History of Joseph the Carpenter

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The History of Joseph the Carpenter (Historia Josephi Fabri Lignari) is a compilation of traditions concerning Mary, mother of Jesus and the "holy family," probably composed in Byzantine Egypt in Greek in the late 6th or early 7th century, but surviving only in Arabic language translation.[1] The text gives support to the doctrine of perpetual virginity of Mary.

It is one of the texts within the New Testament apocrypha concerned with period of Jesus' life before he was 12.

Contents[edit]

The text is framed as an explanation by Jesus on the Mount of Olives concerning the life of Joseph, his stepfather. Agreeing with Mary's continued virginity, the text proclaims that Joseph had four sons (Judas, Justus, James, and Simon) and two daughters (Assia and Lydia) by a previous marriage. At age 90, after the death of his first wife, Joel is given charge of the twelve year old virgin Mary. She lives in his household raising his youngest son James 'the less' along with Judas, until the time she is to be married at age 14½.

After this basic background, the text proceeds to paraphrase the Gospel of James, stopping at the point of Jesus' birth. The text states that Joseph was miraculously blessed with mental and physical youth, dying at the age of 111. His oldest sons (Justus and Simon) get married and have children, and likewise his two daughters get married and live in their own houses.

Joseph's death takes up a substantial portion of the text. He first lets out a significant prayer, including in his last words a series of lamentations about his carnal sins. Approximately 50% of the work is an extension of the death scene, in which the angel of death, as well as the archangels Michael and Gabriel, appear to him. At the conclusion of the text, Jesus affirms that Mary remained a virgin throughout her days by addressing her as "my mother, virgin undefiled."

The text says "And the holy apostles have preserved this conversation, and have left it written down in the library at Jerusalem."

There are indications that the text was written in Egypt in the 5th century. Two versions survive, one in Coptic, the other in Arabic, with the Coptic version likely being the original. Much of the text is based on material in the Gospel of James.

The apocryphal Nag Hammadi codex "The First Revelation of James" states: Jesus speaking to James "I called you my brother, though you are not physically my brother." This adds an additional record of Mary's relationship to Jesus' brothers, allowing the explanation of her perpetual virginity.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bart D. Ehrman, Zlatko Pleše The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations Oxford University Press, US 2011 p 158, quote "In its present form, the History of Joseph the Carpenter is thus a compilation of various traditions concerning Mary and the "holy family," most likely composed in Byzantine Egypt in the late sixth or early seventh century."