This is written by Jack Sweeley. I always wondered about this. Jesus and Moses were both adoptees of sorts. I wonder if the biblethumpers out there would really understand this. If I had met this man in my travels, I probably would not have left the Catholic Church.
N.B. Documentation of the linguistic changes in the text cited is proven by citing the same text from the BGL, BibleWorks Greek LLX (Hebrew translated into Greek for Greek speaking Jews in Egypt)/BNT (New Testament Greek; the LXE, Brenton's English translation of the LXX; the VUL, Jerome's Latin Vulgate; the KJV, King James (1611-1769); and the NRS, New Revised Standard Version (1989). Sources are cited in this order, where applicable, because the Greek LXX was Jerome's source for his translation of the Old Testament into Latin, Jerome's Latin Vulgate was the only authorized version of both the Old and New Testaments until the Protestant Reformation when it was translated into national vernacular languages, the King James version 1611-1769 was the first accepted standard version of the Bible in English, and the New Revised Standard Version is the most widely accepted scholarly version of the Bible in English. I have placed the specific words and phrases in bold that need to be emphasized.
There is evidence in the Gospels that there was a cloud over Jesus' birth. The idea of supernatural impregnation by the Holy Spirit of Mary makes a good myth, but for the rational person it is only myth when confronted with the reality of the biology of conception. Even with the best efforts of the church to impose this belief on the faithful, a Renaissance artist expressed his disbelief by painting the Annunciation with a large funnel in the clouds, its long tapered end reaching earth and disappearing under Mary's dress.
The Gospel of Matthew states that Joseph was preparing to divorce a pregnant Mary, to whom he was betrothed but with whom he had not consummated the marriage (Matthew 1: 18-25). The verses that cite this are numbers eighteen and nineteen.
KJV Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on 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 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. 20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou 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 was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. 24 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25 And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
NRS Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
It is to be noted that at this time in Judaism a betrothed couple was considered married even though they lived in their own parents' houses, had no sexual contact, and no marriage ceremony had been performed. Thus, if Joseph believed Mary was pregnant by another man the only way he could end the betrothal was to divorce her. It is quite clear in Matthew that Joseph had no doubt that Mary was pregnant by another man, the child within her was not his, and that under Jewish law the child to be born was a bastard.
One may ask, "If Joseph truly loved Mary, why didn't he just marry her and claim the child to be his?" The answer to that question is the real reason for Joseph's intended divorce. A mamzer, or bastard, and any descendants of that mamzer to the tenth generation would be prohibited from being part of the Jewish community (Deuteronomy 23:2).
LXT Deuteronomy 23:2 ouvk eivseleu,setai qladi,aj kai. avpokekomme,noj eivj evkklhsi,an kuri,ou
VUL Deuteronomy 23:2 non ingredietur mamzer hoc est de scorto natus in ecclesiam Domini usque ad decimam generationem
KJV Deuteronomy 23:2 A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.
NRS Deuteronomy 23:2 Those born of an illicit union shall not be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.
This meant that a bastard, male or female, and all of that bastard's progeny for ten generations could never marry a Jew or become a part of the Jewish community.
In the Gospel of John the Pharisees ask Jesus, "Where is your father?" (John 8:19).
KJV John 8:19 Then said they unto him, Where is thy Father? Jesus answered, Ye neither know me, nor my Father: if ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also.
NRS John 8:19 Then they said to him, "Where is your Father?" Jesus answered, "You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also."
Many scholars believe that this is a question regarding Jesus' paternity. If Jesus were a bastard, anything he said or did could easily be discredited and would not be believed because he would not have been a part of the Jewish community. Not only he but his very words and deeds would be illegitimate. However, other scholars caution that not too much attention be placed on this verse or its presumed historicity. This is because John often uses the literary technique of making a theological proclamation in which he creates situations and statements rather than reports them.
