At first glance, all we know about Joseph from the New Testament is that he is a "carpenter" who lived in "Nazareth" and was the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus. Oddly enough, what little we know is mostly misleading, but the hidden story of Saint Joseph in the Bible is much more extensive, if we would pay closer attention to little details.
For example, the word translated "carpenter" is "tecton" and refers not to a wood-worker, but a stone mason. But the fact Joseph traveled so often, so widely, and could pick up and move during the night shows that Saint Joseph was an itinerant worker who finished his jobs in one day most of the time. So he rarely built houses or worked with massive stones. That leaves mosaic work: Small, portable stones, often needing repair when some worked loose. There was a lot of mosaic work required at Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee, a short walk from a small worker's encampment on the hill now called Nazareth. This town's name was almost certainly "blotted-out" after the revolt in 1BC that followed Herod the Great's death. Sepphoris was destroyed by Rome as a punishment. Joseph would have returned to the region when the city was being rebuilt under Herod Antipas, starting at the end of 1BC. [1: See THE STAR THAT ASTONISHED THE WORLD by Ernest L. Martin]
Joseph was not an old man by our standards, for in his day the average age at death for a man was 29. Anyone over 20 was "older" and already had a housefull of children. A man married at 13, had a son by 15, and trained him in his occupation. By 26, he could have been a grandfather.
The Bible never says Joseph was an elderly man, nor does it say he was previously married, nor does it say he already had children. All of this grows out of a 4th century heresy introduced into the Roman Catholic Church by Ambrose (primarily), who woke up one morning as a pagan Roman official and went to bed that night 'elected' Bishop of Milan. With so little theological preparation, Ambrose stumbled into error by teaching that Mary remained a virgin after giving birth to Jesus, never having had sex, nor suffering pain nor "damage" during the birth process.
This directly contradicts the Bible, which says Jesus "opened the womb" of Mary [Lk 2:23] and that Joseph did not have sex with her UNTIL Jesus was born [Mt 1:25], who is called her "FIRST-born" son. Moreover, there are numerous references to Mary as the mother of James and/or Joses, as well as passages where Jesus' brothers and sisters are cited. [See also Rev 12, where her pain in childbirth and "other offspring" are mentioned.] There should be no confusion about the Bible's teaching, which is crystal clear: Mary had at least 5 sons and 3 daughters, all but Jesus by Joseph.
The Catholic Church typically says these children are by another Mary, "Mary, the wife of Clophas" (who is supposedly not Joseph). But who is "Clophas"?
Clophas is a name that is cognate with "Alpheus" and is based on the Hebrew letter 'ALEPH--pronouced "c'aleph" with a 'catch' before the "A" so that "C(a)lophas" = "'Alpheus." The first letter of the alphabet was also a NUMBER in Hebrew, in this case, the number "1" or "first." If we recall that the "Caliph" was the CHIEF man or "First" in authority, we can see why the name "Alpheus" could signify "Sr." as opposed to "Jr." It could be used to designate the elder of two men by the same name in the same family or household.
If Joseph were the father of Mary's four other sons, one of whom is named "Joses"--a variation of "Joseph"--then the two might well have had nicknames to distinguish the two men: "Alpheus" signifying the 'Senior' Joseph and "Joses" his 'Junior' son.
But why did neither man use the name "Joseph" itself?
Obviously because ANOTHER "Joseph" already held that honor, as well as the chief seat on the Sanhedrin of the six official seats of the house of Judah, namely Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph of Arimathea was, everyone agrees, YOUNGER than Mary. This again confirms that the OLDER "Joseph" was Mary's husband, the mosaic worker, who was certainly older than she.
The New Testament writers go to considerable lengths to distinguish which Joseph or which Mary or which Judas or which Simon they are citing. We are told about Mary Magdalene "and the OTHER Mary"--in a context that can only be understood as the mother of Jesus. Yet this "other Mary" is identified as Mary the wife of Clophas or the mother of James and Joses. John's Gospel, in describing the same scene is mistranslated to make it appear there are THREE Marys present because one of them is the Magdalene and one is the wife of Clophas and also the mother of Jesus. But she is not a third Mary.
Why is this such a big problem? Because if Mary, the mother of Jesus, had remarried, it implies a sexual relationship with a second husband, or alternatively, if Joseph were Clophas, that Mary had other children. And Rome refused to admit that this was possible.
