Remembering Olof James Ribb (1946-2006): Ten Years Ago Today

In my more resigned moments I figure this thing is going to get me sooner or later — it wasn’t exactly caught in the early stages–but all I really want is what I’ve always wanted even before this happened: some good days (without pain) and the opportunity to put things in order, providing for a minimum of fuss after I’m gone. If I can have that, I’ll be happy. It’s quality, not quantity.

Olof James Ribb died ten years ago today on January 16, 2006 of a very aggressive form of bone cancer. Olof was one of those rare friends of a lifetime that some of us are fortunate enough to have. He was one of the truest people I have ever known, a “man in whom there was no guile,” and one of the most brilliant and honest human beings I have ever known. When I think of sterling impeccable character I think of Olof. All who knew him say the same. He had some rare combination of intelligence, brutal honesty, kindness, keen insight, a quest for truth, and a passionate sense of justice. I miss him immensely and think of him every day.

OlofTeaching1972 Web
Olof Teaching Around 1972

Three years ago, in memory of Olof, I posted the draft of a manuscript he finished in 1994 but never published:Excerpts: A Collection of Thoughts, Quotations, and Observations.1 Olof was exceedingly modest about this work and during his lifetime only shared it with a few friends, though he and I talked about publishing it someday and he seemed quite willing but said it would “need a lot of work.” I invite my readers to delve into this rather remarkable collection of random observations on “People, Books and Ideas, Death, Tradition, Politics, Reason and the Mind, Women, Gender, Sex, Morality, and Superstition,” as well as to browse the web site olofribb.com for the many photos, tributes, and memories of Olof Ribb–especially by his students. The section on “Olof’s Thoughts” is particularly fascinating.

Olof was preeminently a linguist, a reader, a thinker–but most of all a teacher, par excellence. He was reluctant to write much formally given his conviction that most of what needed to be said about la condition humaine had already been said far better than he felt he could express things–hence the many quotations in his little book. He was a high school teacher of German and Latin much beloved of students, family, and friends. He could have easily had a Ph.D. and taught at the university level but he felt strongly that high school was the best and most critical place to serve in our culture so he was content with his M.A. in German and Latin. When he won the “Teacher of the Year” award at Western Alamance High School in Burlington, NC, where he was teaching when he died, he commented to a friend who congratulated him, “Thanks, Joy, for your card and congratulations. I certainly bamboozled them!” Olof lived in Greensboro, not far from the UNC campus and spent much time at Chapel Hill as well, both in the libraries and taking post-graduate classes in philosophy, literature, and Classics.

Beginning in January, 1973 Olof and I exchanged letters in the good old-fashioned way, three to five page typed single-spaced, mailed back and forth every week to ten days for over 20 years. The last decade or so we turned to e-mail. I have copies of all our correspondence filling several storage boxes.

Those files are among my most precious possessions, next to family pictures and movies. Someday I hope to publish excerpts–mostly his not mine–as this weekly record of his intellectual and spiritual development over the 33 years of our friendship is truly an impressive legacy.

Olof made a profound difference in countless thousands of lives over the years. German was Olof’s main academic expertise, although he had learned Swedish fluently, Italian, Spanish, and Greek, quite well, and he was a master of Latin.  I think Latin was his favorite, both historically and culturally. His great loves were history, philosophy, religion, and literature, although he maintained a curiosity about almost everything, including the latest in science. He had read the complete works of Nietzsche and dozens of others German philosophers and writers, not to mention his deep love of Classics. He plunged into Swedish with a special passion in the last decades of his life. I remember asking him once, since I knew his Germany was so fluent, if his Swedish would compare, and he answered simply “Yes.”  He had become over 20 years as comfortable in Swedish as in English or German.

I don’t know of anyone inside or outside my academic field who had followed my work and research on the historical Jesus more avidly than Olof. But he was much more of a dialog partner and a critic than a fan. He had studied the Bible line-by-line in his youth and I have his old worn copy with markings and notations on every page–no exaggeration here. Over the years he read and thought himself “out of Christianity,” and in the end even a more Hebraic “process theism,” that I find appealing, failed to grip him. In the oddest way his “skepticism” and even “agnosticism” seemed to have more integrity to it than the creedal statements of so many. He was neither contentious nor pretentious, and was perfectly willing to patiently listen to my own expositions but just found himself unconvinced of what he considered to be the naive assumptions of “certainty” in any sort of biblically oriented faith.  I benefited immensely from his input and we differed sharply on some of these issues.

Olof read every word of my Jesus Dynasty manuscript along the way and gave me helpful feedback on nearly every page. I still have his MS Word “markup” copies of each chapter, filled with his notes.  He traveled with me to Germany when I was doing the Pantera research in October, 2005, just a few months before he died. We had no idea he was even sick but he complained on that trip of a pain in his shoulder that turned out to be a malignant bone tumor. I mention him in the Acknowledgments of that book that was published in April of 2006. Olof never lived to hold a printed copy of the book in his hands but I flew up to Minneapolis the weekend before he died and showed him the final page proofs which pleased him immensely.

I hope all of you will both enjoy and be stimulated by Olof’s thoughts on this tenth anniversary of his death. You may click on these photos to enlarge for viewing.


  1. I want to thank my dear and mutual friend of Olof–Stephen Estes–for scanning and preparing this original manuscript for posting and Olof’s nephew Erick Mortensen who maintains the web site olofribb.com

There’s Something About Mary . . . Magdalene (Part 4)

In early Christian tradition outside the New Testament Mary Magdalene profile is elaborated considerably, she is prominent among the followers of Jesus, she speaks boldly and is often in open conflict with the male disciples, she is an intimate companion of Jesus and he praises her for her superior spiritual understanding and defends her against the criticism of the other apostles who are jealous of her role and standing.

