Mary 101

The Virgin in Prayer by Sassoferrato c 1650

An Epiphany…

Since I was only a Vacation Bible School kid, I had to learn everything “Christian” from scratch as I began my own, admittedly out of character project; historical learn-as-you-go adventure. But I had been assuming, that those that happen upon my blog had done their homework and probably knew more than I did about the basics. But recently I had an epiphany…I was assuming to much.

I assumed that by the very virtue of calling themselves a Christians, that they had studied their story. The reason, I now decided, that even my own friends and family, who like me did not necessarily think of themselves as Christian…or anything else…did not read my blog…even if they wanted to be supportive…because they did not know the basics from which to evaluate what I was trying to say.

So, I decided to share the basics about Mary…as easy reference material. Thinking it would be easy, I looked for a definition of who Mary was on Wikipedia…what could be more basic, right? Here are brief excerpts from their contribution on Mary Mother of Jesus.

Mary was a 1st-century BC Galilean Jewish woman of Nazareth, and the mother of Jesus, according to the New Testament… The gospels of Matthew and Luke in the New Testament…describe Mary as a virgin; according to Christian theology she conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit while still a virgin. The miraculous conception took place when she was already betrothed to Joseph. She accompanied Joseph to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born…Mary was present at the crucifixion and is depicted as a member of the early Christian community in Jerusalem… Mary has been venerated since early Christianity, (though) there is significant diversity in the Marian beliefs and devotional practices of major Christian traditions. The Catholic Church holds distinctive Marian dogmas, namely her status as the Mother of God, her Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity, and her Assumption into heaven. Many Protestants minimize Mary’s role within Christianity, basing their argument on the relative brevity of biblical references.,_mother_of_Jesus
Madonna of the Streets by Roberto Ferruzzi c 1897

So…Mary is a very complex personality…not just your average betrothed Jewish damsel (12 years of age). Or, she was but lots of beliefs and honors and attributes of goddesses and stories and dogmas were added to her story over the eons. And, just so you know, for researcher-types, almost everything in that passage on Mary is debatable except that Mary was the mother of Jesus.

The Brevity of Biblical References

After reading the quote from Wikipedia, I decided to post the actual quotes in the New Testament that mention Mary; the “biblical references.” They are the basis for what anyone, be they scholar or believer, knows. When I first started my search in the 1960s, books on Mary were and always had been written by bishops and priests and pastors…men…and a few women who were “followers” of Mary, especially if you had gone to a Catholic school. All the books on Mary are remarkably alike: a chapter or two on “the historical Mary,” those “biblical references,” and then veer off into documenting her sightings and legends and miracles and the beautiful icons of the virgin because there just wasn’t enough historical material to fill a whole book. While a main character in the Jesus story and visited by an archangel, she was still basically “just” his mother…

What the New Testament says about Mary

The quotes on Mary are presented here in rough chronological order of the dates that the various sources were written…though it can be noted that dates for the gospels are mostly still educated guesstimates. The earliest written documents mentioning Jesus were written by Paul in his letters in about 50-60 …. twenty years after Jesus’ death. Mark was the first gospel written with Matthew and Luke using his gospel to write theirs; giving them the designation of Synoptic…or similar gospels. Except that Matthew and Luke are the only two gospels that include Nativity stories. I have placed their birth stories after the other quotes in all the gospels about Mary because they need to be handled differently…and were probably added later. Paul, Mark, and John all start with Jesus as a grown man. Matthew and Luke start with their birth stories and then skip to when Jesus is a grown man.

New Testament on Mary and her son Jesus with Birth Stories added last

Paul on the parents of Jesus,
CA 50-60’s A.D.
Mark, earliest written gospel CA 66-70 A.D.
Galatians 4:4 But when the full-ness of the time was come, God
sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law…
(Paul said that he did not meet Jesus. He may have met Mary if she was in Jerusalem when Paul was there…but he clearly doesn’t want to talk about her.)
Mark 3:31-35 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother
and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother”
Romans 1:1-4
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, accord-ing to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Mark 6:2-3 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this! …Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they
took offense at him.
After the Birth Story in Matthew CA 85-90’s A.D. After the Birth Story in Luke CA 85-90’s A.D.
Matthew 12:46-50 While he yet behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.   Luke 8:19-21 Then came to him his mother and his brethren and could not come at him for the press. And was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee. And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God and do it.
Luke 11: 27 And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yeah, rather blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.

The Book of Acts is the fifth book in the New Testament. An accepted date for its writing has been somewhere in the 130’s A.D. (close to 100 years after Jesus’ death) and the author is more or less accepted to be “Luke” though it is not known who Luke was…and it covers the early years in Jerusalem right after the death of Jesus. Some are now suggesting an even earlier date. The Gospel of John generally has a late date for authorship for a gospel but uses such unique stories, that most are credited with containing authentic information while paradoxically showcasing more advanced ideas of Jesus as Divine. His added stories include stories on Mary as Jesus’ mother…though he is careful not to name her.

