Were there consecrated virgins at the Jewish Temple?

Hi All,

I have heard it proposed that Mary could have been a consecrated lifelong virgin, consecrated for service at the Temple. This is apparently stated in *The Protevangelium of James.*Can anyone give me another reference for the existence of Temple virgins at the Jewish Temple of Jerusalem?



This is the view I have had and its consistent with Joseph (a widower with sons from his prior marriage - hence the scriptural references to “brother’s of Jesus”) being appointed to Mary as her caregiver.

Here is a reference from The “Mystical City of God” by Venerable Mother Mary of Jesus of Agreda (1602-1665) is a monumental four-volume history of the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as revealed by Our Lady to a 17th-century Spanish nun. This will be good insight for Catholics but of course non-Catholics will seek to slander or diminish it.

(Ven. Mary of Agreda)]](http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/DEATHJOS.HTM)

I’d have to dig to find other references.


I don’t believe there were consercrated Temple virgins. At least nothing in Jewish literature that I’ve run across appears about this.

Well I did a little digging and found that scripture gives evidence that there were orders of holy women who lived in the temple and devoted their lives to worship and prayer. Anna was one such woman. (Luke 2:36-38) In fact, when Anna recognizes Mary and the child Jesus the legend has it that she did so because Mary was once her novice in the women’s order in the temple.

Also the experience of the Essene Community indicates a vital ‘monastic’ tradition in Judaism at the time of Christ.

There is also the story of Jephthah’s daughter in the book of Judges. (Judges 11. 31-40) Jephthah made a rash vow to sacrifice the first thing he saw on return from battle, and the first person to greet him was his daughter. Did he actually kill her, or did he make the oblation in form of her service to the temple. When she heard the news she didn’t grieve that she was losing her life, but that she would never marry. Some scholars think that she joined an order of temple virgins, and that such orders existed regularly within the Jewish religion.

Also THE GOSPEL OF THE BIRTH OF MARY is an early work that mentions Mary being dedicated to the Temple at an early age and never permitted to come in contact with any impure food etc. This is generally attributed to St. Matthew and was considered genuine and authentic by many of the ancient Christian sects. The Gospel is mentioned by several of the church fathers, including Jerome, Epiphanius, and Austin. One of the so-called Lost Books of the Bible, The Gospel of the Birth of Mary was rejected during the formulation of the Bible by various edicts and councils of the early Church.


Ok. But Luke ain’t Jewish scriputre.

Also the experience of the Essene Community indicates a vital ‘monastic’ tradition in Judaism at the time of Christ.

I don’t know how vital it was, but that doesn’t really support or detract from the belief that there were consecrated virgins to the Temple. The Essence’s were, I believe, their own community and were not part of the Priesthood. There is so little written about them from an eyewitness account. I could be mistaken. I tend to forget as much as I learn.

There is also the story of Jephthah’s daughter in the book of Judges. (Judges 11. 31-40) Jephthah made a rash vow to sacrifice the first thing he saw on return from battle, and the first person to greet him was his daughter. Did he actually kill her, or did he make the oblation in form of her service to the temple.

I believe he killed her. This, btw, is an example of how the commandments in the Decaloug were more important than other commandments. Rather than break the commandment regarding oaths, he kills his daughter, breaking the commandment against human sacrifice.
Here is the Douay-Rheims commentary on this tragic event:

31 “Whosoever”… Some are of opinion, that the meaning of this vow of Jephte, was to consecrate to God whatsoever should first meet him, according to the condition of the thing; so as to offer it up as a holocaust, if it were such a thing as might be offered by the law; or to devote it otherwise to God, if it were not such as the law allowed to be offered in sacrifice. And therefore they think the daughter of Jephte was not slain by her father, but only consecrated to perpetual virginity. But the common opinion followed by the generality of the holy fathers and divines is, that she was offered as a holocaust, in consequence of her father’s vow: and that Jephte did not sin, at least not mortally, neither in making, nor in keeping, his vow: since he is no ways blamed for it in scripture; and was even inspired by God himself to make the vow (as appears from ver. 29, 30) in consequence of which he obtained the victory; and therefore he reasonably concluded that God, who is the master of life and death, was pleased on this occasion to dispense with his own law; and that it was the divine will he should fulfil his vow.

When she heard the news she didn’t grieve that she was losing her life, but that she would never marry. Some scholars think that she joined an order of temple virgins, and that such orders existed regularly within the Jewish religion.

