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.Continue reading “Final Thoughts on St. Joseph in Christian Literature and Art”
While defenders of the second century Infancy Gospel of James can argue that this narrative was born out of a genuine desire to protect the purity of Mary and in the process the divinity of Jesus, it is difficult to defend the distortions these efforts have brought too many Christian portraits of Joseph. Nonetheless, the popularity and significant influence of the infancy Gospel of James cannot be denied, nor the fact that this narrative expresses thoughts and feelings shared by other contemporary Christians, including some of the earliest Church Fathers. Although, it’s precise origins are unknown, the multiplicity of extant manuscripts of James suggests that early in the history of its transmission, the thoughts and beliefs in this narrative were shared by members of many early Christian communities within its Eastern Christianity. Evidence of this may be found in the fact that there are over 100 extent Greek manuscripts as well as numerous translations in other Eastern Christian languages such as Syriac, Ethiopic, Georgian, Sahidic, old short Slavonic, and Armenian, in which the Infancy Gospel of James appears.Continue reading “The Effects of the Infancy Gospel of James on the Interpretation of St. Joseph in Christian Literature and Art, Part II”
As we acknowledged in the first three lectures, the beginnings of many modern perceptions of Joseph can be traced to ideas born outside the Bible to a second century Christian narrative created several decades after the earliest Christian Gospels to the so called Infancy Gospel of James also known as a Protoevangelium of James. A page from a fourth century manuscript of this text known as a Bodmer papyrus is featured here created in part as a defense against attacks upon the character of Mary. The infancy gospel of James was one of the most significant response is created by early Christian writers and theologians to these attacks mounted by those who questioned the credibility of the Christian claims that Jesus of Nazareth was born of a virgin named Mary and was the Son of God.
The aim of these attacks was to counter both claims as a result these writers appear to assault to accomplish two goals: to demean the character of the mother of Jesus and subsequently to dismiss the prospect that Jesus of Nazareth was the divine Son of God. Serious in character evidence of the attacks can be found in the apologetic literature of anti-Christian writers. The scholar Raymond Brown summarizes these attacks in a reconstruction he created based upon the writings of the late 2nd century pagan philosopher, Celsus, who participated in these attacks upon the divinity of Jesus and the virginity of Mary. Brown writes it was Jesus himself who fabricated the story that he had been born of a virgin in fact however this mother was a poor country woman, who had earned her living by spinning. She had been driven out by her carpenter husband when she was convicted of adultery with the soldier named Panthera. She then wandered about and secretly gave birth to Jesus. Later, because he was poor, Jesus hired himself out in Egypt where he became adept in magical powers. Puffed up by these, he claimed for himself the title of God.
From a Christian perspective, this characterization consisted of false accusations and fanciful fiction. Thus, not surprisingly, Christian writers responded to these attacks in a variety of ways one of the most notable is found in this later narrative of the Infancy Gospel of James. However, from the perspective of most scholars, there are at least three major differences between the infancy gospel of James and the earlier Christian Gospels.Continue reading “The Effects of the Infancy Gospel of James on the Interpretation of St. Joseph in Christian Literature and Art, Part I”
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.Continue reading “The Portrayal of Joseph in Nicola Pisano’s Nativity Panels in the Pulpit in the Baptistry of Pisa”