Friday, March 2, 2012

Meier on Jesus' Siblings and Jesus' Celibacy

I have two items for my write-up today on volume 1 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus.

1. A doctrine that is held by many Catholics is that Mary was a virgin for the rest of her life. When we see references in the New Testament to Jesus' brothers and sisters (i.e., Mark 3:31-35; 6:3), therefore, many of them maintain that those are actually Jesus' cousins, for there are cases in the Hebrew Bible when the Hebrew word ach (often translated as "brother") refers to a cousin or a nephew (Genesis 24:28; I Chronicles 23:22). Although Meier is a Catholic, he believes that Jesus' brothers and sisters are actually brothers and sisters----as in (I take it) sons and daughters of Mary. One reason is that the Greek language had a word for cousin, but neither the New Testament nor Josephus (which refers to James the brother of Jesus) chooses to use it, sticking with the Greek word for brother instead. Another reason is that there were prominent second-third century voices that regarded Jesus' brothers as brothers, not cousins: Hegesippus and Tertullian. Granted, there were other voices as well, such as the second century Protevangelium of James, which "seems to imply that Mary remained perpetually a virgin, the brothers and sisters of Jesus being the children of Joseph by a previous marriage" (page 318). There was apparently diversity in the early days of Christianity.

2. Some have argued that Jesus was married because marriage was expected of Jews in those days. Meier disagrees, however, as he notes voices before, during, and after that time that highly regarded celibacy: different sources refer to the Essenes as celibate; Philo and rabbinic traditions (i.e., B.T. Shabbat 87a; Sifre on Numbers 12.1) depict Moses as celibate (one reason being, according to a rabbinic tradition, that Moses was often in God's presence, and the Israelite males could not touch a woman as they were preparing for the Sinai encounter); Rabbi Simeon ben Azzai did not marry because he was so in love with the Torah (B.T. Yebamot 63b); Jeremiah was single, according to Jeremiah 16:1-4; and there were pagan itinerant preachers who were celibate. On page 342, Meier says that Jesus was celibate because he was committed to his mission of preparing Israel for the "final coming of God's kingdom" by encouraging her to repent.

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