THERE once lived in Palestine a man named Amram Ibn Mathan, who had attained to a great age without being blessed with posterity. Shortly before his death his wife Hanna prayed to the Lord that he might not suffer her to die childless. Her prayer was heard, and when she was with child she dedicated her offspring to the service of the Lord; but, contrary to her expectations, she gave birth to a daughter, whom she named Mariam (Mary), and was naturally in doubt if her child would be accepted as a servant in the temple, until an angel cried to her, "Allah has aceepted thy vow, although he knew beforehand that thou shouldst not give birth to a son. He has, moreover, sanctified thy daughter, as well as the man-child that shall be born of her, and will preserve him from the touch of Satan, who renders every other child susceptible of sin from its birth (on which account, also, all children cry aloud when they are born)."
These words comforted Hanna, whose husband had died during her pregnancy. As soon as she had recovered from her childbed, she carried her infant daughter to Jerusalem, and presented her to the priests, as a child dedicated to Allah. Zachariah, a priest whose wife was related to Hanna, was desirous of taking the p. 250 child home with him; but the other priests, who were all eager for this privilege (for, on account of his piety, Amram had stood high in repute among them), protested against it, and forced him to cast lots with them for the guardianship of Mary. They proceeded, therefore, twenty-nine in number, to the Jordan, and flung their arrows into the river, on the understanding that he whose arrow should rise again, and remain on the water, should bring her up. By the will of Allah, the lot decided in favor of Zachariah, who then built a small chamber for Mary in the Temple, to which no one had access but himself; but when he brought her some food, she was already supplied, and though it was in winter, the choicest summer fruits were standing before her. To his inquiry whence she had obtained it all, she replied, "From Allah, who satisfieth every one according to his own pleasure, and giveth no account of his proceedings."* When Zachariah saw this, he prayed to Allah p. 251 to perform a miracle even in his case, and to bless him with a son, notwithstanding his advanced age. Then Gabried called to him, "Allah will give thee a son, who shall be called Jahja (John), and bear testimony to the Word of God" (Christ). Zachariah went down to his house filled with joy, and related to his wife what the angel had announced to him; but as she was already ninety-and-eight years of age, and her husband one hundred and twenty, she laughed at him, so that at length he himself began to doubt the fulfillment of the promise, and asked a sign from Allah.
"As the punishment of thy unbelief," cried Gabriel unto him, "thou shalt be speechless for three days, and let this serve thee as the sign thou hast required."
On the following morning, Zachariah, as usual, desired to lead in prayer, but was unable to utter a single sound until the fourth day, when his tougue was loosed, and he besought Allah to pardon him and his wife.
Then there came a voice from heaven, which said, "Your sin is forgiven, and Allah will give you a son, who shall surpass in purity and holiness all the men of his time. Blessed be he in the day of his birth, as well as in those of his death and resurrection."
Within a year's time Zachariah became the father of a child, which, even at its birth, had a p. 252 holy and venerable appearance. He now divided his time between him and Mary; and John in the house of his father, and Mary in the Temple, grew up like two fair flowers, to the joy of all believers, daily increasing in wisdom and piety.
When Mary had grown to womanhood, there appeared to her one day, while she was alone in her cell, Gabriel, in full human form.
Mary hastily covered herself with her veil, and cried, "Most Merciful! assist me against this man."
But Gabriel said, "Fear nothing from me: I am the messenger of thy Lord, who has exalted thee above all the women of earth, and am come to make known to thee his will. Thou shalt bear a son, and call him Isa, the Blessed One. He shall speak earlier than all other children, and be honored both in this world and in the world to come!"
"How shall I bear a son," replied Mary, affrighted, "since I have not known a man?"
"It is even so," replied Gabriel. "Did not Allah create Adam without either father or mother, merely by his word, 'Be thou created?' Thy son shall be a sign of His omnipotence, and as His prophet, restore the backsliding sons of Israel to the path of righteousness."
When Gabriel had thus spoken, he raised with p. 253 his finger Mary's robe from her bosom, and breathed upon her.
Thereupon she ran into the field, and had scarcely time to support herself on the withered trunk of a date-tree before she was delivered of a son. Then cried she, "Oh that I had died, and been forgotten long ere this, rather than that the suspicion of having sinned should fall upon me!"
Gabriel appeared again to her, and said, "Fear nothing, Mary. Behold, the Lord causes a fountain of fresh water to gush forth from the earth at thy feet, and the trunk on which thou leanest is blossoming even now, and fresh dates are covering its withered branches. Eat and drink, and when thou art satisfied, return to thy people; and if any one shall inquire of thee respecting thy child, be thou silent, and leave thy defense to Him."
