Mary: A Virgin Mother

Listen to segment 1 of “Trinity Tidbits: 1st (Mary) of 10 amazing women of the Bible!” on Anchor: Episode 1: Mary: Mother of Jesus.

Today’s devotion will focus on Mary of Nazareth.

Mary of Nazareth image
Mary of Nazareth

What do we know about Mary? The audio episode linked above tells a little bit about her. When you listen to the audio you’ll know a little information.

Mary spoke Aramaic. She lived with extended family. The nuclear family of today honestly didn’t exist. It wouldn’t have worked. There were too many chores that needed several people working together.

When she was about 11 or 12 years old, Mary began to menstruate. This meant she was of marriageable age, in Aramaic a betulah. The corresponding word in Hebrew, the ancient language of religious texts, is almah.

The first menstruation was a big milestone in any girl’s life, and in Mary’s case, it would have been celebrated with a party – to let everyone know she was now ready for marriage.

Now that Mary’s menstrual periods had started, serious consideration was given to the choice of a husband.

Mary’s whole family joined in the selection of an appropriate husband. After all, it was something that would affect them all, because of the nuclear family lifestyle they lived.

Joseph, Mary’s prospective husband; he was a young man, not much older than she was, and well-regarded by the people of Nazareth. We know this because Matthew’s gospel calls him ‘just’ or ‘righteous’.

The betrothal was a formal agreement to marry, settled with the transfer of property from the young man to the girl. The betrothal of a young couple had to be public, witnessed by many people. At this stage, there was no sexual contact.

During Elizabeth’s sixth month of pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin. She was engaged to marry a man named Joseph from the family of David. Her name was Mary. Luke 1:26-27

Mary was pregnant. What’s following? The next thing we know, Mary was pregnant. Her normal menstrual periods stopped. This can be hidden for quite a while in the modern world. But in Mary’s time, when a whole family lived and slept in one or two rooms, the fact that a young girl’s periods had ceased was noticed immediately.

In the conservative Jewish family Mary belonged to, her pregnancy meant severe embarrassment if not outright disgrace to herself and all her family.

This is human thinking:

These are the facts we know:

  • Mary was pregnant.
  • There had to be a human father.
  • She was frightened, her family embarrassed, and the man, whoever he is, could not be named.

So who was he? There are several theories. Only theories.

Shocking as the idea may be, he may have been a member of her own family. Statistics in the modern world show that pregnancies with an unnamed father usually come from the girl being interfered with by an older male relative. Probably not much has changed in two thousand years. This is one possibility, however distasteful, that has to be faced.

Was Mary the rape victim of a Roman soldier?

Another theory, quite well argued, is that the father of her baby was a Roman soldier posted at a nearby army station. On the face of it, this sounds unlikely, something you’d read in an offensive tabloid. But there are some facts that make the theory at least probable:

  1. Nazareth, where Mary lived, is only a few miles from Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee (see top left of the map at right). It was much more advanced than little Nazareth, and there were Roman soldiers stationed there. Mary and the other residents of Nazareth certainly came into contact with these soldiers at various times.
  2. Sepphoris is in the north of Galilee
    Sepphoris is in the north of Galilee.

    At around about the time that Jesus was conceived, a great many of Galilee was in an open uprising against Roman rule. This uprising followed immediately after the death of Herod the Great in 4BCE.  Sepphoris, only four miles from Nazareth, was the center of the uprising in Galilee. The royal palace there was attacked and robbed (Josephus, Ant.17, 10.5/271-72). The whole area was a breeding ground of raging discontent against the Roman occupation.

  3. In the cleaning up processes after the rebellion, the Roman general Gaius burned Sepphoris and sold its residents into slavery. Remember that Sepphoris was less than four miles from Nazareth. Some of this violence and disorder must have been felt in Nazareth, only an hour’s walk away.
  4. Is it too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that in this situation a young girl may have been raped by a soldier from nearby Sepphoris? Any Roman soldier stationed in the backblocks [the outback] of Galilee would have been the riffraff, socially speaking, of an army already noted for its savageness – a ‘kill first then let’s talk’ policy was what had built the Roman Empire.
  5. Early Jewish writings (the Baraitha and Tosefta, written about 150-200AD) openly talk about Yeshu the Nazarene, who was the son of a Roman soldier called Pantera. ‘Yeshu’ is the original Semitic word for ‘Jesus’. Though it may, of course, be pure coincidence, a monument was also found of a ‘Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera of Sidon, aged 62, a soldier of 40 years’ service, of the 1st cohort of archers’. Jesus, during his short career as a philosopher/teacher, makes an otherwise unexplained trip to Sidon, detouring quite out of his way to go there. (Mark 7.31) It seems a strange thing to do unless he has some connection to the place.

So a Roman soldier as the father of Mary’s unborn baby is a possibility. No more than a possibility, but at least that.

Mary visits Elizabeth

It’s at this stage of her pregnancy that Mary went away to stay with a reputable cousin, Elizabeth. It’s not known which relative she was. It was possibly done for her own safety.

Mary returned to Nazareth and Joseph takes responsibility and asks Mary to marry him.

I’ll end this post with that. However, let’s go back to the audio episode linked at the top. What can we take away from Mary and her actions?

  • Mary modeled an attitude of obedience and trust.

When we take on the attitude of obedience and trust what happens? Where does it lead us?

Comment or send me a message using the contact form: