F – Father by Choice: Joseph

Mary's Exile coverJoseph is a misty character in the Bible. He appears early in the story of Jesus as the man who accepted as his wife a younger pregnant woman with a fantastic story of how she got that way. Even today the idea of Mary carrying a child while still a virgin is a central pillar of Christian faith.

In Mary’s Exile I decided to make the origin of Jesus’ incubation a non-issue. Too much had already been written about Joseph’s response to Mary’s condition, and yet far too little has appeared that presents Joseph as he affected Mary’s and Jesus’ lives. In the scriptures, once Jesus is born you don’t see Joseph again after he and Mary take Jesus to Jerusalem for Passover, and by then Jesus is twelve years old. After that Joseph essentially disappears.

For a writer, of course, this is both good news and bad news. The bad news is that there’s not much to research. The good news is that the writer can do a lot of imagining, and this was my focus in Mary’s Exile. There were certain things I could deduce about Joseph based on what little appeared in scripture, there were other things I could deduce about Joseph based on my research into Judaism, and there were still other things I could deduce about Joseph given how Jesus turned out. The result was my unique creation: Joseph as a man of quiet strength, humble piety and utter devotion who had his share of human flaws and who was subject to the limitations of his time – that is, he was no super hero, he couldn’t read minds, and he was physically vulnerable to the power of Rome.

Probably the single most daring quality of my characterization of Joseph was to give him a sense of humor. To me this was both important and inevitable. To be the stepfather to the son of God and husband to a saint must deprive Joseph of the kind of macho posturing and imperious tone so common among men of that epoch. What to fill him with instead? Humor.

And yet he is neither flippant nor irreverent. His is the humor of tolerance, acceptance, and appreciation for irony.

It was ironic that a first century Jewish man should accept a pregnant bride. It was even more ironic that the child so conceived should grow up to be the salvation of all mankind.

Joseph simply must have contributed to how Jesus did it.

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