the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Mary (Miriam), 'the Mother of Jesus' (), and 'Mary his Mother' (), are the appellations of one who has in later times been generally called the 'Virgin Mary,' but who is never so designated in Scripture.
Little is known of this 'highly favored' individual, in whom was fulfilled the first prophecy made to man, that 'the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head' (). As her history was of no consequence to Christianity, it is not given at large. Her genealogy is recorded by St. Luke (Luke 3), in order to prove the truth of the predictions which had foretold the descent of the Messiah from Adam through Abraham and David, with the design evidently of showing that Christ was of that royal house and lineage.
Eusebius, the early ecclesiastical historian, although unusually lengthy upon 'the name Jesus,' and the genealogies in Matthew and Luke's Gospels, throws no new light upon Mary's birth and parentage. The legends respecting Anne, who is said to have been her mother, are pure fables without the slightest evidence.
The earliest event in her history, of which we have any notice, was the annunciation to her by the angel Gabriel that she was destined, while yet a pure virgin, to become the mother of the Messiah—an event which was a literal fulfillment of the prophecy given centuries before by Isaiah, that 'a virgin should conceive, and bear a son, and should call his name Immanuel,' which being interpreted, is 'God with us' (; ). On this occasion she was explicitly informed that she should conceive by the miraculous power of God, and that her child should be 'Holy,' and be called 'the Son of God.' As a confirmation of her faith in this announcement she was also told by the angel that her cousin Elizabeth, who was the wife of one of the chief priests, and who was now far advanced in years, had conceived a son, and that the time was not far off when her reproach among women should cease ().
Almost immediately on receiving this announcement Mary hastened from Nazareth, where she was when the angel visited her, to the house of her cousin, who was then residing in the hilly district in 'a city of Judah,' supposed to be Hebron. The meeting of these two pious females, on whom such unexpected privileges had been conferred, was one of mutual congratulations, and united thanksgiving to the author of their blessings. It was on this occasion that Mary uttered the Magnificat—that splendid burst of grateful adoration which Christians of all parties have from the earliest times delighted to adopt as expressive of the best feelings of the pious heart towards God (). After spending three months with her relative, Mary returned to Nazareth, where a severe trial awaited her, arising out of the condition in which it had now become apparent she was. Betrothed (perhaps in early life) to a person of the name of Joseph, an artificer of some sort (, probably, as our translators suppose, a carpenter), the Jewish law held her exposed to the same penalties which awaited the married wife who should be found unfaithful to the spousal vow. Joseph, however, being a right-hearted man (one who feels and acts as a man ought to do in the circumstances in which he is placed), was unwilling to subject her to the evils of a public exposure of what he deemed her infidelity; and accordingly was turning in his mind how he might privately dissolve his connection with her, when an angel was sent to him also to inform him in a dream of the true state of the case, and enjoin upon him to complete his engagement with her by taking her as his wife. This injunction he obeyed, and hence came to be regarded by the Jews as the father of Jesus ().
Summoned by an edict of Augustus, which commanded that a census of the population of the whole Roman Empire should be taken, and that each person should be enrolled in the chief city of his family or tribe, Mary and her husband went up to Bethlehem, the city of the Davidic family; and while there the child Jesus was born. After this event the only circumstances in her history mentioned by the sacred historians are her appearance and offerings in the temple according to the law of Moses ( ff.); her return with her husband to Nazareth (); their habit of annually visiting Jerusalem at the Feast of the Passover (); the appearance of the Magi, which seems to have occurred at one of these periodic visits (); the flight of the holy family into Egypt, and their return, after the death of Herod, to Nazareth (); the scene which occurred another of those periodic visits when, after having proceeded two days' journey on her way homeward, she discovered that her son was not in the company, and, on returning to Jerusalem, found him sitting in the temple with the doctors of the law, 'both hearing them and asking them questions' (); her appearance and conduct at the marriage-feast in Cana of Galilee ( ff.); her attempt in the synagogue at Capernaum to induce Jesus to desist from teaching ( ff.); her accompanying of her son when he went up to Jerusalem immediately before his crucifixion; her following him to Calvary; her being consigned by him while hanging on the cross to the care of his beloved apostle John, who from that time took her to reside in his house ( ff.); and her associating with the disciples at Jerusalem after his ascension ().
