Tag Archives: mary

Qur’an 3: The Family of Amram

There are parts of some texts that are easy to understand. Then there are texts that are harder to understand.

And then there are texts even provide a hermenutical key to help in deciphering them.

It is He who has send down to you the Book.
Parts of it are definitive verses, which are the mother of the Book,
while others are ambiguous.

As for those whose hearts is deviance,
they pursue what is metaphorical in it, perusing misguidance and aiming at its interpretation.

But no one knows its interpretation
except God and
those firmly grounded in knowledge;
they say, ‘We believe in it; all of it is from our Lord.’

Only those who possess intellect take admonition.
Qur’an 3:7

The third chapter of the Qur’an takes its name from the father of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam: Amram. An extended comparison between Miriam and the Virgin Mary (who in Hebrew have the same name) is presented. As before there’s also another voice, focused on the political and religious events of another time and that views Christians as an out-group. These two voices have a surprising convergence, at least for me, in their understanding of words and books.

Arian Christianity

The Two Marias

The Christian Bible contains two Marias, with the same name in Hebrew (“????????” or Miryam) . The name of the first is typically translated as “Miriam,” she is the sister of one of the men who during the Transfiguration talked with Christ: Moses. The second is typically translated as “Mary,” she is the mother of the man-god who during the Transfiguration talked with Moses: Jesus.

Both Marias are associated with songs, celebrating God’s overthrowing of the human inequity. In her song to the women, Maria sister of Moses sang:

And Miriam answered them:
“Sing to the Lord,
For He has triumphed gloriously!
The horse and its rider
He has thrown into the sea!”
Exodus15:21

In her own song to Elizabeth, Maria mother of Jesus sang:

And Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord…
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
Luke 2:46,51-52

The typological similarities between the Marias as well known in our academic church literature

Tracing the attributes of Miriam, the sister of Moses, we discover the following: she is a leader, a prophetess, a mediator, an initiator, a servant. a nurse. a caring person, a model of discretion and timing, a negotiator, and a woman who secretly and effectively works behind the scenes in the salvific history of the people.
The Catholic Tradition uses such attributes for Mary of Galilee in the Church’s devotional hymns and litanies. The biblical sources for such expressions are taken from the Cana event (Jn 2:1-11) and from the Annunciation and Visitation accounts (Lk 1:28-45).
Old Testament Types of Mary,” Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Perhaps this is why the prophets who bridged the Old and New Testaments looked back not just on Egypt, not just on redemption, but the Family of Amram— the Prophet Moses, the Priest Aaron, and Maria:

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage; And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
Micah 6:4

The Family of Maria

In the above, I’ve said “Maria sister of Moses” and “Maria mother of Jesus,” but properly the style should be patristic. The first Maria would be “Maria daughter of Amram”:

The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and to Amram she bore Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam.
Numbers 26:59

And the other Maria… well, we don’t know exactly. Smart people, going back to the Church Fathers, argued Mary’s father’s name was Perhaps Joachim/ and that we went by a nickname, “Heli.”

It is into this ambiguity that the Koran gives the Father of Maria another name, the name of the father of the first Maria: Amram

When the wife of Amram said, ‘my Lord, I dedicate to You in consecration what is in my belly. Accept it from me; indeed You are all the All-hearing, the all-knowing.’ When she bore her, she said, “My Lord, I have born a female’ — and God knew better what she had borne, and the male was no match for the female — ‘and i have named her Mary, and I commend her and her offspring to Your care against the outcast Satan.’
Thereupon her Lord accepted her with a gracious acceptance, and made her grow up in a worthy fashion, and He charged Zechariah with her care.
Qur’an 3:36-37

The Qur’anic author doesn’t just emphasize the connection between the Marias, he recapitulates their Songs into a new form, using the words of neither but the theme of both:

Say, ‘O God, Master of all sovereignty!
You give sovereignty to whomever You wish,
and strip of sovereignty whomever You wish;
You make mighty whomever You wish,
and You degrade whomever You wish;
all choice is in Your hand.
Indeed, You have power over all things.”
Qur’an 3:26

Post-Christianity in the Context of Christianity

The New Luke, the New Paul

After I read The Heifer I felt the Arian Christian and the post-Christian voices in the Qur’an were fundamentally alien to each other, or at least only inexplicably connected. But the beliefs of the men behind those voices may have been more similar than I suspect.

For instance, it may be that one or both of these men saw himself as a new Paul of Tarsus, or new Luke the evangelist

But if they deny you, apostles have been denied before you, who came with manifest signs, holy writs, and an illuminating scripture.
Qur’an 3:184

Luke quotes Christ speaking of the Jews in the third person in his edition of the Beatitudes

Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake.

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.
Luke 6:22-23

Paul elevates this charge, adding the murder of Christ to their misdeeds:

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men
1 Thessalonians 2:14-15

Yet Paul nonetheless identified as Jew, at least tactically:

But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”
Acts 23:6

And at times a Pauline verse…

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.
1 Corinthians 4:3-5

appears to cleanly flow int o a Qur’anic one, especially if the three-hold description of God (“Him, the All-mighty, the All-wise”) is in fact Trinitarian:

Nothing is indeed hidden from God in the earth or in the sky.
It is He who forms you in the wombs however He wishes.
There is no god except Him, the All-mighty, the All-wise.
Qur’an 3:6

This rhetorical imitation continues into unexpected areas. Luke uses the term “womb” more than all other New Testament writers combined. Though the emphasis on female participation reproduction according to God’s plan is more common in the Old Testament than the New:

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
And He who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who makes all things,
Who stretches out the heavens all alone,
Who spreads abroad the earth by Myself;
Isaiah 44:24

That’s not even to mention the time travel.

