St. Joseph

Was Mary a teenager when she gave birth to Jesus?

Was Mary a teenager when she gave birth to Jesus?

And it came to pass that the weirdest religious quote of 2017 occurred when Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore was accused of sexual assault upon girls who were ages 14 and 16 when he was in his early 30s.

Moore denied this. But State Auditor Jim Ziegler leapt to his fellow Republican’s defense by offering the Washington Examiner this head-scratcher: “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here, maybe just a bit unusual."

That “took my breath away,” says Michigan State University’s Christopher Frilingos.

Sexual morality aside, Ziegler scuttled a prime tenet of biblical orthodoxy by indicating that the holy couple sired Jesus through normal sexual relations. The Bible’s two separate Nativity accounts specify that Mary was a virgin who conceived miraculously so that Jesus had no mortal father and Joseph was a stepfather or legally adoptive parent.

That brings to mind another attempted Bible rewrite by the late Jane Schaberg, an ex-nun and feminist “Goddess” devotee teaching at Catholicism’s University of Detroit. Her 1987 book “The Illegitimacy of Jesus” saw a New Testament cover-up in which Jesus’ biological father raped or seduced Mary while she was engaged to Joseph.

That harked back to an ancient Jewish tale, included in the Talmud, that Jesus was the “son of Panthera,” supposedly a Roman soldier. It’s possible Jesus’ opponents were leveling such an accusation when they told him “we are not illegitimate children” (John 8:41) as though Jesus was. Today’s skeptics post such stuff all across the Internet, hoping readers will ignore that the New Testament Gospels are our earliest, thus most reliable, sources.

Well, then, what about Ziegler’s claim that the pregnant Mary was “a teenager” and Joseph an older “adult”?

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Can teens study the Bible on non-sectarian terms? This project says ... yes they can

Can teens study the Bible on non-sectarian terms? This project says ... yes they can

Few if any U.S. media noted that Nov. 12–18 was National Bible Week, but the origin of the observance has feature potential for this time next year.

That’s because in 1941 the NBC radio network, with the blessing of President Roosevelt, launched the first Bible Week by devoting a Sunday to on-air readings from the Good Book, something unimaginable in 2018. And as it happened, the chosen date was Dec. 7, so Scripture had to be interspersed with breaking news bulletins on Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack.

Here’s a different bid for biblical penetration of culture, in case your outlet hasn’t covered it yet. Since 2005, the non-profit Essentials in Education (E.I.E.) of New York City has campaigned for U.S. public high schools to offer elective courses on the Bible that are academically valid, fully legal under the U.S. Constitution, and acceptable to believers of any religion –- or none.   

E.I.E. does this with “The Bible and Its Influence,” its innovative and carefully non-sectarian textbook, sold in print and digital formats. The publication (.pdf here) benefits from a notably broad lineup of 40 consultants, with lawyers and public school educators alongside Jewish, “mainline” Protestant, evangelical, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Mormon representatives.

To date, “Influence” has been taught in 640 schools in 44 states (the exceptions are Delaware, Iowa, Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming). Nine states have passed laws that encourage schools to offer such non-sectarian Bible courses (Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Kentucky, which joined the list in June).

The latest angle, discussed at an Oct. 24 presser, is efforts to go global. There have been discussions with members of parliament in Brazil, Finland and Great Britain;  pilot projects in Canada, Rwanda, South Korea, Taiwan and Communist China; and academic conferences on this concept in Australia, the Philippines and even Hindu-dominated India.

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The bizarre twist that pulled St. Joseph the Betrothed into Judge Roy Moore's media storm

The bizarre twist that pulled St. Joseph the Betrothed into Judge Roy Moore's media storm

To the left of my computer in my Oak Ridge office is an icon of the saint that the ancient churches of the East know as St. Joseph the Betrothed. In the West he is often called St. Joseph the Worker.

I found this icon (see photo at top of post) in a Greek church shop while visiting Thessaloniki more than a decade ago.

Now, St. Joseph is not my patron saint (that would be St. Brendan of Ireland). However, I grew closer to this saint and to this icon in particular when I became a grandfather. Along with millions of other Christians in ancient churches, I ask St. Joseph to join me in my daily prayers for my marriage, my children and, especially, my grandchildren.

Icons containing this specific image are important, in terms of church tradition, because St. Joseph is shown holding the Christ child, an honor customarily reserved for St. Mary the mother of Jesus. Also note that the saint is depicted as an elderly man, as shown by his gray hair and beard.

Believe it or not, details of this kind have become important in a ridiculous story currently making headlines in American politics. I jest not, as shown in this Religion News Service story that ran with the headline: "Conservatives defend Roy Moore -- invoking Joseph, Mary and the Ten Commandments."

(RNS) -- Conservative Christian supporters of Roy Moore are defending the U.S. Senate candidate against allegations of molesting a teenager decades ago -- and one of them used the biblical story of Mary and Joseph to rationalize an adult being sexually attracted to a minor.

OK, for starters, what is the meaning of the word "conservatives" -- plural -- in that headline? In terms of the Joseph and Mary part of this debate, it would appear that it would be more accurate to say "one evangelical Protestant," or something like that. I mean, is the assumption that there are no "conservative" Catholics or "conservative" Orthodox Christians? At this point, does "conservative Christian" automatically mean white evangelical Christians?

This bizarre side trip into church history is, of course, linked to that Washington Post blockbuster the other day that ran with this headline: "Woman says Roy Moore initiated sexual encounter when she was 14, he was 32."

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