The Bible and Culture

The Bible and Culture


The Dead Shall Have Their Say– More on the James Ossuary

posted by Ben Witherington

JamesOssuary2.jpg

It hardly seems possible that it was seven years ago that Hershel Shanks and I wrote the book The Brother of Jesus (Harper) about the James ossuary. It is also hard to believe that the trial of the owner of the James ossuary,  Oded Golan, has gone on now for four long years, and hopefully will reach its conclusion this year. 

We are now in the phase of the trial where the defense is presenting its case for exoneration, and the case appears to be impressive. Most recently (see the BAR website article posted June 15th at www.bib-arch.org) the defense has been presenting new scientific evidence from further testing of the patina (ancient residue deposits in the letters of the inscription reading ‘Jacov son of Joseph, his brother is Yeshua’) that the inscription could not have been produced in the last century, thus exonerating Golan of the charge of forgery of an inscription.  The evidence for ancient patina in at least some of the letters of the inscription (in particular in the word Jesus) was admitted by Yuval Goran speaking on behalf of the prosecution, And of course that is the one word in the inscription most likely to have been added by a later forger, but in fact it is genuine.

Now what are the implications of both Golan’s exoneration (one matter) and the ossuary having a genuine inscription on it (a separate matter)? Well for one thing the IAA is going to have a lot of egg on its face, and will have wasted a lot of money and time in a fruitless and vindictive law suit. But more importantly for historical reasons, the James ossuary will once again provide us with vital extra-Biblical evidence about the holy family, its social status and inter-relationships, and of course the historical existence of James, Joseph, and Jesus.  So much for the ‘God who doesn’t exist’ documentary.  History and archaeological evidence has a way of making liars of the more extreme skeptics eventually.  

Of course if the James ossuary is indeed genuine and genuinely a relic of the Holy family, it provides us with an inconvenient truth for some Catholics and Orthodox Christians who believe Jesus had no blood brothers and Mary had no other children than Jesus.   But there will be time enough to discuss that more down the road.  For now it is sufficient to stress that rumors of the forgery of the inscription on the James ossuary appear to be greatly exaggerated, and the attempts to rebury the ossuary and its important historical information have failed.   This is only what we might expect since the occupant of the James box was a firm believer in resurrection, his brother’s and in due course, his own. :)    As for me,  I stand by all that was said in the Brother of Jesus and look forward to further revelations about and testing of the James box. 

For those interested in the sort of skullduggery (and I do mean skull duggery, since skulls are being dug up) involved in matters archaeological in the Holy Land,  you might well enjoyed my historical novel The Lazarus Effect, which now has a sequel entitled Roman Numerals about more such dastardly deeds.   



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Tom

posted July 8, 2009 at 10:58 am


Hi Ben,
Thanks for you wonderful blog. I find it very enlightening. I am a Catholic but try to focus on “Mere Christianity”, the things that bind us together as Christians, more than the Catholic particulars. As you mention, this subject seems to be of the type that does expose some of the denominational differences. Your blog triggered a memory of something I read a while back, so I went on my own dig :). I found the article here http://www.catholic.com/library/Bad_Aramaic_Made_Easy.asp. To my surprise the article is actually addressing your book. I didn’t remember that when your post triggered the memory, but all the better! As a brief summary, the article contends that the word “brother” in Aramaic may just as well mean cousin in English, so we are unable to draw the conclusion that James was Jesus’ actual brother based upon the ossuary. Please let me know you thoughts.
Thank you,
Tom



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Ben Witherington

posted July 8, 2009 at 11:53 am


Hi Tom:
Thanks for this post. Actually it is probably incorrect to say that ‘Ahui’ can mean cousin. There was a perfectly good word for cousin in Aramaic and its not this one, as in Greek there is a clear enough distinction between the word for brother and the word for cousin.
Blessings,
Ben W.



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smijer

posted July 8, 2009 at 12:03 pm


Assuming that Golan is innocent (doesn’t he have a bit of a shady past in any case?), wouldn’t you say that there is ample evidence that the “brother of Joshua” inscription was added *at some point* – likely well after – the “Jacob, son of Joseph” inscription? Would you agree that the interred Jacob likely died before Jesus of Nazareth was born (unlike James the Just)?



