Maria, som var trolovad med Josef, mottog från ärkeängeln Gabriel det överraskande budskapet att Messias skulle födas genom henne (Lukas 1:31). På den tiden skulle en ogift kvinna som blev med barn dödas. Men Maria godtog Guds vilja med absolut tro med orden: "Jag är Herrens tjänarinna. Må det ske med mig som du har sagt." (Lukas 1:38). Maria rådgjorde med prästen Sakarias, som var hennes släkting och dessutom högt ansedd. Sakarias hustru Elisabet blev, med Guds hjälp, havande med Johannes döparen. Hon sa till Maria: "Välsignad är du mer än andra kvinnor, och välsignat det barn du bär inom dig. Hur kan det hända mig, att min herres mor kommer till mig?" (Lukas 1:42-43). Med dessa ord vittnade hon om Jesu kommande födelse.
På detta sätt lät Gud Maria, Sakarias och Elisabet veta om Messias födelse före någon annan. Alla tre hade den absolut avgörande missionen att följa Guds vilja och tjäna Jesus. Sakarias familj lät Maria stanna i deras hus. Jesus avlades i Sakarias hus.
Elisabet och Maria var kusiner på sina mödrars sida. Men enligt Guds försyn ansågs de vara systrar, med Elisabet som den äldre (Kain) och Maria som den yngre (Abel). Maria mottog Elisabets hjälp i Sakarias närvaro. Genom detta samarbete gottgjorde Sakarias familj på det nationella planet den brist på enhet mellan moder och son som hade funnits på Leas och Rakels tid i Jakobs familj ( 1 Mosebok 29-30). Detta gjorde att Jesus kunde födas. För första gången i historien kunde på jorden, fri från satanisk anklagelse och genom ett förberett moderliv, Guds sons frö planteras - den Sanne Faderns säd. På detta sätt föddes Guds enfödde son, innehavaren av Guds första kärlek, för första gången i historien.
Maria var tvungen att åstadkomma något som inte kunde förstås av det sunda förnuftet och inte så lätt tolereras under de lagar som rådde vid den tiden. Maria, Elisabet och Sakarias hade blivit andligen förvandlade. De följde den uppenbarelse som kom från Gud och trodde villkorslöst att det var Guds vilja och önskan. Trots att Guds son nu kunde födas på jorden, behövde han en skyddsmur för att kunna växa upp i säkerhet i den sataniska världen och uppfylla Guds vilja. Gud hade hoppats att dessa tre människor i Sakarias familj skulle etablera denna skyddande grundval. Det finns många synpunkter att beakta beträffande hur allvarligt de tre var tvungna att hänge sig själva åt uppgiften att beskydda och tjäna Guds son, och hur länge de skulle ha varit förenade med varandra.
I Bibeln står upptecknat: "Maria stannade hos henne omkring tre månader och återvände sedan hem." (Lukas 1:56). Efter detta finns det ingen biblisk berättelse om någon ytterligare kommunikation mellan Maria, Elisabet och Sakarias. Från den tid då Maria lämnade Sakarias hus började svårigheterna för Maria och Jesus. Sakarias familj skulle ha utgjort en skyddsmur för Jesus ända till slutet.
Three considerations might make us initially reluctant to take Reverend Moon's hypothesis (as I will call it, though I understand he does not offer it as such; rather apodictically, in prophetic fashion) as the fact of the matter. And yet we will see that all three objections are pretty easy to answer.
