Maria Barga, Assistant Professor of Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio
Within the biblical tradition, the annunciation to Zechariah in Luke 1 provides a prelude to the annunciation to Mary and lays the foundation for major themes throughout the rest of the Gospel of Luke. Scholars tend to contrast these two annunciation scenes and, in doing so, portray Zechariah’s response negatively. However, Zechariah reappears in v. 59 and makes another significant contribution with his canticle in vv. 68-79. Zechariah’s return in the narrative, giving voice to a time-honored canticle, suggests there is more to this character than scholars might tend to grant. Through the lens of the Zechariah narratives in Q. 3:37-41 and Q. 19:2-11, the function of Zechariah in Luke 1 comes into better focus.
This paper first provides a brief overview of modern biblical scholarship’s reception of the Lukan Zechariah narrative followed by a close textual analysis of the Lukan text. Second, an analysis of the Quranic Zechariah narrative and its reception in Islamic traditions raises the question, “Is Zechariah really at fault in the Lukan narrative?,” and presents another possible interpretive model. Finally, a comparison between Islamic tradition and early Church reception of Zechariah points towards a common interpretation of the Zechariah narrative.
Both the Lukan Zechariah and the Quranic Zechariah provide insight into the structure of their respective sacred texts and subsequent interpretations. In particular, the undeniably positive portrayal of Zechariah in the Qur’an highlights the question of Zechariah’s initial “failure” in Luke 1. A more careful analysis of the function of the Lukan Zechariah allows the “reluctant prophet” motif to come to the fore. The resulting positive view of the Lukan Zechariah corresponds with early Church tradition, in particular the reception of Zechariah in the Protoevangelium of James and the inclusion of Zechariah’s canticle in the Liturgy of the Hours of some Christian traditions. Through this analysis, the Lukan Zechariah emerges as a prophet with a significant role who does not need to be regarded as simply a foil to Mary. In both Luke and the Qur’an, Zechariah presents the possibility of honest questioning where silence leads to a greater revelation.