Joseph the Pedophile

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A modern Christian depiction of Joseph and Mary by Brother Claude Lane, O.S.B., a monk of Mount Angel Abbey

This article looks at the claim that Joseph, the husband of Mary (the mother of Jesus Christ), was a pedophile, a claim often presented as a precedent, perhaps, and justification for Muhammad's marriage to Aisha at age 6, and consummation at age 8 or 9, while Muhammad was in his 50s.


Joseph's Marriage to Mary

The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia page is often cited as a reference for the marriage of Mary to Joseph at age 12, while Joseph was 90.[1] However, since the content draws on the apocrypha, the page includes the (equally often ignored) disclaimer that, "the apocryphal literature is full of details, the non-admittance of these works into the Canon of the Sacred Books casts a strong suspicion upon their contents".[2]

The Apocrypha are defined as "spurious", "of questionable authenticity", and "Christian texts that are not canonical."[3] Thus they can be considered as the Christian equivalent of da`if (weak) or maudu (fabricated) hadith.

There is no authoritative Christian text which state Mary's age. Claims about her age are, at best, educated guesses, but guesses none-the-less. Bukhari and Muslim, on the other hand, are canonical Islamic writings of the utmost religious authenticity, accepted by approximately 90 percent of the world's Muslims as being canonical.

Furthermore, the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia page does not say Mary married Joseph when she was aged only 12.

What it actually says, after warning readers once again that the stories are "unreliable", is that Mary was 12 to 14 at the time of the choosing of candidates, and the Annunciation (the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the virgin called Mary, that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus)[4] took place two years later.[5] This would make Mary 14 to 16 at the time of her marriage, not 12, or 9, as was the case between Muhammad and Aisha. She would have been a teenager of child-bearing age, not a pre-pubescent pre-teen child.

Moreover, unlike the Islamic view of Muhammad, Christians do not consider Joseph to be an uswa hasana (excellent model of conduct). Joseph's moral character holds no importance within Christian theology. Indeed, many prophets exhibited behaviors, according to Christian scriptures, that would roundly be denounced as immoral.

Also, according to both the Christian scriptures and the Islamic ones, Mary was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to Jesus; therefore, her relationship with Joseph would not have been a sexual one until after Jesus' birth, making her possibly 17 years of age at the time the marriage was eventually consummated, if ever.

Indeed, the same New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia page continues the narrative of Joseph's life by stating both Mary and Joseph entered the marriage with the understanding that it was never to be consummated.[6]

Mary's Perpetual virginity, the belief that Mary remained a virgin her entire life, is an essential article of faith for the majority of the world's Christians (including the Roman Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox Christians). It is even held by some Muslims (the idea that she was a virgin at the time of Jesus' birth, however, appears to be confirmed by the Qur'an).[7]

In fact, the same non-canonical writings the provide Joseph and Mary's age, also confirm Mary's status as "ever virgin" (in The History of Joseph the Carpenter, Jesus says on Joseph's death "my mother, virgin undefiled").[8]

The Theological Status of a Saint vs. that of an Uswa Hasana

A saint and an uswa hasana are not synonymous. The Islamic faith, almost all of its laws, rituals, and moral principles, are defined by the uswa hasana's actions. A saint has no similar function in Christianity. Their actions do not determine Christian laws, rituals, or moral principles in any way. Joan of Arc and countless others are Catholic saints too, but that means very little to how one practices Christianity.

Muhammad is the central figure of Islam, Joseph is not the central figure of Christianity. Islam wouldn't exist if Muslims decided Muhammad was immoral. On the other hand, for Christians of any stripe, Joseph is a "non entity" as far as its theology is concerned. The closest analogy to Muhammad and an uswa hasana in Christianity is the figure of Jesus, and very few non-Christians would argue that their view of Christians and Christianity would not improve if his followers behaved more like him.

In addition, it is the same Catholic and Eastern Churches which consider Joseph a saint, who also hold to the belief of Mary's perpetual virginity. Since Mary's ever-lasting virginity is an integral part or "pillar" of their faith, and most modern theologians think the Pope could reverse a sainthood without undermining the Church's doctrines,[9] one can imagine what would have become of Joseph's saint status if he did have intercourse with a 12-year-old Mary.

