Was Jesus Christ a virgin

Biblical Studies: The Family of Jesus - Was Mary a Virgin or Married Several Times?

Hardly any of the shopaholics who storm the shops on December 8th knows the reason why this day is a public holiday. According to Christian doctrine, the Mother of God had by no means conceived her son Jesus at the "Conception of Mary". Many a Christian wondered why Jesus was born 16 days later and not after nine months. According to Christian tradition, the real meaning of the festival, which has been celebrated for more than a thousand years, is that Jesus' grandparents Joachim (Jojakim) and Anna (Hannah) fathered their daughter Maria on that day and that she remained "immaculate". According to Christian doctrine, every person is burdened with the burden of "original sin" when they are conceived by their ancestors. Mary, however, was spared what qualified her as the mother of Jesus.

For centuries, the Catholic Church has painted the image of a virgin Mary who never had sexual intercourse with her husband Joseph, therefore, apart from the divine Jesus, she bore no children and remained sinless throughout her life. All the more it may surprise many people that the New Testament reports on the brothers and sisters of Jesus and even mentions their names. Biblical scholars and representatives of Christian denominations answer the question differently whether these are really Jesus' siblings. In any case, one of his brothers, called James, may have played a decisive role in the early Christian community.

In his recently published book "The Jesus Dynasty", the renowned researcher James D. Tabor, head of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, now proposes that several brothers of Jesus played central roles in early Christianity, but that the memory of her had been deliberately blurred. In addition, many elements of today's Christianity would deviate seriously from the authentic message of Jesus of the past.

In the past few years, numerous books and films have appeared that show very different images of Jesus. Some authors see him as a socially committed rebel, others as a pious, thoughtful preacher. In his fictional novel “Da Vinci Code”, the US writer Dan Brown even says Jesus had a close relationship with Mary Magdalene. In contrast to such mostly speculative writings, scientific research in recent years has also been able to work out many new facts about Jesus and his surroundings.

John. It was a troubled time Jesus was born into. When in the year 4 BC When King Herod the Great, appointed by Rome and known to be extremely violent, died, revolts broke out all over Palestine, which is why the Romans sent the general Varus to Galilee, who crucified thousands of rebels along the streets. The city of Sepphoris, which is close to Jesus' hometown Nazareth, had Varus completely destroyed. Incidentally, it was Varus whose troops were slaughtered by Germanic warriors in the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9.

Little is known about Jesus' early years. Like Mary's husband Joseph, he is also referred to in the Bible as "tekton", which is mostly translated as carpenter, but also generally refers to people working in construction. Archaeologists suspect that Jesus may have helped rebuild Sepphoris. Only when he met his relative John, known as the Baptist, who according to early Christian tradition was distant, did Jesus enter the historical stage. John called people to moral conversion, this inner new beginning being celebrated with a baptism, an immersion in the Jordan. John plays a rather subordinate role in the New Testament, which is probably due to the fact that his meaning faded when decades later the Christian doctrine of Christ as the Son of God was formulated. According to Tabor's analysis, the great importance of John was deliberately blurred in order to emphasize Jesus even more.

Christian theologians have already had problems explaining why Jesus was baptized by John and not the other way around. Presumably, John was originally the better known preacher and Jesus was just one of his disciples. According to Tabor, a certain passage in the Gospel of Luke (11.1) can even be interpreted as meaning that the Our Father prayer does not come from Jesus, but from John the Baptist. However, the point is ambiguous. Either the disciples asked Jesus for the prayer John taught, or they asked him for a prayer of the kind that John had taught.

By the way, numerous ancient scriptures show that people at that time were expecting not one, but two saviors: a priest and a king, on whose arrival, with God's help, a righteous age, a kingdom of God on earth, would begin. With the appearance of John and Jesus, this prophecy now seemed to come true. The crowds streamed towards the two preachers from all directions.

