Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lesson Four: Joseph, The Magi and the Shepherds

1: Killing off the Magi Myths

Is this how you see the Magi story?A bright star appeared in the sky. It was seen in the east by three kings. It then moved off and the Kings followed it until it came to Bethlehem At the same time Mary and Joseph arrived at Bethlehem, and after trying a dozen or so inns, (which unfortunately were full up), they ended up in a stable. The star then stopped over the stable were Jesus had just been born. Passing a few joyful shepherds on the way out, the Kings came in and presented gifts to the baby, who was lying in a manger.I hope people will not be too offended if I say that the above account of things is at worse erroneous or at best confused. The Bible is still the world's best selling book but I doubt that many people have actually read it and have taken in what it says. Even in today's largely literate society, there are many who still rely on what others say, rather than going to look at the evidence themselves. The above account of the appearance of the Star of Bethlehem owes more to imagination and attempts to fill out the time in Nativity plays, than it does to the Bible!Let's see what the Bible says. There is only one book in the Bible that specifically mentions the Magi and star in its account of Jesus' birth. That book is Matthew's Gospel, which is the first book of the New Testament. The account starts in the 2nd Chapter beginning at the first verse and going on to the 23rd verse. Now Jesus having been born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, behold, Magi, from the east, arrived in Jerusalem saying; Where is the one born King of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising, and came to worship him. Now hearing this, King Herod was troubled and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him. Having assembled all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired from them where the Christ was to be born. They told him; In Bethlehem of Judea, for it has been written through the prophet; 'And you Bethlehem in the land of Judah, among the rulers of Judah, are not at all the least. For out of you will come forth a ruler of Judah who will shepherd my people - Israel. ' Then Herod, secretly calling the Magi, inquired carefully from them the time of the appearing star. Sending them to Bethlehem he said: Go and question carefully concerning the child, and when you find him report to me so that I also may come and worship him. So hearing the king they went. Behold! The star that they had seen at its rising in the east went before them until coming, it stood over where the child was. Seeing the star they rejoiced with an exceeding great joy. Coming into the house they saw the child with Mary, his mother. Falling down they worshipped him and opening their treasures they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh. Having been warned by a dream not to return to Herod, they departed by another way to their own country. (My own English version) Notice several points of interest. Nowhere does it mention 'Kings'. Neither does it say how many there were. There is no indication of where they came from, their racial characteristics, their names or their mode of transport. Notice also that they did not follow a star to Jerusalem or Bethlehem. They saw the star before their journey; they saw it again just as they approached Bethlehem. The only guiding it did was as they approached Bethlehem. You will also see that there is no mention of a stable or any indication that Jesus was a new born baby when the Magi arrived.With a lack of information for plays and stories, people have embellished it. Occasionally this is in keeping with the facts; mostly it is in contradiction to them. If you want to look at this subject seriously you will have to go through the possibly painful process of killing off the myths. The Mythical Names and Origins.Various names have been given to the Magi. Hormizdah, Yazdegerd and Perozdh are mentioned in one account. In another, they have the names, Hor, Basanater and Karsudan. The Western tradition names them Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar. These names were first used by Origen (d. 254) and become popular from the 6th Century. In a mosaic in Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, dating from AD 550, Balthasar is middle aged with a black beard, Gaspar is old and has a white beard and Melchoir is young and beardless. By the 9th Century the tradition was firmly established that they represent 3 races. Balthasar was Asian, Gaspar a white European and Melchoir was African and therefore black. However the dipiction of each often varies from painting to painting and from tale to tale. The ages of each are often interposed and even the races are occasionally interchanged.They did not popularly become 'Kings' until the 10th Century when painters started to depict them as such. However the 'Kings' idea flourished in various parts of the world as early as AD 250 - Tertullian in Africa certainly called them such. Roman Catholic tradition claims to have various parts of their bodies preserved as holy relics. Camels and ships are also mentioned in the Old Testament which find themselves in various stories. This is a particularly good example of the romanticism of these embellishments. Camel riding was normally used by traders who needed to carry goods, anyone with a bit of money, like our Magi, would have used horses. The number of the Magi, (not mentioned in the Bible), has also been the subject of Christian imagination. A 2nd century drawing in the Roman catacombs at Domitilla, Rome, depicts four Wise Men, two on either side, presenting their gifts to Mary and the child. Another catacomb drawing shows only two Magi. In some medieval art there are twelve Wise Men. However, it has to be said that most often three Wise Men are shown, one for each gift.
What exactly are Magi?

