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Books Section > Jesus in Heaven on Earth [Journey of Jesus to Kashmir, his preaching to the Lost Tribes of Israel and death and burial in Srinagar] by Khwaja Nazir Ahmad > Chapter 7: The Family of Imran

Chapter 7:
The Family of Imran:

There is nothing surprising in the fact that the Gospels leave us in ignorance concerning the parents of Jesus and his earthly life. The early Christians must have possessed more accurate information about them; but there were very strong reasons for not transmitting them to the second generation of Christians. Almost immediately after the crucifixion was begun that labour of faith which resolved to elevate Jesus more and more above humanity, which must necessarily have condemned everything that tended in the opposite direction. Too many details about the earthly family of Jesus, and its actual status, which was certainly not too distinguished, could not fail at that time to be very embarrassing. When Paul announced that he was interested only in the crucified and glorified Christ (1 Cor, 1 : 18, 23-24; 2 : 2), he gave the exact formula for the transformation of the life of Jesus in the minds of the earliest generation of Christians. At the same time he revealed the secret of the rapidity with which authentic recollections concerning the family of Jesus, and his life prior to baptism, were obliterated.

The earliest tradition believed that the name of Jesus' mother was Maryam (Mari) and the name of his father was Joseph (Ency. Brit., Art. Genealogies of Jesus). I am alive to the fact that, soon after, Christian apologists challenged the correctness of Joseph being father of Jesus.

Joseph was a carpenter. Jesus learnt his father's trade (Gospel of Thomas, C. 3). He, therefore, came from the ranks of the simple classes, from among those who laboured and "ate bread in the sweat of their faces (Gen., 3 : 19). He experienced their troubles and poverty, as well as their hatred of the rich (Matt., 19: 23-24).

We know very little regarding Mary, and what the Gospels say about her is totally insufficient. In view of the fact that the doctrine of Christotokos centred round Mary, their silence about her is all the more remarkable. Her lineage is completely unknown except that she was a cousin of Elisabeth, the wife of Zacharias, and was "of the daughters of Aaron" (Luke, 1 : 5) that is, Amran or `Imran. Thus we gather that Mary also belonged to the family of Imran or, in other words, was a descendant of Imran.

The Apocryphal Gospels, however, furnish us with some material with which we can reconstruct the early life of Jesus, but unfortunately they also contain and end in contradictory fantasies; and, with the growing influence of the Pauline creed, succumbed gradually to the glorification of the Lord; and, therefore, have to be considered very carefully.

The narrative I am about to describe has been collected from various sources. I will here, very briefly, discuss them first.

The Protevangelium Jacobi or the Gospel Relating to the Birth and Infancy of Jesus, as known to us, was discovered in the sixteenth century by Postel during his travels in the Middle East. It is also styled as the Gospel of James. Zahn and Kruger regard it as a very early document and place it in the first decade of the second century. Origen, writing in the early half of the third century, while referring to this Gospel said:

"The author was in early times universally believed to be the Lord's brother, the head of the Church of Jerusalem. "

Origen was, of course, referring to James the Just, for this Gospel begins: "I, James, wrote this history . . . ." Clement of Alexandria (Stromatas, 8 : 16-93) and Justin Martyr (Dial. 78, 1200; Apol : 33) not only referred to it but relied on it. There exist its recensions in Greek and Latin and an Armenian version is also in existence. It was read in several Churches up to the fifth century. I must, however, point out that this Gospel, as it has come down to us, is not in its original form. From time to time many additions and alterations had been made:

"This happened, there is ground for believing, in the 5th century. The abrupt introduction of Joseph in the first person (Ch. 18-20) gives convincing evidence that that and the following sections are not from the hand of the writer of the Gospel" (Hastings' Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, Vol. 1, p. 681).

