Mary and Jewish Customs in circa 4 BC


A few things about Mary have me confused, probably because I don’t know much about Jewish customs at the time of Jesus:

Mary was consecrated in the Temple
What does this mean for Mary’s life and ability to marry and have children?

How did Joseph’s divorcing her keep her from being exposed to shame? If they were not married yet, why would he divorce her?

Matthew 1:18-19
18 Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but **before they lived **together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly


Consecration in the temple I believe meant the rite of bas mitzvah where a young woman becomes a person of the law. (hope some of our Jewish friends explain it better than that or at least more fully) It meant that Mary was considered an adult woman under Mosaic law and was therefore to fulfill that which was expected of all Jewish women at that time.

As to divorce. I believe that at the time of betrothal a woman was considered bound to the man to whom she was betrothed. Think of betrothal as a more formalized engagement. The betrothal ceremony took place well before the marriage (maybe a year of so), but from that time on, she was legally subject to her husband, and to her husbands rights under Mosaic Law.

My understanding.


She could marry, but if she had a vow of chastity, as tradition tells us, then Joseph would have been little more than a chaperone for her.

In today’s standards, they actually were married (in the fact that it was legally binding), Joseph just hadn’t brought her into his home, yet. The betrothal period, what we now know as “engagement” was legally binding and needed a divorce decree to nullify. The period between these two events could last up to one year.

If Joseph had divorced her, he could have:
a) let it be known why they were divorced and Mary would have been brought to shame.
b) put her away quietly, maybe send her to Elizabeth’s house in the hills of Judea, and none of the locals would be the wiser. You know, “out of sight, out of mind”.

BTW, you do understand the need for Joseph NOT to divorce Mary, eh? Jesus would not have been the Son of David, as indicated in the genealogy of Matthew if he had divorced Mary and wouldn’t have fulfilled numerous prophecies that the Jews needed to validate before they would convert to the New Covenant Church.


In which case, Jesus could not have had full-blood brothers and sisters.

In other words, nobody knew they were betrothed, so a quiet divorce would do the trick? It doesn’t make sense.

Yes, but on another thread, HashemEschad, an Orthodox Jew, mentioned that some names in the lineage would not have been able to father a savior according to Jewish tradition. Hopefully she’ll find this thread and answer that.


Numbers chapter 30 explains vows of abstinence according to the law of Moses.

Moses then gave the Israelites these instructions, just as the LORD had ordered him.
Moses said to the heads of the Israelite tribes, "This is what the LORD has commanded:
1 When a man makes a vow to the LORD or binds himself under oath to a pledge of abstinence, he shall not violate his word, but must fulfill exactly the promise he has uttered.
"When a woman, while still a maiden in her father’s house, makes a vow to the LORD, or binds herself to a pledge,
if her father learns of her vow or the pledge to which she bound herself and says nothing to her about it, then any vow or any pledge she has made remains valid.
But if on the day he learns of it her father expresses to her his disapproval, then any vow or any pledge she has made becomes null and void; and the LORD releases her from it, since her father has expressed to her his disapproval.
"If she marries while under a vow or under a rash pledge to which she bound herself,
and her husband learns of it, yet says nothing to her that day about it, then the vow or pledge she had made remains valid.
But if on the day he learns of it her husband expresses to her his disapproval, he thereby annuls the vow she had made or the rash pledge to which she had bound herself, and the LORD releases her from it.
The vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, or any pledge to which such a woman binds herself, is valid.
2 "If it is in her husband’s house that she makes a vow or binds herself under oath to a pledge,
and her husband learns of it yet says nothing to express to her his disapproval, then any vow or any pledge she has made remains valid.
But if on the day he learns of them her husband annuls them, then whatever she has expressly promised in her vow or in her pledge becomes null and void; since her husband has annulled them, the LORD releases her from them.
"Any vow or any pledge that she makes under oath to mortify herself, her husband can either allow to remain valid or render null and void.
But if her husband, day after day, says nothing at all to her about them, he thereby allows as valid any vow or any pledge she has made; he has allowed them to remain valid, because on the day he learned of them he said nothing to her about them.
3 If, however, he countermands them some time after he first learned of them, he is responsible for her guilt."
These are the statutes which the LORD prescribed through Moses concerning the relationship between a husband and his wife, as well as between a father and his daughter while she is still a maiden in her father’s house.


So, Mary took a vow of abstinence, Joseph accepted it. Mary gets pregnant, Joseph is guilty in the eyes of the world because it look like he failed to honor the. So he does the honorable thing by divorcing her and admitting it’s his guilt, not hers. It’s beginning to make sense.


Maybe I’m misunderstanding your question, but I think you stopped too soon on this quote:

18 Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit.

19 Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.

20 Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.

21 She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”

24 When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

25 He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.

He was planning to avoid shaming her by not publicly denouncing her, but instead quietly divorce her so she could go off where no one who know. BUT the angel told him what was really happening and he didn’t do it.


You forgot the angel’s visit to Joseph.:rolleyes:

There was no divorce!


bat mitzvah is modern construct and did not exist in the form practiced today.


I know there was no divorce. I didn’t forget the angel. What I didn’t understand until the quote from Leviticus was how divorcing Mary would save her reputation. She would still have been a single mom with no support. She knew she was carrying the child Jesus. She must have told Joseph she was pregnant before the angel appeared to him, for he was going to divorce her before the angel appeared.