First, critical exegesis at least since David Friedrich Strauss has forbidden us to take at face value Luke's assertion that Jesus was the cousin of John the Baptist. Briefly, the problem arises from comparative source criticism. Only Luke has the family connection of Jesus with John, and Luke is a late document, dependent upon earlier versions which had no such link and left no room for them. Mark posits no link between the two men, Jesus being merely another face in the crowd, in the line of seekers awaiting baptism. True, Matthew 3:14 has John instantly aware of the identity of Jesus as the latter approaches him for immersion, but nothing is said of family connections. And John 1:33-34 disallows Matthew's version by having the Baptist say he did not know Jesus for the elect of God until he saw the divine Spirit descend and remain upon him, a visionary event happening just recently. Even Luke has failed to weave the cousin business in carefully with the rest of his own narrative, since the Q passage (Luke 7:18-23 // Matthew 11:2-6) Luke shares with Matthew shows John first imagining the possibility that Jesus is the messiah only while he has the leisure to think about it in his prison cell. Nothing is said of his having begun to doubt a messiahship in which he had once believed, say as young as a fetus jumping in the womb to attest his divine cousin's greater glory (Luke 1:41-44). ...
Second, though a definite historical scenario seems to underlie biblical tales of this type (the impregnation of a formerly "barren" woman by the intervention of a holy man), it applies with difficulty to this case. I have in mind the brilliant book by anthropologist M.J. Field, Angels and Ministers of Grace, in which he argues that the miraculous nativity stories of Isaac, Samson, Samuel, John, and Jesus all reflect the ancient practice (still obtaining) of African and Arabia according to which a childless couple seeks the divine aid of a traveling shaman. He sleeps with the woman, who becomes pregnant, demonstrating that the problem all along was with the husband, not the wife. But the husband, far from being cuckolded and humiliated, is allowed to continue hiding behind the excuse of his wife's "barrenness," never admitting his own sterility. Though the impregnation is due simply to the wife receiving sperm from a non-sterile male, the husband is allowed to save face by the standard pretense that it is the wife's fault and that the shaman is applying supernatural power, not mere male virility, to the case. A man's pride might suffer compared with another man's ability to impregnate the man's wife, but not if it takes supernatural power to do the job. Who can compete with a god or be blamed for falling short in such a competition? Field knew that this practice was common in many cultures he had studied, cultures similar in many respects to biblical culture. So he naturally surmised that the same practice lay behind the nativity stories of biblical heroes whose mothers were called barren.5 It is only the embarrassment of plaster piety that refuses to take seriously Field's illuminating theory. Now this is not to say that any particular biblical story of a barren woman conceiving is historically true; only that the existence of this arrangement in Hebrew culture would have made the stories seem to ring true. The reader or hearer would have heard of such things before and would find the tales plausible. Likewise, the ancient reader/hearer would know good and well what sort of an "angel" it was who had allayed the couple's fears and promised them a child "in the spring of the year when I return." In the same way, we may accept Rudolf Otto's invocation of various biblical and extrabiblical tales of ancient heroes' encounters with God (whether of Moses before Yahve or Arjuna before Krishna) as genuine evidence of the sort of numinous experience from which all religion ultimately stems,6 without committing ourselves to believing that the historical Moses actually heard words from the burning bush. The stories arise from the familiarity of the general phenomenon. ...
Third, if Jesus had truly been descended from priestly stock, wouldn't this valuable fact have come in handy? Wouldn't it presumably have been known to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who goes to such great lengths to provide Jesus the imaginary credentials of the Melchizedek priesthood? Ever since the elevation of Judah Maccabee and his brothers to the Jewish throne, friendly theologians had been busy providing legitimization for a priestly Hasmonean to take the Messianic throne without having to boast of ties to the house of Judah and David. This would seem to be the whole point of the Testament of Levi. Such apologetics were ready to hand, and it would have been a simple matter for Christians to apply them to the case of Jesus as a non-Davidic Messiah. On the other hand, if, as Reverend Moon suggests,9 a begetting by Zacharias was understood from the outset to be so liable to misunderstanding, it is easy to see how the whole business might have been concealed, rendering Jesus' hereditary priestly credentials useless!
