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Section Nine: Herod and Jesus
Judea Under King Herod
The Biblical “Herods” During the Life of Jesus
• Herod the Great
Began the work of restoring the second temple
Met the Three Wise Men
Ordered the slaughter of the innocents
• Herod Archelaus
Son of Herod the Great by Malthace and Tetrarch in Jerusalem
The Herod that the Holy Family feared upon their return from Egypt
Herod Archelaus’ incompetence led to his replacement by a
Roman procurator one of whom was Pontius Pilate (@26-36 CE)
• Herod Antipas
Son of Herod the Great also by Malthace and Tetrarch in Galilee
where Jesus lived and of Perea
Ordered the death of John the Baptist
Met Jesus before His execution then passed him on to Pilate
• Herod Philip (Herod II)
Son of Herod the Great by Mariamne II
Herod II was fortunate enough not to be too political however…
Herod II is involved in the Christian Scriptures when Herod Antipas
divorced his own wife and encouraged the wife of Herod II
(Herodias) to divorce Herod II. John the Baptist publicly
condemned the union and was beheaded
A Review the Situation in Judea after the Death of
Herod the Great
• Herod Archelaus was
Note: An ethnarch is a ruler of a people (ethnos in
Greek). A tetrarch, technically speaking, is a ruler
of one fourth of a political region. The term was
often used somewhat loosely
not given the title of king.
He ruled Judea and
Samaria as an Ethnarch
until 6 CE when he was
replaced by Roman
procurators and exiled to
Gaul. He died in 18 CE
• Herod Antipas was
Tetrarch of the Galilee
and Perea. He ordered
the death of John the
Baptist and participated
in the trial of Jesus. He
too was exiled to Gaul by
Gaius (Caligula). The date
of his death is uncertain.
• Philip the Tetrarch ruled
the lands north of the
Decapolis. He died in 34
CE. He is not the Philip
involved in the Baptist’s
death (Mark 6:17)
• Herod Agrippa was the
grandson of Herod the
Great and Mariamne I (via
Aristobulus IV and
• He was named after
Marcus Agrippa, a Roman
• When Philip the Tetrarch
died, Herod was given rule
over Ituraea & Trachonitis
• When Herod Antipas was
banished to Gaul, Agrippa
was given rule over
Galilee and Perea
• In return for his
support of Claudius to
succeed Caligula as
Emperor, Claudius
removed the Roman
procurator of Idumea,
Judea and Samaria and
allowed from 41-44 CE,
Herod Agrippa was the “King Herod” who ordered the death of
Herod Agrippa ruled as
the Apostle James in Acts 12. Since Herod Agrippa could claim
king from Jerusalem over a
both Herodian and Hasmonean lineage, he could be called the
territory almost as large as
that of Herod the Great 9.4
last Jewish King of Judea
Judea Under Herod Agrippa
The Big Question Concerning Herod Agrippa
• The territory ruled by Agrippa I not only included much of the land that
was ruled by his grandfather Herod the Great but was also close to the
size of the united kingdom of Israel that was ruled by David and Solomon
a millennium earlier
• Unlike his grandfather, Herod Agrippa was, like his Hasmonean
grandmother, Mariamne I, a faithful Jew who honored the Torah and
encouraged Jewish customs and rituals. As a result, Herod Agrippa
was much loved (too much loved??) by the Jewish during the brief time
that he governed them (@37-44 CE, 41-44 CE as king)
• It is interesting to note that when Agrippa tried to strengthen the
fortifications around Jerusalem, the Romans forced him to stop.
When he tried to establish friendly relations with neighboring lands,
the Romans suspected him of trying to forge potentially hostile alliances.
Agrippa died at age 54 while attending Roman games in Caesaria.