Again, not part of Jewish scriputres. My original statement is that there’s nothing in Jewish Scripture that says the Temple took consecrated virgins into its service. In fact, the laws of Leviticus are crystal clear on who is to serve in the Temple and how and when. If you can plow through Leviticus from beginning to end, you will have a greater appreciation of this.

Not exactly sure about “Temple Virgins” but in the jewish tradiditons there were people who lved lives in service to God …

In the Book of Numbers there is provision made for girls who professed a “vow” [now it does not call is a 'chastity vow" but it is pretty clear that this vow relates primarily to sexual intimacy as this affects the arranged marriages (fathers/daughters) and relations between husbands/wives] to the Lord…

If a father does not object upon first hearing of his daughter’s vow he is bound by her vow and cannot force her to break the vow…if he does over rulle the vow after learning of it and not immediately objecting he takes the sin of breaking the vw upon himself …

Similarly, a woman who makes a vow to the Lord and her husband does not immediatly object then he too must honor the vow…hould he force his wife to break the vow, he takes the sin upon his head …

This is similar to the vow of service to the Lord lived out in the Essenes Community Rule …

Marriage of women who have consecreted themselves to the Lord was not unheard of … women needed to live in a household and be provided for … but they still lived lives of celebacy …

We may find this an unusual circumstance but it was far more common in earlier ages and not just within jewish tradition but in other cultures as well …

Do you have a Chapter/Verse? You are not referring to the Nazarite Vow are you? NM. Found it. 30:3. But there is no reference to vows of chasity. It deals with a situation where daughter or wife makes a vow and the husband or father causes her to break her vow. It recoginzes that a woman is subject to either her father or her husband and that if they cause her to break a vow (any vow), she won’t be held responsible.

No it does not specifically refer to chastity but every commentary I have read understands it to be pramarily a vow of chastity …

What vow could a woman make that would be as momnetous as a vow of service solely unto the Lord?

Culturally, marriages were contracted to align families and maintain family properties or expand wealth, power, possessions …

That is waht made this vow and the legalities surrounding it the importance to be specificaaly called out in Numbers …

In this culture, a woman could be forced to marry any one … this “law” if you will gave some autonimy to the woman if the authority [father/husband] did not immediately gainsay the vow …

Not one scripture scholar I have read sees this as dealing with something less than a vow of chastity …

any vow is momentous as it must be carried out under penalty of death. We are definately reading different commentaries.Regarding the married women, there’s no reason to believe she’s a virgin when she makes her vow.

Anyway I believe the Chapter has to do with vows in general. It deals with a man’s obligation when he makes a vow and a woman’s obligation. The big difference being, as I said, a woman does not have the power to violate her husband or father’s wishes if they desire her to break her vow and, accordingly, if they do so she will not be held accountable. It also deals with the fact that vows given under the age of 12 are void. This also has to do with whether or not her father can nullify her vow (under 12 yes, over 12 no).

As to the married woman, there is the issue of which vows he can annul and when. While such vows as chasity are contemplated here, it is not exclusively focused on them. They include all vows. She might vow not to drink wine, or not to cut her hair, or not to donate her her silver to the Temple. And here the husband has the power to annul such vows, including those of chasity.

Um…that’s not true of any humans, really, and it couldn’t be less true of the Jews, specifically. Their marriages were contracted for one reason: to obey the injunction to be fruitful and multiply, therefore to pass on the Covenant to another generation.

Besides, as is typical of people who have opinions on topics relating to gender, you generalize from the leaders of a society to its masses. I don’t doubt Jewish nobles married for alliances and property; nobles do that everywhere. But the Jew on the street married so as not to die childlesss–just like the Hindu on the street, the Roman on the street, the Chinese on the street, the Zulu on the street, or the Hopi on the street.

Women did nnot have “silver” to donate to the temple, and if the silver was the womans to donate … why the husband’s concurrnce necessary … now that is reading into the triviality into the vows …

And as to why people marry … Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac from amongst his own people … marriages that are arranged are made for reasons that have less to do with just not dying

childlesss–just like the Hindu on the street, the Roman on the street, the Chinese on the street, the Zulu on the street, or the Hopi on the street.

