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Referências

BAUCKHAM, R. The brothers and sisters of Jesus: An Epiphanian response to John P. Meir. Catholic
Biblical Quarterly. 56, 4, 686, Oct. 1994. ISSN: 00087912.
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THE BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF JESUS: AN EPIPHANIAN RESPONSE TO JOHN P. MEIER

Both in the first volume of John P. Meier's book A Marginal Jew,[1] and in his presidential address to the
Catholic Biblical Association in 1991, published in this journal.[2] Meier has discussed once again the
controversial issue of the brothers and sisters of Jesus. His two discussions are identical, except that in
the latter he relates the purely historical conclusion he reaches in the former to the doctrinal and
ecumenical issue of "the hierarchy of truths." The conclusion he reaches with regard to the historical
evidence is, at the same time, appropriately cautious as to the degree of certainty which is possible in such
a case and quite definite as to the most probable conclusion:

Needless to say, all of these arguments, even when taken together, cannot produce absolute certitude in a
matter for which there is so little evidence. Nevertheless--if prescinding from faith and later church
teaching--the historian or exegete is asked to render a judgment on the NT and patristic texts we have
examined, viewed simply as historical sources, the most probable opinion is that the brothers and sisters
of Jesus were true siblings.[3]

In other words, of the three views which have been held since at least the fourth century, he thinks the
Helvidian view (that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were children of Joseph and Mary) more probable
than the Epiphanian view (that they were children of Joseph by a previous marriage) or the Hieronymian
view (that they were not children of Joseph or Mary but were cousins of Jesus).

My own discussion of this issue,[4] written before I saw Meier's, was published after his book A Marginal
Jew I reached a different conclusion: that although the Hieronymian view is very improbable, the historical
evidence is not decisive in favor of either the Helvidian view or the Epiphanian view. Meier's article was
written after he had read my book; because in his article he reproduces his earlier discussion unchanged,
he does not engage with my arguments in detail but only responds to them briefly in additional or
expanded footnotes. In the present article I shall discuss and reject his reasons for thinking the Helvidian
view more probable than the Epiphanian. I shall also extend my discussion by adding a line of argument
for the Epiphanian view which has not been suggested before. This additional argument may tip the
balance of probability slightly in favor of the Epiphanian view.

An unfortunate feature of Meier's discussion is that he tends to construct the issue as a debate between
the Helvidian view on the one hand and the other two views on the other hand, and to present the
arguments as though the same arguments may serve to refute both the Epiphanian and Hieronymian
views and to support the Helvidian view against both. As a result, the arguments are in fact directed
primarily against the Hieronymian view and give most attention to it. The impression given is that the
Epiphanian view can be quite easily discounted. In my opinion, it is the Epiphanian view which is the
serious alternative to the Helvidian. By not taking the Epiphanian view sufficiently seriously. Meier has
missed the fact that it is not vulnerable to the most cogent criticisms he makes of the Hieronymian view.

I. Clarifying the Issue


Before addressing Meier's arguments against the Epiphanian view it is necessary to clarify the issue more
carefully than he does. In the first place, in the interests of isolating the strictly historical issue, it is
important to distinguish the question of the parentage of the brothers and sisters of Jesus from the
question of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Of course, the debate about the former, at least since the fourth
century, has been intimately connected with the latter. The Helvidian view necessarily entails denial of the
perpetual virginity. The Epiphanian view has commonly been combined with belief in the perpetual
virginity, but although the Epiphanian view (like the Hieronymian view) of the brothers and sisters of Jesus
makes the perpetual virginity a possibility, it does not entail it. My own historical argument for the
Epiphanian view of the brothers and sisters of Jesus should not be taken to be an argument for the
perpetual virginity of Mary, for which I think there is no good historical evidence.[5] In the absence of such
evidence, I find it more natural to assume that, if the Epiphanian view is correct, Mary and Joseph had
normal marital relations alter the birth of Jesus but produced no children. This is, after all, not an unusual
phenomenon.
Failure to distinguish clearly between the question of the parents of Jesus' brothers and sisters and the
question of the perpetual virginity of Mary leads Meier to treat evidence from Irenaeus (Adv. haer. 3.21.10;
3.22.4) which may indicate that Irenaeus did not believe in the perpetual virginity as though it were
evidence that Irenaeus held the Helvidian view of the brothers and sisters of Jesus.[6] But it is one thing to
assume that Joseph and Mary had sexual relations, another to think that Jesus' brothers and sisters were
offspring of Joseph and Mary. The close connection between these two points, which was forged by later
controversy about the virginity of Mary, should not be read back into Irenaeus without further argument.