Did Herod Agrippa die a natural death or was he killed (poisoned ?) by the
Romans who may have feared that a popular king who could claim
Hasmonean ancestry ruling a land as large as the ancient Kingdom of Israel
might lead to a rise in Jewish nationalism? It wasn’t long after Agrippa’s
death that the Romans once again appointed a procurator to govern the
province of Judea
Yet More Members of the Herodian Dynasty
• Herod Agrippa II (Agrippa II)
Son of Herod Agrippa I and brother of Berenice and Drusilla and
great-grandson of Herod the Great
Named ruler of Chalcis (Lebanon) by Claudius in 50 CE at the age
of 22
The new Roman Emperor, Nero, added Perea to the lands
governed by Agrippa II in 54 CE. The fact that Perea was not
governed by a Roman procurator during the Jewish wars (@66-70
CE) kept the region out of much of the conflict. This was important
for Jewish Christians during those wars. More will be discussed a
bout this in a later class
Agrippa II was the “King Agrippa” that Paul spoke with in Acts 25
and 26
Since Agrippa II sided with Rome in the Jewish wars his political
position remained safe until his death in 93/94 CE
Herod Agrippa II was the last prince of the line of Herod to rule in
the region
Can’t Tell the Herods Without a Scorecard
Herod the Great
Mentioned most prominently in Chapter 2 of Matthew’s gospel in the story
involving the Magi and the Slaughter of the Innocents
Herod Archelaus
Mentioned briefly in Matthew 2:22 and said to be the reason that Joseph chose to
go to Nazareth in Galilee rather than Jerusalem in Judah
Herod Antipas
Mentioned frequently in the Christian scriptures but most prominently in Chapter
6 of Mark and Chapter 14 of Matthew which tell the story of the death of John the
Baptist. Mentioned again in Chapter 23 of Luke. Herod Antipas was the ruler in
Galilee where Jesus lived. Pilate tried to pawn Jesus off on Antipas at Jesus’ trial
Herod Philip (Herod II)
This Herod was the husband that Herodias divorced so that she could marry his
half-brother, Herod Antipas. He is mentioned in the same stories involving the
death of the Baptist as Herod Antipas
Herod Agrippa (Agrippa I)
He was the Herod that is mentioned in Acts 12 as the King Herod who executed
James the brother of John
Herod Agrippa II (Agrippa II)
He is the Herod who spoke with Paul in Acts 25-26
Enter Jesus the Christ
Let’s review the situation in Judea at the birth of Jesus;
Judea, which, after 400 years of subjugation, managed
for a very brief time to re-establish itself as an
independent kingdom
The Romans, under Pompey, subjected that kingdom to
Roman rule
Herod, an Idumean with Roman support, managed to
wrest power away from the existing Hasmonean royal
family while maintaining some degree of legitimacy by
marrying a Hasmonean princess (Mariamne I)
During Jesus’ lifetime,
Judea, Galilee and Samaria
were full of resentment of
an Idumaean dynasty and
their Roman overlords.
There was a desire for a
new, truly Jewish King, a
Messiah from the line of
David who would end
foreign rule
When Jesus was born, Herod, now known as Herod the
Great, was near the time of his death. When Herod
finally died (at least 2-3 years after Jesus’ birth), his
kingdom was divided up by the Romans among three
of his heirs. Herod Archelaeus ruled Judea and
Samaria from Jerusalem but was quickly replaced by a
Roman procurator. Herod Antipas ruled in Perea as
well as Galilee where Jesus lived. Philip the Tetrarch
ruled lands north and east of Galilee
Biblical Transitions
We have already seen the last words of the last Book of the Hebrew Scriptures, II
Chronicles, and the importance those words had, a continue to have, for the
Jewish people
“Thus says Cyrus, King of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given to me all
the kingdoms of the earth. He has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem,
which is in Judah. All among you, therefore, who belong to his people, may their God
be with them; let them go up.”
As was mentioned earlier, the Protestant Christian Old Testament has the same
books as the Hebrew Scriptures but orders them in a different sequence. The Old
Testament in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox bibles use the Septuagint
which contains several books not included in the Hebrew Scriptures. One thing
in common with all Christian Old Testaments is that the last book is the Book of
Malachi, not II Chronicles. It was no accident that this book was chosen. It’s last
words are just as meaningful to Christians as were the last words of II Chronicles
to Jews. These words point to Jesus’ public ministry which began with his
baptism by John the Baptist.