Arranged marriages were common even among the average jew on the street … what is different is marriage in our society where we marry for “love” [and not successfully if you look at the divorce rate]

I have loaned my copy of “Civilizing Sex, the Role of Chastity on the Common Good” [Riley] to a seminarian friend so I cannot quote verbatum from the work … however, judaism and the rules and regulations that grew from the revelation of God to the hebrew people primarily dealt with sexual mores of the day … marriage, celebacy, lawful sexual relations [heterosexual; within marriage] and the protection of children//elderly. Sexual promiscuity, beastiality, temple prostitution - religious sexual orgies, ending child sacrifice and the disrespect and lack of care for the elderly, non productive members [disabled, poor, children] of the society.

To trivialize the “vows” identified to cutting hair, giviing alms, and down playing those items that are true lifelong vows that affect others [father/husband] before God is to make them vain …

To use your example of death for breaking a vow … if a woman vowed to cut her hair and her husband forced her to wear it long … this is a vow that [broken by the husband] would require a death sentence? No!

Now a vow to remain a virgin to devote oneself to the Lord God … now that is a vow that is serious … if forced to reak that vow unlawfully the person breaking the vow is taking back somehting given to the Lord … now that is serious and that is the type of vow covered by Numbers [now it can include other vows but they woulld be serious vows of a serious nature that are lifelong and covenental]

You missed the point of my post and one of the salient points of Numbers 30.

If a woman who is married makes a ANY vow, and her husband annuls it or forces her to break her vow/oath, then she is NOT subject to the penalty, because it was not in her power to keep it. At the same time, the husband must generally annul the vow on the same day he hears of it, or else he cannot reverse it.

But if he did anyway, the woman would not be held accountable for breaking her vow.

The Torah makes it crystal clear that taking ANY oath, which involved God’s name, was the most serious of matters.

Another point to consider is that there was already a method for a man or woman to make themselves more holy == that is closer to the priesthood. And that is through the vow of the Nazarite. Abstaining from alcohol, for example was a clear prohibition given to the priests. So the prohibitions for the Nazarite, except for the prohibition against cutting hair, made them more like priests than any vow of chasity could.

But vows are taken and understood to be of ‘abstince, humility or nazarite’ … those three not just any random promise before the Lord …

The purpose of Numbers 30 was to prevent rash swearings and provide for the very importance of the vows … again … while they may include things [of grave importance] beyond chastity … the ability to consecrate ones life to the Lord is made possible and binding …

And in fact this was a practice of the hebrew people … while great numbers of people may not have cjosen this life it was available to them … male, female, unmarried, married and widowed …

Surely you ar not implying that no person [and especially a virgin] ever consecrated themselves to the service of God?

As I said, the Nazerite vow was specifically meant to do this. I am saying that there were priests they were in charge of the Temple. One could not make a vow to be a priest or take on their responsibilities. To do so would result in death, as no one else was permitted to go near the holy objects. There’s a difference between devoting your life to God and taking a vow to consecrate yourself to the Temple.

There were no “temple virgins” in Judaism. With very few exceptions even the idea of celibacy is destained. You can’t use the Essense as an example because they rejected the temple worship as corrupt and lived apart from normal Jewish Society. In all probability the Apostle Paul was widowed not single…he was an “ordained” Rabbi as oppossed to having the title as an honor the way Christ carried the title. One requirement for schmica was that you be married.

The legends of Mary being a dedicated Temple virgin are simply well intentioned people applying a Roman concept to Jewish person…they knew nothing of Judaism, knew of the Vestal Virgins in Rome, and thought, hey, Mary was a Temple Virgin…

Ahh… so that is what this is all about. I was wondering why people were pressing so hard to prove that Jewish virgins consecrated themselves to the Temple.

Yada and others: I was not trying to make any arguement against Mary. I’m just arguing that Consecrated Temple virgins was not possible. A review of Leviticus which states clearly the laws regarding who does what in the Temple should clear that up.

I personally never have referred “Temple Virgins” and in fact said I did not know any thing about them …

There are chaste people who have consecrated themselves to the Lord, even within Judaism…

While living a life of chastity may not be for everyone there are many people for whom this is the preferred life style past, present and future

I always thought they were giving her by analogy a Roman title, “God’s Vestal Virgin,” sort of like the android in Outlaw Star being called “The Galactic Leyline’s Miko” (Shinto shrine maiden).

Yes I realize that’s an odd analogy.

Just wanted to point out that a life of chastity is indeed for everyone. Chastity does not equate to virginity, but is living a sexually pure life no matter what your state (for married people this is faithfulness to their partner).

Sorry for the interruption.:blush:

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