An Historical Account of the Birth of Christ, and the Perpetual Virgin Mary, His Mother, by James the Lesser, Cousin and Brother of the Lord Jesus, a Chief Apostle and First Bishop of the Christians in Jerusalem.
1. Joachim, rich man, 2. offers to the Lord, 3. but is opposed by Reuben the high-priest, because he has not begotten children in Israel, 6. retires into the wilderness and fasts forty days and forty nights.
1. In the history of the twelve tribes of Israel we read there was a certain person called Joachim, who being very rich, made double offerings to the Lord God, having made this resolution: My substance shall be for the benefit of the whole people, that I may find mercy from the Lord God for the forgiveness of my sins.
Two prominent men named James are in the New Testament. James the son of Zebedee and brother of John is one of the twelve Apostles mentioned in Matthew 4:21, 10:2, 17:1; Mark 1:19, 3:17, 5:37, 9:2, 10:35, 14:33; Luke 5:10, 6:14, 8:51; Acts 1:13, 12:2.
However, James the son of Alphaeus (Paul calls him the Lord's brother in Galatians 1:19 because the Greek word so translated also means "relative" or "kinsman") is mentioned in Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13 and 21:18, 1 Corinthians 17:7, Galatians 1:19 and 2:9. He is the author of the New Testament Epistle of James, and this Gospel (which is considered a historical continuation of the Gospel of Mary) is ascribed to him.
He was called "James the Lesser" (the fact that the other James is called "James the Younger" has often caused these two to be confused) because he probably was converted by a post-resurrection appearance of Christ. The Apostles made him bishop of Jerusalem, where even the Jews called him "James The Just."
Memory of his great piety was still vivid in the time of St. John Chrysostom (c.350-407), the Archbishop of Constantinople, who remarked in his Homily V on Matthew of this James: "For he was so admired as even to be the first to be entrusted with the bishop's office. And they say he gave himself up to such great austerity, that even his members became all of them as dead, and that from his continual praying, and his perpetual intercourse with the ground, his forehead became so callous as to be in no better state than a camel's knees, simply by reason of his striking it so against the earth."
According to tradition, this James was executed at the prompting of the Sanhedrin, being thrown from the temple walls and then clubbed to death about A.D. 62.
The Protevangelion is supposed to have been originally composed in Hebrew. Postellus brought this manuscript from the Levant, translated it into Latin, and sent it to Oporimus, a printer at Basil, where Bibliander, a Protestant divine and the Professor of Divinity at Zurich, caused it to be printed in 1552. Postellus asserted that it was publicly read as canonical in the Eastern churches, they having no doubt that James was the author of it. The allusions to it in writings of the early Church Fathers are frequent, and their expressions indicate that it had obtained a very general credit in the Christian world.
2. But at a certain great feast of the Lord, when the children of Israel offered their gifts, and Joachim also offered his, Reuben the high-priest opposed him, saying, It is not lawful for you to offer your gifts, seeing you have not begotten any offspring in Israel.
"Reuben the high-priest" contradicts the Gospel of Mary (1:7) where Issachar is identified as high-priest.
3. At this Joachim, being concerned very much, went away to consult the registries of the twelve tribes to see whether he was the only person who had begotten no offspring.
4. But upon inquiry he found that all the righteous had raised up seed in Israel;
5. Then he called to mind the patriarch Abraham, how that God in the end of his life had given him his son Isaac; upon which he was exceedingly distressed and would not be seen by his wife:
6. But retired into the wilderness, and fixed his tent there, and fasted forty days and forty nights, saying to himself,
This forty-day fast is not mentioned in the Gospel of Mary. Three forty-day fasts are recorded in the Canon: of Moses in Exodus 24:11, 34:28, Deuteronomy 9:9; of Elijah in I Kings 19:8; and of Christ in Matthew 4:2.
7. I will not go down either to eat or drink, till the Lord my God shall look down upon me, but prayer shall be my meat and drink.
1. Anna, the wife of Joachim, mourns her barrenness, 6. is reproached for it by Judith her maid, 9. sits under a laurel tree and prays to the Lord.
1. In the meantime his wife Anna was distressed and perplexed on a double account, and said, I will mourn both for my widowhood and my barrenness.
Anna thought Joachim had died because he had been absent for over a month.
2. Then drew near a great feast of the Lord, and Judith her maid said, How long will you thus afflict your soul? The feast of the Lord is now come, when it is unlawful for anyone to mourn.
"Judith her maid" must indicate a historical fact; otherwise, why mention her name?
3. Take therefore this hood which was given by one who makes such things, for it is not proper that I, who am a servant, should wear it, but it well suits a person of your greater character.
4. But Anna replied, Depart from me, I am not used to such things; besides, the Lord has greatly humbled me.
5. I fear some ill-designing person has given you this, and you are come to pollute me with my sin.
6. Then Judith her maid answered, What evil shall I wish you when you will not hearken to me?
7. I cannot wish you a greater curse than you are under, in that God has shut up your womb so you could not be a mother in Israel.
8. Anna was exceedingly troubled at this, and having on her wedding garment, went about three o'clock in the afternoon to walk in her garden.
The reference to three o'clock also argues for the factual basis for the narrative.
