Jesus’ Devout Jewish Parents and Their Child Prodigy

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In the infancy narrative found in chapters one and two of Luke’s gospel, Luke has provided excellent character references for Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Jesus’ mother and father show piety far beyond the usual, and the young Jesus is eager to be in the temple studying Torah with the teachers of Israel.

John the Baptist was born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and on the eighth day the neighbors and family gathered to celebrate the baby’s circumcision (Luke 1:57-58). On this occasion, John was given his name (Luke 1:59). Jesus also received his name at his circumcision: “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus” (Luke 2:21).

Circumcision on the eighth day is a biblical commandment (Lev. 12:3; Gen. 21:4), but the public naming of a baby boy on the eighth day and the gathering of family and acquaintances to celebrate the occasion are Second Temple-period Jewish customs.[1] These two customs, attested in the gospel of Luke for the first time, are still common in Jewish practice.

Two More Ceremonies

Luke mentions two other Jewish customs (Luke 2:22-24) observed by Jesus’ parents: Mary’s offering of the sacrifice for her purification,[2] and Joseph’s payment of the ransom for his firstborn son.

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  • [1] See Shmuel Safrai, “Naming John the Baptist,” Jerusalem Perspective 20 (May 1989): 1-2. The traditional Jewish celebration of a birth is also the major background to the circumcision of Elisha ben Avuyah, which took place about the last quarter of the first century C.E. (Jerusalem Talmud, Hagigah 77b, chpt. 2, halachah 1).
  • [2] The Greek text of Luke 2:22 contains the phrase, “When the days of the purification of them were fulfilled.” However, a baby is not impure, nor does it have a period of impurity. The Old Syriac Sinaitic Codex and the Latin Vulgate, as well as part of the Old Latin manuscripts, have “of her,” a reading that corresponds to the language of the biblical command. Cf. Shmuel Safrai, “The Role of Women in the Temple,” Jerusalem Perspective 21 (Jul./Aug. 1989): 5.

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