Jesus May Have Had 6 Brothers And Sisters

The other children of Joseph of Nazareth are probably the reason why there was no ossuary of Joseph among those excavated from the Talpiot tomb.

It is important to examine the relationship that Joseph of Nazareth had with his six other children to understand whether he had more roots in Nazareth than in Jerusalem.

Joseph Was Married For 49 Years And Had 6 Children

According to apocryphal sources it appears that when he was forty years, Joseph married a woman named Melcha or Escha. Other sources name this woman Salome. In any case it is said that they were married for forty nine years and that the couple had six children – two girls and four boys.

The boys were named Justus, Simon, Judas and James and the girls Assia and Lydia. These six children of Joseph would thus be the step brothers and sisters of Jesus. And according to some sources James was the youngest of the four boys. Others claim that James was the eldest of the boys since he is almost always mentioned first in the list. However even Matthew and Mark do not agree on the order in which the boys were born. Matthew (Matthew 13.54–56) lists them as “James and Joseph and Simon and Judas”, whereas the order in which Mark (Mark 6.3) lists them is “James and Joses [a variant of Joseph] and Judas and Simon”.

According to these two evangelists it would appear that James was the eldest.
However it is possible that James was indeed the youngest of the four siblings. Consider the fact that Jesus names James to take care of his ministry after his death. This is probably because of his closeness to the step brother he grew up with and not the other step brothers who were too old for him to easily relate to.

According to some sources these six were referred to as the blood brothers and sisters of Jesus. However James Tabor states that “Once one insists that “the blessed Virgin Mary” was “ever-virgin,” with no sexual experience whatsoever, then the brothers and sisters have to be explained away. I say this with no disrespect for those who hold such views of Mary.”

This is the reason for the speculation that the six could have been cousins/ step brothers and sisters.

What Were These Six To Jesus?

That Mary mother of Jesus refers to James as “my son” should not be construed as his being a natural brother of Jesus. In the apocryphal Nag Hammadi codex “The First Revelation of James” Jesus is supposed to have said to James “I called you my brother, though you are not physically my brother” (1).

According to other sources the boys and girls who are often referred to as the brothers and sisters of Jesus are in fact the cousins of Jesus. Some scholars claim that when John 19:25 talks of “Standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdala”, he is talking about Mary the wife of Clopas who is the sister of the mother of Jesus. This Mary almost certainly isn’t the natural sister of the mother of Jesus but a cousin or a close relative. This is why the writer of the gospel uses the word “adelphos” to refer to James and Joseph (Jose), because the word could denote a brother or sister as the case may be or even a cousin, a nephew or a close relative.

Proponents of this theory reason that this is the most likely relationship between Jesus and the boys as James and Joseph/Jose are never referred to as the sons of Joseph. To further support the claim that James and Joseph/ Jose were not the children of Mary the mother of Jesus both John and the other Synoptic gospels refer to the Mary, the wife of Clopas as being the “mother of James and Joseph (Jose)”. Similarly Judas and Simon who are referred to as his brothers and the women referred to as his sisters are his near relatives from other branches of Jesus’ extended family (2).

So are James and Joseph/Jose and Judas and Simon and the girls the children of Joseph from an earlier marriage or are they the cousins of Jesus from his extended family?

The confusion as to whether the brothers and sisters of Jesus were indeed his full brothers and sisters arose because they are referred to as his brothers and sisters in the bible in Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3 (see also Mk. 3:31; Lk. 8:20; Jn. 2:12; 7:3-5; Acts 1:14; Gal. 1:19; 1 Cor. 9:5). This is because the bible uses the Greek words adelphos and adelphe – literally meaning brother and sister respectively – to describe Jesus’ relationship to the supposed brothers and sisters.

Why would the bible use these words if the brothers and sisters were not the full brothers and sisters of Jesus? This, scholars say, is an error of translation. Hebrew and Aramaic – the first being the original language of the bible and the latter, the language of the time – did not have a word to denote cousin or nephew or other such relationships. As a consequence, when required to be exact one would have had to say “the son of my father’s brother” or simply “my brother”. In the latter case the relationship was correctly understood because of tradition. Because of this, when the old testament was translated to Greek, the version called the “Septuagint” or “LXX” the traditional Hebrew expression adelphos was used even though there is a word in Greek to denote a cousin simply because the Hebrew expression was traditionally also understood as cousin. This convention was continued in the New Testament also (3).