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Ben Witherington

posted July 8, 2009 at 1:29 pm


Hi smijer:
The answer of the IAA epigrapher Ada Yardeni, and also others from the Sorbonne is absolutely not to the first question. It is all of one hand, and showing the same ancient patina. And there is absolutely no reason to believe that the Jacov in question died well before the time of Jesus. The practice of osselegium only came to the fore in Jesus’ day, and was not practiced much before the turn of the era.
So the answer to both of your queries is no, and no.
BW3



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smijer

posted July 8, 2009 at 2:10 pm


So, do you know if Rochelle Altman will be or has testified in this case?



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Ben Witherington

posted July 8, 2009 at 2:49 pm


Rochelle Altman is no expert in ancient epigraphy at all. She did a masters degree at Vandy, and her field is medieval illuminated manuscripts not ancient Aramaic scripts at all!
One of my friends at Vandy, A.J. Levine actually read her dissertation, and can attest that what I say is true. No, she will not be testifying as she is not an expert in this area at all! Her attempt to pretend to be an authority in this area has been widely criticized by other scholars in the field.
BW3



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Roberto Perez-Franco

posted July 8, 2009 at 2:55 pm


The patina proves it is not a recent forgery. It does not prove that it is not a 1st century forgery. Even if authentic, it does not prove that the “God” was there after all.
Let us assume that the inscription is genuine, and that the bones of a 1st century man called Jakov were put there, and that he was known as the son of Yusuf, and he had a brother important enough in society as to merit adding the extraordinary clarification that he was the brother of Yeshu.
This does not harm the argument, endorsed by the documentary you mention and Earl Doherty, that Jesus Christ and the complex belief system developed around him throughout centuries are a work of fiction.
Asserting the opposite would be like claiming Santa Claus does work all year with elfs and then flies around the world in 24 hours in a sled pulled by raindeers, and jumps through chimneys to deliver gifts to all good children, just because you found the tomb of a man called Nicholas who may or may not have been fond of giving gifts.
Or asserting that all the planets and the Universe revolve around the Earth just because you found the tomb of a man called Ptolemy who wrote a book to that effect.
So hold your horses. I know you want to attract mainstream Christians to the fact that finding the ossuary authentic (which I think it is) is actually good news for the faith, for it provides a minimum historical grounding to the figure of a Jesus, via his brother James. Yet from this to claiming the mythical Christ argument has been proven a lie, is a long, long shot.



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smijer

posted July 8, 2009 at 2:59 pm


Her arguments (and those made by others) suggesting the inscription is in two parts, by two very distinct hands, have been very persuasive to me. I’d be interested to know the reason Yardeni finds these arguments unpersuasive.
In any case, I’m not one of these “extreme” skeptics – I expect the bones of Jesus’ biological brother James are out there somewhere, even if they weren’t in this particular box. It’s just that I’ve never been persuaded that this box was really the James we are looking for.



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Ben Witherington

posted July 8, 2009 at 3:39 pm


Hi Roberto:
The problem of course for that poorly researched documentary, not to mention the poorly researched work on Doherty which I have critiqued much earlier on this blog, is that there is frankly too much evidence against the notion that Jesus was not an important early Jew who generated a new Jewish form of religion. You must remember that we have multiple sources contained within the NT, the earliest of which dates to the 40s and 50s in the case of Paul’s earlier writings, a scant decade or two after Jesus’ death. And Paul consulted in Jerusalem those who had been friends and eyewitnesses of the life and death of Jesus. There are at least 8-10 independent sources of info just in the NT, on top of which we have: 1) clear evidence, not disputed from Josephus; 2) clear evidence from the Roman historian Tacitus, and 3) clear evidence from the Roman historian Suetonius as well; not to mention 4) evidence from later Jewish and Christian sources still in touch with second generation Jews and Christians, and 5) the archaeological evidence, such as the James ossuary.
You are right that the ossuary does not prove all the elaborate things believed about Jesus by his followers, but it does attest to a strong belief in resurrection, which is why the bones were reburied in such a box, and more particularly if Jesus was crucified, the fact that his name appears as an honorific on the James box is indirect evidence that James and others believed he was vindicated beyond death. You don’t brag about being the brother of a shamed criminal who died from crucifixion, unless there was some reversal of that view thereafter.
Blessings,
BW3



