The legend of Mary’s being brought up in the Temple is found in many other apocryphal works besides the one we have here quoted. For example, in the Coptic “History of the Virgin” [Contributions to Biblical and Patristic Literature, ed. J.Armitage Robinson, Vol. IV No.2 Coptic Apocryphal Gospels, Translations by Forbes Robinson, Cambridge, 1896] we read:
“She was nourished in the Temple like the doves, and food was brought to her from the heavens by the angels of God. And she was wont to do service in the Temple; the angels of God used to minister unto her. But they used often to bring her fruits also from the Tree of Life, that she might eat of them with joy.”
And in another Coptic work, entitled the “Story of the Decease of Joseph” [Ibid., p.132], the following passage occurs: “Mary used to dwell in the Temple and worship there with holiness, and she grew up until she became twelve years old. In her parents’ house she abode three years, and in the Temple of the Lord nine years more. Then the priests, when they perceived that that virgin lived chastely and dwelt in the fear of the Lord, spake to one another, saying, “˜Let us seek out a good man and betroth her unto him until the time of the marriage-feast.” … And they forthwith summoned the tribe of Judah and chose out from it twelve men according to the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The lot fell upon that good old man, Joseph.”
Returning now to the Protevangelium, we are told that when the fact became known that Mary had conceived, Joseph and she were brought before the priests for judgment. The story then goes on:
“And the priest said, “˜Mary, why hast thou done this and hast humbled thy soul? Thou hast forgotten the Lord thy God, thou who wast brought up in the Holy of Holies and didst receive food at an angel’s hand, and didst hear the hymns … Why hast thou done this?” But she wept bitterly, saying, “˜As the Lord God liveth, I am pure in His sight, and I know not a man.–
Afterwards we are informed that Joseph and Mary went from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Failing to find room in the caravansarai at the latter place, they went to abide in a cave, and there the Lord Jesus was born. The words of the original, omitting as usual everything not connected with our present purpose, may be thus translated:
“And he found a cave and led her in … But I, Joseph, looked up into the heaven and saw the vault of the heaven stationary and the birds of the air trembling. And I looked upon the earth, and saw a dish laid out and workmen seated, and their hands were in the dish, and those who were raising [the food to their lips] did not raise it, and those who were putting it into their mouths did not put it in, but the faces of them all were looking upwards. And I saw sheep being driven, and the sheep stood still; but the shepherd raised [his crook] to smite them, and his hand remained aloft. And I looked to the torrent and saw kids, and their mouths were applied to the water and not drinking, and all things astounded.”
The incident of Mary and the palm-tree as related above (Surah XIX., Maryam, 23-6) is apparently taken from the apocryphal work entitled “History of the Nativity of Mary and the Infancy of the Saviour,” although, as we shall see, we can trace both accounts to a probably more ancient source. Now this work, Historia de Nativitate Mariae et de Infantia Salvatoris, or the History of the Nativity of Mary and the Infancy of the Saviour, is also called the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. Once again, Tisdall does not discuss dates or the origins of this apocryphal text. Professor Wilhelm Schneemelcher [op.cit.,Vol.One, p. 458] thinks this work was “written probably about Eighth or Ninth Century for the glorification of Mary as queen of the virgins”. If this is true, how would one account for it as a source for the stories in the Koran which, according to the Muslim accounts, reached its final form in about 650 C.E.?
However, another scholar, J.Gijsel, who has spent thirty years researching this text, collating more than 180 manuscripts, [in J.Gijsel and R.Beyers Libri de nativitate mariae (2 vols. CCSA 9-10; Turnhout: Brepols, 1997) pp. 59-67] dates Pseudo-Matthew [Ps-Mt] to the beginning of the 7th Century — a date that still poses problems for those who accept the Islamic traditions. However, it is possible both the Koran and Pseudo-Matthew are drawing upon some earlier text. Gijsel, for example, is convinced that the Ps-Mt represents a revised and developed version of the Protoevangelium of James quoted earlier. But as Gijsel points out, we are dealing with radical re-writing and not mere editorial changes. Significantly, the story of the Infant Jesus and the palm tree does not appear in the Protoevangelium of James. It seems to me that we can confidently take Pseudo-Matthew as the source of the Koranic account. [See Review of J.Gijsel and R.Beyers by J.J.Elliot in Novum Testamentum XLII, 1, 2000, pp.97-99.]
However, as we shall see, Tisdall believes that both the Koran and the Apocryphal Gospel, perhaps unconsciously, are drawing upon a Buddhist text. Tisdall’s hypothesis does not necessarily contradict my account: it is a question of chronology and priority, and the texts available to the redactors of the Pseudo-Matthew. We are then presented with this possibility: Koranic account derived from Pseudo-Matthew which, in turn, is borrowing from Buddhist legends circulating freely in Syria and Mesopotamia from the earliest times.