erroneously used to refer to essentially all heavenly beings except God, are winged creatures derived from European literature, not the Bible. To be sure, the Bible does talk about heavenly beings like cherubs who have wings, but biblical angels are not winged beings. On this platform, we have already addressed the origins of the ahistorical White Jesus in previous blog posts. We also considered the complexities surrounding the identity of Satan, especially among Yoruba-speaking believers. The present article is another instance of correcting a distorted historical event. 

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Faithful and Incorruptible Israel

I’m beginning a study of Matthew, the famous “most Jewish book of the synoptic Gospels.”

The first statement connects Jesus to both Abraham and David. Matthew will later flesh out what these connections mean. (The connection to Abraham legitimizes Jesus as a true Israelite, while the link to David prepares the audience for imminent Messianic claims.)

In fleshing out the connections, Matthew gives a likely curated genealogy in three groups of fourteen. The first of these lists is what I want to focus on here:

‭‭Matthew 1:4-6 NIVUK‬

“[4] Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, [5] Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, [6] and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.”

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Revelation 4 and 5: Divine Council and Christ’s Reign


As mentioned earlier, John arranged his writing into two major parts based on the motif of judgment. The first part deals with the judgment (or warning/encouragement) of the Church. Some of the seven churches of Revelation received rather stern warnings and threats of judgment. For instance, certain members of the Pergamum church have embraced false teaching, leading them to sin similarly as ancient Israelites did when Balaam enticed them towards “food sacrificed to idols” and they “committed sexual immorality” (2:14). In response, Jesus says, in John’s vision, that these members of the Pergamum church should repent, or he will visit them soon and “fight against them with the sword of his mouth” (2:16). That sword kills (Rev 19:21). Similarly, Jesus warns the Philadelphian church about the possibility of losing their crowns (3:11), if they do not continue to hold fast to sound doctrine.

Chapters 6 to 20 contain the second division of the book, which details the judgment of the world, following that of the churches. But this arrangement leaves Chapters 4 and 5 hanging. Why might John do that? Among other things, he does so to make a subtle theological point of presenting Jesus as Yahweh. 

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Who Are the Angels of the Seven Churches in Revelation? (Series Part 2)

In Part 1, I wrote on some general points to be aware of in reading the book of Revelation and provided an example from the first Chapter of the book. Here, I want to say a few things about Chapters 2 and 3, the chapters containing the seven letters addressed to the seven churches in Asia Minor in the first century.

First, let’s say something about how John structures the book around the theme of judgement. 1 Peter 4:17 expresses an idea about judgement beginning with God’s household, the church. John takes the idea very seriously in the way Revelation is structured. Chapters 2 and 3 focus on “judgment” or warning/encouragement of the churches, while the rest of the book is about judgements /warning of the world.

Perhaps the most interesting question in these chapters is the identity of the seven angels of the churches in today’s western Turkey. There are basically two interpretations in the literature: the angels are either humans or divine beings. The text identifies each of these beings as an “angelos” which merely means “messenger.” In the Bible, this term can refer to both humans or divine beings.

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