WALTER L. WILLIAMS
MARY AND JOSEPH
Mary was proud of the fact that she was a virgin. While many of her friends in Nazareth were trying to become the lovers of the handsome Roman soldiers, Mary was different. She did not want to live her life the way she saw other teenage girls in Israel’s northern district of Galilee leading theirs. The only goal in life they seemed to have was to catch a Roman boyfriend. To Mary, it was all so predictable and familiar. First they swooned after anything Roman, including any Roman man who claimed to have any kind of connection at all to the Empire. Next they lost their virginity by making love to a Roman. This was often followed by pregnancy, and Mary had heard of several young women in Galilee who had died due to medical complications during childbirth. That was enough to convince Mary to avoid such a painful and dangerous experiment.
Mary knew that once a young woman had a child, she would count herself lucky if a Roman man would claim her as “his woman.” But most of these couplings did not last. As soon as possible, a Roman soldier would be off to another sexual “conquest,” conquering the heart of a naïve young woman just as effectively as the Roman Empire conquered the Jews and their neighboring peoples of the eastern Mediterranean.
Mary was disgusted to see the way many other Jews had accommodated themselves to Roman rule. Even the Pharisees, the priests in charge of the Jewish temples, had worked out an accommodation. Though Romans had their own gods, they allowed myriad religions of their conquered regions to continue as long as their priests swore loyalty to Caesar. The principled rabbis who refused to swear loyalty had been tortured and killed, intimidating those who remained. The Pharisees who were now in charge were those who valued their opulent lifestyle above all else. They had retained their titles and wealth only by becoming puppets for the Empire.
To Mary, the Romans seemed to be crass, greedy materialists who cared only for wealth and worldly power. A pantheon of Roman gods extolled militaristic violence, justifying the Empire’s oppressive domination of other peoples. The Roman government did not protect the sick and the poor, but exploited anyone they could sell into slavery for their own selfish means. Those who objected would themselves be quickly enslaved or tortured to death. How, Mary thought, could a Jewish woman even consider taking a Roman man as her lover. The Romans encouraged their soldiers to impregnate as many females as possible, because they wanted the Empire to grow so that they would have more people to enslave and exploit.
More often than not, the girl who got pregnant would be left to raise the child on her own. What usually happened was that her panicked parents tried to construct a last-minute deal with a Jewish man, who would agree to marry her. Most Jewish parents preferred their daughter to marry a nice Jewish man, so that the marriage would generate ties of mutual economic advantage to each family. The social pressure for Jewish men to marry was tremendous, and many took advantage of a Roman-sired pregnancy to marry a prettier girl than they could otherwise have attracted. The end result was that many young women were left with little choice in the man they married. Their lives were set to the monotonous rhythm of sex, pregnancy, childbirth, childrearing, and the daily drudgery of domestic work.
Surely, Mary thought, there was more to life than just trying to have sex with a man. For as long as she could remember, Mary had no desire to have sex with a man, Roman or Jewish. And she certainly did not want to get pregnant. She would have been happiest simply staying with her girl friends, but as she went through her teenage years it seemed that just as she cemented a close friendship with another girl, the young woman would suddenly go “boy crazy” and run off with some man.
Ironically, the only person to whom Mary has been able to confide her feelings was her friend Joseph. Though a descendent of the ancient Hebrew king David, Joseph’s family was poor, having suffered hard times since the Romans conquered the Hebrews and destroyed the independent kingdom of Israel. Joseph hated the Romans as much as Mary did. Mary and Joseph had been close friends since childhood. Joseph was not like the other young men. He had never liked the rough-and-tumble play of other boys, who clashed in swordplay in mock battle, and modeled their lives on the brute Roman conquerors. Joseph had always been a sweet and gentle boy, who would never have wanted to harm a hair on anyone’s head.
Mary and Joseph agreed that they had no desire to get married, despite the pressure from both sets of parents that they should do so. Just as Mary had confided to her friend that she had no interest in having sex with a man, Joseph had also confided to Mary that he had no interest in having sex with a woman. They were best friends, drawn together in their common opposition to the Empire and to the expectation that they should procreate. Still, each one of them had already started feeling the pressure to marry, even though they had just turned seventeen. Seeing how much time they spent together, neighbors joked that Joseph and Mary were destined to marry. Mary secretly detested the idea of marriage. She was happy to remain unmarried, with Joseph as her best friend and closest confidant.