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Ben Witherington

posted July 8, 2009 at 3:40 pm


Hi Roberto:
The problem of course for that poorly researched documentary, not to mention the poorly researched work on Doherty which I have critiqued much earlier on this blog, is that there is frankly too much evidence against the notion that Jesus was not an important early Jew who generated a new Jewish form of religion. You must remember that we have multiple sources contained within the NT, the earliest of which dates to the 40s and 50s in the case of Paul’s earlier writings, a scant decade or two after Jesus’ death. And Paul consulted in Jerusalem those who had been friends and eyewitnesses of the life and death of Jesus. There are at least 8-10 independent sources of info just in the NT, on top of which we have: 1) clear evidence, not disputed from Josephus; 2) clear evidence from the Roman historian Tacitus, and 3) clear evidence from the Roman historian Suetonius as well; not to mention 4) evidence from later Jewish and Christian sources still in touch with second generation Jews and Christians, and 5) the archaeological evidence, such as the James ossuary.
You are right that the ossuary does not prove all the elaborate things believed about Jesus by his followers, but it does attest to a strong belief in resurrection, which is why the bones were reburied in such a box, and more particularly if Jesus was crucified, the fact that his name appears as an honorific on the James box is indirect evidence that James and others believed he was vindicated beyond death. You don’t brag about being the brother of a shamed criminal who died from crucifixion, unless there was some reversal of that view thereafter.
Blessings,
BW3



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Esteban Vázquez

posted July 8, 2009 at 4:52 pm


And how exactly would it be an “inconvenient truth” for Roman Catholics and Orthodox if this shameless forgery turned out to be authentic in some parallel universe? As an Orthodox Christian, I experience no panic attacks whenever I hear St James referenced as the “Brother of God” in our liturgical services.



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Ben Witherington

posted July 8, 2009 at 7:02 pm


Esteban I don’t think you should be scandalized if Jesus had brothers and sisters. In fact, it would simply further illustrate the nature of the Incarnation itself. Of course James is Jesus’ brother in the flesh, not in his divinity. And no, this is certainly not a forgery.
Blessings,
BW3



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Esteban Vázquez

posted July 8, 2009 at 7:28 pm


Well, unless one subscribes to Nestorian Christology, I don’t see how there could be a problem with a designation like ᾿Αδελφόθεος for St James (or Θεοπατόρες for the parents of the Mother of God, Sts Joachim and Anna, which also occurs in our Liturgy).
My point, which you seem to have missed, is that even if the “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” turned out to be genuine (which I insist it isn’t, but that is neither here nor there), this would hardly pose a problem for Roman Catholics and Orthodox (and anyone else who believes in the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God), as you suggest. After all, the liturgical designation for St James amounts to the same thing.



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Ben Witherington

posted July 8, 2009 at 8:40 pm


Hi Esteban:
I understand your point but of course the problem is the perpetual virginity of Mary is not attested in Scripture, indeed the opposite is attested as Matthew’s Gospel says— “Joseph was not knowing her until” means clearly enough in Greek that after the specified period of time he was knowing her. And we would hardly expect it to be otherwise with two early Jews who obeyed the commands of Scripture for married persons, including “Be fruitful and multiply”. Indeed the same Gospel says Joseph obeyed the Torah of God, which includes this commandment.
As for the parents of Mary, we have no traditions that go back to the first century A.D. about who they were, or anything about them. We only have legendary accounts from the late second century and later which may or may not have historical substance.
In the Catholic Church at least, the perpetual virginity of Mary does not become dogma for many many centuries after the first one.
And as for Mary giving birth to God, God in his divine nature is uncreated, whether we are talking about Father, Son or Spirit, and the Son of God did not have a human nature until he took on one in Mary’s womb.
The person Mary gave birth to had both a human and a divine nature, but Mary contributed nothing to the divine nature of the Son of God. This is why the term Mother of God is at the least misleading to so many persons in our own age, though rightly understood it is fine.
Blessings,
Ben W,