The Apparition at Fatima

Take this verse, which is Luke writing Christ’s words to Paul:

So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said,
‘I am Jesus,
whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to
turn them from darkness to light, and
from the power of Satan to God, that
they may receive forgiveness of sins and an
inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me
.’
Acts 26:15-18

Edit the text down, and rearrange:

I am Jesus,
they may receive forgiveness of sins and
turn them from
from the power of Satan
darkness to light, and
an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.

Compare with the Fatima Decade Prayer, given by Our Lady to girls in Portugal nearly 1,900 years later:

My Jesus,
forgive us our sins,
save us from the fires of hell.
Lead all souls to Heaven,
especially those most in need of Thy mercy.
Amen.

And in between, the text of The Family of Amram:

Those who say,
‘Our Lord!
Indeed, we have faith.
So forgive us our sins,
and save us from the punishment of the Fire.’
Patient and truthful, obedient and charitable, and
they plead forgiveness at dawns.
Qur’an 3:16-17

Twice:

Our Lord, whoever that You make enter the Fire will surely have been disgraced by You, and the wrongdoers will have no helpers. Our Lord, we have indeed heart a summoner calling to faith, declaring, ‘Have faith in your Lord!’ So we believed.
Our Lord,
forgive us our sins and
absolve us of our misdeeds,
and make us die with the pious.
Our Lord, give us what You have promised us through Your apostles, and do not disgrace us on the Day of Resurrection. Indeed, you do not break Your promise.’
Qur’an 3:192

This is just weird. How can Christ’s words to Paul, as recorded by Luke, show up both in the Qur’an and at Fatima but chopped up and in a different order, and translated from the Lord’s perspective to man’s? There must, I think be, an intermediate form of this pray circulating in the Patristic age.

Does anyone still know that prayer?

The Battle

The post-Christian voice in the Qur’an returns multiple time to a battle. The battle seems to have been lost. But the specific details and locations are not described — the battle that either would have been well known to the audience, or its an allegorical battle.

The battle was against a people of the Book:

A group of the People of the Book were eager to lead you astray; they they lead no one stray except themselves, but they are not aware.
O People of the Book! Why do you deny God’s signs while you testify? O People of the Book? Why do you mix the truth with falsehood, and conceal the truth while you know?
A group of the People of the Book say, ‘Believe in what has been sent down to the faithful at the beginning of the day, and disbelieve at its end, so that they may turn back.’
Qur’an 3:69-72

Perhaps these references are to a battle in the late Classical period in the Arabian peninsula…

Certainly He has excused you, for God is gracious to the faithful. When you were fleeing without paying any attention to anyone, while the Apostle was calling you from your rear, He requited you with grief upon grief, so that you may not grieve for what you lose nor for what befalls you, and God is well aware of what you do.
Then He sent down to you safety after grief — a drowsiness that came over a group of you — while another group, anxious only about themselves, entertained false notions about God, no notions of ignorance. They said, “Do we have any role in the matter.’ Say, ‘The matter indeed belongs totally to God,’ They hide in their hearts what they do not disclose to you.
They say, ‘Had we any role in the matter, we would not have been slain here.’ Say, ‘Even if you had remained in your houses, those destined to be slain would have set out toward the places where they were laid to rest, so that God may test what is in your hearts, and God knows well what is in the breasts.
Qur’an 3:154

Or perhaps the references — to the persecuting people of the Book, to the falling asleep, to the death that awaits — is to something else:

And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him.

Then He came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.”
Betrayal and Arrest in Gethsemane

And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.
Mark14:40-43

There was, after all, something of a battle:

Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.

So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?”
John 18:10-11

The Battle is used as an occasion to bless the weak and marginalized — the female, the migrant, the tortured, and the dead:

Then their Lord answered them, ‘I do not waste the work of any worker among you, whether male or female; you are all on the same footing.

So those who migrated and were expelled from their homes,
and were tormented in My way, and those who fought and were killed —

I will surely absolve them of their misdeeds and
I will admit them into gardens with streams running in them,
as a reward from God, and God — with Him is the best of rewards.’
Qur’an 3:195

This also is parallel to the Gospels:

Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said:

“Blessed are you poor,
For yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,
For you shall be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
For you shall laugh.

Blessed are you when men hate you,
And when they exclude you,
And revile you, and cast out your name as evil,
For the Son of Man’s sake.

Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!
For indeed your reward is great in heaven,
For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.
Luke 6:20-23

I wish I understood Arabic grammar better. “God — with Him is the best of rewards” states this voice, who I have been calling post-Christian. I wonder if this is a pun

“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Matthew 1:23

Christology and Bibliology

The Word and the words

Christians hold that God created the world through the Logos (“the Word”), and in some ways is identified with the Logos:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
John 1:1-5

The Word became flesh on earth:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

But is the Word-in-flesh identical to the Word, or instantiation of it? Jews believe that God has many hypostases He uses to speak to His creation, including the Spirit of the LORD, the Name of the LORD, and the Angel of the LORD. Is Jesus a part of the Word, or is He identical to it?

The Qur’anic author seems aware of this question, because it’s answered repeatedly: Christ is a Word of God:

When the angels said, ‘Oh Mary, God gives you the good news of a Word from Him whose name is Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, distinguished in the world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near. he will speak to the people in the cradle and in adulthood, and will be one of the righteous.’
Qur’an 3:45

And the same term is used in the angels’ words predicting John the Baptist:

Thereat Zechariah supplicated his Lord. He said, “My Lord! Grand me a good offspring from You! You indeed hear all supplications.’
Then, as he stood praying in the sanctuary the angels called out to him: ‘God gives you the good news of John, as a confirmer of a Word of God, eminent and chaste, a prophet, and one of the righteous.
He said, ‘My Lord, how shall I have a son while old age has overtaken me and my wife is barren?’Said He, ‘So it is that God does whatever He wishes.’
Qur’an 3:38-40

The Members and the Body

The Church forms the body of Christ. All Christian are members of the one Body of Christ:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.
1 Corinthians 6:15-17

Christ instructed us to abandon those members which cause sin:

If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
Matthew 5:29-30

A logical implication of this, I suppose, is those members of Christ which are still sinful are cast into the fire:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
John 15:1-6

Or, as the Qur’anic author puts it:

When God said, ‘Oh Jesus, I shall take you, and I shall raise you up toward Myself, and I shall clear you of the faithless, and I shall set those who follow you above the faithless until the Day of Resurrection. Then to Me will be your return, whereat I will judge between you concerning that about which you used to differ.
Qur’an 3:55

One Body, and many members.

