Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Joseph the Carpenter in Islam [Part 1]

A Comparative Analysis between Christianity and Islam

Masud Masihiyyen

The Christian teaching that Joseph the Carpenter became Jesus’ foster father through Mary’s betrothal to him before the annunciation sounds scandalous to many Muslims. I even remember how a professor of religion at my school presented Jesus’ infancy narrative and His affiliation with Joseph the Carpenter in Matthew’s Gospel as a contradiction. The professor’s conclusion was that Joseph’s depiction as Jesus’ father in the first section of the first Gospel undermined the Christian doctrine identifying Jesus as the Son of God. Of course, he reached this wrong conclusion by ignoring the fact that Joseph had become a foster father to Jesus through God’s will and choice.

In Christianity Joseph the Carpenter’s portrayal as Jesus’ foster father is related to the Incarnation. When the Son of God decided to become incarnate and assume human nature, He was born of a virgin who was pledged to be married to a man from David’s house. God chose to inform Joseph of the miraculous conception and made him the protector of both Mary and Infant Jesus by incorporating him into the plan of mankind’s salvation (Matthew 1 and 2).

Still, the New Testament emphasizes the fact that Joseph the Carpenter was considered Jesus’ biological father by people who were unaware of Jesus’ miraculous conception (Luke 3:23). Jesus’ affiliation with Abraham’s progeny through Joseph the Carpenter in Matthew 1:1-16, on the other hand, did not mean that Joseph was Jesus’ physical father. Jesus would be the son of Joseph in a similar sense that He was called the son of Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1) through His birth from a virgin in accordance with a prophecy (Matthew 2:22-23). Abraham and David were not Jesus’ biological fathers, nor was Joseph. Jesus was called the son of Abraham and David since He descended from their progeny. In the same way, Jesus was called the son of Joseph the Carpenter since He was affiliated with Joseph’s genealogy through Mary and became Joseph’s legal son.

Interestingly, the Qur’an contains not even a single reference to Joseph the Carpenter in sharp contrast to Joseph’s presence and significant role occurring mostly in the narratives of Jesus’ birth and infancy in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke. Although the New Testament teaches that Joseph was informed of Jesus’ miraculous birth by an angel in his dream (Matthew 1:20-21) very much like Mary, who was visited by the Archangel Gabriel and received the annunciation of Jesus’ miraculous birth (Luke 1:26-38), in the two independent accounts of Jesus’ nativity and childhood in the Islamic scripture Mary is the only person to hear the news in an angelic vision (Surah 19:17-21 and Surah 3:45-47). Things get more puzzling when we remember that almost all the data in the infancy narratives in the Qur’an were drawn from apocryphal Christian literature, that is, from a few non-canonical Gospels of Infancy. Even though these writings present more information about Joseph the Carpenter than the canonical Gospels, Muhammad’s mechanism of plagiarism from these texts somehow did not make Joseph’s appearance in Jesus’ story crucial.

Two possibilities concerning Joseph’s absence from the Islamic scripture come to mind at this early stage of our examination: either Muhammad’s ignorance of the subject or Muhammad’s deliberate choice of exclusion.1 The first possibility turns out to be weak when we remember that the non-canonical writings about Jesus’ nativity and infancy, from which Muhammad drew his peculiar version of the stories, unanimously present Joseph as a significant figure. If Muhammad deliberately excluded Joseph the Carpenter from the narratives in the non-canonical Gospels of infancy, he did this perhaps because he mistakenly thought that Joseph’s presence in Jesus’ story could not be reconciled with Mary’s miraculous conception.

Since the account of Jesus’ nativity and infancy in the Meccan period of the Qur’an (Surah 19) shows discrepancies with the narrative in the Medinan period (Surah 3) – due to the fact that Muhammad made use of two different and unrelated non-canonical Gospels of Infancy (Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Gospel of James) – it is necessary to analyze these stories with regard to Joseph the Carpenter in two parts and witness Joseph’s exclusion from the stories with its outcomes. Accordingly, in the second part of the article I shall examine Jesus’ birth narrative in Surah 19 and discuss what Joseph’s omission from the original texts that Muhammad abused has cost him whereas in the third part I shall focus on Jesus’ birth narrative in Surah 3 and discuss if Joseph was likewise omitted from this chapter. However, this examination should be preceded with a comparative study of Joseph’s existence in Christianity and Islam, which is the main theme of this first article.