Jesus & Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene as the Apostle of the Apostles

            We have seen how Mary Magdalene, and in some case her female entourage, are portrayed as “first witness” to Jesus’ empty tomb and given the commission to tell the male disciples he is risen in our New Testament gospels. In Mark the women flee from the tomb and say nothing to anyone (Mark 16:9). In Luke they report to the Eleven remaining apostles but their testimony is considered an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11). In Matthew, as the women flee the tomb they meet Jesus, grab hold of his feet, and worship him, and he directs them to tell the male apostles he will meet them in Galilee (Matthew 28:9-10). Finally in John, Mary goes alone to the tomb and has her personal encounter and exchange with Jesus, thus becoming the singular first witness to Jesus raised from the dead and ascending to heaven (John 20:11-18).

Outside the New Testament there are a dozen or so ancient texts, most of them discovered in the last hundred years, that present an alternative “lost” portrait of Mary Magdalene and her role as Jesus’ female apostle extraordinaire—quite literally the apostle of the apostles and the successor to Jesus. Five of them were discovered in Egypt in 1945, buried in a jar in a field outside a village called Nag Hammadi.  These texts are:  The Gospel of Thomas, The Dialogue of the Savior, The First Apocalypse of James, The Gospel of Philip, and The Sophia of Jesus Christ. The others, including Pistis Sophia, The Gospel of Mary, and the Acts of Philip, have turned up in various places, whether on the antiquities market, an archaeological dig, or lost or forgotten in ancient libraries. In these texts Mary Magdalene is Jesus’ intimate confidant and companion, one who possesses unparalleled spiritual insights that she received directly from him. She is praised, but also at times opposed—especially by Peter, leader of the male apostles, who is threatened by her position and status based on her special relationship with Jesus. These texts originate outside the mainstream, that is, the male dominated form of orthodox Christianity that began to take hold and triumph down to the time of Constantine, the first Christian emperor (c. 325 CE). The canonical New Testament, with its twenty-seven approved documents were increasingly seen to be the only authorized texts, inspired by God, while these other sacred texts were marginalized, declared heretical, and eventually lost and forgotten. They are witness to the diverse mix of “Christianities” that were developing in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE before a more singular orthodoxy, backed by Christian councils and creeds, took center stage.

Professor Schaberg has constructed a working profile of Mary Magdalene from these texts, isolating the major elements. She is prominent among the followers of Jesus, she speaks boldly and is often in open conflict with the male disciples, she is an intimate companion of Jesus and he praises her for her superior spiritual understanding and defends her.[i]

Continue reading “There’s Something About Mary . . . Magdalene (Part 4)”

There’s Something About Mary . . . Magdalene (Part 3)

The reason it is so difficult for people today to think of Jesus as a normally married Jew of his time and culture has little to do with the fact that his wife and child are not mentioned in our meager sources. It is based on an ideal of Christian asceticism that began to develop among the church fathers and mothers very early on in the 2nd century CE.

We are dealing here with a culture in which countless women are largely forgotten and unknown, their voices muted by the dominant male culture in which men are seen as the main players.

A Married Jesus and the Silence of the New Testament

            Even though there is no explicit reference to Jesus being married in any of the four gospels or other New Testament writings the silence might turn out to be less deafening than one would suppose. There are several factors one must consider in making the judgment that he lived a celibate single life.[i]

MaryMagdaleneSinner

First, it is important to realize that we know very little about the historical Jesus. What historians are relatively certain about could be written down on a single piece of paper. What we have in the gospels are not biographies of Jesus—far from it—but theological presentations regarding his preaching, healing, and in particular the significance of his death and resurrection. They contain almost no personal information. The gospel of Mark, for example, never names or mentions Jesus’ father while the gospel of John never names his mother. We have one childhood story, when he was twelve years old, and most scholars consider it a standard literary motif, not a historical account (Luke 2:41-52).[ii] We know nothing of his life beyond that point, including his teens and 20s when most Jewish males were expected to marry.

Second, in regards to the Twelve apostles, no wife is specifically mentioned or named for any of them. None of their children are mentioned or named—how many, what they did, or any personal details about them. Most of the Twelve, with the exception of Peter, hardly speak at all in our gospel accounts—a few lines at most.

This silence hardly means that none of them were married. In fact, there is a reference to Peter’s mother-in-law, whom Jesus healed of a fever in Mark 1:30—but her name is never given. Paul refers to the wives of the other apostles and the brothers of Jesus, but again, no names are given (1 Corinthians 9:5). He even mentions that these women accompanied their husbands on their missionary travels. We are dealing here with a culture in which countless women are largely forgotten and unknown, their voices muted by the dominant male culture in which men are seen as the main players.[iii]

Third, celibacy was not considered an ideal or valued lifestyle among Jews in the Greco-Roman period. Even though it is mistakenly believed that the Essenes, who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, valued and practiced celibacy, this notion is a pure invention. They were one of the three major Jewish groups of this period, along with Pharisees and Sadducees. This misunderstanding stems from the reports of Josephus the Jewish historian (37-100 CE), Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish Hellenistic philosopher (20 BCE-50 CE), and Pliny, the Elder, a Roman official (23-79 CE) about the Essenes. Each of these writers projected their own admiration of celibate idealism onto the Essenes, though, ironically, each of these writers was married. Josephus, for example, in writing of the sect of the Essenes, makes the following observation about women and marriage:

They [the Essenes] do not absolutely deny the value of marriage, and the succession of the human race is thereby continued; but they guard against the lascivious behavior of women, and are persuaded that none of them preserve their fidelity to one man.[iv]

Such a negative attitude toward women commended here by Josephus, who was unhappily married three times has no basis in history. Philo writes:

[the Essenes] repudiate marriage; and at the same time they practice self-control to a remarkable degree; for no one of the Essenes ever marries a wife, because a wife is a selfish creature, addicted to jealousy and skilled at beguiling the morals of her husband and seducing him by her continued deceptions.[v]

Pliny the Elder says that the Essenes “have no women and have renounced all sexual desire.[vi] We know that what each of these men claim about the Essenes is untrue. What is most telling here is that none of these three were celibate, all were married.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, representing over 600 texts of the period before and after the time of Jesus, were discovered hidden away in caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea between 1947 and 1956, never hint at celibacy, but quite the opposite. Like other pious Jews of the time, they strictly adhered to the first commandment in the Torah: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). The Scrolls are full of instructions about marriage, divorce, and avoiding fornication, or sex outside of marriage.[vii]

