Mary to Elizabeth - circa 4 BCE
Ma Shalomika, Elizabet. Peace be on you and your house.
The big news—which you and Cousin Zechariah might not have heard yet—is that at last the contract has been signed on my betrothal to Joseph, son of Jacob and grandson of Matthan (of the line of King David).
You can imagine mother and her cronies! Instead of looking to the shadows on the synagogue wall, the villagers have been telling the time by mother’s daily stride to the house of the matchmaker!
Meantime Jacob and my father and the other men sit under a tree, munching on dates and olives, laughing at the antics of the women. After all, a marriage between our family and Jacob’s has been expected ever since father sired daughters and Jacob produced all those sons.
Jacob is a fine man with a twinkle in his eye and a kind smile, even for servants and girls. I hope his son Joseph will also be pleasant. They say is he a just man and always does what is right.
It will be strange moving into a household with so few women for company, ‘though as you know I’ve never much minded being on my own. Now I am betrothed I must try not to wander off into the countryside, “dreaming and romancing” as mother says. I am to become one of the wives, keeping indoors and conducting myself with the reserve of a virtuous woman.
Cousin Elizabeth, can you imagine me turning into a housewife? My weaving is atrocious, my stitching is still unsteady and I even spill the grain when grinding flour. I will miss my walks, looking at the flowers in the fields and the birds of the air. I envy them sometimes! They don’t have to toil and spin and gather the harvest.
I’ll miss my brother, Nathan, when I go to Joseph’s household. Nathan’s usually been nice to me and sometimes even defended me against mother’s scolding. He’s getting impatient, though, and wishes for action. Sometimes he talks of Moses leading our people out of
I told him The Deliverer won’t be among those crazy rebels; he’ll come from David’s line, which that Simon most certainly did not. Nathan just laughs and says Joseph is a true descendant, so who knows but the Deliverer could come from our family! As if the saviour of our people would be born of common folk like us.
A few times, Nathan has talked to me about Joseph. He thinks I should know something of the man I’m betrothed to. He says Joseph is a just man and honours the law, but isn’t a “fanatical stickler”. That makes Nathan admire him. He says Joseph actually offered to carry the pack of a soldier an extra mile recently, as he was travelling to deliver some goods for Jacob. Imagine doing more than you have to for the Romans! But Joseph said you have to be merciful to others if you want to receive mercy, and the soldier was young and recently hurt in battle.
Nathan says I should fare well with Joseph, as he’s a dreamer like me. I hope he is kind as well as just. I think kindness would be a good thing in a husband, don’t you, Cousin Elizabeth? Some men don’t seem to honour their wives at all. It’s rather frightening.
And—I have to tell someone—Nathan says Joseph has seen me in the village and going to the well, and said he thought I was very beautiful. Imagine that! No-one has ever said such a thing of me before. Do you think I’m very vain to be pleased about it?
The wedding won’t take place for some time, but already mother is bustling around, making preparations and getting the whole village involved. She’s boasting about the fine match she’s made, and ordering barrels of figs and skins of wine, and planning what I should wear.
She says with all Jacob’s boys, Joseph and I should produce many strong sons to carry on the families’ work. I’m sorry if it grieves you for me to say this, dear Cousin, but I do hope God will send me and Joseph a large family, if he wills it.
I want to be a good and honourable wife, and do what is right. Mother says being married will cure me of my waywardness and imagination. She says I won’t have time for a lot of foolish nonsense. This betrothal to Joseph has pleased her a great deal. I’m a bit frightened, and can only hope he’s as good a man as they say.
Mother’s calling me—I must go.
Shalom, dear Cousin. I hope you will be able to attend my marriage celebration, if Zacharia can get away from his temple duties for a while.
Your obedient (secretly beautiful!) little cousin,
Cousin Elizabeth, such a terrible thing has happened, I can’t think how to tell you but you’re the only one I can tell.
I will just have to say it, and pray you won’t despise me, too. It seems that I am with child.
How can I be with child, Cousin Elizabeth? I can only think God must have sent me a child, even though I am not yet married. Perhaps God heard me thinking of having sons with Joseph to bring honour and prosperity to both families, and sent an angel to me with a child. But the old ones say there’s more to it than that, and that I’ve brought shame and disgrace on them all, and on Joseph too. Truly, I never wished for God to send me a child until after the marriage.
For a while I thought the sickness was because of a terrible thing that happened to me. I was alone one evening—I’ll never wander off by myself again—and this person, I guess I should say “man” (I couldn’t see clearly and was so afraid) appeared in front of me, and –
I can’t tell you what happened, it was so terrifying. I must have fainted, because after a while I woke feeling very strange and, I don’t know how to describe it, sort of invaded, and scared half to death. But I got myself home without being noticed, and it was not long after that I started feeling ill and tired a lot of the time.
But at least I don’t feel sick any more. I wish I could run away, but where could I go? I wish you lived nearer. Cousin, what should I do?
(A few days later)
I have to add this postscript. I still don’t understand what’s happening, but I think everything might be all right.
Nathan told me Jacob and Joseph and his brothers came to speak to my father a couple of days ago. He says he doesn’t know if Joseph’s a saint or a mad man, but he’s certainly going the second mile without being asked. He said both fathers were quoting the law and the prophets and shouting about shame and tradition and divorce. And in the middle of all this, Joseph stood up to them and said he was going to marry me!
So by the time you get this, Joseph will have taken me to be his wife. I’m sorry there won’t be a big wedding, because I was hoping to see you.
But just imagine, Cousin Elizabeth! When the fathers were arguing about breach of our betrothal contract, Joseph just stood there and said very calmly that he had this dream, and he’d decided it wasn’t right to send me away, even if it could be done quietly. He said that God had sent me this child and it’s going to be a son, and somehow he’s going to reconcile us all.
Nathan says we’re a pair of impractical dreamers, and he hates to think what sort of a child we’ll have or what will become of it. Sometimes I wish my brother was right, and dream of the Saviour of our people appearing in our time, to change everything!
But enough daydreaming. There's much to prepare for.
Please send me your blessings, and a kind word for Joseph if you have time. I trust all is well with you both, and that you will have good news soon.
Bronwyn Angela White (1995)—
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