To begin with, Origen gives a different ending of the Gospel. Again, certain incidents have been introduced which are in keeping with the later popular mythical belief of the Christians, and it is for this reason that in its present form the Catholic Church, in particular, considers it to be "the most edifying Treatise which was read in several Churches (The Catholic Ency., Art. Apocryphal Gospels). If the form of the Gospel as it existed before the fourth century had been the same as it is to-day it would not have been condemned, as it was, by three successive decrees: The Decrees of the Western Church at Damascus (382 CE), of Innocent I (405 CE) and of Gelasius (496 CE). On the contrary in its present form, and, no doubt, because of the incidents interpolated by hagiographers, this Gospel is maintained by the Catholic Church to be the "source of various traditions current among the faithful. They are of value in indicating the veneration paid to Mary at a very early stage (Ibid.).

According to Postel, this Gospel was very popular with the Syrian Nestorians even in the sixteenth century.

The second is the Evangelium de Nativitate de Maria or the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary. In this Gospel the history of Mary is narrated and it ends with the birth of Jesus. The observations I have made about Protevangelium Jacobi equally apply, perhaps with greater force, to this Gospel.

The third, is the Gospel of the Ebionites. The Ebionites were Jewish Christians, and James the Just was the head of their Church at Jerusalem. They denounced Paul as a heretic and rejected all his Epistles as unauthoritative. No wonder that in the following centuries they themselves were stigmatised as heretics. They observed the Law themselves and held its observance as absolutely necessary for salvation and binding on all, and refused fellowship with all who did not comply with it. They believed that:

"Jesus is the Messiah; yet a mere man, born by natural generation to Joseph and Mary" (Hippol. Phil., 7 : 22, See also Hastings' History of Apostolic Church, 318-332).

This Gospel was likewise referred to by Irenaeus (Adv. Haer., 1, 26), Epiphanius (Epil Haer., 29, 9; 4), Hippolytus (Hippol. Haer., 10 : 18), Origen (Haer., 33) and Tertullian (Turt, Iele, Haer., 3 : 12). The Tubingen School held that primitive Christianity was itself Ebionism. Mosheim says that although the Ebionites believed in the celestial mission of Jesus, yet they regarded him as a man born of Joseph and Mary, according to the ordinary course of nature (Mosheim, an Ecclesiastical History: Ancient and Modern., Vol. 1, 214).

And lastly, the Gospel according to the Hebrews is supposed to be the oldest Gospel. It was freely quoted by Ignatius in his Epistle to the Church at Smyrna (Ibid., 3 :1). This Gospel was written in Aramaic, the language which Jesus and the Apostles spoke. Sometimes it is confused with the so-called Gospel of the Nazarenes; and while considering the one as being only another edition of the other, the Tubingen School held that the teachings and traditions contained therein represented the belief of the primitive Christians. Jerome, who held a very high opinion about this Gospel, regarded it as the original Gospel according to Matthew.

There are other Gospels: The Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel according to Judas Iscariot, and many others but I need not go into their details.

Having thus mentioned in some detail the sources of the narrative I proceed to describe it, of course, without any of the gloss of the later Christians.

Joachim (Ioachim) a wealthy farmer of Nazareth, and his wife Hanna (Anna) lamented over the fact that they had no children (Prot. Jac., C. 1). Joachim was told to his chagrin by Reuben, a Jewish father who could boast of a numerous family, that his childlessness disqualified him from presenting his offerings to God. Reuben looked Joachim in the face contemptuously and addressed him as a man "who had not given any offspring to Israel:" With an aggrieved heart Joachim went to the Temple, remained there till late at night and prayed to the Lord to bless him with a child. In the meantime Hanna, his wife, was also reminded of her childlessness as she saw, through a window of her house, a sparrow's nest in a laurel bush. She had also been driven with jeers from the Lord's Temple; and she also lamented:

"Woe is me! Who begot me and what womb produced me, for I am reproached, and they have driven me with jeers from the Lord's Temple.

