An Amazing Life: Jesus
and the Nozerim
Mary remains one
of the most enigmatic and revered personages in human history. We know so
little about her – and yet so much. Of all the personages in the stories of
the gospels, none is so human and tragic as hers. Given the legacy of her
first-born son – and her other sons - we must recognize her as one of the
most significant mothers of any time. Putting together her story requires
plenty of “reading between the lines”. However, there is sufficient
historical record to support a much different view of her life than is
commonly believed. But first, we should provide a bit of context.
It is impossible
for us to appreciate the nature of her times. Aside from the well known
turmoil, there were strong political and religious feelings that led to many
“royal” killings – either among the Kingly group or the High Priestly
groups. Three different groups actively sought out any persons who might have
any sort of legitimate claim to the Davidian throne or the High Priesthood;
the Romans who saw them as potential trouble makers, the Herodians who saw
them as direct threats to their throne, and the pseudo-Zadokian cousins (the
family of Ananus) who were presiding as high priests and knew they could not
compete with the true line of Aaronite succession.
Just to exemplify
the reality of this danger, we need only take a cursory look at the reign of
Herod (the First or “the Great”) to realize that he killed his wives,
their children, his children, step-children, and just about anyone who
appeared to threaten his control of power. Caesar Augustus told the joke that
“it was preferable to be Herod's pig (hus)
than his son (huios).” At times he ordered entire groups of people
killed because they posed some perceived threat to his power.
Let us then
assume that the Christian claims for the genealogy of Jesus are generally
valid with two key adjustments: first, since we have two different genealogies
(Mathew and Luke), one must be for Mary and the other for Joseph; and second,
if Joseph was Jesus’ step-father, his genealogy is meaningless in providing
any claim for Jesus’ Davidic ancestry. Foregoing the “virgin birth” myth
and then analyzing the genealogies of both of Jesus’ parents, we are then
confronted with another claim that is generally ignored: if Jesus actually did
have any legitimate claim to the Davidic throne and Mary’s lineage is
priestly (as would combine to create a “Messiah”), then any offspring of
Joseph and Mary would be targets for many.
If this was the
reality for the family of Jesus, then we should wonder how the Davidic and
priestly family of Jesus related to the messianic parties of the time and to
the other Jewish powers in Judea. Why weren’t they quickly hunted down (and
killed) by the Romans and Herodians as royal rivals since the gospel accounts
make it clear that neither Jesus nor his family lived lives of seclusion. Part
of the answer comes from a closer look at Mary and her family ties.
We should begin
with an acknowledgement that we know little about Mary or her family. Trying
to assemble her genealogy requires substantial speculation, but it is not
without foundation. The starting presumption is that the genealogy offered in
the Gospel of Luke (Luke 3:23) is actually Mary’s and not Joseph’s.
We add in some traditional information about her priestly father and her
service in the Temple and some pieces fall into place. Finally, we tie
together some names that were quite common and credit Mary with relations to
some important people of the time – people mentioned in the Gospel accounts.
From this, a new and different picture emerges for Jesus’ mother.
record contradicts the Biblical down-playing of Jesus’ family: if John the
Baptist was Jesus’ cousin (Luke 1:36), then their family had clear ties to the legitimate High Priesthood. If
James (the brother of Jesus) was the popular “James the Just” and served
as a prominent Temple priest (Jerome citing Hegesippus' lost Commentaries),
then it was most likely because Mary’s family had historical power within
the priesthood. If the family had friends (or relatives) like Chouza (the
minister of finance for King Herod
Antipas - Luke 8:3) and Joseph of Arimathea (Matt.
27:57, Luke 23:50, and Mark 15:43),
then they had ties to some of the most powerful families in Judea. Once we
accept that the reality of Jesus’ true family heritage and position, we can
better understand his life and message. The family of Jesus was far from poor,
obscure, or unimportant.
father is named “Heli” in Luke’s genealogy, but other strong traditions
name her father “Joachim”
(even being sainted as such by the Catholic Church). Some have tried to
reconcile this by suggesting that Heli and Joachim are actually the same name
(as if Joachim = Eliachim = Eli = Heli), but that is too much a stretch.
Besides, if Jesus is to gain his Davidic lineage through Mary’s family,
there is no reason to believe he could do so through Joachim (a priest). On
the other hand, a person who was of Davidic lineage and who could have offered
the kingly lineage was Alexander III Helios, also known as “Heli”.
For most people,
this man is totally unknown. Even among historians, he does not have
prominence. But in more recent years, he has gathered greater and greater
attention. As more and more people realize that the Jesus legend of the New
Testament reflects substantial bias, intentional misdirection, and clear
obfuscation, a new and more complete view has emerged. As mentioned before,
the Jesus story of the gospels is self-contradictory regarding Jesus’
ancestry and position: if he was a legitimate contender to the throne of David
then he certainly wasn’t a “nobody from Hicksville” as generally
portrayed. If he was born under any circumstance akin to that described in the
gospels, his Davidic claims would have had to come through his mother’s
family. We will return to this topic later.
Our expanded view
of the family of Mary takes examines four separate lines and ties them
At first glance it may seem a stretch to have so many prominent families
linked in one person. But there were four major differences in marriage during
the time that greatly changed the way people were related.
All of these were directly involved in Mary’s ancestry. An inter-family
marriage might result in combinations that we might consider unethical or even
illegal. Parents married their own children, siblings married, first cousins
married, and almost any other combination of inter-family marriage was
practiced. Similarly, marriages between families were arranged based upon
specific objectives. Alliances between countries were cemented by marriage,
royal bloodlines were controlled and manipulated, and brides were bought and
sold to gain or solidify position and title.
The Jewish custom of leverite marriage evolved over time (originating in
Gen. 38:8 and elaborated in Deut. 25: 56) and was one of the topics that
distinguished the major sects during the first century. As a general rule, the
Jews didn’t marry within the close family (note Lev. 18:16-21) except in the
specific circumstance of the leverite custom, but then it was regarded as
obligatory. Specifically, the idea of such a marriage (also found in other
cultures) was to ensure that men had a legal heir. It became an issue when
there was no “issue”. That is, when a married man died without an heir,
his surviving brothers (or other closest male relative) assumed the duty to
provide one. That involved a number of associated issues.
