Notes on the Infancy Gospel of James, pt. 3 (chapters 5-8)

We will now continue with chapters 5-8.

Chapter 5

“And on the following day he brought his offerings, saying in himself: If the Lord God has been rendered gracious to me, the plate on the priest’s forehead will make it manifest to me. And Joachim brought his offerings, and observed attentively the priest’s plate when he went up to the altar of the Lord, and he saw no sin in himself. And Joachim said: Now I know that the Lord has been gracious unto me, and has remitted all my sins. And he went down from the temple of the Lord justified, and departed to his own house. And her months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna brought forth. And she said to the midwife: What have I brought forth? and she said: A girl. And said Anna: My soul has been magnified (εμεγαλύνθη) this day. And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary.”

In spite of being visited by angels in the countryside, Joachim goes to the Temple to ascertain the will of God. This central role of the Temple in the story cannot be overstated. The theme of leaving the Temple “justified” recalls the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee in Luke 18:14.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

λέγω ὑμῖν κατέβη οὗτος δεδικαιωμένος εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτοῦ παρ’ ἐκεῖνον ὅτι πᾶς  ὑψῶν ἑαυτὸν ταπεινωθήσεται  δὲ ταπεινῶν ἑαυτὸνὑψωθήσεται

Compare with the Greek of the PJ.

Καὶ κατέβη ἐκ τοῦ ναοῦ Κυρίου δεδικαιωμένος, καὶ ἥκει ἐν τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτοῦ.

The humble Joachim was reckoned apart from the righteous by “Reuben,” the namesake of a great sinner and Patriarch. Like the Publican, it is the humble man Joachim who goes away justified by God but despised by men. The repetition of ταπεινοῖς in chapters 2, 13, and 15, as well as the general theme of humility/shame is fundamental, as is the repetition of “the exalted” (ὑψῶν) in chapters 6, 7, 11, 12, and 19. While the concept of exaltation in this chapter is expressed by Ἐμεγαλύνθη (from μεγαλύνω, meaning “to make great”). As we will see, the humiliation of the righteous has not yet reached the point of fulfillment, nor has the exaltation of the righteous.


Chapter 6

“And the child grew strong day by day; and when she was six months old, her mother set her on the ground to try whether she could stand, and she walked seven steps and came into her bosom; and she snatched her up, saying: As the Lord my God liveth, thou shall not walk on this earth until I bring thee into the temple of the Lord. And she made a sanctuary in her bed-chamber, and allowed nothing common or unclean to pass through her. And she called the undefiled daughters of the Hebrews, and they led her astray. And when she was a year old, Joachim made a great feast, and invited the priests, and the scribes, and the elders, and all the people of Israel. And Joachim brought the child to the priests; and they blessed her, saying: O God of our fathers, bless this child, and give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations. And all the people said: So be it, so be it, amen. And he brought her to the chief priests; and they blessed her, saying: O God most high (ὑψωμάτων), look upon this child, and bless her with the utmost blessing, which shall be for ever. And her mother snatched her up, and took her into the sanctuary of her bed-chamber, and gave her the breast. And Anna made a song to the Lord God, saying: I will sing a song to the Lord my God, for He hath looked upon me, and hath taken away the reproach of mine enemies; and the Lord hath given the the fruit of His righteousness, singular in its kind, and richly endowed before Him. Who will tell the sons of Rubim that Anna gives suck? Hear, hear, ye twelve tribes of Israel, that Anna gives suck. And she laid her to rest in the bed-chamber of her sanctuary, and went out and ministered unto them. And when the supper was ended, they went down rejoicing, and glorifying the God of Israel.”

Here again we have the child living in a temple-like environment even before being dedicated to the Temple. She lived in a “sanctuary in her bedroom” (ἁγίασμα ἐν τῷ κοιτῶνι αὐτῆς). Note that her “bedroom” is a Temple, not the house. This focus on “sleeping” doesn’t concern the house, but the bedroom. The bed of Mary is completely holy, like the Holy of Holies in the Temple. She is not only pure in general, but sexually pure (even before she has become a person capable of sexuality). Of course this plays against the allusion to Reuben’s defiling the bed of Israel.

