Holy Family Reunion

I’ve examined Jesus’ immediate family before, but what about beyond that? John 19:25 refers to a woman named Mary of Clopas, called as Jesus’ “mother’s sister,” being present at the crucifixion.

But since his mother was named Mary, does that mean she had the same name as her sister? Actually, the Gospel of John never once calls Jesus’ mother by name. It’s only by combining it with the other Gospels that we get sisters with the same name. Perhaps John was aware of an alternate tradition in which Mary was the name of Jesus’ aunt rather than his mother. Also, sisters having the same name, generally the feminine form of their father’s name, was apparently quite common in Roman culture. There has also been some suggestion that the passage in John can be taken to refer to three different women, so that Jesus’ aunt and Mary of Clopas were separate people.

The most common interpretation, however, seems to be that Mary of Clopas was actually related to Jesus’ mother in a more complicated way. While the work of the Christian historian Hegesippus has been lost, it’s referred to in documents to which we do still have access, and it claims that Clopas was the brother of Jesus’ supposed father Joseph. He and Mary were the parents of Simeon, who took over as the leader of the church in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus’ brother James. Hegesippus is also said to have mentioned two brothers named Zoker and James, grandsons of Jesus’ brother Judas. They co-owned a farm and were able to escape martyrdom by telling Emperor Domitian that their uncle’s kingdom was spiritual rather than earthly.

The Gospel of Luke presents John the Baptist as having been a first cousin of Jesus, the son of Mary’s sister Elizabeth.

This might well have simply been Luke’s own invention, but who really knows? This might well have paved the way for later ideas that other important figures in the story of Jesus, like Joseph of Arimathea and even Mary Magdalene, were also relatives. There might well be blood relatives of Jesus alive today, but since it’s been 2000 years, it would really just be an interesting bit of trivia at this point. You could say much the same thing about Jesus himself being a descendant of King David, something both Matthew and Luke demonstrate with genealogies, although the two are totally contradictory. It’s certainly possible that Jesus was descended from David, but I’m sure a lot of his contemporaries were as well. We’re talking about a period of 1000 years and people who tended to have a whole lot of children.

That Jesus himself had children is an idea that pops up from time to time, as in The Da Vinci Code in recent years. Mary Magdalene is generally identified as his wife or at least his baby mama, even though there’s no evidence of a sexual relationship between the two of them.

The earliest known reference to this concept dates back to the thirteenth century, when it is said to be part of Cathar belief. Catharism was sort of a new sect of Gnostic Christianity that developed in southern Europe, particularly France and Italy, around the twelfth century. They held a dualistic belief in God, claiming that there were both good and evil Gods.

Since the bit about Mary Magdalene being the mother to Jesus’ children is only found in the writings of Catholics opposed to Catharism, we don’t know if it was an authentic belief, but this does show that the idea that Jesus had kids is hardly a new invention. It gained a resurgence in popularity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (an uncredited source for Dan Brown’s work) suggests that they’re the ancestors of the French Merovingian dynasty. Why France? Because there’s a much older tradition that Mary Magdalene and her siblings Martha and Lazarus journeyed there as missionaries. The odd thing is that Brown and the authors of Holy Blood cite the Gnostic Gospels as sources for Jesus being a normal married guy, yet the Gnostics believed pretty much the exact opposite. Their Jesus was entirely divine and only wearing a human body for his mission on Earth.

Anyway, today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which contrary to popular belief is not the conception of Jesus but of his mother. After all, if Jesus was born in December (which he likely wasn’t, but the liturgical calendar is based around the idea that he was), he wouldn’t have also been conceived then. The Catholic date for the birth of Mary is 8 September, presumably at least partially so she’d be a Virgo.

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3 Responses to Holy Family Reunion

  1. I’ve always seen the genealogies as being complementary. Matthew’s is from Jesus’ father, Joseph, establishing the legal paternal heritage of Jesus from David. Luke’s is from Mary, his mother, establishing the bloodline from David. In this case, he’s the “son of Eli,” as in grandson (of Mary’s father Eliakim.) This isn’t without precedent, as the Hebrew Scriptures use such expressions, e.g., “Jair, son of Manasseh” was recognized as meaning Manasseh’s grandson.

    There are other theories too, but I tend to go with this one.

  2. Renée says:

    Hi! I find your writtings very interresting, and would like to know where you got your information. I am writting a disseration on conspiracy theories surrounding Leonardo Da Vinci and his paintings and fell on to your website. I’d also like to use some of your phrases in my paper, because you explain very well the subject ( don’t worry, there is a bibliography and I wouldn’t steel your own words). Anyways, your post helped alot, and I find your blog really interesting! Keep on the good work :)

    P.S. sorry for my english, i’m french
    P.P.S. if any one else has valuable information please feel free to help!

    • Nathan says:

      Feel free to cite my blog if you’d like. Most of my information comes either from Wikipedia or the results of other basic Google searches, although I think I also included a bit from Bart Ehrman’s Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.

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