Mary plucked a few dates, which tasted like fruit from Paradise, drank from the fountain, whose water was even like milk, and then went, with her child in her arms, unto her family; but all the people cried out to her, "Mary, what hast thou done? Thy father was so pious, and thy mother so chaste!"
Mary, instead of replying, pointed to the child.
Then said her relations, "Shall this new-born child answer us?"
But Jesus said, "Do not sin in suspecting my p. 254 mother. Allah has created me by his word, and has chosen me to be his servant and prophet."
But, notwithstanding all these wonders, the sons of Israel would not believe in Christ when, at the age of manhood, he proclaimed to them the Gospel which Allah had revealed to him. He was derided and despised because he called himself "the Word and the Spirit of Allah," and was challenged to perform new miracles in the sight of the whole people.
Christ then created, at the will of Allah, various kinds of birds out of clay, which he animated with his breath, so that they ate and drank, and, flew up and down like natural birds.* He healed in one day by his prayer fifty thousand blind and leprous persons, whose cure the best physicians of those times had been unable to effect. He recovered many dead, who, after he had recalled them to life, married again, and had children, and even raised up Sam, the son of Noah, who, however, died again immediately. But he not only revived men, but even isolated parts and limbs. During his wanderings, he one p. 255 day found a skull near the Dead Sea, and his disciples asked him to recall it to life. Christ prayed to Allah, and then, turning to the skull, said, "Live, by the will of the Lord, and tell us how thou hast found death, the grave, and the future state!"
The skull then assumed the form of a living head, and said, "Know thou, O Prophet of Allah! that about four thousand years ago, after taking a bath, I fell into a fever, which, notwithstanding all the medicines which were given me, continued seven days. On the eighth day I was so entirely exhausted that all my limbs trembled, and my tongue cleaved to the roof of my mouth. Then there came to me the Angel of Death in a terrible shape. His head touched the sky, while his feet stood in the lowest depths of the earth. He held a sword in his right hand, and a cup in his left, and there were ten other angels with him, whom I took to be his servants. I would have shrieked so loudly at their sight that the inhabitants of heaven and of earth must have been petrified; but the angels fell on me, and held my tongue, and some of them pressed my veins, so as to force out my soul. Then said I, 'Exalted spirits, I will give all that I possess for my life.' But one of them struck me in the face, and almost shattered my jaw-bone, saying, 'Enemy of Allah! He accepts no ransom.' The Angel of Death then placed his sword upon my throat, p. 256 and gave me the cup, which I was forced to empty to the dregs, and this was my death. My consciousness now lost, I was washed, wrapped in a shroud, and interred; but when my grave was covered with earth, my soul returned to my body, and I was sorely afraid in my solitude. But soon there came two angels, with a parchment in their hands, and told unto me all the good and all the bad that I had done while living in the body, and I was compelled to write it down with my own hand, and to attest it by my own signature; whereupon they suspended the scroll on my neck, and vanished. There then appeared two other dark blue angels, each with a column of fire in his hand, one single spark of which, if it had dropped on the earth, would have consumed it. They called to me, in a voice like thunder, 'Who is thy Lord?' Overcome with fright, I lost my senses, and said, shudderingly, 'You are my lords;' but they cried, 'Thou liest, enemy of Allah!' and struck me a blow with the column of fire that sent me down to the seventh earth; but as soon as I returned again to my grave, they said, 'O Earth! punish the man who has been rebellious against his Lord.' Instantly the earth crushed me, so that my bones were almost ground to powder; and she said, 'Enemy of God! I hated thee while thou didst tread my surface, but, by the glory of Allah, I will avenge me now, while thou art lying in my bowels.' p. 257 The angels then opened one of the gateways of hell, and cried, 'Take this sinner, who did not believe in Allah; boil and burn him.' Thereupon I was dragged into the center of hell by a chain which was seventy cubits in length, and as often as the flames consumed my skin I received a fresh one, but only to suffer anew the torments of burning. At the same time, I was so hungry that I prayed for food; but I only obtained the putrefied fruit of the tree Sakum, which not merely increased my hunger, but even caused the most horrid pain and violent thirst; and when I asked for something to drink, nothing but boiling water was given me. At last they urged one end of the chain with such violence into my mouth, that it came out through my back, and chained me hand and foot."
When Christ heard this, he wept with compassion, but demanded of the skull to describe hell more minutely.