“Now I am sending to you Elijah, the prophet. Before the day of the LORD comes, the
great and terrible day; He will turn the heart of fathers to their sons, and the heart of
sons to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with utter destruction.”
Many of those who saw Jesus as the Messiah considered John the Baptist to be
Jesus’ prophet. It was not long after Jesus’ death that the land was indeed struck
with utter destruction
Jesus the Christ (from the Christian Scriptures)
Despite some claims to the contrary, almost all of what is known about
Jesus comes from the Christian Scriptures (the New Testament) and those
scriptures tell us these basic things;
• Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea but lived his life in Nazareth in
• His mother’s name was Mary (Miriam) and His father’s name was Joseph
• There is very little known about His life as a child and young adult
• At some point in His adult life, He was baptized by John the Baptist in the
Jordan River and began to preach, teach and heal in public
• He spent most of his public ministry in Galilee, but at some point, he
traveled south and entered into the city of Jerusalem
• After his entry, He was arrested and convicted by the Romans as a
criminal. He was later crucified by the Romans as his punishment
• His followers claimed that He was raised from the dead after His
crucifixion and that He appeared to them alive a number of different times
Jesus the Christ (Non-Scriptural Source)
There is only one source outside of the Christian Scriptures written around
the time of Jesus which mentions him specifically
Josephus Antiquity of the Jews: Book 18 Chapter 3 on Jesus
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer
of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him
both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the
suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him
at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine
prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe
of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
Josephus Antiquity of the Jews: Book 20 Chapter 9 on James, the Brother of Jesus he ( the High Priest Ananus) assembled the Sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the
brother of Jesus, who was called Christ (i.e. Messiah), whose name was James, and some others
Josephus Antiquity of the Jews: Book 5 Chapter 2 on John the Baptist
Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's (Antipas) army* came from God, and
that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod
slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue
* Herod Antipas had married the daughter of the King of Nabataea to seal an alliance. When
Antipas divorced her to marry Herodias, her father the King went to war against Antipas.
Jesus the Christ (Other Non-Scriptural Sources)
Tacitus: Roman Senator and Historian (Annals: 116 CE)
[N]either human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the
scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor,
Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their
shameful acts …whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ
[Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate
… Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin
of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from
everywhere come together and become popular.
Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor and friend of Tacitus
Wrote about early Christian worship of Christ “as to a god.”
Suetonius, a Roman writer, lawyer and historian, wrote of riots in 49 C.E.
A riot broke among Jews in Rome which might have been about Christ. Suetonius
specifically wrote that he thought the riots were incited by “the instigator Chrestus,” whose
identification with Jesus is not completely certain. This does align with the information in Acts
that Roman Jews heard Peter preach at Pentecost and may have been specifically moved to
form a community upon their return to Rome. Romans indicates that a community existed in
Rome before Paul’s arrival and that a member of that community was named Aristobulus, a
name not uncommon in Hasmonean royal family
The Search for the Historical Jesus
The Christian scriptures claim to be testimony about Jesus based on information
provided, either directly or via a third-party, by people who knew Jesus, walked
and talked with him.
It is important to remember that, just like the Hebrew Scriptures, the Christian
Scriptures are an account of an experience that people had of Jesus both during
his life and after his resurrection. The writers have an agenda.
If you do not trust the Christian Scriptures as a source of information about
Jesus, you have only two choices;
1) Trust what Josephus has to say. While there is some debate on how reliable
the references are in his work, there is little doubt that Josephus wrote his
work some time in the mid 90s CE
2) Speculate on what Jesus must have been like based on what is known about
his contemporaries. If you have assembled your facts well and presented
them in a cogent fashion, your speculation deserves some consideration so
long as it is made clear that it is speculation
Albert Schweitzer pointed out how often the Jesus that results from such a
search looks amazingly like what the author believed Jesus should look like.
