14. The Signs Surrounding the Birth of ‘Issa (Jesus)

The conception of ‘Issa (Jesus) was a miracle, and miraculous signs also accompanied his birth. What meaning do they have?

“Maryam became pregnant with the child and retired herself with him in a distant place. Then the pains of giving birth brought her to the trunk of a palm tree, and she said: ‘Woe is me, that I had died before this instant! And that I had been totally forgotten!’ Then he (the newborn) called from below her: ‘Do not afflict yourself. Your Lord has placed at your feet a spring. Shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree: it will cause some dates fresh and ripe to fall on you.’” (Sura “Maryam” s. 19, 22-25).

The signs are thus: the dates of the palm tree, the spring, and above all the fact that the baby speaks.

The context of the sura “Maryam” is polemical, it wants to answer Jewish calumnies treating Maryam as a prostitute, as we read in verses 27 and 28 which follow: “They (the family) said: ‘O Maryam, you have done a monstrous thing; sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil nor your mother a prostitute’” (s. 19, 27-28). The reply is given beforehand: “She said: ‘How can I have a son when no man has touched me and I am not a prostitute’” (s. 19, 20).

We can observe that, according to the traditional Turkish Koran, a second reply is given in verse 24. Instead of saying (as in the standard Koran of 1924): “Do not afflict yourself; your Lord has placed beneath you a spring,” a Turkish version of the Quran says: “Do not affect yourself at all, your Lord has made honest what was found in you.” This makes a lot more sense: by a miraculous word, the newborn ‘Issa washes his mother of all calumny.

Where does the difference come from? It comes from very little, as Professor Luxenberg has shown. If one gives the pure consonants of the word “spring” (SRY from sariyan) to read to an Aramean or a Syriac, he will spontaneously read the adjective sarya, which means legitimate (or honest according the Turk). When the Iranian commentators of the 10th century definitively placed the diacritic points and vowels in the Koranic text, they misread and imagined a sariyan, a spring – in so doing they lost the sense of the text. Now there existed a reason for their error. The text speaks of a palm tree that offers its dates to Maryam; this history is drawn from the apocryphal pseudo-Matthew, a very popular account, in which there is question, with regard to this palm tree, of a spring that appears! [1]

In the Gospel, are there also miraculous signs accompanying the birth of Jesus (‘Issa)? We note first a great historical rigor:

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that should be enrolled all the people of his empire. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all men went to be enrolled, each to his own city” (Luke 2, 1-3 from Aramaic).

As for the signs, there was first an angel that appeared to the shepherds, “the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with an immense fear.

And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you an immense joy! Which will be for the entire word! For to you is born this day in the city of David [Daoud] a Savior, who is the Lord, the Messiah. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, and good hope among men.’” (Luke 2, 9-14 from Aramaic).


[1] J. Gijsel, in F. Bovon et P. Geoltrain (éds), Écrits apocryphes chrétiens (I), La Pléiades, Paris 1997, p. 138.