Some believed that the obligation occurred only when the relatives lived
in the same “estate” or dwelling (or village). The surviving relative
could avoid the obligation by the ceremony of “Ḥaliẓah” (where the widow follows the odd procedure of Deut. 25: 5-10 to
release the obligation – allowing her to marry someone else). Also involved
is the institution of “Go'el” (retaliation) where murder or manslaughter
is suspected. Under Jewish law, a child from a levirate union would inherit
the title and the estate of the deceased brother.
Finally, before we look at Mary’s family trees, it is important to note
the naming conventions (and difficulties) from the period. For those
unfamiliar with Jewish naming traditions,
it may be worth your time to look at the article regarding such (link here).
It has been common for historians to move freely between Hebrew names and
grecized names – usually based upon the context. Important people usually
adopted a Greek name as well as their given name and that name was used as
their “official” name. Thus, outside of Jewish works, the Greek names are
almost always used for royal families during this period. In this way, Eli
ben Matthat and Alexander III Helios are the same person.
In the following family trees, I have not included lines having little or
no significance to Mary and to simply the charts, some lines are not
duplicated in each tree. There are numerous situations
where the lines connect by marriage that are not shown and where a wife
ends up being married (and having children) with a close relative.
We will use the following family
tree for Mary’s mother (Anna):
Hananeel (Ananelus) the Egyptian
Phabet (Fabi) Simon
| | |
(Those shown in purple served as High Priest
As is obvious in this chart – Mary’s
ancestors were among the most prominent of High Priestly families with deep
roots in the Egyptian High Priesthood of Onias. Her grandfather, Yehoshua III
was one of four High Priest sons of Phabet who was one of seven High Priest
sons of Boethus. This was a High Priest family dynasty unmatched in Jewish
This is the family tree for Mary’s blood
(John) I Hyrcanus
Aristobulus I (Judah)
via Salome Alexandra
_____________|__ (with Alexandra I)__
Hyrcanus II, Aristobulus II
Marriage)_____ Matthat ben Levi)
Alexander II Antigonas II
_____(2nd Marriage)______|_ ___ (1st Marriage)
I (2nd wife of Herod the Great)
Although there are several key personages in this genealogy, there are two
who deserve special discussion: Salome Alexandra (I) and Matthat ben Levi…
Salome Alexandra I (Hebrew: שְׁלוֹמְצִיּוֹן
“Shelomtzion” or possibly
BCE), was the only Jewish regnant queen.
Her personal genealogy is not given by Josephus and is generally unknown
although she was married to a host of the most important men of the era,
including: Aristobulus I and Alexander Jannaeus. The
reason for this was plain: she was considered the legitimate Queen of the
Davidic line and her offspring would gain that titular lineage (by whatever
father). Her marriages to the Hasmonean kings was intended to give them
greater legitimacy and gained her great power. The circumstances that led to
her being the second wife of Matthat ben Levi are unknown, but the best guess
is that it was a result of him being one of the richest men in Judea. (More
Matthat bar Levi is both a biblical and non-biblical character of history.
(“Elam” = Mute)
__________ |_________ ____________
Jane Elizabeth (H)anna
Joseph (Arimathea) Jorim
“Heli” ben Matthat
Marriage – only child)__________________ John (Baptist)
(Again, those who were High Priest are shown in purple)
I realize that this can be confusing (although I have tried to simplify
it). Three things compound the confusion: traditional Jewish naming customs,
the Hellenization of names during this period, and the widespread practices of
polygamy and multiple marriages within these families.
The thing that should stand out in these family trees is the plain fact that
Mary was descended from and related to the most important families in Judea
during this time. Her immediate families included High Priests, the Hasmonean
royalty, the Davidic lineage, and the wealthiest of Jews.
To explain Mary’s family trees, I will start with what little is known
of her personal history. It seems clear that her natural father was of the
tribe of Judah, the “seed of Jesse”, and the lineage of David (Luke 1:32).
She was the “cousin” (actually niece) of Elizabeth (wife of Zacharias),
who was of the lineage of Aaron (Luke 1:36). In the Gospel of James
her parents are named Joachim (“Imran”
in Arabic -per the Qur'an)
and Anne. Tradition states that
(in this case, “Eli”) was a first cousin of Mary's father Joachim (who is
described as a rich and pious man from Sepphoris (in Galilee)). Following the
hint that Heli was Joachim’s cousin, the tree would make sense if Heli had
died when Anne was young (as below) and she was then wed to his closest
relative in a levirate marriage. Thus, Heli would
be the proper name in the genealogy while Joachim may have actually raised
Mary. The common ancestor of Jannai would make the lineage difference minor.
Let us start then with the parts of Mary’s lineage that are better
established. The genealogy given in Luke starts like this…
Heli ben Mattat (Alexander
from Matthat (Matthatias bar Levi )
from Mattathias (the Maccabbean)…
(see also Hieros Chagiagah 77.4). We can be certain that Luke’s
genealogy is incomplete and use the well established genealogy of the
Hasmoneans to make minor changes:
Helios (Alexander III aka Heli ben Mattat)
(no Melchi known)
from Jonathan (Yehonatan bar Jannai or Alexander Jannaeus)
from Jannai (should be Johanan Hyrcanus
or Yohanan Girhan)
from Simeon (Simon Thassi the Maccabbean)
from Mattathias (the Maccabbean)…
Although the genealogies are not a perfect match, there are six points
that impel their acceptance as being the same:
1. The differences
between the two lines are small: Luke has placed “Joseph” between
Mattathias and Jannai and instead the Hasmonean lineage was through Simon.