The term, like a lot of words, has changed it's meaning over a period of time. It was originally associated with the Medes and the Persians and has it's beginning with a man called Zoroaster. Around the year 1000 BC, Zoroaster began to proclaim a religious message based on the principle `Do good, hate evil'. He preached that there was just one god, Ahura-Mazda, (Wise Lord). Ahura-Madza was the good force in the world represented by purifying fire and water and was apparantly a god that one could talk to. Opposed to the good, taught Zoroaster, was a dark power of evil. This code of belief has survived in one form or other throughout history and even has its followers today in the poorer comunities of modern day Iran.
The term Magi was originally reserved for a tribe of the Medes who were priests for the Persian empire and the Zoastrian Religion. Having said this the term 'Magi' became popular and eventually by the 1st century AD, it was being used of any mysterious person who had access to knowledge not normally known to most people. Thus in the book of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:9 ff) we have the exploits of a man calling himself 'Simon - the Great Power'. He earned himself a living by performing magic - doing the work of a 'magos'. This is very similar to modern stage magicians, who having learned the art of illusion, use it to make the impossible seem possible. Today most of these magicians would not claim to have magic powers but simply special knowledge, (although there are exceptions!) Simon, like all magicians, always on the look out for new tricks to add to his repertoire, saw the miracles performed by the apostles and tried to buy the secret off them! Needless to say, this attitude was given short shrift by the apostles! Also in the book of Acts we have a Jew called Elymas, also described as a 'magos'. (Acts 13:6-12) He was an advisor to the proconsul in Paphos, Serginus Paulus. Luke describes him as a false prophet and he is later accused of 'perverting the ways of the Lord.'
These individuals are both depicted as being wicked and opposed to the work of God. They are in fact charlatans whose lack of real wisdom leads to their own downfall. The Magi in Matthew's gospel, however, seem a very different group of people to either the conjuror Simon or the deceiver Elymas. They seem to be quiet, sincere and of admirable conduct. They had apparantly come across knowledge through careful research and wished only to respond to it. At no time is there any indication that they gained anything material from their research. Is there perhaps any use of the word, 'Magi', which fits this description better that the ones we have seen? Well, some Magi at this time were employed by rulers of countries much the same way as specialists are employed by modern governments today; to keep them up to date on latest developments and to provide advice. Being high up in social circles, but not military people, Magi were sometimes used as envoys to travel to other countries, representing the royal family. They would gather for important events like coronations, funerals or the opening of new cities or harbours. This was particularly so if the Magi were related to the royal family in some way. They would have been interested in time keeping, calenders, tides, medicine, religion, alchemy and many other subjects. They would have been particularly interested in the study of the night sky. It was thought at that time, that what was observed in the sky was reflected in the events upon the earth. Monitoring of events in the heavens, it was believed gave insight into what was happening, or going to happen upon the earth. A knowledge of the night sky was therefore essential. Is this what our Magi were, religious, scholarly envoys? It does seem to fit better the kind of 'Magi' we find in Matthew's account.

Where did our Magi come from?

The Bible tells us that the Wise Men came from the East. Exactly how far east, and to what extent that description can be interpreted is largely unknown. Much later legend has the each of the Wise Men coming from different countries. However, three (because of the 3 gifts) Wise Men coming independently to the same place and perhaps meeting up upon the way is not suggested by scripture. Neither is it a strong argument to say they could only have bought a particular gift from it's country of origin. The trade routes would have made any gift available from almost any country in the area.
Here are 3 main possibilities.

Persia -
Did the Wise Men of Matthew's gospel come from Persia, the home of the Zoroastrian Magi? This is possible and it was certainly a main belief of the early Christian Church. In a letter associated with the Synod of Jerusalem in AD. 836 an incident was related to have happened in AD. 614 when Persian armies invaded the Holy Land destroying Christian Churches. Apparently when they came to the Basilica in Bethlehem they refused to destroy it because of a mosaic depicting the adoration of the Magi. It turns out they recognized them because of their dress; the belted tunics and full sleeves, in trousers wearing Phrygian caps. They were fellow Persians! Clement of Alexandria believed that Persian writings actually refer to the coming of the Son of God. The apocryphal Arabic Gospel of the Infancy, 7:1 says in its account of the Magi that they came to Jerusalem 'according the prediction of Zoroaster.' They may have been referring to a doctrine of Zoroastrianism where says that a son of Zoroaster will be born many years after his death by a virgin who will bathe in a lake where Zoroaster's semen is preserved. This son will apparently raise the dead and crush the forces of evil. Later Christians got rather excited about this apparent pagan prophecy of the coming of the Messiah since there is no evidence that it was known by the gospel writers or by the apostles. It is possible that our Magi knew of this prophecy and others concerning this figure of salvation.

