Friday, December 18, 2015
HT Jim West, Richard Goode piece on how Joseph would have been within cultural norms and options to have instructed the baby Jesus be killed by abandonment and exposure, some background to Matthew 1:21
HT Jim West, Richard Goode explained in an essay how there's a grisly backstory to what one of Joseph's options was in Matthew 1:21
Therefore, Mary’s unexpected pregnancy was not only a violation of sexually appropriate behaviour, but it could have also have been seen as a betrayal of the two family groups involved and the agreement that bound them together. Joseph’s response to this news would directly impact upon the wider kinships groups and would have risked pitching one family against the other.*
Within the patriarchal structure of antiquity, the ultimate decision of whether a baby should live or die rested in the father’s (or head of the household’s) hands. In a world where offspring could become a dangerous drain upon a household’s resources, infanticide was high.
It sometimes seems that we only tell ourselves we're more advanced and ethical than people from the Bronze Age. Now some pious readers may rush to say Jews didn't do things the way the Romans and the Spartans did. Well ... about that ... don't forget that in the prophetic literature infanticide and child sacrifice were condemned as things Israelites were all too willing to do prior to exile.
Care must be taken before indiscriminately drawing parallels between evidence from the late Roman period and applying it to late Second Temple Judaism. However, as Faerman et al’s (1998) report indicates, this is far from an isolated incident and not restricted to one particular period. Forms of infanticide appear to be have been present (and recognised) within Palestinian Jewish tradition, even though precise attitudes to it are hard to discern (see Murphy, 2014).
So Joseph could have instructed Mary to bring the child to term but abandon the child to die of exposure. Joseph decided not only to take Mary as his wife but to let the child live even though the rumors of "isn't this Mary's son" and the attendant accusation of bastardy for Jesus' paternity would follow the family names perpetually. So Joseph, as recounted in the Matthew narrative, chose to value the life of the child that wasn't his over his reputation and that of the clans that had arranged the marriage.