IRENE BARON

MARY KNEW 

A Biography of Mary from Ancient Scriptures

CHAPTER 1

MARY’S PARENTS

 Holy-Family-painting-detail-by-Irene-Baron

 Joachim and Anna were beloved, pious and highly respected citizens who lived in the village of Nazareth in the Province of Galilee. They dedicated their child to God before her conception. She was named Mary and ordained by God before her conception to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the Savior of humanity and the Messiah.

     The name Joachim means “God prepares.” The name Anna means “grace.” It is fitting that their names meant “God prepares grace.” Unknown to them, their lives were in preparation for the existence of the Son of God on Earth.

 At the time this story begins, Joachim and Anna had been happily married over forty years and lived quiet lives. They were devout and humble citizens living in a noisy and dusty peasant village. Financially, Joachim was in the upper echelon of the upper class in the Province of Galilee. Their small hamlet of Nazareth in lower Galilee, a few kilometers south of the larger village of Sepphoris, had a population of about four hundred. It was a Jewish enclave. Neither village had a synagogue.

       Like most happy couples, Anna and Joachim spent much time conversing over the evening meal before moving to their rooftop patio. A colorful and large cloth awning had been stretched across the patio to provide shade during the heat of the day. A short wall had been built around their patio for safety. They often spent Sabbaths there resting and relaxing in the gentle breezes. It was also used for recreation, sleeping and devotion. Evening rituals on the patio included resting on pillows or sitting on chairs while watching sunsets from the higher vantage point.

They usually conversed in common Greek with one another. Common Greek was easy for both Jews and gentiles to understand. They spoke in Aramaic with their servants and merchants.

When servants were informed the couple was going to the roof top patio after dinner, they would lay out a pitcher of cool water and one of wine on the patio. A tray with fruit, bread and goat cheese would be placed on a low table and covered with a light cloth to keep out insects. The contents of the tray provided snacks if Anna and Joachim so desired. When the sky darkened to a deep blue, servants would light hand-sized ceramic oil lamps resting at the top of the stairwell. The wicks were of flax. When there were guests, lamps with many wicks for brighter light were used.

Olive oil was the primary fuel and considered a gift from God. Each village had an olive tree grove to supply villagers with oil. A lamp was also kept in each sleeping area. Only the very poor would sleep in a room without light.

By spending most evenings on their roof top patio, Anna and Joachim became familiar with star patterns and enjoyed watching occasional wandering bright stars march across their night sky through the year. The wandering stars were easy to recognize as they followed the same path. They didn’t twinkle like the stationary stars. Joachim studied seasonally changing star patterns, or constellations. That allowed him to know when his shepherds should move his multiple herds of cattle, sheep and goats from one property to another for best grazing.  Using seasonal star changes as a calendar to manage his animals helped make Joachim a very wealthy man.

One of the topics Anna and Joachim often discussed was their childless situation. Such conversations were sad and solemn. One evening, Joachim brought up the subject which broke his heart.

“Anna, “he said, “we’ve been married many years and have no children. Why do you think God has not blessed us with a child?”

This subject had arisen many times. Joachim desired a son to carry on his business and family. Anna didn’t care if she had a boy or girl. She just wanted a child. It had been so long since they were married, Anna was ready to give up on the dream of a child. As usual, she was at a loss to know how to answer his sorrowful question.

She said, “I don’t know. We try to live right and do what is possible to help others.  You’re even a local rabbi. Do you think perhaps we haven’t prayed often enough?”

“Or maybe in the right way?” he asked.

She suggested, “Maybe we need to pray for a child many times a day. I worry I’m too old to become a mother.”

 “Nonsense. You look as young as ever.”

“I don’t feel as young as ever.”

She lowered her head at his compliment and ran a hand through her greying, sandy-colored hair. She loved his compliments and remembered them in her heart. Anna gently grasped his hand.

She asked, “Shall we pray right now?”

They kneeled on the patio’s smooth stone floor, faced one another, and held hands. The massive purple and orange clouds created by the setting Sun allowed streaming shafts of brilliant beams of sunlight to reach the Earth. That splendor above their rooftop sanctuary made them feel God’s presence. Bowing their heads, Joachim solemnly began their prayer.

After thanking God for their home and the multiple gifts they had been given, they humbly asked once again for the gift of a child. As in previous prayers, they vowed that if God would favor them with a child, they would dedicate that child to the service of the Lord. They ended the prayer by blessing God and the Heavenly Hosts as the holy Book of Enoch had taught them. They hoped their prayers and vows would help their cause. They thought their financial and personal support of the temple, the priests, and people in need might have helped show God they were sincere and moral citizens and would make good parents. In the future, the request for a child would be spoken during every prayer they offered.