Acts 80-90’s A.D. John CA 90-110 A.D.
Acts 1:14 These all continued
with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

(None of the later letters in the New Testament allude to Mary or even Joseph.)
John 2:1-12 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have Ito do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set
there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto the men, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was:(but the servants which drew the
water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse but thou hast kept the good wine until now.
This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him. After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days.

John 19:25-27
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus there-fore saw his mother, and the
disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother,
Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

The Second Layer

The above quotations are what I call the primary level of data…bedrock. There are no “outside” mentions of Jesus from his lifetime. Then, still within the New Testament, another layer is added above bedrock that supplies us with stories that help answer questions not answered in the first layer: Questions like, who was Mary, Jesus’ mother? Why is she in the story? Why is their controversy about her and the birth of her son? Also, if Jesus died with the sign nailed over his head, King of the Jews, what does that make Mary or Joseph? To be a king one needed royal blood. I include the nativity stories in this secondary layer. They are clearly added on to Mark’s brief outline by Matthew and Luke. The downside is that since Matthew and Luke’s Nativity stories are so different from each other, it is difficult to land on one and say, “This is it.” While Matthew and Luke must have had a demand for clarification on who Jesus was by the 90s A.D., the answers they give are about his mother more than his father.

Matthew and Luke’s Nativity Stories

Matthew’s Genealogy–CA 85-90’s A.D. Luke’s Genealogy–85-90’s A.D.
Matthew 1:1-16 The book of generation of Jesus Christ, the
son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren…And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias (Bathsheba)…And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was
born Jesus who is called Christ…
Luke 3:21-38 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.  And
Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of
Janna, which was the son of Joseph…which was the son of
Nathan, which was the son of David…Which was the son of
Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.
Birth Story by Matthew Birth Story by Luke
Matthew 1:18-22 The Announcement to Joseph
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise:
When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they
came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring
forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring
forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had
brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.
Luke 1:26 The Announcement to Mary
(T)he angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee,
named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name
was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou
hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall
overshadow thee: therefore, also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God
Matthew 2 1-23 The Birth
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he
was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gather-ed all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demand-ed of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art
not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people, Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and
worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the
young child and his mother by night and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he saw
that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and
sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice
heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the
land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of
God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.  
Luke I: 39-45 Visitation with Elizabeth
And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; And entered into the house of
Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth (mother of John the Baptist). And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my
Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leap-ed in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

Luke 1:46-56 The Magnificat
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the
hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever. And Mary abode with her…three months, and
returned to her own house.

Luke 2:1-19  The Birth
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor f Syria.) And all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth,
into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem;
(because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrap-ped him in swaddling clothes, and
laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is
born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass… the shepherds said…Let us now go even unto
Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And…they made known abroad the saying which was told
them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds, But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
  Luke 2:21-35  The Prophecy in the Temple
And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named
of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;
And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.) And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And
it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now let thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentile,
and the glory of thy people Israel.
And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

Luke 2:39-50  Jesus in the Temple
And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him. Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the pass-
over.  And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jeru-
salem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.  And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and
his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with
us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?  And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

What can be said about the two stories…

Both Matthew and Luke’s nativity stories are quite different. Most church Christmas pageants weave details from both versions together…wise men and a star from one and shepherds and angels singing from the other. But important questions like Jesus’ qualifications to be a “son of David” king are “veiled” in the genealogies above with their “supposed son of Joseph” comments leading many to think that it was Mary who had the Davidic blood, not Joseph.

Mary and Revelation

The other gospels in the New Testament do not mention Mary. The Book of Revelation does not mention her by name but there are two passages that are often thought to refer to her. This type of book is called an Apocalypse–predicting the final destruction of the world; an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale.

The Book of Revelation says it is a record of revelations given to the Apostle John by Jesus Christ in a visitation or dream. Most pick dates for it anywhere from 65 A.D. to 96 A.D. There is no true consensus on when it was written or who wrote it. If Mary was in danger because of the birth of her son from King Herod or his son Archelaus, then that was back in ca 4 B.C. In the book, the woman, giving birth is clearly in mortal danger and is protected. The woman is also thought to be a symbol for Jerusalem, herself, who was being blamed for the death of Jewish martyrs in their devastating war with Rome in 65-70 A.D. The dating for Revelation allows for “John” to have been a witness to that war and he wrote his apocalypse as prophecy…again the woman is helped by heaven because of the BIRTH of her son…she is being preserved from her enemies because she is the mother of Jesus…

The Apocalypse of John

Revelations 12:1-17
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another
wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven
heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman, which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place
prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days. And there was war in heaven:
Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them
before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the
blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time. And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.
And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time,
from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.
And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was wroth with the woman and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Revelations 17: 1-7
And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither: I
will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have
been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
So, he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and deck-ed with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:
And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and
with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I
wondered with great admiration. And the angel said unto me, Where-fore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.
(Some see a Christian allusion to Mary…the passages on the woman are also symbolic representations of Jerusalem as a woman…a favorite of Old Testament prophets.)
From website Early Christian Writings,
Defending Mary…Assumption of the Virgin by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) Public Domain

The Third Layer

Mary Dances on the Temple Steps

Mary and the Protevangelion or Gospel of James

This book or gospel was written to add more stories about Mary…to fill in some of the gaps that inquiring minds wanted to know. Parents were given for Mary and her immaculate conception, and her continued virginity also started here. This “gospel” supplies a beloved story about Mary as a young damsel…12 years of age…being a Temple Virgin and dancing on the Temple steps. It is said to be written by Mary’s second son James. Josephus the Jewish historian I quote a lot says that James was killed…either stoned or thrown down from a Temple tower in ca 62 A.D. The book or gospel has the guesstimate date of ca 200-250 A.D.