The Qur’an’s theory of the Logos is similar. Many words, many books, many Scriptures, but one “Book.” The Torah, the Evangel (“Gospel”), and the mysterious Criterion are in some ways instances of it:

God — there is no god except Him — is the Living One, the All-sustainer. He has sent down to you the Book with the truth, confirming what was before it, and He had sent down the Torah and the Evangel before as guidance for mankind, and He has send down the Criterion. Indeed, there is a severe punishment for those who deny the signs of God, and God is all-mighty, avenger.
Qur’an 3:2-4

Yet, while a people may only have been given the Torah, and another only given the Gospel, they still had been given the Book:

When God made a covenant with those who were given the Book: ‘You shall explain it for the people, and you shall not conceal it,’ they cast it behind their backs and sold it for a paltry gain. How evil is what they buy!
Qur’an 3:187

The Seen and the Unseen

There is one Book in Heaven, the Book is with God, but the Book is not God.

The Torah, The Qur’an, the “Criterion” (whatever that is), even the Messiah, they are books or words, they are perhaps images of the Book, but they are not God.

Christians believe that face of Christ is how we see the face of God, he is a Divine Icon of Ineffable Divinity:

He is the image of the invisible God-, the firstborn over all creation.
Colossians 1:15

In the context of The Family of Amram, this is worse than sola scriptura — this is idolatry. Consider the following verse — it’s almost totally Orthodox, could almost conclude a Catholic prayer service – except for one line:

God will not leave the faithful in your present state, until He has separated the bad ones from the good.
God will not acquaint you with the Unseen,
but God chooses whomever He wishes from His apostles.
So have faith in God and His apostles;
and if you are faithful and Godwary, there shall be a great reward for you.
Qur’an 3:179

To me this is a striking. In my impressions of the Qur’an’s second chapter, The Heifer , I mentioned there was clearly an Arian Christian voice in the text as well a post-Christian voice. But on this issue of themes of both — the Arian instances on the created nature of Christ, and the Post-Christian emphasis on the created nature of the Torah, the Gospels, and the “Criterion,” they are.

Would these voices agree, the Word is a Book, and the Book became flesh, and in this flesh was a word in the Book?

I’m not sure. But I had not expected to find this parallelism in voices that otherwise seemed so disjointed.

Final Thoughts

The Family of Amram is the third chapter of the Qur’an. It follows The Opening, an introductory psalm or prayer, and The Heifer, which introduces both the Arian Christian voice and the post-Christian voice. The Family of Amram continues the development of these voices, but introduces a shared understanding: the multiplicity of words, scriptures, and books, in contrast with the one Book heaven. This intermingling of concepts implies that the apparently post-Christian voice may itself incorporate a Christian commentary, and is not so opposed to the Arian voice as I had first thought.

I read the second chapter of the Qur’an, The Family of Amram, in Gabriel Said Reynolds’ translation.

The Protoevangelium of James

The Reformation and Counter-Reformation, both well-intentioned, separated much of the Christian world from their heritage. The great Christian debates of the late middle ages were collapsed into a ridiculous dispute over faith and works. Christian festivals and popular culture were lost all over western Europe, as described by Phillip Jenkins in The Many Faces of Christ by Phillip Jenkinks. One such popular work, ironically most Central preserved in Islam, but still remembered in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, is The Protoevangelium [First-Gospel] of James. I once called it “Joseph/Mary fan fiction.” That’s correct. But the Protoevangelium takes place before the Gospels. Really, it’s a prequel.

Most Christian perspectives separate the Scriptures (that which was written down) and the Tradition (the guide to that which was written down, which itself was not written down). But it’s not always clear where one begins or one ends. Are the Catholic Deuterocanon, “Secondary” Scriptures like Tobit or Maccabees), part of the Scriptures or Tradition? What of prayers (like the Prayer of Mannasseh) and prayer-like works, such as 1 Enoch and 2 Esdras. Books in the above list are considered part of the Scriptures by at least some Christian traditions.

The Protoevangelium is not considered Scripture by anyone. But it captures much of the Tradition of many Christians. The Protoevangelium is something like the script of a nativity play, or a pre-cinematic of Christian films like The Passion of the Christ. Indeed, like Passion, Protoevangelium was written in an explicitly Catholic tradition, takes the Faith seriously, but also incorporates other devout but non-canonical and even imaginary material.

A Prequel

The Protoevangelium is to the Gospels what the Star Wars prequels were to the original trilogy. Like the Star Wars prequels, the Protoevangelium clearly takes place in the same “universe” as the Gospels and includes many of the same characters — to the point of implausibility.

A problem with prequels in general is that if the characters really did have these adventures, why were they forgotten? This happened to the Jedi in Star Wars. In the original film, Luke can hardly believe that Jedi were real. But only two decades before the Jedi were a highly visible arm of the central government with a large office building in the capital and a prominent role in economic rule-making. Is it really credible that everyone forgot this — that the mere existence of a government agency — be forgotten in twenty years?

There are many many articles, videos, and podcasts about this mystery, but the same could be asked of most popular prequels:

Protoevangelium questions might included

  • How did Joseph’s staff become not even a myth in the Gospels?
  • Why did everyone forget about Mary and Joseph?
  • Why did Jerusalem apparently become a much larger city in 30 years?