The historical possibility or plausibility of the suggestion that Zacharias was the father of Jesus is one thing. Even if we do judge that the story, read this way, would fit in with known practices of the period, we would not necessarily have vindicated it in terms of the literary intention of Luke the evangelist. We do not wish merely to pick isolated bits and pieces out of a narrative and leave the story itself gutted in the garbage, like a holiday turkey cast off by diners who weren't very hungry!
The main question here is the old one as to whether Luke originally intended to depict a miraculous conception at all. As is well known, there is very slight textual evidence (the fourth or fifth century Old Latin ms. b.) that the original text of the Lukan annunciation scene went uninterrupted by Mary's objection in 1:34, "How shall this be, since I know not a husband?" Contextually, the scene flows much better without these words, since the angel has said nothing to Mary, who is after all a woman engaged to be married, about her conceiving a baby in a miraculous manner. What has she to object about? She is soon to be married and will have a distinguished son. Fair enough. "How shall this be, since I know not a husband?" "Uh, what do you mean? You will, won't you? I mean, you're engaged, aren't you?" "Oh yes! I forgot about that!" The artificiality of the dialogue is apparent. The import of the angelic tidings is simply that her son will be great, a king and a savior. It would make better sense if Mary asked something like, "But why me, of all people?" If we ask after the function of the objection, "How can this be, since I know not a husband?", it can be nothing other than to introduce the theme of a virginal conception where it had originally been absent.
It is clear in his discussion of the events surrounding Jesus' conception in True Parents and True Family (1996), Reverend Moon harmonizes the nativity accounts of Luke and Matthew, the result being that Joseph's jealous displeasure/disappointment is sparked by Mary's return from her extended visit at her cousin's house, showing her pregnancy. If what we want is to reconstruct Luke's story on its own terms, we must bracket Matthew's very different story, which Luke presumably knew not of, nor wanted us to hold in mind as we read his own. In the same way, we must not and need not read Mary's visit to Elizabeth and Zacharias from Luke into Matthew to account for Joseph's suspicion and alarm. The mere fact of her pregnancy spoke eloquently, albeit misleadingly, for itself. And if we read Luke by himself, we detect no sign of a scandal attaching to Mary. If we read it without Mary's objection in Luke 1:24, there is just no puzzle for Reverend Moon or anyone else to supply the solution for. "Where did Cain get his wife?" Now, that's a stumper. But "Where did Mary get a father for her child?" That is no problem: the same story (without 1:24) has told us she is engaged to a man named Joseph.
But it is certainly fair to throw in one's lot with the massive majority of manuscript readings, whatever sense or nonsense we may think the resultant text makes of the story. Let us suppose that Luke 1:24 is integral to the text, and that it reveals a premise hidden simply by authorial absent-mindedness: that for whatever reason, Joseph is out of the running as the child's father. Perhaps those Roman Catholic exegetes are correct who, following the fourth-century bishop Epiphanius of Salamis, assume an advanced age for widower Joseph and a merely legal marriage for Joseph and Mary.10 Mary knows old Joseph, her caretaker, cannot be the father, so what can the angel mean? (This proposed solution is not attractive, though, since in this case, Mary's objection would have to be, "But my betrothed is old, and past the age of begetting!" Cf. Genesis 18:2-3) At any rate, suppose she knows Joseph cannot be in view. Who, then? Then we may take, as presumably Reverend Moon does, the words of the angel in 1:36 about Elizabeth's pregnancy as a piece of direction: that is where she will find the father of the child of promise, in Zacharias' house.