Even many Protestant denominations are now backing down on this issue in order not to jeopardize ecumenical talks with Catholics. Yet there is no legitimate basis in Scripture OR tradition for this teaching. It is based purely upon the 4th-century false doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity, a teaching that is completely contrary to the Bible.
Saint Joseph was told by the angel not to fear to take Mary to himself as wife--ie have sex with her--and he did so after Jesus was born. That is the obvious meaning of the text. Had we not been intended to view it that way, Matthew would have phrased it differently or added a corrective to avoid the implication. Likewise, no such corrective is used when Luke says Jesus opened her womb or when Revelation 12 describes her pain in childbirth or in the many places where a "Mary" is cited as having had other children and the mother of Jesus would be the Mary the reading of the passage would assume. No correctives were ever added because none were ever needed until the 4th-century when new amateur theologians like Ambrose became over-night Bishops and introduced false doctrines about Mary's permanent virginity.
Indeed, this lack of correctives in the text of the New Testament is proof that this text had by then become so well-known and unchangeable that Rome could not insert such changes into the wording. Ironically, the lack of any correctives to support this false teaching proves Rome's "tradition" behind the teaching was NOT as powerful as the authority of the Scriptures that refuted it. This fact overthrows Rome's claim that "tradition" and "Scripture" were reckoned as early as the 4th century as of equal authority. That is clearly not true. Rome simply IGNORED the Scripture whenever it contradicted its new doctrines, but had no power to change the text to support its claimed traditions.
So Joseph and Mary had a series of children--at least 7 more after the birth of Jesus. We know of 4 other sons: James (actually "Jacob"), Jude (also called Thaddeus or Lebbaeus, meaning "baby"), Joses (that is, "Little Joe"), and Simeon (possibly the Cananite or Zealot). The text also refers to "all" Jesus' sisters--certainly more than two.
Rome pretends that "brothers" and "sisters" means "cousins" and that whenever a passage CAN be read in a way that supports their doctrine, it "proves" their case. This is what the Bible calls a "wresting" of the Scripture to FORCE it to fit pre-conceived doctrines contrary to the way the text would naturally be understood. The normal reading of the texts would be that these were Jesus' own brothers and sisters, not cousins. IF the Greek can sometimes in unusual cases refer to cousins--and not all scholars agree that it can--this would still not justify stretching the meaning in this passage to force an obviously UNINTENDED reading. This would make little sense in the context of a discussion about the MOTHER of Jesus and his (supposed) FATHER. Why cite someone else's children? It is Jesus' IMMEDIATE family that the people are discussing, not some group of otherwise unknown cousins. [Mt 13:55-56; Mk 6:3-4]
THE FAMILY LIFE OF THE HOLY FAMILY
So the young boy Jesus grew up with his mother almost always pregnant and nursing the other children. Jesus was at least 8 years old when the last child was born, possibly older. Joseph had to work very hard to keep his growing family fed. Mary could not travel with all those youngsters. So Joseph was probably gone for days or weeks on end, working on mosaics.
What sort of work did he do? We know he often finished in a day and was free to get new work the next day. This sounds like mosaic repair-- an itinerant tinker. But this was not enough to support ten people, and surely not if he had to provide for them while he went off to find work. So some of his jobs had to earn big commissions. Major projects like a decorative mosaic floor or walls. That means Joseph was also an artist.
It is odd to think of him as an artist, but something about the man's creative energy and optimism (which he needed to father so many children under such difficult circumstances) seems compatible with an artist. He must have been a bit of a dreamer and visionary to "see" pictures in a pile of slightly different colored stones. He DID have prophetic dreams and visions of angels, we are told.
But Joseph was certainly from the "wrong side of the tracks" in Judea. He was a descendent of the CURSED line of Jeconiah. Jewish apologists have tried to claim that Jeconiah's line was somehow restored after God told Jeremiah that Jeconiah's "seed" would be cursed and not allowed to sit on David's throne. Yet none of Jeconiah's seed ever ruled as king. If God forgave them, why did they continue unable to rule? None of that line ever even tried to become king in any of the subsequent upheavals in the more than 650 years that followed.