Arabia -
Another way of approaching this is to look at the Old Testament expectations and its idea of 'the East.' . The gifts brought by the wise men mentioned in Matthew are also mentioned in the Old Testament.
In Isaiah 60: 6 it says,
'Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.'
Psalm 72:15 says
'Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given to him. May people ever pray for him and bless him all day long.'
Sheba was a country located in south-west Arabia. It was known for its wealth by trading spices, gold and jewels with Mediterranean countries. At this time Sheba was ruled by Priest-Kings who oversaw the worship of stars, sun and moon. A temple to the moon-god, Ilumquh, dating from the 7th century BC has been discovered by archaeologists at Marib, once the capital of Sheba. These Biblical passages clearly refers to the tributes of gold being brought from Sheba to the new ruler in Israel. The Jewish religion would have some familiarity in Arabia since there were colonies of Jews in the area and as we have seen the Shebans had an interest in stars. Also the 'people of the east' or 'bene-qedem' are often associated with wisdom; for example in 1 Kings 4:30 we are told, 'Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. ' The term 'people of the east' refers to a number of tribes including Midianites, Amalekites (Jdg. 6:3), Moabites, Ammonites (Ezk. 25:10) and Kedarites. All of them roughly in the area known as Arabia. It is also significant that the earliest references to the Magi in Christian thought are that they came from Arabia. Justin, in AD. 160 wrote in his Dialogue, 'Magi from Arabia came to him. (that is Herod)' In AD. 96 Clement of Rome wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians that he associated frankincense and myrrh with 'the districts near Arabia.' Arabia then seems to fit in best with Old Testament expectations as the origin of the gospel Magi.

Babylon -
The final possibility for the home of our Magi is Babylon. This is based upon the facts that we have concerning the Babylonians. They had apparently studied the night's sky to a most excellent degree. Their meticulous research and extensive records of astronomical phenomenon were unmatched in the western world. In addition to this was the widespread Jewish influence in Babylon due to the large numbers of Jews who stayed in Babylon after the Exile in the 6th Century BC. Babylon was in a unique position then of having well informed Magi, both of astronomical events and Jewish Messianic expectations. In addition the book of Daniel frequently mentions Magi in the Babylonian Court. (Daniel 1:20, 2:2, 4:1, 4:9, 5:11) Despite all this the early Christian writers seem not to have heard that the Magi came from Babylon. The theory never occurred to the early Christian writers; at least none of the writings we have mention the possibility of the Magi being Babylonian. It is strange therefore that it seems to have the backing of most modern scholars. Many of them take it as established fact that the Magi were Babylonian.

Hymns, songs, story books, television and radio all say that the Magi were kings. Yet Matthew's gospel says nothing of them being kings. Where does this idea come from? The discovery of the account of King Tiridates, a Magi, might have had some influence on this. Mostly it is attempts by later scholars to squeeze information out of the Old Testamant passages.

Isaiah 60:3
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Psalms 72:10
The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts.

Psalm 68:29
Because of your temple at Jerusalem, kings will bring you gifts.

What are we to make of these prophecies?
Old Testament prophecies tend to have an immediate use for the time they were made but they are often used for a distant event as well. The prophecy in Psalm 72:10 (above) is a good example. It mentions the kings of Tarshish bringing tribute. This was originally for King David, to show how his rule will impress other nations. However if the whole psalm is read, it goes beyond King David's time and looks to a more perfect king and kingdom. Like a three dimensional image, the focus can be pulled backwards and forwards, giving emphasis to different parts of the image. It need not be true that kings came to Jesus and presented him with herds of camels, chests of gold and other gifts. (For instance we are told nothing of herds of camels given to the infant Jesus!) The principle of what happened to David will symbolically happen to the coming Messiah. Therefore the Magi need not be kings, but symbolically, the prophecies are fulfilled in the coming of wise men to Jesus.
Having said that, it is possible that the Magi were members of royal families, or lords of some kinds. Magi tended to come from those social groups. It is not impossible for a Magi to be a king. History knows of at least one, King Tiradates. However they are not described as Kings in the New Testament and therefore the term should not really be used.
How credible is our Magi account?