Readers who are ready to dismiss the reliability of the Christian Scriptures
because of a bias on the part of their authors often never think that the authors of
books about “the historical Jesus” may also have their own biases
Reliability of the Christian Scriptures
Early Christian Manuscripts
The first documents of the New Testament were very likely the Letters written by
Paul. The gospels and other NT documents were written from ten to forty years
(or so) after Paul’s letters. We’ll look more closely at the NT documents in the
next section. While no original NT document has ever been found, over 5,000
manuscripts of the NT are in existence today. They range from fragments of texts
to full collections of scripture. These manuscripts fall into three general
- Papyrus Fragments
The advantage of papyrus is clear. Papyrus was
inexpensive. The downside is that papyrus was not
particularly durable. There are a number of papyrus
fragments of the NT still extant that range in age
from the 2nd century CE through the 8th century CE
- Uncials
Texts of block, upper case letters usually written on
more expensive material (e.g. vellum). Uncial texts
of the NT range in age from late 2nd/early 3rd
centuries CE through the 11th century CE. Uncial
texts are most often found in a codex (book-like) form
rather than scroll form (common for papyrus)
- Minuscules
These are texts of the NT written in a kind of cursive
format. Minuscule texts of the NT range in age from
the 9th through 16th centuries CE
Early Christian Manuscripts – Papyrus Fragments
Oxyrhynchus Papyri
Early 3rd Century CE
University of Penn.
Early Christian Manuscripts - Uncials
Codex Sinaiticus: Uncials
4th Century CE
Most of the Codex can
be found in the British Library
in London
Early Christian Manuscripts - Minuscules
Codex Ebnarianus:
Minuscule (cursive)
12th Century CE
Bodleian Library
Early Christian Manuscripts - Summary
The Codex Sinaiticus is the oldest extant manuscript of the Christian Bible. It
was written in the middle of the fourth century CE
Both the Old Testament (derived from the Septuagint) and the New Testament
of the Codex Sinaiticus were written in Greek. Both the OT and NT texts of
this codex have been annotated by a series of early correctors
The Codex Sinaiticus has been made available for viewing from the internet
at The /en/ is for English speaking people
There are a number of other codices that are extant the most known include
the Codex Vaticanus (also from the 4th century CE), the Codex Alexandrinus
(early 5th century CE) and the Codex Ephraemi (also early 5th century CE)
Despite the variations in the texts, some caused by corrections, others
caused by simple copying errors that went uncorrected, the various
manuscripts show a remarkable degree of agreement. The differences that
do exist, with the exception of a passage at the end of the Gospel of Mark,
are minimal and do not reflect a difference in the meaning of any passage
Greek New Testament
Manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures
The earliest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Scriptures is the Aleppo
Codex. The codex was probably written sometime in the Tenth Century CE
It was purchased by the Jewish Karaite* community in Jerusalem and was
moved from the city during the Crusades. In the 14th Century CE it was
moved to Aleppo, Syria and remained there until 1947
There are other fragmentary sections of the Hebrew Scriptures some of
which are part of the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Karaite Jewish community is believed to have begun in Baghdad sometime in the 7th or 8th
century CE (though some claim that Karaite Jews lived in Egypt before the 7th century.) They
are like the Sadducees in that they believe that only those things written in the Tanakh are
binding in Jewish Religious Law (Halakah), Unlike Rabbinic Judaism, Karaite Jews do not
believe that the Oral Torah, legal decisions made by the Sanhedrin and codified in the Talmud
play any role in Halakah. Karaite Jews are welcome to read the written Tanakh and form their
own opinions as to its meanings but are advised that the best meaning can be found in the
original intent of the author. There are an estimated 50,000 Karaites in Israel and another 50,000
scattered throughout the world
The Aleppo Codex
Like the Codex Sinaiticus, the
Aleppo Codex is available for
viewing online at
And, like the Codex Sinaiticus, you
can zoom in or out on any section of
the text.
‫עֶׁ בֶׁ ד‬--‫ אַ ח ֲֵרי מֹות מֹ שֶׁ ה‬,‫וַיְ ִהי‬
ַ‫יְ הֹושֻׁ ע‬-‫יְ הוָה; ַוי ֹאמֶׁ ר יְ הוָה אֶׁ ל‬
.‫ ְמשָ ֵרת מֹ שֶׁ ה לֵאמֹ ר‬,‫נּון‬-‫ִבן‬
Genesis in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls are also now available for viewing on line.
