Like A Virgin
Harboring a secular belief system that Joseph Ratzinger might deride as being captive to the “dictatorship of relativism” (by which I presume the new and improved Benedict XVI to mean absolutely anything that falls outside the steely doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, like say, advocating the use of condoms in third world countries to help fight the spread of AIDS) I’m not as versed as I’d like to be in Biblical hermeneutics. I say this because I recently began reading Jose Saramago’s trenchant and deliciously skeptical fictional telling of the life of Jesus , The Gospel According To Jesus Christ, and was surprised to learn that Jesus had numerous younger siblings. I wondered if Saramago wasn’t perhaps making this up. But doing a little sleuthing just now I see that the answer depends on whether you’re Catholic or Protestant. For Catholics, Mary is the eternal virgin. This must have been hard on poor Joseph. “Not tonight Joseph, I’m with the Lord our Savior’s child.” Thankfully, Protestants have seen fit to save Joseph from the cruel fate of a lifetime of conjugal blueballs and allowed him to mount Mary several times. There are no stained-glass depictions of this so far as I know.
This guy, a Reformist Christian, has written a paper about this point of contention, the exasperated tone of which is probably a good example of the animosity Catholic and Protestant hermeneuticists must feel toward one another. According to his fiery essay, it’s, like, so entirely obvious that Jesus had siblings. But Catholics, arguing the linguistic malleability card, choose to interpret these relations as either being cousins or children from a previous marriage of Josephs. Previous marriage? Well, I’ll be!
Still, I guess I’m just a little surprised that Protestants, to my knowledge, haven’t made a bigger deal about these siblings. Why don’t we see more Protestant deification surrounding these kids? Were any of them around when Christ really got going on his savior kick? Did they believe him? Or were they keeping as far away as possible from their older brother, mortified by his claims of turning water into wine and the troubling nature of his followers, especially those 12 gaunt fellows claiming to be his disciples? And talk about a great book/play/movie idea- the life of Jesus through the eyes of one of Jesus’ brothers. It would begin, “Well, Jesus stopped by this afternoon, reeking of patchouli and ripe with his increasingly bizarre parables. Simon saw him coming up the path and slipped out the backdoor while Jesus was distracted with ‘healing’ yet another leper. ‘I’ll stop by later on,’ Simon whispered in my ear before taking leave, ‘I just can’t take his miracle worker schtick today, you know?’”