Second, the relationship between the Epiphanian view and the virginal conception is more problematic, but
it is even more important to clarify. The Epiphanian view as it has been traditionally held, presupposes the
virginal conception. In this case, it means that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were not blood relatives of
Jesus at all. But it is possible to combine the Epiphanian view with denial of the historicity of the virginal
conception. In this case, it means that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were his half brothers and half
sisters, sharing with Jesus a common father (Joseph) but not a common mother. In this case, they were as
closely related to Jesus as they were according to those who combine the Helvidian view with belief in the
virginal conception as a historical fact. There is an inconsistency in Meier's argument at this point. His own
discussion of the virginal conception claims that the historical evidence is inconclusive,[7] yet he equates
the Epiphanian view with the view that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were "stepbrothers" and
"stepsisters" (i.e., that they had no biological parent in common with Jesus). On his own strictly historical
premises, his argument should have allowed for the possibility that they were half brothers and half sisters
of Jesus, sharing a common father.

The point is relevant to exegesis. Exegetes who do not regard the virginal conception as historical fact
almost always think it was unknown to Paul and Mark and often think it was unknown to John or not
accepted by him. This means that, supposing these authors knew that Jesus' brothers and sisters were
children of Joseph by a previous marriage, they would have considered them half brothers and half sisters,
not, as Meier seems to presume, step-brothers and stepsisters. Even Matthew and Luke, who do not
represent the virginal conception as a matter of common knowledge to people in Jesus' lifetime, would
have supposed, on the Epiphanian view, that Jesus' contemporaries thought his brothers and sisters were
his half brothers and half sisters, just as they mistakenly thought Joseph his biological father. Furthermore,
even exegetes who accept the historicity of the virginal conception do not usually think it was common
knowledge during Jesus' lifetime, and they by no means always think it was known to Paul and Mark.
Therefore, whether or not the virginal conception is considered historical, the Epiphanian view means that
in many of the texts the brothers and sisters of Jesus may be regarded as his half brothers and half
sisters.

Finally, however, we need to ask precisely what relationship between Jesus and his brothers and sisters is
implied by the Epiphanian view if the virginal conception is presupposed. This would be what Matthew and
Luke, at least, took to be the relationship if they held the Epiphanian view. Meier is quite correct to insist on
the distinction between this relationship and that of half siblings," but his use of the terms "stepbrother" and
"stepsister" for this relationship is potentially very misleading. Although I myself used these terms in the
same way in my book, I now regret doing so.

Relationships between stepfathers and stepchildren and relationships between stepsiblings have real
social meaning and legal implications only in a society where the children of parent A by a first marriage
and the children of parent B by a first marriage become the joint family of A and B when A and B marry. It
is doubtful that this normally happened in Jewish society.[9] In a society where patriarchal lineage is what
counts, the children of a woman by her first husband would not become part of her second husband's
family on her marriage after her first husband's death;[10] they would continue to belong to her first
husband's wider family. The only steprelationship having social reality would be that between stepmother
and stepchildren. Thus, if Joseph had been Jesus' stepfather in the ordinary sense of the word--i.e., if
Jesus had been Mary's son by a previous marriage--he would probably not have been regarded as Jesus'
father in any sense. But Matthew and Luke do not in fact portray Joseph as related to Jesus in the way
that a stepfather would be. Since Jesus had no biological father, the relationship is strictly unique, but it is
much more like an adoptive relationship than like a steprelationship. Since Jesus was conceived and born
when Mary and Joseph were either betrothed or married, and since Mary was not accused (let alone
convicted) of adultery by Joseph or by anyone else, Joseph in effect accepted Jesus as his own son.
Legally, and in public opinion, he was Jesus' father (Matt 13:55; LUke 2:41,43,48; 3:23; 4:22), as he would
not have been had he been Jesus' stepfather. Therefore, if Joseph had children by a previous marriage,
Jesus' relation to them would have much more reality than the relation of a step-sibling would. He would
be their adoptive brother. As we shall see, this point is of great importance to Meier's linguistic arguments,
to which we now turn.

II. The Linguistic Argument


In the NT and other early Christian literature (as well as Josephus, Ant. 20.9.1 section 200) the word used
to describe the relationship of Jesus' brothers to him is invariably [Hebrew characters cannot be
represented in ASCII text], and on the few occasions on which his sisters are mentioned [Hebrew
characters cannot be represented in ASCII text] is used. The question is, therefore, whether the
Epiphanian view is consistent with this usage, as the Helvidian view unquestionably is. Much of Meier's
linguistic argument is directed against the claim that the Hieronymian view is consistent with this usage,
but he also firmly denies that the Epiphanian view is. His argument is simply that in the NT [Hebrew
characters cannot be represented in ASCII text] and [Hebrew characters cannot be represented in ASCII
text] cannot mean "stepbrother" and "stepsister."

