Mary, mother of Jesus: Landowner?
Updated: May 16, 2022
How did Mary survive financially?
Joseph, the father of Jesus, died at some point after Jesus was 12 and before he was 30, leaving Mary as a widow. After the resurrection, the apostle John took care of her. What about before? I've come up with four theories on how Mary survived financially.
A) If Mary had no children after Jesus, as is believed by some, she would have been subject to a Levirate marriage. In this situation, a widow is married by the brother of her deceased husband, and any children they have would be considered children of the deceased husband. The brother is responsible for his brother's widow.
The ancient historian Hegesippus, Joseph had a brother named Clopas The theologian Hierapolis stated Cleophas and Alphaeus are the same person, being translations of the name in Aramaic or Greek. Clopas is named twice in the Bible, Luke 24:13 and John 19:25. Clopas may have been responsible for his widowed sister-in-law, whether or not he married her.
B) If Mary had several children since the gospels tell us Jesus had brothers and sisters, the brothers would have been responsible to support their mother under Hebrew law. However, one of the man-made rules of the Pharisees is that sons did not have to take care of their mother if they gave the money to the church instead. The brothers may have been estranged from their mother because she believed in Jesus and the gospel of John tells us that the brothers did not believe in Jesus before the resurrection (John 7:5). Possibly this is why Jesus asked the apostle John to take care of his mother, rather than asking his brothers to take care of her.
C) It is possible that the sons of Zebedee, John and James, financially provided for Jesus' mother prior to the resurrection or that the women patrons of Jesus were providing for her, or that other believers supported Mary financially. It is possible people gave gifts to Mary to request an introduction to Jesus or to thank Mary. However, Mary would not have received support from Jesus's disciples or patrons during the years before he began his ministry at age 30.
D) Prior to Jesus beginning his work, if Mary had land, she could receive revenue from it. Could she have inherited or owned land? According to Hegesippus, Jesus' brother Jude had children Zoker and James. There is a transcript of Zoker and James being questioned by Emperor Domitian since they were descendants of David and related to Jesus. When asked about their possessions they said that between the two of them they had a net worth of only nine thousand denarii, not as money, but only in a smallholding of farmland. Convinced they were harmless and simple peasant farmers, and that the kingdom of Christ was not an earthly threat, Emperor Domitian released them. The farm was not divided between the brothers, but owned jointly, possibly in the tradition of keeping a smallholding undivided as joint property. Two generations before, this smallholding would have been jointly owned by Joseph and Clopas. Not being enough land to support two families, Joseph could supplement his income with his carpentry. Assuming this to be true, who would inherit from Joseph if he died sometime between 10AD and 30 AD? Traditionally, sons inherited from their fathers and had the responsibilities of being financial guardians of their widowed mother.
In 17 AD Emperor Tiberius Caesar Augustus changed Roman law to encourage larger families. The new law stated that any woman having three or more children could be emancipated, free of guardianship and eligible to inherit and own land in her own name. In this case, Mary could have jointly owned the smallholding with Clopas.
I have been intrigued to follow the money, and check inheritance paths under both Hebrew and Roman law. How would Mary, wife of Clopas feel if her husband was financially committed to caring for Joseph's widow Mary? How would Mary of Clopas feel if the duty of care fell to her? Did Mary of Clopas and Mary, Jesus' mother, become as close as sisters, as in John 19:25? Is being family the reason that Mary of Clopas is one of only two women named to guard the body and watch it be laid in the tomb (Mark 15:47). My novel, Forgotten Followers: from Broken to Bold, explores these women, their worries, their duties, their struggles and their hopes.
How do you think Jesus' mother survived financially when she was a young widow? 🤔
- Elaine Kelly