Why and how did the “the undefiled daughters of the Hebrews …led her astray” (διε-
πλάνων)? Matthews renders this “they played with her” while James has ” they carried her hither and thither.” The verb used is a combination of the verb πλανάω (to wander, stray, be deceived) and the preposition διά (through, by). This compound word is very unusual and is not found in the LXX. We can say by the context of the passage that the Hebrew virgins simply “led” her around. They were her caretakers, along with Anna. Roberts-Donaldson make such a blunder here with the translation that one wonders if they understood the text at all. Their rendering has the undefiled Hebrew virgins doing the opposite of what the narrative suggests. They have her being “defiled” by the virgins, and yet somehow still remaining pure, an impossibility and complete nonsense in the context of the story.

Were there virgins in the Temple? Scholars almost unanimously affirm that there were not, yet the Nutzman gives a number of reasons why this judgement is incorrect (read her excellent article here). It seems that modern scholarship is finally coming to a more realistic and less dogmatic view of ancient Jewish practices. The OT and literature of the period give several witnesses to the tradition of Temple virgins. Nutzman also points out that Mary fits the description of the three categories of women associated with the Temple. The narrative is historically plausible on this issue, at least to the degree that the Gospel accounts are historically plausible.


Chapter 7

“And her months were added to the child. And the child was two years old, and Joachim said: Let us take her up to the temple of the Lord, that we may pay the vow that we have vowed, lest perchance the Lord send to us, and our offering be not received. And Anna said: Let us wait for the third year, in order that the child may not seek for father or mother. And Joachim said: So let us wait. And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified (Ἐμεγάλυνεν) thy name in all generations. In thee, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her. “

Joachim suggests that Mary be brought to the Temple when she is two years old, but Anna counters that they should wait until she is three. Joachim agrees and at the age of three she is presented to the priest who blesses her in the manner above. Nutzman observes that three was the age when a baby girl moves into the category of marriable women. This means that Mary’s time in the Temple was in a sort of “limbo”: she was not an infant, but a possible bride. She was not old enough to conceive, though, but only to marry or be given in marriage.

Here again we have the name of Mary being “magnified” as we saw Anna’s soul was magnified in ch. 5.

The chapter ends with “all the house of Israel loved her” (καὶ ἠγάπησεν αὐτὴν πᾶς [ὁ] οἶκος Ἰσραήλ), recalling Barnabas 5:8

Yea and further, He preached teaching Israel and performing so many
wonders and miracles, and He loved him exceedingly (καὶ ὑπερηγάπησεν αὐτόν)

The text of Barnabas here has a variant, and it is unclear as to whether Israel loved Jesus exceedingly or vice versa. At any rate, it seems to be a bit of an echo.


Chapter 8

“And her parents went down marvelling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel. And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of the priests, saying: Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, test perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord? And they said to the high priest: Thou standest by the altar of the Lord; go in, and pray concerning her; and whatever the Lord shall manifest unto thee, that also will we do. And the high priest went in, taking the robe with the twelve bells into the holy of holies; and he prayed concerning her. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by him, saying unto him: Zacharias, Zacharias, go out and assemble the widowers of the people, and let them bring each his rod; and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. And the heralds went out through all the circuit of Judaea, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all ran.”

The miraculous feeding of Mary and the comparison of her to a dove is obviously on the level of symbolism. But this does not mean that we should discount that a woman could be there, nor should we conclude that the whole story is a metaphor alone. Note that an “angel” was a designation for a priest or a holy person, not necessarily an angelic being.

Note also that a “dove” recalls some formative moments in Scripture: the flood/ark, the keeping of sacrificial doves in the Temple precincts (source), and the descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove (Luke). Mary is therefor put in the category of a passenger in the Ark (a symbol of the Temple/Church), a sacrifice for the poor (see the Magnificat, in spite of her “rich” parents), and the Spirit in the Temple. All three examples involve feeding: the dove on the Ark returns because it could find no food outside of the Ark, the doves raised in the Temple precincts were fed by Levites (angels) to be slaughtered to God, and the Spirit is “fed” the sacrifices offered in the Temple.

Nutzman points out that Mary is said to be in the Holy of Holies not by the narrator, but by the priest. In ch. 8 Zacharias goes into the Holy of Holies to pray about what to do with Mary. In ch. 13 Joseph claims that Mary was raised in the Holy of Holies, and the priest repeats the same thing (verbatim) in ch. 15. Yet in the narrative of the event itself, the text says that Mary was raised in the Temple (as is the recollection of Joseph in ch. 19), even though the recalling of this event later stipulates that she was raised in the Holy of Holies.

