All of the texts stress the purity of Mary’s birth and by extension Jesus’ birth. As elaborated in all of the stories, Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, have Mary because of divine ordinance as communicated by angels (PJ 4, P-M 3, GL p.152). This scene is interestingly portrayed in the Protevangelium of James. Concerned with her lack of children, Anna prays under a “laurel tree” and sings a song emphasizing the “fruitful[ness]” of other creatures that God created (PJ 2-3). The use of trees and fruit is interesting. It evokes the passage from Genesis in which God creates “tree of knowledge of good and bad” that Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from (Genesis 2:17). This connection is strengthened when Joseph later directly cites the story of the fall of Adam and Eve (PJ 13:1). Of course, trees and fruit are symbolic of nature and fertility. However, given the use of trees and fruit remind the reader of original sin and the tainting power of lust. Given that Mary was born free of lust because of Anna’s infertility, she (and later Jesus) can escape original sin.
This interpretation is in line with Jacobus’ writings (written after the Protevangelium of James). Jacobus makes clear that Mary was born out of “divine generosity” and not “the fruit of carnal desire” (152). The “fruit of carnal desire” here seemingly references the story of Adam and Eve. We see that Mary (and later Jesus) escape original sin because of the circumstances surrounding Mary’s birth. She is born by the grace of God and not because of human sin.
In addition to escaping original sin, Mary appears to be important because of her lineage (as seen in observations by Jacobus). In the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew begins by describing in detail the lineage of Joseph. While reading this passage for class, I was not struck by anything in particular. However, after encountering Jacobus’ recounting of Mary’s lineage via the line of David and Levi (GL 149-151), I was amazed at how out-of-touch Matthew’s account seems. If we take that Jesus is the child of the Holy Ghost/ Holy Spirit/ God and Mary, how is Joseph’s lineage at all relevant? Jacobus’ insight in to the importance of Mary seemingly makes sense. He tries to use Mary’s connection to the royal house of David and priestly house of Levi to show Christians (through Christ through Mary) as a “kingly priesthood” (GL 151). Like with original sin, Mary’s lineage directly affects Jesus, which has implications for Christianity as a whole.
Should we be so convinced that Mary’s lineage matters? As told in The Protengelium of James and The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Mary’s virginity was left intact (PJ 19-20; P-M 13). This point is seemingly important given what happens when Salome questions Mary’s virginity. In both PJ and P-M, Salome’s hand is greatly hurt – caught on “fire” (PJ 20) and “dried up” (P-M 13). These punishments by God underscore the importance about Mary’s virginity.
Given that Mary remains a virgin, does that make Jesus less related to Mary’s lineage? While we discussed this point in class, this question still bothers me. One might interpret the importance given to the preservation of Mary’s virginity as a way of confirming her virginity pre conception. The authors could use this point as an additional way of confirming Mary’s virginity for the reader. They might imagine that the reader (like Joseph in the story) doubts Mary’s faithfulness and suspects Mary’s child is a product of sin. This additional confirmation helps dispel these thoughts.
At the same time, Mary’s preserved virginity seemingly makes her lineage irrelevant. I suspect my interpretation here might be a product of my contemporary notions of heredity. To explore this topic more, I should probably explore Aristotelian science (or other more relevant scientific thought from the time) more deeply.
By working through these texts, I tried to explore how Mary’s backstory and birth portray Mary as a pure, noble, and priestly vessel for Jesus. The stories surrounding Mary have implications for how people interpret the birth of Jesus and have larger considerations in Christianity. While I focused on details surrounding Mary’s birth, The Protevangelium of James, The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, and The Golden Legend also have other motivations. For example, their numerous references to the Old Testament help lend credibility to the story of Mary and Jesus by fulfilling earlier prophecies. Additionally, while I have thought of Mary in relation to Jesus, this discussion of her birth and lineage could also more generally describe the relationship of God (the father) to Earth with Mary in one of her traditional roles as an intercessor.