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Mary, Joseph, Jesus and Nazareth

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Question:  I have been trying to find out something about Mary the mother of Jesus and Joseph her husband. The only thing I can find out about where Mary came from and where Joseph is from is Matthew 1:15-16, where genealogy of Jesus Christ is given. Can you help me find anything else concerning their parents or where they are from?

Response: The only things we know for certain come from scripture. As is the case with almost all extra-biblical testimony, so in the case of Mary: none of the extra-biblical information about her can be trusted. There is gnostic "Gospel of Mary" and a medieval work on the birth of Mary, as well as many other apocryphal works about the life of Christ which include details about her (all concocted and unreliable).

That said, we do know quite a bit from scripture. To start with the genealogy you mention, it is different from the genealogy given in Luke chapter three - and that is because the Matthew genealogy gives Jesus' legal line (through His "step-father", Joseph), whereas it is in Luke chapter three that we find Mary's line, traced all the way back to Adam to demonstrate beyond doubt Jesus' true humanity. Both lines, incidentally, go back to David through the royal line of Israel, making both Mary (Jesus' blood line) and Joseph (Jesus' line of inheritance) regal. This also means that Mary and Joseph were distantly related (not nearly so closely as to provide any grounds for objection, however), a not uncommon thing in arranged marriages before and since.

Since they were of the line and lineage of David, both Mary and Joseph would have had their "official inheritance" in Bethlehem and its environs, a fact important both for Jewish genealogical recording (especially important in the royal line and also in the priestly line, cf. Ezra 2:62), and also for Roman administrative purposes. Rome carried out a regular sequence of the census in the provinces (every seven years - the one at Jesus' birth being the first "world-wide" one, though they had been held in some provinces before this), and in each such case there was a "year of enrollment" wherein each individual had to register his/her property in his/her official place of residence. This, of course, was a much more crucial thing in the ancient world than it is today, for citizenship and civil rights were tied to localities for non-Roman citizens (so that this would be analogous today of U.S. citizens having to return to their original home states every so often to maintain their rights and pay their taxes). This is the reason why Joseph and Mary had to journey to Bethlehem (for more on these census issues, see: "Census" in Part 5 of the Satanic Rebellion series).

Luke 2:4 (cf. Lk.1:26) tells us that Joseph and Mary were in Nazareth when they were compelled to make the journey to Bethlehem. We are not told why Joseph was living there, nor how long he had been there. This is the place where Mary was residing when Gabriel gave her the good tidings about the coming of her Son (Lk.1:26). We also know that, after receiving this word, Mary went "to a town in the hill country of Judea" - we are not certain of the precise location, but it would have been close enough to both Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and, importantly, she went to visit Elizabeth, the mother-to-be of John the baptist who was "your relative" (Lk.1:36). So it is clear that Mary had family in or around Bethlehem, and that Joseph, who had to go to Bethlehem to be registered, also continued to maintain his inheritance in that area - if that were not also his home. For it is also important to note that, after the sojourn in Egypt, when the angel informs Joseph that it is safe to return to the land, Joseph had apparently been intending to return to Judea, not Galilee (Matt.2:22), but settled on a return to Nazareth upon learning that Herod's son was now in power in Judea. After this, Nazareth becomes their "own town" (Lk.2:39), and the place where Jesus grows up (cf. Jn.2:1). This all works to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah about light coming out of the darkness (i.e., the secular north country: Is.9:1-2 - completed with the beginning and the end of Jesus' earthly ministry: cf. Matt.4:14-16; 28:7), as well as the prophecy of Jesus being a "Nazarene" (Matt.2:23).

One thing we can glean, therefore, from this information scripture does provide (and there is a good deal more that can be gotten from analyzing the two genealogies and exegeting the references to Mary in the gospels) is that the main "ancestral home" area for her would have been around Bethlehem, not Nazareth (and the same would be true of Joseph as well).

Why, specifically, either Joseph or Mary were in Nazareth in the first place is not overtly discussed in scripture. One clue may be found in Luke 1:56 where we are told that, after her visit to Elizabeth, Mary "returned to her home/house [i.e., in Nazareth]". Since this trip came almost immediately after the visit of Gabriel, and since Joseph learns about all this later, most likely after Mary had gotten back to Nazareth and it became obvious that she was pregnant (cf. Matt.1:24-25), it seems best to understand that it was Mary's family who had gone "pioneering", seeking some sort of economic opportunity in the more commercial north, whereas Joseph was probably a resident of Judea, and became involved with Nazareth through Mary, and that he had intended to "fetch her" from there to Judea, but was delayed by the pregnancy, forced to move her anyway because of the census, and only returned to Nazareth because of the continuation of the hostile Herodian regime.  Here is a chart of their probable travels in the early part of our Lord's life:

Early Travels

Hope this gives you a start on your question.   Please see also the links:

The Birth of Christ (in Bible Basics 4A: Christology)

"The events surrounding the birth of Christ"

Why did Jesus choose John over James to take care of His mother Mary?

Mary Full of Grace?

Aspects of the Life of Christ:  Jesus' Siblings et al.

Yours in Him who has planned the beginning from the end, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill


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