Joseph the Carpenter in the New Testament

Interestingly, Pauline epistles, universal epistles and the Apocalypse in the New Testament do not make a single reference to Joseph the Carpenter. More, even in the Gospel of Mark we can find no mention of Joseph. Below are given the references to Joseph the Carpenter in the canonical Gospels:

Gospel of Matthew 1:16, 1:18-20, 1:24, 2:13, 2:19, 13:55
Gospel of Luke 1:27, 2:4, 2:16, 2:22, 2:39, 3:23, 4:22
Gospel of John 1:45, 6:42

Obviously, almost all of the references to Joseph the Carpenter in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke are found in the narrative of Jesus’ nativity and infancy. Both these Gospels give the basic information that Mary was betrothed to Joseph before the angelic visit that announced Jesus’ miraculous birth. Again, in both these Gospels Jesus’ identification as an inhabitant of Nazareth (Nazarene) is associated with Joseph’s being His adoptive father. As for the differences, Matthew recounts the events occurring prior to the annunciation and right after Jesus’ birth from Joseph’s perspective, showing him as a righteous person chosen and guided by God through prophetic dreams for Mary and Infant Jesus’ protection. Evangelist Luke, on the other hand, emphasizes Mary’s role in this significant period of Jesus’ life and relates the events from Mary’s perspective. Accordingly, the good news of Jesus’ birth is delivered to Joseph in Matthew whilst to Mary in Luke. Still, both Matthew and Luke affiliate Jesus with Joseph on their respective version of Jesus’ genealogy.

We owe the information that Jesus’ foster father Joseph was a “carpenter” to Matthew, who reveals this detail through the narrative of Jesus’ visit to His hometown during His prophetic ministry. People who know Jesus’ family designate Him as the son of the carpenter. However, while recording the same narrative, Mark avoided mentioning Joseph and ascribed his occupation to Jesus. To compare and contrast:

Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? And aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? (Matthew 13:55)2

Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?” And so they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)

When these verses are read together and comparatively, Jesus’ designation as a carpenter in Mark actually corresponds to his consideration as Joseph’s son in Matthew, the word “carpenter” pertaining to Joseph and implying Jesus’ affiliation with His foster father on the basis of an occupation.3 The reason underlying this difference in formulation and Joseph’s omission from Mark’s Gospel is that unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark the Evangelist did not talk of Jesus’ nativity and infancy and therefore did not deem it necessary to incorporate Joseph into his Gospel in the later period of Jesus’ ministry. The natural question why we find Joseph mentioned in the Gospel of John although John – very much like Mark – did not write anything about Jesus’ birth and childhood cannot be answered unless John’s distinct writing style is remembered. In the first place, John did not write a synoptic Gospel. Second, he was the last Evangelist to pen his testimony about Jesus and could therefore confirm and strengthen the teachings present in the previously written Gospels. Third, a comparative study of all the Gospels demonstrates that John’s Gospel is more thematically associated with and similar to Luke’s Gospel. Actually, if we put these four Gospels into two groups, Luke and John would form a pair as Luke’s Gospel contains more parallelism with John’s Gospel.4

There are a few points in the Gospels that enable us to conclude that Joseph the Carpenter passed away before Jesus started His prophetic ministry. First, Matthew and Luke never say that Joseph was present with Jesus’ mother and relatives when Jesus preached and performed miracles in Israel. Second, in John’s Gospel Joseph is not mentioned either in the account of Jesus’ first miracle in Galilee (2:1-11) or at the time of His crucifixion although in both these cases Jesus addresses His mother, and in the second case He entrusts her to His beloved disciple (19:26-27). There would have been no need for this had Joseph been alive.

Joseph the Carpenter in the non-canonical Gospels of Infancy

In addition to these, Joseph the Carpenter occurs in the non-canonical Gospels of Infancy, which were penned from the second century onward by unknown authors and ascribed to some apostles/holy figures. Unsurprisingly, these Gospels are concerned with the period of Jesus’ birth and infancy, being products of people who wanted to provide more information on the era prior to both Jesus’ annunciation and the beginning of His prophetic mission in His thirties. Although the Gospels of Infancy are not a part of the New Testament canon, some of the teachings found in these writings made their way into some traditional doctrines taught by the Churches that had existed prior to the Reformation. We have access to the texts of the following apocryphal Gospels of Infancy:

Of these non-canonical writings, the History of Joseph the Carpenter is designed as an account of Joseph’s life through Jesus’ eyes since Jesus seems to be narrator of the major events occurring in His foster father’s life right after his selection as Mary’s guard and caretaker. In addition to designating Joseph as both a carpenter and a priest in the Temple,5 the narrative also gives the age of Joseph at the time of his death (he is claimed to have been 111) with a detailed depiction of his passing away.