Also, there is no Melchi (a
woman???) known in the Hasmonean lineage. While there is no easy explanation
for the discrepancy, anyone who studies ancient bloodlines should recognize
the remarkable overlap while understanding the differences are minor
(especially given Luke’s other well established mistakes).
2. These relationships
explain how the followers of Jesus could legitimately think he was qualified
to be the Messiah.
3. These relationships
explain why Herod might have been willing to slaughter infants in an effort to
exterminate Jesus - a legitimate competitor to the throne.
4. These relationships
explain several Biblical tales and interactions: how Jesus got away with his
disruptions at the Temple (immediate death to any normal Jew), the
relationship to Joanna (wife of Chuza in the house of Herod), some aspects of
the trial legend (even the need for a “trial”), and the actions of Joseph
of Arimathea (claiming the body of Jesus as a relative).
5. The relationships
explain some of the difficulties with names in the gospels – such as why
Mary’s father is called both Heli and Joachim.
6. The relationships
fit other aspects of the gospel accounts and explain Mary’s ties to both
Gallilee and Egypt.
There are a few details in the family trees that are worthy of special
1. The marriage of Simar (Mary’s great-aunt) to Matthat first tied the
family of the legitimate High Priest with the family of Davidic succession –
which was repeated with Anne’s marriage to Heli. It seems likely that the
marriage of Alexandra II to Matthat was a leverite marriage (following
Alexander II’s execution).
2. Considering the following
sequence of assassinations by Herod, it is clear where the Davidic lineage was
thought to be…
Aristobulus II (poisoned in
Alexander II (poisoned with his father, above, in 49 BCE),
Hyrcanus II (Exiled in 49 BCE, then hung by Herod in 30 BCE),
Antigonas II (beheaded by Mark Anthony in 37 BCE),
Aristobulus III (drowned by Herod in 36 BCE),
Alexander III Helios (murdered in 23 BCE) (or 17???)
Alexandros (strangled by Herod in 7 BCE),
Aristobulus IV (strangled by Herod in 7 BCE).
3. Mary and John (the Baptist) are uniquely positioned to tie the High
Priestly lineage to the royal lineage.
Under the circumstances, those interested in protecting the lineage of
David (and any Messianic aspirant) would have been wise to hide eligible male
children. Mary would have been safe as a child because she held such great
promise as a wife for any aspiring king. That her father was executed when she
was young (or even possibly before she was born) was probably part of
Herod’s planning. We know that Herod keep very close tabs on competing royal
bloodlines and it would have been difficult to miss the remarkable convergence
that occurred with Hannah.
So, before we continue with Mary’s early life, it is important to
explore a few key relations that Mary had. Mary’s grandmother was Esther
(Elizabeth of Jerusalem), a descendant of the Hasmonean family that ruled
Judea before the Roman take-over. Esther was a daughter of Hyrcanus (the
Hasmonean) and so she was given a Greek name - Alexandra (II). That means that
she would have been one of several Maccabean queens since she married the
Hasmonean who would be the successor, Alexander II. Alexandra II and
Alexander II had two children: Prince Aristobulus III (who would become High
Priest for a few months before being murdered by Herod in 36 BCE) and Princess
Mariamme I (who would marry King Herod as his 2nd wife).
Mary’s paternal grandfather
was married to two other famous wives (besides Mary’s grandmother):
Rachel of Arimathea, mother of the biblical Joseph of Arimathea, and
Mary’s aunt JoAnna married Joachim, the son of Alamyos, the Governor of Judea from 50-47 BCE (an Onaidite), and her aunt Elizabeth married Zechariah, a Priest of the Abijah Order (Levite). JoAnna was also the sister-in-law of Salome who married the brother of Joseph of Arimathea – Zebedee (the parents of the Apostles James and John).
Mary’s great-great-great grandfather was one of the priests of the House
of Zadok: Hananeel (Ananelus) from Alexandria. He was the son the famous
Boethus (also from Alexandria) and the father of Boethus, whose family would
serve many roles in Judaism over more than a lustrum (five decades). Hananeel
served as High Priest twice during the reign of Herod the Great. Mary’s
grandfather was also a High Priest – not surprisingly named Yehoshua (Jesus
or Joshua ben Phiabi). We know little about him except that he held the post
of High Priest from 30 to 25 BCE (replaced by Simon ben Boethus) and that he
could only prevent his Zadokian lineage form being lost by properly marrying
at least one of his three daughters Joanna (Jane), Esther (Elizabeth), and
Hannah (Anna or “Bethulah”) as a dynastic heiress.
Boethus bar Hananeel, who presided as the “Nasi” or the President of
the Great Sanhedrin, had a son named Simon whose daughter (another JoAnna/Jane)
was married to Chuza bar Joseph,
the chief steward of Herod (as his father had been). Boethus’ daughter,
Mariamne II was Herod’s third wife.
With the “marriage” of so many families of prominence and significance
producing Mary, it is no wonder that she would end up as the mother of such a
famous son. It would also have
been incredible for her to escape the attention of Herod, who wanted to marry
for himself or to one of his sons every woman of royal blood he could.
Unfortunately for Mary, her life would change several times due to executions.
With the birth of Mary, Hannah would have been forced to isolate herself
from society until all evidence of any post-partum bleeding had passed. Then,
after an additional 66 days, Hannah would have followed the customary rites as
were given to Moses and presented herself (along with Mary) to a priest along
with an offering of a yearling lamb as a thanksgiving burnt offering and a
pigeon or turtle dove as a sin offering (as an atonement and to ritually
cleanse her mother) (Leviticus
With the execution of her father “Heli” (around 23 BCE)
Mary’s life was altered dramatically. It is hard to imagine Herod letting
Hannah and her baby leave Jerusalem (unless she was pregnant and not yet
showing). If so, Hannah would certainly have been wise to get far away from
Jerusalem. Since Heli had no living brothers (for a direct “levirate
marriage”), Hanna was then married to her uncle, Joachim, a well known
priest from Sepphoris. From this, we appear to have two legends: one placing
Mary in Galilee/Sepphoris and the other in Jerusalem. There is probably truth
to both. Our best guess is that Mary was raised in Sepphoris while very young.