They can be seen at You can view the scrolls
by selecting the “Explore the Archive” option
.‫ וְ אֵ ת הָ אָ ֶׁרץ‬,‫אֵ ת הַ שָ מַ יִ ם‬
Like many ancient biblical documents, the scrolls made available for viewing
are often fragmentary and hard to read. However, even an amateur like me can
read these words from Genesis, “the heavens and the earth”.
I have written the Masoretic Text version of the same words are shown below
the Dead Sea Scrolls sample
Basic Controversies About Jesus
• The Year of His Birth
• The Date of His Birth
• The facts surrounding his conception
• The facts surrounding his birth
• The size and makeup of Jesus’ family
The Birth Year of Jesus (I)
There are many different opinions concerning the year of Christ’s birth and
there is no real consensus as to what the actual year was but here are some
facts that might narrow things down;
Matthew (2:1) declares that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the
Josephus states that Herod died 37 years after the Roman Senate declared
him King of the Jews (@ 40 BCE) and 34 years after he was able to actually
(@ 37 BCE) become king. That calculates down to 4-3 BCE
Josephus said that a lunar eclipse occurred shortly before Herod’s death.
There was a partial eclipse in March of 4 BCE
Matthew also states that Herod ordered the death of all male children
2 years of age or younger. This implies that Jesus must have been born
at least two years before Herod’s death in 4 BCE, so around 6 BCE
Luke states that a census took place during the year of Jesus’ birth. No
record of such a census was found in Roman records but Egyptian records
indicate that the Romans took a census in 20 BCE and that a census was
normally taken every 14 years
The Birth Year of Jesus (II)
Both Justin Martyr and Tertullian (2nd Century CE) state that Roman
records of the census in question did exist and were available to be
reviewed in the archives of Rome during their lifetimes
Luke also says that Quirinius was governor in Syria when Jesus was
Quirinius was known to have been fighting in Macedonia
before 6 BCE.
Tacitus mentions that Quirinius was “in the East” between 6
and 3 BCE.
Roman records show that Quirinius was governor in Syria in
the early years of the Common Era so there is evidence that
Quirinius was in the region at the time in question but no
direct evidence that he served as Roman governor in Syria
during this period
It should be noted that regions such as Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, even when
governed directly by the Romans, were not themselves Roman provinces.
They were satellite regions to the main Roman province in Syria. Those Roman
officials who replaced Archelaeus were called prefects or procurators.
Governors, such as Quirinius (Cyrinus), mentioned in Luke 2:2 ruled from the
Roman province of Syria
The Birth Date of Jesus (I)
• No Christian church has ever claimed that Jesus was actually born on
December 25. Christian churches simply celebrate His birth on that day.
There are many theories to explain why December 25 was selected as the
day to celebrate the birth of Jesus but two garner the most interest. The
first of the two has been around for awhile and is fairly well known. This
older theory has two versions explained below. A newer theory of a more
scholarly origin provides new insight into why December 25 (and January
6 in Eastern Christianity) were dates chosen to honor Jesus’ birth
Theory One has two versions;
• The Secular Version of Theory One
The decision to make December 25 the official date for Christians to
celebrate Christmas was made by the first Christian Emperor of Rome,
Constantine. This viewpoint holds that Constantine wanted to unite the
Christian faith with a popular celebration among pagan Romans, either
the older Saturnalia (Dec. 17- 23) or the later Dies Natalis Solis Invicti
(Dec. 25) established by Emperor Aurelian in 274 CE
• The Christian Version of Theory One
So many Romans were converting to Christianity after Constantine’s
conversion that the Church needed to “baptize” certain pagan festivals to
allow all the new converts to experience their conversion without
excessive culture shock
The Birthdate of Jesus (II)
• The second theory notes that Christian groups were celebrating Jesus’ birth on
December 25 long before Constantine legalized Christianity.