The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary is a comparatively short non-canonical text that repeats the traditional teachings stated about Joseph the Carpenter in the two major Gospels of Infancy (Gospel of James and of Pseudo-Matthew) and reflects its author’s aim to reconcile the Christian tradition concerning Joseph with the infancy narrative in the canonical Gospel of Matthew.

The Arabic Gospel of Infancy and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas are two non-canonical documents with several parallelisms, and in these writings Joseph mostly occurs in association with the miracles Jesus supposedly performed in His childhood. Unlike the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, the Arabic Gospel of Infancy relates Jesus’ birth in a cave and the miracles accompanying it, and in this particular section Joseph is again given a significant role.

The Gospel of James and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew can be regarded as the two major apocryphal Gospels of Infancy that shaped the fundamental Christian tradition regarding Mary and Joseph. These writings teach that Joseph was a widower that was chosen by the high priest through divine guidance and sign to take Mary out of the Temple and live with her when Mary did not want to get married, but had to leave the Temple at around the age of 12. Obviously, these narratives support the traditional Christian tenet of Mary’s perpetual virginity, which is not held by the Reformed Churches.

Joseph the Carpenter in Islamic Tradition

Although Joseph the Carpenter is not even once mentioned in the Qur’an, there are a few vague references to him in some traditional reports and narratives related to Mary. For example, while trying to convey some meaning to the obscure and incomplete story of Mary’s conception and delivery in Surah 19, Ibn Kathir reported the following information:

Muhammad bin Ishaq said, "When she conceived him and filled her water jug (at a well), she returned (to her people). After this, her menstrual bleeding ceased and she experienced what the pregnant woman experiences of sickness, hunger, change of color and there was even a change in the manner of her speech. After this, no people came to visit any house like they did the house of Zakariyya. The word spread among the Children of Israel and the people were saying, ‘Verily, her partner (in fornication) was Yusuf, because there was no one else in the temple with her except him.’ So she hid herself from the people and placed a veil between herself and them. No one saw her and she did not see anyone else.'' (Source)

It must be noted that this report bears a blatant discrepancy to the chronology of the events given in Surah 19. According to the Quranic narrative, Mary placed a veil between people and herself before the angelic visit and her subsequent pregnancy (Surah 19:17-19), not after it as it is mistakenly claimed by Muhammad bin Ishaq.

Although not perfectly accurate, this traditional story illustrates the influence of the non-canonical Gospels of Infancy on the Islamic commentaries related to Mary, for the source of the idea that Mary was accused of fornication with Joseph (Yusuf in Arabic) because of her miraculous pregnancy are definitely the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Gospel of James. Observing the influence of some apocryphal Gospels of Infancy on the Qur’an is nothing unsurprising and unusual since Muhammad designed his peculiar version of Jesus’ birth and infancy narratives in Surah 19 and Surah 3 from the distortion of the material borrowed from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Gospel of James, respectively. More to the point, this influence went beyond the Qur’an and leapt into Islamic tradition concerning these stories as I discussed at length and proved in my article entitled “Unravelling a Knot of the Qur’an”.

Nonetheless, the occurrence of Joseph’s name in the commentary quoted above is rather odd and puzzling since the author of Surah 19 did not write anything implicit or explicit about Joseph the Carpenter! Did this peculiar reference in the Tafsir originate from the accidental endorsement of the story recounted by Christians? Did Muhammad bin Ishaq plagiarize more than enough and incorporate this story into the Islamic version of the narrative, thus betraying the Qur’an for the sake of defending it?