According to Leviticus, Joseph could have been accused of violating Mary’s vow (even though he knew he didn’t), so he took the blame, wanted to do the honorable thing and divorce her, but still support her, as he assumed fathership of the child Jesus. But the angel appeared and he didn’t end up divorcing her.

I was viewing divorce in today’s terms, and that would not have been the honorable thing to do!

Now, if Joseph was not the father, how can Jesus have been born from the line of David? Was it through Mary? Since Jesus was born in the flesh, would not the lineage have been in the flesh, not spritual?


Also, the New Testament lists two different genealogies for Jesus, one at the beginning of Matthew and one in Luke 3:23-38. Matthew says “A was the father of B, B was the father of C”, etc. Luke, however, uses a word that can mean either “biological son” or “descendant”, in the form “C was the son of B, who was the son of A”. Matthew shows a lineage from David, father of Solomon and Luke shows a lineage through Nathan, a brother of Solomon. A common explanation offered by Christian biblical scholars is that Matthew is stating Joseph’s line and Luke is stating Mary’s line. Under the Lucan text, Jesus would be a biological descendant of David through his mother. It is often this descent that is depicted in the Tree of Jesse subject in art, which usually shows Mary but rarely Joseph.

I forget where I originally heard this and am still looking, but above is the story. Also, visit here. This link goes directly to a Catholic Encyclopedia.


Historically, outside of that one claim in the NT, frankly I had never heard of babies being consecrated in the Temple.

MALE babies received brit milah, which is circumcision, and pidyon ha’ben (if they are the firstborn)…but no “dedication in the Temple”. In modern times, female babies are NAMED in the synagogue on the first day the Torah is read after their birth, but apart from that, nothing.

As for the “divorce” issue, in Judaism there are two phases to a Jewish marriage: kiddushin and nisuin. Kiddushin is the betrothal stage. This is the same as being married, except that they cannot yet have sexual relations.

The nisuin stage is the actual marriage ceremony. Immediately after the marriage, the couple retires to a very private room (even while guests are still celebrating in another part of the building!), and they consummate the marriage. Without this being done, the marriage is not legally binding under Jewish Law.

Furthermore, this is also done so the parents of the bride will have “the tokens of her virginity” as mentioned in the Torah (Leviticus, I believe it is.) This was her literal life insurance in case her husband later decided to claim she was not a virgin when he married her. Her parents would then take the stained cloth from the wedding night to the elders, to prove she was a virgin (because according to the Torah, if they could not prove her virginity, she was to be stoned at the door of her father’s house.)

No parent of a bride in ancient Israel would be satisfied until they had in their posession the stained cloth…because without it, they ran the risk of their daughter being stoned if her husband claimed she was not a virgin, and they had no cloth to prove it.

PS: My mentioning of the pidyon ha’ben made me realize: why is there no mention of Jesus having a pidyon ha’ben in the NT? It was a commandment in the Torah for all firstborn males, and he was Mary’s firstborn, right?


“Bas Mitzvah” is a modern invention of the non-traditional forms of Judaism (Reform, Conservative, etc), and so would not have existed in Biblical times.

As far as I have been able to ascertain, there was never any “dedication” to be performed in the Temple for female or male children. The only ceremonies consisted of the brit milah )circumcision) for males, and the Pidyon ha’ben (redeeming of the firstborn), if the male was a firstborn.

Where did the NT get this concept of a “dedication”? Your guess is as good as mine, but it was not from Judaism.


I want to apologize for not seeing this sooner…for some reason, new posts to this forum are not showing up when I click on “Profile” for new posts to subscribed threads.

To answer the question: in order for Jesus to have been the true Messiah, he would have had to be PHYSICALLY descended from Joseph. This is because Jewish Law has always held that the Messiah must be PHYSICALLY descended from King David on his paternal side (the way it works in Judaism for lineage is: to determine the religious status of a child, it is traced via the maternal line; to trace tribal status and messianic claims, it must be traced via the paternal line.)

Adopted or foster children do not “count” for this purpose because they are not descended by blood (in fact in Judaism, when a Jewish man adopts a child, the child continues to bear the Hebrew name of the natural father, and not the adoptive father.)

And even if a Christian were to believe that Joseph was Jesus’ natural father, another problem arises: listed in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew, we find Jeconiah.

In Jeremiah, we read that God punished Jeconiah by declaring that no descendant of his would ever sit on the throne of David (i.e., could never become the Messiah.)

These are just a few of many reasons why the rabbis and Jews of Jesus’ day rejected him as messiah, and why Jews today still do.


Thanks for your indepth replies. What is pidyon ha’ben exactly?

How interesting. I just read in today’s news that a French court ruled a marriage between two Muslims null because the wife was not a virgin at the time of the marriage, but had presented herself as such.


I click on “Quick Links” at the top of the CAF page, and then on “Subscribed Threads.”


I guess nobody “forecasted” a virgin birth of the Messiah (Isaiah 7:14); rather some saw fulfillment of a “prophecy” after the fact? (Matthew 1:22-23)

In Jeremiah, we read that God punished Jeconiah by declaring that no descendant of his would ever sit on the throne of David (i.e., could never become the Messiah.)

Where precisely does it say this?



Regarding Isaiah 7:14, see:

The Jeconiah prophecy is in Jeremiah 22:29-30


Thank you for that information. I’ve never heard anything like that before. Things are much clearer when you understand the culture at the time He lived.


qui, I think you might find this from an earlier thread helpful:

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