Childhood of Jewish Girls


(This is an excerpt from the book Mary, the Mother of Jesus.)

A further indication that Mary’s world differed from the one described by Philo is that after the angel’s annunciation to her in Nazareth, she traveled to visit Elisabeth outside Jerusalem, a multiple days’ journey (Luke 1:36–39). Because traveling alone was deemed imprudent for anyone, including men, she must have been accompanied by others. But her decision to leave her house and town does not seem to have raised eyebrows. When the angel informed her of Elisabeth’s condition and implied that Mary should visit her, Mary expressed no concern over being away from home for three months (Luke 1:39–56).

Considering the potential all children had to contribute to a family’s livelihood, some first-century families valued their daughters as much as their sons. Furthermore, whomever a daughter attracted as a marriage partner could significantly affect the ­family’s social prestige. A girl’s status as unmarried may have been indicated by specific clothing. For example, she may have worn a distinctive veil such as Rebekah wore before she met Isaac (Genesis 24:65). The apocryphal story of Aseneth, the bride of Joseph who was sold into Egypt, indicates that virgins wore a second sash, or girdle, to distinguish them from other women. All women wore the first sash around the waist, but virgins may have worn an additional sash under or over the breast.4 When a daughter followed social norms, behaved modestly, and worked hard, she would be a source of pride for the family and advance the family honor. The scant information we have about Mary in the New Testament indicates that she was a model daughter. After all, the angel told her that she was “highly favoured” by God (Luke 1:28).

Six centuries earlier, Nephi saw Mary in vision and described her as “most beautiful and fair above all other virgins” (1 Nephi 11:15). Because qualifications for beauty are often cultural and have differed over time, we may wonder whether Nephi was noting Mary’s physical characteristics or her purity, goodness, and diligence—or all of those attributes. That the vision first focused on Mary herself, before she gave birth to Jesus, indicates that she was important to God as a precious daughter, apart from her role as the mother of his Son.

4. “Dress and Ornamentation,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2:237. See also Joseph and Aseneth, 14.12–17, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth, trans. C. Burchard, 2 vols. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1985), 2:225. Although Joseph and Aseneth lived around the seventeenth century b.c., this document was a Jewish work of the first century b.c. to the second century a.d. It is therefore descriptive of customs of the New Testament era.


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