BIRTH OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
Mary’s life was about to be changed, along with that of her elder cousin Elizabeth. [Luke 1:5- ] Elizabeth was a good woman, who had married a priest named Zacharias. Both of them were elderly, and they had never reproduced despite their strong desire to have a child. One day when Zacharias was burning incense in the temple, there appeared to him a dark-skinned angel standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw the spirit, he was fearful. But the angel said to him, “Do not be fearful, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you shall have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he will become great in the sight of the Lord. He shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even while he is still in his mother’s womb. And he will bring many people to God.”
Zacharias blinked in disbelief in finally seeing an angel, after all these years, but he did not know how to address the spirit since he could not tell its gender. So he asked: “Are you a man or a woman?” The angel looked irritated at the question, and replied: “I am the heavenly messenger Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and am sent by God to bring news to you, and yet you ask me a question that is unrelated to my message. Angels are not limited to one sex. We are both men and women, united into one complete body.” Then Zacharias said in amazement to the angel, “But how can I believe what you said about producing a son? I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”
By now the angel was annoyed, and said in answer to him: “I have brought you a message of glad tidings. I have told you that your son will have an important role in turning the hearts of people to listen to the wisdom of the just; to make them ready for the Lord’s message. But instead of being glad, you doubt my words. And so I will make it so you shall not be able to speak, until the day that you will see these things fulfilled.” When Zacharias came out of the temple, he could not speak. And he remained speechless. But to his amazement, soon after this event his wife Elizabeth conceived and became pregnant.
GOD CAUSES THE VIRGIN MARY TO BE WITH CHILD
[Luke 1:30] In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the dark-skinned angel Gabriel came to earth again, this time to the city of Nazareth. There the angel appeared to Mary, and said: “Mary, you are highly favored, and the Lord is with you. You are blessed by God above all other people in the world.” Mary was shocked, but Gabriel said, “Do not fear, Mary, for you have found great favor with God. Behold, you will give birth to a son, and shall call his name Jesus.”
Mary was terribly upset at this news. “Oh, no,” she answered, “you have the wrong girl. I’m a virgin. I don’t even want to have sex with a boy.”
And the angel Gabriel interrupted, “but that is precisely why God has chosen you. To give a message for other young women, that remaining a virgin is a good thing.”
“Well, then, why does God want to make me pregnant?”
“Because you will bring forth a son who shall be great, and who will change the history of the world. God has chosen you to raise him carefully and then assist him in his work. He shall be called the Son of the Highest, and he will reign over the hearts of people forever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
Then Mary said, “But how can this happen, seeing that I have never had sex with a man?”
And the angel answered, “And so you shall not have sex. Instead, the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you. Therefore the child which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God, and you shall be called the Holy Virgin. And behold your cousin Elizabeth who was barren has conceived a son in her old age; this is her sixth month of pregnancy. For with God nothing is impossible.”
Mary said, “But the Bible says…”
But Gabriel interrupted, “There are many mistakes in the Bible! Do not form your opinions based on those words. Those writers got so much of it totally wrong. Moses was hard of hearing, you know. God told him about the first four people created: Adam, Steve, Eve, and Lilith. They were dark-skinned like I am, created in God’s image. It was only later, after humans left Africa, what your Bible calls Eden, that human skin color degenerated to a more pale hue. God did not make them complete, with a body that is both male and female like we angels have, but each one was of one sex only. God wanted all four of them to be able to live together and enjoy each other. But Moses only remembered to write about Adam and Eve. He just barely mentioned Lilith, and forgot about Steve altogether.
“And Moses totally garbled the rules God set for animals. God’s point was that people should be kind to animals, and not mistreat them. I was thoroughly alarmed when I came back to earth on one of my regular thousand-year visits, and found that humans had enslaved animals to do their labor. God said that humans should not eat any of the higher mammals, since these species are so closely related to humans that such practices smack of cannibalism. Moses remembered correctly that people should not eat pigs and camels, but he confused the other things. I don’t know where he came up with those rules about not eating oysters or shrimp. How can someone justify eating an intelligent animal like a cow, which lives peacefully on earth, while prohibiting the eating of oysters? The whole thing Moses came up with is crazy; he even said it was worshipful to kill a goat or a sheep as a sacrifice in God’s name. God never made any such order, and it pains God to know that so many animals have died because of such human stupidity. What God tried to communicate to Moses is that humans should not enslave the higher animals, and should not eat them.”
