Zechariah (priest)

For other people with the same name, see Zechariah (disambiguation).

Priest, Prophet, Guardian of Mary, Devotee
Born 1st century BC
Hebron (Joshua 21:11), the Levant
Died 1st century BC (or early AD)
Jerusalem (Matthew 23:35), the Levant
Venerated in Christianity
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast September 5 – Eastern Orthodox
September 5 – Lutheran
September 23 – Roman Catholic
Zechariah and St. John the Baptist. A medieval Georgian fresco from Jerusalem.

Zechariah (זכריה in Hebrew ; "remember God"; Ζαχαρίας in Greek, Zacharias in KJV, Zachary in the Douay-Rheims Bible) is a figure in the Bible and the Quran. In the Bible, he is the father of John the Baptist, a priest of the sons of Aaron, a prophet in Luke 1:6779, and the husband of Elizabeth who is a relative[Luke 1:36] of the Virgin Mary.

Biblical account

According to the Gospel of Luke, during the reign of king Herod, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the course of Abia, whose wife Elizabeth was also of the priestly family of Aaron. The evangelist states that both the parents were righteous before God, since they were "blameless" in observing the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. When the events related in Luke began, their marriage was still childless, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both "well advanced in years" (Luke 1:57).

The duties at the temple in Jerusalem alternated between each of the family lines that had descended from those appointed by king David (1st Chronicles 24:119).[1] Luke states that during the week when it was the duty of Zechariah's family line to serve at "the temple of the Lord", the lot for performing the incense offering had fallen to Zechariah (Luke 1:811).

The Gospel of Luke states that while Zechariah ministered at the altar of incense, an angel of the Lord appeared and announced to him that his wife would give birth to a son, whom he was to name John, and that this son would be the forerunner of the Lord (Luke 1:1217). Citing their advanced age, Zechariah asked with disbelief for a sign whereby he would know the truth of this prophecy. In reply, the angel identified himself as Gabriel, sent especially by God to make this announcement, and added that because of Zechariah's doubt he would be struck dumb and "not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed". Consequently, when he went out to the waiting worshippers in the temple's outer courts, he was unable to speak the customary blessing (Luke 1:1822).

After returning to his house in "Hebron, in the hill country of Judah",[2] his wife Elizabeth conceived. After Elizabeth completed her fifth month of pregnancy, her relative Mary was visited by the same angel, Gabriel, overshadowed by the Holy Ghost and – though still a virgin – became pregnant with Jesus. Mary then travelled to visit her relative Elizabeth, having been told by the angel that Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy Mary remained about three months before she returned to her own house (Luke 1:23–45, 56).

Elizabeth gave birth, and on the eighth day, when their son was to be circumcised according to the commandment, her neighbours and relatives assumed that he was to be named after his father. Elizabeth, however, insisted that his name was to be John; so the family then questioned her husband. As soon as Zechariah had written on a writing table: "His name is John", he regained the power of speech, and blessed "the Lord God of Israel" with a prophecy known to some as the Benedictus (Luke 1:57–79). The child grew up and "waxed strong in spirit", but remained in the deserts of Judæa until he assumed the ministry that was to earn him the name "John the Baptist" (Luke 1:80, Luke 3:2–3, Matthew 3:1).

Other Christian traditions

The so-called "Tomb of Absalom" or "Absalom's Pillar" in the Kidron Valley, built in the 1st century CE; an inscription added three centuries later claims that it is Zechariah's tomb
Domenico Ghirlandaio's fresco Zechariah Writes Down the Name of His Son (1490, fresco in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence)

Origen suggested that the Zechariah mentioned in Matthew 23:35 as having been killed between the temple and the altar may be the father of John the Baptist.[3] Orthodox Christian tradition recounts that, at the time of the massacre of the Innocents, when King Herod ordered the slaughter of all males under the age of two in an attempt to prevent the prophesied Messiah from coming to Israel, Zechariah refused to divulge the whereabouts of his son (who was in hiding), and he was therefore murdered by Herod's soldiers. This is also recorded in the Infancy Gospel of James, an apocryphal work from the 2nd century.