Related Arguments

Mary's Pregnancy

A pedophile by definition is someone who is sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children,[10] so a teenager of child-bearing age is not pre-pubescent, it has already been shown in a previous section that there is no authoritative Christian text which state Mary's age. Claims about her age are, at best, educated guesses, but guesses none-the-less.

Additionally, the apocryphal literature (the Christian equivalent of weak or fabricated hadith) used to gather information on Mary's possible age actually reveal she may have been 16 at the time of her marriage, not 12.

Even if one assumes she was 12 at the time, there still remain several problems with the claim.

According to the Bible, Mary became with child by "the power of the Highest",[11] a phrase that does not, or does not necessarily, correspond to Mary being "impregnated."

Even if we do accept that the Christian god "impregnated" Mary, both Christians and Muslims believe God is omnipotent. Therefore sexual intercourse, something which would have to take place if we were to accept this claim, is not necessary in order to achieve this. For example, artificial insemination needs no sexual intercourse. If humans can create a method to impregnate people without the need for sexual intercourse, an omnipotent deity could do the same without disturbing the hymen.

Furthermore, the Qur'an confirms the virgin birth. However, whereas the Christian texts do not mention anything of a sexual nature, the Qur'an explicitly tells us Allah (or Gabriel if we refer to the tafsir text) blew into Mary's vagina in order for her to conceive Jesus.

Child-Marriage in Jewish Law

The frequent claim that the Talmud says "Sexual intercourse with a little girl is permitted if she is three years of age," is false. Yevamot 11b, the citation associated with the claim, has no relevant passage.

Whilst the language used is very crude, the discussion relates to the dowry for virgins and non-virgins. It has nothing to do with what sort of sexual acts are allowed, encouraged, forbidden, or discouraged.[12]

Historical American and European Child Marriage Laws

In the past, Western nations permitted child marriage, however this is no longer the case, and today Western comprehensively prohibit such marriages and they are culturally perceived as deeply immoral. Islam law, however, cannot evolve in this manner, and must always consider child marriage not only permissible, but a form of commendable sunnah, since it was the practice of the Muhammad, the Uswa Hasana.

There is not a single mainstream Christian who argues in favor of child-marriages on the basis that "Saint Joseph (allegedly) did it 2000 years ago", "King Richard II did it 600 years ago" or that banning it would be "un-Christian". N.B. Note that King Richard II's marriage to a child was never even consummated. Although he visited his young bride nearly every day, they lived in different houses and did not sleep under the same roof, let alone in the same bed. King Richard was murdered when Queen Isabella was only eleven years old, and she was at that time still a virgin. Medieval Europeans, especially royalty, frequently arranged marriages in which one or both parties were prepubescent. But it was extremely unusual for such a marriage to be consummated before puberty.

On the other hand, the majority of mainstream Muslim scholars argue in favor of child-marriages on the basis that "Prophet Muhammad did it 1400 years ago",[13][14][15][16][17] "the Prophet's Companions did it"[18] or that banning it would be "un-Islamic".[19][20][21][22] In some cases, Muhammad and Aisha's relationship has even been used to effectively "turn back the clock" by legalizing child marriages in places today where they were previously illegal.[23]

Secular laws evolve as our morality improves and develops, whilst hari'ah laws (consisting of the Qur'an and Sunnah) are seen as Allah's unalterable holy law. To attempt to change it would be considered blasphemous, as it constitutes Bid'ah, something which was forbidden by Muhammad himself.[24][25] What can be altered is Islamic jurisprudence, but as that is extracted from, and cannot contradict,[26][27] Shari'ah, the results cannot vary altogether much, especially when it comes to practices as explicitly endorsed by scripture as child-marriage.

This page is featured in the core article, Islam and Pedophilia which serves as a starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about this topic Core part.png

See Also

External Links


  1. Charles Souvay - St. Joseph - The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 24 Oct. 2011
  2. "The chief sources of information on the life of St. Joseph are the first chapters of our first and third Gospels; they are practically also the only reliable sources, for, whilst, on the holy patriarch's life, as on many other points connected with the Saviour's history which are left untouched by the canonical writings, the apocryphal literature is full of details, the non-admittance of these works into the Canon of the Sacred Books casts a strong suspicion upon their contents; and, even granted that some of the facts recorded by them may be founded on trustworthy traditions, it is in most instances next to impossible to discern and sift these particles of true history from the fancies with which they are associated. Among these apocryphal productions dealing more or less extensively with some episodes of St. Joseph's life may be noted the so-called "Gospel of James", the "Pseudo-Matthew", the "Gospel of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary", the "Story of Joseph the Carpenter", and the "Life of the Virgin and Death of Joseph"." - St. Joseph - Charles Souvay, The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 24 Oct. 2011
  3. Apocrypha - Wikipedia, accessed October 24, 2011
  4. Annunciation - Wikipedia, accessed October 24, 2011
  5. "It will not be without interest to recall here, unreliable though they are, the lengthy stories concerning St. Joseph's marriage contained in the apocryphal writings. When forty years of age, Joseph married a woman called Melcha or Escha by some, Salome by others; they lived forty-nine years together and had six children, two daughters and four sons, the youngest of whom was James (the Less, "the Lord's brother"). A year after his wife's death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Juda a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age. Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place. These dreams, as St. Jerome styles them, from which many a Christian artist has drawn his inspiration (see, for instance, Raphael's "Espousals of the Virgin"), are void of authority; they nevertheless acquired in the course of ages some popularity; in them some ecclesiastical writers sought the answer to the well-known difficulty arising from the mention in the Gospel of "the Lord's brothers"; from them also popular credulity has, contrary to all probability, as well as to the tradition witnessed by old works of art, retained the belief that St. Joseph was an old man at the time of marriage with the Mother of God." - St. Joseph - Charles Souvay, The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 24 Oct. 2011
  6. "This marriage, true and complete, was, in the intention of the spouses, to be virgin marriage (cf. St. Augustine, "De cons. Evang.", II, i in P.L. XXXIV, 1071-72; "Cont. Julian.", V, xii, 45 in P.L. XLIV, 810; St. Thomas, III:28; III:29:2). But soon was the faith of Joseph in his spouse to be sorely tried: she was with child. However painful the discovery must have been for him, unaware as he was of the mystery of the Incarnation, his delicate feelings forbade him to defame his affianced, and he resolved "to put her away privately; but while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. . . And Joseph, rising from his sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife" (Matthew 1:19, 20, 24)." - St. Joseph - Charles Souvay, The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 24 Oct. 2011
  7. Perpetual virginity of Mary - Wikipedia, accessed October 24, 2011
  8. The History of Joseph the Carpenter - Interfaith Online, accessed October 24, 2011
  9. Brian Palmer - Your Halo, Please? - Slate Magazine, April 5, 2010
  10. According to the most stringent clinical definition of pedophilia, the DSM-IV-TR, a pedophile is someone who (1) over a period of at least six months, has had recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child or children (generally age 13 years or younger). (2) has acted on these sexual urges, or the sexual urges or fantasies have caused marked distress or interpersonal difficulties. (3) is at least aged 16 years and at least 5 years older than the child or children in Criterion 1. Note: This does not include an individual in late adolescence involved in an ongoing sexual relationship with a 12- or 13-year-old.
  11. "And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." - Luke 1:35 (King James Version)
  12. Gil Student - The Talmud Does Not Permit Sex With A Three Year Old - The Real Truth About The Talmud, accessed March 23, 2012
  13. Sheik Abdul-Aziz Ibn Baaz, supreme religious authority of Saudi Arabia: "...If she is married without her permission, by threat or coercion, then the marriage is not valid. The only exeption is in the case of the father and his daughter who is less than nine years of age. There is no harm if he gets her married while she is less than nine years old, according to the correct opinion. This is based on the messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) marrying Aisha without her consent when she was less than nine years old, as is stated in authentic Hadith..." - Questions Related to Marriage/ Is it allowed for a father to force his daughter to marry a specific man that she does not want to marry? - Muslim Students Organization of the University of Houston
  14. Sheikh Hamoud Hashim al-Tharihi, general secretary of the Vice and Virtue Committee and member of the Islah Party in Yemen: "Because this happened to the Prophet, we cannot tell people that it is prohibited to marry at an early age" - Child marriage and divorce in Yemen - Jenny Cuff, BBC, November 6, 2008
  15. Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini: "Banning child marriage will cause challenging the marriage of the holy prophet of Islam, who also married minor Ayesha, when she was just eight years old. The new law [seeking to ban child marriages] initiated by the current government [of Bangladesh] will put the moral character of the prophet into controversy and challenge. Islam permits child marriage and it will not be tolerated if any ruler will ever try to touch this issue in the name of giving more rights to women." - Islamist leader threatens of waging Jihad - Weekly Blitz, April 20, 2011
  16. Former governor and current senator of Zamfara State, Nigeria, Ahmed Sani Yerima:

    "Child marriage in Islam is permissible. In the Koran there is no specific age of marriage...[If the government imposed new laws against child marriage] There will be violent conflict from the Muslims, saying that 'no, we will not accept this, we'd rather die than accept something which is not a law from Allah.'" - "Nigeria Child Brides-Broken Lives", Times Online, November 28, 2008 (archived), 

    And again in 2013:

    "As was expected, former governor and current senator of Zamfara State Ahmed Sani Yerima reiterated his support for marrying off underage girls Saturday saying he could give out his six-year old daughter in marriage if he so wished. Last Tuesday, the Senator successfully prevented an amendment to the second part of Section 22 of the constitution by the Senate, which dwells on affirming someone as of age once the person is married, though the person could be lower than 18 years in age. He answered his critics in an online publication saying he did not deserve such criticisms. Here is the full statement: "Nigeria has many uncountable problems and none of them is early marriage. As a matter of fact early marriage (is) the solution to about half of our problems. For those who wonder if I can give my daughter(s) out in marriage at the age of 9 or 13, I tell you most honestly, I can give her out at the age of 6 if I want to and it’s not your business. This is because I am a Muslim and I follow the example of the best of mankind, Muhammad ﺻَﻠَّﻰ ﺍﻟﻠَّﻪُ ﻋَﻠَﻴْﻪِ ﻭَﺳَﻠَّﻢَ..."", "I Could Marry Off My Six Year Old Daughter If I So Wished, Senator Ahmed Yerima Replies Critics", The Nigeria Today, July 21, 2013 (archived), 
  17. Sheikh Mohamed Ben Abderrahman Al-Maghraoui: "The marriage of nine-year-old girls is not forbidden because according to the Hadith (the Prophet Mohammed's sayings), Mohammed married Aisha when she was only seven-years-old and he consummated his union when she was nine." - Moroccan theologian: Muslim girls can wed at nine - Middle East Online, September 15, 2008
  18. "Getting married at an early age is something that is confirmed by the book of Allah, the Sunnah of his Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam), the consensus of the scholars and the actions of the companions, and the Muslims who came after them... There are many Ahadith which confirm that marriage at an early age was widespread among the companions and no one denied its permissibility. Getting married at an early age was not peculiar to the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) as some people think, but it was general for him and for his Ummah. The following are some of the actions of the Sahaba (companions): 1. Ali Ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, married his daughter, Um Kulthum to Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, and she mothered a child before the death of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam). Omar got married to her while she was young before reaching the age of puberty. This is reported by Ibn Saad in 'Al-Tabaqat'. 2. From Urwa Ibn Zubair: that Zubair, may Allah be pleased with him, married his daughter when she was very young. Reported by Saeed Ibn Mansour, in his Sunnah, and Ibn Abi Shaibah, in Al-musannaf, with a Sahih chain of narration. Al-Shafie said in the book of Al-Um: "Many companions of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam) married their daughters while these were still young." - Child marriage in Islam, Islamweb, Fatwa No. 88089, June 24, 2004
  19. "Nigeria Child Brides-Broken Lives", Times Online, November 28, 2008 (archived), 
  20. Islamist leader threatens of waging Jihad - Weekly Blitz, April 20, 2011
  21. yessir - Child Marriage - Death Of 13 Year Old Bride After Wedding - A BIG MESSAGE, April 10, 2010
  22. YEMEN: Deep divisions over child brides - IRIN, March 28, 2010
  23. Outcry over Malaysian child marriages - Sydney Morning Herald, August 4, 2010
  24. "A'isha reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: He who innovates things in our affairs for which there is no valid (reason) (commits sin) and these are to be rejected." - Sahih Muslim 18:4266
  25. "Narrated Aisha: Allah's Apostle said, "If somebody innovates something which is not in harmony with the principles of our religion, that thing is rejected." - Sahih Bukhari 3:49:861
  26. Khalid Baig - Sunnah and Bid'ah - Albalagh, May 5, 2001
  27. Concept of Bidah in Islam - Alahazrat International Islamic Web