- Hippolytus, Bishop of Rome @220 CE, wrote that Christians were celebrating the
birth of Christ on December 25 during his time as Bishop
- The Donatists, a North African Christian group so scrupulous in their practices
that they would hardly mimic anything Roman, were also known to have
celebrated Christmas on December 25 long before Constantine was even born
• Recent scholarship (Louis Duchesne, Thomas Talley) seems agree with
Hippolytus that the choice of December 25 in Western Christianity and January 6 in
Eastern Christianity had nothing to do with Roman festivals to their gods
- According to the gospel of John, Jesus was executed on 14 Nisan.
The Latin speaking Christian, Tertullian (@200 CE), using the Roman calendar,
calculated that 14 Nisan took place on 8 Kalends April (March 25)
- Eastern, Greek-speaking Christians, using their own calendar instead of the
Roman calendar, calculated 14 Nisan to be the 14 Artemisios (April 6)
- Both Greek and Roman Christians had a tradition that the Annunciation took
place on the same date as Jesus’ passion and death, 14 Nisan
(Hippolytus as cited above and Augustine: De Trinitatis)
- Jesus’ birth date then was calculated to be nine months after the Annunciation or
9 months after March 25 or April 6 (Andrew McGowan, Biblical Archaeology Review)
Lesser Known Facts of Christianity
• The “Hellenists” of the NT were not Gentiles but converts from that part of Judaism
that had been assimilated into the Hellenistic culture and spoke only Greek, not
Aramaic or Hebrew
• Merry Christmas in English means Happy Christ’s Mass. In modern languages
derived from Latin, the literal translation is Happy Birthday. For example;
- French
Joyeux Noel
(Noel from the Latin adjective natalis)
- Italian
Buon Natal
(Derivation from natalis is obvious)
- Spanish
Feliz Navidad
(Navidad from the Latin noun navitatem)
• Constantine did NOT make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Constantine did make Christianity legal by issuing the Edict of Milan in 313 CE.
The Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the sole legal religion in Rome in 380 CE
• Judaism was a religion recognized by the Roman Empire and therefore was
legally practiced under Roman law. At first, Christianity, seen as a Jewish sect, was
deemed legal but, over time, Christianity was seen as a separate religion.
• In 64 CE, Emperor Nero blamed Christians for the fire that nearly destroyed Rome. In
116 CE, the Roman Tacitus wrote that Christianity was “a mischievous superstition”.
Under Roman law, Christians were atheists since they worshipped a deity not
recognized under Roman law. Some even accused Christians of cannibalism.
Persecutions of Christians generally began with Nero and ended with Constantine
• Constantine was not baptized until shortly before his death (not uncommon for
converts) and was baptized by a heretical (Arian) bishop Eusebius (not the
Church historian of the same name)
Jesus Mother: The almah/parthenos controversy
It is a fact that Christians believe that Mary (Miriam in Hebrew) was a virgin at the time
that Jesus was conceived. They also believe that Mary remained a virgin through the
birth of Jesus. Many, but not all, Christians believe that Mary remained a virgin
throughout the remainder of her life. That issue will be looked at in the next slide.
It is a fact that many Christians see Isaiah 7:14 (and a virgin shall bear a son) as a
prediction of the virgin birth of Jesus. It is a fact that the Hebrew word used for virgin
in Isaiah was almah. When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek @200 BCE, the
translators used the Greek word parthenos to translate almah
Some New Testament scholars claim that early Christians never believed that Jesus
was conceived virginally. These critics claim that the virgin birth developed over time
due to the mistranslation of almah, which in Hebrew simply means maiden and makes
no reference to virginal status, into Greek using the parthenos, which they rightly say
specifically means virgin. The problem with that criticism is that the same Greek word
parthenos is used in Genesis 34:3 twice to refer to Jacob’s daughter Dinah who at that
point, was clearly no longer a virgin. This seems to indicate that the Greek translators
of that time understood that neither almah nor parthenos had any specific reference
to virginity and that parthenos was a perfectly good Greek word to translate almah
So, where did the Christian tradition of the virgin birth originate? I suggest that Luke
1:34-36 (where the angel of the Lord spells out the process to Mary at the
annunciation) might be a good place to start their search
Jesus’ Family (I)
‫ישו המשיח‬
His father (according to scripture, foster father) was named
Joseph (Yosef) ‫יֹוסֵ ף‬
Yosef is commonly thought of as a carpenter but the Greek word used to
describe Yosef’s occupation is τέκτων (tekton). (Matt: 13:55) This word could
mean many things including artisan, builder or, using a modern term,
His mother was named Mary (Miriam)
‫ִמ ְריָם‬
While almost all Christians believe that Mary was a virgin when she gave
birth to Jesus, not all agree that she remained a virgin after that birth.