Accounts of Magi occur throughout ancient literature. Typical is this verse from Herodotus when the King asked advice about a possible rival king.
The Magi said, "O King, we too are very anxious that your sovereignty prosper: for otherwise, it passes from your nation to this boy who is a Persian, and so we Medes are enslaved and held of no account by the Persians, as we are of another blood, but while you, our countryman, are established king, we have our share of power, and great honour is shown us by you.
(Histories 1.120.5)

Magi were very involved in the affairs of kings and often had the responsibilities of deciding who would be king in the event of a dispute. It was not unknown for them to rule a country in certain circumstances.
It might be supposed that groups of Magi did not take it upon themselves to go visit important people, hundreds, maybe thousands of miles away. In fact this is not the case; part of the job of some Magi was to act as envoys on behalf of their monarch.
The historian, Josephus tells us that in 10 BC ambassadors came to celebrate the building of Caesarea Sebaste, bearing gifts. They came apparently to reciprocate for gifts given by King Herod to their respective countries. (Ant. 16.5.1)
A story is found in various places of the King of Armenia, Tiridates. (This includes Dio Cassius 63.1-7, Pliny's Natural History 30.6.16-17 and Suetonius' Nero 13) It tells us that in AD 66, he and his three royal companions, journeyed to Rome to pay homage and to make predictions about the Emperor Nero. Pliny, a Roman historian particularly notes that they were Magi. However there are several differences between these Magi and the gospel Magi. The gospel Magi are not described as kings (but most Magi were of the lordly classes or related to the monarchy). Neither do our Magi make predictions or have ulterior motives for wanting to worship the holy child. However, what we can say of these other accounts is that they demonstrate the normality of the gospel account. There is nothing improbable about it. To what extent our account has affected these other accounts, or to what extent these other accounts have affected Matthew's account is not known. However it is interesting that in Pliny's account he says that Tiridates and his companions did not go back the way they came but returned by another route. This is a curious phrase for they apparantly had no reason to go back by another route but of course our Magi did. The gospel Magi returned home by another route to avoid King Herod. (Matt 2:12)
Who Were the Magi?
By Chuck Missler
Each year, as we approach the holiday season, our preparations for Christmas include revisiting the events surrounding the birth of Our Lord. Bethlehem, (1) the shepherds, and the angels are familiar to us all. But not much is generally known about the mysterious "Magi" who came to worship the infant Jesus. The following background may be helpful to stimulate conversations around the fireplace as our thoughts turn to this incredible event from which we measure our very calendar.
Most of what we associate with the "Magi" is from early church traditions. Most have assumed there were three of them, since they brought three specific gifts (but the Biblical text doesn't number them). They are called "Magi" from the Latinized form of the Greek word magoi, transliterated from the Persian, for a select sect of priests. (Our word "magic" comes from the same root.)
As the years passed, the traditions became increasingly embellished. By the 3rd century they were viewed as kings. By the 6th century they had names: Bithisarea, Melichior, and Gathaspa. Some even associated them with Shem, Ham and Japheth--the three sons of Noah--and thus with Asia, Africa, and Europe. A 141h century Armenian tradition identifies them as Balthasar, King of Arabia; Melchior, King of Persia; and Gasper, King of India.
(Relics attributed to them emerged in the 4th century and were transferred from Constantinople to Milan in the 5th century, and then to Cologne in 1162 where they remain enshrined.)
These are interesting traditions, but what do we really know about them?
The Priesthood of the Medes
.The ancient Magi were a hereditary priesthood of the Medes (known today as the Kurds) credited with profound and extraordinary religious knowledge. After some Magi, who had been attached to the Median court, proved to be expert in the interpretation of dreams, Darius the Great established them over the state religion of Persia. (2) (Contrary to popular belief, the Magi were not originally followers of Zoroaster. (3) That all came later.)
It was in this dual capacity, whereby civil and political counsel was invested with religious authority, that the Magi became the supreme priestly caste of the Persian empire and continued to be prominent during the subsequent Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanian periods. (4)
The Role of Daniel