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Your Name

posted July 9, 2009 at 11:04 am


As an Orthodox Christian I tried to bend my mind to accept Mary’s perpetual virginity, but the plain reading of Scripture and the attempts to force it into the text via equating Mary with the ark of the covenant, the gates/doors in Ezekiel’s Temple, the arguments from Jesus giving her into the beloved disciple’s care, etc., ultimately forced me to reject it as an example of a “nice try, but no cigar” pious fiction, zealous Orthodox and Catholic converts notwithstanding.



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David Gill

posted July 9, 2009 at 4:12 pm


Ben
My Cambridge colleague, Chris Chippindale, commented on the Getty kouros:
“If he is fake, he has wrongly altered our perception of Archaic Greece. If he is genuine, then his murky story prevents our vision of Archaic Greece being informed by full acknowledgment of a supreme sculpture.”
There is a clear parallel between that case and the James Ossuary (see my review in Evangelical Quarterly 77.4, 2005).
As an archaeologist I am not sure I can agree with your comment, “History and archaeological evidence has a way of making liars of the more extreme skeptics eventually”. There are major material and intellectual consequences when objects without recorded find-spot “surface” on the market. Are they genuine? Are they modern creations?
David



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Ben Witherington

posted July 9, 2009 at 4:24 pm


Hi David:
Nice to hear from you. I quite agree that unprovenanced artifacts are more dicey, but the James box is not really unprovenanced. It has Silwan soil in it, and the patina is particularly that of the area in and around Silwan (and not Talpiot, by the way). Furthermore, the box itself comes from limestone of a particular sort found at the southern end of the Mt. of Olives, though that of course does not tell us where the box was made or its inscription was carved.
Cordially,
Ben W.



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Fr. Terry Donahue, CC

posted July 9, 2009 at 8:58 pm


You wrote: “…as Matthew’s Gospel says— ‘Joseph was not knowing her until’ means clearly enough in Greek that after the specified period of time he was knowing her.”
It doesn’t seem completely clear to me that “until” (Gk. “heos”) implies that the opposite occurs after the specified time period.
Here are counterexamples from the OT (Greek Septuagint) and NT:
“He buried him [Moses] in the land of Moab near Beth Peor, but no one knows his exact burial place to this very day.” (Deut 34:6) Did anyone know Moses’ burial place after that day? No.
“Michal the daughter of Saul had no children till the day of her death” (2 Sam. 6:23). Does she have children after her death? No.
“Sit down at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool!” (Psalm 110:1, quoted in Luke 20:43, Acts 2:35). Does Jesus cease to sit at the right hand of the Father after his enemies are made his footstool? No.
“And the child [John the Baptizer] grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.” (Luke 1:80) Did John the Baptizer stop living in the desert after his public appearance to Israel? No. “And so John came, baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).



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Esteban Vázquez

posted July 9, 2009 at 11:18 pm


Ben,
Naturally, I do not dispute your right (and that of the formally Orthodox anonymous commenter above) to reject the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God. This is not my objection, and my purpose is not to argue this point. My problem is with your comment (which, frankly, comes across as smug) that if the inscription on the ossuary is legitimate, this somehow poses an insurmountable obstacle to those of us who do believe in it. This is clearly not the case, and again, that the usual designation for St James in the liturgy of the Eastern Church (which unambiguously professes this doctrine) amounts to as much as what the inscription states should make this clear.
Cheers,
Esteban



