1

Certain Christians believe Mary was a perpetual virgin. Furthermore, they believe there were Jewish Temple Virgins (discussion on this here) and that Mary was consecrated as a Temple Virgin. They further believe these Temple Virgins took lifelong vows of chastity.

What are the arguments people who believe this make for a further practice of Jewish men then marrying these (supposed) Temple Virgins, and then abiding by their (supposed) vows of lifelong chastity?

2

1 Answer 1

2

What are the arguments for believing Jewish men would marry Temple Virgins who had taken vows of chastity?

There is no tradition that the ”Jewish Temple Virgins” were consecrated virgins that took vows. In Catholic tradition only the Virgin Mary seems to have willed to be a perpetual virgin. The others were simply young virgin maidens of Israel. In Jewish thought young girls were considered virgins. Some of these young Jewish girls entered into the temple service for a certain duration of time only.

Did the Herodian Temple have virgins?

Catholic tradition holds this to be true.

The Presentation of the Virgin Mary, also called Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple is a feast celebrated in the Catholic and Eastern churches on November 21. It was held in the Eastern church in the 6th century but did not become widely accepted in the West until the 15th century. The pope St. Pius V (1566–72) suppressed it, but in 1585 Pope Sixtus V reestablished the feast. Generally considered a feast of popular piety, it signifies Mary’s total and lifelong devotion to God, as anticipated by her Immaculate Conception, and heralds her future vocation as the sacred vessel for the Incarnation.

The Presentation of the Virgin Mary by Titian (1534-38)

The Presentation of the Virgin Mary by Titian (1534-38)

This Catholic and Orthodox feast is not associated with an event recounted in the New Testament, but from the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James. According to that text, Mary's parents, Joachim and Anne, who had been childless, received a heavenly message that they would have a child. In thanksgiving for the gift of their daughter, they brought her, when still a child, to the Temple in Jerusalem to consecrate her to God. Later versions of the story (such as the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary) indicate that Mary was taken to the Temple at around the age of three in fulfillment of a vow.

The account of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple is principally based on the Protoevangelium of James, which has been dated by historians prior to the year 200 AD. The story relates that in thanksgiving for the birth of their daughter Mary, Joachim and Anne decide to consecrate her to God, and bring her, at the age of three years, to the temple in Jerusalem. Mary’s presentation in the temple draws parallels to that of the prophet Samuel, whose mother Hannah, like Anne was also thought to be barren, and who offered her child as a gift to God at Shiloh.

Previously we examined the tradition and biblical foundation for the Catholic teaching that Mary was consecrated as a Temple virgin at the age of three and lived in the temple precincts till the age of fourteen when she was married to Saint Joseph and there after virginally conceived the Son of God.

This school of Temple virgins in Jerusalem formed an altar guild that fulfilled the necessary tasks at the Temple. This included sewing and creating vestments, washing the vestments of the priests which would be stained regularly by animal blood, preparing liturgical linen, weaving the veil of the Temple, and most importantly, liturgical prayer. The Jewish and Catholic tradition holds that this school for Israelite virgins was completed by marrying age of about 14 and that they were dismissed at this time. There were also older women, perhaps widows such as the prophetess Anna, who served as teachers and governesses for the virgins under their care.

There has been some doubt as to whether their were really consecrated Jewish virgins at the Temple. In my previous post I referenced the first-century Jewish historian Josephus in support of “Temple virgins” in Jerusalem, but I fear that this cannot be substantiated. Jimmy Akin asked me for the citation and I cannot find it. One would assume that it would be in Book 5 of the Jewish Wars of Josephus. There Josephus mentions cloisters, but he does not tell us who lived in them. That’s as close as Josephus gets.

There are, however, three Scriptural accounts that are used by Catholics to demonstrate that there were special women who ministered at the Temple complex.

Exodus 38:8 mentions women who “watch (צָבָא) at the door of the tabernacle.”

The second is in 1 Samuel:

“Now Heli was very old, and he heard all that his sons did to all Israel: and how they lay with the women that waited (צָבָא) at the door of the tabernacle:” (1 Samuel 2:22, D-R)

In both of the verses above, Hebrew verb for “watch” and “waited” is the same. It is the Hebrew word צָבָא, which is the same verb used to described the liturgical activity of the Levites (see Num 4:23; 8:24). This corresponds to the Latin translation in the Clementine Vulgate, which relates that these women “observabant” at the temple doors – another liturgical reading.

So these women are not simply hanging out around the Temple, looking for men, gossiping, or chatting about the weather. These are pious women devoted to a liturgical function. In fact, the Court of Women might exist formally for these special “liturgical women.”