Of course, people can forget. Especially sick people. This is what distinguishes prequel-style blindness from the mental blindness of a legitimately dramatic figure, like King Saul in the Book of Samuel, where once-renounced individuals appear to be unknown, is the dual introduction of David son of Jesse. He is King Saul’s musician:

But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Surely, a distressing spirit from God is troubling you. Let our master now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is a skillful player on the harp. And it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit from God is upon you, and you shall be well.”

So Saul said to his servants, “Provide me now a man who can play well, and bring him to me.”

Then one of the servants answered and said, “Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the Lord is with him.”

Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse, and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” And Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine, and a young goat, and sent them by his son David to Saul.
1 Samuel 16:14-20

yet when David offers to fight Goliath, Saul does not recognize him, and Saul’s assistant Abner does not point this out:

When Saul saw David going out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this youth?”

And Abner said, “As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.”

So the king said, “Inquire whose son this young man is.”

Then, as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. And Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, young man?”

So David answered, “I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”
1 Samuel 17:55-58

But in Samuel this is an example of psychological realism: Saul’s mental decay has already gone, and is now accelerating as even loyal men, like Abner, no longer treat him like a competent actor. The priest’s forgetting of Mary and Joseph does not teach us a lesson though. It simply indicates Star Wars-quality writing.

The Backstories

The Protoevangelium gives back-stories for numerous characters in the Gospels, including Mary, Joseph, and even minor characters.

Mary, Mother of God

The story of uses Mary to parallel the life of Christ. Christ’s humanity is a vital part of the scriptures, and Christ’s shedding of blood is a lesson: God bleeds and suffers with men.

Mary likewise is a woman and not some abstract platonic spirit, and herself the daughter of a real woman.

The midwife said, “A girl.”

Anna said, “My soul exalts this day.” And she put her baby to bed.

After her days were completed, Anna cleansed her menstrual flow and gave her breast to the child and gave her the name Mary.

Day by day, the child grew stronger. When she was six months old, her mother set her on the ground to test whether she could stand. And after walking seven steps, she came to her mother’s breast.
Protoevangelium 5:7-6:2

Mary was raised in the Temple itself and her approaching menstrual cycles were a topic of discussion for the High Priests:

When she turned twelve, a group of priests took counsel together, saying, “Look, Mary has been in the temple of the Lord twelve years. What should we do about her now, so that she does not defile the sanctuary of the Lord our God?”
Protoevangelium 8:3-4

There are two obvious reasons for this. The first, the shocking claim that God was born of a woman, a claim that in much of the Muslim world can still get one killed, doubtless appealed to women. And the second, that Mary herself was a type of Christ, as is every mother.

Blessed Joseph, Her Spouse

Joseph is specifically invited to be part of a Temple marry-a-virgin contest, and wins it by a miracle. No one in the Gospels ever mentions this, or thinks it relevant to events only a generation later.

Throwing down his ax, Joseph went out to meet them. And after they had gathered together with their rods, they went to the high priest. After receiving everyone’s rod, the high priest went into the temple and prayed. When he was finished with the prayer, he took the rods and went out and gave them to each man, but there was no sign among them. Finally, Joseph took his rod. Suddenly, a dove came out of the rod and stood on Joseph’s head. And the high priest said, “Joseph! Joseph! You have been chosen by lot to take the virgin into your own keeping.”
Protoevangelium 9:1-7

Joseph is a widower, and old man, and the perpetual chastity of the Holy Couple is explained and more plausible in that way.

The Protoevangelium also dramatizes the confrontation between Joseph and Mary as the pregnancy becomes obvious. They are the second couple in this work, after Joachim and Anna, to be well textured.

You can hear their shouting:

In the sixth month of her pregnancy, Joseph came from his house-building and went into the house to find her swelling. And he struck his face and threw himself on the ground in sackcloth and wept bitterly,

And Joseph got up from his sackcloth and called her and said to her,

“After having been cared for by God, what have you done?
Did you forget the Lord your God?
You who were raised in the holy of holies, you who received from the hand of an angel, do you know how much you have humiliated yourself?”

Then, she wept bitterly, saying, “I am pure and I did not know a man.”

And Joseph said to her, “Where did this thing in your womb come from then?”

But she said, “As the Lord my God lives, I do not know where it came from.”
Protoevangelium 13:1-2,6-10

The Saints

Prequels often take place in small worlds, where characters who interacted in the original stories meet each other in different circumstances before.

For example Simeon, mentioned in Luke’s gospel..

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law
Luke 2:25-27

… turns out to have been the replacement for the father of John the Baptist!

Then, after three days, the priests deliberated about who they should appoint to take the place of Zachariah. And the lot went to Simeon. For he was the one to whom it had been revealed by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he saw the messiah in the flesh.
Protoevangelium 24:12-14

Likewise, Salome, who in Mark’s gospel was with Mary Magdalene in caring for the body of the murdered Christ and entered the hole — the bomb — he was buried in:

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.

Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large.

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.
Mark 16:1-5

finds herself in the same situation, but for the newborn Christ!

And the midwife went in and said, “Mary, position yourself, for not a small test concerning you is about to take place.”

When Mary heard these things, she positioned herself. And Salome inserted her finger into her body. And Salome cried out and said, “Woe for my lawlessness and the unbelief that made me test the living God. Look, my hand is falling away from me and being consumed in fire.”
Protoevangelium 20:1-4

Artistic Choices

There is beautiful writing in the Protoevangelium that echoes the best of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible story of Samuel’s parents, and the emotional pain of childlessness

Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”

So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD. And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish.
1 Samuel 1:5-10

is echoed here, in the pain of Joachim and Anna:

Then, Joachim was extremely frustrated and did not appear to his wife, but gave himself to the desert and pitched his tent there. He fasted forty days and forty nights. All the while, Joachim was saying to himself, “I will not go down for food or drink until the Lord my God visits me; prayer will be my food and drink.”

