Reflecting on Mark 6: 1-6a
Is he not…the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?
Huh? How can Jesus have brothers and sisters? Doesn’t the doctrine of the Church state that Mary was a perpetual virgin?
That’s a great question, and the answer is fascinating. There are thirteen references to the “brothers and sisters of the Lord” in the New Testament. St. Paul and all four Gospel writers mention these brethren as if everyone knows who they are, and that it’s common knowledge that Jesus had brothers and sisters.
This was a problem right away, at least as early as 150 A.D., because a grassroots sense that Mary had remained a perpetual virgin began to emerge (although this is never mentioned in Scripture). How to reconcile Scripture with an emerging tradition?
Someone wrote a second century page-turner called The Protoevangelium of James. In this wildly popular book the author (posing as James, the brother of Lord) tells us all kinds of things that the brief and elusive scripture references to Mary never do. It’s here that we learn her parents’ names−−Joachim and Anna—and that Anna consecrated her child as a perpetual virgin while Mary (Miriam) was still in the womb.
It goes on to say that Joseph (a widower) respected her status and married her when she twelve years old, fully embracing a celibate marriage. And then the apocryphal (never canonized) writings, especially The History of Joseph the Carpenter, go crazy with stories about Joseph and his children from his first marriage. Whew! Mystery solved.
Except, as St. Jerome pointed out in the fourth century, “brothers” means “cousins” in Aramaic.
How do you feel about the tradition of Mary having “step-children”?
What would YOU like to say about this question, or today’s readings, or any of the columns from the past year? The sacred conversations are setting a Pentecost fire! Register here today and join the conversation.
I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish it were already burning (Lk.12:49).