A Note about Joseph the Just

dream-of-st-joseph-774x1024
Dream of St. Joseph

It has gotten complicated and I even scare myself, worrying that I have gotten so far off the beaten path that I am “making stuff up.”[i]  The thing that keeps me going on good days is that the similarities keep coming…take for instance, Joseph.

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man…Matthew 1:18-20

Matthew says that “Joseph” was a “just” man as Elizabeth was a pure daughter of a High Priest, “just and righteous.”  But we are very carefully NOT told who he is. Since Matthew and Luke give us genealogies that don’t agree on who Joseph’s father was…it is hard to accept either one. We are never told who Mary was the daughter of or who. The House and lineage of both are veiled. So, I am here suggesting that “Joseph” might be Joseph of Elemus who was High Priest for one day on the Day of Atonement where he would have been expected to receive a prophecy as Joseph in the New Testament did also…

the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph…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 though shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people….Matthew I:20-21

As we continue on with Josephus and the gospels, let’s read them with this Joseph in mind and see what happens…

The Long Death of Herod

By now even Herod knew he was dying and devised a way to harass his ungrateful people even after he was dead. After killing the “innocents” and the “wise men” as we saw in the last post, Herod, from his Jericho palace, hatched the following plot. He was…

…in such a melancholy state of body…when he proceeded to attempt a horrid wickedness; for he got together the most illustrious men of the whole Jewish nation, out of every village, into a place called the Hippodrome (at Jericho), and there shut them in. He then called for his sister Salome…“I know well enough that the Jews will keep a festival upon my death; however, it is in my power to be mourned for on other accounts… if you will but be subservient to my commands. Do you but take care to send soldiers to encompass these men that are now in custody, and slay them immediately upon my death, and then all Judea, and every family of them, will weep at it whether they will or no.”  Wars of the Jews I. XXXIII.6, and Antiquities of the Jews XII.VI.3

And, it is repeated, I think, by Luke in the New Testament…

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.  And Joseph also went…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. Luke 2:1-5

This tax has always been a puzzle. Luke has caused centuries of perplexity over the actual birth date of Jesus because the only census in this time frame was taken ten years after the death of Herod—where Josephus places it. Most think that Luke simply got it wrong but I think that Luke was taking the existing story…that would have been well known…of the calling of the “illustrious” men to Jericho to ratify Herod’s new heir (or be killed, if they refused) and gave it a Davidic spin. Bethlehem was King David’s place of birth and was geographically near Jericho. And, like his reference to the “most excellent Theophilus” Luke is giving us a hint for those with eyes to see that “Joseph” was one of the principal men…as was the “most excellent Theophilus.” (I:1)  According to Josephus’ index two men named “Theophilus” will later be High Priests.

So operating under the assumption, for the moment, that Joseph son of Heli according to Luke–was Joseph son of Ellemus of a high priestly family worthy of taking the High Priesthood on the Day of Atonement from Matthias son of Theophilus. It was an incredible honor to be the High Priest on the only day of the year that the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and was traditionally expected to receive a prophecy for the nation while in there.

This Joseph son of Ellemus was a kinsman of “Matthias son of Theophilus (Antiquities of the Jews XVII.VI.4) who was kin to the “most excellent Theophilus, to whom Luke addressed his gospel. Having a priest take over for you on the day of the fast was, I would think, a rare occurrence. The priest who took over for Matthias son of Theophilus would have been a celebrity in Jerusalem in those awful last days of Herod the King. Per Luke his Joseph would have been kin to Simon son of Boethus and Elizabeth daughter of Aaron…and would have been, at least momentarily, a priest with purer hands…a “just” man without Herodian blood.

Joseph son of Ellemus drops out of the official record after his big day…at just this time, as will Mariamne III…at just this time…ca 6-4 B.C. Something to at least consider.

The Rabbi’s think it over…

There are two additional rabbinic thoughts on Joseph b. Elam/Ellemus, though. Quoting from the Jewish Encyclopedia on Matthias son of Theophilus:

On the eve of a Day of Atonement—for the priest the most important time in the year—he had become ritually unclean, and consequently was unable to perform the duties of his office, which were discharged instead by his kinsman Joseph ben Ellem (“Ant.” xvii. 6, § 4). This occurrence is mentioned in the Talmud (Tosef., Yoma, i. 4; Yoma 12b; Yer. Yoma 38d), although the name of Matthias ben Theophilus is omitted. “It happened to Joseph b. Elam of Sepphoris that after a disqualifying accident had happened to the high priest, he was appointed in the former’s place.”

The new piece of information is that Joseph ben “Elam” was from Sepphoris.[1] Sepphoris was a large city four miles from where the present day Nazareth is located. And…

The Rabbis forbade him afterward to officiate, even as a common priest (Yoma 12b; Hor. 12b)[2]

If Joseph was not allowed to be a priest in the Temple anymore, it would also free him up to move out of Jerusalem. I can speculate no further about Joseph. He is a mystery man…and so is Joseph son of Elemus. Try googling him. But he was kin to Matthias son of Theophilis and therefore also kin by marriage to Elizabeth mother of John the Baptist and it would make sense of Mary’s sudden trip to see her “cousin” after being betrothed to this “Joseph.”

The Eclipse of the Moon and the Passing of Herod

Herod did die but he missed an eclipse of the moon by about four days. Josephus makes a point, though, of saying that it happened the night the “wise men” and their forty young students were executed:

And that very night there was an eclipse of the moon. Antiquities XVII.VI.2

The eclipse of the moon occurred March 13th, 4 B.C. This eclipse is verifiable and is what is used to help date both the death of Herod and in pure speculation, the birth of Jesus…which happened “about this time.”

 

Notes

[1] See The Jesus Dynasty, The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity by James D. Tabor for a good current look at Sepphoris and the origins of the name Nazareth. Simon & Shuster NY 2006

[2] Jewish Encyclopedia article JOSEPH (High Priest) by: Richard Gottheil, M. Seligsohn

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