Then, his wife Anna mourned and lamented,

“I lament that I am a widow and I lament that I am childless.”
Protoevangelium 1:1-2:1

But there’s a section which simply seems out of place. It happens once, it is very odd, and I don’t know what to make of it. A passage from the journey to Bethlehem…

When they came to the middle of the journey, Mary said to him, “Joseph, take me off the donkey, the child pushing from within me to let him come out.”

So he took her off the donkey and said to her, “Where will I take you and shelter you in your awkwardness? This area is a desert.”

And he found a cave and led her there and stationed his sons to watch her, while he went to a find a Hebrew midwife in the land of Bethlehem.
Protoevangelium 17:10-18:1

… is suddenly interrupted with a bizarre passage when the tone — and narrator! — of the work changes:

Then, Joseph wandered, but he did not wander.

And I looked up to the peak of the sky and saw it standing still and I looked up into the air. With utter astonishment I saw it, even the birds of the sky were not moving. And I looked at the ground and saw a bowl lying there and workers reclining. And their hands were in the bowl. And chewing, they were not chewing. And picking food up, they were not picking it up. And putting food in their mouths, they were not putting it in their mouths. Rather, all their faces were looking up.

And I saw sheep being driven, but the sheep were standing still. And the shepherd lifted up his hand to strike them, but his hand remained above them. And I saw the rushing current of the river and I saw goats and their mouths resting in the water, but they were not drinking. And suddenly everything was replaced by the ordinary course of events.
Protoevangelium 18:2-11

Eventually, the narrative resumes. The Joseph-narrated portions smoothly flow back into the standard third-person narration while talking about Salome, and by the end James is revealed to be the narrator.

I, James, wrote this history when there was unrest in Jerusalem, at the time Herod died. I took myself into the desert until the unrest in Jerusalem ceased. All the while, I was glorifying God who gave me the wisdom to write this history.

And grace will be with all who fear the Lord.

Amen.
Protoevangelium 25:1-4

I do not know what is happening here. The Book of Ezekiel in particular breaks the reader’s expectations for dramatic effect, spiraling out from Jerusalem to Israel, the neighboring countries, and finally the trans-real Gog and Magog. But is this simply a case of pieced-together fragments that were recognized as such at the time? Is this why the Protoevangelium considered “not only to be rejected but also condemned” since A.D. 405? I don’t know.

The Faith Traditions

Three faith traditions contain material that either comes directly from the Protoevangelium, or else from the lost source that inspired by Protoevangelium: Orthodox Christianity, Catholic Christianity, and Islam. The story of Mary under the care of the Priest Zachariah in Islamic scriptures:

Right graciously did her Lord accept her: He made her grow in purity and beauty: To the care of Zakariya was she assigned. Every time that he entered (Her) chamber to see her, He found her supplied with sustenance. He said: “O Mary! Whence (comes) this to you?” She said: “From Allah. for Allah Provides sustenance to whom He pleases without measure.”

There did Zakariya pray to his Lord, saying: “O my Lord! Grant unto me from Thee a progeny that is pure: for Thou art He that heareth prayer!
Qu’ran 3:37-38

Is clearly from the same tradition, with the same affection for the protagonists, as the Protoevangelium:

When she turned twelve, a group of priests took counsel together, saying, “Look, Mary has been in the temple of the Lord twelve years. What should we do about her now, so that she does not defile the sanctuary of the Lord our God?”

And they said to the high priest, “You have stood at the altar of the Lord. Go in and pray about her. And if the Lord God reveals anything to you, we will do it.”

And the priest went in taking the vestment with twelve bells into the holy of holies and prayed about her. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before him, saying, “Zachariah, Zachariah, depart from here and gather the widowers of the people and let each one carry a staff. And the one whom the Lord God points out with a sign, she will be his wife.” So the heralds went out to the whole surrounding area of Judea and the trumpet of the Lord rang out and all the men rushed in.
Protoevangelium 8:3-9

The Catholic affection of the Protoevangelium is not as explicit but widespread. The names of Jesus’s grandparents, Anna and Joachim, come from this work. Much western art doesn’t make sense without it.

An edited version of the Protoevangelium is included in New Advent’s The Fathers of the Church. And more popularly, a priest on the Catholic media site EWTN explains the work this way:

The Protoevangelium is not to be classed with the Gnostic writings of old, which were products of heretical groups, claiming secret knowledge. On the other hand, as you note, we cannot elevate this work to the level of Sacred Scripture, as it has no guarantee of inerrancy. This early work reflects at least some ancient traditions, held by at least some substantial part of the early Church. As to the general preference for the view that the “brothers” of the Lord are likely kinfolk, and not step-siblings from a previous marriage by Joseph, we have likely been strongly influenced by the Western Fathers, including Saint Jerome, who strongly dismissed the view that they were step-siblings. Saint Jerome had a great command of the ancient languages and customs, and while not an infallible source, is worth attending to.
Answer by Fr. John Echert

These thoughts are echoed by a poster at a forum post for Orthodox Christians:

Is it Scripture? No. Is it infallible? No. Is it accurate in all its details? Probably not. Is it worthless? No. Does it preserve the earliest thoughts about the family life of Christ? Yes. Does it seem to be based on the early Church’s traditions? Yes. Is it the earliest coherent source on the Theotokos? Yes.

The full text of the Protoevangelium‘ is available online. I read the Protoevangelium of James in the Kindle edition translated by James Orr.

The Book of Exodus

I recently re-read Exodus. I used Robert Alter’s excellent translation, but this time read it at quicker pace. Instead of a one chapter a day, ready out loud to myself, I read multiple chapters a time. This had costs. The characters were flatter, and much of the subtly was lost. But the faster pace made some patterns clearer, especially after having read the full Bible. And one of these is the relationship between circumcision and sacrifice.

