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Mary, mother of Jesus: Landowner?

Mary, the mother of Jesus, became a widow at some point after Jesus was 12 and before he was 30. 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) Her Husband's Brother

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 (Deuteronomy 25:5-9). An example is given when Judah and his sons refused to perform the Levirate marriage duty with Tamar and the Lord saw it as wicked and killed Judah's sons (Genesis 38:8-10). Eventually, Judah recognizes Tamar as more righteous than he was himself (v. 26). The Lord blessed Tamar and her son by putting them in Jesus's geneology (Genesis 38:30, Matthew 1:3).

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) Her Children

The gospels tell us Jesus had brothers and sisters. Under Hebrew law, her sons would have been responsible for supporting their mother. 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 while 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) Jesus's Patrons

Prior to Jesus beginning his ministry at approximately age 30, he may have provided for his mother from carpentry work, following in Joseph's trade. However, Jesus did not earn money from his ministry; his disciples also gave up their fishing trade and income when they joined Jesus's ministry. Jesus's patrons paid for his ministry (Luke 8:1-3). These female patrons may have also provided for his mother, Mary. It is possible people gave gifts to Mary to request an introduction to Jesus or to thank Mary.

D) Landowner

Prior to Jesus beginning his work, if Mary owned land, she could receive revenue from it. Could she have inherited or owned land? After the five daughters of Zelophehad petitioned Moses, he agreed that daughters could inherit where there were no sons (Numbers 27:1-11). Rome also allowed women to own land and bequeath it in their will.

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 the brothers 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 AD 10 and 30? Traditionally, sons inherited from their fathers and had the responsibility of being financial guardians of their widowed mother.

In AD 17, 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.


As a former financial advisor, I have been intrigued to follow the money, and check inheritance paths under both Hebrew and Roman law. As I was writing a novel set in the time of Jesus, I needed to complete a backstory for Mary, mother of Jesus, and Mary, wife of Clopas.

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 Ricker Kelly

Canadian coins
Canadian coins

Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with historical fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:

  • Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, Book 1

  • The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role

  • Because She Was Called: from Broken to Bold, Book 2, A Novel of the Early Church, imagines Mary Magdalene's trip to testify before the emperor

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