"Know, then," continued the skull, "O Prophet of Allah! that hell consists of seven floors, one below the other. The uppermost is for hypocrites, the second for Jews, the third for Christians, the fourth for the Magi, the fifth for those who call the prophets liars, the sixth for idolaters, and the seventh for the sinners of the people of the prophet Mohammed, who shall appear in later times. The last-mentioned abode p. 258 is least terrible, and sinners are saved from it through the intercession of Mohammed; but in the others the torture and agony are so great, that if thou, O Prophet of Allah! shouldst but see it, thou wouldst weep with compassion as a woman who has lost her only child. The outer part of hell is of copper, and the inner part of lead. Its floor is punishment, and the wrath of the Almighty its ceiling. The walls are of fire, not clear and luminous, but black fire, and diffusing a close, disgusting stench, being fed with men and idols."
Christ wept long, and then inquired of the skull to which family he belonged during lifetime.
He replied, "I am a descendant of the Prophet Elias!"
"And what desirest thou now?"
"That Allah would recall me to life, that I might serve him with my whole heart, so as one day to be worthy of Paradise!"
Christ prayed to Allah, "O Lord! thou knowest this man and me better than we know ourselves, and art omnipotent."
Then Allah said to him, "I had long ago resolved upon that which he desires; since, indeed, he had many excellences, and was especially benevolent to the poor, he may return to the world through thy intercession; and if he serve me henceforward faithfully, all his sins shall be forgiven."
Christ cried unto the skull, "Be again a perfect man, through the omnipotence of God!" and while the words were still on his lips, there rose up a man who looked more blooming than in his former life, and cried, "I confess that there is but one God, and that Abraham was his friend; Moses saw him face to face, Isa is his spirit and word, and Mohammed shall be his last and greatest messenger. I confess, moreover, that the resurrection is as certain as death, and that hell and Paradise do really exist."
This man lived sixty-and-six years after his resuscitation, and spent his days in fasting and his nights in prayer; nor did he alienate a single moment from the service of the Lord until he died.
But the more wonders Christ performed before the eyes of the people, the greater was their unbelief; for all that they were not able to comprehend they believed to be sorcery and delusion, instead of perceiving therein a proof of his divine mission. Even the twelve apostles whom he had chosen to propagate the new doctrine were not steadfast in the faith, and asked of him one day that he might cause a table, covered with viands, to descend from heaven!
"A table shall be given you," said a voice from heaven, "but whosoever shall thereafter continue in unbelief shall suffer severe punishment."
Thereupon there descended two clouds, with p. 260 a golden table, on which there stood a covered dish of silver.
Many of the Israelites who were present exclaimed, "Behold the sorcerer! what new delusion has he wrought?" But these scoffers were instantly changed into swine. And on seeing it, Christ prayed, "O Lord! let this table lead us to salvation and not to ruin!" Then said he to the apostles, "Let him who is the greatest among you rise and uncover this dish." But Simon, the oldest apostle, said, "Lord, thou art the most worthy to behold this heavenly food first." Christ then washed his hands, removed the cover, and said, "In the name of Allah!" and behold, there became visible a large baked fish, with neither bones nor scales, which diffused a fragrance around like the fruits of Paradise. Round the fish there lay five small loaves, and on it salt, pepper, and other spices. "Spirit of Allah," said Simon, "are these viands from this world or from the other?" But Christ replied, "Are not both worlds, and all that they contain, the work of the Lord? Receive whatever he has given with grateful hearts, and ask not whence it comes! But if the appearance of this fish be not sufficiently miraculous to you, you shall behold a still greater sign." Then, turning to the fish, he said, "Live! by the will of the Lord!" The fish then began to stir and to move, so that the apostles fled with fear. But Christ called them p. 261 back, and said, "Why do you flee from that which you have desired?" He then called to the fish, "Be again what thou wast before!" and immediately it lay there as it had come down from heaven. The disciples then prayed Christ that he might eat of it first; but he replied, "I have not lusted for it: he that has lusted for it, let him eat of it now." But when the disciples refused to eat of it, because they now saw that their request had been sinful, Christ called many aged men—many deaf, sick, blind, and lame, and invited them to eat of the fish. There now came thirteen hundred, which ate of the fish, and were satisfied; but whenever one piece was cut off from the fish, another grew again in its place, so that it still lay there entire as if no one had touched it. The guests were not only satisfied, but even healed of all their diseases. The aged became young, the blind saw, the deaf heard, the dumb spake, and the lame regained their vigorous limbs. When the apostles saw this, they regretted that they had not eaten; and whoever beheld the men that had been cured and invigorated thereby, regretted in like manner not to have shared in the repast. When, therefore, at the prayer of Christ, a similar table descended again from heaven, the whole people, rich and poor, young and old, sick and whole, came to be refreshed by these heavenly viands. This lasted during forty days. At the dawn of day, the p. 262 table, borne on the clouds, descended in the face of the sons of Israel, and before sunset it gradually rose up again, until it vanished behind the clouds; but as, notwithstanding this, many still doubted whether it really came from heaven, Christ prayed no longer for its return, and threatened the unbelievers with the punishment of the Lord. Nevertheless, in the hearts of the apostles every doubt respecting the mission of their Lord was removed, and they traveled partly in his company, partly alone, through the whole of Palestine, preaching the faith in Allah and his prophet Christ, and, according to the new revelation, permitting the eating of many things which had been prohibited to the sons of Israel. But when he would have sent them to teach his Gospel even in distant countries, they excused themselves with their ignorance of foreign tongues. Christ complained of their disobedience before the Lord; and behold, on the following day his disciples had forgotten their own language, and every one knew only the language of the people unto which Christ desired to send him, so that they had no longer any reason to disobey his commands.
