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Zechariah (priest)

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Saint Zechariah
Cappella tornabuoni, 10, annuncio dell'angelo a zaccaria.jpg
Annunciation of the Angel to Zechariah by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1490, fresco in the Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence)
Born 1st Century BC
Died 1st Century AD
Venerated in Eastern Orthodoxy
Oriental Orthodoxy
Roman Catholicism
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast September 23 - Roman Catholic
September 5 - Eastern Orthodox and Lutheran

In the Bible, Zechariah (Ζαχαρίας in Greek, Zacharias in KJV, and Zachary in the Douay-Rheims Bible), was the father of John the Baptist, and a relative by marriage of Jesus.

Biblical account

According to the Gospel of Luke, Zechariah was a Jewish priest and Pharisee of the line of Abijah, during the reign of King Herod the Great, and husband of Elizabeth, a woman from the priestly family of Aaron. The parentage of John the Baptist is not recorded in the other Gospels. 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 commenced, their marriage was still childless, because Elizabeth was barren and, like her husband, was advanced in years (Luke 1:5-7).

The duties at the temple in Jerusalem alternated between each of the families that had descended from those appointed by King David (1 Chronicles 23:1-19). The offering of incense was one of the most solemn parts of the daily worship and, owing to the large number of eligible priests, no priest could hope to perform the task more than once during his lifetime. Luke states that during the week when it was the duty of his family to serve at the temple in Jerusalem, the lot for performing the incense offering had fallen to Zechariah.

Annunciation to Zechariah

Russian icon of the "Annunciation to Zechariah".

The Gospel of Luke states that while Zechariah ministered at the golden altar of incense, an angel of God 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 long-expected Messiah (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 the Archangel 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 happen. Consequently, when Zechariah went out to the waiting worshippers in the temple's outer courts, he was unable to pronounce the customary blessing (Luke 1:18-22).

On his return home Elizabeth duly conceived. During Elizabeth's pregnancy, her cousin Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and -- though still a virgin -- became pregnant with Jesus. Mary then travelled to visit her cousin Elizabeth to share the good news of Mary's expected child and discovered that her much older cousin was also expecting the birth of a son (Luke 1:23-45).

Eight days after Elizabeth gave birth, when their son was to be circumcised according to Jewish tradition, their family members and neighbours assumed that he was to be named after his father, as was the custom. 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 tablet: His name is John, he regained the power of speech, and praised God with a prophecy known as the Benedictus (Luke 1:57-79). The child grew up and became strong in spirit, but remained in the desert of Judaea until he assumed the ministry that was to earn him the name John the Baptist (or Baptizer) (Luke 1:80, 3:2-3, Matthew 3:1).

Other Christian traditions

Tomb of Avshalom in the Kidron Valley;

The so called "Yad Avshalom" (Tomb of Avshalom) in the Kidron Valley; an inscription suggests that it is Zechariah's tomb

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.[1] Apocryphal 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 second century. Since according to the Gospel of Luke, Mary was a relative of Elizabeth,[2] Zechariah might have lived in the same area where Mary's family originated. However some modern scholars regard this relationship as dubious.[3][4]

The Roman Catholic Church commemorates him as a saint, along with Elizabeth, on 23 September.[5] 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 24 June.

Armenians believe that the Gandzasar Monastery in Nagorno Karabakh contains relics of Zechariah.

In 2003, a fourth-century inscription on Yad Avshalom, a first-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 sixth-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]

In Islam

Aleppo - Prophet Zakariyya

The tomb of Zechariah within the Great Mosque of Aleppo in Syria.

Islam also believes in the historical existence of Zechariah as the father of John the Baptist, and Muslims regard him as one of the Prophets of Islam. In the Quran it is said that God prevented Zechariah from speaking for three days as a sign to Zechariah of his son's coming birth. Among English speaking Muslims its common to see Zechariah spelled as Zakariya , from the Arabic زكريا. Muslims believe that he is buried within the Great Mosque of Aleppo[7]


  1. Reimund Bieringer, The Corinthian Correspondence (Peeters Publishers, 1996), page 497, footnote 20.
  2. Luke 1:36
  3. Raymond Edward Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Paulist Press (1973), page 54
  4. Geza Vermes, The Nativity, page 143.
  5. Martyrologium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)
  6. Jewish Yad Avshalom revealed as a Christian shrine from Byzantine era, Haaretz, 22 July 2003
  7. "Great Mosque of Aleppo". Retrieved 2009-02-15. 

External links

This entry incorporates text from the public domain Easton's Bible Dictionary, originally published in 1897.

Life of Jesus: Conception of Jesus
Preceded by
Renovating the Second Temple
into Herod's Temple begins
 New Testament 
Followed by
Gabriel announces Mary's
motherhood to Jesus

cs:Zachariáš (kněz)fa:زکریاhu:Szent Zakariás prófétaja:ザカリアpt:Zacarias (sacerdote) ru:Захария (священник) sv:Sakarias th:นักบุญแซ็คคาไรห์ tr:Zekeriya (peygamber) uk:Святий Захарій zh:撒迦利亚

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