9. And she saw a laurel tree and sat under it, and prayed to the Lord, saying,
10. O God of my fathers, bless me and regard my prayer as you blessed the womb of Sarah, and gave her a son Isaac.
A reference to Genesis 21:2.
1. Anna perceiving a sparrow's nest in the laurels bemoans her barrenness.
1. And as she was looking towards heaven she perceived a
sparrow's nest in the laurel,
2. And mourning within herself, she said, Woe is me, who begat me? and what womb did bear me, that I should be thus accursed before the children of Israel, and that they should reproach and deride me in the temple of my God? Woe is me, to what can I be compared?
3. I am not comparable to the very beasts of the earth, for even the beasts of the earth are fruitful before you, O Lord! Woe is me, to what can I be compared?
4. I am not comparable to the brute animals, for even the brute animals are fruitful before you, O Lord! Woe is me, to what can I be compared?
5. I cannot be compared to these waters, for even the waters are fruitful before you, O Lord! Woe is me, to what can I be compared?
6. I am not comparable to the waves of the sea; for these, whether they are calm or in motion, with the fishes which are in them, praise you, O Lord! Woe is me, to what can I be compared?
7. I am not comparable to the very earth, for the earth produces its fruits and praises you, O Lord!
The poetic quality of Anna's lament is remarkable in early Christian literature.
1. An angel appears to Anna and tells her she shall conceive; two angels appear to her on the same errand. 5. Joachim sacrifices. 8. Anna goes to meet him, 9. rejoicing that she shall conceive.
1. Then an angel of the Lord stood by her and said, Anna,
Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer; you will conceive and bring
forth, and your progeny shall be spoken of in all the world.
2. And Anna answered, As the Lord my God lives, whatever I bring forth, whether it be male or female, I will devote it to the Lord my God, and it shall minister to him in holy things, during its whole life.
3. And behold there appeared two angels, saying to her, Behold Joachim your husband is coming with his shepherds.
Unlike the Gospel of Mary, James mentions the appearance to Anna of two angels.
4. For an angel of the Lord has also come down to him, and said, The Lord God has heard your prayer; make haste and go from here, for behold Anna your wife will conceive.
In 1:5 James did not mention the angelic appearance to Joachim; now he does.
5. And Joachim went down and called his shepherds, saying, Bring me here ten she-lambs without spot or blemish, and they will be for the Lord my God.
6. And bring me twelve calves without blemish, and the twelve calves will be for the priests and the elders.
7. Bring me also a hundred goats, and the hundred goats will be for the whole people.
8. And Joachim went down with the shepherds, and Anna stood by the gate and saw Joachim coming with the shepherds.
9. And she ran, and hanging about his neck, said, Now I know that the Lord has greatly blessed me:
10. For behold, I who was a widow am no longer a widow, and I who was barren shall conceive.
1. Joachim abides the first day in his house, but sacrifices the next day. 2. He consults the plate on the priest's forehead 3. and is without sin. 6. Anna brings forth a daughter, 9. whom she calls Mary.
1. And Joachim abode the first day in his house, but on the next he brought his offerings and said,
2. If the Lord be propitious to me, let the plate which is on the priest's forehead make it manifest.
The plate on the high-priest's forehead was an instrument appointed the high-priest to wear for such discoveries; it is mentioned in Exodus 28:36ff.
3. And he consulted the plate which the priest wore, and saw it, and behold sin was not found in him.
4. And Joachim said, Now I know that the Lord is propitious to me, and has taken away all my sins.
5. He went down from the temple of the Lord justified, and he went to his own house.
6. And when nine months were fulfilled to Anna, she brought forth, and said to the midwife, What have I brought forth?
7. And she told her, A girl.
8. Then Anna said, the Lord has this day magnified my soul; and she laid her in bed.
9. And when the days of her purification were accomplished, she nursed the child and called her name Mary.
The "days of her purification" was a period of eighty days after giving birth to a female child, mentioned in Leviticus 12:2-7. The ritual law in Leviticus describes many other occasions in which a person was considered "unclean" and required "purification" before being allowed to participate in religious ceremonies, but these words pertained solely to ceremonial sanctions. Modern feminists assert that the male Jewish hierarchy discriminated against women, but no doubt Jewish women of that time welcomed these opportunities after menstruation and childbirth to be free of their temple obligations.
1. Mary, at nine months old, walks nine steps. 3. Anna keeps her holy. 4. When she is a year old, Joachim makes a great feast. 7. Anna gives her the breast, and sings a song to the Lord.
1. And the child increased in strength every day, so that when she was nine months old, her mother put her upon the ground to try if she could stand; and when she had walked nine steps, she came again to her mother's lap.
2. Then her mother caught her up and said, As the Lord my God lives, you will not walk again on this earth till I bring you into the temple of the Lord.
3. Accordingly she made her chamber a holy place, and allowed nothing uncommon or unclean to come near her, but invited certain undefiled daughters of Israel, and they drew her aside.
4. But when the child was a year old, Joachim made a great feast, and invited the priests, scribes, elders, and all the people of Israel;
5. And Joachim then made an offering of the girl to the chief priests, and they blessed her, saying, The God of our fathers bless this girl, and give her a name famous and lasting throughout all generations. And all the people replied, So be it. Amen.