The third and final reference to these liturgical females is in 2 Maccabees:

And the virgins also that were shut up, came forth, some to {High Priest} Onias, and some to the walls, and others looked out of the windows. And all holding up their hands towards heaven, made supplication. (2 Macc 3:19-20)

Here are virgins that are shut up. In the Greek it is “αἱ δὲ κατάκλειστοι τῶν παρθένων” or “the shut up ones of the virgins.” In this passage the Holy Spirit refers not to all the virgins of Jerusalem, but to a special set of virgins, that is, those virgins who had the privilege and right to be in the presence of the High Priest and address him. It’s rather ridiculous to think that young girls would have general access to the High Priest of Israel. However, if these virgins had a special liturgical role at the Temple, it becomes clear that they would both address the High Priest Onias and would also be featured as an essential part of the intense supplication in the Temple at this moment of crisis.

There is further testimony of temple virgins in the traditions of the Jews. In the Mishnah, it is recorded that there were 82 consecrated virgins who wove the veil of the Temple:

“The veil of the Temple was a palm-length in width. It was woven with seventy-two smooth stitches each made of twenty-four threads. The length was of forty cubits and the width of twenty cubits. Eighty-two virgins wove it. Two veils were made each year and three hundred priests were needed to carry it to the pool” (Mishna Shekalim 8, 5-6).

We find another reference to the “women who made the veils for the Temple…baked the showbread…prepared the incense” (Babylonian Talmud Kethuboth 106a).

Rabbinic Jewish sources also record how when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in AD 70, the Temple virgins leapt into the flames so as not to be abducted by the heathen soldiers: “the virgins who were weaving threw themselves in the flames” (Pesikta Rabbati 26, 6). Here we also learn that these virgins lived in the three-storey building inside the Temple area. However, it is difficult to find any other details about this structure. The visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich placed the cloisters of the Temple Virgins on the north side of the Temple (Emmerich’s Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary 3, 5).

Even more, the first century document by the name of the Apocalypse of Baruch (sometimes called “2 Baruch”) describes the Temple virgins living in the Temple as weavers of the holy veil:

“And you virgins who weave byssus and silk, and gold from Ophir, in haste pick it all up and throw it in the fire that it will return it to its Author, and that the flame will take it back to its Creator, from fear that the enemy might seize it” (2 Baruch 10:19).

So then, there is ample evidence for the role of consecrated women, especially virgins at the Temple. If one were to accept the passages above, we have plenty of testimony for cultic women in the time of Moses’ tabernacle, in the time of David, in the Second Temple era, and in the first century of Our Lord.

This substantiates the claims of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church who claim that the Blessed Virgin Mary was presented to the Temple and served there from the age of three until the age of fourteen. To claim that Temple virgins are a myth of celibacy-crazed Catholic bishops does not hold up. Scripture and Jewish tradition records that there were specially commissioned virgins associated with the Temple. We may not know much about them, but we know that they existed. - Did Jewish Temple Virgins Exist and was Mary a Temple Virgin?

Neither the Orthodox or Catholic tradition holds that these ”temple virgins” took vows of chastity. The Church holds the the Mother of Jesus was unique in this domain as taking what would amount to a private vow.

Thus the Marriage of the Virgin was also unique and mysterious in it’s own right.

The Golden Legend, which derives its account from the much older Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, recounts how, when Mary was 14 and living in the Temple, the High Priest gathered all male descendants of David of marriageable age including Saint Joseph. The High Priest ordered them to each bring a rod; he that owned the rod which would bear flowers was divinely ordained to become Mary's husband. After the Holy Spirit descended as a dove and caused Joseph's rod to blossom, he and Mary were wed according to Jewish custom. The account, quoted in its entirety, runs thus:

When [Mary] had come to her fourteenth year, the high priest announced to all that the virgins who were reared in the Temple, and who had reached the age of their womanhood, should return to their own, and be given in lawful marriage. The rest obeyed the command, and Mary alone answered that this she could not do, both because her parents had dedicated her to the service of the Lord, and because she herself had vowed her virginity to God.... When the high priest went in to take counsel with God, a voice came forth from the oratory for all to hear, and it said that of all the marriageable men of the house of David who had not yet taken a wife, each should bring a branch and lay it upon the altar, that one of the branches would burst into flower and upon it the Holy Ghost would come to rest in the form of a dove, according to the prophecy of Isaias, and that he to whom this branch belonged would be the one to whom the virgin should be espoused. Joseph was among the men who came.... [and he] placed a branch upon the altar, and straightaway it burst into bloom, and a dove came from Heaven and perched at its summit; whereby it was manifest to all that the Virgin was to become the spouse of Joseph.

In fact, neither the Golden Legend nor any of the early apocryphal accounts describe the actual ceremony, and they differ as to its timing, other than that it preceded the "Journey to Bethlehem". It is unclear whether this story was set before or after the Annunciation which, in the New Testament account, occurred after their betrothal but before their marriage. In the Gospel of James it comes after the Annunciation, but in the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, the primary source in the West, it comes before it. - Marriage of the Virgin

Why did the Blessed Virgin Mary marry?

