Usually at this time of year I put up a Christmas post in which I feature the folk Christmas tune called “The Cherry Tree Carol” and I point out its relationship to the beautiful story of the birth of Jesus in the Quran. Items 1 and 2 below are taken from my original Cherry Tree Carol post from 2009. Sting’s rendition of the song is just plain gorgeous. It will change your mood. Please take a few moments and give it a listen.
1. The Cherry Tree Carol is a haunting story of the mystery and beauty of Christmas derived from one of the apocryphal Gospels, that of Psuedo- Matthew, which is also know as The Infancy Gospel of Matthew.
In this now popular Christmas carol, Joseph and Mary are walking near or through an orchard of cherry trees. She asks Joseph to pick some cherries for her because she is with child and would appreciate a helping hand. Joseph, as husbands tend to do when they discover their wives are pregnant and they know they are not the father, gets angry and tells her to just let the guy who got her pregnant get the cherries for her. No doubt dejected and feeling rejected, Mary knows not what to do.
But then a voice cries out from within his mother’s womb. It’s the voice of Jesus who commands the cherry trees bow down so that his mother may have something to eat. The trees do what any tree would do if ordered by Jesus, they bow down and Mary exclaims to the effect of “Hey Joseph, look, I can get all the cherries I want, nyah nyah.” Joseph then realizes that there’s more going on than he at first realized.
Now in the Psuedo-Gospel of Matthew, Chapter Twenty, the story as one might expect, is a bit different, but the similarities are clear. In this version, thought to be the inspiration for The Cherry Tree Carol, Mary, Joseph and a very infant Jesus are in the desert in Egypt and are exhausted from the heat. They come across a date palm tree where they rest. Mary asks Joseph for some dates, but they are pretty high up in the tree and he whines about it saying that instead she should be concerned because of the lack of water and their thirst. The baby Jesus orders the date palm to lower it’s branches and his Mother is able to eat. Now the date palm, being humble and worshipful, did not rise back up after she had eaten, but rather it awaited Jesus’ command. Jesus tells it to rise, says it will have its place in paradise, and then he makes one more request of it – something interesting in light of the Quranic version of this story that I will discuss below. He asks it to provide water through one of its hidden roots and it does so – providing clear, cool and sparkling water for the three of them and their animals.
2. Many features of the Cherry Tree Carol and the story from which it is derived are found in the Quranic version of the story in Surah 19, verses 16-34. In this version Joseph is noticeably absent, an absence which highlights the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary, who has gone away from her people for some sort of religious purpose, in fully human form and tells her she will give birth to a son. She is astonished by this and asks how on earth that could be possible since she has never been touched by a man. Gabriel tells her that this is easy for God and that her son will be sent as a mercy to mankind.
So she is now with child and is driven to a date palm tree during the pains of childbirth, pains so severe she wishes she had never been born. But then a voice cries out – said by commentators to be that of Gabriel though in my own view it could even be that of Jesus – who tells her that all is well and that water has been provided for her beneath her feet. He then tells her to shake the date-palm and that fresh and ripe dates will come pouring down. He tells her to eat and drink and “cool thine eye.” Lastly the voice commands her that if she comes across any man to say that she has vowed to speak to no one that day.
The next thing we see is Mary carrying her new baby back to her people who challenge her morality, as she had no doubt expected and feared. But keeping to her command, she said nothing to them and merely pointed to her baby. The crowd mocked her telling her that they could not possibly converse with a new born. At this point, the baby Jesus performs his own version of “enough is enough” as he addresses the crowd in no uncertain terms telling them, among other things, that God has made him a prophet and that he is to be blessed wherever he is. He also tells them that he has been commanded to be faithful to his mother, something he clearly intends to do. No doubt the audience was dumb struck. . .
The new-born Jesus then closes: “And peace be upon me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I am raised up alive.”
3. The video below is the entire Surah of Mary recited in Arabic by Shaykh Idris Akbar. The story of Mary and her baby begins at exactly 2:59 into the video and runs to about 8:06. So if you want to hear the Quranic story of the birth of Jesus recited in Arabic by a great reciter, enjoy. The video includes the Arabic script so readers of this page who are studying Arabic can follow along.
When you hear “wathkur filkitaab Maryam” you will know you are at the start of the right section.
4. The story of Jesus in the Quran may well have saved the lives of about 80 to 100 of the first Muslims living in Mecca with Muhammad. They had to flee Mecca to Abyssinia because of religious persecution and they sought refuge from the Christian ruler there. The Meccans tried to bribe the ruler into forcing them to return to Mecca, but this ruler actually behaved like a Christian ruler should and granted the Muslims asylum. (No doubt he’d never stand a chance of becoming the president of the US today, but I digress.) As part of the discussion and debate between the pagan Meccans who had come to Abysinnia to bribe the ruler on the one hand, and the Muslims seeking protection on the other, the Muslims recited the story about Jesus to which I have linked above. After hearing it, the Christian ruler was so moved that he granted his protection to them. Things sure have changed.
A frequent commentator on this blog, Perry, mentioned the film on Muhammad’s life called “The Message” produced by the late Mustafa Akkad. Akkad did two versions of the film, one in Arabic and one in English – filming them at the same time and using different actors. Below is the English version of the story of the King of Abyssinia. Very nicely done. Thanks to Perry for bringing this movie back to my mind.
5. I also love Judy Collins’ rendition of the Cherry Tree Carol.
6. “No US administration has done more in support of Israel’s security than ours. None. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. It is a fact,” Obama told a cheering crowd.
“To back up his position, Obama cited American cooperation with Israel on developing the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, efforts to clear out the besieged Israeli embassy in Cairo in September, and actions to counter attempts to delegitimize Israel in international forums like the United Nations.
“Shoring up his hard line on Iran, Obama reiterated that no options were off the table inpreventing the Islamic Republic from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and touted his administration’s imposition of “the most comprehensive, the hardest-hitting sanctions the Iranian regime has ever faced. We haven’t just talked about it, we’ve done it.”
7. Israel goes entire week without killing a Palestinian in Gaza, but finally gets its fix.
8. Somebody help me here, just why is it that we are supposed to kill these people? Abe? Alan? Newt? Michelle? Mitt? Herman? Barack? Please remind me, I just can’t seem to remember.
Merry Christmas folks.