When there was a shortage of rabbis and priests, Joachim had become a local rabbi. Nazareth had no temple. Worshippers met in different homes within the community. The duty of a rabbi was not just reading of the Torah and prayer, but to help maintain the religious order of the town. Joachim and the other rabbis made sure boys were instructed in Jewish law and the Torah. Girls and women were taught through memorization. Rabbis helped people live their lives in the manner scriptures taught.

Every Torah had to be handwritten. Special ones were decorated by scribes. To create one Torah took over a year. Because of the cost, they were limited to temples or the very wealthy. Joachim’s Torah was one of the more beautiful ones. It was an expensive and holy scroll protected and kept in a safe place in his home.

Joachim owned much property on which he maintained massive herds of cattle, sheep and goats. He employed many herdsmen to care for his animals at different locations. Only the best men were hired to keep it an honorable occupation. His wealth was primarily in the animals he raised. There were a few plots of land on which vegetables and a few olive trees were grown for the family.

His servants appreciated working for him and Anna. The home was spacious, and like other homes of the wealthy, was made in the manner of Roman architecture. His servants were Jewish citizens, free aliens from other countries and a few earning money to pay off debts.

*   *   *

Every male Israelite was commanded by law to appear at their temple and spend time devoted to the Lord. Joachim planned to travel to the Jerusalem temple for the Feast of Dedication, also called the Feast or Festival of Light. It was a victory celebration.

When Judas Maccabaeus came to Jerusalem in 164 B.C., after the Syrians were defeated and tossed out, the temple had to be purified with palm branches and light. Only one gold temple lampstand remained in the temple after that war. To their dismay, priests discovered there was only one day’s worth of oil for the remaining lampstand to provide light. Yet when the lampstand was lit, a miracle occurred. The oil lasted eight days. A temple festival in remembrance of this miracle of light became an annual celebration.

Anna normally traveled to Jerusalem with her husband, but decided to remain home this time. Her husband would travel faster without her.

*    *    *

Over five-hundred years earlier, the Jerusalem Temple had been home to the Ark of the Covenant, considered the most holy object on Earth by Jewish people. The presence of the Ark of the Covenant, containing Moses’ original two stones with the Ten Commandments carved into them, made Jerusalem the center of Jewish existence. Jerusalem became the most holy city. After the Ark of the Covenant and other articles of the Holy of Holies room were hidden by Jerimiah for safety, Jerusalem remained the most holy city to the Jewish population. Jeremiah lived 627-580 B.C.

The Jerusalem temple was the religious center for all Jews. It contained a school which taught Jewish laws and traditions. It was a place for worship and contained a court where religious or lawful questions were answered. Religious rites such as circumcision, funerals and rituals were held. Ceremonies with festivities allowed for much social exchange. To attend any temple event was not only a duty, but usually considered a pleasure. Joachim looked forward to the Festival of Light.

He traveled to Jerusalem with his male friends, tribesmen and kinsmen. A few of his servants traveled with him to provide for his needs. At twilight each night, Joachim’s tent of black goat hair was erected on a series of poles. His tent had rugs placed on the ground for seating areas. Provisions needed during the trip were kept inside his tent at night. Joachim kept one tent for his private use when traveling without Anna. He used a more luxurious tent when she traveled with him.

He was considered to be one of the more important men in the Province of Galilee because of his philanthropy. He not only gave money to the temple and priests, but several times a year he would have wine amphorae delivered there. The wine was not only used as a beverage, it was used to disinfect wounds and  was mixed with myrrh to create a pain-relieving salve. Wine and olive oil were both used for healing illnesses.

He and his fellow Nazarenes arrived in Jerusalem the day before the Festival of Light. They were invited to join in the evening meal that day after sacrifices and dedications were made. Every meal eaten in the temple was symbolic in keeping friends and friendships strong. To share a meal with someone at any time was to prove there was peace at the table. Eating any meal at the temple meant the diner was sharing a meal with God.  Such a meal served as a sign of wellbeing.

The meat served during temple meals was taken from sacrifices that had been burned at the altar earlier that day. The shoulder, cheeks and stomachs of every ox or sheep brought for sacrifice was given to the priests. Temple meals were the only time most men of Galilee ate roasted meat. They looked forward to such occasions.

Sacrifices to the temple, other than meat, included such things as the first harvest of grain, fleece at shearing, and the first productions of wine and olive oil.

The meaning of each sacrifice, whether it was a dedication or consecration, was determined by the donor.  A bull or ram was used to atone for sins of priests or family members. A goat symbolized cleansing the temple or taking away sins of the people. If the animal was too large to fit on the altar, it was cut into more manageable pieces before being sacrificed.

It was believed that animal blood contained the life of the animal. It therefore had to be drained before the animal was used as a sacrifice or for human consumption. All life belonged to God. On the Day of Atonement, the blood of the animal was ritually sprinkled over the altar to signify it was being given back to God. The high priest supervised sacrifice preparations. Workers and other priests did the actual work. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest performed the duty of sprinkling lifeblood onto the altar. Since all sacrifices were made to give God pleasure, especially the sprinkling of the lifeblood, only the high priest carried out that esteemed tradition.

