1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Joseph (New Testament)

JOSEPH, in the New Testament, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. He is represented as a descendant of the house of David, and his genealogy appears in two divergent forms in Matt. i. 1–17 and Luke iii. 23–38. The latter is probably much more complete and accurate in details. The former, obviously artificial in structure (notice 3 × 14 generations), traces the Davidic descent through kings, and is governed by an apologetic purpose. Of Joseph’s personal history practically nothing is recorded in the Bible. The facts concerning him common to the two birth-narratives (Matt. i.–ii.; Luke i.–ii.) are: (a) that he was a descendant of David, (b) that Mary was already betrothed to him when she was found with child of the Holy Ghost, and (c) that he lived at Nazareth after the birth of Christ; but these facts are handled differently in each case. It is noticeable that, in Matthew, Joseph is prominent (e.g. he receives an annunciation from an angel), while in Luke’s narrative he is completely subordinated. Bp Gore (The Incarnation, Bampton lecture for 1891, p. 78) points out that Matthew narrates everything from Joseph’s side, Luke from Mary’s, and infers that the narrative of the former may ultimately be based on Joseph’s account, that of the latter on Mary’s. The narratives seem to have been current (in a poetical form) among the early Jewish-Christian community of Palestine. At Nazareth Joseph followed the trade of a carpenter (Matt. xiii. 55). It is probable that he had died before the public ministry of Christ; for no mention is made of him in passages relating to this period where the mother and brethren of Jesus are introduced; and from John xix. 26 it is clear that he was not alive at the time of the Crucifixion.

Joseph was the father of several children (Matt. xiii. 55), but according to ecclesiastical tradition by a former marriage. The reading of Matt. i. 16, in the Sinaitic Palimpsest (Joseph . . . begat Jesus, who is called the Christ) also makes him the natural father of Jesus, and this was the view of certain early heretical sects, but it seems never to have been held in orthodox Christian circles. According to various apocryphal gospels (conveniently collected in B. H. Cowper’s The Apocryphal Gospels, 1881), when married to Mary he was a widower already 80 years of age, and the father of four sons and two daughters; his first wife’s name was Salome and she was a connexion of the family of John the Baptist.

In the Roman Catholic Church the 19th of March has since 1642 been a feast in Joseph’s honour. Two other festivals in his honour have also been established (the Patronage of St Joseph, 3rd Sunday after Easter, and the Betrothal of Mary and Joseph, 23rd of January). In December 1870 St Joseph was proclaimed Patron of the whole Church.  (G. H. Bo.)