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Chuck Conti

posted July 10, 2009 at 12:38 am


Re:Fr. Terry Donahue
I’m sorry, but I do not see how the verses you quote prove your point. The verse quoted from Matthew looks back at the life of Joseph and Mary together from a much later time, certainly after Joseph’s death, with the “until” logically referring to the time after the birth of Jesus. However, Deuteronomy 34:6 merely relates that no one had found the burial place up to that day. You and I may (think we) know that it was not found after, but the author of the sentence did not know if it would be and did not intend to predict either way.
As far as Psalm 110, it is obvious that there is some kind of change in the relationship between God and the Davidic ruler referred to, as Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians 15:27.
Also, using Mark to explain Luke’s word usage doesn’t work very well. Luke himself asserts that when John the Baptist’s “until” expired, he did stop “living in the desert”- “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance” (Luke 3:3).
The word “until” would seem to imply that there is a change in the relationship of whatever 2 concepts were under discussion. That’s why the contrast is not between Michal having a baby before or after her death. The contrast is between her barrenness despite her ability to conceive in life versus her inability to conceive once she died. She didn’t conceive all the time up “until” she couldn’t conceive.
“But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son” (Matthew 1:25 NIV). Here the contrast is between whether or not he had “union” with her before Jesus was born versus after, with the word “until” implying a change in the relationship once the “until” came to pass. Logically, this must mean that he did have “union” with her afterward.
If Joseph did not have union with Mary before or after Jesus’ birth, then someone will need to show why Matthew would phrase it that way, as opposed to another, clearer statement that they never had relations.
God bless you,
Chuck



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David Gill

posted July 10, 2009 at 2:02 am


Ben
Thank you for your response. I am not totally happy with the terms “unprovenanced” or “provenanced” which mean different things to different people. I have argued with Chris Chippindale that we should adopt two different terms: “archaeology”, i.e. where the object was excavated or said to have been found; “history”, i.e. the passage of the object through various collections (and dealers).
“Good provenance” for some can mean little more than it was once handled by well known collector.
Does the ossuary have good “archaeology”? The answer is surely “no”. We do not know where it was found. (Correct me if I am wrong.)
Does the ossuary have good “history”? Who has handled it?
With Swansea greetings,
David



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Ben Witherington

posted July 10, 2009 at 7:13 am


Hi David:
The soil in the ossuary surely gives a pretty clear indication of where it was found since it has a specific chemical composition, and the same can be said about the patina.
As for the gentleman who thought I was being smug by suggesting that the James ossuary refutes the notion of the virginal conception, I would say refutes is too strong a word. It does however provide some evidence against such a post-Biblical notion.
Cordially,
BW3



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Fr. Terry Donahue, CC

posted July 10, 2009 at 6:41 pm


Re: Chuck Conti
“Deuteronomy 34:6 merely relates that no one had found the burial place up to that day… the author of the sentence did not know if it would be and did not intend to predict either way.”
This comment pretty much makes the point I was trying to make: Taken alone, the use of the word “heos” in Greek can merely relate that a particular state of affairs continued up to a particular point in time, not intending to make a statement about after that point in time. In order to determine what the intended meaning was, one needs to examine the context, etc., not just a particular Greek construction.
A case can be made from the context that the main point of Matthew 1:25 is precisely to relate that Joseph did not have marital relations with Mary before the birth of Christ. I grant that many consider that case to be weak, or that in that case, Matthew should have/would have used a different Greek construction, etc. I am simply trying to show that the Greek construction in and of itself does not exclude that possible meaning.



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Your Name

posted July 11, 2009 at 10:16 am


A case can be made from the context that the main point of Matthew 1:25 is precisely to relate that Joseph did not have marital relations with Mary before the birth of Christ.
A very good case, in fact. It may not be the main point of Matthew 1, but the normal reading of Matthew 1:25 would be that, and the normal assumption would be that they had marital relations after Jesus’ birth, esp. since there is nothing in the rest of Matthew to suggest otherwise.



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Quiddity

posted July 11, 2009 at 10:48 pm


BW3: Thanks for that update. Can I vote on this issue? I don’t trust Oded Golan one bit. A New Yorker article described the shipment of the ossuary to Toronto that was absolutely wild. Golan put it in a cardboard box lined with bubble wrap!
I’m sorry, but I’ve read way too many stories about the disgraceful handling of ancient materials. (Where’s the Secret Gospel of Mark? Someone lost it! How is that possible in these modern times?). I’m going to offend many here, but I have found some of the worst handling of ancient materials and documents is by those who believe. It’s almost as if they think material evidence is secondary, and not worthy of proper analysis and handling.