Woe is me! What am I like? I am not like the birds in Heaven, for the birds of Heaven are fruitful before Thee, O Lord.

Woe is me! What am I like? I am not like this earth, for even this earth bears its fruit in season and blesses Thee, O Lord" (Prot. Jac., 3 : 1).

By these lamentations Hanna profaned the Lord's Day. Judith her maid turned on her and said:

"Why should I wish you any evil for not listening to my words, since the Lord Himself has closed thy womb, and not given thee any offspring for Israel? "

Hanna dressed herself, out of respect for the Lord's Day, and, as her husband had not yet returned, she bewailed again:

"Bewail must I my sorrows, And bewail must I my childlessness. "

And Hanna prayed:

"O God of Israel! bless me and harken unto my prayer, as Thou didst bless the womb of Sarah and gave her a son, even Isaac" (Ibid., 3 : 3).

At this time an angel appeared and assured her, just as he did to Joachim in the Temple, that the Lord would bless her with a child. Hanna answered with a promise:

As the Lord my God liveth, if I bring forth a child, I will bring it for a gift unto Thee, my God (Ibid., 4 : 1.; Evang. de Nat. de Mar... C.3).

Eventually, Mary was born to Hanna on the 15th of Hathor (Forbes Robinson, The Coptic Apocryphal Gospel, 1); and although according to the Jewish ideas she had to be sorrowful for the child was not a son, still she thankfully praised the Lord for His gift and sang a song. This song is more appropriate than is usually the case with such songs in the Bible. Hanna thanked the Lord and sang:

"I will sing a song unto the Lord my God, for He hath visited me, and taken from me the reproach of my enemies;

The Lord hath given me fruit of righteousness, a single fruit, but manifold in His sight.

Who will tell the sons of Reuben- that Hanna giveth such.

Harken! Harken! Ye twelve tribes of Israel: Hanna giveth suck" (Prot. Jac., 4 : 3)

Hanna then proceeded to fulfil her vows of consecrating the child. Mary was not allowed to walk on the common ground till she was taken at the age of three to the Synagogue, where she was entrusted to the high priest, Zacharias (Prot. Jac., 7 : 1).

A good deal of discussion has taken place as to where Zacharias and John the Baptist lived. Luke says in a city in Juda, but he contradicts himself when he refers to a desert. He does not name the town and the only references by name to the places where John was living are given in John: Bethabara (John, 1 : 28) and Aenon near Salim (Ibid., 3 : 23). Bethabara was east of the river and a day's distance from Cana of Galilee.

Zacharias belonged to the tribe of Abijah, and he may have been a descendant of those who were left behind by Zorobabel with the first band of exiles under the leadership of Shahbazzer. It is true that at one time Zacharias must have lived in the priestly towns, but the Talmud tells us of many high priests living away from them. Zacharias must have taken Elisabeth to these places to escape the fury of Herod.

Mary was taken to Zacharias and was placed under his guardianship. She began to live with him. During her stay in the Temple she was visited and fed by angels and honoured by Divine visions (The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, 6 : The Coptic Life of Mary, 2A).

Mary arrived at womanhood when she was twelve years old. She then had an angelic apparition (Evang. De Nat. de Mar., C. 9). A slightly different version of this apparition is given by Luke (Luke 1 : 28).

In three of the Gospels under discussion the visit of Mary to Elisabeth at this juncture is omitted, for the obvious reason that the apparition took place at a time when Mary was living with Zacharias and consequently with Elisabeth. In the fourth it is clearly a later and self-contradictory interpolation.

Mary had to leave the Temple because of her age. "No exception was made on her account to the rule which forbade all full grown women to be seen within the walls of the Holy Temple. The high priest took counsel as to what course they should adopt in order that she should not defile the Lord's Temple" (The Gospel of Mary. See Yrjo Hiren, The Sacred Shirne, 201).