One of the titles given to Daniel was Rab-mag, the Chief of the Magi. (5) His unusual career included being a principal administrator in two world empires--the Babylonian and the subsequent Persian Empire. When Darius appointed him, a Jew, over the previously hereditary Median priesthood, the resulting repercussions led to the plots involving the ordeal of the lion's den. (6)
Daniel apparently entrusted a Messianic vision (to be announced in due time by a "star") to a secret sect of the Magi for its eventual fulfillment. But first let's review some historical background.
Political Background
Since the days of Daniel, the fortunes of both the Persian and the Jewish nation had been closely intertwined. Both nations had, in their turn, fallen under Seleucid domination in the wake of Alexander's conquests. Subsequently, both had regained their independence: the Jews under Maccabean leadership, and the Persians as the dominating ruling group within the Parthian Empire.
It was at this time that the Magi, in their dual priestly and governmental office, composed the upper house of the Council of the Megistanes (from which we get the term "magistrates"), whose duties included the absolute choice and election of the king of the realm.
It was, therefore, a group of Persian--Parthian "king makers" who entered Jerusalem in the latter days of the reign of Herod. Herod's reaction was understandably one of fear when one considers the background of Roman-Parthian rivalry that prevailed during his lifetime.
Rome on the Rise
Pompey, the first Roman conqueror of Jerusalem in 63 B.C., had attacked the Armenian outpost of Parthia. In 55 B.C. Crassus led Roman legions in sacking Jerusalem and in a subsequent attack on Parthia proper. The Romans were decisively defeated at the battle of Carrhae with the loss of 30,000 troops, including their commander. The Parthians counterattacked with a token invasion of Armenia, Syria, and Palestine.
Nominal Roman rule was reestablished under Antipater, the father of Herod, who, in his turn, retreated before another Parthian invasion in 40 B.C.
Mark Antony reestablished Roman sovereignty in 37 B.C. and, like Crassus before him, Also embarked on a similarly ill-fated Parthian expedition. His disastrous retreat was followed by another wave of invading Parthians, which swept all Roman opposition completely out of Palestine (including Herod himself, who fled to Alexandria and then to Rome).
With Parthian collaboration, Jewish sovereignty was restored, and Jerusalem was fortified with a Jewish garrison.
Herod, by this time, had secured from Augustus Caesar the title of "King of the Jews." However, it was not for three years, including a five months' siege by Roman troops, that Herod was able to occupy his own capital city! Herod had thus gained the throne of a rebellious buffer state which was situated between two mighty contending empires. At any time his own subjects might conspire in bringing the Parthians to their aid. At the time of the birth of Christ, Herod may have been close to his final illness. Augustus was also aged, and Rome, since the retirement of Tiberius, was without an experienced military commander. Pro-Parthian Armenia was fomenting revolt against Rome (which was successfully accomplished within two years.)
The Tensions in Parthia
The time was ripe for another Parthian invasion of the buffer provinces, except for the fact that Parthia itself was racked by internal dissension. Phraates IV, the unpopular and aging king, had once been deposed and it was not improbable that the Persian Magi were already involved in the political maneuvering requisite to choosing his successor. It was conceivable that the Magi might be taking advantage of the king's lack of Popularity to further their own interests with the establishment of a new dynasty, which could have been implemented if a sufficiently strong contender could be found.
At this time it was entirely conceivable that the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, culminating in the writings of Daniel, one of their own Magians, was of profound motivating significance. The promise of a divinely imposed world dominion at the hands of a Jewish monarch might be more than acceptable to them. (Their own Persian and Medo-Persian history was studded with Jewish nobles, ministers, and counselors; and in the great Achaemenid days, some of the kings themselves were of Jewish blood.)
The Entourage to Jerusalem
In Jerusalem, the sudden appearance of the Magi, probably traveling in force with all imaginable oriental pomp and accompanied by an adequate cavalry escort to insure their safe penetration of Roman territory, certainly alarmed Herod and the populace of Jerusalem.
It would seem as if these Magi were attempting to perpetrate a border incident which could bring swift reprisal from Parthian armies. Their request of Herod regarding the one who "has been born King of the Jews" (7) was a calculated insult to him, a non--Jew (8) who had contrived and bribed his way into that office.
Consulting his scribes, Herod discovered from the prophecies in the Tanach (the Old Testament) that the Promised One, the Messiah, would be born in Bethlehem. (9) Hiding his concern and expressing sincere interest, Herod requested them to keep him informed.