The Roman Catholic Church commemorates him as a saint, along with Elizabeth, on September 23.[4] He is also venerated as a prophet in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on September 5. The Eastern Orthodox Church also celebrates the feast day of Zechariah on September 5, together with Elizabeth, who is considered a matriarch. Zechariah and Elizabeth are invoked in several prayers during the Orthodox Mystery of Crowning (Sacrament of Marriage), as the priest blesses the newly married couple, saying "Thou who didst... accept Zechariah and Elizabeth, and didst make their offspring the Forerunner..." and "...bless them, O Lord our God, as Thou didst Zechariah and Elizabeth...". In the Greek Orthodox calendar, Zechariah and Elizabeth are also commemorated on June 24.

Armenians believe that the Gandzasar Monastery in Nagorno Karabakh, Azerbaijan contains relics of Zechariah. However, his relics were also kept in the Great Church of Constantinople, where they were brought by the praefectus urbi Ursus on September 4, 415.[5]

In 2003, a 4th-century inscription on the so-called Tomb of Absalom, a 1st-century monument in Jerusalem, was deciphered as, "This is the tomb of Zachariah, the martyr, the holy priest, the father of John." This suggests to some scholars that it is the burial place of Zechariah the father of John the Baptist. Professor Gideon Foerster at the Hebrew University states that the inscription tallies with a 6th-century Christian text stating that Zechariah was buried with Simon the Elder and James the brother of Jesus, and believes that both are authentic.[6] What makes the theory less plausible is the fact that the tomb is three centuries older than the Byzantine inscriptions, that a tomb with just two burial benches is unlikely to be used for three burials, as well as the fact that the identification of the tomb has repeatedly changed during its history.[7]

In Islam

The tomb of Zechariah within the Great Mosque of Aleppo, Arab Republic of Syria, Al-Sham.

Zechariah (Arabic: زكريّا Zakarīyā; meaning: God has remembered[8]) is also a prophet in Islam, and is mentioned in the Qur'an. Muslims also believe Zechariah to have been the guardian of Mary, mother of Jesus, and they believe Zechariah to have been the father of John the Baptist. Zechariah is also believed by some Muslims to have been a martyr. An old tradition narrates that Zechariah was sawed in half,[9] in a death which resembles that attributed to Isaiah in Lives of the Prophets. Zechariah was a righteous priest[10] and prophet of God whose office was in the temple of prayer in Jerusalem. He would frequently be in charge of managing the services of the temple[11] and he would always remain steadfast in prayer to God. As he reached his old age, Zechariah began to worry over who would continue the legacy of preaching the message of God after his death and who would carry on the daily services of the temple after him.[10] Zechariah started to pray to God for a son. The praying for the birth of an offspring was not merely out of the desire for a child.[10] He prayed both for himself and for the public – they needed a messenger, a man of God who would work in the service of the Lord after Zechariah. Zechariah had character and virtue and he wanted to transfer this to his spiritual heir as his most precious possession. His dream was to restore the household to the posterity of the patriarch Jacob and to make sure the message of God was renewed for Israel. As the Qur'an recounts:

And (Zechariah) said: "O my Lord, my bones decay, my head is white and hoary, yet in calling You, O Lord, I have never been deprived.
But I fear my relatives after me; and my wife is barren. So grant me a successor of Your own
Who will be heir to me, and heir to the house of Jacob; and make him obedient to You, O Lord"
Qur'an, sura 19 (Maryam), ayat 4–6[12]

As a gift from God, Zechariah was given a son by the name of Yaḥyā (John the Baptist), a name specially chosen for this child alone. Muslim tradition narrates that Zechariah was ninety-two years old[13] when he was told of John's birth. In accordance with Zechariah's prayer, God made John renew the message of God, which had been corrupted and lost by the Israelites.[14] As the Qur'an says:

"O Zachariah," (it was said), "We give you good news of a son by the name of "Yaḥyā." To none have we attributed that name before."
"How can I have a son, O Lord" he said, "when my wife is barren and I am old and decrepit?"
(The angel) answered: "Thus will it be. Your Lord said: 'This is easy for Me; for when I brought you into being you were nothing.'"
(Zachariah) said: "O Lord, give me a Sign." "Your sign" He answered, "shall be that you shall speak to no man for three days, although you are not dumb."
Qur'an, sura 19 (Maryam), ayat 7–10[15]

According to the Qur'an, Zechariah was the guardian of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Qur'an states:

Behold! A woman of 'Imran said: "O my Lord! I do dedicate unto You what is in my womb for Your special service, so accept this of me, for You hear all and know all things."
And when she had given birth to the child, she said: "O Lord, I have delivered but a girl." But God knew best what she had delivered: A boy could not be as that girl was. "I have named her Mary, (she said), and I give her into your keeping. Preserve her and her children from Satan, the rejected."
Her Lord accepted her graciously, and she grew up with excellence, and was given into the care of Zachariah. Whenever Zachariah came to see her in the chamber, he found her provided with food, and he asked: "Where has this come from, O Mary?" And she said: "From God, who gives food in abundance to whomsoever He will."
Qur'an, sura 3 (Al-i-Imran), ayat 35–37[16]

Muslim theology maintains that Zechariah, along with John the Baptist and Jesus, ushered in a new era of prophets – all of whom came from the priestly descent of Amram, the father of the prophet Aaron. The fact that, of all the priests, it was Zechariah who was given the duty of keeping care of Mary shows his status as a pious man. Zechariah is frequently praised in the Qur'an as a prophet of God and righteous man. One such appraisal is in Sura Al-An'am:

And Zachariah and John, and Jesus and Elias: all in the ranks of the righteous.
Qur'an, sura 6 (Al-An'am), ayah 85[17]

Qur'an translator Abdullah Yusuf Ali offers commentary on this one line[18] – suggesting that these particular prophets make a spiritual connection with one another. He points out that John the Baptist was a relative of Jesus, while Elijah was one who was present at the Transfiguration of Jesus[19] on the Mount, as mentioned in the New Testament. Zechariah, meanwhile, through marriage, was the uncle of Jesus and his son John the Baptist was referred to as Elijah in the New Testament.[20]

See also


  1. THE Dedication (Jesus' birth) "The priests serve 4 weeks per year: 1 week twice a year in courses, and the two week-long feasts, unleavened bread and tabernacles. Pentecost is a one-day observance, which would have come before Zacharias' (the 8th) course began, or at the latest, the 1st day of his course, which was from 12 thru 18 Sivan, or noon on the 19th, if Josephus is correct that courses changed at noon on the sabbaths." Josephus Antiquities b.7 ch.14 s.7 "eight days, from sabbath to sabbath." Josephus against Apion b.2 sect.8 "mid-day".
  2. compare Luke 1:3940 with Joshua 21:11 The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge says, "This was most probably Hebron, a city of the priests, and situated in the hill country of Judea, (Jos 11:21; 21:11, 13,) about 25 miles south of Jerusalem, and nearly 100 from Nazareth."
  3. Reimund Bieringer, The Corinthian Correspondence (Peeters Publishers, 1996), page 497, footnote 20, ISBN 978-9068317749.
  4. Martyrologium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)
  5. Chronicon Paschale, sub anno 415.
  6. Jewish Yad Avshalom revealed as a Christian shrine from Byzantine era, Haaretz, July 22, 2003
  7. Joe Zias and Émile Puech (2004). "The Tomb of Absalom Reconsidered". The Foundation for Biblical Archaeology. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
  8. Meaning of Zakaria at babynamesworld
  9. A-Z of Prophets in Islam and Judaism, B. M. Wheeler, Zechariah, Father of John
  10. 1 2 3 Lives of the Prophets, Leila Azzam, Zacharias and John
  11. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Qur'anic commentary to Chapter 19
  12. Quran 19:4–6
  13. Historical Dictionary of Prophets In Islam and Judaism, B.M.Wheeler, Zechariah, father of John
  14. Luke 1:16: "And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God."
  15. Quran 19:7–10
  16. Quran 3:35–37
  17. Quran 6:85
  18. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary, Note. 905: "The third group consists not of men of action, but Preachers of Truth, who led solitary lives. Their epithet is: "the Righteous." They form a connected group round Jesus. Zachariah was the father of John the Baptist, who is referenced as "Elias, which was for to come" (Matt 11:14); and Elias is said to have been present and talked to Jesus at the Transfiguration on the Mount (Matt. 17:3)."
  19. Matthew 17:3: "And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him."
  20. Matthew 11:1415: "And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. [15] He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Easton, Matthew George (1897). "Zacharias". Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons. 

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Saint Zachary.
Zechariah (priest)
Preceded by
Renovating the Second Temple
into Herod's Temple begins
New Testament
Succeeded by
Gabriel announces to Mary
that she will give birth to Jesus
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