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Douglas Bilodeau

posted July 12, 2009 at 6:32 pm


I’m curious that no one has brought up the possibility that James could have been an older brother of Jesus by another mother who died before Joseph and Mary were betrothed. This must have been considered before. It might even (for all I know) be compatible with Catholic and/or Orthodox belief. I haven’t heard of a doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Joseph, but perhaps it exists, or is simply taken for granted if the possibility of a previous wife is disallowed.



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E

posted July 12, 2009 at 7:07 pm


Douglas Bilodeau:
There is an ancient tradition/option/explanation that Jesus’ brothers were Joseph’s children from a prior marriage. Read, e.g., The Brother of Jesus: James the Just and His Mission, by Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner. It’s called the Epiphanian position, and advocacy of this view can be found in the Gospel of Peter. (Chilton, Neusner pp. 12ff.)



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Kevin P. Edgecomb

posted July 13, 2009 at 2:40 pm


Douglas Bilodeau and E are quite right. In fact, the Epiphanian understanding is the canonical position of the Orthodox Church, that James, Joses, Simon, and three or more sisters were the naturally born children of Joseph and a wife prior to Mary. One will find exactly the same position in the Protevangelium Jacobi, which predates any other stated opinion on the matter, and is explicit on the subject concerning numerous beliefs of the earliest Christians in this regard. It supports precisely that position of St Epiphanios and the Orthodox Church.
The Roman Catholic position is that of seeing the brothers and sisters as cousins; this is the Hieronymian position, championed by St Jerome. Whether this can be stated to be an “official” position or not is beyond my competence.
It is the heretic Helvidius who posited that the brothers and sisters are the children of Joseph and Mary, born after Jesus. It is this Helvidian position which is common amongst Protestants and others. That doesn’t make its origins any less heretical.