6. Then Joachim a second time offered her to the priests, and they blessed her, saying, O most high God, regard this girl and bless her with an everlasting blessing.
7. Upon this her mother took her up, and gave her the breast and sang the following song to the Lord.
8. I will sing a new song to the Lord my God, for he has visited me, and taken away from me the reproach of my enemies, and has given me the fruit of his righteousness, that it may now be told the sons of Reuben, that Anna gives her child the breast.
There is a "new song" motif throughout Scripture: Psalms 33:3, 40:3, 144:9, 149:1; Isaiah 42:10, Revelation 14:3. Compare Anna's "new song" of thanksgiving with Hannah's in I Samuel 2 and with Mary's in Luke 1:46, 47.
9. Then she put the child to rest in the room which she had
consecrated, and she went out and ministered to them.
10. And when the feast was ended, they went away rejoicing and praising the God of Israel.
3. Mary being three years old, Joachim causes certain virgins to light each a lamp, and goes with her to the temple. 5. The high-priest places her on the third step of the altar, and she dances.
1. But the girl grew, and when she was two years old,
Joachim said to Anna, Let us lead her to the temple of the Lord,
that we may perform our vow, which we have vowed to the Lord God,
for fear that he should be angry with us, and our offering be
2. But Anna said, Let us wait the third year, for fear that she should be at a loss to know her father. And Joachim said, Let us then wait.
3. And when the child was three years old, Joachim said, Let us invite the daughters of the Hebrews, who are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them be lighted, that the child may not turn back again, and her mind be set against the temple of the Lord.
"daughters... who are undefiled" means young virgins.
4. And they did thus till they ascended into the temple of
the Lord. And the high-priest received her, and said, Mary, the
Lord God has magnified your name to all generations, and to the
very end of time the Lord will show by you his redemption to the
children of Israel.
5. And he placed her upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord gave grace to her, and she danced, and all the house of Israel loved her.
This is not quite the same as in the Gospel of the Birth of Mary.
2. Mary fed in the temple by angels. 3. When twelve years old the priests consult what to do with her. 6. The angel of the Lord warns Zacharias to call together all the widowers, each bringing a rod. 7. The people meet by sound of trumpet. 8. Joseph throws away his hatchet, and goes to the meeting. 11. A dove comes forth from his rod, and alights on his head. 12. He is chosen to betroth the Virgin. 13. He refuses because he is an old man, 15. is compelled, 16. takes her home, and goes to attend to his trade of building.
1. And her parents went away filled with wonder, and
praising God, because the girl did not return back to them.
2. But Mary continued in the temple as a dove educated there and received her food from the hand of an angel.
That Mary "received her food from the hand of an angel" may have been taken literally by early Christians. The all-night vigil service of the Orthodox Church commemorating Mary's presentation in the temple reads: "After thy nativity, O Lady, Bride of God, thou didst come into the temple of the Lord, as one consecrated, to be reared in the Holy of Holies. Then, also, was Gabriel sent unto thee, O all-undefiled One, bearing nourishment unto thee. All the powers of Heaven were amazed when they beheld the Holy Spirit took up its abode in thee. Wherefore, O most pure and undefiled Mother of God, who art glorified in heaven and on earth, save thou our race."
3. And when she was twelve years of age, the priests met in a council, and said, Behold, Mary is twelve years of age; what will we do with her, for fear that the holy place of the Lord our God should be defiled?
In 6:1 Mary was nine months old, in 6:4 she was one year old, and now she is twelve years old, which coincides with the onset of puberty.
4. Then replied the priests to Zacharias the high-priest,
You stand at the altar of the Lord, and enter into the holy
place, to make petitions concerning her, so whatsoever the Lord
will show to you, do it.
5. Then the high-priest entered into the Holy of Holies, and taking away with him the breast-plate of judgment made prayers concerning her;
For the "breast-plate of judgment," see Exodus 28:22ff.
6. And behold the angel of the Lord came to him, and said, Zacharias, Zacharias, go forth and call together all the widowers among the people, and let every one of them bring his rod, and he by whom the Lord will show a sign will be the husband of Mary.
Zacharias, husband of Elizabeth and future father of John the Baptist, was high-priest when Joseph was chosen.
7. And the criers went out through all Judaea, and all the
people ran and met together when the trumpet of the Lord sounded.
8. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] Joseph also, throwing away the hatchet, went out to meet them; and when they were met, they went to the high-priest, taking every man his rod.
Joseph throws away his hatchet because he was a carpenter in the building trade (8:16).
9. After the high-priest had received their rods, he went
into the temple to pray;
10. And when he had finished his prayer, he took the rods, and went forth and distributed them, and no miracle attended them.
11. The last rod was taken by Joseph, and behold a dove proceeded out of the rod, and flew upon the head of Joseph.
Here the dove seems clearly a miraculous manifestation, as it flies out of the rod.
12. And the high-priest said, Joseph, you are the person
chosen to take the Virgin of the Lord, to keep her for him:
13. But Joseph refused, saying, I am an old man, and have children, but she is young, and I fear, for fear that I should appear ridiculous in Israel.
