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Siblings of Mary

Siblings of Mary

– Answered by Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Q: Did Mary have any brothers or sisters?

A: As it stands the sources dealing with the life of Ann, Joachim and Mary do not mention brothers and sisters of Our Lord's mother. The canonical gospels -- as we know -- do not speak of Mary's parents. They are first mentioned in the apocryphal gospel of Saint James. The information was later appropriated by Pseudo-Matthew and the Liber de Nativitate Mariae. Proto-James tells the story of a barren woman whose prayer is heard and who offers the long-awaited child to God (Mary in the Temple) whereas the original source does not mention a virginal conception, later authors/writings take it for granted, so Ephiphanius (Haer. 79) and Pseudo-Matthew (3.3). It is again Epiphanius who tells us that Anna died at age seventy-two in Jerusalem. The documents and authors mentioned do not refer to brothers and sisters of Mary.

It is widely believed that the story of Anna and Joachim had been patterned on that of Hannah and Samuel in the Old Testament (see 1 Samuel 1, 1-28). The resemblance of the stories is indeed striking: the barren wife, the sacrifice(s) of her husband Elkanah (who had two wives one of whom had "children"), Hannah's prayer, the conception and birth of Samuel, his presentation to the Lord and service in the temple. Here as in Proto-James no reference is made to brothers and sisters of Samuel by Hannah.

It is true that in Hannah's song of praise we find the hyperbolic statement: "The barren wife bears seven sons" (1 Sam. 2,5), but it cannot be construed from this that she actually had seven sons neither could the children of the second wife corroborate the thesis of the brothers and sisters of Samuel, respectively Mary. Sources and tradition are overwhelmingly silent about brothers and sisters not least in order to underline the unique and miraculous character of these two conceptions and births. They anticipate and foreshadow the radical uniqueness of the Christchild himself.

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