But while the true faith found many followers abroad, the hatred of the sons of Israel, but especially of the priests and the heads of the people, toward Christ, daily waxed in rancor, until at last, when he had attained the age of thirty-and-three p. 263 years, they sought to take his life; but Allah overthrew their plans, and raised him to heaven unto himself, while another man, whom Allah had caused to have a perfect resemblance to him, was put to death in his stead.
The farther particulars of the last moments of this prophet are variously narrated by the learned, but most of them run as follows: On the evening before the Passover feast, the Jews took Christ captive, together with his apostles, and shut them up in a house, with the intention of putting Christ publicly to death on the following morning. But in the night Allah revealed to him, "Thou shalt receive death from me, but immediately afterward be raised up to heaven, and be delivered from the power of the unbelievers." Christ gave up his spirit, and remained dead for the space of three hours. In the fourth hour the angel Gabriel appeared, and raised him unperceived by any through a window into heaven. But an unbelieving Jew, who had stolen into the house to watch Christ that he might by no means escape, became so like him that even the apostles themselves took him to be their prophet. He it was who, as soon as the day dawned, was chained by the Jews and led through the streets of Jerusalem, every body crying to him, "Hast thou not revived the dead! Why shouldst thou not be able to break thy fetters?" Many pricked him with rods of thorn, others spit in his face, p. 264 until he at last arrived at the place of execution where he was crucified, for no one would believe that he was not the Christ.
But when Mary had wellnigh succumbed from grief at the shameful death of her supposed son, Christ appeared to her from heaven, and said "Mourn not for me, for Allah has taken me to himself, and we shall be reunited in the day of the resurrection. Comfort my disciples, and tell them that it is well with me in heaven, and that they shall obtain a place beside me if they continue steadfast in the faith. Hereafter, at the approach of the last day, I shall be sent again upon the earth, when I shall slay the false prophet Dadjal and the wild boar (both of which cause similar distress in the earth), and such a state of peace and unity shall ensue, that the lamb and the hyena shall feed like brothers beside each other. I shall then burn the Gospel, which has been falsified by ungodly priests, and the crosses which they have worshiped as gods, and subject the whole earth to the doctrines of Mohammed who shall be sent in later times." When Christ had thus spoken, he was once more lifted on a cloud to heaven. But Mary lived yet six years in the faith of Allah, and of Christ her son, and of the prophet Mohammed, whom both Christ as well as Moses before him had proclaimed.
The peace of Allah be upon them all!
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* The general defection of the Church had, long before Mohammed's time, spread into Arabia, where Christianity had been early and extensively planted.
Many heresies respecting the Trinity and the Savior, the worship of saints and images, errors on the future state of the soul, &c., had so completely overrun the nominal church of that country, that it is difficult to say whether one particle of truth was left in it. More esecially the worship of Mary as the mother of God, whom the Marianites considered as a divinity, and to whom the Collyridians even offered a stated sacrifice, was in general practice round Mohammed; and it is as curious as it is sad to observe how this idolatry affected him.—E. T.
* In the original, it is said, Christ was able to tell the people what food they had taken, and what provisions they had laid up in store. This whole legend shows how painfully deceived Mohammed was by those who spoke to him of the Lord Jesus Christ; but if, even with his knowledge, he believed Him to have been a great prophet, would he not have believed in his divinity if he had read the Gospels?