And the high priest took the vestment with the twelve bells and went in unto the Holy of Holies and prayed concerning her. And lo, an angel of the Lord appeared saying unto him: Zacharias, Zacharias, go forth and assemble them that are bachelors of Israel, and let them bring every man a rod, and to whosoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be (Prot. Jac., 8 : 3; Evang. de Native. de Mar. C.7).

And Zacharias in conformity with the procedure of old (Hos., 4 : 12, Ezek., 21 : 21) summoned the bachelors of Israel (One of the versions says widowers) who lived around or near the place. Zacharias proclaimed:

Let each bring his rod (some version say-a reed used for writing) and whoever has a sign shown to him by the Lord his shall the woman be (Prot. Jac., 9 : 1. Evang. de Mar. C. 7-8; cf. Nub., 18: 2-5).

The narrative goes on:

"And Joseph cast down his adze and ran to meet the heralds, and when they were gathered together, they went to the high priest. The rods were thrown in the fountain outside the Temple ... when Joseph's rod emerged a dove came down and sat beside it" (Ibid).

Joseph was then married to Mary (The details of the event are given in the Armenian Version, Ch. 4), and after some time took her unto his house (which was in Bethlehem Nasoriyyah) (4. Evang. de Nat. de Mar., C. 7-8). The marriage is consummated and Mary conceives (The Gospel of the Ebionites, The Gospel according to the Hebrews, 4 : 3). The age of Mary "when these mysteries came to pass" was fourteen years (Prot. Jac., 12 : 3; The Gospel of Mary. See also Yrjo Hiren, The Sacred Shrine, 206. Some versions say twelve, others sixteen).

Some Gospels state that immediately after his marriage Joseph left Mary and went to another place to attend to his work, and that the apparition to Mary took place during his absence. The place to which Joseph is alleged to have gone is not named and no one mentions the period of his absence. Such vague platitudes cannot be accepted to cover a period of four years. In any case there was nothing to prevent Joseph from returning earlier to his house, resuming his married life and then returning to his work. I have already given detailed reasons for rejecting this journey. In any case the apparition took place before the consummation of the marriage.

The Protevangelium Jacobi also narrates that some time after Mary had been received into Joseph's house, she, with other women, was charged with the making of the Dividing Veil for the Temple of the Lord to screen the Holy of Holies (Prot. Jac., 13 : 1; cf Exod., 26 : 31), and that it fell to her lot to spin the true purple and the scarlet. Mary "did not work with the other women but took the material with her to her home (The Gospel of Mary. See Yrjo Hiren, The Sacred Shrine, 206). I and Joseph had to take a vow of separation as provided for in the Old Testament (Nub. 6 : 1-20). During the period of the vow he had to separate himself from all worldly things and particularly from any carnal connection with his wife. Dummelow tells us that "this vow could either be for a limited period or for life" (Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible, 104). He also says that after the expiry of the period of the vow the devotee "returned to ordinary life" (Ibid.). Joseph was made to take this vow to prevent "uncleanness" of Mary while she was engaged in making the veil. This vow was meant for men only (1 Mac., 3 : 49; Acts, 18 : 18). Mary had "secluded herself in her home to conceal her condition from the children of Israel. Mary went to the Temple to deliver her finished work" (The Gospel of Mary. See Yrjo Hiren, The Sacred Shrine, 206).

We are then suddenly told that when the authorities of the Temple discovered Mary's condition, Joseph was charged with incontinence; and both of them (Nub., 5 : 6-7)'were questioned:

"Wherefore hath thou done this, and wherefore hath thou humbled thy soul and forgotten the Lord thy God? "

The narrative goes on:

"And Joseph was full of weeping. And the priest said: I will give you to drink of the water of the conviction of the Lord, and it will make manifest your sins before your eyes. And the priest took thereof and made Joseph drink, and sent him to the hill country and he returned whole. He made Mary also drink and sent her into the hill country. And she returned whole. And all the people marvelled because sin appeared not in them" (Prot. Juc., 16 : 1-2. cf. Nub. 5 : 18).

