Mary, Witness to the Entire Life of Jesus

Who was Mary other than being the famed mother of Jesus? She was present throughout the exceptional life of her son from beginning to end to beginning.[1]

As a mother, every amazing detail about her son was memorable. Mentioned twice in  Luke before Jesus turned 13, the Gospel says Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.”[2] The author of Luke says the Gospel is based on witness accounts “from the beginning” and Mary is the only one who was there for it all.[3]

Mary’s remarkable life took a turn from ordinary to extraordinary in only a moment. As a girl who had become of marriageable age at 13 living in Nazareth, a town of about 2000 or less, she became betrothed to Joseph.[4] Her betrothal was no different than for any other Jewish girl…until Mary was visited by the angel Michael who announced she would be impregnated by the Holy Spirit and would give birth to the Messiah.[5]

Mary promptly left to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, the wife of a priest named Zachariah.[6] Merely a few days pregnant, Elizabeth confirmed Mary’s pregnancy as soon as she arrived.[7]

It was a perfect ice-breaker opening the door for Mary to share something they had in common – miraculous pregnancies.[8] Elizabeth had been married for many years, but had been barren. Even her husband doubted the possibility of her becoming pregnant because of her age.[9]

When it was time for Elizabeth to give birth to her son, who would become known as John the Baptist, Mary went back home to Nazareth, but she didn’t tell Joseph of her pregnancy. [10] When Joseph found out, knowing he was not the father, he assumed Mary had a paramour and he considered a divorce which could have dire consequences for Mary. [11]

It is safe to assume Mary’s secret pregnancy caused stress in their betrothal. An angel paid a rare visit to Joseph to deliver a message from God. The message caused Joseph to have a change of heart deciding that God’s divine plan trumped the difficult situation for himself.

As if things in Mary’s home life weren’t tough enough, as Mary was preparing to give birth any day, the Nazareth town crier announced a registration decree by Caesar August. On very short notice, the decree required Mary to travel with Joseph 90 miles away to Bethlehem, the ancestral home of King David.[12] Making matters worse, the inns in Bethlehem were full and Mary was forced to give birth in a stable.

Joy overcame the difficult circumstances followed by more amazing events. Shepherds heralded by a choir of angels left their herds in the country to see her newborn baby.[13] That was followed by Magi who came from a faraway country bearing expensive gifts including gold and they worshipped her baby![14] Events again took another dramatic turn for the worse – Herod, the King of Judea, wanted to kill her baby forcing Mary’s new family to escape to Egypt.[15]

Finally things settled down after the death of Herod and the new family returned to Nazareth. Over the following years, Mary and Joseph raised a family of at least four boys and two girls.[16]

A stark reminder that their 12-year old son, Jesus, was distinctively different from his siblings came when they lost him during their trip to Jerusalem for the Passover.[17] When they eventually found Jesus in the Temple, his second question was profound and probably rocked the senses of Mary and Joseph: “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”[18]

Mary knew her son had special powers who could perform miracles suggesting Jesus had done other miraculous things privately within their family. When a wedding party ran out of wine, she asked Jesus to turn the pots of water to wine. In-spite-of being a grown adult and not ready to publicly reveal his miracle capabilities, Jesus did as his mother asked by performing the first recorded miracle.[19]

Before choosing his Disciples at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus moved to Capernaum. At his new home, Mary and her family tried to meet with Jesus after he had cast out demons and performed healing miracles that roused the crowd, but they could not reach him because the crowd was too dense.[20]

Next mention of Mary three years later was during the most dreadful of scenarios, all the more horrifying for a mother, as she watched her tortured son being crucified.[21] What emotions she experienced can scarcely be imagined.

Much attention is made of Mary Magdalene’s Resurrection encounter at the tomb, but his own mother and family seem even better qualified to confirm or refute that Jesus was alive after his death on the cross. Mary and at least one brother confirmed Jesus was alive after he had been killed. According to Roman Jewish historian Josephus, a brother of Jesus became a martyr for his belief that the resurrected Jesus is the Messiah:[22]

“…he [Ananus] assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions.]  And when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned…” – Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews [23]

Mary was the sole witness to the entire life of Jesus from her miraculous conception, the circumstances of his birth, his miracles, his crucifixion and his Resurrection.  The incidents are corroborated by various sources outside of the Gospels – Roman historians, Judaism, science and archeology.