Obviously, the line of Jeconiah still acted as if they were cursed and the Jewish people still acted as if Jeconiah's curse had not expired. James, the oldest half-brother of Jesus, was an heir of Jeconiah. He is famous for never having married. Long before James accepted Jesus as Messiah, James had taken a 'vow' of celibacy, early church histories say. Why? He is Joseph's heir. The simple explanation is that he could not find a wife precisely because he had inherited the curse of Jeconiah and no father wanted to marry his daughter to this cursed man.
By contrast, Mary was of the very much preferred UNCURSED line of Nathan. Marrying Joseph, the cursed line, was no doubt what she meant by her "low estate": She thought she had lost her social status.
Remember, Joseph of Arimathea, one of the richest men of her day, was her brother. Joseph of Arimathea cannot be her uncle, as Rome would prefer (hoping to make her an only child), because that would have diverted the royal line away from Mary and Jesus. He must be her younger brother, albeit he can be her younger twin, but neither an older brother nor an uncle. She ought to have brought a huge dowry into her marriage, but if her husband were under the curse of Jeconiah, her father might not have wanted to provide her with a sizable dowry.
In fact, the whole affair seems like a shotgun wedding. Mary turns up pregnant and Joseph ponders devorcing her quietly [Mt 1:19]. This hardly bodes well for a big dowry. We might ask how these two kids got together in the first place, if Joseph did not get her pregnant, as his desire to divorce her privately indicates. Her father would certainly not have had a cursed son-in-law in mind for his first-born daughter. So it was not likely to have been his idea. And it obviously was not Mary's, given her admitted dismay over the "low estate" which she fell to by marrying this unfortunate young man.
So just how did this poor, cursed mosaic artist from Bethlehem find himself up in Galilee engaged to a girl who did not want him, and whose father could not have wanted him as a son-in-law?
Ah! Now that is an interesting tale, indeed...
FATHERS AT THE FEASTS
If a man wanted to find a bride or husband for one of his children, he had only to wait for the next feast-day, when all the other fathers with similar concerns gathered in Jerusalem. It was their opportunity to meet other fathers and begin to negotiate marriages--which were then handled by legal contracts between fathers.
But Joseph's father carried the curse of Jeconiah, and he was forced to use more clever methods to get his son a bride. Instead of selling his son's attributes as a potential husband, Jacob of Bethlehem touted Joseph's skills as a mosaic artist. If Joseph could make a name as a builder and mosaic worker, he could became financially secure and might later find a wife.
So Jacob would have been on the lookout for a wealthy man who might give his son a commission to design and build a large mosaic for a wall or floor in his estate. That mosaic would become an advertisement for the lad's skills to all the man's rich friends.
In those days the richest man in the world was Eli-Joachim, father of Joseph of Arimathea, Mary and Salome. Joseph of Arimathea was then about the age to marry also. He would have been required if engaged to build a lavish addition onto his father's house for his bride. As one of the world's richest families, he could afford to hire help. Jacob knew that this would be the best opportunity for his son to obtain a great mosaic commission and meet all the right people. We can be sure that Jacob would have certainly wanted his son to meet and work for this family if at all possible. He would obviously have tried to approach either Eli-Joachim or his son Joseph of Arimathea at the feasts.
By the way, "Arimathea" probably means "Mount or City of Mathea." We know that in Luke's genealogy of Mary's family (even Rome agrees that it is her family line) there is a man named "Maath" [Lk 3:26] who may have given his name to the estate where the family lived. This further shows that this is his family lineage also.
It is hard to imagine Jacob and his artistic son NOT trying for this lucrative contract to work on Joseph of Arimathea's home. And soon this boy--probably in his teens--began working on the mosaic, his masterpiece that would advertise his skills to all the richest men of the world (who came to the estate because of the family's far-flung metals trading).
We can almost see him in the youthful power of his creativity, laying out colorful stones that would bring his imagined scenes to the sight of the world, when one day Mary--"Miriam"--came to see this fabulous work of art he was making. Perhaps she gasped at its beauty...and he at her beauty. Who knows? But from that moment, the fate of the world was set in motion.
Joseph knew of his cursed status, of course. If he were to win Mary, he needed to create the most exquisite mosaic his heart could visualize. It must have have been breathtaking, for it was his only ally in winning the hand of Mary as his bride.