Joseph and Mary had not, in fact, transgressed any commandments of the Lord, they had only violated, if at all, a ritual set up by the authorities of the Temple and, therefore, as was to be expected, they passed the test scatheless.

Consequently, the high priest said to Joseph and Mary:

"Since the Lord God has not disclosed your sins, neither do I condemn you" (Prot. Juc., 16 : 3).

"So the high priest sent them away, And Joseph took Mary and departed unto his house rejoicing and glorifying the Lord of Israel" (Ibid.).

Mary was innocent and so, of course, was Joseph, because the conception had taken place during the interval which had elapsed between the time of marriage and the time when Mary was entrusted with the making of the veil and before Joseph had taken the vow. These facts are inherently implied, though not specifically stated, in the narrative because the discovery could not have been made by the authorities of the Temple till after the pregnancy was a little advanced. Consequently, the entrustment of the making of the veil could not have covered the same period. Besides, Mary at her marriage was twelve years of age, and at the time of the making of the veil when "these mysteries came to pass" she was over thirteen years of age.

In one of the narratives, it is true, it is recorded that Joseph had left Mary soon after the marriage and that on his return he was distressed to find her condition and charged her before the authorities of the Temple. She had, therefore, to go through the ordeal of drinking the bitter waters and was subsequently declared to be innocent. This version if false and was introduced to support the supernatural birth of Jesus. I repeat that this version is false, because Joseph also was made to go through the ordeal. The law did not provide for the man to go through the ordeal if he had charged his wife with adultery. If this version was correct Mary, and Mary alone, should have been made to drink the bitter waters. The fact that Joseph also had to take the bitter waters is conclusive evidence of the fact that the real charge was against him, and Mary was made to drink the bitter waters merely because, in such circumstances, the Divine wrath could only demonstratively affect a woman. Mary, therefore, was made to do this so as to furnish evidence against Joseph and not because she had been charged with, or suspected of, adultery. Had the contrary been the case, i.e., had Mary been charged with adultery, she alone would have been made to drink the bitter water and then (Nub., 5 : 24) stoned to death (Lev., 20: 10).

The narrative continues that, in keeping with the traditions then obtaining and, may I add, even to-day obtaining in the East, Mary went to her cousin's house to give birth to her first-born. She had to pass Nazareth on her way. Thus Jesus was born at Nazareth as any other child would have been in wedlock, and in support of this assertion it is mentioned that "the child took the breast from his mother" (Gospel according to the Hebrews).

From this stage Mary is relegated to the position of a forlorn mother, though she now and again appears, according to the Gospels, in the story. Twelve years after she is made to accompany Joseph and Jesus to the Temple at Jerusalem and then she appears at the scene of Calvary.

The abridged review in which I have striven as far as possible to employ the original expressions of the narratives is based upon the oldest MSS and translations of the various Gospels.

The Canonical Gospels also tell us that there were other children of Joseph and Mary besides Jesus. But those who raised Jesus to godhead and who created belief in the virgin birth, could not tolerate the idea of Joseph having ever consummated his marriage with Mary. The peculiar view of incarnation having been linked with the contemporary view of the baseness of matter, led the Christians, who started the worship of the virgin mother, to discover, or invent, the probability that the brothers and sisters of Jesus referred to in the New Testament were either half-brothers and half-sisters, being children of Joseph from a previous marriage, or cousins only (Lightfoot, Brethren of the Lord, 75).

I have used the words "the children of Joseph and Mary" because the Synoptics have no hesitation in giving Jesus brothers and sisters. In the Gospels they are referred to in the most natural way. We read:

"And there came his mother and his brethren, and standing without, they sent unto him, to call him, and the multitude was sitting about him, and they said unto him: Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without, ask for thee" (Mark, 3:31-32).