That Joseph was old and a widower with children before his marriage with the Virgin has been doubted by some. However, Thephylact, Occumenius, and indeed all the Latin Fathers till Ambrose, and the Greek Fathers afterwards, maintained these opinions of Joseph's age and family, founded upon their belief in the authenticity of this book.
14. Then the high-priest replied, Joseph, fear the Lord your God, and remember how God dealt with Dathan, Korah, and Abiram, how the earth opened and swallowed them up, because of their contradiction.
The story of Dathan, Korah, and Abiram is found in Numbers 16.
15. Now therefore, Joseph, fear God, unless the like things
should happen in your family.
16. Joseph, then being afraid, took her to his house and said to Mary, Behold I have taken you from the temple of the Lord, and now I will leave you in my house; I must go to attend to my trade of building. The Lord be with you.
1. The priests desire a new veil for the temple, 3. seven virgins cast lots for making different parts of it, 4. the lot to spin the true purple falls to Mary. 5. Zacharias, the high- priest, becomes mute. 7. Mary takes a pot to draw water, and hears a voice, 8. trembles and begins to work, 9. an angel appears, and salutes her, and tells her she will conceive by the Holy Spirit. 17. She submits, 19. visits her cousin Elizabeth, whose child in her womb leaps.
1. And it came to pass, in a council of the priests, it was said, Let us make a new veil for the temple.
The veil of the temple was a curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies, mentioned in Exodus 26:31, 36:35; II Chronicles 3:14, Matthew 27:51, Hebrews 6:19 and 10:20.
2. And the high-priest said, Call together to me seven undefiled virgins of the tribe of David.
"Undefiled virgins" would seem redundant, but the meaning seems to be virgins before the age of puberty. (Menstruation was considered a temporary ceremonial "defilement.")
3. And the servants went and brought them into the temple
of the Lord, and the high-priest said to them, Cast lots before
me now, who of you will spin the golden thread, who the blue, who
the scarlet, who the fine linen, and who the true purple.
4. Then the high-priest, knowing that Mary was of the tribe of David, called her, and the true purple fell to her lot to spin, and she went away to her own house.
5. But from that time Zacharias the high-priest became mute, and Samuel was placed in his stead until Zacharias spoke again.
"But from that time Zacharias the high-priest became mute..." A man named Samuel was interim high-priest until Zacharias could speak. This occurred when the angel Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to the aged couple: "And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season." (Luke 1:20) Zacharias regained his speech when the child was born and he was asked what name he should be given.
6. But Mary took the true purple, and did spin it.
7. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] And she took a pot, and went out to draw water, and heard a voice saying to her, Hail you who are full of grace the Lord is with you; you are blessed among women.
"Hail you who are full of grace..." The same words are found in Luke 1:28.
8. And she looked to the right and to the left to see where
that voice came from, and then went trembling into her house and
laying down the water-pot, she took the purple and sat down to
work on it.
9. And behold the angel of the Lord stood by her and said, Fear not, Mary, for you have found favor in the sight of God;
10. Which when she heard, she reasoned with herself what that sort of salutation meant.
11. And the angel said to her, The Lord is with you, and you will conceive:
12. To which she replied, What! By the living God, shall I conceive and bring forth as all other women do?
13. But the angel returned answer, Not so, O Mary, but the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
14. Wherefore that which will be born of you will be holy, and will be called the Son of the Living God, and you will call his name Jesus; for he will save his people from their sins.
15. And behold your cousin Elizabeth, for she in her old age has also conceived a son.
16. And this now is the sixth month with her, who was called barren; for nothing is impossible with God.
17. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.
18. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] And when she had wrought her purple, she carried it to the high- priest, and the high-priest blessed her, saying, Mary, the Lord God has magnified your name, and you will be blessed in all the ages of the world.
19. Then Mary, filled with joy, went away to her cousin Elizabeth and knocked at the door.
20. When Elizabeth heard, she ran and opened to her, and blessed her, and said, How has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
21. For lo! as soon as the voice of your salutation reached my ears, that which is in me leaped and blessed you.
22. But Mary, being ignorant of all those mysterious things which the archangel Gabriel had spoken to her, lifted up her eyes to heaven, and said, Lord! What am I, that all the generations of the earth should call me blessed?
23. But perceiving herself daily to grow big, and being afraid, she went home, and hid herself from the children of Israel; and she was fourteen years old when all these things happened.
Mary was fourteen years old when Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Church tradition has always maintained this.
1. Joseph returns from building houses, finds the Virgin grown big, being six months' gone with child, 2. is jealous and troubled, 8. He reproaches her. 10. She affirms her innocence. 13. He leaves her and 16. determines to dismiss her privately, 17. but is warned in a dream that Mary is with child by the Holy Spirit, 20. and glorifies God who has shown him such favor.
1. And when her sixth month was come, Joseph returned from his building houses abroad, which was his trade, and entering into the house, found the Virgin grown big:
Joseph "building houses abroad" means throughout the region.
2. Then smiting his face, he said, With what face can I
look up to the Lord my God? or what shall I say concerning this
3. For I received her a Virgin out of the temple of the Lord my God and have not preserved her such!
4. Who has thus deceived me? Who has committed this evil in my house, and seducing the Virgin from me, has defiled her?
5. Is not the history of Adam exactly accomplished in me?
Compare with the New Testament of Christ as the second Adam: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.... And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam [was] a quickening spirit... The first man [is] of the earth, earthy; the second man [is] the Lord from heaven." (1 Corinthians 15:22, 45, 47)
6. For in the very instant of his glory, the serpent came
and found Eve alone, and seduced her.
