In this third lecture of this series on The Other Person in the Picture, we focus upon the Lukan and Johannine depictions of Joseph and the artistic presentations in history based on them.
In contrast to the Matthean narrative of the birth and infancy of Jesus, the Lukan account is longer and more detailed and mentions the Annunciation to Mary, the visitation of Mary with Elizabeth and Zachariah, the Song or Magnificat of Mary, Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, the Annunciation to the shepherds, the adoration of the shepherds, the circumcision and naming of Jesus, the presentation in the temple, and Jesus’ appearance with the teachers at age 12.
Material found in 68 verses in the first two chapters of this canonical gospel as such a careful reading of Luke reveals that Joseph is also held in high esteem in this particular text. As was the case with Matthew, this can be seen in the number of times Luke mentions Joseph by name and makes direct references to him identifies him as the father, or parent, of Jesus, conjoins him with Mary as her partner and husband and conjoins him with Jesus as his father in this regard, it is important to acknowledge several facts. First, Joseph is mentioned by name five times and referenced as a subject or object 32 additional times. Second, he is explicitly identified as the father of Jesus two times, and in the latter reference, it is Mary who uses the designation in response to Jesus. In turn, Jesus is identified as Joseph’s son twice.
Fourth [sic], Joseph is specifically represented as the de facto father of Jesus on numerous occasions, thus from the earliest references in chapter 1, in which Joseph is identified as the betrothed of Mary and as a member of the house of David the portrait reveals a Joseph formally identified before Mary is formally introduced. The introduction of Joseph’s lineage and the emphasis on connections between Joseph and the Messiah of the house of David, revealed the priority Joseph has over those associated with the priestly orders of Abijah and Aaron including even Mary. The portrait not only underscores Joseph’s heritage and its significance for Jesus identity and role but it also emphasizes Joseph’s righteousness obedience and parental affection and concern.
In the first lecture, we noted that in order to properly understand and comprehend the portrayal and interpretation of Joseph the carpenter that we would need to answer two questions. First, why did some acknowledge Joseph’s importance and others did not? Second, what were the factors that led to these different perspectives, and even to this day, shape the perceptions of many? As we have already suggested, in order to properly address these questions in the issues a raise, attention will need to be given to the primary ancient sources that have informed the contemporary perceptions. This will involve consideration of several early Christian narratives from the earliest accounts in which Joseph is a central figure in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, to later Christian apocryphal narrative, in which his significance differs widely. Consequently, in the second and third lectures, consideration will be directed to the earliest Christian narratives in which Joseph is mentioned the first century canonical Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John in order to establish a clear understanding of the ways they portray Joseph.
This is a transcript of the first part of a six part lecture series of The Other Person in the Picture published from YouTube in 2015.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way: when his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just as he resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. And the angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” And when Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. Joseph took his wife, but knew her not until she had born a son, and Joseph named him Jesus.
The Gospel of Matthew 1:18-22
So writes Matthew, in the first chapter of his first century Gospel about Jesus of Nazareth, leaving no question Mary’s real earthly husband and Jesus his real earthly father. Clear as it is in Matthew as well as the other early Christian Gospels of Luke and John that Joseph was the real earthly father of Jesus. Not all comprehended the importance and significance of Joseph. In fact, it is the case that in the history of Christianity, that Christians have perceived Joseph in very different ways. Some Christians as we have seen in various images thus far, have recognized the significance of Joseph and seen him in a very positive light. Relying upon the testimony of the earliest Christian Gospels, they emphasize the importance of his position in the Holy Family. Others in contrast, under the influence of other later texts and ideas, have distorted these earliest the Gospel accounts as we will discover in later lectures of this series.
Nicola Pisano created six marble panels in his pulpit in the Baptistry of Pisa in 1260. Three of the panels represent several different events recorded in the canonic accounts of the nativity and childhood of Jesus found in the first two chapters of the gospels of Matthew and Luke as well as one event referenced in later apocryphal narratives.
Between 1265 and 1268, Nicola Pisano sculpted the seven marble panels of the Duomo pulpit in the Siena Cathedral with the assistance of his son, Giovanni. However, only two, the first of the Visitation, the Nativity, and the Annunciation of Shepherds, and the second, of the Adorationof the Magi, include representations of the figure of Joseph.
While it is tempting to approach the topic of Joseph the Carpenter as the distinguished scholar Jaroslav Pelikan approached the topics of Jesus Through the Centuries and Mary Through theCenturies, and “present, in roughly chronological order, a series of distinct but related vignettes … both in their continuity and in their development …,” such an approach to this subject would be more problematic than helpful because, unlike Jesus and Mary, Joseph has been, curiously, largely, ignored by both the worlds of academic scholarship and the Christian church.1 It would also be more problematic since (unlike Pelikan) I do intend to reflect on both who Joseph wasunderstood to be according to the earliest Christians as well as (like Pelikan) who he has “been experienced and understood to be …” in later Christian thought and art.2