Protoevangelium of James Chapters 14 and 15 - Thoughts

This morning I read through the 14th and 15th chapters of the Protoevangelium of James (abbreviated Prot. Jas. by the SBL Handbook of Style, btw...). There was one difficulty and I found a few interesting things. For context, chapter 14 is Joseph’s inner dialogue on what he’s going to do about the mysteriously pregnant Mary. Chapter 15 is Annas the scribe’s discovery of a big (ὀγκωμένην) Mary and the scandal that brings up.

First, the difficulty. I am still not sure of this. The problem comes from the first sentence of chapter 14, which reads thusly: καὶ ἐφοβήθη Ἰωσὴφ σφόδρα καὶ ἠρέμησεν ἐξ αὐτῆς καὶ διελογίζετο, τί αὐτὴν ποιήσει; My problem word is ἠρέμησεν. This looks like it is from ἠρεμέω, which means to keep silent. Well, since he asks a question in the next clause, he’s apparently not silent. So in looking around with BibleWorks I noticed a very similar word, ἠρεμάζω. Since the lexical meaning is similar and the roots are the same, they must be related. So I noticed that the latter is used in Ezra 9:4 to translate a Hebrew word that means desolate, horrified, appalled, or astonished. So I’m taking the meaning of this word as either "appalled" or "astonished". What say you?

So there was a clause in the second verse of chapter 14 that reads as follows: τὸ γὰρ ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθὲν ἐκ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἁγίου.... It was the latter bit, ἐκ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἁγίου, that I thought was odd. Why is the stative verb between πνεύματός and ἁγίου? So I opened BibleWorks again and did a search, and the only place this sequence is used is Matt 1:20. Then I noticed that this whole clause was lifted from Matthew. And not even a footnote! What plagiarism! :) I still haven’t figured out the reason for the word order, but the meaning is obvious regardless.

And finally, Joseph got off way too easy on this one. So Annas goes to the chief priest and they bring Mary and Joseph before a tribunal (κριτήριον). First a priest scolds Mary for being unfaithful despite her glorious upbringing. Mary responds "I have not known a man." The chief priest then scolds Joseph much more briefly. He responds "I am clean from her." So then the chief priest says "He does not lie, but speaks the truth. You were married secretly..." After the chief priest’s odd description of the events, καὶ Ἰωσὴφ ἐσίγησεν, "and Joseph kept quiet". And so ends the chapter.

What? If they are denying any sexual involvement, I would think that the first accusation would be adultery, not secret marriage. What a strange explanation for how Joseph and Mary get out of this thorny dilemma.


Nathan Stitt 2008-04-15 05:06:00

I fortunately just got a copy of the NT Apocrypha from my father and can follow along in English. I have no idea what the best translation is of ἠρέμησεν. My copy says:

"And Joseph feared greatly and parted from her, pondering what he should do with her."

I suppose once I learn to read Greek I would like a copy of the NT Apocrypha in Greek, but I couldn’t quickly find a volume that had them.

Eric 2008-04-15 10:27:57

Hmmm...I wonder what root they are thinking of when they translate it that way. As for a copy in Greek, I don’t know if there is one that contains a large collection. I would be a little surprised. In my most recent post I point out one that you can buy that does include Prot. Jas.