In another and more detailed account of the events concerning Mary’s pregnancy in the Islamic tradition, we find the information that Joseph was Mary’s relative (cousin) and a carpenter. The story also depicts and praises Joseph as a pious person serving in the Mosque along with Mary:

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. (Source)

The claim in this traditional Islamic report that Mary served in one of the largest places of worship (a mosque in Islamic terminology) is obviously associated with Mary’s depiction in the non-canonical Gospels of Infancy as a person dedicated to the Jewish Temple. Further, Joseph’s identification as Mary’s relative is not surprising since the combination of the information given about Joseph’s lineage in the canonical Gospel of Matthew with that given about Mary’s lineage in the non-canonical writings takes us to the same conclusion. Both Joseph and Mary descended from the tribe of Judah, which makes them related.

Another similar Islamic report portrays Joseph and Mary as a pair working in the same place and doing the same task of carrying water for use in the mosque:

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. (Source)

People who are familiar with the nativity stories in the non-canonical Gospels of Infancy can guess that the tendency to associate the angelic annunciation to Mary with her carrying water in the Islamic report above originated from the following section in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew:

And on the second day, while Mary was at the fountain to fill her pitcher, the angel of the Lord appeared to her, saying: Blessed are you, Mary; for in your womb you have prepared an habitation for the Lord. For, lo, the light from heaven shall come and dwell in you, and by means of you will shine over the whole world. (Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew chapter 9)

Of course, the traditional Islamic story contains a few discrepancies with Pseudo-Matthew’s narrative due to the perversion of the original source. Although in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew the messenger appeared in human form to Mary and announced Jesus’ birth while Mary was sewing the veil of the Temple on the third day of her stay in Joseph’s house, the Muslim figure relating this story conflated two distinct revelations to Mary (one on the second day while she was at the fountain and the latter on the third day while she was alone in Joseph’s house) and consequently taught that Mary heard the news of Jesus’ birth from Gabriel and got pregnant when she entered a cave to get some water from a spring.6

What concerns us more at this point of our study is the difference concerning Joseph’s presence and role in the traditional Islamic report. According to the two major non-canonical Gospels of Infancy, Joseph did not serve in the Temple, but was appointed Mary’s guardian when Mary had to leave the Temple after her puberty. More, Mary had settled in Joseph’s house when she experienced an angelic vision at a fountain, but at this time Joseph was away and occupied with his work. Joseph returned home and found Mary pregnant, upon which he suspected her and thought that she was guilty of fornication. Later he was warned in a dream and understood the miraculous nature of Mary’s conception.

In the traditional Islamic narrative, however, Joseph served in a mosque and was both Mary’s relative and co-worker. This is why they used to go together to a cave and get some water for use in the mosque. One single day Mary went to the spring alone, and this unique visit coincided with Gabriel’s apparition to her, the annunciation of Jesus’ birth, and Mary’s conception. Naturally, Joseph questioned Mary with regard to her abrupt pregnancy:

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. (Source)

Despite these differences, there are a lot of similar elements that demonstrate the influence of Pseudo-Matthew’s material on the Islamic story. In both narratives Joseph the Carpenter was connected to Mary through a major place of worship (the Jewish Temple versus one of the largest mosques) and acted as both Mary’s guardian and partner. Further, in both versions Joseph the Carpenter was not present when an angel of the Lord appeared to Mary and announced Jesus’ birth. Finally, in both versions Joseph was in charge of Mary’s chastity and became therefore the first male to wonder the cause of her pregnancy.

In the light of the traditional Islamic report it is possible to say that Joseph’s depiction as Mary’s relative and co-worker and thus Joseph and Mary’s presentation as “a pair” might correspond to Mary’s betrothal to Joseph in the canonical Gospels. After all, the traditional Islamic reports quoted above claim that Joseph was the only male figure in Mary’s life just before the annunciation and that Joseph was not present in the cave at the time of the annunciation and Mary’s conception, which functions to imply that he was not the biological father of Mary’s son.

While answering the question if Mary is believed in Islam to have been married or betrothed to Joseph, an Islamic website makes a comparative analysis of the basic Christian and Muslim tenets regarding Mary’s virginity and betrothal and evaluates the assertion of Joseph’s being Mary’s husband:

The Islamic sources do not report a betrothal for Maryam, nor do they mention Joseph, nor a later marriage, nor any siblings for Jesus (peace be upon him). In the Qur’an, there is an entire chapter named after Maryam that beautifully conveys the story of the virgin birth.  The mention of the betrothal could have easily been mentioned if it was true. (Source)

First, Abdullah Anik Misra, the author of this article, is obviously reluctant to consider Ibn Kathir’s commentary an Islamic source. As we saw above, Joseph was actually mentioned in a story attributed to Muhammad bin Ishaq. Second, the last sentence in the above section is logically flawed as the Qur’an does not always reveal to its reader the things that are true. For instance, Ishmael’s mother Hagar is never mentioned in the Islamic scripture. Do we have to conclude that Hagar was not mentioned in the Qur’an because she did not actually exist in history?