Do Mary’s witness accounts corroborated by various diverse sources outside the Bible provide enough evidence that Jesus’ life fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah?

 

Updated March 9, 2022.

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REFERENCES:

[1] Northcote, James Spencer. “The Life of Mary in the Gospels.” 1856-60. <https://www.salvemariaregina.info/SalveMariaRegina/SMR-182/LifeMary14.htm> “Who was With Jesus When He Ascended?” Pathos.com. 2017. <https://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2015/12/15/who-was-with-jesus-when-he-ascended>
[2] Luke 2:51. NASB. NASB, NIV. Luke 2:19.
[3] Luke 1:2.
[4] “Nazareth.”  New World Encyclopedia. 2018. <https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/nazareth>  “Nazareth.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2019. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/nazareth> Kiddushin 3b.  Sefaria. <https://www.sefaria.org/Kiddushin.3b?lang=bi>  “Marriage.” Judaism 101. <http://www.jewfaq.org/marriage.htm>  “Majority.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10310-majority>
[5] Luke 1:26-35.
[6] Luke 1:39, 56.
[7] Luke 1:39-45.
[8] Matthew 1:18-19, 36-37, 58; Luke 1:36.
[9] Luke 1:8-25, 57-66.
[10] Matthew 1:56.
[11] Mathew 1:18. Net.bible.org. 2019. Greek text word “heurisko.” <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=2147> Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon. Eliyah.com. n.d. <http://www.eliyah.com/cgi-bin/strongs.cgi?file=greeklexicon&isindex=2147>
[12] Luke 2:1-6.
[13] Luke 2:8-20.
[14] Matthew 2:1-12.
[15] Matthew 2:13-17.
[16] Matthew 13:55; Mark 3:31-34, 6:3; John 2:12; Acts 1:14.
[17] Luke 2:41-51.
[18] NASB.
[19] John 2:1-11. CR John 4:46.
[20] Mathew 4:13; Mark 3:20-32; Luke 4:16-30.
[21] John 19:25. CR Luke 23:49.
[22] Acts 1:12-14. CR John 2:12;
[23] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Book XX, Chapter IX.4.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Joseph’s Dilemma With Mary

Joseph’s behavior played a key role in the Nativity story, much more than it may seem. His reactions to the extreme circumstances reveal truths about Mary’s pregnancy.

Most likely Joseph knew Mary through community interactions in Nazareth such as during the harvest or through their Synagogue.[1] He would have been familiar with her family’s reputation and had full confidence that she was a marriageable virgin, a very important factor in their conservative Jewish society.[2]

Betrothals typically lasted for a year during which time Joseph expected to be very busy.[3] As a bridegroom, in addition to paying the traditional bride-price, he had to hold a job to meet other financial obligations such as preparing their new home and sponsor a 3-day wedding feast for their guests.[4]

Mary, on the other hand, had less commitment pressures to prepare for the wedding. A betrothed girl subject to Judaic Law was under strict supervision of her family and the watchful eye of the community. She was not allowed to be alone at any time with an adult male, not even a male family member.[5]

Gabriel the archangel, during his secret appearance to Mary, informed her that Elizabeth, her cousin, was 6 months pregnant. It seemed to be the perfect opportunity to visit Elizabeth who lived in a village days away near Jerusalem.[6] Mary would be gone for 3 months. No phones, texts or emails…keeping in touch with Joseph would be very limited.[7]

Joseph would not become aware of Mary’s pregnancy until sometime after her return to Nazareth. It is unclear exactly when he discovered that she was pregnant, but it is clear from Matthew‘s use of the Greek word heurisko meaning “to hit upon…to find (by chance)” that it was a big surprise when he did find out![8]

Overwhelming emotions by Joseph would be expected – hurt and anger to begin with, then resentment, embarrassment, doubt, uncertainty, temptations of vengefulness and other mixed feelings. Then the big question – what to do next?

Moving forward with the marriage would be the expected behavior of a man who believed himself to be the father of his betrothal’s baby. Frowned upon by the Rabbis, accidental pregnancies during betrothals were a reality, even in those days. As such, these things were dealt with by allowing the couple to move up their wedding date and get on with life as a married couple.[9]

Not being the father of Mary’s baby presented a major set of conflicting circumstances. Why would a bridegroom want to marry his bride-to-be who was carrying the child conceived by someone else? If Joseph stayed with his pregnant betrothal, their community of family, friends and neighbors would assume the pregnancy was a result of his own doing even if it wasn’t.

Knowing he was innocent of premarital sex with Mary, Joseph would have to endure the undeserving consequences of facing public scorn and humiliation while swallowing his pride and overcoming his personal feelings. It would take a big man. Few men would do it.

Indeed, according to Matthew, Joseph was contemplating the divorce option, an expected reaction of a man who knew he was not the father of his betrothal’s child. It serves as perhaps the most telling evidence of a truth that Joseph was not the father of Mary’s child.

Consequences of a divorce weighed heavily on Joseph. Not only would it destroy her reputation and cause financial loss to both Mary and her family, a public accusation of infidelity could carry a charge of adultery – stoning would not have been out of the question.[10]

Attesting to another truth was Joseph’s honorable character. Rising above any negative feelings, he sought to quietly settle the divorce which would, in effect, minimize embarrassment to Mary, her family and potentially avoid the public charge of adultery.[11]

Unexpectedly, Joseph suddenly changed his mind – he inexplicably decided to continue with his marriage. What caused this sudden change of heart and willingness to pay the huge personal price of staying with Mary is key.

Matthew reports the game-changing moment came from a visit by “an angel of the Lord.” He delivered a message from God telling Joseph that Mary had conceived of the Holy Spirit and her child, a boy to be named Jesus.[12]

Actions speak louder than words, volumes in this case. Something very unusual and significant happened. Joseph suddenly set aside all his negative emotions and feelings to honor his marriage commitment to Mary knowing he was not the father of her child while willingly accepting the consequences that would come with it.[13]

Did the angelic resolution to Joseph’s dilemma plays a key role in determining if the conception and birth of Jesus of Nazareth was a fulfillment of the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy?

 

 

Updated December 10, 2021.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Brayer, Menachem M. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. 1986. pp 68-69. <http://books.google.com/books?id=GhPxFOCdQj4C&pg=PA143&lpg=PA143&dq=sex+betrothal+jewish&source=web&ots=G4jLlub8y9&sig=gnkOuPI8xLKvYl57J9PR9VY3kVg#PPA143,M1>
[2] Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 57, 59, 61. “Marriage Laws.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10435-marriage-laws>
[3] “Betrothal.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3229-betrothal> Brayer.  The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. p 62.  Edersheim.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book II, Chapter 4.  https://philologos.org/__eb-lat/book204.htm> Thompson, James C.  Women in the Ancient World. July 2010.  “Women in Ancient Israel” > “Women and the Law in Ancient Israel.” <http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/women%20and%20the%20law%20in%20ancient%20israel.htm>
[4] Missler, Chuck. “The Wedding Model.” Koinonia House, Inc. 2018. <http://www.khouse.org/articles/2003/449/#notes>  Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. p 70.
[5] Soncino Babylonian Talmud. Kethuboth 12a, 12b, 13a, 13b. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/kethuboth/index.html> “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/865-adultery> Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 142-143.
[6] Luke 1.  “Map of Israel in the Time of Jesus.”  Bible History Online. n.d.<https://www.bible-history.com/maps/palestine_nt_times.html>
[7] Luke 1.
[8] Matthew 1:18. Net.bible.org. Greek text. “heurisko <2147>.” Lexicondorance.com. <http://lexiconcordance.com/greek/2147.html>
[9] Brayer. The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature. pp 143-144, 146-147.  Lamm, Maurice. The Jewish Way in Love & Marriage. 2018. Section “Celebrating the Marriage Covenant” > Chapter “Jewish Betrothal Blessing;” Section “The Structure of The Marriage Covenant” > Chapter “The Jewish Marriage Ceremony.”  <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/465140/jewish/The-Jewish-Way-in-Love-Marriage.htm>   Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4, footnote #27.  “Ḳiddushin.”’ Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9310-kiddushin>
[10] John 8:2-7.  “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  “Marriage Laws.” Jewish Encyclopedia.  “Marriage Ceremonies.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10434-marriage-ceremonies> Josephus, Flavius. Against Apion. Book II, #25. Trans. and commentary William Whitson. The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Thompson,“Women in the Ancient World.”  Edersheim.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4.
[11] Matthew 1:19.  Schneerson; Menachem M. “The Betrothed.” Chabad org. 2018. <http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/296931/jewish/The-Betrothed.htm>  “Marriage Ceremonies” & “Adultery.” Jewish Encyclopedia.
[12] Matthew 1.
[13] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book II, Chapter 4.