The births of prophets and other founding figures of religions are momentous occasions and are thus recorded as grand and fantastical narratives in the literature of their respective traditions. With their arrival, there enters into the world not just a new teacher, but an entirely new way of viewing the world, new ways of being in the world, and a new community of people. The stories of their births are therefore told in retrospect as being marked with signs that foretell the specialness of their contribution to humanity. Signs of their mysterious births are meant to echo across the world, signaling that the prophets are not the property of any one group of people, but rather gifts to be shared by us all.

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The New Testament
Christian scripture

“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.”

The New Testament
Christian scripture

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."

Carla Mooney

 “In the Gospels, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would conceive a child through the Holy Spirit, even though she was a virgin. On the night of Jesus’s birth, a star appeared in the sky that led three wise men to a stable, where they believed they had found the ‘King of the Jews.’"

The Qur'an
Islamic scripture

“Remember Zachariah, when he cried to his Lord, ‘My Lord, do not leave me childless, though You are the best of heirs.’ We answered him– We gave him John, and cured his wife of barrenness– they were always keen to do good deeds. They called upon Us out of longing and awe, and humbled themselves before Us. Remember the one who guarded her chastity. We breathed into her from Our Spirit and made her and her son a sign for all people.”

Washington Irving
Biographer and short story writer

“[Muhammad’s] mother suffered none of the pangs of travail. At the moment of his coming into the world a celestial light illumined the surrounding country, and the new born child, raising his eyes to heaven, exclaimed: ‘God is great! There is no God bur God, and I am his prophet!’ Heaven and earth, we are assured, were agitated at his advent. The Lake Sawa shrank back to its secret springs, leaving its borders dry; while the Tigris, bursting its bounds, overflowed the neighboring lands. The palace of Khosru the king of Persia shook on its foundations, and several of its towers were toppled to the earth. In the same eventful night the sacred fire of Zoroaster, which, guarded by the Magi, had burned without interruption for upward of a thousand years, was suddenly extinguished, and all the idols in the world fell down.”

The Bhagavad Gita
Hindu scripture

“I was born from the nectar of immortality as the primordial horse and as Indra’s noble elephant. Among human beings, I am the king.”

The Lotus Sutra
Buddhist scripture

“Even since the olden times,
This illumination of all of our palaces
Is without precedent.
Has a deva of great merit been born,
Or has a buddha appeared in the world?
Since we have never seen such a phenomenon,
We should seek thoroughly for its source.
Even if we have to pass
Through thousands of myriads of koṭis of worlds,
We should seek together for the source of this light.
Possibly a buddha has appeared in the world
To save suffering sentient beings.”

Barbara O'Brien

“Twenty-five centuries ago, King Suddhodana ruled a land near the Himalaya Mountains. One day during a midsummer festival, his wife, Queen Maya, retired to her quarters to rest, and she fell asleep and dreamed a vivid dream, in which four angels carried her high into white mountain peaks and clothed her in flowers. A magnificent white bull elephant bearing a white lotus in its trunk approached Maya and walked around her three times. Then the elephant struck her on the right side with its trunk and vanished into her. When Maya awoke, she told her husband about the dream. The King summoned 64 Brahmans to come and interpret it. Queen Maya would give birth to a son, the Brahmans said, and if the son did not leave the household, he would become a world conqueror. However, if he were to leave the household he would become a Buddha."

Jeffrey J. Kripal
Historian of religions

“Founding myths, above all, work to set apart their subjects from the ordinary lot of humanity. They thus often include stories of special births, which function to mark the founder or saint as someone different and destined for great things. Hence one story of the Buddha’s birth describes how, upon exiting his mother’s womb, he immediately took seven steps and then announced that this was his final birth, in which he would save the world. Similarly, according to aversion of Mahavira’s birth narrative, Mahavira was first conceived in the womb of a brahman or Hindu priest but was then transferred to the womb of a member of the warrior caste.”

Joseph Campbell
Scholar of comparative mythology and religion

“The Chinese chronicles record that when the earth had solidified and the peoples were settling in the riverlands, Fu His, the ‘Heavenly Emperor’ (2953-2838B.C.), governed among them[…]He had been born of a miraculous conception, after a gestation of twelve years; his body being that of a serpent, with human arms and the head of an ox. Shen Nung, his successor, the ‘Earthly Emperor’ (r.2838-2698 B.C.) was eight feet seven inches tall, with a human body but the head of a bull. He had been miraculously conceived through the influence of a dragon[…]Huang Ti, the ‘Yellow Emperor’ (r. 2697-2597 B.C.), was the third of the august Three. His mother, a concubine of the prince of the province of Chao-tien, conceived him when she one night beheld a golden dazzling light around the constellation of the Great Bear. The child could talk when he was seventy days old and at the age of eleven years succeeded to the throne. His distinguishing endowment was his power to dream: in sleep he could visit the remotest regions and consort with immortals in the supernatural realm.”

Joseph Campbell
Scholar of comparative mythology and religion
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“The tendency has always been to endow the hero with extraordinary powers from the moment of birth, or even the moment of conception."

The Hebrew Bible
Jewish scripture

“Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket[a] for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. ‘This is one of the Hebrew babies,’ she said.”  (Exodus 2:1-6)

The New Testament
Christian scripture

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means  ‘God with us’).”