When Mary was old enough to serve in the Temple, Joachim became a Temple
priest, and so the family moved to Jerusalem. They could have done so without
revealing Mary’s identity and she would have been safe in the Temple.
Herod began re-construction of the “Second Temple” in 20 BCE and there
can be little doubt that the situation in Jerusalem during this time was
unusual. Only priests were allowed to work within certain areas of the Temple
so there had to be a great demand for priests to come to Jerusalem during this
time. During this phase of construction (which lasted until 10 BCE), Herod
must have been pre-occupied and there was far less “intrigue” or focus on
the pogrom. We can easily accept that this part of Mary’s early life was
centered upon the massive building project in Jerusalem
and that takes us until the point where she enters puberty and would no longer
be able to serve in the Temple.
Mary was born no later than 22 BCE. She was very unlikely to have been
eligible to serve in the Temple much past its completion
in 10 BCE. And, as indicated by the list of executions above, the situation in
Jerusalem changed dramatically in 7 BCE. What seems clear is that several of
the Davidic claimants reached the same conclusion – it was time to escape
Herod’s pogrom. If he was willing to kill his own sons, he obviously
wouldn’t hesitate to kill any other potential rivals. It was this juncture
that seemed to bring Mary and Joseph together since both ended up in Galilee
at about the same time.
Joseph’s story is detailed in Appendix III, but what is most
relevant here is that he also needed to be concerned about Herod since his
ancestry made him an unlikely candidate for the Davidic throne.
With ever y execution or imprisonment of a higher ranking heir, the
risk to Joseph increased.
Since his family ties included two uncles who were prominent in the Galilean
zealot movement, moving there was simple and safe for him. Not surprising is
the fact that Joseph and Mary were related even before their marriage –
although not closely.
Joachim was married to JoAnna,
Mary’s aunt. He was also the brother of Escha and Mary Salome (all offspring
of Alamyos, the Governor of Judea from 50-47 BCE - an Onaidite). Joseph had
two younger brothers (twins) named Ptolas and Clopas. Escha was married to
Ptolas and Mary Salome was married to Clopas.
We don’t know why Mary ended up back in Sepphoris. Joachim may have
simply returned home upon completion of the Temple or perhaps they recognized
the increasing risks of staying in Jerusalem.
For whatever reason they were there, sometime near 8 BCE they were both in, or
near, Sepphoris. The reason for
the betrothal becomes apparent when we understand their lineages: combining
their bloodlines would produce prodigious offspring.
Joseph carried Davidic royal blood and Mary carried Hasmonean royal blood.
In their offspring there would be lineage from King David, Zerubabbel, the
prophet Nehamiah, the High Priest Onias (last of the “legitimate” High
Priests), Queen Alexandra, Queen Cleopatra, either Julius Caesar or Mark
Antony, the Persian kings, and the Exilarchs. They carried both the priestly
bloodlines (Levite and Aaronite) as well as the line of Zadok. They
represented and merged two different Davidic lineages (the Abiudite and
Rhesaite). Their friends and relatives would include a host of High Priests,
one of the richest men in Judea (Joseph of Arimathea), members of Herod’s
Court, members of the Sanhedrin, and many others. From the close family would
come the best known “prophet” of the time – John the Baptist, the most
popular “opposition” priest of the time (and the first Bishop of
Jerusalem), James, several of the most famous “zealots”, and (obviously)
the most famous person in human history, Jesus.
Although we don’t know the details regarding the betrothal of Joseph and
Mary, we know plenty about the laws and customs of the time. Under those laws
and customs, a woman
was betrothed at her own or her father’s house
and then up to a year elapsed before she was taken into the house of her
husband. (Note Deut. 22:7; Judges 14:7-8 and see “Adam Clarke’s Commentary
on the Bible,” abridged by Ralph Earle (1997) (p.766)). Even when a marriage
had not been consummated, it was considered
fully legal and binding; and therefore a breach of the betrothal
“contract” was considered “adultery” and punished in the same way.
Although we lack details, we know a few things:
We will return to birth of Jesus after we take the same detour that Luke
sends us on: Mary’s visit to her aunt Elizabeth.
According to Luke, the elderly (and supposedly barren) Elizabeth was six
months pregnant (with John the Baptist) when an angel told Mary to go and
visit her in Judea (at Zechariah’s villa near Ain-Karim, in the hills four
miles west of Jerusalem). Seeing Mary, Elizabeth is said to have cried out
with a loud voice: Blessed you are among women and blessed is the fruit of
your womb. Why have I been favored with a visit from the mother of my Lord? (Luke 1:42-43).
This visit (a rigorous three day trip for a pregnant Mary) was likely made in
conjunction with some festival in Jerusalem and lasted through John’s birth
in the year 8 or 7 BCE. (See Appendix X for discussion regarding the dating of
Plenty of theological discourse has arisen from this side story, along
with some historical extrapolations. In the King James translation of Luke,
Elizabeth is termed Mary’s “cousin” in one of the few cases where the
generic use of the original Greek term should be assumed (“συγγενίς”
is better translated as an uncertain “relative”). As elaborated upon
above, it is highly likely that Elizabeth was Mary’s aunt and the hint about
the age difference supports that conclusion. A blood relationship between
Jesus and John also helps us make sense of other biblical references. That
Zechariah owns both a villa and a house near Jerusalem is another indication
that these families were not poor.
It seems clear that Elizabeth’s greeting was a later theological
insertion consistent with early Christian efforts to elevate Jesus above John
– even having John’s mother declare Mary’s fetus her “Lord” before
he was born. From here Luke tells us that Mary returned to her “home” (Sepphoris/Nazareth?).
But then she and Joseph soon make another trip south and end up in Bethlehem
for the birth of their child. (Again, this event is discussed in detail in
Appendix X where I conclude that the Bethlehem narrative is purely theological
and not historical).
