the father of Jesus

© 2006 Dr. Barbara Thiering

The fact is firmly given in the pesher that Joseph was the biological father of Jesus. It gives the natural explanation of the "virgin birth", showing that it was a normal human event that necessitated secrecy for political reasons, for Jesus had been conceived before the wedding of Joseph and Mary. (See "the Virgin Birth" in Section 2).

There were two other accounts of Jesus' birth, coming from opposite sides of the political divide after Christianity had become accepted. One came from gnostic enemies led by Celsus, maintaining that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier named Panthera. The other came from extremist Christians in the eastern tradition who believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. They held that Jesus had been conceived of a virgin by the Holy Spirit and Joseph was only a stepfather.

The Panthera story is quoted in the writings of Origen, a third century ( c.185-254 AD) Alexandrian Christian teacher. He had been converted to the form of Christianity that had followed the suppression of its Jewish origins. Although he was an exponent of allegorical interpretation of the scriptures, he knew nothing of the pesher that gave the historical record. Depending as it did on the intricacies of the solar calendar, which by Origen's time had been once and for all discredited by the failure of its prophecies, and centering on Jewish politics which were no longer approved in a climate of anti-Semitism, Christianity had been re-invented into a refined form held by Origen.

The Panthera story is actually quite instructive for the way parts of the pesher had become spread abroad in a garbled version. Origen's account of Celsus' story is given in his treatise (See "Against Celsus", Book 1, chapter 28, THE GNOSTIC SOCIETY LIBRARY):
"(Jesus) invented his birth from a virgin.....(he was) born in a certain Jewish village, of a poor woman of the country, who gained her subsistence by spinning, and who was turned out of doors by her husband, a carpenter by trade, because she was convicted of adultery. After being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitimate child, who having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired some miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greatly pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of these proclaimed himself a God."

The name Panthera is Greek for "panther". In the Book of Revelation the First Beast is described in Revelation 13:2 as "like a leopard, its feet like a bear's, and its mouth like a lion's mouth". The two Beasts of this chapter, associated with the Dragon, were Judas Iscariot and Simon Magus. It would be an imitation of the Roman army's device of carrying shields with the emblems of animals, after whom their divisions were named, if Jewish militants fighting them had always adopted the same custom. Different divisions would have carried the emblems of a leopard, a bear, and a lion. Another such emblem may well have been that of a panther. Joseph, who is shown to have been on the side of the militants, would have headed a division called by that name. He was the father of Jesus, who was technically illegitimate, and public gossip distorted this into the Panthera story.

The alternate view that Joseph was only a stepfather came from a popular Christianity that started with devotion to Mary as a perpetual virgin, she herself having had a virginal conception. (See Question in Q and C - Did Jesus have any brothers?.)

What does the pesher say about Joseph? First, that he was the physical descendant of King David, from a junior line stemming from Nathan another son of David (2 Samuel 5:14).This line is the true one, given in Luke's genealogy (Luke 3: 23-31). The royal line stemming from Solomon is given in Matthew's genealogy (Matthew 1:6-16). In 175 BC at the rise of the Seleucid conqueror Antiochus Epiphanes "the Anointed One was cut off" (Daniel 9:26). Having learned of the popular support for the ancient David line which by now had taken on a mystical quality, Antiochus disposed of the heir. But it was common practice for an ancient line to be kept going by grafting in a relative when there was no direct heir. The Nathan line came forward. By about 120 BC the Matthan of Matthew's genealogy was the same man, Matthat, of Luke's genealogy. Matthew calls him the father of Jacob, while Luke calls him the father of Heli. Jacob-Heli was one individual, his family name being Heli and his title "Jacob" from the organization of Herod the Great, which had a new "Abraham" (the Pope), "Isaac" (patriarch of the east) and "Jacob" (patriarch of the west). The son of Jacob-Heli was given the title "Joseph", that of the favorite son of the biblical Jacob, in the same series.

The son of Joseph, Jesus, was therefore, "of the seed of David according to the flesh", as stated in Romans 1:3. The contrast implied in the verse, that he was something different that was not according to the flesh, came from the fact that he claimed to be a high priest, although as a David he should only become a king. The argument in Hebrews 7:1-28 claims that he could also be a high priest, from the line of Melchizedek.

All the Davids had a family name as well as the hereditary title. James (Iakōbos) the literal brother of Jesus, used the title "Jacob"when Jesus claimed something more than the office of western patriarch. James' own name was Cleopas, which had been that of another family member according to Hegesippus ( Eusebius, Eccl.Hist. 3, xi). Under that name he appears in Luke 24:18. Mary of Cleopas, who was at the cross in John 19:25, was the young woman betrothed to James. She used the title Miriam (Mary) that of all the David wives. The family name of Joseph, Sabbas, is given through the surnames of two of his sons. In Acts 1:23 Brother James is called Joseph Barsabbas Justus, "son of Sabbas". When Jesus was given the traditional title Jacob - which he did not want - James as his heir at that time was given the title Joseph. He was Joseph of Arimathea who was also at the cross. The added title "Justus", Latin for dikaios, the Righteous One, was that of the David crown prince. It is used of the son of Jesus, called Jesus Justus, in Colossians 4:11. In Acts 15:22 Jude, a younger brother of Jesus, is called Judas Barsabbas.

