18 B.C.?-A.D. 48?
History's most venerated mother

Though Mary plays a key role in the birth stories of Matthew and Luke, she is scarcely mentioned in the other two Gospels and not at all in the New Testament letters. Yet Mary today is the most venerated woman in history.

Roman Catholic tradition says she was born in Jerusalem to Joachim and Anne, who were elderly and childless. Gospel references begin when she was probably about 14 years old, already engaged to a man named Joseph (Jewish women were generally married shortly after they could have children). Luke reported that while Mary was living with her parents in Nazareth, an angel visited her and told her she would give birth to a holy child who would be called "the Son of God."

Though the stories began with a miracle, Mary later appeared confused or in doubt about Jesus' mission. She was once convinced he had gone mad, and tried to get him to stop preaching and come home.

Christian tradition quickly asserted that Mary remained a virgin all of her life. The first reference is the apocryphal Protevangelium of James, an embellished story of Jesus' infancy. Early church leaders such as Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria believed Mary remained a virgin, and Athanasius wrote extensively on the "ever virgin" Mary.

The Gospel accounts record that Jesus had brothers and sisters, but Roman Catholics, following the lead of many early church leaders, argue they were Jesus' cousins or Joseph's children from a previous marriage. Protestants have taught Mary was a virgin only until the birth of Jesus, after which she and Joseph conceived James, Joses, Judas, Simon, and unnamed daughters.

Mary was present at the Day of Pentecost, but then she disappears from history. One tradition says ...

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