The traditions respecting the death of Mary differ materially from each other. There is a letter of the General Council of Ephesus in the fifth century, which states that she lived at Ephesus with St. John, and there died and was buried. Another epistle of the same age says she died at Jerusalem, and was buried in Gethsemane. The legend tells that three days after her interment, when the grave was opened (that Thomas the Apostle might pay reverence to her remains), her body was not to be found, 'but only an exceeding fragrance,' whereupon it was concluded that it had been taken up to heaven. The translations of Enoch and Elijah, and the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ, took place while they were alive, and the facts are recorded by the inspiration of God; but when the dead body of Mary was conveyed through the earth, and removed thence, there were no witnesses, and no revelation was ever made of the extraordinary and novel incident, which certainly has no parallel in Scripture. This miraculous event is appropriately called 'the Assumption.'
It is said that Mary died in A.D. 63. The Canon of Scripture was closed in A D. 96, thirty-three years after her decease; which, however, is never alluded to by any of the Apostles in their writings, nor by St. John, to whose care she was entrusted.
In the Romish Church many facts are believed and doctrines asserted concerning the Virgin Mary, such as her immaculate conception—her perpetual virginity—her right to receive worship, and her mediation and intercession, which not only are without any authority from Scripture, but many of which are diametrically opposed to its declarations.
Mary Magdalene, 2
Mary Magdalene was probably so called from Magdala in Galilee, the town where she may have dwelt. According to the Talmudists, Magdalene signifies 'a plaiter of hair.' Much wrong has been done to this individual from imagining that she was the person spoken of by St. Luke in; but there is no evidence to support this opinion. How Mary Magdalene came to be identified with the person here mentioned, it is difficult to say: but such is the case; and accordingly she is generally regarded as having been a woman of depraved character. For such an inference, however, there appears to be no just ground whatever.
The earliest notice of Mary Magdalene is in St. Luke's Gospel (), where it is recorded that out of her 'had gone seven devils,' and that she was 'with Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto Christ of their substance.'
This is sufficient to prove that she had not been known as a person of bad character; and it also implies that she was not poor, or among the lower classes, when she was the companion of one whose husband held an important office in the king's household.
It is as unjust to say that she who had been so physically wretched as to be possessed by seven devils, was dissolute, as to affirm that an insane person is necessarily depraved.
In the Savior's last hours, and at his death and resurrection, Mary Magdalene was a chief and important witness. She was one of the women who stood by the cross (): who after His death beheld where the body was laid (), and who prepared spices and ointments to embalm it. She visited the sepulcher early on the first day of the week, while it was yet dark (); and when Peter and John returned to their own homes she remained at the sepulcher weeping, and had her patient waiting rewarded by the appearance of Her risen Lord.
Wife of Cleophas or Alphaeus, and sister of the Lord's mother (;; ). This Mary was one of those holy women who followed Christ, and was present at the crucifixion; and she is that 'other Mary' who, with Mary Magdalene, attended the body of Christ to the sepulcher when taken down from the cross (;; ). She was also among those who went on the morning of the first day of the week to the sepulcher to anoint the body, and who became the first witnesses of the resurrection (;; ). James, Joses, Jude, and Simon, who are called the Lord's brethren [see the names; also ALPHAEUS; BROTHER], are very generally supposed to have been the sons of this Mary, and therefore cousins of Jesus, the term brother having been used with great latitude among the Hebrews.
Sister of Lazarus and Martha. The friendship of our Lord for this family has been explained in other articles [LAZARUS; MARTHA].
The points of interest in connection with Mary individually arise from the contrast of character between her and her sister Martha, and from the incidents by which that contrast was evinced. Apart from this view, the most signal incident in the history of Mary is her conduct at the supper which was given to Jesus in Bethany, when he came thither after having raised Lazarus from the dead. The intense love which distinguished her character then glowed with the highest fervor, manifesting the depth of her emotion and gratitude for the deliverance from the cold terrors of the grave of that brother who now sat alive and cheerful with the guests at table. She took the station she best loved, at the feet of Jesus. Among the ancients it was usual to wash the feet of guests before an entertainment, and with this the anointing of the feet was frequently connected [ANOINTING]. Mary possessed a large quantity of very costly ointment; and in order to testify her gratitude she sacrificed it all by anointing with it the feet of Jesus. We are told that the disciples murmured at the extravagance of this act, deeming that it would have been much wiser, if she had sold the ointment and given the money to the poor. But Jesus, looking beyond the mere external act to the disposition which gave birth to it—a disposition which marked the intensity of her gratitude—vindicated her deed. Always meditating upon his departure, and more especially at that moment, when it was so near at hand, he attributed to this act a still higher sense—as having reference to his approaching death. The dead were embalmed: and so, he said, have I received, by anticipation, the consecration of death (;; ).
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Mary'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​m/mary.html.