Exegesis, Complicity and Jim Ziegler

Alabama State Auditor Jim Ziegler
Brynn Anderson/AP

Jim Zeigler is the Alabama State Auditor who has recast the core narratives of the Gospels as a sort of barely legal dime novel as a way to justify the alleged actions of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. “Zechariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist. Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”

Ziegler can almost see Joseph driving up in his Chevy Impala, parking around the block from Mary’s hut and having her meet him to see his special secret. But in the end it all worked out fine. If it was good enough for Mary, why not Leigh Corfman?

It is probably worth noting that if you accept the orthodox interpretations of the New Testament, Mary was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to Jesus. So even on the basis of Ziegler’s inane argument, Joseph was no Roy Moore. Indeed, Catholics and some other denominations believe in Mary’s perpetual virginity, though the plain text of the Gospels and Paul’s references in Galatians strongly suggest that Jesus had siblings. (The theologically inflected arguments that these were actually cousins or near relations does not hold up to much linguistic scrutiny.) In any case, the Gospels don’t actually tell us how old Mary and Joseph were. What we have are traditional glosses on the New Testament text and some historical information about when marriages generally took place in ancient Galilee and Palestine, which was much younger than what most of us would consider normal or acceptable today.

Not to make too fine a point of it, but if you accept traditional Christian understandings of Jesus’s birth and parentage, Joseph was older than Mary. She was betrothed to him but had not consummated a marriage. Indeed, if you accept the Catholic account, the marriage was never consummated. Joseph was no Roy Moore.

Ed Stetzer, a pastor who chairs the Billy Graham Center of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College, puts it like this: “Bringing Joseph and Mary into a modern-day molestation accusation, where a 32-year-old prosecutor is accused of molesting a 14-year-old girl, is simultaneously ridiculous and blasphemous. Even those who followed ancient marriage customs, which we would not follow today, knew the difference between molesting and marriage.”

This gets to the real point. Even on the basis of the extremely limited information provided in the Gospel accounts and their very loose historical basis, we have no reason to think that Joseph was doing the equivalent of trolling custody hearings at the local courthouse looking for emotionally vulnerable girls to sex.

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