Jesus as well as John the Baptist have been rightly connected to the apocalyptic and messianic ideas in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Though neither was likely a formal member of the Dead Sea community, there are common ideas they share. Since the Dead Sea community is most often identified as Essenes, and it is mistakenly assumed that the Essenes practiced celibacy, the argument is often made that Jesus’ own celibacy arises out of this context

Continue reading “There’s Something About Mary . . . Magdalene (Part 3)”

There’s Something About Mary . . . Magdalene (Part 2)

A Woman Called Magdalene

            Mary Magdalene is referred to by name only twelve times in our New Testament gospels and never again in any of the other New Testament writings. As we have seen she appears at the death scene of Jesus, his burial, and the empty tomb, and then disappears totally from the record. If the New Testament writings were all we had we would be hard pressed to say anything more about her. Before I move to an alternative world of early Christian texts outside the New Testament that present an entirely different picture of her status and relationship to Jesus and the Twelve apostles, I want to briefly examine why she might be called Magdalene, distinguishing her from the other Marys in the gospel narratives—including Jesus’ mother and particularly, Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, with whom she has often been confused.

Judah

In the Greek texts of the gospels she is known by three slightly differing descriptions: Maria the Magdalene, Miriam the Magdalene, and Maria the one called Magdalene.[i] The majority of scholars understand the designation “Magdalene” to refer to the city of Magdala (or Migdal in Hebrew) located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee about seven miles north of Tiberius. The Greeks called the city Taricheia, referring to the pickling of salted fish from the Sea of Galilee, exported throughout the Roman Empire. According to Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, Migdal was walled on the west side and it had a large aqueduct system, a theater, hippodrome, and a market. Josephus describes it in some detail.[ii]

Josephus fortified the city as his headquarters when he became commander of the Jewish forces in Galilee in the 1st Jewish revolt against Rome (66-73 CE). It was culturally and commercially diverse, opulent, and fully exposed to Greco-Roman culture. Shortly after the first Jewish revolt against Rome broke out in 66 CE, the Roman military commander Vespasian, who was later to become emperor, surrounded the city with three Roman legions and laid siege. He stationed 2000 archers on the mountain to the west overlooking the city. There was a great naval battle at its port and thousands of Jews, defenseless in small boats were slaughtered. Josephus, an eyewitness, reports that the Sea of Galilee was red with blood, with stinking corpses filling its shoreline for days to follow. The city finally surrendered and opened its gates while thousands of inhabitants who had fled south toward Tiberius were slaughtered or exiled.[iii] 1200 older people were executed, 6000 of the strongest sent as a gift to the emperor Nero, and 34,400 were sent off as slaves.

Continue reading “There’s Something About Mary . . . Magdalene (Part 2)”

There’s Something About Mary . . . Magdalene (Part 1)

Paul indicates that “seeing the Lord” is an essential criterion for one claiming to be an apostle. According to the book of Acts the main criteria in deciding who would replace Judas Iscariot as the Twelfth apostle after he had betrayed Jesus and killed himself was that the one chosen had been with Jesus in his lifetime and was a “witness to his resurrection.” Not only did Mary Magdalene meet these criteria, she had the additional status of not only being a witness to Jesus’ resurrection but the first witness—even before Peter, James, or any of the Twelve apostles.

MM & Corpse Is it probable that Jesus was married?  And that he could have fathered a child?  These claims are in such direct contradiction to our received tradition that it is hard to believe.  Furthermore, there have been such sensational claims in the past, particularly in the famous novel, The DaVinci Code, that it is important to be skeptical and to base any claims on solid evidence.  It is for this reason that in my last book, The Jesus Dynasty, I argued that I did not believe there was sufficient evidence to argue that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and that they had had a child.  But to be a scholar is to remain open to new data and new interpretations and always to be willing to change one’s position.  Based on new evidence, I now believe that my earlier position was most likely mistaken.

The New Testament says nothing directly about Jesus being married or having a child.  If Jesus had been married with a child would there not be some record, even some hint of this somewhere in the gospels? There are times when the silence of a text speaks volumes. Such silence can reflect absence, ignorance, or suppression. I am now convinced that in the case of Mary Magdalene the silence does not indicate he was unmarried. The authors of the New Testament gospels, written many decades after Jesus’ life, and when most of the original witnesses were dead, were either unaware of Jesus’ wife and child, or more likely, for theological reasons, decided to suppress this information.  The Jesus of these gospels was the divine Son of God, ascended to heaven, and any “earthly,” or sexual ties to a mortal woman were deemed inconceivable. His exalted heavenly status as the Son of God surely precluded him “leaving behind” such mortal remains. The New Testament gospels are male dominated accounts in which the few women who do play a role in Jesus’ life are marginalized and subordinated.   They purportedly did not hold leadership roles equivalent to the male disciples. This is not to say that the gospels are devoid of references to Mary Magdalene’s singular importance in Jesus life. To the contrary, the inclusion of narratives involving Mary Magdalene as intimately involved with Jesus’ mother and his sister in preparing Jesus’ naked corpse for burial, and as the first witness to his resurrection from the dead, signals how central her role must have been in his life. It is as though she could not be written out of the story entirely—but her relatively isolated inclusion in such an intimate and important way makes very little sense overall.

This silence is in sharp contrast to half a dozen other ancient texts that have been discovered in the last hundred years, including several “lost” gospels that are not included in the New Testament.  In these texts, Mary Magdalene is mentioned very prominently, given a role superior to the Twelve apostles, and presented as Jesus’ intimate companion. Even though these texts were written later than the New Testament gospels—most of them dating to the 2nd century CE—they also have their theological axes to grind yet nonetheless bear witness to an expanded and wholly alternative role of Mary Magdalene in Jesus’ life. As such they give voice to a suppressed history and a muted memory that correlates strongly with the evidence in the Talpiot tombs.