Examining the use of [Hebrew characters cannot be represented in ASCII text] in the NT, and prescinding
from the disputed case of the brothers of Jesus, Meier claims that when the word is used literally of family
relationships, not figuratively or metaphorically (e.g., of fellow Christians or fellow countrymen), it always
means "full brother," except in one case (Matt 14:3 || Mark 6:17 || Luke 3:19), where it means "half
brother." This he considers sufficient evidence to exclude the possibility that it can mean anything else in
the case of the brothers of Jesus:

In the NT adelphos, when not used merely figuratively or metaphorically but rather to designate some sort
of physical or legal relationship, means only full or half-brother, and nothing else. Outside our disputed
case, it never means step-brother (the solution of Epiphanius), cousin (the solution of Jerome), or nephew.
When one considers that adelphos (in either the literal or metaphorical sense) is used a total of 343 times
in the NT, the consistency of this "literal" usage is amazing. To ignore the strikingly consistent usage of the
NT in this regard . . . and to appeal instead to the usage of koine Greek in various Jewish and pagan texts
cannot help but look like special pleading.[11]

This is in more than one respect an odd argument. We may notice at once that the total number of
occurrences of [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text], in the NT (in both literal and
metaphorical senses) is quite irrelevant to the consistency of the literal usage. Meier omits to tell us that, of
the 343 occurrences of [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text], 268 are in a
metaphorical sense. and only 75 refer to literal family relationships (14 of these to the brothers of Jesus).
But this is a relatively minor flaw in the argument.

What is quite extraordinary is the assertion that the general NT usage of a word exclusively determines its
meaning in particular instances in the NT, excluding meanings which are attested in literature outside the
NT.[12] This is to treat the NT as though it were written in some kind of linguistic ghetto with a range of
linguistic usage all its own, whereas, of course, it is obvious that NT writers were free to exploit whatever
range of meaning a word had in their linguistic environment. When Paul wrote of the brothers of the Lord
(Gal 1:19:1 Cor 9:5--the only two occurrences of [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII
text] in a literal sense in Paul's writings), his meaning was not determined by the use of [Hebrew
characters cannot be represented into ASCII text] in other NT writings, none of which were known to him.
Of course. it is true that the early church developed its own semitechnical use of vocabulary for its own
religious practices and ideas. The use of [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text] to
mean "fellow Christian" is an instance of this. But in the ordinary, literal use of [Hebrew characters cannot
be represented into ASCII text] Christian writers participated in the common linguistic milieu of their Greek-
speaking contemporaries. If [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text] in that linguistic
milieu could be used of family relationships other than full brother and half brother. then it could also be so
used by NT writers. The fact that they generally used it in its most common sense of full brother cannot
exclude the possibility of their using it in less common senses on particular occasions. Moreover, in
relation to the meaning "stepbrother" which Meier thinks is excluded by the consistency of NT usage, this
consistency would be "amazing" only if there were occasions on which NT writers referred to stepbrothers
in other ways. Since it is unusual to refer to stepbrothers at all, there is nothing amazing about the NT
writers' failure to use [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text] in this sense outside the
disputed case.

To realize how extraordinary Meier's argument is, we need only to notice the effect it would have if it were
applied consistently to NT vocabulary. There are many Greek words which in the NT usually have one
meaning but occasionally have another. Meier's principle would mean that this rare meaning, however well
attested outside the NT, should not be allowed within the NT because the general usage of the NT (its
amazing consistency) would exclude it. For example, [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into
ASCII text] occurs 15 times in the NT, normally with the meaning "table." Just once, in Luke 19:23, it
means "bank," according to all translators and exegetes, but Meier's principle would have to disallow this.
To take another example, occurs 41 times in the NT, always with the meaning "end," except on three
occasions when it means "tax" (Matt 17:25; Rom 13:7). This ratio of common meanings to rare ones (38 to
3) is much more unfavorable to the rare meaning than is the ratio of [Hebrew characters cannot be
represented into ASCII text] in undisputed instances of the meanings "full brother" and "half brother" to
[Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text] in the disputed instances referring to the
brothers of Jesus (61 to 14). If in the latter case the general usage must determine the meaning in the
remaining 14 instances, then how much more must the 38 instances of [Hebrew characters cannot be
represented into ASCII text] in the sense of "end" require the same meaning in the remaining three
instances.

