Did Jesus Have Siblings?
THE NEW TESTAMENT refers to brothers and sisters of Jesus 11 times. Some are named: James, Joses, Simon, and Judas. James, “the brother of the Lord,” will play a significant role in the Jerusalem church and is mentioned with some deference by Saint Paul. The precise number of such siblings or what became of the rest of them after Jesus’ Crucifixion is unknown.
Curiosity alone would lead us to seek more information about potential relatives of Jesus (and their descendants!). The trouble lies in that Hebrew doesn’t make fine distinctions about degrees of consanguinity: Members of the same clan were regarded broadly as brothers. James and Joses, listed above as brothers of Jesus, are called sons of another Mary later at the cross. It’s also hard to understand why Jesus would commend his own mother to one of his disciples at the cross if she had other living children who might care for her.
The church fathers proposed that Saint Joseph had had a previous marriage that provided him with children. That would make the siblings of Jesus not children by Mary at all. The half-sibling theory offers a way to reconcile scripture with doctrine.
Many scripture scholars subscribe to one of these explanations. A few, like Jesuit Jerome Neyrey, admit that the New Testament authors apparently believed Jesus had siblings. If we take their word as historically accurate, that doesn’t affect the teaching about the Virgin Birth of Jesus but does emphasize his divine origins.
Alice L. Camille
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Square Roots Festival
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