Almost from its very beginning Christianity placed great emphasis upon the miraculous impregnation of Mary and little attention was given to his paternity. It was assumed by Christians, despite the belief at that time that many important men were the offspring of supernatural impregnation, that Jesus' case was different because of the Immaculate Conception; that is, Mary had been conceived without Original Sin so that she could give birth to not only a man but to God. Does this sound like science fiction? It does to liberal scholars, who believe that if the statement in Matthew has any credibility, Jesus was a bastard.
To put this into perspective, prior to Christianity bastardy was considered to be de rigueur in all cultures of the Ancient Near East except for the Hebrews. In fact, Strabo writes of Amazon-like cultures where females were dominant, men played the traditional female role and were restricted from owning property or going to war, and children were raised communally without regard to paternity. Thus the pejorative designation ascribed to bastards crept into Christianity via its Jewish roots.
The theological advent of the supernatural impregnation of Mary made it absolutely necessary for Christianity to make a distinction between the conception of Jesus as bastard from that of common bastards. The ability of Christianity to define and regulate all aspects of society as it spread across Europe over the centuries mandated and legitimized the treatment of bastards as people to be avoided, scorned, shamed, and disenfranchised by all social and legal institutions.
Using England as a template, a review of the status of bastards in English law will reveal to what degree Christianity's need to deny the bastardy of Jesus and Jesus as more than a common bastard have had of the lives of bastards. Let us begin with the legal definition of bastard.
BASTARD (0. Fr. bastard, mod. batard = fils de bast, " packsaddle child," from bast,saddle), a person born out of legal wedlock. Under law bastards were classified either as nothi, children born in concubinage, or spurii, those not so born. Both classes had a right of succession to their mother, and the nothi were entitled to support from their father, but had no rights of inheritance from him. Both, however, had most of the rights of citizenship.
However, prior to the Roman invasion of England and after the Romans retreated, German law prevailed in England until the 13th century. The Germanic law was based upon an entirely different principle. It recognized as legitimate only those whose parents were of the same social rank. All others were regarded as bastards, and took the status of the parent of inferior rank. The aim of all the Germanic codes was to preserve purity of race, not to improve morals, for incestuous unions were not censured. The influence of the Germanic law lasted throughout the early feudal period, and bastards were subsequently barred from rights of inheritance.
In the 13th century the influence of Roman law tended to modify the severity of Germanic law. An exception made in the case of those whose fathers were of royal blood. In these cases it seems that no stigma was attached to the accident of a bastard birth, nor did royal bastards suffer from the usual disabilities as to inheritance which attended non-royal bastard birth. For instance among the Franks Theodoric I, a natural son of Clovis , sharing the kingdom with Clovis' bastard sons. Even William the Conqueror assumed the appellation of bastard.
In English law a bastard still retains certain disabilities. His rights are only such as he can acquire. He can inherit nothing as he is looked upon as the son of nobody and is thus sometimes called filius nullius and sometimes filius populi. However, being a bastard does not impact on issues of morality; that is, he cannot marry his mother or bastard sister. However, he may gain a surname by reputation though he has none by inheritance. He also may be made legitimate and capable of inheriting by the transcendent power of an act of parliament .
For poor law purposes, all legitimate children take the settlement of their father, but a bastard takes the settlement of its mother. The mother of an illegitimate child is entitled to its custody in preference to the father, and consequently the responsibility of its support falls primarily on her.
But English law has always recognized the principle that to a certain extent the father must share in that responsibility. This, however, was imposed not with the idea of furnishing the woman with a civil remedy, nor to have a penal effect against the man, but solely to prevent the cost of maintenance of the bastard child from falling upon the parish church. The legislation upon the subject, which dates back to 1576, was until 1845 an intimate part of the poor law.
The act of 1576, the basis of English bastardy law, empowered justices to take money for the punishment of the mother and reputed father of every bastard child left to the care of the parish church, and to charge the mother and reputed father with the payment of a weekly sum or other needful sustenance. Other acts were passed in 1609 and 1733, enabling the mother of any child chargeable or likely to become chargeable to the parish church to secure the apprehension , and even the imprisonment, of the father until he should indemnify the church. These provisions were made more stringent by acts passed in 1809 and 1810.
In 1832 a commission was appointed to inquire into the operation of the poor laws, and the commissioners in their report gave great attention to the subject of bastardy. They reviewed the various acts from 1576 to 1832 and gave examples of their operation. The conclusion to which the commissioners came was that the laws "which respect bastardy appear to be pre-eminently unwise," and give rise to many abuses.
For example, the weekly payment recovered by the parish church was usually transferred to the mother and in many cases was guaranteed. The commissioners recommended that the mother alone should be responsible for the maintenance of the child. "This," they said, "is now the position of a widow, and there can be no reason for giving to vice privileges which we deny to misfortune."
Acting on the recommendation of the commissioners, the Poor law amendment Act of 1834 endeavored to discourage the principle of making the putative father contribute by introducing a somewhat cumbersome method of collection. The trend of public opinion proved against the discouragement of affiliation, and an act of 1839 transferred jurisdiction in affiliation cases from quarter-sessions to petty-sessions (from a superior to an inferior court).
A commission of inquiry on the working of the bastardy acts in 1844 recommended "that affiliation should be facilitated," and, accordingly, by the Bastardy Act this was accomplished by giving the mother an independent civil remedy against the putative father. Consequently, the parish church was no longer a part of the proceedings.
Subsequently, legislation gave the parish the right of attaching, and in some cases suing for, money due from the putative father for the maintenance of the child. The existing law is set out under affiliation.
The incapacities attaching to a bastard consist principally in that he cannot be heir to any one. As a nullius filius he is not related to anyone and has no ancestor from whom an inheritance can be derived. Therefore, if there is no other claimant upon an inheritance than the bastard child, it escheats to the lord. And as bastards cannot be heirs themselves, so neither can they have any heirs but those of their own bodies. This is because all kinship relationships consists in being derived from the same common ancestor. As a bastard has no legal ancestor he can have no collateral kindred. Consequently he has no legal heirs except by a lineal descent from himself. Subsequently, if a bastard owns land and is without issue and intestate, the land escheats to the lord of the fee. Originally a bastard was deemed incapable of holy orders; disqualified by the fact of his birth from holding any dignity in the church but this doctrine is now obsolete.
By the law of Scotland a bastard is not only excluded from his father's succession because the law recognizes no father who is not a married man he is also denied from all heritable succession, whether by the father or mother, because he cannot be cited as the lawful heir by the inquest in terms of the brief. He is also barred from the movable succession of his mother because he is not her lawful child and legitimacy is implied in all succession deferred by the law. But a bastard, although he cannot succeed jure sanguinis, may succeed by destination where he is specially called to the succession by entail or testament.
In Scotland, as in England, a bastard can have no legal heirs except those of his own body. Thus if a bastard dies without kindred or dies intestate without wife or child, his effects go to the king as ultimus haeres, However, a grant is usually made for the effects by letters of patent and the grantee becomes entitled to the administration of the bastard's effects. Historically, bastards in Scotland without issue of their own could not make a will, but this disability was removed by statute in 1835.
According to the common law which is the law of England, a bastard cannot be divested of his state of illegitimacy unless by the supreme power of an act of parliament. But in those countries which have followed the Roman or civil law, a bastard's status may be provisional, and he can be made legitimate by the subsequent marriage of his parents.
It is interesting to speculate what the place and role of bastards would have been in the history of the Western World had Christianity acknowledged and celebrated Jesus' bastardy. Perhaps not only would bastardy have become the preferred and time-honored model of creating families, but bastards would have been the leaders and benefactors of Western culture instead of being disenfranchised and persecuted as non-persons under the law.
Rev.Msgr. Jack Sweeley, Th.D.
Sophia Divinity School
Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch - Malabar Rite