The holy Day of Atonement occurs on the tenth day of the seventh month. It marks the culmination of ten days of introspection and repentance. 

There were many rituals to follow in preparation for performing the duty of entering the Most Holy room, also called the Holy of Holies.  Since it no longer held the Ark of the Covenant, it contained a beautiful and ornately hand-carved cabinet. The two cabinet doors, when opened, revealed elegant draperies on either side of the door. The draperies matched those surrounding the room in which the cabinet was placed. Beyond the draperies rested a copy of the Ten Commandments.

The current high priest, Issachar, wore a loom-embroidered blue and purple garment called an ephod over his white tunic. It was an apron-like vest with shoulder straps covering his back and chest.

When he entered the Holy of Holies room of the temple, a special breastplate was held to the ephod with metal attachments. His breastplate was made of two folds of cloth which formed a pouch nine inches square. Attached to the pouch were four rows of gems set in gold.  The first row contained a red stone of ruby or blood-red carnelian, a topaz and an emerald. The second row contained a carbuncle or red garnet, a blue sapphire and a diamond. The third row held amber, black agate and amethyst. The fourth and last row contained onyx, green beryl and jasper. Each gem represented one of the tribes of Israel with the tribe name engraved on top of it. By having the breastplate with the twelve tribal names in the most sacred room, it was hoped that God would be reminded of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Issachar’s ephod also carried a jewel-encrusted pouch containing two double-sided disks called the Urim and Thummin. One side of each disk was white, the other side black. The disks were used when questions were asked of the priest, especially questions that could not be answered in a court of law. Tossed into the air to drop on his lap, the ground or a table, the disks would display God’s response to a question requiring a yes or no answer. Joachim had never had to request use of the Urim and Thummin. When a high priest died, his clothing was passed to his successor.

*    *    *

When Joachim and his party of travelers entered Jerusalem,  they were pleased to be invited to the temple evening meal. When they arrived at the temple, they walked through water pools provided to cleanse their feet and washed their hands in the common wash basin prepared for that purpose. After cleansing, they gathered at the tables. Instead of trying to sit with Issachar, who usually had a crowded table, men jostled to sit near Joachim, one of the most important men present. His table was always exciting and full of laughter.

After a priest blessed God and gave thanks for the food, Joachim would softly begin a traditional meal prayer at his table. Others joined in to finish it.

“Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, Ruler of the universe, whose Word causes all to exist.” 

Pitchers of water and wine had been placed on the tables. Before the meal began, men at Joachim’s table pulled their cup out of their pocket and waited for Joachim to taste his water. They watched expectantly.

Joachim sipped the water and said in an exaggerated manner, “I think this water tastes bad. It must have something nasty in it. We don’t want upset stomachs, do we?”

“NO,” the men at his table would answer with laughter and hold their cups in anticipation of what would follow. They waited for Joachim to exclaim how to solve the problem.

“We better add wine to it!”

“YES!” They agreed wholeheartedly, laughed and grabbed wine pitchers to purify their water. When they had enough water to quench their thirst, diluted wine sweetened with honey was served in pitchers.

Bread, the most common food, stayed on the tables during the whole meal. Whether made from barley or wheat, it was never cut with a knife. It was broken. 

When earlier made from hand-milled flour mixed with water, individual portions had been placed on flat stones to be cooked or cooked in commercial ovens. If it was to be leavened bread, an old piece of dough in a high state of fermentation was added to the freshly prepared dough and mixed in. After the bread had risen, it was baked near the fire or patted down onto the convex side of a pot placed over coals. Fresh bread was scattered down the center of the tables. Since it was created with something old, leavened bread was never sacrificed to God. Only unleavened bread was used in sacrifices.

Joachim and his friends looked forward to the main course, the cena, which consisted of meat from daily sacrifices. Eating with their fingers, they massaged the meat to ensure there were no cut bones which might injure them as they ate. They used bread like a spoon, a breadspoon, to dip food onto their plate. Beans or lentils were the second course. The men talked and laughed while eating, enjoying the camaraderie. Their last dinner course was composed of sweet pastries and fresh fruit such as pomegranates, melon, figs, dates and berries. The only sweetener for their dessert was honey or grape juice which had been boiled to form syrup. After the meal and final prayer, the men who stayed at a campsite would gather together later to enjoy one another and dine again before retiring.

*    *    *

The next day, Joachim’s tribesmen, friends and kinsmen expected him to be called first to begin the Dedication of Light ceremony. He was often honored by the temple priests in appreciation of all he did for them and the Jerusalem Temple. His annual offering to the temple and temple officials was one third of his income. He gave one third of his income to the poor and people needing help, and the last third he kept for his household.  Consequently, his name was common as a man of honor at every festival. This festival, however, was going to be different.