After finding the babe and presenting their prophetic gifts, the Magi "being warned in a dream" (a form of communication most acceptable to them) departed to their own country, ignoring Herod's request. (Within two years Phraataces, the parricide son of Phraates IV, was duly installed by the Magi as the new ruler of Parthia.)
Daniel's Messianic Role
Living six centuries before the birth of Christ, Daniel certainly received an incredible number of Messianic prophecies. In addition to several overviews of all of Gentile world history, (10) the Angel Gabriel told him the precise day that Jesus would present Himself as King to Jerusalem."
It is interesting that Daniel's founding of a secret sect of the Magi also had a role in having these prominent Gentiles present gifts at the birth of the Jewish Messiah.
The Christmas Gifts
The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were also prophetic, speaking of our Lord's offices of king, priest, and savior. Gold speaks of His kingship; frankincense was a spice used in the priestly duties; and myrrh was an embalming ointment anticipating His death.
In the Millennium, He will also receive the gifts of gold and frankincense;" but no myrrh: His death was once and for all.
What gifts are YOU going to give Him this year? Discuss it with Him.
The chief sources of information on the life of St. Joseph are the first chapters of our first and third Gospels; they are practically also the only reliable sources, for, whilst, on the holy patriarch's life, as on many other points connected with the Saviour's history which are left untouched by the canonical writings, the apocryphal literature is full of details, the non-admittance of these works into the Canon of the Sacred Books casts a strong suspicion upon their contents; and, even granted that some of the facts recorded by them may be founded on trustworthy traditions, it is in most instances next to impossible to discern and sift these particles of true history from the fancies with which they are associated. Among these apocryphal productions dealing more or less extensively with some episodes of St. Joseph's life may be noted the so-called "Gospel of James", the "Pseudo-Matthew", the "Gospel of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary", the "Story of Joseph the Carpenter", and the "Life of the Virgin and Death of Joseph".
St. Matthew (1:16) calls St. Joseph the son of Jacob; according to St. Luke (3:23), Heli was his father. This is not the place to recite the many and most various endeavours to solve the vexing questions arising from the divergences between both genealogies; nor is it necessary to point out the explanation which meets best all the requirements of the problem (see GENEALOGY OF CHRIST); suffice it to remind the reader that, contrary to what was once advocated, most modern writers readily admit that in both documents we possess the genealogy of Joseph, and that it is quite possible to reconcile their data.
At any rate, Bethlehem, the city of David and his descendants, appears to have been the birth-place of Joseph. When, however, the Gospel history opens, namely, a few months before the Annunciation, Joseph was settled at Nazareth. Why and when he forsook his home-place to betake himself to Galilee is not ascertained; some suppose -- and the supposition is by no means improbable -- that the then-moderate circumstances of the family and the necessity of earning a living may have brought about the change. St. Joseph, indeed, was a tekton, as we learn from Matthew 13:55, and Mark 6:3. The word means both mechanic in general and carpenter in particular; St. Justin vouches for the latter sense (Dial. cum Tryph., lxxxviii, in P.G., VI, 688), and tradition has accepted this interpretation, which is followed in the English Bible.
It is probably at Nazareth that Joseph betrothed and married her who was to become the Mother of God. When the marriage took place, whether before or after the Incarnation, is no easy matter to settle, and on this point the masters of exegesis have at all times been at variance. Most modern commentators, following the footsteps of St. Thomas, understand that, at the epoch of the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin was only affianced to Joseph; as St. Thomas notices, this interpretation suits better all the evangelical data.
It will not be without interest to recall here, unreliable though they are, the lengthy stories concerning St. Joseph's marriage contained in the apocryphal writings. When forty years of age, Joseph married a woman called Melcha or Escha by some, Salome by others; they lived forty-nine years together and had six children, two daughters and four sons, the youngest of whom was James (the Less, "the Lord's brother"). A year after his wife's death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Juda a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age. Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place. These dreams, as St. Jerome styles them, from which many a Christian artist has drawn his inspiration (see, for instance, Raphael's "Espousals of the Virgin"), are void of authority; they nevertheless acquired in the course of ages some popularity; in them some ecclesiastical writers sought the answer to the well-known difficulty arising from the mention in the Gospel of "the Lord's brothers"; from them also popular credulity has, contrary to all probability, as well as to the tradition witnessed by old works of art, retained the belief that St. Joseph was an old man at the time of marriage with the Mother of God.