Joseph was a carpenter, and Jesus following him was a carpenter, (Mark 6:3) because during the limited periods when the dynasts lived outside the monastery in marriage, in order to produce an heir, they lived among the village Essenes, usually in Galilee. All members of the secret ascetic society formed by Essenes, hoping that one day the Kingdom would come and they would be restored to power in the temple, lived outwardly as ordinary men earning their living in trade. Their occupations gave a metaphor for the undercover missionary work that they were engaged in at the same time. A carpenter was a "Noah", building an "ark" for the salvation of Gentiles through a drama of initiation using a boat. A "fisherman" (Peter) was part of the same drama, "catching fish" by recruiting Gentiles of lesser status - hence the symbol of fish for Christians. A "tentmaker" (Paul and Aquila, Acts 18:3) was a missionary engaged in building a symbolic tabernacle, a new place of worship for Christians superseding the original one .

Much of Joseph's personal history as shown by the pesher has been given in our Section 8, "The political pre-history". Born in September 44 BC, he became committed to missionary work among Gentiles under the supervision of his father Jacob-Heli. When Jacob-Heli, now using the title David, separated from Herod the Great in 21 BC, Joseph separated with him and remained anti-Herodian all his life. In 14 BC at the age of 30 he was appointed to the farflung mission field of Rome, an outpost of the territory of the patriarch of the west. In 8 BC at the age of 36 he had to return to the homeland to fulfill his obligations for dynastic marriage. Since the David's generations were counted in sets of 40 years, it was obligatory to marry at the age of 36, in case the first child was a girl. Since he had to wait only 3 years after the birth of a daughter - but 6 years after the birth of a son - there was still time for him to have a son at the age of 40.

A young girl from the ascetic community was chosen for him as wife, given the title Miriam (Mary). There were always two weddings, the first to permit sex in a trial marriage, the second one when the wife was three months pregnant. The first was due in September 8 BC at Joseph's 36th birthday. In the summer of 8 BC, at Pentecost in June, a binding betrothal took place, but there must be no sex until December, the least holy season when there were no traditional feasts. In June, when courting began, Mary was 171/2. Joseph, possibly influenced by the more liberal sexual attitudes that he had witnessed in Rome, was hotheaded enough to persuade her to have sex at once. In the words of 1 Corinthians 7:36, "his passions became strong". Jesus was conceived.

It was a breach of the strict ascetic rules, and on a more puritanical view Joseph should have divorced her and arranged for the child to be brought up as one of the orphans whom Essenes regularly adopted. Illegitimates were brought up in the monastery to act as lifelong acolytes, never permitted to marry as they had no parentage. But Joseph and Mary were already opposing a very strict puritanical doctrine. Under a more liberal view it was possible to treat the binding betrothal in June as a form of marriage, and they obtained approval from an "angel" - a more liberal priest - to treat their first wedding in September 8 BC as if it was also their second, as Mary was three months pregnant. Jesus was born in March, 7 BC.

Joseph remained in some conflict about the rights of his first-born son to inherit the David kingship, especially when he came under the influence of the ascetic sect of Pharisees who held the strict view. In order to have it both ways, he and Mary set about a second conception in December 1 BC, going to the marriage house at Ain Feshkha south of Qumran. James was born in September of 1 AD.

The period between 4 BC and 6 AD was the time when militaristic attitudes became intense in Judea. The Qumran War Scroll was one of the products of that turbulent time. Rome had abolished the Herodian monarchy after the death of Herod the Great. His son Archelaus, following a lawsuit in Rome, was made ethnarch only, not king. He was a weak character who gained no respect, and a deputation of citizens finally brought about his removal in 6 AD. From that time Rome governed the country directly through a resident procurator. Those who had fought for the liberty and independence of their homeland were enraged. At the final uprising of their heroic leader Judas the Galilean, Joseph gave him protection, and so became wanted by the Romans. Together with his close associate and partner in mission Theudas - who was Saddok the deputy of Judas the Galilean - Joseph was exiled to Damascus, outside Judean territory. The Damascus Document, written from the monastery there, gives Joseph and Theudas the titles of the Star(of David) and the Sceptre (CD 7:18-20).

Jesus on reaching his twenties became sympathetic with Sadducees and in favor of peaceful relations with Rome. When there was a Pharisee high priest, such as Caiaphas in 18 AD, Jesus was denied his right of succession in favor of James. Between the years 18 and 21 AD Joseph took his family to Rome for another three years of missionary work, as he had periodically done since he was appointed to the far west. At that time he became acquainted with the Herod prince Agrippa, born 11 BC, who in Rome was working to win back the Herodian monarchy. Joseph expressed to him his opposition to the royal Herods, and Agrippa did not forget.

Joseph had become the David successor on the death of Jacob-Heli in 16-17 AD. As Luke shows in Luke 13:11, Mary became a widow in 23 AD, "year 18" of the Sadducee dating from 5-6 AD. Agrippa had now returned to his homeland, bankrupt, expelled by the emperor Tiberius for his extravagant expenditure. As soon as he returned, he set about claiming Herodian property including the mission income, to pay his debts and buy his way back into Roman favor. Joseph, now the influential head of mission to the west, opposed his intentions for the use of the mission money. The implication of the date is that Joseph was put to death at the age of 66 by the agency of Agrippa.

Joseph remained a hero in the traditions of the ascetic community, one who had fought for their independence of Rome. His son Jesus, who had spent periods in Rome with his family, developed a more co-operative attitude, not wanting a Kingdom gained by force of arms. But he respected his father, and that was one of the reasons why he subsequently joined Simon Magus, the enemy of Agrippa, even though they were opposed on the issue of war. Jesus carried on the dynastic line, as the Davids were obliged to do. But the mystical messianism that had become particularly effective in mission to Gentiles was responsible for removing from the surface record all trace of the previous history of the "seed of David".

Return to Biographies
  • Return to main page