December 22, 2008

Joseph of Nazareth, died 30 AD

Joseph, Mary and the boys (James, Joseph, Simon & Jude) moved to Capernaum with Jesus after the wedding in Cana. The Lord's sisters must have been married off by that time, because they stayed in Nazareth. Jesus was almost 35 by then, so Mary was at least 48. And Joseph had to be five or ten years older than that, so he was probably pushing 60! (In ancient days, for common folk, 60 was like 90 or 100 !) Still, Joseph lived long enough in Capernaum for the Jews of the Synagogue to have known him a little bit. But Joseph was dead by the time Jesus - from the cross - told John to take care of his mother.

The question is, when did Joseph die? I think it was sometime around the "who is my mother" visit from Mary (30 AD in Cheney's Chronology, 31 in Hoehner's). This is the only time on record where Mary comes to interrupt Jesus. He was in the middle of his work, surrounded by large crowds, teaching them difficult things, and yet Mary didn't wait for him to finish. What could have been so pressing, unless it was Joseph on his deathbed? Besides, we know Mary still treasured in her heart the fact that Jesus had to be about his father's business. She must have thought Jesus would make an exception to come home to see Joseph one last time.

Another point in favor of this view - the text suggests Jesus' sisters might have been there as well. The greek plural 'adelphos' is gender neutral - it means "brothers" or "siblings". In other places, this word has been translated "brothers and sisters", and that rendering should be considered here as well. When Jesus responds to the phrase 'adelphos' he says "whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." So it's at least possible the word "sister" here implies the Lord's own sisters were waiting outside the crowd with Mary and the boys. Combined with the other considerations above, and assuming Mary would want the girls to see Joseph one last time also, I'm thinking it's not just possible, but in fact more likely.

So here's the picture. Mary takes one to three brothers and leaves Capernaum to find Jesus, leaving one or two brothers back home to take care of Joseph. Mary and her sons go through Nazareth first, pick up the girls, and use that travel time to listen for reports about where Jesus is. They find him in one of the towns on the Lakeshore's west side, somewhere south of Capernaum. And then... he doesn't go with them! Is that cold? Not necessarily.

The next thing Jesus does (after the storm and the pigs) is tell the ex-demoniac, who was begging to come along, to go back to his family. Evidently, Jesus felt there were times and seasons for "who is my mother?". Then, immediately after that, Jesus healed Jairus' daughter. A dead girl, just a child age 12, came back to live some more - but if Jesus had even touched Joseph, around age 58-ish, power might have gone out of him and postponed the old man's final reward. After all, Joseph was finally about to meet the One who gave him those dreams, over 30 years before.

Whatever the case, we have to trust Jesus had his reasons for letting Joseph die without even going to see him. But there is one final detail. This had to be some time later, but the next event on record after Jairus' daughter is the occasion of Jesus' second trip back to Nazareth. (This time the disciples are there, so nobody tries pushing 13 men off a cliff!) Last time, the crowds said, "Is this not Joseph's son?" But this time they leave Joseph out of it. This time, they call him the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon, and they point out his sisters are there with them. Evidently, the sisters have come back from Capernaum and the small town Nazarene folks all know why they were away. Their father just died.

So this Nazareth trip is our last piece of evidence to suggest when Joseph died. But what I think is so very touching - assuming this is all accurate - is that Jesus did go back home to console his sisters. Even if he couldn't make it up to them, even if he couldn't explain and even if they wouldn't understand, the Lord did at least try to go visit his own sisters after their father had died. Okay, he did also preach while he was there, and the visit might not have gone well (at the end, he said a prophet had no honor among his own relatives.) but I do think it's sweet that he went.

At any rate, Joseph of Nazareth must have died in-between the move to Capernaum and Jesus' second visit to Nazareth. Joseph was in Capernaum long enough to have been known by the Jews of that Synagogue, but probably died about a year after the move, around the same time Jesus was healing Jairus' daughter, if not just before. This adds a whole new dimension to the episode in which Jesus told his disciples and the crowds, "Who is my mother?" It might even give us new sympathy for the level of sacrifice the Lord was making, just at that moment, in order to keep on doing the will of his father in heaven.


Peter Kirk said...

What makes you think that Joseph ever moved to Capernaum? John 2:12 which you link to, by mentioning Jesus' mother and brothers, more or less implies that Joseph did not. I have tended to assume that Joseph died before Jesus began his ministry. Is there any good reason to think otherwise? If you have blogged about this before, please let us have a link.

Bill Heroman said...

You didn't follow all my links, did you, Peter? ;) Check out John 6:42 and get back to me again.

Always a pleasure, btw. And Merry Christmas. :)

Peter Kirk said...

Yes, I did miss the link to John 6:42. But I don't think it proves very much. The Greek verb is not ginosko, which would be used for "know" in the sense of "be acquainted with". It is oida which primarily refers to knowing facts. In the context this can quite properly be translated "We know who his father and mother are". Compare 7:27.

Or it may well be that Joseph visited Capernaum before he died, maybe some time before the move following the wedding at Cana. After all the distance from Nazareth was not great and Mary had probable relatives there in the family of Zebedee.

And Merry Christmas to you!

T. Michael W. Halcomb said...

I think this is a little tenuous. One great reason for Mary and fam. to have come to Jesus in Mk. 6 is because they feared that He was going to be killed (as was already stated in Mk. 3.6). We may presume that they heard about the plot and came to stop Jesus from doing what He was (after all, that's what the story is, in large part, all about). Bill, I think this one example where providing chronology just falls through, sorry.

Bill Heroman said...

Peter, I'm so glad you mentioned that verb. Can you comment on the tense, please? Young's Literal translation has a pluperfect rendering. Is that accurate? (See the BLB link again.)

Michael, thanks very much for the pushback on this one. I'll grant you a closer look at Mark alone definitely suggests a different picture. I'll have to take a closer look at how Mark addresses place & time during that passage. A lot of things in Luke and Matthew happened "during" Mark 3, according to the harmony. So the chronology may be essential here, as opposed to impotent... perhaps. Either way, it's just the sort of thing I'm after! ;)

Sorry I've got to run. More later, I hope...

Peter Kirk said...

Were you asking about the verb in John 6:42, or 7:27 which is the same? oidamen is morphologically perfect but semantically present. This verb was originally the perfect of "to see" which became the present of "to know", i.e. "we have seen" came to mean "we know". But it doesn't imply that the object is still alive.

Young's literal renders with a perfect according to the Greek grammar (but NOT the Greek meaning), not a pluperfect, but it is in the very nature of a literal translation like this to entirely lose the correct meaning.

Bill Heroman said...

Peter, that's perfect. What I didn't point out before is that John 6:42 happens a year or so after the "who is my mother" event. So your explanation fits perfectly with either your theory or mine. We may still disagree over when Joseph died and how the Capernaum Jews knew him, but we both believe he was dead at Jn.6:42.

Thanks so much, Peter. Feel free to send me a bill for the translating help. ;)

Peter Kirk said...

As a seasonal gift I will waive my consultancy fee ;-) Merry Christmas!

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