One difficulty with the passage above is that the age of Mary is not given precisely. Has she been in the Temple for 12 years? Is she 12 years old and in the Temple? We will have to look at the Greek to verify this properly.

And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of the priests, saying

Γενομένης δὲ <αὐτῆς> ιβετοῦς, συμβούλιον ἐγένετο τῶν ἱερέων λεγόντων·

The English points to Mary being 12 in the Temple. But the Greek says that she “Γενομένης”…”ιβετοῦς.” Γενομένης means “to become or be”, and is conjugated as an aorist “middle” participle. The “middle” aspect means that she was somewhat passive in the action, or that the action was reciprocal. “αὐτῆς” is a feminine pronoun referring to Mary, and is the genitive case (“of her”). So a plain reading of the Greek would be “And her being 12 years.” Yet this becomes problematic later, as Mar is said to have conceived Jesus when she was 16, and no information is given regarding the “missing years.” This is the only point of time missing in the entire story, and there is no indication in the text that the author passed over the period in silence. Instead, it seems that the time between Mary being dismissed and the Annunciation is very short, not 3 years. But let’s look at the next Greek phrase regarding Mary’s age.

Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord.

Ἰδοὺ Μαρία γέγονεν ιβετὴς ἐν τῷ ναῷ Κυρίου.

Again Mary is said to “be” or “become” 12 in the Temple. But does this mean that she reached the age of twelve? The allusion to defiling the Temple brings up the issue of menstruation, and many assume that 12 would be the age where that would become a worry. But if the issue were that of menstrual blood, it seems unlikely that the Temple authorities would let a child even approach the age of puberty. She would have been dismissed much earlier, such as 8 years old.

It seems more likely that the author of the PJ is telling us that Mary had “been” in the Temple for 12 years. This would bring her age to 15, and if some object that she would be menstruating at that age, we can counter that she may have been expected to do so years before. The idea that she would be dismissed from the Temple immediately before menstruation is patently ridiculous. The text says she had been in the Temple 12 years, not specifying of that 12 years applies to her full age or her time in the Temple.

Given that the period between her “12th year” and her 16th year is entirely silent except for the sewing of the veil (done twice a year), it stands to reason that this period lasted a year or less. The chronology of Mary’s life in this text is very full, and such a gaping silence about these 3 years seems entirely foreign to the approach of the author. We must conclude that the Greek text is telling us that Mary spent 12 years in the Temple, and that the decision regarding her leaving was done when she was 15.

The final piece of evidence on this issue is the assertion of her being 16 when “these mysteries came to pass.” The Greek rendered as “came to pass” is from γίγνομαι, the same verb used of her “being” 12. Yet the Greek says that she “was” 16, and this verb is a form of “to be” (εἰμί). So the author here distinguishes between the age she “was” (εἰμί) and the the action of “coming to pass” (γίγνομαι). This implies that the earlier figure of 12 deals with what has come to pass with Mary (her being in the Temple) rather than her age. This is confirmed when we look at the first mentions of age in the text, where Mary is said to be 6 months, then 2, and then 3 years old.

The verb used of Mary at 6 months is γίγνομαι, but it is unclear as to whether this is her age or the length of time since the previous narrative action. For example, Anna is purified and nurses Mary. Is the 6 months after birth or purification? The purification would have taken nearly 3 months. So Mary could have been 6 or 9 months.

When the text says that Mary was 2, the verb γίγνομαι is also used. Anna says that they should wait until “the third year.” So here again it is unclear as to what “2” refers to: the length of time since the last narrative action, or the length of time Mary has lived. Anna doesn’t say that they should wait until Mary “becomes” 3, but until “the third year.”

This presentation of the Greek may be a bit confusing, but the bottom line is this: when we are told the age of Mary, the verb used is εἰμί (to be). When we are told of a period of time, the verb used is γίγνομαι (to begin, come to pass). These principles are not woodenly taken from Greek textbooks, but the context of the usage of the words and the narrative approach of the author.

This leaves us with a Mary who was taken to the Temple at 3, dismissed at 15 (an incredibly late date for the issue of menstruation), and then conceives at 16.




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