Was Mary a teenager when she gave birth to Jesus?

And it came to pass that the weirdest religious quote of 2017 occurred when Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore was accused of sexual assault upon girls who were ages 14 and 16 when he was in his early 30s.

Moore denied this. But State Auditor Jim Ziegler leapt to his fellow Republican’s defense by offering the Washington Examiner this head-scratcher: “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here, maybe just a bit unusual."

That “took my breath away,” says Michigan State University’s Christopher Frilingos.

Sexual morality aside, Ziegler scuttled a prime tenet of biblical orthodoxy by indicating that the holy couple sired Jesus through normal sexual relations. The Bible’s two separate Nativity accounts specify that Mary was a virgin who conceived miraculously so that Jesus had no mortal father and Joseph was a stepfather or legally adoptive parent.

That brings to mind another attempted Bible rewrite by the late Jane Schaberg, an ex-nun and feminist “Goddess” devotee teaching at Catholicism’s University of Detroit. Her 1987 book “The Illegitimacy of Jesus” saw a New Testament cover-up in which Jesus’ biological father raped or seduced Mary while she was engaged to Joseph.

That harked back to an ancient Jewish tale, included in the Talmud, that Jesus was the “son of Panthera,” supposedly a Roman soldier. It’s possible Jesus’ opponents were leveling such an accusation when they told him “we are not illegitimate children” (John 8:41) as though Jesus was. Today’s skeptics post such stuff all across the Internet, hoping readers will ignore that the New Testament Gospels are our earliest, thus most reliable, sources.

Well, then, what about Ziegler’s claim that the pregnant Mary was “a teenager” and Joseph an older “adult”? Frilingos examines this among other questions in “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: Family Trouble in the Infancy Gospels” (University of Pennsylvania Press). He summarized matters in a Nov. 14 article for theconversation.com, where scholars rewrite research to make it understandable for general readers.

The infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke say nothing about the ages of Mary and Joseph. The Ziegler-esque scenario traces back to the “Protoevangelium of James,” one of several apocryphal texts that were devised to fill in the gaps left by the Gospels’ relatively brief Christmas passages. The “James” legend is dubious since, as Frilingos notes, it was written a century after Matthew and Luke, from which it borrowed some phrases.

According to “James,” (full text is available on the Internet), Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, dedicated their daughter to lifelong holy service before she was even born. Therefore, at age three they transferred custody and she was raised by priests at the Jerusalem Temple. When Mary was 12 and becoming marrigeable, the priests were given miraculous signs that designated Joseph to be her future husband.

Joseph resisted this arranged marriage because “I am an old man and she is a young girl” so he would face ridicule. Afterward, he shunned all contact with Mary, then reappeared when she was age 16 to discover she was pregnant. After an angel reassured Joseph that Mary miraculously was a virgin, he defended her purity before the priests.

Whatever Joseph’s age might have been, historians say it’s quite plausible Mary was a teen because early marriages were the general rule for maidens in Jewish and other ancient cultures.


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