The Bridegroom of Blood

The Book of Exodus hangs on an episode that, read in isolation, is inexplicable: God tires to kill Moses, but instead his wife circumcises their son. But by tying together death, sacrifice, motherhood, and life, it is nearly a key to the whole Bible:

And it came to pass on the way, at the encampment, that the LORD met him and sought to kill him.

Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at Moses’ feet, and said,

“Surely you are a husband of blood to me!”

So He let him go. Then she said,

“You are a husband of blood!”

— because of the circumcision.
Exodus 4:24-26

Shockingly, Moses does not perform the circumcision. Nor does his brother Aaron, the priest. Nor even his sister Miriam, the prophetess. His wife must do it, and only after the LORD sought to kill him. And this is the second time he was saved by a woman. His wife offered his son to the blade, as his mother offered him to the waters:

And a man of the house of Levi went and took as wife a daughter of Levi. So the woman conceived and bore a son. And when she saw that he was a beautiful child, she hid him three months. But when she could no longer hide him, she took an ark of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank. And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him.
Exodus 2:1-4

Circumcision and the Heart

When Circumcision is first introduced in the Bible, it is likewise paired with sacrifice. Circumcision typically is performed on the 8th day. It took seven days to Create the world, seven days to inaugurate the Temple in Jerusalem, and seven days to prepare the Temple of the Holy Spirit — the body — after birth:

And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.

He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.

He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
Genesis 17:9-14

Yet this birth would be a demanded sacrifice: God later tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.

These themes build momentum through the Bible. The story of the men Abraham and Moses becomes the story of an entire nation, whose circumcision of the heart is now demanded: Instead of the blood of the male member thrown on Moses’ feet, the blood of the pure heart needs to be poured out:

Break up your fallow ground,
And do not sow among thorns.

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD,
And take away the foreskins of your hearts,
You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
Lest My fury come forth like fire,
And burn so that no one can quench it,
Because of the evil of your doings.
Jeremiah 4:4

And finally, this applies to the whole human race.

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh;
but he is a Jew who is one inwardly;
and circumcision is that of the heart,
in the Spirit, not in the letter;
whose praise is not from men but from God.
Romans 2:28-29

The pinnacle of this story — of Zipporah at the Inn — is the Immaculate heart of Mary. Luke the Evangelist emphasizes, twice in quick succession, how she pondered in her heart:

And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:18-19

even without understanding:

So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”

And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.

Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart.
Luke 2:48-51

The parallel to Exodus is clear. As with Mary, in quick succession: Pharaoh’s heart is referenced, but the outcome is tragically different.

For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.
Exodus 7:12-13

and again:

The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river. So there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.

Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the LORD had said.
Exodus 7:22

And now we come to the most important moment in the life of Pharaoh and Mary, and one Zipporah only bridges. For her son lived. Pharaoh’s son died:

And it came to pass at midnight that the LORD struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock. 30 So Pharaoh rose in the night, he, all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
Exodus 12:29-30

As did Mary’s:

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!”
John 19:25-26

The Bridegroom and the Blood

Moses, whose own son was saved by a circumcision presented by his wife, would see a Christophany within a Mariophany:

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush.

So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed.

Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”
Exodus 3:1-3

And now we see how this ties together. The LORD sought to make a sacrifice of Isaac. And Moses. But he put of this demand until His own Son would be on the cross. Because His Son, being truly God, would not be stopped by death. Being truly Man, His own mother would be a witness:

Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him. Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”
Mark 16:1-7

The Lord places himself as the sacrifice. Instead of Isaac, instead of Moses, instead of us all, his blood spilled. When we suffer we join our suffering to Him, and when we bleed we join our blood to him. For Moses was always a forerunner — it is Christ who is our bridegroom of blood:

Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”
Revelations 19:7-9

The Second Book of Esdras

Recently I read — well, I’m not sure what it’s called. Let’s back up.

Traditionally the book I read would be called 4 Esdras, or the Fourth Book of Ezra. But Protestant, and then English-language Catholic translations, renumbered a series of books, 1 Esdras became Ezra, 2 Esdras became Nehemiah, 3 Esdras became 1 Esdras, and 4 Esdras became 2 Esdrass So 2 Esdras may either mean this book, or the Book of Nehemiah. Further, this book is so obviously a triptych that its parts are sometimes broken up, with the middle called 4 Esdras or 4 Ezras the first two chapters called 5 Esdras, and the last two called 6 Esdras. The part called 4 Esdras in that naming scheme corresponds to Ezra Salathiel in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Some churches call it 3 Ezras.

But the Revised Standard Version and the 1611 King James Bible both call it 2 Esdras. So that’s what I’m going with. The Second Book of Esdras.

The Second Book of Esdras is supposedly narrated by Ezra, whose inter-office memos with the Emperor of Babylon are recorded in the Book of Ezra and who is often considered to be the final editor of the Five Books of Moses. Most churches consider 2 Esdras to be Apocryphal. 2 Esdras even less accepted than the Prayer of Manasseh, though the core of bulk of 2 Esdras is at least more widely adopted than the Ethiopian-Orthodox-only Book of Enoch. There’s disputes over what portions were written by Christians under Roman rules, and what portions were written under Pharisees under Roman rule. Considering that many Pharisees, like Saul of Tarsus, considered themselves Christians, there may not be much of a difference.

There are three sections, each of which deal with God’s judgment on Israel. The first and last are apocalypses. The middle section — longest of the three — is a dialogue on the presence of suffering and the vision of woman.