It is probably unnecessary to labor the point that Meier's argument contradicts what nearly all translators
and exegetes assume: that the range of use from which the meaning of a word in the NT must be chosen
is the range of use in the language, not the range of use in the NT. Meier in fact confuses his argument
about the use of [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text] in the NT with a quite different
argument about the relevance of context to meaning: "no amount of parallels from outside the NT can tell
us a priori what the NT texts mean; only a detailed exegesis of the NT texts in their own context can tell us
that" (his italics).[13] If this means that the meaning of, say, Mark 6:3 depends on its context in Mark's
Gospel the point has validity, but it cannot exclude the relevance of evidence extraneous to the literary
context, whether from elsewhere in the NT or from outside the NT. When Meier himself argues that
[Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text] in Mark 6:17 must mean "half brother" rather
than "full brother,"[14] there is nothing in the context of this verse in Mark, or indeed in the rest of the NT.
which enables him to know this. He has to assume that information be has from Josephus was common
knowledge to Mark and his readers. The case is parallel to that of the brothers of Jesus. Defenders of the
Epiphanian view do not claim that the information that the brothers of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a
previous marriage can be deduced from the immediate context of references to them in the NT. It is
sufficient to claim that their actual relationship to Jesus can be deduced from other evidence.

Some more specific comments are now required on Meier's claim that the Epiphanian view is disproved
because there is no clear instance of the meaning "stepbrother" for [Hebrew characters cannot be
represented into ASCII text] in the NT.

1. We have seen that the Epiphanian view actually requires [Hebrew characters cannot be represented
into ASCII text] to mean "half brother" in biblical statements which do not presuppose the virginal
conception (either because the virginal conception is not presupposed by the writer himself, or because he
does not imagine it to be presupposed by the speakers in his narrative). There are undoubtedly some texts
in this category (e.g., Mark 6:3), and there may be many. If Matthew and Luke are considered the only NT
writers who accept the virginal conception, then it would not be difficult to argue that their use of [Hebrew
characters cannot be represented into ASCII text] for the brothers of Jesus does not really take the virginal
conception into account but follows the already well-established usage of their traditions. In this case, the
Epiphanian view would be consistent with the meaning "half brother," which Meier allows is a NT sense of
[Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text], in all NT references to the brothers of Jesus.

 2. Meier assumes that the Epiphanian view requires the meaning "step-brother." Although he tells us what
Paul should have said instead of [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text] if he had
meant "cousin" ([Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text]),[15] he does not tell us what
Paul should have said if he meant "stepbrother." Perhaps Meier is aware that Greek has not word
specifically for "stepbrother." It is possible that Paul could have used [Hebrew characters cannot be
represented into ASCII text], which means "relative by marriage" and is used of fathers-in-law, stepfathers,
and brothers-in-law, and so could presumably be used of stepbrothers. But to specify the relationship of
stepbrother precisely, only a cumbersome expression could have served.
 3. Meier might have come to different conclusions had he extended his study of [Hebrew characters
cannot be represented into ASCII text] to other words for family relationships. When Luke calls Joseph and
Mary the "parents" of Jesus (2:41,43: of [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text]) and
has Mary refer to Joseph as .Jesus' "father" (2:48: [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII
text]), Meier must presume that these terms designate Joseph Jesus' stepfather, yet the use of these
terms for literal family relationships elsewhere in the NT provides no example of a meaning other than
biological parenthood. The point is that the Epiphanian view postulates Jesus' standing in the same kind of
relationship to his brothers and sisters as he did to Joseph. If Luke can call Joseph Jesus' parent or father
without implying blood relationship, then it is arbitrary to insist that reference to Jesus' brothers and sisters
must imply blood relationship.
 4. We have seen, in section 1 above, that "stepfather" is not really the appropriate term for Matthew's and
Luke's view of Joseph's relationship to Jesus. since they understood Joseph to be Jesus' father in social
reality and in law. i.e., in every, respect other than biological paternity, the idea of adoption comes much
closer to what they envisage. On the Epiphanian view, Jesus' status as Joseph's adopted son makes him
the brother of Joseph's natural children. The linguistic evidence shows that for the relationships created by
adoption the ordinary Greek words for the corresponding natural relationships could be used.[16] This can
be shown even from the NT, where Moses, understood to have been adopted by Pharaoh's daughter, is
called her son (Acts. 7:21: Heb 11:24: [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text]).[17]
That [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text] can be used for the relationship between
natural and adopted children is shown by Paul's metaphorical use of the term to designate the relation
between Jesus and Christians (Rom 8:29) in a context which makes it clear that Christians are adopted
children of God (Rom 8:15, cf. 8:16-17).
III. The Redaction-Critical Argument
While Meier rightly recognizes that the language of Matt 1:25 cannot be pressed to imply that Joseph and
Mary had sexual relations--let alone that they had children--after the birth of Jesus, he argues that
Matthew's redaction of Mark in Matt 12:46 (|| Mark 3:31) and Matt 13:55 (|| Mark 6:3) shows that Matthew
thought the brothers and sisters of Jesus were children of Joseph and Mary.[18] However, these
arguments are examples of oversubtle and overambitious use of redaction criticism.