 

The fact that the Talpiot tomb contains two ossuaries inscribed with names of women—Maria on one and Mariamene Mara on the second—plus a third ossuary Judas son of Jesus, strongly suggests that one of these two Marys is most likely the mother of the son, and thus the wife of the Jesus buried in this tomb. The DNA evidence done on the bones from the Yeshua and the Mariamene ossuaries, further shows that Mariamene Mara is not Jesus’ mother or his sister, leaving her as a possible candidate for his wife, and thus the mother of the son Judas. Jesus of Nazareth had a mother named Mary, and apparently one of his sisters was also named Mary.[i] If Jesus’ sister Mary were married, which seems likely given the norms of the culture, she would not be in his tomb but in the tomb of her husband. If the Talpiot tomb is that of Jesus and his family, the second Mary—Maria—is most likely either his mother, unless she lived past 70 CE when the tomb went unused.  Alternatively, the second Mary could perhaps be a wife of one of his brothers. That leaves Mariamene Mara as the most likely candidate to be the mother of his child.

There is the related issue of the status of Mary Magdalene. The Mariamene buried in the Jesus family tomb is also known as Mara—the Lady. This title can potentially refer to her place of leadership and authority in the emerging Christian movement, a role that is hinted at by the evidence in the Talpiot tomb but never explicitly indicated in any of our sparse New Testament texts mentioning Mary Magdalene.

What I present here is a consideration of all the relevant ancient textual evidence regarding Mary Magdalene, both inside and outside the New Testament, with the new archaeological evidence from the Talpiot tombs. There is an impressive correlation between much of this textual material and what we observe in the tombs themselves.

Mary Magdalene in the New Testament Gospels

            I begin with our earliest source on Mary Magdalene—the gospel of Mark, most scholars consider to have been written before Matthew, Luke, or John.  According to the gospels, Mary Magdalene is undoubtedly the most mysterious and intriguing woman in Jesus’ life. She appears for the first time completely out of the blue, without any kind of introduction, watching the crucifixion of Jesus from afar. She is named first, surely giving her special priority, and she is associated with an entire group—one might even say, an entourage of women who had followed Jesus down from Galilee to Jerusalem just before the Passover festival began:

There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome, who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him; and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. (Mark 15:40-41).

Luke supplements this tradition of Mark, also emphasizing the many women from Galilee who were followers of Jesus. He names Mary Magdalene first, implying she has some kind of leadership role, but then identifies two others, a certain Joanna, who is the wife of Chuza, a household administrator in the court of Herod Antipas, king of Galilee, and Susanna, otherwise unknown. The implication is that these women are of high standing with financial means. Luke specifies that they provided for the Jesus movement from their means (Luke 8:2-3).

In Mark’s gospel it was Mary Magdalene, along with the other Mary, the mother of Joses, most likely Jesus’ mother, who observe Joseph of Arimathea taking down the bloodied body from the cross, placing him temporarily in a nearby tomb, and sealing the entrance with a heavy stone, until the Passover was over (Mark 15:47).[ii] As soon as the Sabbath day was over Mary Magdalene, accompanied by the other Mary, probably Jesus’ mother, and an unidentified woman named Salome, possibly Jesus’ sister, bought spices so they might return to the tomb early Sunday morning to wash the corpse and complete the rites of burial. Mark relates that early on Sunday morning, again, Mary Magdalene, accompanied by the other Mary and Salome, go to the tomb very early, before the sun is risen, and find the stone rolled away and the body removed. Inside the tomb is a young man dressed in a white linen garment who informs the women that Jesus has been “raised up,” that they are to go and tell his male disciples, and that he is going to meet them in Galilee (Mark 16:1-4).[iii] According to Mark they fled from the tomb in fear and astonishment, saying nothing to anyone. In our oldest copies of Mark that is how the story ends—abruptly and mysteriously, with the promise to the women that Jesus will appear in Galilee in the future. The oldest copies of Mark have this abrupt ending with no “sightings” or appearances of Jesus to anyone. Later manuscripts or copies of Mark add on one of three different alternative endings, composed by editors to try and blunt the abruptness of Mark’s original ending. The fear was that Mark’s account, if left as is, might leave doubt as to Jesus’ resurrection.[iv]

Washing and anointing a corpse for Jewish burial was an honored and intimate task. The body was stripped naked and washed from head to toe. It was taken care of by the immediate family or those closely related. Although these narratives from Mark do not identify Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus, they certainly cast her as taking the lead in carrying out the burial rites for Jesus—an extremely intimate task for a wife, mother, or sister. Matthew and Luke have Mark as their source, and although they relate the story of Jesus’ burial slightly differently, it is unlikely that they have much independent information. It is also entirely possible, writing so many decades after the events, when all of the original witnesses were dead, that they know the tradition of Mary Magdalene’s involvement in Jesus’ burial, and thus find it essential to include her, but have no idea who she was or why she is so prominent in the story they had received.

It is in the gospel of John one finds an alternative narrative tradition, one independent of Mark. What John brings to the table is utterly fascinating and sheds an entirely different light on what might have happened early that first Easter morning John writes that Mary Magdalene came alone to the tomb, very early Sunday morning, while it was still dark. She sees the stone rolled away from the tomb and the body removed and she runs in panic to tell Peter and an unnamed disciple, otherwise identified as the “one whom Jesus loved (John 20:2). What she exclaims to the men is most revealing:

They have taken the Master out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him (John 20:2).[v]

In this account Mary Magdalene’s logical assumption is that the body has been removed from the temporary tomb, which John has already emphasized was a tomb of convenience in an emergency, not a permanent burial cave (John 19:41-42). Her reference to “they” obviously refers to Joseph of Arimathea, assisted by another Sanhedrin member, Nicodemus, whom John says assisted in the initial removal of the body from the cross.

