Friday, December 6, 2013

Unnamed Among the Named: Jesus and His Sisters

In a society that was, with some exception, patriarchal, it is intriguing to discover the biological family that Jesus found himself in. Lovely example include, "Women are greedy, inquisitive, lazy, vain." (Gen. Rab. 45b) and "woe to him whose children are females" (b. Qidd. 82b).

Mark 6:2-3:
"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given to him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn't this the carpenter? isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.
There are some interesting elements of this text. First, Jesus is mentioned as being Mary's son instead of Joseph's. Jesus' genealogy is traced (largely) through men (Matt. 2-17). Curiously, Mary is mentioned again in v16 as the mother of Jesus. Joseph is simply named as her husband.

Second, the brothers are all named whereas the sister's go unnamed. This isn't too surprising, given the culture. You have many unnamed women in the synoptic gospels and in John (Mark 5:25-34; Luke 7:36-50; the famous interpolated text in John 7:53-8:11 as well as the Samaritan women in John 4).

Third, what I find most unique about this little stories is that they reflect not only the time in which they happened, but they reflect the idea of deed over name. What many of these women did, whether it was challenge Jesus, anoint Jesus, provide finances for Jesus, announce his resurrection and ascension; whatever they did, reconciliation seemed imminent.

Much of it is silent, unspoken. Jesus meets their gaze, and they respond. Much of his relationship is met with tenderness and quietness. In the still silent places, Jesus seems to connect with women. If Jesus had any imparted teaching of the law to women, he is in sharp contrast with a pretty standard comment in his century, "woman is not equal in honor with man" (Philo of Alexandria, QG 1.27).

I wonder what his relationship with his sisters was like. How did he play with them? Did he wrestle in the dirt? Did he race them around Mary's feet? Did he impart wisdom to them? Did he teach them the Law? Did he ever need to speak with them? Did he eat with them? Did he have them remove a splinter from his thumb?

Did he love them enough to remember them?

Some things that just crawled into my mind and haven't left. Jesus has a knack for doing that.


1 comment:

  1. I have always wondered how he may have been viewed as the oldest son in a culture that I understand would have put him as head of the household once Joseph was gone.