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Roy Moore? Pardon me, I thought you were Joseph.


Question & Answer

Sharon via the Internet, writes:


An Alabama politician just compared Judge Roy Moore’s “dating” of teenagers to the relationship of an adult Joseph to a teenaged Mary. What does the Bible actually say about Joseph and Mary’s ages?

Answer: By Rev. David Felten

Dear Sharon,

The short answer is, “Nothing.”

True, the historical and anthropological evidence suggests that people got married at younger ages back in the day. But outside the brief stories describing how each of them dealt with Mary’s unexpected pregnancy (Luke for Mary and Matthew for Joseph), the Gospels just don’t say much about Joseph and Mary’s everyday lives. But just because there’s nothing in the Bible about their ages hasn’t stopped theologians from speculating on the matter – especially when there are wobbly early church doctrines in need of shoring up.

As early as the 2nd century CE, a developing reverence for the figure of Mary led to the creation of the doctrine of her “perpetual virginity,” the idea that Mary was always a virgin, before, during and after the birth of Jesus. This may seem all fine and good, but there’s a fly in that ointment. In Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55–56 (along with Galatians and 1 Corinthians), there are clear references to “Jesus’ brothers and sisters.”

So, if the church was going to defend the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary, they had a problem. Where did Jesus’ brothers and sisters come from? Easy. Make Joseph an older man who had children from a previous marriage! Voila!

These notions were bolstered by various non-canonical gospels written in the early centuries of the Church. The Protoevangelium of James, probably written around the end of the 2nd century, is one source of the stories suggesting that Joseph was older. At first, Joseph refuses to marry the girl, saying, “I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl. It also makes mention of Joseph’s sons: “And [Joseph] found a cave there, and led [Mary] into it; and leaving his two sons beside her, he went out to seek a midwife in the district of Bethlehem.”

Add to that the Gospel of Peter and other sources referring to an older, previously married Joseph and whew, Mary’s perpetual virginity is preserved. This narrative not only designates Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” as step-kin, but in a pre-Viagra age, also suggests that a decrepit old Joseph would have been unlikely to even have the capacity to compromise Mary’s virginal state.

And that’s the mindset of many conventional Christians to this day.

Ironically, most Conservative Christians would condemn the Protoevangelium of James and the Gospel of Peter as illegitimate non-canonical writings, not to be trusted. And yet the only mention of Joseph being an older guy with kids from a previous marriage is from these texts, NOT the New Testament. Oops.

But none of this matters for pious blowhards who pronounce pompous claims about the Bible with the expectation that their political power naturally extends to grant them exalted theological credibility, as well.

As you’ve mentioned, the latest example of pious blowhardery is one of Judge Roy Moore’s compatriots, Alabama State Auditor, Jim Zeigler. Yes, it’s true. He defended Moore by comparing the beleaguered candidate to Joseph, who he believes was a noble older man who took unto himself the teenaged Mary. So, says he, there’s no problem with Moore’s actions, claiming that it’s all “much ado about nothing,” even if the accusations are true. (?!?)

So, despite what appears to be Moore’s increasingly obvious guilt, Zeigler and his ilk leave me asking a question that frequently comes to mind: just how gullible are self-proclaimed Conservative Christians? At the very least, how gullible do the people who claim to represent Conservative Christians think their constituents are? This is not a prejudiced generalization. According to the Tuscaloosa News, Zeigler was the former Chair of both the Conservative Christians of Alabama AND the conservative League of Christian Voters. He has officially, publicly, and without question, been an official spokesperson for Conservative Christians.

So let me ask one more question. How many of these conservative, Bible-believing Christians in Alabama are going to call out Jim Zeigler for misquoting the Bible for his own political gain? I reckon not many. Why? Because, although they claim to revere the Bible and follow its “inerrant truth,” they clearly don’t read it. Well, maybe Revelation. Daniel and John, too. OK, and parts of Genesis – and the juicy bits they claim are about how bad homosexuals are. But the rest? Not so much.

The bottom line is that they don’t know enough about the Bible or history or theology to correct Jim Zeigler in his blatant, ignorant, child-molestation-supporting pomposity. He’s a white Republican male in a position of power. In Alabama, it’s clear that they can say or do whatever they want without consequences – even if what they say or do is demonstrably contrary to the very faith they claim to embrace (cf additional scandals involving the Governor and Speaker of the House).

And while it now appears that Roy Moore’s wife faked continued support from 50 Alabama pastors, the silence from hapless Conservative Christians and their leaders is deafening.

Suffice it to say that Jim Zeigler has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. Is he just another callous politician making a “hail Mary” reference to what he thinks is in the Bible in order to appeal to his low-information Conservative Christian base? After all, this guy’s stock-in-trade has been, in large part, his Christian bona fides. Unfortunately, whatever he thinks Christianity is about seems a far cry from what Jesus demonstrated in his teaching and actions. When it comes to the alleged molestation of teen girls, Zeigler can’t even seem to muster the empathy inherent in the Golden Rule, let alone a grasp of what the Bible actually says about Joseph and Mary.

So here we have yet another cautionary tale supporting my conviction that if you don’t know what’s in your Bible, people like Jim Zeigler can (and will!) take advantage of you. They will make up anything they want about “what’s in the Bible” to support their own narrow political and cultural prejudices. And with no help from their totally compromised and culturally-accommodated pastors, people simply don’t know enough to call #BS or #fakenews.

In situations like these, my dream is that some earnest reporter would know enough to ask a follow-up question like, “Mr Ziegler. Your statement claims to suggest that Joseph was an older man in a relationship with a teenage girl. That’s actually nowhere in the Bible. As a Conservative Christian, would you like to comment on why it’s OK to perpetuate something that’s not in the Bible for your own political gain?”

Ahh, to dream.

Ziegler says of Moore’s situation, “There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here. Maybe just a little bit unusual.” That’s right, just another example of the unusual dynamics of pious Conservative Christians misrepresenting the Bible and defending the authority of older white men to do whatever they want without consequence.

I can only hope that Judge Roy Moore’s run for Senate is doomed. Even before the latest revelations of alleged molestation and sexual assault, Moore’s record is a debris-field of oppression, exclusion, and prejudice that lays bare his reactionary, theocratic, and hateful agenda. I suspect that someone like Alabama State Auditor, Jim Zeigler, is too far down the rabbit hole to ever be anything but what he is.

But the people of Alabama – especially the Conservative Christians of Alabama – still have a voice. Rejecting such obvious unchristian behavior and hypocrisy seems like a no-brainer. But it will take courage from pastors and others to rise above partisan politics and take a stand for basic human dignity.

Thanks for your question – and don’t forget to vote (early and often!) on December 12th!

~ Rev. David Felten

About the Author

David Felten is a full-time pastor at The Fountains, a United Methodist Church in Fountain Hills, Arizona. David and fellow United Methodist Pastor, Jeff Procter-Murphy, are the creators of the DVD-based discussion series for Progressive Christians, “Living the Questions”.

A co-founder of the Arizona Foundation for Contemporary Theology and also a founding member of No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice, David is an outspoken voice for LGBTQ rights both in the church and in the community at large. David is active in the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church and tries to stay connected to his roots as a musician. You’ll find him playing saxophones in a variety of settings, including appearances with the Fountain Hills Saxophone Quartet.

David and his wife Laura, an administrator for a large Arizona public school district, live in Phoenix with their three often adorable children.

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