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Phil W

posted July 14, 2009 at 12:57 pm


Kevin,
There is, of course, a different perspective on the origins of the various theories.
The “Helvidian” position has roots in the New Testament itself.
The “Epiphanian” position is based on the apocryphal and heretical (Docetic) work, the Protevangelium of James.
The “Hieronymian” position is based on Jerome’s imagination. He could find no precedent for his theory in the writings of the earlier Church fathers.
The “Helvidian” position appears to be the position of the writers of the New Testament (Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John). Roman Catholic authors, such as Raymond E. Brown and Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan, agree. Getty-Sullivan writes:
“If we only had the New Testament, one could assume that these are children born to Mary and Joseph after Jesus. This was the opinion of Tertullian and most Protestants today. Yet already in the second century these ‘brothers and sisters’ were identified as children of Joseph from a former marriage (see the Protoevangelium of James 9:2).” [Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan, Women in the New Testament (Liturgical Press, 2001), 173-174. A very similar statement was made by Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (Anchor Bible Reference Library; Doubleday, 1997), 725-726.]
It seems that those who hold to the “Epiphanian” position believe that a late second-century Docetic writing trumps the New Testament. Even Jerome said that those who considered the Lord’s brothers to be the sons of Joseph by a former wife were “following the ravings of the apocryphal writings.” [Jerome, Commentary on St Matthew 12.49.]
The “Epiphanian” position was supported by Origen. Commenting on Matthew 13:55-56, he wrote: “They thought, then, that He was the son of Joseph and Mary. But some say, basing it on a tradition in the Gospel according to Peter, as it is entitled, or ‘The Book of James,’ that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary.” [Origen, Commentary on Matthew 10.17.] Note that, according to Origen, only “some” believed in the “Epiphanian” theory; it was not a universal belief of the Church. Note also that Origen did not know of it as an Apostolic tradition; rather, he only knew it to be based on apocryphal gospels.
J. N. D. Kelly writes: “not only the Antidicomarianites attacked by Epiphanius and the Arian Eunomius openly taught that the ‘brethren of the Lord’ were Mary’s sons by Joseph, but Basil of Caesarea, when criticizing the latter, implied that such a view was widely held and, though not accepted by himself, was not incompatible with orthodoxy.” [J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (5th ed.; HarperCollins, 1978), 494-495. Citing Basil, Hom. in sanctam Christi gen. (PG 31, 1468 f.).] So, even in the fourth century it was possible for an orthodox person to hold the “Helvidian” view.
Regarding the “Hieronymian” theory, named for Jerome its inventor, scholars are virtually unanimous that it is incorrect.
Joseph A. Fitzmyer writes: “Jerome thought that adelphos could mean ‘cousin,’ but this is almost certainly to be ruled out as the NT meaning, since there was a good word for ‘cousin,’ anepsios, found in Col 4:10.” [Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Luke (Anchor Bible; Doubleday, 1981), 1:724.]
Similarly, Patrick J. Hartin notes: “One thing, however, is sure, and that is that this term [adelphos] does not designate a cousin, as Jerome understood this term. Greek has a specific word for cousin (anepsios). If a cousin were intended, the New Testament writers would surely have used the Greek word anepsios. See, for example, Col 4:10 …” [Patrick J. Hartin, James of Jerusalem (Liturgical Press, 2004), 32.]
Again, an ecumenical task force reached the same conclusion: “Today most who deny the blood-brother relationship make no attempt to specify the relationship and suspect that all that was remembered in antiquity was that they were relatives or kin. If a specific relationship were remembered, e.g., cousin, some Greek speaker should have begun to use the available specific Greek term, e.g., anepsios, which appears in the NT at Col 4:10.” [Raymond E. Brown, Karl P. Donfried, Joseph A. Fitzmyer & John Reumann (eds.), Mary in the New Testament (Fortress Press, 1978), 67.]
Here is a summary of the evidence:
The authors of the New Testament, including Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, each tell us that Jesus had brothers. None of these five authors hints that what they mean by adelphoi is anything other than the most natural meaning, i.e., that the brothers are the children of Mary and Joseph, and are therefore biologically the half-brothers of Jesus but legally his full brothers.
Writing independently of the New Testament, Josephus also calls James “the brother of Jesus,” without qualification.
Hegesippus also refers to “the Lord’s brother according to the flesh,” which indicates in the strongest terms that Jesus and his brothers were related by blood. Also, he distinguishes between brothers and cousins. Tertullian certainly taught that the brothers were the children of Mary and Joseph.
Getting their cues from the Docetic Protevangelium of James, Clement of Alexandria and Origen believed that the brothers were the stepbrothers of Jesus, the children of Joseph by a previous marriage.
That is all of the evidence that we possess on this topic from before the fourth century. The view that the brothers were the children of Mary and Joseph survived well into the fourth century.
When one actually considers the evidence, the “Helvidian” theory appears to not have heretical origins.



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Douglas Bilodeau

posted July 15, 2009 at 11:35 am


That was a very instructive and persuasive overview, Phil W. It makes a sold case, at least from the Protestant point of view.
I can imagine a Catholic response which would claim that a growing understanding of Mary’s divine and immaculate nature over the centuries, attested to by many Saints and miracles, would trump even a plain-sense inference from scripture and the opinions of the Fathers. They would have a harder time with such a claim if there were statments in the gosples specifically asserting conjugal relations between Mary and Joseph after the birth of Jesus and saying something like, “And Mary gave birth to James when Jesus was four years old.” That’s much harder to evade than the question of whether ‘adelphoi’ can = ‘cousins’.
To some extent, though, all churches (even those who most adamantly affirm “sola scriptura”) cannot help but to see the scriptures through the lens of a lengthy communal experience of living in Christ. It is the experience of seeing the fruits of faith which help to make the gospel credible at the deepest level (or not, if what we have seen is injustice, bigotry and trauma).
Among Orthodox Jews, Talmud trumps Torah, even though Torah is more sacred, because Torah is more a mystical manifestation of the presence of God than a mere book; its letters are the DNA of the cosmos. The “plain sense” of the books of Moses are potentially a snare for the naive, and only the accumulated wisdom of the sages can reveal the true meaning.
Again, all churches do the same sort of thing to some extent, because words on a page alone can never translate directly to life in the Spirit. But Protestantism tries to make the connection between text and faith as direct as humanly possible, in order to bring the believer as close to God as possible, without intermediary. (A Catholic would scoff and say that nothing can bring us closer to Christ than taking him physically into our bodies in the mass.) Protestant churches thrive to the extent that they can make the vine which grows from text to a living faith verdant and flowering in works and love.