7. Just after the same manner it has happened to me.
8. Then Joseph arising from the ground, called her and said, O you who have been so much favored by God, why have you done this?
9. Why have you thus debased your soul, who was educated in the Holy of Holies, and received your food from the hand of angels?
10. But she, with a flood of tears, replied, I am innocent, and have known no man.
11. Then said Joseph, How is it then that you are with child?
12. Mary answered, As the Lord my God lives, I know not by what means.
13. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] Then Joseph was exceedingly afraid, and went away from her, considering what he should do with her; and he thus reasoned with himself:
Joseph's dilemma is expressed in more detail here than in Matthew 1:19.
14. If I conceal her crime, I shall be found guilty by the
law of the Lord;
15. And if I reveal her to the children of Israel, I fear that she being with child by an angel, I shall be found to betray the life of an innocent person:
16. What therefore shall I do? I will privately dismiss her.
17. Then the night came, when behold an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, and said,
The angel appears in a dream to Joseph to repeat what he had said to Mary regarding the Holy Spirit and the name of Jesus.
18. Be not afraid to take that young woman, for that which
is within her is of the Holy Spirit;
19. And she will bring forth a son, and you will call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
20. Then Joseph arose from his sleep, and glorified the God of Israel, who had shown him such favor, and preserved the Virgin.
3. Annas visits Joseph, perceives the Virgin big with child, 4. and informs the high-priest that Joseph had privately married her. 8. Joseph and Mary brought to trial on the charge. 17. Joseph drinks the water of the Lord as an ordeal, and receiving no harm, returns home.
1. Then came Annas the scribe, and said to Joseph, Why have
we not seen you since your return?
2. And Joseph replied, Because I was weary after my journey and rested the first day.
3. But Annas turning about perceived the Virgin big with child.
4. And went away to the priest and told him, Joseph in whom you placed so much confidence, is guilty of a notorious crime, in that he has defiled the Virgin whom he received out of the temple of the Lord, and has privately married her, not revealing it to the children of Israel.
5. Then said the priest, Has Joseph done this?
6. Annas replied, If you send any of your servants, you will find that she is with child.
7. And the servants went, and found it as he said.
8. Upon this both she and Joseph were brought to their trial, and the priest said to her, Mary, what have you done?
9. Why have you debased your soul and forgotten your God, seeing you were brought up in the Holy of Holies, and received your food from the hands of angels, and heard their songs?
10. Why have you done this?
11. To which with a flood of tears she answered, As the Lord my God lives, I am innocent in his sight, seeing I know no man.
12. Then the priest said to Joseph, Why have you done this?
13. And Joseph answered, As the Lord my God lives, I have not been concerned with her.
14. But the priest said, Lie not, but declare the truth; you have privately married her, and not discovered it to the children of Israel, and humbled yourself under the mighty hand of God, that your seed might be blessed.
15. And Joseph was silent.
16. Then said the priest, You must restore to the temple of the Lord the Virgin you took from there.
17. But he wept bitterly, and the priest added, I will cause you both to drink the water of the Lord which is for trial, and so your iniquity will be laid open before you.
"I will cause you both to drink the water of the Lord which is for trial" evidently refers to a strangely heathenish Old Testament practice mentioned in Numbers 5:18, where it reads: "And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse; and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, [and become] bitter... and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot..."
18. Then the priest took the water, and made Joseph drink,
and sent him to a mountainous place.
19. And he returned perfectly well, and all the people wondered that his guilt was not discovered.
20. So the priest said, Since the Lord has not made your sins evident, neither do I condemn you.
21. So he sent them away.
22. Then Joseph took Mary and went to his house, rejoicing and praising the God of Israel.
1. A decree from Augustus for taxing the Jews. 5. Joseph puts Mary on an ass, to return to Bethlehem, 6. she looks sorrowful, 7. she laughs, 8. Joseph inquires the cause of each, 9. she tells him she sees two persons, one mourning and the other rejoicing, 10. her delivery being near, he takes her from the ass, and places her in a cave.
1. And it came to pass, that there went forth a decree from the Emperor Augustus, that all the Jews should be taxed, who were of Bethlehem in Judaea:
Compare with Luke 2:1.
2. And Joseph said, I will take care that my children be
taxed: but what shall I do with this young woman?
3. I am ashamed to have her taxed as my wife, and if I tax her as my daughter, all Israel knows she is not my daughter.
4. When the time of the Lord's appointment will come, let him do as seems good to him.
"...time of the Lord's appointment will come..." that is, the birth of Jesus.
5. And he saddled the ass, and put her upon it, and Joseph and Simon followed after her, and arrived at Bethlehem within three miles.
This Simon is apparently one of Joseph's married sons.