Catholics and Orthodox hold that Mary was ‘ever-virgin’ (ἀειπάρθενος)
aeiparthenos. Protestants do not. Catholics hold that she was free from
original sin from the moment when she was conceived in her mother’s womb
(Immaculate Conception). Protestants and Orthodox do not.
The problem with Mary being ever-virgin is that the New Testament clearly
states that Jesus had brothers and sisters
Jesus’ Family (II)
Matthew 13:55, as an example, identifies Jesus as having four ‘brothers’;
James ‫יעַ קֹוב‬, Joses ‫ יֹוסֵ י‬, Simon
‫ִש ְמ ֹון‬
and Jude
‫יהּודָ ה‬
Theory One This theory claims that Jesus was the only child born to Mary. The
brothers mentioned above are Jesus’ cousins. The claim is that neither Hebrew nor
Aramaic had a word for cousin (many references in the OT). While Greek, the
language of the NT, does have a word for cousin (anepsios), the NT writers were
translating Aramaic expressions into Greek in a literal, word-for-word fashion
(e.g. In Gen 14.12 and 14.14, both the Masoretic Hebrew text and the Greek Septuagint use the word
“brother” to describe Abraham’s relationship with Lot who was, in fact, Abraham’s nephew)
Adherents to Theory One note that;
Matthew (10:3) and Mark (15:40) say that a woman named Mary and her husband,
Alphaeus, are the parents of two men named James and Joses. Luke (6:15) also
says that James is the son of Alphaeus. John 19:25, however, describes Mary, not
as the wife of Alphaeus but a man named Clop(h)as
Papias, a disciple of the Apostle John and Bishop of Hierapolis (early 2nd Century
CE) supports Theory One in Fragment 10 of his writings, where he sums up the
different women named Mary in the NT, “(1) Mary, the Mother of the Lord. (2) Mary
the wife of Cleophas or Alphæus, who was the mother of James and of Simon and
Thaddeus (also known as Jude, covered in Section 10), and of one Joseph. (3) Mary
Salome, wife of Zebedee and mother of John the Evangelist and James. (4) Mary
Magdalene” Theory One explains that Alphaeus and Cleophas are different
hellenizations of the Aramaic name Chalpai, the alleged brother of Jesus’ father 9.31
Jesus’ Family (III)
Matthew 13:55 also identifies Jesus as having four ‘brothers’;
James ‫יעַ קֹוב‬,
Joses ‫ יֹוסֵ י‬, Simon ‫ שִׁ ועְמֹֹון‬and Jude ‫יהּודָ ה‬
Theory Two This theory holds that Mary was the second wife of Joseph. A
popular (but non-canonical) work called the Protoevangelium of James (a sort of a
prequel to the gospels) tells how Mary was born to Anna and Joachim. The story
claims that Mary was a dedicated Temple virgin and was determined to preserve
her virginity throughout her lifetime. As she approached the age of 12 however,
she could no longer serve in the Temple due to the ritual uncleanliness of her
approaching menstrual cycle.
It was decided, to preserve Mary’s virginity, that one of the older men of the
village of Nazareth would be selected to act as her guardian. To make the
decision, all the older men in the village were to throw their walking staffs into a
pile and the one chosen at random would be Mary’s betrothed. When Joseph, a
widower with older sons and daughters, threw his staff into the pile, the staff
blossomed. Joseph then took on the task of being Mary’s ‘husband’. Jesus’
brothers and sisters were from Joseph’s first marriage. Statues of Joseph in
Catholic Churches often depict him carrying a walking staff that is flowering on
the upper end
Theory One and Theory Two are both ancient (very early 2nd Century CE) and both
point to John 19:26-27 to show that Jesus gave the care of his mother to the
beloved disciple, John. If Jesus had brothers, they claim, this would never have
Jesus’ Family (IV)
Matthew 13:55 also identifies Jesus as having four ‘brothers’;
James ‫יעַ קֹוב‬,
Joses ‫ יֹוסֵ י‬, Simon
‫שִׁ ועְמֹֹון‬
and Jude
‫יהּודָ ה‬
Theory Three:
Occham’s Razor. The best way of understanding Matthew 13:55, and the several other
references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters (the sisters are not named) in the NT is the
least complicated way, namely, to believe that Mary had other children.
