We discussed this in the NT seminar last Monday.  The Proto Evangelium of James (or Proto Gospel of James) recounts the birth/life of Mary and the birth of Jesus.  It was written sometime in the late 2nd c. (150-200 A.D.).  It was discounted by Jerome so the Latin church dissmissed it, but it was very popular in the Greek church.

The story is interesting in that Mary’s parents (Joachim and Anna) were childless and Anna prayed in the temple for a child (~Elkana and Hannah=>Samuel) in OT.  Based on God’s blessing they conceive and raise Mary in a “sanctuary” type setting (preserving her holiness).  At 3 she was given to the temple (~Samuel) and was raised there until her 12th birthday.  At that time her monthly uncleaness would defile the temple so she needed a husband.  They drew lots of widowers and the lot fell to Joseph, who happened to have other children (that is why Jesus has half-brothers and Mary remained the ever-Virgin). 

Mary helps in the sewing of the temple veil to the Holy of Holies.  Gabriel comes to announce the birth of Christ, but later Mary forgets.  Joseph has been on long trip and returns to find his wife pregnant.  The priests are going to punish them, but by passing the test of a poisonous drink, the two are proclaimed innocent.  They head to Bethlehem and on the way there the baby comes and is born in a cave.

The Magi come (very similar to Matt. 2).  Herod starts killing the children, and they flee to Egypt.  Herod kills John the Baptist’s father Zachariah at the temple for not telling where the baby John is.  As a result, the Greek church interpreted the Zachariah murdered between the alters in Mat. 23 as being John’s father. 


Mary was not declared the Theotokos (or bearer of God) until the 5th century.  Before then there was not much in the way of veneration to Mary; however, after that it flourished quite a bit.  It is interesting then that this was written so much before that when there was relatively little interest in Mary. 

I have been to the Church of St. Ann in Jerusalem, and I wondered how they knew what Mary’s mother’s name.  Now I know.  It is interesting that Joseph remains a minor character in this story like that of the Gospels.