The Quran and Jesus’ Personal Conduct
The Quran’s confusion regarding the person of Jesus manifests itself repeatedly—a confusion that reflects the misconceptions and misrepresentations of the New Testament that were prevalent within Christendom in the sixth and seventh centuries, which, in turn, were mistakenly accepted into the Quran. For example, consider the Quran’s report of Allah’s communication with Mary regarding Jesus:
(And remember) when the angels said: O Mary! Lo! Allah giveth thee glad tidings of a word from Him, whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, illustrious in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (unto Allah). He will speak unto mankind in his cradle and in his manhood, and he is of the righteous. She said: My Lord! How can I have a child when no mortal hath touched me? He said: So (it will be). Allah createth what He will. If He decreeth a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! and it is. And He will teach him the Scripture and wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel. And will make him a messenger unto the children of Israel, (saying): Lo! I come unto you with a sign from your Lord. Lo! I fashion for you out of clay the likeness of a bird, and I breathe into it and it is a bird, by Allah’s leave. I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I raise the dead, by Allah’s leave. And I announce unto you what ye eat and what ye store up in your houses. Lo! herein verily is a portent for you, if ye are to be believers (Surah 3:45-49, emp. added).
A parallel passage is found in Surah 5:
When Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Remember My favour unto thee and unto thy mother; how I strengthened thee with the holy Spirit, so that thou spakest unto mankind in the cradle as in maturity; and how I taught thee the Scripture and Wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel; and how thou didst shape of clay as it were the likeness of a bird by My permission, and didst blow upon it and it was a bird by My permission, and thou didst heal him who was born blind and the leper by My permission; and how thou didst raise the dead, by My permission; and how I restrained the Children of Israel from (harming) thee when thou camest unto them with clear proofs, and those of them who disbelieved exclaimed: This is naught else than mere magic (5:110, emp. added).
Even the casual reader of the New Testament is familiar with Jesus healing the blind and lepers, and raising the dead. But the New Testament is conspicuously silent about Jesus creating birds or speaking from the cradle, even as it is silent on nearly all details of Jesus’ childhood. That is because the Quran’s allusion to Jesus fashioning birds out of clay, which then came to life, was a fanciful Christian fable with a wide circulation. It is found, for example, in the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Savior (15:1-6) that dates from the second century (Hutchison, 1939, 1:199)—four hundred years before Muhammad’s birth:
And when the Lord Jesus was seven years of age, he was on a certain day with other boys his companions about the same age. Who when they were at play made clay into several shapes, namely asses, oxen, birds, and other figures, each boasting of his work, and endeavouring to exceed the rest. Then the Lord Jesus said to the boys, I will command these figures which I have made to walk. And immediately they moved, and when he commanded them to return, they returned. He had also made the figures of birds and sparrows, which, when he commanded to fly, did fly, and when he commanded to stand still, did stand still (The Lost Books, 1979, pp. 52-53).
A similar legend is found in the Gospel of Thomas (1:4-9) that likewise predates (Cullmann, 1991, 1:442) the production of the Quran:
Then he took from the bank of the stream some soft clay, and formed out of it twelve sparrows; and there were other boys playing with him.... Then Jesus clapping together the palms of his hands, called to the sparrows, and said to them: Go, fly away; and while ye live remember me. So the sparrows fled away, making a noise (The Lost Books, p. 60).
Observe also in the above Quranic passage the allusion to Jesus speaking while yet in His cradle. This point is elaborated more fully in Surah 19 where, after giving birth to Jesus beside the trunk of a palm tree in a remote location, Mary returned to her people carrying the child in her arms and received the following reaction:
Then she brought him to her own folk, carrying him. They said: O Mary! Thou hast come with an amazing thing. Oh sister of Aaron! Thy father was not a wicked man nor was thy mother a harlot. Then she pointed to him. They said: How can we talk to one who is in the cradle, a young boy? He spake: Lo! I am the slave of Allah. He hath given me the Scripture and hath appointed me a Prophet, and hath made me blessed wheresoever I may be, and hath enjoined upon me prayer and alms‑giving so long as I remain alive, and (hath made me) dutiful toward her who bore me, and hath not made me arrogant, unblest. Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive! Such was Jesus, son of Mary: (this is) a statement of the truth concerning which they doubt (Surah 19:27-34, emp. added).
The idea that Jesus spoke while yet in the cradle preceded the Quran, having been given in the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of the Savior (1:2-3): “Jesus spoke, and, indeed when He was lying in His cradle said to Mary his mother: I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom thou hast brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to thee; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world” (Roberts and Donaldson, 1951, 8:405). These mythical accounts are contrary to the Bible’s depiction of the Christ. Yet the legendary folklore extant in the centuries immediately following the production of the New Testament is replete with such absurdities, which obviously were so commonplace that the author of the Quran mistook them as authentic and legitimate representations of the New Testament.
Cullmann, Oscar (1991), “Infancy Gospels,” New Testament Apocrypha, ed. Wilhelm Schneemelcher (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press).
Hutchison, J. (1939), “Apocryphal Gospels,” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. James Orr (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans), 1:199.
The Lost Books of the Bible (1979 reprint), (New York: Random House).
Pickthall, Mohammed M. (n.d.), The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (New York: Mentor).
Roberts, Alexander and James Donaldson (1951), The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).