3. Maryam “Sister of Aaron”: In What Sense?

There is a curious thing to clarify. Why is the history of Maryam recounted to us in the sura “The Family of Imram” (the third sura)? 

About 1250 years before Jesus Christ, Imran, or Amram, the Bible tells us “wed Yokebed his aunt, who gave him Aaron and Moses [Mussa]” (Exodus 6,20). They also had a third child, a girl named Myriam (Numbers 12). However, the Koranic text says three times that Mary mother of ‘Issa (Jesus) is this Myriam sister of Aaron and daughter of Imran. For example, we read in the sura “Maryam” (19, 28): “O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man without dignity, nor your mother a prostitute” – this is said to Maryam who is pregnant with ‘Issa (Jesus).

Why are the two women named “Maryam” (it is the same name in Aramean, Mary) identified? If we take the Koran literally, we would have to believe that Myriam continued to live 1250 years before giving birth to ‘Issa (Jesus) without anyone ever noticing it – this is what the Wahhabite preachers teach, adding Allahu Akbar.

There is another explanation, doubtless more respectful of God: an ancient Jewish tradition reports that at the prayer of Myriam, sister of Aaron, the Hebrew people thirsting in the desert were miraculously accompanied by a rock-well-source in which water rose and overflowed. Now we start to understand why the disciples of Jesus brought together the figure of this Myriam with that of the mother of Jesus. In effect, the parallelism is evident between, on the one hand, water which comes forth from a rock to save the people in the desert at the prayer of Myriam, and, on the other hand, the new living water promised by Jesus (‘Issa) and coming thanks to Maryam his mother. For proof, one finds this passage in Saint Paul, which has no meaning except as an illustration of this parallelism: “all [the Hebrews] drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10, 3-4). In other words, in the Jewish culture and especially the Hebrew-Aramaean (since Judeo-Christian communities were speaking Aramean), the connection between the “two named Mary” went without saying, and the Corinthians to whom Saint Paul was writing knew the Torah very well (that is to say, the five first books of the Bible, including Exodus and Numbers), along with the popular traditions relating to Myriam sister of Aaron. 

It is true that Jesus himself had somewhat prepared for this comprehension. In the Gospel according to Saint John, we can read these two passages: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water(John 4, 10); and: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink!” (John 7, 37b). The ancient traditional iconography of the Annunciation often represented a well at the center of the ikon – the well-rock of Myriam. And the very expression “Aaron brother of Mary” is found in an apocryphal writing (it is taken up again in an ancient Georgian manuscript dated from the 10th century [1], entitled the Lecture of Jeremiah, which was read for the feast of the Dormition on the 15th of August in the Church of Kathisma near Jerusalem [2]. 

Thus, the Koranic text is simply the echo of the parallelism between the mother of Jesus and the sister of Aaron evident in the culture of the Christian Arabs of the north, actually Syria and Iraq. But then, can it be connected with the Meccans, a thousand kilometers from there, who did not have this culture.


[1] Codex A-144 aus Tiflis, beschrieben in M. van ESBROECK, Les plus anciens homéliaires géorgiens : étude descriptive et historique, Louvain-la-Neuve, Université Catholique de Louvain, Institut Orientaliste, 1975, S. 37-49.

[2] M. van ESBROECK, « Nouveaux apocryphes de la Dormition conservés en géorgien », Analecta Bollandiana 90, 1972, S. 365.

Annonciation evangeliaire de deir el zaafaran puits

The Annunciation. Evangelary of Deir El-Zaafaran (observe the well)