That Mary. Joseph, Jesus, and his brothers and sisters formed a family unit is certainly presupposed by
Matt 12:46-50 (|| Mark 3:31-35; cf. Luke 8:1921). Meier rightly observes that the Hieronymian view would
deprive this pericope of much of its force. But the Epiphanian view, which makes Mary the stepmother of
Jesus' brothers and sisters and makes Jesus their adoptive brother, is quite consistent with this pericope.
What matters is simply that Jesus and his relatives compose a nuclear family. Precisely how that family is
constituted, by blood relationship or by marital or legal ties, is beside the point. It is overinterpretation of
the differences between Matthew and Mark to see Matthew's phrase [Hebrew characters cannot be
represented into ASCII text] (Matt 12:46, in place of [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII
text] in Mark 3:31) as a deliberate attempt to reinforce "the impression that the mother and brothers
naturally belong together as blood relations."[19] It is impossible to be sure that such a change is
deliberate at all, or that, if it is deliberate, it represents more than a stylistic preference. The regular
association of Jesus' mother and brothers in the gospel traditions by no means requires that they were
blood relatives; it requires only that they constituted a family unit.

In the case of Matt 13:55, Meier makes much of the fact that the first question refers to Jesus' father, while
the second groups together his mother and brothers. "Matthew." he claims, "is at pains to separate the
legal-but-not-biological father of Jesus from Jesus' real, biological mother. Faced with this great divide that
he himself creates, Matthew chooses to place Jesus' brothers with his biological mother, not his legal
father."[20] Again, this is overinterpretation. Matthew is representing what the people of Nazareth (whom
he would not expect to know of the virginal conception) would say. In the cultural context, it is natural that
they should give Jesus' paternity priority, with a significance of its own. Other members of the family follow
in order of importance. Moreover, the division of Matt 13:55 into two questions may well be no more than
the result of Matthew's redactional substitution of [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII
text] for Mark's [Hebrew characters cannot be represented into ASCII text]. His first question copies
Mark's, but the change in the description of Jesus makes a second question, concerning Mary and the
brothers, grammatically necessary.

IV. The Second-Century Evidence


In my book I argued that, whereas most references to the brothers and sisters of Jesus in the Christian
literature of the first and second centuries are consistent with either the Epiphanian or the Helvidian view,
only the Epiphanian view is unambiguously attested before Tertullian.[21] It is found around the middle of
the second century in three works of Syrian Christian provenance: the Protevangelium of James 9:2: 17:1-
2; 18:1,[22] the Gospel of Peter (according to Origen In Matt. 10.17),[23] and the Infancy Gospel of
Thomas 16:1-2.[24] I suggested that the tradition common to these three works might preserve an
accurate historical memory of the relationship of Jesus to his brothers and sisters, though I did not
consider this proven.

Meier evidently considers the evidence of these works not even worth considering, because of their date
and their nature,[25] but it is not good historical method to dismiss evidence simply because it occurs in
relatively late sources rich in imagination. Especially in the field of ancient history, for which many original
sources are lost, information from earlier sources which are no longer extant is often preserved in later
sources. In the case of gospel traditions, not only early written gospels now lost or preserved only in
fragments but also the oral gospel tradition survived into the early second century. The use of late sources
certainly requires caution, but it should not be disallowed out of hand. My suggestion is not that these
three works themselves should be trusted for historical information, but that the common tradition which
evidently predates them may be of historical value.

The Protevangelium of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas are certainly works of imagination, not of
historiography, but the idea that Jesus' brothers and sisters were Joseph's children by a previous marriage
is taken entirely for granted in these works as something the readers already know to be the case. It is the
only piece of nonbiblical information common to these works, the works themselves show no signs of a
literary relationship, and so the information can reasonably be considered a tradition which predates both
works. These works are, therefore, evidence of a well-established tradition in (probably early) second-
century Syrian Christianity that Jesus' brothers and sisters were children of Joseph by a previous
marriage. Accordingly, the historical value of this tradition should not be prejudiced by the unhistorical
character of the Protevangelium of James and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas but should be judged on its
own merits. Since the tradition was also incorporated into the Gospel of Peter, it may well belong to the
oral gospel tradition of the church of Antioch, to which the Gospel of Peter was probably indebted. That
this gospel, independently of other extant gospels, preserves some old traditions as well as later legendary
developments is entirely possible. The possibility that the Epiphanian view of the brothers and sisters of
Jesus was one such old tradition does not rest on uncritical credulity towards late and legendary sources
but on critical distinguishing of what might be good tradition from what clearly is not.

The Protevangelium of James also contains an account of the miraculous birth of Jesus which preserves
Mary's virginity (the virginitas in partu). Although the perpetual virginity of Mary is not explicitly stated, the
Epiphanian view of the brothers and sisters of Jesus combines with the virginitas in partu to imply it. The
Protevangelium of James did not invent the idea of the miraculous birth of Jesus any more than it did the
Epiphanian view of the brothers arid sisters of Jesus. The miraculous birth is implied or recounted in other
Syrian Christian works of the early second century (Ignatius Eph. 19:1; Odes Sol. 19:8-9: Ascension Isaiah
11:9-14),[26] but only the Protevangelium of James combines the two themes.