6. Then Joseph turning about saw Mary sorrowful, and said
within himself, Perhaps she is in pain through that which is
7. But when he turned about again he saw her laughing, and said to her,
8. Mary, how does it happen that I sometimes see sorrow, and sometimes laughter and joy in your countenance?
9. And Mary replied to him, I see two people, the one weeping and mourning, the other laughing and rejoicing.
The meaning of Mary's vision of "two people, the one weeping and mourning, the other laughing and rejoicing" is not revealed. It may relate to Simeon's words to Mary when she brought the baby Jesus to the temple: "And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this [child] is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." Mary would laugh and rejoice at Christ's birth, but she also would be a sorrowful witness to his crucifixion.
10. And he went again across the way, and Mary said to
Joseph, Take me down from the ass, for that which is in me
presses to come forth.
11. But Joseph replied, Where shall I take you? for the place is desert.
12. Then said Mary again to Joseph, Take me down, for that which is within me mightily presses me.
13. And he found there a cave, and let her into it.
1. Joseph seeks a Hebrew midwife, 2. perceives the fowls stopping in their flight, 3. the working people at their food not moving, 8. the sheep standing still, 9. the shepherd fixed and immoveable, 10. and young goats with their mouths touching the water but not drinking.
1. And leaving her and his sons in the cave, Joseph went to
seek a Hebrew midwife in the village of Bethlehem.
2. But as I was going (said Joseph) I looked up into the air, and I saw the clouds astonished, and the fowls of the air stopping in the midst of their flight.
3. And I looked down towards the earth and saw a table spread, and working people sitting around it, and their hands were upon the table, but they did not move to eat.
4. They who had meat in their mouths did not eat.
5. They who lifted their hands up to their heads did not draw them back:
6. And they who had lifted their hands up to their mouths did not put anything in;
7. But all their faces were fixed upwards.
8. And I beheld the sheep dispersed, and yet the sheep stood still.
9. And the shepherd lifted up his hand to smite them, and his hand remained up.
10. And I looked to a river, and saw the young goats with their mouths close to the water, but they did not drink.
A further mention of Joseph's sons. His strange, almost out-of-the-body experience of time standing still is told without explanation, but it is clearly a portent of the momentous and divine event about to happen in the cave.
1. Joseph finds a midwife. 10. A bright cloud overshadows the cave. 11. A great light in the cave gradually increases until the infant is born. 13. The midwife goes out and tells Salome that she has seen a virgin bring forth. 17. Salome doubts it. 20. Her hand withers. 22. She supplicates the Lord, 18. and is cured, 30. but warned not to declare what she had seen.
1. Then I beheld a woman coming down from the mountains,
and she said to me, Where are you going, O man?
2. And I said to her, I go to inquire for a Hebrew midwife.
3. She replied to me, Where is the woman that is to be delivered?
4. And I answered, In the cave, and she is betrothed to me.
5. Then said the midwife, Is she not your wife?
6. Joseph answered, It is Mary, who was educated in the Holy of Holies, in the house of the Lord, and she fell to my lot, and is not my wife, but has conceived by the Holy Spirit.
7. The midwife said, Is this true?
8. He answered, Come and see.
"Come and see" is an irrefutable response to skeptics; compare with: "And Nathaniel said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see." (John 1:46)
9. And the midwife went along with him and stood in the
10. Then a bright cloud overshadowed the cave, and the midwife said, This day my soul is magnified, for my eyes have seen surprising things, and salvation is brought forth to Israel.
11. But suddenly the cloud became a great light in the cave, so that their eyes could not bear it.
12. But the light gradually decreased, until the infant appeared, and nursed at the breast of his mother Mary.
13. Then the midwife cried out and said, How glorious a day in this, wherein my eyes have seen this extraordinary sight!
14. And the midwife went out from the cave, and Salome met her.
15. And the midwife said to her, Salome, Salome, I will tell you a most surprising thing which I saw,
16. A virgin has brought forth, which is a thing contrary to nature.
"A virgin has brought forth..." The midwife now knew this from her own experience, not merely from Joseph's words. "...which is a thing contrary to nature." Those who would reject the Virgin Birth on this basis miss the point; the whole force of the doctrine is that it was a unique event divinely wrought only once in all of human history. The same can be said of the Resurrection; belief in only these two miracles is absolutely obligatory for Christians.
17. To which Salome replied, As the Lord my God lives, unless I receive particular proof of this matter, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth.
Compare Salome's words "As the Lord my God lives, unless I receive particular proof of this matter, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth" with those of Thomas: "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 21:25)
18. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] Then
Salome went in, and the midwife said, Mary, show yourself, for a
great controversy is risen concerning you.
19. And Salome received satisfaction.
20. But her hand was withered, and she groaned bitterly.
21. And said, Woe to me, because of my iniquity; for I have tempted the living God, and my hand is ready to drop off.
22. Then Salome made her supplication to the Lord, and said, O God of my fathers, remember me, for I am of the seed of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.
23. Make me not a reproach among the children of Israel, but restore me sound to my parents.
24. For you well know, O Lord, that I have performed many offices of charity in your name, and have received my reward from you.
25. Upon this an angel of the Lord stood by Salome, and said, The Lord God has heard your prayer; reach forth your hand to the child and carry him, and by that means you will be restored.
26. Salome, filled with exceeding joy, went to the child, and said, I will touch him:
27. And she purposed to worship him, for she said, This is a great king which is born in Israel.
Compare "Salome, filled with exceeding joy, went to the child, and said, I will touch him: And she purposed to worship him, for she said, This is a great king which is born in Israel" with the testimony of Thomas, "And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God." (John 21:28) It is worth quoting what next transpired: "Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed."