Now, from the end the beginning. First, the last:

Many images in 2 Esdras are shared with the New Testament, such as the seeds in the field

Woe to those who are choked by their sins and overwhelmed by their iniquities, as a field is choked with underbrush and its path overwhelmed with thorns, so that no one can pass through
2 Esdras 16:77

Which recalls the parable of the sower

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
Matthew 13:3-7

But not all the parables are passables. Images of the Holocaust — the burnt offering — of the mid 20th century come to mind

As in an olive orchard three or four olives may be left on every tree, or as when a vineyard is gathered some clusters may be left by those who search carefully through the vineyard, so in those days three or four shall be left by those who search their houses with the sword…. They shall be like mad men, sparing no one, but plundering and destroying those who continue to fear the Lord. For they shall destroy and plunder their goods, and drive them out of their houses.
2 Esdras 16:29-31, 71-72

The author was not the first to use holocaust imagery in this way:

The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.
H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu (1928)

Within this context, the command not to be anxious of physical things

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
Matthew 6:31-34

Puts on the airs of an escape from a burning city

Hear my words, O my people; prepare for battle, and in the midst of the calamities be like strangers on the earth. Let him that sells be like one who will flee; let him that buys be like one who will lose; let him that does business be like one who will not make a profit; and let him that builds a house be like one who will not live in it; let him that sows be like one who will not reap; so also him that prunes the vines, like one who will not gather the grapes;
2 Esdras 16:40-43

There’s one line that I want to highlight. I’ll return to the theme later.

Just as a respectable and virtuous woman abhors a harlot, so righteousness shall abhor iniquity, when she decks herself out, and shall accuse her to her face, when he comes who will defend him who searches out every sin on earth.
2 Esdras 16:49-50

Next, the first:

The physical nightmare at the end of 2 Esdras is matched by promises of a nightmare at the beginning. God condemns Israel and announces a blood price will be due

Thus says the Lord Almighty: Have I not entreated you as a father entreats his sons or a mother her daughters or a nurse her children, that you should be my people and I should be your God, and that you should be my sons and I should be your father? I gathered you as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. But now, what shall I do to you? I will cast you out from my presence. When you offer oblations to me, I will turn my face from you; for I have rejected your feast days, and new moons, and circumcisions of the flesh. I sent to you my servants the prophets, but you have taken and slain them and torn their bodies in pieces; their blood I will require of you, says the Lord.
2 Esdras 1:28-32

But (in a hint at what the last section is missing), there is still time of repentance

Rise and stand, and see at the feast of the Lord the number of those who have been sealed. Those who have departed from the shadow of this age have received glorious garments from the Lord. Take again your full number, O Zion, and conclude the list of your people who are clothed in white, who have fulfilled the law of the Lord. The number of your children, whom you desired, is full; beseech the Lord’s power that your people, who have been called from the beginning, may be made holy.”
2 Esdras 2:38-41

And the Son of God himself will be coming with palms.

I, Ezra, saw on Mount Zion a great multitude, which I could not number, and they all were praising the Lord with songs. In their midst was a young man of great stature, taller than any of the others, and on the head of each of them he placed a crown, but he was more exalted than they. And I was held spellbound. Then I asked an angel, “Who are these, my lord?” He answered and said to me, “These are they who have put off mortal clothing and have put on the immortal, and they have confessed the name of God; now they are being crowned, and receive palms.” Then I said to the angel, “Who is that young man who places crowns on them and puts palms in their hands?” He answered and said to me, “He is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world.” So I began to praise those who had stood valiantly for the name of the Lord. Then the angel said to me, “Go, tell my people how great and many are the wonders of the Lord God which you have seen.”
2 Esdras 2:42-48

The Messiah, when he comes, will not change a single letter of the law, but apply it to all people

What shall I do to you, O Jacob? You would not obey me, O Judah. I will turn to other nations and will give them my name, that they may keep my statutes.
2 Esdras 1:24

Though perhaps not all promises are kept. The Father condemns…

Because you have forsaken me, I also will forsake you. When you beg mercy of me, I will show you no mercy. When you call upon me, I will not listen to you; for you have defiled your hands with blood, and your feet are swift to commit murder.
2 Esdras 1:25-26

… but the Son will intercede.

And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”
Luke 23:33-35

The heart of the story:

The heart of 2 Esdras begins with Ezra complaining to God about cruelty and injustice. If God hates Israel enough to destroy Jerusalem (poetically by the Babylonians, and against by the Romans), He really just should torture her directly and stop using intermediaries:

If thou dost really hate thy people, they should be punished at thy own hands.”
2 Esdras 5:30

And in the darkest moments, as with Job, the “original” horror of Thomas Ligotti

No other life forms know they are alive, and neither do they know they will die. This is our curse alone. Without this hex upon our heads, we would never have withdrawn as far as we have from the natural—so far and for such a time that it is a relief to say what we have been trying with our all not to say: We have long since been denizens of the natural world. Everywhere around us are natural habitats, but within us is the shiver of startling and dreadful things. Simply put: We are not from here. If we vanished tomorrow, no organism on this planet would miss us. Nothing in nature needs us.”
Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (2012)

seems plagiarized

I replied and said, “O earth, what have you brought forth, if the mind is made out of the dust like the other created things! For it would have been better if the dust itself had not been born, so that the mind might not have been made from it. But now the mind grows with us, and therefore we are tormented, because we perish and know it. Let the human race lament, but let the beasts of the field be glad; let all who have been born lament, but let the four-footed beasts and the flocks rejoice! For it is much better with them than with us; for they do not look for a judgment, nor do they know of any torment or salvation promised to them after death. For what does it profit us that we shall be preserved alive but cruelly tormented? For all who have been born are involved in iniquities, and are full of sins and burdened with transgressions. And if we were not to come into judgment after death, perhaps it would have been better for us.”
2 Esdras 7:62-69

(Ligotti’s seconday claim in the above passage, that “We are not from here,” may also plagiarized, c.f. Philippians 3:20)

As in the Book of Job the question is not addressed: God emphasizes that Ezra does not understand all the facts.

