How Big Was The Family Of Jesus?
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) talk of the brothers and sisters of Jesus. These references gave the rise to the confusion whether these so called brothers and sisters of Jesus were his blood siblings. This issue became pertinent 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.
(Fig 1) St. Jerome in his study
Why did the bible use the words adelphos and adelphe if the brothers and sisters were not the full brothers and sisters of Jesus? This according to some is an error of translation. Hebrew and Aramaic – the former 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 result 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 based on 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 customarily also understood as cousin. This convention was continued in the New Testament also.
Were These 6 The Blood Siblings Of Jesus?
In support of their claim that the six brothers and sisters of Jesus were indeed his blood siblings some scholars claim that Jesus was referred to in the Bible as the “first-born son” of Mary, implying that Mary had other children besides Jesus. However St. Jerome, a priest, confessor, theologian and historian, contests 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.”
However since the Bible refers to Jesus as the first born of Mary it is possible that Joseph had children by a previous wife. According to apocryphal sources it seems 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.
But there are those who argue that 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?
Saint Jerome who also held the perpetual virginity doctrine, argued that the brothers of Jesus were in fact sons of Mary’s sister, whom Jerome identified as Mary of Cleopas.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church refers to a statement by a modern scholar, whom it does not identify, that the brothers of Jesus were the sons of Clopas (Joseph’s brother according to Hegesippus) and Mary, the wife of Cleopas without clarifying whether or not this Mary was the sister of Jesus’ mother.
A few modern writers identify Mary of Clopas with Jesus’ mother. James Tabor postulated that Clopas, whom he accepts as a brother of Joseph, became the second husband of Jesus’ mother. Tabor argues that Clopas married Mary according to the Levirate law. This is unlikely as this would only apply in case of a childless widow. (1)
(1) References https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clopas
St. Jerome in his study https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome#/media/File:Antonio_da_Fabriano_II_-_Saint_Jerome_in_His_Study_-_Walters_37439.jpg