28. And straightway Salome was cured.
29. Then the midwife went out of the cave, being approved by God.
30. And lo! A voice came to Salome, Declare not the strange things which you have seen, till the child will come to Jerusalem. Admonitions to temporarily keep quiet about a miracle are not uncommon in the canonical Scriptures: "And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them." (Matthew 8:4, Luke 5:14); "Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ." (Matthew 16:20, Luke 9:21); "As they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead." (Matthew 17:9); "And her parents were astonished: but he charged them that they should tell no man what was done." (Luke 8:56)
31. So Salome also departed, approved by God.
1. Wise men come from the east. 3. Herod alarmed; 8. tells them if they find the child, to bring him word. 10. They visit the cave and offer the child their treasure, 11. and being warned in a dream, do not return to Herod, but go home another way.
1. Then Joseph was preparing to go away, because there arose a great disorder in Bethlehem by the coming of some wise men from the east,
The arrival of the wise men from the east and their meeting with Herod is also in Matthew 1:1ff.
2. Who said, Where is the king of the Jews born? For we
have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.
3. When Herod heard this, he was exceedingly troubled, and sent messengers to the wise men, and to the priests, and inquired of them in the town-hall.
Herod was troubled because he was the representative appointed by the Roman government and mention of the birth of a king portended sedition.
4. And said to them, Where have you found it written
concerning Christ the king, or where should he be born?
5. Then they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judaea; for thus it is written: And you Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not the least among the princes of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler, who will rule my people Israel.
The Old Testament prophecy is in Micah 5:2, which adds the messianic intimation that the king would be the Son of God, whose "goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."
6. And having sent away the chief priests, he inquired of
the wise men in the town-hall, and said to them, What sign was it
you saw concerning the king that is born?
7. They answered him, We saw an extraordinary large star shining among the stars of heaven, which so out-shined all the other stars, so that they became invisible, and we knew thereby that a great king was born in Israel, and therefore we are come to worship him.
8. Then said Herod to them, Go and make diligent inquiry; and if you find the child, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9. So the wise men went forth, and behold, the star which they saw in the east went before them till it came and stood over the cave where the young child was with Mary his mother.
Here is an apparent discrepancy of time or place. Matthew 2:11 says the wise men found Mary and the babe in a house, not a cave, indicating they arrived at a later time. Christian art has reconciled the cave with the manger by putting the manger in a kind of cave, but depicting the wise men there is probably an anachronism.
10. Then they brought forth out of their treasures, and
offered to him gold and frankincense, and myrrh.
11. And being warned in a dream by an angel that they should not return to Herod through Judaea, they departed into their own country by another way.
1. Herod enraged, orders the infants in Bethlehem to be slain. 2. Mary puts her infant in an ox manger. 3. Elizabeth flees with her son John to the mountains. 6. A mountain miraculously divides and receives them. 9. Herod incensed at the escape of John, causes Zacharias to be murdered at the altar, 23. the roofs of the temple rent, the body miraculously conveyed, and the blood petrified. 25. Israel mourns for him. 27. Simeon chosen his successor by lot.
1. Then Herod perceiving that he was mocked by the wise men, and being very angry, commanded certain men to go and to kill all the children that were in Bethlehem, from two years old and under.
Herod was a resentful descendant of the Idumeans who had been forcibly converted to Judaism. His cruelty was prefigured at Moses' birth, when Pharaoh attempted to destroy the firstborn males (Exodus 1:16, 22). This event is also in Matthew 2:16-18, where it indicates the event was a fulfillment of prophecy: "Thus saith the Lord: A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not." (Jeremiah 31:15) He records that as the Jews were on their sad pilgrimage to an alien land, they passed Ramah, where Rachael, who had long been dead, is pictured weeping even in her tomb for the fate that had befallen the people, her children. As Rachael was tod her children would return from exile in Babylon (Jeremiah 31:16, 17), so Jesus will return from his exile in Egypt.
2. But Mary hearing that the children were to be killed, being under much fear, took the child, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in an ox-manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:7 is alluded to, though misapplied as to misapplied as to time.
3. Elizabeth also, hearing that her son John was about to
be searched for, took him and went up to the mountains, and
looked around for a place to hide him;
4. And there were no secret places to be found.
5. Then she groaned within herself and said, O mountain of the Lord, receive the mother with the child.
6. For Elizabeth could not climb up.
7. And instantly the mountain was divided and received them.
The escape of Elizabeth into a miraculous opening in a mountain seem to have been an appealing theme to noncanonical writers, for the same thing is found in the Acts of Paul and Thecla. The baby John the Baptist was under suspicion as the promised king of Israel because he was born shortly before Jesus.
8. And there appeared to them an angel of the Lord, to
9. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] But Herod made search after John and sent servants to Zacharias, when he was ministering at the altar, and said to him, Where have you hidden your son?
10. He replied to them, I am a minister of God and a servant at the altar; how should I know where my son is?
11. So the servants went back, and told Herod the whole; at which he was incensed and said, Is not this son of his likely to be king in Israel?