What happens next is a story completely unique to John. Mary Magdalene returns to the empty tomb, weeping outside, she then enters the tomb for the first time to look inside. She sees two angels dressed in white sitting inside. The Greek word translated “angel” (aggelos) can refer to a “messenger,” and does not necessarily mean an angelic non-terrestrial being. These two ask her why she is weeping. She repeats her take of the situation—“Because they have taken away my Master, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13). Just as she replies she turns and sees a man outside the tomb that she takes to be the gardener. He asks her the same question—“Woman, why are you weeping, whom do you seek?” She replies, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have taken him, and I will take him away” (John 20:15). The man then addresses her by name—calling her Miriam, using the Hebrew form of her name. She apparently recognizes the voice and turns to face him, crying out in Hebrew, Rabboni—a diminutive term of endearment meaning “my dear Master.” She recognizes it is Jesus but he tells her not to touch him, adding that he is ascending to heaven (John 20:16-17). For a woman to touch a man in this culture further implies a familial connection. Mary Magdalene returns to the male disciples and tells them what she has seen.

This remarkable story presents Mary Magdalene as the first witness to Jesus’ resurrection. Unlike Mark who has no appearances of Jesus following the empty tomb, or Matthew who has Jesus encountering the Eleven remaining apostles on a misty mountain in Galilee much later, or Luke who relates that Jesus appeared physically to the disciples in a closed room, showing his wounds and eating a meal in front of them—John’s story of Mary Magdalene’s encounter stands in sharp contrast. Even John includes in his gospel additional appearances of Jesus to groups of men, but he alone preserves this Magdalene tradition.

My friend, the late professor Jane Schaberg and others have interpreted this singular experience of Mary Magdalene as forming the core of the resurrection faith of Jesus’ first followers.[vi] It is a personal encounter prompted by an exchange of greetings—Miriam and Rabboni—as if those words signaled a flash of recognition based on personal intimacy.  If one asks—who can lay claim to the first appearance of Jesus after his death John’s story offers a clear answer—it was Mary Magdalene. Matthew knows a garbled version of the story in which the group of women encounter Jesus as they flee from the tomb, but without the personal exchange between Mary and Jesus (Matthew 28:9-10). In Matthew’s story they are mere vehicles who are to carry the news to the male disciples, not independent witnesses whose testimony is valued. Jesus commissions the Eleven remaining apostles and the women are nowhere to be seen (Matthew 28:16-20).

Paul, who wrote in the 50s CE, just twenty years removed from the crucifixion, says explicitly that Jesus appeared first to Peter, then to the Twelve [apostles], then to James, and finally to 500 brothers en mass  (1 Corinthians 15:5). He either knows nothing of the Magdalene tradition, or given his view of women, considers it less merit.  This was after all a time in ancient history when a woman’s testimony in court did not carry the same weight as that of a man. Even in Luke the initial testimony of the women who first visited the tomb is dismissed as an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11). In a male dominated movement how could a hysterical woman, weeping at a tomb, provide any kind of credible testimony?

There is evidence that such a critique was leveled against the developing Christian movement from the late 2nd century CE. Celsus, a pagan philosopher who wrote an attack of the Christians called True Doctrine around 178 CE, says:

Jesus went about with his disciples collecting their livelihood in a shameful and importunate way . . . For in the gospels certain women who had been healed from their ailments, among whom was Suzanna, provided the disciples with meals out of their own substance.[vii]

He does not specifically name Mary Magdalene he seems to have her in mind:

While he was alive he did not help himself, but after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hands had been pierced. But who saw this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those (women) who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion (an experience which has a happened to thousands), or, which is more likely, wanted to impress others by telling this fantastic tale, and so by this cock-and-bull story to provide a change for other beggars.”[viii]

Further on in the same narrative Celsus charges that Jesus “appeared secretly to just one woman and to those of his own confraternity.”[ix] This is without a doubt an accusation based on his reading of the account in the gospel of John. There is evidence that a number of other pagan writers were critical of the female initiative that apparently was central to Christianity’s development.[x]

Is there any likely historical truth to the notion that the faith in Jesus’ resurrection began with this entourage of women led by Mary Magdalene? Schaberg has argued that this singular account in John 20:1-18, where Mary Magdalene encounters and speaks to Jesus in the garden tomb, preserves fragments of a tradition of Mary Magdalene as successor to Jesus—and thus, “first founder” of Christianity, in the sense of authoritative witness to resurrection faith. Whether this early tradition can be connected or not to later Christian texts that present Mary as a leading intellectual and spiritual guide, a beloved companion of Jesus and transmitter of his teachings I will deal with in the subsequent parts of this blog post.

Schaberg, in my view, convincingly shows that the narrative structure of John 20 reflects an imaginative reuse of 2 Kings 2:1-18 where Elijah the prophet ascends to heaven, leaving his disciple Elisha as his designated witness and successor. This intimate personal appearance to Mary Magdalene, which focuses on an ascent to heaven rather than resurrection of the dead per se, stands in sharp contrast to the other formulations in the gospels that present indirect angelic encounters to a group of women.  Upon this foundation Schaberg offers a preliminary sketch of what she rather boldly labels “Magdalene Christianity,” both suppressed and lost in the our New Testament gospel tradition, and particularly in Acts, much like the history of James the brother of Jesus and the Jerusalem community from 30-50 CE.

The notion of apostolic authority in early Christianity depended most of all on one being included as a witness to Jesus’ resurrection and receiving a commission.[xi] Paul, for example, bases his own late addition to the apostolic roster upon his visionary experience of the Christ several years after he had been crucified: “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:8-9). One should not take this modesty on the part of Paul as any indication that he thought he was in the least bit inferior to the apostles who were before him. He says of the other apostles:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God, which is with me (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Apparently Paul did receive challenges to his rights to be called an apostle. Against such charges he adamantly defended himself, insisting that his apostleship was based squarely on his experience of having “seen the Lord” (1 Corinthians 9:1). Apostleship was not, in his view, something that was passed on from men, but was given by a “revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12, 16). According to the book of Acts the main criteria in deciding who would replace Judas Iscariot as the Twelfth apostle after he had betrayed Jesus and killed himself was that the one chosen had been with Jesus in his lifetime and was a “witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).

