Final Thoughts on St. Joseph in Christian Literature and Art

In the earliest Christian Gospels, those around Joseph and Jesus do not perceive them as anything other than father and son.  In fact, the earliest Gospel narratives, only give evidence that Jesus was always considered from his birth through his adulthood as the son of Joseph, Jesus ben Joseph, as he would have been identified in his community and culture. This is not surprising, since this is how Joseph early on had been directed and had come to understand his relationship to Jesus as well.  Early in Matthew’s Gospel, in the first dream and Annunciation, Joseph is directed to accept Mary who is with child as his wife and to name the child she carries Jesus, thus to legally consummate his marriage to Mary and to accept Mary’s child as his own.  Therefore, when Joseph obeys both commands of the angel, he acknowledges his special relationship with Mary and the child as well as his responsibility for both of them.  Likewise, Joseph’s parental role is additionally affirmed in Luke 2, where Joseph registers the pregnant Mary as his wife and is recognized by the shepherds and later by Simeon and Anna as her husband and the father of Jesus.  Finally in John, Joseph’s parental role in relationship to Jesus is also acknowledged by his and Jesus’ fellow citizens and acquaintances, even as Jesus’ ministry begins.  There is nothing to suggest that Joseph did not act as any loving Hebrew father would and assumed the initial responsibilities that his tradition and religion required him to assume.

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The Representation of St. Joseph in the Gospel of Matthew and Its Effect Upon Christian Art

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.

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An Introduction to the Other Person in the Picture: St. Joseph in Christian Art

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. 

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