Monday, March 17, 2014


I suppose y'all periodically run into the "Jesus had brothers so Mary and Joseph were sexually intimate" idea. This is partly based on how Hebrew was translated into Greek; and how both Hebrew and Greek were/are translated into English, which IMNSHO is a terrible language in which to translate the Bible. English is a cataclysmic collision of Romance and Germanic tongues; an oil-and-water jumble of vocabulary, spelling, grammar, syntax, culture, worldview, history, and religion. A glorious language. In my opinion, the most glorious; but still, not an ideal language in which to translate other languages.

Anyway, the Brothers of Jesus Thing hinges on the Greek word αδελφός-adelphos-brother; and whether its meaning extends to relationships for which English has other, specific words...such as cousin. Or nephew. Or relative. 

In the Gospels we read:

"While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him."

"Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.

"Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."

So... are those brethren Jesus' brothers in the strict genetic sense of being male children of Mary? Or at least sons of Joseph from a previous marriage? I believe the Church is correct, that Mary is ever-virgin; and that Jesus was her only child. So the arguments don't much interest me. But I'm keen on the language aspects. I was curious: how often do languages have one word for brother; and a completely different word to express what we mean by cousin? Well....not often, and most of them use the same French word that we "English" speakers use.

I have Maronite Rite friends from the Levant who refer in English to their cousins as "brothers" unless they are being careful when making an introduction. Their first language is Arabic. In Arabic, cousin is expressed as uncle-son; but informally they are brothers.

In Hebrew, cousin is uncle-son.

In Hungarian, cousin is unoka-testvére, uncle-son.

In modern Greek, cousin is εξάδελφος, ex-adelphos, out-brother.

In Russian, cousin is двоюродный брат, dvayu-rodniy brat, second-born brother.

In Serbian, cousin is either bratranec or sestrična, based on the words for brother/ brat; and sister/ sestra.

In Hindi and Bengali, cousin is a two-part noun ?-brother, I can't figure out the prefixes.

So it's typical in most other languages for the English concept of "cousin" to be understood in terms of brother or son; especially in non-formal, traditional contexts, and where extended families are the norm.

And some languages have no native phrasing for cousin at all:

Turkish borrows from French: kuzen.

German borrows from French: Cousin

Polish borrows from French: kuzyn.

Swedish borrows from French: kusin.

And French imposed itself on English: cousin.

So- does "brother" in an English Bible necessarily mean "a male offspring having both parents in common with another offspring"? Not at all. And if English expressed "cousin" with phrasing that involved the word "brother" or "son" as many languages do, I doubt we'd even be having this discussion.  

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