Abdullah Anik Misra later confesses that he is aware of the few references to Joseph the Carpenter in some Islamic sources, but does his best to poison the well by casting doubt upon their reliability as he is not pleased with this particular information:

Despite the fact that the authentic primary sources of Islam (the Qur’an and hadeeth) do not mention the existence of Joseph the Carpenter or any other husband or children ascribed to Maryam, Joseph’s mention does come up in some exegetical [tafsir] works on the Quran [al-Tha’labi, al-Tabari, and others]. It becomes clear that these reports were taken from people relating Biblical accounts that they had heard through Christians who lived alongside them. Upon closer inspection, most of these accounts were introduced into the Islamic tradition through the early narrator Wahb ibn al-Munnabih, who was well-known for relating what are called the “Israeliyaat” from the People of the Book, or accounts from the Judeo-Christian tradition that do not have a basis in Islamic sources. His narrations of this sort are taken with a grain of salt by scholars, because he was simply quoting the Christian tradition.  Some scholars of exegesis then simply copied the story from earlier exegeses, and this is how the speculation on Joseph’s existence crept into tafsir literature.

Misra also fabricates a couple of logically fallacious pretexts in an effort to make Joseph’s removal from Mary’s story more plausible through the denial of Mary’s betrothal. First, he erroneously thinks that one unsubstantiated claim will suffice to prove another:

Also, due to the many discrepancies, changes and errors that crept into the Bible over the years, we cannot say that the betrothal to Joseph is authentic or something to be relied upon as true.

The traditional Islamic claim that the Bible was distorted is always proposed as part of a myth and with no evidence. This is why it should not be taken seriously, but rather ignored as a lie and slander. Besides, the alleged assertion that the Bible was partly distorted does not necessarily make the story of Mary’s betrothal to Joseph the Carpenter unreliable as it is impossible for Muslims to know with certainty which part was changed and which part remained intact. How can they prove that specifically Mary’s betrothal was an invented story later attached to the Bible?

Second, Abdullah Anik Misra baffles us by formulating the following statement:

Some may argue that it still leaves room for the Biblical claim that Maryam was only betrothed to Jospeh [sic] but not yet sent to her marital home for consummation.  In ancient Jewish law, a betrothal was as binding as a marriage contract.  Thus, according to this claim, it was an unconsummated marriage because the bride-taking had not taken place. It seems unlikely that Maryam would have reacted with such consternation when it was told to her that she would bear a son, if a natural way to conceive the child was actually so close at hand, plausible and moreover, lawful (ie. going from betrothal to consummation after the “bride-taking”).  After all, if she had a husband-to-be, wouldn’t she assume that the child would be given through him?

This is one of the most bizarre and ridiculous Islamic arguments I have ever heard in my life! Misra expects us to believe that Mary’s consternation at the time of her visit by an angel and the prediction of Jesus’ birth would dismiss the possibility of her betrothal. However, he has no capacity to infer that Mary was surprised at the angel’s words because this incident took place before her marriage and because she was still untouched by a man then. More to the point, the angel did not include Mary’s marriage into the prediction of her conception, implying that she would be pregnant and bear a child before and out of her marriage. This would prevent Mary from mistakenly assuming that a child would be given to her through her to-be-husband. After all, why would there be need for an angelic annunciation if Mary would conceive through normal means?

Later Misra presents another absurd argument:

The miracle of the virgin birth of Christ (peace be upon him) was to be an effective proof from Allah to the Children of Israel of that time.  However, the miracle wouldn’t have seemed as believable if such a significant element of doubt (in the form of a betrothal) could exist.