The Gospels report that, at Herod Antipas' birthday, his step-daughter Salome (who was then in her 30's and married to Herod's half-brother) had danced for him. Herod Antipas was so delighted he offered her anything she desired up to half his kingdom. Wealthy people often display their disdain for riches by saying, in effect, "Name your price."
When Joseph completed his masterwork, there must have come a moment when Eli-Joachim came around to view it and discuss payment. In those days, too, a little-known teenager could hardly dictate terms up front to a man of such enormous wealth. By some accounts, he may have been the richest man in the Roman world.
So Joseph would have had to wait until he finished his creation and Eli-Joachim could evaluate the work. Only then could they discuss what he would be paid. Today we call it 'working on spec' ("speculation"), in the hope that the buyer will appreciate and reward the result. This is especially true in creative fields like writing, for example.
Eli-Joachim must have liked what he saw. Yet Joseph seems clearly to have remained poor afterwards, still struggling to make ends meet by his itinerant mosaic repair work. There is only one noticeable change in his status: He has acquired Mary as his wife.
Therefore, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that, when asked what he wanted in payment, Joseph simply replied: "All I want is the hand of your daughter Mary in marriage."
Eli-Joachim would hardly have wanted to agree to this. So it seems he must have done what Herod Antipas had done: He had said to Joseph that he could name his price, and that whatever it was, he would pay it.
And so he did.
Joseph--the poor, cursed mosaic artist--won himself a royal bride, but no rich dowry to accompany her. And Mary found herself not only wed to a cursed man, but without the huge dowry she had grown up to expect her father would give her. A "low estate" indeed!
No wonder Luke says Mary was puzzled by Gabriel's greeting, when the angel said, "Hail, thou that art highly favored!"
She certainly did not feel blessed among women either...until Gabriel explained that she was about to become the mother of the Messiah. When she heard that, she couldn't wait: "Be it done unto me according to thy word!" And she ran off to tell Elizabeth the good news.
Joseph did not get the news first. Mary (typical female) told another woman first. It was later that Joseph heard his fiance was pregnant, and it may have been months later, since he had returned home to Bethlehem in the meantime. By custom, Joseph would have begun adding a room onto his father's house in Bethlehem for the couple to live in. We do not know when he got the news, but his first reaction was to want to divorce this girl he had worked so hard to win.
Joseph must have been devastated by the news. It probably had not come to him from Mary, who would have explained the circumstances. No, it more likely came via gossip. Matthew says Mary was "found" to be with child. This implies something 'discovered,' not reported by Mary to him directly.
We are told he anguished over whether or not to divorce her quietly, and it apparently troubled his sleep, for Matthew says Joseph was asleep "while he thought about these things" [Mt 1:20]. The poor young man must have really wanted Mary, but in those days he would not have known her well, for there was no such thing as dating. Fiances were strangers til the wedding night, with only minimal contact before then.
It is revealing that Joseph immediately accepted Mary as his wife as soon as he awoke from his dream. He did exactly as instructed. Perhaps the divorce was NOT his idea, but his father Jacob's. The dream allowed young Joseph to stand up to his father. It gave him courage. Indeed, that is exactly what the angel said: "FEAR NOT to take unto thee Mary, thy wife."
And so, properly waiting "UNTIL the Child was born," Joseph "took her" unto himself as his wife. There is no doubt what Matthew intends for us to understand by this: Joseph had sex with Mary after Jesus was born.
In those days, the marriage ceremony was what we call the engagement party. The only things that followed were the husband spending about nine months adding a room onto his father's house and then coming to her house, sometimes in the middle of the night [Mt 25:6] to take her home and begin their honeymoon (have sex). This practice is still the case in many countries.
What Joseph felt the angel meant was: "Do not fear your father and his angry demands that you divorce Mary. She is your wife. Her child is of the Holy Spirit. She has not had sex with anyone else. You can go ahead and take her to be with you and can have sex with her. It is all right to father children by her. God approves of this."
We know this because that is what the Gospels say happened, and they tell us the couple did everything as God commanded.
Joseph must have been an exceptional young man. His artistic skills so impressed the richest man in the world that he was willing to let his daughter marry this otherwise cursed vagabond. Curiously, there is another famous cursed vagabond in the Bible who runs off with the eldest daughter of the richest royal heir on earth at the time:
But that is another story...