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Zechariah (New Testament figure)

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Priest, Prophet, Guardian of Mary,
Devotee, Martyr[1]
Born1st century BC
Died1st century BC (or early 1st century AD)
Jerusalem (Matthew 23:35), the Levant
Venerated inCatholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodox Church
FeastSeptember 5 – Eastern Orthodox
September 5 – Lutheran
September 23 – Roman Catholic

Zechariah (Hebrew: זְכַרְיָה Zəḵaryā, "remember Yah"; Greek: Ζαχαρίας; Zacharias in KJV; Zachary in the Douay–Rheims Bible; Zakariyya (Arabic: زكـريـا, romanizedZakariyyā) in Islamic tradition) is a Jewish figure in the New Testament and the Quran,[2] and venerated in Christianity and Islam.[3] In the Bible, he is the father of John the Baptist, a priest of the sons of Aaron in the Gospel of Luke (1:67–79), and the husband of Elizabeth who is a relative of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:36).

Biblical account[edit]

Zechariah and St. John the Baptist. A medieval Georgian fresco from the Monastery of the Cross, Jerusalem.

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 1:5–7).

The duties at the temple in Jerusalem alternated between each of the family lines that had descended from those appointed by King David (1 Chronicles 24:1–19).[4] 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 1:8–11).

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 1:12–17). 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 1:18–22). The time this occurred, according to theologian Adam C. English, "is September 24, based on computations from the Jewish calendar in accordance with Leviticus 23 regarding the Day of Atonement."[5]

After returning to his house in "Hebron, in the hill country of Judah",[6] his wife Elizabeth conceived. After Elizabeth completed her fifth month of pregnancy, her relative Mary was visited by the same angel, Gabriel. While still a virgin, Gabriel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?' The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.'" Joseph, to whom Mary was betrothed, found out that she was pregnant, was at first perplexed at the obviously disturbing news. Because he "was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.' 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife."

Mary then traveled 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 as the Benedictus or "Song of Zechariah" (Luke 1:57–79).

Domenico Ghirlandaio's fresco Zechariah Writes Down the Name of His Son (1490, fresco in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence)

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; 3:2–3; Matthew 3:1).

Other Christian traditions[edit]

Identification with Zechariah from Matthew[edit]

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.[7]


The martyrdom of Zachariah in the Temple during the Massacre of the Innocents; and the Flight of Elizabeth, as depicted in a miniature from the Paris Gregory, a 9th-century manuscript codex

The Gospel of James, a 2nd-century apocryphal work, 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 account is also present in subsequent Eastern Orthodox tradition.


The Catholic Church commemorates him as a saint, along with Elizabeth, on September 23 as it is believed that his temple duty before John the Baptist's conception took place on the Day of Atonement.[8] He is also venerated as a prophet in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on 5 September. The Armenian Apostolic Church venerates him on September 5th as well,[9] along with his wife Elizabeth. 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.

Relics veneration[edit]

San Zaccaria, Venice claims to house the relics of Zechariah, entombed alongside those of Athanasius of Alexandria. Armenians believe that the Gandzasar monastery in Nagorno-Karabakh contains his relics; however, his relics were also kept in the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, where they were brought by the praefectus urbi Ursus on 4 September, 415.[10]

His relics uncovering is commemorated by Greek Orthodox Church on 11 February, and on 1 December occurs commemoration of his, James and Simeon relics translation in 351, and 25 May is commemoration of their relics discover also in 351.[11]

Tomb venerated in Byzantine period[edit]

The Tomb of Absalom, built in the 1st century CE in the Kidron Valley; an inscription added three centuries later claims that it is Zechariah's tomb.