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E

posted July 15, 2009 at 11:58 am


Thank you, Phil W



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Matthew Schultz

posted July 19, 2009 at 11:26 pm


Fr. Terry Donahue,
Dr. Svendsen has conducted a survey of “heos hou” (which is what needs to be looked at, not just “heos” by itself) throughout the New Testament and contemporary ANE literature:
“This construction [heos hou] is used in Matt. 1:25 and so is of special interest here. It occurs only seventeen times in the NT, and all are temporal. Two of these have the meaning ‘while’ (Matt. 14:22; 26:36), whereas the other fifteen occurrences are instances in which the action of the main clause is limited by the action of the subordinate clause and require the meaning ‘until a specified time (but not after)’” (Who Is My Mother? [Calvary Press, 2001] p. 52).
His survey is extensive, covering many pages, and lists examples such as Matthew 17:9, Luke 22:18, Acts 21:26 and 2 Peter 1:19. The evidence strongly suggests that Matthew did not view Mary as a perpetual virgin.



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Fr. Terry Donahue, CC

posted July 27, 2009 at 9:04 pm


I’m familiar with Dr. Svensen’s survey and his claim “that heõs hou in all the literature of the two centuries surrounding the birth of Christ, when it means ‘until,’ always terminates the action of the main clause. That is an irrefutable fact”.
This claim is demonstrably false. I’d suggest the following rebuttals by John Pacheco and David Palm
Heõs Hou and the Protestant Polemic http://www.catholic-legate.com/articles/heoshou.html
The Non-Rule of Mr. Svendsen http://www.catholic-legate.com/articles/heoserrors11.html



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Your Name

posted July 28, 2009 at 10:07 am


Fr. Terry Donahue, CC:
Thanks for the links.
While the articles you linked to seem to demonstrate that some of what Dr. Svensen claims about the meaning of heôs hou may be incorrect (since I have not read his paper(s), I don’t know exactly what he says or claims other than the short quotes the articles excerpted), I don’t think they prove that the meaning of Matthew 1:25 is that Joseph kept Mary a virgin after Jesus’ birth.
Note that I’m not saying that’s what the critics of Dr. Svensen were attempting to do. Rather, it seems to me that debunking Dr. Svensen’s claim leaves us with Matthew 1:25 not clearly saying anything one way or the other re: Mary’s postpartum virginity. (And I think that’s what the authors of the linked articles say, too.)
I think, though, that if Matthew had wanted to make the point that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus’ birth, he would have written something other than (or more than) what he did.



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book a hotel cheap

posted August 23, 2010 at 9:09 pm


Ago Impression,responsibility apply display why base explain particular thanks bus hold entirely me no-one pull capable weekend living fall where kill information environmental human focus level say sentence recent wonderful result speaker early reform aware through result family hence criterion end lunch latter father performance number incident average rest entire lawyer fresh mark district increasingly principle clear science knee somebody horse lead smile milk fly front address anything house involve run never exist military impact that rural proper trip box appointment below court opportunity injury



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park south stan

posted September 7, 2010 at 7:11 pm


Have you considered writing professionally? Like a periodical or something?



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acai fruit drinks

posted October 7, 2010 at 6:58 pm


Realy cool stuff, Me managed to make my blog
My bro cant wait for your next posts.
Bye Bye



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colon cleanse

posted October 11, 2010 at 8:31 pm


A friend of mine just emailed me one of your articles from a while back. yours truly read that one a few more.
Very interesting posts and well written.



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