Question about Mary as a Sanctified Virgin

I am aware that the Protoevangelium of James states that Mary was dedicated to the Temple and to G-d as a perpetual virgin and this has been used for evidence that Mary remained a perpetual virgin her entire life. I am just curious if there is any supporting evidence for this assertion from any Jewish documents or writings that such practices ever took place. My Jewish friends have stated that this was strictly a pagan practice and never adopted by Jews at the time of Jesus. They say that there might have been some mixed race Jews near the area of Galilee who were not considered Jewish who may have performed such rites, but not traditional Jews. They state that God’s first commandment to Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply” was taken very seriously and no special status was granted or esteemed for virginity like it is in Christianity. Virginity was only demanded before marriage, but of absolutely no value afterwards. Also Merry Christmas Everyone.

Many people question whether Mary remained a virgin all of her life, and they dispute the idea that Mary had taken a vow of consecration to God. However, the Law of Moses contained specific instructions for both men and women who had made vows to the Lord. Let’s take a look:

Numbers 30:1-16
1 Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: "This is what the LORD commands: 2 When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.

3 "When a young woman still living in her father’s house makes a vow to the LORD or obligates herself by a pledge 4 and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. 5 But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the LORD will release her because her father has forbidden her.

6 "If she marries after she makes a vow or after her lips utter a rash promise by which she obligates herself 7 and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her, then her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. 8 But if her husband forbids her when he hears about it, he nullifies the vow that obligates her or the rash promise by which she obligates herself, and the LORD will release her.

9 "Any vow or obligation taken by a widow or divorced woman will be binding on her.

10 “If a woman living with her husband makes a vow or obligates herself by a pledge under oath 11 and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her and does not forbid her, then all her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. 12 But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges that came from her lips will stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the LORD will release her. 13 Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself. 14 But if her husband says nothing to her about it from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or the pledges binding on her. He confirms them by saying nothing to her when he hears about them. 15 If, however, he nullifies them some time after he hears about them, then he is responsible for her guilt.”

16 These are the regulations the LORD gave Moses concerning relationships between a man and his wife, and between a father and his young daughter still living in his house.

From this passage, we can see that the Law of Moses contained instructions for determining which vows were to be honored and which could be nullified by the parents or husband of a woman. While this passage does not provide any evidence that Mary had taken a vow of chastity, it does demonstrate that vows to God did occur in ancient Jewish society and that they were to be taken very seriously.

Concerning the Annunciation, we read the following exchange between the angel Gabriel and Mary:

Luke 1:31-34
31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." 34"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

At the time of this conversation, Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Under Jewish law, they were already married but not yet living under one roof. If she had taken no vow of perpetual virginity, she would soon be engaging in normal marital relations with the likelihood of conception in the very near future. In this case, her question, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” makes no sense. If her virginity was only temporary, she knew that pregnancy would occur naturally soon enough.

On the other hand, if Mary had made a vow of perpetual virginity to the Lord, then her question makes much more sense. “How will this be since I am a virgin?” indicates that Mary questioned how this conception could occur since she had no plans to engage in marital relations because she was a virgin – a consecrated virgin by means of a vow before the Lord. Since Mary obviously understood how babies are made, she asked the angel how she could conceive without violating her oath to God. The angel responded that she would be overshadowed by the power of the Most High.

In preparing for the Incarnation, God performed two miracles: He preserved the young virgin’s womb during conception, and He opened the barren womb of the older woman, Elizabeth. “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

Thanks for posting. However I am still curious if there is anything in Jewish tradition whereby women, not just Mary, pledged themselves as virgins to G-d. Again my Jewish friends assert that this was a pagan practice and not done in the Jewish religion. They claim that this is purely a Christian invention so I was hoping someone would have something definitive from ancient Jewish tradition demonstrating that such practices actually took place. Thanks for your help.

I am not sure about the interpretation of this, but what about Judges 11:39 where Jephtha did not sacrifice his daughter, but consecrated her to the service of God in the tabernacle, in a state of celibacy, and it became a tradition in Israel that every year the event was commemorated.

Here are a couple of things to read:

Mixed race Jews were not considered Jewish?
If their mother was Jewish, weren’t they Jewish enough?
I’m really confused. I like how Catholic believers are universal regardless of race.

I am going to look more into this one because I really have not have had any evidence to back up the claims in Proto-James for my side of the debate, especially since proto-James is not even considered reliable as Gospel.

There were girls who, from a young age, were pledged (by their families) to Temple service. They would help with cooking, cleaning, sewing, and other “women’s work” that would be “beneath” the priests and rabbis. They would be billeted in Temple quarters. But it was not a “consecration” - the girls were free to marry once they came of age. I suppose some of these girls chose a lifetime of service instead (like modern nuns), but they were not under vows or obligation and could leave anytime.