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 by a pilgrim named Theodosius which states that Zechariah was buried with Simon the Elder and James the brother of Jesus, and believes that both are authentic.[12][13] Zias and Puech suggest the inscription may refer to another 'Zekariah' mentioned by Josephus and the Talmud who was martyred in the time of Vespasian. They also suggest the inscription casts doubt on the tomb being Absalom's. Although it was referred to as such in the 1st century, Absalom had lived centuries earlier.[14]

In Islam[edit]

The tomb of Zechariah in the Great Mosque of Aleppo, Syria

Zechariah (Arabic: زكريا Zakariyya) is also a prophet in Islam, and is mentioned in the Qur'an as the father of Yaḥyā (John the Baptist). Zechariah is also believed by some Muslims to have been a martyr. An old tradition narrates that Zechariah was sawn in half,[15] in a death which resembles that attributed to Isaiah in Lives of the Prophets.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Did John the Baptist's father die a martyr?".
  2. ^ Quran 19:2–15
  3. ^ 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 John the Baptist is said to have been present and talked to Jesus at the Transfiguration on the Mount (Matt. 17:3)."
  4. ^ 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".
  5. ^ English, Adam C. (October 14, 2016). Christmas: Theological Anticipations. Wipf and Stock Publishers. pp. 70–71. ISBN 978-1-4982-3933-2. First, we should examine the biblical evidence regarding the timing of the conception. [...] The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptizer, on the day he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense (Luke 1:9) Zechariah belonged to the tribe of Levi, the one tribe especially selected by the Lord to serve as priests. Not restricted to any one tribal territory, the Levite priests dispersed throughout the land of Israel. Nevertheless, many chose to live near Jerusalem in order to fulfill duties in the Temple, just like Zechariah who resided at nearby Ein Karem. Lots were cast regularly to decide any number of priestly duties: preparing the altar, making the sacrifice, cleaning the ashes, burning the morning or evening incense. Yet, given the drama of the event, it would seem that he entered the Temple sanctuary on the highest and holiest day of the year, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. There, beside the altar of the Lord, a radiant angel gave news of the child to be born to Elizabeth. The date reckoned for this occurrence is September 24, based on computations from the Jewish calendar in accordance with Leviticus 23 regarding the Day of Atonement. According to Luke 1:26, Gabriel's annunciation to Mary took place in the "sixth month" of Elizabeth's pregnancy. That is, Mary conceives six months after Elizabeth. Luke repeats the uniqueness of the timing in verse 36. Counting six months from September 24 we arrive at March 25, the most likely date for the annunciation and conception of Mary. Nine months hence takes us to December 25, which turns out to be a surprisingly reasonable date for the birthday. [...] In Palestine, the months of November mark the rainy season, the only time of the year sheep might find fresh green grass to graze. During the other ten months of the year, animals must content themselves on dry straw. So, the suggestion that shepherds might have stayed out in the fields with their flocks in late December, at the peak of the rainy season, is not only reasonable, it is most certain.
  6. ^ compare Luke 1:39–40 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, (Joshua 11:21; 21:11, 13) about 25 miles south of Jerusalem, and nearly 100 from Nazareth."
  7. ^ Reimund Bieringer, The Corinthian Correspondence (Peeters Publishers, 1996), page 497, footnote 20, ISBN 978-9068317749.
  8. ^ Martyrologium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)
  9. ^ Curtin, D. P. (October 2018). The Armenian Synaxarium- Volume I. Dalcassian Publishing Company. ISBN 9781088279311.
  10. ^ Chronicon Paschale, sub anno 415.
  11. ^ "ЗАХАРИЯ ПРАВЕДНЫЙ – Древо". drevo-info.ru (in Russian). Retrieved June 25, 2022.
  12. ^ Jewish Yad Avshalom revealed as a Christian shrine from Byzantine era, Haaretz, 22 July 2003
  13. ^ Moreland, Miton (2009). Byrne, Ryan; McNary-Zak, Bernadette (eds.). Christian Artefacts in Documentary Film. University of North Carolina Press. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-8078-3298-1. Retrieved August 6, 2021. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  14. ^ Joe Zias and Émile Puech (2004). "The Tomb of Absalom Reconsidered". The Foundation for Biblical Archaeology. Retrieved January 4, 2015.
  15. ^ A-Z of Prophets in Islam and Judaism, B. M. Wheeler, Zechariah, Father of John

External links[edit]

Zechariah (New Testament figure)
Preceded by
Renovating the Second Temple
into Herod's Temple begins
New Testament
Succeeded by