While some may choose to believe in the miracle of “virgin birth” or
even the perpetual virginity of Mary, both detract from a clear understanding
of Jesus’ life. Indeed, one can argue that the creation of such
misunderstanding and distraction from the truth was the very intent of the New
Testament editors. We have no reason to think that the gospels would include a
story which would create doubt about the legal/parental status of Jesus unless
such was so well known and established that it couldn’t be ignored.
The birth of Jesus would occur under less than ideal circumstances and
disrupt the whole scene of Davidic lineages.
Mary’s story is re-told in the canonical gospels and in the
And in her sixth month
of pregnancy, Joseph returned from his building houses abroad and entered into
the house, only to find that Mary had grown big. With smite on his face, he
said: “With what face can I look up to the Lord my God? What shall I say
concerning this young woman, for I received her as a virgin out of the Temple
of the Lord my God and have not preserved her thus? Who has thus deceived me?
Who has committed this evil in my house and seduced and defiled her?”… But
Mary, with a flood of tears, replied “I am innocent!”.”
We have tended to ignore the larger circumstance and issues presented in
this scenario. Those around Mary would have known that she was pregnant after
being betrothed to Joseph. Upon Joseph’s return, the people in their village
would have demanded that the law be enforced and that law would have required
Joseph to either acknowledge his wrong-doing or implicate Mary. Since the
accounts offered make no mention of this, the only realistic explanation is
that the cause of Mary’s pregnancy was known to all.
Given the circumstance presented to Joseph, the custom and expectation of
the time was that he should invoke the law and have Mary stoned to death
(Deut. 22:24) – unless she had been raped where no one could save her.
(Deut. 22: 27). Given the gospel account that Joseph presumed a choice in
sparing her, there had to be some circumstance permitting exception to the
law. Of course, the biblical tale holds that Mary was impregnated by the Holy
Spirit and that Joseph changed his mind in a dream. But that implies that
Joseph had reason not to invoke or enforce the law promptly.
So, unless we accept the “immaculate conception” doctrine, the best
explanation for the gospel accounts fits with other legends. Celsus,
writing about 180 CE, stated that Jesus was actually an illegitimate son of a
Roman soldier named Panther (Panthera). There is also mention in the Talmud
of a Yeshua ben Pandera, which some think supports the legend. Epiphanius, in
refutation of Celsus, wrote that Joseph and Cleopas were both sons of Jacob
who was also known as Panther, but that seems a stretch. This is one of many
questions that might never be answered, and yet Christians tend not to
consider the alternative that the gospel stories speak an underlying truth
that is obfuscated by mythical/magical overlays. Other issues surrounding
Jesus’ birth are discussed in related Appendices.
Joseph follows the instruction from his dream and the boy is named Yeshua/Jesus.
Joseph ended the betrothal by taking Mary to live in his home and completing
the marriage contract. Matthew’s statement that “[Joseph]
had no union with her until [after] she gave birth”
and Luke’s use of the term “firstborn” (Luke 2:7) indicates what
happened after they began married life. There is simply no reason to believe
that anything less than a normal relationship of marriage
followed (unless one adopts an unsupported notion that Mary’s semi-divinity
compelled her to perpetual virginity).
“Matthew betrays no such inclination” (“The Wycliffe Bible
Commentary,” p. 932) and neither should we.
Unlike the presentation described above for Hannah and Mary, Jesus would have additional ceremonies: male Jewish babies were circumcised. Circumcision is a "mitzvah" (commandment from God) central to Jewish culture. It is an outward physical sign of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people. It is thought that the Jewish people will be perpetuated through the circumcised man. When a Jewish boy is circumcised, he is accepted into the "Covenant of Abraham" and assumes the rights and duties of the Torah. A male Jew who is not circumcised is something less than a Jew and suffers the penalty of kareit (spiritual excision) - regardless of how good a Jew he is in all other ways, an uncircumcised man may not enter the World to Come.
(ritual circumcision) or "the bris"
is performed in a special ceremony
during the daytime of the eighth day
of the boy's life. Circumcision must be done by a qualified "mohel"
or the circumcision is invalid. Because
the mother is niddah (or partially impure) for at least 40 days after the
birth of a boy she is unable to attend the ceremony. Among the key
parts of the ceremony - the boy is given his name (which is sometimes spelled
out in the marriage contract).
For the Jews, part of God’s perfection is the lack of foreskin and those
born without a foreskin were regarded as made in the image of God – a sign
of the most saintly of people from Adam to Zerubbabel (see Midrash Ab. R. N.,
ed. Schechter, p. 153; and Talmud, Sotah 12a). Those born with a foreskin
(even a minimal one) are circumcised by either removal of the skin or a
symbolic “pinprick”. Special health issues may affect how the procedure is
The ceremony itself has several components and customs. Traditionally, the
boy’s father honors someone (e.g. the grandfather) as the "sandek"
whose lap serves as an altar where the boy is held. A chair is set aside
because, according to tradition, Elijah the prophet comes to every bris. It is
customary for those attending to
stand. The father recites the traditional declaration of God's unity, the
"Shma": Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One."
The baby is then passed to the "sandek" who holds
the baby on his lap while the mohel unwraps the infant and prepares him for
the bris. The father stands next to the mohel and before the cut, he recites
the following blessing: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the
universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us
concerning the circumcision." The mohel then performs the cut and the
father recites this blessing: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the
universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to
enter him into the Covenant of Abraham our father.
The assembly wishes the father and baby well: "Just as he has entered
into the Covenant of Abraham, so may he enter into Torah, into marriage and
into good deeds." At this point the mohel takes a cup of wine and blesses
it: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has created
the fruit of the vine." (Wine is partaken at all Jewish ceremonies and
festive meals to recall the goodness of God.” With the wine, the following
blessing is made: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe,
who sanctified the beloved one from the womb, set His statue in his flesh, and
sealed his descendants with the sign of the holy Covenant. Therefore, as a
reward of this circumcision, the living God, our Portion, our Rock, has
ordained that the beloved of our flesh be saved from the abyss, for the sake
of the Covenant which He has set in our flesh. Blessed are You, Lord, who
makes the Covenant."