The Incarnation
This marriage, true and complete, was, in the intention of the spouses, to be virgin marriage (cf. St. Augustine, "De cons. Evang.", II, i in P.L. XXXIV, 1071-72; "Cont. Julian.", V, xii, 45 in P.L.. XLIV, 810; St. Thomas, III:28; III:29:2). But soon was the faith of Joseph in his spouse to be sorely tried: she was with child. However painful the discovery must have been for him, unaware as he was of the mystery of the Incarnation, his delicate feelings forbade him to defame his affianced, and he resolved "to put her away privately; but while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. . . And Joseph, rising from his sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife" (Matthew 1:19, 20, 24).
The Nativity and the Flight to Egypt
A few months later, the time came for Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem, to be enrolled, according to the decree issued by Caesar Augustus: a new source of anxiety for Joseph, for "her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered", and "there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:1-7). What must have been the thoughts of the holy man at the birth of the Saviour, the coming of the shepherds and of the wise men, and at the events which occurred at the time of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, we can merely guess; St. Luke tells only that he was "wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him" (k12:33). New trials were soon to follow. The news that a king of the Jews was born could not but kindle in the wicked heart of the old and bloody tyrant, Herod, the fire of jealousy. Again "an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee" (Matthew 2:13).
Return to Nazareth
The summons to go back to Palestine came only after a few years, and the Holy Family settled again at Nazareth. St. Joseph's was henceforth the simple and uneventful life of an humble Jew, supporting himself and his family by his work, and faithful to the religious practices commanded by the Law or observed by pious Israelites. The only noteworthy incident recorded by the Gospel is the loss of, and anxious quest for, Jesus, then twelve years old, when He had strayed during the yearly pilgrimage to the Holy City (Luke 2:42-51).
This is the last we hear of St. Joseph in the sacred writings, and we may well suppose that Jesus's foster-father died before the beginning of Savior's public life. In several circumstances, indeed, the Gospels speak of the latter's mother and brothers (Matthew 12:46; Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; John 7:3), but never do they speak of His father in connection with the rest of the family; they tell us only that Our Lord, during His public life, was referred to as the son of Joseph (John 1:45; 6:42; Luke 4:22) the carpenter (Matthew 13:55). Would Jesus, moreover, when about die on the Cross, have entrusted His mother to John's care, had St. Joseph been still alive?
According to the apocryphal "Story of Joseph the Carpenter", the holy man reached his hundred and eleventh year when he died, on 20 July (A.D. 18 or 19). St. Epiphanius gives him ninety years of age at the time of his demise; and if we are to believe the Venerable Bede, he was buried in the Valley of Josaphat. In truth we do not know when St. Joseph died; it is most unlikely that he attained the ripe old age spoken of by the "Story of Joseph" and St. Epiphanius. The probability is that he died and was buried at Nazareth.
Joseph was "a just man". This praise bestowed by the Holy Ghost, and the privilege of having been chosen by God to be the foster-father of Jesus and the Spouse of the Virgin Mother, are the foundations of the honour paid to St. Joseph by the Church. So well-grounded are these foundations that it is not a little surprising that the cult of St. Joseph was so slow in winning recognition. Foremost among the causes of this is the fact that "during the first centuries of the Church's existence, it was only the martyrs who enjoyed veneration" (Kellner). Far from being ignored or passed over in silence during the early Christian ages, St. Joseph's prerogatives were occasionally descanted upon by the Fathers; even such eulogies as cannot be attributed to the writers among whose works they found admittance bear witness that the ideas and devotion therein expressed were familiar, not only to the theologians and preachers, and must have been readily welcomed by the people. The earliest traces of public recognition of the sanctity of St. Joseph are to be found in the East. His feast, if we may trust the assertions of Papebroch, was kept by the Copts as early as the beginning of the fourth century. Nicephorus Callistus tells likewise -- on what authority we do not know -- that in the great basilica erected at Bethlehem by St. Helena, there was a gorgeous oratory dedicated to the honour of our saint. Certain it is, at all events, that the feast of "Joseph the Carpenter" is entered, on 20 July, in one of the old Coptic Calendars in our possession, as also in a Synazarium of the eighth and nineth century published by Cardinal Mai (Script. Vet. Nova Coll., IV, 15 sqq.). Greek menologies of a later date at least mention St. Joseph on 25 or 26 December, and a twofold commemoration of him along with other saints was made on the two Sundays next before and after Christmas.