Again, people of Nazareth are represented as saying:

"Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses and Juda, and Simon? And are not his sisters also with us? " (Mark, 6 : 3. See also Matt., 12: 46-47; Luke, 8:19; John, 2 : 12; 7 : 3; Acts, 1 : 14).

Paul is even more clear, when he says:

"But others of the Apostles saw I none, save James, the Lord's brother" (Gal., 1 : 19).

With this must be read the tradition that James the Just, a brother of Jesus, was the head of the Church at Jerusalem (Euseb., H.E. 2 : 1, 6).

I will not embark on any lengthy discussion of the arbitrary theories, based as they are on mere assertions. They are three-fold. The first, the Helvidian mentioned by Helvidius in the time of Jerome, which held that the brothers and sisters were the children of Joseph and Mary born after Jesus. They relied on the reference to Jesus as the first-born (Matt., 1 : 25; Luke, 2 : 7).

The second, the Epiphanian, was sponsored by St. Epiphanius, which declared that the brothers and sisters were the issue of a previous marriage of Joseph. The third, the Hieronymian, was of St. Jerome himself, by which the brothers and sisters of Jesus were relegated to the status of mere cousins of the Lord, the children of Clopas, a brother of Joseph, and "the other Mary."

It was the last-mentioned theory which found favour with the later Christians, though it is totally devoid of any historical foundation. While commenting on this last theory Glover says:

"That cousins in some parts of the world are confused in common speech with brothers may be admitted, but to the ordinary Greek reader brothers meant brothers and not cousins, which was something different" (Glover, The Jesus of History, 23).

But we need not go by conjectures. We know the names of the brothers of Jesus (Matt., 13 : 55; Mark, 6 : 3) and also the sons of "the other Mary" (Mark, 15: 40); and they are different.

As a last resort, it has been suggested that the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus were no other than the groups of his followers united to each other by the bonds of faith; and reliance is placed on the fact that early Christians spoke of themselves as brethren and that Jesus styled them as brethren in his direction to them to proceed to Galilee (Matt., 28 : 10; cf. John, 20 : 17).

I have already referred to the incident that the mother and brothers of Jesus went to get hold of him. He was then with his disciples and they mentioned to Jesus that his mother and brothers had come. This, I think, fully disposes of this special plea.

No one can ever dream the episode of the critical neighbours of Nazareth, who would not accept a prophet because they knew the family, that although Jesus had no blood brothers, yet their rejection was based because of his half-brothers or cousins only. When history gives us brothers and sisters and the apologetics cousins only, in any other case the decision of an historian would be quite clear.

I will just mention here another fact: Jesus had a twin brother, Judas Thomas (Thilo, Acta Thomae, 94) who is also called Didymus (John, 20 : 24) the twin.

It is not a matter for wonder that the evangelic texts or common-sense traditions could not prevail for any length of time. The explanation is very simple. The early Christians, very shortly after the crucifixion, could not reconcile themselves to the idea that the mother of Jesus, once her mission had been accomplished, was relegated to the level of an ordinary woman. The doctrine of the virginity of the Christotokos, that is to say, the mother of Christ, was gradually replaced by the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary, and finally Joseph himself was made a saint. It was the asceticism of the fourth and fifth centuries which finally established the beliefs, which subsequently became one of the Articles of Faith, concerning the perfect and perpetual virginity of Mary.

But the fact remains that the first Christians in the first century and some, like the Ebionites, for a much longer period, continued to believe that Jesus was the first born of Joseph and Mary. They at that time were not interested in Mary on her own account, and it was a matter of indifference to them that she continued to live as Joseph's wife and gave birth to other children.

In conclusion, I can but observe that Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary and belonged to a humble family which consisted of half a dozen or more children besides himself.


Books Section > Jesus in Heaven on Earth [Journey of Jesus to Kashmir, his preaching to the Lost Tribes of Israel and death and burial in Srinagar] by Khwaja Nazir Ahmad > Chapter 7: The Family of Imran


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