Expert Tabor, who has also carried out archaeological research in Palestine for years, during recent excavations came across reliefs that could possibly provide direct evidence of the baptismal activity carried out by John and Jesus. During the years of excavation, which was completed in spring 2006, Tabor and the Israeli archaeologist Shimon Gibson uncovered a cave near Suba near Jerusalem, not far from the former birthplace of John. The researchers found scratched drawings on the walls of the cave depicting a gesticulating, apparently preaching man in a fur apron, a severed head and a sword on a plate. These representations probably come from pilgrims from the 5th century and probably show John who, as is well known, was beheaded. Beneath many layers with relics from the Islamic period, the Crusader era, the Byzantine and Roman culture, the excavation team came across thousands of shards of vessels that date from the time of Jesus and were scattered next to a water basin. Tabor thinks it is possible that a kind of cleansing baptism took place here, as John and Jesus would have practiced. However, this interpretation is controversial.

At the beginning of the year 28, Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, had John arrested. According to the Gospel of Mark because of John's public criticism that the married Herod had stolen his wife from his biological brother. The Jewish historian Josephus, on the other hand, gives the reason that Herod was concerned about John's growing influence on the population.

In the south, in Judea, where Jesus was staying, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who had come to power, provoked the population by disregarding their religious traditions. He bloodily suppressed the unrest that then broke out. The Romans wanted stability, and a prophet like Jesus, descendant of King David, who mobilized the masses and spoke of a just kingdom to come, disrupted this plan. So Jesus and his followers left the Jerusalem area and wandered north, to a remote region of Galilee. After some time in secret, the growing group, which included many women (Luke 8: 1), gathered in Capernaum on the shores of Lake Genesareth.

The twelve. Jesus selected twelve men from among his closest confidants who, according to Christian doctrine, were assigned spiritual tasks such as preaching and healing (see box on page 114). More recent hypotheses consider it possible that in a future “just kingdom” they should also symbolically or real “rule over the twelve tribes of Israel”, as indicated, for example, in Luke (22:30).

Some of the twelve listed apostles appear frequently in the New Testament, others are just mentioned without our being told any details about them. This in the dark group includes James the Younger, Judas Thaddäus and Simon the Zealot. In his book Tabor presents various indications that these three could be brothers of Jesus. In fact, the Bible reports about Jesus' brothers and sisters and even mentions their names in the Gospel of Mark (6: 3) (see box on page 114). Three of the four brothers are named James, Judas and Simon - the same names as those apostles.

While the Evangelical Church considers the existence of physical brothers of Jesus to be conceivable, other Christian denominations assume that they were cousins ​​or sons of Joseph's first marriage. For the Catholic Church, for example, it is difficult to imagine the physical brothers of Jesus, since the image of a chaste Virgin Mary does not go hand in hand with a large number of children. Behind this point, too, Tabor believes that there is an intention: The important role of these brothers and sisters has been made illegible in many texts in order to blur the human facets of Jesus and to emphasize his divine nature.

Markus Öhler, Protestant expert on early Christianity and professor at the Institute for New Testament Studies at the University of Vienna, believes this accusation, which has often been made of deliberate obscurity, is wrong. Because then it would be difficult to explain why the brothers were not completely deleted from the texts. In an interview with profil, Tabor countered this idea that there was probably no general authority such as a council that would have taken care of it. If so, it was done slowly and gradually, as a textual analysis of the Acts of the Apostles might suggest.

It cannot be proven whether these three brothers are actually identical with the apostles. The identity of the names could just as easily be a coincidence. The presumption that those apostles are identical with the “Lord Brothers”, however, has been around for a long time. For example, old prayer texts in the Minorite Church in Vienna and in the Am Hof ​​Church expressly refer to the apostle Judas Thaddäus as “relatives of our Lord”. In the 840-page encyclopedia “The Year of the Saints”, which was printed as early as 1965 with the permission of the Church, the brothers Jesus are also incidentally identified with the apostles of the same name. In the Catholic tradition, however, “male brother” is understood there as a cousin. Alleged bone remains of these three apostles can be found in the reliquary collection of the Vienna Treasury, where the Habsburgs collected a considerable amount of devotional objects, including an alleged tooth of John the Baptist and an alleged fragment of a tablecloth from the Last Supper. A mummified hand is kept in the Anna Church in downtown Vienna, which is said to have come from Jesus' grandmother Anna.