Not only did Mary Magdalene meet these criteria, she had the additional status of not only being a witness to Jesus’ resurrection but the first witness—even before Peter. The gospel of Luke explicitly rejects her status in this regard, characterizing the report of Mary and her entourage of women from Galilee and their claim to have “seen Jesus” as an “idle tale,” using language that in the culture of that time was particularly associated with the testimony of women. Mary Magdalene’s disqualification was based on her gender. Paul, for example, insists to his congregations:

 The women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the Law says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).

This silencing and subordination of women was carried into the next generation, long after Paul was dead. One of his successors paraphrased Paul’s position with even stronger language:

Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor (1 Timothy 1:11-13).[xii]

The remedy for this Adamic curse upon women was that they “be saved through bearing children”

For a complete treatment of Mary Magdalene, especially understood in the context of the two Talpiot tombs and their latest findings, see our book, The Jesus Discovery.


[i] According to early Christian tradition the names of Jesus’ two sisters, not given in the New Testament gospels (see Mark 6:3), were Mary and Salome, see Epiphanius, Panarion 78.8-9 and compare Gospel of Phillip 59:6-11 with Protoevangelium of James 19-20.

[ii] For the arguments for identifying this second Mary as Jesus’ mother see, James Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, pp. 73-82.

[iii] Salome is likely Jesus’ sister, or perhaps the mother of the sons of Zebedee, the fishermen James and John (Matthew 27:56). Luke adds that Joanna, the wife of Herod’s assistant, was with them. Even though the verb used for “lifted up” can just mean to pick up or carry, in this context it seems to refer to being lifted up from the dead—in other words, resurrected.

[iv] See James Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, pp. 223-241. The main appended ending (Mark 16:9-20) does not appear in our two oldest manuscripts, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, dating to the early 4th century AD. It is also absent from about one hundred Armenian manuscripts, the Old Latin version, and the Sinaitic Syriac. Even copies of Mark that contain the ending often include notes from the scribe pointing out that it is not in the oldest manuscripts.

[v] I have translated “Lord” here as Master, which has less theological connotations and fits with what follows in the story where Mary Magdalene addresses Jesus as Rabboni—my Master.

[vi] See Jane Schaberg, Mary Magdalene Understood (New York: Continium Press, 2006), pp. 122-126. Schaberg’s full study is The Resurrection of Mary Magdalene: Legends, Apocrypha, and the Christian Testament (New York: Continium, 2004).

[vii] Contra Celsum 1. 65. Celsus’s critique is preserved by the church father Origin who wrote a defense against him around 248 CE. He apparently knows the passage in Luke 8:1-3 that mentions specifically Joanna. There is a summary of his critique in his own words on-line at: http://www.bluffton.edu/~humanities/1/celsus.htm.

[viii] Contra Celsum, 2. 55.

[ix] Contra Celsum 2. 70.

[x] See the study of Margaret Y. MacDonald, Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

[xi] See Ann Graham Brock, Mary Magdalene, The First Apostle: The Struggle for Authority, Harvard Theological Studies 51 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).

[xii] Although the New Testament letters of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are attributed to Paul scholars are universally agreed that they are “deutero-Pauline,” written by some of his followers in the generation after his death, see Bart Ehrman, The New Testament, pp. 395-407.

How Faith in Jesus’ Resurrection Originated and Developed: A New/Old Hypothesis

Some years ago, after reading my book, The Jesus Dynasty, my dear friend and colleague, the late great Jerome Murphy O’Conner asked me the following:

You say that the body of Jesus was removed from its temporary resting place to a permanent tomb. This is not at all impossible. Extreme improbability sets in only when you invite us to assume that this group, who knew perfectly well what had actually happened to the body of Jesus, permitted their co-religionists to proclaim, not that he was still alive (immortality of the soul, well attested in Judaism) but that he was risen from the dead. This, of course, is against the background of what “resurrection” meant for first-century Jews. In order for me to take your “evidence” seriously, you would have to explain why the family and/or disciples based their future lives on what they knew to be a falsehood, namely that the body had been raised, and finally to justify how the secret was preserved in one of the gabbiest societies in ancient history

This article was written in response to his query and in memory of the good and fruitful discussions we had together about these matters at the University of Notre Dame in the 1980s and subsequently over the years at the École Biblique in Jerusalem.

 It makes perfect sense to read the New Testament in its current order. The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John introduce us to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The book of Acts gives us the early history of Christianity, ending with the career of Paul. The letters of Paul and the other apostles, Peter, John, James, and Jude, come next, and the mysterious book of Revelation provides a climatic finale to the whole. It all makes perfect sense—unless one is a historian.

Historians read the New Testament backwards. Over the last hundred and fifty years they have made a significant discovery. If the New Testament writings were ordered chronologically, according to the dates the various books were written, a wholly different picture emerges, with radical and far-reaching implications. Historians disassemble these various sources in an attempt to understand them in chronological order. They focus on a precise set of questions: Where do we find our oldest and most authentic materials? How and when were they passed along, edited and embellished? Who was involved in this process and what theological motivations were operating? As it turns out, this seemingly destructive process of “disassembly” yields positive and fascinating results.

CrucifixionBaloghWeb

I want to return to my beginning question—what happened following the death of Jesus? Now that we have Paul as our master key, when we attempt to analyze the four New Testament gospels with their narratives of the empty tomb, an entirely different perspective opens up. Getting Paul right turns out to be fundamental to understanding what really happened, and the central affirmation of Paul’s message and apostleship—that he had “seen” Jesus had been raised from the dead—can be placed in its proper historical light.

In looking at the gospels, chronology turns out to be a remarkably fruitful starting point. There is no absolute guarantee that what is early is more accurate than what came after, but unless we begin the process of disassembly and comparison we have no way of even approaching our questions.

Evangelical Christian scholars, both Protestant and Catholic, believe that the only possible explanation for the empty tomb is that God raised Jesus bodily from the dead and that he emerged from the tomb fully and miraculous restored to health. They maintain that there is no other logical explanation for all the facts as reported and are quite keen uphold Jesus’ resurrection as the solid, demonstrable, bedrock of Christian faith.[i] Their thinking runs something like the following.