Mary asked, “Does that mean the Bible is all wrong?”
“Well,” Gabriel replied, “the Bible has many good points in it, where it adequately communicates the word of God. But it cannot be trusted, because so much of it was garbled. God never intended that it should be written down as a text, that people would quote and use to condemn other people on the basis of those quotes. The worst part is that many of the writers of the Bible used it merely to transcribe their own prejudices, and their own weird ideas. This is why God wants to send his son, half god and half human, to try to better communicate God’s message more correctly than what is written in the Bible. The Bible is a big part of the problem.”
Mary continued, asking, “Are you suggesting that humans should not eat any meat at all?”
And Gabriel said, “God’s statements are merely guidelines, that each person has to evaluate on their own. It is best to be a vegetarian, but for those with a weakness for meat the only acceptable diet is insects, reptiles, birds, the lower mammals like rodents and rabbits, and all the creatures of the rivers and seas except for intelligent sea mammals like porpoises and whales. God detests human consumption of the more intelligent animals like cows, pigs, oxen, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, horses, deer, bison, camels, primates, and other species. It is not only cruel to the animals, but unhealthy for humans and threatening to the balance of nature. If humans cut down the forests to make pastureland for their cows, then eventually the air itself will turn polluted.
“God is very uncomfortable with the continued enslavement of animals. That is just as bad as enslaving other humans. I cannot imagine what went wrong with humans. Things continued in a pretty good way after God created the primates and the first humans. But then humans started killing large animals, and once they enslaved large draft animals everything got completely out of hand. God did not mean for any of this to happen. As a result, humans used horses and camels to perfect their war-making abilities, and even started killing and enslaving other humans. The end result is the warfare and brutal repression of empires like the slave-based Roman Empire you suffer under at the present.
“Part of my reason for coming to you now is that God so loves the world that God wants to provide humanity with a more wise way of living. This is God’s final experiment at trying to improve human happiness, to see if people will at least be wise enough to follow these teachings. Because your son will inherit God’s ability to comprehend the really important things, he will not wish to marry or reproduce. I hope people will get the message that it is better to remain unmarried and not to reproduce. There are already entirely too many humans on the planet, and God fears that it will only get worse in the future.”
Mary asked, “Why can’t God send a daughter? I would much rather raise a girl than a boy.”
Gabriel replied: “One of the main reasons that God is sending a son into the world, rather than a daughter, is to give an example of a male who practices kindness, peacefulness, acceptance, happiness, and non-reproductiveness. The reason God chose you is that you never wanted to get married or reproduce. You are pure of heart. God hopes that you also will be a model for young women, not to get pregnant. Enjoy erotically interacting with others, have fun, but don’t reproduce. All this pregnancy is very irresponsible on the part of humans. God wants the world to be for the benefit of many species, not only humans. Keep everything in balance.”
All these things helped Mary overcome her revulsion of the idea of giving birth. She accepted the motherhood of God’s child as a gift from God, and pondered them in her heart.
Meanwhile, the angel of God appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying “Joseph, son of David, God wants you and Mary to live together as friends and companions. The fetus that is inside her is conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she shall give birth to a son, and you shall name him Jesus, for he will save many people from misery. As the prophets said, a virgin shall produce a son, and he will be called Emanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Then after waking Joseph did as the angel told him, going to Mary and convincing her that they should live together. Even though neither of them wanted to be married in the conventional sense, and did not want to have sex, they realized this would be the best way to raise Mary’s son Jesus.
While Joseph had no desire to sire children, he had always loved being around boys. He had always been kind to younger boys, helping them when they felt bad, and teaching them new things. He told Mary that his dream was to help raise a number of boys, not as a father authority-figure, but as a kindly uncle, teacher, and friend. Joseph now saw no need to reproduce his own offspring, since Mary was already pregnant. Also, he pointed out, there were so many homeless children who needed a good home. Joseph decided that his goal in life would be to help Mary’s son, as well as other boys who need a good home. Together, they would be models for people to adopt homeless children rather than reproducing.
As his mother Mary looked on admiringly, Jesus amazed the rabbis at the Jewish Temple with the high quality of his analytical abilities. Jesus studied the writings of the Jewish prophets, and became expert in interpreting them in new and original ways.
Jesus was lovingly baptized by his close friend John the Baptist.
THIS IS THE END OF CHAPTER 1 of “THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS”
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