Tag: Elizabeth’s Age

How old was Elizabeth when she gave birth to John?

How old was Elizabeth when she gave birth to John?

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The Gnostic Elizabeth

In the Mandaean Gospel of John the Baptizer, Elizabeth is called Enishbai. Because the Mandaeans hold John and not Jesus to be the true teacher, she is more important than Mary, who is mentioned but briefly. In this source we learn that Elizabeth was 88 years old when she gave birth to John:

“My father,” says Yahyā (John), “was ninety and nine and my mother eighty and eight years old. Out of the basin of Jordan they took me. They bore me up and laid me in the womb of Enishbai. ‘Nine months,’ said they, ‘thou shalt stay in her womb, as do all other children.’ No wise woman,” said he, “brought me into the world in Judæa, and they have not cut my cord in Jerusalem. They made for me no picture of lies, and for me hung up no bell of deceit. I was born from Enishbai in the region of Jerusalem.”

Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist and the wife of Zechariah, according to the Gospel of Luke. A righteous woman of a priestly lineage, she conceived her son miraculously as an old woman, after her husband received a revelation while serving at the Temple of Jerusalem.

During her pregnancy, she and Zechariah provided hospitality to Mary, the mother of Jesus, who visited the couple immediately after receiving her own revelation that she, too, would miraculously conceive a son. Elizabeth acted prophetically in greeting Mary by sensing that her young cousin would be “the mother of my Lord.”

Family background

According to Luke 1:36, Elizabeth was related to Mary. The word used in the Greek original to describe their kinship is suggenes, a blood relative. Traditionally, they are believed to have been cousins. St. Hippolytus of Rome affirmed that Mary’s mother (Saint Anne) and Elizabeth’s mother (Sobe) were sisters.

Luke reports that Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron the priest (Luke 1:5). She and her husband Zechariah were “righteous before God, living blamelessly” (1:6). Like several other providential women in the Bible, Elizabeth was barren. Luke mentions that she was also old, being “far advanced in years.”

Miraculous conception

Zechariah, having been chosen by lot for the honor to minister at the altar of incense in the Temple of Jerusalem was visited by the Angel Gabriel, who told him that Elizabeth would have a son who “will be great in the sight of the Lord” (1:15) and would be inspired by the “spirit and power of Elijah.”

Zechariah expressed doubts that such a thing could be possible, because, “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Gabriel caused him to lose the power of speech because of his doubt.

Nevertheless, after Zechariah returned to their home in the hill country of Judea, both he and Elizabeth proved equal to the task.

Overjoyed, Elizabeth declared, “The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” To ensure the success of her pregnancy, she secluded herself for five months.

Elizabeth and Mary

In the sixth month, however, Elizabeth received an unexpected visit from of her young cousin, Mary (1:39).

Gabriel had visited Mary in Nazareth and informed that she, too, would conceive a son, even though she had not yet “known a man.” (1:34) Asked how such a thing could happen, he informed Mary of Elizabeth’s own miraculous pregnancy.

Mary immediately left Nazareth for the hill country in response. The visit had a powerful effect on Elizabeth, as her fetus became agitated, and she prophesied:

Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (1:41-43)

Elizabeth and Zechariah then provided hospitality to Mary for three months, but as the time for Elizabeth to give birth neared, Mary returned to Nazareth.

The birth of John

Zechariah confirms Elizabeth’s statement: “His name is John.”

After this, Elizabeth gave birth to a son, and when the extended family, not including Mary, gathered for his circumcision eight days later, she named him John. The relatives protested on the grounds that none of the child’s ancestors had been so named. At this point Zechariah confirmed the name through the use of a writing tablet, and his power of speech miraculously returned. He too then prophesied, predicting:

You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins. (Luke 1:76-77)

John would indeed go on to be a famous prophet in Christian tradition, being the forerunner of Jesus who baptized many thousands at the Jordan River and testified to Jesus as the son of God. Outside of the New Testament, John is mentioned in the works of the historian Josephus. Luke reports John’s reputation to be so great that, “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. (3:15)