Encyclopedia Britannica says: Protevangelium of James, pseudepigraphal (noncanonical and unauthentic) work written about the mid-2nd century AD to enhance the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in Christian tradition. The story of Mary’s childhood as given in the Protevangelium has no parallel in the New Testament, and reference to a nine-year stay in the Temple of Jerusalem contradicts Jewish customs. Mary’s birth to aged parents is termed miraculous, and after the birth of Jesus a midwife is said to have confirmed that Mary was still a virgin. The Protevangelium modified the nativity narratives of Matthew and Luke.

If reading of this very late “gospel” story for the first time, remember that it is very popular today. The full text is on several sites on the internet. I took the quotes here from New Advent: The Protoevangelium of James from  

The Presentation of the Virgin Mary by Tintoretto

The gospel begins with Paragraphs 1-3 giving the back story for the parents of Mary, Joachim and Anna. The birth story itself is taken from the Old Testament story of Hanna the mother of the prophet Samuel who anointed David to be the King. (First Book of Samuel I: 6-1)1 Anna is a variation of the name Hanna. I have condensed it a bit…

The PROTEVANGELION; or, An Historical Account of the BIRTH of CHRIST, and the Perpetual VIRGIN MARY, his Mother, by JAMES THE LESSER, Cousin and Brother of the Lord Jesus, chief Apostle and first Bishop of the Christians in Jerusalem.

4. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world. And Anna said: As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life. (1 Samuel 1:11) And, behold, two angels came, saying to her: Behold, Joachim your husband is coming with his flocks…. and Anna stood by the gate, and saw Joachim coming, and she ran and hung upon his neck, saying: Now I know that the Lord God has blessed me exceedingly…and I the childless shall conceive. And Joachim rested the first day in his house.

5. And on the following day he brought his offerings, saying in himself…Now I know that the Lord has been gracious unto me, and has remitted all my sins. And he went down from the temple of the Lord justified, and departed to his own house. And her months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna brought forth. And she said to the midwife: What have I brought forth? And she said: A girl. And said Anna: My soul has been magnified this day. And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary.

6. And the child grew strong day by day; and when she was six months old, her mother set her on the ground to try whether she could stand, and she walked seven steps and came into her bosom; and she snatched her up, saying: As the Lord my God lives, you shall not walk on this earth until I bring you into the temple of the Lord. And she made a sanctuary in her bed-chamber, and allowed nothing common or unclean to pass through her…And when she was a year old, Joachim made a great feast…And…brought the child to the priests; and they blessed her, saying: O God of our fathers, bless this child, and give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations. And all the people said: So be it, so be it, amen. And he brought her to the chief priests; and they blessed her…And her mother snatched her up, and took her into the sanctuary of her bed-chamber, and gave her the breast…

7. And her months were added to the child. And the child was two years old, and Joachim said: Let us take her up to the temple of the Lord, that we may pay the vow that we have vowed…And Anna said: Let us wait for the third year, in order that the child may not seek for father or mother. And Joachim said: So let us wait. And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back… And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations…And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.

A recreation of a portion of the Dead Sea Scrolls…showing how separate pieces of text have to be filled in by the researcher with best guesstimates of what might be missing.

We humans have brains that are designed to make sense of what we see and hear when there are gaps. Just bear in mind that the Protevangelion was written to fill in some of the gaps from the primary sources; the gospels, Acts, and Paul and even Josephus, the first century Jewish historian. The primary authors of were making do, themselves. The upside is you can pick a thread, any thread and say this is what I believe. The downside is that since the primary documents, especially the birth stories, are different, it is difficult to land on one and say, “This is it.” The Protevangelion was written a hundred years after the primary sources primarily to exonerate Mary from rumors of an irregular conception of her son where twice it is specified: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations

Mary as Queen Mother

Our Lady of Czestochowa Poland…Many versions of this painting including this one at the Black Madonna Grotto in Eureka,

Matthew and Luke wrote Nativity stories to try to justify Mary’s pregnancy. Revelation confirmed the birth stories. Mary needed to be protected from King Herod and his heir Archelaus. She needed to be hidden and justified for the birth of her son. But as a grown man, there appears to have been a rift between mother and son. She appears to “push” him to reveal himself as her son…with a lineage that would allow him to be the king of the Jews…and Jesus apparently rebelled…”Who is my mother?”