The interpretations that concern the Blessed Mother are also highly contradictory. According to the Gospel of John (19:25), Mary had a sister of the same name who was married to a certain Klopas. Peter Arzt-Grabner, papyrologist and Catholic New Testament scholar in the Department of Biblical Studies and Church History at the University of Salzburg, refers to the fact that in a Roman environment two sisters could definitely bear the same name. Because that would be inconceivable in Jewish families, Tabor now sees one and the same person in both Marys, namely the mother of Jesus. Since Joseph is never mentioned again in the Bible after Jesus' birth, he considers it possible that the widowed Mary married his brother Klopas after Joseph's untimely death, as was the case in Jewish tradition.

It is also noteworthy in this context that both the apostle James the Younger (whom Tabor sees as the brother of Jesus) and Jesus' brother Simon are referred to in some passages as the "son of Alphaeus". Alphaios, however, is the Greek translation of the name Klopas, which, according to Tabor, could also mean that Jesus' brothers may have been children of that Klopas. However, this interpretation is classified as rather speculative by other experts.

Departure. When John the Baptist was beheaded on the orders of Herod Antipas, Jesus and his followers withdrew to the Bethsaida area on the Lake of Genesareth - an area that was just outside Herod's sphere of influence (Luke 9:10). Several apostles came from this place. Wherever Jesus went, crowds flocked to see and hear him. At times the rush was so great that Jesus and his closest confidants had to flee in a boat on the lake to row to another village. Remnants of a fishing boat from this time were found in the mud on the west bank of the lake near Magdala in 1986 when the water level sank sharply after a long period of drought. The eight meter long boat dates from between 100 BC. and 70 AD

The growing unrest in the population was probably what triggered the decision to end the activities of Jesus in the ranks of the priesthood and among the followers of Herod Antipas (Mark 3: 6). Nevertheless, in the spring of 30, Jesus decided to move to Jerusalem with his growing following. On the way he selected 72 disciples and sent them ahead in groups of two to all the settlements so that they could proclaim that “the kingdom of God is at hand”. Almost the entire population of Galilee made their way to Jerusalem at this time to celebrate the Passover, which commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. The core of the group around Jesus included the twelve, among whom, according to Tabor, were also Jesus' brothers, as well as his mother and sisters, but also Mary Magdalene and Salome, the mother of the apostles James and John.

Tabor refers to many symbols that can only be understood with knowledge of the Old Testament. A blind man who speaks loudly to Jesus in the midst of a crowd at Jericho as "the son of David" is attempted by those who are faithful to Jesus to silence. Because this designation was more than explosive, since it would have identified Jesus as the Messiah or rightful King of Israel, which would have been dangerous because the Romans would have interpreted it as high treason. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, the people spread out pieces of clothing and branches in front of him. With these symbols they greet him as their king, because in Psalm 118 it is said that the people would greet that man with branches who comes in the name of God. And the prophet Zechariah (9: 9) had prophesied that the future king would humbly arrive in Jerusalem on a donkey.

Jerusalem. Religious scholars agree that the reports on Jesus' condemnation to death were clearly exaggerated in an anti-Jewish way. All four Gospels were written after the great Jewish uprising against Rome (AD 66 to 73), at a time when Rome was marked by anti-Jewish resentment. If the Christian movement was to gain support in this environment, Jewish and anti-Roman elements would have to be largely blurred. Now Jesus had died on a Roman cross, that couldn't be hidden. At least the story was turned as if the Roman Pilate wanted to release Jesus. It was only because the Jewish crowd shouted “Cross with him!” That Pilate gave in and washed his hands in innocence.

According to the Gospel of Matthew (27.25), the people even shouted: “The blood of Jesus be upon us and our children!” The actor, director and producer Mel Gibson, who is close to a fundamentalist Christian sect and who recently attracted attention with anti-Semitic statements, repeatedly in his Hollywood epic “The Passion of Christ” - besides other historical mistakes - precisely this ineradicable cliché that “the Jews have Jesus on their conscience”. In fact, Pilate, notorious for his temper and vindictiveness, would not have hesitated to condemn even the smallest troublemaker to death. Allegations such as the "threat to the internal order of the country" or the "presumption of being king or messiah of Israel" were enough for Rome to nail someone to the cross in any case.

