Gospel of the Birth of Mary

The existence of this treatise is known only from the reference to it by Epiphanius.* He ascribes the work to a Gnostic source which twisted the record of the canonical gospels (here Luke 1) into an anti-Judaic polemic. The document tells how Zechariah, father of John, was killed in the Temple. The title (Genna Marias) evidently refers to the birth or genealogy of Mary, the mother of Jesus.


MARY, GOSPEL OF THE BIRTH OF. A Lat. account of the birth and childhood of Mary, included among the works attributed to Jerome (PL XXX. 307ff.) but actually a shorter and improved ed. of the first part of the Gospel of Pseudo-matthew (q.v.), which in turn is based on the Protevangelium of James (q.v.). There is a certain irony in the attribution, in view of Jerome’s pronounced opposition to such apocryphal lit.

The text begins with Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anna, and tells of their blameless life. After the rejection of Joachim’s offering, because of his childlessness, by the high priest Issachar (in the Protevangelium and Pseudo-Matthew the name is Reuben), he retires to his flocks, but an angel appears to him, and also to Anna. The document then relates the birth of Mary, her presentation in the Temple, and her upbringing there. At the age of fourteen, virgins resident in the Temple are required to marry, but Mary was reluctant. A council summoned by the high priest resolves to seek divine guidance, which is soon forthcoming. Joseph (here not a widower, as in the Protevangelium, though advanced in years) was chosen by a miraculous sign, and they are betrothed. Joseph goes to Bethlehem, while Mary returns to her parents’ home in Galilee, where the Annunciation takes place. Joseph on his return finds her with child, but in his perplexity is reassured by an angel. The document closes with a brief statement about the birth of Jesus.

This outline is enough to reveal the document’s affinity with the earlier chs. of the Protevangelium. Reference to Joseph’s previous marriage has been removed as heretical (according to Jerome, the “brothers” of Jesus were cousins), as have elements felt to be offensive (e.g., the episode of the midwife). The book is later than the 6th-cent. Decretum Gelasianum, which does not mention it, but is quoted at the end of the 10th cent. by Fulbert of Chartres. It has been argued that the author was Paschasius Radbertus, abbot of Corbie in the 9th cent. (see Rev. Bénédictine 46 [1934], 265ff.). Through its incorporation in the Golden Legend of James de Voragine (1298), the work enjoyed a wide circulation.

Bibliography

Translation in Ante-Nicene Christian Library XVI (1870); see also Amann, Le Protêvangile de Jacques et ses remaniements latins (1910).