At that point the child is held out and his name is given with this
blessing: "Our God, and the
God of our fathers, preserve this child for his father and mother, and his
name in Israel shall be called ------- the son of --------. May the father
rejoice in his child and the mother be joyous with the fruit of her womb as it
is written: May your father and mother rejoice, and she who bore you be glad.
And it is said: I passed by you and saw you weltering in your blood and I said
to you: You shall live through your blood, and I said to you: You shall live
through your blood. And it is said, He has remembered his Covenant forever,
the word which He has commanded to a thousand generations; the Covenant which
He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, He established it for Jacob as a
statute for Israel as an everlasting Covenant. And it is said: Abraham
circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded
him. Give thanks to God for He is good, for His kindness is eternal. Give
thanks to God for He is good, for His kindness is eternal. This small infant
–[name] -- grow and become great. As you have come into the Covenant of
Abraham, so may you come into Torah, into marriage and into good deeds."
A drop of wine is given to the new son of Israel and those gathered wish the
father “mazel tov”. Afterwards, a festive meal is common.
At the time of Jesus, tradition held that the first and best of all things
belong to God, including firstborn children. In more ancient times, the
firstborn sons would serve as priests and Temple functionaries. Later, God
decided that the tribe of Levi would serve in the sacred role of priests and
others would only perform rotating service to the Temple (Num. 8:14-18).
Nevertheless, firstborn still retain a certain degree of sanctity and must be
“redeemed”. The ritual of redemption is referred to as pidyon ha-ben,
literally, Redemption of the Son.
A firstborn son must be redeemed after he reaches 31 days of age (the day
of birth being the first day). The ritual involves paying a small sum (five
silver shekels) and therefore cannot be performed on Shabbat. Pursuant to the
procedure commanded in Numbers 18:15-16, a kohein
performs a brief ritual to the firstborn male child born by natural childbirth.
Thus, if a female is the firstborn, no child in the family is subject to the
ritual. If the first conception ends in a miscarriage after more than 40 days
the ritual does not apply to any subsequent child. Logically, it does not
apply to members of the tribe of Levi, or children born to a daughter of a
member of the tribe of Levi.
“Is this not the son of Joseph?” (Luke 4:22). This question will
remain unanswered, but the fact that it was asked (and included in the Gospel
of Luke) raises others. If there had been an “immaculate conception”, one
would expect it to be a major issue – and well known. The “locals” would
not have asked this question if the Jesus’ father was well known to be
“the Holy Spirit”. Similarly, if Jesus had been born under other
suspicious circumstances, would he be known as “the son of Jospeh”?
Other sources and cites offer little in addressing the matter. The Protoevangelium says "Joseph…was registered with Mary" and "she brought forth her first born son." (8:13). Matthew tells us: “Jesus left that place, and came to his home town, where he taught the people in their synagogue…Is he not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary, his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters here with us?” (Matt. 13:55). And Mark gives us: "Is this not the [scholar], the son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon?” (Mk. 6:3).
At the time, to call someone the son of their mother was an insult as it implied that their father was unknown. It’s doubtful that it was Mark’s intent to offer such an insult – probably thinking that use of “son of Joseph” would contradict the “immaculate conception” idea. There is considerable disagreement about the legal circumstance and inheritance of Jesus, especially since the Messianic claim must be founded upon descendancy from David and traditionally such descendancy would come from one’s blood father.
Since there are at least three major versions of the story, a complete analysis requires different starting points:
We don’t have to spend much time with the last option since under that circumstance, Jesus was the biological son of Joseph and normal Jewish patrilineal inheritance laws would apply. The first option is simply too far from normal to offer precedence – so we are left to apply traditional law regarding non-biological sons. That leaves us with only one issue to discern, although it is less than simple.
There is no formal procedure of adoption in Jewish law and adoption as it exists in civil law is considered irrelevant. Judaism does, however, have certain laws related to the circumstance where a child is raised by someone other than the birth parents. In many ways, Jewish adoptive parents are treated the same as a birth parent would be. In the Talmud, one who raises someone else's child is regarded as if he had actually brought him into the world physically and those who cannot have children of their own satisfy the obligation to be fruitful and multiply by adopting. An adopted child may be formally named as the child of the adoptive parents and owes the adoptive parents the same duty of respect as he would a birth parent.
Most matters related to the child's title or status are determined by the status of the birth parents, not by that of the adoptive parents. For example, an adopted child does not gain status as a Kohein or a Levi through their adopted parents. Indeed, they are not automatically a Jew unless born to a Jewish mother. Rights and duties of the firstborn are determined by the birth parents. Judaism as a religion is passed down through the matrilineal line (traditionally, one is Jewish if one’s mother is Jewish); however one’s tribal identity is patrilineal. Jewish law presumes that a man is the natural father of every child to whom his wife gives birth, unless either his paternity is disproved or he denies paternity by a simple declaration. Once a father has acted as a father to the child (such as by giving him a name), he is legally the child’s father. Similarly, a father who teaches a boy his trade has declared himself his father.
Under Jewish law, tribal affiliation and family genealogy can only be traced through the person's father (patrilineal). See Exodus 28:4, 29:9-30, 30:30, and 40:15 [Priesthood Lineage]; Numbers 36 [Tribal Lineage]; Genesis 49:10, I Kings 11:4, and I Chronicles 17:11-19 [Kingship Lineage].). In Numbers 1:8 we're told that the Jewish people declare their pedigrees according to their fathers' houses. The Jewish law of royal succession provides that the Throne shall pass from father to son in order of primogeniture, though a King can name any male he pleases as his successor, as long as he is Jewish and of the House of David.