What was Mary doing in the home of her cousin for those months? Perhaps she undertook the visit to compare notes and to pay her respects. That is the narrative motivation Luke supplies to get Mary where he wants her for the scene in which Elizabeth declares the fetus John has leaped in the womb to acknowledge his superior cousin's future greatness. But that scene itself may hold another clue as to the real relationship between John and Jesus according to Luke. They are at least cousins (at least in this scene, though Luke appears to have forgotten about it later). But might they be more? As G. R. Driver noted long ago, the reference to the babe leaping in the womb is a direct reference back to the Greek Septuagint version of Genesis 25:21-24, where the pregnant Rebecca laments that her twins are getting a bit too rambunctious! They are "leaping" in the womb. The oracle of Yahve assures her that this denotes her sons will beget two nations whose mutual strife will be perpetual. Luke wants, by his artful weaving together of the sagas of Jesus and the Baptist, to unify both sects under the Christian banner. In his day, as we read in the Pseudo-Clementine literature, the Baptist sect continued in competition with the sect of Jesus. Their strife seemed to Luke a replaying of that between Jacob and Esau, Israelites and Edomites. But as those two ancient brothers were finally reconciled, Luke hoped the sects of Jesus and John might be reconciled. For this literary parallel to work, the yet-unborn Jesus and John need be no more than cousins, but it would strengthen the parallel if they were actually brothers, at least step-brothers. And that is what Reverend Moon, in a bold act of "reader response," makes them. Wolfgang Iser11 and others have made a great deal of the fact that the reading process is one subtly guided by the author but inviting the reader to share in the co-creation of the text. The author leaves details lacking, clues hanging, possibilities offered. Luke, intentionally or not, seems to have left open a door through which Reverend Moon has entered.
But perhaps we may go farther than this. We wonder how far along the story arc of Jacob and Esau Luke was thinking. In Genesis 32, on the eve of what turns out to be the reconciliation of the estranged brothers, Jacob has a mysterious nighttime encounter with one he later calls "Elohim." They fight until, desperate to flee before the cover of night should unmask him, Jacob's opponent cheats, dislocates Jacob's thigh, and is off into the darkness. Jacob has "striven with Elohim and prevailed" (32:28). He marvels, "I have seen God face to face!" Hence the name of the place: Peniel/Penuel, "Face of God." Next day, prepared for conflict with his brother, he encounters instead a surprisingly friendly Esau. Jacob is relieved and exclaims, "Truly, to see your face is like seeing the face of God!" (33:10b). Why is Esau so conciliatory? Had not Esau pledged to kill his brother with his bare hands (27:41)? Has he now just decided to let bygones be bygones? The text does not say. Or does it? Had he perhaps approached Jacob at the stream ford the night before, when no faces could be made out, and there evened the score in a terrific brawl? Having spent his long-simmering anger, perhaps he found he could then let go the past. He hoped to keep his identity secret, leaving with a new respect for his now-formidable brother. But Jacob had seen the face of this "god" after all and now recognizes him, which is why, of course, seeing the face of Esau is like seeing the face of God. In this case, Jacob had earned his epithet "Israel" not on account of a literal wrestling match with a divine being, but with a man taking the role of one.12
Suppose Luke read the story of Jacob and Esau in this manner. We know he was interested in it because of his transparent use of it in Luke 1:44. We know it was the issue of reconciliation of feuding groups that interested him most, so he would have relished the whole story with its happy ending (Psalm 133:1). And if he understood that, in seeing and striving with God, Jacob had really seen and striven with Esau, Luke might have borrowed this detail, too. In this case, he might well have surmised that Jesus became the Son of God in the same sense that Jacob had become the sparring partner of God, namely that both times God utilized a mortal vicar, Esau in the one case, Zacharias in the other. The Alexander Romance tells us that the world-conqueror was physically fathered by the old Egyptian priest Nectanebus, but he does not appear to think Alexander deserved the title "Son of Amun" any less because of it. No, this was precisely why the title was appropriate! In such fashion had the priests of Egypt ever served as sexual surrogates for the gods, begetting all the Pharaohs of Egypt.
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"As a priest who “walks blameless in the Lord,” Zacharias was recognized as God’s representative in the conception of his children. From the instant Mary’s impending pregnancy was announced, to the moment it was acknowledged, the only man mentioned by name in the narrative was Zacharias.
On the evidence of Luke’s gospel,
Zacharias is the sole candidate to be the father of Jesus."