Catholics and Eastern Orthodox are more likely to support Theory One or Theory Two
while Protestants largely support Theory Three. Interestingly, though, the current
Protestant understanding was not in agreement with many of the early reformers;
- The Latin text of the 1537 Smalcald Articles written by Martin Luther used the
term "Ever Virgin" to refer to Mary. Luther never wavered from that belief.
- Huldrych Zwingli directly supported perpetual virginity and wrote: “I firmly believe
that [Mary], ... forever remained a pure, intact Virgin.”
- John Wesley wrote: "... born of the blessed Virgin Mary, who, as well after as
before she brought Him forth, continued a pure and unspotted virgin”
- John Calvin was less emphatic in his open support of the idea, and neither flatly
accepted or rejected it but he did caution against the idea of "impious speculation"
on the topic of perpetual virginity and believed that the mention of the brothers and
sisters of Jesus did not necessarily imply that Mary had other children
One Other Interesting Note About Jesus’ Family
It is interesting to note that the office of Bishop of Jerusalem remained with
the family of Jesus until the Second Jewish War in 132 CE when all Jews
were banned from Jerusalem
James was Bishop until around 63 CE
James was succeeded by Simon (sometimes called Simeon). Simon led the
Christian community away from Jerusalem and across the Jordan to Pella in
the Decapolis before the outbreak of the First Jewish War. Simon/Simeon
remained as Bishop until 107 CE
The early church chronicler Hegessipus suggests that a grandson of Jude
named Zoker became Bishop in Jerusalem after Simon and that he was
followed by another grandson of Jude also named James
It has been thought that these men became Bishops in Jerusalem less
because they were of the family of Jesus and more because they were of the
line of David. In any case, the information about the Jerusalem Church after
the first Jewish war is minimal
Other Issues Concerning Mary
Mary the Mother of God (Theotokos)
Most every Christian accepts this because it declares that Mary was not simply
the Mother of Jesus who later was adopted by God as His Son. This doctrine
focused on the belief that Jesus, from the moment of his conception, was both
fully human and fully divine (one person, two perfectly united natures). Declaring
Mary to be the Mother of God contradicted the Nestorian heresy (Jesus Christ
was not the same person as the Son but the Son lived in Him. Jesus had one
nature, a human nature) There are some Eastern Christian Churches that have
maintained Nestorian teachings into modern time however the overwhelming
majority Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches accept the doctrine that
Mary was the mother of Jesus who was fully human and fully divine from the
moment of his conception
Mary the Immaculate Conception
The Immaculate Conception claims that Mary, from the moment of her own
conception, remained free from the taint of original sin. This is a uniquely
Catholic doctrine and was declared an infallible teaching by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
Catholics point to Luke’s use of κεχαριτωμένη (kecharitomene, perf. part. pass,
‘having been completely engraced’ Lk. 1:28) to support their view. Eastern
Orthodoxy questions why a human being born free from original sin should not
have been born free from one of the effects of original sin, death. Protestants
simply reject the teaching as unbiblical. Many today confuse the doctrine of the
Immaculate Conception with the doctrine of the Virgin Birth
A Final Thought
As modern Christians consider the Christian Scriptures, they will come face
to face with a basic question. Whom should I believe; the modern biblical
scholar who has many tools at his disposal; a greater understanding of
language and a couple of centuries of serious archaeological discoveries or
those people who were either eyewitnesses to the events in question
themselves or were trained by those who were eyewitnesses
Keep this question in mind as we look further into the Christian scriptures.
The choice will come up again and again.