Mary, Witness To 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 about 13 years old 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 Son of God.[5]

Mary promptly left after Michael’s visitation to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who was married to a priest named Zachariah.[6] Merely a few days pregnant, Elizabeth confirmed Mary’s pregnancy the moment she arrived.[7]

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

When it was time for Elizabeth to give birth to her son, later known as John the Baptist, Mary went back home to Nazareth, but did not tell Joseph she was pregnant.[10] When Joseph found out and knowing he was not the father, he assumed Mary had a paramour. Joseph considered a divorce although he was concerned it could have dire consequences for Mary.[11]

It is safe to assume Mary’s secret pregnancy caused stress in their betrothal relationship, but before Joseph took any action, an angel paid him a visit delivering 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 some 90 miles away to Bethlehem, the ancestral home of King David.[12] Matters got even worse when the couple found 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 Mary’s newborn baby.[13] That was followed by a visit from 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 journey through the desert 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 for 3-4 days during their trip home from Jerusalem at the Passover.[17] When Joseph and Mary eventually found Jesus in the Temple, his questions probably rocked the senses of his parents when their 12-year old son asked: “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 knew Jesus could save the event – Mary asked Jesus to turn the pots of water into 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 his first recorded miracle.[19]

At his home in Capernaum, Mary and her family tried to meet with Jesus, but they could not reach him because the crowd was too dense. Some told Jesus his family was outside wanting to see him. Jesus responded by saying that he considered those around him to be his family.[20] Some Christian authorities believe this incident demonstrates people are the true family of Jesus. It is not stated if Jesus actually met with his family.

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 although his own mother and family seem even better qualified to confirm or refute that Jesus was alive again after his death on the cross. Mary and at least one brother confirmed Jesus was alive after he had been crucified and buried.[22] According to Roman Jewish historian Josephus, a brother of Jesus became a martyr for his belief that the resurrected Jesus is the Messiah:

“…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, astronomy, archeology, etc.

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 January 10, 2023.

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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> “Mary.” SquareSpace.com. image. 2013. <http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/498894/21585377/1357687844620/Mary-Mother-of-the-Christ-Myriam-Christian-Movie-Christian-Film-DVD-Odeya-Rush-Peter-OToole-Ben-Kingsley1.jpg?token=HQ84OGWo1X3XauVE74a6xoLFvXY%3D
[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] Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-34, Luke 8:21.
[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 affected the Nativity story in a very important way, much more than it may seem. His reactions to the extreme circumstances surrounding Mary’s pregnancy reveals truths about her as well as himself.

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 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 was expected to be very busy.[3] As a bridegroom, in addition to paying the traditional bride-price, he had to make money for other financial obligations such as preparing their new home and sponsoring a 3-day wedding feast for their guests.[4]

Ketubah, 1063 AD

Initially, Joseph had few worries about the virtuous nature of his prospective bride. By law, a marriage contract called a Ketubah, legally declared Mary to be a virgin, included the terms of their marriage and was signed by the witnesses who vetted Mary.

Mary had less commitment pressures to prepare for the wedding … simply follow the rules of the process. 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 appearance to Mary delivering God’s message that she was miraculously pregnant, also informed her that Elizabeth, her cousin, was 6 months pregnant. With a common unique situation, 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. Keeping in touch with Joseph would be very limited and delayed, if at all.[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 followed by 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. The Rabbi’s dealt with these instances by allowing the couple to move up their wedding date and get on with life as a married couple.[9]

Bill of Divorce or “Get”

Knowing he was not the father of Mary’s baby presented two huge consequences to consider. First is the obvious, why would a bridegroom want to marry his bride-to-be who was carrying a child fathered by someone else?

According to Matthew, a divorce was indeed being contemplated by Joseph. It is 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 Mary’s 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 Joseph’s honorable character, he was seeking to quietly settle the divorce. It would, in effect, minimize embarrassment to Mary, her family and avoid the public charge of adultery.[11]

On the other hand, 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. 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.

Unexpectedly, Joseph suddenly changed his mind and decided not to pursue a divorce. He 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. What caused this sudden change of heart was not to be expected.

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’s conception was from the Holy Spirit, her child would be a boy to be named Immanuel which Joseph understood to mean “Jesus.”[12]

Actions speak louder than words, volumes in this case. Something very unusual and significant happened.[13] Did Joseph’s behavior play a key role in determining if the conception and birth of Jesus of Nazareth was a fulfillment of the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy?

 

 

Updated November 25, 2022.

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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.  “Marriage Contract for Shelamzion and Judah.” K. C. Hanson’s Collection of Greek Documents. 128 AD. photo. <http://www.kchanson.com/ANCDOCS/greek/marrcon.html
[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.