Mary's parents aren't mentioned in the Bible. How do we know their names?

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Joachim and Anne

You're right: the names of Mary's parents, like everything else said about Mary before the biblically related story of the Annunciation, belongs to the realm known as church tradition. Think of family stories narrated year in and year out until they're as much legend as they are history. It becomes hard to separate historical aspects from mythological ones. With such stories from family or church tradition, determining the strictly factual elements of the saga may miss the point of the telling. The truth of most stories is larger than history, and seeks a higher meaning.

Stories about Mary's parents satisfy our curiosity for "the rest of the story," or the familiar story from a fresh point of view. Think of modern stories like Ahab's Wife, that retells the classic Moby Dick from the perspective of one who awaits the vengeful captain onshore; or The Red Tent, that presents the biblical patriarch Jacob through the experience of his lesser-known wives. Extra-biblical writings like The Protevangelium of James and The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew are likewise attempts from later centuries to fill in the gaps regarding Mary's back-story. Where did this remarkable woman come from? How did she become the one known for all time as "full of grace"?

As the story goes, Joachim and Anne are as virtuous as they are childless, giving two-thirds of their resources to the temple and to the poor. They long for a child and pledge to give their offspring to the Lord if their prayers be answered.

After Joachim, from a priestly family, is denied the chance to bring his offering to the temple—his childlessness is ridiculed by the high priest as a sign of God's rejection—Joachim retires to the territory of shepherds in shame, afraid to return home. There he meets an angel who promises him the birth of a highly favored daughter and is urged to meet his wife at the golden gate of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Anne at home receives a similar angelic messenger, and rushes to the gate to meet her husband. Their kiss at the gate is rendered in popular art of the Middle Ages.

Joachim and Anne keep their promise, delivering their daughter Mary into the service of the temple at the age of three. In this way we learn how Mary is prepared for her unique life of purity and grace.

Scripture: Matthew 1—2; Luke 1—2

Books: The Lost Books of the Bible and the Forgotten Books of Eden, edited by Rutherford H. Platt (New York: Penguin Books, 1974); In Quest of the Jewish Mary by Mary C. Athans (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013)

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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