Were These 6 The Blood Brothers And Sisters Of Jesus?

There is another theory. It is claimed by some that those referred to as the brothers and sisters of Jesus were indeed his own brothers and sisters born to Mary and Joseph after him. To support their claim they quote the reference in the bible where Jesus is called the “first-born son” of Mary, implying that Mary had other children besides Jesus. However St. Jerome refutes this claim by saying that during the time of Jesus it was tradition to use the moniker “first born” to refer to the child that first comes out of a womb, even though there may not have been other children after that. He states that “The word of God defines first-born as everything that openeth the womb” (4).
However the bible refers to Jesus as the first born of Mary. Therefore this does not mean that Joseph did not have children by a previous wife. Besides this, the Jews of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus still followed the Mosaic Law which encouraged married couples to have many children. So why would Joseph and Mary want to be different?

It is quite likely that these brothers and sisters of Jesus were indeed his step brothers and sisters – the children of Joseph from an earlier marriage and not from his marriage to Mary. Because if Mary did have children after Jesus would he have not given Mary to the care of one of his younger brothers instead of giving her to the care of the beloved apostle John? (5).

It is necessary to study the relationship of James and the others to Jesus and Joseph. If James and the others were the children of Joseph and Jesus was only a foster child, then it is only natural for Joseph to be more attached to his own children, especially in his waning years.

There is controversy even about Joseph’s marriage to Mary. According to some sources he is supposed to have married Mary when he was twenty one and she was fourteen and a half. But most sources say that Joseph was ninety one when he married Mary. This is more likely as the other temple priests would certainly not have entrusted Mary to the care of a twenty-one year old man (6).

After Joseph returned to Nazareth from Egypt he seemingly lived an easy, run of the mill life that befitted a Jew of his age and status. But for the Passover visit to the Temple when Jesus was twelve years, there is no mention of Joseph in the gospels. Subsequently Mary is depicted as a widow during Jesus’ adult ministry (7).

Joseph is not mentioned as being present at any of the events during the adult ministry of Jesus. Joseph is not mentioned as being present at the wedding at Cana nor at the crucifixion. According to Jewish custom were he present at the end he would have been required to receive Jesus’ body, whereas this task is performed by Joseph of Arimathea (8).

Joseph The Foster Father Of Jesus Was 111 when He Died

As per the apocryphal “Story of Joseph the Carpenter”, the patriarch of the holy family was a hundred and eleven years when he died, on 20 July 18 or 19 CE. But according to St. Epiphanius, Joseph was ninety years old when he died and was “buried in the Valley of Josaphat.” However, considering extra-biblical sources it would appear that Joseph died before Jesus began his adult ministry and was buried in Nazareth (9).


The Josaphat Valley

Based on early tradition we learn that Joseph was buried in Nazareth (Bagatti 1969: 12; Kopp 1963: 64-66), possibly in the “tomb of the saints” on the property of the Sisters of Nazareth (Livio 1990: 28) (10).

Please also read my blog “Hometown Of Joseph And Jesus – Nazareth Or Bethlehem?” at


(1) History of Joseph the Carpenter. (2011). Retrieved 2011, from

(2) Bonocore, Mark. (2004). The Four Marys un the Gospels. Retrieved 2011, from

(3) The “Brothers and Sisters” of Christ. (2003). Retrieved 2011, from

(4) The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary. Retrieved 2011, from

(5) Behold Thy Son! (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from

(6) Joseph and Mary were married, in accordance with Jewish custom, at Mary’s home in the environs of Nazareth when Joseph was twenty-one years old.

(7) Saint Joseph. (2012). Retrieved 2012, from

(8) Jesus. (2012). Retrieved 2012, from

(9) Knight, Kevin. (2009). St. Joseph. Retrieved 2011 from

(10) Franz, Gordon. (2007). The So-Called Jesus Family Tomb ‘Rediscovered’ in Jerusalem. Retrieved 2011, from

Picture Credits:

(Fig 1) The Josaphat Valley


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