Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Time on Joseph

Yesterday, Time posted a story at its web site on how Joseph, Jesus' father, has been viewed throughout church history. There's a lot of information in the story, including some I hadn't heard before, such as speculations about a bodily assumption of Joseph. But one theme I noticed throughout the story was a parallel between how Joseph has been perceived and how Mary has been perceived. Evangelicals are often accused of neglecting Mary, yet, as this Time story mentions, they could similarly be accused of neglecting Joseph. And the same accusation could be brought against the earliest church fathers. The problem isn't with Evangelicals neglecting figures like Mary and Joseph. Rather, the problem is with other people making too much of them, even to the point of fabricating stories and teaching false doctrines about them. The restraint in Evangelical circles when discussing figures like Mary and Joseph is to be commended, not condemned.

Here are a few portions of the article:

But this was not exactly the exciting makings of mass devotion, and for a long time, says the Rev. Joseph Lienhard, an expert in the early church at New York City's Fordham University, "Joseph was not a popular saint." That's an understatement. His name did not pop up on any Western saints lists until 1000. The Koran, which dates from the 600s, dedicates a chapter to Mary but omits Joseph. According to Sandra Miesel, a Catholic journalist with a specialty in medieval history, a list of 30,000 Florentine men of the officeholding class before 1530 contained precisely one "Giuseppe."...

Protestants have never felt the kind of unease with Joseph that, in a kind of allergic response to Catholicism's elaborate exultation of Mary, inhibited their relationship with the Virgin. On the other hand, he doesn't particularly interest them either....But for the most part, explains David Steinmetz, a religious historian at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., "Joseph plays a very small role in Protestantism, aside from cameo appearances in Advent and on Christmas."...

The more that belief strictly cleaves to "what the Bible says," the less will be heard of him. But the moment the believer imagines himself or herself into the biblical story, Joseph explodes back onto the scene.