The Torah’s listing of the laws of inheritance are both simple and straightforward. When a couple marries, the woman’s tribal alliance transfers to her husband’s tribe. For this reason, it was not in the best interest of the tribes for women to inherit land. See Numbers, Ch. 27 and the circumstance of the daughters of Zelophehad. Before any inheritance could be distributed to the heirs, the wife of the deceased was apportioned an allowance for her own upkeep or given a lump sum distribution as pledged in her marriage contract. A portion was also set aside for living expenses and dowry for any unwed daughters. There is no provision in the Torah that specifically identifies the law relating to transfer of title through inheritance, however tradition clearly established that the oldest son of the High Priest was the legal successor of his father in that role. (That tradition had little effect after Onias III).
Beyond the birth narratives in the synoptic and various
infancy gospels, we know very little about Mary or her life. One problem is
the commonality of the name “Mary” during the period and within the
synoptic gospels. (One estimate purposes that one in four of all the women in
Judea were named Mary during the period). Generally, Mary’s presence in the gospels is associated with the siblings of Jesus:
Matthew 13:55 - “When he had
finished these parables Jesus left that place, and came to his home town,
where he taught the people in their synagogue…Is he not the carpenter’s
son? Is not his mother called Miriam,
his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters here
Mark 6:1-6 - “He left that
place (Capernaum) and went to his home town (Nazareth) accompanied by his
disciples. When the Sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue……Is
not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and
Joseph and Judas and Simon? And
are not his sisters here with us?”
Luke 8:18-21 – “On the
Galilean hillside, “His mother and his brothers arrived but could not
get to him for the crowd. He was
told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, and they want to see
you....’ He replied, ‘My mother and my brothers - they are those who hear
the word of God and act upon it.’”
Gospel of the Hebrews - “Behold the mother of Jesus and his
brothers said to him “John the Baptist is baptizing for the remission of
sins. Let us go and be baptized by him.” But he said to them, “In what
matter have I sinned, that I should go and be baptized by him? Unless, perhaps
I have committed a sin of ignorance.”
Mary’s last recorded presence within the synoptic gospels is at the foot
of the Cross watching Jesus die…
John 19:25 – “Now there
stood by the cross of Jesus, His mother, and His mother’s sister,
Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He
loved (the disciple, John the Beloved) standing by, He said to His mother,
‘Woman, behold you son!’ Then
He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ and from that hour that
disciple took her to his own home.”
After the tale relating the ascension of Jesus (when he disappeared in a
cloud over the Mount of Olives), we have the last record of Mary in Acts...
"Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which
is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey. And when they had entered, they
went up into the upper room where they were staying….They all continued with
one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of
Jesus, and with His brothers." Acts 1:12-14
Being one of the most
venerated women in history,
there are also many legends and artifacts associated with Mary, “the Virgin
Mother”. None have any significance here, although she has importance in the
sequel, “After Jesus”.
Whatever the whole truth may be, Mary is at least a significant figure in
the character development of Jesus – and his character remains one of the
most influential of all humans. If only the most basic gospel and historical
facts are true, she was a woman of remarkable contribution and importance.
And, if even only a small part of the legends are true, then she was “most
blessed among all women” although her life presented some great suffering.
 Of course, Jews are prohibited from eating pork, so pigs were safe with Herod.
 Although the story of the massacre of the innocents seems to have no historical basis, it certainly fit Herod’s character.
 See “The interpretation of scripture in early Judaism and Christianity” by Craig A. Evans (2004), p.269. The word “procuratoris” from the Vulgate would indicate he was steward of realm (and not just of the household).
 Especially the use of patronymics and papponymics. A patronymic is a name derived from one’s father such as David bar (son of) Joseph or Miriam bat (daughter of) Aaron. A papponymic is a personal name based on the name of one's grandfather. Papponyms were common with both the Greeks and the Jews. Also note that there were nicknames and variations of names not unlike today.
 Or, more accurately: Shelamziyyon Alexandra. She married Alexander upon the death of Aristubulus I.
 His 2nd wife was Rachel of Arimathea, sister of Joseph.
 Antigonus II Mattathias has the unfortunate distinction of being historically recorded as an anointed King of the Jews (“messiah”) who was scourged and crucified by the Romans.
 Married Hanna daughter of Yehoshua III, as above and below. The “Cave of Treasures” names Anne’s father “Paqud son of Eleazar” while the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew names him “Issachar” (of the tribe of Judah).
 Her husband's mother had been prevented from ruling as his dying father had wished. The much earlier usurper, Athaliah, had never actually reigned.
 Probably Alexander Jannaeus, the Jewish king and High Priest from 103-76 BCE. While he provided the blood lineage, the true connection was through his wife, Alexandra of Jerusalem (Salome Alexandra) who became the popular regnant Queen when the hated Jannaeus died. Rabbinical legends state that she was the daughter of Setah Bar Yossei (Yossei Bar Yochanan) and that the Pharisee sage Simeon b. Shetah was her brother. She died in 67 BCE.
 Melchi was nicknamed “the mute” and his disability prevented him from becoming the High Priest.
 This tie is speculative, but fits the circumstances and record.
Mattathias ben Levi (aka Mattan)
was a prominent priest in the Davidic line who married three notable
women: Esther (Elizabeth) Alexandra II of Jerusalem, Rachel of Arimathea
(daughter Anna), and Salome of Idumean (a Herodian princess who was also
called “The Proselyte”). Mattathias and Alexandra II had a son named
Heli ben Mattat who would be known as Alexander III Helios; the father of
Mary. But Mary’s family also had roots along other prominent lines.
 Aka Alexander III Helios
 According to Robert Killian, around 100 BCE John Hyrcanus (I) had instigated a policy intending to interweave the various Jewish blood-lines so that more royal males would be born into each line. Since Hyrcanus was both “King” and “High-Priest”, he set Jewish religious and political policy for much of the era!
 Also so named in the "Gospel of the Nativity of the Blessed Mary" and the "Book of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the Childhood of the Savior."