There are several reasons why the Blessed Virgin Mary married St. Joseph.

Let us start with the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Her betrothal to Joseph

The apocryphal writings to which we referred in the last paragraph state that Mary remained in the Temple after her presentation in order to be educated with other Jewish children. There she enjoyed ecstatic visions and daily visits of the holy angels.

When she was fourteen, the high priest wished to send her home for marriage. Mary reminded him of her vow of virginity, and in his embarrassment the high priest consulted the Lord. Then he called all the young men of the family of David, and promised Mary in marriage to him whose rod should sprout and become the resting place of the Holy Ghost in form of a dove. It was Joseph who was privileged in this extraordinary way.

Jewish maidens were considered marriageable at the age of twelve years and six months, though the actual age of the bride varied with circumstances. The marriage was preceded by the betrothal, after which the bride legally belonged to the bridegroom, though she did not live with him till about a year later, when the marriage used to be celebrated. All this agrees well with the language of the Evangelists. St. Luke (1:27) calls Mary "a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph"; St. Matthew (1:18) says, "when as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost". As we know of no brother of Mary, we must suppose that she was an heiress, and was obliged by the law of Numbers 36:6 to marry a member of her tribe. The Law itself prohibited marriage within certain degrees of relationship, so that the marriage of even an heiress was left more or less to choice.

According to Jewish custom, the union between Joseph and Mary had to be arranged by the parents of St. Joseph. One might ask why Mary consented to her betrothal, though she was bound by her vow of virginity. As she had obeyed God's inspiration in making her vow, so she obeyed God's inspiration in becoming the affianced bride of Joseph. Besides, it would have been singular among the Jews to refuse betrothal or marriage; for all the Jewish maidens aspired after marriage as the accomplishment of a natural duty. Mary trusted the Divine guidance implicitly, and thus was certain that her vow would be kept even in her married state.

Another reason why the Virgin Mary married St. Joseph comes indirectly from Scripture. When Joseph found out Mary was with child, decided to put Mary away privately in order to spare Mary the shame of having a child out of wedlock. In taking Mary as his wife, the Holy Family was looked upon as any other Jewish family living in Palestine at that moment.

18 Now the generation of Christ was in this wise. When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. 19 Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. 20 But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. 21 And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. For he shall save his people from their sins. 22 Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the prophet, saying: 23 Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. 24 And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife. 25 And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus. - Matthew 1: 18-25

Origen gives us yet another reason why Mary and Joseph married one another. Mary’s virginity was not noticed by Satan due to her marriage with St. Joseph.

To begin in the East, in his Homilies on the Gospel of Luke, Origen considers the perpetual virginity of Mary already a settled point of doctrine, fully consistent with the biblical testimony (see Homily 7.4). He also points out that the reason Mary was frightened by the greeting of the angel, “Hail, full of grace,” is that she, as a good student of the Law, knew that this form of address was unprecedented in Scripture (Homily 6.7). In other words, Origen is pointing out that Mary’s participation in grace is unique, and this conviction continues in both Eastern and Western Christianity, a grace of sinlessness in the East, and Immaculate Conception in the West. For Origen, however, the uniqueness of Mary is not isolated from her marriage to Joseph. His comments on her uniqueness come immediately after a discussion of the divine dispensation which committed the Incarnation to a woman who was already betrothed. In Origen’s reading, then, the marriage of Mary and Joseph is not accidental to the divine plan, but part of it, and so itself becomes theologically significant. It is not Teresa of Ávila, but Origen, who first makes the mystery of St. Joseph and his marriage to Mary an intrinsic part of the mystery of the Incarnation Origen reports:

I found an elegant statement in the letter of a martyr - I mean Ignatius, the second bishop of Antioch after Peter. During a persecution, he fought against wild animals at Rome. He stated, "Mary’s virginity escaped the notice of the ruler of this age." It escaped his notice because of Joseph, and because of their wedding.

Origen continues to ponder the mystery of St. Joseph, pointing out that it is because he is the husband of Mary that the devil does not suspect that the Savior “had taken on a body.” Origen connects the mystery of St. Joseph with Paul’s reference in 1 Cor 2:6-8, where, as Origen reports, Paul comments that:

We speak wisdom among the perfect, but not the wisdom of this age or the wisdom of the rulers of this age. They are being destroyed. We speak God’s wisdom, hidden in a mystery. None of the rulers of this age knows it. If they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory.

The marriage of Mary and Joseph is thus an intrinsic part of God’s Wisdom, an intrinsic part of the logic of the Incarnation, which is the logic of God’s philanthropia, a logic of foolishness, invisible to the ruling powers because it is, to them, foolishness and not wisdom. Origen invites us to contemplate the marriage of Joseph and Mary as an outcropping, one might say, of this foolishness.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .