Letters From Readers
Steven Rolfes’ article on patron saints [“Saint-What’s-His-Name: Patron of Just-What-You-Need,” November 2010] mentions Saint Joseph and states, “He dealt with everything from a rather rushed marriage…,” which is an inaccurate statement.
Mary and Joseph, both practicing Jews, followed the rules of their society, including the rites of the two-part marriage ceremony that consisted of kiddushin (commonly translated as “betrothal”) and nusuin. Once kiddushin is complete, the woman is legally the wife of the man, and the relationship can only be dissolved by death or divorce. The second part of the ceremony, nusuin, is completed when the wife is actually taken into the husband’s home.
Matthew’s Gospel states that at the time of the Incarnation, “Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together….” (Some biblical translations use betrothed instead of engaged.) It’s obvious Mary and Joseph had completed kiddushin and were living in a state of espousal, which according to a footnote in the New American Bible, usually lasted several months. Matthew’s Gospel also refers to “Joseph her husband” and says he decided to divorce her quietly. Obviously Saint Joseph would have had no need to consider divorce if he and Mary were not already married. Therefore Joseph did not have to deal with “a rather rushed marriage” since he was already married.
Mr. Rolfes is not alone in his assumption that Mary and Joseph were not already married at the time of the Incarnation. This oft-repeated error is the result of the mistake made in translating the word betrothal. Today we do not equate being “engaged” or “betrothed” as being married, and yet such was the case in Jewish culture.
I. DeVliegher, IN
Editor’s note: Rolfes’ article was intended to be a lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek approach to the saints. While the explanation of the distinct phases of Hebrew marriage is appreciated, such an explanation would not have fit the rest of the article. “A rather rushed marriage” communicates a set of feelings to which contemporary readers can relate, while kiddushin and nusuin do not.
Good news/bad news
The good news is that Father Potts will continue to write Plain Talk [“Selective Perspectives,” Plain Talk, October 2010]. It’s my favorite column, and I look forward to reading it at the end of each issue. Father Potts does not wriggle around the subject, but seizes it straight on. The bad news would be if he were to stop writing it.
T. Friend, e-mail
A great book
Thank you for recommending Facing Your Giants by Max Lucado [“A Summer Reading List,” July-August 2010]. It is one of the better books I have read in quite a while. My Bible study group may use this as our next Scripture topic.
J. Cheli, MO
THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editors. Letters must be signed and include the writer’s full address and daytime phone number. Names will be withheld from publication upon request. The editors reserve the right to edit letters for length and style.