Jesus’ miraculous birth was meant by God to be an effective proof of what to the Children of Israel? The author of the Qur’an could never come up with a good and valid theological reason for Jesus’ unique birth in the stories of the former prophets. Why would God choose this specific means of miracle to show His might specifically to the Children of Israel, a monotheistic community already believing that God is almighty? Moreover, how would it be possible to show the Children of Israel that Mary conceived while she was a virgin? Doubters would always doubt even if Mary had not shaken hands with a man until her conception. How would it be possible to show Mary’s virginity to such people? Finally, Misra forgets that a miracle is something supernatural and does not need to be plausible and believable by human standards. The more believable, the less a miracle! 

Being unaware of these facts, Misra continues to elaborate on this argument of his:

Had Maryam been engaged or married, and that was well-known in the community, would people not conclude that the child was from the one she was supposed to marry and write-off the plausibility of a virgin birth?  Indeed, some wicked people did insinuate fornication, but Qur’an’s purpose in speaking about Maryam is to clarify that their slander was baseless.

Here Misra exposes the absurdity of his contention through his reference to the story of Mary’s accusation by her folk in Surah 19. The writer of the Qur’an taught that Mary was charged with fornication although she was not betrothed. Thus, Joseph’s absence from the story did not stop people from approaching Mary with suspicion and doubting the plausibility of a virgin birth. We also cannot stop wondering if Joseph’s presence in the story would really restrict Allah’s might? Would it be impossible and unthinkable for Allah to make Baby Jesus speak in the cradle and miraculously tell the Children of Israel that Joseph the Carpenter was not His biological father?

While presenting these arguments Misra also commits a false analogy as he disregards the fact that in the New Testament Jesus’ miraculous birth from a virgin mother is not revealed to the public. Even in the Qur’an we cannot see Jesus refer to His miraculous birth. Although He is claimed to have spoken in the cradle for the sake of defending His mother against the accusations of her people, Jesus’ first speech does not contain the word “virgin” or explain the miraculous means of and reasons for Mary’s pregnancy. According to the story in Surah 3, Jesus does not talk of Mary’s virginity in public during His ministry either.

Misra attempts to explain the reason underlying Mary’s withdrawal to a distant place in Surah 19 right after her conception:

When she became pregnant, she fled out of fear that her people accuse her of fornication- perhaps the heaviest charge and greatest test for a woman who had spent her whole life in chaste abstinence and worship. Also, she was worried that people would look down upon religion itself, because she was known as the most pious woman of her time.

This argument also makes little sense, if any at all. The reason for Mary’s withdrawal is not stated in the Qur’an, and Misra is only using his right to make a guess. His presumption gives birth to the question why Mary would ever want to return to her folk after delivery if she feared to face the charges of fornication. How did her worries about the degradation of religion through her come to an end? Who told her to return to her people and why? If she could return only after Jesus’ birth because she knew that her baby would miraculously speak in order to indirectly defend his mother’s chastity, would it be impossible for Allah to prove Mary innocent before her delivery?

Misra makes further efforts to convince the reader that the version of Mary’s story in the Qur’an is much better than the Biblical account in that it does not mention Joseph and depicts Mary as a strong virgin needing the help of no companion: 

Throughout her whole ordeal, she relied on no one other than Allah Most High- no man, whether husband or fiancée or guardian- and that is a powerful lesson we gain from this story.  Allah is telling us that His female servant could reach the heights of piety and make her a sign for others without the intervention of a man, and Allah Himself would defend her from all charges and slander. Even thereafter, Jesus (peace be upon him) is quoted in the Qur’an as being enjoined upon by Allah to care for his mother (no father or siblings are mentioned), again, indicating that the two only had each other- and Allah Most High. [al-Quran, 19:32]

We must remind Misra that the story in Surah 19 undermines his theory. Allah did not directly defend Mary’s chastity, but supposedly imposed this task on Baby Jesus, Mary’s male child. In short, there occurred need for an intervention and the help of a male even if Mary did not have a husband or fiancée or guardian. Further, the story of Jesus’ birth and infancy in Surah 3 relates Mary’s dedication to the Temple and depicts Zechariah as Mary’s guardian determined by Allah:

And her Lord accepted her with full acceptance and vouchsafed to her a goodly growth; and made Zachariah her guardian. Whenever Zachariah went into the sanctuary where she was, he found that she had food. He said: O Mary! Whence cometh unto thee this (food)? She answered: It is from Allah. Allah giveth without stint to whom He will. (Surah 3:37 Pickthall)