It may be that a development of the theme of Mary's virginity, involving both the virginitas in partu and the
perpetual virginity, occurred in early Syrian Christianity, and that the Epiphanian view of the brothers and
sisters of Jesus was a result of this concern with the virginity of Mary. In that case, the second-century
evidence for the Epiphanian view would have no historical value. But it is equally possible that the brothers
and sisters of Jesus were remembered not to have been children of Mary, and that precisely this tradition
made possible the development of the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity. In that case, the Epiphanian view
could rest on good historical tradition, and the fact that it was later used apologetically to defend the
perpetual virginity should not be allowed to prejudice our judgment of its value.

The second-century evidence, therefore, leaves the question open, but it should be stressed again that
nothing in first- or second-century Christian literature contradicts this tradition of the Epiphanian view in
early second-century Syria. Other literature can be shown not to take the Hieronymian view, but it cannot
be shown to take the Helvidian rather than the Epiphanian views.

V. "Son of Mary" (Mark 6:3)


In sections 2 and 3 we have seen that NT references to the brothers and sisters of Jesus do not,
as Meier claims, support the Helvidian view rather than the Epiphanian. In section 4, 1 have argued that
second-century evidence positively supporting the Epiphanian view should not be dismissed too quickly,
but this evidence seems too problematic to tip the balance of probability in favor of the Epiphanian view. In
the present section, I wish to suggest a new interpretation of Mark 6:3 which would constitute good early
evidence for the Epiphanian view, if it should prove more plausible than other interpretations.

The fact that in Mark's account of Jesus' visit to Nazareth, the people of Nazareth call him "son of Mary"
(Mark 6:3) rather than "son of Joseph" (cf. Matt 13:55: Luke 4:22; John 6:42) has never been satisfactorily
explained.[37] Suppositions that it was Jewish custom to use a metronymic to refer either ([Hebrew
characters cannot be represented into ASCII text]) to the sort of a widow,[28] or (b) to an illegitimate son
have been shown to have no convincing support from Jewish parallels,[29] In a recent article Ilan has
shown that there is some evidence from Josephus and rabbinic tradition that (c) "a man would be called
after his mother when she possessed superior lineage.'"[30] She suggests that Mark, unlike Matthew and
Luke, knew nothing of Joseph's Davidic lineage, and could, therefore, consider Mary the more important
parent.[31] In fact, it is probable that Mark believed in Jesus' Davidic descent (Mark 10:48:11:10), which
was the widespread belief of the early church (Acts 2:30:13:23:15:16; Rom 1:3;2 Tim 2:8; Heb 7:14; Rev
5:5: 22:16; Did. 10:6). and he would have needed good reason not to assume that this descent was
through Joseph. Even if Mark did not think Jesus was descended from David, we are still at a toss to know
why he should have thought Mary the genoalogically more distinguished parent` Another possibility, (d)
that Mark refers to the virginal conception, is unlikely. None of the gospels represent the virginal
conception as a matter of public knowledge, and so, even supposing Mark knew the tradition of the virginal
conception, it is unlikely that he meant to refer to the virginal conception when he put the designation "son
of Mary" on the lips of the people of Nazareth.

Finally, McArthur and Meier, having rightly rejected other proposed solutions, except (c), which they did
not know, propose (e) that the phrase is not a formal designation but an "informal description" occasioned
by the context.[32] Wishing to point out that Jesus was an ordinary member of their own community, the
Nazarenes naturally think of him as the son of his still living parent, who is presumably there in the
synagogue as they speak.[33] This is the best explanation that has so far been offered, but it is not quite
convincing. If Jesus were normally known as "the son of Joseph," as Jewish custom seems to require, one
would expect the Nazarenes to make their point by first calling him this, and then going on to refer to those
relatives who were there with them: his mother. brothers, and sisters.

