Until about 385 AD, the Christian world knew that Joseph the Carpenter had sexual
intercourse with Mary, and they produced a biological child named Jesus. As a
matter of fact, there are a couple dozen places in the New Testament which actually
point this out, some specifically, and some in passing.
After this date in history, however, the Church began to change, and Joseph was described as a foster father, and his image was practically removed from doctrine.
Why did this happen?
The answer is a complicated one.
I have done plenty of research in this area over the years, but anyone can get some quick references just from the Universal Standard Encyclopedia, if they would only take the time to look. The problem is that most people do not take the time to look, and most people, Christian and non-Christian alike, do not know the relevant history of this evolution --- and I am NOT talking about some fiction like "The Da Vinci Code," which has no basis in fact.
Let me relay some HARD FACTS to you in this piece.
Saint Jerome (340? AD - 420 AD) has a lot to do with the story, but so do some others who began even earlier. According to the encyclopedia, "In 382 he went to Rome, where he became secretary to Pope Damasus ..."(1)
Damasus I, or Saint Damasus (304? AD - 384 AD), was pope from 366 AD to 384 AD. He is primarily known for his work with Saint Jerome, and he "... encouraged the revision of the Latin text of the Holy Scriptures by Saint Jerome ..."(2)
The revision, known as the Vulgate, should not be confused with what are known as the apocryphal gospels, the earliest apparently being "... the Protevangelium of James, a 2nd-century work quoted by Origen and mentioned by Clement of Alexandria and Justin (the) Martyr."(3)
Indeed, the Vulgate is the translation of formal Latin into the common Latin spoken at the time, and it is respected, while the apocryphal gospels begin to propose a different Biblical cast, all of which is quite dubious. The earliest mention of the changes in Joseph's status appear in the Protevangelium of James. This is where we begin to hear of the "... brethren of the Lord."(4)
And, what are the brethren of the Lord?
The New Testament is clear in its efforts to state that Jesus had several siblings, which is in proper understanding that Joseph and Mary were husband and wife, the parents of Jesus Christ, and also of his siblings.
There arose in the Church the argument that the other children were not Mary's children. It was proposed that Joseph had these children from another marriage, and brought them into his relationship with Mary, and he became known as the foster father of Jesus Christ, not having anything to do with Christ's birth. The purpose was to make and keep Mary a virgin.
The reason that is a false and spurious claim is that Joseph is recognized as a direct descendant of King David in the New Testament, the biological father of Jesus Christ, and he could have never been seen in any other light when that point is taken into consideration.
In those days, it was COMMON for a man to find a virgin, untouched by any man, have sexual intercourse with her ONE TIME ONLY, and then wait for a sign from God. If she did not become pregnant, she was barren, a bad sign, and the man would proceed to find another virgin to try again with a new woman. If the first woman did get pregnant, that was a good sign from God. The man would not touch her again until the child was born, thus giving the name "virgin birth" to the episode, since only one sexual intercourse took place. In other words, one sexual intercourse is what it takes in the history of the Bible to find out if God is being good to you.
After Joseph had sexual intercourse with Mary, to procreate the so-called "virgin birth," there was no need to find a virgin for the other children, since only the Messiah required it by way of prophecy.
Joseph and Mary had several children after Jesus Christ in the most normal way possible.
There are indeed two positions on this, the first being that Joseph fathered all of the children, which is the correct answer by way of the facts associated with the Bible, and the second being that Joseph fathered only the other siblings from another woman and had nothing to do with Jesus Christ. This second view is a balance of nonsense and apocryphal baloney.
To explain why this happened one has to understand persecution and genocide, which is what Christians faced in this world from the days of Jesus Christ onward. This continued well into the 4th century, and "... until about 410 AD, burials continued to be numerous in the catacombs ..."(5)
Fearful people were leaving the Church in droves about the time of Saint Jerome.
Saint Jerome "... fixed his residency at Bethlehem in 386 AD ... Here he pursued his literary labors, accomplishing his most important work, the translation of the Bible into the common, or vulgar, tongue ..."(6) However, the issues were raging around him concerning the nature of Christ and Joseph the Carpenter, as well as Mary the virgin.
The changes were made in the Church because of the fact that this ongoing persecution was severe and that people needed more than what was offered. Jesus Christ's birth was made spiritual, not biological, in contradiction to the words of the gospel itself, his mother was made a puritanical impossibility by saying she had only one child fathered by no one and that the siblings were in question, and the ideals of the doctrines were stretched into the realm of what we call today magical realism.
The popes during the time of Saint Jerome all participated in this in some way.
"Damasus I (366 AD -384 AD), Siricius (384 AD - 399 AD), Anastasius I (399 AD - 401 AD), Innocent I (401 AD - 417 AD), Zosimus (417 AD - 418 AD), and Boniface I (418 AD - 422 AD),"(7) stretched through the latter days of the life of Saint Jerome.
Saint Jerome began working in Rome in 382 AD, moved to the Holy Land in 385 AD, moved to Bethlehem in 386 AD, and died in 420 AD.
During that time, much controversy appeared in the Church, not just from major heretics, but from within the Church itself.
Ironically, this is not peculiar to Christians. Persecution and genocide have changed the views of a number of religions, including Judaism, Buddhism, and others.
Only Buddhism stands out here as a religion which demands the reality of science and gospel to meld together.
Both Christianity and Judaism sometimes resist this.
Being a Christian-Buddhist myself --- I like to say that I am about the Bible and Buddha in religious beliefs --- I need to make a comment here. I grew up as a devout Roman Catholic. Catholics study both the Old and the New Testaments as one book, so I studied the same things that Jewish kids studied in grade school (no kidding, the Old Testament). But, I am a Christian, so I say I am a Christian-Buddhist, regardless of this "whole book" kind of understanding.
I am ashamed of many Christians who do not know the history of this as they should, or who have not even read the New Testament. If they would actually read the New Testament, they'd find out that Joseph was the father of Jesus Christ (no kidding).
Therefore, to end this explanatory piece on the so-called "virgin birth" and the history of Joseph the Carpenter, I want to state that the name Joseph means "to give" or "one who gives." It is a Hebrew name, although we Italians have co-opted it. Joseph gave something to Mary, the seed of King David.
And, quite frankly, there are thousands of "virgin births" every year across this nation.
It only takes one act of sexual intercourse to produce one.
The Universal Standard Encyclopedia, Standard Reference Works Publishing Company, Inc., New York, NY --- © 1956, 1957 and 1958 by Wilfred Funk, Inc. (1) Volume 13, page 4900, (2) Volume 6, page 2218, (3) Volume 14, page 4964, (4) Volume 14, page 4964, (5) Volume 4, page 1467, (6) Volume 13, page 4900. (7) Volume 18, page 6763.
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Mr. J.V. Presogna is a writer, composer and artist with a background in science and mathematics. He is a Christian-Buddhist.