Succession. In the description contained in the New Testament of how the followers of Jesus developed in the following years, Tabor once again locates signs of a falsification of historical facts. According to Roman Catholic teaching, the apostle Peter took over the leadership of the orphaned movement. He and Paul acted as “pillars of the young Christian faith” and preached in the entire Roman world, ultimately also in Rome itself, which later rose to become the world capital of the Catholic Church. Peter's authority as the "first pope" became a cornerstone of Catholic dogmatics. Tabor considers this version to be a falsification of history. He refers to numerous early Christian text sources (but not contained in the Bible) that expressly state that it was not Peter but Jesus' brother James who led the orphaned Jesus community. This is the case with Eusebios, for example, who uses it to quote statements by the church writers Clement of Alexandria and Hegesippus. The Gospel of Thomas (Proverb 12), which is not contained in the Bible, also names James as a leader, as does the “Ascents of James” (Greek: Anabathmoi Iakobou).

The Bible, however, seems to be almost completely silent about the leading role of James. Hidden hints can only be found in Paul's letter to the Galatians. The relationship of Jesus is also largely left out, probably to emphasize his divine nature. After the crucifixion of Jesus, James undoubtedly played an important role, the Salzburg papyrologist Arzt-Grabner concedes. In earliest Christianity there was probably no unified movement and therefore no common leader. In order to appreciate the role of James, one need not neglect the importance of other characters like Paul or Peter. The fact that the “Jewish-Christian” direction, which was mainly represented by James, disappeared again after a relatively short time (which can rightly be seen as a movement within Judaism) is a great loss, according to Doktor-Grabner.

At this time there was likely to have been more serious disputes between this “Jewish Christian” group in Jerusalem and the “Gentile Christian” group about Paul who was missionary in the Mediterranean. The James group apparently saw their goal similar to Jesus in a call to moral action within the existing Jewish religion. The Paulus group, on the other hand, formulated a largely new theology which, according to Tabor, deviated seriously from the authentic message of Jesus and which also shapes our Christianity today (see box on the left).

But what happened to the followers of Jesus in Judea? Jesus' brother James was stoned to death in 62 at the instigation of the temple priests. The Bible no longer reports on it, but the Jewish historian Josephus and the Christian writers Eusebios and Epiphanios write about it. Epiphanios reports that a certain "Simon, son of Klopas" (according to Tabor, the brother of James and Jesus) witnessed the murder and tried in vain to prevent it. Simon became the successor of James, as Eusebios reports. From all these texts Tabor concludes that the movement originally led by John and Jesus was actually continued by Jesus' brothers James, Simon and perhaps even Judas Thaddäus.

While science knows very well about the early Pauline Christianity, the further fate of Jesus' followers in Judea is largely in the dark. When another massive uprising broke out in Palestine, 50,000 Roman soldiers reduced Jerusalem to rubble in the year 70. Eusebios and Epiphanios tell of traditions that the group led by Simon fled to the land east of the Jordan and dispersed there. When another uprising broke out in Palestine in 132, during the reign of Hadrian, Jerusalem was finally destroyed and rebuilt as the Roman colony Aelia Capitolina. A Jupiter sanctuary was built on the ruins of the Jewish temple.

Ebionites. The descendants of those emigrated Jesus followers, so-called Ebionites, lived east of the Jordan in the 4th century. According to Eusebios, they rejected the Christ teaching of the main church and saw in Jesus a person who was naturally begotten by “Mary and her husband” (Church history 3:27). Furthermore, they insisted on obeying the Jewish laws and rejected Paul's teachings on the grounds that Paul was a traitor to the original faith. Eusebios, a friend of the Roman emperor Constantine, condemned all views of the Ebionites as damnable heresies.

In the epilogue to his book, James D. Tabor writes that his research results and conclusions do not want to "tear down" anything and not injure any religious feelings. It is not easy to find the authentic messages of John, Jesus and James in the midst of the many texts and doctrines. Such a scientifically founded search is a central need of many people and a fascinating task for historical science. It enables a rehabilitation and appreciation of the great personalities John, James and other members of the family of Jesus, and it offers fascinating insights into the actual, lasting and provocative core of his teaching. By Gerhard Hertenberger