Child Mary in the Temple

According to the Protoevangelium, Anna watched her daughter closely. Just after the infant Mary took her first seven steps, Anna scooped her up and said, “As the Lord my God lives, you shall walk no more upon this ground until I take you to the temple of the Lord.”

From that day forward, Anna kept Mary in her room, which she set apart as a sanctuary and allowed only “undefiled” people to enter. When Mary was a year old, her father had a great feast in celebration of her birthday, and the priests and high priests came and blessed Mary.

When Mary was two years old, Joachim and Anna debated over whether or not they should send her to the temple in fulfillment of Anna's promise to God. They decided to wait because they felt it would make the two-year-old Mary sad if they left her at the temple.

At age three, Mary was taken to the temple to live as a virgin. Joachim and Anna wanted to offer her to the temple as a dedicated virgin, but they were afraid that she might not be able to stay there. To their amazed wonder, however, the priest received Mary, kissed her and said, “The Lord has made your name great among all generations. At the end of days, the Lord will reveal in you his redemption for the sons of Israel.”

The priest then placed Mary on the third step leading to the altar, and the spirit of God filled her and she danced with Joy. According to the Protoevangelium, “The whole of Israel loved her.” Mary then lived in the temple for many more years, and according to tradition, was fed by an angel.

The account of Mary being miraculously fed is quite similar to the account offered by the Sufi Muslim mystic, Jalal-ud-Din Rumi. According to this account, the priest Zachariah continually brings food to Mary, but each time he does so, he finds an exact replica of the food he is bringing to her. Finally the priest asks where the other food is coming from and Mary responds, “Whenever I feel hungry, I ask God, and whatever I ask for, God sends. His generosity and compassion are infinite; whoever relies wholly on God finds that his help never fails.”

Rumi's account of Mary being miraculously fed is very similar to the account offered by the Koran, which you will learn more about in Chapter 18. There are many parallels between the Christian extra-Biblical texts and the Koran.

According to the Protoevangelium, Mary lived in the temple for many years, but had to leave when she was twelve years old, because as soon as she began to menstruate, her blood could defile the temple. This concern was based on ancient views of purity which held that blood (and other bodily fluids) must be kept out of the temple because of the risk of pollution.

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