Many people are surprised by this fact. Perhaps some folks think that Mary, the virgin who gave birth to Jesus, remained a virgin, a perpetual one. If this were the case, how could there be more children? Others think one kid like Jesus is enough. Folklore suggests the siblings were stepchildren. Joseph was their dad. This comes from the mythological speculation that Joseph was an older man whose wife had died, so now he needed a mother for his children, a sex partner, a cook, a house cleaner, and a baby factory. Mary’s job was to fill those roles, even though she was young—maybe thirteen to sixteen years old.
I am not sure how we square this away with the idea that perhaps Jesus was the illegitimate child of Mary, because of rape or incest, bad timing, or bad judgment. Perhaps Joseph “bought“ Mary at a bargain price or maybe she was “donated” to Joseph because Mary’s dad knew she was “used” property and he didn’t want to feed two more mouths. This might also be a figment of people’s imagination.
Mark and Matthew mention the siblings but seem to be a bit confused as to their names. Mark, written about 70 CE, names James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon (Mark 6:3). Because women in that age were considered property, the authors did not include names, just mentioned “sisters.” I’ll bet my bottom dollar that one of the girls was named either Mary or Martha, popular girls’ names at that time. Matthew 13:55 suggests the siblings are James, Joses (not Joseph), Judas, Simon, and the unnamed sisters. Mark’s account asked the question, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” Then he states very clearly, “Is not his mother Mary?” Matthew includes both questions, too.
Now we have some huge problems. It appears that Joseph, not God, is Jesus’s real father. The Gospel of John suggests the same thing, twice (John 1:45 and 6:42). There’s another problem: if Joseph is the father, then the story about Mary being impregnated by God loses all credibility, and her perpetual virginity goes down the tubes. However, if you want to know the truth (even though it plays havoc with doctrine), the birth narratives are metaphors, told fifty-plus years after Jesus died. They remind us that Jesus, a game changer in the history of humanity, had to have a very special birth, so Matthew and Luke made up stories to accentuate this fact.
I love the idea that Jesus was part of a human family, but I suspect that some of the family members thought their brother was strange. John 7:5 tells us that Jesus’s brothers didn’t believe in him. I don’t think Jesus liked them either. Remember that in Matthew 12:46-50 Mary and his brothers came to see him. Instead of welcoming them with open arms, he insulted them by suggesting that Mary and his brothers weren’t his family. That must have hurt, deeply.
Did you know that his brother James became a bigwig in the early movement while it was still Jewish? He was a good Jew and, to all appearances, was faithful to his religion. The only thing history tells us is that he died a martyr, crucified upside down on a cross. Ouch!
I love these stories of Jesus’s brothers and sisters because they reinforce my assumption that Jesus was a total human being with human brothers and sisters, a mom, and a dad. Jesus just happened to be the right person in the right place at the right time—with the right message.
What do you think about Jesus having brothers and sisters?
Image courtesy of Waiting for the Word CC by 2.0