Monday, January 17, 2011

The Gospel of Mary - Chapter 7

In Chapter 7 Mary turns two. Joachim says that it is time to take Mary to the Temple so that they can fulfil their vows so that the Lord doesn't find them to be forsworn and their offerings unacceptable. Anna says that they need to wait until Mary is three, otherwise she might become homesick and cry for her mother and father all the time.

I'm not sure what the difference is between a child of two and a child of three being taken off to live with strangers and their longing for their parents, but there you go. It's decided and they keep Mary with them until she turns three.

At her third birthday Joachim calls for the 'undefiled daughters of the Hebrews' and they each take a lamp, lighting it so that 'the child will not turn back and her heart be captured from the temple of the Lord.' They escort the child to the temple and she is handed over to the priest.

He welcomes her, "The Lord has magnified your name to all generations of the earth. By you, unto the last of days, the Lord God will reveal redemption to the children of Israel." The priest sets her on the third step of the altar and the Lord pours out His grace upon her. This is the part where she dances with her feet sitting there. So very cute to imagine. :)

The notes for this are about the odd idea of turning a child over to priests to raise. We know that Hannah did it with Samuel, but did she come up with it or was it an established practice? If Hannah came up with it there must certainly have been women after her who made the same vow and some of those children must have been born girls. We don't really know, but there is at least one piece of evidence of a woman living in the temple. The Prophetess Anna is said to have been living in the temple for decades, and 'she did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.' So while there were some places in the temple that Mary would have been forbidden by virtue of her femininity it's theoretically possible that she really was taken into the temple - perhaps in the court of the women - in a place designed for female children who had been dedicated to the temple.


  1. Actually, the thing I thought was weird about Mary going to the Temple is that she leaves it. What's the point, then? Why were they there? Do they only serve until they reach adulthood? I'll have to research it a little.

    The difference might be that it's slightly less of a burden on the priests? "Here, have a two-year-old! She doesn't talk or do anything, but she can walk at least 7 steps and we (maybe) potty trained her." At least at 3 she could better express herself and tell them what she needed, and walk more easily? Although, did they let her practice walking? That makes me wonder about Anna's statement that she wouldn't walk again till she'd been taken to the Temple. Was it purely symbolic and never meant to be followed (after all, it would probably have been quite a trip and it seems slightly unbelievable to be real)? Did they just ignore it? Or did they put her in a cage (crib) and not let her walk for a year?

    I think I think too much. It is a cute story.

  2. sanil,

    Hmm...the vow, as I recall is just that the child will serve God/the temple for their entire life. So maybe the children were raised and taught different jobs to help the priests? Since they couldn't be priests themselves unless they were from the tribe of Levi. So once they reach adulthood they'd get married and (for the girls) move into their husbands homes. And the boys would have houses of their own and bring their wives to live there. I don't know, really. I'm making this all up! :D

    I don't know. I'm guessing that the whole not walking this was more symbolic. How hard would it be to keep a kid from walking for a year? Pretty hard, me thinks. Even if they put her in a crib she'd get to the point where she would stand and walk about in the crib or just climb out of the thing. They didn't have cribs then like we do now and kids escape all the time! Maybe Anna let her walk around inside the room since it had been made into a sanctuary and nothing unclean was allowed in? Plus I think they carried her to the temple. Three year old legs get tired really easily as I recall.

    "Here, have a two-year-old! She doesn't talk or do anything, but she can walk at least 7 steps and we (maybe) potty trained her."


  3. I wonder if there were women serving in the temple (such as the prophetess Anna) who would care for such little ones. I can't imagine letting a male priest care for my little girl without any females around. It would be interesting to see if such things happened in the people just lived there. Maybe Jewish tradition would have some notes on this topic..hmmm.

    I wonder what the "undefiled daughters of the Hebrews" means exactly. those who were ritually clean?

  4. Susanne,

    Eh. I don't see why the priests couldn't handle it on their own. But anyway, the Jewish priests married. So maybe their wives cared for the children? Like a foster system?

    I believe that the 'undefiled daughters of the Hebrews' were probably the virgins.

  5. I just don't think priests had a lot of time for childcare. Have you ever left a three year old on his/her own for an extended period of time? Some are extremely well-behaved, while others are into everything! So that's why I wondered if there were women (or maybe even other men) around to help care for the babies. But I may have a totally wrong idea about how many people were hanging around at any given time. It's fun to think about.

    Oh and I love that Mary's feet did a little happy dance. :)

  6. Susanne,

    True, true. I wasn't thinking about that, actually. I'm thinking that the foster system I'm imagining makes sense. The children would be turned over to the temple and they would go home and live with different priests' families depending on how old they were, etc. Especially if they all came in as infants/toddlers they'd need mothering and someone to keep them out of trouble.

  7. This is a really interesting concept (turning the kids over to the temple), but probably not all that strange at the time. I think there were many contemporary religions, where kids were "given" to the temples to serve the gods.

    I also loved how her feet did a little happy dance! So sweet.

  8. There were plenty of religions where children were given to the temple to be raised for the service of the god, so it's very believable really. It just seems odd to us because we don't do that any longer.

    It's just such a cute little thing to picture!


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