The Study of Life, Part 4: Tracing the Story of Charles Darwin in the Galapagos Islands

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 20 August 2009 0 Comments
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George Williams, via the Internet, writes:

You wrote the following in your essay dated May 14, 2009:

"Most people today still think of Joseph as a carpenter, unaware that the earliest reference in Mark, before Joseph was known in the tradition at all, portrayed Jesus alone as the carpenter, identifying him as the son of a woman." I don't ever recall seeing this "son of a woman" passage. I did an online word search of the RSV and came up dry. Would it be possible to point me to the chapter and verse in which this was written?


Dear George,

If you look at Mark, chapter 6, verse 3, you will discover that the author says, quoting a member of the crowd speaking of Jesus: "Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses, Simon and Judas, and are not his sisters here with us?" and they took offence at him.

I submit that to call Jesus "the son of Mary" is to assert that he is the son of a woman. That is, incidentally, the only time in the first gospel that the mother of Jesus is called "Mary." It is also in the first-century Jewish world an insult to refer to a grown man as the son of a woman. As a matter of fact there is no hint in Mark that the mother of Jesus was a virgin. Indeed in Mark 3:21 and 31-35, she is portrayed as thinking Jesus is "beside himself" and goes to take him away. The story of the virgin Mary is a ninth-decade addition to the Christian story introduced by Matthew, retold by Luke and then denied by John, who calls Jesus the "son of Joseph" on two occasions.

Thanks for writing,

John Shelby Spong



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