12. He sent therefore again his servants to Zacharias, saying, Tell us the truth, where is your son, for you know that your life is in my hand.
13. So the servants went and told him all this:
14. But Zacharias replied to them, I am a martyr for God, and if he shed my blood, the Lord will receive my soul.
15. Besides know that you shed innocent blood.
16. However Zacharias was murdered in the entrance of the temple and altar, and about the partition;
17. But the children of Israel knew not when he was killed.
18. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] Then at the hour of salutation the priests went into the temple, but Zacharias did not according to custom meet them and bless them;
19. Yet they still continued waiting for him to salute them;
20. And when they found he did not come for a long time, one of them ventured into the holy place where the altar was, and he saw blood lying upon the ground congealed;
21. When, behold, a voice from heaven said, Zacharias is murdered, and his blood will not be wiped away, until the revenger of his blood come.
22. But when he heard this, he was afraid, and went forth and told the priests what he had seen and heard; and they all went in, and saw the fact.
23. The roofs of the temple then howled and were rent from the top to the bottom:
24. And they could not find the body, but only blood made hard like stone.
This Zachariah, of course, is not the one referred to by Jesus: "That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar." (Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51) The Old Testament story of that man is found in II Chronicles 24:21, but the martyrdom of Zacharias the high-priest and father of John the Baptist is nowhere mentioned in the New Testament.
Epiphanius cites from a Gnostic manuscript that fancifully elaborates on the earlier story of his being struck mute after a vision and garbles it with his death: "That it was the occasion of the death of Zacharias in the temple, that when he had seen a vision, he, through surprise was willing to disclose it, and his mouth was stopped. That which he saw was at the time of his offering incense, and it was a man standing in the form of an ass. When he was gone out, and had a mind to speak thus to the people, Woe to you, whom do ye worship? he who had appeared to him in the temple took away the use of his speech. Afterwards when he recovered it, and was able to speak, he declared this to the Jews, and they slew him." The Gnostics in this book added anachronistically that "it was for this reason the high-priest was ordered by God through Moses to carry little bells, so that whenever he went into the temple to sacrifice, he, whom they worshipped, hearing the noise of the bells, might have time enough to hide himself, and not be caught in that ugly shape and figure."
However, there is a similar story to the death of Zacharias told in the Protevangelion in both the Jerusalem and Babylonish Talmud (cited by Lightfoot in "Talmud, Hierosol, in Taannith" and "Talmud, Babylonish in Sanhedran"): "Rabbi Jochanan said, Eighty thousand priests were slain for the blood of Zacharias. Rabbi Judas asked Rabbi Achan, Where did they kill Zacharias? Was it in the woman's court, or in the court of Israel? He answered: Neither in the court of Israel, nor in the court of women, but in the court of the priests; and they did not treat his blood in the same manner as they were wont to treat the blood of a ram or a young goat. For of these it is written, He will pour out his blood, and cover it with dust. But it is written here, The blood is in the midst of her: she set it upon the top of the rock; she poured it not upon the ground. (Ezekiel 24:7.) But why was this? That it might cause fury to come up to take vengeance: I have set his blood upon the top of a rock, that it should not be covered. They committed seven evils that day: they murdered a priest, a prophet, and a king; they shed the blood of the innocent: they polluted the court: that day was the Sabbath: and the day of expiation. When therefore Nebuzaradan came there (that is, to Jerusalem), he saw his blood bubbling, and said to them, What meaneth this? They answered, It is the blood of calves, lambs, and rams, which we have offered upon the altar. He commanded them that they should bring calves, and lambs, and rams, and said, I will try whether this be their blood: accordingly they brought and slew them, but the blood of (Zacharias) still bubbled, but the blood of these did not bubble. Then he said, Declare to me the truth of the matter, or else I will comb your flesh with iron combs. Then said they to him, He was a priest, prophet, and judge, who prophesied to Israel all these calamities which we have suffered from you; but we arose against him, and slew him. Then said he, I will appease him: then he took the rabbins and slew them upon his (that is, Zacharias's) blood, and he was not yet appeased. Next he took the young boys from the schools, and slew them upon his blood, and yet it bubbled. Then he brought the young priests and slew them in the same place, and yet it still bubbled. So he slew at length ninety-four thousand person upon his blood, and it did not as yet cease bubbling. Then he drew near to it and said, O Zacharias, Zacharias, you have occasioned the death of the chief of your countrymen; shall I slay them all? Then the blood ceased, and did bubble no more." Surely if anything remotely resembling had happened, it would have been alluded to in the New Testament.
25. And they went away and told the people that Zacharias
was murdered, and all the tribes of Israel heard and mourned for
him, and lamented three days.
26. Then the priests took counsel together concerning a person to succeed him.
27. And Simeon and the other priests cast lots, and the lot fell upon Simeon.
28. For he had been assured by the Holy Spirit, that he should not die until he had seen Christ come in the flesh.
This must be the Simeon whose story is in Luke 2:26.
The oldest extant manuscripts close with the following: I, James wrote this History in Jerusalem: and when the disturbance came, I retired into a desert place until the death of Herod. And the disturbance ceased at Jerusalem. That which remains is, that I glorify God that he has given me such wisdom to write to you who are spiritual and who love God: to whom be ascribed glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
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