It is surprising that another possible explanation seems not to have been suggested: that in Nazareth
Jesus would have been known as "the son of Mary" because this distinguished him from the children of
Joseph by his first wife. This usage can easily be paralleled from the OF. Women only occasionally occur
in biblical genealogies, but in a large majority of the cases where they do, their function in the genealogy is
that of distinguishing a man's sons by one wife (rom his sons by another wife (e.g., Gen 4:19-22; 22:20-24;
36:)0-14; 46:10: Exod 6:15; I Chr 2:2-4,18-19,21,24,25-26,46,48-49; 3:1-9). This concern to distinguish the
sons of' different mothers means that sons of men who haft children by more than one wife can be
designated by their metronymic, instead of the usual patronymic. Thus Hur, who was the son of Caleb by
one of his wives (1 Chr 2: 18-19) is known as "Hur the firstborn of Ephrath" (1 Chr 2:50; 4:4). Similarly,
David's son Adonijah is known as "Adonijah the son of Haggith" (1 Kgs 1:5,11; 2:13; cf. 2 Sam 3:4; I Chr
3:2), distinguished from sons of David by other wives (2 Sam 3:2-5; 1 Chr 3:1-9). In rabbinic literature, not
only Adonijah but also other sons of David are referred to by their metronymics (b. B. Bat. 109b; b. Ketub.
62b). Similarly, the sons of Jacob by his two wives and two concubines are sometimes designated by their
metronymics (Philo Fug. 73; Joseph and Aseneth 22:11; 26:6; 27:6-7; 28: 1,9). It is possible that this is
also the explanation of the most famous use of metronymics in the OT: the brothers Joab, Asahel, and
Abishai are always called "the son(s) of Zeruiah," their mother (1 Sam 26:6 and twenty-three times in the
OT; also Josephus Ant. 7.1.3,6 section 11,45; 7.3.2 section 65; 7.9.1 section 265; b. Qidd. 49b; b. Sanh.
95a; only Josephus Ant. 7.1.3 section 11, perhaps following 1 Chr 4:14, names their father). This usage
cannot be intended just to highlight their relationship to David, who was Zeruiah's half brother, since
Amasa, son of Zeruiah's sister Abigail, is known by his patronymic (2 Sam 17:25; 1 Kgs 2:5,32; cf. 1 Chr
2:16-17). But it is possible that Zeruiah's husband had sons by another wife and that her sons are
distinguished by reference to her.[34] (A less likely possibility is that the sons of Zeruiah had the same
mother but different fathers and that they used the metronymic to indicate their relationship to each other.)

It is easy to suppose that, whereas outside Nazareth Jesus would have to be identified as "the son of
Joseph," in Nazareth, where the family was known, the children of Joseph's two wives would be
distinguished by their metronymics. Jesus would be called "the son of Mary" precisely because James,
Joses, Judas, and Simon were not sons of Mary. This understanding of Mark 6:3 does not, of course,
depend on the improbable assumption that Mark preserves an accurate historical report of what the people
of Nazareth said. It simply assumes that Mark attempts to portray with verisimilitude what they would have
said, just as he represents them as calling Jesus "the carpenter" because this is what people in his home
village, though not elsewhere, would be likely to call him.

In conclusion, Meier is right that, since "the data are sparse and ambiguous," any conclusions about the
relationship of Jesus to his brothers and sisters must be "quite limited and tentative."[35] I hope to have
shown that much of the data is more ambiguous than he allows, while there is also some suggestive
evidence which he neglects. I should be content to have demonstrated at least that the issue between the
Epiphanian and Helvidian views must remain more open than Meier concluded it should.

