Monday, March 20, 2023

The Virgin Mary's Life in the Temple Cloister


The Virgin Mary with a spindle, a symbol of feminine authority.

Dr. Alice C. Linsley

Mary was Joseph’s cousin bride, and she was betrothed to Joseph as one dedicated to the Temple. That is why she is designated “almah” in the Scriptures. The Hebrew word almah (עַלְמָה) is derived from a verb meaning “to conceal” or “to hide away”. Temple virgins were “alamot” because they were cloistered until they married.

Their duties included weaving, sewing, drawing water, singing, brewing beer, and playing musical instruments such as the sistrum and the tambourine. In the King James Version, the "alamot" are called “damsels” – “The singers went before, the players on instruments followed after; among them were the damsels playing with timbrels.” (Ps. 68:25)

Mary and Joseph had common ancestors as is evident in the repetition of some names in the two New Testament genealogies. Their ancestors intermarried, as was the custom of the Hebrew from before the time of Abraham.

Hippolytus of Thebes records that Mary’s mother Ana was one of three daughters of a priest named Matthan. Variant spellings of Matthan include Matthew, Matthias, Mattha, Matthat, Mattathias, Mattaniah, and Mattai. The name and its variants appear six times in Luke’s list. The name derives from the word “gift” and can refer to the “giving” of Torah. The name Mattaniah is found among the priests in I Chronicles. According to Matthew 1:15, Mary’s husband Joseph was of the priestly line of Mattai.

If Joseph married according to the pattern of his Hebrew ancestors, Mary would be his second wife, the bride of his later years. The brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 are the children of Joseph by his first wife. Joseph had been betrothed to Mary for some time before he married her. Until that time, Mary remained a young woman dedicated to the Temple by her priest father, Joachim.

Hebrew sons and daughters were often dedicated to the service of the temple. Samuel, the son of the priest Elkanah and his wife Hannah was dedicated to the temple (1 Sam. 1:11). From a young age, Samuel served Eli, the Ephraimite priest of Shiloh. Samuel later married, and his sons, Joel and Abijah, served as judges in Beersheba (1 Sam. 8:1-9; 1 Chr. 6:28).

Hebrew daughters dedicated to the temple were free to marry. However, depending on the daughter’s initial vow to God, they might remain celibate. Abstinence from sexual relations did not pose a problem for a husband who already had an heir by his first wife. Joseph’s heir would have been one of Jesus’ half-brothers, probably James. In Jewish Antiquities (20.9.1), Josephus describes James as "the brother of Jesus who is called Christ."

According to tradition, the Annunciation took place when Mary was in the Temple spinning purple thread. Some icons and paintings of the Virgin Mary show her holding a spindle and spinning purple thread. Purple thread was used to make the Temple vestments and the garments of high priests.

As the cousin bride, it was Mary’s prerogative to name her only son after her father. However, as was anticipated by his Hebrew ancestors, Jesus was conceived by divine overshadowing of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35) and Mary was to name her son Yeshua, which means “salvation.” The name is related to the ancient Egyptian name Yesu.

The hieroglyphs for Yesu indicate royal authority and show the falcon, the totem of HR (Horus in Greek) who was called the "son" of God.

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