 Which prescribes that when a man dies childless his widow "shall not marry to another: but his brother shall take her, and raise up seed for his brother" (Deut., xxv, 5). The child, therefore, of the second marriage is legally the child of the first (Deut., xxv, 6). If Heli died childless his widow would become the wife of his brother [Joachim] and the offspring of the marriage would be the son of Heli legally. See “The Catholic Encyclopedia”, Vol. 7 (1913), p. 204.
 King of Judea from 67-63 BCE. Murdered in 49 BCE.
 Alexandra later married Antigonus (the last Maccabean king). Their daughter, Antigone, married the Herodian Prince Antipater (III), who Herod executed just before dying.
 Mattathias and Alexandra II also had a daughter named Alexandra III who married Ptolemy Bar Mennius, the Exilarch who was deposed in 13 BCE and fled to Parthia.
 In early tradition, Mary is said to have been related to Helene (Salome), and we know that Simeon (ben Shetach) , vice-president of the Sanhedrin under Tabbai, was the brother of Salome (Alexandra).
 Simon V Bar Gjora became the last king of the Jews in Judah during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 66 CE.
Luke 1:5 – “There was in
the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of
the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and
her name was Elizabeth.”
 Note Luke 8:3.
 She had one child by Herod, Herod Boethus (aka Herod Philip II). Herod Boethus married his niece, Herodias, and they had a daughter named Salome. (See Mark 6:17-29).
 Perhaps tied to the great famine in 24-23 BCE which changed Herod’s political fortunes.
 Joachim was married to JoAnna, Mary’s aunt.
 Mary’s early life had parallels with that of the Prophet Samuel who, as a child, resided in the sanctuary at Shiloh with Eli the High Priest. Being in and around the Temple for several years, it is likely that Mary observed Temple rituals hidden to most women and knew the life of halakhic observance (being surrounded by the priests speaking Hebrew). Additionally, she would have been exposed to international delegations speaking Greek.
 The Temple itself was dedicated then, but the platform and other parts of “Herod’s Temple” wouldn’t be completed for decades to come.
 In 4 BCE, Prince Simon V of Perea, the last heir of the halakhic approved lineage from the time of Ezra, died without any heirs and the Meshullamite line ended.
 In the Harley Manuscripts (38-59, f. 193b), the lineages of Joseph and Mary converge at Matthan/Matthat so that this person is the father of both Heli and Jacob, making Joseph and Mary first cousins. Some propose that they could have only been cousins through a common mother of Jacob and Heli, thus not passing on the curse of Jechoniah. This theory would mean that Joseph of Arimathea was their uncle and that his daughter (Anna Consobrina) was Mary’s close cousin.
 One of the three daughters of the High Priest Yehoshua III.
 The Gospel of James states that Sephoris was the home of Joachim and Anna and that later on they lived in Jerusalem, in a house called by “Probatica” (a name probably derived from nearness to the pool of Bethsaida).
 Jewish maidens were considered marriageable at the age of twelve and a half.
 The custom was for the betrothal to be arranged by the parents of the husband, but supposedly Joseph was well aged it is unlikely that his parents were alive..
 A child of doubtful or illegitimate birth under Jewish law (“מַמְזֵר” from Deut. 23:2-3). Wrongly translated as “bastard” as it involves complex interpretations and application under halachic law. See Appendix V.
 Mary's answer is the canticle of praise called the "Magnificat" which is clearly one of the most inspiring passages in scripture. (Luke 1-46-55). If authentic to Mary, it would reflect her magnificent qualities.
 See “The Lost Books of The Bible and The Forgotten books of Eden” an anthology by A & B Book Dist Inc, March 1994, ISBN 1-881316-63-7.
 “Alethes Logos” is not extant and is only known from it being quoted by Origen in “Contra Celsum” written around 230 CE. For extensive discussion, see “Jesus in the Talmud” by Peter Schäfer (2007).
 Actually, there are numerous references in the Talmud to a Yeshua who some think is the same as the Christian Jesus. The Toledot Yeshu is most frequently discussed, but it probably refers to an earlier person with seemingly coincidental names – Miriam as his mother and Jochanan, a carpenter was his father. There was also a legend of an earlier Jesus who came out of Egypt with magical healing powers. Later authors added content clearly intended to refute or disparage the Christian Messianic claims. None seem to offer useful historical content.
 After birthing, a woman is considered unclean (“niddah”) and must remain sexually separated from her husband for a period of 7 days after the birth of a male child and 14 days after the birth of a female child. (Lev. 12:2).
 Historical records make it clear that for Jews of this period, the command of the Lord to “be fruitful and multiply” was viewed as an obligation to procreate. Throughout scripture it is repeated that parents were blessed if they had children and cursed if they did not. The scriptural purpose of marriage was procreation.
 Besides, the idea of Mary being a “virgin” is based upon a mistranslation of Isaiah 7:14 where the Hebrew word עַלְמָה ("almah"), meaning “young woman” was changed to “virgin”. (The word for virgin would have been בְּתוּלַ֖ת “bethulah”, Cf. Isaiah 62:5).
 The circumcision mitzvah is so important that the bris will happen even if the eight day falls on the Sabbath.
 Rabbis are not necessarily koheins and koheins are not necessarily rabbis.
 For example, if the first child is born by Caesarean section the ritual does not apply.
 See note 18, above.
 Civil adoption is essentially a transfer of title or “ownership” from one parent to another and the concept of owning another person is foreign to Jews.
 (Numbers 27:8-11): “If a man dies with no sons, then his inheritance goes to his daughter(s). If he has no daughter(s), then the inheritance goes to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then the inheritance goes to his father’s brothers. If his father had no brothers, then the inheritance goes to the closest kin of the family, and he will possess it.” The firstborn is known as the bekhor, "firstborn [male]", his inheritance right is termed mishpat ha-bekhorah, "the rule of the birthright" (Deut. 21:17), and the process is called yakkir "he shall acknowledge."
 For a full reading of Jewish Inheritance law, see http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/law/lwsch/journals/bciclr/23_2/01_FMS.htm.
 Mary is the only woman directly named in the Qur'an and is mentioned more there than in the New Testament.
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