1 J. P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, 1 (AB Reference Library; New York:
Doubleday, 1991) 316-32.

 2 J. P. Meier. "The Brothers and Sisters of Jesus in Ecumenical Perspective," CBQ 54 (1992) 1-28.
 3 Meier, "Brothers and Sisters," 26 = Marginal Jew, 331.
 4 R. Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1990) 19-
36.
 5 This statement may serve to show that I have no doctrinal investment in the issue of the brothers and
sisters of Jesus. I neither believe in the perpetual virginity nor have any particular hostility to it. I do not
even think the question at issue between Meier and myself has any historical importance, since it does not
seem to have any significant hearing on other historical issues. But it raises interesting questions of
historical method.
 6 Meier, "Brothers and Sisters," 25-26 = Marginal Jew 330-31.
 7 Meier, Marginal Jew; 220-22.
 8 Meier. "Brothers and Sisters," 6 n. 9 = Marginal Jew, 354 n. 11.
 9 This may account for the fact that, so far as I have been able to tell, there is no instance of stepsibling
relationships in prerabbinic Jewish literature. Lev 18:11 probably refers to a man's stepsister this father's
wife's daughter), but the LXX, like many modern scholars, understands it to refer to a man's half sister (his
own father's daughter).
 10 This probably explains why the OF never mentions children by the first marriages of famous widows
who remarried (Ruth, Abigail, Bathsheba).
 11 Meier. "Brothers and Sisters," 6 n. 9 = Marginal Jew, 328.
 12 J. Murphy-O'Connor, review of Meier. Marginal Jew, RB 99 (1902) 782, makes the same criticism in
milder terms.
 13 Meier, "Brothers and Sisters." 21 n. 36 = Marginal Jew, 360 n. 35.
 14 Meier. "Brothers and Sisters" 20 = Marginal Jew, 327-28.
 15 Meier. "Brother's and Sisters." 18 = Marginal Jew; 326.
 16 Alternatively, [Hebrew characters cannot be represented in ASCII text] (foster son), [Hebrew characters
cannot be represented in ASCII text] (foster daughter), and [Hebrew characters cannot be represented in
ASCII text] (foster father) could be used, but they do not exclude the use of the terms for natural family
relationships. This can be seen from a Jewish inscription from Rome, commemorating an adopted
daughter: she is called [Hebrew characters cannot be represented in ASCII text] (sic, i.e., [Hebrew
characters cannot be represented in ASCII text], foster daughter), but her parents are [Hebrew characters
cannot be represented in ASCII text]: CIJ 21, reprinted in H. J. Leon, The Jews of Ancient Rome (Morris
Loeb Series; Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1960) 267.
 17 Compare also John 19:16-17.
 18 Meier, "Brothers and Sisters," 8-15 = Marginal Jew, 320-24.
 19 Meier. "Brothers and Sisters." 13= Marginal Jew, 323
 20 Ibid.
 21 Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives. 24-32. Meier ("Brothers and Sisters," 22-24 = Marginal Jew, 329-
30) seems to think Hegesippus adopts the Helvidian view. Although I agree with Meier that Hegesippus
cannot have taken the Hieronymian view, on the choice between the Helvidian and the Epiphanian views
Hegesippus' statements are as ambiguous as those of the NT: see Bauckham. Jude and the Relatives, 30-
31.
 22 Text in E. de Strycker. La forme la plus ancienne du Protevangile de Jacques (Subsidia Hagiographica
33; Brussels: Societe des Bollandistes, 1961): A. de Santos Otero, Los evangelios apocrifos (BAC 148:
6th ed.: Madrid: Editorial catolica. 1988) 130-70. Meier ("Brothers and Sisters." 5 n. 8) is incorrect in
denying that the Protevangelium of James is clear about the status of the brothers and sisters of Jesus He
is confusing the perpetual virginity, which is only implied, with the Epiphanian view of the brothers and
sisters of Jesus, which is clear both in Joseph's explicit statement, "I already have sons" (9:2), and in the
appearance of his sons in the narrative of the birth of Jesus (17:1-2:18:1). As I have argued I Jude and the
Relatives, 39-41), Salome also (20:1-3) is probably one of Joseph's daughters. Cf. also what James the
brother of Jesus, the supposed author of the work. says in 25:1.
 23 Origen's text is given in H B. Swete. The Akhmim Fragment of the Apocryphal Gospel of St. Peter
London: Macmillan. 1893)x n. 1: L. Vaganay, L'Evangile & Pierre (EBib: 2d ed.; Paris Lecoffre. 1930s 8.
 24 In 16:1, this work implies that Joseph's son James is older than Jesus. For the text, see de Santos
Otero. Evangelios apocrifos. 279-97 (Greek): W. Wright, Contributions to the Apocryphal Literature of the
New Testament (London: Williams & Norgate. 1865) 6-11 (Syriac). The textual history of the Infancy
Gospel of Thomas is complex and obscure (see S. Gero, "The Infancy Gospel of Thomas: A Study of the
Textual and Literary Problems," NovT 13 [1971] 46-80), but the story of Jesus and his brother James
occurs in all versions.
 25 See his brief dismissal of my discussion: Meier, "Brothers and Sisters," 6 n. 11.
 26 On these texts. see J. A. de Aldama, Maria en la patristica de los siglos I y II (BAC 300; Madrid:
Editorial catolica, 1970) 189-211.
 27 On the text-critical problem in Mark 6:3, see J. Blinzler, Die Bruder und Schwestern Jesu (SBS 21;
Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1967) 28-30, who argues for the originality of the reading [Hebrew
characters cannot be represented in ASCII text]. For a different view, see H. K. McArthur, "'Son of Mary',"
NovT 15 (1973) 46-52.
 28 T. Ilan, "'Man Born of Woman . . .' (Job 14:1): The Phenomenon of Men Bearing Metronymes at the
Time of Jesus," NovT 34 (1992) 23 n. 3, supplies two examples of sons of widows known by the names of
their fathers.
 29 McArthur, "'Son of Mary'," 44-46, 52-53, followed by Meier, Marginal Jew, 226.
 30 Ilan, "'Man Born of Woman'," 43.
 31 Ibid., 45.
 32 McArthur, "'Son of Mary'." 54.
 33 Meier, Marginal Jew 226-27.
 34 See D. N. Freedman in Meier, Marginal Jew, 250 n. 101.
 35 Meier, "Brothers and Sisters," 7 = Marginal Jew, 319.
~~~~~~~~
By RICHARD BAUCKHAM, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9AJ, Scotland