Some believe that Mary was one such “Temple girl.” But there is no evidence that any of these girls made any sort of pledge of lifelong virginity. Of course, virginity was expected of ALL non-married girls, so any such vow would be superfluous.

So the question is really quite irrelevant as far as doctrine is concerned.

Mary was how old when God decided to grant her with the obligation to bear the Son of God? Was she twelve years old at the time?

I don’t know about you or your family or life. But I do know that God wanted to be remembered for eternity through witnesses like yourself.

Are you okay with the fact that the God you worship decided upon a twelve year old girl to be the mother of Himself?

There was actually a thread a while back where I touched upon this for a bit:

I actually addressed some of Mr. Marshall’s argument in the above thread.

To sum, I don’t find his arguments convincing because:

(1) While at least two or three of the texts he quoted do open the possibility that there were historically young female weavers who were working for Herod’s temple and that these were under the temple’s payroll, they do not necessarily say or imply that were these young virgins who were actually ‘dedicated’ or lived (even for a time) at the temple, as Mr. Marshall implies.

(2) The Protoevangelium itself doesn’t state that there Mary joined a company of temple virgins. (It was a much later work - the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, from the 6th century - which first claims that.) It really only speaks of Mary living during her early years at the temple; it doesn’t say as far as I am aware that there were other virgins like her.

And are you insinuating that there’s any problem with that? Surely you’re not trying to impose modern Western concepts of ‘age of consent’ or ‘marrieable age’ into a time and culture different from yours? There’s nothing extraordinary or ‘wrong’ with twelve to fourteen year old girls being married and getting pregnant in those days, in their culture. Which is not your time or culture. Or mine. Or most anybody in this forum.

I’m not arguing in favor of Taylor Marshall’s position. I was simply trying to give you resources from which you could draw your own conclusions. If I come across anything else that seems relevant, I’ll post that, too.

There was no obligation. That’s the point. She was not obliged. She said, “let it be done to me, according to God’s will.” She consented. She was not obliged. She could have said NO.

Was she twelve years old at the time?

We have no idea how old she was. She was betrothed to Joseph, so she was obviously sexually mature (meaning she had had her first period, and was capable of conception). I understand that modern girls often become sexually mature earlier than their predecessors (even as young as 12 years old), and this is often attributed to various artificially induced hormones in milk and other foods.

Are you okay with the fact that the God you worship decided upon a twelve year old girl to be the mother of Himself?

Yeah, I’m OK with that, whether she was 12, or 14, or (more likely) 16, or even 30 or 40. Why does age matter?

Thanks for the posts Patrick. I does seem to indicate that this is a Christian innovation and and not an actual Jewish practice. I am leaning towards believing my very well educated Jewish friends, that this tradition was adopted by either gentile Christians or Hellenized Jew seeing as to the popularity of Temple Virgins through out the ancient pagan world in an effort to win converts, but definitely not practiced by Palestinian Jews of the Second Temple. Again I think the story can absolutely represent a higher theological and spiritual truth, without itself being factually true. Why people require factual truth for their spiritual truths evades me, but the world is big enough for all of us.

I would actually qualify that a bit further. Pseudo-Matthew’s idea of Temple virgins may be influenced more by the Christian idea of nuns. The work was written in the 7th century, in the West, and its description of Mary’s daily routine while being a temple virgin may point to the author being familiar with St. Benedict’s rule.

The Protoevangelium really only mentions Mary - and there, it seems that the author took a page from the life of Samuel (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Mary’s mother was given the name Anna, just like Samuel’s mother): Mary was given to the temple by her parents just as Samuel was dedicated to the sanctuary at Shiloh by his parents. It was Pseudo-Matthew who, AFAIK, first explicitly introduced the idea of consecrated virgins in the Temple.

I will be honest I am not over familiar with the development of Monasticism in the West, do you think that it was an organic outgrowth of the Christian culture at the time, or were their earlier models for its development in the West. I know that in the East there is an ancient tradition of Monasticism, but it seems much more rare in the West and Mid-East up until Christian communities arose. I guess maybe the early Pythagoreans might have been the earliest Western Model, but I am not sure. However, I have read that they were probably influenced from Brahmins in India and the gymnosophist.

Western monasticism came from the East. St. Athanasius of Alexandria visited Rome with two disciples of St. Anthony the Great (the “father of monasticism,” not in the sense that he was the first Christian monk - there were already Christian ascetics before him who went to the deserts of Egypt - but that he was one of the more famous); soon Anthony’s biography was translated into Latin and inspired some Christians to imitate what was being done in Egypt then.

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