And he said to me, “If I had asked you, ‘How many dwellings are in the heart of the sea, or how many streams are at the source of the deep, or how many streams are above the firmament, or which are the exits of hell, or which are the entrances of paradise?’ Perhaps you would have said to me, ‘I never went down into the deep, nor as yet into hell, neither did I ever ascend into heaven.’ But now I have asked you only about fire and wind and the day, things through which you have passed and without which you cannot exist, and you have given me no answer about them!”
2 Esdras 4:4-9

Just as angels do not understand all the facts

He answered me and said, “Concerning the signs about which you ask me, I can tell you in part; but I was not sent to tell you concerning your life, for I do not know.
2 Esdras 4:52

Though even here, Ezra’s reply is subversive

And he said to me, “You cannot understand the things with which you have grown up; how then can your mind comprehend the way of the Most High? And how can one who is already worn out by the corrupt world understand incorruption?” When I heard this, I fell on my face and said to him, “It would be better for us not to be here than to come here and live in ungodliness, and to suffer and not understand why.”
2 Esdras 4:10-12

It is through this question of whether it was better never to have been, that we see the heart of the Second Book of Esdras. For the persecution fo all Israel prefigures the persecution fo the King of Israel, the nation of the Only Begotten Son

And now, O Lord, behold, these nations, which are reputed as nothing, domineer over us and devour us. But we thy people, whom thou hast called thy first-born, only begotten, zealous for thee, and most dear, have been given into their hands. If the world has indeed been created for us, why do we not possess our world as an inheritance? How long will this be so?”
2 Esdras 6:57-59

And it is this, the persecution of Israel as prefiguring the suffering of Christ, that makes one think: who else was there

Here I return to that line from earlier, that a virtuous woman despise a harlot. For Ezra encounters a woman in a vision. Ezra sees her weeping over her son, who died on his wedding day. After praying for “30 years,” which are later explained to mean 30 centuries, the woman says:

And I brought him up with much care. So when he grew up and I came to take a wife for him, I set a day for the marriage feast.
“But it happened that when my son entered his wedding chamber, he fell down and died. Then we all put out the lamps, and all my neighbors attempted to console me; and I remained quiet until evening of the second day. But when they all had stopped consoling me, that I might be quiet, I got up in the night and fled, and came to this field, as you see. And now I intend not to return to the city, but to stay here, and I will neither eat nor drink, but without ceasing mourn and fast until I die.”
2 Esdras 9:46-47, 10:1-4

The preceding passage describing “my son” is not from the weeping woman, but from the Father

For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath. And the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the first beginnings; so that no one shall be left. And after seven days the world, which is not yet awake, shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish. And the earth shall give up those who are asleep in it, and the dust those who dwell silently in it; and the chambers shall give up the souls which have been committed to them.
2 Esdras 7:28-32

To us the Second Book of Esdras is literature, not scripture, an ancient CS Lewis tale. So we don’t need to wonder if there’s an inversion going on, if the 3,000 years of prayer of the woman mean the 3,000 daylight hours of pregnancy, or if the 40 decades of the Messiah being revealed are the 40 months of Christ’s public ministry. (Though as most authorities believe 2 Esdras was written after the crucifixion, such an accounting does not require a supernatural intervention.)

Rather, we see that what appears to be a couplet (the mother of the Messiah, and the Father of the Messiah), is in fact interrupted by an explanation of an angel of what the image means. According to the angel, the woman is Zion, Israel, the mother of Jerusalem

This woman whom you saw, whom you now behold as an established city, is Zion. And as for her telling you that she was barren for thirty years, it is because there were three thousand years in the world before any offering was offered in it. And after three thousand years Solomon built the city, and offered offerings; then it was that the barren woman bore a son. And as for her telling you that she brought him up with much care, that was the period of residence in Jerusalem. And as for her saying to you, ‘When my son entered his wedding chamber he died,’ and that misfortune had overtaken her, that was the destruction which befell Jerusalem
2 Esdras 10:44-48

Israel is not ever-virgin. She’s a harlot. She’s whored after idols. Israel was sued for divorce by God in Jeremiah! There was a deposition!

“Lift up your eyes to the desolate heights and see:
Where have you not lain with men?
By the road you have sat for them
Like an Arabian in the wilderness;
And you have polluted the land
With your harlotries and your wickedness.
Jeremiah 3:2

The Messiah is associated with two women, Mary and Israel

One ever-virgin. The other a whore.
One Queen of Angels. The other beaten by angels.
One taken up to heaven. The other still dwelling on earth.
One saved from sin before time. The others sins paid for with blood.

But both women awaited the Messiah, Israel and Mary. Both were present at his death. The foreign men required the groaning of the earth to recognize the Son of the Man. The women knew it already

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him; among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Matthew 27:54-56

Mary and Israel, Christianity and Judaism. Two sides of the triptych of the Second Book of Esdras, beginning and ending with Christianity imagery, but centered on the hope of the Son of David. The Lion will guide them both home

 “And as for the lion whom you saw rousing up out of the forest and roaring and speaking to the eagle and reproving him for his unrighteousness, and as for all his words that you have heard, this is the Messiah whom the Most High has kept until the end of days, who will arise from the posterity of David, and will come and speak to them; he will denounce them for their ungodliness and for their wickedness, and will cast up before them their contemptuous dealings. For first he will set them living before his judgment seat, and when he has reproved them, then he will destroy them. But he will deliver in mercy the remnant of my people, those who have been saved throughout my borders, and he will make them joyful until the end comes, the day of judgment, of which I spoke to you at the beginning
2 Esdras 12:31-34

As the Lord says

He said to me, “I shall liken my judgment to a circle; just as for those who are last there is no slowness, so for those who are first there is no haste.”
2 Esdras 5:42

Which is to say

So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Matthew 20:16