According to Surah 3, some men had to cast lots to be Mary’s guardian just before the annunciation of Jesus’ birth:

This is of the tidings of things hidden. We reveal it unto thee (Muhammad). Thou wast not present with them when they threw their pens (to know) which of them should be the guardian of Mary, nor wast thou present with them when they quarrelled (thereupon). (Surah 3:44 Pickthall)

Although we cannot know anything about this group of men thanks to the vagueness of the verse, this reference seems to have been borrowed from the non-canonical Gospel of James (Chapter 9), which confirms that the man who was made Mary’s guardian before the annunciation was Joseph the Carpenter. This connection destroys all of Misra’s arguments and theories through the endorsement of Joseph’s existence in Mary’s life in the Qur’an. Of course, Muslim scholars argue that Surah 3:44 is a repetition of Surah 3:37 and that in the later verse Zechariah is meant. In case of either interpretation, the Qur’an agrees that Mary needed a male guardian in her life and was not always without a companion. We have to ask Misra why Allah chose to put Mary, a miraculously born child living in the Temple and getting her food directly from above (Surah 3:44), under a man’s (Zechariah’s) care? Why did Mary need a male guardian?

Abdullah Anik Misra concludes his comparative analysis by summarizing his basic argument that Joseph’s presence in Mary’s story in the Gospels is a result of the Biblical distortion:

We will not enumerate further proofs, as this is sufficient to prove Maryam was never betrothed or married.  The question of the historicity and exact role of Joseph in her ordeal, and how his false ascription as her husband crept in the gospels, remains a mystery.

We feel obliged to ask Misra how he can know with certainty and prove historically that Joseph’s designation as Mary’s husband was a false doctrine later inserted into the Bible through perversion. Does he have access to the original form of the New Testament documents and do those texts not confirm Mary’s betrothal to Joseph? This is a greater mystery that awaits solution.

Finally, Misra ignores that the accounts of Jesus’ nativity and infancy in Surah 19 and 3 were plagiarized by Muhammad from the non-canonical Gospels of Infancy as I have shown in a number of comprehensive articles so far! Therefore, our primary question must be why we cannot find a single reference to Joseph the Carpenter in Surah 19 although Mary and Jesus’ story in this chapter was adopted from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, which has various references to Joseph and describes him as Mary’s guardian and an indispensable character in the course of some main events. We shall seek a solution to this real mystery in the second part of the article through the comparative analysis of Mary and Jesus’ story in Surah 19 with the narratives about Mary and Jesus in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.

Continue with Part 2.


1 In his commentary on Surah 19 (*), Wherry turns the first possibility into a rhetorical question while trying to figure out the source of an overt discrepancy between the account in Surah 19 and that in the Gospel of Luke.

2 All the Biblical references in this project are taken from the NET Bible.

3 In those days, it was common that sons would continue in the occupation of their fathers. Sons of farmers would become farmers; sons of merchants would grow up and continue in their father’s business, and carpenters would train their sons in carpentry. In that sense, to say that Jesus was (trained as) a carpenter and worked in this way for some 15 years before he started his Messianic ministry, implies that His father had also been a carpenter.

4 For example, Matthew and Mark associate Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances with Galilee (Matthew 28:7, Mark 16:7) whereas Luke and John focus on Jesus’ appearances in Jerusalem. Further, the account of Jesus’ third appearance to His apostles in John 21:1-11 is thematically tied to Luke 5:1-11.

5 This detail alone shows that the author of this text was not familiar with the Bible, for Joseph was from the tribe of Judah, and it was therefore impossible for him to be a priest as priests had to descend from Aaron!

6 It must also be noted that in the Islamic tradition Mary is said to have encountered Gabriel while she went to the spring in a cave. Thus, the setting of the annunciation is claimed to be a cave in the Islamic tradition, which points at another discrepancy with the teachings given in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew since according to Pseudo-Matthew, a cave was the place of Jesus’ birth rather than that of His annunciation. A closer scrutiny shows that three distinct places and events in Pseudo-Matthew’s text (Mary heard the voice of an angel at a fountain, Mary heard the news of Jesus’ birth from an angel in human form in Joseph’s house, and Mary gave birth to Jesus in a cave in Bethlehem) were united in the Islamic version of the story.

Articles by Masud Masihiyyen
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