DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE have shown up recently in a couple of my more gut-wrenching blogs, including Dumping husband #2: remarriage is adultery?
I thought you might appreciate how Joseph was prepared to handle his divorce with Mary, once he found out she was pregnant.
They were only engaged. But Jews considered the engagement was so binding that it required a divorce.
I’ll borrow this info from my February release: Understanding Jesus, A Guide to His Life and Times.
How to Get Disengaged
The Bible doesn’t say when or how Joseph discovered the pregnancy. But once he did, he decided to divorce Mary, as Jewish law required. Greek and Roman laws agreed. To do otherwise would have condoned Mary’s apparent adultery. And that would have branded Joseph as a moral bottom dweller.
Joseph’s pain could have been eased a bit by divorcing Mary publicly—if money eases heartache. The law allowed him to confiscate her dowry. One marriage contract from the ancient Middle East puts it this way:
“If Demetria [bride] is discovered doing any evil to the shame of her husband, Heraklides, let her be deprived of everything she brought [to the marriage]. But let Heraklides prove whatever he sues Demetria about before three men on whom they both agree.”
For Joseph, this approach was not an option.
“Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly” (Matthew 1:19, NLT).
All he needed to do was write a short note of divorce and let two or three witnesses read it.
Here’s a divorce letter written in AD 72 at Masada, a community in what is now southern Israel. The names of Joseph and Mary have been inserted in place of the original names:
“I, Joseph, divorce and release of my own free will today you, Mary, who had been my wife before this time. You are free on your part to go and become the wife of any Jewish man you wish. This is for you a writ of release and a bill of divorce. . . . At any time that you ask me, I will replace this document for you.”
Mary and her family would have appreciated this gentle approach more than most Jews in Israel. That’s because they lived in Galilee, a region in northern Israel where parents tried to keep the engaged couples from spending time alone with each other. Jews in the southland were more relaxed about this.
But not in Galilee. Not according to ancient Jewish reports.
Galilean Jews based their practice on an old adage still common in some Middle Eastern communities:
If a man and woman are left alone for 20 minutes, they’ll have sex.
Before Joseph could divorce Mary, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. ‘Joseph, son of David,’ the angel said, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ . . . When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus” (Matthew 1:20–21, 24–25).