In the West the name of the foster-father of Our Lord (Nutritor Domini) appears in local martyrologies of the ninth and tenth centuries, and we find in 1129, for the first time, a church dedicated to his honour at Bologna. The devotion, then merely private, as it seems, gained a great impetus owing to the influence and zeal of such saintly persons as St. Bernard, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Gertrude (d. 1310), and St. Bridget of Sweden (d. 1373). According to Benedict XIV (De Serv. Dei beatif., I, iv, n. 11; xx, n. 17), "the general opinion of the learned is that the Fathers of Carmel were the first to import from the East into the West the laudable practice of giving the fullest cultus to St. Joseph". His feast, introduced towards the end shortly afterwards, into the Dominican Calendar, gradually gained a foothold in various dioceses of Western Europe. Among the most zealous promoters of the devotion at that epoch, St. Vincent Ferrer (d. 1419), Peter d'Ailly (d. 1420), St. Bernadine of Siena (d. 1444), and Jehan Charlier Gerson (d. 1429) deserve an especial mention. Gerson, who had, in 1400, composed an Office of the Espousals of Joseph particularly at the Council of Constance (1414), in promoting the public recognition of the cult of St. Joseph. Only under the pontificate of Sixtus IV (1471-84), were the efforts of these holy men rewarded by Roman Calendar (19 March). From that time the devotion acquired greater and greater popularity, the dignity of the feast keeping pace with this steady growth. At first only a festum simplex, it was soon elevated to a double rite by Innocent VIII (1484-92), declared by Gregory XV, in 1621, a festival of obligation, at the instance of the Emperors Ferdinand III and Leopold I and of King Charles II of Spain, and raised to the rank of a double of the second class by Clement XI (1700-21). Further, Benedict XIII, in 1726, inserted the name into the Litany of the Saints.
One festival in the year, however, was not deemed enough to satisfy the piety of the people. The feast of the Espousals of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, so strenuously advocated by Gerson, and permitted first by Paul III to the Franciscans, then to other religious orders and individual dioceses, was, in 1725, granted to all countries that solicited it, a proper Office, compiled by the Dominican Pierto Aurato, being assigned, and the day appointed being 23 January. Nor was this all, for the reformed Order of Carmelites, into which St. Teresa had infused her great devotion to the foster-father of Jesus, chose him, in 1621, for their patron, and in 1689, were allowed to celebrate the feast of his Patronage on the third Sunday after Easter. This feast, soon adopted throughout the Spanish Kingdom, was later on extended to all states and dioceses which asked for the privilege. No devotion, perhaps, has grown so universal, none seems to have appealed so forcibly to the heart of the Christian people, and particularly of the labouring classes, during the nineteenth century, as that of St. Joseph.
This wonderful and unprecedented increase of popularity called for a new lustre to be added to the cult of the saint. Accordingly, one of the first acts of the pontificate of Pius IX, himself singularly devoted to St. Joseph, was to extend to the whole Church the feast of the Patronage (1847), and in December, 1870, according to the wishes of the bishops and of all the faithful, he solemnly declared the Holy Patriarch Joseph, patron of the Catholic Church, and enjoined that his feast (19 March) should henceforth be celebrated as a double of the first class (but without octave, on account of Lent). Following the footsteps of their predecessor, Leo XIII and Pius X have shown an equal desire to add their own jewel to the crown of St. Joseph: the former, by permitting on certain days the reading of the votive Office of the saint; and the latter by approving, on 18 March, 1909, a litany in honour of him whose name he had received in baptism.

The Nativity shepherds
Names: Asher, Zebulun, Justus, Nicodemus, Joseph, Barshabba, and Jose
Source: The Syrian Book of the Bee
Appear in the Bible at Luke 2
The Book of the Bee was written by Bishop Shelemon in the Aramaic language in the thirteenth century.

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