Continue reading “How Faith in Jesus’ Resurrection Originated and Developed: A New/Old Hypothesis”

A Clean Slate

cleanslate

Good morning 2016 around the world. Good coffee, catching up on the news both on-line and TV. Feeling very grateful and thankful. For some reason Dylan’s words in his famous “Song to Woody” popped in my head:

Hey hey Woody Guthrie I wrote you a song
About a funny old world that’s coming along
Seems sick and it’s hungry, it’s tired and it’s torn
It looks like it’s dying and it’s hardly been born.

Nonetheless I am optimistic. We each have a clean slate each day and 2016 is only hours old. Our feeble ways of counting time, with a curious mixture of Roman/Greek/Julian/Gregorian elements in our calendar, none the less has powerful symbolic value. This is in fact 2016 and 2015 is past. A time for summing up and reflecting and making our resolutions for the future. Many of us, in contrast to those hungry and dying or in war torn areas or hemmed in by oppression, have amazing freedom to choose and change and be better than in the past, charting a path based on the weightier things; love, kindness, justice, truth and righteousness. A clean slate.

The First and Second Burials of Jesus

I have been amazed over the years at what one assumes is in the New Testament Gospels and what is actually there. I have been teaching these texts for over 30 years and hardly a year goes by when I don’t see something I had missed, or have something pointed out by my students that I simply had incorrect. I find these sources endlessly fascinating and encourage my readers and my students to delve into them in-depth.

A case in point. Everyone “knows” that according to all four of our N.T. Gospels Joseph of Arimathea, elsewhere unmentioned, goes to Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, and gets permission to remove Jesus’ body from the cross. He takes the corpse and lays it in his own new tomb late Friday night. A group of women, Mary Magdalene and others, follow and see the location of the tomb. Sunday morning when they visit, to complete the Jewish rites of burial, the tomb is empty.

Durer Tomb

Sounds accurate, according to the Gospels, except that the part in italics, that everyone assumes, is apparently not the case. The tomb into which Jesus is temporarily placed does not belong to Joseph of Arimathea even though every book, film, and preacher tells it that way.

Mark is our earliest account. Notice his words carefully:

And he [Joseph of Arimathea] bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb” (Mark 15:46).

This is our core Synoptic account.  Mark is the source for both Luke and Matthew. But notice, nothing is said about Joseph putting Jesus in his own family tomb.

John, who offers us an independent tradition, offers a further explanation:

Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there (John 19:41-42).

Notice what almost everyone has missed. The reason for this hasty and temporary burial carried out by Joseph of Arimathea was because of the imminent arrival of the Sabbath and the Passover. The tomb they chose was one that happened to be “close at hand.” Mark implicitly agrees. He notes that it is late afternoon on the “day of Preparation” with the Sabbath drawing near (Mark 15:42). John further explains that this particular Sabbath was a double-Sabbath or “high day,” with the Passover also beginning at sunset (John 19:31; 18:28).

So, as I often tell my students, “thank God for Mark and John.” Mark does not elaborate the choice of the tomb but John makes it clear that this initial burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea is a temporary and emergency burial of opportunity. That the tomb is new and unused meant that it could be used for a few hours, until the Sabbath and Passover holiday were past. This particular tomb is chosen because it just happened to be near, as John plainly explains. The idea that this tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea makes no sense at all. What are the chances that he would just happen to have his own new family tomb conveniently located near the Place of the Skull, or Golgotha, where the Romans regularly crucified their victims? It is ludicrous even to imagine, but neither Mark nor John say anything of the sort.

Continue reading “The First and Second Burials of Jesus”

The Surprising Ending of the Lost Gospel of Peter

A precious fragmented copy of a portion of the lost Gospel of Peter was discovered in 1886 by the French archaeologist Urbain Bouriant, buried in the tomb of a monk at Akhmim in Upper Egypt. On the basis of the cursive script this copy dates to the 8th or 9th century CE. We don’t know how much of the Jesus story the text as a whole might have covered since this partial copy begins with a scene of Jesus’ trial before Herod and Pilate and takes one through the story of his crucifixion, burial, and a very dramatic resurrection account. It ends, rather strangely, with a second “empty tomb” story in which Mary Magdalene and her friends visit the grave and flee in fear, and the subsequent scattering of Jesus’ followers back to Galilee. There it abruptly breaks off. Whether the original text was a more complete narrative of Jesus’ career, or just an account of his last days we can’t be sure. According to Eusebius, the 4th century church historian, it was being used by the Syrian Christians around the year 200 CE, and Serapion, bishop of Antioch, raised doubts about its orthodoxy, while declaring that most of it reflected the “right teachings of the Savior” (Ecclesiastical History 6.12..2-6).

Gospel of Peter

The text itself is complex and multilayered. Scholars over the past 100 years have debated whether it is an independent composition or a secondary one, cobbled together in a derivative fashion from our canonical gospels. It does in fact have elements in common with Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, but also much material independent from, and in sharp contrast to, these works. That the writer is not simply taking the canonical gospels and embellishing them by building up and expanding their narratives seems clear. John Crossan and others have argued that embedded in this fragment is indeed our earliest passion narrative, dating to the mid-1st century.

I encourage readers of this Blog who are not familiar with this text to read it through, as it is readily available on-line and in various printed editions of the so-called “New Testament Apocrypha.” I highly recommend the Early Christian Writings Web site as it has not only various translations of the text, but also commentary and critical discussion. If one is interested in a printed copy I recommend the latest edition of The Complete Gospels, edited by Robert Miller. It has many other texts of interest including the “Signs Source” taken from the gospel of John, the Q Source, and various fragments of the Hebrew/Ebionite gospels, all in fresh new translations.

Of the many fascinating elements in this text I wanted to note one in particular that is relevant to what I have written in The Jesus Dynasty, as well as some of my recent discussions on this Blog related to the last days of Jesus, the “empty tomb” and Jesus’ resurrection.

The GPeter has a different chronological scheme from the standard and traditional Friday-crucifixion and Sunday-morning-resurrection scheme that most assume from Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. In the GPeter we are told that after Jesus died and was buried his disciples were in hiding and the Peter as narrator declares: “We fasted and sat mourning and weeping night and day until the Sabbath” (7:3). This would indicate that at least a day and a night passed between the crucifixion and burial and the arrival of the Sabbath, impossible with a traditional Good Friday crucifixion. This chronology does make sense if one assumes, as the GPeter has it, that the “Sabbath” immediately following the crucifixion at sundown was not the weekly Saturday but the annual Passover Sabbath of the 1st day of Unleavened Bread (see The Jesus Dynasty, pp. 198-200 for a chart and discussion). This fits in well with the gospel of John that says that Jesus was crucified before the Passover Seder, and that the “Sabbath” falling at sunset was a “high day” (John 13:1; 18:28; 19:31). Thus Jesus would have been crucified on a Thursday, not a Friday, buried at sundown, with the Passover “Sabbath” falling on Friday and the weekly Sabbath on Saturday. What one has then is two “Sabbaths” back-to-back.

Continue reading “The Surprising Ending of the Lost Gospel of Peter”

Joseph Gone Missing?

One of the most intriguing subjects in our New Testament Gospels is the near silence about Joseph, husband of Mary. If one reads the Gospels in the order in which we think they were written, that is Mark first, then Matthew, then Luke, then John, the case for Joseph gone missing is even more obvious. It is very helpful to just set forth what is said about Joseph in each Gospel, as all of us as readers of the Bible tend to conflate and combine the various accounts in our memory. Let’s begin with Mark.

Joseph Older Man

Mark
Mark contains no record of the birth of Jesus whatsoever. His narrative begins with Jesus as an adult going to the Jordan River to be baptised by John. In the entire Gospel of Mark we have only this line:

Mark 6:3 “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary”

This is the famous scene when Jesus comes back to his hometown Nazareth and the locals question him for what he has been doing.

It would be difficult to overemphasize the “silence” here and what it implies about the birth of Jesus.

Joseph is never named and no father of Jesus is alluded to at all–whether human or divine.

With no father named or even alluded to, the birth not even mentioned, and Jesus simply called the “son of Mary,” we seem to have the bare facts that hint of some kind of irregularity in terms of the paternity of Jesus.

Matthew
Matthew does have a “birth story” in which he relates the pregnant Mary, is taken nonetheless as wife by her betrothed husband to be, Joseph.

Matt. 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was like this : When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. [v. 24b-25] And Joseph . . . took unto him his wife; and knew her not till she had brought forth a son: and he called his name Jesus.

Then the ONLY other reference to Joseph is as “the carpenter,” but he is not named, in the rejection at Nazareth scene.

Matt. 13:55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary?

Joseph never shows up again.

Luke
Like Matthew Luke includes a “birth story” in which Joseph is named as Mary’s fiancee. Their marriage is not mentioned but perhaps can be assumed to have followed the birth of Jesus:

Luke 1: 26-27 …the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

Luke 2:4-5 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; to enroll himself with Mary, who was betrothed to him, being great with child.

Luke also gives us a genealogy in which he says Jesus was the son of Joseph as was supposed, clearly wanting to make it clear that Joseph was not the father. He then mentions Joseph, but not by name, in the story of Jesus at age 12 traveling to Jerusalem for Passover with his parents:

Luke 2:41, 48 Now every year his parents when to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old they went up as usual for the festival…Your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety…[Jesus] Why? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house.

Like Mark and Matthew he has the scene at Nazareth where Jesus is rejected, and he is called “Joseph’s son.”

Luke 4:16, 22 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day…and they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?

No more references to Joseph

John
Finally in John there is no birth account, and two references to Jesus as “son of Joseph,” one by Nathanael, which seems to function in John as a prelude to the grand confession in 1:49; and again when some listeners began to question his right to Messianic claims since his common origins are well known:

John 1:44 We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, “Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

John 6:42 And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?

That is it, no other references to Joseph whatsoever and with no birth account.

This kind of evidence surely demands some kind of verdict. It is startling and noteworthy. Other than the scene at Nazareth that Mark records (and Matthew and Luke repeats, and John echoes) we have Joseph mentioned by name only in the two birth stories. Joseph is either ignored totally (Mark and John) or disappears from the scene so early on with no part in the Jesus story at all. Various scattered references to Jesus’ “mother and his brothers” seems to reinforce the view that Joseph has most likely died (Mark 3:32; John 2:12; Acts 1:14).

In my book, The Jesus Dynasty I offer a couple of theories that build upon this phenomenon of the missing Joseph, including this common idea that Joseph died early on and was “replaced” by his brother Clophas/Alphaeus, who took Mary to wife based on the tradition of the Levirite marriage in which a brother of a man who dies childless marries the widow and has a child to represent the deceased brother (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). This is only a theory and it may or may not be the case, but it does seem to satisfy some of the evidence we have regarding the references to “Mary wife of Clophas” and references to her sons James and Yose, as well as James the apostle being called a “son of Alphaeus.” For a summary of this possibility see my post “Sorting out the Jesus Family.”

In the end we are left very much with the mystery of the missing Joseph and laying out the texts in this fashion I think really helps to pinpoint the problem in terms of evidence and data. I think that many Christians just assume that Joseph must loom large in the New Testament gospels based on the place of honor he is given in Christian tradition. In truth though, the silence seems to me to be indicative of something very irregular about the birth of Jesus and the paternity of the seven children that Mary bore. This stands out in a particularly stark way if we begin first with Mark, as our earliest record, and realize the only thing Mark implies about Jesus’ birth at all is the designation of the local townsfolk in Nazareth–“Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” As with Mark’s account of the empty tomb with no appearances of Jesus (see “The Strange Ending of Mark“) we have to imagine a pre-70 CE community of early Jesus’ followers who have no tradition as to the identity of Jesus father. This is indeed what Mark reflects.